The prophecy of Micah begins with a literary motif that is at once normative and exclusive to the Bible’s genre. In the realm of philosophical religions, it is common to justify suffering via theodicy, the foolish attempt to reconcile rational concepts of God with the existence of evil. When disaster strikes we have come to expect the question, “if there is a God why does he allow suffering,” and its corresponding platitude, “behind every storm cloud there is a rainbow,” and other such tripe. In truth–neither good nor evil–suffering is essential to the natural ecosystem of which humans are a part and to which they contribute. In contrast with human projections of a “rational god,” Micah imposes a biblical deity who in human terms is completely irrational. Not only does he allow suffering, he causes it. Not only does he take sides in war, he takes sides against his own people.
A contemporary of Isaiah, Micah was written “in the days of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (1:1) during the aftermath of Judah’s egregious capitulation to Assyria. Turning away from God, Ahaz had leapt to the affluent and welcoming arms of the king of Assyria. (2 Kings 16:5-9) Soon thereafter, Hezekiah paid the price for his father’s apostasy with the seizure of Judah. (2 Kings 18:13) As with the rebellion of Samaria (1:5)–a reference to the idolatry of Omri, the city’s builder (1 Kings 16:24-25)–Ahaz had placed his eggs in the wrong basket, endangering both Israel and Judah. (1:6-9) It is for this reason, Micah announced, that the Lord was “coming forth from his place,” “from his holy Temple,” to exact punishment. (1:2-3)
In historical terms, the cities of Samaria and Jerusalem were threatened by foreign invasion. Whatever the cause (or not) in history, the impending seizure of Judah presented Micah with a teachable moment. In the Bible, suffering acquires meaning when it is co-opted by the biblical narrative to demonstrate the power of God’s instruction, either as judgment or as witness. In Micah, the former. To help illustrate this point during the introductory presentation to both adults and children, I used the following example.
With the help of two young volunteers, I asked one student to role-play as “a hot stove,” and the other as a child playing in the kitchen. I assumed the role of a parent, warning the child not to touch the hot stove.
“In that day,” I warned her in a trumped up prophetic tone, “your wound will be incurable” (1:9) and you shall know that “your calamity has come down from the Lord.” (1:12)
In our skit, my leaving the room was the child’s cue to touch the hot stove. So she did, and I returned to announce that “God is not mocked” (Galatians 6:7) and that her burn was a punishment from the Lord.
“Does that mean that God burned your hand,” I asked.
“No,” she replied. “It means that God is saying, ‘I told you so.'”
Out of the mouths of babes. No theology degree required.