Background of Micah
Author and Date
Micah prophesied during the reigns of the Judean kings Jotham (750–735 BC), Ahaz (735–715), and Hezekiah (715–687). This was about the same time as Hosea and Isaiah, though Micah may have served somewhat later. The length of Micah’s public activity may have been about 20 to 25 years.
The theme of Micah is judgment and forgiveness. The Lord, the Judge who scatters his people for their sins, is also the Shepherd-King who in covenant faithfulness gathers, protects, and forgives them.
Purpose and Background
Micah writes to bring God’s “lawsuit” against his people (Micah 3:8). He indicts Samaria and Jerusalem for their sins (Micah 1:2–7). Both Assyria (Micah 5:5–6) and Babylon (Micah 4:10) stand ready to carry out God’s judgment. The reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, along with the increasing threat of Assyria, provide the broad background for Micah.
Micah lists specific sins of both the northern and southern kingdoms. These sins include idolatry (Micah 1:7; 5:12–14); the seizure of property (Micah 2:2, 9); the failure of civil leadership (Micah 3:1–3, 9–10; 7:3), religious leadership (Micah 3:11), and prophetic leadership (Micah 3:5–7, 11); offering sacrifice without truly repenting (Micah 6:6–7); and corrupt business practices and violence (Micah 6:10–12).
1. The Lord’s character and the people’s sins demand judgment (Micah 1:2–5; 2:3; 6:1–2, 9–11). God’s “sentence” upon his people comes in the form of an oppressor (Micah 1:15; 4:11; 5:1, 5–6) and by means of covenant curses (Micah 6:13–15) caused by covenant unfaithfulness (Micah 6:16).
2. A Shepherd-King will gather and deliver a faithful remnant of people (Micah 2:12–13; 4:6–8; 7:14, 18). This deliverer, functioning as a new David, will come from the very region that was then under Assyrian control (Micah 5:2–5a).
3. Practicing justice and mercy shows covenant faithfulness (Micah 6:8; compare Matthew 23:23).
4. The Lord is the focus of worship. The nations will come to Zion to learn of the true Lord and to live in peace (Micah 4:1–5; 7:12; compare Isaiah 2:2–5).
5. Grace flowing from the Lord’s steadfast love (Micah 7:18–20) overcomes the penalty due to sin (Micah 7:8–9). Forgiveness is possible because of God’s faithfulness to his promises (Micah 7:20).
6. God’s saving acts in the past (Micah 6:4–5; 7:14–15) provide hope for his saving acts in the future (Micah 7:19–20).
I. Superscription (1:1)
II. The Announcement of Judgment on Israel and Judah (1:2–2:13)
III. The Present Injustice and the Future Prospect of Just Rule in Jerusalem (3:1–5:15)
IV. The Lord’s Indictment and Restoration of His People (6:1–7:20)
The Near East at the Time of Micah
The Global Message of Micah
“Who is a God like you?” (Micah 7:18). This question is the note on which the prophecy of Micah ends, and it is also a rough translation of the very name Micah. The theme that resounds throughout this book is the mercy of which God’s people are assured despite their faithlessness, especially the faithlessness of their leaders. “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance?” God will pass over his people’s sin because of his covenant promises.
At the heart of those covenant promises is God’s sovereign purpose of mercy to the nations. “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord’” (Micah 4:1–2; compare Isaiah 2:2–3). God is on a mission to extend his steadfast love to all those who call on his name, from every people group all around the world.
God is on a mission to extend his steadfast love to all those who call on his name, from every people group all around the world.
Micah in Redemptive History
The story line of the Bible is one of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. God created all things good. He lived with Adam and Eve in perfect fellowship and harmony. In our father Adam, however, we all rebelled (Romans 5:12–19). Humanity fell into corruption and sin, bringing the whole cosmos with us (Romans 8:19–22). From early on, however, God has promised to be with his people and to enable them to overcome their spiritual enemy, the devil and his forces (Genesis 3:15). Redemption has begun, climaxing in Christ, in whom “all the promises of God find their Yes” (2 Corinthians 1:20). All who trust him are adopted into God’s family, united to Christ, indwelt by the Spirit, forgiven their sin, and restored to God. One day, when Christ comes again, all will be set right and God’s people will be vindicated.
God’s Indictment of Israel
Micah’s prophecy advances this story line by focusing on some of the results of the fall, recounting a series of sins among God’s people in the generations between Adam and Christ. Having been called to bless the whole world (Genesis 12:1–3), the sin problem for which Israel was meant to be an instrument of healing has instead infected them just as it has the rest of the world. God’s people are idolatrous (Micah 1:7; 5:12–14), oppressive to the vulnerable in society (Micah 2:2, 8–9), and dishonest in their business dealings (Micah 6:9–12). In particular, the leaders of Israel, both civil and religious, are corrupt (Micah 3:1–11; 7:3).
God’s Overflowing Redemption
But God has not left his people there. He has determined to save a remnant (Micah 2:12; 5:7; 7:18), in faithfulness to his covenant promises. We are a fallen people. But God is a God of redemption. And this redemption is for all peoples. At the heart of Micah is the promise that one day the nations of the world will flow to Zion—to Jerusalem—to worship the one true God. Yet with the coming of Christ, the stream of nations flowing to Jerusalem became reversed: now, God’s people flow out from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), bringing God’s blessing to the nations.
Universal Themes in Micah
The Gracious Restoration of God’s People
Despite their sin, God will send a ruler to “shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord” (Micah 5:2–4; compare John 10:11). “And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace” (Micah 5:4–5). This ruler, from a whole-Bible perspective, is Jesus Christ (Matthew 2:5–6). And the peace he won for believers extends, Micah says, “to the ends of the earth.” The restored people of God, when we take into view all of human history, is not simply a restored ethnic Israel but a restored humanity from all the nations of the earth, as anticipated in Micah 4:1–5. This restoration is beautifully expressed in the words of worship that close Micah’s prophecy: “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot” (Micah 7:18–19).
Compassion and Advocacy for the Oppressed
God is not pleased when his people perform ritual sacrifices but fail to pursue compassion and justice. “‘Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:7–8). Performing external acts of worship while neglecting the needs of those around us is an offense to God.
The Global Message of Micah for Today
Three of the great themes of the Bible form the backbone of Micah: divine judgment of sin; merciful restoration due to God’s covenant faithfulness, achieved through a coming Shepherd-King; and the compassion that God’s people must accordingly demonstrate to a watching world.
All three of these themes are sources of strength to the church worldwide today. Those feeling overwhelmed by the spiritual warfare in which they are embattled can be heartened by God’s determination to set all wrongs right at the end of history. Those feeling the weight of their sin and the sharp pain of regret are given strong hope in the steadfast love of the Lord of mercy. And all God’s people are reminded that formal exercises of worship, though they are helpful means of expressing heartfelt praise to God, can never replace the crucial role of justice and compassion for our neighbors. We to whom God has shown such lavish compassion are compelled by love to extend compassion to the defenseless and disadvantaged all around us.
Micah opens with a call to all the nations to pay heed to what God is doing: “Hear, you peoples, all of you; pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it” (Micah 1:2). And the book closes with a declaration that people from everywhere will come to the Lord, even from the hated nations of Assyria and Egypt (Micah 7:12), while other nationalities who have remained impenitent tremble at the sight of God’s people (Micah 7:15–17). From beginning to end, Micah resounds with a message of salvation through judgment not only for Israel but for all the nations of the world. He is a refuge to all.