Of the four eighth century prophets whose writings have been preserved in the Old Testament, Micah was the last. Amos and Hosea had brought God’s message mainly to the northern kingdom Israel, whereas Isaiah and Micah were more concerned with the southern kingdom Judah.
The two men prophesied during the same period (Isa 1:1; Micah 1:1) and both were especially concerned with the sins of Jerusalem. The two books contain many similarities, and it has been suggested that Micah might have been one of Isaiah’s disciples (cf. Isa 8:16).
With the prosperity of the eighth century came the social evils of greed, corruption, injustice and immorality. Those who profited most from the economic development were the merchants, officials and other upper class city dwellers. Corruption in the law courts made it easy for these people to do as they wished, while poorer class people found it impossible to gain even the most basic justice (Micah 3:9-11; 7:3). Micah was particularly concerned with the injustice done to the poor farmers. He was from a farming village himself (Micah 1:1), and he saw that the corruption of Israel and Judah was centred in the capital cities, Samaria and Jerusalem (Micah 1:5; 6:9). Because of the injustice of the officials and merchants with whom they had to deal, the farmers were forced to borrow from the wealthy to keep themselves in business (Micah 3:1-3; 6:10-12). The wealthy lent them money at interest rates so high that the farmers found it impossible to pay their debts. The wealthy then seized the farmers’ possessions as payment. First they seized their clothing and household items (Micah 2:8), then, when these were not sufficient, their houses and land (Micah 2:1-3,9). The farmers then had to rent back their land from their new masters, thereby increasing the farmers’ burden even more. These practices showed no knowledge of the character of God or the nature of true religion. The people still followed the sacrifices and ceremonies of the Israelite religion, but Micah warned that formal religion was hateful to God if justice and love were absent (Micah 6:6-8). Unless they repented, God would send the people into captivity and leave their homeland desolate (Micah 3:12; 6:16). Religious leaders also were corrupt. Preachers had comforting words for the upper class people from whom they received their income, but they condemned the prophet Micah for his forthright speaking (Micah 2:6,11; 3:5). Hezekiah the king, however, heeded Micah’s warnings. He managed to achieve some reformation in Judah, and as a result God postponed the day of judgment (Jer 26:18-19; cf. Micah 3:12). Eventually, in the reign of a later king, the judgment fell. Yet Micah saw that beyond the judgment lay the hope of a restored nation, a glorious kingdom and an ideal king (Micah 2:12-13; 4:1-4; 5:2,4).
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Summary of the book
From his prophetic viewpoint, Micah gives a picture of the judgment about to fall on Israel and Judah (1:1-16). He goes on to point out that the reason for the judgment is the oppression of the poor by the corrupt leaders (2:1-3:12). But, looking further ahead, he sees that after captivity in a foreign land, Israel’s shame will be replaced by glory (4:1-5:1), and God’s chosen king will reign over his people in an ideal kingdom (5:2-15). Returning to the present, Micah announces God’s accusations against his people (6:1-16), then confesses their sin to God and pleads for God’s mercy (7:1-20).
The best known of several Micahs in the Bible story is the prophet whose book is part of the Old Testament (Micah 1:1; Jer 26:18). (For details of this Micah see MICAH, BOOK OF). Another prophet had a variation of the same name, Micaiah. He lived in the time of King Ahab of Israel, and Ahab hated him. Whereas the other court prophets said only those things that pleased Ahab, Micaiah spoke the truth, whether Ahab liked it or not (1 Kings 22:5-9).
When he told Ahab that a coming battle would bring defeat, Ahab threw him into prison. The outcome proved (as Micaiah had asserted) that he spoke the truth and that the other prophets were liars (1 Kings 22:13-36). An earlier Micah lived in the time covered by the book of Judges. He was a thief and an idol worshipper whom his mother made priest of her household shrine. But Micah did not come from the priestly tribe, so when a Levite happened to visit his house, Micah made him priest instead (Judg 17:1- 13). After some time, representatives of the tribe of Dan stopped at Micah’s house while on a journey north in search of a new tribal homeland (Judg 18:1-6). When the Danites later moved north to settle, they again visited Micah. On this occasion they raided his shrine, robbed him of his images, and threatened him with death when he resisted (Judg 18:11-26). They then continued their journey and established Micah’s idolatrous religion in their new homeland (Judg 18:27,31).