American Journal of Biblical Theology
For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!
The song became popular, not only because of the popularity of the singer, but because of the popularity of the message. It was a declaration of independence from any form of faith or religion, a literal slap in the face of those who testify that their lives are guided by a greater source. Each verse of the song celebrates an empowerment experienced by being the captain of one’s own soul. It is also a testimony to the emptiness of a life without faith. Not only is a life without faith one that is filled with emptiness, it is also a life that will end in the same manner in which it was lived: apart from God. That choice to reject God in favor of the things of this world is the most disastrous thing that can happen to the human soul. However, confidence in the things of this world is the nature of the beast, that spirit of depravity that so characterizes the godless spirit of this secular and pagan world.
It is God’s purpose that people would turn to Him in faith and, in His power, rise above the muck and mire of this world. God chose the offspring of faithful Abraham so that through them He might reveal Himself and His purpose to this world. However, the faith of Abraham seemed to lessen with each generation until there were few in the community of his family who demonstrated faith. The nation of Israel formed during a 400 year (14-generation) period when the number of Israelites could have been a couple of million. At the end of this period, Israel experienced the great exodus from Egypt, and spent another 14 generations under prophets and judges and another 14 generations under kings. During this period the nation fell further and further away from God, turning instead to the pagan culture until the few people of faith, a small remnant of the nation, had very little influence in the nation. It was at this point that three contemporary prophets began to preach a message to Israel, a message from God that pointed out their error, and clearly described the consequence that would come if they refused to repent and turn back to God. These prophets were Isaiah, Amos, and Micah.
Micah presents three oracles,
Israel’s Impending Judgment and Her Future Restoration (1:2 – 2:13.)
The Prophet’s Indictment of the Leaders of the House of Israel and Israel’s Future Hope (3:1-5:15).
God’s Lawsuit With Israel and the Ultimate Triumph of the Kingdom of God (6:1-7:20).
We might note that the prophecy of Micah is written in Hebrew poetic form. Each verse can be observed to find two confirming clauses, and often the comparison of these clauses gives us a more complete understanding of the word picture that Micah is forming.
By the time that Micah is bringing his prophecy, the nation of Israel has split into two nations, the northern nation of Israel that worshiped in Samaria, and the southern nation of Judah that worshiped in Jerusalem. The identification of the kings places Micah’s prophecy in the eighth century, B.C., shortly before the northern nation of Israel was destroyed by Assyria. The reigns of Jotham through Hezekiah took place between 750 – 686 B.C. The reference to Moresheth Gath places his home town close to that of Isaiah. Their similarities in their prophetic period, geography and messages would infer that the two prophets knew each other.
THE IMPENDING JUDGMENT
Micah 1:2. Hear, all ye people; hearken, O earth, and all that therein is: and let the Lord GOD be witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple.
The singular theme of Micah’s writing is the exposure of the true nature of the society that existed in his day. The culture was not unlike that of today in that there was a distinct dichotomy between the rich and the poor, with many of the rich holding much of the land and property. Though the nations of Israel and Judah both claimed to be the chosen people of God the moral and spiritual decay that took place generation after generation resulted in anything but a godly nation. Claiming righteousness under the law, the people chose the darkness of the world culture instead of true faith in God. The result was a hypocrisy that they fully knew, yet still preferred to worship the mythical gods of the Canaanites, that is, they preferred to immerse themselves in the pagan world culture and reject the Word of God in their lives.
They may be able to fool themselves and fool others, but Micah points out that they have not fooled the LORD. In very strong words Micah refers to the true God of Abraham, the Lord GOD, YAHWEH who is quite aware of their hypocrisy.
The pagan nations that surround Israel are bent upon dominating the area, and despise Israel and its God. This judgment upon the nations includes these who openly seek to destroy Israel. They are the ones who have created the mythical pantheon of pagan gods that they worship on the hilltops, and by doing so deny the one true God.
The witness to which Micah refers is that one who accuses another in a court of law, the court of the same law that they contend obedience. It is one thing for a person to testify against you. One can bring counter-charges and a vigorous defense against another individual. However, how do you respond when the charges are being brought by God Himself?
Micah 1:3. For, behold, the LORD cometh forth out of his place, and will come down, and tread upon the high places of the earth.
The ancients had a very localized and geographic understanding of the reign of God. Comparing Him with the mythical pagan gods who were created by the various nations and geographical regions, Israel tended to think that YAHWEH likewise had influence only in their region. They did not have an understanding of God’s omnipresence and omniscience, considering Him simply greater than the pagan, and certainly in competition with them. To the ancients, the pagan gods were real, and not mythical. It would never occur to the ancients that the mythical gods are simply fabrications of man’s imagination, and that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the only true God, the creator, YAHWEH.
With this idea in mind, it would make sense to the ancients that the LORD would come down and tread on the mountains. In this oracle, the “high places” refer to the tops of the hills where pagan worship practices took place. Altars were placed on the tops of mountains and hills with the idea that such places were closer to the gods. Micah’s statement refers specifically to the pagan altars that have been built throughout Israel and Judah.
Micah 1:4. And the mountains shall be molten under him, and the valleys shall be cleft, as wax before the fire, and as the waters that are poured down a steep place.
The ancients believed that their pagan gods were gods of action. That is, the rain god brought rain, the wind god brought wind, the sun god brought the sun, the fertility gods brought fertility, and the list goes on. The mountaintops represented the authority of this pantheon of mythical gods. Micah is simply stating that the LORD who they are rejecting, the LORD who is testifying against them is going to vindicate Himself by destroying the authority of this pantheon of pagan gods. When the LORD reveals His true power, the false power of the pagan gods will be exposed, and their authority will be shown to be without merit, bringing down the high place upon which they currently stand. Any who place their trust in these false gods will see their gods brought down. They will recognize the True God for who He is, and their transgression will be exposed.
This verse helps us to understand how to interpret poetic text. Some do not see the spiritual battle that God is engaging, and simply understand this passage as referring to destroying physical mountains, laying the land flat. However, such a cataclysm does not fit God’s purpose, and accomplishes nothing within the context of the prophecy. However, when we understand that it is the pagan worship that has drawn Jerusalem and Samaria away from God, and it is the pagan worship that prevents the pagan nations from knowing God, it makes good contextual sense to understand that this passage is referring to a spiritual battle, not a physical one. Micah’s prophecies would prove true when Jerusalem and Samaria would be destroyed and the temples would no longer be used for vain worship. Their destruction was the result of the apostacy of the people as they chased after the pagan gods that were worshiped on the mountaintops.
Consequently, God is teaching, through Micah, that it is He who has total authority. It is He who has the power to immolate the places where pagan gods are worshiped.
Micah 1:5. 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?
It does not take long for Micah to get to the point of his prophecy. Samaria is the center of worship for the northern kingdom of Israel, and Jerusalem is the center of worship of the southern nation of Judah. Where readers were first shown the fate of the altars to pagan gods that are scattered throughout the two nations, Micah then focuses upon the two primary mountain tops where Israel and Judah profess to worship YAHWEH. Micah is stating that their worship, even in Samaria and Jerusalem is a sham, subject to the same judgment as the pagan altars.
Two lines of Hebrew poetry are quite evident in this passage, the first compares transgression and sin, the second compares Samaria and Jerusalem, clearly creating a couplet that places the transgression and sin on Samaria and Jerusalem..
When we look at the state of Samaria and Jerusalem, we might argue that Micah’s oracles are pertinent only to the ancients, but not to our culture today. After all, we do not burn incense to mythical pagan gods, do we? Actually the practice abounds all over the world. However, those who do not practice a pagan religion have simply replaced the mythical gods with gods of their own creation. When one gives the things of this world an authority over that of the LORD, those things become a god. The practice of animism, assigning a soul to a created object, abounds. Any object that comes between us and the LORD is such an icon. A mortgage that burdens one’s proper stewardship is an icon. A job that is more important than the LORD is an icon. Ungodly secular philosophies can become icons, particularly when they encourage ungodly behavior. We give nice sounding names, euphemisms, such as “ethnic cleansing” to clean up genocide, or “pro-choice” to rationalize the killing of an unborn soul. Pagan practices are just as alive today as they were in ancient times, and much of that practice still takes place in our churches.
The LORD will not be mocked. He is not fooled by our hypocrisy, and He will not be brought down by powerless myth. His judgment upon those who deny Him will not be avoided.
Micah 1:6-7. Therefore I will make Samaria as an heap of the field, and as plantings of a vineyard: and I will pour down the stones thereof into the valley, and I will discover the foundations thereof. 7And all the graven images thereof shall be beaten to pieces, and all the hires thereof shall be burned with the fire, and all the idols thereof will I lay desolate: for she gathered it of the hire of an harlot, and they shall return to the hire of an harlot.
Micah first describes the judgment upon the northern nation of Israel. This nation, since the division of the nation under Solomon’s son, Reheboam, has never had a king who led the nation to honor the LORD. They had abandoned the covenant that God made with Abraham, choosing to vacate God’s hand of protection, making coventants for protection with neighboring nations. Caught up in that intrigue, Israel would be utterly destroyed by Assyria only a few generations after this prophecy.
The description Micah uses refers to the practice of idolatry in Israel. The opulence of ancient Israel was obtained within the context of idolatry, and upon its destruction, the wealth of Israel would be taken by the conquering nation where it would be used to worship pagan gods.
This principle is not lost on the ancients. People and governments today have gathered great wealth while worshiping the harlot, the idolatry of this world. How much of your own wealth is supporting the harlot, and how much is supporting the work of God? A good close analysis of the character of our wealth can be quite telling, and may subject us to a judgment similar to that which the LORD is bringing upon the apostate nations of Israel and Judah. These “chosen” nations certainly did not dedicate their wealth to the LORD, but rather to their own purposes and to the authorities of this world. If those who consider themselves to be faithful to the LORD would hold back anything from being fully dedicated to the kingdom of God, then their faithfulness is in vain. God is the LORD God, and all that we have is His. Witholding it for ourselves is both selfish and unwise when we consider the power of our Holy God.
THE PROPHET’S REACTION TO THE JUDGMENT
Micah 1:8-9. Therefore I will wail and howl, I will go stripped and naked: I will make a wailing like the dragons, and mourning as the owls. 9For her wound is incurable; for it is come unto Judah; he is come unto the gate of my people, even to Jerusalem.
With the nation doomed, its people continue living an apostate lifestyle and are oblivious to the danger. Micah’s concern for the nation runs deep, and his mourning for its destruction is overwhelming. “Stripped and naked” can also be translated, “barefoot and naked,” referring specifically to a traditional form of mourning.
When we observe this lost world and the worldly state of the church do we continue with business as usual, or are we (or should we) also be in a state of mourning? Churches today operate well as social clubs, but how much concern do they really have for those who are lost? We don’t seem to see our churches wailing and howling in mourning over the state of this lost world and a church that is, like Judah, characterized by apostasy in so many areas. Lulled to sleep by a spirit of apathy, the Church is largely ineffective in communicating the character and purpose of God to the world in a way that will convince an apostate world to turn to God. Certainly, church denominations sponsor thousands of missionaries who work to reach many of the people groups of the world, but those missionaries are too few and supported by churches that are not active in evangelizing their own neighborhoods. Meanwhile, millions die every day without having the security of an eternity with the LORD. We should, like Micah, be weeping and wailing.
Micah 1:10. Declare ye it not at Gath, weep ye not at all: in the house of Aphrah roll thyself in the dust.
Micah’s use of word-games is not evident in the English, but is quite apparent when the passages are observed in their Hebrew forms. For example, the Hebrew “declare” and “Gath” rhyme, as does “weep” and “Aphrah.” Gath is one of the primary cities in Philistia, a continuing thorn in the side of Judah. Weeping in Gath would communicate the impending doom to Judah’s prime enemy, giving them cause for celebration. “Aphrah” is the Hebrew word for mourning or weeping. Beth (house of) Aphrah is also referenced in Joshua 7:6, Job 16:15, and Isaiah 47:1.
Micah 1:11-13. Pass ye away, thou inhabitant of Saphir, having thy shame naked: the inhabitant of Zaanan came not forth in the mourning of Bethezel; he shall receive of you his standing. 12For the inhabitant of Maroth waited carefully for good: but evil came down from the LORD unto the gate of Jerusalem. 13O thou inhabitant of Lachish, bind the chariot to the swift beast: she is the beginning of the sin to the daughter of Zion: for the transgressions of Israel were found in thee. 14Therefore shalt thou give presents to Moreshethgath: the houses of Achzib shall be a lie to the kings of Israel.
Continuing his play on words, Micah points out the name of the city of Saphir as one of shame and nakedness, the opposite of the meaning of its name. Likewise, “Zanaan” means “come out,” and Micah notes that they will not be coming out. The remaining names used in this passage are also paired with the opposite of their literal character. The assignment of a name was important in the ancient near-eastern culture. The name was to be a revelation of the character of the one named. Micah is clearly making the statement that the true condition of the apostate is the opposite of the state that they profess. The nations are acting in rebellion to God, but they are in complete denial of their sin. Again, we can look at the state of the world and the church today and come away with a similar conclusion that each is in denial of the state of their sin. Their true state is quite the opposite of that which they profess.
Micah 1:15-16. Yet will I bring an heir unto thee, O inhabitant of Mareshah: he shall come unto Adullam the glory of Israel. 16Make thee bald, and poll thee for thy delicate children; enlarge thy baldness as the eagle; for they are gone into captivity from thee.
Mareshah is the name of the cave where David hid from Saul, recalling a dark period in the period of the kings, when King Saul was fully outside of God’s will, and leading the nation his own way. Though a redeemer will come through the line of David, a prophecy that was already well-established, David’s children are facing doom. Micah calls upon David’s children to come into deep mourning over the state of their impending destruction. The church is responsible before God for its obedience to Him. To continue on in apathy and denial only serves to keep the body well on the path of its coming judgment. Each person is responsible before God for the character of their obedience to Him, and consequently, as each individual is a member of the church, the church is held responsible.
AN INDICTMENT OF THE RICH
Micah 2:1. Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! when the morning is light, they practice it, because it is in the power of their hand. 2And they covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage.
Much of the influence in the nation is held by its more wealthy citizens. It is these who have the responsibility to lead the nation in godliness. We may recall Jesus’ teaching that “to whom much is given, much is required.” Rather than use their wealth to further the work of the kingdom of God, the wealthy are using the power of their state to acquire more wealth. They covet the wealth of others and take it by violence. Those who have the capacity to minister to the needs of the poor use their power to oppress the poor, pressing them further into poverty. The attainment of wealth is simply one more of those vices that turn us away from God and promote the denial of our sinfulness. We see this same pattern in the world today where the wealth is concentrated among a few, and these fail to use their wealth to glorify God. Even the wealthiest churches are known by their huge, multi-million-dollar facilities that sport the latest and greatest of physical resources. Yet, their per-capita support of kingdom ministries is often far below the poorest of churches. These mega-churches have the responsibility and resources to take the lead in bringing the good news of the gospel to the world, yet they often are also are in denial of their true state.
Note that the identity of the rich among the poor is a relative concept. Even the poorest in some countries, such as the United States, enjoy an economic status that would place them among the wealthy in a less-developed nation. We are all blessed beyond our needs, and our responsibility to stewardship is another area where we are subject to judgment.
Micah 2:3. Therefore thus saith the LORD; Behold, against this family do I devise an evil, from which ye shall not remove your necks; neither shall ye go haughtily: for this time is evil.
The “therefore” of this passage links the judgment against the nations with the list of wrongs that lead up to this point. Though the “family,” the nations of Israel and Judah are living in denial fo their transgressions, they will not escape God’s plans for their judgment. Though they are arrogant now, their arrogance will be a testimony against them when they are tragically humbled.
Micah 2:4. In that day shall one take up a parable against you, and lament with a doleful lamentation, and say, We be utterly spoiled: he hath changed the portion of my people: how hath he removed it from me! turning away he hath divided our fields.
The word translated “parable” refers to a song of lament that is raised to mourn the loss of one’s land and possessions. This lament can bring to mind the suffering of those who have lost everything in a natural disaster. When hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast of the United States, 90,000 square miles (23 million hectares) of land was devastated. People lost, not only their property, but entire communities were wiped out, creating losses of employment and any other entity that defined their lives. Many lost family members. Many of those who lost everything were in a state of shock, and these can understand fully the “doleful lamentation” of Micah. These know what it is like to be “utterly spoiled.”
However, even these still had a claim on their own land, as destroyed as it may have been. The people of the land of Judah and Israel would lose their land, the most important asset of their identity. “Divided our fields” is a reference to the turning of their land over to the invading kingdoms, Assyria to the north and Babylon to the south.
Micah 2:5. Therefore thou shalt have none that shall cast a cord by lot in the congregation of the LORD.
Land was apportioned by lot, with the surveying process referred to as “casting a cord.” The practice that started with the taking of the land after Israel crossed the Jordan River, continued as land was passed from generation to generation as property was apportioned to surviving sons. Micah states that this process would never again be practiced by Israel and Judah. When Assyria and Babylon came in and took over the lands of Israel and Judah, respectively, the land ownership mechanism literally ceased since so few returned after the exile. The Israelites who remained were assimilated into pagan cultures that were inserted into the nation, resulting in the Samaritan people group. The Judeans who were left behind preferred to return to Egypt where they were never heard from again. The Congregation of the LORD would lose the land.
Every nuance of Micah’s prophecy would come true. The nation that had turned its back on God would pay the price of stepping out of God’s hand of protection. God’s judgment is sure, and the consequences of sin will not be avoided. The pagan world today is much like the pagan nations were in the 8th century B.C. One can also show that the church today is much like the nation of Judah in the same period. There was a faithful remnant in Judah who were preserved in Babylon when Judah was destroyed. However, all suffered for the apostasy of the nation, and all lost their land, even the remnant.
God has not changed, and His purpose has not changed. The forgiveness that is found at the cross was and still is available to all people of faith. However, all of those who reject God’s offer of forgiveness will realize the consequence of their choice when, without forgiveness, they find themselves separated from God for eternity. Like Micah, people of faith should be crying out in mourning over this devastating loss, and be actively involved in saving souls. Likewise, even the remnant of Judah would suffer when God’s judgment is meted out.
The church today has fallen into a slumber of complacency, preferring the things of this world to the the things of the kingdom of God. The church can be reminded that God’s judgment is sure, and all those who find their security in this world will be held responsible for their choices. Micah’s prophecy is a firm and troubling indictment against those who turn their lives away from God and to this secular and pagan world. His warning was unheeded by Judah and Israel. Need it still go unheeded today