When reading The Minor Prophets, people are often confused by the context, wondering when the prophet lived and what was happening in the world at that time. The canonical order of The Minor Prophets is not chronological, which can confound readers as they jump from one period of history to another. In addition, some of the prophets ministered God’s Word in the northern kingdom of Israel, while others primarily lived and preached in Judah. As we come to the book of Micah, we encounter the last of the 8th century BC prophets in this corpus, so now is a good time to review the historical setting of the first half of the Minor Prophets and where they fit in the biblical timeline.
Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah. Like Isaiah, Micah lived in the southern kingdom of Judah. He was from a border town named Moresheth (Micah 1:1), a country village on the border of Judah and Philistia. Micah dates his prophetic activity during the reigns of kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, which places his time frame between 750 and 686 BC. So where does Micah fit in with the first five prophets we have already considered? Hosea, Amos, and Jonah all ministered the Word of God in the northern kingdom of Israel, primarily during the reign of Jeroboam II, which places them about a generation earlier than Micah, although the end of their ministries may have overlapped by a few years with the beginning of Micah’s.
While Obadiah’s chronology cannot be identified with certainty, it seems likely he ministered in the 7th century BC in the southern kingdom, perhaps 30 years or so before the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon. If this dating is correct, Obadiah would have appeared on the scene about 50 years after Micah departed. Joel is also difficult to date, with guesses ranging from the 9th century BC to the 5th century. Of all the prophetic oracles in this collection, the dating of Joel is the least important since his prophecy’s context is given in the form of a locust invasion, which eliminates the need for a date to understand the crisis and resolution God gives through His prophet. The historical events that took place during Micah’s time period are related in 2 Kings 15:32-20:21 and 2 Chronicles 27:1-32:22. Interestingly, Isaiah also narrates some of these events in Isaiah 36-39. Knowing the historical context of these books helps us interpret them more accurately as well as understand how they apply to us today. For example, one of the major events of this time period involved the celebration of the Passover after years of neglecting it. Under Hezekiah, the worship in the nation of Judah underwent massive reformation. The book of Micah especially is concerned with the worship of the people of God, and we from Jeremiah 26:16-19 that Micah played an integral role in Hezekiah’s repentance and re-institution of the Law of Moses as the law of the land in Judah. If we do not understand the radical changes happening in the worship of Judah at this time, this critical context of Micah’s prophecy will be lost to us. We might understand it as a book about social change, for example, rather than a book about true worship.
Micah is probably best known for his prophecy concerning the birthplace of the Messiah. Matthew 2:4 quotes Micah 5:2 when Herod’s scholars inform him that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem. Jesus also quoted Micah in the book of Matthew. In noting why He came into the world, Jesus tells His disciples that He did not come to bring peace but a sword (Matthew 10:34). This is in accordance with the words of the prophet Micah, as Jesus quotes Micah 7:6 in Matthew 10:35-36. Once again the value the New Testament writers placed on the Minor Prophets becomes evident as they record two separate instances where Micah was used at critical junctures of Jesus’ life and ministry. To neglect reading and studying these twelve books is to neglect foundational teaching understood and expounded by our Lord and His Apostles.
Micah’s message was a message of warning. He called the people of Israel to repentance and faith in the true and living God, to abandon their idols, and to worship God as He commanded them to worship Him rather than as they deemed appropriate. He warned them that Israel would go into captivity to Assryia and that Judah would be toppled by the Babylonians (Micah 4:10). He told the people of their sins in detail, proving to them that the Lord was in the right in His case against them and they were guilty as charged (Micah 2:1-3). Perhaps nothing illustrates their utter disregard and contempt for the law of God than King Ahaz burning his sons in the fire in the valley of Ben-hinnom as he practiced his idolatrous and abominable worship (Micah 6:6-7; cf. 2 Chronicles 28:3). Their only hope was to turn away from their self-styled worship and their self-centered living and honor God’s Law, show mercy to the helpless, and humble themselves before God in every area of their lives (Micah 6:8).
With all of its pronouncements of judgment, Micah is a book of hope and salvation. Hezekiah heeded Micah’s words, and God relented concerning the calamity He threatened in Micah 3:12. Furthermore, God re-iterated His promise to Abraham, that all the nations would be blessed through him and his seed. Micah 4:1-3 reminds the reader of God’s purpose to bring all the nations into His presence to worship Him. The book concludes with one of the most lavish and loving pronouncements of God’s grace toward His people in the Bible. Micah’s name, which means ‘Who is like the Lord?’, is used in a play on words in Micah 7:18: “Who is a God like You?” What stands out to Micah about God is God’s compassion toward His people. Of all the idols of the nations, only the true and living God forgives sin, pardons iniquity, and passes over the rebellious acts of His people. He alone does not retain His anger forever because of His delight in covenant love that is unbreakable.
Micah reminds us of what kind of God we serve. He is a God who judges sin, but as sinners we still have hope because He is a God who is compassionate toward sinners, who treads our iniquities under foot, and who casts all of our sins into the depths of the sea. No matter who we are or what we have done, if we repent of our idolatry and turn to the true and living God, He will receive us, pardon us, and lavish His unchanging love on us for all eternity.