Micah – The Man and His Times

Eric A. Mitchell  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 46 - Fall 2003

Name and Location

The prophet Micah lived in a turbulent time for the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah. His name is a shortened variation of the name Micaiah, which means “who is like Yahweh.”[1]Also found in Judges 17-18; 1Kings 22. The name perhaps stresses Yahweh’s incomparability rather than Micah’s godliness. According to Mic. 1:1, the prophet Micah was from the town of Moresheth-Gath (cf. Jer. 26:17-18). This town is located at the modern site of Tel el-Judeideh,[2]Philip J. King, Amos, Hosea, Micah-An Archaeological Commentary (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1988), 60. which lies 400 m above sea level, located in the low hills of the shep­ helah region to the west of Hebron, 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem and not far from the Philistine city of Gath to its northwest.[3]John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews and Mark W. Chavalas, eds., The IVP Bible Background   Commentary Old Testament (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 780-81. Micah’s hometown was perhaps a suburb or satellite village of Gath (which was occasionally under Israelite control).[4]Lamontte M. Luker, “Moresheth,” Anchor Bible Dictionary 4:904-5. Moresheth lay within a 6-mile radius area containing several towns that had been fortified two centuries earlier by Rehoboam, king of Judah (2 Chron. 11:6). These cities made up a network protecting Jerusalem and Judah from invaders who might attack from the coastal highway (i.e. Egypt, Philistia). Nothing is known of Micah’s parentage or genealogy. He is possibly from the tribe of Judah since his hometown is within the territory of Judah. The identification of Micah with his hometown in the opening verses rather than with his parentage may stress that he was considered an outsider by those among whom he minis­tered in the Judean capital of Jerusalem.[5]Bruce K Waltke, “Micah,” in Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah, ed. D. J. Wiseman (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 137 [135-207]. Hans Walter Wolff, “Micah and the Moreshite-The Prophet and His Background,” in Israelite Wisdom: Theological and Literary Essays in Honor of Samuel Terrien, ed. John Gammie et al. (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1978), 80.

Micah’s original occupation is unknown, though he has knowledge of and utilizes imagery common to fanning. Micah is sure of his calling as a prophet when he expresses his qualifications – “I am filled with power – with the Spirit of the LORD – And with justice and courage to make known to Jacob his rebellious act, even to Israel his sin” (Mic. 3:8).[6]All scripture references are from the NASE unless otherwise noted. Micah’s use of the statement, “thus says the LORD” (Mic. 2:3; 3:5 ), indicates that he speaks as Yahweh’s messenger. Perhaps, like Isaiah (Isaiah l; 2; 6), Micah’s message came to him in visions (Mic. 1:1), but the term “saw” may indicate a “general reception of revelation.”[7]Hans Walter Wolff, Micah, trans. Gary Stansell (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1990), 37. Nothing more is stated as to Micah’s location when he received the word of the Lord, but the time frame of his prophetic ministry is revealed in the first verse.

 

Historical Background

Micah prophesied in the days of the kings of Judah: Jotham (742-735 B.C.), Ahaz (735-715 B.C.), and Hezekiah (715-686 B.C.). Micah’s ministry, then, corresponded closely to that of his contemporary Isaiah (742-681 B.C.)[8]Isaiah’s ministry began in the year Uzziah died (Isa. 6:1) and extends at least until 681 B.C. since he reports the death of Sennacherib in that year (Isa. 37:28). However, it must be noted that many would take this reference as a later editorial insertion. and spanned from 742-686 B.C.[9]Micah’s ministry lasted from the beginning of Jotham’s rule to sometime after Sennacherib’s invasion, but perhaps as late as 686 B.C. John Bright, A History of Israel, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1981), 471. The prophet Amos (760-750 B.C.) finished his ministry to the northern kingdom just prior to the beginning of Micah’s prophetic ministry. Another contemporary of Micah was Hosea who ministered to the northern kingdom from 753- 724 B.C.[10]Hosea’s ministry may have ended sometime prior to the beginning of Shalmanezar V’s siege of Samaria. Cf. Hans Walter Wolff, Hosea, Hermenia Series, trans. Gary Stansell (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974), xxi. Micah’s prophecy against Samaria (Mic. 1:2-8) came in the early part of his ministry sometime before the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians in 722 B.C. The lungs of the northern kingdom of Israel during this time were: Menahem (745-737 B.C.), Pekahiah (737-736 B.C.), Pekah (736-732 B.C.), and Hoshea (732-722; in captivity 724- 722 B.C.).[11]Bright, History, 471. Micah’s prophetic ministry is centered in Jerusalem but he prophesies against Samaria, Jerusalem, their leaders and the region around his hometown of Moresheth.

Micah lived in a time of international fear and uncertainty. The mid to late eighth century B.C. was a time when the Assyrian empire (based in Northern Iraq) rose to be the dominant power in the region. The Assyrians kept a profes­sional standing army comprising their own citizens as well as units from conquered armies and peoples.[12]David Ussishkin, The Conquest of Lachish by Sennacherib (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 1982), 13.  The Assyrian army was known for their courage, toughness, violence and cruelty. Their weaponry was state of the art for their time – composite bows, horses, chariots, and powerful battering rams for besieging city walls.[13]Ibid., 13. Their prior tactics of impal­ing, hamstringing, or flaying their enemies as well as leading captives away with hooks in their noses and lips caused a great fear to precede them, motivating some lungs and cities to capitulate rather than fight. The Assyrian economy was supported by both tribute paid from conquered peoples and plunder gained by their armies. In the years before his min­istry began, the Kingdoms of Israel (in the north) and Judah (in the south) had been at the height of their power and prosperity during the reigns of Jeroboam II (Israel) and Uzziah (Judah). After the deaths of these lungs, political power in the region began to shift in response to the rise of the Assyrians. At this time the northern Kingdom of Israel was ruled by a succession of kings who often usurped the rule of the previous lung through murder.

Early in Micah’s ministry, Menahem, king of Israel, had offered tribute to the Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pilesar III. After his death, Pekah son of Remaliah, lcilled Menahem’s son Pekahiah and became king of Israel. Pekah then made an alliance with Rezin, king of Damascus (Aram) to reverse Israel’s pro-Assyrian stance and begin a rebellion against Assyria. Together Pekah and Rezin tried to force Ahaz of Judah to join them in their rebellion through threat of attack. Pekah attacked Judah and killed 120,000 men in battle, temporarily taking 200,000 women and children cap­tive (2 Chron. 28:6-15). Rezin carried many captives away to Damascus as well (2 Chron. 28:5). Pekah and Rezin were seeking to set up a new king on the throne of Judah (the son of Tabeel, king of Tyre,[14]Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., A History of Israel (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1998), 372. Albright disagrees, holding that the son of Tabeel was a Judahite prince whose mother was from the region of Tab’el north of Gilead/Bashan in the Transjordan. William Foxwell Albright, “The Son of Tabeel (Isaiah 7:6),” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 140 (1955), 34-35. Mazar holds that Tab’el is a pejorative use of Tob’el and that this family name was changed to Tobiah, thus the son of Tabeel was a Tobiad and was proba­bly a descendant of a Judeah court official. Benjamin Mazar, “The Tobiads,” Israel Exploration Journal 7 (1957), 236-37. Isa. 7:6) but they did not conquer Jerusalem. Ahaz sought help against these two kings in what has come to be called the Syro-Ephraimitic Crisis (735 B.C.). However, Ahaz rejected Isaiah’s message and did not turn to the Lord (Isaiah 7) but sought out Assyria’s help.

After its defeat by Pekah and Rezin, Judah was also attacked by the Edomites, who took captives, and the Philistines, who took over and lived in villages north of Micah’s hometown of Moresheth (i.e. Beth Shemesh, Aijalon, Gederoth, Soco, Timnah, Gimzo; 2 Chron. 28:17- 18). In response, and against Isaiah’s urging (Isaiah 7), Ahaz sent tribute of goods and precious metals to Tiglath­ Pilesar III in order to persuade him to attack Rezin and Pekah (2 Kings 16:8-9). Tiglath-Pilesar obliged by conquer­ing Galilee and the coastal plains. At this time, Hoshea usurped the throne of Israel by killing the rebellious Pekah and thus averted an Assyrian advance upon Samaria.

Tiglath-Pilesar then sacked Damascus and killed Rezin (732 B.C.). Because of Ahaz’s actions, Judah became a vassal (or servant nation) to Assyria. Ahaz sacrificed to the idol gods of Damascus who had defeated him, set up idolatrous altars in Jerusalem and closed the doors of the Temple (2 Chron. 28:23-25). Later Ahaz went to swear loyalty to the Assyrian king in Damascus. He saw an Assyrian altar there and had it copied and installed in place of the bronze altar of the Lord in the temple.[15]Setting up the Assyrian altar may have been a stipulation of a vassal treaty imposed upon Ahaz. Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1981), 20. Cf. D. J. Wiseman, Vassal Treaties of Esarhaddon (London: 1958). Tiglath-Pilesar also required Ahaz to close the king’s walkway into the temple implying that Ahaz no longer had authority there.[16]Young, Isaiah, 20. As a vassal king in Samaria, Hoshea’s territory was reduced to the lands surrounding Samaria. Hoshea eventually rebelled against the Assyrian king Shalmanezar V by appealing to Egypt for aid (2 Kings 17:3-4) but Egypt was divided into several competing rul­ing dynasties and was too weak to help.

Shalmanezar V imprisoned Hoshea and the Assyrian armies besieged Samaria for over two years before it fell (2 Kings 17:5-6). While Shalmanezar V’s successor, Sargon II, claimed to have conquered Samaria, he did not come to power until several months after Samaria’s destruction. However, he may have been present as a general in charge of troops at the time.[17]Ibid., 18-i9. See also “The Fall of Samaria,” trans. A. Leo Oppenheim (ANET, 284). Micah saw his prophecy against Samaria come true when, in 722 B.C., Shalmanesar V car­ried 29,290 of its inhabitants into captivity.[18]Bright, History, 275. Assyrian poli­cy was to relocate rebellious conquered people-groups into other areas. The northern kingdom of Israel was divided into Assyrian provinces (Megiddo/Galilee, Dor/coastal plains, Gilead).[19]Ibid., 274-75. The Israelites were settled in a place near Haran (where Abraham had lived) and also in modern-day Iran (2 Kings 18:11). The Assyrians eventually relocated tribes from Babylon, Cuthah (near Babylon), Hamath, and Avva (Elamites) to Samaria. This group formed the nucleus of what would become the Samaritans. The Jews came to hate and reject the Samaritans as pagans even though they had assimilated a form of Yahweh worship.

After Ahaz’s death in 715 B.C., his son Hezekiah reversed the pro-Assyrian and idolatrous policies of his father. However, we do not know how quickly he made these changes. To renounce the Assyrian gods publicly would have been the first step in rebellion.[20]Ibid., 282. His reforms probably came incrementally at first, in order to test the waters with his Assyrian overlords. The successful rebellion by the Babylonian prince Merodach-Baladan (lasting from 721-709 B.C.; but also from 705-702 B.C., and 700 B.C.)[21]Ibid., 284. may have encouraged rebellion by Hezekiah, espe­cially since Sargon II only came to Palestine once during his reign in 716 B.C. (being occupied with rebellions else­ where). In 715 B.C. Pianlchi, king of Cush/Ethiopia, over­ ran and united Egypt. In the following years Egypt promised aid to the cities and peoples of Palestine against the Assyrians (cf. Isaiah 20). In 712 B.C. the Philistine city of Ashdod rebelled against Sargon II, which led to a further rebellion of other Philistine cities. Hezekiah apparently did not join this rebellion and the Assyrian general Tartan crushed it. Egyptian aid never materialized and the Ashdod region became an Assyrian province. The encroachment of foreign armies so close to Judah, and specifically Micah’s hometown of Moresheth, must have raised the anxiety of all involved.

After the death of Sargon II in battle (705 B.C.), his son and successor, Sennacherib had to deal with rebellion across the Assyrian empire. The king of Tyre rebelled and was joined by the Philistine cities of Ashkelon and Gaza as well as Byblos, Arvad, Moab, Edom, Ammon, Hezekiah of Judah, and Egypt.[22]Kaiser, History, 379. See also Ussishkin, Lachish, 15. Hezekiah prepared well for a strong Assyrian response. He fortified Jerusalem’s walls and defens­es (2 Chron. 32:5, 28-30; cf. Isa. 22:8-11), stopped up springs to deny the Assyrian army water (2 Chron. 32:4, 30) and built the Siloam tunnel to bring the water supply from the Gihon spring within Jerusalem’s city walls (2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chron. 32:3-4, 30). Hezekiah accomplished this by tunneling through from the base of the Gihon outside the city wall winding under the city and inward to the south inside the walls to the pool of Siloam.[23]W. Harold Mare, “Siloam, pool of,” Anchor Bible Dictionary 6:24. An inscrip­tion commemorating this event was found inside the south­ern end of the tunnel.[24]Discovered in 1880, the Siloam tunnel monumental inscription commemorating this work is one of the most significant extra-biblical historical documents found to date. It states,

[ ] the tunneling, and this was how the tunneling was completed: as [the stone cutters wielded] their picks, each crew toward the other, and   while there were still three cubits to g[o], the voices of the men calling each other [could be hear]d, since there was an increase (in sound) on the right [and lef]t. The day the breach was made, the stonecutters hacked toward each other, pick against pick, and the water flowed from the source to the pool [twel]ve hundred cubits, even though the height of the rock above the heads of the stone cutte[rs] was a hundred cubits![25]Robert B. Coote, “Siloam Inscription,” Anchor Bible Dictionary 6:23-24.

Hezekiah was apparently successful in preparing Jerusalem for the coming siege.

Perhaps to bring the other Philistine cities in line with the rebellious coalition, Hezekiah attacked the Philistines and took back the areas that the Philistines had taken from Ahaz (2 Kings 18:8). It may have been at this time that Hezekiah worked with the inhabitants of Ekron to imprison their king, Padi, who did not want to help with the rebel­lious coalition. In response to the rebellion, Sennacherib marched to Tyre, then southward down the highway on the coastal plain to Ashkelon. Tirhakah, an Ethiopian who later became Pharaoh of Egypt, marched against Sennacherib and they joined battle at Eltekeh. The Egyptian army was soundly defeated and the Assyrians began taking the cities of the Philistines moving eastward from the coastal plain toward Judah and invading right through Micah’s home region, thus fulfilling Micah’s prophetic oracle against these cities.[26]Ussishkin, Lachish, 17.

It was at this time that Sennacherib besieged and conquered the fortress city of Lachish (south of Moresheth). A royal Assyrian artist’s rendering of this event was discovered sculpted into the walls of Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh.[27]These “Lachish” reliefs now reside in the British Museum. Describing the reliefs, Walter Kaiser states,

There Sennacherib is presented as sitting on his throne (nimedu) while the people of Lachish pass in front of him with their carts and belongings. The scene is filled with pathos, for the people are leaving the city as a spoil for the Assyrians as the populace heads out for deportation. Likewise, the graphic depiction of the capture of the city itself is one filled with violence and enormous energy as the walls are breached and many lives are lost. It is the closest that we come to a photograph of a historical event from antiquity.[28]Kaiser, History, 379-80. Cf. Ussishkin, Lachish.

This depiction of defeat and deportation is often missed as one reads the biblical text since Jerusalem is eventually spared. However, this is just as Micah predicted. Those from his home area would be taken into captivity.

While Sennacherib was besieging Lachish, Hezekiah apol­ogized for what he had done and offered to pay tribute (2 Kings 18:13-14).[29]See “The Siege of Jerusalem,” trans. A. Leo Oppenheim (ANET, 288). Sennacherib imposed a fine of 300 talents (19,841.4 lbs.)[30]Marvin Powell, “Weights and Measures,” Anchor Bible Dictionary 6:906. At 300 kg per tal­ent this translates to 66.138 lbs./talent. There is a discrepancy between the biblical text and the text on the Sennacherib prism. The Sennacherib prism states that Hezekiah paid 800 tal­ents of silver as well as precious stones, ivory furniture, his own daughters, concubines, and musicians while the Bible speaks of 300 talents of silver. It is mere speculation to guess the reason for the discrepancy because we are not sure of the Assyrian method of accounting. The 800 talents could include other payments or perhaps some of what Assyria took away from the conquered cities of Judah. See “The Siege of Jerusalem,” trans. A. Leo Oppenheim (ANET, 288). of silver and 30 talents (1984.14 lbs.) of gold. Hezekiah took all the silver in the Temple and stripped the gold from the Temple doors and doorposts to pay this tribute. An Assyrian royal inscription confirms that Hezekiah gave tribute to Sennacherib. Sennacherib states,

Hezekiah himself, whom the terror-inspiring splendour of my lordship had overwhelmed and whose irregular and elite troops which he had brought into Jerusalem, his royal residence, in order to strengthen (it), had deserted him, did send me, later, to Nineveh, my lordly city, together with 30 talents of gold, 800 talents of silver, precious stones, antimony, large cuts of red stone, couches (inlaid) with ivory, nimedu-chairs (inlaid) with ivory, elephant hides, ebony-wood, boxwood (and) all kinds of valuable treasures, his (own) daughters, concubines, male and female musicians. In order to deliver the tribute and do obeisance as a slave he sent his (personal) messenger.[31]The Siege of Jerusalem,” trans. A. Leo Oppenheim ( ANET, 288).

Sennacherib treacherously sent his army to Jerusalem despite Hezekiah’s payment of tribute (Isa. 37:9-13).[32]This reconstruction allows for one-invasion (701 B.C.) in two-stages: (1) 2 Kings 18:13-16 plus the Assyrian Annals (701 B.C.) ending in Hezekiah paying tribute, followed by (2) 2 Kings 18:17-19:35 where the Assyrian army is decimated. A two-invasion scenario is also pos­sible: (1) 2 Kings 18:13-16 plus the Assyrian Annals (701 B.C.) ending in Hezekiah paying tribute, and (2) 2 Kings 18:17-19:35 in 691-688 B.C. ending in the destruction of the   Assyrian army but with no real end to Assyrian domination of Judah. Cf Bustenay Oded, “Judah and the Exiles,” in Israelite and Judean History, ed. John H. Hayes and J. Maxwell Miller (London: SCM Press, 1990), 446-51; Alan R. Millard, “Sennacherib’s Attack on Hezekiah,” The Tyndale Bulletin 36 (1985), 61-77; J. A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah (Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 20.

Sennacherib had his camp placed upon Mt. Scopus just northeast of Jerusalem.[33]Flavius Josephus describes the Roman army campsite chosen by Titus when he besieged Jerusalem in A.D. 69 as being located on Mt. Scopus, yet he also calls the site the “camp of the Assyrians.” Flavius Josephus, “The Wars of the Jews,” in The Complete Works of Josephus, William Sanford LaSor, trans. William Whiston (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1981), 549-51, 559, 567. However, the fact that the inscrip­tion says Hezekiah sent the tribute to Nineveh implies that Sennacherib must have quickly returned home.[34]Bustenay Oded, “Judah and the Exiles,” 450.

According to 2 Kings 18:13, Sennacherib laid siege to and conquered all the cities of Judah – only Jerusalem and a remnant with Hezekiah survived. Despite Sennacherib’s tough words, Yahweh answered Hezekiah’s humble prayer for deliverance and sent an angel to destroy the Assyrian army outside Jerusalem – killing 185,000 in one night (Isa. 37:14-20). Sennacherib’s own words in his royal inscription claim that he destroyed forty-six of Judah’s strong cities, as well as walled forts and countless small villages, but could only shut Hezekiah up in Jerusalem “like a bird in a cage.”[35]The royal inscription on the Sennacherib prism presents an account of the Sennacherib’s march through Palestine. “The Siege of Jerusalem,” trans. A. Leo Oppenheim (ANET 288). Sennacherib also states, “I drove out (of them) 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules don­ keys, camels, big and small cattle beyond counting, and considered (them) booty.”[36]Ibid. Again, this confirms Micah’s prophecy about his own home region (Mic. 1:8-16)-many were taken into captivity. The result of Sennacherib’s cam­paign was devastation for those living in Judah.

Soon after this (701 B.C.), Hezekiah became ill with a large infected boil, which threatened his life (Isaiah 38). Isaiah told him that he would die, but Hezekiah cried out to God for healing. God relented of the sickness and grant­ ed Hezekiah fifteen more years of life. However, in the next fifteen years two significantly negative events took place: (1) Hezekiah had a son named Manasseh who grew up to be the most wicked pagan king of the Davidic line (2 Kings 21:1-15), and (2) Hezekiah revealed all of his treasures to ambassadors from the rebellious Babylonian prince Merodach-Baladan. Isaiah denounced this act, stating that all that the Babylonians had seen they would one day carry off (Isaiah 39). Hezekiah’s response was callous. He was not disturbed so long as it would not happen in his day.

 

Economic Background

Judah’s agricultural and pastoral economy could not help but be hurt by regional warfare. Judah’s terri­tory from which it could gain wealth was reduced. In the Syro-Ephraimite crisis the area surrounding Jerusalem was sacked, Edom rebelled, Rezin of Damascus took the southern port of Ezion-geber on the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Philisitines attacked, taking away some terri­tory. A close trading partner, Israel, had been destroyed immediately to the north. This combined to result in a loss of goods, stored grain, trade and revenue. Added to this downturn was an imposition of taxes and tribute by the Assyrians that was ruinous. Ahaz had to empty the temple and treasury to pay it.[37]Bright, History, 277. John Bright suggests that despite this there was a common prosperity with few extremes of wealth and poverty-perhaps due to the agricultural economy. According to Micah, the greatest economic tension was between the wealthy and the poor. The landholders dispos­sessed the poor (Mic. 2:1ff, 9) and corrupt judges left the poor with no recourse (Mic. 3:1-4, 9-11). When Sennacherib seized the cities of Judah and took captives, the economy was severely damaged. Despite Yahweh’s deliver­ance of Jerusalem, Judah was devastated. However, with the yoke of Assyria thrown off, the remnant left in Jerusalem and Judah quickly sprang back and prospered.[38]This is taken from the fact that Hezekiah had given all he had to Sennacherib, yet a short time later he had much in his treasury to show to the ambassadors of Babylon (Isaiah 39). However, it may be that Hezekiah had much more than the required tribute on hand (2 Chron. 32:27-30).

Micah’s use of agricultural imagery may stem from common knowledge in an agricultural economy or may indicate a more intimate knowledge of land, farming, and animals. Micah uses the imagery of: (1) the planting place for a vineyard as an open hilltop (Mic. 1:6), (2) the sounds of jackals and ostriches (Mic. 1:8), (3) the baldness of eagles (Mic. 1:16), (4) fields and houses (Mic. 2:2-4), (5) the plowing of a field (Mic. 3:12 ), (6) the hammering of swords into plowpoints[39]The plows of this time period were pointed wooden plows and not the more modern plow­ shares of metal that turn over the dirt. Max Schwartz, Machines, Buildings, Weaponry of Biblical Times (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), 81. A metal covering at the tip would improve the efficiency of the plow James D. Muhly, “How Iron Technology Changed the World and Gave the Philistines a Military Edge,” Biblical Archaeology Review (Nov/Dec 1982), 40-54. and spears into pruning hooks (Mic. 4:3), vine and fig tree (Mic. 4:4), (8) the gathering of sheaves to the threshing floor (Mic. 4:12), (9) oxen threshing (Mic. 4:13), (10) a shepherd as deliverer/provider (Mic. 5:4-6; 7:14), (11) dew and rain on plants (Mic. 5:7), (12) a lion among sheep; sowing and reaping (Mic. 6:15), (13) tread­ing olives and grapes (Mic. 6:15), (14) picking fruit, grapes, figs (Mic. 7:1), (15) briars as hedges (Mic. 7:4), and (16) the moving of field boundary markers (Mic. 7:11). Micah also uses the imagery of meat being cut for the cooking pot, where the meat cut, cooked and eaten by the leaders is the people themselves (Mic. 3:2-3).

 

Cultural Background

Micah’s cultural setting was that of a Judean farmer and part-time prophet. Micah may also have been an elder of the people of Moresheth. It was the elders of the land in Jeremiah’s time (608 B.C.) that sought to spare Jeremiah’s life when he prophesied of Jerusalem’s destruction by recalling Micah’s prophecy (Jer. 26:17-18). In this account they passed on Micah’s prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem over a century earlier (Mic. 3:12). Again, Micah is distinguished not by the name of his father but by the name of his hometown perhaps as an elder would have been distinguished when gathered among other elders. The “elders of the land” gather together for several purposes. First, elders sat in judgment within their city at the city gate (Deut. 19:12; 21:1-9, 18-21; Ruth 4:1-12). In the previous century, king Jehoshaphat had set up judges in all the towns of Judah (2 Chron. 19:5). Micah uses the term mishpat, “judgment, justice,” when talking of his commission (Mic. 3:8) but the heads and rulers of the peo­ple do not know mishpat (Mic. 3:1). Second, elders are shown gathering regionally to affirm a military leader (Jephthah at Tab/Mizpah, Judg. 11:1-11). Third, they could establish and confirm a king (Rehoboam at Shechem, 1 Kings 12:1-15). Fourth, they were involved in the renew­al of the covenant with Yahweh when king Josiah called the elders to Jerusalem for this purpose (1 Kings 23:1-3).[40]Hans Walter Wolff, “Micah the Moreshite,” 78. Cf. J. L. Mays, Micah (OTL: Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976), 15.

As an elder and a prophet, Micah rails against those in leadership who oppress “my people” (Micah 2). The oppressors were the “heads of Jacob” and “rulers of the house of Israel” (Mic. 3:1, 9) as well as the “leaders, priests, prophets” (Mic. 3:5, 11). Micah’s status as elder may also reflect the focus of so much of his prophetic message and imagery upon judgment/justice. In his use of the imagery of justice, Micah speaks of: (1) God as a witness (Mic. 3:2), (2) oppressors taking houses, inheritances, and fields (Mic. 2:1-5), (3) the taking of garments (perhaps in pledge for debt, Mic. 2:8; cf. Deut. 24:13), (4) the eviction of women (widows) from houses (Mic. 2:9), (5) perverted justice (Mic. 3:1-4, 11; 7:3), (6) Yahweh as righteous judge (Mic. 3:4; 4:2-3), (7) the pleading of a case (Mic. 6:1ff; 7:9),[41]This form of a lawsuit is called a rib pattern. However, its presence in Micah is debated because all the elements are not present. W. Robert McFadden, “Micah and Continuities and Discontinuities in Prophecy,” in Scripture in Context II: More Essays on the Comparative Method, ed. William W. Hallo, James C. Moyer, and Leo G. Perdue (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1983), 139–40. See also H. B. Huffman, “The Covenant Lawsuit in the Prophets,” Journal of Biblical Literature 78 (1959), 287. (8) wicked scales/weights (Mic. 6:11), (9) bribes (Mic. 7:3), and (10) the execution of justice (Mic. 7:9).

Micah uses several significant cultural terms or ideas that made sense to his audience, but which the modern reader may need explained in more detail:

1:6, Samaria a heap of ruins – Samaria’s great palace had walls 5 feet thick made of fine ashlar masonry and its city walls were 30 feet thick. It would have seemed impossible that these would be utterly destroyed, pulled down in the valley and left a heap (Mic. 1:6).[42]John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, eds., The IVP Bible Background Commentary Old Testament (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 781; cf. King, Amos, Hosea, Micah, 34.

1:7, Harlots earnings-religious gifts given to pay temple prostitutes.[43]Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, Bible Background Commentary, 781; cf. King, Amos, Hosea, Micah, 95.

1:8, Barefoot and naked-mourners tearing clothing (Lam. 2:10), ones taken into captivity in this state.[44]Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, Bible Background Commentary, 781.

1:8, Jackals and ostriches-animals heard in the wilderness, a chilling piercing sound.[45]Ibid., cf. Kings, Amos, Hosea, Micah, 132.

1:10, Tell it not in Gath – this is a statement first made by David in his lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam. 1:17-20). It is a cry recognizing that a disaster has come upon Israel which should not be made known to their ene­mies (i.e. Gath of the Philistines).

1:10-15, The towns surrounding Moresheth­ Gath in the Judean Shephelah. Micah identifies these by puns upon their names. Beth-le-aphrah (Dustville) will roll in the dust (mourn), Shaphir (Beauty) will go naked, Zaanan (perhaps a play on the word for flocks of sheep, which go out to pasture) will not escape, the support of Beth-ezel (Standing Beside) will be taken away, Maroth (Bitter) waits for good and grows weak, Lachish (perhaps a royal chariot city) is full of rebellion,[46]Ussishkin, Lachish, 17. Moresheth-gath (Possession of Gath) will be given parting gifts as its people go away into exile (where they will be possessed by another), Achzib (a pun with a similar sounding word kzb meaning “to lie”) will become a deception (‘akzab) and will be no help to the kings of Israel,[47]Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, s.v. “Prophecy in the Old Testament.” Mareshah (Possession) will be faced with one who takes possession, Adullam (David’s Stronghold, 2 Sam. 23:13; a fortified city) will be visited by the Glory of Israel to the end that its people will go into exile.[48]Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, Bible Background Commentary, 781-82; King, Amos, Hosea, Micah, 35, 44, 58-60.

1:16, Make yourself bald-a sign of mourning. Other mourning rituals include tearing clothing, cutting oneself, fasting, and throwing dust or ashes upon one’s head.[49]Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, Bible Background Commentary, 782; King, Amos, Hosea, Micah, 132.

2:5, Stretching a measuring line . . . by lot-upon the death of a family patriarch, his lands were divided among his heirs by an assembly of tribal leaders/elders by lot.[50]Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, Bible Background Commentary, 782.

3:12, Plowed as a field-fields were prepared for plowing by the removal of rocks and debris. Jerusalem would be so devastated as to be cleared for plowing and the land returned to agricultural use.[51]Ibid, 783; cf. King, Amos, Hosea, Micah, 120.

4:4, Sit under his vine and under his fig tree-this is an image of peaceful prosperity. Both plants take time to grow and produce fruit, thus con­ noting stability, and were staples of the Judean diet.[52]Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, Bible Background Commentary, 783; King, Amos, Hosea, Micah, 115.

4:8, Tower of the flock-Jerusalem as a watchtow­er for Judah.[53]Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, Bible Background Commentary, 783.

4:12-13, He has gathered them like sheaves to the threshing floor . . . your hoofs I will make bronze-grain was cut by hand, gathered into bundles ( or sheaves) and taken to a threshing floor. A threshing floor is often a large open windy hilltop. The sheaves of grain would be cast upon the threshing floor and a wooden sledge with basalt rocks hammered into the bottom side would be drawn over the grain by an oxen. The combination of sledge and hooves would break the grain away from the chaff. The whole mixture would then be cast into the air by a pitch­ fork (which was called “winnowing the grain”). The chaff would blow away and the grain would drop in a pile to the ground.[54]Ibid., 784; King, Amos, Hosea, Micah, 111.

5:1, With a rod they will smite the judge of Israel on the cheek – this is a gesture of contempt.[55]Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, Bible Background Commentary, 784.

5:12, Sorceries . . . fortune tellers-witchcraft and divination were a common occurrence in the Ancient Near East and were often tied to pagan cultic rituals. Scripture outlaws these (Deut. 18:10; cf. Isa. 47:9).[56]Ibid., 785.

6:5, Shittim to Gilgal-Shittim was the Israelite camp on the east side of the Jordan and Gilgal their camp on the west side. The recitation of both of these brings to mind God’s miraculous power in bringing Israel into the Promised Land.[57]Ibid., 785-86; cf. King, Amos, Hosea, Micah, 41.

6:6, Yearling calves-a yearling was much more valuable than a newborn calf. A yearling has been kept, fed, and grown. The offerings in this sec­tion keep increasing in value, but Yahweh wants justice, kindness, and humbleness.[58]Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, Bible Background   Commentary, 786; King, Amos, Hosea, Micah, 89.

6:10-11, Treasures of wickedness . . . short mea­sure . . . wicked scales . . .deceptive weights-mer­chants without scruples would use one standard of measure to buy and another to sell, thus cheat­ing their customers and gaining “treasures of wickedness.”[59]Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, Bible Background Commentary, 786; King, Amos, Hosea, Micah, 23.

6:16, Statutes of Omri-King Omri ruled over the northern kingdom and allied himself closely with Ethbaal, king of Tyre, who was a priest of Baal. Omri married his son Ahab to Jezebel the daugh­ter of this priest/king. This began a serious incursion of Baal worship into Israel.[60]Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, Bible Background Commentary, 786.

7:1, Like the fruit pickers, like the grape gather­ers. There is not a cluster of grapes to eat, Or a first-ripe fig which I crave. – The harvest of these fruits began in June and the harvest was complet­ed by August/September. No fruit would be found on the vine after this season. Some would be eaten and some would be dried for eating in the winter.[61]Ibid.

7:2, Each of them hunts the other with a net –  a time of lawlessness; nets were used for fishing and hunting birds and larger animals.[62]Ibid., 786-87; King, Amos Hosea, Micah, 115.

7:4, The best of them is like a briar, the most upright like a thorn hedge. – the “briar” (hedeq) is a thorny plant used as a 3 to 5 foot high hedge to keep foraging animals and humans out of gar­ dens. This briar may be useful but one would not want to come into contact with it. In compari­son, it is not as useful as a wall.[63]Ibid.; King, Amos, Hosea, Micah, 123.

7:14, Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead – as part of the tribal territory of Mannasseh and Gad, Bashan and Gilead encompass the region east of the Jordon river and also northern Transjordan. This was a fertile region good for raising sheep and cattle. This region was contested in antiquity. It was attacked by the Arameans and later taken away from Israel by the Assyrians. This statement alludes to the regaining of this territory.[64]Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, Bible Background   Commentary, 787.

7:17, They will lick the dust like a serpent – an image of the nations being humbled to the dust just as the serpent in the garden was humbled (Gen. 3:14).[65]King, Amos, Hosea, Micah, 135.

 

Religious Background

The religious setting just prior to Micah’s ministry is not all that different from Micah’s time. The prophet Amos was from the town of Tekoa south of Jerusalem and east of Moresheth-Gath. Amos preached to both Israel and Judah about the lack of justice toward one’s neighbor. During the stable and prosperous reigns of Jeroboam II in Israel and Uzziah in Judah in the early part of the eighth century B.C. a wealthy merchant class had developed.[66]Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 359. The people had become complacent and were exhibiting both social and moral decay despite God’s warnings (Amos 3:9-10; 4:1-11; 5:7-12; 6:1-14). Amos pro­claimed to the northern kingdom that, due to their deplorable oppression of the poor (Amos 2:6; 3:10; 5:10- 12) and idolatrous worship, they were ripe for judgment and destruction (Amos 5:16-27). Amos prophesied against this wealthy class, who sit at ease on ivory couches, eating lambs, and singing idle songs (Amos 6:1-6). He called the wealthy women who oppressed the poor “cows of Bashan” (Amos 4:1). Amos also prophesied that they would go into exile (Amos 3:11-12; 4:2-3; 7:1-9:10), though he ends with the hope for restoration (Amos 9:11-15).

As an early contemporary of Micah, Hosea prophesied to the northern kingdom beginning in the time of Jeroboam Hosea prophesied against Israel’s spiritual adultery evi­dent in her idolatry. Hosea’s marriage to an adulterous wife, Gomer, dramatized this adultery against God (Hosea 1-3). Like Micah, Hosea also uses the rich terminology of one close to the land and its cultivation. Hosea uses the imagery of a thorny hedge (Hos. 2:6), vines and fig-trees (Hos. 2:12), seasonal rains (Hos. 6:3), plowing (Hos. 10:13), reaping and sowing (Hos. 8:7; 10:12), the threshing floor and winepress (Hos. 9:2; 10:11; 13:3), grapes and first-ripe figs (Hos. 9:10); and Israel as a luxuriant vine (Hos. 10:1). Just as Micah prophesied of the destruction of the fortified cities of his Judean home region, Hosea prophesied that all of Samaria’s fortresses would be destroyed for her idolatry (Hos. 10:14).

The prophet Isaiah is a direct contemporary of Micah. He lived and ministered to the royal court in Jerusalem during the same period that Micah prophesied to Israel and Judah. We know that they knew of each other’s messages since Mic. 4:1-4 (with one minor addition) is virtually iden­tical to Isa. 2:2-4.[67]See the article by Rick W. Byargeon in this issue for a discussion of this connection. Isaiah encouraged king Ahaz to trust Yahweh and ask for a remarkable sign, but Ahaz refused, alluding to Deut. 6:16 and stating that he would not put the Lord to a test. In response to Ahaz’s unbelief, the Lord gave to Ahaz the sign that a son would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7) and that the two kings he feared would die, but the king of Assyria would come to Judah and shave the land like a razor.[68]Robert I. Vasholz, “Isaiah and Ahaz: A Brief History of Crisis in Isaiah 7 and 8,” Presbyterian 12 (Fall) 1987. Ahaz’s response was to ask for help from Tiglath-Pilesar III, resulting in Judah’s vassal relationship to Assyria. Later, in order to warn Hezekiah against relying on the Ethiopian Pharaoh of Egypt, Isaiah went around Jerusalem naked and barefoot for three years (712 B.C.) to represent how Egypt and Cush (Ethiopia) would be taken into captivity (Isa. 20:1-6).[69]Bright, History, 279. In 701 B.C., Hezekiah did rely at first upon Egyptian aid and a coalition of allies, but he then humbly turned to Yahweh and Jerusalem was deliv­ered from Sennacherib’s army though Judah had been dev­astated. Isaiah’s prophetic message in the first half of the book (Isaiah 1-39) focuses upon messiah, the sins of Israel and the nations, and the resulting judgment of Judah’s exile, ending in an historical interlude describing the Assyrian invasion of 701 B.C. and its aftermath (Isaiah 36-39). While Isaiah seems to echo the tradition of Zion/Jerusalem’s inviolability (Isa. 14:32),[70]Cf. 2 Samuel 6; Pss. 2:6; 9:11, 14; 74:2; 78:68; 87:2; 99:9; 132:13. John H. Hayes, “The Tradition of Zion’s Inviolability,” Journal of Biblical Literature 82 (1963), 421-22. both he and Micah denounce the people’s trust in Zion and call for faith in Yahweh as a condition for deliverance (Isa. 7:9; 38:1-8; Mic. 3:9-12).[71]Ibid., 425. They both also prophesy of coming judg­ment upon Judah (Isa. 22, 29; Mic. 1:9-16). As Micah prophesied of a messianic king (Mic. 5:2) so also Isaiah prophesied of the messiah’s birth (Isa. 9:1-7). Isaiah’s mes­ sage in the latter half of his book focuses upon salvation and messiah (Isaiah 40-55) as well as Yahweh’s future redemp­tion of Israel (Isaiah 56-66).

Micah’s message is not limited to the political and social leaders of Judah but extends to the religious leaders as well. The religious leaders of Micah’s time offered no rebuke for the oppression that he saw. The religious leadership was supported by the political leadership and was devoted to the interests of that leadership.[72]Mic. 3:5. Bright, History, 278. The prophets, seers, diviners and priests gave their message only for pay (Mic. 3:5-8, 9- 11), perhaps because the tithes to the temple were not being received. For a time the regular temple worship had ceased under Ahaz and syncretistic religious idolatry had crept in under the support of the king.[73]Syncretism is the combination of differing religious beliefs or practices – in this case Yahwism and Canaanite fertility cult. Ahaz even sacri­ficed a son in the fire to idol gods (2 Kings 16:3f; Mic. 5:12-14). Idolatrous syncretism was probably despised as a reminder of their subjugation to Assyria but there would have been those among the leadership and people who joined Ahaz in this worship.

The fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy of disaster against Samaria for its idolatry perhaps helped Hezekiah and others to take seriously the need for reform. However, religious reform could not occur while Judah was a vassal to Assyria.[74]Bright, History, 278.

It was probably after Hezekiah joined the rebellion against Sennacherib that his strong religious reforms were fully realized. Hezekiah went out to the cities in the north as well as Judah and removed the high places related to syncretistic Canaanite worship (2 Chron. 31:1). He also brought down the cultic standing stone pillars and the idolatrous Asherah poles, which stood next to the altars at these sites (2 Kings 18:4).[75]John Day, “Asherah,” Anchor Bible Dictionary 1:483-87. Hezekiah even destroyed the bronze serpent that Moses had made and raised up in the wilderness because Israel had been burning incense to it (see Num. 21:6-9; John 3:14; 2 Kings 18:4). Hezekiah reorganized the temple worship led by the priests and Levites and reestablished reg­ular morning, evening, monthly, and special burnt offerings to the Lord. He also commanded that the tithe be reinsti­tuted to support the priests and Levites. The people of Jerusalem and the cities of Judah responded to his call and brought in a tithe of sheep, oxen and sacred gifts; so there was plenty (2 Chronicles 31). While Hezekiah’s reform was in earnest, he did not do well in training up his son, Manasseh, to follow in his ways. It is also not known to what extent Micah’s prophetic call was heeded by the lead­ers and people of Judah.

 

Audience

Micah’s intended audience was, at first, Samaria (northern kingdom) and Jerusalem (Judah; Mic. 1:5; 2:7). The mention of the capitals stands for the peoples of Jacob and Judah (Mic. 1:5; 2:7) and their leaders, “namely, royal administrators, military officials, rich land owners, priests, and gifted prophets” (Mic. 2:1-2; 3:1, 9).[76]Bruce K. Waltke, “Micah” in The Minor Prophets, ed. Thomas Edward McCom1skey (Grand Rapids: Balcer Book House, 1993), 614 n. 1. While Micah’s message was primarily to the leaders of Samaria and Judah, his purpose was to spur change that would alleviate the oppression of those whom Micah calls “my people” (Mic. 1:9; 2:9; 3:3, 5). Micah’s ministry as an elder and prophet allowed him to speak directly to his peers in gatherings and perhaps even at the city gate in Jerusalem. Micah was sensitive to the oppression of the common Israelite (Micah 2-3). He identifies with them. He mourns and laments over his message of doom to his hometown and nearby cities (Mic. 1:8-16), but does not spare the peo­ple when their own sin is the cause of their fate (Mic. 1:13; 6; 7).[77]Wolff places the origin of Micah’s mournful cry of “woe” (Micah 2:1; 7:1) in the mourning ceremonies of rural communities. Hans Walter Wolff, “Micah the Moreshite,” 81-82. Micah preaches hard against those who, like him, are elders, judges, leaders, and shepherds of the people yet who oppress them. He was probably not very popular   among the leadership in Jerusalem during the time of Ahaz. However, his words were memorable enough for the elders of the land to have passed them down many years later in the time of Jeremiah.

The kings of Samaria and Judah were under pressure to provide security for themselves and their people. However, they were also under nationalistic and economic pressures to free themselves from the heavy tribute required by the Assyrians. At least in Judah, Hezekiah was under the pres­ sure of the need for religious reform. The leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem and in the cities of Judah in the midst of an agricultural economy. They were apparently callous toward the plight of the poor and were taking the lands, houses, and goods of the common person whenever legally possible, perhaps to make up for their loss due to heavy Assyrian taxes. They were also exploiting the labor of the common man as they built Jerusalem (Mic 3:10). This is perhaps the same type of exploitation condemned by Jeremiah, “Woe to him who builds his house without right­eousness and his upper rooms without justice, Who uses his neighbor’s services without pay, And does not give him his wages” (Jer. 22:13). As those sitting in judgment, those in leadership had the power to oppress with impunity. Micah calls the people to “do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8) and looks forward to a new king who will rule and judge in a time of peace (Micah 4-5).

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