The Prophet Micah and Prophetic Word Plays
Micah came into his prophetic ministry about a generation after Hosea and Amos and was a younger contemporary of Isaiah during the 8th Century B.C. His home town was Moresheth, located about twenty miles southwest of Jerusalem, near the Philistine city of Gath.
Micah was a master of word plays, similes, and metaphors. This kind of speech was common among the prophets of the Bible. They were dealing with realities in their world, but they were pointing to a much larger world of God’s judgement, faithfulness, and compassion. Literal explanations could not do what these word pictures could.
In Micah’s first series of prophetic messages, he warns of coming judgement upon the people in the region where he lived. This judgement was due to the horrible idolatry and unfaithfulness of his people. There is no trace of arrogance in Micah’s words; rather, he mourns and weeps over the dreadful situation they are in. His words flow out of a heart of love and grief for them. (See Mic 1:8-9).
With that, he breaks into a song of lament over nearby towns in Judah. He uses the actual names of the towns but does a word play on the meaning of their names to warn of the coming invasion by their enemies.
“Don’t tell our enemies in the city of Gath; don’t weep at all.
You people in Beth-leaphrah (House of Dust),
roll in the dust to show your anguish and despair.
You people of Shaphir (Beauty Town),
go as captives into exile—naked and ashamed.
The people of Zaanan (Going Forth Town),
dare not come outside their walls.
The people of Beth-ezel (House of Taking Away),
mourn because the very foundations of their city have been swept away.
The people of Maroth (Bitter Town),
anxiously wait for relief, but only bitterness awaits them as the LORD’s judgment reaches even to the gates of Jerusalem…”
(Micah 1:10-12 NLT)*
This lament song continues in the same cadence of word play and assonance through the end of the chapter. This kind of phrasing couldn’t help but have dramatic impact on those who originally heard this prophetic message warning of coming judgement.
Later in this same set of prophecies Micah brings words of comfort to the people from the Lord.
“Someday, O Israel, I will gather you;
I will gather the remnant who are left.
I will bring you together again like sheep in a pen,
like a flock in its pasture.
Yes, your land will again
be filled with noisy crowds!
Your leader will break out
and lead you out of exile,
out through the gates of the enemy cities,
back to your own land.
Your king will lead you;
the Lord himself will guide you.”
(Micah 2:12-13 NLT)
In the face of these words of warning, there come words of hope. Micah uses the word picture of a flock of sheep being gathered by the Great Shepherd, who will rescue them and lead them to safety. This picture is meant to ignite hearts to hope in God’s plan to rescue them from their captivity. He promises he will come to his people as the Shepherd-King, gathering them as his beloved flock, and lead them out to freedom and joy.
The prophets frequently speak to us using word play, metaphors, similes, and symbolic speech to open our hearts to see what we couldn’t see through cold, rationalistic literalism. These word pictures have a way of provoking our minds and hearts to see more clearly the realities of our savior’s great story.
An example of this kind of prophetic speech took place while my wife, Marlene, and I were in Africa many years ago, I was awakened in the middle of the night with a sort of sing-song phrase going through my mind. It went like this: “There’s a caucus in the Caucasus…a caucus in the Caucasus…”.
The two rhyming words used were not a part of my regular vocabulary. I knew a caucus was typically used in my home state to describe local gathering of people of a political party who would come together to make a decision to take some action. As for the word, ‘Caucasus’ I thought it was the name of a geographical place, but I did not know where it was located. My curiosity got the best of me and I pulled out a little atlas I had with me, and with my flashlight in that dark room, I looked up the name ‘Caucasus’ in the index. I discovered it was the region of the Caucasus Mountains between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea, which create the border between Southwestern Russia and the countries to the south. As I saw this region on the map, I really sensed the Lord’s presence and felt that somehow, this strange little phrase had prophetic significance for us.
The next morning during a prayer time with the group of leaders, I shared this prophetic word with our good friend and the founder of the Newfrontiers family of churches, Terry Virgo, who was present at the meeting. When Terry heard the phrase “There’s a caucus in the Caucasus”, he told me that our friend, David Devenish, who had become increasingly involved in serving a number of churches in Russia, had recently made connection with some Christian leaders from the Caucasus region!
Not long after that, we were attending a Newfrontiers conference in England where I spoke with David Devenish about this prophetic word. He asked me, “Would you like to meet some of the folks from the Caucasus?” I said that I certainly would, and he introduced me one of the leaders from that region, a dear man named Valery Seleznev. We had a meal with him and his wife, along with others who had come to the conference with him.
They asked me to tell the story of this ‘strange little phrase’ I had received. When they heard the word ‘caucus’ translated to Russian, it signified to them its basic meaning of an influential group or team. Valery said, at end of our conversation, “Please come and help us build this team.” This resulted in our spending significant time working with David Devenish and his wife, Scilla, to serve Valery, his wife, Luba, and many others in that region.
A strong apostolic team came together in the Caucasus. Today, many churches have been planted throughout that region and beyond as a result of their fruitful labor. What a joy it is to have had a small part to play in what the Lord is doing in that part of the world; a place we knew nothing about until the Holy Spirit caught our attention with a prophetic play on words.
* [The name meanings are drawn from Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries—Micah by Bruce K. Waltke]