Commentary on Micah 1-6 (A Promised Ruler from Bethlehem)

The Book of Micah was likely written by the prophet of that name who lived during the 8th century BC. Micah was born in a town about 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem (in Judah), but he may have lived in Jerusalem during parts of his ministry. He prophesied during the reigns of the following kings of Judah: Jotham (750– 732 BC), Ahaz (735– 715 BC), and Hezekiah (715– 686 BC).

Thomas Finley, in the Apologetics Study Bible, Hardcover, provides additional information about Micah:

The identification of these kings does not mean that he was active from 750– 686 but that his ministry spanned parts of each reign. Since he predicted the fall of Samaria (722 b.c.), the bulk of his ministry probably took place between about 750 and 725 b.c. Jeremiah 26: 17-18 refers to Micah as prophesying during the time of Hezekiah. Determining exact dates, however, for each of the prophecies contained in the book is difficult. Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah, Hosea, and possibly Amos. His prophecies addressed Samaria and Jerusalem. Samaria was the capital of the northern kingdom (Israel) and Jerusalem of the southern kingdom (Judah). Even though Micah ministered in Judah, some of his messages were directed toward Israel.

In chapter 1, verses 1-9, the prophet Micah reports the vision he has of the destruction of Samaria and Jerusalem due to their sinfulness. Samaria is the capital of Israel and Jerusalem is the capital of Judah.

Micah calls on the entire world to heed God’s witness against them. God is coming down from heaven and He will be metaphorically stepping on mountains and crushing them under His feet upon his arrival. Why? For the sins of the people of Israel and Judah. In particular, the capital cities of Samaria and Jerusalem are responsible for the transgressions of their respective nations.

Micah, in verses 6-7, then prophesies the destruction of Israel and her capital city. Samaria will be laid waste. The money paid to the illicit temple prostitutes in Samaria for their “religious services” will be taken by another nation and used to fund its own temple prostitution. Likewise, this same nation will destroy all of the pagan idols in Samaria.

Who is the nation that will overthrow Israel? Assyria. In fact, in 725 BC, the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser V laid siege to Samaria and 3 years later it fell to the Assyrians. Micah foresaw this disaster years before it occurred, but his prophetic words were ignored.

The fall of Israel would also affect Judah. Micah also foresees, in verses 8-9, that Assyria will march through the territory of Judah, all the way to the gate of Jerusalem itself. Because of this vision, Micah marches through the streets of Jerusalem in mourning, trying to get the attention of the people living there, to no avail.

In the year 701 BC, 21 years after the fall of Israel, the Assyrian king Sennacherib would fulfill Micah’s prophecy by sweeping through Judah all the way to the doorstep of Jerusalem. Only through God’s intervention does Judah, ruled by King Hezekiah, survive. God strikes the Assyrian army with a plague and their military campaign against Judah promptly ends.

In chapter 3, verses 9-12, Micah continues to prophesy about Judah. The leaders of Judah, at the time Micah is alive, are corrupt. They deny justice to the poor and they accept bribes for judicial decisions. The Levitical priests are accepting wages above and beyond the required tithe to enrich themselves at other’s expense. The prophets sell their oracles to the highest bidder, instead of seeking the word of God. In all of this, the rulers, priests, and prophets in Jerusalem believe that they are exempt from the tragedy that befell Israel. Why? Because the temple of God is located in Jerusalem and so they believe that God will never destroy His temple, no matter how they behave. Micah knows they are wrong.

Because of the sin and corruption of Judah, Jerusalem will someday be destroyed, just as Samaria was. Micah later identifies the foreign invader as the Babylonians. In 586 BC, Micah’s prophecy would come true when King Nebuchadnezzar conquers Jerusalem.

Although Micah has pronounced the eventual destruction of both Israel and Judah, his message is not all doom and gloom. Micah foresees a day when God will raise up Jerusalem so that all nations will submit to her. Who will rule Jerusalem and the rest of the world in this future kingdom of peace and security?

Micah answers this question in chapter 5, verse 2.

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”

Micah predicts that a ruler will be born in Bethlehem, which is the same place that his ancestor David was born. This ruler is the king whom God promised David in 2 Samuel 7, the future Anointed One, or Messiah. Micah is reminding his readers that the messianic promises made to David will indeed come to pass in the future. The apostle Matthew, in the 2nd chapter of his gospel, applies Micah’s prophecy to the birth of Jesus. He is the Messiah that Micah predicted would be born in Bethlehem, just as his ancestor David was.

Peter Craigie, in Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi (Daily Study Bible) explains the significance of Matthew’s quotation of Micah’s prophecy to the New Testament believer:

The deliverer has come to this world in the person of Jesus; like David, Jesus is the new Shepherd of God’s sheep, offering security from external enemies and a life of security. Jesus, of the Davidic line, is above all a gift of God to this world. To those who feel shut in on every side, like the besieged citizens of Jerusalem who first heard these words, Jesus brings the prospect of deliverance and security. And that is the essence of the Christmas message: God makes a gift to a besieged world through whom deliverance may come.

In verses 3-6, Micah reminds national Israel (and Judah in particular) that she will have to wait for the Messiah. Before he arrives, they will go through great pain, likened to a woman in labor. Kenneth Barker argues that the woman in labor is

a reference to Israel (Judah) or, more particularly, Zion (Jerusalem). Thus it would echo 4:9–10. God’s chosen people (the covenant nation), then, would bring forth the Messianic Ruler. The Ruler’s ‘brothers’ (=his people) would return from exile to join the other Israelites in Judah and Jerusalem as a restored, reunified, complete covenant nation again.

Verses 5-6 emphasize that all nations who attack God’s chosen people will be repelled by the Messiah. Under the Messiah’s rule, there will be peace on earth. Although Jesus did not bring peace on earth during his first coming, we know from the prophet Micah that he will bring peace during his future return.

Finally, in chapter 6, verses 6-8, Micah addresses an important question his readers would have had. What does God want from us? Micah speaks for Israel in verses 6-7 when he offers an answer to the question. The Israelites presume that merely offering sacrifices, in great numbers, and of great value, will appease God.

In verse 8, though, Micah writes what God truly desires from each Israelite and from each one of us. He wants our hearts and minds. He wants us to love Him and love our neighbors by showing them justice and mercy.

Walter Kaiser summarizes verses 6-8 in Hard Sayings of the Bible:

Thus this saying is not an invitation, in lieu of the gospel, to save oneself by kindly acts of equity and fairness. Nor is it an attack on the forms of sacrifices and cultic acts mentioned in the tabernacle and temple instructions. It is instead a call for the natural consequence of truly forgiven men and women to demonstrate the reality of their faith by living it out in the marketplace. Such living would be accompanied with acts and deeds of mercy, justice and giving of oneself for the orphan, the widow and the poor.