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Studies in the Prophets


We think this prophet might be the Micah who is mentioned in the book of Jeremiah 26:18

            “Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah
Thus says the Lord of Hosts
            Sion shall be ploughed as a field,
            Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins.
            And the mountain of the house a wooded height”

From that we learn quite a bit about the man and his message.

 We know that his home town was Moresheth Gath.
But his activity seems to have been exercised in the city of Jerusalem and in the kingdom of Judah and we tend to think of him as a contemporary of Isaiah or Jerusalem.
Theologians have rather played down the importance of Micah, seeing him as far less impressive than Isaiah. One popular Old Testament text book took delight in describing him as a “Rural prophet.” It may be true to say that he, like Amos, is very concerned about social injustice

On the other hand he is clearly an influential prophet living in the southern kingdom during the reigns of Hezekiah 715-687, Jotham 742-735 and Ahaz 735-715.
These dates span the fall of the northern kingdom 722 and the crisis of Sennacherib’s attack on Judah in 701.

Turning to the book which bears his name I would have to admit that the issue is rather a complex one.
Some of the oracles seem to come from a date earlier than the reign of Hezekiah
Others towards the middle and end of the book are more like the sayings of Deutero-Isaiah.
It may be that the sayings of Micah were passed on in oral form or that like Isaiah we are dealing with a prophet whose words were added to by his disciples or followers

In the case of Micah -essentially it boils down to this:- what do you want to find out?
Do you want to know what the man Micah said – and only that?

Or do you want to find out what whoever put the completed works of Micah and followers was trying to say in the book.

If we go for the former, our exercise will become very piecemeal.
However we are looking for the book’s contribution to the scroll of the twelve, we might miss the point of the Micah contribution.

Looking at the book as a whole I would suggest that the structure could work like this

Part 1  Oracles of judgement  chaps 1-3
            Oracles of salvation chaps 4-5
Part 2  Oracles of judgement chap 6:6-7:7
            Oracles of salvation  chap 7:8-29

Each of the two sections include a judgement passage followed by an assurance of salvation

Glancing at what he says
Micah is very hard hitting in his criticism of Samaria and Judah

            “For behold the Lord is coming forth out of his place
            And will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth. 1:2 -4
            And the mountains will melt under him
            And the valleys will be cleft like wax before the fire”

Specific cities are criticized – including Jerusalem and “Woe to those who devise evil…”

He is equally provocative in speech against Zion
            “The sun shall go down on the prophets and the day shall be black over them.” 3:6
And that is because they lead the people astray.
Now the more positive note in this second section of Micah’s work is what causes many scholars terrible academic indigestion.

Chapter 4 – the redemption of Zion seems to say the opposite of what he has been saying in the latter part of chapter 3.
“The mountain of the house of the Lord will be established, as the  highest of the mountains …and peoples shall flow to it.”

I have already mentioned that Micah’s ministry coincides with the second half of Isaiah of Jerusalem’s life. It would appear that the two men had totally different outlooks on what needed to be said. Unlike Isaiah, Micah did not believe that Jerusalem would be spared from the advance of foreign invaders. In the original oracles of Micah there is no evidence of Davidic covenant theology which guaranteed the permanence of a descendant of David being on the throne in Jerusalem.
Even in the passage  Micah 5:2-6
But you, O Bethlehem Eph′rathah,
who are little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days…
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
Micah announces a ruler who will be born not in the royal court in Jerusalem, but in humble little Bethlehem, where David came from.

This of course is the passage which the Christians seized upon as a reference to Jesus as Messiah in Matthew 2:6.  

Dividing Micah into atomistic oracular units to judge them genuinely from Micah or not and to separate them on the supposed historical background is great fun if you like jigsaw puzzles. There is though the danger that you will miss the point and fail to see the overriding, unified message of the book

The book of Micah represents at least two centuries of Israel’s meditation on its God-given role in the world of nations.
Micah recalls the promise to the fathers that Israel will be a source of blessing for all the nations of the earth. But hindering that role is Israel’s continual sin for which it must be judged.
The Lord wishes for all people peace (4:3-4 & 5:5) and a glorious future, governed by God’s anointed ruler and under God’s universal kingship.
Despite the nations rebellious iniquity God’s plan will eventually predominate.

This I think is the message of Micah. At first sight because of the chaotic structure of the various sections. It is only when we appreciate the repeated pattern of criticism, judgement and then forgiveness that we begin to see overall shape.

But what about these dates and what about the sections of the book that seem to appear in the writings of other prophets.
Micah is an excellent example of the extent to which the words of the prophets in the Old Testament formed a living tradition that was handed down. I think there are similarities between the book of Micah and the prophecies of Isaiah which stretch over 2/3 centuries.
Equally Micah’s words from the close of the C8BC are incorporated into a Micah book that found its final form around 515BC.  

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