These were very tense times in Israel and Judah. Their traditional enemy, Assyria, was again looming on the border, anxious to establish control over their land. Border incursions succeeded in establishing Assyrian control over some of Judah’s smaller cities, although Jerusalem remained free. None of this discipline succeeded in prodding Judah back to God.
We know almost nothing about Micah personally. His book comprises three messages, each of which commences with the word, “Hear,” meaning, “Listen!” He demands that the audience listen to God’s Word. The command, “Listen,” echoes down through the centuries and today we also need to listen carefully to the voice of the Lord through Micah.
Micah’s First Message (chaps 1-2) – Prepare for Judgment:
Micah’s first message is unambiguous in its prediction of swift and serious violence upon Israel (Samaria) and Jerusalem (Judah) because the odor of their sins was so obnoxious to God.
Micah individually names twelve different cities and pointedly refers to their specific sins. The sins in these two chapters include idolatry, covetousness, fraud, threats, and violence by the rich against the helpless, and disobedience to the law of God. Micah uses sarcasm when he compares the meaning of city names to the coming punishment:
- Aphrah means “dust” and Micah promises that it will roll in the dust,
- Saphir means “beautiful,” but Micah promises that Saphir will be naked,
- Zaanan means “go forth,” but he promises that they will be afraid to go forth.
God and Micah hate the corrupt business practices and morals of Israel and Judah. God promises that if it continues, punishment will follow. The response to the message is not encouraging. The people demand that Micah stop preaching, claiming that they are God’s people and therefore immune from punishment (ch 2:6). Like most hypocrites, they are blind to their hypocrisy.
Micah’s Second Message (chaps. 3-5) – Prepare for A Deliverer:
In chapter 3, Micah’s second message begins by reiterating God’s distaste and promising destruction for leaders who mislead, whether they are corrupt political leaders, false prophets, or ungodly priests. He calls these people financial cannibals and butchers and condemns the corrupt teachers that seduce with messages of money instead of truth.
While not compromising one word of this warning, Micah then proceeds with a more hopeful message. In chapters 4 and 5, Micah points to a coming reign of peace and righteousness upon the earth. War will be a distant, sad memory and the weapons of war will be transformed into the instruments of peaceful prosperity. All of the injustices of the world will be righted and mankind will relish firsthand life upon the earth as God intended it to be when it was first created in Eden.
This idyllic scene will actually occur on this earth and it will be directed by the Deliverer from the city of Bethlehem (ch 5:2; Matt 2:6). This is as clear a prediction of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ as can be found in Scripture and are the very words that guided the wise men to Judah to find Jesus.
Micah’s Third Message 3 (chapters 6-7) – Prepare to Trust God:
Micah’s third message is designed as a conversation between God, His people, and Micah:
God speaks first (ch 6:1-5) and again describes His complaints with the people: they forget about His powerful deliverance of them from Egypt, they ignore their covenant promises to Him, and they ignore His laws.
The people respond (ch 6:6-8) by acknowledging their sinfulness, recognizing that sacrifices will be insufficient to cover the multitude of sins they have committed. They understand that God wants them “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with … God” (ch 6:8). They finally realize that God wants hearts, not hands; He wants the will, not the wallet!
God speaks again (ch 6:9-16) reinforcing His contention that material possessions will not bring happiness or security – only a repentant and obedient heart that is traveling in the will of God will know satisfaction.
Micah speaks for the first time (ch 7:1-10) and laments the wickedness of the country where he cannot locate an honest man. Instead, looting, injustice, and bribery prevail. However, Micah believes in the justice of God and he promises to wait for God’s righteous decision to punish sin no matter where it occurs (ch 7:7).
God speaks again (ch 7:11-17) with precious promises to restore the land in the future. After passing through a time of intense tribulation, the land will be clean again and restored to its former glory.
The final verses of Micah’s third message triumphantly summarize God’s grace and mercy. Micah describes his hope for Judah – to bring them to repentance in the light of God’s forgiveness. Micah writes, “Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression…He retaineth not His anger for ever, because He delighteth in mercy…Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (ch 7:18-20).
Implications for Christians Today:
Despite being written 2,700 years ago, the warnings and promises of Micah are completely relevant to the Christian of today: We need to be conscious of the idolatry of materialism and covetousness. It is possible for us to become completely oriented toward financial security, such that we are more concerned with laying up treasure on earth than we are about a heavenly investment plan.
Outwardly, Israel and Judah performed all of the sacrifices by rote, but inwardly they were not devoted to God. It is possible for us to outwardly perform our Christian duties while hypocritically preserving our heart for ourselves instead of devoting it to Christ.
Micah teaches us that God hates injustice and greed in our business practices. We must be careful in all of our financial and personal dealings to be just and to be seen to be just. Further, we should be generous in our dealings with the needy of the world, Christian and otherwise.