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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Micah 1

 

 

Verses 1-7

YHWH Declares His Verdict On Samaria and Jerusalem (Micah 1:1-7).

The chapter opens with a declaration of YHWH’s sovereign power as Creator, and of His interest in the affairs of Judah and Israel, which results in a proclamation of His judgment on Samaria and Jerusalem..

Micah 1:2-3

‘Hear, you peoples, all of you.

Listen, O earth, and all that is in it.

And let the Lord YHWH be witness against you,

The Lord from his holy temple.’

‘For, behold, YHWH comes forth out of his place,

And will come down, and tread on the high places of the earth.’

Like Isaiah (see Isaiah 1:2), although with a different slant, Micah calls on the whole earth and its peoples to witness the fact that YHWH is about to act from His holy Temple in Heaven. He is about to come down and tread on the high places of the earth. He will present His witness against all peoples, and especially against His own people of Israel and Judah. Thus He is seen as sovereign over all.

Micah 1:4

‘And the mountains will be melted under him,

And the valleys will be cleft,

As wax before the fire,

As waters that are poured down a steep place.’

This picture is expressed in language regularly used by conquering kings of the time to describe their own inexorable advance and supremacy. The mountains are unable to prevent His advance, the valleys cannot hinder Him. They will simply melt and divide before His advance. They will melt as wax before the fire. He will advance like an overflowing current, irresistible and unpreventable as a waterfall over a precipice.

Micah 1:5

‘All this is for the transgression of Jacob,

And for the sins of the house of Israel.

And the main reason for His approach in such overwhelming power is because of the failures and disobedience of His people. It is because of the overstepping of the mark of Jacob, it is because of the sins of the house of Israel.

Micah 1:5

What is the transgression of Jacob?

Is it not Samaria?

And what are the high places (LXX ‘sins’) of Judah?

Are they not Jerusalem?’

But the question may be asked, what is the transgression of Jacob? And the answer comes back, it is the behaviour and condition of Samaria. It is their idolatry, and rebellion, and their allowing the syncretistic high places which condemn them, together with the sinful ways of the aristocrats, judges, priest, and prophets.

And the next question is, ‘what are the high places of Judah?’ The Septuagint alters the word for high places to sins, and in that case the reply is similar to that in respect of Samaria.

But the alteration to the text is not necessary. What Micah is meaning is that people are asking, ‘What then is there in Judah that are the equivalent of such high places?’ That is of debased and unacceptable places of worship. And his reply is that Jerusalem itself is the equivalent of those high places. That city, which should have been the holy city, is itself debased and unacceptable. In respect of religious matters Judah is far more culpable than Samaria for they have the Temple of YHWH in their midst which they have debased. For they have altars to Assyria in their Temple, and other religious symbols which are distorting their worship (e.g. Nechushtan). They are thus worse than the high places of Samaria. And they serve to demonstrate what Jerusalem really is. They reveal the heart of Jerusalem. They occasion the anger of YHWH, for greater privilege begets greater responsibility. Jerusalem itself is not right with its God.

It was not just that these altars and idols were there it was that they were encouraged and favoured. This may well have been said before the reforms of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:4). But it could equally have been said afterwards because the altar and images of Assyria were still in the Temple. So it is these sins and failures that have stirred up the anger of YHWH causing Him to approach His people like a belligerent conqueror.

It is a reminder to us that God does not treat our sins lightly. We may have our excuses for things that displease Him, and for our little ‘idols’ ,just as Judah had. We may even joke about them. But we need to learn that God may not be as satisfied with them as we are.

Micah 1:6

‘Therefore I will make Samaria as a heap of the field,

Places for planting vineyards,

And I will pour down its stones into the valley,

And I will uncover its foundations.’

The consequence of His displeasure will be that Samaria will be turned into a heap. The ancients were familiar with what happened to cities that were destroyed and then deserted. The sand swept over them until all that could be seen of them was a heap out in the open country (compare Joshua 8:28), on which among other things vines would be grown. Thus it is an indication that like Jericho in the time of Joshua, Samaria was to be totally destroyed and deserted.

‘And I will pour down its stones into the valley.’ Most cities were in fact built on the ruins of past cities, because usually the fact that the city had been there indicated the presence of a large spring, which was essential to a city’s welfare. Thus they were built on mounds made up of ruins. We call them Tels. The idea is that some of the stones which comprised the city walls and houses would be hurled to the bottom of the mound as the city was in process of being systematically destroyed. Such a situation was revealed by findings at Jericho. But of course it could be countlessly repeated at many sites.

‘And I will uncover its foundations.’ So great would be the devastation of the city that even its foundation would be uncovered. The whole picture is of devastating judgment. It may be argued that this was not actually fulfilled, for when Samaria was taken it was not so utterly destroyed, (although destruction on an invasion is always relative), but this is intended to be a picture of its ‘devotion to God’. The idea is that it will have been wholly consecrated to God as His to do what He liked with. In the event He showed mercy.

Micah 1:7

‘And all her graven images will be beaten to pieces,

And all her hires will be burned with fire,

And all her idols will I lay desolate;

For of the hire of a harlot has she gathered them,

And to the hire of a harlot shall they return.’

Not only the city of Samaria and its Temple but also their contents would be devastated. The graven images of her gods would be shattered, Her merchandise burned, her idols lying desolate, unable to help themselves. Note the vivid imagery, the shattered gods, the helpless idols, proof that they were but men’s vanities.

The word ‘hires’ refers to merchandise in Isaiah 23:18 and included food and clothing. Here it clearly parallels graven images and idols. Clearly it refers to something purchased for worship purposes, possibly the garments that decorated the images and idols. There is a play on the fact that these ‘hires’ have been bought with the hire of cultic prostitutes. But they will be burned with fire, and thereby sanctified to God (compare Joshua 6:24).

Some of these graven images and idols were coated or made from silver and gold gained by cultic prostitution, and now they would return to being a harlot’s fees. The whole picture is one of derision and contempt. The point may be that the soldiers will take the gold and silver as trophies, sell them, and use the proceeds on prostitutes. Such will be the end of these wonderful images and idols.

Note that as yet He does not intend to visit Jerusalem itself with judgment

The Prophet Responds To God’s Words With Grief As He Recognises That YHWH Is Right And That Even Judah and Jerusalem Are Being Affected.

The situation now moves on to consider the position of Judah and Jerusalem. In a prophetic acting out of the future Micah walks around dressed like a prisoner, weeping and mourning because of what is coming on Judah, and will even reach to the gates of Jerusalem. What is in mind here are the approaching armies of Sennacherib which have defeated an Egyptian army sent against them, have subjugated Philistia, and are now turning their attention on Judah.

Micah 1:8-9

‘For this will I lament and wail;

I will go stripped and naked;

I will make a wailing like the jackals,

And a lamentation like the ostriches.’

For her wounds are incurable;

For it is come even to Judah;

It reaches to the gate of my people,

Even to Jerusalem.’

Micah responds to God’s judgment by declaring his own grief at the situation of Jerusalem. He intends to throw off his outer garments, and possibly his footwear, (compare 2 Samuel 15:30; Isaiah 20:2; Isaiah 22:12; Jeremiah 25:34) as an indication of his grief, and to walk around like a prisoner, wailing like a jackal and lamenting like an ostrich (or ‘screech owl’). These last were famous for their howling and sounds like those in mourning (compare Job 30:29).

And the reason for his grief is that he recognises that Samaria’s wounds are incurable (compare Isaiah 1:5-6), and the future that awaits them, and even more devastatingly that this situation has even affected Judah. It has reached to the very gates of Jerusalem.

Whether this was foreboding after he saw what happened to Samaria, or due to the fact that the enemy (Sennacherib) was actually approaching Jerusalem, is difficult to say definitely.


Verses 10-16

A Lament For The Cities of Judah (Micah 1:10-16).

These cities lay in the path of Sennacherib as he advanced on Jerusalem after defeating the Egyptian army, and subjugating Philistia, and they illuminate something of the resulting situation.

We will first present the verses, which are in typical Hebrew poetic form as much prophecy was, as a whole so as to retain the beauty and sadness of them. And then we will consider them one by one.

Micah 1:10

‘Tell it not in Gath,

Weep not at all,

At Beth–le–aphrah,

Have I rolled myself in the dust.’

‘Go on your way, O inhabitant of Shaphir,

In nakedness and shame,

The inhabitant of Zaanan is not come forth,

The wailing of Beth–ezel shall take from you its stay.’

‘For the inhabitant of Maroth,

Waits anxiously for good,

Because evil is come down from YHWH,

Unto the gate of Jerusalem.’

‘Bind the chariot to the swift steed,

O inhabitant of Lachish,

She was the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion,

For the transgressions of Israel were found in you.’

‘Therefore will you give a parting gift,

To Moresheth–gath,

The houses of Achzib will be a deceitful thing,

To the kings of Israel.’

‘I will yet bring to you,

O inhabitant of Mareshah,

Him who will possess you,

The glory of Israel will come even to Adullam.’

‘Make yourself bald, and cut off your hair,

For the children of your pampering,

Enlarge your baldness as the carrion vulture,

For they are gone into captivity from you.’

It will be noted that ten selected cities are noted, indicating the completeness of the disaster. They are clearly selected on the basis of the meaning of their names. Lists of ten regularly indicated a total picture (compare Genesis 5; Genesis 11). They are divided into five and five (note Micah 1:12 and compare Micah 1:9). Five is the number of covenant, and these are God’s covenant people. But the division may also indicate different regions.

Micah 1:10

‘Tell it not in Gath,

Weep not at all,

‘Tell it not in Gath.’ Compare 2 Samuel 1:20. The misery of Judah is to be such that it is not to be told in Gath lest the people of Gath mock them over their situation. Gath was a Philistine city. So the point is that no one should take news to Gath, or arrive there as though in mourning. Their misery would be best kept to themselves. Gath had their own troubles. They also were the subject of the invasion. It may also include the thought that they would be in such shock that they would be unable to weep. When reading of the deliverance of Jerusalem itself we often overlook the awful devastation that has been previously wrought on Judah.

The next cities in line of advance are now described.

Micah 1:10

At Beth–le–aphrah,

Have I rolled myself in the dust.’

Beth-le-Aphrah means ‘house of dust’ and there is a deliberate play on words. Rolling in the dust (‘wallowing in ashes’) was a typical way of expressing grief (Jeremiah 6:26 Ezekiel 27:30).

Micah 1:11

‘Go on your way, O inhabitant of Shaphir,

In nakedness and shame,

Shaphir means ‘beautiful. But there will be no beauty in the way in which they are carried off into captivity. Their beautiful city has become a nightmare.

Micah 1:11

The inhabitant of Zaanan is not come forth,

Zaanan means ‘one who goes out’ (i.e. to face the enemy). But these people do not go out to face the enemy. This may indicate that they remained in their town, refusing the call to arms, and surrendered immediately in return for more merciful treatment. Resistance melted at the sight of the Assyrian armies. There are always some who will not stand up bravely for what is right.

Micah 1:11

The wailing of Beth–ezel shall take from you its stay.’

Beth-ezel mean ‘house by the side of another.’ The idea is of one who gives mutual assistance. But Zaanan has surrendered and not come out to battle. So Beth-ezel’s anticipated friends have failed her, and she herself cannot therefore ‘stand her ground’ and be a stay to Hezekiah’s attempts at resistance. She cannot help the daughter of Zion. She can only dissolve into weeping. She is useless.

Alternately it could be rendered, ‘The wailing of Beth-ezel will take its stopping away from you,’ i.e., will not allow you the stopping of the lamentation.

Micah 1:12

‘For the inhabitant of Maroth,

Waits anxiously for good,

Because evil is come down from YHWH,

Unto the gate of Jerusalem.’

Maroth means ‘bitterness.’ Her inhabitants wait anxiously for good. Perhaps there were hopes of another Egyptian army. Or perhaps it was just wishful thinking. But all they would enjoy is bitterness. And the reason for this is that YHWH has deserted Judah because of her disobedience, and is allowing her to suffer right up to the gates of Jerusalem (compare Micah 1:3, ‘the Lord will come down’ in judgment, and Micah 1:9).

Micah 1:13

‘Bind the chariot to the swift steed,

O inhabitant of Lachish,

She was the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion,

For the transgressions of Israel were found in you.’

Lachish means ‘horses’. The city was south west of Jerusalem in the Shephelah, and was the second largest in Judah. It could be expected to hold out against the Assyrians for an appreciable time. She was clearly a chariot city (being in the lowlands chariots were usable there). They are now being called on to prove themselves, or sarcastically to provide a quick means of escape for the nobles. She has been proud of her self-sufficiency. Let her now demonstrate her worth.

We do not know in what way she had been the beginning of sin to Zion. Being on the trade routes she may have been receptive to foreign ideas which she had passed on to Jerusalem. And she is specifically linked with the transgressions of Israel. This is confirmed by the reference to her having shared in the sins of the northern kingdom. She too had had her own Temple and a syncretistic religion, and in fact the remains of a Temple have been found on the site of Lachish. And their turning away from God and His covenant had in some way affected the daughter of Zion, Jerusalem and its people.

Lachish does seem to have defended itself bravely. But even mighty Lachish had to yield eventually, and her defeat was vividly depicted in inscriptions in Assyria celebrating Sennacherib’s triumphs (an important witness to the fact that Jerusalem was never taken). See 2 Kings 19:8. Assyria departed from Lachish once victory had been obtained, and moved on to the next victim waiting coweringly behind its walls.

Micah 1:14

‘Therefore will you give a parting gift,

To Moresheth–gath,

Moresheth-gath was probably the birth place of Micah, Moresheth is similar in sound to the word which means ‘possession, dowry, gift’. But now the gift would be a parting one, because she was going into captivity. This must have been an especially bitter blow to Micah.

Micah 1:14

The houses of Achzib will be a deceitful thing,

To the kings of Israel.’

Achzib is very similar to the Hebrew word for ‘lie, deceive’. She will prove a deceitful thing to the kings of Israel. Note the loose way in which Micah can equate Judah with the name Israel. The writing prophets never really accepted the division of Israel into two. They saw them as all God’s people, and would sometimes use the names interchangeably. ‘The kings of Israel’ might indicate the petty kings of cities who were organising the resistance.

But Achzib will prove unreliable, a deceitful thing. She will surrender to Sennacherib and fight her own people. Compare Zaanan above. Judah were divided as to whether to resist or yield. Why should they suffer to defend a king hidden in his mountain fastness?

Micah 1:15

‘I will yet bring to you,

O inhabitant of Mareshah,

Him who will possess you,

The glory of Israel will come even to Adullam.’

Mareshah is similar to the word meaning ‘possession’. But the possessor is now about to become the possessed, and her inhabitants will flee with what wealth they can carry for refuge in the cave of Adullam. This is all that remains of the ‘glory of Israel’. For this use of the word ‘glory’ as signifying prosperity compare Isaiah 17:1-3.

Micah 1:16

‘Make yourself bald, and cut off your hair,

For the children of your pampering,

Enlarge your baldness as the carrion vulture,

For they are gone into captivity from you.’

The whole picture is one of defeat and misery. And so the daughter of Zion, waiting in her mountain stronghold for when it is her turn, is called on to make herself bald and cut off her hair, an extreme form of registering despair. And she it to do it for the sake of her pampered children who are now pampered no more. She is to make herself bald as an expression of having lost everything. The hair was seen as indicating life and vitality. But now all life and vitality will have left her because her children have been taken into captivity.

The picture behind these verses is a depressing one. The cruel soldiers of Assyria remorselessly advancing, the cities take one by one after bitter but hopeless resistance, with large numbers put in chains, trudging barefoot and only half clothed in long weary lines, mile after mile, urged on by the whips of their captors, with people dying by the wayside, others seeking to assist their aged relatives lest they too be left to die, and with little to look forward to. These were the exiles of Judah long before the destruction of Jerusalem. Eventually, however, those who survived would be resettled in other lands so that they could labour and pay taxes, and form a community, or would be lost among the nations.

And all this has been brought on them because they had forgotten God’s covenant and had turned to idolatry and sin. Something of that sin will now be described in the following verses.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Micah 1:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/micah-1.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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