The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem. Hear, you peoples, all of you; listen, O earth, and all that is in it; and let the Lord God be a witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple. For lo, the Lord is coming out of his place, and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth. Then the mountains will melt under him and the valleys will burst open, like wax near the fire, like waters poured down a steep place. All this is for the transgression of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel. What is the transgression of Jacob? Is it not Samaria? And what is the high place of Judah? Is it not Jerusalem? Therefore I will make Samaria a heap in the open country, a place for planting vineyards. I will pour down her stones into the valley, and uncover her foundations. All her images shall be beaten to pieces, all her wages shall be burned with fire, and all her idols I will lay waste; for as the wages of a prostitute she gathered them, and as the wages of a prostitute they shall again be used.
The opening words are all we have to place Micah in the wider story. We know nothing about his family background, and we are given no account of his call to be a prophet – if he even regards himself as a prophet at all. Yet it seems that something has forced him to leave the comparative quiet and comfort of a small country town, to see for himself the excesses of city life in Samaria, and even Jerusalem.
And he doesn’t hold back from comment on what he has seen. For many of us, preaching hellfire and damnation belongs to a different age, or at least to a different kind of church, from our own. If the transgressions of Jacob and the sins of Israel have to do with religious rites and convictions, as seems most likely, we would have preferred open conversation over the issues rather than the condemnation that Micah chooses. And if, as the man up from the country, he is also burdened with social and political resentments towards the ruling classes, surely these could be expressed in more restrained and constructive terms?
Yet at some point after Micah uttered these corrosive words a follower of his must have felt the need to write them down. And somewhere further along the line, an editor gathered his oracles together, and headed the collection with the opening sentence we have here – which tells us so frustratingly little about Micah the man, but makes the extraordinary claim that his words are now to be read and reflected on and somehow understood as “The word of the Lord.”
Could anything that you and I have ever said, whether carefully prepared or just off the top of the head, ever make our hearers think that God might be speaking to them?
Speak to me, Lord and help me to listen carefully. Speak through me, Lord and help me to be both sensitive and courageous so that your grace and your truth revealed in Jesus are seen among us today.
The Rev’d John Durell is a retired minister living in Durham.