The Book of Micah is the sixth of the twelve minor prophets in the Hebrew Bible.[1] Ostensibly, it records the sayings of Micah, whose name is Mikayahu (Hebrew: מִיכָיָ֫הוּ), meaning "Who is like Yahweh?",[2] an 8th-century BCE prophet from the village of Moresheth in Judah (Hebrew name from the opening verse: מיכה המרשתי).[3]

The book has three major divisions, chapters 1–2, 3–5 and 6–7, each introduced by the word "Hear," with a pattern of alternating announcements of doom and expressions of hope within each division.[4] Micah reproaches unjust leaders, defends the rights of the poor against the rich and powerful;[5] while looking forward to a world at peace centered on Zion under the leadership of a new Davidic monarch.[6]

While the book is relatively short, it includes lament (1.8–16; 7.8–10), theophany (1.3–4), hymnic prayer of petition and confidence (7.14–20),[7] and the "covenant lawsuit" (6.1–8), a distinct genre in which Yahweh (God) sues Israel for breach of contract of the Mosaic covenant.[8]

Setting

Assyrian warriors armed with slings from the palace of Sennacherib, 7th century BCE
Assyrian warriors armed with slings from the palace of Sennacherib, 7th century BCE

See also: Nevi'im and Prophets in Judaism

Chapter 1:1[9] identifies the prophet as "Micah of Moresheth" (a town in southern Judah), and states that he lived during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, roughly 750–700 BCE.[10]

This corresponds to the period when, after a long period of peace, Israel, Judah, and the other nations of the region came under increasing pressure from the aggressive and rapidly expanding Neo-Assyrian empire. Between 734 and 727 Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria conducted almost annual campaigns in Palestine, reducing the Kingdom of Israel, the Kingdom of Judah and the Philistine cities to vassalage, receiving tribute from Ammon, Moab and Edom, and absorbing Damascus (the Kingdom of Aram) into the Empire.[11] On Tiglath-Pileser's death Israel rebelled, resulting in an Assyrian counter-attack and the destruction of the capital, Samaria, in 721 after a three-year siege.[10] Micah 1:2–7 draws on this event: Samaria, says the prophet, has been destroyed by God because of its crimes of idolatry, oppression of the poor, and misuse of power.[10] The Assyrian attacks on Israel (the northern kingdom) led to an influx of refugees into Judah, which would have increased social stresses, while at the same time the authorities in Jerusalem had to invest huge amounts in tribute and defense.[12]

When the Assyrians attacked Judah in 701 they did so via the Philistine coast and the Shephelah, the border region which included Micah's village of Moresheth, as well as Lachish, Judah's second largest city. This in turn forms the background to verses 1:8–16, in which Micah warns the towns of the coming disaster (Lachish is singled out for special mention, accused of the corrupt practices of both Samaria and Jerusalem). In verses 2:1–5 he denounces the appropriation of land and houses, which might simply be the greed of the wealthy and powerful, or possibly the result of the militarizing of the area in preparation for the Assyrian attack.[13]

Composition

Further information: Babylonian captivity and Postdiction

Some, but not all, scholars accept that only chapters 1–3 contain material from the late 8th century prophet Micah.[10] The latest material comes from the post-Exilic period after the Temple was rebuilt in 515 BCE, so that the early 5th century BCE seems to be the period when the book was completed.[14] The first stage was the collection and arrangement of some spoken sayings of the historical Micah (the material in chapters 1–3), in which the prophet attacks those who build estates through oppression and depicts the Assyrian invasion of Judah as Yahweh's punishment on the kingdom's corrupt rulers, including a prophecy that the Temple will be destroyed.[15]

The prophecy was not fulfilled in Micah's time, but a hundred years later when Judah was facing a similar crisis with the Neo-Babylonian Empire, Micah's prophecies were reworked and expanded to reflect the new situation.[16] Still later, after Jerusalem did fall to the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the book was revised and expanded further to reflect the circumstances of the late exilic and post-exilic community.[17]

Content

Impalement of Judeans by Assyrian soldiers (Neo-Assyrian relief)
Impalement of Judeans by Assyrian soldiers (Neo-Assyrian relief)

Structure

At the broadest level, Micah can be divided into three roughly equal parts:[12]

Within this broad three-part structure are a series of alternating oracles of judgment and promises of restoration:[18]

Subsections

Themes

Micah addresses the future of Judah/Israel after the Babylonian exile. Like Isaiah, the book has a vision of the punishment of Israel and creation of a "remnant", followed by world peace centered on Zion under the leadership of a new Davidic monarch; the people should do justice, turn to Yahweh, and await the end of their punishment. However, whereas Isaiah sees Jacob/Israel joining "the nations" under Yahweh's rule, Micah looks forward to Israel ruling over the nations. Insofar as Micah appears to draw on and rework parts of Isaiah, it seems designed at least partly to provide a counterpoint to that book.[6]

Quotations in the New Testament

In the New Testament, the Book of Matthew quotes from the Book of Micah in relation to Jesus being born in Bethlehem:

And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judæa: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

— Micah 5:2

Jesus quotes Micah when he warns that families will be divided by the gospel:

A man’s enemies will be those of his own household.

For the son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter in law against her mother in law; a man's enemies are the men of his own house.

— Micah 7:6

In the New Testament, the Book of John is a possible alluding to the identification of the mysterious "him" that God causes to see marvels or marvelous things:

For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.

— John 5:20

According to the days of thy coming out of the land of Egypt will I shew unto him marvellous things.

See also

References

  1. ^ Ben Zvi (2000), p. 4
  2. ^ Mays (1976), p. 1
  3. ^ Limburg (1988), p. 160
  4. ^ Limburg (1988), p. 159
  5. ^ King (1988), pp. 27–28
  6. ^ a b Sweeney (2000), pp. 341–42
  7. ^ Coogan (2009), p. 284
  8. ^ Coogan (2009), p. 265
  9. ^ Micah 1:1
  10. ^ a b c d e f Rogerson (2003), p. 703
  11. ^ King (1988), pp. 31–33
  12. ^ a b King (1988), p. 27
  13. ^ a b c d e Rogerson (2003), p. 704
  14. ^ Mays (1976), p. 21
  15. ^ Mays (1976), p. 23
  16. ^ Mays (1976), pp. 24–25
  17. ^ Mays (1976), p. 30
  18. ^ Coogan (2009)
  19. ^ Ben Zvi (2000), p. 13
  20. ^ Sweeney (2000), p. 343
  21. ^ Rogerson (2003), pp. 704–05
  22. ^ a b c Rogerson (2003), p. 705
  23. ^ Rogerson (2003), pp. 705–06
  24. ^ Sweeney (2000), p. 387
  25. ^ Sweeney (2000), p. 395
  26. ^ King (2006), pp. 1246–47
  27. ^ a b c d Rogerson (2003), p. 707

Bibliography

Further reading

Book of Micah Minor prophets Preceded byJonah Hebrew Bible Succeeded byNahum ChristianOld Testament