Tales of the Nevi'im - Micah
The Tales of the Nevi’im are the Stories of the Prophets. In Hebrew navi (nah-vee') means prophet and the plural, prophets, is nevi'im (neh-vee-eem'). Israel had many prophets, some of whom we know from the Old Testament, others are lost to us in history. Many of Israel's prophets spoke to the people but didn't write anything down, likely because their message was meant for a specific people and time. Others proclaimed a message meant to instruct us as well. God spoke his word through these men for all people for all times, and we read them today as the books of the prophets in our Bibles. This series will explore their stories and message.
The Story of Micah
Like his contemporaries, Hosea and Amos, Micah proclaimed God’s message in the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah in the 8th century BC. While Hosea and Amos preached in the northern kingdom of Israel, Micah lived and spoke in the southern kingdom of Judah. He was born in the small village of Moresheth, about 22 miles southwest of Jerusalem. While his message was a warning and condemnation of both kingdoms, Micah most urgently predicted the final downfall of Israel.
The book opens by stating that the word of the Lord came to Micah during the reigns of three kings of Judah, Jotham (750-735 BC), his son Ahaz (735-715 BC) and Hezekiah (715-687 BC). Jotham was not a faithful king, and Ahaz was even worse. In 2 Kings 16:3 we read, “He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.” That’s almost impossible for us to imagine, isn’t it? Yet history records that the people of Ammon sacrificed infants to their god Molech, and apparently, Ahaz joined in this ritual to the pagan god!
Micah condemned both Israel and Judah for a long list of offenses against God: idolatry, oppression of the poor and helpless, political and religious corruption, and religion that is just “going through the motions” without any real sincerity of heart.
The things Micah warned Israel about came true. In 727 BC an Assyrian named Shalmaneser V became king (Have you noticed that none of these Assyrian names are popular anymore? Maybe that’s why they eventually died out!) At this time, Hoshea was king in Israel. He was surely aware of Micah’s prophecies and warnings to Israel to turn back to God. Nevertheless, he decided to test the power of the new Assyrian king,, Shalmaneser, by withholding the tributes and taxes that guaranteed Israel’s safety. Instead, he began diplomatic relations with the king of Egypt, thinking he could get protection and a better deal from the Egyptians. Shalmaneser responded forcefully and in 725 BC he showed up with a massive Assyrian army. The Egyptians were nowhere to be found. Shalmaneser surrounded Samaria, the capital city of Israel, and besieged it for three years. In 722 BC, it fell to the swords of the Assyrian soldiers. Just before Samaria fell, Shalmaneser died under mysterious circumstances and Sargon II immediately took his throne. It was Sargon who was able to boast about conquering Israel.
The Assyrians, having conquered many lands, developed a process designed to minimize the chance of rebellion by their subjects. It was their practice to deport people from a conquered nation to other territories within their empire. They thought, quite correctly it turns out, that people were not likely to fight and die for freedom when they were living in exile. So Sargon led many of the Israelites into exile in other lands. He also brought in other conquered people to live among the remaining Israelites. Over time the people intermarried, blended their cultures and became a new group of people. The ten northern tribes of Israel faded into the pages of history.
Over time, the Israelites in the southern kingdom of Judah began to look down on their northern cousins, no longer considering them truly Jewish. Several hundred years later, in the time of Jesus, the inhabitants of the north of Israel appear as the Samaritans. They were named after the capitol city of the old northern kingdom of Israel.
While we know a great deal about the times in which he lived, like most of the prophets, we know very little about Micah personally. Of course, given their mission and the times in which they spoke, all the prophets must have shared a strong devotion to God, incredible courage, and undoubtedly, a thick skin! There is every reason to believe that Micah shared these traits.
Micah’s prophecy reads like a prosecuting attorney listing the charges against the accused. In fact, he opens by calling God as a witness, “Hear, you peoples, all of you; pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it, and let the Lord God be a witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple.” (1:2) Can you imagine God showing up to testify against you! Micah goes on, “For behold, the Lord is coming out of his place, and will come down and tread on the high places of the earth. And the mountains will melt under him, and the valleys will split open, like wax before the fire, like waters poured down a steep place. All this is for the transgression of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel.” (1:3-5) What a terrifying image of the God of the universe coming with justice.
Micah speaks against Israel’s sins:
Idolatry - “and I will cut off your carved images and your pillars from among you, and you shall bow down no more to the work of your hands.” (5:13)
Oppression of the poor and weak – “They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away; they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance…The women of my people you drive out from their delightful houses; from their young children you take away my splendor forever.” (2:2, 9)
Political corruption – “Hear, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel! Is it not for you to know justice? You who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin from off my people, and their flesh from off their bones.” (3:1-2)
Religious corruption – “Its heads give judgment for a bribe; its priests teach for a price; its prophets practice divination for money;” (3:11)
Hollow religious practice – “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 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 mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:6-8)
It’s a daunting list! Who could stand before such charges?
Lessons and Themes
God is the Judge who scatters his people for their sins. I can’t help thinking as I read the list of charges against Israel, and the presence of God as witness against them, that this must be like judgment day for us. The God who knows our heart lays out the truth before us and we have no answer but, “Guilty as charged.” Then I imagine we will cry out as Paul in Romans 7:24-25, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” We can only be saved by grace through trust in God. It was as true for Israel as for us.
God is the Shepherd who gathers his people by his grace. Consider the ending words of Micah, “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 his steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us, he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (7:18-19) In the midst of Israel’s example God points forward to a time when he will provide forgiveness of sins. It’s a time in which we now live! We have the great blessing seeing what God accomplished in the cross of Christ.
Faithfulness to God is more than ritual. This is a theme that shows up over and over – God desires justice and mercy, not empty ritual. Jesus reiterates this many times in his teaching. He expects that we, who have received grace and mercy, will respond with compassion and justice for those we meet.
Questions for Further Reflection/Discussion:
Read Matthew 18:21-35. This is the parable of Jesus commonly known as the story of the unforgiving servant. What is the central point of this parable? How does it relate to Micah’s message to Israel?
We know that we practice justice, compassion, and forgiveness as a result of God’s grace not to earn it. Sometimes it can be clarifying to put theological truths in simple terms. How might you explain this in terms a child could understand?
We’ve seen the theme of justice and mercy repeatedly in the prophets. What specific responsibilities do you see this placing on us, personally, as Christians? What responsibilities does it place on us, corporately, as Christians?
Terry Feix is the Executive Pastor at Crossings Community Church in Oklahoma City and a regular writer at So We Speak. Follow him @TerryFeix on Twitter.
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