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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Micah 6

 

 

Verse 1

1. Hear ye — The accused people.

Arise, contend — The prophet acts as go-between. He summons the criminals to appear in court, hear the indictment, and plead their case.

Before the mountains,… hills — This is undoubtedly the meaning, but the original reads “with,” and a slight alteration may be necessary. The controversy is to take place in the presence of the mountains and hills as the “abiding witnesses of all passing events from age to age.”


Verses 1-8

Jehovah’s complaint, Micah 6:1-8.

In these verses the prophet pictures, in dramatic form, a judicial contest between Jehovah and his people. Jehovah himself presents the accusation. He calls attention to the countless blessings bestowed upon the nation during its past history, and complains that his loving care has been met with basest ingratitude (1-5). Against this accusation the people seek to defend themselves by expressing their willingness to do anything to win the divine favor. If they have fallen short it is due to their ignorance of the real requirements of Jehovah (6, 7). To this plea the reply is made that ignorance is inexcusable, since the demands of Jehovah have been made known again and again (8).


Verses 1-20

JEHOVAH AND ISRAEL IN CONTROVERSY — THE ULTIMATE SETTLEMENT, Micah 6:1 to Micah 7:20.

With Micah 6:1, begins a new series of utterances. The contents and arrangement are essentially the same as in the preceding sections, denunciation of sin, announcement of judgment, promise of the redemption and glorification of a remnant.


Verses 2-8

2. Hear ye, O mountains — In Micah 6:2 the prophet turns to the mountains to tell them what is coming, in order that they may know what is expected of them.

Strong [“enduring”] foundations of the earth — Identical in meaning with “mountains” (compare Jonah 2:6). They have endured for ages, and they have seen the manifestations of the divine mercy and of the people’s ingratitude; therefore they may be summoned as competent witnesses. Because the Hebrew construction is peculiar and the word translated “strong” is used elsewhere only of perennial streams, some scholars suspect a corruption of the text. A very simple change would give the verb form “give ear,” which would be a suitable parallel to “hear.” In favor of the emendation is the fact that the two verbs are found together very frequently. If the change is made the appeal reads, “Hear, O ye mountains… give ear, ye foundations of the earth” (compare Isaiah 1:2; Deuteronomy 32:1).

His people — The pronoun is significant in this connection, suggesting, on the one hand, the right of Jehovah to call to account (compare Isaiah 3:13-15); on the other, the special privileges enjoyed by Israel (Amos 3:12).

In Micah 6:3-5 Jehovah presents the indictment. Israel has proved ungrateful, though one look into the past should have been sufficient to awaken an appreciative response to the divine mercy. The fact of ingratitude is not definitely stated, but is clearly implied in the complaint of Jehovah. His plea is truly pathetic, “full of holy earnestness and of heart-touching tenderness.”

My people — In spite of their ingratitude he recognizes them as his own.

What have I done… wearied — Could they point to anything which God had done or left undone that could excuse their attitude toward him? He might have made them weary of serving him either by making excessive demands upon them (compare Micah 6:6-8; Isaiah 43:23) or by failing to keep the promises made to them (compare Jeremiah 2:29). Jehovah knew that no fault could be found with him; for, far from making excessive demands, he had showered upon them blessings without number. Of these, Micah 6:4-5 enumerate three: the deliverance from Egypt, the guidance through the desert, the crossing of the Jordan in safety.

House of servants — R.V., “of bondage,” an expression frequently applied to Egypt (Exodus 13:3; Exodus 13:14; Deuteronomy 5:6; Jeremiah 34:13).

I sent before thee — To be thy leaders (Psalms 77:20).

Moses — The prophet with whom Jehovah spake face to face (Numbers 12:8).

Aaron — The spokesman of Moses, and thus also a mediator between Jehovah and the people (Exodus 4:16).

Miriam — The sister of the two, and the leader of the triumphal dance after the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:20). The mere mention of the names, undoubtedly familiar to all, would awaken memories of wonderful manifestations of Jehovah on behalf of his people (compare also Amos 2:9 ff.). The second illustration is the frustration of Balak’s plan to cut off Israel, which is recorded in Numbers 22-24; Jehovah turned curses into blessings.

From Shittim unto Gilgal — The grammatical connection of these words is somewhat obscure. However, R.V. is probably correct in rendering “remember from Shittim to Gilgal,” and the thought is, “remember everything that happened from the time you left Shittim, the last station of the Israelites east of the Jordan, until you reached Gilgal, the first stopping place in Canaan.” During this period the most important event was the crossing of the Jordan, which is probably in the mind of the prophet. There seems to be insufficient reason for rejecting the words as a later gloss, or for supposing that some words have dropped out.

That ye may know the righteousness [“righteous acts”] of Jehovah — They are to remember the events in their early history, for from them they may see that Jehovah has not been unfair but righteous, and that there is no cause for complaint; and this recognition should produce a grateful appreciation.

In Micah 6:6-7 the people are the speakers. They do not deny the truth of the accusation implied in Micah 6:3-5; apparently they are ready to admit their shortcomings, but in self-defense they plead ignorance of the real requirements of Jehovah. If they only knew, they would be willing to take upon themselves the severest tasks, in order to atone for their guilt and to appease the divine wrath.

Wherewith shall I come… bow myself — After listening to the severe arraignment they feel the need of prostrating themselves humbly before Jehovah, and of taking some steps to regain the divine favor. At a time when sacrifices played such an important part in the religious thinking of the people, it is only natural that they should think of these as the proper means by which to propitiate the offended deity.

Burnt offerings,… calves of a year old — The two expressions belong closely together, burnt offerings consisting of calves a year old. On burnt offerings see comments on Hosea 6:6. Calves a year old were commonly used for sacrificial purposes (Leviticus 9:3), though younger calves might be used.

If the ordinary offerings are not sufficient they are ready to present extraordinary gifts.

Thousands of rams,… ten thousands of rivers of oil — The numbers are not to be understood literally; they signify great, unlimited numbers. “As sin assumes a thousand forms, far exceeding the limit of expiation by legal methods, the question arises, whether Jehovah’s favor can be gained by greatly multiplied sacrifices, by thousands of rams or myriads of streams of oil.” The ram was a common sacrificial animal. Oil, so far as we can learn from the description of the ritual in the Old Testament was not offered independently; but in connection with other offerings large quantities must have been consumed. It is possible that at an earlier period the use of oil played a more important part in the religious cult.

If this is insufficient they are ready to sacrifice their most precious possessions, even their own children.

Firstborn… fruit of my body — Human sacrifice was practiced among Israel’s neighbors (2 Kings 3:27); the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22) and that of Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11:34 ff.) may indicate that in the earliest times it was practiced even among the Hebrews without serious scruples, but at a later time the custom received the severest condemnation (2 Kings 16:3; 2 Kings 21:6; Jeremiah 7:31; Ezekiel 20:26). Human sacrifice was offered only as a last resort, when everything else seemed to fail; and this is the thought here: if everything else fails they are willing to offer their own children; surely, such sacrifice should move Jehovah to compassion.

Transgression,… sin — The two words, which are synonyms here, are used in the sense of “expiation of transgression,… of sin”; and the two questions which are identical in meaning, might be rendered, “Shall I give my firstborn as an expiation of my transgression, the fruit of my body as an expiation of the sin of my soul?”

Micah 6:8 has been called “the greatest verse in the Old Testament.” The questions in Micah 6:6-7 make it clear that the people did not understand the true character and requirements of Jehovah. They thought that the painstaking observance of the ceremonial and the perfunctory bringing of sacrifices constituted true religion. Their ignorance was, indeed, great, but it was inexcusable, for Jehovah had made known again and again what was acceptable in his sight (Amos 5:21 ff.; Isaiah 1:11-17; Hosea 6:6).

He hath showed thee — Through Moses, the prophets, the Nazirites, and other teachers (Amos 2:11).

What is good — A holy and righteous God can take pleasure only in that which is good, and this he requires of them. The essential elements of goodness are pointed out in a few words.

Do justly — Live according to the principles of righteousness and equity (see on Amos 5:7). Love mercy [“kindness”] — Practice diligently the principles of kindness and brotherliness (see on Hosea 2:19). This is a distinct advance over the preceding. Obedience to these two exhortations implies the keeping of the commandments in the second part of the Decalogue. The former of these is emphasized repeatedly by Amos (for example, Amos 5:24), the latter by Hosea (for example, Hosea 6:6). But Israel was doing the very opposite; on every hand was to be seen cruelty, injustice, oppression (Micah 2:1-2; Micah 2:8; Micah 3:2-3; Micah 3:9, etc.). Micah emphasizes a third requirement, which is a correlative of the majesty and holiness of Jehovah taught by Isaiah, and the proper observance of which meets the requirements in the first part of the Decalogue:

Walk humbly with thy God — A humble walk with God is “a life of fellowship with God implying an identity of will and purpose, but fellowship conditioned by that spirit of humility which must ever govern the intercourse of weak and sinful man with a perfect and infinite God” (compare Deuteronomy 10:12-13).

In these few words is expressed more clearly than anywhere else in the eighth century prophecies the startling contrast between the popular religion and the religion of the prophets.

Micah 6:9-10

Indignant denunciation of prevalent crimes, Micah 6:9-16.

Micah 6:9 is the introduction, summoning the listeners to pay earnest heed to the words about to be uttered.

Jehovah’s voice — It is not a faultfinding prophet, but Jehovah himself, who brings the accusation.

The city — Jerusalem.

The man of wisdom shall see thy name — Literally, wisdom will see thy name. If translated thus the meaning is obscure. Keil and others take “thy name” as subject and “wisdom” as object, and render, “Thy name sees wisdom,” that is, has the true wisdom of life in view. On name see on Micah 5:4. Even if the meaning “have in view” could be established for the verb “see” by passages like Genesis 20:10, and Psalms 66:18, this translation would be improbable, since the thought expressed is foreign to the context. It is much better to follow the ancient versions and read “fear” (compare R.V. margin). The result is “wisdom fears thy name,” or, better, “let wisdom fear thy name,” or even, “it is wisdom to fear thy name.” Since the pronoun of the second person is peculiar in this connection, it may be best to follow LXX. also in reading “his name.” “When Jehovah’s voice sounds so threatening and his rod is already buzzing near it is prudent to fear his name and to hear what is said in his name.” Another meaning of the word translated “wisdom” is “safety,” but the thought is not affected if it is substituted for the former.

Hear ye the rod — The prophecy concerning the rod; the judgment about to fall.

Who hath appointed it — Hear the voice of Him who has ordained the judgment, Jehovah. 9b is altered by many commentators on the basis of LXX. so as to read, “Hear ye, O tribe and council of the city.”

The words of denunciation begin with Micah 6:10. The causes of the judgment are stated first. This is done in the form of questions, which are to arouse the attention and the consciences of the hearers. The sins condemned are the same as those named by the other eighth century prophets.

Treasures of wickedness — The exhortations and denunciations of the past have wrought no change for the better; the oppressors still continue their violence and robbery; they acquire treasures by wicked means, and thus they keep alive the wrath of Jehovah.

Scant measure — Literally, ephah of leanness. They cheat the buyer by using small measures (see on Amos 8:5; Hosea 3:2; compare Deuteronomy 24:14-15).


Verses 11-15

11. Shall I count them pure — This is an impossible rendering of the Hebrew, but it is supported by Vulgate; the Hebrew reads, “Shall I be pure?” If this is original, the people must be the speaker; but a change in speakers is out of place here. LXX. retains Jehovah as the speaker, and reads, “Can it (Jerusalem) be pure?” The LXX. and Vulgate readings require only slight alterations in the Hebrew, and either is preferable to the present text.

Wicked balances,… deceitful weights — See on Amos 8:5. No one who practices fraud or deceit can expect to be acquitted in the court of Jehovah.

Micah 6:12 continues the description of wrongdoing (compare Hosea 4:1 ff.).

Thereof — Of Jerusalem.

Full of violence — See on Micah 2:1-2; Micah 2:8; Micah 3:2-3; Micah 3:9.

Lies — Toward God and man.

Deceitful — Literally, deceit. The noun is used in the place of the adjective for the sake of emphasis (G.-K., 141c); the tongue does nothing but deceive.

Micah 6:13-15 announce the judgment.

Thee — The masculine pronoun which is used in these verses cannot refer to the city. If the alteration suggested in connection with 9b is accepted the masculine pronoun may be explained as referring to “tribe,” a masculine noun; otherwise we must suppose that the prophet uses the masculine form because he has in mind the people of the city rather than the city itself. Smiting [“have smitten”] — If the text is correct this is the so-called prophetic perfect. The punishment is still in the future, but it is so certain that the prophet describes it as already present.

I also — Better, I on my part.

With a grievous wound — An incurable wound (Nahum 3:19). The construction of the Hebrew is somewhat unusual. A slight alteration, supported by LXX., would give, “therefore I on my part have begun to smite thee, to make thee desolate because of thy sins.”

Micah 6:14-15 describe the judgment in greater detail; the prophet evidently thinks of a foreign nation as the divinely appointed executioner (Amos 5:11; Deuteronomy 28:39-40).

Thou shalt eat, but not be satisfied — The enemy will overrun the land and devastate it; as a result starvation will threaten the people. The meaning of the next clause is uncertain.

Thy casting down shall be in the midst of thee — In the midst of the people. The word translated “casting down” (R.V., “humiliation”) occurs only here; hence its exact meaning is more or less uncertain. Some give to it the meaning “emptiness,” that is, of the stomach (so R.V. margin). With this translation the thought becomes clearer, for it would simply be a repetition of that expressed in the preceding clause; or else the second might be understood as a circumstantial clause, “Thou shalt eat but not be satisfied, while starvation shall be in the midst of thee.” LXX., taking the word from a different root, renders “it will be dark.”

Shalt take hold — Better, R.V., “shalt put away.” On the approach of the enemy they will hasten to hide their families and possessions, but the enemy will be too quick for them; they will not bring them to a place of safety; if, by chance, they should succeed in saving anything, it will fall into the hands of the enemy to be devoured by the sword (compare Isaiah 5:29; Jeremiah 50:37).

Sow,… reap — The enemy will consume or destroy also the growing crops in fields and vineyards.

Tread the olives — See on Joel 1:10; Joel 2:24. Thomson says that, so far as he knows, olives are not trodden with the feet in modern times, “and it could only be done when the olives have been kept until they are very soft” (The Land and the Book, 1:524). Marti omits “thy casting down” and connects “in the midst of thee” differently; then he rearranges the clauses, and thus he secures what is undoubtedly a smoother reading. Following Micah 6:13 he reads, “Whatever is in the midst of thee thou mayest put away, thou shalt not save it; and that which thou savest will I give up to the sword. Thou shalt eat but not be satisfied; thou shalt sow.… “


Verse 16

Micah 6:16 sums up the sin and punishment of the people.

The statutes of Omri are kept — This is perhaps the best that can be done with the present Hebrew text, but the context and among the ancient versions LXX. and Peshitto suggest a slight change, so that it will read “thou didst keep,” and this is probably the original. The reign of Omri, one of the greatest kings of the northern kingdom, is passed over very briefly in 1 Kings 16:21-28, but the statement is made that he dealt more wickedly than any king that went before him. The words of Micah are not to be understood as meaning that Omri actually made statutes enjoining wrongdoing, or that the people followed such statutes, but that they followed his example which exerted as much influence upon their conduct as written law could have done. “All the works of the house of Ahab” is similar in meaning to “statutes of Omri.” Ahab was condemned by his great contemporary Elijah for two reasons: (1) He tolerated and even encouraged the worship of Baal (1 Kings 16:31-32); (2) he oppressed the poor and robbed them of their ancestral holdings (1 Kings 21). Micah has little to say about idolatry; it is rather oppression, violence, injustice, that he condemns. Hence “statutes of Omri” and “ways of the house of Ahab” are to be understood as referring not so much to religious apostasy as to the conduct of these kings illustrated in Ahab’s dealings with Naboth.

Ye walk — The change to the plural, here and in the last clause of the verse, is peculiar. If the plural is original it may be used to indicate that the individuals in the community are singled out and addressed personally; it is not impossible, however, that the change is due to the mistake of a copyist.

In their counsels — As expressed in their conduct.

From the sin the prophet turns to the judgment.

That I should make — They might have known better, and did know better; nevertheless they persisted in their iniquity, challenging, by their very conduct, Jehovah to do his worst (see on Amos 2:7). Of the three pronouns, “thee,” “thereof” (of it), “ye,” two are masculine in the original, one is feminine; two are singular, one is plural. It will be necessary, therefore, to distinguish between the persons addressed: “thee” refers to the nation (see on Micah 6:13); “thereof” to Jerusalem or, some think with less probability, to “desolation” — desolated land; “ye” to the individuals constituting the nation (see above). This seems a satisfactory explanation; others, however, alter the text so as to bring the pronouns in agreement with one another.

Desolation — While this is one meaning of the word, in parallelism with “hissing” the meaning suggested in the margin, “astonishment,” is to be preferred, or still better, “object of astonishment” or “of horror” (compare Deuteronomy 28:37; Jeremiah 25:9; Jeremiah 51:37).

Hissing — An object of hissing or derision.

The reproach of my people — The reproach which Israel, the chosen people of Jehovah, must bear when the heathen nations will triumph over it; for such a triumph will be to the conquerors a clear proof of Jehovah’s inability or unwillingness to help. LXX. reads, “the reproach of the nations,” that is, the reproach brought upon Israel by the surrounding nations. The latter may be the original reading (see on Joel 2:17).

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Micah 6:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/micah-6.html. 1874-1909.

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