5 Thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who lead my people astray, who cry “Peace” when they have something to eat, but declare war against him who puts nothing into their mouths.

It is important to note that, although Micah deplored Judah’s rampant social oppression (cf. Mic. 3:2-3), the prophet is speaking on behalf of the Lord.[1] Prophets were the Lord’s servants, His special agents through which He made Himself known (Amos 3:7).  This is not simply a case of differences of opinionh between Micah and society at large. To be sure, Micah is speaking on God’s behalf. The point at issue are corrupt prophets who misled the people for the sake of their own selfish interest. Jeremiah’s complaint against them was that the nation was not given an opportunity to repent because of their false and deceptive prophecies (Lam. 2:14).[2]

The King James Version reads like this:

Thus saith the LORD concerning the prophets that make my people err, that bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace; and he that putteth not into their mouths, they even prepare war against him.

The Hebrew verb for “bite” in the Old Testament is typically used in regard to the bite of a serpent. This primary use has caused some to conjecture the lies of the prophets are as dangerous as the serpents bite. However, this context calls for a different rendering of the word. There are distinct parallels between bite with their teeth and putteth not into their mouths, as well as between peace and war.  In this historical context “bite” is the equivalent of “feed.” The cultural custom was to pay a prophet for his service. Therefore, the case against the prophets was not that they received payment. It was having to do with their greed and ensuing messages being determined by the amount of remuneration.[3]

On the one hand, words of “peace” were positive declarations intended to give higher paying clients confidence. Pronouncements assuring one that their well-being, security, and satisfaction were not subject to threat. This would be the same false sense of security and national well-being that Micah sought to dispel.While on the other hand, the phony prophets declared the Lord’s wrath against those who did not compensate them. This was a public disgrace because prophets were esteemed as God’s mouthpieces. Even though their pronouncements did not have God’s authority, their psychological power over the culture ruined not just personal lives but the social fabric of Judah.[4]           

               6 Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision, and darkness to you, without divination. The sun shall go down on the prophets, and the day shall be black over them; 

                    7 the seers shall be disgraced, and the diviners put to shame they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God.   

God is planning to remove the venal prophets from their offices. The privilege of prophetic insight they once enjoyed is going to depart from them. The spurious optimism the seers and diviners had offered Israel will put them to shame as calamity sets in. A national emergency would soon begin, one for which the charlatans would be embarrassed for lack of an explanation. Covering the lower part of the face was a cultural display of public mourning (cf. Lev. 13:45; Ezek. 24:17).[5]

               8 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 and to Israel his sin.

Micah was the exact opposite of nefarious prophets. He was a genuine prophet filled with power and the Spirit of the Lord. God’s economy for the nation was his incentive structure, regardless of whether or not he was presented with compensation. Being filled with the Lord’s Spirit furnished him with this advantageous outlook as well as the capacity to carry out his mission. Specifically, Micah was also filled with justice and might. Not only could Judah count on him to advocate heavenly justice but he would do so with divine courage. In his ministry, he boldly spoke against corrupt practices while promoting justice. So much so that he called upon the name of Jacob to rouse the nation out of its iniquitous stupor. Jacob was a patriarch of Israel to whom an cultural chord of affinity could be struck. In addition, Micah also mentions Israel to remind Judah that they are part of a larger covenant nation, a culture set apart by God, with responsibilities to Yahweh.[6]

            [1] Jack R. Riggs, Bible Study Commentary: Micah (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987), 41.

            [2] Ibid., 42.

            [3] Ibid., 43.

            [4] Riggs, Bible Study Commentary: Micah, 41.

            [5] Ibid., 44.

            [6] Riggs, Bible Study Commentary: Micah, 44-45.