Idolatry and oppression were pervasive in Israel and Judah, emanating forth from Samaria and Jerusalem. YHWH of Armies had noticed; His patience had worn thin. Judgment would soon come. Yet it was appropriate for an indictment to be set forth, and YHWH provided it through Micah of Moresheth.
Micah hailed from Moresheth, a village of the Shephelah or southwest region of Judah, between Lachish and Achzib (Micah 1:1). The reference to Moresheth-Gath in Micah 1:14 most likely indicates a historic or ongoing connection between Moresheth and the Philistine city of Gath. Moresheth was fortified by Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11:8); it sat upon an important road heading into the southland and eventually to Egypt. Micah prophesied in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah kings of Judah (ca. 740-697 BCE; Micah 1:1), and lived contemporaneously with Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah. He prophesied regarding Samaria and Jerusalem (Micah 1:1).
The prophet Micah set forth YHWH’s indictment against Israel and Judah in Micah 1:2-3:12. All the nations of the earth and the inhabitants therein were summoned to hear the accusations and to see the coming of YHWH in judgment: the mountains would crumble and the valleys would divide like wax in fire and water on a mountain (Micah 1:2-4).
Israelites and Judahites might have been fine with Micah’s summons if he were to issue judgment against the nations. And yet Micah brought terrifying news: YHWH was coming in judgment on account of the rebellion and transgression of Israel and Judah (Micah 1:5)! Their sinfulness had come from what was being done and established in Samaria and Jerusalem (Micah 1:5). Thus YHWH would destroy Samaria: it would become a ruin (Micah 1:6). All the gods they had worshiped and served in Samaria would be destroyed and turned into a waste heap; since Israel gathered them as a whore took her money, so the metal would become money used on whores (Micah 1:7).
The prophet lamented over the fate of Samaria and Israel and would participate in mourning rituals (Micah 1:8). The iniquity of Samaria was reckoned as an incurable disease which had also infected Judah, the leaders of the people, and Jerusalem (Micah 1:9). Micah did not want the news proclaimed among the surrounding nations; the towns and villages of Judah would mourn (Micah 1:10-11). Lachish had caused sin in Zion and should thus prepare for war; the towns and villages around Moresheth would suffer great violence and its people would mourn (Micah 1:12-16).
Micah warned about those with power and devised wicked schemes to seize fields and defraud the less advantaged of their homes and property (Micah 2:1-2). YHWH planned for disaster against the nation; they would no longer have any pride, for calamity would overcome them (Micah 2:3). People would mock them with lament: they would be destroyed and their property sold to those who conquered them, and they would no longer have any portion among the people of YHWH (Micah 2:4-5).
Israelites and Judahites did not want to hear what Micah had to say. They “foamed at the mouth” telling him to stop “foaming at the mouth,” or prophesying with such vehemence; they frowned upon prophets speaking thus, confident they would never be thus humiliated (Micah 2:6). The people presumed YHWH would never thus lose patience and do such things to His people (Micah 2:7). Reward would come to those who followed YHWH’s commands, yet these people proved hostile to such righteousness: they would steal from those close to them, act as if at war with those with whom they should have peace, and defraud widows and orphans of the little they had, and thus would themselves be evicted and their land destroyed (Micah 2:8-10). Micah knew what kind of “foamer at the mouth” they would hear: one who would preach to them of beer and wine (Micah 2:11)!
Yet despite it all YHWH would preserve a remnant of His people. He would gather all who would remain of Israel like a flock of sheep, and their kind would advance before them while YHWH led them (Micah 2:12-13).
In the meantime, Micah had reason to condemn the rulers of Israel. They should know what is just, yet they hate the good and love evil, devouring the people of God as if a stew (Micah 3:1-3). A day of calamity would come for them, and in their fear and distress they would call upon YHWH, but He would hide His face from them, since they had participated in such wickedness (Micah 3:4).
Plenty of prophets acted little better. They would speak peace to those who provided them money, but would condemn any who would not (Micah 3:5). The time would come when they would no longer receive visions or discern omens; their light would grow dark, and they would become ashamed and humiliated, for they would no longer receive the oracles of YHWH (Micah 3:6-7).
Micah was not as those prophets. He took strength from the spirit of YHWH to affirm His justice, and thus spoke against Israel and its sins (Micah 3:8). To this end he spoke to the rulers of Israel, those who hated justice, perverted the right, and saturated Jerusalem and Zion with bloodshed: their leaders took bribes, their priests and prophets served for profit, and yet they presumed they trusted in YHWH and proved confident disaster would be averted by YHWH’s presence among His people (Micah 3:9-11). Because of them Zion would be plowed like a field and Jerusalem made a heap of ruins (Micah 3:12).
YHWH’s indictment through Micah was acerbic and biting. We can understand why the people would have resented such a prophetic warning. Yet would it all come to pass?
In the days of Ahaz and Hezekiah kings of Judah the Assyrians came and conquered all of Israel save Ephraim, and then would besiege and overtake Samaria (732, 722; 2 Kings 15:27-30, 17:1-6). Thus all of what Micah said against Israel and Samaria would come to pass during the days of his prophesying. In the days of Hezekiah king of Judah Sennacherib king of Assyria would invade Judah, overrun Lachish and Micah’s own Moresheth, among other towns of Judah, and besieged Jerusalem (701; 2 Kings 18:13-19:36).
A century later another prophet would speak warnings of YHWH’s condemnation against Judah and Jerusalem, and the people likewise did not want to hear such a message. This time the leaders and the people wanted to kill the prophet, but the elders of Jerusalem were very concerned. They reminded everyone of the message of Micah of Moresheth in Micah 3:12 and rhetorically asked if Hezekiah or the Judahites of the day put him to death (Jeremiah 26:17-19). According to the elders, Hezekiah feared YHWH and begged Him to relent of the disaster of which Micah spoke, and YHWH at that time relented; yet these elders feared for themselves and their own day (Jeremiah 26:19). This is an extraordinary conversation which has been recorded for us, for it represents the only time one prophet’s message was quoted and described or interpreted by another prophet in the Hebrew Bible. Such speaks to how the word of YHWH through Micah was understood by Judahites around 608: they understood him to speak of the invasion of the Assyrians. At least some in Judah continued to hold him in high esteem even though they continued to dwell in Jerusalem which had not been devastated; they considered what Micah had to say in Micah 3:12 as an active danger but one which YHWH did not actually accomplish because He relented of disaster and preserved Jerusalem.
And yet within twenty-five years Jerusalem would be fully destroyed by the Babylonians, and Zion could be plowed like a field as Micah had foretold (586; 2 Kings 25:1-21). The disaster had been delayed, not avoided. The word of YHWH which came through Micah of Moresheth indeed came to pass.
We may now live in a different age and under a different covenant, yet we should heed the word YHWH spoke through Micah. People today presume God is on their side and cannot imagine how any great disaster would overtake them, and continue to participate in all sorts of iniquity. People still wake up every morning thinking of how they can make money at the expense of the poor and marginalized. Idols may not be made of stone or metal but people still serve them. People would still rather hear preaching of beer and wine than sober warnings about the imminent judgment of God. And plenty of the people of God are the first to want to silence and suppress the voices of those among them who would point out inequality, oppression, injustice, idolatry, and the great danger of the judgment of God against His own people. May we seek strength in the Spirit of God to uphold justice and speak and embody His truth in Christ, and find life in Him!
Ethan R. Longhenry