Who is a God like You? Theological Themes in Micah

Kevin C. Peacock  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 46 - Fall 2003

Introduction

“Describe the universe and give two examples.” I remember this tongue-in-cheek exam question my high school physics teacher tossed before our class with a smile on his face. Of course, answering the question is impossible. One may attempt to describe the universe, but there are no two examples! The universe is incomparable; there are no other options. Micah asked the same kind of question, but his intent was far from tongue­ in-cheek. “Who is a God like you?” (7:18) The question was intended to make his hearers stop and ponder the nature of this incomparable God and the multitude of substitutes that people offer in his place. There is no one like Yahweh in his power, holiness, wisdom, or matchless grace. The ultimate and incomparable sovereignty of God is the starting point, the working principle, and the ending point of Micah’s entire theology. Micah’s name means “Who is like [Yahweh]?”[1]”Micah” is an abbreviated form of “Micaiah” (cf. Jer. 26:18), and his name is actually three­ parts of speech: the interrogative pronoun ml (“who?”), the preposition ka (“like”), and yah, the shortened form of the proper name “Yahweh.” and even his summary question at the end of the book, “Who is a God like you?”, seeks to show the uniqueness of this glorious, yet holy and loving God.

The idea of Yahweh’s sovereignty saturates the entire book from the beginning to the end. Micah’s God is “Lord of all the earth” (4:13),[2]The title “Lord of all the earth” is also found in Josh. 3:11, 13; Ps. 97:5; Zech. 4:14; 6:5. All scripture quotations are my own personal translation, unless otherwise noted. a phrase that is more than a cute title for God, but integral to Micah’s theology. This phrase is in a passage that is central in both the structure of the book and its thematic emphasis (4:12-13). Yahweh’s lord­ ship is associated with his unapproachable knowledge and wisdom (“the plans of Yahweh” and “his counsel”) and his omnipotent power (“He has gathered them” and “I will make”). The book begins with the terminology of a theophany (1:2-4), of God coming from his temple in his sovereign power to judge his people.[3]Leslie C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 253-54. The book ends with Micah’s probing question, “Who is a God like you?”, reiterating that Yahweh is sovereign in his mercy and grace (7:18-20).

Many people present a bipolar God who sometimes acts out of his holiness and sometimes acts out of his love. But according to Micah, this is a false dichotomy. God cannot separate the different aspects of his divine personality. God acts out of all of them at the same time. He is “holy love.” His judgment demonstrates both holiness and love, and the hope for the future demonstrates both his holiness and love.

Deriving from the truth of God’s sovereignty, Micah’s second foundational truth is the responsibility of all people to this sovereign God. People are responsible to live holy lives and to worship him rightly. They are responsible to Yahweh for their treatment of others (i.e. justice, mercy, righteous­ness). People are responsible to change their own ways when confronted with God’s person and his word. Prophetic exhortation is notably absent in the book of Micah,[4]E. R. Clendenen, “Micah” in The Holman Concise Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1998), 364-65.

because Yahweh has already “declared” to them “what is good and what Yahweh seeks” from them (6:8). Those who fail to meet their obligations are without excuse; they already know what they need to know and are thus responsible to this sovereign Lord.

The theological axioms of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are the basis for everything else in Micah’s theology. Because Yahweh is sovereign and all people are responsible, those who are rebellious and sinful will be judged (1:5), those who earnestly watch and wait for him will find God’s ear (7:7), they will be held accountable for what he expects of them (6:1-8), etc. Micah looked beyond the judgment to come and showed how this sovereign God would guarantee a bright future for the remnant. The future Davidic ruler and the purifying effect of God’s judg­ment would bring renewal both for Israel and the nations. As such, Micah’s messages denouncing present sin and imminent judgment   are balanced with glorious prophecies of future restoration.

David Dorsey has argued persuasively that the final form of the book is arranged in a chiastic literary structure. The literary structure highlights Micah’s main themes of Israel’s social sins, the moral failure of its leadership, and Yahweh’s establishment of his own kingship over the land.[5]David A. Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 296. Throughout this article I will be referring to “Micah” and the point(s) he tried to com­ I base such statements upon personal presuppositions and internal evidence. Many commentaries describe theories of authorship of the book based upon historical-critical pre­ suppositions and reasoning that I find circular and unconvincing. See the excellent discussion of this in Kenneth L. Barker, “Micah,” in Kenneth L. Barker and Waylon Bailey, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, New American Commentary, vol. 20 (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1998), 28-30. Personally, I cannot get past the superscription, “The word of Yahweh that was to Micah the Moreshethite” (1:1). I recognize also Micah’s editorial activity (3:1) and first-person comments (e.g. 1:9; 2:8, 3:8, et al.). As such, I find little (or nothing) in the book that could not be ascribed to Micah of Moresheth. Having said that, I do not dis­ count the possibility that the book in its final canonical form may have undergone some later editorial activity in terms of arrangement and minor refinement.

A. Coming Defeat and Destruction (ch. 1).

B. Corruption of the People (ch. 2).

C. Corruption of the Leaders (ch. 3).

D. Center — Glorious Future Restoration (chs. 4-5).

C’. Corruption of the City and Its Leaders (ch. 6).

B’ . Corruption of the People (7:1-7).

A’. Future Reversal of Defeat and Destruction (7:8-20).

This structural arrangement of the material demonstrates how certain passages should be compared, contrasted, and weighed.[6]Dorsey, 296-300. Dorsey’s explanation resolves many of the issues plaguing scholars trying to outline the book. For instance, Allen, 257-61, outlines the book according to three cycles of doom and hope (i.e. chapters 1-2, 3-5, 6-7), based on the summons to “hear” found at the beginning of each of these sections. But this view ignores the major thematic break   between chapters 3 and 4, and elevates the brief statement of hope (2:12-13) to the level of   the others (chs. 4-5; 7:8-20). Other scholars divide the book into chapters 1-3, 4-5, 6-7 on thematic grounds. See Carl Friedrich Keil, Micah, Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 10:442, and Daniel J. Simundson, The Book of Micah, New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 7 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 539-40. This view, however, ignores the obvious parallel between chapters 3 and 6. Another view divides   the book into two sections (chs. 1-5, 6-7), because both of these sections begin with the summons to “hear.” This view states that chapters 1-5 focus on the sins of the entire earth, and the last two chapters stress Israel’s sins. See James L. Mays, Micah, Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976), 2-12. The main problem with this view is that passages such as 1:5, 2:4-5, et al. would seem to indicate that Israel and Judah are in view in the first section. Dorsey’s view delineates the distinctive sections, highlights the intended parallels, and focuses emphasis on both the central and final sections. Certain passages are more central to his message, and the rest form a supporting role. An important point that every interpreter of Micah must acknowledge is that the book is not arranged chronologically, but thematically. The message of destruction and punishment (A) is balanced by the message of rebuilding and forgiveness (A’). The indict­ment on the people (B) is strengthened by another passage indicting the populous in equally strong tones (B’ ). The condemnation of the leaders in the community for their social injustice (C) finds its complement in the later passage condemning the leaders and the rich for their deceit and social injustice (C’). The central passage in the book is Micah’s central message of hope for the future (D). This hope for future restoration is strengthened by the next most prominent passage in the book, the final passage (A’). Micah presented these messages of hope to motivate his audience towards repentance and encourage their faith in Yahweh.[7]Dorsey, 299-300. For more information on understanding the positions of prominence in the Hebrew text, see Dorsey’s introductory articles on pages 15-44.

 

God’s Judgment and the Prophet’s Place
(1:1-16; cf. 7:8-20)

The opening and closing sections of the book each describe the corning of Yahweh. The first section presents Yahweh corning in wrath, and the book ends with Yahweh corning in grace and mercy after having expressed his wrath (7:7-9). Using the form of a divine covenant lawsuit (1:2- 7), Yahweh comes to bring his case against his people. Specifically, he comes to judge the deliberate “rebellion” and “sins” found in both Israel and Judah (1:5).[8]Eugene Carpenter and Michael A. Grisanti, “pe’fa‘,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem a. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 3:706-10; and Richard Averbeck,   “hatta’t,” 3:93-103 in the same source. Henceforth this source will be cited as NIDOTTE. The Hebrew term pesa’ (“rebellion, revolt”) is probably the strongest Hebrew term for sin, referring to a willful, criminal infrac­ tion of a covenant (cf. 1 Kings 12:19; Jer. 2:29; Amos 1:3). The general term hatt’ot (“sins”) refers to a deviation from a target (cf. Judg. 20:16; Prov. 19:2). These terms taken together picture a people that had not only failed, but had failed deliberately. It is as if the people not only missed the target, but they were aiming in the entirely opposite direction! Because of this, the northern kingdom’s capital city of Samaria would be destroyed for her idolatry and immorality (1:6-7). But Judah would face God’s wrath also. Micah launched into a lament (1:8-16), describing some of the towns of Judah that would face destruction for their sin ( 1:10-15), even Micah’s hometown of Moresheth-Gath (v. 14).[9]The towns listed in this passage describe Sennacherib’s destructive march through Judah up to Jerusalem in 701 BC (cf. Isa. 10:28-32). Sennacherib claimed to have captured forty-six Judean towns and countless smaller villages in that one military campaign [see D. Winton Thomas, ed., Documents from Old Testament Times (New York: Harper & Row, 1958), 67]. We have no reason to doubt this. All of the towns Micah mentioned, with the exception of Jerusalem (and the towns we cannot locate), are within nine miles and visible from Micah’s hometown of Moresheth-Gath and situated in the Shephelah. At least four of these cities were military sites fortified by Rehoboam to protect Jerusalem (2 Chron. 11:5-12).

God’s Judgment and His Grace. What kind of God would bring judgment on his own people? A holy and righteous God who judges “rebellion” and “sin.” He is not distant from his people, but “comes down” to judge them (1:3). As long as God remains in heaven, sinful people feel secure in their sin. But when he comes to judge, then all people must face him (cf. Amos 4:2 ). Where is the grace in such a God? The fact that he sent the messenger of his word to convict people and warn them of his ways (Mic. 3:7-8) means that   he wants people to repent and find his mercy (cf. Ezek. 18:23). If they refuse to turn, then they will face his holy wrath.

The Need for an Intercessor. Through a series of striking wordplays,[10]See Bruce K. Waltke, “Micah,” in The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical &Expository Commentary, ed. Thomas E. McComiskey, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Balcer, 1993), 625-33, for a detailed discussion of each of these sites and the meaning Micah intended from the wordplay. Micah grieved over the fate of his people (note “my people” in v. 9). Micah heard Yahweh’s words yet at the same time felt Yahweh’s heart, and he lamented with grief the corning judgment. The Old Testament prophets did not rejoice over God’s punishment of sinful people. They had no vengeful spirit that reveled when sinners got what they deserved, but instead they agonized over the ret­ribution. True prophets identified with their people and constantly interceded with Yahweh to turn aside from his judgment (cf. Amos 7:2, 5; Jer. 7:16; 11:14; 14:11; 15:1). Prophets were members of a community that they loved and they knew God loved. They knew that God’s judgment on his people brings him great grief (cf. Gen. 6:6; Ezek. 18:31-32). So they grieved with God over the necessary destruction of his covenant people – a destruction that would rid them of their sinful ways. Israel’s sin did not stop the prophets from loving Israel, but instead it broke their hearts.[11]Elizabeth Achtemeier, Minor Prophets I, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1996), 301-2, adds a poignant reminder, “Perhaps that is a fact to remember in the midst of the bitter disputes that so often trouble the modern church.” Today it sounds as if far too many preachers rather enjoy preaching about God’s judgment.

Micah was not playing word-games or making puns for amusement. He used words to evoke as much fear and dread as possible. The most astounding aspect of this prophecy for his listeners would have been the fact that behind this awful destruction would be Yahweh himself (note “I will bring” in v. 15). Yahweh would no longer be a safe stronghold, but would in fact be sinful Israel’s worst nightmare. Israel had left Yahweh and had taken refuge in secular alternatives such as military might and financial secu­rity (vv. 13-14), but such alternatives would bring no securi­ty at all. Micah sought to use any means possible to stir up his hearers’ emotions and push them into grief over their own sins. He wanted to arouse them from their complacen­cy and bring them to repentance for their sins and perhaps stay the coming judgment.

The God of Salvation. The opening passage is balanced by the final section, when Yahweh would reverse the defeat and the destruction in the future (7:8-20). Yahweh would not leave repentant people in the darkness, but gives them hope for rising again after God’s judgment (vv. 8-9). Enemies would be judged, and Israel would be rebuilt (vv. 10-11). The exiles would be re-gathered (v. 12), a new exodus would take place (v. 15), and God would forgive their iniq­uity, rebellions, and sins (vv. 18-19). Why would he do this for such undeserving sinners? God had made a promise to Abraham (v. 20), and God always keeps his promises.[12]More will be said on this passage in the final section of this paper.

 

Community Ethics (2:1-13; 7:1-7)

These two passages describe the sad state of the Israelite community. The passages balance each other, and thus strengthen their message. Each begins with a cry of woe (2:1; 7:1) and condemns the social evils of greed and vio­ lence (2:2, 8-9; 7:2-3). Each announces God’s corning judgment for these sins (2:3-5, 10; 7:4) and ends with a brief note of hope (2:12-13; 7:7). Earlier Micah spoke of the general sins of the Israelites ( 1:5), but in these passages he gets specific. The specific crimes of Israel have both social and theological implications. Socially, the rich and powerful landlords were destroying the fabric of the Israelite community through their greed. Theologically, they believed that the land belonged to anyone who had the power to take it. They forgot that the land had always belonged to God (Lev. 25:23), and Israelites as a covenant community were but stewards of the land in order to serve Yahweh with it.[13]Waltke, The Minor Prophets, 635. For a fuller discussion of Israel’s property ethics, see Christopher J. H. Wright, God’s People in God’s Land: Family, Land, and Property in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990).

The Evils of Greed. Micah mentioned the covetousness of the people that led to other sins (“seize,” “take,” and “defraud”; 2:2, 8-9; cf. Exod. 20:17). Greed and violence are themes of both passages (cf. 7:2-4). Whether these rich land barons took someone’s inheritance by legal or illegal means, it made no difference under the Torah.[14]A person’s “inheritance” (napald) is someone’s by ancient right, and is owned by the family (cf. Gen. 31:14; Lev. 25:23-34; 1 Kings 21:4). See Waltke, The Minor Prophets, 637. The Law forbade cheating (Lev. 5:20-23; Deut. 24:14; 28:33) and plundering a neighbor (Lev. 19:13). The influx of new wealth and new economic opportunities in the eighth century led to the oppression of the small man in many of the agricultural communities. The prideful (2:3) and powerful (2:1; 7:3) took advantage of those less fortunate. Their ethics came from a capitalistic system of “might makes right” rather than from the compassion of God’s character. Such people would meet God’s judgment and find them­ selves without (2:4-5; 7:4b). Far better would it be to learn the joy of contentment (cf. 1 Tim. 6:6).

The Dangers of Bad Theology. False prophets were ram­ pant in ancient Israel.[15]Cf. l Kings 22:24; Jer. 2:8; 6:13; 8:10; 23:9-32; 26:7-8, 11, 16; 28:1-17; 29:1, 8; Ezek. 13:1-9, 17-19; Mic. 3:8; Zeph. 3:4. Micah’s counterparts preached of God’s love, not on his wrath, and only presented half of the truth. The people wanted to focus only upon the parts of God’s character that they liked. “Is the Spirit of Yahweh short? Are these his deeds?” (2:6) Has God lost his patience? They referred to a familiar passage of the Torah explaining God’s character, “Yahweh, Yahweh, God compas­sionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy and truth; who keeps mercy for thousands, who forgives iniqui­ty, transgression) and sin” (Exod. 34:6-7a). However, they conveniently left out the second half of verse 7, “yet he will not leave the guilty unpunished) visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and on the grand children to the third and fourth generations’ (Exod. 34:7b). Their theology was built on a half-truth, ignoring the part of the scripture they did not like. Such pick-and-choose consumerism of God’s word never excuses people from the parts they have over­ looked. Ignorance of God’s law is never an excuse.[16]Joshua reminded his people that God had given them good promises and bad promises (Josh. 23:15-16). Their obedience would bring the good promises, but their disobedience would bring God’s bad promises. But one thing they could bank on-God keeps his promises!

The Need for Tears. Micah saw his entire society falling apart (7:1-6), and he responded with tears. He did not shel­ter himself in a cloistered existence, ignorant of what was going on around him. He saw the social and moral decay around him, and it moved him to his deepest being. People with the heart of God know that sometimes tears are the most appropriate response to a society that has rebelled against God (cf. Luke 19:41). Micah cried out to God for help and asked for God to transform his nation (7:7).[17]Gary V. Smith, Hosea/Amos/Micah, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 584-85.

Hope in God. Each passage in this section ends with a brief note of hope (2:12-13; 7:7). The false prophets preached that none of God’s judgment would come (unless, of course, the people did not pay them! cf. 3:5). The true prophets promised salvation through the judgment for the righteous remnant. Yahweh would shepherd his righteous ones, and restore them once more (2:12-13). The correct response in facing God’s judgment is to wait on the saving God to act in his time. “I will look on Yahweh,” was Micah’s response, focusing his entire life on Yahweh. “I will surely wait for the God of my salvation.” Waiting is the most pow­erful form of action any desperate person could take because it demonstrates that salvation comes only from God.[18]Mays, 157. “He, my God, will hear me,” is an expression of calm assurance that “my God” hears and answers prayer.[19]David Prior, The Message of Joel, Micah & Habakkuk, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998), 191-92. With Micah’s focus singly upon his God, he saw the true reality of his situation far better than any whose eyes were focused on the world or their problems (cf. Num. 14:6-9; 1 Sam. 17:45-47).

 

The Responsibility of Leadership ( 3:1-12; 6:1-16)

These two passages draw some direct comparisons and contrasts. They demonstrate an intended parallel with the summons to “hear now” at the beginning of each passage (3:1; 6:1). The corrupt rulers, prophets, and priests the people had in Micah’s day (3:5-7, 11) are compared with the prophets and priests God had given Israel in the past, such as Moses, Aaron, and Miriam (6:4).[20]Moses was known as a “prophet” (Dent. 18:15), a “judge” (Exod. 18:13), and performed priestly duties (Exod. 24:6). Aaron was a “priest” (Exod. 28:1), and Miriam was a “prophet­ess” and a worship leader (Exod. 15:20-21). Each section mentions prophets who prophesy or “divine” for pay (3:5, 11), the second section mentioning Balaam by name (6:5).[21]Balaam was a seer (Num. 24:15-16) and “diviner” (Josh. 13:22), one who divined for money (Num. 22:7) and became a stumbling block for Israel (Num. 31:16). The “good” that the leaders hated (3:2) is the same “good” that Yahweh requires (6:8). The leaders “loved” evil (3:2) instead of “loving” kindness (esed) and covenant loyalty (6:8). They hated the “justice” (3:9) that Yahweh expected them to do (6:8). Micah described their sin in cannibalistic terms of gruesome violence against humanity (3:2-3), and this metaphor is balanced with the idea of child sacrifice for one’s sins (6:7). Micah charged the leaders with violence and social injustice in each passage (3:10-11; 6:10-12). The people could not plead ignorance, because God had left them a faithful witness (3:8) and had clearly declared to them of his ways (6:8). The concluding section of each pas­ sage is a statement of the certainty of God’s judgment on his people because of their sins (3:12; 6:13-16).

The Role of a Leader. Israel in Micah’s day had a dearth of good leadership. These passages speak of the leaders in soci­ety called the “heads” and “rulers” (3:1, 9,11), “prophets” (3:5, 11), “seers and diviners” (3:7), “priests” (3:11), and “the rich [of the city]” (6:12; cf. v. 9).[22]The phrase is literally “her rich ones,” and the antecedent of the pronoun “her” is “the city” (v. 9; cf. Amos 6:1-3). This group would include the rich land barons (2:1-5), the royal family, the military elite, the false prophets, and the unscrupulous priests (ch. 3). See Waltke, The Minor Prophets, 739. Micah described the pathetic litany of moral decadence these leaders brought into the society and perpetuated. They did not even “know justice” (3:1), they “hate good and love evil” (3:2), “their deeds have caused evil” (3:4), they “mislead” people (3:5), they “abhor justice and pervert everything that is upright” (3:9), they practice “bloodshed and injustice”  3:10), sold their influence for “a bribe, price, and silver” (3:11), prac­ticed false and perfunctory religion (3:11; cf. 6:6-7), were marked by “wickedness” and unjust business practices (6:10-11), practiced “violence” and “deception” (6:12), were sinful (6:12), and they followed the example of Omri and Ahab (6:16).[23]Omri (1 Kings 16:25-28) was wicked and idolatrous. Ahab was more wicked than Omri, served and worshiped Baal, and even built a temple and altar in Samaria (1 Kings 16:29-33). Ahab and his wife Jezebel killed the prophets of Yahweh (1 Kings 18:4) and obtained Naboth’s family inheritance through covetousness, lying, and murder (1 Kings 21:1-16). This means that the leaders of the city “had a lifestyle characterized by ruthless brutality and the pursuit of profit.” See Prior, 185. The political and judicial leaders were perverting justice, and the spiritual leaders were perverting God’s word. This is not a good report card for leadership! God’s standard for leaders is “justice.”[24]Justice” (mispat) is basically the act of restoring a state of salom or “wholeness,” or putting things into the state that they should be. It refers to “all actions which contribute to maintaining the covenant, namely, the true relation between man and man, and between God and man.” Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets: An Introduction, 2 vols. (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), 1:210. Justice is the “measuring line” and righteousness is the “plumb line” by which all people are evaluated (Isa. 28:17). These are not characteristics and virtues to be lauded in the rare event that they are found. These are expectations God has for all peo­ple (6:8), demonstrations of his righteous and holy charac­ter.[25]Ibid., 198-99.

But God had not left his people without a witness. Micah described his ministry, “But on the other hand, I, I am filled with power,[26]The first person is emphatic in the Hebrew to mark the strongest kind of contrast with the other leaders. with the Spirit of Yahweh, and with justice and might (3:8a). The other prophets were motivated by greed, but Micah was empowered by Yahweh’s Spirit, and this gave him a powerful voice of justice (cf. Isa. 40:26), “To declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin” (3:8b). He dared to address his nation’s corruption and wickedness found especially in the corridors of power. He lowered his sights on the injustice evident in society, because he knew that “transgression” and “sin” would be a cancer that would remain until they were confessed and dealt with.Prior, 143.[/ref]

Accountability to God. The leaders of Micah’s day believed that Yahweh was in their midst, and because of this they would never experience his judgment (3:11). They for­ got that a holy God among sinful people means that God must judge their sin. “On your account, Zion will be plowed like afield” (3:12). Because of their sin the fate of Samaria would also become the fate of Jerusalem (cf. 1:5-7).[27]This verse (3:12), quoted in Jeremiah (26:17-19), indicates that Micah’s sermon may have been instrumental in the religious reform under Hezekiah (cf. 2 Kings 18:1-6; 2 Chronicles 29-31). It also shows that Micah’s message still spoke clearly over a century later. Few preachers today expect that kind of longevity out of their sermons! The God they trusted to be in their midst would actually become their worst enemy. “So I will make you sick, striking you, devastating you for your sins” (6:13).[28]The personal pronoun “I” is emphatic, drawing a contrast between what Yahweh will do personally as opposed to what the wicked merchants have done (cf. 6:9-12). See Waltke, The Minor Prophets, 740. All of their best efforts would be frustrated (6:14-15), and Yahweh Himself would make them a “waste” (6:16). God is never mocked, for whatever one sows, that one will also reap (cf. Gal. 6:7).

Remembering God)s Grace of the Past. It could be that the greatest enemy to faith is a poor memory. Yahweh reminded the people of his “righteous acts” towards them in the past (6:3-5). He recalled to their mind how he had saved them from Egypt, gave them superior leaders, foiled the schemes of the enemy, and miraculously led them across the Jordan River (“from Shittim to Gilgal”). They were to “remember” what Yahweh had done (6:5).[29]Remember” (zekor) is more than simply recalling past events but bringing the past into the present. It means actually participating in those events and commiting oneself to the God who performed those events. As such, remembrance is an intense act of worship ( cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-26). See Brevard S. Childs, Memory and Tradition in Israel, Studies in Biblical Theology 37 (London: SCM, 1962), 56. They were “to know,” to have an intimate, practical acquaintance with these righteous acts that Yahweh had done (6:5). One of the main reasons they had strayed into lives of sin is because they had simply forgotten God’s grace poured out for them.

The “Good” that Yahweh Requires. The people wanted to bring things to God (“with what?” 6:6), thinking that God was interested in the size or cost of their gifts. But the “good” Yahweh wanted was different.[30]”Good” (Ob) is something that is “appropriate,” “well-pleasing,” and “right.” In its ethical sense, it is a statement of what God expects in human behavior (cf. Pss. 14:1, 3; 37:3). People cannot bribe Yahweh with huge offerings. Instead, God states that he does not require the offering as much as the offerer. He is more interested in the person than in any gift one might bring. A person’s character and behavior are what matter to God.[31]Gary Smith, 553. Other prophets also stated how much Yahweh “hates” superficial acts of piety not accompanied by holy living (cf. Amos 5:21-24). Micah summed up the teachings of his contempo­raries with three short phrases of what Yahweh requires (6:8).[32]A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Doctrine of the Prophets (London: MacMillan, 1923), 226-27, “Amos had insisted upon the paramount necessity of civil justice: Hosea had proclaimed that it was not sacrifice but loving kindness that God desired: one of the prominent doctrines of Isaiah was the majesty of Jehovah, to which reverent humility on man’s part is the fitting correla­tive.” “To do justice ” – justice is something that is done, not merely wished or hoped for. God expects people to work for fairness and equality for everyone, especially for the weak and powerless.[33]Simundson, 580. “To love kindness (hesed)” – to make hesed the object of one’s love.[34]Hesed is a term basic to covenant relationships, many times translated “love,” “loyalty,” “kindness,” “faithfulness.” It describes unfailing love and the keeping of faith between related parties (Josh. 2:12-14; Judg. 1:24; 1 Kings 20:31). God cannot be wor­shiped and obeyed apart from concern for other people, so God requires that people relate to one another in a merciful way with loving affection.[35]Gary Smith, 553. “And walk humbly with your God”[36]The Hebrew root sn’, here translated “humbly,” is found only one other place in the Old Testament (Prov. 11:2), but the root is found in the Qumran scrolls and in Ecclesiasticus, where it has the connotation of “attentive,” “paying attention to,” “watching.” So here the term might easily by rendered as “carefully” or “circumspectly.” See James Limburg, Hosea­ Micah, Interpretation (Atlanta: John Knox, 1988), 192.– God wants people to walk with him, careful to put God first and live lives that conform to his will. Our entire lives should be walking with God as our constant compan­ion (cf. Gen. 6:9).[37]Simundson, 580.

 

An Anchor of Hope (4:1-5:15 [4:1-5:14])

This central and climactic section of the book is a tremendous statement of hope for a future glorious restoration of God’s people. Grace and salvation are God’s last word, his ultimate intention for creation. This is the first extended statement of hope in the entire book, and it too is arranged in an extended chiastic structure.

A. Yahweh’s Rule Over His People and the Nations (4:1-5).

B. Hope for a Remnant (4:6-7).

C. The “Rule” (memsdla) from an Earlier Time will Come (4:8-10).

D. Turning Point: Yahweh will Reverse Israel’s Present Hopeless Situation (4:11-5:1 [4:11-14]).

C’. A “Ruler” (mosel) with Origins from an Earlier Time will Come (5:2-5a [5:1-4a]).

B’. Hope for a Remnant (5:5b-9 [5:4b-8]).

A’. Yahweh’s Rule Over His People and the Nations ( 5:10-15 [5:9-14]).[38]Adapted from Dorsey, 298.

Comparing and contrasting these sections reveal some of Micah’s emphases. These passages show that Yahweh would establish himself as the true ruler over his people and over all nations. He would replace Israel’s wicked rulers with his own ruler whom he would place on Israel’s throne ( cf. 5:2 [5:1], “for me”). This ruler would establish Yahweh’s reign and peace to the ends of the earth (5:4-5a [5:3-4a]). The situation may presently look bleak (4:11), but Yahweh would soon turn it all around (4:12).

The “A” sections (4:1-5; 5:10-15 [5:9-14]) each begin with an eschatological statement.[39]And it will be in the latter days” (4:1), “And it will be in that day” (5:10 [5:9]). Peoples and “nations” would either come willingly and worship Yahweh (4:1-2) or be forced into submission ( 5:15 [5:14]). The peoples would worship Yahweh and learn to walk in his ways (4:2, 5), and all false religion and idolatry would end ( 5:12-14 [5:11- 13]). God would destroy all implements of war (4:3; 5:10- 11 [5:9-10]), and convert them into instruments of peace (4:3).

The “B” sections (4:6-7; 5:5b-9 [5:4b-8]) focus on the promise of the “remnant” (seerit) that would survive the upcoming judgment. After Yahweh completed his judgment on his people (4:6, “even whom I have afflicted”), his faith­ful few would be scattered among the peoples and “nations” (5:7-8 [5:6-7]). They would be like dew and showers, phenomena that come from God and that no humans can control.[40]Judg. 6:36-40; Job 38:28. Waltke, The Minor Prophets, 712-13, interprets the dew and­ showers similies as indications that the remnant would be an agent of God’s blessing on the earth. The following similes “like a lion . . . like a young lion” (5:8 [5:7]) would seem to negate that interpretation. It is best to let the end of verse 7 [6] interpret the similes. It is an encouragement not to rely upon our own human strength and initiative to determine the future (cf. 5:5-6 [5:4-5]). For we cannot even control the dew or rain, but only trust in God’s power and wait for his activity. He will preserve a remnant by his own power. See Gary Smith, 527. Yahweh would take these feeble exiles (4:6, “lame,” “outcast,” “afflicted”) and make them into a strong “nation” (4:7) and through them execute his judgment on his enemies (5:8-9 [5:7-8]).

The “C” sections (4:8-10; 5:2-5a [5:1-4a]) focus on the former “rule” or “dominion” to be restored (4:8 ), brought about by a “ruler” whom God would raise up (5:2 [5:1]).[41]The noun “rule” or “dominion” (memsala.) shares the san1e root (msl) as the participle “ruler” or “ruling one” (mosel) in the companion passage. Each passage begins with the phrase “and you” (4:8; 5:2 [5:11), showing an intended direct parallel. The dominion of the past, that of the Davidic empire, would return once more to “Migdal-eder” (4:8 ), a location near Bethlehem (cf. Gen. 35:19-21).[42]Sometimes translated as “tower of Eder” (Gen. 35:21, NASV) or “tower of the flock” (Mic. 4:8, NASV). This dominion would be brought by the “ruler” who would come from Bethlehem (5:2 [5:11), someone with origins from the ancient past. The exile is referred to as a woman “giving birth” (4:9-10; 5:3 [5:2]), a vivid picture of present pain followed by intense joy.[43]Various interpretations have been offered for the woman “giving birth” in 5:3 [5:2]. Several messianic interpretations are proffered: (1) It refers to the mother of the messianic ruler promised in verse 2 (i.e. Mary). See B. Elmo Scoggin, “Micah,” Broadman Bible Commentary, vol. 7 (Nashville: Broadman, 1972), 215. (2) It refers to Bethlehem who would give birth to the Messiah. See Keil, 482-83. (3) It refers to the righteous remnant of Zion, referring to the “birth of salvation” (cf. 4:9-10). See Waltke, The Minor Prophets, 706. (4) A more probable interpretation is that this phrase is not a messianic reference at all, but rather a historical one referring to the exile (cf. 4:10). The inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah will go forth, as from the womb into captivity. They would be gathered into groups for the long trek to Babylon. After the tribulation of the exile, then the remnant people would return to Judah (5:2) and be ruled by Yahweh’s Davidic king. See Achtemeier, 339-40; and Mays, 116. Hans Walter Wolff, Micah: A Commentary, trans. Gary Stansell (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), 145, states, “As long as the woman in labor experiences birthpangs and cries out, the time of dis­tress continues on.” Yahweh would bring them back from exile (4:10; 5:2 [5:11), and they would find security and peace under their new ruler (5:3-4a [5:2-3a]).

The central section “D” (4:11-5:1 [4:11-14]) is the turn­ing point of the entire pericope. As the center of the central pericope, these verses are the turning point of the entire book. This section is also structured as a chiasm, focusing attention on verses 12-13.

A. The Siege against Zion (4:11).

B. The Purpose of Yahweh – Complete Reversal (4:12-13).

A’ . The Siege against Zion (5:1 [4:14]).

The beginning and ending verses both begin with “now” (4:11; 5:1 [4:14]), and speak of the nations gathering themselves to besiege Zion. They profane and gloat over Zion (4:11), utterly humiliating Israel’s ruler (5:1 [4:14]). But verses 12-13 give the crux of the issue – the true situa­tion is that Yahweh has actually gathered them to be threshed like sheaves of grain (v. 12). Yahweh’s people would be empowered to destroy God’s enemies and glorify “the Lord of all the earth” with their wealth (v. 13). As such, Yahweh would reign supreme over all the nations of the world.

God’s Incomparable Wisdom and Power. Therefore, the entire book points to one central thought: Yahweh’s ulti­mate wisdom (“the thoughts of Yahweh”), purpose (“his plan”), and power (“I will make”).[44]The “thoughts” or “plans” of God (mahsebot) are not our thoughts and neither are his ways our ways. In fact they are as far above ours as the heavens are above the earth (Isa. 55:8-10; cf. Ps. 92:5-6 [92:6-7]). God’s “counsel” or “purpose” (‘esa) brings both his judgment and   his redemption, moving toward his ultimate goal in the entire universe. His thoughts and plans demonstrate his holiness and glory in his people, among the nations, and in the entire earth (cf. Isa. 46:9-11). See Al Wolters “y’s,” NIDOTTE, 2:490-92. The seeming random events of life fit into God’s ultimate purpose and plan (cf. Rom 8:28). Even the “bad events” of life (e.g. God’s judg­ment) are part of his divine plan for bringing about good (“he has gathered them”). Joseph said to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). No situation is too hopeless for God to turn it around. He can make his weak and frail people into a mighty army with iron horns and bronze hoofs (v. 13). None can compare to his marvelous wisdom or his absolute power. Micah’s name encapsulates the theme of the book, “Who is like Yahweh?”

The Vision of Peace. Many today speak of “peace,” but they usually mean the absence of war. God’s peace is far more than that. Micah made several statements about God’s peace that are worth noting. First, true peace happens only when people focus their attentions on the true worship of Yahweh and have a genuine desire to live lives that conform to his will (4:1-2). That means that Yahweh’s word should still be boldly proclaimed among the peoples of the earth, and he will draw them to himself (cf. Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:17-21). Second, when people live lives under his rule, he will iron out differences between people and remove all reasons for war. He is the only true judge who can reconcile warring parties (4:3). Third, even individuals will experience the effects of peace (4:4). Fourth, we are not there yet. Right now many people still follow other gods, but God’s covenant people should continue to walk in a close relation­ ship with him, trusting him to work out his plan in history (4:5).

The companion passage ( 5:10-15 [5:9-14]) sheds light on how God will bring about his eschatological peace. Still in the form of an eschatological salvation oracle (“in that day”), God would remove all dependence on military armaments (vv. 10-11 [9-10]), the objects of pride and a false sense of security. God would also remove all false religious practices that distract God’s people from true worship of him (vv. 12-14 [11-13]). These verses clearly show that, for God’s peace to rule, his people need to change and be puri­fied. In other words, God must perform the radical surgery himself (“I will” [9x]). This is actually good news for God’s people.[45]Simundson, 575. Any nation that does not “listen to” (i.e. “obey”) Yahweh will suffer his anger and wrath as he establishes his sovereignty. This includes even God’s people.[46]Waltke, The Minor Prophets, 722, notes that “avenge” (naqiim) is a legal term for a ruler securing his sovereignty and keeping his community whole by delivering his wronged subjects and punishing their guilty slayers who do not respect his rule. God will vindicate his holiness and will make all things right in the end.

The Remnant. Is the doctrine of a “remnant” that would survive the coming judgment good news or bad news? In actuality, it is both. The good news was that a remnant would survive, but the bad news was that only a remnant would survive. The Mosaic covenant and the Abrahamic covenant stood in tension with each other. The Mosaic covenant threatened the sinful nation with death, but the Abrahamic covenant guaranteed Israel an everlasting status in God’s program of redemption. The true prophets resolved the tension with a doctrine that God would   preserve a godly remnant through the judgment.[47]Bruce K. Waltke, “Micah: Theology of,” NIDOTTE, 4:938-39.   Jeremiah’s prophecy of the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) focused on the remnant who would survive the judgment (Jer. 31:1-22), but it also presented a shift in the definition of the elect people of God. Abraham’s chosen nation up to that point had consisted of both the faithful and the nonfaith­ful, for simply being of Abraham’s seed did not automatically imply regeneration (cf. Lev. 26:41, 44-45; Deut. 10:15-16; Isa. 59:1-2; et al.). The presence of the nonfaithful in the community logically called for a doctrine of a “remnant.” Jeremiah’s prophecy of the New Covenant spoke of each member in an intimate relationship with God (Jer. 31:34; cf. 31:29-30), or what had been called “the remnant” up to that point. This remnant would become the New Covenant community, and the unbelieving majority would no longer have a place in it. See Paul R.House, Old Testament Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998), 318. They would suffer before being redeemed (4:6-7).

The Davidic Ruler. The Davidic ruler to be born in Bethlehem would bring about the “former dominion” of Israel ( 5:2 [5:1]). Israel would lose her Davidic Icing in the coming exile, but Micah prophesied that God had not for­ gotten his promise to David of an eternal kingship (2 Sam. 7:4-17; Pss. 2; 89; 132). The ruler would come from one of the smallest families of Judah (5:2 [5:1]), but he would be God’s selected representative to rule over his people Israel (“for me”; cf. 1 Sam. 16:1). His origins would be “from ancient time, from days long ago,” probably a reference to David’s time (cf. Amos 9:11). He would come after the exile was over (5:3 [5:2]; cf. 4:10)[48]See the discussion in footnote 44. and would “stand and shepherd in the strength of Yahweh) in the majesty of the name of Yahweh his God” (5:4 [5:3]). That is, Yahweh would establish him as his chosen representative to serve with Yahweh’s strength and authority. His ministry would be as a “shepherd,” like his ancestor David (2 Sam. 5:2; 7:7). He would bring security to his people, and his kingdom would include all the nations of the earth ( 5:4 [5:3]; cf. Pss. 2:8; 72:8). In a climactic note, “And this one will be peace” (5:5a [5:4a]), Micah stated that he would embody God’s salom in his person and reign (cf. Isa. 9:6).[49]For a full discussion of the messianic implications in this passage, see Philip P. Jenson, “Models of Prophetic Prediction and Matthew’s Quotation of Micah 5:2,” in The Lord’s Anointed: Interpretation of Old Testament Messianic Texts, ed. Philip F. Satterwaite, Richard S. Hess, and Gordon J. Wenham (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995), 189-211.

These prophecies were partially fulfilled in the exile and the post-exilic period. Israel went into exile, and returned to rebuild Jerusalem. But the Davidic throne was not re-estab­lished. The prophecy of a future messianic Icing from Bethlehem became a major hope for the Jews. This king would be far more wonderful than any monarch of the past.

The magi did not have to ask many people to find where the “one born King of the Jews” would be born (Matt. 2:1- 6; cf. John 7:42). This hope was finally fulfilled when the end-time coming became a present-day fact: “For today in the city of David has been born for you a savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11; cf. v. 4).[50]Cristoph Barth, God With Us: A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 226-27. Now, we await the fulfillment of his complete reign (Rev. 11:15).

 

The Incomparable God (7:8-20)

This section is structured in parallel with the first section ( 1:1-16). As the final section of the book, it also holds a position of prominence, closing out the book with a note of hope and assurance. This shows that the purpose of the book is to encourage the reader, not to dishearten.[51]Dorsey, 300. This section is also arranged chiastically, focusing on the prophet’s petition that Yahweh would shepherd his people once more (7:14).

A. God’s Anger Over “Sin” (7:8-9).

B. Enemies will “See” and be Overcome with “Shame” (7:10).

C. Return from the Exile (7:11-13).

D. Center: A Prayer to Yahweh (7:14).

C’. Return from the Exile (7:15).

B’. Nations will “See” and “be Ashamed” (7:16-17).

A’. The End of God’s Anger; His Forgiveness of “Sin” (7:18-20).[52]Adapted from Dorsey, 299.

In the “A” section Micah made a statement of faith and hope as a representative of his people,[53]Gary Smith, 573. stating that even though he presently experienced Yahweh’s wrath because of his sin, this judgment would only be temporary (7:8-9). The companion passage (A’ ) states why penitent people may have such hope (7:18-20). Yahweh does not hold onto his anger forever, for he is a gracious God, full of compassion, who forgives iniquities, transgressions, and sins (vv. 18-19). Hope for salvation (vv. 8-9) is based in the incomparable character of God (vv. 18-20).

Section “B” describes the enemy “seeing” God’s right­ eousness (7:10),[54]Implied from v. 9. and as a result, they would cover their “shame” (busa) because they had previously taunted God’s people, and they would experience abject humiliation (v. 10). The nations would “see” God’s power[55]Implied from v. 15. and “be ashamed” (bos) of their own puny strength (v. 16). Instead of taunting, they would cover their mouths in amazement,[56]Achtemeier, 366, interprets the phrase “they will put their hand on their mouth, and their ears will be deaf” as if the people will be overwhelmed, struck deaf and dumb. and humble themselves before “Yahweh our God” (v. 17).

Section “C” (7:11-13) speaks of a day when: Judah would be rebuilt (v. 11); people would come to Judah, even from “Egypt” (v. 12); and the earth would be made deso­late as a consequence for the evil deeds of her inhabitants (v. 13). The companion passage (7:15) complements this by saying it would be like the exodus from “Egypt” involving “extraordinary deeds” (cf. Exod. 3:20).

The central section “D” is a prayer of intercession for God to act (7:14). Using covenant language, Micah prayed for God to act as a shepherd and lead his people (“your inheritance,” cf. Exod. 19:6) to the fertile lands that once belonged to Israel.

God)s Incomparable Justice. In the final passage in the book Micah described how his people could face the “wrath of Yahweh.” First, they could understand his punishment on them as certainly deserved “because I have sinned against Him” (7:9). This is God’s holiness in action. He will not leave the guilty unpunished (Exod. 34:7). Second, they could understand that the defeat would only be temporary, because “When I fall I will rise. When I sit in the darkness) Yahweh is a light to me” (7:8) and one day Yahweh will “plead my dispute and make justice for me” (7:9). God’s punishment for sin will certainly take place, but it will only be temporary. Third, ultimately the God of justice will set things straight, for “he will bring me out into the light) and I will see his righteousness” (7:9).[57]Waltke, The Minor Prophets, 755.

God’s Incomparable Mercy. Micah asked the question that saturated the entire book, “Who is God like you?” and tied this question to God’s amazing mercy.[58]This same question was pondered elsewhere in the Old Testament, but the reasoning behind the question was different. Yahweh is incomparable because of: his glorious and mighty deeds (Exod 15:11; Ps. 77:13); his deliverance from threatening death (Ps. 71:20); his aid of the weak, poor, and needy (Pss. 35:10; 113:7); and his power over all other gods (Ps. 89:6).

“Lost in wonder, love, and praise,” Micah stated that Yahweh is incomparable because he forgives sin.

Yahweh is qualitatively different from all other gods and human beings and things because, hav­ing great power, Yahweh also faithfully forgives humankind. With justification, Micah would say, the Christian faith has put the cross, the symbol of triumph over and forgiveness of all sin, at the center of its worship.[59]Achtemeier, 367.

Only Israel’s God can offer a solution to humanity’s  greatest problem – sin.

Micah described Yahweh as incomparable, gracious and merciful, compassionate, true, faithful, and loving (7:18- 20). He used four allusions to Exod. 34:6-7 (cf. the allusion to Exod. 34:7 in the previous section): [l] “He does not hold his anger forever”; [2] his esed; [3] one who forgives “iniquity” (‘awon), “rebellion” (pesa, and “sins” (hattott);[60]These are three of the most frequent terms used in the Old Testament for sin, thus the pas­ sage deals with every kind of sinfulness people can commit. Pesa’ and hatt’ot were described earlier (see footnote 8). ‘Awon comes from the concept of being “twisted,” “crooked,” or “perverse.” It connotes guilt and crime, including both the misdeed and the punishment for that misdeed. and [4] God’s “compassion” (raham).[61]Raham is a term used to describe the tender, unconditional love of a mother for the child of the womb (rehem). See Achtemeier, 368.  Micah describes God’s forgiveness with four verbs: he “forgives/pardons” iniquity, he “passes over” rebellion, he “treads underfoot” iniquity, and he “throws into the depths of the sea” all their sins. Using one metaphor after another, Micah conveyed that sin is utterly removed from God’s sight – passed over as no longer being of any importance, stomped into pieces in the dirt, and sunk like a stone to the bottom of the sea.[62]Ibid., 367-68; Gary Smith, 578. God cannot remain angry, but neither can he simply wink at our sin by pretending that it does not exist. He must deal with our sins totally and completely.

Where Do We Turn? The center (7:14) and the final pas­sages of this section (7:18-20) give the correct response of God’s people to this incomparably holy and loving God. Verse 14 is a petition, a prayer to God to shepherd his people, protecting and caring for them with his rod (or scepter). Using the second-person pronoun three times, Micah asked for God to be intimately involved with “your people” and “your inheritance.” How could Micah claim such personal attention from this awesome and incomparable God? Yahweh had entered into covenant with these peo­ple through their fathers Abraham and Jacob (7:20; cf. Gen. 22:17; 28:14). God would exhibit “truthfulness/faithful­ness/steadfastness” (emet) and “lovingkindness” (esed) to the people of his covenant. These terms, taken from Exod. 34:6, translated into Greek, and brought into traditional English are “full of grace and truth” (cf. John 1:14). All of God’s people may find security and hope in his unchanging character. The conditional covenants (e.g. Sinai; cf. Exod. 19:5) give God’s people a conscience towards sin. But the unconditional covenants God extends towards his people (e.g. Abraham; cf. Gen. 17:1-8) give his sinful people hope for a future (cf. Jer. 29:11).

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