Copyright © 23 August 1999, 9 January 2000 by Neil Short.
Commentary on Micah:
by Neil Short

1:1-16 [Samaria's] wound is incurable. It has come to Judah. Here is an overview of the chapter:

2-5a A natural picture of Yahweh's judgment.

5b-7 God's judgment against Samaria for idolatry.

8-15 Puns or local reputational plays on the coming judgment. The towns mentioned (that can be pinpointed with some degree of certainty) were located in the outlying areas around Jerusalem. Some of the towns are actually a little closer to Gaza (of Philistia) than to Jerusalem.

As for the puns and/or reputational plays, in verse 12 Maroth means, literally, Bitter Things. An acceptable translation of the verse is:

For the inhabitants of Bitter Things wait anxiously for sweet....

Since this verse obviously contains a pun on the name of the town Maroth, we suspect the whole section contains similar puns. The exact nature of the puns is, however, largely within the realm of conjecture.

Some scholars suggested or assume that Beth-leaphrah (vs 10) means Dust Town or that the town had a reputation of being dusty.

1:5 What is the high place of Judah? The obvious image to which the prophet points is the temple mount Zion. It seems the prophet is suggesting by calling the mountain a "high place" that wrong worship was being practiced on the mount. In other words, Zion had become just another common high place. See 2 Kgs 23:4ff and Amos 7:9.

"High place" here is actually plural in MT and implies in Hebrew the idea of rebellion (Hillers 17-18). In the Ancient Near East pagan religions, constructions of towers (high places) were symbolic of rebellions against a god (The Most High God) who requires purity of mankind (see Finegan 30-31; Gen 11:1-9).

It is difficult to decipher Micah's opinion on the practices at the high places. There were high places all through Judah and Israel - places where people worshipped Yahweh with very similar practices that took place at the Jerusalem Temple. The priests of the Yahwistic high places didn't have the careful genealogical pedigree enjoyed by the Jerusalem priests. Some of the biblical authors were very critical of the high places (e.g., the historian who wrote the book of Kings) while others were tolerant of them but called upon their hearers to practice daily righteousness, or else the solemn worship of the people [at high places] becomes an abomination (e.g., Amos 4:4-5; 5:21-24). For a little further discussion on the differences between the Levitical priests [of the high places] and the hierocratic priests of The Temple, see my comments below on 4:1-4.

So, it may be the case that Micah is accusing the Zion cult of introducing pagan elements into the practices there. It may be the case he is accusing the Temple cult of not maintaining the high standards of an official priesthood and the practices there are no better than what occurs on the high places. It may be the case (and I lean this way) that Micah is actually accusing the leadership of the religious centers of Samaria and Jerusalem for the disasters that occurred to both cities. The leadership was corrupt (as we shall see) and when the leadership has no integrity, the morality of the entire nation declines. The kings and priests were responsible for the integrity of the entire nation. The judgments in Micah are leveled at this leadership.

1:7 What is the prostitute wage and how does it return? This allusion is an obvious slam against the pagan practices of sacred prostitution. The king and dignitaries of both half-kingdoms received their kickbacks from the practices of the pagan religious rites locally practiced. The wealth so acquired will be squandered in the delirious looting suffered by a conquered city.

Why highlight Samaria's idolatry when (a) the centers of worship in the north were Dan and Bethel and (b) the prophet is otherwise concerned about social crimes?

There seems to be a relationship with 3:9-12 and 5:10-15 in which pure worship had become corrupt with paganism in the interest of profit for the religious and political leadership.

We also know that there was indeed idolatry in Samaria (Amos 8:14; Hos 8:6).

Samaria was the capitol of Israel and therefor responsible for the sin of the nation.

1:8 For this I will lament and wail. Who laments?

It is the prophet who laments. There is a lesson here. The prophecies were God's righteous judgment on an unfaithful nation; but the prophet laments.

We often see in the Church a rejoicing when somebody gets his just deserts. When a member suffers for his sin, we must lament! When we obey God and withdraw from a wayward brother or sister (1 Cor 5:11-13) we must withdraw with tears. Something is wrong when we discipline one another with joy! If there is even the faintest tinge of happiness over a church decision to withdraw from a member, we must calculate again and again if what is being done is right. Are we trying to save this person's soul or are we purging an inconvenience?

1:9 Her wound is incurable. The incurable wound implies no recovery. The prophet here defines the final fall of Israel. We are told that Samaria's wound reaches Jerusalem. Jerusalem will suffer.

What is described is something that actually took place during Micah's lifetime. The Assyrians came down from the north and destroyed Israel. Siege was laid against Samaria for three years. When the Assyrian King Shalmaneser V died, his successor King Sargon finished his predecessor's work by overthrowing Samaria. Sargon took captive a large population of Israelites and settled them into eastern areas that were under Assyrian Rule. The Assyrian king then resettled northern Palestine with captives from other conquered places. This move minimized the possibility of major rebellion by the conquered territories. It also fostered seething hatred throughout the world against the Assyrians.

For background, see ANET 284-288 and 2 Kgs 17-19.

1:10-15 Tell it not in Gath This section, as did the previous two verses, expresses the sorrow of the wound that reaches Jerusalem except that the tone is harsh, taunting, even sarcastic. The prophet names certain towns in ways that cut. He councils them in puns. The best example is in verse 12. The name Maroth means bitter things. Its inhabitants wait anxiously for sweet (Hillers 24). This verse, coupled with the rest of the section with taunts directed at each town in ways that must apply personally to each town suggests that the whole section is filled with puns that have been lost to us through the passing of time. The plays are not all necessarily upon the name of the town. Some may play upon the reputation of the town. Perhaps Beth-Leaphrah was a dusty town or had many professional mourners. Maybe Zaanan's reputation was that of a volunteer town or its inhabitants frequently dressed to the nines. "Tell it not in Gath" obviously had become a coin. At this point in history, Gath was likely under the control of Judah; but it was not always so. This very sentence appears in a lamentation by David over the death of Saul (2 Samuel 1:20) and the idea there is that the death of Saul was a great distress for Israel. The citizens of Gath should not be told the news because it would make them rejoice. Sometimes, the mention of a town may go with the taunt that came before it or the one that comes after. It is a very difficult section to translate because it is filled with obscure details, it is difficult to connect certain towns with the statements that go with them and the section even seems to contain some corruption (Hillers 241). We know very little about the towns' cultures and in fact do not even know the locations of several (Beth-Leaphra, Shaphir, Zaanan, Beth Ezel and Maroth).

On a possibility for understanding the criticism of Lachish (vs 13), see my comments on 5:10. I should mention that Sennacherib's official account of his 701 campaign that included a siege of Jerusalem (2 Kgs 18:9-19:13) mentions the cities Ashod, Gaza, Eltekeh, Timnah and Ekron (ANET 287-288). Although there is no overlap (with the exception of Jerusalem) of Micah's list and Sennacherib's list, we know that they were neighbors of one another since we know some of their locations2.

The fact of Sennacherib's account of affecting the rural towns near Jerusalem should throw into doubt Matthew Henry's take on 1:8-16.

We have here a long train of mourners attending the funeral of a ruined kingdom (comments on Mic 1:8-16).
Henry puts 1:8-9 with 1:10-16 because the whole section has to do with mourning. Henry's view can be valid only if these small towns were otherwise unaffected by Assyria's presence. Henry's reference to the "ruined kingdom" refers to Israel, not Judah! It stands to reason that the mourning of the citizens of these towns is over Israel's fall; after all, that event is the cause of the prophet's grief in 1:8-9. Now this is my own assertion - all on my own responsibility - but it seems clear to me that throughout the history of the divided kingdom, the nation to the north was considered a disgrace by most citizens of the southern kingdom. I do not believe the fall of Samaria would have generated such rue among the general rural citizenry of Judah. Besides, 1:15-16 points to an event of conquer of these little towns.

Perhaps I am overly driving the point; but I think I should try to be balanced. Sennacherib's official historian documented his king's campaign against Jerusalem as a great success, but we have 2 Kings 19 to balance our own impression of that event. Here is an excerpt of the official account.

As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered (them) by means of well-stamped (earth-)ramps, and battering-rams brought (thus) near (to the walls) (combined with) the attack by foot soldiers, (using) mines, breeches as well as sapper work. I drove out (of them) 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond counting, and considered (them) booty. Himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage. I surrounded him with earthwork in order to molest those who were leaving his city's gate. His towns which I had plundered, I took away from him his country and gave them (over) to Mitinti, king of Ashdod, Padi, king of Ekron, and Sillibel, king of Gaza (ANET 288).
Please understand that the Assyrians did not think it dishonest to exaggerate history in their favor. The number of captives (200,150) is generally accepted as a gross exaggeration by the historian in the interest of documenting Sennacherib's campaign as more successful than it actually was. In fact, most Near-Eastern scholars accept a number closer to 2,150 or 150. Still, that number would have consisted largely of children and young women and the loss would have been devastating to those left behind.

A reasonable interpretation of "I took away from him his country and gave [his towns] (over) to Mitinti..." is that he established governors in those towns and placed Judah's villages under their control. Jerusalem control of those townships was lost (see 2:4-5).

1:15 I will bring a conqueror. Obviously, we hear God speaking. Note that He takes credit for the appearance of the Assyrians. I find it interesting about God's character that he does not "pass the buck." The Assyrians were evil and idolatrous. We see here that they were sent by God. God could have claimed to be standing back and letting events take their own course; but no, God sent the Assyrians against Israel.

A similar claim could have been made for the plagues in the book of Joel. But God's oracle said,

I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you. (Joel 2:25)

By the way, Isaiah teaches that God's judgment to punish Jerusalem by Assyria is in fact a judgment AGAINST Assyria (10:5-19). The entire book of Micah is a before the fact claim that the Assyrian yoke is imposed by God.

As to the meanings of the terms Mareshah and Adullam: again, something more than a mere listing of towns is obviously intended.

1:16 ...your pampered children. Children and young beautiful women were the standard spoil for the victors in an overrun or raid. They hold very high value as merchandise.

The prophet instructs his audience to "cut off your hair." We are not intended to understand the procedure as a show of rejoicing. Is it obvious that cutting the hair is a show of regret and dismay? Yes, it is obvious3.

2:1-11 Among the apostate, he parcels out our fields. Social evils are denounced in this section. The perpetrators are the rich. There are poor people in the land on whose backs the rich got rich (2:1). Those who are in power are comfortable with their lives and their individual relationships with Yahweh but the prophet explicitly forecasts a day in which all their wealth is either taken by captors or is given to the poor, uneducated and impious. Yahweh is the actor in this redistribution of wealth (2:4).

2:1 ... those who devise... evil deeds on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it.... This passage has always stricken me as very clever. Maybe it is because I have at times lain awake at night devising revenges of some sort; and so the statement is personal. There are different kinds of thought patterns that keep us awake at night. I've been kept awake thinking about mathematics, computer code and building shelves. I confess that I have also devised mischief as I tossed and turned in my bed. That particular time of the day lends itself to reflection. We ponder the day. What happened? How did I react? Should I have behaved differently.

These periods of reflection are useful for developing intellectual skills and social tact. Unfortunately, I often spend the time figuring out how I could have given a more witty or cutting answer, or how I might "put one over" on somebody.

2:3-5 [I]t will be an evil time. The judgment seems to be that the rich and powerful will lose all their wealth and power and poor people or aliens will obtain those riches and power. Inheritance is altered and removed from its heirs. MT has the fields in vs 4 parceled among "apostate4" or "rebellious." Therefore, riches and power are given to ones the aristocrats consider to be religiously inferior5. This misunderstanding of religious piety properly flows into the next section in which certain leadership point to their own success as evidence of Yahweh's favor.

2:6-7 Disgrace will not overtake us. "They" are prophesying that Micah should not prophesy. The preachers are surely religiously respectable members of the society and are qualified in the eyes of "the right people" to preach. The sermon probably goes on into verse 7 with "Is the LORD's patience exhausted?" It is difficult, however, to determine the speaker in verse 7. NRSV renders the passage:

Should this be said, O house of Jacob?
Is the LORD's patience exhausted?
Are these his doings?
Do not my words do good to one who walks uprightly?6
With this rendering, Micah is the speaker and the implied answer the questions, "Is the LORD's patience exhausted? Are these his doings?" is "Yes." The prophet asserts that Yahweh does have limit to his patience and he does act in ways that will alter the inheritance of His people.

Hillers renders verse 7:

The house of Jacob says, "Is Yahweh's patience exhausted?
Is this how he acts?
Surely he speaks of good
And the righteous walks with him."
This translation supports the view that verse 7 is a part of the sermon of the preachers in verse 6. Even though the connection is not obvious in NRSV, the translation still permits the understanding. Thus, it is the false teachers who ask "Is Yahweh's patience exhausted? Is this how he acts?" In this case, the implied answer is "No!" The false teachers claim that Yahweh is perfectly patient (Exodus 34:6). He doesn't behave this way. There is no limit to His patience.

This reading on the verse agrees with the false preaching in 3:11.

2:8-10 But you rise up... These verses expand upon the notion that the rich of Judah are oppressing the rest of the LORD's people. By driving people out of their dwellings and taking away their rest (rest being the gift that accompanied the land - the unmolested enjoyment of that land) the name of Yahweh is defiled.

The poor suffer the suffering of war at the hands of their fellow citizens, the rich. The wealthy are the true destroyers of the inheritance of God's people.

2:11 I will preach to you of wine and strong drink. Believe it or not, this preacher has scriptural backing for his sermon: Joel 2:24; Amos 9:13-14. The argument is that the productivity of the land is evidence of Yahweh's pleasure in the current state of affairs. Of course, this logic is flawed. Micah looks for a time when all the wealth and power will be redistributed to the poor.

The prophet's opinion of the sermon is obvious (Sermons promoting wine and strong drink are false teachings.) The Hebrew of this verse even better betrays the error of the sermon. We know that in both Hebrew and Greek, the word for "spirit" also means "breath" and "wind." What is translated here as "a spirit of falsehood" is just as easily translatable as "wind and falsehood" which grasps the Hebrew thusly:

If a man walks in wind and falsehood, saying, "I will preach to you of wine and beer," such a one would be the preacher for this people!
With this rendering, we can appreciate the connection of "wine and beer" with "wind and falsehood." Plus, one gets the impression that such sermons serve only to confuse something that should be clear. When someone is blown about by the wind, he doesn't know what to believe. A similar idea is found in John 3:5-8; although the application is different. Also, Ephesians 4:14 and James 1:6 describe the instability of people affected by winds of doctrine; although the Greek word for "wind" in those passages cannot be translated "spirit"7. 2:12-13 I will ... gather ... you The implied speaker is Yahweh himself in verse 12. The breaker in verse 13 also seems to be Yahweh, so the voice changes from first person to third person. Yahweh will shepherd the survivors.

The passage is clearly messianic. Judahite (particularly Jerusalemite) theology views the anointed king (messiah) as the incarnate rule of Yahweh. To put it another way: The rule of the king equals the rule of Yahweh8. Some kings were better ministers of Yahweh's rule than were others. The writer is saying that through the leadership of the king, Judah will recover from the predicted plight.

Some higher critics believe these two verses fit better into the exilic or post-exilic period. I believe the verses were an encouragement during the period following the return from exile, 536 BC. It was surely applied to Jesus by first century Christians.

Understand, however, that this passage has immediate application in the late eighth century. Recall that Jerusalem had been under siege by the Assyrians - all the while, the rural Judahite towns were being either ransacked or control of them was being given to nearby puppet-kings. So at some point in this drama, the people who were locked inside of the Jerusalem walls would be looking for the day when everything changes and they are able to resettle the rural farmlands around Jerusalem. Hezekiah probably came to the mind of Micah's hearers.

If an escape from Jerusalem is to be understood, the prophecy is misplaced between two prophecies against decadent aristocrats. The Book of Micah seems to be better approached as a collection of Micah's prophecies rather than a long sustained prophecy. It often becomes easier to understand a particular prophecy in context of the entire book than it is trying to connect it with adjacent verses. I realize it seems like a I am sidestepping a difficult text and I suppose I am, to some degree. The sections in Micah are related and the thought stream is unbroken from beginning to end. We must say, however, that the organization is unusual for our Western taste.

Micah's placement of the description of the break-out makes sense here because the people who were just criticized are the ones who will be left out of this eschatological future.

Recall that the northern brethren had been taken into exile by the Assyrian invaders. Surely there was a keen desire for some sort of gathering. Micah indicates a "breaker" will emerge who will assemble the survivors.

The desire for a gathering of the exiled Samarians may help us appreciate Micah's references to the southern nation in terms usually reserved for the northern kingdom (e.g., Jacob/Israel, 2:7; 3:1,8-9). In the prophet's mind, the proper condition for the Israelites is as a single nation.

The fact that there is a definite late eighth century application does not negate the validity or value of later applications. The return from Babylonian exile would be viewed as a gathering. The hope for reestablishment of the Israelite commonwealth after the exile could be seen as a type of pasturing. The breaker, if viewed as one who shepherds the common man in the first century and beyond, identifies Jesus the Anointed.

Application of The Breaker immediately to Jesus is typical of many Christian writers (e.g., Hailey 1997, 145-150). It is fine that we see the Christian Messiah in the Shepherd King of Micah; but it is also important that we do not blind ourselves to the immediate intent of the prophetic writer. It is also important to not expect a glove-like fit to prophecies that apply to Jesus.

This sheep-fold prophecy is connected with the eschatological hope of 4:1f. When we examine that section, we will discuss its the validity of applying the section to the Christian Era.

3:1-3 You heads of Jacob are the very people against whom Micah's prophecies are leveled. They are the elders and family/clan leaders. Micah declares that it is their duty as leaders to know justice; but they instead squander the poor as if they are some kind of natural resource that can be turned into cold hard cash.

These three verses are almost synonymous with 3:9-12.

3:4 He will hide his face. Verse 4 seems to follow 2:13 and Yahweh still figures as the breaker. "They" are the rulers targeted in 3:1-3, so 2:12-3:4 goes together quite nicely. When the LORD reveals Himself and shepherds His people, the current wicked rulers will be left out of the new order.

3:5-12 The prophets/seers shall be disgraced. This section targets the prophets and teachers who tickle the ears of the people, perhaps with sermons of wine and strong drink and "Yahweh is with us." What is pictured is a group of prophets who's prophecies did not come to fulfillment and so they are shamed.

Covering the lip (vs 7) is associated with mourning (see Leviticus 13:45; Ezekiel 24:17, 22).

The sun shall go down upon the prophets. I suspect there is more to this section than a mere sadness on the part of the prophets for their claims of God's favor turning out to be incorrect. What is being portrayed is an actual absence of the presence of Yahweh. If we peek ahead, we see (3:12) the symbol of the presence of Yahweh being plowed as a field. The prophets say, "Yahweh is with us" (3:11), but when the Temple is destroyed, the priests and prophets will not only be put to shame, but they will know that the Yahweh has left his people. Make no mistake about the ruler's belief in God's favor. They believed it, and Micah's prophecy of the destruction of Zion surely came as a shock and as ranting of a mad man. They didn't believe it. Micah prophesies that the religious leadership will literally agonize over the destruction of Zion.

Note the similarity of between 3:12 and 1:6. Zion is no more the right of Jerusalem as Samaria was of Israel.

So, when did Micah's prophecy of the destruction of Zion occur? It is not a valid expectation to find every prophecy fulfilled. We understand that all judgment predictions of the prophets are conditional upon the continued wrong behavior of the people (Jeremiah 18:5-11). Perhaps God was ready to implement the Babylonian Captivity at the end of the eighth century but the event was canceled for the time being due to the peoples' reforms under Hezekiah. Jeremiah presented the view of a canceled judgment in his explanation of Micah 3:12 (Jeremiah 26:18-19).

Did [Hezekiah] not fear the LORD and entreat the favor of the LORD, and did not the LORD change his mind about the disaster that he had pronounced against them? (Jeremiah 26:19).
We would like to apply 3:12 directly to the 586 BC incident when the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. But we do have Jeremiah's testimony that Micah's judgment was cancelled at the time. Hailey cautiously comments, "The fulfillment of the prophecy was averted until the time of the Chaldeans, but it did come" (1993, 204). Clinton Gill places the fulfillment in 70 AD when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple (103). Such discrepancies arise from a desire to defend the scriptures and explain supposed errors in the text. In our desire to prove the scriptures, we attempt to find fulfillment of every prophecy. We seem to fear that if a prophet voiced an unfulfilled prophecy, then the accuracy of the prophet and even the whole Bible is suspect. I hold that if a prophet voiced an unfulfilled prophecy, there is no need to declare the prophecy or the prophet false. Remember, we are instructed that all prophetic judgments are conditional (Jeremiah 18:5-11). Jonah himself struggled with the fear of becoming a prophet whose judgments did not come to pass (Jon 4:2-3; 2 Kgs 14:25-27).

I think the scriptures don't need a defense - especially one as weak as our own efforts to prove every prophecy came to pass. The scriptures are theologically consistent9 and can stand on their own. They are not threatened by scrutiny. It is most important to understand the theological purpose for a prophet's oracles. The Jerusalemite dignitaries trusted Yahweh because in Jerusalem was Yahweh's presence - in the Temple on Zion. Yahweh is about to remove His house and His presence from Jerusalem. On that day how will the people be able to lean on Yahweh's patience?

Eschatological Hope: 4:1-5:5a. A cursory reading of the Messianic sections of Micah can lead one to jump to incorrect conclusions as to the identity of the new nation and the Shepherd King. The key to resisting the temptation to lurch to first impression conclusions is the statement in 4:8 that "the former dominion shall come." That, with similar descriptions of the new nation in 4:13 and 5:9 should remove any notion that the prophet is speaking of the church of Jesus the Anointed.

Arise and thresh,
O daughter Zion,
for I will make your horn iron
and your hoofs bronze;
you shall beat in pieces many peoples,
and shall devote their grain to the LORD,
their wealth to the Lord of the whole earth.

Your hand will be exalted over your foes,
and all your enemies will be exterminated10.

The Lord's church is not in the business of threshing and exterminating enemies. There was a time in Israel's history, however, when the Hebrews excelled at threshing nations. When? Who was king when the Israelite Empire (hint) was at its zenith? David (2 Samuel 8; I Chronicles 18)! Solomon enjoyed the dominion established by his father (1 Kings 4:21-24); but Israel never again attained the height of self-rule as she did when David was king. Ever since, the nation yearned for the strength of David's empire.

When the people of Judah saw the Assyrians and their allies plundering the towns in the lowlands around Jerusalem while the city was under siege they surely smarted with the knowledge of the height from which the nation had fallen. The prophet expects an anointed one from the kingly lineage who will rule the nation like a shepherd - the way David ruled - and who will lead the nation to imperial greatness again.

The phrase that seems to get some commentators on a different track is: In days to come. Gill cites Hebrews 1:2 where God's Son is the mode by which God spoke to us "in these last days." Gill assumes the Hebrew Writer intends "these last days" to be a proper identification of the "Messianic Age" and concludes Micah is referencing the day Jesus establishes the church.

"In the latter days" is the English rendering of the phrase which fixes the time when it shall come to pass. The phrase is reminiscent (italics mine) of Hebrews 1:2. There we are told that God, having spoken to the fathers in the prophets has spoken to us in a Son. No more conclusive evidence (italics mine) is needed to connect Micah's prophecy with the Messianic age (106).
This argument is based on a major assumption and it is not at all conclusive. The fact that the Hebrew Writer defined the time in which he wrote to be "these last days" is no reason to conclude that he meant the entire Christian Age. If he means to pigeon-hole a particular period of which he exists in the last, he would surely intend to mean a period of revelation. A period that started "long ago" when God spoke to prophets (Hebrews 1:1). In that case, he would be referencing the end of God's revelation. This understanding of "these last days" is close to Matthew Henry's view.

Matthew Henry states (and I believe more plausibly) the Hebrew Writer's "last days" should be understood to be either days close to the end of the world or near the end of the Jewish state.

Godís method of communicating his mind and will under the New-Testament dispensation, these last days as they are called, that is, either towards the end of the world, or the end of the Jewish state. The times of the gospel are the last times, the gospel revelation is the last we are to expect from God. There was first the natural revelation; then the patriarchal, by dreams, visions, and voices; then the Mosaic, in the law given forth and written down; then the prophetic, in explaining the law, and giving clearer discoveries of Christ: but now we must expect no new revelation, but only more of the Spirit of Christ to help us better to understand what is already revealed. Now the excellency of the gospel revelation above the former consists in two things:ó

It is the final, the finishing revelation, given forth in the last days of divine revelation, to which nothing is to be added, but the canon of scripture is to be settled and sealed: so that now the minds of men are no longer kept in suspense by the expectation of new discoveries, but they rejoice in a complete revelation of the will of God, both perceptive and providential, so far as is necessary for them to know in order to their direction and comfort. For the gospel includes a discovery of the great events that shall befall the church of God to the end of the world (Commentary on Hebrews 1:1-2).

I see no reason to reject a position that the Hebrew Writer's "last days" means simply, "recently" (as opposed to "long ago"). This view comes with a minor difficulty. First century Jewish eschatological thought coined the phrase "the last days" to reference a period immediately before the beginning of a new order of rule under God.

Recall that Peter quoted Joel's "afterwards"11, (2:28) as "In the last days" (Acts 2:17). The LXX translates Micah's "latter time"12 with the same Greek words. The Hebrew words (both from the root:  , which means "to delay, hesitate, tarry, defer, remain behind.") were typically translated into Greek as "the last days."

So we start to see that "last days" may have a stronger meaning than "recently" to a first century Jewish Christian. Nevertheless, "  " is a very common phrase, and it is possible, even probable that the simple meaning was intended by the Hebrew Writer.

I conclude that Hebrews 1:2 is no support for a position that all OT references to "later days" (in particular, Micah 4:1) refer to the entire Christian Era. In a discussion of Isaiah 2:4 (which quotes Micah 4:1-2) Hailey simply states

The phrase, "the latter days," referred to the Messianic Period (1997, 93).
In his comments on Micah 4:1 he said,
In the latter days, when used by the prophets, always refers to the time of the Messiah (1993, 204).
He continues, however, to agree with Henry but seems to give the phrase a broader scope to include the entire Christian age.
It points to the end of the Jewish age and the introduction of the new era under the spiritual ruler.
Brother Hailey seems to be making a similar assumption as Gill when he asserts that prophetic use of the latter days "always refers to the time of the Messiah." In this case, however, Brother Hailey doesn't defend his position. Brother Hailey's words however, are carefully chosen. It does seem that the prophets very often connect the phrase with some type of eschatological hope that almost always includes a messiah. Brother Hailey always interprets these messianic references exclusively to the first century Christian Messiah, Jesus (see his entire book, The Messiah).

I do not know what Hailey's view is on the identity of "the end of days"13 in Daniel 10:14 - which uses an identical word choice as the Micah passage. McGuiggan says the referenced vision applies to a sequence of historical events that ends with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD (162-172). This interpretation gives the latest reasonable link for Daniel's "last days."

Higher criticism sees Daniel's vision as a prediction of a war that catches in the middle the Middle East. The end result is the fall of Greek control of the Middle East. The apocalyptist saw this war as the introduction of "the great tribulation" which precedes the end of the age and then a resurrection (Jeffery and Collins 1146-1147).

At the time of this writing, Brother Hailey is writing a commentary on Daniel. I will not hope to anticipate his position on Dan 10:14.

Here is my position on "last days" in the prophets. The phrase is so common that we are being overly bold to determine that it always means something other than its raw meaning of "later." The best method for translating and interpreting the phrase is its local context.

This view, with permission to assign secondary meanings to prophecies, is popular. The new testament writers regularly applied old prophecies to Jesus and the church (e.g., Acts 2:17-21; Matthew 2:15; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5-6; 7:1-8:6).

Furman Kearley explained the method in a lesson of his own on Micah 4:1-3 and 5:2-5.

The primary meaning of the prophet's message had to do with the people and their own times, urging them to repent in order to receive blessings and deliverance or else suffer the consequences of curses and captivity.

The plenary meaning of the prophet's message set forth the hope of the Messiah and the Messianic Kingdom. A careful study of Matthew 2 and the prophecies cited as being fulfilled in the early years of Christ and those prophecies in their context of the Old Testament indicates that the prophecies had a basic immediate meaning to the audience of the prophet and another long range (plenary) meaning to the people of God of later times (49).

I am comfortable binding double-meanings on passages that the NT writers likewise treated. I am not comfortable binding my own notion of a passage's "plenary" meaning. I think any commentator who says "this passage is talking about Jesus" is taking a step beyond his own authority. The only textual authority we have is that the first century Jewish theologians cited Micah as evidence that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:3-6). Well, Jesus sure was born in Bethlehem. He fulfilled Micah's prophecy regarding the Shepherd King. I'm not prepared to assert that Micah said the king would be born in Bethlehem. If somebody wants to make a connection between Micah and Jesus, he sure has the privilege. I think he should refrain from binding it on the passage. If we bind it, or even give exagerated attention to it, we fail to investigate the primary meaning of a prophecy.

Even more dangerously, such a hermeneutic of binding secondary meanings to prophecies (for which there is no scriptural proof) provides a flexibility that permits divergent doctrines that eventually conflict with scriptural doctrines. Once that point is reached, reasonable arguments to the contrary and from the scriptures are of no persuasion to the doctrine holder; for he arrived at his position by arbitrarily assigning secondary meanings to prophecy. The best example I can present is the doctrine of Premillenialism which expects a future establishment of the kingdom of Israel on Earth, with Davidic Jesus Christ as the king of the eschatological nation and with a return of the Levitical system of ritualistic expression of devotion to God. The doctrine of Premillenialism was derived from double-applications of prophecy. In particular, the secondary meanings of these prophecies are dogmatically applied to our future.

This doctrine requires the reestablishment of something that the Hebrew writer said was instituted to foreshadow a future, more perfect system, the Church (9:9, 23-10:10). A return of Levitical animal sacrifices is against the entire book of Hebrews. So, we present this arguement to a premillenialst and the reaction is either, "I choose to believe what I have chosen to believe" (i.e., "My hermeneutic permits me to apply my own notions of secondary meanings to prophecies"), or "I don't see why the position of the Hebrew Writer should alter my view" (i.e., "My hermeneutic permits my own notions carry at least equal authority to scripture!"). That kind of response pretty much closes the discussion, doesn't it?

Micah prophesied a fall of the current established leadership of Judah and the establishment of a new leadership structure made up of the righteous underprivileged. That society would grow into a wealthy nation that provides religious guidance for the nations. It will be a superpower that punitively punishes its enemies.

Although this prophecy may have never been literally fulfilled, there is theological truth taught by it - the same truth learned by Micah's disciples.

Better is a little with righteousness
than large income with injustice (Proverbs 16:8).

It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor
than to divide the spoil with the proud (Proverbs 16:19).

It is better to be poor than a liar (Proverbs 19:22).

The lesson is voiced secularly:
A wealthy man can afford anything except a conscience (Ferengi Rule of Acquisition 261). Smile.
4:1-4 Come, let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh. In Micah's vision, the temple hill becomes the most prominent religious site in the world. It is the center of worship for many nations. The hill itself is pictured as increasing in altitude; but that description is a device to stress its increased importance. For an exaggerated example, John refers to the valley of Megiddo as Mount Magedon (Rev 16:16).

From the city will come instruction, oracles, judgments and arbitrations. These duties are traditionally performed by priests, prophets and judges (or kings), respectively. In Micah's vision, either these tasks will be performed by righteous priests, prophets, judges; or Yahweh Himself (Hillers 51) will perform the functions, effectively eliminating the need for human agency in these areas. Realize, however, that priests, prophets, judges and kings are ministers of Yahweh's government; so if the tasks of instruction, proclaiming the word of Yahweh and judging are performed by righteous human agents, Yahweh reigns.

Incidentally, if we understand Micah to be referencing human agents of these duties, we would be reasonable to conclude the talent will be drawn from the ranks of the poor and uneducated. After all, in Micah's view, the whole leadership structure of Judah had failed. This approach brings up an interesting question.

In chapter 5, we see that Micah looks for a new king from the Davidic lineage who will institute religious and political reforms. Judging is traditionally the function of the king, who, like any executor, appoints "secretaries" to perform the lion's share of these tasks - all under the authority and responsibility of the king.

Prophets have been traditionally selected (called) by Yahweh himself (e.g., 1 Samuel 3; Amos 1:1; etc.) but we also have evidence of prophecy schools or organizations for training people to be prophets (e.g., 1 Samuel 10:5, 10; 1 Kgs 20:35; 2 Kgs 2:3, 5, 11-12; 4:1, 38; 6:1; Amos 7:14; Is 1:114).

The priesthood was a system of genetic inheritance. I'm sure that after the overthrow of the current leadership there would be sufficient Aaronic descendants to fill the vacancies; but the title to the priesthood in Jerusalem tended to run in families. Once a lineage departed several generations from the priestly family, those Levites lost the right to the official Jerusalemite priesthood. Micah's prophecy implies that the resident family(ies) in the Temple hierarchy will be overthrown and probably replaced by members of other families who have lost the birthright to the positions. It may be the case that Micah planted a seed that later developed into a very heated debate over who really has a right to the temple leadership posts.

A discussion on the legal dialectic between the hierocratic Jerusalemite priests and the Levitical priests in general is far beyond the scope of an introductory commentary, as is my ambition in this writing. The reader is invited to pursue this very interesting discussion. A good starting place is a reading Paul Hanson's book, The Dawn of Apocalyptic which I will include in my bibliography.

Nations streaming to Jerusalem brings to mind 2:12, in which scattered Israelites are gathered. It may be the case that at least a part of the idea here is the streaming nations are filled with faithful Hebrews who have settled in other lands.

4:3 They shall beat their swords into plowshares. The nearest antecedent to "they" is the nations that depend on Jerusalem for arbitration, but it applies to citizens of Judah too. With God's people carrying the righteous "big stick" there will be no need to go to war. The image of sitting under one's own vine and fig tree speaks of a lasting secure peace in their land possessions (1 Kgs 4:25; 2 Kgs 18:31). It takes several years to get a grapevine or fig tree mature enough to sit under it. In turbulent and unsure times, farmers focussed on short-term yield crops. Why attempt to grow a fruit tree if one's land can be taken or vandalized without notice?

4:5 We will walk in the name of Yahweh. Hillers noted that the verse functions as a congregational response to what has come before. It gives this section of scripture liturgical functionality. The congregation voices its commitment to Yahweh in the face of the current trials. We will wait for the appearance of Yahweh's salvation, even if we must wait forever.

To this is added, as a congregational response to the prophetic vision, the statement of an interim resolution: this all lies far in the future, since the nations show no sign of turning to Yahweh. Sustained by hope, we will live faithful to our God if it takes forever (Hillers 51).
4:6-7 The lame I will make... a strong nation. As I said before, contact with Assyria left Judah feeling pretty small. The nation was in fact small! This restoration hope would be meaningful to Judah in Hezekiah's day. It provided hope that the nation would recover and exceed it's original height from which it had so recently fallen.

4:8 To you it shall come. Notice that the self rule comes to the shepherd-government of the hill of Zion. The prophet equates the shepherding with the religious center of the nation. As the religious following in Judah increases, the political strength of the nation will likewise increase. Plus, as the national "high place" (1:5) was held responsible for the moral decay of the nation, national moral influential responsibility will be fearfully accepted by the leadership at that place.

4:9 Is there no king in you? This verse can be taken two ways:

  1. A criticism of the king.
  2. A criticism of the people for not recognizing the king's righteous leadership.
  3. A statement that the monarchy is about to be stripped from the nation.
In any case, God's promise to the kingly line (2 Samuel 7:8-16) will be no protection for the unrighteous. If the criticism is of the people, perhaps Hezekiah's reforms are in mind; or the leadership of Yahweh Himself (Jeremiah 8:19) is being rejected by the king and rulers. The third option fits best with the following verse.

4:9b-10 Has your counselor perished, that pangs have seized you? It seems that the royalty and/or the Divine Presence is about to be stripped from the nation. This step will occur as a part of a cleansing process - a sort of Exodus - that will remove corruption from the people. As I said above (on 3:12), it might very well be the case that this judgment was conditional upon the continued injustice of Judah's leadership. If the corrupt leadership did not institute reforms, Yahweh was ready to send the nation into bondage in Babylon. The people did institute reforms and so the judgment was cancelled, or postponed.

I want to present another possibility of explanation for 4:9-10. King Manasseh, Hezekiah's son, was in fact taken into captivity and imprisoned for a time in Babylon (2 Chronicles 33:11-13). According to the Assyrian records on their dealings with Manasseh, the Assyrian king Esarhaddon ordered Manasseh to come to Assyria. He was required to transport certain building materials for Esarhaddon's palace. It is reasonable to accept the possibility that Manasseh's entourage included the very judges and nobles that are criticized in the Book of Micah (ANET 291).

If Manasseh is in mind for this judgment, then 4:9 is definitely a criticism of the king.

Peeking ahead, we see that the eschatological nation under a Shepherd King will be established after some sort of "labor" (5:3). That reference recalls back to 4:9-10 which identifies the pangs of labor with the described Babylonian exile.

The most likely reason for the prophet's description of the period with birthing pangs is to emphasize the severity of the distress but also its brevity. If the period in which Judah was without King Manasseh, during which the nation was probably occupied by Assyrian garrisons, is under consideration, then the time certainly was short and followed by no-nonsense religious reforms and a definite improvement in the nation's economy and strength (2 Chronicles 33:14-17), though not to the extent described by Micah. We can view these historical events, along with the continued later reforms under Josiah as fulfilling of Micah's prophecies if we read those prophetic descriptions as hyperbole. Some of the prophecies are definitely hyperbolic (e.g., 4:1).

It is not necessary to apply the prophecy to a particular "tribulation period." The truth of the matter is, periods of distress are typically, especially in retrospect, brief. Short periods of suffering is a common theme in scripture. In the apocalyptic literature, it is often associated with three and a half (or, three and a little bit) days, weeks or years (Daniel 7:25; 9:27; 12:7, 11, 12; Revelation 11:2, 3, 9, 11; 12:14). The pain lasts only for a little while (1 Peter 5:8-10).

Babylon: Hillers agrees with the weight of analysts that the word Babylon appeared in the Micah text in the time of Jeremiah. Micah's eighth century mentioning of Babylon as a place of exile seems puzzling since the city was no threat to the west at the time. Hillers lists the three prevalent theories on the passage.

  1. Babylon was included in the text in the time of Micah.
  2. The oracle comes from the time of Jeremiah.
  3. The oracle is from Micah's time but has been later altered to specify Babylon by name.
Hillers does not take a stand on his preferred theory - except for some arguments against the first theory.
[A]ttempts to defend "Babylon" as appropriate for Micah have the character of a tour de force. An obvious solution to the difficulty is to suppose this is a late oracle, actually from the time of Jeremiah, which has been inserted here. A third possibility is to suppose that an oracle from Micah's time has been altered, and made contemporary. "Babylon" would be a substitution for a different place-name, perhaps Ashur, with the alteration at the end of the oracle being more extensive (59).
Hillers seems suspicious of the second theory as well, using language that suggests grasping for a solution: "...to suppose this a late oracle."

Whatever position one takes, it cannot be conclusively defended. My position is that the original prophet named Babylon in his oracle. My reasons for this view are as follows.

As mentioned above, the Chronicler agrees with Micah that exile in Babylon was a real possibility in the eighth century. He details that Judah's king Manasseh was held there for a time.

Isaiah is documented as prophesying to Hezekiah of the Babylonian Captivity of 586 BC (2 Kgs 20:12-18 = Is 39:1-7).

Both of the above citations are easily criticized, although not negated. I think the real solution is another approach. Israel and Judah were in the process of scattering. Already, the Assyrians had integrated the northern people into other cultures. Since Israelite property was being absorbed by other powers, people were forced out of their homes and off the lands of their inheritance. They moved. It is reasonable and likely that in response to an impending Assyrian threat a large number of Judahites pulled up stakes and moved to Egypt. The Assyrian and Babylonian experiences, and perhaps other forces resulted in a formidable Jewish population in Egypt. These people came together as a group of Yahwists and we are indebted to them for providing many of the ancient manuscripts from which we translate the Hebrew Scriptures. Egypt is only one of the places to which the pilgrims could escape oppression in Israel and Judah. They probably moved all over the world - even beyond Assyria. I believe it is possible, even likely, the prophet meant "beyond Assyria" when he named Babylon. Note that he also describes camping "in the open country" in this oracle. I may paraphrase 4:10 this way.

Suffer out loud, My children.
The distress is severe but will last only a little while.
The distress is driving you from your homes --
to the wilderness, even beyond Assyria.
Yahweh will save you from your enemies --
even from your flight into the wilderness.
In summary, the naming of Babylon in Micah in reference to a sort of exile and rescue makes one think (from our perspective) of the actual historical Babylonian Captivity of 586 BC. We are inclined to apply this oracle to that historical event and then suspect an alteration of Micah's original prophecy. Before we draw such conclusions, we should carefully and thoughtfully look for a meaning from the original prophet. If we are not able to perceive a meaning and we resort to text alteration theories, those alteration theories also should be held cautiously and with suspicion.

4:11 Many nations are assembled against you. There was probably more than just Assyria camped against Jerusalem. In those days, it paid to be on Assyria's side (even though your troops and tribute would be required). It might also be the case that the Assyrian king actually hired professional soldiers to assist in his wars (see my comments on Nahum 3:16-17). At this point in Israel's history, the nations represented profanity. Micah could have equivalently said "an army of the uncircumcised is against you" or "an army of non-Israelites is against you." They are the religiously inferior, which agrees with 2:4, "Among the apostate he parcels out our fields."

Let our eyes gaze upon Zion. The idea here is the enemy is looking for a right to gloat. The writer may very well have in mind a victory parade in which captives are taken to the victorious capitol city and driven through the streets as "a sight" for the people. See my comments on Nahum 3:5-7.

4:12-13 Arise and thresh. Note the image of harvest time. Harvest imagery is also used in Joel 3:13 where Judah is told to "Put in the sickle" and to tread in the winepress. The idea is the same in both passages. The multitude of the nations has been gathered for the purpose of the multitude being harvested like wheat... mowed down. I am encouraged to mention Amos 1:3 in which threshing sledges were actually used to dispatch the citizens and perhaps prisoners of war in Gillead. I do not doubt this kind of image is intended by the prophet; but threshing oxen are also used and the prophet describes the horns and hoofs as iron and bronze. God has prepared the enemy to be sliced down by Judah - like a hot knife through butter. - like a sickle through the stands of wheat. If a nation is ripe for harvest, it is not a good thing (Amos 8:1-2). See also Daniel 2:35.

There is a difference in the Micah text. The harvester is, technically, not Judah. Yahweh already harvested the enemy. The finish-up requires a threshing beast, Judah.

Lord of the whole earth. This title for Israel's God is actually fairly rare in the Bible - as compared to the other titles. The other passages are Joshua 3:11, 13; Psalm 97:5; Zechariah 4:14; 6:5. It describes the scope of His authority with regard to the nations. An equally respectful title such as "Yahweh, God of hosts, Yahweh" (Amos 5:16) describes God's authority in the heavens. Lord of the Earth handles the rest of the scope of His authority. In particular, He has authority over Assyria and her allies. God requires certain levels of behavior from every nation of the earth.

They strike the ruler of Israel upon the cheek. See 2 Kgs 18:35.

5:2-5 He shall be the one of peace. The language of this prophecy shifts a bit to the indefinite. We are inclined to accept that the prophet was hoping for this prophecy to come to fulfillment in his future rather than something that was in the process of fulfillment at the time (as in Isaiah 9:6). It is a Messianic prophecy of a king who will govern like a shepherd. He will be a provider. He will be the impetus for the reassembly of the people of Israel. The king is described in terms that defined David.

By describing this leader who will come from the kingly lineage the prophet is leaving out the currently ruling king. I cannot see how this passage can be anything but a criticism of the king of Judah. Maybe he is one of those who oppress the poor or maybe he himself is righteous but does not carry sufficient authority among the people to bring about such changes as described in these verses.

Because this leader is a part of the grand plan, "he" (presumably, Yahweh) will "give them up" (presumably into tribulation) until this birth takes place. Verse 3 really says the same thing as 4:10. There is going to be a severe but (in retrospect) brief distress, followed by a homecoming.

If we take 5:4 (strength and majesty of Yahweh) with 7:14-17 in a cursory reading of Micah we might lean to the conclusion that the shepherd is Yahweh himself. We must not forget that this person will come from the family/clan of Ephrathah, starting in Bethlehem. He is a person, a king. The Judahite kings rule in the strength and majesty of Yahweh. It's a part of the mutual responsibility of kinship between the king and Yahweh (see note 8 below). If the Shepherd King rules righteously, Yahweh governs Israel. Micah 5:4 and 7:14-17 are in complete agreement even though one speaks of a man and the other God.

5:4b-5 We will raise... seven shepherds. Hillers effectively connects this prophecy with its context of the Davidic King (69). The kingdom of David reached from the border of Egypt to the Euphrates river. The expected Messiah will reestablish control of this territory. The nations that exist between Israel and the Euphrates would be subject states of Israel. If Assyria crosses the Euphrates into "our land," these subject states will put them to the sword.

Assyria continued to be a threat to Judah after the war with Sennacherib. Manasseh is listed as a vassal of Assyria in the records of Esarhaddon. One gets the impression from the book of Nahum that Judah was under an Assyrian burden of tribute after 701, when the war with Sennacherib ended in draw. Micah anticipated that the results of the war, loss of property and wealth and members of families being scattered to the wilderness, were the beginning and not an end of a distress. He also correctly anticipated that Assyria was making many enemies - enemies that will eventually strike Nineveh. This interpretation is valid even if we decide Micah did not expect a full restoration of the mighty Davidic Empire15. This line of thinking brings to mind an interesting fact. The pseudepigraphic literature discusses the Babylonian Captivity as a period in which God's people were governed by seven shepherds (I Enoch 89:59-71; 90:22). The apocalyptist described Babylon as seven shepherds. Nineveh was finally destroyed by an alliance of numerous nations... primarily Babylon, then Media. The rest become obscure in the ancient record.

I find the historical fact of Nineveh's fall particularly interesting in light of Micah's statement that "seven shepherds and eight rulers" will take away the Assyrian threat.

5:7-9 Remnant of Jacob. This section of Micah is related to its context in that it refers to the time when the fortunes and strength of the Davidic kingdom returns. It describes Israel's expected relationship with the [other] nations. Jacob will be a blessing (like dew) to some and a curse (like a young lion) to others.

On the other hand, sometimes 'dew' refers to a military overrun (2 Samuel 17:12). The writer may have intended this section to describe Jacob only in terms of hostility towards the nations.

Israel will answer to nobody but Yahweh and the Shepherd King. To a New Testament Christian, a fulfillment of this prophecy is manifested in the church, who also does not answer to man (Matthew 16:18-19).

Cut off... In the OT, when something is cut off, it is put to a punitive end. In this case, when referring to enemies, it speaks of extermination. The interpretation is the same in the following couple verses.

5:10 In that day. What day? Is it obvious that the day under consideration is the day Jacob rises? It is.

5:10-15 Horses, chariots. The point of this section is that the new regime under Yahweh and His king will destroy any elements among Israel (or any other nation) that distracts people from dependence on Yahweh. Horses and chariots give a nation a feeling of security against invasion. Sorceries and images have the same effect and displace trust in Yahweh. They will be cut off. In that day, the only thing left to trust will be Yahweh Himself. A passage of parallel from Micah's contemporary prophet is found in Is 2:5-11.

On the implements of war, Hailey says,

The introduction of these [symbols of force and war] had been forbidden by God through Moses (Deuteronomy 17:16); the people were to trust in Jehovah and not in physical power (Deuteronomy 20:1). Isaiah charged that the land was full of horses and chariots (2:7); Hosea foretold the extinction of these in the Messianic period (14:3); and Zechariah likewise declared that these would be cut off (9:9-10) (Hailey 1993, 211).
I think brother Hailey is on the right track. This verse may help us interpret 1:13 where the inhabitants of Lachish are thrashed for introducing transgressions of Israel to Zion. Since horses and chariots are mentioned, we conjecture that it is the very introduction of these implements into the Judahite military that was the referenced sin.

6:1-8 He will contend with Israel16. This section of Micah goes into the kind of relationship that should exist between God and Israel, and how that relationship can be restored. It also describes perhaps a bit indirectly just what is the transgression of Israel. Of course, the prophet has gone into detail on the transgressions; but here, the transgression is presented in a general way.

First God calls for judgment between Himself and His people. He asks if He has done something to warrant the current situation. Then, the voice of the prophet expresses a desire to be reconciled to Yahweh. This outline should be sufficient to determine the transgression of Israel. It is breach of covenant. That transgression broke the relationship between Yahweh and His people. The request for judgment identifies that an agreement (covenant) has been broken and the party at fault should be discovered. Is the fault on the part of Israel's God? It is not. The fault is with the people (implied). The covenant can be restored with a simple commitment to abide by its requirements.

6:1-2 Plead your case before the mountains. God calls the mountains to judge in the controversy between Himself and Israel. The mountains, if they were sentient, certainly were in a position to witness the transgression of Judah. Furthermore, the covenant-breaker is so obvious that even the mountains could see who is at fault. The use of mountains as judges is an obvious literary device - much like we see in Amos 3:9 where Gentile nations are called in judgment against Samaria. In that case, the point is that the sin of Samaria is so obvious even the Gentiles can clearly and confidently judge the city.

6:3-5 In what have I wearied you? The nullification of the covenant is not the fault of Israel's God.

6:5 ...from Shittim to Gilgal. Hillers treats this reference as a fragment poetically related to something that has been dropped from the text.

This does not fit with the context; that is, "answered" does not go well with the expression of distance traversed "from Shittim to Gilgal." Probably something of unknown extent, has been lost from the text, and we have no obvious way of conjecturing what it was (76).
Whatever is (or may be) missing, what remains still makes the point.
Shittim is the place in Moab, northeast of the Dead Sea, where Israel was encamped when the Balak-Balaam incident took place (Numbers 25:1), along with other final events of the wilderness period (Number 26 (sic)17 and Joshua 2). From this final camp the Israelites crossed the Jordan to their first foothold in the promised land, Gilgal. Thus the summary of sacred history leads from Exodus to conquest, from promise to fulfillment (Hillers 78).
6:6-8 With what shall I come before the LORD? The prophet expresses the voice of the penitent. The man offers various types of sacrifice. The offerings are framed in the form of rhetorical questions. Each question has an expected answer: "No. That will not make amends." The offerings escalate in cost to the impossible or extreme - even unlawful (such as offering one's own child in sacrifice - see e.g., 2 Kgs 16:3; 21:6). Neither is the prophet condoning the prohibition of sacrifice. The idea is that sacrifice without a change of heart - one that affects behavior - is ineffectual and abominable (Amos 5:21f).

6:9-12 The people are charged with dishonesty.

6:9 Treasures of wickedness. The wealthy gained their wealth deceitfully.

6:10 Scant measure. The word typically translated "measure" is closely related to the word "ephah." Hanson translates the word "ephah-measure" (80) and Strongs numbers the word as the actual word for ephah. The same word is used in Amos 8:5 and in a similar context. Here is Strongs' definition for the Hebrew word:

1) ephah
1a) a dry measure of quantity, equal to 3 seahs, 10 omers; the same as the liquid measure bath; (about 9 imperial gallons, rabbinical writings give sizes of one-half this amount)
1b) the receptacle for measuring or holding that amount
What we should picture is a business man selling something, say, wheat by the ephah. His ephah is a basket that he claims matches the standard size as official basket that [perhaps] is located somewhere else in the marketplace or city. For convenience, customers are encouraged to use the salesman's basket, which in reality is smaller than the standard.

6:11 Dishonest weights The implication of "wicked scales" should be obvious. The translators have done us a service by translating the parallel line as "dishonest weights" or something that identifies the tool of deceit to be weights. I still find it interesting that a literal translation would render the "tool" as "crooked or deceitful stones."

6:13-15 You shall sow, but not reap. Most likely, the prophet has slavery in mind for this judgment. All of one's labor will be for somebody else. It takes the form of something called a futility curse18 - that is, a situation in which all the efforts of a person to improve his situation become ineffectual. These kinds of curses were regularly used in international treaties in the ancient Near East (e.g., ANET 659-60). The nation that defaults on the treaty will experience these kinds of circumstances. The treaty is guaranteed by the calling on the gods - usually of the superior nation - to guarantee the curses are activated if the treaty is broken. The treaty is guaranteed by a sacrifice to the gods. Incidentally, the procedure of the sacrifice was often mutilation of the animal. It was understood similar mutilation will strike the breaker of the covenant (see ANET 532, 539; 1 Samuel 11:7; Judges 19:29).

As we return to our text in Micah, we have just read a section (6:1-8) in which a broken covenant is expressed. Futility curses are so often a part of covenants we can connect 6:14-15 with the expressions presented earlier in the chapter.

Finally, in light of the above discussion, we turn now to Leviticus 26. The whole book of Leviticus is a detailing of laws. In chapter 26, an agreement is described. If the people follow the statutes, God will give blessings. If the statutes are not followed (26:14f), God will see to it that trouble follows. Some of the Leviticus curses (26:16, 20, 23-26) take the same form as those described in Micah.

6:16 You have kept the statutes of Omri ... Ahab. Omri and his son Ahab were kings of Israel. Omri was one of the great kings of Israel. The northern kingdom was in fact named by the nations after Omri (the land of Omri) but the biblical writers had nothing good to say about either one - except that Omri had founded the city of Samaria. Otherwise the biblical documentation of the deeds of each king describes strong promotion of pagan religion in the nation. A parallel passage is 2 Kgs 17:19.

You shall bear the scorn of my people. Who are "my people?" The lesson and most important fact is, the accused are not included in the identification. It is reasonable to conclude "my people" to be the people of Judah who follow the precept to "do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."

7:1-7 Woe is me! It is unlikely the voice is intended to apply to the prophesied plight of the accused (6:14-15) because the speaker is feminine (Hicks and Bruegemann 1198). One solution is that the voice is intended to apply to a nation. Hicks and Bruegeman suggest "Samaria personified." These gentlemen didn't have room to explain themselves. Micah's message was not directed to Samaria except for parts of the first chapter. If Samaria is in mind, perhaps the prophet is leveling a warning to Judah that the nation is in danger of following the same dark road as her northern kinsmen. Hailey holds that Jerusalem is in mind.

Probably the prophet represents Jerusalem-Zion bewailing the absence of any righteous ones within her ranks, for which cause the judgment has come. The harvest is past and there are no gleanings; she hungers for the first-ripe fig of spring, the return of righteousness. The following verses indicate that this is the correct view (216-17).
Well, "the following verses" describe corruption of officials and the society as a whole. I think Brother Hailey is correct in the understanding of what is bewailed in verse 1, namely, "the absence of any righteousness within her ranks." I think he misidentified speaker. The setting is harvest gleaning19. Poor people gleaned. The prophet is expressing concern for the poor. This view is supported by the feminine voice of verse 1. So, the speaker is a poor person looking for gleanings of the field and of the fig orchard and finding none. I therefore take issue with Hillers' identification of the speaker as the prophet himself (85). The prophet is describing another injustice. This description goes very well with the context of other descriptions of unrighteousness. Righteous farmers left gleanings! See Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19-21; Ruth 2-3.

The view of the speaker is supported by verse 7 in which she (or, the lamenter) expresses a hope in Yahweh. This verse implies, again, that the one being oppressed by these injustices is him/herself a righteous person, leaning on Yahweh.

7:3 An interesting difficulty in translation is encountered with the last word in verse three. The NRSV Oxford edition translates it as "pervert justice" and provides a footnote explaining that the rendering represents a correction to the "most probable reconstruction of the original text." The note translates the actual Hebrew text as "they weave it." Even the literal rendering in this footnote is doubtful, for as Hillers explains:

The verb20 is otherwise unknown, the sense being derived from a supposed connection with ("cord, rope") by a process plausible at best (rope is twisted, hence the verb means "twist") (84).
Hillers translated the line that is rendered in NRSV "thus they pervert justice" as "So they twist it...." (ellipses are quoted as well).

I mention this difficulty only because personally, I am interested in the great exercise and judgment that goes into making a translation. In the Hebrew Bible, many of the terms or coins have lost meaning and the translator is left to use his best judgment. Sometimes, he renders a passage but he is certain his translation is not correct. It is the closest approximation he can decipher.

7:6 is quoted in Matthew 10:35-36 and Luke 12:53; but those quotations do not help us understand the text in Micah. The NT quotations emphasize how Jesus expects first love from his disciples - greater love than that of family. In Micah, on the other hand, the divisions are because members of families and households are neglecting their responsibilities of protection and dependability that are a part of the relationship of kinship. I suspect much of what is in mind is children are not honoring their parents with sustenance in their old age (see Matthew 15:4-6) and siblings or members of a household accept bribes against other members of the family. In the context of Micah, the information provided for a bribe would be that which would be used as blackmail to acquire a person's wealth.

All of the section (7:1-7) falls under the heading: The faithful have disappeared from the land.

7:7 I will wait for the God of my salvation. This verse is consistent with 4:5 - an expression of determination to remain faithful, counter to forces that would make one do otherwise. The prophet states the determination in with a similar theme found elsewhere in the Bible. "Those who wait for Me shall not be put to shame"(Isaiah 49:23).

7:8-13 I shall rise. The rest of the book is an expression of hope. Verses 8-13 looks forward to a time when the conditions of the recent disaster will be repaired. In Micah, the damage refers to the incident of the siege of Jerusalem by Assyria during Hezekiah's rule. Some have connected verse 11 with the post-exilic push to build Jerusalem's walls. It seems to me 11-13 fall right into line with the rest of Micah's prophecies. In 11, "walls" and "boundary" are poetically connected as synonyms. The passage looks forward to an increase of Judah's sphere of political and religious influence. This concept is in total agreement with Micah's prophecy of the rise of Judah as a religious and political power (like that of King David) in chapter 4.

The picture of people coming to Jerusalem is consistent with chapter 4 in which nations come to Zion for instruction, prophecy, judgment and arbitration. It is also consistent with 2:12 which describes a gathering of exiled Hebrews - a homecoming. As I have discussed above, those Hebrews could be those carried away by the Assyrians for use as servants. It also applies to Judahites who moved away from the land in order to avoid Assyrian contact.

Let's consider one more aspect of prophecy in relation to this section. We can be confident that the 6th century post-exilic Judahites returning from Babylonian exile would have given special meaning to this prophecy. Walls did need to be built in that period. The nation was politically weak and small in that period, even as it was politically weak and small after the Assyrian contact in the late 8th century BC. The similarity, as I mentioned above, is so striking that some scholars date the prophecy in the late 6th century. This relationship of the early prophecy with a later secondary application is instructive to us when we look back through history - through the first century establishment of the Christian church - through the Babylonian Captivity and to the writing of an early prophecy and we attempt to understand it. We are tempted to apply the prophecy to the history that is clearest in our minds. Typically, that application is to the Christian period. Once we make the connection (not that it is wrong to do so) we forget to inspect the passage for possible earlier applications - those applications near in time to the life of the prophet. The omission may be deliberate in the interest of comfort. Avoid presentation of something difficult to explain, or, something new.

Micah prophesied a restoration of the empire of Israel, like it existed in the time of King David. That prophecy was meaningful to Micah's contemporaries who saw their farms absorbed into the control of nearby governors who sat in the pockets of the Assyrian king, and who saw their relatives taken as servants to Assyria, and who saw their kinsmen move their families away from Judah and to the surrounding nations. Judah was rendered virtually powerless by the Assyrians. Although the nation was not dissolved as was the kingdom to the North, the Assyrians did succeed in turning Judah into an Assyrian vassal state.

Micah's prophecies held meaning to returning captives in the late 6th century because the nation was likewise weak. As Micah's prophecies called for rebuilding, so was the need in post-exilic Jerusalem.

Micah's prophecies hold special meaning to the Christian whose religion is very much involved with the concept that God's favor has been extended to the Gentiles. The church, being the nation of God's chosen ones, is pictured as having people stream to it from the nations (Gentiles). Note how this concept is supported by Micah 4:1-7; 5:2-4; 7:12.

The statement in 7:15 also carries at least a triple meaning, as we shall see.

7:14-17 Shepherd your people. This description of God, the shepherd king (or ruler through a shepherd king) is again consistent with chapter 4 of the return of the early Israelite empire.

Bashan and Gillead are important to a prophet looking for a return of a Davidic king. Bashan and Gilead are traditionally luxuriant (Hillers 90). On Gilead, see Jeremiah 22:6. They are both located in the North from Jerusalem.

7:15 ...when you came out of Egypt. The writer is alluding to a period in Israel's history in which there were great miracles (like the parting of the Red Sea.) The one who came out of Egypt is, we see, God.

The passage would also have meaning to a returning Babylonian captive. The writer of Isaiah 40 describes God journeying across the wilderness. The picture is of God returning to Jerusalem after spending so many years in Babylon during the captivity. The return reminded the Hebrews of their coming to Canaan from Egypt during the Exodus. God was returning from Babylon just like He came to Canaan from Egypt.

In the NT, Jesus is said to have fulfilled a prophecy by living for a time in Egypt (Matthew 2:15). The same Christian connection can be made with this verse.

7:18-20 You will show faithfulness to Jacob. The last verses of Micah highlight God's character as one eager to forgive and to renew the covenant between Himself and his people. In particular, He longs to fulfill the promises He made to Jacob (Genesis 28:10-15) and Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 17:6-8).

By the way, Hillers concludes "Abraham" to be a reference to the people because it is paralleled with "Jacob." By extension, God's promise to Abraham applies to the people, because the promise regarded Abraham's seed. Hillers stumbles over the use of Abraham as a reference to the people because:

"Abraham" is unparalleled as a title for the people, but in this context such an understanding seems forced on us (91).
I don't think the understanding is forced because the "context" deals with promises to ancestors. Jacob and Abraham qualify as the nation's ancestors. Furthermore, "Abraham" is paralleled as a term for the people (Isaiah 63:16)!

However you decide to interpret "Abraham," we agree that God is portrayed as looking for a recovery of the covenant made to the patriarchs regarding the scope of the nation of Israel. The nation is promised to grow large and powerful, and to become a blessing to all nations. That description of the nation is exactly in line with Micah's prophecy of where God plans to take the nation (chapter 4). Judah has lost her greatness because her leadership increased its own power on the backs of the poor. Recent events have served to level the field and narrow the gap between the rich and powerful, and common peasants. Judah was pounded all the way down to a city state. Micah saw these events as evidence that God was cleansing the nation of its corruption and rebuilding it from the ground up and placing the righteous into positions of influence.

Micah's portrayal of the character of God is refreshing to worshipers through the ages. God's activity in the affairs of men are in the interest of establishing his covenant with a people who spiritually conquer the world.

 

Notes:

  1. For example, the prophecy against Beth Ezel makes no sense even in Hebrew. If it is translated literally, we get, "mourning of Beth Ezel. He takes from you his standing-place(?)" (Hillers 26).
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  2. Ashdod, Eltekeh, Timnah, Gath, Adullam, Moresheth-gath, Achzip, Mareshah, Lachish, Gaza, Jerusalem.
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  3. See Also: Job 1:20; Is 15:2; 22:12; Jeremiah 6:26; 7:29; 16:6; Amos 8:10.
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  4. Hanson adds, "The MT 'apostate' has seemed to many out of place. On the assumption that the lament has to do with the land's falling into enemy hands, perhaps to Assyria, 'apostate' would be the wrong word, and some have preferred [the Hebrew for] 'our captors.' ... But the reference may be to assignment, in an eschatological future, of land to groups of people whom the wealthy and powerful of Micah's time would regard as religiously inferior; cf. Jeremiah 32:22."
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  5. Given the quote above from Sennacherib (ANET 288), it is apparent that the Assyrian established some of the conquered kings as governors and gave to them control of the outlying towns of Jerusalem. Therefore, it is reasonable to understand that both the poor and the religiously inferior governors benefited from the practice of redrawing property lines and sharecropping. Judah was no doubt left very weak by its contact with Assyia in the late eighth century.
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  6. Hillers (34-35) takes issue with this rendering, asserting, "The word order does not permit the AV translation 'to him that walketh uprightly.'" If the speakers in verse 6 are to be identified as the righteous one, then the words (someone is suggesting) are right because the speaker is religiously pious. Otherwise, Micah is to be identified as the voice of the last line in verse 7 and his words provide comfort and hope for oppressed Judahites.
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  7. The word for wind in these passages means
    1) wind, a violent agitation and stream of air
    2) a very strong tempestuous wind
    3) the four principal or cardinal winds, hence the four corners of heaven
         (Lexicon for Strong's Number 417)
    We might expect the same word to be used in Acts 2:2; but interestingly, Luke used a word that doubles to mean "spirit" (Lexicon for Strong's Number 4157).
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  8. This theology is especially evident in the royal Psalms. e.g., 2, 110. See also Jeremiah 8:19.

    Frank Moore Cross recently completed a book of essays which treat various subjects regarding the Hebrew Scriptures (Frank Moore Cross. From Epic to Canon: History and Literature in Ancient Israel. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1998). A review of one of the articles appears in (of all places) Biblical Archaeology Review. The writer details Cross' insight into the culture that affected the Hebrew appreciation of the Theology of the kingship. The bond between men was that of kinsman. Brothers were "flesh of my flesh and blood of my blood." With that kinship came an implied status and responsibility towards the other. When a man, explains Cross, takes a wife and "the two become one flesh," the expression does not refer to the sexual union of the two. "That the couple are of one flesh establishes the wife as a kinsman of the first rank."

    Theologically, Yahweh adopted the nation of Israel as His son (Hosea 11:1). That relationship makes God and Israel fellow kinsmen. God adopted the king as his son as well (2 Samuel 7:14; the above psalms; and Isaiah 9:6). "Both God and king undertake the mutual responsibilities of kinship" (Shanks, 33).
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  9. I discussed scriptural consistency with Homer Hailey during a visit on 4 June 1999. Brother Hailey said, "The [biblical] prophecies laid down principals that are eternal. Each fellow was affected by different circumstances but I find that the biblical writers are consistent doctrinally."
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  10. 5:9. Translation by Hillers, 70.
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  13.   I visitted with Brother Hailey on 31 December 1999. At that time Hailey said that he has changed his view on his comment on Micah 4:1-2 that "In the latter days, when used by the prophets, always refers to the time of the Messiah." He said that he had come across several references that had broader scope but he stands by his view that the usage in Micah 4:1-2 refers to the Christian Messiah. "That's the trouble with writing," he said. "Once it is written, it's pretty hard to take back." Brother Hailey did not seem interested in discussing the Daniel passage; and I was there to visit the man, not to debate. Brother Hailey has completed a commentary on Daniel. It is (at the time of this writing) being read by some of his trusted friends. Hopefully, soon, it will be in print.
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  14. Possibly, being the son of Amoz (Amos) means having been trained by Amoz.
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  15. It is understandable that first century Jews who expected a Messianic savior expected a military general like David and expected a restoration of Israel (Acts 1:6). This passage in Micah was generally regarded in the early first century as a prophecy of a Messiah that would soon appear. Micah 5:2 was certainly the passage that made King Herod's advisers confident the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:3-6).
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  16. I have not found a commentator who is impressed by the language of the statement in 6:2, "He will contend with Israel." I include my brief impression in a footnote. It seems to my untrained eye that the writer is making a clever play on words in this statement. Israel means "The one who strives with God" or "God strives" (Gen 32:28). In the Micah statement, God strives with Israel, who by definition strives with God. I think the device is similar to "There is no love in Philadelphia."
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  17. This is how it is written in Hanson's book. I am confident my own writing is loaded with typos; but I can say with confidence that this is not one of my typos. Smile.
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  18. A term coined by Hillers (82). "[T]he guilty will undertake a course of action and inevitably be frustrated in it."
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  19. Even this interpretation comes with a bit of a problem because the second line describes a desire to eat first fruits. On the other hand, the word is also understood as "early fig." That would apply to the spring harvest of figs. Figs produce two crops each season. The spring harvest is most important because it is most abundant and because the majority of figs ripen together. When the figs are ripe, they hold to the tree weakly. A cloth could be spread at the base of the tree and a staff inserted into the tree and shaken in order to cause the ripe figs to drop onto the cloth. If the harvest is performed with good timing, most of the figs would be harvested. It would be reasonable for the Hebrews to apply the gleanings rule to this kind of harvest. Any figs remaining in the tree are left for the poor. Micah's comment is that following the spring harvest the master has his servants harvest the figs that escaped harvest by the tree-beating method.
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Bibliography:

Finegan, Jack. Myth and Mystery: An Introduction to the Pagan Religions of the Biblical World. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989.

Gill, Clinton. Commentary on the Minor Prophets. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1971.

Hailey, Homer. Commentary on The Minor Prophets. Louisville, KY: Religious Supply, 1993.

Hailey, Homer. The Messiah of Prophecy to The Messiah on the Throne. Louisville, KY: Religious Supply, 1997.

Hanson, Paul. The Dawn of Apocalyptic. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979.

Henry, Matthew. Commentary on the Bible.

Hillers, Delbert R. Micah. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.

Hicks, R. Lansing and Walter Bruegemann. "Annotations of Micah." The New Oxford Annoted Bible. Ed. Bruce M. Metzger, and Roland E. Murphy. New York: Oxford, 1991. 1190-1199 OT.

Jeffery, Arthur, and John Collins. "Annotations of Daniel." The New Oxford Annoted Bible. Ed. Bruce M. Metzger, and Roland E. Murphy. New York: Oxford, 1991. 1126 - 1147 OT.

Kearley, Furman. "Messiah and Kingdom: Micah 4:1-3; 5:2-5." Adult Bible Quarterly. Nashville: 20th Century Christian, Autumn 1994. 47-50.

McGuiggan, Jim. Commentary on Daniel. Lubbock: Montex, 1978.

Pritchard, James. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ANET). Princeton: Princeton, 1969.

Shanks, Hershel. "God as Divine Kinsman: What Covenant Meant in Ancient Israel." Biblical Archaeology Review. Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Society, (vol. 25 no. 4) July/August 1999. 32-33, 60.

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