Micah and His Times.
Key Notes: The kingdom of David split in two--north and south. Politics of three kings of Judah--Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. Three crises of Micah's life as a prophet. Generic sins of the Israelites.
Micah prophesied during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, speaking to Israel and Judah. Hosea and Isaiah were prophesying at the same time. In order to understand Micah's words, we will review the history of these three kings, and the situation in the Northern Kingdom in contact with the superpowers--Assyria and Egypt.
The Kingdom of Israel was divided in 920 BC (IK.12:19) into the ten northern tribes, called Israel, also Ephraim, Jacob, or Samaria--its capital, and the two southern tribes, Judah and Benjamin, called Judah, sometimes called David or Jerusalem--its capital. The ten northern tribes were at once introduced to idol worship by their first king, Jeroboam I. He set up calf-worship in Bethel in the south and Dan in the north and ordered his people not to go to Jerusalem to worship. There were periodic civil wars between the kingdoms, one of which occurred during Micah's time. No good king emerged in the North during its 200 years. Its final destruction by Assyria in 722 BC occurred during Micah's life.
In Judah, Jotham was king, the son of Uzziah. IIK.15:32–38; IIChron.27:1–8 . He was co-regent with his father Uzziah, who was a leper in his final years and unable to rule. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. However, reform did not reach the people who continued to offer incense in the high places. Jotham was prosperous in part because of tribute received from the Ammonites and he was able to build cities, towers and forts in the hill country of Judah. He made improvements in the temple and the wall of Jerusalem. It was a good time for Judah.
Ahaz, son of Jotham (IIK.16:1–20; IIChron.28:1–27) was also co-regent with his father, but a wicked king, offering his son as a sacrifice and practicing idol worship. During his later years, God sent Rezin, king of Syria and Pekah, king of Samaria against him. These two kings were worried about the power of Assyria to their north, and wanted the support of Judah. Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria had pressured Samaria and taken huge tribute (IIK.15:19–20). When they failed to get Judah's support, Israel and Syria attacked Judah, hoping to put a puppet on the throne. They failed.
However, when Syria and Samaria attacked Judah (IIChron.28:1) they killed 120,000 of Judah's soldiers in one day, and deported 200,000 as slaves into Samaria. But a prophet of God, Oded (IIChron.28:9–15) intervened, and demanded the return of the captive under fear of God's wrath.
When Ahaz knew that Pekah and Rezin were at the gates of Jerusalem (Isa.7:1), he and his people were badly frightened. The prophet Isaiah was sent to advise him. He said that the alliance of Syria and Samaria would not last and that he should remain neutral. The real threat was the Assyrians. In his prophecy, Isaiah revealed four important predictions which were of much longer range than Ahaz could imagine.
•A virgin would conceive and bear a son named Immanuel (God with us). Isa.7:14
•Galilee of the Gentiles would receive a great light (Isa.9:1–7), a Son called Mighty God.
•Assyria will be destroyed. Isa.10
•A shoot from the stump of Jesse would rule the world (Isa.11:1–9) and transform the natural order.
Ahaz refused the advice of neutrality from the prophet Isaiah. He went ahead to ask Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria for help against Syria. IIK.16:5–9. The Assyrians obliged by seizing Damascus, the capital of Syria. When Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser, he saw a Syrian altar which he admired, had it copied by the priest and set up in Jerusalem. He reasoned that the Syrian gods had helped them (!?) (IIChron.28:23) and should help him too. He shut the doors of the temple in Jerusalem and sacrificed elsewhere. He was accordingly harassed by his neighbors, the Edomites, and Philistines as well as Assyria, which demanded tribute in exchange for its favors. He lived to see the Assyrians under Shalmaneser wipe out Samaria and deport her people in 722BC.
Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, was one of Judah's godly rulers.(IIK.18–20). He re-established the temple worship, broke up the idols, and celebrated Passover. He sent his courtiers as far north as Zebulun to encourage them to return to the Lord to celebrate Passover. (IIChron.30:1–12). He also rebelled against Assyria, perhaps thinking that Babylon and Egypt would help him. For all that, Sennacharib of Assyria invaded Judah and besieged Jerusalem. When the Assyrians mocked their God, Hezekiah prayed that God's name would be honored. (IIK.19:14–19). There was a miraculous overnight death of 185,000 Assyrian troops. The Assyrians retreated and Judah was saved.
In summary, during Micah's 35-year working life, there were three major political crises:
•Syria and Samaria formed an alliance to protect themselves against the Assyrians. They tried to overthrow Ahaz when he refused to join them. They did major damage to his army and ravaged the country-side of Judah.
•Assyria captured Damascus, and later destroyed Samaria for its attempt at rebellion.
•Assyria tried to conquer Judah when it rebelled and was at the gates of Jerusalem when God intervened under Hezekiah’s leadership.
In Jerusalem there were probably three political parties, the party favoring an alliance with Israel and Syria; a party favoring a treaty with Assyria against Israel and Syria; and a neutral party.
Micah's task was to interpret these crises to the people of Judah.
•He warned them that the judgment of God was upon them.
•He denounced their sins.
•He also offered them hope for the future.
These three themes are woven together so tightly that the writing sometimes seems awkward and difficult to interpret.
In the larger framework, it is clear that these two little nations—-Israel and Judah-- were being pounded by the hammer of Assyria on the anvil of Egypt. Judah would eventually be hammered to pieces by successive blows from Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. But by the end of her political life (70AD) her strategic setting between three great continents was the means of the Gospel reaching all over the then-known world.
Clearly God was at work through all the disasters.
Micah 1. God puts the nations on notice that He will come to earth to judge Israel and Judah. Ten cities are named and their judgments given in connection with their names. The prophecies are ironic, satirical, and tragic. It is a prophecy of Assyria’s sweep through the cities of Israel.
Micah 2–3. The reasons for judgment are spelled out.
Stealing land from middle-class citizens. 2:1–5
Stealing clothes off the backs of people as if they were enemies. 2:8
Evicting women and children, widows and orphans. 2:9
Preaching self-indulgence with wine and beer. 2:11
“Eating” people—stripping them of everything. 3:1–4
Prophecy for pay. 3:11
Priests for hire, 3:11
Fortune-telling by prophets. 3:11
Denying reality. 3:11
P.S. In a further lesson, Micah 1–5 has a set of 20 criteria ("20 Questions") that identify Christ from a billion other people.
Micah 3 contains a summary of the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
Micah 4 has an article on internationalism.