Micah was Isaiah’s contemporary. He spoke about the same situation, and yet it is easy to see a striking contrast between the two: Micah, a man from the country; Isaiah, distinguished and learned.
Micah was from Moresheth, a village at the edge of the lowland through which all the armies of Assyria and Egypt passed. He was well acquainted with the suffering and the destruction of war and with the exploitation of the peasants as well. One day God called him and gave him strength, justice and courage to go and denounce Israel’s sins. He spoke in the name of a God whom no one loved and violently denounced the injustices which were practiced everywhere.
Some of the words which Micah addressed to Israel, whose ruin was imminent, were later modified to adapt them to the situation of Jerusalem and of the kingdom of Judah, when they were undergoing a similar crisis.
1This is the word of Yahweh which came to Micah of Moresheth during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. These are his visions concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.
Against Samaria and Jerusalem
•2Hear all you peoples, let the earth and all who are in it, listen. For Yahweh is witnessing against you from his holy temple.
3Yahweh has come forth from his place, he comes down and treads upon the heights of the earth. 4Beneath him mountains collapse and valleys melt like wax before the fire, as torrents pouring down the hillside.
5All this for the crime of Jacob, for the sin of the nation of Judah. What is the crime of Jacob? Is it not Samaria? What is the sin of the nation of Judah? Is it not Jerusalem?
6Therefore I will make Samaria a heap of ruins in the open country, a place for planting vineyards. I will scatter her stones down into the valley and lay her foundations bare.
7All her carved images will be dashed to pieces and her filthy idols burnt by fire. I will make a waste heap of all her idols for they were made with harlot’s wages, and to harlot’s wages they will return.
8For this reason I lament and wail, go barefoot and naked. I shall howl like a jackal and wail like an ostrich. 9For her wound cannot be healed; rather it has come to Judah. It has reached the capital of my people, Jerusalem.
10Exult not in Gath; break down and weep in Acco. In Beth-leaphra roll in the dust. 11Sound the bugle, O people of Shaphir and do not let the dwellers in Zaanan come forth. Mourn greatly, Beth Ezel: your treasures are taken away.
12Surely they trembled, the people in Maroth, when calamity came down from Yahweh to the gates of Jerusalem.
13Hitch the horses to the chariot, citizens of Lachish. In you the rebellions of Israel were found and because of you Zion began to sin. 14Therefore you must give a redress to Moresheth-Gath. The houses of Achzib have become deceitful to the kings of Israel.
15Again I will bring the conqueror to you, people of Maresha, and the elite of Israel will leave forever. 16Shave your hair for your delightful children. Make yourself bald as an eagle for they have been deported far from you.
Against the rich
•1Woe to those who plot wickedness and plan evil even on their beds! When morning comes they do it, as soon as it is within their reach.
2If they covet fields, they seize them. Do they like houses? They take them. They seize the owner and his household, both the man and his property.
3This is why Yahweh speaks, “I am plotting evil against this whole brood, from which your necks cannot escape. No more shall you walk with head held high for it will be an evil time.”
4On that day they will sing a taunting song against you and a bitter lamentation will be heard, “We have been stripped of our property in our homeland. Who will free us from the wicked who allots our fields.” 5Truly, no one will be found in the assembly of Yahweh to keep a field for you.
6What will you say to that? For there is no reply. Disgrace will not pass away; these words will strike the nation of Jacob.
7They answer, “Is the might of Yahweh weakened? Is this his way of working things out? Has he not good words for his people of Israel?”
8But it is you who oppress my people and are his enemies. You strip off the garments of those who pass by confidently; 9you drive the women of my people from the home they love; you rob my blessing from their children forever.
10Get up! Away with you! There is no resting place for you here! Because of this uncleanness of yours, you will go roped up.
11If a deceiver were to come and say, “I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,” he would be the prophet for this people.
A comforting word
12I shall assemble you, nation of Jacob, and gather the remnant of Israel. I will bring them together like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture. 13They have a leader in their midst. See: their king goes before them, Yahweh is heading them!
Leaders and prophets oppress the people
•1Then I said, “You rulers of the house of Israel, is it not your duty to know what is right? 2Yet you hate good and love evil, you tear the skin from my people and the flesh from their bones.
3Those who eat my people’s flesh and break their bones to pieces, who chop them up like meat for the pan and share them like flesh for the pot, 4when they cry, Yahweh will not answer. He will hide his face from them because of their evil deeds.”
5This is what Yahweh says of the prophets who lead my people astray:
“You cry: ‘Peace’ when you have something to eat, but to anyone with nothing for your mouths, it is ‘War’ that you declare. 6So night will come to you without vision, and darkness without divination. Then sun will set for the prophets and the day will be dark for them.
7Then the seers will be disgraced and the diviners put to shame. They will all cover their faces because no answer will come from God. 8But as for me, I am filled with might, with the spirit of Yahweh, with justice and courage, to declare to Jacob his transgressions, to Israel his sins.
9Hear this, leaders of the nation of Jacob, rulers of the house of Israel, you who despise justice and pervert what is right, 10you who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with crime. 11Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests prophesy for money, and yet they rely on Yahweh and say, ‘Is Yahweh not in our midst? No evil, then, will come upon us.’ 12Therefore, because of you, Zion will become a field, Jerusalem will be a heap of ruins and the temple mount a forest with sacred stones.”
•1In the last days, the mountain of Yahweh’s House shall be set over the highest mountains and will tower over the hills. 2All the nations will stream to it, saying, “Come, let us go to the mountain of Yahweh, to the House of the God of Jacob, so he may teach us his ways and we may walk in his paths. For the teaching comes from Zion and from Jerusalem the word of Yahweh.”
3He will rule over the nations and settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not raise sword against nation; neither will they train for war any more. 4But each one will sit in peace and freedom under a fig tree or a vine of his own, for the mouth of Yahweh of Hosts has spoken.
5While peoples walk, each in the name of his god, we shall walk in the name of Yahweh, our God, forever and ever.
6Yahweh declares, “On that day I will assemble the lame and gather the banished, those whom I have afflicted. 7I will make the lame a remnant and those driven out a mighty nation. Yahweh will reign over them on Zion from now and forever.
8As for you, O watchtower of the flock, O city of Zion, city of the king, your former dominion will be restored, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.
9Now, why do you wail? Would it be that you have no king and your counselor has perished? Why are you in anguish like a woman in labor? 10Writhe and howl, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in labor, for now you must leave the city and camp in the open country. To Babylon you must go; there you shall be rescued and Yahweh will redeem you from the hand of your enemies.
11But now many nations are massed against you; they say, “Let Jerusalem be defiled, let our eyes gloat over Zion.” 12But they do not know Yahweh’s thoughts, nor do they understand his purpose: that he has gathered them like sheaves on the threshing floor.
13Arise and thresh, O Zion, for I will give you horns of iron and hooves of bronze, and you shall crush many peoples. You shall devote their plundered wealth to Yahweh, their treasures to the Lord of the whole earth.
14Strengthen the walls of your fortress, for they have laid siege against us. With a rod they want to strike the cheek of Israel’s ruler.
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah
•1But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, so small that you are hardly named among the clans of Judah, from you shall I raise the one who is to rule over Israel. For he comes forth from of old, from the ancient times.
2Yahweh, therefore, will abandon Israel until such time as she who is to give birth has given birth. Then the rest of his deported brothers will return to the people of Israel.
3He will stand and shepherd his flock with the strength of Yahweh, in the glorious Name of Yahweh, his God. They will live safely while he wins renown to the ends of the earth. 4He shall be peace.
When the Assyrian invades our land
and sets foot on our territory,
we will raise against him
not one but seven shepherds,
5They will rule Assyria with the sword,
and Babylonia with the bared blade.
He will deliver us from the Assyrians
when they come into our land,
when they set foot within our borders.
6Then the remnant of Jacob will be
in the midst of many peoples,
like dew dropping down from Yahweh,
like showers falling upon the grass.
For they do not put their hope in man
or expect anything from mortals.
7The remnant of Jacob will then be
in the midst of many peoples,
like a lion among the beasts of the forest,
like a young lion in a flock of sheep,
trampling down as it goes,
mangling its prey, and no rescuer in sight.
8May your hand be raised high over your foes,
and all your enemies perish.
9“On that day—Yahweh speaks—
I will drive away your horses;
I will wreck your chariots,
10I will demolish your cities
and tear down your strongholds.
11I will do away with your witchcraft
and rid you of soothsayers.
12I will abolish your carved images,
the sacred stones from your midst,
so that you no longer worship the work of your hands.
13I will pull down your sacred poles
and destroy all your idols.
14In raging fury I will take vengeance
upon the nations that have not obeyed me.”
O my people what have I done to you?
•1Listen to what Yahweh said to me, “Stand up, let the mountains hear your claim, and the hills listen to your plea.”
2Hear, O mountains, Yahweh’s complaint! Foundations of the earth, pay attention! For Yahweh has a case against his people, and will argue it with Israel.
3“O my people, what have I done to you? In what way have I been a burden to you? Answer me.
4I brought you out of Egypt; I rescued you from the land of bondage; I sent Moses, Aaron and Miriam to lead you.
5O my people, remember what Balak, king of Moab, plotted, and what Balaam, son of Beor, answered him. Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, how you have come to know Yahweh’s righteous paths.”
6“What shall I bring when I come to Yahweh and bow down before God the most high? Shall I come with burnt offerings, with sacrifices of yearling calves? 7Will Yahweh be pleased with thousands of rams, with an overabundance of oil libations? Should I offer my firstborn for my sins, the fruit of my body for my wrongdoing?”
8“You have been told, O man, what is good and what Yahweh requires of you: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
9The voice of Yahweh calls to the city, in order to save those who fear his Name.”
10“Is there still within you unjust wealth and accursed short measure? 11Shall I approve your false scales and your bags of false weights?
12O city whose rich are full of violence, whose citizens speak falsehood, people of deceitful tongue! 13See, I am striking you a grievous blow, making you desolate because of your sins. 14You shall eat but not be satisfied and your insides will go on crying.
What you overtake, you will not carry off, and those who escape I will hand them over to the sword. 15You shall sow but not reap. You shall tread your olives, but not anoint yourselves with the oil. You shall tread the grapes but not drink the wine.
16You keep the rules of Omri and follow the examples of Ahab’s court. So I will give you up to devastation, so that your citizens become an object of derision. You shall bear the scorn of the peoples.”
1How I sorrow! For I am like the gatherer of summer fruit, like the gleaner of the vintage, when there are no grapes to eat, none of the early figs I crave.
2The godly have vanished from the earth and not one upright man is to be found. All lie in ambush to shed blood, one hunts another with a net. 3Their hands are skilled at doing evil. The official demands a bribe, the judge judges for a price and the mighty decides as he pleases.
4Their kindness is like a brier, their justice worse than a thorn hedge. But the time of punishment has come, and now is the time of confusion.
5Do not rely on a friend nor trust an intimate companion. Be guarded in speech with the woman who shares your bed. 6For son treats father like a fool, daughter rebels against mother, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. The enemies of each one are those of his household.
7As for me, I will watch expectantly for Yahweh, waiting hopefully for the God who saves me. My God will hear me.
Poem of exile—Jerusalem will rise
8Do not rejoice over me, my enemy; though I have fallen, I will rise again. Though I now dwell in darkness, Yahweh is my light.
9I will bear the wrath of Yahweh—for I have sinned against him—while he examines my cause and defends my rights. Then he will bring me out to the light and I shall probe his justice.
10Then my enemy shall also see and shame will cover her. Did she not say, “Where is Yahweh, your God?” My eyes, then, shall rejoice: See how she is trampled like mud in the street!
11The day is coming when your walls will be rebuilt and your boundaries extended. 12On that day they will come to you from Assyria to Egypt, from Tyre to the Euphrates, from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain, 13while the earth will remain desolate because of its citizens and their deeds.
14Shepherd your people with your staff, shepherd the flock of your inheritance that dwells alone in the scrub, in the midst of a fertile land. Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead 15as in the days of old, in the days when you went out of Egypt.
Show us your wonders. 16On seeing this the nations will be put to shame in the midst of all their might. People will lay their hands upon their mouths and they will not believe the news.
17They shall lick the dust like snakes, like creatures that crawl upon the ground. They will come trembling out of their strongholds; they will be in fear of you.
18Who is a god like you, who takes away guilt and pardons crime for the remnant of his inheritance?
Who is like you whose anger does not last? For you delight in merciful forgiveness.
19Once again you will show us your loving kindness and trample on our wrongs, casting all our sins into the depths of the sea.
20Show faithfulness to Jacob, mercy to Abraham, as you have sworn to our ancestors from the days of old.
• 1.2 Yahweh is about to leave the Temple where he is present; so hidden that everyone has forgotten him.
Verse 5: The first sin of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah is found in their capitals. They are the cities that have ruined the country; those who thrive by exploiting peasants live in the cities and it is there that the riches of the land are transformed into palaces for a few.
We need only look at the capital cities of some countries to verify what Micah was saying: the wealth of a country is spent on things as unproductive as the idols and prostitution of Micah’s time.
In verse 8: barefoot and naked, other than the sackcloth, which was the only clothing of captives (see Is 20).
In verse 10: Micah predicts a new invasion and he describes it by playing on the names of various stages on the way.
• 2.1 He denounces the exploiters, those who always have legal means to despoil little people. We must not forget that the Bible had a code of laws—far ahead of any other nation—to defend the rights and the lives of the poor, the widows, etc. See Deuteronomy 23:16.
Everyone, naturally, is furious with the prophet who disturbs the established injustice.
Verses 12-13 probably do not come from Micah’s hand. They may have been added here later (see Ezk 34).
• 3.1 He denounces those who are mainly responsible: the civil and the religious authorities.
There were prophets everywhere; they became prophets in the way someone is elected to a particular position. They practiced private consultation regarding a person’s future and good luck. The role of a true prophet does not consist in getting people, who pay him for his visions and his dreams, out of trouble, but rather in denouncing evil.
Verses 9-11 again accuse the leaders and the civil servants who feel sheltered from the misery and from the disasters scourging the country. The long-standing confidence in Jerusalem, a city protected by Yahweh, reassures them in their false peace: for this reason Jerusalem will be destroyed. Eighty years after this curse, Jeremiah’s contemporaries had not forgotten it (Jer 26:18).
• 4.1 Here we find an oracle similar to Isaiah’s 2:2. Verses 9-10 announce the Exile. The text 11-13 is different: it resembles Isaiah’s poems about Zion, the invincible (see Is 29:1 and 31:4).
Verses 6-7 show the confidence of God’s people in the midst of hostile forces in the world.
• 5.1 But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, from you shall I raise the one who is to rule over Israel. That is to say that the Messiah will come from the line of David whose roots are in Bethlehem. It is not clear if the Messiah must be born in Bethlehem, in spite of the fact that Micah seems to contrast this peaceful king, born in a rural area, with the useless kings of the capital. Later, many believed that the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem: see John 7:42. Matthew’s Gospel shows how this prophecy was fulfilled with the birth of Jesus (Mt 2:6).
• 6.1 O my people, what have I done to you? In what way have I been a burden to you (v. 3)? Yahweh argues with his people. We see God’s love confronting his people’s indifference.
Micah is addressing a people without understanding. When they are in trouble or feel an inclination for religion, they think of expensive things: sacrifices, offerings and even the sacrifice of their children, according to the Canaanite religions.
To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (v. 8). The answer is short and clear:
– do justice is Amos’ message;
– to love mercy: see Hosea 2:21;
– to walk humbly with God: see Isaiah.
The psalm of hope which concludes the book was inserted here later, in the time of Exile.
The end (7:7) is similar to Habakkuk 3:17: the just one knows that while evil reigns, he must continue hoping for God’s justice.