I. Introduction - Book of Micah
A. A man from Judah in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE who engaged in prophecy directed to both Israel and Judah, though he did not utter his prophecies in the Northern Kingdom. A disciple of Isaiah. Foresees the fall to Babylon 150 years before it occurs and later exile.
Active before the fall of Israel in 722 and the devastating invasion of Judah by Sennacherib in 701.
B. He came after Amos and Hosea. Jeremiah came a generation later.
C. Some say he was an elder in his hometown who came to Jerusalem, where he joined a broader group of such people. He was not a “proletarian,” but rather an elder, perhaps a custodian of rural wisdom and piety, with a deep concern for justice.
D. Chastises the people for rebellious behavior to God and intolerable behavior to each other. See 1:5-7, 2:9. Yet, he’s pained at what he sees and says, both for the people and himself. 1:8.
E. It appears that King Hezekiah defused some of the effect of the prophecies by enacting reforms that responded to their concerns. Repentance is always possible!
II. Verses - Book of Micah
A. Read 1:2. Why does Micah use the combination of God’s Names of Hashem/Elohim?
God is a God of both justice and mercy. Even in judgment, God will temper with mercy. Even though it may appear harsh, it’s a manifestation of love and mercy, that is, the One Who is merciful in judgment.
It may be, too, that God is always open to averting the stern decree if the people turn back.
We see in 2:7 that God’s ways are benevolent to the righteous, and He is slow to enact judgment (2:3).
Yet, though this is misinterpreted by the false prophets as well as the people, He will only wait so long before rising up “as if an enemy.” Rashi
Yet, again, His severity is only an instrument of His love by which the foundations of a blissful future are built. R. Hirsch. See Genesis 15:2
B. Read 2:1. What’s the meaning of this verse?
(These people not only sin in the day; they use up the night when they should be reflecting and resting to plan even more evildoing and with the intention of doing so immediately. The sin is pervasive in the community.)
C. Read 2:9. Think of the various ways commentators have read the evil in this verse.
(They spared not even the widows and the fatherless.
The wicked drive off the women by murdering their husbands.
Or the men have been robbed of all their possessions, leaving the women distressed.
Or the wicked drive away all from their homes.
Or unhappiness has been created for the whole community.
Or when the husbands return to find the thieves, they fear their wives committed adultery.
Or the women were taken as security for debts and then defiled.
Or because driven away there won’t be fulfillment through children.)
D. Read 2:10-13. Traditional commentators have read these verses several ways. What would you say they mean?
(We see in 2:10-11 that this is not just individual sins that might be atoned. If they were, the text wouldn’t be about exile.
Rather this sin has become generalized throughout the land, including through supporting those who mislead and engage in false prophecy. Because of the pervasive and ongoing sin of the people that has tarnished the land, exile of all is now in order.
Yet, we see in 12-13 a promise for most sages that God intends one day to restore the people and the land. Rashi.
A sense of the coming Messianic era. (This is a note of ultimate encouragement. McClaren sees the “breaker” as Jesus, the one who breaks out the path to walk forever.)
A breaking through barriers that keep the people from return.
Or Elijah breaking through the hearts of people to persuade them to repent and encourage them to return to God.
Or it will be the people who break through the walls of their making that have imprisoned them. Metzudos)
E. Read 3:1-3. These verses are Micah’s indictments of the leadership. What do they mean, and how might they be relevant today?
(It’s their responsibility to know the law and guide the processes and the people toward the administration of justice and equity for the poor. This, they’re not doing.
But, even worse, they actually oppress the poor themselves, as well as the righteous. And it’s graphic and severe. They seize money and food. They flay the skin of the poor, as if to say they “go all the way to the bone,” and even beyond to empty them of their marrow, their life.
Taking their external possessions isn’t enough. This suggests a malice to hurt and destroy as well
Plus, they’ve rendered the poor incapable of taking care of themselves. We certainly see this in today’s world.)
F. Read 3:5-6, 11. Micah here condemns the false or misleading prophets. What do you make of the words, “chew with their teeth and declare peace?” What do you make of the words, “Behold Hashem is in our midst; no evil can befall us.”
(This could be eating the delicacies the people have given them to eat and be well-fed in return for declaring that everything is going to be fine (though the people have sinned grievously).
These prophets wage campaigns against people who do not feed and support them. (Rashi, Radak). Their prophecies comport with whether and in what amounts they get gifts.
Further, they prey on the idea that God committed to being in their midst in sacred space and so the people have nothing to fear from prophecies that He’d leave.)
G. Chapter 4 is one of the great pieces of sacred text. It offers a prophetic vision of a time, the Messianic Era, of re-building of the Temple and Jerusalem, and even more.
All peoples will come to Mount Moriah, as the religious metropolis of the world, esteemed and respected by all nations. Radak.
There God will teach all of His ways that they walk in His paths. 4:2. Torah will go out everywhere. God will judge and teach us of proper judgment. The God will settle disputes among the nations and will clarify the law.
Read 4:3-7. This is an exquisite statement that is very famous and prized, and is indeed a sort of climax for the book. What’s your fundamental take on its meaning?
(The people who had previously made and used weapons for war will break them up and turn them into instruments of farming, of peaceful purpose and use. (Metzudos)
Since God (and the Messiah) will rule, there will be no resort to violence and opposition through war, etc. to resolve disputes (Radak, Isaiah).
There will be a time of peace, as described metaphorically here, as sitting under a fig tree and vine. There will be no fear. Rather, a peaceful co-existence.
This condition will be so pervasive and enduring, there won’t be the need even to study war anymore.
Some may maintain independent paths of faith, as we see in verse 5, perhaps for a certain period of time.
The general understanding, however, is that there is ultimately and forever for us an allegiance to the one God and that we hold to our Messianic view that all – one day – will join with us in allegiance to that God.
On that day, there will be a gathering and return of the remnant, wounded from exile.
Specifically, in 4:2, what does it mean to “walk in the paths of God?
(This evokes a memory of Abraham leaving and walking to a new land, then to a mountain. It’s later the walk to Sinai, then to the Promised Land, and ultimately with God, spiritually and ethically, as we studied relative to the mitzvot, walking in God-directed paths.
That it is forever and ever connotes something that is ongoing and continuous throughout time, even eternal.
Anchor (Andersen and Freedman: “Going to the mountain is cultic; walking in His ways is ethical; the memories are historical; the hopes are eschatological.”
Note the similarities between 4:1-5 and Isaiah 2:2-4. Scholars and commentators discuss how this came to be and its significance, though it’s not an issue for our study today.)
H. Chapter 5 is a very important account of the Messiah and the messianic era to come, with a focus on the role of the Messiah in bringing the people back from exile, especially in re-establishing the remnant. 5:2-5 are important in this regard, with Christian commentators going in one general direction, and Jewish sages in others.
We’ll forego a further look at these verses now, but it makes for a fascinating read, particularly with regard to the Divine promise to end all the idolatrous practices that led to the people’s waywardness and exile, and a hope in the future for the Messiah.
I. Chapter 6 begins with the feel of a trial in which God presses the case against the people. Micah asks what should be brought on their behalf, how to appease God, perhaps with sacrifices.
But then, the prophet recalls that, no, what God asked of the people was rather to do justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.
What does this mean, and what’s its significance?
(Note first that these are requirements, duties. These are part of our side of covenant responsibility.
Radak says the people were told before, as in I Samuel 15:22, that God wants people to do what is good and just, not to make insincere offerings.
Mishpat means for Radak all the commandments that govern people’s conduct with others. For others, it may be that, but also broader notions of justice.
Loving kindness means acts of benevolence and constantly trying to be more kind to others, even more than the others might expect or desire. Radak.
To strive for others’ welfare, to be diligent for the betterment of others, is one of the greatest demands made on us. (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:13) This is NOT doing the kindness out of requirement. Rather we are being called to LOVE doing it, out of one’s heart. Chofetz Chaim.
Walk humbly with God is to fulfill his commandments in an unassuming manner, with humility, not for honor (Metzudos), to walk modestly/discreetly. Radak.
AND/OR to believe in God’s unity and love God with all one’s heart…
…a sort of communion with God. As McLaren says, based in love, with imitation, constant, running through life, “continually grasping the hand of God,” “conscious of His overshadowing wing at all times.”
In this walking, surely, there’s an awareness first on our part and God’s that we’re imperfect, that we’ll stray. But God is patient and loving with us and keeps the place there for us to walk near, if we’ll but be mindful and seek each day to return, humbly.
(Yet, in the remaining verses of the chapter, the people still show so much evidence of sin and waywardness.)
“This is the greatest saying of the Old Testament.” (G.A. Smith, Scottish theologian, 1899, 2:425)
J. Read 7:1-7. Describe the state of the people at the end of the book, which presumably sets the stage for punishment and exile.
(There are so few righteous left, even perhaps after his indictment, “like the last pickings of the summer fruits.” We see murderers and wicked people, those trapping others, bribe takers, and leaders who are corrupt in a variety of ways.
Even those who sometimes do good are like thorns and hedges of thistles. They also injure in what they do.
The prophet warns them not to be perplexed when their punishment comes. They’ve been told by false prophets all be well. It won’t be!
YET Micah comes back to the idea that “though I fall, I will rise,” “though I sit in darkness, God is a light to me.” 7:8. As Radak teaches, we have faith that God will take us out of the darkness and into the light. The enemy should not rejoice.
The redemption will start slowly and bit by bit increase as light slowly increases from dawn until sunrise. Pnei Moshe.
K. Read 7:18-20. The book closes much as does Deuteronomy where Moses admonished the people but concluded with words of a comforting nature. These final verses make the point. Explain.
(These verses are significant. They’re recited, for instance, at key moments in Jewish High Holiday services.
They correspond in a way to the Divine Attributes.
Micah has been assured the people will be forgiven and now gives praise to God.
God is unlike any power in the world. He’s patient with mankind, and He’s hopeful man will repent and return. We should praise God for this and strive to emulate these ways ourselves.
God pardons iniquity if we turn, for it is not our punishment He seeks. He offers, and desires, kindness in us. And we should show kindness to others, even those who’ve wronged us, in that spirit. God “overlooks” transgression and does not “maintain “His wrath forever.
The key point is that God is wrathful and shows wrath to draw us to return BUT then casts the sins into the sea so that they’ll not be recalled. This discarding of sins models how we should treat the sins of others after a true repentance and return.
Thus, God is ready for, and will show love, to the remnant. Note the mention of Abraham. Just as Abraham went above and beyond in kindness, God is bringing kindness for us.)
III. Conclusion – what are our main takeaways from this remarkable book of the Bible?