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by Joseph Exell
§ 1. SUBJECT OF THE BOOK
THE Book of Micah, in our present Hebrew copies and in the Latin Vulgate, stands sixth among the minor prophets; in the Septuagint it is placed third. Collected apparently into one volume in the last year of the prophet's life, it contains a number of prophecies uttered, perhaps, at different times, but yet connected together by logical sequence, and displaying a certain symmetrical arrangement. Caspari suggests that he thus gathered the notes of his various discourses, and read them in the ears of the people, in order to assist Hezekiah's great reformation. Threatening and promise alternate in these addresses, upbraiding and pleading, judgment and mercy. There is very much that is common with Isaiah, and the actual words in both are often identical. Being contemporaries, and confronted with the same circumstances, the two prophets naturally use corresponding expressions in dealing with similar subjects. In his account of the moral corruption that prevails, Micah agrees thoroughly with Isaiah, though he differs from him in not touching on politics, and in taking a more hopeless view of the reformation of Israel; in his Messianic anticipations he is as clear and precise as the evangelical prophet himself. Both he and Isaiah look to the great world empire as fatal to Israel, though Micah calls it in one place (Micah 5:5, etc.) by the current name of Assyria, and in other passages, Babylon.
The state of Judah before Hezekiah's reformation was most unsatisfactory. Apart from the idolatry which was at the bottom of all the evil that prevailed, we gather from the prophet's denunciations that the chiefs of the nation were proud, luxurious, unscrupulous, and cruel; the peasants were ground clown by exactions and deprived of their legal rights. And the improvement in religion which Hezekiah effected had not extended very deep, nor produced that real impression which we are wont to assume. "High places" still remained; practical unbelief widely existed; coincident with the worship of Jehovah a virtual idolatry was practised. Looking sadly on all this evil, Micah knew to what result it tended, and his warnings were embittered by the consciousness that the punishment which he foretold was righteously deserved, and would not now be averted by timely repentance.
The book is arranged, for rhetorical purposes, into three prophetical addresses, consisting of words uttered originally at various times, as the Spirit within moved the prophet to speak. The three portions have a generally distinctive character and a certain inward connection. The first is chiefly of a threatening nature; in the second, Messianic hopes predominate; the third is hortatory, urging to repentance under God's chastening hand, in remembrance of past mercies and promised salvation.
Micah begins with a grand description of the coming of the Lord to judge Israel and Judah for their sins and idolatry, when Samaria, as first in wickedness, shall be first to fall before the avenging enemy; and then a similar fate shall happen to Jerusalem and Judaea (whose towns are not mentioned in strictly geographical order), with the deportation of their inhabitants. The sins of the grandees have brought this judgment upon them. There are found in them oppression, injustice, and violence. The false prophets only pander to their evil lusts, and lull them into false security; and the penalty of all this guilt shall be removal from their present home. But God will not cast them off altogether; for they shall yet one day be restored in triumph (ch. 1, 2.).
In the second part the prophet, showing the necessity of the judgment, more particularly rebukes the cruelty and rapacity of the great men; denounces woe on the false prophets who led the people astray; on the priests who taught for hire; on the judges who sold their sentences, and the diviners who practised their cheating art for lucre. In requital for these enormities, Zion the royal seat, Jerusalem the holy city, and the temple the house of God, should be brought to desolation. Then a contrast is introduced. This triple overthrow shall be compensated by a triple restoration. The people shall return from captivity, and the Lord's house shall be raised on high, and the nations shall flock unto it to learn piety and true religion; Jerusalem shall be inhabited again, increased and beautified; the royal power shall again be seated in Zion; Jehovah himself shall reign there in the midst of universal peace, having overthrown all the peoples who once rejoiced in Judah's calamity. The Redeemer shall be born in Bethlehem; his kingdom shall extend to the ends of the earth; but all idolatry, all trust in the arm of flesh, must be removed before the great consummation shall occur (ch. 3-5).
In the last part, which differs from the preceding portions in being of a more subjective character, Jehovah is represented as holding a controversy or lawsuit with his people, justifying his conduct, and listening to their rejoinder, which is so far from being satisfactory that judgment is pronounced upon them. Then, in touching words, Micah, identifying himself with the people, acknowledges the justice of the sentence, while he bewails its infliction; he repents of the sins which have occasioned this punishment, looks patiently to God, and puts his sole trust in him, and, in answer to his prayers, is rewarded by the promise of deliverance. The book concludes with a triumphal song, celebrating the victory which God will achieve, and praising the mercy and faithfulness which he always has shown to his people (ch. 6, 7.).
Such is a general sketch of the contents of this book. We may note, besides, that in it are contained many special predictions; viz. the destruction of Samaria by Shalmaneser and his successor Sargon (Micah 1:6, Micah 1:7); the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib (Micah 1:9-16); the overthrow of Jerusalem and the temple (Micah 3:12; Micah 7:13); the deportation to Babylon (Micah 4:10); the return from exile; the peace and happiness under a theocratic government, and the spiritual supremacy of Israel (Micah 4:1-8, Micah 4:13; Micah 7:11, Micah 7:14-17); the Ruler born at Bethlehem, of the family of David (Micah 4:8; Micah 5:2); and, as it seems, the destruction of Nineveh and Babylon (Micah 5:5, Micah 5:6; Micah 7:8, Micah 7:10). To Isaiah and Micah belong the two clearest and most unmistakable prophecies of the Messiah, Isaiah describes his birth of the Virgin; Micah pointed out the place of his birth so plainly that when the Wise Men came inquiring where the King of the Jews was born, the answer was given to Herod without hesitation, "In Bethlehem of Judaea; for thus it is written by the prophet" (Matthew 2:5). Further, Micah declares that the time of Messiah shall be one of profound peace (Micah 4:1-7), using the same words as Isaiah (Isaiah 2:2, etc.). He intimates that the glory of Messiah shall be won by suffering (Micah 4:8-13); he speaks of his work and his power (Micah 5:1-3); and he depicts the kingdom of Messiah in its exterior and interior organization (Micah 5:4, Micah 5:8, etc.).
§ 2. AUTHOR.
The name Micah (Μιχαιìας: Μειχαιìας, Sin.; Michaeas or Micha, Vulgate), a shortened form of Michaia (Jeremiah 26:18), and in its original shape Michajahu, is not uncommon in the Old Testament (Judges 17:1; 2 Chronicles 13:2; 2 Chronicles 17:7; Jeremiah 36:11, etc.); but none of the other persons so called are of much note in the sacred story save Micaiah the son of Imlah, who prophesied so boldly in the days of Ahab (1 Kings 22:0.). It is probably to distinguish him from this last-named personage that the minor prophet is termed "Micah the Morasthite," i.e. a native of Moresheth-Gath. The LXX., indeed, in Micah 1:1, treat the appellation as a patronymic, τοÌν τοῦ Μωρασθειì (Μωραθειì, Alex.); but in Jeremiah 33:18 (26:18, Hebrew) they give Μιχαιìας ὁ Μωραθιìτης: and there is no doubt that the latter rendering is correct. Moresheth, elsewhere, as some say, called Mareshah, was noticed by St. Jerome as a small village near Eleutheropolis. It is now known as Mer'ash, a village on a tel about a mile southcast of Beit-Jibrin, which Dr. Thomson, after Robinson, identifies with Eleutheropolis, and considers with great plausibility, to be the site of the more ancient Gath. "Micah refers to Moresheth as though it was a suburb of Gath (Micah 1:10, Micah 1:14). By coupling the two names together, he wrote Moresheth-Gath, probably in order to fix the place of the less-known suburb by the name of the main city."
The name Micah signifies, "Who is like Jehovah?" We are reminded by it of the challenge in Moses' song (Exodus 15:11), "Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee?" and it is doubtless with reference to his own name that the prophet introduces the announcement of God's great mercy with the words, "Who is a God like unto thee?" (Micah 7:18). The name of Micah's father is not given, so that he was probably of mean origin, most likely a peasant, as Amos; and no events of his life are recorded. Whatever can be known about him must be gathered from his own writings; and this is very little. He was a Judaean, and prophesied at Jerusalem. This latter fact we infer not only from the mention of the kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, under whom he is said to have exercised his ministry, but from the circumstance that he condemns chiefly the corruptions of the city, and makes Zion the central point of his prophecies, as it was the main seat of the evils against which he contended. He suffered great opposition at the hands of the false prophets (Micah 2:6), who were now beginning to exert that disastrous influence which culminated in the time of Jeremiah. Disobedience to God's enactments had always been common, but organized hostility to God's prophets had not hitherto been the normal state of things. Micah was destined to exercise his powers under obloquy and contradiction. He seems, however, to have gone to the grave in peace, before the fall of Samaria, in the early part of Hezekiah's reign. His birthplace was, according to Jerome, also the place of his burial, on the site of which, in Christian times, a church was built. Sozomen ('Hist. Eccl.,' 7:28) relates that his remains and those of Habakkuk were discovered, in the reign of Theodosius, at a place called Berathsatia (probably the same as Morasthi), ten stadia from Cila, his tomb being called by the ignorant natives, in their own dialect, Nephsameemana, which he interprets μνῆμα πιστοìν, "monumentum fidele."
§ 3. DATE.
The superscription of our book states that Micah prophesied "in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah." Modern critics see reason to doubt whether this title, as well as the similar ones in Hoses and Isaiah (which, however, contain the name of Uzziah), are genuine. They deem them to be later additions introduced by an unknown editor. In the present case the superscription is confirmed by the contents of the book Jotham came to the throne in B.C. 757; Hezekiah died in 697; and thus the greatest limit attributed to his ministry would be sixty years; while the interval from the last year of Jotham to the first of Hezekiah, B.C. 742-726, allows a period of sixteen years as the minimum duration of his prophetical activity. In either case he is contemporary with Isaiah, and with the latter portion of the ministry of Amos and Hosea. We have a testimony concerning his date in Jeremiah 26:18, where certain elders of the land appeal to the ease of Micah as one who asserted unpopular truths in the time of Hezekiah, without incurring the charge of blasphemy. "Micah the Morasthite," said they, "prophesied in the days of Hezekiah King of Judah, and spake to all the people of Judah, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Zion shall be ploughed like a field," etc., quoting Micah 3:12. But this assertion need not be taken as necessarily restricting all his utterances to Hezekiah's reign. The elders had a traditional report that his prophecies originated in that period; "He was habitually prophesying," is their expression; but that no part of the collection was published before that time cannot be proved by this particular reference. It seems probable that the various prophecies, orally delivered on different occasions, were committed to writing and gathered into one volume in the earlier years of King Hezekiah. There really is no sufficient reason for doubting the accuracy of the superscription. The contents of the book are quite consistent with what we know of the condition of the Jewish people in the reigns enumerated. The mention of "the high places" still existing, and the corruption and demoralization of the people (Micah 1:5; Micah 2:0.), points to the reigns of Jotham and Ahaz as the period when the first section of the book was originally delivered (see 2 Kings 15:35; 2 Kings 16:4; 2 Chronicles 28:4, 2 Chronicles 28:25). The prophecy of the destruction of Samaria (Micah 1:6) must have been delivered before the final capture of that city by the Assyrians, B.C. 722, in the fourth or sixth year of Hezekiah. Other allusions serve to supply an approximation to the date of different portions of the prophecy. We have seen that ch. 3. was uttered in Hezekiah's day. In Micah 5:10 Micah declaims against the chariots and horses of Judah, which were doubtless accumulated during the prosperous reign of Uzziah, and on which his successor Jotham prided himself (2 Chronicles 26:11-15; 2 Chronicles 27:4-6; Isaiah 2:7). When he bitterly complains of "the statutes of Omri," and "the works of the house of Ahab" (Micah 6:16), he is denouncing the king who is expressly stated to have "walked in the ways of the kings of Israel" (2 Kings 16:3). It is more likely to have been in Ahaz's time than in Jotham's that idolatrous rites were practised in Jerusalem itself; for the latter is commended because he walked in the steps of his father Uzziah, and "ordered his ways before the Lord his God" (2 Kings 15:34; 2 Chronicles 27:2, 2 Chronicles 27:6); and the allusion to human sacrifice (Micah 6:7) befits the time of Ahaz, who sacrificed his own sons to Moloch (2 Kings 16:3; 2 Chronicles 28:3), and whose example was probably followed by others. That half-service, too, of which Micah complains (Micah 3:11; Micah 6:6), when the people, in the midst of their idolatry and wickedness, yet in some sort "leaned upon the Lord," exactly suits the character of Ahaz, who, though he copied heathen altars, resorted to the brazen altar to inquire of the Lord (2 Kings 16:15), and offered thereon the lawful sacrifice. The prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, delivered first under Jotham, was repeated under Hezekiah, and it is to its impressive effect at that time that the elders in Jeremiah allude. Doubtless, too, in those early years of Hezekiah his ministry came to an end. The denunciations of idolatry would not have been uttered after the great, though partial, reformation of religion, which, indeed, could not have been fully carried out till Samaria was destroyed; for otherwise Hezekiah's messengers would not have been able unhindered to invite all Israel to join in the celebration of the Passover (Pusey). Of the parallel passages, Micah 4:1-5 and Isaiah 2:2-5, it has been much debated which is the original and which the copy; but there seems to be no valid reason for supposing that Micah received the words from Isaiah; and as the passage in the former book occurs in close connection and contrast with what immediately precedes, while in Isaiah the connection is not obvious, most critics believe that the words were originally delivered by Micah; or it may be, as Ewald and others suggest, that both prophets adapted to their own purposes an older prophecy current in their days. That there is a close connection between Isaiah and Micah is obvious. It may be that the two prophets addressed different classes of the populace — Isaiah delivering his messages to the higher, Micah to the lower, with which by descent his sympathies were closely connected; but they worked harmoniously together, strengthening the hands of Hezekiah, and confirming the faithful in their difficult course of obedience and trust.
Some critics have attributed ch. 6. and 7. to another band and a later date. Certainly they do not suit the time of Hezekiah; but they may have been composed earlier, under other circumstances, and placed where they are now found, not as fitting their present position chronologically, but as aiding the rhetorical arrangement of the book, enforcing the previous menaces and confirming the promised triumph. Other passages, the genuineness of which is disputed, will be noticed in the Exposition.
§ 4. GENERAL CHARACTER OF THE WORK.
The style of the Book of Micah is remarkable. It is rough, as befitting its peasant author, but it is certainly not uncultivated; rugged, perhaps, but pure, clear, and intelligible. It abounds in tropes, figures, paronomasias. It contains sudden transitions of subjects, persons, numbers, genders, which denote in the writer a quick temper and an excitable mind, carried away by inward impulse, and restrained by no formal rules of composition. Micah is at times bold, severe, stern, uncompromising; at times tender, sorrowful, loving, sympathetic. In him mercy rejoices against judgment. Brief and concise in his description of misery, he dilates with exuberance on the blessings that are to follow the day of darkness. He delights in comparing God's tenderness and regard for his people with a shepherd's care for his flock. Those who should head the resistance to the great world power are "seven shepherds" (Micah 5:5). His last prayer to God is, "Feed thy people with thy rod, the flock of thine heritage" (Micah 7:14). He does not so much preach repentance as set forth God's dealings to persons who knew that he pardons as well as punishes. It is this strong conviction of the intimate connection between sin and punishment, repentance and forgiveness, which occasions those startling transitions that meet us, as we have said, so continually; where, with the simple conjunction "and," and with no further logical dependence, the prophet contrasts wickedness with its results, punishment with blessing, mercy with comfort. There is wonderful energy in the various forms of his addresses. The last two chapters "take the form of a magnificent colloquy, and are indeed the first prophetic piece of a purely dramatic plan and execution" (Farrar). Elsewhere at one time he commands, at another he entreats; now he uses dialogue, now denunciation; he addresses the whole people under a female designation, then he expostulates with individuals; here he speaks concerning a place, there directly to it; one while he speaks in his own person, and again in that of his nation; he describes a calamity as past in one passage, as future in another. As regards his language, it is measured and rhythmical, the cadences are varied, the grouping is harmonious. A remarkable analysis of these divisions and cadences, both in Micah and other prophets, may be seen in Dr. Pusey's 'Commentary,' pp. 273, 293. The verbal plays and allusions in the description of the calamities that are to overtake Judah (ch. 1.) are unequalled in vigour and abundance, and must have fallen with peculiar force upon hearers familiar with the places mentioned, and comprehending with awed intelligence the meaning of the denunciation.
One obvious fact characterizing the book (which it is well to mention in view of neologian theories) is that it exhibits an accurate acquaintance with the Pentateuch, that the author had those writings before him when he put his prophecy into its present shape. The many allusions to the history, the actual expressions sometimes used, prove this beyond question. The Exposition will show it abundantly. Further, other books of the canon were known to Micah besides those of Moses. He refers to Joshua's division of the promised land (Micah 2:4; Micah 6:5), to David's lament over Saul and Jonathan (Micah 1:10), to his predecessor's challenge (Micah 1:2; 1 Kings 22:28). He introduces words taken from the Psalms (e.g. Micah 2:1; Micah 3:2, etc.; 7:2, 7, etc.) and the Proverbs (e.g. Micah 6:9, Micah 6:11). He adopts images and language from Amos (Micah 2:3, Micah 2:6, Micah 2:11; Micah 3:6). It must be added that the text of Micah is in an unsatisfactory state, having suffered much from corruptions. Many attempts have been made to improve it by reference to the ancient versions; but little success has attended these efforts, as the versions themselves seem to have been founded upon imperfect copies, and the conjectures of critics have not afforded much material help.
§ 5. LITERATURE.
Of the earlier commentators on Micah it is sufficient to mention Ephraem Syrus and Theophylact. Later commentators are these: Bibliander, 'Comm. in Micham'; Luther; Gilby, 'Comm. upon Micha'; Chytraeus, 'Explicatio Michae'; Brentius, 'Comm. in Michaeam'; Pocock, 'Works,' vol. 1.; Justi, 'Micha neu ubersetzt'; Hartmann, 'Micha neu ubers.;' Caspari, 'Uber Micha den Morasth.'; Thomas, Geneve; Dr. Cheyne, in 'Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges'; T. Sharpe, 'Micah, a New Translation'; Kleinert, translated in Lange's 'Commentary on Old Testament;' Orelli, in 'Kurzgef. Komm.'; Rygsel, 'Untersuchungen,' etc.; J. Taylor, 'The Massoretic Text,' etc..
§ 6. ARRANGEMENT OF THE BOOK IN SECTIONS.
Part I. (Micah 1:2.) Threatenings and judgments on Israel and Judah, with prediction of eventual deliverance.
§ 1. (Micah 1:2-4.) Introduction to the prophet's address. The nations are bidden to attend.
§ 2. (Micah 1:5-7.) Judgment denounced on Israel for its sins.
§ 3. (Micah 1:8, Micah 1:9.) Micah mourns because the punishment reaches to Judah.
§ 4. (Micah 1:10-15.) That kingdom's fate exemplified by the fate of certain of her cities.
§ 5. (Micah 1:16.) Zion is called to mourn for her captivity.
§ 6. (Micah 2:1-5.) Threat justified by the sins of oppression of which the princes were guilty.
§ 7. (Micah 2:6-11.) Threat further vindicated, with a glance at the false prophets who taught the people to love lies.
§ 8. (Micah 2:12, Micah 2:13.) Promise of deliverance and restoration.
Part II. (Micah 3-5) Denunciation of the crimes of the grandees, followed by a promise of the glorification of Zion, the birth of Messiah, and the highest exaltation of the people.
§ 1. (Micah 3:1-4.) Sins of the rulers, and their punishment.
§ 2. (Micah 3:5-8.) Sins of the false prophets.
§ 3. (Micah 3:9-12.) Recapitulation of the sins of the three classes — grandees, priests, and prophets; consequent destruction of Zion and the temple.
§ 4. (Micah 4:1-5.) The glory of the temple mountain, and realization of happiness.
§ 5. (Micah 4:6, Micah 4:7.) All Israel included in this restoration.
§ 6. (Micah 4:8-10.) Revival of the kingdom of David, after calamity and captivity.
§ 7. (Micah 4:11-13.) Zion overcomes all enemies in God's strength.
§ 8. (Micah 5:1-4.) After Zion's denudation, Messiah shall be born and bring the world into subjection.
§ 9. (Micah 5:5, Micah 5:6.) Under his rule shall be peace.
§ 10. (Micah 5:7-9.) He shall give his people as conquerors and saviours to the nations.
§ 11. (Micah 5:10-15.) He shall destroy the instruments of war, and put down idolatry everywhere.
Part III. (Micah 6:7.) Punishment is the consequence of sin; repentance is the only ground of hope of participating in the covenant mercies.
§ 1. (Micah 6:1-5.) God's controversy with his people for their ingratitude.
§ 2. (Micah 6:6-8.) The people ask how to please God, and are referred to the moral requirements of the Law.
§ 3. (Micah 6:9-12.) God sternly rebukes prevailing sins.
§ 4. (Micah 6:13-16.) He threatens punishment.
§ 5. (Micah 7:1-6.) Israel's penitential acknowledgment of the general corruption.
§ 6. (Micah 7:7-13.) Confession of faith in God; assurance of the fulfilment of the promised restoration.
§ 7. (Micah 7:14 Micah 7:17.) The people pray for this restoration, and the Lord assures them that his mercies shall not fail, and hostile nations shall be humbled.
§ 8. (Micah 7:18-20.) Praise of God's mercy and faithfulness.
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29