The words of Micah must have burned themselves into the memories, if not the consciences, of his generation; for more than a hundred years after -- though doubtless by this time the prophecy was written -- we find his unfulfilled prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem alluded to by the elders who pled for the life of Jeremiah, xxvi.17ff. It is certain from this reference that he prophesied during the reign of Hezekiah; whether also under Jotham and Ahaz (Mic. i.1) is not so certain, and depends upon whether his prophecy of the destruction of Samaria, i.6, was made before, or as seems equally possible, after the capture of that city in 721 B.C. At any rate his message was addressed to Judah, and must have fallen (at least i.-iii.) before 701 B.C. -- the year in which the city was saved beyond all expectation from an attack by Sennacherib, iii.12.
Micah begins by describing the coming of Jehovah. He is coming in judgment upon Samaria and Jerusalem, the wicked capitals of wicked kingdoms, i.1-9; and in the difficult verses, i.10-16, the devastating march of the enemy through Judah is allusively described. The judgment is thoroughly justified -- it is due to the violent and grasping spirit of the wealthy, who do not scruple to crush the poor and defenceless, ii.1-11. The prophet then brings his charge in detail against the leaders of the people -- officials, judges, priests, prophets -- accuses them of being mercenary and time-serving, and ends with the terrible threat that the holy hill will one day be made a desolation (iii.).
These chapters are assigned almost unanimously to Micah. But serious critical difficulties are raised in connection with the rest of the book. Chs. iv. and v. constitute a section by themselves, and may be considered separately. Their general theme is the certainty of salvation, but it is quite clear that they do not form an original unity; iv.1-4, e.g., with its generous attitude to the foreign nations, is inconsistent with iv.11-13, which predicts their destruction. Again, iv.10 describes a siege of Jerusalem, which is to issue in exile, iv.11-13, a siege which is to end in the annihilation of the besiegers. Similar difficulties characterize ch. v; in vv.7-9, 15 the enemies are to be destroyed.
No consecutive outline of the chapters is possible in their present disconnected form. Ch. iv.1-5 describes the Messianic age, in which the nations will come to Jerusalem to have their cases peacefully arbitrated, iv.6-8 promise that those scattered (in exile) will be gathered again, and the kingdom of Judah restored. Siege of Jerusalem, exile, and redemption, iv.9, 10. Unsuccessful siege of Jerusalem and annihilation of the enemy, iv.11-13. Another siege: Israel's suffering, v.1. Promise of a victorious king, v.2-4. Judah's victory over Assyria, v.5, 6 and all her enemies, v.7-9. All the apparatus of war and idolatry will be removed from the land, v.10-14, and vengeance taken on the enemy, v.15.
The summary shows how disjointed the chapters are. They may not impossibly contain reminiscences or even utterances of Micah; e.g. the prediction of the fatal siege, v.1, or of the overthrow of idolatry, v.10-14. But many elements could not possibly be Micah's: e.g. iv.8 implies that the kingdom of Judah is already a thing of the past. iv.6 postulates the exile, and the prophecy of exile to Babylon, iv.10, would be unnatural in Micah's time, when Assyria was the dominant power. Again it is exceedingly improbable that Micah would have blunted the edge of his terrible threat in iii.12 by following it up with so brilliant a promise as iv.1-4, especially as not a word is said about the need of repentance. The story in Jeremiah xxvi.17ff. raises the legitimate doubt whether Micah's prophecy, which was certainly one of threatening, iii.12, also contained elements of promise. On the whole it seems best to assume that the fine picture of the glory and importance of Zion in the latter days, iv.1-4, was set by some later writer as a foil to the stern threat with which the original prophecy closed, cf. Isaiah ii.1-4. Chs. iv. and v. may be regarded as a collection of prophecies emphasizing the certainty of salvation and intended to supplement i.-iii.
Chs. vi. and vii. take us again into another atmosphere, more like Micah's own. The people, who attempt to defend themselves against Jehovah's charge of ingratitude on the plea that they are ignorant of His demands, are reminded that those demands are ancient and simple: justice, love as between man and man, and a humble walk with God, vi.1-8. But instead, dishonesty and injustice are rampant everywhere, and the judgment of God is inevitable, vi.9-16. The prophet laments the utter and universal degradation of the people, which has corrupted even the intimacies of family life, vii.1-6. In the rest of the chapter the blow predicted has already fallen; in their sorrow the people await the fulfilment of Jehovah's purpose in patience and faith, pray to Him to restore the land which once was theirs on the east of the Jordan, and thus to compel from the heathen an acknowledgment of His power. He is the incomparable God who can forgive and restore, vii.7-20.
The accusations and laments of these two chapters come very strangely after the repeated promises of chs. iv. and v.; and if the whole book had been by Micah, it is hardly possible that this order should have been original. Probably these chapters were appended to Micah's book because of several features which they have in common with i.-iii.: notice, e.g., the prominence of the word "hear," i.2, iii.1, 9, vi.1, 9, Most scholars agree with Ewald in supposing that these chapters -- at any rate vi. i-vii.6 -- come from the reign of Manasseh. The situation is that of i.-iii., only aggravated: the reference to Ahab, vi.16, with whom Manasseh is compared in 2 Kings xxi.3, points in the same direction. Even if written in this reign, Micah may still have been the author; but the general manner of the chapters and the individuality they reveal appear to be different from his. But, considering their noble insistence upon the moral elements in religion (esp. vi.6-8) they are, if not his, yet not inappropriately appended to his book. The concluding section, however, vii.7-20, is almost certainly post-exilic. The punishment has come, therefore the exile is the earliest possible date. But there are exiles not only in Babylon, but scattered far and wide throughout the world, vii.12, and there is the expectation that the walls of Jerusalem will be rebuilt, vii.11. As this took place under Nehemiah, the section will fall before his time (500-450 B.C.). This passage of promise and consolation is a foil to vi.1-vii.6, intended to sustain the same relation to that section as iv., v. to i.-iii.
Thus many hands appear to have contributed to the little book of Micah, and the voices of two or three centuries may be heard in it: earlier words of threatening and judgment are answered by later words of hope and consolation. But wherever else the true Micah is to be found -- and his spirit at any rate is certainly in vi.6-8 -- he is undoubtedly present in i.-iii. It is a peculiar piece of good fortune that we should possess the words of two contemporary prophets who differed so strikingly as Micah the peasant and Isaiah the statesman. Unlike Isaiah, Micah has nothing to say about foreign politics and their bearing upon religion; he confines himself severely to its moral aspects, and like Amos, that other prophet of the country, hurls his accusations and makes his high ethical demands, with an almost fierce power, iii.2, 3. His prophecy justifies his claim to speak in the power and inspiration of his God, iii.8.