We saw Micah, whose name means “Who is like YHWH?,” mentioned in the book of Jeremiah as an example from an earlier time. The people wanted to put Jeremiah to death but some of the elders of Judah remembered when “Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah” and quoted the prophecy of Micah 3:12, similar to what Jeremiah was saying, and Hezekiah and the people did not put Micah to death. Instead, the preaching of Micah led Hezekiah to repent. Micah is less well-known than Isaiah who ministered at the same time. The opening title verse of Isaiah and Micah are very similar.
Micah opens, “The word of YHWH that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem” (Micah 1:1). One notable difference between this and Isaiah 1:1 is that Isaiah saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem whereas Micah saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem. Samaria is a reference to the northern kingdom (though note no reference to the illegitimate northern kings). Another difference is that Isaiah is identified as the “son of” someone whereas Micah is identified by his hometown of Moresheth. In any case, this prophet spoke to the southern nation.
A third notable difference is the emphasis of the opening line. Isaiah 1:1 says, “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” But Micah opens, “The word of YHWH that came to Micah…” Usually the opening title puts the emphasis on the prophetic author but Micah puts the emphasis on the divine author. Perhaps this is also why the book includes no account of his call to be a prophet.
In particular, Micah likely prophesied mostly in Jerusalem. Thus the famous line about the coming Messiah to be born not in Jerusalem but in Bethlehem, like David – “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).
The Dillard-Longman introduction says, “It is easy to get lost in the mix of his judgment and salvation speeches. The structure is hard to fathom.” They note three things are certain about the structure: 1. It is an anthology of his prophetic messages over several years of ministry; 2. Chronology will not unlock the structure; 3. The messages alternate between threat and hope.
Many different schemes of outlining the book have been proposed. Bruce Waltke says that there are three cycles of doom and hope. The first one is Micah 1:2-2:13. The opening doom oracle (1:2-7) is followed by a lament song (1:8-16), a funeral lament (2:1-6), and a controversial saying (2:7-11) and ends with a short oracle of hope (2:12-13). The second cycle is separated from the first by the opening formula, “And I said.” This cycle “moves from three oracles of reproach threatening to dismantle Jerusalem for its failed leadership (3:1-12) to a number of diverse oracles promising the nation salvation ‘in that day’ (4:1-5:14[15 in English])” (p.15).
The third cycle, as Waltke sees it, begins with another introductory formula “Hear what YHWH says:” and has “diverse doom oracles—beginning with a legal lawsuit (6:1-8) and concluding with a lament song (7:1-7)–to a victory song, a composite of hymns of confidence and praise (7:8-19).
Thus the cycles follow an alternating pattern we can describe as: A, B, A’, B’, A”, B”. Each cycle begins with the imperative to hear or listen and the hope sections all mention shepherding and the remnant.
Micah: Cycle 1
The oracle of doom for cycle one is set in the cosmic courtroom. “Hear, you peoples, all of you; pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it, and let the Lord YHWH be a witness against you, the Lord from His holy temple” (Micah 1:2). And what we see in this vision is YHWH coming down and the earth transformed (mountains melt, valleys split open). Micah 1:5 lays out the charge that the two nations have broken covenant and then the rest of the doom oracle (Micah 1:6-7) lays down the sentence of destruction for Samaria and her idols.
The lament song of Micah 1:8-16 opens with Micah saying he will engage in mourning because the wound has come to Judah and even the gate of Jerusalem. Then verses 10b-15 are Micah’s prophecies of the fall of Judah and exile of its citizens by a series of puns on the place names mentioned. Waltke mentions the puns, naturally they get lost in translation.
Micah 2:1-5 continues on a note of lamentation. It is a woe oracle – “Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds!” (Micah 2:1a). What they have thought up at night they then go and do the next day – seizing fields they coveted and taking houses, oppressing others and their inheritance. This is their specific crime that Micah highlights. He is preaching about the rich oppressing the middle class into poverty.
Micah 2:6-11 then moves to the false prophets. As we expect by now, these false prophets preach “Do not preach” to the true prophets (Micah 2:6). The charge here is that the false prophets failed to preach oracles of doom from YHWH. The problem is one of false theology. They teach that YHWH does not become impatient and will not judge sin. The rich and powerful then use these false prophets to support their oppressing the weak and powerless.
The brief salvation oracle that ends the first cycle describes YHWH as assembling the remnant of Israel like sheep in a fold / like a flock in its pasture and being delivered out of Jerusalem with the king passing on before the people and YHWH at their head. Thus we are prepared for the longer sections of salvation oracles to come that will also use this shepherding motif and the remnant and often mention the Davidic king.
Micah: Cycle 2
Micah 3:1 begins the second cycle, “And I said: Hear, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel!”
The charge this time is that they fail to uphold justice – they should know what is just but their hearts love evil and they have become like cannibals. Therefore, YHWH will not answer them when they cry to Him. He will hide his face from them when they do.
The second doom oracle in cycle two begins, “Thus says YHWH concerning the prophets who lead my people astray…” (Micah 3:5). This one is related to the previous by mention of eating. The basic charge is that they lead the people astray for payment. These prophets are contrasted to Micah himself, “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of YHWH, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin” (Micah 3:8). Thus we see that Micah can do his ministry to tell Israel its sin because of his Spirit-filled power, justice, and might [Waltke translates, “valor”].
The third doom oracle in cycle two begins, “Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel, who detest justice…” (Micah 3:9). This one is addressing the magistrates. Specifically the charge is, “Who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with iniquity.” Verse 11 then mentions three groups: the magistrates (heads), priests, and prophets. Each of these three groups is corrupted by bribes/price/money. They profess faith in YHWH, they “lean on YHWH,” but falsely teach that since YHWH is in their midst that no disaster will come upon them. The sentence is the verse quoted by the elders in Jeremiah.
Micah 3:12 says, “Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.” The picture is one where Zion is destroyed such that it is a field and Jerusalem a heap of rubble with the temple mount a high place in a forest.
This third oracle of doom is linked to the first oracle of salvation in this cycle by a number of contrasts that you can see for yourself if you take some time to study it.
The first oracle of salvation in cycle two begins, “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of YHWH shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of YHWH, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of YHWH from Jerusalem.” (Micah 4:1-2). This is very similar to his contemporary – Isaiah 2.
Like Isaiah 2, Micah continues by talking about YHWH judging between the nations and them beating their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Having stated it positively he says negatively, “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. At the end of this oracle the remnant says, “For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of YHWH our God forever and ever” (Micah 4:5).
A second salvation oracle in cycle two begins with Micah 4:6, “In that day, declares YHWH,” and this one talks about assembling the lame and gathering those driven away. It makes the astounding statement that the lame will become the remnant. This is surprising since the lame were not allowed in the Temple. The short oracle ends, “YHWH will reign over them in Mount Zion from this time forth and forevermore” (Micah 4:7b). The following verse describes dominion and kingship returning to Zion.
The rest of Micah 4 consists of two parallel passages. Renaud, as cited by Waltke, shows the parallel nature of the passages through the following labels: now (9a, 11a), situation of distress (9b, 11b), appeal to daughter of Zion with two feminine imperatives (10a, 13a), and situation of victory (10b, 13b). The first “now” statement asks rhetorically, “Is there no king in you?” And the second “now” statement sees many nations assembled against Zion saying, ‘Let her be defiled.’ The image of a woman in labor animates the first of these two salvation oracles. It describes salvation from Babylonian captivity.
The first oracle of Micah 5 (in English chapter divisions) is the one with those famous lines concerning the place of birth of the Messiah. As the oracle continues there are lines that mention the Messiah standing and shepherding his flock in the strength of YHWH. Often the first part of verse 5 is read with them, “And he shall be their peace.” But Waltke observes that verses 5-6 are a complex chiasm. What follows is his labeling of the parts of this chiasm (the number 2 being the climax or center of the chiasm) together with an alternating structure (the letters a, b, and c helping you to identify this feature).
1a And he will be the one of peace.
1b As for Asshur, when he penetrates into our country,
1c and when he marches through our lands,
2a then we will raise up against him seven shepherds and even eight sheiks [ESV princes]
2b And they will shepherd the land of Asshur with the sword, and the land of Nimrod with a drawn sword.
1a’ And so he will deliver [us] from Asshur
1b’ when he penetrates into our country
1c’ and when he marches through our territory.
The next couple verses are set off from the preceding by their parallel structure.
A. Then the remnant of Jacob shall be
B. In the midst of many peoples
C. Like dew from YHWH,
D. Like showers on the grass,
E. Which delay not for a man
F. Nor wait for the children of man.
A’ And the remnant of Jacob shall be
B’ among the nations
C’ like a lion among the beasts of the forest,
D’ like a young lion among the flocks of sheep,
E’ Which, when it goes through, treads down
F’ And tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver
These verses are then brought to the moment of salvation in the next one, “your hand shall be lifted up over your adversaries, and all your enemies shall be cut off” (Micah 5:9).
And the last salvation oracle then begins with Micah 5:10, “And in that day, declares YHWH.” This oracle is a salvation oracle because it shows the purging of Israel’s idols – faith in military power and in religious power. Military power is represented by horses and chariots (offensive weapons) and cities and strongholds (defensive fortifications).
The religious power being defeated belongs to the realm of the false religions. Thus God will cut off sorceries, fortunetellers, carved images, and pillars. This is a poetic description since sorceries are magical and fortunetellers deal in divination and carved images are of stone and pillars are carved from wood. And the final verse of this salvation oracle says, “And in anger and wrath I will execute vengeance on the nations that did not obey” (Micah 5:15).
Micah: Cycle 3
Cycle 3 begins, “Hear what YHWH says…” (Micah 6:1). The first oracle is a prophetic lawsuit that fits the normal elements you would find in any such lawsuit. Here Micah calls for the mountains to hear the charges. YHWH reminds Israel of His great acts of salvation for Israel – bringing them up out of the land of Egypt and giving them Moses, and Aaron and Miriam as leaders. The remembering included the incident with Balak and Balaam. Implied with all of this is that YHWH has shown hesed (loyal-love, covenant love) to Israel but they have not shown hesed to YHWH.
This first doom oracle of cycle 3 continues with what Waltke calls a Torah liturgy. In this liturgy YHWH refuses to accept expensive gifts to atone for their sin. Instead, YHWH demands a spiritual covenant with faithfulness toward others and God. The expensive gifts mentioned are calves a year old, thousands of rams, ten thousands of rivers of oil, my firstborn, and the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul. The response is famous: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does YHWH require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness (loyal-love), and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
The second doom oracle of cycle 3 contrasts with the first in that the first told us what YHWH requires and the second tells us what they did. The specific charges here are wicked scales and deceitful weights and speaking lies. The sentence is, “Therefore I strike you with a grievous blow, making you desolate because of your sins.” What follows then have been called “futility curses.” There are five and each follows the pattern of “you shall…but you shall not…” For example, “you shall eat, but not be satisfied…you shall put away, but not preserve,” sow but not reap, etc.
This second doom oracle of cycle 3 ends saying, “For you have kept the statutes of Omri, and all the works of the house of Ahab; and you have walked in their counsels, that I may make you a desolation and your inhabitants a hissing; so you shall bear the scorn of my people” (Micah 6:16). Omri and Ahab you will remember as kings of the northern kingdom. Omri was worse than all the kings before him and Ahab you will remember was the husband of Jezebel. But the southern capital of Jerusalem has followed in their steps rather than those of King David. Thus Samaria and Jerusalem are linked together.
The third doom oracle of cycle three begins, “Woe is me!” (Micah 7:1). This probably is meant to be understood as the cry of one just found guilty. The idea that follows soon after is difficult to decipher (even the LXX had trouble translating it into Greek). Nevertheless, it is an allegory of a vineyard where the fruit has been removed. Interpreting this allegory, Micah uses two metaphors for evil leadership – hunters because they attack their subjects and hedges because they obstruct justice. The sentence is a statement that confusion or anarchy is at hand.
The next couple verses give us illustrations of that anarchy or confusion. The fabric of society is being unraveled as you cannot trust a neighbor or friend and members of one’s family even turn on each other. But then the prophet’s own salvation is contrasted with the nation’s doom with the next verse, “But as for me, I will look to YHWH; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me” (Micah 7:7). This verse serves, according to Waltke, as a janus. It ends the preceding section and opens the next. What follows are three salvation oracles that Waltke calls a Victory Song.
The first salvation oracle of cycle three is Micah 7:8-10. In it Zion (implied by the feminine singular form) tells the enemies of God’s people not to rejoice when she should fall because she will rise and when she sits in the darkness then YHWH will be a light to her. She says that she will bear the indignation of YHWH because she sinned against Him until He pleads her cause and executes justice for her. This is a reversal from the prosecuting role to that of defense attorney. Micah is describing salvation from sin and continues with how the enemy who said, “Where is YHWH your God?” will then be defeated.
The second salvation oracle of cycle three then prophesies the restoration of Jerusalem (Micah 7:11-12) and the desolation of the earth (Micah 7:13). Micah 7:12 mentions Assyria and Egypt the two nations that mark the beginning (Egypt) and end (Assyria) of Israel (and would have for Judah had not Hezekiah repented). These are the descendants of Ham to the north and south of Israel. The River, which is not named, always is a reference to the Euphrates. Waltke calls Egypt and Assyria and Egypt and the River geographical merisms – meaning everywhere. Sea to sea and mountains to The Mountain he also notes are merisms each and together (sea and mountain).
The third salvation oracle of cycle three then begins with the shepherding motif: “Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance…” (Micah 7:14). This oracle continues through verse 17. It is a new exodus, “As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, I will show them marvelous things” (Micah 7:15). The nations surrender to YHWH our God in this oracle. They lay their hands on their mouths, Waltke says is an idiom for “shut up” rather than simply “be quiet.” It is a climax of victory.
The book ends with Micah (who is like YHWH?) asking “Who is a God like you?” And the reason for asking the question is not His military triumph over the nations but “pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of His inheritance.” This is part of that grace-formula that we saw stated in whole in Jonah. “He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in loyal-love” (Micah 7:18b). “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19b). YHWH will show faithfulness and loyal-love to Abraham (Micah 7:20).
I have hinted at this all along, but further study will confirm for you that the arrangement of these oracles is not haphazard or even just to simply fit the alternating pattern of doom and hope. Instead, oracles are next to each other because of catchwords, contrasts, shared themes, and the like. So while each of the “a” parts of the alternating pattern are related one to another and each of the “b” parts of the alternating pattern are related to each other, so too are each “a,b” cycle, and so too are each oracle within each “a” part and each “b” part. It can make the book appear somewhat confusing, but it is part of the genius of the book in prompting you to further contemplate what Micah is saying. Ultimately the structure of the book is a death (doom) and resurrection (hope) pattern pointing us to Jesus, the king born in Bethlehem, who is the Good Shepherd.