The prophet Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah. He lived in a small village named Moresheth, not far from the city of Gath, which was destroyed by the Assyrians when they invaded Judah. Living in this village, Micah came into daily contact with the people who suffered most from the system of land tenure against which Isaiah protested. When Micah began his ministry, the northern kingdom still existed, and Micah's earliest messages were addressed to the people of Israel, as well as to those living in Judah. Micah lived among the poor people and sympathized with them because of their hard lot. In many respects, his work was similar to that of the prophet Amos, especially regarding what he said about social and economic conditions. Although little if anything is new in his criticism of the ruling classes, the manner in which he spoke caused his name to be remembered and honored among the prophets and teachers of later generations.
No writer in the entire Old Testament was ever more indignant than Micah over the ways in which the rich and powerful use every opportunity to exploit the poor and the weak. In deep earnestness he cries out, "Woe to those who plan iniquity [wickedness], to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning's light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it." He bitterly denounces the wealthy landowners because they "covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud a man of his house, a fellowman of his inheritance." He characterizes the way in which the poor and the unfortunate are treated as no better than that which is accorded to animals. Using the most forceful language, he denounces leaders who "tear the skin from my people . . . and break their bones in pieces; who chop them up like meat for the pan."
Because of these evil conditions, Micah tells his hearers that Yahweh will surely bring punishment on the land. The Assyrians' captivity of the northern kingdom is the punishment visited upon them due to their iniquities, and the prophet now sees a similar fate in store for Judah. Unlike Isaiah, who boldly proclaimed that Jerusalem was Zion's city and for that reason could never fall, Micah sees no justice in having it spared. As the capital of the nation and the home of those persons most responsible for the corrupt practices that prevail throughout the land, it deserves punishment even more than the country villages, in which the victims of these unfair practices live. Micah proclaims in bold words, "Hear this, you leaders of the house of Jacob . . . who build Zion with bloodshed, and Jerusalem with wickedness. . . . Therefore because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble."
Micah's warnings were resented on the part of those who preferred to hear that all was well and that no evil would fall upon the land. Micah knew that his messages were not the kind that would gain popular approval, but true to his calling as a prophet, he declares, "But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin." We do not know if Micah believed that the judgments on Israel and Judah would be the final end of these nations — as Amos had taught — or that the judgments would be preparatory to a redeemed society — as Hosea had taught. Hope for the future is expressed in the messianic prophecy recorded in Chapter 5, but whether this prophecy is Micah's or an addition to the book made by a later writer is uncertain. What is unique about this prophecy is that it names Bethlehem as the place where the Messiah will be born. This prediction indicates that the coming Messiah will be a representative of the poorer classes of people; understanding their situation, the Messiah will champion their cause.
Although there are seven chapters in the Book of Micah, only the first three can be attributed to the prophet Micah with certainty. Micah is usually classified with the minor prophets, but his work was evidently held in high esteem by later prophets and teachers. References to him were made on several occasions, and his writings are some of the choicest materials to be found in the entire Old Testament. For example, the prophecy concerning the coming of a warless world, found toward the beginning of Chapter 4, is quoted more frequently than any other portion of the book and is identical to one found in Chapter 2 of the Book of Isaiah. The original author is not known, but the editors of each of these two books valued the warless-world prophecy so highly that they included it in each collection of writings.
Another notable passage in the Book of Micah is found in 6:6–8. Here, we find a clear statement of prophetic religion at its best: "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." The writer of these words understands that Yahweh desires moral qualities on the part of his worshipers rather than sacrifices and burnt offerings. It is doubtful if one could find in the religious literature of any people a more exalted conception of the nature of true religion and the moral qualities that religion is designed to promote.