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Micah 6:1-8

Micah 6:1-8

Background to the Book of Micah

Historical Background:Micah, the Book of, (mīʹkah), one of the books of the twelve Minor Prophets in the Bible. The title comes from the name of the prophet to whom the book is attributed (Mic. 1:1). The book is a collection of prophetic addresses. The superscription in Micah 1:1 dates the prophecies of Micah in the times of three Kings of Judah. Jotham (742 - 735 BCE) was a period of growing fear and unrest. Ahaz (735 - 715 BCE) came to the throne at a time when the Northern Kingdom (Israel) was experiencing internal rebellions and a rapid turnover of Kings. Pekah, King of Israel and Rezin, King of Syria, tried to force Ahaz to join with them in a rebellion against the superpower Assyria which was invading them from the Northeast. Because Ahaz would not join coalition set up by Rezin (Syria) and Pekah (Israel) they invaded Judah in 735 BCE. Ahaz applied to Tiglath-Pileser, King of Assyria, for help and although Ahaz avoided the invasion of Israel and Syria, Judah became a vassal of Assyria. Samaria, the capitol of Israel was taken by the new King of Assyria, Shalmanasser in 721 BCE and the ten tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel were scattered throughout the captured territories of Assyria in the Middle and Far east. This was the end of those tribes and they did not come together again as known peoples either, in Britain or, anywhere else.

In reign of Hezekiah (715 - 687 BCE) Sargon marched against Egypt, Philistia and Phoenicia + Judah. In 703 & 701 Sennacherib defeated each of these countries in turn, most of Judah was destroyed and Jerusalem just survived, by paying large amounts of money and other booty (2 Kings 18:13-16 & miracle 2 Kings 18:17-19:37). It is highly unlikely Micah was active during the reigns of all three kings and many people think he delivered his oracles verbally in the reign of Ahaz. The reference to Jotham helps to put the historical period into context for later readers who weren't close to the situation of the time.

Micah is associated with a small town about 25 miles from Jerusalem and appears to know about the oppression from the upper classes (3:1-3). His message was a mixture of judgement on the powerful and wealthy who oppressed the weak. The oppressors were named as the rulers, prophets and priests. In among the oracles of judgement were oracles of salvation for a remnant and the promise for a new ruler who would come from Bethlehem. God is universal ruler and is a God of judgement, justice and grace.

Literary Features: Basic form is poetry, which includes specific forms such as prophetic oracles, woe oracles and someone suggests a lyrical poet Micah 7:7-20, which is not prophecy and the "I" is the community not the prophet. Some scholars want to have two divisions in the book, 1-5, 6-7 (J.L.Mays, Hagstrom, Lescow in Mason, OTG: 15). Each part is introduced by "Hear" and chapters 1-5 are universal in scope while chapters 6-7 are addressed to Israel. Others suggest a four part division in which chapters 1-3 = judgement, chapters 4-5 = salvation, chapters 6:1-7:6 = judgement, and chapter 7:7-7:20 = salvation (Mason, OTG:13-14). The latter is quite a helpful suggestion, in which each organized division moves thematically from prophecies of punishment to prophecies of salvation. The first section, Mic. 1:2-5:15, contains prophecies of punishment against the two capital cities of Samaria and Jerusalem in chaps. 1-3, followed in chaps. 4-5 by prophecies of salvation that see Mount Zion in Jerusalem as the center of the coming reign of peace. The second section, Micah 6-7, has announcements of judgment in 6:1-7:6 and of salvation in 7:7-20. It begins with the Lord’s trial proceedings against Israel (6:1-5) and focuses upon the ruptured relationship between God and his people. The concluding speeches (7:8-20) announce reconciliation and renewal.

It is highly unlikely that all the addresses in the book were first delivered by Micah in the eighth century, though there has been considerable disagreement about how much stems from the original prophet. Some commentators argue that Micah was exclusively a prophet of doom and that all hopeful expressions come from a later time. How, for example, could the prophet who expected Zion to be a ruin (Mic. 3:9-12) also promise that it would one day be the highest of the mountains of the earth (4:1-4)? But it is by no means certain that Micah had no positive vision for the future. Nevertheless, there is clear evidence that the style, content, and historical perspective of some of the speeches reflect not the period of the Assyrian threat in the eighth century but the Babylonian exile in the sixth century b.c. and later. The style of 7:1-7 in particular is quite different from the first chapters of the book. Mic. 7:8-10 assumes the destruction of the nation by the Babylonians, and 7:11-13 has in view the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem after the return from Exile during the Persian period in the late sixth or early fifth century b.c. Moreover, 7:14-20 seems to assume the existence of the Second Temple in the postexilic period.
Though the book is the product of centuries of tradition, its message can be summarized in a relatively consistent fashion: because of their sins, and particularly those of people in powerful places, God is about to punish his people by means of military defeat and exile. Later those people will be brought back to their land, and God will establish perpetual peace.
Micah may be outlined briefly in the following way:
I. Superscription (1:1)
II. First collection of speeches (1:2-5:15)
A. Prophecies of punishment (1:2-3:12)
B. Prophecies of salvation (4:1-5:15)
III. Second collection of speeches (6:1-7:20)
A. Prophecies of punishment (6:1-7:6)
B. Prophecies of salvation (7:7-20).

Like all the books of the prophets it is apparent that the oracles spoken by the prophet have been taken and preached to a later community. Exactly the same process in which the sayings and journeys of Jesus were taken and applied by four different writers to their own communities. The same process which takes place today.

Context of Mic 6:1-8: What's Happening in the Literature around Micah 6

This oracle is in the fourth division of the book (Mic 6:1-7:6) which contains several oracles of salvation. Micah 4 begins with the universal proclamation of peace as all the nations come to Jerusalem, hear God's word and then live in peace which is described in the beautiful imagery of Mic 4:4. The people who went to Babylon will be rescued by God, brought back to Jerusalem and a ruler whose origins are in Bethlehem will be raised up. This is followed by a specific mention of Assyria which will now be conquered by seven shepherds and eight princes. The chapter ends with very different images from those in Mic:1-4. It is now the conquest of the old enemy Assyria and a final very powerful first person statement about how God will cleanse the land of all the sorcerers and foreign idols, and execute judgement upon nations which did not obey.
Mic 5 appears to speak of a siege but also of hope in that a new leader will be raised up and the people return from exile. The chapter talks of a remnant scattered among the nations who will prevail and in the next verses reiterates the extreme devastation that will take place in Judah. God speaks in the first person, Mic 5: 10-15 which gives greater emphasis to the destruction. This leads to a call for the people to plead their case before God in Mic 6:1-8. This is followed by another diatribe by God against the people's wickedness followed by the community's affirmation of their trust in God who will forgive and be compassionate (Mic 7:8-20). The second oracle found in Mic 6:9-16 has some obscure comments in v.16 about the statutes of Omri and works of the house Ahab which may be some allusion to the abuse of legal forms but no one really can make a lot of sense of this. At the end of Mic 6 there is the separation or opposition between the group called "my people" and the accused group of the evil city who will eventually experience contempt of my people (Heb 'my people', v.16b).

Insights/Message of Mic 6:1-8

Literary structure: In Mic 6:.1-5 there is repetition of the command 'Hear', -- it occurs twice in verse one -- and once at the beginning of verse 2; ' controversy' occurs twice in verse 2; ' 0 my people' occurs in the verse 3 and in verse 5. This demonstrates how important certain things are in the verses and the hearer/reader must pay attention to the repetitions - 'hear', 'controversy' and 'O my people'. Furthermore, there are several changes of speaker: in 6:1- 8 Yahweh speaks to the Prophet in which he seems to ask the Prophet to be his legal representatives in a suit against the people. In vv.3-5 Yahweh speaks directly to people,in vv. 6-7 we hear the voice of the people and v.8 is the voice of the prophet. This literary structure again serves to emphasise particular points the writer wants the hearer/reader to pay attention too. The different voices serve to make the hearer/reader stop and pay attention. The mountains, hills, and foundations of the earth are to be the judges in this controversy between Yahweh and Israel: the symbolism of God's creation supports God in the action against the rebellious nation. The controversythat the Lord brings against Israel is the indictment for breach of the covenant. God emphasises the role which was played when the people were saved (vv.4-5). How could a people who had experienced this God who brought them out of slavery and gave them a new start even think of rebelling and breaking the covenant? Shittim was a place in before entering the land, where Israel was encamped during the Balak and Balaam incident with a word just prior to the entrance into the promised land across the Jordan. When the people answer the Lord in vv.6-7 they ask what they need to do to become right with God, the list of sacrifices escalates in depth from calves to the people's first born, although human sacrifice was never required by the law. this may be a refernce to the story of Abraham in Gen 22.
What are the charges?
That people have acted unjustly and bringing offerings will not redress it (vv.6-8).

Message / Theology. Basically it is a court case in which God accuses the nation of a breach of the covenant and the guilt of the accused is so overwhelming that they realise the need to look to the Lord (Mic 7:7). The creation acts as a witness to God's goodness to these people who have rejected their Saviour after all that was done for them. The people suggest they bring sacrifices to make it right with God but the famous answer is in v.8. -"but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God". Some scholars suggest that this rejection of sacrifices depicts the conflict between the priests and the prophets. It certainly shows the different theological emphases of two major groups in the life of Israel. The change of the 'I' in vv.3-5 from the Lord to either an individual or the community (the nation is often depicted as an individual in Hebrew writings) in vv.6-7 sets up the two sides speaking in the courtroom. The Lord does not require things from the people but their right behaviour which arises from their relationship with God - "to walk humbly with your God". This right behaviour encompasses two things: 1. to do justice which is a strong emphasis of the prophetic tradition and 2. to love kindness. The Hebrew word 'hesed' is often translated 'loving kindness' but encompasses much more. It is a very strong word and is much better understood as 'love with a strong element of loyalty' (Limburg:192). The response required by people is to walk carefully with God which will result in behaving justly and loving to all around.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mth 5:1-12, do not have any particular Old Testament allusions.
Resources/Worship for Mic 6:1-8: Worship: Resources: Commentaries

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the book.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

Allen, Leslie.C. The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah. NICOT. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1976.
Ben Zvi, Ehud. Micah. FOTL, XXIB. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 2000.
Hillers, Delbert.R. Micah: A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Micah. Herm. xxxPhiladelphia: Fortress, 1984.
Limburg, James. Hosea-Micah. Int. Louisville: John Knox, 1988.
McKane, William. The Book of Micah: Introduction and Commentary. Edinburgh: T&T xxxClark, 1998.
Mason, Rex. Micah, Nahum, Obadiah. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991.
Mays, James.L. Micah. OTL. London: SCM Press, 1976.
Simundson, Daniel J. "The Book of Micah: Introduction, Commentary and Reflections." In The New Interpreter's Bible. 7:531-89. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996.
Smith, Ralph L. Micah-Malachi. WBC. Dallas: Word Books, 1984.
Wolff, Hans.W. Micah the Prophet. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978.
Wolff, Hans W. Micah: A Commentar. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1990.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: 

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