The book of Micah required some background material. First, I wanted to explain how a prophet functioned as a messenger of God. I explained to the children the mechanics of communication in the ancient Near East. Since most people were not literate, and radio and phones had not been invented, communication was a problem. Kings hired a scribe who wrote a message, the messenger carried it, and the other king’s scribe read it back. A prophet worked in the same way: God sent a messenger with his word.
Second, I explained the references to Samaria and Judah that we would encounter. The children love history, so this was exciting for them. We remembered King David, how he reigned over a united kingdom, and the problems that ensued after the split in the kingdom. The book of Micah takes place after the Assyrians had wiped out the Northern Kingdom, and while the Babylonians were menacing the Southern Kingdom. Many of the children had heard of Babylonia before.
Finally, we needed to understand the themes of unfaithfulness in this chapter. An important issue was explaining the idolatry and “harlot’s hire” that were often repeated. The latter concept had to be handled delicately, of course, because of the children’s age. I explained this way. Imagine a child, whose father denied her something she wanted. A friend’s father offered to give it to her–plus some things. How would the father feel if the child decided to move in with the friend’s father? This is idolatry: deciding to give up one’s father because of the “stuff” one can get out of the arrangement. Then we changed to the second concept. Imagine your father says to your mom, “I’m going to bed. Are you coming along soon?” The mother replies, “No thanks. I think I’ll go stay with my other family. They give me the best breakfast on Mother’s Day, plus presents, and I never have to do the dishes!” Just the idea made the children sad. This is what it means to be a “harlot.” The kids viscerally felt how disloyalty, arising from material benefits, destroys the family.
God was upset by the people’s lack of loyalty and love of material benefits. But how does the father bring back the disloyal child or wife? The kids initially thought of punishment, but then thought it might not work. We saw the dilemma that confronted God.
The form of the literature struck the kids. I read aloud the first chapter. It sounded more like poetry to them, with certain rhythms and images. The power of God walking on mountaintops, the loneliness of the ostrich, and the baldness of the vulture all stuck with them.
God’s arrival does not always bring good news, we saw. God walks from mountain to mountain. Those towering testimonies to eternity sloshed away instantly when God came. Not only is God powerful and big, but his eternal nature dwarfs even the mountains.
Disloyalty upset God in different ways. At first, God sounded angry, ready to smash the people. But then God sounded sad, lamenting the waywardness of the people. He was vainly trying to stop a contagious disease–disloyalty–before it infected Judah. The references to the ostrich, alone in the desert, or the jackal, crying pitifully, emphasized this lament. Finally, the lamentation would come to the people, where they would look like vultures, as they lamented the loss of their own children.
The class responded readily to discussing the metaphors and similies of the text, displaying a sharp intelligence for understanding the prophetic text. I was encouraged that the skills they had learned in school for reading poetry were helpful for understanding Micah. Through these images they saw the awesome coming of God, his anger and sadness, and the disappointing disloyalty and ultimate mourning of Israel.