A Warning to Judah
One of the brightest and yet darkest periods of Judah’s history came in the eighth century B.C. Although the prosperity of Uzziah’s kingdom (790–740 B.C.) was still being felt in the days of his son Jotham (750–731 B.C.), along with it came social, political, and religious corruption. Rich rulers oppressed the poor, perverted justice, and practiced gross iniquity. Judges took bribes, and businessmen cheated the people they dealt with.
Into this defiled setting, “The word of the LORD . . . came to Micah, the Morasthite, in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (v. 1). Although Micah wrote to both Israel and Judah, his message was pri marily to Judah during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. The name Micah means “who is like Jehovah.” He was a country prophet from Moreshethgath, located on the border of Judah about six miles from Lachish. Nothing is known of his family background or occupation. However, we know he had a deep compassion for the poor; had a courageous spirit; and boldly condemned the moral corruption, hypocritical religious practices, and political suppression of his day.
Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah. He began prophesying no earlier than 751 B.C. and no later than 735 B.C., and he concluded his ministry no later than 697 B.C.
Ahaz (735–715 B.C.) succeeded Jotham as king of Judah. His reign proved to be among the worst in Judah’s history. Ahaz was one of Judah’s evil kings, and his wickedness brought God’s judgment on the nation. During his reign, an alliance of Israel (King Pekah) and Syria (King Rezin) threatened to destroy Judah because she would not join them in opposing Assyria. Ahaz, in fact, joined Assyria to overthrow Syria and Israel; but in the process, Judah became a vassal to the Assyrian king and was required to pay tribute.
After the reign of Ahaz, his son Hezekiah became king (715–686 B.C.). Hezekiah was a blessing to Judah and proved to be one of the best kings in the nation’s history. While Hezekiah reigned, Assyria’s ruler manifested extreme cruelty toward the nations he controlled. Judah, along with other nations, revolted against Assyria, which overran the nation in 701 B.C. The Assyrians, under King Sennacherib, threatened to destroy Jerusalem. But Hezekiah prayed, and God supernaturally delivered both from destruction (2 Ki. 18—19).
Judah’s worship of God was mere conformity to a prescribed ritual and ceremony. Prophet and priest alike were corrupt and hired out their services for profit. Micah tried to convince Judah that external religious ritual must be accompanied by principles of righteous conduct if the nation was to please God.
The prophet said he “saw” the “word of the LORD” (v. 1), meaning he received an inner prophetic revelation concerning Samaria and Jerusalem. In chapter 1, Micah used Samaria’s coming destruction as a wakeup call to Judah. If Jerusalem’s repentance was not forthcoming, it would suffer the same fate as Samaria.
God’s Faithful Witness
All nations were summoned to hear the coming judgment of God:
Hear, all ye peoples; hearken, O earth, and all that is in it; and let the Lord GOD be witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple. For, behold, the LORD cometh forth out of his place, and will come down, and tread upon the high places of the earth. And the mountains shall be melted under him, and the valleys shall be cleft, like wax before the fire, and like the waters that are poured down a steep place (vv. 2–4).
The one testifying against the nations is none other than the “Lord GOD” who is enthroned in heaven. He alone will bear witness against the nations’ sins. God will step forth from His holy sanctuary and descend to Earth like a mighty, victorious warrior to execute the prophesied judgment. The Lord will tread on the “the high places” where both Israel and Judah practiced idolatry—a prediction of Assyria’s invasion of Samaria in 722 B.C. and the Babylonians’ invasion of Judah in 586 B.C. The picture of mountains melting and valleys splitting portray the awesome power and terror that the Lord’s judgment will produce and foreshadows the Great Tribulation when the Lord will judge the nations.
God’s judicial verdict resulted from Israel’s sin:
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? (v. 5).
The term Jacob refers to all twelve tribes of Israel, whose father is Jacob. Iniquity filled all the land because both the northern kingdom of Israel and southern kingdom of Judah embraced Canaanite Baal worship. The negatively posed questions expect a positive answer, underscoring why God manifested His wrath and judgment against Israel and Judah.
Because of Israel’s gross idolatry, God destroyed Samaria:
Therefore, I will make Samaria like an heap of the field, and like plantings of a vineyard; and I will pour down its stones into the valley, and I will uncover the foundations of it. And all the carved images of it shall be beaten to pieces, and all its hires shall be burned with the fire, and all its idols will I lay desolate; for she gathered it of the hire of an harlot, and they shall return to the hire of an harlot (vv. 6–7).
In plain language that Judah could understand, God promised the destruction of Samaria that took place in 722 B.C. First, Samaria will look like a heap of stones on the side of a field cleared for planting a vineyard. Second, so thorough will be Samaria’s destruction that even her foundation will be torn down. Third, all her idols will be melted; and the gold, silver, and offerings people gave in religious prostitution will be offered to the idols in Assyria. The picture was a vivid warning to Judah, who had become like Israel in her worship.
Micah lamented God’s revelation:
Therefore, I will lament and wail, I will go stripped and naked; I will make a wailing like the jackals, and mourning like the ostriches. For her wound is incurable; for it is come unto Judah; he is come unto the gate of my people, even to Jerusalem (vv. 8–9).
The prophet walked throughout the land, clothed only in a loincloth, crying out in mournful tones that sounded similar to the haunting cry of a jackal and fearful screech of an ostrich. Judah’s wound will be incurable, reaching the very gates of Jerusalem. Micah’s lament is presented in a prophetic perfect; that is, it speaks of a future judgment as if it had already happened.
God’s Fierce Wrath
What follows is a list of the cities that Assyria will invade on the way to Judah. Micah used the name of each city as a play on words in describing the destruction. He used a word that sounds like the name of the city or comes from the city’s name to describe its demise. First, “Declare [tell] it not at Gath, weep not at all” (v. 10). The name Gath sounds similar to the Hebrew word for “tell.” That is, “In tell town, tell it not.” Micah did not want the people of Gath in Philistia to hear about the Assyrian attack on Judah, so the Philistines would not rejoice on hearing the news. Micah exhorted the Israelites not to show sorrow because it would give comfort to their enemy.
Second, “In the house of Aphrah [Bethle-Aphrah means “house of dust”], roll thyself in the dust” (v. 10). Rolling in the dust symbolizes sorrow, shame, humiliation, and intense mourning.
Third, “Pass away, thou inhabitant of Shaphir [Shaphir means “beautiful”], having thy shame naked” (v. 11). The city would be denuded of her beauty and grace by experiencing shameful treatment during captivity.
Fourth, “The inhabitant of Zaanan [“going forth”] came not forth” (v. 11), or did not stir to come out of the city and fight because of the strength of the Assyrian army.
Fifth, “In the mourning of Bethezel [“place nearby”] he shall receive of you his standing” (v. 11). The death wails of Bethezel will scare off those who will desire to find shelter or protection from the Assyrian invasion.
Sixth, “For the inhabitant of Maroth [“bitterness”] waited anxiously for good, but evil came down from the LORD unto the gate of Jerusalem” (v. 12). Maroth will taste the bitterness of destruction, not deliverance, because the Lord will send calamity all the way to Jerusalem.
Seventh, “O thou inhabitant of Lachish, bind the chariot to the swift beast; she is the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion; for the transgressions of Israel were found in thee” (v. 13). Micah sarcastically urged the people of Lachish to harness their horses quickly in order to flee the Assyrians; but they will not escape judgment, because they had introduced Baal worship to Judah and Jerusalem.
Eighth, Judah will be required to “give presents to Moreshethgath” (v. 14). Moresheth sounds like meorasah, meaning “betrothed.” The word presents is used for the dowry given to a daughter when she marries. (See 1 Kings 9:16.) Judah must give up the city once betrothed to her as a present to the Assyrians.
Ninth, “The houses of Achzib [literally, “deception”] shall be a lie to the kings of Israel” (v. 14). Achzib will defect to the attacking Assyrians and be lost as a defensive city for the kings of Judah to flee.
Tenth, “Yet will I bring an heir unto thee, O inhabitant of Mareshah” (v. 15). The Hebrew word Mareshah sounds like the word inheritance. Micah was saying that the Lord will bring an inheritor (King Sargon) who will claim Mareshah as his inheritance.
Eleventh, “He shall come unto Adullam, the glory of Israel” (v. 15). Adullam once provided protection for King David as he fled from Saul (1 Sam. 22:1–2). In like manner, Judah’s royalty will seek to flee to Adullam to escape the Assyrian invasion.
In verse 16, Micah concluded his lament by calling on Judah to make herself bald in the day of her captivity, a pagan practice forbidden by Jewish law (Lev. 19:27–28; Dt. 14:1) but adopted by Judah on the death of a near relative (Amos 8:10). Judah’s great desolation will make her feel like a mother mourning the death of her “delicate children” (literally, “the children of thy delight,” v. 16). They were to “enlarge [their] baldness as the eagle” (v. 16). When the bald eagle molts, it looks more or less bald and appears sickly and aged. The reason for their mourning was that their children “are gone into captivity” (v. 16). The exile mentioned here was most likely the Babylonian Captivity of 586 B.C., when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple, not the Assyrian captivity mentioned in verse 10.
When disaster is imminent, a nation and its leaders need to be like Micah, who lamented before the Lord over his people’s sin and pleaded to God for mercy as well as deliverance. May we heed this admonition as well.