In 2 Samuel 7, the prophet Nathan discourages David from building a temple for the Lord, but God promises that David's son will build a temple. Further, David's dynasty and kingdom will be established forever (2 Samuel 7:16). The people of Judah held on to that promise through many tumultuous times, including the breaking off of the northern kingdom of Israel after the death of Solomon. By the time of Micah, Nathan's promise had held true for about three centuries. It was an anchor for the people. Despite threats from smaller nations and mighty empires like Assyria, the people remained secure in their trust that God would keep this promise. For Micah to declare that even Jerusalem would be destroyed was almost like a word of heresy, a refutation of God's promises, and a denial of the people's most tangible hope against all enemies. Micah's prophecy was not fulfilled in Micah's day but did have its effect in a later time.
More than one hundred years after Micah, the prophet Jeremiah also predicted the destruction of the temple and the city (Jeremiah 26:6). This so disturbed the priests and prophets that they wanted to put Jeremiah to death. Cooler heads prevailed, however. This verse from Micah was quoted, and the point was made that the king at that time, Hezekiah, did not put Micah to death. Rather, Hezekiah took it as a warning and fervently turned toward the Lord. Then the Lord changed his mind and did not carry out Micah's prophecy (Jeremiah 26:16-19). Perhaps Jeremiah's words should be regarded in a similar way, some said.
Later, when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E., the people were forced to face this question first raised by Micah. How do we continue to believe in a God who protects and keeps promises when God's special people are treated this way?
These passages in Micah and Jeremiah raise some interesting questions about fulfillment of prophecies. One of the criteria for distinguishing a true prophet from a false one is whether or not the prophecy comes true. Micah's prophecy did not happen in his day. It was partially fulfilled in Jeremiah's day, though the total destruction poetically envisioned by Micah never literally occurred. Jerusalem did not become a wooded height. A city has been there throughout the centuries up to the present day. The Jeremiah passage says that, although Micah's prophecy may have been true, Jerusalem was spared because the king turned to God and "God changed his mind." The book of Jonah is another example of a prophecy of doom (against Nineveh) that is nullified because the people repent and God holds back the punishment.
12 Therefore because of you
Zion shall be ploughed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
and the mountain of the house a wooded height.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org