Micah, Theology of

Micah, Theology of

Although unlike Isaiah ( 6:1-9 ), Jeremiah ( 1:4-10 ), and Ezekiel (2:1-3:27) Micah gives his audience no autobiographical account of his call to prophetic ministry, the superscription to his book (1:1), "the word of the Lord that came to Micah, " affirms that the invisible God becomes audible in it. In 6:1b-8 Micah is pictured as the Lord's plenipotentiary from the heavenly court, who has come to Jerusalem to accuse Israel of having broken the Mosaic covenant. Unlike the false prophets, for whom money speaks louder than God ( Micah 3:5 Micah 3:11 ), Micah, filled with the power of the Lord's Spirit, preaches justice ( 3:8 ).

Micah's theology represents both aspects of the Lord's covenant with Israel: the Lord will sentence his covenant people to exile out of the land of blessing if they fail to keep his righteous law, but he will always preserve from them a righteous remnant to whom he will give his sworn land after the exile ( 2:5 ) and through whom he will bless the nations ( 4:1-5 ).

Micah organizes the approximately twenty prophecies that comprise his book into three cycleschapters 1-2, 3-5, and 6-7each beginning with the command to either "Hear" ( 1:2 ) or "Listen" ( 3:1 ; 6:1 ). Each cycle begins with judgment-oracles against the nation for having failed to keep the Mosaic covenant, followed by salvation-oracles based on God's promises to Abraham and the patriarchs to be their god foreverso reflecting both aspects of the Lord's covenant with Israel. In the first two prophecies of the first cycle, Samaria ( 1:3-7 ) and Judah ( 1:8-16 ) are sentenced to destruction and exile because of their idolatry (vv. 5, 7). In the third prophecy ( 2:1-5 ), Micah accuses rich land barons of exploiting Israel's middle class by taking their lands away from them in corrupt courts (vv. 1-3). It is often said that Micah is the champion of the poor; in truth, he champions the cause of Israel's middle classstalwart farmers whose wives live in luxurious homes and whose children enjoy the Lord's blessing ( 2:9 ). The Lord will take the lands away from the venal land barons and send them into exile ( 2:4-5 ). Israel possessed the promised land as a usufruct from the Lord. While he gave it to them to enjoy to its full measure, he reserved the right to take it away from them if they abused it ( Lev 25:33 ).

Micah's fourth prophecy is against the false prophets who abet the rapacious racketeers with their half-baked theology. Their identifying badge is that they preach only God's love, never his wrath and judgment. Their half-truth distorted the covenant by emphasizing only Exodus 34:6 ("The Lord the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness") and omitting Exodus 34:7 ("yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished"). Their false doctrine of eternal security helped lead the nation to its death ( 2:6-11 ). In these four oracles Micah predicts Israel's exile, but looking beyond the judgment, he concludes the first cycle with a prophecy that the Lord will preserve a remnant with him as their triumphant King ( 2:12-13 ).

In the second cycle (3:1-5:16), Micah delivers three oracles of judgment against Jerusalem's corrupt leaders: the avaricious magistrates, who cannibalize their subjects ( 3:1-4 ); the greedy prophets, who should be the nation's watchdogs but only wag their tails if fed a bone ( 3:5-7 ); and all the leaders, rulers, prophets, and priests ( 3:8-11 ), who are in cahoots to plunder their subjects. Micah concludes these oracles with the climactic prediction that Jerusalem will fall ( 3:12 ; cf. Jer 26:18 ).

In a breathtaking turn, he shifts from these judicial sentences reducing Jerusalem to a heap of rubble and its temple to a forested height to seven visions pertaining to Israel's "last days" ( Micah 4:1 Micah 4:6 ; 5:10 ), a future that paradoxically reverses the present situationthe "now" of distress ( Micah 4:9 Micah 4:11 ; 5:1 , not translated in NIV)and at the same time brings to a fitting outcome that toward which it is striving. In his first sermon Peter goes out of his way to identify the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost with the epoch labeled by Micah and his contemporary, Isaiah, as "in the last days" ( Acts 2:17 ). Peter's primary text is Joel 2:28-32. The inspired apostle, however, curiously and interpretively transforms Joel's text. Joel's prophecy begins, "and afterward "' ( Joel 2:28 ), but instead of this introduction Peter substitutes the words of Micah 4:1 and the parallel passage in Isaiah 2:2. Since that wording is found in no text or version of Joel, Peter seems deliberately to link Pentecost and the ensuing age until the return of Jesus Christ with Isaiah's and Michah's prophecies about Israel's golden age "in the last days." The author of the Letter to the Hebrews likewise speaks of the church as now living "in these last days" ( 1:2 ). However, the phrase has a temporal thickness embracing many events over an extended period of time. In Micah it embraces the remnant's restoration from Babylon ( 4:9-10 ), the birth of the Messiah ( 5:2 ), and his universal and everlasting peace ( 5:5-6 ). Moreover, while the church today fulfills these prophecies it awaits the new heaven and new earth when they will be consummated.

In the first of these visions with regard to the last days Micah sees Mount Zion established as the true religion over all false, pagan religions ( 4:1 ). He overhears the regenerate nations exhorting one another to come to Mount Zion to learn God's law, to hear God's word and to carry it back with them (v. 2). Reflecting upon what he saw and heard he predicts for these people a kingdom of peace: "they will beat their swords into plowshares" (v. 3); "every man will sit under his own fig tree" (v. 4). Until that happens, however, Micah and the remnant "will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever" (v. 5).

In the second vision of these last days, Micah sees the lame remnant regathered as a strong nation ( 4:6-7 ); and in the third, the kingdom's former glory is again restored to Jerusalem (4:8). It should be borne in mind that earthly Jerusalem was always a replica of the heavenly, that the church today has come to the reality (i.e., the heavenly Jerusalem [ Heb 12:22 ]), and that the old earthly symbols of the kingdom, including the temple on Mount Zion, have been done away forever ( Heb 8:13 ).

In the fourth vision, Micah transforms the cry of the exiles going into Babylon into the cry of a woman in labor. The remnant that survives the Babylonian exile will ultimately give birth to the new age ( 4:9-11 ); those who appeared defeated will become victorious ( 4:11-13 ).

In the fifth vision and at the center of these glorious prophecies ( 5:1-6 ), Micah now predicts that the remnant will give birth to the Messiah, who will be born in lowly Bethlehem, David's cradle (v. 2 cf. Matt 2:1-6 ). He will shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord (v. 4 cf. John 10:11 ; Heb 13:20 ; 1 Peter 2:25 ; 5:4 ), and they will live securely (cf. Matt 16:18 ). He will be their peace, protecting them from all their enemies, including Assyria, the very symbol of oppression (vv. 5-6 cf. Luke 2:14 ; 24:36 ; Rom 5:1 ; 8:31-39 ; Eph 2:14 ).

In the sixth vision, Micah foresees that the restored remnant will become a savor of life and death among the nations ( 5:7-9 ) (cf. 2 Cor 2:14-15 ).

Finally, "in that day, " Micah says, the Lord will purge his people of all their former false confidences: military hardware, witchcraft, and idolatry ( 5:10-15 ). Having purged his imperium within, thereby protecting it from the divine anger against unholiness, the Lord promises to guard it from enemies without (v. 15).

In the third cycle (6:1-7:20), Micah begins with a covenant law suit ( 6:1-8 ). Here the Lord clearly profiles the covenant relationship. He dealt with his people in sovereign grace, saving them from Egypt and bringing them safely into the promised land (vv. 1-5). However, instead of responding to his grace with a total commitment of trust in him that leads to covenant fidelity and obedience, they reduced the covenant to a bargaining contract (vv. 6-7). Micah shows the reader how absurd it is to try to establish a relationship with God in this way. The false worshiper begins bargaining with holocausts; he then offers one-year calves (already more costly) (v. 6), then thousands of rams, then ten thousand torrents of oil. Finally, he even offers the cruel sacrifice of his own child (v. 7). "Ten thousand rivers of oil" suggests that this approach to God has no limit and establishes neither a covenant relationship with God nor assurance of salvation. Oil is measured by the pint or quart ( Exod 30:24 ; Num 15:9 ; 28:5 ). False worshipers think God's favor, like theirs, can be bought! Comparative religionists refer to Micah 6:8 as the quintessential expression of true religion. What the Lord actually requires is that the believer practice justice and faithful love, walking wisely with him. False worshipers offer the Lord everything but what he asks for: their loving and obedient hearts. Only those who comprehend his grace can and will offer him that.

The prophet follows this law suit with yet another oracle of judgment ( 6:9-16 ). For Judah's corrupt and deceptive commercial practices (vv. 9-12), the Lord will bring on it all the curses of the covenant: sickness, sword, and exile (vv. 13-16). In the final judgment oracle ( 7:1-7 ) the ship of state breaks apart. Not an upright official is left (vv. 1-4), and so the nation falls into anarchy (vv. 5-6). Micah, however, confident of God's covenant faithfulness to the patriarchs, hopes in his saving God (v. 7). He will not be disappointed. His final prophecy concludes with a victory song (vv. 8-20). Micah's name means, "Who is like Yah, " and in this concluding prophecy he asks, "Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?" (v. 18). As at the beginning of Israel's history the Lord hurled Pharaoh into the sea, now at the end of their history he will hurl all their sins into the sea (v. 19). Although Israel has been unfaithful, the Lord will remain faithful to his covenant promises to Abraham and the fathers (v. 20); he cannot deny himself ( 2 Tim 2:13 ).

As God's justice informs Micah's judgment-oracles and his righteousness the salvation-oracles, so God's other sublime attributes inform both. The omniscient God even knows what the greedy land barons are plotting on their beds ( 2:1 ). He predicts the Babylonian exile and the survival of the remnant, and the birth of his Messiah in Bethlehem and the triumph of his rule, and brings them to pass.

In his first prophecy, Micah pictures Israel's Ruler as a victorious conqueror. He rises from his heavenly throne, marches forth from his holy sanctuary, and strides upon the earth's heights ( 1:3 ). Under the heat of the Lord's glowing wrath and under his heavy tread, the eternal and majestic mountains melt and flow like hot wax, and the arable plains where humankind finds its immediate source of life split apart like waterfalls roaring down a rocky gorge (v. 4). When this majestic God suddenly erupts with awesome power, puny human walls and fortifications crumble and fall into ravines (vv. 6-7). Humans feel secure as long as the long-suffering God remains in heaven; but when he marches forth in judgment, they are gripped by the stark reality that they must meet the holy God in person.

Bruce K. Waltke

See also Israel; Prophet, Prophetess, Prophecy

Bibliography. D. W. Baker, T. D. Alexander, and B. K. Waltke, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah; R. E. Clements, Canon and Authority; E. Clowney, Dreams, Visions and Oracles; K. H. Cuffey, "The Coherence of Micah: A Review of the Proposals and a New Interpretation"; G. Hasel, The History and Theology of the Remnant Idea from Genesis to Isaiah; A. J. Heschel, The Prophets; D. Hillers, Covenant: The History of a Biblical Idea; idem, Micah; B. K. Waltke, Continuity and Discontinuity, pp. 263-88; idem, Commentary on Micah.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Micah, Theology of'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.