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by John Dummelow
1. Date and Period. Micah the prophet was a younger contemporary of Isaiah. His work began, according to Micah 1:1, in the days of Jotham, and may have lasted right through the reign of Hezekiah (726-697 b.c.), into the time of Manasseh his successor. This date is confirmed by the historical reference in Jeremiah 26:17-19, where the prophecy of Jeremiah 3:12 is quoted in defence of Jeremiah, and is said to have been spoken in the days of Hezekiah (see notes). The period of Hezekiah was marked by great outward changes. Northern Israel was finally overthrown when Samaria was captured by Sargon of Assyria. During Sargon’s reign and the early part of that of Sennacherib his successor (705-680 b.c.) Judah also was constantly threatened by Assyria. Then came the great deliverance of Jerusalem (701), which formed the crowning triumph of Isaiah’s life (see notes in loco). Micah must have lived through this, if, as seems probable, the last two chapters of the book come from him.
As it stands, the book consists of a number of short oracles which were uttered separately and brought together later. Unless the reader remembers this, he will be bewildered by the abrupt transitions. There are two main divisions, widely separated in time. The earlier, Micah 1-5, belong to the period of Jotham and Hezekiah; the later, chs., 6, 7, probably to that of Manasseh.
2. Social Condition of Judah. The inward changes in the social conditions of the people of Judah during this period were as great as the outward. Judah had been forced out of its isolation. Trade relations had sprung up with the neighbouring peoples. The best intelligence and energy left the country for the capital, where the opportunities of advancement were greatest. Increased trade made the rich and clever richer, the poor relatively poorer. Power became centralised in Jerusalem. It was the seat of the Temple, which had won a new importance through Hezekiah’s reforms, the heart of the national defence against Assyria, and the chief centre of the new wealth. The country districts and the city had lost touch with each other. Besides, whether Judah succeeded in maintaining a precarious independence, or became a vassal state to Assyria, its condition under Hezekiah required money, either to pay tribute or maintain its fortresses and army; and these charges fell specially on the peasantry.
3. Personality and Teaching of Micah. His Relation to Isaiah. Micah belonged to the country. He was a native of Moreshethgath, a village among the low hills between the highlands of Judah and the Philistine plain. Prophesying at the same time as Isaiah, he speaks from a different standpoint. Isaiah was one of the ruling class in the capital: Micah was one of the oppressed peasantry. The vices of the city he selects are almost the same as Isaiah scourges, avarice (Micah 2:2), oppression of the poor (Micah 2:9), and luxury (Micah 2:11). But Micah is specially severe on the religious leaders (Micah 3:5-11). Evidently, when Hezekiah made the Temple the centre of the national religion, he unintentionally made the religious teachers more dependent on the ruling class.
Isaiah preached, however, the security of Jerusalem. God will intervene to deliver His city from Assyria. Micah found men misunderstanding this promise, and believing that God would not destroy city and Temple, no matter what they did. He told them the only reason why the city was to be preserved was that it might become the centre of a better morality and a purer faith. Samaria and Jerusalem, the centres of the nation, ought to be the centres of justice and true religion. Instead they were the centres of irreligion (Micah 1:5; Micah 2:1-11; Micah 3:1-10). Therefore Samaria has fallen (Micah 1:6) and Jerusalem shall fall (Micah 3:12).
But this does not mean that Judah shall pass away. Judah’s mission does not depend, like that of Assyria, on money and arms. There was a time when Jerusalem was a mere hill fort, when the ’glory of Israel’ could house in the cave of Adullam (Micah 1:15), when Bethlehem, an open village, was a king’s birthplace. This ’former kingdom’ could not compete with the other nations in chariots, fortresses, and a wealthy capital, but it was rich in a great ideal, the ideal of a king who shepherded his people, and received their willing obedience. Though this time should come back, and the pomp of the capital disappear, the result will be to show the nation their true mission of teaching religion to the world (Micah 4:6-10; Micah 5:10-15). God is not casting away His people, though He destroy Jerusalem. There shall arise One from the old stock to represent the divine ideal. Messiah cannot arise in the soil of Jerusalem, full of vulgar ideals of vain glory, but in Bethlehem, where power is turned to unselfish uses and the eternal because divine hopes can be cherished (Micah 5:2-5).
Then Israel will have a mission to the world. So long as she tries to compete with it in chariots (Micah 5:10-15), she is doomed to failure, and has nothing which Assyria cannot give better. But, when she stands for true religion, she offers what the world needs, and becomes the source of Messiah and the world’s light (Micah 4:1-5).
It should be added that Micah seems to vary in his prophecy of the result of Israel’s mission. This is due, (a) to the idea he has of true religion, as no mere observance of a ritual, but as implying a moral claim (Micah 6:5-8), in this showing a striking resemblance to the strong ethical teaching of Amos; (b) to his view of the nations as free agents, who determine their own attitude to religion. Hence he now sees the peoples joyously accepting Israel’s God, and sharing in Israel’s peace and blessedness (Micah 4:1-5); again he sees them pursuing their own ideals and coming to ruin (Micah 4:11-13). But, because these truths axe divine, they cannot fail of their effect, either in curse or in blessing (Micah 5:7-9).
4. Micah’s Later Ministry. Micah 6, 7 date from the time of Manasseh (690-641 b.c.), but the exact dates are very uncertain (cp.2K21). Sennacherib retreated from Jerusalem, but Esarhaddon—his successor—returned, subdued Phoenicia in 678, Tyre in 671, and made Judah tributary in 676. The old misery and uncertainty continued in Jerusalem. Men turned against the faith which seemed to have promised more than it could give. There was a reaction against Hezekiah’s reforms. Men were not irreligious, only they doubted the supremacy of Jehovah. Their nation’s impotence against Assyria seemed to prove the existence of other gods, whom it were wise also to propitiate (Micah 6:16). Their worship of Jehovah took on darker elements. They construed their misfortunes as the evidence of His anger, and, like their heathen neighbours, offered their children to propitiate this anger (Micah 6:7), The gloomy terror led them to persecute those who worshipped Jehovah only (Micah 7:2). Against this Micah raised his noble and simple definition of true religion (Micah 6:8). He rebuked anew their inhumanity to one another (Micah 6:9-15; Micah 7:3-6). He insisted on the historic facts which proved the grace of God (Micah 6:1-5).
The prophet speaks, however, like a man who is almost alone in his faith in Jehovah’s supremacy. The basis on which a new Israel can be built is almost gone (Micah 7:1-6), since the faithful are so few and dispirited. But Micah rallies on his trust in God. God’s purpose for and through Israel cannot fail (Micah 7:7-13). And the prophecy closes with prayer and a confident doxology. Though he has none save God, he will lean the more on God (Micah 7:14-20).
the Second Week of Advent