THE PROPHET MICAH.
Micah signifies: "Who is like Jehovah;" and by this name, the prophet is consecrated to the incomparable God, just as Hosea was to the helping God, and Nahum to the comforting God. He prophesied, according to the inscription, under Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. We are not, however, entitled, on this account, to dissever his prophecies, and to assign particular discourses to the reign of each of these kings. On the contrary, the entire collection forms only one whole. At the termination of his prophetic ministry, under Hezekiah, the prophet committed to writing everything which was of importance for all coming time that had been revealed to him during the whole duration of that ministry. He collected into one comprehensive picture all the detached visions which had been granted to him in manifold repetition; giving us the sum and substance (of which nothing has been lost in the case of any of the men inspired by God) of what was spoken at different times, and omitting all which was accidental, and purely local and temporary.
This view, which alone is the correct one, and which contributes so largely to the right understanding of the prophet, has been already advanced by several of the older scholars. Thus Lightfoot (Ordo temporum, opp. i. p.99) remarks: "It is easier to conceive that the matter of this whole book represents the substance of the prophecy which he uttered under these various kings, than to determine which of the chapters of this book were uttered under the particular reign of each of these kings." Majus also (Economia temporum, p.898) says: "He repeated, at a subsequent period, what he had spoken at different [Pg 414] times, and under different kings." In modern times, however, this view had been generally abandoned; and although, at present, many critics are disposed to return to it, Hitzig and Maurer still assert, that the book was composed at different periods.
We shall now endeavour to prove the unity of the book, first, from the prophecies themselves. If we were entitled to separate them at all, according to time and circumstances, we could form a division into three discourses only; viz., chap. i. and ii.; chap. iii.-v.; and chap. vi. and vii. For, 1. Each of these discourses forms a whole, complete in itself, and in which the various elements of the prophetic discourse—reproof, threatening, promise—are repeated. If these discourses be torn asunder, we get only the lacera membra of a prophetic discourse.2. Each of these three discourses, forming an harmonious whole, begins with [Hebrew: wmev], hear. That this is not merely accidental, appears from the beginning of the first discourse, [Hebrew: wmev emiM klM], "Hear, all ye people." These words literally agree with those which were uttered by the prophet's elder namesake, when, according to 1 Kings 22:28, he called upon the whole world to attend to the remarkable struggle betwixt the true and false prophets. It is evidently on purpose that the prophet begins with the same words as those with which the elder Micah had closed his discourse to Ahab, and, it may be, his whole prophetic ministry. By this very circumstance he gives intimation of what may be expected from him, shows that his activity is to be considered as a continuation of that of his predecessor, who was so jealous for God, and that he had more in common with him than the mere name. Rosenmueller (Prol. ad Mich. p.8) has asserted, indeed, that these words are only put into the mouth of the elder Micah, and that they are taken from the passage under consideration. But the reason which he adduces in support of this assertion, viz., that it cannot be conceived how it could ever have entered the mind of that elder Micah to call upon all people to be witnesses of an announcement which concerned Ahab only, needs no detailed refutation. Why then is it that in Deuteronomy 32:1, Isaiah 1:2, heaven and earth are called upon to be witnesses of an announcement which concerned the Jewish people only? Who does not see that, to the prophet, Israel appears as too small an audience [Pg 415] for the announcement of the great decision which he has just uttered; in the same manner as the Psalmist (compare, e.g., Psalm 96:3) exhorts to proclaim to the Gentiles the great deeds of the Lord, because Palestine is too narrow for them?—But now, if it be established that it was with a distinct object that the prophet employed the words, "Hear ye," does not the circumstance that they are found at the commencement of the three discourses, which are complete in themselves, afford sufficient ground for the assumption, that it was the intention of the prophet, not indeed absolutely to limit them to the beginning of a new discourse (compare, on the contrary, iii.9), but yet, not to commence a new discourse without them; so that the want of them is decisive against the supposition of a new section? 3. As soon as an attempt is made to break up any of these three discourses, many particular circumstances are at once found, upon a careful examination, to prove a connection of the sections so close, as not to admit of a separation without mutilating them. Thus chap. i. and ii. cannot be separated from each other, for the reason that the promise in ii.12, 13, refers to the threatening in i.5. That promise refers to all Israel, just as does the threatening in chap. i.; whilst in the threatening and reproof in chap. ii. the eye of the prophet is directed only to the main object of his ministry, viz., to Judah.
But even these three divisions, which hitherto we have proved to be the only divisions that do exist, can be considered as such, in so far only as in them the discourse takes a fresh start, and enters upon a new sphere. They cannot be considered as complete in themselves, and separated from one another by the [Pg 416] difference of the periods of their composition; for even in them there are found traces of a close connection. Even the uniform beginning by "Hear" may be considered as such. The second discourse in iii.1 begins with [Hebrew: vamr]; but the Fut. with Vav convers. always, and without exception, connects a new action with a preceding one, and can never be used where there is an absolutely new commencement. Its significance here, where it is used in the transition from the promise to a new reproof and threatening, has been very strikingly brought out thus, by Ch. Bened. Michaelis: "But while we are yet but too far away from those longed-for times, which have just been promised, I say in the meanwhile, viz., in order to complete the list of the iniquities of evil princes and teachers, begun in chap. ii." The words of iii.1, "Hear, I pray you, ye heads of Jacob, and ye princes of the house of Israel," have an evident reference to ii.12: "I will assemble Jacob all of thee, I will gather the remnant of Israel." In the new threatening, the prophet chooses quite the same designation as in the preceding promise, in order to prevent the latter from giving support to false security. It is not by any means Samaria alone, but all Israel, which is the object of divine punishment. It is only a remnant of Israel that shall be gathered. But the reference to the preceding discourse is still more obvious in ver.4: "Then they shall cry unto the Lord, and He will not answer; and may He hide His face from them at this time, as they have behaved themselves ill towards Him in their doings." Now, as in vers.1-3 divine judgments had not yet been spoken of, the terms "then," and "at this time," can refer only to the threatenings of punishment in ii.3 ff., which have a special reference to the ungodly nobles.
Thus the result presented at the beginning, is confirmed to us by internal reasons. The inscription announces the oracles [Pg 417] of God which came to Micah under the reign of three kings; while the examination of the contents proves that the collection forms a connected whole, written uno tenore. How, now, can these two facts be reconciled in any other way than by supposing that we have here before us a comprehensive picture of the prophetic ministry of Micah, the single component parts of which are at once contemporaneous, and yet belonging to different periods? This supposition, moreover, affords us the advantage of being allowed to maintain all the historical references in their fullest import, without being led to disregard the one, while we give attention to the other; for nothing is, in this case, more natural, than that the prophet connects with one another different prophecies uttered at different times.
The weight of these internal reasons is increased, however, by external reasons which are equally strong. When Jeremiah was called to account for his prophecy concerning the destruction of the city, the elders, for his justification, appealed to the [Pg 418] entirely similar prophecy of Micah in iii.12: "Therefore shall Zion for your sake be ploughed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest." In Jeremiah 26:18, 19, it is said, "Micah prophesied in the days of Hezekiah, king of Judah, and spake to all the people of Judah, etc. Did Hezekiah, king of Judah, and all Judah, put him to death? Did he not fear the Lord, and besought the Lord, and the Lord repented Him of the evil which He had pronounced against them?" All interpreters admit that this passage forms an authority for the composition of the discourse in iii.-v. under Hezekiah; but we cannot well limit it in this way, we must extend it to the whole collection. For, even apart from the reasons by which we proved that the entire book forms one closely connected whole, it is most improbable that the elders should have known, by an oral tradition, the exact time of the composition of one single discourse, which has no special date at the head of it. Is it not a far more natural supposition, that they considered the collection as a whole, of which the component parts had, indeed, been delivered by the prophet at a former period, but had been repeated, and united into one description under Hezekiah; and that they mentioned Hezekiah, partly because it could not be determined with certainty whether this special prediction had already been uttered under one of his predecessors, and, if so, under which of them; and partly, because among the three kings mentioned in the inscription, Hezekiah alone formed an ecclesiastical authority?
But just as that quotation in Jeremiah furnishes us with a proof that all the prophecies of Micah, which have been preserved to us, were committed to writing under Hezekiah, so we can, in a similar manner, prove from Isaiah, chap. ii., that they were, at least in part, uttered at a previous period. The problem of the relation of Isaiah 2:2-4 to Micah 4:1-3, cannot be solved in any other way than by supposing, that this portion of a prophecy which, in Jeremiah, is assigned to the reign of Hezekiah, was uttered by Micah as early as under the reign of Jotham, and that soon after it Isaiah, by placing the words of Micah at the head of his own prophecies, expressed that which had come to him also in inward vision; for, being already known to the people, they could not fail to produce their impression. [Pg 419] Every other solution can be proved to be untenable.1. Least of all is there any refutation needed of the hypothesis which is now generally abandoned, viz., that the passage in Isaiah is the original one; compare, against this hypothesis, Kleinert, Aechtheit des Jes. S.356; Caspari, S.444.2. Equally objectionable is another supposition, that both the prophets had made use of some older prophecy—one uttered by Joel, as Hitzig and Ewald have maintained. The connection in which these verses stand in Micah, is by far too close for such a supposition. We could not, indeed, so confidently advance this argument, if the connection consisted only in what is commonly brought forward, viz., that upon the monitory announcement of punishment in chap. iii., there follows, in chap. iv.1 ff., the consolatory promise of a glorious future for the godly, and that the [Hebrew: ihih] in ver.1 evidently connects it with what immediately precedes. But the reference and connection are far more close. The promise in iv.1, 2, is, throughout, contrasted with the threatening in iii.12. "The mountain of the house shall become as the high places of the forest,"—hence, despised, solitary, and desolate. In iv.1, there is opposed to it, "The mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established on the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills, and upon it people shall flee together." "Zion shall be ploughed as a field, and Jerusalem become a heap of ruins." Contrasted with this, there is in iv.2 the declaration: "For the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord of Jerusalem." The desolate and despised place now becomes the residence of the Lord, from which He sends His commands over the whole earth, and of which the brilliant centre now is Jerusalem. In order to make this contrast so much the more obvious, the prophet begins, in the promise, with just the mountain of the temple, which, in the threatening, had occupied the last place; so that the opposites are brought into immediate connection. Nor is it certainly merely accidental that, in the threatening, he speaks of the mountain of the house only, while, in the promise, he speaks of the mountain of the house of the Lord; compare Matthew 23:38, where "your house," according to Bengel, "is the house which, in other passages, is called the house of the Lord," just as the Lord, in Exodus 32:7, says to Moses, "Thy people." The temple must have ceased to be the house of the Lord, before it would be destroyed; for [Pg 420] which reason, as we are told In Ezekiel, the Shechinah removed from it before the Babylonish destruction. And in point of form, the [Hebrew: ihih] in iv.1 so much the more corresponds with the [Hebrew: thih] in iii.12, as from the latter [Hebrew: ihih] must be supplied for the last clause of the verse; compare Caspari, S.445. That ver.5 must not be separated from the prophecy which Isaiah had before him, is seen from a comparison of Isaiah 2:5: "O house of Jacob, come ye and let us walk in the light of the Lord." According to the true interpretation, "the light of the Lord" signifies His grace, and the blessings which, according to what precedes, are to be bestowed by it; and "to walk in the light of the Lord," means to participate in the enjoyment of grace. These words, accordingly, are closely related to those in Micah 4:5: "For all the people shall walk, every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever:" i.e., the fate of the people in the heathen world corresponds to the nature of their gods; because these are nothing, they too shall sink down into nothingness, while Israel shall partake in the glory of his God. There is the same thought, and in essentially the same dress, both in Isaiah and Micah,—only that the words which in Micah embody a pure promise, are transformed by Isaiah into an exhortation that Israel should not, by their own fault, forfeit this preference over the heathen nations, that they should not wantonly wander away into dark solitudes, from the path of light which the Lord had opened up before them. This transformation in Isaiah, however, may be accounted for by the consideration, that he was anxious to prepare the way for the reproofs which now follow from ver.6; whilst Micah, who had already premised them, could continue in the promise. It is also in favour of the originality of the passage in Micah, that the text which, in Isaiah, appears as a variation, appears as original in Micah; so that both cannot be equally dependent upon a third writer.3. There now remains only the view of Kleinert, according to which the prophecy of Micah, in chap. iii.-v., was first uttered under the reign of Hezekiah; and, under the reign of the same king, but somewhat later, the prophecy, in chap. ii.-iv. of Isaiah, who avails himself of it. But, upon a closer examination, this view also proves untenable. Isaiah's description of the condition of the people in a moral point of view, the general spread of idolatry [Pg 421] and vice, exclude every other period in the reign of Hezekiah except the first beginning of it, when the effect and influence of the time of Ahaz were still felt; so that even Kleinert (p.364) is obliged to assume, that not only the prophecy of Micah, but also that of Isaiah, were uttered in the first months of the reign of this king. But other difficulties—and these altogether insuperable—stand in the way of this assumption. In the whole section of Isaiah, the nation appears as rich, flourishing, and powerful. This is most strongly expressed in chap. ii.7: "His land is full of silver and gold, there is no end to his treasure; his land is full of horses, and there is no end to his chariots." To this may be added the description of the consequences of wealth, and of the unbounded luxury, in iii.16 ff.; and the threatening of the withdrawal of all power, and all riches, as a strong contrast with their present condition, upon which they, in their blindness, rested the hope of their security, and hence imagined that they stood in no need of the assistance of the Lord, iii.1 ff. Now this description is so inapplicable to the commencement of Hezekiah's reign, that the very opposite of it should rather be expected. The invasion by the allied Syrians and Israelites, the oppression by the Assyrians, and the tribute which they had to pay to them, the internal administration, which was bad beyond example, and the curse of God resting on all their enterprises and efforts, had exhausted, during the reign of the ungodly Ahaz, the treasures which had been collected under Uzziah and Jotham, and had dried up the sources of prosperity. He had left the kingdom to his successors in a condition of utter decay. To these, other reasons still may be added, which are in favour of the composition of it under Jotham, while they are against its composition under Hezekiah; especially the circumstance of their standing at the beginning of the collection of the first twelve chapters (a circumstance which is of great weight, inasmuch as these chapters are, beyond any doubt, arranged chronologically), but still more, the indefiniteness and generality in the threatening of the divine judgments, which the prophecy of Micah has in common with the nearly contemporaneous chapters i. and v. of Isaiah, whilst the threatenings out of the first period of the reign of Ahaz have at once a far more definite character. By these considerations we are involuntarily led back to a period when Isaiah still [Pg 422] pre-eminently exercised the office of exhorting and reproving, and had not yet been favoured with special revelations concerning the events of a future which, at that time, was as yet rather distant,—perhaps as far as the time when Jotham administered the government for his father, who was at that time still alive; compare 2 Kings 15:5. By this hypothesis. Isaiah 3:12 is more satisfactorily explained than by any other; and we are no longer under the necessity of asserting, that the chronological order is interrupted by chap. vi.; for this certainly could not have been intended by the collector. The solemn call and consecration of the prophet to his office, accompanied by an increased bestowal of grace, must be carefully distinguished from the ordinary ones which were common to him with all the other prophets. But if the prophecy of Isaiah was uttered as early as under Jotham (which has lately been most satisfactorily proved by Caspari in his Beitraege zur Einl. in das Buch Jesaias, S.234 ff.), that of Micah also must have existed at that time, and must have been in the mouths of the people. And since its composition is assigned to the reign of Hezekiah, it follows that the prophet delivered anew, under the reign of this king, the revelations which he had already received at an earlier period.
It will not be possible to infer with certainty from vers.6, 7, as Caspari does, that the book was committed to writing before the destruction of Samaria, and hence, before the sixth year of Hezekiah. Since the book gives the sum and substance of what was prophesied under three kings, all that is implied in vers.6, 7, is, that the destruction of Samaria was foretold by Micah; but the prophecy itself may have been committed to writing even after the fulfilment had taken place. But, on the other hand, according to the analogy of Isaiah 39. and xiii. and xiv., we are led by iv.9, 10, to the time of Sennacherib's invasion of Judea, in which the prophetic spirit of Isaiah likewise most richly displayed itself, and in which he was privileged with a glance into the far distant future.
The exordium in chap. i. and ii., and the close in vi. and vii., are distinguished by the generality of the threatening and promise which prevails in them. They have this in common with the first five chapters of Isaiah, and thus certainly afford us pre-eminently an image of the prophetic ministry of Micah, in the time previous to the Assyrian invasion; whilst the main [Pg 423] body (especially from iv.8) represents to us particularly the character of the prophecy during the Assyrian period.
We shall now attempt to give a survey of the contents of Micah's prophecy.
Upon Samaria and Jerusalem—the kingdom of the ten tribes, and Judah—a judgment by foreign enemies is to come. Total destruction, and the carrying away of the inhabitants, will be the issue of this judgment, and, as regards Judah more particularly, the total overthrow of the dominion of the Davidic dynasty.
Samaria is first visited by this judgment. This is indicated by the fact that it is first mentioned in the inscription, and that in i.6, 7, the judgment upon Samaria is, first of all, described; but especially by the circumstance that Samaria, in i.5, appears as the chief seat of corruption for the whole people, whence it flowed upon Judah also, i.14, and particularly, vi.16. We expect that where the carcases first were, there the eagles would first be gathered together.
As the first, and principal instrument of the destructive judgment upon Judah, Babylon is mentioned in iv.10.
As the representative of the world's power, at the time then present, Asshur appears in v.4, 5. If destruction is to fall upon the kingdom of the ten tribes before it falls upon Judah—which is most distinctly foretold by Hosea in i.4-7—then, nothing was more obvious than to think of Asshur as the instrument of the judgment. That to which Micah, on this point, only alludes, is more fully expanded by Isaiah.
Judah is delivered from Babylon, but without a restoration of the kingdom, iv.10, compared with ver.14 (v.1).
But a second catastrophe comes upon Judah, inasmuch as many heathens gather themselves against Jerusalem, with the intention of desecrating it, but yet in such a manner that, by the assistance of the Lord, it comes forth victoriously from this severe attack, chap. iv.11-13. Then follows a third catastrophe, in which Judah becomes anew and totally subject to the world's power, iv.14 (v.1).
From the deepest abasement, however, the Congregation of the Lord rises to the highest glory, inasmuch as the dominion returns to the old Davidic race, iv.8. From the little Bethlehem, the native place of David, where his race, sunk back again into [Pg 424] the lowliness of private life, has resumed its seat, a new and glorious Ruler proceeds, born, and at the same time eternal, and clothed with the fulness of the glory of the Lord, v.1, 3((2, 4), by whom Jacob obtains truth, and Abraham mercy, vii.20, compared with John 1:17; by whom the Congregation is placed in the centre of the world, and becomes the object of the longing of all nations, iv.1-3, delivered from the servitude of the world, and conquering the world, v.4, 5 (5, 6), vii.11, 12; and at the same time lowly, and inspiring the nations with fear, v.6-8 (7-9). To such a height, however, she shall attain after, by means of the judgment preceding the mercy, all that has been taken from her upon which she in the present founded the hope of her salvation, v.9-14 (10-15).
Footnote 1: It must not, however, be overlooked, that there the term "hear" is only a resumption of "hear" in iii.1 (and, to a certain extent, even of that in i.2), intimating, that that which they are about to hear, will concentrate itself in a distinct and powerful expression,—the acme of the whole threatening in iii.12.
Footnote 2: Besides the division into three sections, there is, to a certain extent, a division also into two. By [Hebrew: vamr] in iii.1, the first and second discourses, or the exordium and principal part, are brought into a still closer connection,—a connection founded upon the circumstance that the reproof and threatening of the first part are to be here resumed, in order that thus a comprehensive representation may be given. It is only in iii.12 that the threatening reaches its height. But yet the tripartition remains the prominent one. This cannot be denied without forcing a false sense and a false position upon ii.12, 13.
Footnote 3: The Fut. apoc. forbids us to translate: "He will hide." In order to express his own delight in the doings of divine justice, the prophet changes the prediction into a wish, just as is the case in Isaiah 2:9, where the greater number of interpreters assume, in opposition to the rules of grammar, that [Hebrew: al] stands for [Hebrew: la].
Footnote 4: Against the genuineness of the inscription, doubts have been raised by many, after the example of Hartmann, and last of all by Ewald and Hitzig; but it is established by the striking allusions to, and coincidences with it, in the text. With the mention of Micah's name in the former, the allusion to this name in the close of the book, in chap. vii.18, corresponds. The circumstance of Micah being called the Morasthite, accounts for the fact that, in this threatening against the cities of Judah, in i.14, it is Moresheth alone which is mentioned. In the inscription, Samaria and Jerusalem are pointed out as the objects of the prophet's predictions; and it is in harmony with this, that in i.6, 7, the judgment upon Samaria is first described, and then the judgment upon Judah; that the prophet—although, indeed, he has Judah chiefly in view—frequently gives attention to the ten tribes also, and includes them,—as in the promise in ii.12, 13, v.1 (2), where the Messiah appears as the Ruler in Israel, and vers.6, 7 (7, 8), of the same chapter; and that in iii.8, 9, Judah is represented as a particular part only of the great whole. Finally—It is peculiar to Micah, that he thus views so specially the two capitals; and this again is in harmony with the inscription, where just these, and not Israel and Judah, appear as the subjects of the prophecy. It is in the capitals that Micah beholds the concentration of the corruption (i.5); and to them the threatening also is chiefly addressed, i.6, 7, iii.12. Of the promise, also, Jerusalem forms the centre.—The statement, too, in the inscription—that Micah uttered the contents of his book under various kings—likewise receives a confirmation from the prophecy. The mention of the high places of Judah in i.5, and of the walking in the statutes of Omri, and in all the works of the house of Ahab, refers especially to the time of Ahaz; compare 2 Kings 16:4; 2 Chronicles 28:4, 25; further, 2 Kings 16:3; 2 Chronicles 28:2; and Caspari on Micah, S.74. On the other hand, the time of Hezekiah is suggested by v.4, 6 (5, 6), which implies that already, at that time, Asshur had appeared as the enemy of the people of God,—and so likewise by the prophecy in iv.9-14.