II Message One: 1:2-2:13 God’s Judgment on the Residents and Future Rescue of the Remnant
Micah 1:2-2:13 is the first of three oracles of judgment and salvation.1 Some understand that within this basic structure are three “covenant lawsuits,” 1:2-16; 3:1-12 and 6:1-16.2 These passages are entitled “covenant lawsuits” because of the God’s indictment against His people for breaking the rules and regulations of the Mosaic covenant that He had given and as Moses had written in the Torah.
Micah addressed his message to the peoples of the earth and more directly to the covenant people of God in the northern nation of Israel and the southern nation of Judah. It is most likely that this message was delivered before the incursions of the Syria/Israel alliance into Judah for Micah would have most certainly mentioned this war for it caused the deaths of a great number of Judean soldiers under the command of king Ahaz. See the discussion in the introduction on this war and related issues regarding Ahaz’s rebellion against God that led him to appeal to the king of Assyria for military aid instead of trusting in God.
This first oracle consists of a call to the nations and the nations of Israel and Judah to hear the Lord God who has a witness (indictment) against all peoples. This witness is one of judgment. Micah narrows God’s indictment to Israel and Judah. Because of their sins, Micah proclaims God’s specific judgment on Samaria representing the nation of Israel. Micah mourns (wail and howl) for his northern brethren and laments that their sins have also come to the gate of Jerusalem. Micah warns many of the towns in close proximity to his hometown of Moresheth Gath, of the pending destruction and captivity that is coming upon them because of their sins against Yahweh. A listing of specific sins, 2:1-11, is then recorded committed by the wealthy, the political rulers and the religious leaders of Judah. Following this indictment, Micah abruptly declares a hymn of a future gathering of the remnant of his people who will be put into a secure location and then will be led to freedom by the coming Messianic King, 2:12-13.
1. 1:2-7 God’s Judgment Coming to Israel and Judah
a. 1:2 God’s Call to Hear Him
1:2 Hear, you peoples, all of you,
listen, O earth, and all that is in it.
the sovereign LORD will testify against you,
the Lord from his holy temple.
Micah begins his first oracle of judgment / salvation (1:2-2:12), with the word “hear,” Hebrew šâma‘. The second and third oracles of judgment / salvation (3:1-5:15 and 6:1-7:20), also begin with the same word. It is a call to take heed of what is being said and to respond accordingly. The call to “hear” is made to “you peoples, all of you,” which is followed up by the parallel call to all of the inhabitants of the earth to “listen,” to pay attention. The “sovereign LORD,” (LORD GOD), is coming to testify against them. The word “testify,” or “witness,” Hebrew, ʿēḏʹ could be understood within a legal preceding or court setting in which an indictment is given. See for example, Isaiah 43:9-12. If this is plausible, then God is the judge, prosecuting attorney, and jury for there is no one of any recognized higher authority. It also could be that Micah is simply calling everyone to listen to God’s indictment against them, but in the context of Micah’s first oracle, a declaration of judgment is to be given by the divine judge, “He calls in the heavens above and on the earth, that he may judge his people.” Psalm 50:4.
The sovereign LORD is further identified as “the Lord from his holy temple.” Isaiah began his prophetic ministry in the year king Uzziah died, stating “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” Isaiah 6:1. Micah began his prophetic ministry by stating that the Lord is coming from his holy temple. Within the earthly temple, Isaiah heard the seraphim cry, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts,” Isaiah 6:3. Micah stated that the temple from which the Lord comes is “holy.” The last book of Scripture also states the four living creatures who are around the throne of God continually proclaim, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.” Revelation 4:8. This identification of the Lord who is holy is positioned in sharp contradiction to the indictment of sinfulness that the Lord is bringing upon the earth and specifically to His covenant people in Israel and in Judah.
The location of the “holy temple” of the Lord is not stated, however Psalm 11:4 states, “The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven.” This heavenly temple, cannot be compared to earthly examples for no earthly temple could contain God as Solomon declared, “But will God really live on the earth? Even the heaven and highest heavens cannot contain you, how much less this temple that I have built!” 1 Kings 8:27. See also 2 Chronicles 2:6; 6:18. The word for temple, in Micah 1:2, Hebrew, hê·ḵǎl, usually has the meaning of palace and this would be an appropriate description for the One who is the King of kings and Lord of lords. A royal palace usually has a throne room and the most beautiful, exalted, and magnificent, throne which is eternal, exists in God’s temple-palace. See Psalm 45 for a description of the palace of the Messianic King who will receive His bride.
b. 1:3-4 God’s Coming to the Earth
1:3 Look, the LORD is coming out of his place,
and will come down and tread on the high places of the earth.
1:4 The mountains will melt under him,
and the valleys will split open;
they will melt like wax before a fire,
like waters that are poured down a steep place.
After identifying the LORD and His holy temple, Micah continues the narrative in 1:3 by stating that the LORD is leaving His place and will come down to the earth. The Psalmist declared, “….LORD; for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.” Psalm 96:13. Isaiah wrote, “For look, the LORD comes out of his dwelling place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their sin.” Isaiah 26:21.
It is not to be understood that God’s place is somehow above a specific location (ie: Jerusalem / Zion). God’s place is described as high and holy, where He dwells (lives), Isaiah 57:15. See also 1 Kings 8:39; Psalm 115:3; Ezekiel 3:12; and Hosea 5:15. Isaiah asked God to “Look down from heaven, and look down from your holy and glorious home,” Isaiah 63:15. See also Psalm 33:13-14. As noted above, it is the place of His holy temple. In the New Testament, it is described as a house of “many rooms,” John 14:3. The word “tabernacle” is often used to describe the dwelling of the presence of God, Hebrews 8:2 and for eternity God will “tabernacle” among the redeemed, Revelation 21:3. Heaven is described as a place of height because God is infinitely higher and loftier than His creation including humans. Therefore, for God to appear, it is appropriate to describe such an appearance as “coming down.” God is condescending in the most holy sense to have His presence detected by what He does and what he ordains to happen. Micah reveals that judgment will happen because of God’s presence.
God’s coming is further described as treading, Hebrew ḏā·rǎḵʹ, walking with force, on the high places of the earth. God is a Spirit, John 4:24; and does not have a body with legs or feet to walk. Such descriptions of God are called a theophany by scholars. A theophany can be described as an appearance or action of God in a physical from or in a form in which His actions are perceived. The “high places” could be a reference to the place where God’s covenant people worshipped pagan idols and committed wicked atrocities connected to their idol worship, see Micah 1:5. However in the context of 1:3-4, it is best to understand the “high places” as higher elevations of land such as mountains.
Micah states, in 1:4, that as a result of God treading on the high places, the mountains will melt like wax before a fire, and valleys will split open, and the melting rock will pour down like water from a steep place. In the presence of God, Mount Sinai visibly was shaken, see Exodus 19:18; 20:18; Judges 5:4-5; and Psalm 18:7-15; 68:8; The opening verses of Nahum’s prophecy are similar to that of Micah 1:3-4. The prophet Nahum records, “The mountains quake before him, and the hills rock; the earth shakes at his presence, the world and all who live there. Who can stand before his rage? Who can survive his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are smashed into pieces by him.” Nahum 1:5-6. Isaiah wrote, “O that you would rip open the heavens and come down! The mountains would quake at your presence. 2 As when fire burns the brushwood, and fire causes water to boil; may your adversaries know your name, may the nations tremble at your presence! 3 When you did awesome deeds that we were not expecting, you came down and the mountains quaked at your presence.” Isaiah 64:1-3.
The purpose of the Lord’s coming, as described by Micah is to bring judgment upon the earth and then specifically to His covenant people who were rebellious before Him. God will not endure the wickedness of humanity forever. In a day of His own determination God will bring an end to the earth’s sinfulness in what is called the “day of the Lord.” The apostle Peter describes this epoch ending event, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. When it comes the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt down in blazing heat, and the earth and the deeds done on it will be exposed. 11 Seeing all these things are going to be dissolved, what sort of persons should you be, living in all holiness and godliness, 12 looking forward to and hurrying along the coming of the day of God? Because of this the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the elements will melt with blazing heat.” 2 Peter 3:10-12
Those who lived in the eighth century B.C. during the days of Micah are no different than those who live on the earth in our modern days. The message of Micah, continues to be relevant, just as are the words of Peter. Living in all holiness and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11 is still what God desires for everyone.
c. 1:5 The Reason for God’s Judgment
1:5 All this is a result of the transgression of Jacob,
and for the sins of the house of Israel.
What is the transgression of Jacob?
Is it not Samaria?
What is the high place of Judah?
Is it not Jerusalem?
“All this,” refers to the coming of God with such devastating force, verses 3-4. Micah then states the reason for God to leave His holy temple is due to the transgressions and sins of both the northern kingdom of Israel (Jacob) and the southern kingdom of Judah (house of Israel). God was coming not to bless His people but to judge them. Those who desired for God to come down were warned of the consequences of His coming3 as the prophet Amos stated, “Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you want the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light. 19 It will be as if a man fled from a lion, only to meet a bear; then escaping into a house, rests his hand on the wall, only to be bitten by a snake. 20 Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, and not light, total darkness, without a glimmer of light in it?” Amos 5:18-20. See also Jeremiah 30:4-7; Joel 2:1-11; and Zephaniah 1:14-18. Micah stated his role as prophet in this declaration of the sins of the covenant people of God, “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the LORD, with justice and strength, to declare to Jacob his rebellion, and to Israel his sin.” Micah 3:8.
Micah, in typical Hebrew poetical style, reveals the root cause of the transgression and sins of the nations of Israel and Judah. He first asks, “what is the transgression of Jacob?” (the northern kingdom) and immediately gives the reply, “is it not Samaria?” This is immediately followed by a subtly different question, “What is the high place of Judah? And the reply, “is it not Jerusalem?” The root cause of the people’s sins is that the capital cities and by implication the political and religious leaders led the way in their rebellion and spiritual adultery against God. The subtle difference in the second question points to places where sinning occurs, the “high place” rather than what may have been expected, as the “sins of Judah.” This likely was because of the abhorrence and holy contempt that God had for these high places.
Samaria was particularly contemptible to God. Micah would later mention the practice of the citizens of this city for their wickedness regarding the statutes of Israelite kings Omri and the works of his son Ahab, Micah 6:16. 1 Kings 16:23-25 states that Omri was the founder and builder of Samaria. Omri introduced Baal worship to Samaria, and had an altar and temple dedicated to Baal erected in Samaria, 1 Kings 16:30-33. See Jeremiah 23:13. Hosea, who was a prophet of God to the northern kingdom of Israel, wrote often about the judgment to come upon Samaria and the people of Israel. Amos, although from Judea, also described the coming destruction on Samaria and Israel. Following the statement of the sins of Samaria in 1:5, Micah announced God’s judgment upon Samaria in 1:6-7. See also Hosea 8:1-6.
Micah often mentioned the name of Israel and Jacob in his prophecy. Israel is stated as representing the people of God collectively, in 1:13-15, 2:12; 5:2 and 6:2. Israel is a reference to the southern kingdom of Judah in 5:1-3 and vs. 9. Micah mentions Jacob as a reference to the northern kingdom Israel in 1:5 and as being synonymous with the people of Israel, in an eschatological setting in 2:12.
Micah specifically mentions the high place(s) of Judah in 1:5. The high places were the location of Canaanite pagan altars and where evil ritualistic practices took place. Many of God’s covenant people rebelled against God and replaced worshipping Him with the worship of carved images which were specifically condemned in the Mosaic (or Sinaitic) covenant, Exodus 20: 3-5a. The following selected passages depict the worship of God’s covenant people at these high places, 1 Kings. 11:7; 2 Kings. 12:3; 14:4; 21:3; 2 Chronicles 28:25; Jeremiah 7:31; Ezekiel 20:27-32; Amos 7:9. Two kings of Judah, however removed the high places and other symbols of pagan worship, Hezekiah, 2 Kings 18:4 and Josiah, 2 Kings chapter 23 and 2 Chronicles chapter 34. Other selected references to the sins of God’s covenant people occur in 2 Kings 17:7-23; 2 Chronicles 36:14-16; Isaiah 50:1-2; 59:1-15; and Jeremiah 2:17-19; 4:18; 5:25; 6:19.
Since its early days, Jerusalem has been the focus of Israel’s worship, government and commerce. The city was captured from the Jebusites 2 Samuel 5:6-7 and was then called the City of David. It had been previously captured by the tribe of Judah who set it on fire, Judges 1:8; but the Jebusite inhabitants were never throughly dislodged from the city. It was not a residence for the tribes of Judah and Benjamin until David’s conquest of the stronghold. Jerusalem is the most mentioned city of the Scriptures, from Genesis 14:18 to Revelation 21:10. It was the home of the God’s unique dwelling place, the ark of the covenant. Kings David and Solomon established their royal house there and in it, two temples were built, one prior to the Babylonian exile containing the ark of God and the second, following the seventy years of exile, which did not contain the ark. Jewish people today still revere the city and the Scriptures exhort all who trust God to pray for it, Psalm 122:6.
Micah called Jerusalem, the high place of Judah, indicating that the city had become the major center of pagan worship in the southern nation. The wickedness and rebellious nature of the political, financial and religious leaders and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem had, in the days of the prophet, provoked God to declare His judgment upon it. Micah records in 3:12, “Zion will be plowed like a field; Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins, and the Temple Mount like a hill overgrown with brush.” God’s judgment on the nation of Judah resulted in the conquering of its cities by the Assyrians in 701 B.C., however at that time Jerusalem was spared. God was patient with his covenant people in Jerusalem, offering time for them to repent of their sins and return to Him. Yet they would not and continued in their sinful behaviour. In 587/586 B.C., God’s patience with them had reached its completion and Jerusalem was completely conquered by the Babylonians, who demolished the city including the temple. The unthinkable had happened, David’s glorious stronghold of Zion lay in ruins and the ark of the covenant was gone.
d. 1:6-7 The Result of God’s Judgment
1:6 Therefore I will make Samaria a heap of ruins in the field,
a place for planting vineyards.
I will pour down her stones into the valley,
and I will expose her foundations.
1:7 All her graven images will be beaten to pieces;
all her pagan treasures will be burned with fire,
and all her idols I will lay waste.
For she gathered them as the hire of a prostitute,
and to the prostitute’s wages they will return.
This prophecy of Micah was declared prior to 722 B.C. which was the year the Assyrians, after a three-year siege, conquered Samaria. The Scriptures succinctly record the capture of Samaria, “Then the king of Assyria marched throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria took Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria.” 2 Kings 17:5-6a. Micah’s description of the fall of Samaria depicts a complete destruction. Samaria was to be left as “a heap of ruins,” a place for planting vineyards,” its stones were to be poured down into the valley below and its very foundations were to be exposed. Samaria had been built as a stronghold on a high hill with a valley below it.
Some scholars debate if Samaria was completely destroyed in 722 B.C. suggesting it was captured without much destruction to its buildings and walls. There seems little doubt that Samaria still existed as a place of habitation until the city was razed to the ground by John Hyrcanus in 108/107 B.C.4 However, there is evidence, of a burned layer at this site which may date to the time of the Assyrian conquest.5 The complete destruction of Samaria, may have happened in two stages, one in 722 B.C. and the other in 108/107 B.C. Students of Scripture are aware of the telescoping nature of some prophetic fulfillments. These events often are partially fulfilled within the days of the prophet, and then completely fulfilled in a future time. The Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem took place over several years. Many scholars understand that certain aspects of Daniel’s prophecy of the end times, Daniel 9:24-27, had a fulfillment after 490 years from the time of the writing of the prophecy. Other aspects of the prophecy relate to fulfillments that have not yet happened and are to come in the future.6 Prophets of the O.T. also certainly did not understand that the coming of the Messiah was to happen in two advents.
The heart of the destruction of Samaria is revealed in Micah 1:7. It was the objects of the pagan Baal worship that was specifically mentioned by the prophet. God’s attention was not directed to the buildings of government and commerce or any other structures. His attention was aimed at the pagan “treasures” and graven idols, which He detested and were prohibited in the writings of the Torah, Exodus 20:4-6 and Deuteronomy 5:8-10.
Micah mentions that the Samaritans had gathered the idols/treasures “as the hire of a prostitute.” Baal worship in Samaria was established by Omri’s son Ahab and his wife Jezebel as the following passage from 1 Kings attests, “Ahab the son of Omri began to reign over Israel in the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah. Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. 30 Ahab the son of Omri did what was evil in the sight of the LORD above all who were before him. 31 As if it was trivial for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he married Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshipped him. 32 He built an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal he had built in Samaria. 33 Ahab made an Asherah pole. Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who preceded him.” 1 Kings 16:29-33.
The words in 1:7 in the DASV, “pagan treasures,” “hire,” and “wages” are translations of the same Hebrew word, ʾěṯ·nǎnʹ. Micah stated that Samaria’s idols were gathered “as the hire of a prostitute, and to the prostitute’s wages they will return.” A popular paraphrase version for Micah 1:7 has, “All her carved images will be smashed. All her sacred treasures will be burned. These things were bought with the money earned by her prostitution, and they will now be carried away to pay prostitutes elsewhere.” (NLT). The likely meaning of these words is that Assyrian soldiers who conquered Samaria and stripped its idols of precious metals and used them to pay prostitutes in their own cities. One aspect of ancient Baal worship was the practice of fertility rites that included the payment to prostitutes for their “services.” The prostitutes may have deposited these payments in the temple to cover the cost to make idols and “pagan treasures.” 7
Students of Scripture should understand why God brings such severe judgment on worshiping idols and the pagan religious practices that accompany this worship. Not only is idol worship an act of rejecting God and rebelling against Him by trusting in another “god,” it is also an act of spiritual adultery. See Deuteronomy 23:17-18; Isa. 23:17; and Hosea 9:1. God covenant relationship with His people is pictured as that of a marriage, Jeremiah 3:14. When God’s people turn from Him and worship idols, they participate in another marriage, Malachi 2:11, thus divorcing God and committing spiritual adultery. Those who worship idols break the first two commandments, Exodus 20:3-6, and bring upon themselves God’s judgment and condemnation.
Notes for Verses 1:2-7
1. Refer to Outline of Micah.
2. Hoyt, J. M., Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, Amos, Jonah, & Micah, Lexham Press, 2018, page 558.
3. God’s coming in judgment is often but not always a reference to the “day of the Lord.” For a discussion on the “day of the Lord” see (1) I. A. Busenitz, Commentary on Joel and Obadiah, Mentor, 2003, pages 36-48. (2) David M. Levy, Joel, the day of the Lord: a chronology of Israel’s prophetic history (1st ed.). Bellmawr, NJ: Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. 1987, electronic edition, notes for Joel 2:15. (3) Notes on Joel in the MacArthur Study Bible, Thomas Nelson, Inc.
4. Walter Kaiser, Micah, page 33.
5. Kenneth L. Barker, Micah, pages 44-45.
6. For an excellent discussion of these events, see Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of the Messiah, Chapter 14, Ariel Ministries, 2004, pages 331-357.
7. Andrew E. Hill, Micah in The Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Minor Prophets, Hosea-Malachi, Tyndale House Publishers, 2008, page 306.