Notes for the Prophet Micah
Sweeney, Marvin A. The Twelve Prophets Volume Two. Part of the Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry, David W. Cotter General Editor. (Liturgical Press Collegeveille, MN 2000)
Trei Asar The Twelve Prophets Vol. II: Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. Mesorah Publications New York 2009. Translation and commentary by Rabbi Yitzchok Stavsky.
Overall summary of Bible history:
The PRE-HISTORY period (A long long time ago, in a place far away,Before 1800 BCE) Genesis 1 – 11 Adam and Eve, Noah
The PATRIARCHAL period (1800 – 1200 BCE) Genesis to the end, Exodus. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel, into Egypt for 400 years
The MONARCHICAL period (1200 – 600 BCE)
- Moses around 1200
- Judges, gradual conquest of the land up to 1,000
- 1000 to 900’ish – the three great kings Saul, David, and Solomon
- Division at the death of Solomon into two kingdoms
- 721 destruction and loss of the northern kingdom at the hands of the Assyrians
- 587 BC – Babylonian Captivity
The FOREIGN DOMINATION period (600 BCE – 70 AD) Kings of Judah appointed by foreign states.
The CHRISTIAN period (0 to 100AD)
Theme of Micah is that the Assyrian destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722BC is God’s example for the southern kingdom of Judah and its capital Jerusalem. Micah promises – the south will be lifted up after its time of exile to a place at the center of the world’s nations.
He seems to have directly experienced the consequences of war and life under siege. Sweeney p. 341: “His constant criticism of Israel’s and Judah’s leadership indicates the perspective of a man who lives in an outlying village that suffers as a result of the decisions made in Samaria and especially in Jerusalem.” The innocent bystanders of today’s wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, etc.?
Sweeney p. 344: His hometown of Moreshet Gath “would have been situated directly in the path of Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah in 701 BC which focused on the city of Lachish. It was undoubtedly one of the 46 Judean cities taken by his soldiers. Most scholars maintain that Micah’s presence in Jerusalem was the result of his flight from Moreshet Gath to escape the Assyrian invasion.”
All of this places the prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah during the period of 720 to 690BC – after the Northern kingdom succumbs, during a period of southern kingdom resistance and reliance on Egypt, and well before the Babylonian Captivity of the south in 587BC. After laying siege to Jerusalem the Assyrians accepted their virtual surrender and accepted increased tribute from them – but did not destroy them.
Sweeney divides up the book this way:
- 1:1-2 Superscription
- 1:3 to 7:20 The LORD’s plan for exaltation after punishment
- 1:2 to 1:16 punishment of the north is a warning to Jerusalem
- 2:1 to 5:14 overview of punishment and restoration
- 6:1 to 6:16 appeal to return to the LORD
- 7:1 to 7:20 song of confidence in God’s faithfulness
1:2 to 1:16 punishment of the north is a warning to Jerusalem
The northern kingdom had, in the 700’s, a period of great political unrest and struggle as kings and heirs to the throne were assassinated. Two factions – cooperate with Assyria (THE regional power of the century) or not. The eventual invasions and destruction came as a result of revolt.
The pre-eminent sin of the north (capital is Samaria) is cultic apostasy – having another holy mountain and another temple and another priesthood. This is reflected in the gospels as the hostility to survivors of it all (the Samaritans) who were recognizably part of the Jewish people / family – but also distinct from them.
The cities mentioned in this section were small towns in the countryside of Philistine and Judah taken by the Assyrians in their approach to Jerusalem in 701. Most cannot be firmly identified today – lots of word play in this section (“tell” and Gath, Leaphrah and roll) etc. Lachish was the regional capital, probably had a military role, and has been identified.
According to the rabbis the worship of Baal was brought to the northern kingdom of Israel by Jezebel, wife of the king Ahab. The practice spread through Lachish – therefore this is the source of the sin and trouble for everyone.
Adullam is where the cave was that David hid in from Saul and his army. Hence – the leaders of Judah will soon be forced to flee and hide.
2:1 to 5:14 overview of punishment and restoration
The overall theme is that the northern kingdom of Israel is judged and punished by the LORD BUT out of this disaster the LORD will bring something good – a remnant of the people will survive in the southern kingdom of Judah, centered on the Temple, Mt. Zion, Jerusalem. In the end there will be exaltation.
“Woe”s are a standard form of prophetic speech. They lay out a cause for punishment and the consequences of that choice.
Micah’s particular “woe” concerns the taking of the land or services of poor people contrary to the covenant law. This is the irony of the prophecy – that in coveting and cheating and stealing the land of fellow Israelites the LORD will punish them by having them removed from the land and to never return.
Micah warns them – the LORD is not going to come to your rescue now, flee while you still can.
The references to cannibalism are a metaphor for the leaders “devouring” the people. They made a terrible decision to revolt against the Assyrians. The prophet condemns other “false prophets”, most likely in the employ of the king / leaders, who issued prophecies sympathetic to them.
Rabbis p. 24: “The prophet refers to the three categories of people who claimed to foretell the future: seers, diviners, and false prophets.
- Seers claimed to see their visions at night; but instead of the night ushering in a vision the vision will usher in the night.
- Diviners usually practiced their divinations in a dark place; instead of the darkness bringing the divination, the divination will bring on the darkness.
- The false prophets prophesied by day. Their punishment will be that the sun will set for them and their day will become dark.”
Both the prophet Micah and Isaiah have this vision of exaltation of Zion and the coming of the peoples of the world to it for judgment and favor and peace. Chapter 4 is an early messianic vision – with a very human messiah / king of the house of David ruling justly, empowered by the LORD.
Sweeney p. 388: “Fundamentally, the address to Bethlehem Ephrata points to the birthplace of David in order to anticipate the emergence of a new Davidic king who will bring peace to Israel from its enemies.”
The rabbis say on p. 37: “…the city of Bethlehem which was one of the smallest cities of Judah. Nevertheless, it merited that one of its sons, King David, would have a descendant who would lead the nation. In any even, Scripture does not mean that the Messiah’s birthplace will be the city of Bethlehem (as the Christian writers propose) but that the Messianic king will be a descendant of the house of David which originated in Bethlehem.”
6:1 to 6:16 appeal to return to the LORD
A lack of justice within the nation is the root cause of all of its problems.
This unit is something of a legal brief, a lawsuit brought by the LORD against the people – with charges, appeals for testimony from witnesses, etc.
What was demanded of you was not so hard – do justice, love kindness, and to walk modestly with your God.
7:1 to 7:20 song of confidence in God’s faithfulness
Sweeney says that most scholars think this chapter got added to Micah AFTER the Babylonian Captivity.
Verses 7:18-20 are read at the end of the Book of Jonah at the afternoon service of Yom Kippur – as well as other places and times. They are an important summary and consolation.
In all of this – what word does God speak to us today?