Conversations with Micah: Social Ills

Today we begin a new series called Conversations with Micah, one that will explore this rather fascinating biblical text. As I have said many times, the Latin word sermo, where we get sermon, means conversation. I hope this will be just that, a conversation we have with the prophet Micah. I want to encourage you to read along each week through Micah. This week we will cover chapters one and two, next week chapter three and so on. It’s my hope that by our engaging with the text we can not only come to an understanding of what is being said but like any text in the bible, that it will come alive and find its way into our daily living. 

Let’s look at a little background for the book. Micah, like Isaiah, was one of the prophets during the Assyrian crisis. Amos and Hosea were prophets of the northern kingdom at the time, and Isaiah and Micah were southern prophets in Judah. Micah, according to verse one of chapter one, comes from the town of Moreshet, a town around 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah. Micah is the last of the eighth-century prophets. 

While they are contemporaries, Isaiah and Micah are quite different. Isaiah was born in Jerusalem and his message bears the marks of being a city prophet with a city mindset and concerns. In contrast, Micah appears to be a rural prophet who spoke for the poor farmers. The prophecies of Micah are offered to three kings—Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah—from around 740 to about 700. The prophecies are focused on the northern kingdom of Israel, despite his being a southern prophet. He condemns Israel for idolatries and says that the kingdom will surely fall because of these. He continues as other prophets in condemning the people for their moral failings, failings we will discuss over the next several weeks. He also offers hope, a hope that will be part of the next several weeks as well.[1]

While we only read a few verses from each chapter, the first two chapters getting us into the flow of the text. Micah begins by telling us who he is, a prophet of Moreshet. This marks him as a rural dweller. Moreshet is about two days journey on foot from Jerusalem, one if you’re “pickin’ em up and layin’ em down” as my father would say. Micah offers his message during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, in the poetic language common in prophetic texts that are used in Hebrew worship liturgy.

And the message is much the two sides of the coin we talked about during our last sermon series. In this case, the two sides are doom and remnant or hope. It’s kind of a bad news, good news series of messages. Chapter one begins with the bad news,

Hear, you peoples, all of you;

    listen, O earth, and all that is in it;

and let the Lord God be a witness against you,

    the Lord from his holy temple.

For lo, the Lord is coming out of his place,

    and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth.[2]

The prophet goes on from there to describe the coming punishment as one that Judah will share with Samaria and Israel because the two share the same transgression. Chapter one describes the coming judgment,

I will make Samaria a heap in the open country,

    a place for planting vineyards.

I will pour down her stones into the valley,

    and uncover her foundations.

All her images shall be beaten to pieces,

    all her wages shall be burned with fire,

    and all her idols I will lay waste;

for as the wages of a prostitute she gathered them,

    and as the wages of a prostitute they shall again be used.[3]

Not only this but the coming doom will come to the gates of Jerusalem, something the prophet repeats twice, verses 9 and 12. In other words, it’s coming to Israel in the north first, Samaria which lies between them, and then Judah and Jerusalem, the southern kingdom. If you look at the dates of the kings that ruled during Micah’s time as prophet, they match up with the times for the time before and during the Assyrian exile of Israel in 722 BCE. 

Chapter two begins with the transgressions Israel and Judah are charged with by God: 

  • They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people, and their inheritance.[4]
  • ‘Do not preach’—thus they preach—‘one should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us.’[5]
  • …you rise up against my people as an enemy; you strip the robe from the peaceful, from those who pass by trustingly with no thought of war. The women of my people you drive out from their pleasant houses; from their young children you take away my glory forever.[6]

In other words, the rich, the powerful, those who rule by means of political or financial power, those who already have much more than they need covet and steal from those who have less. They take people to court, to crooked judges who judge in favor of the rich who drive the poor from their lands, lands given to them as their inheritance, lands that feed and clothe their families. When they are called out on it by the prophets, they refuse to listen. They act as if the prophetic speech is undignified and beneath them. Not only that, but verses eight and nine speak of stealing these things and the very robes off the backs of widows and orphans, driving them from their homes. Therefore God will bring about judgment; this is why God looks on Israel, Samaria, and even Judah with disdain. 

But there is hope! 

Micah 2:12 says, “I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob, I will gather the survivors of Israel; I will set them together like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture; it will resound with people.” The survivors of this horrible event will not be left without hope. God will gather them as a shepherd gathers sheep. God will bring them to a place of safety (sheepfold) and provision (pasture), and it will be full of God’s people. The prophet speaks a doom for those who have chosen to act with greed and abuse toward their neighbors, their fellow children of Abraham. However, God has promised a remnant, those who live with love toward God and love toward neighbor. 

We live in a world full of pain. Turn on or look up the news and you can find people the world over who find themselves under the boot of those with more financial and political power. The poor, the marginalized, the powerless, all find themselves on the wrong end of the headlines. But this is nothing new. In Jesus day, he repeatedly had to stand up for those in need, those who suffered. In fact, his entire mission was based on it. When Jesus goes into the temple after having been tempted in Luke 4, he takes up the scroll, the lectionary reading for the day, and reads from Isaiah,

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

    because he has anointed me

        to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

    and recovery of sight to the blind,

        to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’[7]

All of this, to me, corresponds with God’s message in the first few chapters of Micah. What did Israel, Samaria, and Judah do to warrant being slaughtered or hauled off into captivity? For failing to remember the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the oppressed and not only that, for taking advantage of them for their own gain.

What can we do with this message?

We can remember. We can stop and take the time to look around us and find those who are hurting, in need, and marginalized. We can look for ways to make their lives easier instead of harder. We can look to bringing them into the fold rather than shunning them. We can chose compassion and love as our response and align ourselves with the gospel as Jesus preached it. And we can help others see the need to live into this as well. 

Following the words of Jesus, what can you to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to those oppressed and in bondage by and to the systems of the world and help others open their eyes to their plight, and to proclaim the favor of God to all who have ears to hear?

[1] RLST 145: Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible): Lecture 18 – Literary Prophecy: Micah, Zephaniah, Nahum and Habbakuk. Open Yale Courses. Christine Hayes, PhD.

[2] Micah 1:2-3

[3] Micah 1:6-7

[4] Micah 2:2

[5] Micah 2:6

[6] Micah 2:8-9

[7] Luke 4:18-19