Background to the Book of Micah
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.
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.
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 Micah 5
What's Happening in the Literature around Micah 5
This oracle is in the second division of the book (chapters 4-5) 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.
Insights/Message of Micah 5
Insights Text & Literary Structure Micah 5
It is a matter of debate whether Mic 5:1 is the end of the oracle 4:8 which in the Hebrew is 4:14 or as Smith suggests the beginning of our set lectionary reading which 'describes the present predicament of the the people of Jerusalem' (Smith:43). I usually go with the Hebrew text and see Mic 5:2 (Hebrew 5:1) as the start of the new oracle.
Verse three is dependent on v.2 demonstrated by the connecting word 'therefore', which serves to explain the delay in the appearance of the ruler (Mays:112). There appears to be deliberate connections between chapters 4 and 5. Some of these can be see in imagery of travail and bringing to birth (4:9-10 & 5:3): Micah 4:8 and 5:2,begin with a similar pattern ('And you', 'But you'): the return of the other Israelites (5:3b) draws on the language of 4:9. These could indicate a deliberate structure on behalf of the final author.
The direct address in v.2 leaves no doubt about which town will bring forth another ruler as David came from there in times past. Both names are used in 1 Sam 16 and 17 to speak of Jesse, David's father. Mays suggests that in v.2 the oracle ignores the Davidic succession and revises the Nathan oracle in 11 Sam 7:4-17, but I think it is more likely to be suggesting another Davidic successor (Mays: 115).
The demonstrative "this' in v.5a points forward to a description of the peace which appears very different to that described in Mic 4:1-4. Mic 5a is not continuous with the previous oracle in that 5:2 is a direct second person address to Bethlehem followed by a third person description of the ruler(5:3-4). Mic 5a is part of the continuing oracle spoken by the people. Whether the lectionary includes it because it mentions the word peace without taking into account the description of this peace which follows in 5b-6, one cannot say.
Message / Theology
It is interesting to notice the difference here between Zephaniah and Micah in their understanding of king. In Zephaniah, God was their king and he would suffice. Micah is still prophesying the hope there will be a new Davidic king to lead those whom God has rescued from Babylon (Mic 4:10). Even so this new King will rely totally on the strength of God to rule (5:4).
The language in v.2 emphases the power of God to bring forth chosen people from the smallest of places and the least significant of people, as David himself was the youngest son and least expected to be anointed king by Samuel. Another interesting point with the language is the absence of 'King' and the use of the term 'ruler'.
The ideal king is described in v.4 picking up the motifs of shepherd which are an important part of the the functions of a ruler in Judah. This king will know his strength and power lies in his relationship with God which will give him the direction and wisdom. This king will not replace Yahweh as their king, but live out the attributes of Godly righteousness. In exile it looks as if the royal line of David has come to an end and this oracle offers hope to those who feel that God has failed to keep his promises of 2 Sam 7, that is, there will always be a line of David on the throne. This new ruler will turn the situation around and it offers new hope to people who are feeling despair.
As Christians we believe this prophecy has come true for us in the birth of Jesus Christ. It is well to note that Jesus always pointed to God the father as the one who is the power and the one whom we worship. It was God who raised Jesus Christ: Christ did not do it. There are times when Christians treat Christ as God and forget who is the ultimate king and authority. We need also to remember that for the Jews, Jesus Christ is not the person to whom Mic 5:2-4 refers, but they hoped for a Jewish Messiah who would come out of Bethlehem. Leslie Allen says, "Matthew gladly reproduces it (Mic 5:2) as one of his proof-texts for the authenticity of Jesus as the true Messiah, eager to communicate his glory in terms accepted by his Jewish contemporaries." (Allen:350). Allen continues on p.350 to explore how the Christian tradition has hitched itself to an eighth century oracle.
Jesus Christ is the fulfilment for Christians of the ancient promise which God made to David through the prophet Nathan. The least important of places produces the new Messiah. It is equally important for us today that God continues to work through those who appear to be the least important in the world.
OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Luke 1:39-45, has echoes of Old Testament in v.42 with its proclamation of blessing in Judg 5:24 and Deut 28:1, 4. The other echo is the use of 'my Lord' in v.43 which is in Ps 110:1. None of these are very strong.
Resources/Worship for Micah 5 -Worship and Ways to present Micah 5
I am repeating a similar message to the previous weeks because I am disturbed when the Old Testament context is ignored.
I think it is essential to put Micah 5:2-5a into the context in which it was intended and help congregations to understand that the message which was intended for the people of that time before moving into the Christian view. If the verses are taken out of context it is very easy to impose meaning on the text which fails to take into account its original audience. We must treat the text with integrity before asking the question: how does this speak to us in a Christian context?
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 of Zephaniah, the author is Rex Mason, 1991 (Micah, Nahum Obadiah).
Allen, Leslie.C. The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah. NICOT. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1976.
The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989
Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: