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by Albert Barnes
Introduction to Micah
“Micah,” or “Micaiah,” this Morasthite, was so called, probably, in order to distinguish him from his great predecessor, Micaiah, son of Imlah, in the reign of Ahab. His name was spoken in its fuller form, by the elders of the land whose words Jeremiah has preserved. And in that fuller form his name is known, where the Greek and Latin translations of the Scriptures are used. By the Syrians, and by the Jews he is still called “Micah,” as by us. The fullest and original form is “Micaiahu,” “who is like the Lord?” In this fullest form, it is the name of one of the Levites sent by Jehoshaphat to teach the people 2 Chronicles 17:7, as also of the mother of King Asa 2 Chronicles 13:2 (the same name serving sometimes both for men and women). Then, according to the habit of abridging names, in all countries, and especially those of which the proper name of the Lord is a part, it is diversely abridged into “Micaihu,” “Micahu” , whence Micah is readily formed, on the same rule as “Micaiah” itself from “Micaiahu.” The forms are all found indifferently. The idolatrous Levite in the time of the Judges , are both called in the same chapter “Micaihu” and “Micah”; the father of one of Josiah’s officers is called “Micaiah” in the Book of Kings 2 Kings 22:12, and “Micah” in the Book of Chronicles 2 Chronicles 34:20.
The prophet’s name, like those of Joshua, Elijah, Elisha, Hosea, Joel, Obadiah, was significant. We know that Joshua’s name was changed for a set purpose Numbers 13:16. The rest seem to have been given in God’s Providence, or taken by the prophets, in order to enunciate truths concerning God, opposed to the idolatries or self-dependence of the people. But the name of “Micah” or “Micaiah,” (as “the elders of the land” Jeremiah 26:17-18 called him on a solemn occasion, some 120 years afterward) contained more than teaching. It was cast into the form of a challenge. “Who is like the Lord?” The form of words had been impressed upon Israel by the song of Moses after the deliverance at the Red Sea Exodus 15:11. In the days of Elijah and that first Micaiah, the strife between God and man, the true prophet and the false prophet, had been ended at the battle of Ramoth-Gilead; it ceased for a time, in the reigns of Jehu and his successors, because, in consequence of his partial obedience, God, by Elisha and Jonah, promised them good: it was again resumed, as the promise to Jehu was expiring, and God’s prophets had anew to proclaim a message of woe. “Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?” 1 Kings 21:20, and “I hate him, for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil” 1 Kings 22:8, 1 Kings 22:18, Ahab’s words as to Elijah and Micaiah, were the types of the subsequent contradiction of the false prophets to Hosea and Amos, which closed only with the destruction of Samaria. Now, in the time of the later Micaiah, were the first dawnings of the same strife in Judah, which hastened and brought about the destruction of Jerusalem under Zedekiah, which re-appeared after the Captivity Nehemiah 6:14, and was the immediate cause of the second destruction under the Romans. Micah, as he dwells on the meaning of names generally, so, doubtless, it is in allusion to his own name, that, at the close of his prophecy, he ushers in his announcement of God’s incomparable mercy with the words Micah 7:18, “Who is a God like unto Thee?” Before him, whatever disobedience there was to God’s law in Judah, there was no systematic, organized, opposition to His prophets.
There is no token of it in Joel. From the times of Micah it is never missing. We find it in each prophet (however brief the remains of some are), who prophesied directly to Judah, not in Isaiah only, but in Habakkuk Habakkuk 1:5; Habakkuk 2:1 and Zephaniah Zephaniah 1:12. It deepened, as it hastened toward its decision. The nearer God’s judgments were at hand, the more obstinately the false prophets denied that they would come. The system of false prophecy, which rose to its height in the time of Jeremiah, which met and thwarted him at every step (see Jeremiah 5:13, Jeremiah 5:31; Jeremiah 6:13-17; Jeremiah 8:10-12; Jeremiah 14:13-16; Jeremiah 20:1-6; Jeremiah 23:9 ff; Jeremiah 26:7-8, Jeremiah 26:11; Jeremiah 27:14-18; Jeremiah 28:0; Jeremiah 29:8-9, Jeremiah 29:21-32), and deceived those who wished to be deceived, was dawning in the time of Micah. False prophecy arose in Judah from the selfsame cause whence it had arisen in Israel, because Judah’s deepening corruption drew down the prophecies of God’s displeasure, which it was popular to disbelieve. False prophecy was a gainful occupation. The false prophets had men’s wishes on their side. They had the people with them. “My people love to have it so” Jeremiah 5:31, said God. They forbade Micah to prophesy Micah 2:6; prophesied peace Micah 3:5, when God foretold evil; prophesied for gain Micah 3:11, and proclaimed war in the Name of God (see the note at Micah 3:5) against those who fed them not.
Micah was called at such a time. His name which he himself explains, was no chance name. To the Hebrews, to whom names were so much more significant, parts of the living language, it recalled the name of his great predecessor - his standing alone against all the prophets of Ahab, his prophecy, his suffering, his evidenced truth. The truth of prophecy was set upon the issue of the battle before Ramoth-Gilead. In the presence of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, as well as of Ahab, the 400 prophets of Ashtaroth had promised to Ahab the prize he longed for. One solitary, discriminating voice was heard amid that clamorous multitude, forewarning Ahab that he would perish, his people would be scattered. On the one side, was that loud triumphant chorus of “all the prophets, Go up to Ramoth-Gilead, and prosper; for the Lord shall deliver it into the king’s hand” 1 Kings 22:12. On the other, one solemn voice, exhibiting before them that sad spectacle which the morrow’s sun should witness, “I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd, and the Lord said, these have no master, let them return every man to his house in peace” 1 Kings 22:17.
Micaiah was struck, imprisoned, and, apparently, ended his ministry, appealing from that small audience of the armies of Israel and Judah to the whole world, which has ever since looked back upon that strife with interest and awe; “Hear ye peoples, each one of them 1 Kings 22:28. God, who guided the archer shooting at a venture 1 Kings 22:34, fulfilled the words which He had put into the prophet’s mouth. God’s words had found Ahab, although disguised. Jehoshaphat, the imperiled 1 Kings 22:30-33, returned home, to relate the issue. The conflict between God’s truth and idol falsehood was doubtless long remembered in Judah. And now when the strife had penetrated into Judah, to be ended some 170 years afterward in the destruction of Jerusalem, another Micaiah arose, his name the old watchword, “Who is like the Lord?” He prefixed to his prophecy that same summons to the whole world to behold the issue of the conflict, which God had once accredited and, in that issue, had given an earnest of the victory of His truth, there thenceforth and forever.
The prophet was born a villager, in Moresheth Gath, “a village” , Jerome says; (“a little village” , in Jerome’s own days), “East of Eleutheropolis,” where what was “ formerly his grave,” was “now a church.” Since it was his birthplace and his burial-place, it was probably his home also. In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim, “the elders of the land” Jeremiah 26:17-18 speak of him with this same title, “the Morasthite.” He lingers, in his prophecy, among the towns of the maritime plain (the Shephelah) where his birthplace lay. Among the ten places in that neighborhood Micah 1:11-15, which he selects for warning and for example of the universal captivity, is his native village, “the home he loved.” But the chief scene of his ministry was Jerusalem. He names it in the beginning of his prophecy, as the place where the idolatries, and, with the idolatries, all the other sins of Judah were concentrated.
The two capitals, Samaria and Jerusalem, were the chief objects of the word of God to him, because the corruption of each kingdom streamed forth from them. The sins which he rebukes are chiefly those of the capital. Extreme oppression Micah 3:2-3; Micah 2:2, violence among the rich Micah 6:12, bribing among judges, priests, prophets (Micah 3:11; judges and priests, Micah 7:3); building up the capital even by cost of life, or actual bloodshed (Micah 3:10; bloodshed also, Micah 7:2); spoilation Micah 2:8; expulsion of the powerless, women and children from their homes Micah 2:9; covetousness Micah 2:2; cheating in dealings Micah 6:10-11; pride Micah 2:3. These, of course, may be manifoldly repeated in lesser places of resort and of judgment. But it is “Zion and Jerusalem” which are so built up with blood (Micah 3:10; bloodshed also, Micah 7:2); Zion and Jerusalem, which are, on that ground, to be “plowed as a field” Micah 3:12; it is “the city” to which “the Lord’s voice crieth” Micah 6:9; whose “rich men are full of violence” Micah 6:12; it is the “daughter of Zion” Micah 4:10, which is to “go forth out of the city and go to Babylon.” Especially, they are the heads and princes of the people Micah 3:1, Micah 3:9, Micah 3:11; Micah 6:12; Micah 7:3, whom he upbraids for perversion of justice and for oppression. Even the good kings of Judah seem to have been powerless to restrain the general corruption.
Micah, according to the title which he prefixed to his prophecy, was called to his prophetic function somewhat later than Isaiah. His ministry began later, and ended earlier. For Uzziah, in whose reign Isaiah began to prophesy, was dead before Micah was called to his office; and Micah probably was called away early in the reign of Hezekiah, whereas some of the chief public acts of Isaiah’s ministry fell in the 17th and 18th years of the reign of Hezekiah. Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, had doubtless been withdrawn to their rest. Hosea alone, in “grey-haired might,” was still protesting in vain against the deepening corruptions of Israel (to the north).
The contents of Micah’s prophecy and his relation to Isaiah agree with the inscription. His prophecy has indications of the times of Jotham, perhaps also of those of Ahaz. We know historically that one signal prophecy, was uttered in the reign of Hezekiah.
It is now accepted by almost everyone that the great prophecy (three verses of which Isaiah prefixed to Isaiah 2:0) was originally delivered by Micah. But it appears from the context in Isaiah, that Isaiah delivered the prophecy in his second chapter, in the reign of Jotham. Other language of Micah also belongs to that same reign. No one now thinks that Micah adopted that great prophecy from Isaiah. The prophecy, as it stands in Micah, is in close connection with what precedes it. He had said, “the mountain of the house shall be as the high places of the forest” Micah 3:12; he subjoins instantly God’s reversal of that sentence, “in the latter days.” “And in the last days it shall be that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established on the top of the mountains, and peoples shall flow unto it” Micah 4:1. He had said, “Zion shall be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps;” he adds immediately, in reversal of this, “the law shall go forth frown Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” Micah 4:2. The two sentences are joined as closely as they can be; “Zion, shall be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house shall become high places of a forest; and it shall be, in the last days, the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be (abidingly) established on the top of the mountains.” Every reader would understand, that the elevation intended, was spiritual, not physical. They could not fail to understand the metaphor; or imagine that the Mount Zion, on part of which, (Mount Moriah,) “the house of the Lord” stood, should be physically placed on other hills. But the contrast is marked. The premise is the sequel of the woe; the abiding condition is the reversal of the sentence of its desolation. Even the words allude, the one to the other.
In Isaiah, there is no such connection. After the first chapter and its summary of rebuke, warning, threatening, and final weal or woe resting on each class, Isaiah begins his prophecy anew with a fresh title; “The word that Isaiah the son of Amos saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem” Isaiah 2:1; and to this he prefixes three verses from Micah’s prophecy. He separates it in a marked way from the preceding summary, and yet connects it with some other prophecy by the word, “And” Isaiah 2:2. He himself marks that it is not in its original place here. So then, in the prophet Micah, the close connection with the foregoing marks that it is in its original place; Isaiah marked purposely that in his prophecy it is not.
But Isaiah’s prophecy belongs to a time of prosperity; such as Judah had not, after the reign of Jotham. It was a time of great war-like strength, diffused through the whole land. The land was full Isaiah 2:7, Isaiah 2:11, without end, of gold, silver, chariots, horses, of lofty looks and haughtiness. The images which follow Isaiah 2:12-21 are shadows of the Day of Judgment, and extend beyond Judah; but the sins rebuked are the sins of strength and might, self-confidence, oppression, manifold female luxury and bravery Isaiah 3:16, Isaiah 3:23. Isaiah prophesies that God would take away their strength Isaiah 3:1-3. They still had it then. At that time, Judah did not trust in God or in foreign alliances, but only in themselves. Yet, from the time of Ahaz, trust in foreign help infected them to the end. Even Hezekiah, when he received the messengers of Merodach-baladan Isaiah 39:1-8, fell into the snare; and Josiah probably lost his life as a vassal of Assyria 2Ki 23:29; 2 Chronicles 35:20-22. This union of inherent strength and unconcernedness about foreign aid is an adequate test of days prior to Ahaz.
But since Isaiah prefixed to a prophecy in the days of Jotham this great prophecy of Micah, then Micah’s prophecy must have been already current. To those same days of strength it belongs, that Micah could prophesy as a gift, the cutting off Micah 5:10-11, Micah 5:14 of “horses and chariots,” the destruction “of cities” and “strong towers,” all, in which Judah trusted instead of God. The prophecy is a counterpart of Isaiah’s. Isaiah prophesied a day of Judgment, in which all these things would be removed; Micah foretold that their removal would be a mercy to those who trust in Christ.
On the other hand, the utter dislocation of society, the bursting of all the most sacred bands which bind man to man together, described in his last chapter Isaiah 7:5-6, perhaps belong most to the miserable decay in the reign of Ahaz. The idolatry spoken of also belongs probably to the time of Ahaz. In Jotham’s time 2 Kings 15:35, “the people sacrificed and burned incense still in the high places;” yet, under a king so highly praised 2 Kings 15:34; 2Ch 27:2, 2 Chronicles 27:6, these are not likely to have been in Jerusalem. But Micah, in the very head of his prophecy, speaks of Jerusalem Micah 1:5 as the center of the idolatries of Judah. The allusion also to child-sacrifices belongs to the time of Ahaz, who sacrificed sons of his own 2Ki 16:3; 2 Chronicles 28:3, and whose sacrifice others probably imitated. The mention of the special idolatry of the time, “the statutes of Omri are kept, and all the works of the house of Ahab” Micah 6:16, belong to the same reign, it being recorded of Ahaz especially, “he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and made also molten images for Baalim” 2 Chronicles 28:2; the special sin of the house of Ahab. That charactor too which he describes, that, amid all that idolatry, practical irreligion, and wickedness, they “leant upon the Lord, and said, Is not the Lord among us? None evil can come upon us” Micah 3:11; Micah 6:6; was just the character of Ahaz. Not until the end of his reign was he so embittered by God’s chastisements, that he closed His temple 2 Chronicles 28:22-24.
Up to that time, even after he had copied the Brazen Altar at Damascus, he still kept up a divided allegiance to God. Urijah, the high Priest, at the king’s command, offered the sacrifices for the king and the people, while Ahaz used “the brazen altar, to enquire by” 2 Kings 16:15. This was just the half-service which God by Micah rejects. It is the old history of man’s half-service, faith without love, which provides that what it believes but loves not should be done for it, and itself enacts what it prefers. Urijah was to offer the lawful sacrifices for the king and the people; Ahaz was to obtain knowledge of the future, such as he wished in his own way, a lying future, by lying acts.
Micah renewed under Hezekiah the prophecy of the utter destruction of Jerusalem, which he had pronounced under Jotham. The prophets did not heed repeating themselves. Eloquent as they were, they are the more eloquent because eloquence was not their object. Even our Lord Jesus, with divine wisdom, and the more, probably, because He had divine wisdom, repeated in His teaching the same words. Those words sank the deeper, because they were repeated so often. So Micah repeated doubtless oftentimes those words, which he first uttered in the days of Jotham; “Zion shall be plowed like a field and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest.” Often, perhaps during those 30 years or so, he repeated them in vain. At the last, they brought about a great repentance, and delayed, it may be for 136 years, the destruction which he was constrained to foretell. Early in the days of Jehoiakim, about 120 years afterward, in the public assembly when Jeremiah was on trial for his life, “the elder’s of the land said explicitly, that the great conversion at the beginning of the reign of Hezekiah, nay, of that king himself, was wrought by the teaching of Micah.” “Then rose up, says Jeremiah, certain of the elders of the land, and spake to all the assembly of the people, saying, Micah the Morasthite prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Zion shall be plowed like a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house, as the high places of the forest. Did Hezekiah king of Judah, and all Judah, put him at all to death? Did he not fear the Lord, and besought the Lord, and the Lord repented Him of the evil which He had pronounced against them?” Jeremiah 26:17-19.
It may have been that single prophecy which Micah so delivered; some have thought that it was his whole book. Jeremiah, at God’s command, at one time uttered single prophecies; at another, the summary of all his prophecies. This only is certain, that the prophecy, whether these words alone or the book containing them, was delivered to all Judah, and that God moved the people through them to repentance.
The words, as they occur in Jeremiah, are the same, and in the same order, as they stand in Micah. Only in Jeremiah the common plural termination is substituted for the rarer and poetic form used by Micah. The elders, then, who quoted them, probably knew them, not from tradition, but from the written book of the prophet Micah. But those elders speak of Micah, as exercising his prophetic function in the days of Hezekiah. They do not say, “he prophesied,” which might have been a single act; but “he was prophesying,”נבא היה hâyâh nâbâ', a form of speaking which is only used of an abiding, habitual, action. They say also, “he was habitually prophesying, and he said,” i. e., as we should say, “in the course of his prophesying in the days of Hezekiah, he said.” Still it was “to all the people of Judah” that he said it. The elders say so, and lay stress upon it by repeating it. “Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him at all to death?” It must have been then on some of the great festivals, when “all Judah” was gathered together, that Micah so spoke to them.
Probably, shortly afterward, in those first years of Hezekiah, Micah’s function on earth closed. For, at the outset and in the summary of his prophecy, not incidentally, he speaks of the destruction of Samaria, which took place in the 4th year of Hezekiah, as still to come; and however practical or partial idolatry continued, such idolatry as he throughout describes, did not exist after the reformation by Hezekiah. This conversion, then, of the king and of some considerable part of Judah was probably the closing harvest of his life, after a long seed-time of tears. So God allowed His servant Micah to “depart in peace.” The reformation itself, at least in its fullness, took place after the kingdom of Samaria had come to an end, since Hezekiah’s messengers could, unhindered, invite all Israel to join in his great Passover. Probably, then, Micah lived to see the first dawnings only of the first reformation which God wrought by his words.
At the commencement, then, of Hezekiah’s reign he collected the substance of what God had taught by him, re-casting it, so to speak, and retaining of his spoken prophecy so much as God willed to remain for us. As it stands, it belongs to that early time of Hezekiah’s reign, in which the sins of Ahaz still lived on. Corruption of manners had been hereditary. In Jotham’s reign too, it is said expressly, in contrast with himself, “the people were still doing corruptly” 2 Chronicles 27:2. Idolatry had, under Ahaz, received a fanatic impulse from the king, who, at last, set himself to close the worship of God 2 Chronicles 28:22-25; 2 Chronicles 29:7. The strength of Jotham’s reign was gone; the yearning for its restoration led to the wrong and destructive policy, against which Isaiah had to contend. Of this Micah says, such should not be the strength of the future kingdom of God. Idolatry and oppression lived on; against these, the inheritance of those former reigns, the sole remainder of Jotham’s might or Ahaz’ policy, the breach of the law of love of God and man, Micah concentrated his written prophecy.
This book also has remarkable symmetry. Each of its three divisions is a whole, beginning with upbraiding for sin, threatening God’s judgments, and ending with promises of future mercy Christ. The two later divisions begin again with that same characteristic, “Hear ye” Mic. 3–7, with which Micah had opened the whole. The three divisions are also connected, as well by lesser references of the later to the former, as also by the advance of the prophecy. Judah could not be trusted now with any simple declaration of God’s future mercy. They supposed themselves, impenitent as they were and with no purpose of repentance, to be the objects of God’s care, and secure from evil. Unmixed promise of good would but foment this irreligious apathy. Hence, on the promises at the end of the first portion, “and their king shall pass before them and the Lord at the head of them” Micah 2:12, he turns abruptly, “And I said, Hear, I pray you, Is it not for you to know judgement?” Micah 3:1. The promise had been to “Jacob and the remnant of Israel” Micah 2:12. He renews his summons to the “heads of Jacob” Micah 3:1 and the “princes of the house of Israel.” In like way, the last section, opening with that wonderful pleading of God with His people, follows upon that unbroken declaration of God’s mercies, which itself issues out of the promised Birth at Bethlehem.
There is also a sort of progress in the promises of the three parts . In the first, it is of deliverance generally, in language taken from that first deliverance from Egypt. The second is objective, the Birth of the Redeemer, the conversion of the Gentiles, the restoration of the Jews, the establishment and nature of His kingdom. The third is mainly subjective man’s repentance, waiting upon God, and God’s forgiveness of his sins.
Throughout, the metropolis is chiefly addressed, as the main seat of present evil and as the center of the future blessings; where the reign of the long-promised Ruler should be Micah 4:2, Micah 4:7-8; whence the revelation of God should go forth to the heathen Micah 4:1-2; whither the scattered and dispersed people should be gathered Micah 4:6-7; Micah 7:11-12.
Throughout the prophecy also, Micah upbraids the same class of sins, wrong dealing of man to man, oppression of the poor by the rich. Throughout, their future captivity and dispersion are either predicted , or assumed as the basis of the prediction of good Micah 2:12-13; Micah 4:6-7, Micah 4:10; Micah 7:11-12, Micah 7:15. Throughout, we see the contemporary of the prophet Isaiah. Beside that great prediction, which Isaiah inserted verbally from Micah, we see them, as it were, side by side, in that city of God’s visitation and of His mercy, prophesying the same respite, the same place of captivity and deliverance from it, the same ulterior mercies in Christ. : “The more to establish the faith, God willed that Isaiah and Micah should speak together, as with one mouth, and use such agreement as might the more convict all rebels.”
Assyria was then the monarchy of the world; yet both prophets promise deliverance from it Isaiah 10:24-34; Isaiah 14:25; Isaiah 30:31; Isaiah 31:8-9; Isaiah 37:6-7, Isaiah 37:21-35; Micah 5:5-6; both foretell the captivity in the then subordinate Babylon Isaiah 39:6; Micah 4:10; both, the deliverance from it Isaiah 48:20; Micah 4:10. Both speak in the like way of the gathering together of God’s people from lands (Isaiah 11:11 following; Micah 7:12), to some of which they were not yet dispersed. Isaiah prophesied the Virgin-Birth of Immanuel Isaiah 7:14; Micah, the Birth at Bethlehem of Him “Whose goings fourth have been of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2 English (Micah 5:1 in Hebrew)). Both speak in the like way of the reverence for the Gentiles thereafter for her , by reason of the presence of her God. Even, in outward manner, Micah, representing himself, as one who “went mourning and wailing, stripped and naked” (Micah 1:8, see note), is a sort of forerunner of the symbolic acts of Isaiah (Isaiah 20:2-3).
Micah had this also common with Isaiah, that he has a predominance of comfort. He is brief in upbraiding Micah 1:5; Micah 2:1-2, Micah 2:9-11, indignant in casting back the pleas of the false prophets Micah 2:7, Micah 2:11; Micah 3:5-7, concise in his threatenings of woe Micah 2:3, Micah 2:10; Micah 3:4, Micah 3:12; Micah 6:13-16; Micah 7:4, Micah 7:13, save where he lingers mournfully over the desolation Micah 1:10-16; Micah 2:4-5, large and flowing in his descriptions of mercy to come Micah 4:1-13; Micah 5:1-15; Micah 7:7-20. He sees and pronounces the coming punishment, as absolutely certain; he does not call to repentance to avert it; he knows that ultimately it will not be averted; he sees it irrespectively of time, and says that it will be. Time is an accident to the link of cause and effect. Sin consummated would be the cause; punishment, the effect. He spoke to those who knew that God pardoned on repentance, who had lately had before them that marvelous instance in Nineveh. He dashes to the ground their false security, by reason of their descent from Jacob Micah 2:7, of God’s Presence among them in the Temple Micah 3:11; the multitude of their offerings amid the multitude of their sins Micah 6:6-7.
He rejects in God’s name, their false, outward, impenitent, penitence; and thereby the more implies that He would accept a true repentance. They knew this, and were, for a time, scared into penitence. But in his book, as God willed it to remain, he is rather the prophet of God’s dealings, than the direct preacher of repentance to individuals. Yet he is the more an evangelic preacher, in that he speaks of repentance, only as the gift of God. He does not ignore that man must accept the grace of God; but, as Isaiah foretells of the days of the Gospel, “the idols He shall utterly abolish” Isaiah 2:18, so Micah first foretells that God would abolish all wherein man relied out of God, all wherein he prided himself Micah 5:9-10, every form of idolatry Micah 5:11-13, and subsequently describes the future evangelic repentance, submission to, and waiting upon God and His righteousness Micah 7:8-9; and God’s free plenary forgiveness Micah 7:18-19.
Micah’s rapid unprepared transitions from each of his main themes to another, from upbraiding to threatening, from threatening to mercy and then back again to upbraiding, is probably a part of that same vivid perception of the connection of sin, chastisement, forgiveness, in the will and mind of God. He sees them and speaks of them in the natural sequence in which they were exhibited to him. He connects most commonly the sin with the punishment by the one word, therefore (not Micah 1:6; Micah 6:13; but Micah 1:14; Micah 2:3, Micah 2:5; Micah 3:6, Micah 3:12), because it was an object with him to shew the connection. The mercies to come he subjoins either suddenly without any conjunction Micah 2:12; Micah 4:13, or with the simple and. An English reader loses some of the force of this simplicity by the paraphrase, which, for the simple copula, substitutes the inference or contrast, “therefore, then, but, notwithstanding” , which lie in the subjects themselves.
An English reader might have been puzzled, at first sight, by the monotonous simplicity of the, and, and, joining together the mention of events, which stand, either as the contrast or the consequence of those which precede them. The English version accordingly has consulted for the reader or hearer, by drawing out for him the contrast or consequence which lay beneath the surface. But this gain of clearness involved giving up so far the majestic simplicity of the Prophet, who at times speaks of things as they lay in the Divine Mind, and as, one by one, they would be unfolded to man, without explaining the relation in which they stood to one another. Micah knew that surfferings were, in God’s purpose, travail-pains. And so, immediately after the denunciation of punishment, he adds so calmly, “And in the last days it shall be;” “And thou, Bethlehem Ephratah” (Micah 4:1; Micah 5:2 (Micah 5:1 in Hebrew); add Micah 7:7). Or in the midst of his descriptions of mercies, he speaks of the intervening troubles, as the way to them. “Now why dost thou cry aloud? - pangs have taken thee, as a woman in travail - be in pain - thou shalt go even unto Babylon; there shalt thou be delivered” Micah 4:9 : or, “Therefore will He give thee up until the time, ...” (Micah 5:3 (Micah 5:2 in Hebrew)), i. e., because He has these good things in store for thee, “He will give thee up, until the time” comes.
With this great simplicity Micah unites great vividness and energy. Thus in predicting punishment, he uses the form of command, bidding them, as it were, execute it on themselves; “Arise, depart” (Micah 2:10; add Micah 1:11, Micah 1:13; Micah 4:10): as, in the Great Day, our Lord shall say, “Depart, ye cursed.” And since God does in us or by us what He commands to be done, he uses the imperative to Zion, alike as to her victories over God’s enemies Micah 4:13, or her state of anxious fear (Micah 5:1 (4:14 in Hebrew)).
To that same vividness belong his rapid changes of person or gender; his sudden questions Micah 1:5; Micah 2:7; Micah 3:1; Micah 4:9; Micah 6:3, Micah 6:6, Micah 6:10-11; Micah 7:18; his unmarked dialogues. The changes of person and gender occur in all Hebrew poetry; all have their emphasis. He addresses the people or place as a whole (feminine), then all the individuals in her (Micah 1:11, twice); or turns away and speaks of it ; or contrariwise, having spoken of the whole in the third person, he turns round and drives the warning home to individuals Micah 2:3. The variations in the last verse of Micah 6:0 are unexampled for rapidity even in Hebrew.
And yet the flow of his words is smooth and measured. Without departing from the conciseness of Hebrew poetry, his cadence, for the most part, is of the more prolonged sort, as far as any can be called prolonged, when all is so concise. In some 8 verses, out of 104, he is markedly brief, where conciseness corresponds with his subject, as in an abrupt appeal as to their sins (Micah 3:10 ((5 words); Micah 6:11 (6 words)), or an energetic announcement of judgment (Micah 5:8; and Micah 7:13 (7 words)) or of mercy (Micah 7:11 (7 words); Micah 7:15 (5 words)), or in that remarkable prophecy of both (Micah 5:13 Hebrew (5 Words); Micah 5:10 (6 words); Micah 5:11 (7 words)), how God would, in mercy, cut off all grounds of human trust. Else, whereas in Nahum and Habakkuk, not quite 13, and in the eleven last Chapters of Hosea much less than 13, of the verses contain more than 13 words , in Micah above 37 (as, in Joel, nearly 37) exceed that number .
His description of the destruction of the cities or villages of Judah corresponds in vividness to Isaiah’s ideal march of Sennacherib Isaiah 10:28-32. The flame of war spreads from place to place; but Micah relieves the sameness of the description of misery by every variety which language allows. He speaks of them in his own person (see Micah 1:8, note; Micah 1:10, note), or to them; he describes the calamity in past Micah 1:9-12 or in future Micah 1:8, or by use of the imperative Micah 1:11, Micah 1:13, Micah 1:16. The verbal allusions are crowded together in a way unexampled elsewhere. Moderns have spoken of them, as not after their taste, or have apologized for them. The mighty prophet, who wrought a repentance greater than his great contemporary Isaiah, knew well what would impress the people to whom he spoke. The Hebrew names had definite meanings. We can well imagine how, as name after name passed from the prophet’s mouth, connected with some note of woe, all around awaited anxiously, to know upon what place the fire of the Prophet’s word would next fall; and as at last it had fallen upon little and mighty round about Jerusalem, the names of the places would ring in their ears as heralds of the coming woe; they would be like so many monuments, inscribed beforehand with the titles of departed greatness, reminding Jerusalem itself of its portion of the prophecy, that “evil should come from the Lord unto the gate of Jerusalem” Isaiah 1:12.
Wonderful must have been his lightning-flash of indignation, as, when the false prophet or the people had forbidden God’s word to be spoken, he burst upon them, “Thou, called house of Jacob, shortened is God’s Spirit?” Micah 2:7. “Or these His doings?” And then follow the plaintive descriptions of the wrongs done to the poor, the peaceful Micah 2:8-9, the mothers of his people and their little ones. And then again the instantaneous dismissal, “Arise and depart.” Micah 2:10. But, therewith, wonderful also is his tenderness. Burning as are his denunciations against the oppressions of the rich Micah 2:1-2; Micah 3:1-3, Micah 3:9-11; Micah 6:10-12; Micah 7:2-3, (words less vehement will not pierce hearts of stone) there is an under-current of tenderness. His rebukes evince not indignation only against sin, but a tender sympathy with the sufferers Micah 1:8-9; Micah 2:1-2; Micah 7:5-6. He is afflicted in the afflictions which he has to denounce. He yearns for his people Micah 1:8-10, Micah 1:16; Micah 4:9-10; nay, until our Lord’s coming, there is scarcely an expression of such yearning longing: he hungers and thirsts for their good Micah 7:1.
God’s individual care of His people, and of each soul in it, had, since David’s time Psalms 23:1-6 and even since Jacob Genesis 49:24, been likened to the care of the shepherd for each single sheep. The Psalm of Asaph Psalms 74:1; Psalms 78:52; Psalms 79:13; Psalms 80:1 must have familiarized the people to the image, as relating to themselves as a whole, and David’s deep Psalm had united it with God’s tender care of His own in, and over, death. Yet the predominance of this image in Micah is a part of the tenderness of the prophet. He adopts it, as expressing, more than any other natural image, the helplessness of the creature, the tender individual care of the Creator. He forestalls our Lord’s words, “I am the good shepherd,” in his description of the Messiah, gathering “the remnant of Israel together, as the sheep of Bozrah” Micah 2:12; His people are as a flock, “lame and despised” Micah 4:6, whom God would assemble; His royal seat, “the tower of the flock” Micah 4:8; the Ruler of Israel should “stand” unresting, “and feed them” (Micah 5:4. (English 3 Hebrew)); those whom He should employ against the enemies of His people, are shepherds” (Micah 5:5, (Micah 5:4 in Hebrew)), under Him, the true shepherd. He sums up his prayer for his people to God as their Shepherd; “Feed Thy people with Thy rod, the flock of Thine heritage” Micah 7:14.
Directly, he was a Prophet for Judah only. At the beginning of his book, he condemns the idolatries of both capitals, as the central sin of the two kingdoms. The destruction of Samaria he pronounces at once, as future, absolutely certain, abiding Micah 1:6-7. There he leaves her, declares her “wound incurable,” and passes immediately to Judah, to whom, he says, that wound should pass, whom that same enemy should reach. Micah 1:9. Thereafter, he mentions incidentally the infection of Israel’s sin spreading to Judah Micah 1:13. Elsewhere, after that first sentence on Samaria, the names of Jacob (which he had given to the ten tribes Micah 1:5) and Israel are appropriated to the kingdom of Judah : Judah is mentioned no more, only her capital; even her kings are called “the kings of Israel” Micah 1:14. The ten tribes are only included in the general restoration of the whole . The future remnant of the two tribes, to be restored after the captivity of Babylon, are called by themselves “the remnant of Jacob” (Micah 5:7-8, (Micah 5:8-9 in Hebrew)): the Messiah to be born at Bethlehem is foretold as “the ruler in Israel” (Micah 5:2 (Micah 5:1 in Hebrew)): the ten tribes are called “the remnant of His brethren,” who were to “return to the children of Israel” (Micah 5:3 (Micah 5:2 in Hebrew)), i. e., Judah.
This the more illustrates the genuineness of the inscription. A later hand would have been unlikely to have mentioned either Samaria or those earlier kings of Judah. Each part of the title corresponds to something in the prophecy; the name “Micah” is alluded to at its close; his birthplace, “the Morasthite,” at its beginning; the indications of those earlier reigns lie there, although not on its surface. The mention of the two capitals, followed by the immediate sentence on Samaria, and then by the fuller expansion of the sins and punishment of Jerusalem, culminating in its sentence Micah 3:12, in Micah, corresponds to the brief mention of the punishment of Judah in Amos the prophet of Israel, and then the fuller expansion of the sins and punishments of Israel. Further, the capitals, as the fountains of idolatry, are the primary object of God’s displeasure. They are both specially denounced in the course of the prophecy; their special overthrow is foretold Micah 1:6, Micah 1:9, Micah 1:12; Micah 3:10-12; Micah 4:10. The title corresponds with the contents of the prophecy, yet the objections of modern critics shew that the correspondence does not lie on the surface.
The taunt of the false priest Amaziah to Amos may in itself suggest that; prophets at Jerusalem did prophesy against Samaria. Amaziah, anyhow, thought it natural that they should. Both Isaiah and Micah, while exercising their office at Jerusalem, had regard also to Samaria. Divided as Israel and Judah were, Israel was not yet cut off. Israel and Judah were still, together, the one people of God. The prophets in each had a care for the other.
Micah joins himself on to the men of God before him, as Isaiah at the time, and Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Ezekiel, subsequently, employed words or thoughts of Micah . Micah alludes to the history, the laws, the promises, the threatenings of the Pentateuch; and that in such wise, that it is plain that he had, not traditional laws or traditional history, but the Pentateuch itself before him . Nor were those books before himself only. His book implies not an acquaintance only, but a familiar acquaintance with it on the part of the people. The title, “the land of Nimrod” (Micah 5:6, (Micah 5:5 in Hebrew) from Genesis 10:8-12), “the house of bondage” , for Egypt, the allusions to the miraculous deliverance from Egypt (see the note at Micah 2:13; Micah 6:4; Micah 7:15), the history of Balaam; the whole summary of the mercies of God from the Exodus to Gilgal (see the note at Micah 6:4-5) the faithfulness pledged to Abraham and Jacob (see the note at Micah 7:20), would be unintelligible without the knowledge of the Pentateuch. Even single expressions are taken from the Pentateuch.
Especially, the whole sixth chapter is grounded upon it. Thence is the appeal to inanimate nature to hear the controversy; thence the mercies alleged on God’s part; the offerings on man’s part to atone to God (except the one dreadful superstition of Ahaz) are from the law; the answer on God’s part is almost verbally from the law; the sins upbraided are sins forbidden in the law; the penalties pronounced are also those of the law. There are two allusions also to the history of Joshua (see the note at Micah 2:4; Micah 6:5), to David’s elegy over Saul and Jonathan Micah 1:10, and, as before said, to the history of Micaiah son of Imlah in the Book of Kings. Single expressions are also taken from the Psalms , and the Proverbs . In the descriptions of the peace of the kingdom of Christ Micah 4:3; Joel 3:10, he appears purposely to have reversed God’s description of the animosity of the nations against God’s people. He has also two characteristic expressions of Amos. Perhaps, in the image of the darkness which should come on the false prophets Micah 3:6; Amos 8:9, he applied anew the image of Amos, adding the ideas of spiritual darkness and perplexity to that of calamity.
The light and shadows of the prophetic life fell deeply on the soul of Micah. The captivity of Judah too had been foretold before him. Moses had foretold the end from the beginning, had set before them the captivity and the dispersion, as a punishment which the sins of the people would certainly bring upon them. Hosea presupposed it ; Amos foretold that Jerusalem, like the cities of its heathen enemies, should be burned with fire Micah 2:5. Micah had to declare its lasting desolation Micah 3:12. Even when God wrought repentance through him, he knew that it was but for a time; for he foresaw and foretold that the deliverance would be, not in Jerusalem, but at Babylon Micah 4:10, in captivity. His prophecy sank so deep, that, above a century afterward, just when it was about to have its fulfillment, it was the prophecy which was remembered. But the sufferings of time disappeared in the light of eternal truth. Above seven centuries rolled by, and Micah re-appears as the herald, not now of sorrow but of salvation. Wise men from afar, in the nobility of their simple belief, asked, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” A king, jealous for his temporal empire, gathered all those learned in Holy Scripture, and echoed the question. The answer was given, unhesitatingly, as a well-known truth of God, in the words of Micah. “For thus it is written in the Prophet.” Glorious peerage of the two contemporary prophets of Judah. Ere Jesus was born, the Angel announced the birth of the Virgin’s Son, “God with us,” in the words of Isaiah. When He was born, He was pointed out as the Object of worship to the first converts from the heathen, on the authority of God, through Micah.
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26