Micah was writing to the Southern Kingdom of Judah during the reigns of Kings Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (1:1) which places him somewhere between 750-686BC. This period was a time of great affluence in Judah and the lure of wealth and power led to sins of corruption and idolatry. We see these sins among the people of God, germinating in the fertile ground of wealth and prosperity, growing up into their day to day dealings, into business, leadership and religion. Micah speaks strong words of judgement against these sins. He denounces the idolaters, the wealthy landowning classes who oppress the poor and marginalised, the civic and spiritual leaders who take the law into their own hands, and informs them of the coming judgement of God.
But the book is not all judgement. The fabric of the book is also woven with a strong message of redemption for the faithful. These signs of hope in the God of the covenant intersperse the messages of condemnation against sin. There is a vision of the renewed Jerusalem as the sign of hope and restoration beyond the exile. There is the promise of the ruler who will be born in Bethlehem of Ephrathah. There is the wonderful note of forgiveness and mercy that rings in the readers' ears as the book draws to a close.
Some commentators see three cycles in the book (1:1-2:13; 3:1-5:15; 6:1-7:20) each beginning with a word of judgement and ending on a note of hope for restoration. However another pattern may also be discerned:
Judgement gets more and more specific in Chs 1-3 (ie: against general idolatry in Ch 1; against wealthy oppressive landowners in Ch 2; and against the leaders of Judah in Ch 3.).
This is followed by two chapters focussing on the hope of redemption in the New Jerusalem in Ch 4, through the promise of a Messiah in Ch 5.
The book ends with a call to respond: authentic worship that is whole of life (Ch 6); and repentance, faith, forgiveness and a fresh start in Ch 7.
In terms of the message for today Micah continues to challenge us. The book calls us to repent from the worship of idols and other gods. It reminds us of the jealous love of God who will come in judgement not just against the world, but also against the people of God. It makes us think about corruption and injustice and oppression, and God's passion for fairness and justice, mercy and kindness. It makes us consider what kinds of leaders we ought have over us in the nation, and what kinds of leaders we need in our church. It reminds us of God's plan of salvation to renew the whole earth and bless it through his faithfulness to his promise. It highlights the role of God's messiah, the king born in Bethlehem. It challenges our narrow views of worship, and calls us to an integrated response of justice, mercy and humble obedience. It reinforces the idea that we are sinners under the wrath of God without hope except for the gracious intervention of God in salvation.
What has surprised me, studying this book in depth, is that it's not simply a book about justice. It is not the private reserve of those in the church with a passion for the marginalised and poor. But, as you would expect, tells the story of God's plan of redemption in the world.
There are three particular challenges in Micah:
- History – getting your head around the history of the times is essential in getting the prophecy to make sense;
- Biblical Theology – how to show each of the chapters fitting with the big flow of the Bible, without trite connections to Jesus;
- Judgment – how to think about coming judgement for God's people under the New Covenant.
A Series Outline
Preaching through this prophet has had a significant impact on us at St Jude's. A huge number of people have seemed to really grapple with the themes of this book and have tried to make careful, considered and practical responses to the Word.
I used the name of Micah which means "Who is like God?" (or better "who is like the LORD (Yahweh)") as the thematic link for the series. It worked quite well as a key to get people to think not only about the character of God, but also to use the rhetorical force of the question to ask themselves how they respond it him: "WHO is like God?". It also helped highlight the climax of the book in Micah 7:18 where the question is: "Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of your possession?". We used Micah 7:18-20 as the "assurance of forgiveness" in each of our services during the series.
Micah 1:1-16 - Who is like God in justice?
Who is like God? v1
The book opens with the divided kingdom, Israel centred on the northern city of Samaria and Judah on Jerusalem. It is a time of wealth and prosperity in Judah, and the people's comfort leads them to apostasy. Assyria to the north is a growing power that will overcome the people of Israel (722 BC – middle of Micah's writing) and will threaten Judah (701 BC). The end of Micah's period of writing anticipates the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon.
God comes to judge vv 2-7
The message here is that God is going to come and tread the earth, ("high places" v3) to bring judgement on the people of Israel because of idolatry and the worship of other gods (v7). He will lay Samaria to waste (v6).
God is still jealous for our affections and has set a day when he will come to judge the world again (Matt 12:36; Rom 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10). He is calling for us too, to repent from our idolatry and to turn to him.
Lament vv 8-9
Micah laments the coming judgement because it is now at the gate of Jerusalem.
Comprehensive judgement vv10-15
Verses 10-15 are a clever set of word plays in Hebrew, around the names of towns and pronouncements of their judgement: eg Beth-leaphrah (v 10) sounds like "dust town" and so he calls them to roll themselves in the dust. Each pronouncement brings judgement just a little closer to Jerusalem.
Responding v 16
The final part of the chapter calls people to repentance and mourning in the face of their sin.
Micah 2:1-13 - Who is like God in judging oppression?
Oppression vv 1-2
Micah 2 challenges social oppression in Judah. It tells of those who plot oppression of the poor and who take advantage of the powerless seizing property for their own ends.
Judgement vv 3-5
This section announces God's judgement against them. He will take away their land for their disobedience as he promised he would (Deut 28:49-52).
Oppression and Judgement
The passage gives the opportunity to speak about oppression and injustice in our own day, and the coming judgement of God. (Good material on the current state of the world in terms of justice can be found on the websites listed at the end under "resources".) God will judge oppression and injustice.
Getting the covenant right vv 6-11
The people of Judah misunderstood the covenant if they thought it was all about blessing and not about judgement. Vv 6-11 clear this up.
People today still don't like to hear about judgement, but they also misunderstand the new covenant if they think it should not be preached – see 1 Cor 6:9-11, Gal 5:21, 2 Tim 2:12.
We also need to be concerned for the poor and oppressed, or face the judgement of God (Prov 31:8-9, James 2:14). A variety of practical responses can be considered.
Micah 3: 1-12 - Who is like God in holding leaders to account?
Micah 3 focuses in on the sin of leaders.
Political and Judicial Leaders vv1-4
vv 1-4 denounce the political and judicial leaders who do not protect the weak. They are likened to cannibals (v2-3). God's punishment fits their status (v4).
Religious Leaders vv 5-7
The next section is about the prophets and priests, who only preach for a bribe. Again their judgement (v6-7) fits their station.
All Judah's Leaders vv 9-12
All the leaders are then condemned in vv 9-12, judges, builders, magistrates, priests and prophets. They think they are untouchable (v11b), but God will deal with them in judgement (v12).
An Example v 8
Micah himself stands as a shining example in their midst in v 8 – concerned for justice and preaching for repentance.
Your Leaders – Who is like God?
The passage gives the opportunity to reflect on how we are lead in the church and in the nation, and what we should look for (and shun) in our leaders.
You as a Leader – Are you like God?
The passage also hits home at our own exercise of leadership in the church and in the world.
Micah 4:1-5:1 - Who is like God in rescuing the nations?
A Vision of the Future vv1-5
Chapter 4 opens with a shock, especially if you read 3:12 and then 4:1. The scene has changed from judgement to hope, as we look forward to the "days to come". The text draws a picture of the mountain of God lifted high and all the nations streaming to it for instruction and the Word of the Lord streaming out and making for lasting peace (see Isaiah 2:1-4).
Participating in the Vision
Human beings have tried hard to bring peace to the world (eg. through the UN) but ultimately we fail because the problems are much deeper and need the intervention of God to deal with human sin. From our standpoint in the biblical story, we know the intervention he took in "the last days" (Heb 1:1-3; Acts 2; 2 Tim 3:1, Rev 21:1-4).
An appropriate response is to do as the remnant did in Micah's day – to walk in the name of the Lord (v5b).
The Pathway 4:6-5:1
The pathway to the future blessing of God is one of suffering and hope.
Micah 5:2-15 - Who is like God in giving us a Shepherd King?
A Shepherd King is promised vv 2-5
Micah 5 makes more explicit, the intervention of God in the future, by introducing the promise of a coming King, born in the line of David (in Bethlehem), who would rule for all eternity.
Who is the King?
Obviously the people of Judah were looking for a King in this line as Nathan had prophesied in 2 Sam 7:16, but no king ever came until a strange event recorded in Matthew 2:1-5. We later find that this new born king of Matthew 2 is none other than the good shepherd (John 10:1-18).
Role of the remnant vv 7-9
As the faithful remnant wait for the coming King they, themselves will be both blessing (v7) and curse (v8-9) to the nations around them.
Preparing for the Shepherd King vv 10-15
The final part of the chapter shows God's jealous judgement once again for those who reject his rule.
Micah 6:1-16 - Who is like God in his requirements for worship?
Courtroom Drama vv 1-2
Micah 6 is set in the courtroom with God as prosecutor and perfect judge.
The Opening Questions vv 3-5
He wants to know how he has wearied the people. He has acted to save them (v 4-5) and their disobedience is a mystery to him: "What have I done to you?" (v3).
An insulting response vv 6-7
Rather than hanging their heads in shame, they belligerently offer a series of responses that escalate in their intensity and affront to God.
The LORD's response v8
But God has already told them what he really wants – to do justice (a social outworking of faith), to love mercy (a relational outworking) and walk humbly with Him (a spiritual outworking). The perfect balanced worship!
The Sentence vv 9-16
The last part of the passage delivers the judge's sentence on their hard hearts who have resisted his call.
Micah 7:1-20 - Who is like God in the triumph of his salvation?
A Prophet's Lament vv 1-7
Chapter 7 opens with Micah's lament that the people of God have ignored his words, and in fact the situation is worse than at the beginning, so that even family relationships are sundered (vv5-6). It is the worst of times.
But Micah remains faithful, waiting for God to hear him, confident that God will answer his prayer (v7). A word of encouragement for those who stand up for truth, and find no result.
Israel's Acknowledgement vv8-10
Yet Micah yearns for a day when the people of God will acknowledge their sin.
Future Hope vv 11-17
He looks forward to the day when God will act – the day of building walls (v 11-12 cf. Micah 4) when God will come to shepherd his people (v 14-17 cf. Micah 5).
Forgiveness and the Promise of God vv 18-20
The climax of the book is a mediation on the name Micah – "who is like God" – "who is a God like you?" (v18). He is a God who deals fully and finally with sin (vv 18-19) so that he can be true to his promise (v20).
Who is Like God?
This last passage – sin, judgment, hope through forgiveness – is the Gospel, that we know through Jesus Christ.
Some Helpful Resources
The best commentaries I found on Micah were written by Bruce Waltke (professor of OT at Regent). He has been kind enough to give us two of them, one in a series along with some other Minor Prophets and another stand alone version that seems to answer every possible question on the text. I also found Daniel Simundson's work in the New Interpreter's Bible to be insightful and especially helpful with application. Also helpful in the application area was Gary Smith's contribution to the NIV Application Commentary series. There are many others but these were my top 4.
I found a number of websites particularly stimulating during the series including: www.micahchallenge.org.au, www.makepovertyhistory.org.au.
For great country profiles and a big picture view on global issues try: news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/country_profiles/default.stm.
My sermons are at www.stjudes.org.au/sermons.
Micah has a great message for the church today! Preaching through this prophet has had a significant impact on us at St Jude's. A huge number of people have really grappled with the themes of this book and have tried to make careful, considered and practical responses to the Word. Let me encourage you to preach through Micah!
Richard Condie is Vicar of St Jude's Carlton and he makes a mean French onion soup. Richard is married to Helen and they have two school-age children, Sarah and Matthew.