On Reading Micah (Micah 1:1)

Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah, was from a small town 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem called Moresheth near the Philistine city of Gath. Micah was a rural prophet while Isaiah was close to the seat of power in Jerusalem. Ministering during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (ca. 750-686 B.C.), he lived in momentous times.

During the time of these Judean kings, the northern part of Israel is annexed by Assyria. By 740 B.C. Tiglath-Pileser (745-727 B.C.) had conquered all of Syria (Aram). In 734 B.C., the Assyrian Emperor acquired a permanent foot in Palestine by annexing what was northern Israel (essentially the Galilee region) and setting up a base of operations near Gath. By 732 all the nations in the Levant were paying Assyria tribute.

When Israel foolishly thought they might remove Assyria’s yoke and refused to pay the tribute, Shalmaneser V (727-722 B.C.) besieged and sacked Samaria in 723/722 B.C. Sargon II (722-705 B.C.) then subjugated Palestine as the smaller states paid tribute as well as putting down a revolt in Egypt in 720 B.C. He had to put down another revolt among the small states in 711 B.C.

When Sargon was assassinated in 705 B.C., the king of Judah–Hezekiah– rebelled along with some of the small states in the region as well as Babylon. They were all hopeful that Egypt would rebel as well. But Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.) ended their hopes by 701 B.C. While Sennacherib did not sack Jerusalem, he decimated the Judean countryside.

In 1830 a six-sided clay prism inscribed on six sides was found in Nineveh in 1830. It is now in the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.  prism1It describes how Hezekiah “would not submit to my yoke” and so he “took forty-six of his strong fenced cities” along with “smaller towns.” He “plundered a countless number.”  He took 200,156 prisoners, “old and young, male and female, together with horses and mules, asses and camels, oxen and sheep, a countless multitude.” As for Hezekiah, he shut him up “in Jerusalem, his capital city, like a bird in a cage.” Eventually, he claims, Hezekiah paid a high tribute, including “thirty talents of gold and 800 talents of silver” along with other “rich and immense booty.”

As a result of this, Sennacherib established a policy (along with his successor Esarhadon [681-669 B.C.]) of non-interference with Judah–as long as Judah did not interfere with the “Via Maris” (the trade route by the sea).  Consequently, Judah remained an independent state.

Micah lived through these turbulent times. He probably experienced numerous Assyrian incursions (including the exile of Israel and its capital Samaria) and especially the devastating invasion of 701 B.C. when Judah was raped by Assyrian power.

What does a prophet say to a people who lived under such powerful threats and through such devastation? This is the message of Micah. It is a filled with warnings and woes, but also hope and witness. Micah laments the fall of Samaria  and warns Judah that they are next if they do not renew their covenant with Yahweh. Micah wants to turn Judah back to God.

The text, as we have it, easily divides into three sermons or homilies. Each begins with the summons to “Listen” ( The first (Micah 1-2) moves from lament over the fall of so many Judean cities (1:2-16) to a rationale for their destruction (2:1-11) but leaves Judah with a hopeful future (2:12-13). The second sermon (Micah 3-5) pronounces judgment upon political and religious leaders (3:1-12) and then glories in Yahweh’s return to his people through a new David (4:1-5:14).  The third sermon (Micah 6-7) begins with a covenant lawsuit (6:1-8) along with a rationale for the judgment of Judah (6:9-16) followed by a lament (7:1-6) but again ends in hope (7:7-20).

Micah’s sermons have a similar pattern. He begins with a lawsuit or judgment oracle, expresses lament, and then offers hope.

Surrounded by the nations and living under the threat of imperial pressure, Judah must choose in whom she will trust. The political dynamics are addressed by Isaiah but Micah, presumably speaking to the rural people of the land in Judah, calls for a faithful life that trusts in the promises of Yahweh. This is where Judah will find hope, peace and security.

The final verses of Micah tell the underlying story. God forgives and delights in steadfast love (hesed). God has not forgotten. God is faithful. God will remember his promise to Abraham.

Though the days are dark, the story is not over.

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