Micah — Part 1: Trial and Judgment
“But as for me, I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me” (Micah 7:7 NASB).
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Like King David before him, Micah the prophet wrote some of the most beautiful poetry in Scripture. The subject matter in Micah, however, is not always beautiful, for the prophet depicts that Israel would be brought to an idolatrous low and would be carried away. Three Kings are mentioned in the first verse of this prophecy.
“The word of Jehovah that came to Micah the Moreshtite in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem” (Micah 1:1, RSV).
The first king, Jotham, took over from his father Azariah (or Uzziah) who could rule no longer because of his leprosy. Although he was a righteous king, Jotham failed to remove the “high places” of idolatry (2 Kings 15:35, NAS).
The second king was Jotham’s son, Ahaz, who introduced idolatry to Judah similar to the northern kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 16:3). Under Ahaz both the government and religious leadership descended to a new low. He replaced the bronze altar of Solomon with one similar to that of the Assyrians. He changed other parts of the Temple and “sacrificed his son in the fire” (2 Kings 16:3), which God hated, and which Micah condemned.
Ahaz’ son Hezekiah was different, turning the nation back to the worship of God and removing the high places of idolatry (2 Kings 18:4). “He trusted in Jehovah, the God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among them that were before him” (2 Kings 18:5, ASV).
During Hezekiah’s reign, God delivered Judah from Sennacherib, who shut up the king like a “caged bird.”1 Later, Hezekiah’s son reversed everything that had been restored, and a century later Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judah and destroyed the temple.
Micah’s name means “who is like Yah” or “who is like Jehovah.” The name Michael is similar in meaning, “Who is like El” or “Who is like God?” There are three main segments of Micah’s prophecy: (1) Trial, (2) Judgment, (3) Restoration.
Trial and Judgment
Nearly the entire book of Micah is written in poetry. Sometimes different forms of poetry are used, such as the first chapter, which uses a poetic parallelism. This type of poetry says the same thing in two lines, using different words. This is seen in the second and the third verses where the trial section begins. Unfortunately, the beauty of the poetry is necessarily lost in translation.
“Hear, you peoples, all of you; hearken, O earth, and all that is in it; and let the Lord GOD be a witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple. For behold, the LORD is coming forth out of his place, and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth” (Micah 1:2-3, RSV).
Are the “peoples” in verses 2 and 3 only those in Israel that the prophet might be addressing, or the entire earth? Micah’s poetic parallelism reveals this for us. While the first line says “peoples,” the second poetic line reads “earth.” Micah’s poetry portrays a vivid picture of a gripping, courtroom drama, as if the second verse should read, “Hear ye, hear ye, the court is in session.” The legal case against the earth, Judah, and Israel begins with God himself as the chief witness.
“And the mountains will melt under him and the valleys will be cleft, like wax before the fire, like waters poured down a steep place”(Micah 1:4, ASV). The poetic parallel describes the Micah — Part 1: Trial and Judgment The Poetic Prophet “But as for me, I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me” (Micah 7:7 NASB).
(1) Sennacherib’s prism, University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute.
The poetic parallel describes the mountains melting as water being poured down a steep place. This shows how quickly this judgment will come upon them. “For the transgression of Jacob is all this, and for the sins of the house of Israel. What is the transgression of Jacob? is it not Samaria? and what are the high places of Judah? are they not Jerusalem” (Micah 1:5, ASV)? Verse 5 defines what the high places are. Here Micah narrows the wide sweep of God’s judgment to His chosen people because of their idolatry.
“Therefore I will make Samaria a heap in the open country, a place for planting vineyards; and I will pour down her stones into the valley, and uncover her foundations. All of her idols will be smashed, all of her earnings will be burned with fire, and all of her images I will make desolate, for she collected [them] from a harlot’s earnings, and to the earnings of a harlot they will return” (Micah 1:6-7 NAS).
Micah 1:6 says that God will pour her stones down into the valley symbolic of the destruction Samaria would experience. Uncovering her foundations illustrates that she would not be rebuilt. The phrase “it will become a vineyard” shows that no nation with that name will ever live there again or be a part of that nation.
As with much prophecy, there was an immediate fulfillment in the prophet’s day, and a more complete, future fulfillment which is many times outlined in the New Testament. The judgment against unfaithful Israel in Micah is prophetic of that which would befall unfaithful Christendom in the future. The great harlot, Babylon, will be completely destroyed and will never be rebuilt again (Revelation 18).
“For this I will lament and wail; I will go stripped and naked; I will make lamentation like the jackals, and mourning like the ostriches” (Micah 1:8, RSV). The poetic parallel continues. Micah’s lament and wailing is paralleled to lamenting like jackals and mourning like ostriches. These wailing noises show that Micah is mourning because of the destruction that is coming upon his people.
“For her wound is incurable; and it has come to Judah, it has reached to the gate of my people, to Jerusalem” (Micah 1:9, ESV). The reformers of the middle ages similarly lamented over the state of the Catholic church, for the incurable wound had come even to the gates of the Church. Looking at the trends today in many Christian circles, it appears the knowledge of the word of the Lord is declining further.
“Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. … Our young people … do not know why they should obey Scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community” (“The Coming Evangelical Collapse,” March 10, 2009, Christian Science Monitor).
Sometimes, the meanings of names take on a prophetic poetic parallelism. We see this in Revelation, where the seven Churches are listed as the path a disciple would take. The names of those Churches prophesy the declining path the Church would traverse into pagan philosophy mixed with a persecuting Church power. The end of Micah chapter 1 provides a similar list. The Message Bible translates them this way.
(10) “Don’t gossip about this in Telltown. Don’t waste your tears. In Dustville, roll in the dust. (11) In Alarmtown, the alarm is sounded. The citizens of Exitburgh will never get out alive. Lament, Last-Stand City: There’s nothing in you left standing. (12) The villagers of Bittertown wait in vain for sweet peace. Harsh judgment has come from GOD and entered Peace City. (13) All you who live in Chariotville, get in your chariots for flight. You led the daughter of Zion into trusting not God but chariots. Similar sins in Israel also got their start in you. (14) Go ahead and give your good-bye gifts to Good-byeville. Miragetown beckoned but disappointed Israel’s kings. (15) Inheritance City has lost its inheritance. Glorytown has seen its last of glory. (16) Shave your heads in mourning over the loss of your precious towns. Go bald as a goose egg — they’ve gone into exile and aren’t coming back.”
The sins of Israel and Judah would bring judgment and destruction from outside Israel.
“Now you are walled about with a wall; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike upon the cheek the ruler of Israel” (Micah 5:1, RSV). On this verse Brother Carl Hagensick wrote,
“The first verse is open to two interpretations. Probably both are true, the one foreshadowing the other. In Micah’s day the gatherer of troops was undoubtedly Assyria (with Babylon looming in the near future, see Micah 4:10). These captivities, however, were to be of short term when compared with the siege of the Roman troops in AD 68-73, introducing the Jewish Diaspora of nearly 2000 years. Although it is tempting to lay the greater emphasis on the Roman siege because of its direct connection with the ‘smiting’ of the ‘judge of Israel,’ the Messiah, on the cheek (Matthew 26:67; 27:30), the invasion of Assyria seems more likely when we consider verse two” (Beauties of the Truth, August 1996, “The Dew and the Lion,” Carl Hagensick).
Micah 4:10 places the interpretation of the passage in the time of Babylon: “You shall go to Babylon; there you shall be rescued” (Micah 4:10, NASB). However, the last kings of Judah did not go down so easily. Jehoiakim rebelled against the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. Jehoiachin was placed on the throne, but subsequently he was taken into captivity (2 Kings 24:15, RSV). Later still, king Zedekiah, who Nebuchadnezzar appointed, made the same mistakes as his predecessor (2 Kings 24:17, NAS). As a result, Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, was not only smitten by the Babylonians, but they even put out his eyes (2 Kings 25:7, ASV).
Here, the Davidic line was taken into captivity. It is out of this line that Joseph and Mary, the parents of Jesus, came from, as well as Christ.
“And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head” (Matthew 27:30 KJV). Ultimately it was Jesus who was the rightful king under the Davidic line, and the ultimate judge of Israel who was smitten on the cheek. The verse looks forward from the days of Micah the prophet to one who would be born in Bethlehem, whose origins were from the days of old (Micah 5:2). (Part 2 of this article will be published in the future Herald issue, Minor Prophets, Part Two).