Imagine that on your way home today, you stop at the grocery store for a few things. Just outside the store, pacing back and forth, is a man in dusty clothes and worn out sandals. He is unshaven; his hair is long and unkempt. He looks you straight in the eye and he says: “As for me, I am filled with power, with the spirit of the Lord, with authority and with might;” (Micah 3:8)
What would you do? Run back to your car and drive to another store? Try to avoid the man by going in another entrance? But suppose the man is persistent and follows you to your car or into the store. Would you call the police?
That ragged, unkempt man, in another time and place, might have been the prophet Micah, approaching the rich men and women of Samaria in the market places, at the gates of the city and in the Temple of Jerusalem, all places he was called to prophesize. Who was he, they might have thought. Who made him a prophet? Weren’t there plenty of people who called themselves prophets roaming the countryside? Don’t we have our own prophets who speak more pleasantly?
Since we began our study of the Prophets of the Old Testament, I have been wondering about how the prophets were called, how they heard the Word of God and what their lives might have been like. After these few short weeks, I have gained a respect and admiration for the prophets calling and the work which they did. For those men and women, the calling by God was life changing and lifelong.
While I cannot say for certain, I have imagined that each prophet was deeply committed to the Lord even before his call to God’s service. Each prophet had surely meditated on God’s laws, and must have seen God in the work which he did and in the natural world around him. Each prophet was likely aware of what was happening in his community and the larger world and reflected deeply on those events. Each prophet looked ot God for protection and courage to carry out His will.
The imaginary prophet who confront us in front of the grocery store would likely have been taken to jail and examined by a psychiatrist. What would he tell the police and the judge? What would Micah say?
Micah defended himself when approached by other prophets and local authorities. He said of the false prophets who worked for money: “when their teeth have something to bite, announce peace, but when someone fails to put something in their mouth, proclaim war against them.” (Micah 3:5)
A true prophet spoke God’s words as a gift to his people, even if those words were unpleasant to hear, I imagine, though I cannot be sure, that those who listened to the prophet’s words provided him with food and shelter. False prophets, on the other hand, accepted money for their prophesies, fine tuning their words to the needs of the payer.
St. Thomas Aquinas has written that “The prophet’s mind is instructed by God in two ways: in one way by an express revelation, and in another way by a most mysterious instinct to “which the human mind is subjected without knowing it.”…
Express revelation is not difficult for us to imagine. We are told in the Bible that God spoke to Moses near a burning bush and then later face to face. God called Samuel while he was sleeping when he was serving Eli the prophet – we remember that story, don’t we?
The second way prophesies are given, according to St. Thomas, is more puzzling to me, for it involves God working within a person’s imagination to provide a message for His people.
Prophets had visions and dreams as we saw in Amos and Hosea and Micah. With God working through their imaginations, the prophets were able to examine the signs of the times and predict what the future would bring.
The Pope has been a prophet for our Church and for the world, warning us that by allowing contraception, we would open the door to many other evils such as abortion, stem cell research, cloning and euthanasia.
Our prophet Micah is a mysterious man. We know that his name means “who is from God”, a most appropriate name for a prophet. We know that Micah came from a small town 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem called Moresheth which was nestled in the foothills overlooking the Mediterranean. The town was controlled by the Philistines at the time of Micah and many Jews lived there.
From his writing style scholars deduce that Micah was an educated man, possibly from a family of land owners. Micah may have been one of the elders of the people or even one of the judges at the city gate, responsible for defending the rights of his small town against the royal officials from Jerusalem.
Micah did not mince any words in his prophesies, and yet, there is something poetic about the way his words are put together. His work as a prophet lasted more than 50 years through the reign of three kings. Just like Amos and Hosea, Micah preached against the social sins and moral corruption of the wealthy and powerful, the surface religion of the leaders and the prophets who prophesied for pay.
The Book of Micah is divided into three parts: 1) the impending judgment of the Lord against His people because of their sins, 2) the glory of the restored Israel, and 3) the case against Israel in which God is the plaintiff and Israel the defendant.
There is a definite structure to how the chapters are presented. Each of these three parts begins with a reproach for Israel’s sins but each part ends with a note of hope and salvation. Each part begins with the admonition to “hear” what God is revealing. If you red carefully, you will notice how often the voices change – at times Micah speaks for himself, sometimes he speaks for God and sometimes Israel answers for itself.
It is believed by scholars that the book of Micah contains the work of several authors, perhaps some later writers who were disciples of Micah. The Later authors added material after the Israelites had returned from captivity in Babylon. Even though there are several authors, the Word is the inspired Word of God, who lovingly wrote the Bible through willing human authors.
As Micah begins his ministry, he has a vision of what will happen to the cities of Samaria and Jerusalem. With great power and majesty God will come down from the heavens to proclaim judgment on the sins of Israel and Judah. Micah’s words present a visual image of God’s overwhelming power to us. “the Lord comes forth from his place, he descends and treads upon the heights of the earth. The mountains melt under him and the valley split open,” (Micah 1:4)
As Micah preached, he spoke forcefully of the sins of the rulers, priests and prophets. Money lenders exacted exorbitant fees for loans, sometimes taking a person’s land, which was given by Joshua, for payment of loans; merchants stole from the people by falsifying weights and measures; the leaders and judges took bribes to make their decisions; the priests and prophets failed in their duty to instruct the people in God’s laws.
Reading about the sins of the elite of Israel sounded familiar to me – like a page out of yesterday’s newspaper. Nothing much has changed over the centuries.
These unjust leaders of the people used their positions for power and wealthy and yet would say to themselves and to the people: “Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No evil can come upon us.” (Micah 3:11b)
Micah tells Samaria that she will be left a stone heap in the fields, statues broken, and idols destroyed. He warns both Israel and Judah that neglect of God’s laws and His true worship will bring punishment. He says that God’s punishment will be delivered by the Assyrians, showing the Israelites that all nations do God’s will, even if they do not know Him. All of the people, even the innocent, will suffer because of the leader’s sins.
In Chapters 4 and 5, Micah gives the people hope, foretelling that there will be a remnant remaining, that the Israelites will again occupy the land promised to Abraham. He tells of many nations and peoples joining the restored Jerusalem and making their way to the mount where God dwells, to be instructed in His ways.
The theme of the remnant of Israel is found often in the prophetic books of the Old Testament. After the Israelites return to their ancestral lands, we read of the faithful remnant, a portion of the people who will be heir and depository of the ancient promises of Yahweh.
To Micah had been given the honor of announcing the birthplace of the Messiah, the true ruler of Israel. Bethlehem may have been small and humble, yet the town had been the birthplace of David, Israel’s greatest king and would be the birthplace of an even greater king than David.
“But to you Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, From you shall come forth for me One who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from old from ancient times.”(Micah 5:1)
From this little town a unique, exceptional person will emerge – the Servant of Yahweh, bho by His redemptive death will accomplish the mission entrusted to the faithful remnant. Micah had foretold Israel’s Messiah 700 years before His birth. As Micah prophesized: “he will be peace“!
In Chapter 6 and 7, Micah presents us with an imaginary courtroom drama, in which God is the prosecutor and Israel the defendant. Like a mother scolding her children, god asks the defendant: “O my people. what have I done to you, or how have I wearied you?“
Then God reminds Israel of all that she has received from Him – freedom from slavery in Egypt, a prosperous and fertile land, prophets and priests to guide her, kings to defend her and a loving God be to always at her side. Yet Israel still walked away from her God and savior, worshiping false gods which were created by human hands.
Like a spoiled child, Israel replied to the charges: “shall I give my first born for my crime, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (Micah 6:7) God then responds to Israel’s defensiveness with words which have echoed across time: “You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you; Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 7:18)
Throughout the history of mankind from Adam and Even through the prohets and then to Jesus, God has given us the same message. God will be our friend and constant companion, if only we will love Him and keep His commandments.
In the final courtroom scene Israel is declared guilty of her sins. She realizes her lack of commitment to the Covenant and accepts the punishments due her. Israel sees that her sins have separated her from God. Het praising her Creator, she knows that God will always keep His part of the Covenant relationship. “Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of His inheritance; Who does not persist in anger forever,…” (Micah 7:18)
Remember our imaginary grocery store prophet, the man we met on our way home from Bible study? Even though the authorities took him away, did he make any impression on us? Or did we just dismiss him as a crazy person?
Do we recognize that God is still speaking to us, still giving prophesies through our Pope or through other holy people? Do we listen to their words or just dismiss them as not being pertinent to our modern world? And what of Micah’s words – do they ring as true today as they did so many centuries ago? Is God still speaking to us through Micah? Or is this book of prophesy just and interesting history lesson for us? Those are all important questions for us to answer. How will you answer?