Micah Overview: Punishment and Pardon

9th Century Prophets 8th Century Prophets 7th Century Prophets Exilic Prophets Post-exilic Prophets


1. Name

The book is named after the prophetic author, Micah, whose name means “Who is like Yahweh?”

2. Theme

Who is like God in holy justice and holy love?

3. Purpose

To call Judah to repentance and hope during the Assyrian crisis and to prepare Judah for the Babylonian exile by announcing God’s judgments against sin and his promises of restoration.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1466.[/footnote]

4. Key verses

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (Micah 6:8)

Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy (Micah 7:18).

5. Key truths

• God threatened to judge Samaria and Judah for their flagrant violations of the covenant.
• God called his people to repent of their sins in order to avert or delay judgment.
• God affirmed his promises to restore his people from defeat and exile.
• God promised to bless his restored people with victory, expansion and peace.[footnote]Ibid., 1466.[/footnote]


I. Author

Isaiah was clearly familiar with national and international politics. Micah does not show the same knowledge. This may be explained by his home town, Moresheth, being in a country area about 20 miles south west of Jerusalem. His preaching was especially concerned with the sufferings of the common people and of the peasants in the agricultural areas who were exploited and oppressed by rich and unscrupulous, landed nobility and city dwellers. As a result, Micah has been nicknamed “the homely country prophet,” “worthy champion of the poor,” “the spokesman for the common people” and “the blue collar prophet.”[footnote]J E Smith, The Pentateuch (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 1993), Electronic Edition.[/footnote] Although he prophesied the destruction of Samaria (Micah 1:6-7), he is mainly concerned with the Southern Kingdom. He addressed God’s Word to the “house of Jacob” (Micah 2:7) and “heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel” (Micah 3:1, 9). In Micah 4:1-2 he seems to use “Jacob” as another word for Judah. The evidence, then would indicate that his ministry was based in and around Jerusalem. This conclusion is supported by the high profile he gave to Jerusalem and the Temple (Micah 1:2,5; Micah 3:10-4:4; Micah 4:10,13; Micah 7:8-11), and the addresses he directs to the leaders, false prophets and priests (Micah 3:1-4,5-7,9-11).
While his ministry is directed to the leaders, he does not ignore the sins of the people whose case he took up.

II. Date

1:1 tells us that Micah preached during the reigns of Jotham (750-732 BC), Ahaz (732-716), and Hezekiah (715-686). His book is therefore an anthology of his prophecies over a number of years.
Micah’s work may have begun toward the end of Jotham’s reign and ended at the beginning of Hezekiah’s, so we cannot be certain about the exact length of his ministry. However, the reference to the coming judgment of Samaria (Micah 1:6) indicates that Micah’s preaching began well before 722 BC, the year in which Samaria fell to the forces of Assyria. His strong denunciations of idolatry and immorality also suggest that his ministry largely preceded the sweeping religious reforms of Hezekiah. The corrupt and immoral state of Judah would certainly fit the reign of Ahaz (728-725). Thus, Micah’s prophecies ranged from about 735 to 710 BC. He was, therefore a contemporary of Isaiah and their books have one passage in common (Mic. 4:1-3; Isa. 2:2-4).
Earliest date: 750 BC
Latest Date: 686 BC
Most likely date: 735-700 BC

III. Historical Analysis

1. Chronology

Date Event Scripture reference
745 Assyria expansionism begins
732 Damascus falls to Assyria
Syro-Ephraimite coalition
Ahaz allied with Assyria
2 Ki. 15:37
722 Samaria destroyed by Assyrians
701 Sennacherib threatened Jerusalem Isa. 36-37
586 Judah destroyed by Babylon 2 Chron. 36:15-21
539 Jews restored to land Ezra

2. Historical background

The conditions of corruption and immorality in Judah as Micah depicts them correspond well with what is known of the reign of Ahaz, or else possibly of the earliest years of Hezekiah’s reign as co-regent with Ahaz. As already mentioned, it was a time when people used their social status and political power for personal gain, usually at the expense of their poor fellow countrymen. Micah’s prophecies addressed these sins and warned of God’s coming judgment for them in the form of the threatening Assyrians.

The tendency of the leaders was to form alliances with foreign powers rather than repent of the sins which were bringing God’s judgment upon them.

Micah realized that unless Judah quickly became realigned with the Lord, disaster would befall that land. Judah in the eighth century was riding the crest of national prosperity. Morals, however, were appallingly low. Governmental officials were dishonest. The “prophets” were nothing but windbags. Religious commitment was superficial and totally divorced from moral fortitude. Judah had become sinful, soft, and ripe for conquest. These conditions combined with the divine compulsion to cause Micah to devote his energies to calling this wayward people to repentance.[footnote]J E Smith, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

Micah’s preaching did have an effect. Many did repent and reformation began (2 Chr. 29:31-31:21). However, this did not last and Micah’s prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction was fulfilled 130 years later in 586 BC (2 Chr. 36:15-21).

3. Fulfillment of prophecy

Micah made six specific predictions that were fulfilled

a. Fall of Samaria (722BC; Micah 1:6-7)
b. Invasion of Judah by Sennacherib (702-701 BC; Micah 1:9-16)
c. Fall of Jerusalem (586 BC; Micah 3:12; Micah 7:13)
d. Exile in Babylon (586 BC; Micah 4:10)
e. Return from captivity (520 BC; Micah 4:1-8,13; Micah 7:11,14-17)
f. Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)


IV. Literary Analysis

1. Comparative outlines

Pratt Smith Murray

Judgment and deliverance in the Assyrian crises
(Micah 1:1-2:13)

Judgment of leaders and future restoration
(Micah 3:1-5:15)

Judgment of the nation and future restoration
(Micah 6:1-7:20)

Prediction of judgment (Micah 1-3)

Prediction of restoration
(Micah 4-5)

Plea for repentance
(Micah 6:1-6:10).

Threat and promise: Part 1
(Micah 1:1-2:13)

Threat and promise: Part 2
(Micah 3:1-5:15)

Threat and promise: Part 3
(Micah 6:1-7:20).

a. Threat and promise: Part 1 (Micah 1:1-2:13)

Threat (Micah 1:1-2:11)

Promise (Micah 2:12-13)

b. Threat and promise: Part 2 (Micah 3:1-5:15)

Threat (Micah 3:1-12)

Promise (Micah 4:1-5:15)

c. Threat and promise: Part 3 (Micah 6:1-7:20)

Threat (Micah 6:1-7:6)

Promise (Micah 7:7-7:20)

God threatened to judge Judah and Jerusalem with defeat and exile because the nation had flagrantly violated the covenant, but both would one day be restored….Each cycle begins with prophecies of judgment and ends with a prophecy (or prophecies) of salvation, and each opens with the same Hebrew word rendered “hear” (Micah 1:2) or “listen” (Micah 3:1; Micah 6:1).[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1466.[/footnote]

2. Style

Dillard and Longman have highlighted Micah’s masterful use of words and images. This may be illustrated in Micah 1:10-16 which describes Sennacherib’s march towards Jerusalem.

Specific towns and cities are mentioned and Micah utilizes interesting wordplays to narrate what will happen. The wordplays relate the cities’ names to their fate. For the most part, English translations cannot convey the connection, but Moffatt’s paraphrase gives the reader an idea of what is going on:

Tell it not in Tellington!
Wail not in Wailing!
Dust Manor will eat dirt,
Dressy Town flee naked.
Safefold will not save,
Wallchester’s walls are down,
A bitter dose drinks Bitterton.
(Towards Jerusalem, City of Peace,
The Lord sends war)
Harness the war-steeds,
O men of Barstead!
(Zion’s beginning of sinning,
Equal to Israel’s crimes.)
To Welfare a last farewell!
For Trapping trapped Israel’s kings.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 400.[/footnote]


V. Thematic Analysis

1. The sins

The nation’s guilt was a result of moral corruption, idolatry (Micah 1:7; Micah 6:16), formal religion, injustice (Micah 3:1-10), corrupt leadership by false prophets (Micah 3:5-7) and by priests (Micah 3:11). There was social decay, with the rulers and wealthy people oppressing the poor (Micah 2:2; Micah 3:1-3).

Despite their complacent self-confidence (Micah 3:11), God’s judgment was threatened both at the beginning (Micah 1:2-4) and the end of the book (Micah 7:7-20).

Samaria’s punishment was a paradigm for what would happen to Judah if the people did not repent.

Micah summons his hearers to God’s court of law to hear His charges against them (Micah 1:2-7; Micah 6:1)

The urgent imperative “Hear!” inscribes the structure of the book (Micah 1:2; Micah 3:1; Micah 6:1) and punctuates it (Micah 3:9; Micah 6:2; Micah 6:9).[footnote]C H Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

2. Summary of the law

The most well-known passage in Micah is Micah 6:6-8, which Jewish tradition regards as a summary of the law. Micah’s answer summed up the themes of his contemporary prophetic colleagues: Amos’s appeal for justice, Hosea’s exposition of steadfast love, and Isaiah’s call to a life of humble devotion to Yahweh

“Justice” (mishpāt) summarises the responsibility of God’s people to live in accordance with the law of God and put it into practice in every area of life. “Kindness” has in view man’s relation to man. “To walk humbly with God” is a description of living in covenant relationship with God.

God required not just a turning from unrighteousness but a turning to and practice of righteousness.

3. The hope

Although sin and judgment dominates the book, there are also repeated notes of hope.

a. Hope in Micah 2

In Micah 2:12-13, the Lord comforts with the hope of salvation after judgment.

The basic theme of his message is that the necessary product of saving faith is social reform and practical holiness based upon the righteousness and sovereignty of God. Because of the general lack of such saving faith, both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms are destined to experience God’s wrath. Yet after the punishment is over, the nation will be restored and the Messiah will eventually come.[footnote]G L Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

b. Hope in Micah 4-5

Also in chapter four Micah depicted a time of God replacing the corrupt leaders with Himself ruling over an international peace flowing out of His deliverance. (Micah 4:1-8).

Micah 4 has in view the eschatological divine rule over a restored people. Each of the seven oracles in the section takes its rise in doom and passes on quickly’ to hope. While the oracles lack formal connection, by repetition their message is clear. Jerusalem and the people of God will be vindicated….Micah believes in a restoration beyond the judgment. He invites his audience in verses 6-8 to look beyond the destruction that must happen. In Micah 4:6-8, shepherd imagery is used to depict the final state of the remnant people of God – they will be shepherded by Yahweh, after having been abused by corrupt Jerusalem leadership. Verse 8 and its promise underscore further the certainty of the Davidic dynasty’s future. The series of ancient names used in verse 8 for the Davidic house is the climax of the speech. Micah 4:8 makes clear that a Davidic king will again rule over Jerusalem.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 209.[/footnote]

c. Hope in Micah 6

Micah sees past events in Israel’s history as encouragements for the future. Their exodus from Egypt, their defeat of Balak’s opposition, and the entrance to the Promised Land (Micah 6:1-5) was all by God’s grace and for the purpose that they might know the Lord (Micah 6:5). Micah viewed these past events as paradigms for God’s future dealings with them. After the now inevitable exile a new day would dawn with a new exodus, new conquest, a new Land and a new King.

That new age, miraculously introduced into history, would be ruled by a new King whose unpretentious origins could not belie the magnitude of His mission. Jerusalem, that city of kings, must yield to Bethlehem, so little among Judah’s clans, and the emerging King would reign over the age in which the Northern tribes returned to the national fold (Micah 5:2–5a). To lift this prophecy out of history and fail to see its fulfilment in the return from Babylonian Exile is to defy the historical element in the prophets. Yet, to obscure the messianic thrust of this and other texts like it in the prophets is tantamount to defying the divine plan for Israel and the world. The chief priests and scribes of the first Christian century perceived the latter as they responded to the wise men’s inquiry (Matt. 2:5–6). If not yet in actuality, at least in symbolic form the nations in the person of the magi had come to the Lord to learn His ways and walk in His paths. The chronological depth of the prophetic vision of the future was perhaps only faintly understood by the prophets, but they knew that they were serving a generation yet unborn (1 Pet. 1:12).[footnote]C H Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

d. Hope in Micah 7

The conclusion of the book reveals God graciously and powerfully fulfilling His covenant promises to Abraham (Micah 7:18-20).

Micah closed his lament (and book) as many psalmists ended their laments – with a prayer (Micah 7:14-20). He prayed that God would shepherd his people as he had when he first brought them into the land. He asked that the Lord would again display his miraculous power, for it would inspire his people and terrify his enemies. Micah also confessed God’s utter uniqueness. No other god was compassionate enough to forgive the sin of his people forever. Micah affirmed that in days to come, God would again show his faithfulness in every way. He would confirm his everlasting relationship with his people because of his promises to Israel’s forefathers over a thousand years before.[footnote]B Arnold and B Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 455-456.[/footnote]

The Book of Micah contains several contrasting theological emphases. To Micah Yahweh is the God of Israel, yet at the same time the God of all nations. Yahweh is judge, yet he is also savior. He is majestic in wrath, yet astonishing in compassion. He demands and executes justice, yet promises forgiveness. Yahweh scatters, but also gathers his flock. He destroys Zion, yet he also resurrects Zion. The God of Micah threatens the nations with humiliation, yet offers those same nations peace.[footnote]James L. Mays, Micah in “The Old Testament Library” (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976), 1.[/footnote]

VI. New Testament Analysis

1. Judgment

Micah’s predictions of attacks on Judah were fulfilled in Assyrian incursions (701 BC) and Babylonian destruction (586 BC). However these predictions and fulfillments are but shadows and types of ultimate judgment at the second coming of Christ.

2. Worldwide salvation

The mission to and repentance of the Gentiles is predicted.

And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth out of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Micah 4:2)

The great promise to Abraham contained blessing for ‘all the families of the earth’ (Gen. 12:3). The completed church of Jesus Christ will be composed of saved Israelites and saved Gentiles: ‘a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues … crying out … “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”’ (Rev. 7:9-10).[footnote]G Crossley, The Old Testament Explained and Applied (England: Evangelical Press, 2002), 717.[/footnote]

3. Davidic king

Micah predicts the birth of a Davidic king who would rule over Israel.

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting (Micah 5:2)

And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda; for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel (Matt. 2:5-6).

Micah 4:1-5 evokes the picture of the exalted mountain of God and a time when the peoples of the world will flock to the worship of God. There will be peace and no war. This oracle is introduced by the rubric “in the last days..” As redemptive history unfolds, it appears that this prophecy finds several anticipatory fulfilments before its ultimate fulfilment in the eschaton. In Waltke’s words, “in this vision, Micah presents the final, consummating vision with Mount Zion established forever as the cultic and moral centre of all nations. In the succeeding oracles he presents the steps by which it will be fulfilled.”[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 402.[/footnote]

Predictions of the judgments and the blessings that would take place at the restoration of God’s people after the Babylonian captivity speak more directly of Christ According to the New Testament, Jesus inaugurated these events in his earthly ministry, continues them today and will bring them to completion at his return….Perhaps the most direct prediction of Christ in Micah is found in 5:1-6 (see Mt 2:6), where God promised that the house of David would rise up after exile, defeat Judah’s enemies, rule over the entire earth and bring peace to God’s people.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1466.[/footnote]

4. Jesus quoted Micah

Jesus showed his own familiarity with Micah’s prophecy:

For the son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter in law against her mother in law: a man’s enemies are the men of his own house (Micah 7:6).

For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household (Matt. 10:35-36).


VII. The Message of Micah

Original Message: Israel should repent because of the frightening divine threats and especially because of the gracious promises of restoration.
Present Message: The Church should repent because of the frightening divine threats and especially because of the gracious promises of restoration.