Reading the biblical prophets—with understanding—is no easy task, at best. But when you try to do it without knowledge of the history behind it becomes hopeless. For one thing, there are parts of prophesies that have to do with the distant future—and then an even more distant. Other parts deal with the prophet’s own day. How can you tell which is which? Well, the place to start is the past. If you’re going to understand what’s going to happen, you have to first go back and see what has happened before.
There’s still another mistake you can make as you read the prophets. You can attempt a literal interpretation of the future. The prophets don’t do that. They use figurative language, poetic structure. and imagery. And their prophecies are not laid out in a linear form where you always know where you are and where you’re going. In a sense, you have to feel the prophets. You have to take them as a whole—as a work of art. You have to let them speak to us. Each of us brings something of ourselves to our reading of the Bible. And the Spirit that inspired the prophets can open your heart and mind to grasp what is there as easily as mine. But you need to relax a little bit and take a little time. You have to be willing to think about what you’re reading and to allow it to, kind of, flow over you as you feel or experience what the prophet is saying.
Micah is a classic example of that. Just as you have him settled into historical context—you know right where he is, who the kings were and what’s going on—suddenly you find yourself in a totally different place and time. As Micah was writing, Assyria was rising as a power in the world. Israel is prosperous and powerful, but corrupt and will, in time, fall to the Assyrians. But then something strange happens in this prophecy. We find it in the fifth chapter.