Some Tips on Reading the Book of Micah
Micah is a unique book – this 6th book of the prophets is carefully and uniquely arranged. You will notice a series of oracles arranged carefully but not necessarily chronologically and over a long span of time. His ministry covers a long time from 742 BC to 686 BC during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah.
Micah, the master wordsmith
Micah’s contemporary is Isaiah. While Isaiah moves among the court of Kings and has some kind of nobility, Micah is a much more an average man, a farmer who is more or less equivalent to the man on the street in our day. As such he identified readily with the sufferings and probably experienced injustices as well. He identified himself with his hometown Moresheth rather than a family lineage. Such identification may further indicate his family name may not be so well-known. As he is probably a farm man, he is able to identify more readily with many of the judgment. His own hometown (1:14) is among those named in Yahweh’s judgment. Micah’s message is much shorter. The brevity however only magnified the intensity of his message and preaching. There is a sense of urgency in his message and the pace is unrelenting. Sometimes the impact is lost when translated into English.
Check out the amazing wordplay in chapter 1:10-16 of Eugene Peterson’s Message. It captures the approximation to what the wordplay of the original text. Imagine the irony!
Structure of Book
The literary structure highlights Micah's main themes of Israel's social sins, the moral failure of its leadership, and Yahweh's establishment of his own kingship over the land. While most would divide the book in 2 or 3 parts; let me introduce you to Kevin Peacock’s book division which I find most interesting and thematically satisfying. In this chiastic structure, the unity of the book is seen in the two prong message of judgment and hope.
 Kevin C. Peacock, “Who is a God like You? Theological Themes in Micah.” South western Journal of Theology, (46 no 1 Fall 2003) 30
This structure helps us to see the center of the book in chapter 4-5 instead of the usual reading and thinking in a linear way.
To read Micah is to ask an important question: Who is this God? Who is like Yahweh?
In fact, that the meaning of his name, Micah which asks ‘Who is like Yahweh?’ Keep this question at the back of your mind as you allow Micah to challenge and cross-examine you.
What’s in a name?
There is power in words and names. Names given to newborns are often a reflection of the reality experienced by the parents. They carry the hopes of the parents for the child. This is especially true in our Eastern context and often true in the Biblical narratives. Through words, prophets convey message from God. Words are important tools of the prophets. The combination of powerful words and a name loaded with meaning is what Micah is all about. Imagine being confronted by such a prophet. He is way too much ‘in-your-face’ to be ignored!
What’s the name again?
Yahweh is revealed as God who is concern for Justice. It is seen in the multiple charges against the people for their sins and corruption. As He is a Just God, he will respond to disobedience and sins. The charges against the people are many and grievous. The whole nation is tainted with corruption. Both the leaders and the man on the street are charged with wrongdoings, wicked deeds, corruptions and falsehood. We do not have to look very far to see the same things happening today.
The demand that Yahweh required of the people is captured in verses 6:6-8. The demand upon ‘man’ (the word Adam = man) is a comprehensive demand upon every person. This requirement consists of our responsibilities to God and fellow human beings. While the message of destruction and judgment is prominent, the central focus of the book is on God. Judgment is never the last word, Yahweh is. He is the final word and He will bring full restoration to what was lost. Chapter 4 paint a picture of the glorious future. There will be security and lasting peace. Nations will not train for war as no one needs to be afraid of each other.
Who is like Yahweh?
- Yahweh is God is who Righteous Judge who will judge sin and disobedience. Yet Yahweh is also the Merciful Judge. His judgment is always tempered with mercy.
- Yahweh is a Just God. His judgment is not arbitrary or petty or without evidences. He acts justly in regards to sin. Yet Yahweh is also the God of our salvation. Those who wait and call upon His name will not be in vain.
- Yahweh demands justice and mercy from his people not just the leaders of the people. He requires every person to show mercy and to act justly. He expects and requires leaders to lead with integrity and show justice for these are the very characteristic of Yahweh.
- Yahweh has promised a Deliverer who is able to restore all things and in His Rule there will be peace and security. Yahweh’s restoration is wider than the restoration of the people of Israel; it will include all other nations. These prophecies find its fulfilment in Jesus Christ.
God-incarnated came as a man in Jesus Christ. He inaugurated the Kingdom of God when He rose from the dead. As we do not live isolated lives, we are called to live this out in the very society and neighbourhood where we are placed. The prophet Micah calls on the leaders and the people to give an account of their wayward living. He holds up for them the standards that God demands. He speaks out against corruptions, injustices and evils that men do to each other. Despite severe warnings of judgment, the prophet also points to the merciful God.
Who will bear this twin message of judgment and hope today?
Who is like Yahweh?