Micah 1:8-16

1:8-16 Micah’s Mourning over the Coming Judgment

a. 1:8-9Micah’s Wailing for the Citizens of Judah

1:8 For this I will lament and wail;

            I will walk around barefoot and naked;

    I will howl like the jackals,

            and a mourn like an owl.

1:9 For her wounds are incurable;

            it has come even to Judah.

    It has reached to the gate of my people,

            even to Jerusalem.

In 1:8, Micah states he will lament and wail because the judgment of God, which brings disaster has come not only to the people of Samaria, but also to the gate of Jerusalem, 1:9, 12, representing the people of Judah, whom Micah calls “my people.”  The continual acts both in Israel and Judah of idol worship with its pagan fertility rites involving payments to prostitutes, 1:7, has brought God’s final verdict of destruction upon them.

The judgment of God upon Samaria came in 722 B.C. See Introduction C: Historical Background and comment for 1:6-7. God’s judgment on Jerusalem came in stages. The Assyrians captured most of Judah’s cities in 701 B.C. but only surrounded the capital. The Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem had three major campaigns: 605 B.C. when Daniel and his friends were exiled; 597 B.C. when Ezekiel was taken to the Chaldean capital; and the complete destruction of the city including the burning of the temple in 587/586 B.C.

Micah uses four words, lament, wail, howl and mourn, (DASV), to describe his intense grief and a statement of action, “walk around.” They are all cohortative, paired with “I will” which all function as an imperative in Micah’s poetic form of Hebrew parallelism.  The first two expressions of grief in 1:8, are translated as “lament and wail”, in the DASV, ESV, NASB and CSB. They are translated as “wail and howl” in the KJV and NKJV; and as “weep and wail” in the NIV. As with the other three expressions of grief in 1:8, “lament” often occurs in the O.T. in passages which describe mourning over a death of someone. The prophets expressed these words of mourning as a response to God’s revelation of coming destruction upon their people. Isaiah, for example, expressed the meaning of lament as “beat your breasts” in Isaiah 32:12. Jeremiah used “lament” for grief three times in Jeremiah 16:4-6.

The second word that Micah uses in 1:8 for intense grief is “wail.” The first occurrence of this word in the O.T. is a call upon Babylon to wail for its coming destruction, “Wail for the day of the LORD is near. It will come as destruction from the Almighty.” Isaiah 13:6. The last occurrence of this word in the O.T. is a call for the trees of Lebanon and Bashan to wail for the coming destruction upon the people of Israel who have rejected the Messiah at his first advent. Zechariah 11:2. See notes on Zechariah 11:1-17 in the MacArthur Study Bible. The word of the Lord that He showed to Amos revealed the intensity of the destruction that would come upon His people and why there would be wailing in that day, “Then the LORD said to me, The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will no longer be lenient with them. 3 The songs in the temple will turn to wailing in that day,” says the sovereign LORD. Many dead bodies will be strewn everywhere. Be silent.” Amos 8:2b-3.

The Hebrew words for “lament,” sip̄·ḏûʹ (also transliterated as saphad) and “wail,” hê·lîʹ·lû (also transliterated as yalal) also occur together in Jeremiah’s prophecy regarding the certain and imminent destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, “For this clothe yourself with sackcloth, lament and wail;  for the fierce anger of the LORD has not turned away from us.” Jeremiah 4:8. They are also paired in Joel 1:13, in which the priests and ministers are to lament and wail due to the coming destruction of the temple and its rituals of offerings.

Sandwiched between the dual sets of words expressing Micah’s grief is his description of what he will do, “I will walk around barefoot and naked.” This is a sign to the people portraying Micah’s mourning for the coming destruction of his beloved country and capital city.  Isaiah was told by God to walk naked and barefoot for a period of three years as a “sign and wonder” against Egypt and Ethiopia. Their people would walk disgraced when the Assyrians would conquer them and lead them captive walking naked and barefoot. Isaiah 20:1-6. Micah, like Isaiah, would have removed his outer garments and walked in public wearing only a loincloth. This appearance in public was noted as a reference to the prophets, 1 Samuel 19:24.

The second set of words in 1:8, “howl” and “mourn” are descriptive of animal sounds. Micah said he will howl like a jackal which are dog like scavengers who hunted in packs in the waste places of the Judean desert. Micah also said he will mourn or screech like an owl. This word could also be translated as ostrich. Job used similar words in his description of mourning, “I am a brother to jackals, and a companion to owls.” Job 30:29. Micah identified with animals of the waste places as a picture to the people of Judah that they would soon be howling and wailing as God’s judgment comes upon them.

Both words have the sense of mourning for someone who has died. They also occur together in four other passages in the O.T. First, in Genesis 50:10, these words are used to describe the mourning of the sons of Jacob after his death. Second, in Esther 4:3, these words describe the response of the Jews throughout the Persian Empire who heard the news of their impending deaths at the hands of the citizens of Persia acting upon the edict of King Ahasuerus, which was prompted by the wickedness of Haman. Third, in Jeremiah 6:26, the prophet exhorts his people to mourn for the coming destruction that is to come upon them by the armies of Babylon. In this verse Jeremiah tells his people to also “roll in ashes” (NIV), which is similar to Micah’s words, “roll yourself in the dust” that he told to the inhabitants of Beth-Aprah, Micah 1:10.  Fourth, in Amos 5:16, the prophet declares the word of God to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel, that they are to mourn for the coming destruction that the day of the LORD will bring.

In 1:9 Micah stated that the wounds of his people are incurable. Jeremiah’s message to Judah was similar, “12 For this is what the LORD says, “Your wound is incurable, and your injury is severe. 13 There is no one to plead your cause, no cure for your wound, no healing for you.14 All your lovers have forgotten you; they do not care about you. I have wounded you like an enemy would, with the punishment of a cruel foe, because your iniquity is great, because your sins are so numerous. 15 Why do you cry about your injuries? Your pain is incurable,  because your iniquity is great, because your sins are so numerous, I have done these things to you.”  Jeremiah 30:12-15. (bolding intentional).

These incurable wounds most likely refer to the coming Assyrian advance upon Judah in 701 B.C. The Assyrians conquered or destroyed many cities and towns in Judah, 2 Kings 18:13, Isaiah 36:1, taking over 200,000 people captive. King Sennacherib of Assyria boasted about this invasion and had large murals painted on the walls of his palace depicting this event. He also wrote about his exploits on a prism which is now housed in the British Museum. On this prism, Sennacherib boasted that he had shut up king Hezekiah of Judah like a caged bird in Jerusalem 8 but significantly did not state that the Assyrians had conquered Jerusalem. Micah’s identifies eleven of these places in 1:10-16, warning them that there will be no escape from the disaster to come.

Micah states that the incurable wounds have come to “the gate of my people, even to Jerusalem.” The gate of Jerusalem could refer to city leaders who sat in the gates of ancient cities or  as a synonym for the entire city and all its inhabitants. It also could signify that although the Assyrians conquered much of Judah in 701 B.C., they only came as far as the gate of Jerusalem but did not enter the city. The Babylonians would enter the gate in coming years and completely destroy the city, its gate and its temple. Whatever Micah’s intention was to the reference to the “gate,” it certainly implied that Jerusalem was not immune to God’s judgment. Its “wound,” resulting from spiritual adultery against its covenant God, was incurable.

b. 1:10-16 Micah’s Warning for the Cities of Judah

1:10 Tell it not in Gath,

            do not weep at all,

     at Beth Leaphrah [House of Dust] roll in the dust.

1:11 Pass into exile, O inhabitants of Shaphir [beautiful],

            in nakedness and shame.

    The inhabitants of Zaanan dare not come out of their city;

            Beth Ezel wails and will remove its support from you.

1:12 For the inhabitants of Maroth wait anxiously for good,

            because disaster has come down from the LORD

                        to the gate of Jerusalem.

1:13 Harness the chariot to the steeds, O inhabitants of Lachish;

            you were the first place of sin to the daughter of Zion,

                        for the transgressions of Israel were found in you.

1:14 Therefore you will give farewell gifts to Moresheth-gath.

            The houses of Achzib [Deception] will be a deceitful thing

                        to the kings of Israel.

1:15 I will again bring to you, O inhabitants of Mareshah,

            a conqueror who will possess you;

    the glory of Israel will flee to Adullam.

1:16 Shave your heads bald,

            and cut off your hair for the children of your delight;

    enlarge your baldness as the eagle,

            for they are taken from you into exile.

Following the cries of desperate grief over the coming destruction that is coming to His people, even to the gate of Jerusalem, Micah declares a warning of certain destruction to eleven cities/towns that are in close proximity to his hometown, Moresheth-Gath. These locations were in the Judean Shephelah area southwest of Jerusalem. They were in the line of destruction that the Assyrians under king Sennacherib brought when they marched from southwest to northeast, in 701 B.C. conquering all before them and stopping only at the gate of Jerusalem because God would not let them enter the capital city.

Micah uses many clever wordplays in this section, verses 10-16, citing both the meaning of the Hebrew words and how they sounded or were heard to the ears. An example of a simple wordplay in the English could be, “idols are worthless because they are idle.” A common word for idol has the meaning of worthless. Those who heard Micah’s proclamation of this prophecy would have certainly understood the impact of his words and how they tragically affected each of their hometowns. The prophetic wordplays were not good news. They were designed to bring terror to the hearts of the inhabitants of these cities/towns. Micah was giving them time to repent of their continual rebelliousness against their covenant God. Sadly, his words were not heeded, and the Assyrians brought destruction to each location. During this march into Judah, the Assyrians not only conquered these cities/towns, 2 Kings 18:13 but also captured 200,150 inhabitants of Judah.9

1:10a Tell it not in Gath, do not weep at all

The first declaration that Micah gave oddly begins with a call for silence. The wordplay in this clause is that the Hebrew word for Gath, ḡǎṯʹ is similar in sound to the Hebrew word for tell, nagad. The people of this area are not to lament over the destruction upon them in or near the old Philistine city of Gath. This could be so that their former enemies would not mock them or gloat over Judah’s demise or worse, blaspheme and bring disrepute to the name of their covenant God. Micah quotes the words of David lamenting the news of the deaths of king Saul and his son Jonathan, “Tell it not in Gath, don’t announce it in the streets of Ashkelon, or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice, the daughters of the uncircumcised will celebrate.” 2 Samuel 1:20. David was truly in mourning for the tragic ending of the reign and dynasty of Saul as their would be no sons of Saul to ascend to the throne. The bitter irony in the days of the prophets Isaiah and Micah is that the people of Judah are in mourning over the prophesized ending of David’s dynastic reign. No descendant of David will reign on David’s throne until the Messiah comes to set up His kingdom and rule the earth from Mount Zion.

1:10b at Beth Aphrah, roll in the dust

The second declaration is a more obvious wordplay. The citizens of Beth Aphrah, literally meaning “House of Dust,” 10 are told to roll in the dust.  Those who were in mourning, expressing deep grief for the loss of  loved ones, or a calamity or a catastrophic defeat, often lay down on the ground and rolled themselves in dust or ashes. Joshua 7:6; 1 Samuel 4:12; 2 Samuel 1:2; 15:32; Job 2:12; 16:15; Psalm 44:25; Isaiah 29:4; 47:1; Jeremiah 6:26; Lamentations 2:10; and Ezekiel 27:30.  Isaiah had also told the people of Zion, which the prophet called Ariel (hearth of God), “You will be brought down, you will speak from the ground; your speech will come from the dust where you lie. Your voice will be like one who has a familiar spirit, coming out of the ground, and your speech will whisper out of the dust.” Isaiah 29:4.

1:11a Pass into exile, O inhabitants of Shaphir [beautiful], in nakedness and shame.

The third declaration is a wordplay using an opposite meaning. Shaphir means beautiful and its citizens may have prided themselves on the attractiveness of their town. Micah tells them to leave their town in nakedness and shame because when the Assyrians conquer them they will be led away as captives being stripped naked and wearing the shameful chains their captors will clamp on them.

1:11b The inhabitants of Zaanan dare not come out of their city;

The fourth declaration is a wordplay on the name of the town Zaanan which means “going out.” Those who live in the town of “going out” will not dare to go out of their city when they see the advancing Assyrians come upon them. It may have been better for them to have gone out and flee to the capital city of Jerusalem before the armies of Sennacherib arrived.

1:11c Beth Ezel wails and will remove its support from you.

The fifth declaration is more difficult to understand for the meaning of Beth Ezel is obscure in the Hebrew and may have the sense of a house of protection being a town that acted as an early warning of any coming armies to protect the capital city of Jerusalem. 11  The wordplay is that the “house of protection” will not be able to protect. The word “you” could refer to any of the towns Micah mentions in this section including Jerusalem.

1:12a For the inhabitants of Maroth wait anxiously for good,

The sixth declaration mentions the inhabitants of Maroth. The meaning of this town is also obscure but may have the meaning of “bitterness” (marginal note for verse 1:12). It may be that like Jerusalem, Maroth waited upon Beth Ezel for warning of any advancing troops. Thus, the town called bitter will anxiously wait for good news but will only receive the bitter news of its impending doom.

1:12b because disaster has come down from the LORD to the gate of Jerusalem.

The reason the citizens of Maroth will receive bitter news is that the disaster that is coming upon them, is an action from the LORD who is the divine motivator behind the Assyrian advance that will sweep through Judah and come to the gate of Jerusalem. Micah had previously stated, 1:9, that he was in mourning because the certain devastation of his country will reach the gate of its capital city. God’s judgment upon His covenant people will indeed be bitter news!

1:13a Harness the chariot to the steeds, O inhabitants of Lachish;

The seventh declaration describes a play on words with the words “Lachish” and “steeds.” The English word “to the steeds” is the Hebrew lārěʹ·ḵěš which sounds like lā·ḵîšʹ, the Hebrew for Lachish. Micah may have intended this pun to warn the inhabitants of Lachish to harness the steeds, likely racing horses, to chariots so they could try to escape the oncoming Assyrians. The warning again fell on deaf ears as the Assyrians laid siege to the city and conquered it.

Lachish is first mentioned in the Scriptures as a Canaanite city, Joshua 10:3. Following Israel’s victory, with the help of God, over an Amorite alliance including the king of Lachish, the city became the possession of the children of Israel, Joshua 10:32. Rehoboam fortified Lachish as a city of defense to protect his kingdom in the event of any incursion of enemy forces into Judah, 2 Chronicles 11:9. During the Assyrian assault in 701 B.C., the armies of Sennacherib laid siege to Lachish and conquered it, 2 Kings 18:13; 2 Chronicles 32:9. Sennacherib celebrated by having murals made to decorate his palace walls in Nineveh, which depicted his victory over Lachish.12 It is possible that Sennacherib celebrated his victory over Lachish because there was nothing to celebrate about his unsuccessful siege of Jerusalem.

1:13b you were the first place of sin to the daughter of Zion, for the transgressions of Israel were found in you.

This is the only reference in the Scriptures to the role the inhabitants of Lachish had in introducing sin to the “daughter of Zion” (people of Jerusalem). It is very likely that the specific sin Micah intended to mention was the practice of idol worship including the role of shrine prostitutes, 1:7. For their role in introducing this sin, and that “the transgressions of Israel” 1:5, was found in this fortified city, it was to be conquered by the Assyrians during their Judean advance to Jerusalem. God’s judgments are certain, and no fortified city of any size could prevent God from accomplishing His intentions. The words “sin,” Hebrew ḥǎṭ·ṭāʾṯ, and “transgression,” Hebrew p̄ěʹ·šǎʿ, also occur together in Micah 1:5; 3:8 and 6:7.

1:14a Therefore you will give farewell gifts to Moresheth-gath.

Micah’s eighth declaration of God’s judgment upon the cities of Judah involved his hometown. The name Moresheth-gath was named because of its proximity to Gath. It has the meaning of “possession of Gath” (marginal note) and its name sounds like “meorasah” meaning “betrothed.”13 The wordplay by Micah involves a prophecy of the events that happened following the defeat of Lachish. King Hezekiah sent a gift to Sennacherib of 300 talents of silver which was requested by the Assyrian king. 2 Kings 18:13-16. This gift, however, did not prevent the Assyrians from continuing their advance towards Jerusalem. The wordplay by Micah thus involves “farewell gifts” like a father would give as a dowry as he gave away his daughter in marriage. King Hezekiah was in the future to “give away” his fortified city of Lachish and also give a dowry to the King of Assyria.

1:14b The houses of Achzib [Deception] will be a deceitful thing to the kings of Israel.

The ninth declaration of judgment is upon Achzib which has the meaning of deception or lie (marginal note). Micah used a wordplay on the Hebrew name of Achzib, ʾǎḵ·zîḇʹ and the related word deceitful (lie), Hebrew ʾǎḵ·zāḇʹ. The second word deceitful (lie), also occurs in Jeremiah 15:18, “Why is my pain perpetual, and my wound incurable, unable to be healed? You are like a deceitful brook to me, like springs that have dried up.” Two other words, “incurable” and “wound” in Jeremiah 15:18 occur in the first chapter of Micah. See notes for 1:9. It is likely that Micah was prophesizing that the town of Achzib would be deceitful to Hezekiah during the advance of the Assyrian troops in 701 B.C. because it could not defend Judah and Jerusalem against the conquering armies.

1:15a I will again bring to you, O inhabitants of Mareshah, a conqueror who will possess you;

In the tenth declaration of judgment, Micah mentions Mareshah which has the meaning of “inheritance” (marginal note) and it sounds similar to the Hebrew word yō·rēšʹ which is translated as “conqueror” in the DASV, CSB, ESV, and NIV but as “heir” in the KJV and NKJV; and as “the one who takes possession” in the NASB. The wordplay on the name of the town, Mareshah is that a conqueror will take possession of the town in a coming judgment which like all the other locations mentioned by Micah in 1:10-16, refers to the Assyrians who conquered them in 701 B.C. The conqueror and possessor of Mareshah would be king Sennacherib. Micah is directly quoting God in 1:15 as “I” in the first person. Micah may have written this simply for emphasis to remind his audience that God was the divine mover behind the scenes. Or Micah may have attached some specific significance to Mareshah that has not been revealed.

It is of note that the DASV, CSV and ESV translate the Hebrew ʿôḏ as “I will again.” The KJV has “Yet will I bring,” and the NJKV has “I will yet bring.” The NIV and NASB have “I will bring.” It may be that the word “again” simply refers to the repetition of the fact that each city/town listed by Micah will be conquered by the Assyrians and not that Mareshah will be conquered twice.

1:15b the glory of Israel will flee to Adullam.

In the eleventh declaration of judgment, Micah mentions Adullam, meaning refuge, (marginal note) which was a cave to which David fled for safety from the men of Gath, 1 Samuel 22:1; 2 Samuel 23:13. It may be significant that Micah mentions Adullam and Gath in the same context, Micah 1:10-16. Micah may have intentionally referred to the prominent men of Mareshah as “the glory of Israel.” When David was mourning for Saul and Jonathan he referred to them as “Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places How are the mighty fallen!” 2 Samuel 1:19. Gath is mentioned in 2 Samuel 1:20 in the same context as David’s mourning for Saul and Jonathan. See comment on 1:10a above. Micah uses irony in that the “glory of Israel” is likely a metaphor for  the royal house of David who will attempt to flee to Adullam for refuge, just as David had hundreds of years earlier, but instead of finding safety as David had, they will be captured by the Assyrians and taken into exile. Thus, the Davidic dynasty will come to an inglorious end, awaiting the Messiah to come to sit on David’s throne when he returns to establish His glorious kingdom.

1:16 Shave your heads bald, and cut off your hair for the children of your delight;  enlarge your baldness as the eagle, for they are taken from you into exile.

Micah’s concluding remarks is best understood, not as referring to Mareshah, 1:15, but to the royal house of David, those kings who sit on David’s throne. These kings are to shave their heads bald by the cutting off of their hair as a outward depiction of mourning. Micah employs a wordplay on the Hebrew words “shave and cut” and “enlarge your baldness,” by using the same Hebrew root word, qǒr·ḥîʹ. 14  The Hebrew word for Eagles can also be translated as vultures (NIV). These  birds have no feathers on their heads which give them the appearance of being bald. The Aaronic priests were forbidden to shave their heads, Leviticus 21:5. However, the prophets spoke of the shaving of heads due to the coming judgment of God which will result in prolonged mourning, Isaiah 22:12; and Ezekiel 7:18. See also Job 1:20 for a pre-law occurrence.

Amos described a similar fate to the northern kingdom of Israel, by also mentioning the shaved head for mourning and for the loss of children, “I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into funeral laments. I will make everyone wear sackcloth around their waists, and every head will be shaved bald. I will make them mourn as for an only son, and it will end like a bitter day.” Amos 8:10. The “children of your delight” in this context refers to those who would have succeeded their fathers on the throne of David. These children will not continue the lineage of  the house of David but will instead be taken from their royal homes and led into inglorious exile. The final exile for the house of David occurred many years later in 587/586 B.C. when the Babylonians under their commander Nebuchadnezzar destroyed and burned Jerusalem. In succeeding stages before this final destruction had taken place, the Babylonians had led away the choicest children of Judah including the descendants of the Judean king. See Daniel 1:1-4.

The wordplays of Micah 1:10-16 are easily seen in Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase version, The Message,

Don’t gossip about this in Telltown.

    Don’t waste your tears.

In Dustville,

    roll in the dust.

In Alarmtown,

    the alarm is sounded.

The citizens of Exitburgh

    will never get out alive.

Lament, Last-Stand City:

    There’s nothing in you left standing.

The villagers of Bittertown

    wait in vain for sweet peace.

Harsh judgment has come from God

    and entered Peace City.

All you who live in Chariotville,

    get in your chariots for flight.

You led the daughter of Zion

    into trusting not God but chariots.

Similar sins in Israel

    also got their start in you.

Go ahead and give your good-bye gifts

    to Good-byeville.

Miragetown beckoned

    but disappointed Israel’s kings.

Inheritance City

    has lost its inheritance.

Glorytown

    has seen its last of glory.

Shave your heads in mourning

    over the loss of your precious towns.

Go bald as a goose egg—they’ve gone

    into exile and aren’t coming back.

 

The application to modern audiences of Micah’s prophetic messages in chapter 1 would certainly include:

1. God is patient with those who sin, but He will not tolerate forever, willful rebellion against Him

2. The sins that bring the Lord’s sharpest rebukes and judgment are the worship of false gods which in today’s modern society would involve anything that is honored, adored, loved, esteemed or worshipped before or above that of the worship of God.

3. Ignoring the plain words of Scripture for repentance from sins and turning in trust to God are the same as those who ignored the declarations of the prophets whom God sent to His covenant people.

4. Those who are God’s children by faith in Jesus Christ should not take God’s protection and favor for granted. Willful continual sin by His children will result in His chastisement. The ancient Israelites who were His covenant people were not spared God’s judgment even though they thought they were secure in Jerusalem no matter how grievously they sinned against Him.

5. The time for repenting of sins and turning to God is now, today before it is too late, before God’s judgment comes unexpectedly with disastrous consequences.

Notes for Micah Chapter 1 verses 8-16.

8. D. J. Wiseman, Sennacherib in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, General Editor: Merrill C. Tenney, Zondervan, 1975, Volume 5,  pages 338-342.

9. D. J. Wiseman, Sennacherib, page 340

10. See marginal notes for the literal meaning of these locations in most Study Bibles.

11. Thomas E. McComiskey, Micah in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 7, Regency Reference Library, an imprint of Zondervan, 1985, pages 407-408.

12. Kenneth L. Barker, Micah, page 59.

13. Thomas E. McComiskey, Micah, page 408.

14. Kenneth L. Barker, Micah, page 61.