Micah 1:2-7 — Yahweh is Coming!

The small-town prophet receives a big-time message from Yahweh. Micah announces that Yahweh is coming to Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom Israel. This, however, is about more than Israel. It is  Yahweh’s witness against the nations even though it is the nations who devastate Israel.

The opening address functions as a lawsuit where the prophet stands as a prosecutor who represents Yahweh’s interests. The nations and the whole earth are the witnesses. But the nations are also defendants as the Lord’s witness against Israel is also a witness against the nations. If the Lord will not spare Israel, God’s own covenant people, the Lord will not spare the nations. The sins of Israel are also the sins of the nations, and therefore the judgment of Israel is also the judgment of the nations. So, the nations will not only hear the prosecution as witnesses they will also recognize that the lawsuit equally applies to them. When Yahweh comes to Israel, the Lord also sends a message to the nations.

Yahweh comes from the heavenly “holy temple” (cf. Psalm 11:4; Habakkuk 2:20) to “tread upon the high places of the earth.” Micah describes a theophany. God shows up. The movement from the heavenly dwelling place (“holy temple”) to earth is described in apocalyptic terms. The mountains melt like wax before the fire and the valleys split open like rushing water down a steep embankment. God appears as a consuming (melting) fire and terrifies the earth as we are frozen in fear before a rapid gushing down a ravine.

The “high places” are not merely mountain tops. Rather they are the location of mountain sanctuaries for the gods of the nations and the idols of Israel. God is coming to “tread upon the high places of the earth.” Yahweh will appear at the sanctuaries of the gods and the mountains will melt.  God will “tread” or trample those high places and wash them away as with water.  Yahweh’s judgment is directed at the high places.

This is the transgression of both Israel and Judah, both the northern and southern kingdoms. “Transgression” and “high place” parallel each other in Micah 1:5 just as Samaria and Jerusalem do. The whole of God’s people are under judgment; Yahweh is coming to deal with both.

The emphasis, however, is on Israel. This opening section is the only place where Micah mentions Samaria. The rest of the book will address Judah. It is as if what happened to Samaria is Micah’s object lesson not only for the nations but more particularly for Judah. Jerusalem should learn the lesson of Samaria. Their sins resulted in their exile and if Jerusalem does not return to the Lord, Judah will experience the same judgment as Samaria.

Micah 1:6-7 details the reasons and consequences of this judgment.  The consequence is the metaphorical dismantling of Samaria as a city. While the language is often taken as literal in Micah 1:6, there is no archeological evidence for the total destruction and depopulation of the city. There is evidence of a layer of burnt materials as if the city was assaulted, but the city was inhabited until destroyed by John Hyrcanus in 107 B.C.E. The language, like mountains melting, is metaphorical as it describes the social and political devastation that Samaria experienced in 722 B.C.E. at the hands of the Assyrian King Sargon II.

The sins of Israel that invited this judgment are identified in Micah 1:7. “Carved images” and “idols” are parallel with “wages.” The fire that will consume Samaria will also destroy her idolatry. Samaria cannot trust her gods. “Wages” refer to what Israel paid these gods (as if they were paying prostitutes). They used their resources to serve these idols, even perhaps engaging in cultic practices with prostitutes. But the language is probably metaphorical. Israel prostituted herself by using her “wages” to pay for idols and their worship. Idolatry had infected Samaria. This is her sin.

MIcah’s ministry under the reigns of Kings Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah included the time when Samaria fell. The catastrophe appears future but the lament that follows (1:8-16) is more suited to the invasion of Sennacherib in 701 B.C.E. It seems most likely that Micah is using a past event (Samaria’s fall) to heighten the drama of Sennacherib’s march through the towns of Judah.  It is as if Assyria marches from the devastation of Samaria to the gates of Jerusalem (even though it is separated by 20+ years). The rhetoric underscores the common sins and plight of Samaria and Jerusalem.

Remember, however, this is not simply about Israel and Judah. It is a “witness” against the nations as well. God may well use Assyria to punish Samaria and Jerusalem, but in so doing they bear witness against themselves. They spell their own doom for the same sins.

Empires may trample others and think themselves justified, even blessed. But their violence bears the seed of their own destruction. “Hear, O peoples,” and watch how the Lord works among the nations.

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