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The Book of Micah (Hebrew: ספר מיכה) is one of the books of the Hebrew Bible, traditionally attributed to Micah the Prophet.

Contents

Authorship

Micah of Moresheth (most likely the same city as Moresheth-Gath, mentioned in Micah) prophesied during the days of King Hezekiah of Judah. This paraphrase of Jeremiah 26:18 contains practically everything we know of the Prophet himself. Moresheth-Gath was most likely a small town in southwestern Judah, though this has yet to be confirmed. Some scholars argue over how much of the book of Micah can be attributed to Micah himself. There is general consensus that the majority of chapters 1–3 are in fact Micah’s own (excluding 2:12–13). The remaining passages are seen by some as redactions. This will be further argued in the section on controversy.

Some Old Testament scholars, for example Dr Bruce Waltke in IVP`s 'New Bible Commentary', defend Micah's authorship of the entire book. It is generally agreed that Micah composed chapters 1 through 3; some scholars hold that chapter 6 and sections of chapter 7 were also written by the historical Micah. The primary reasons given are because chapters 3–5 foretell of events in the 6th century BCE and chapters 6–7 have elements of a universal religious outlook which was not widely present in Judaism until much later.

Date of composition

Micah was active in Judah from before the fall of Samaria (1:2–7) in 722 BCE; he lived under king Ahaz (735–715 BCE) and king Hezekiah (715–687), and (apparently) experienced the devastation brought on by Senacherib’s invasion of Judah (701 BCE). The heading of the book (1:1) also adds the name of king Jotham (742–735 BCE) but nothing in the book confirms this fact. This would make Micah active from 742 (at earliest) to 701 (at latest) BCE. The message in Micah 1:2–9 was given before the destruction of Samaria in 721. The appeal of Jeremiah's supporters to the prophecy of Micah confirms his connection with Hezekiah: "And some of the land arose and said to all the assembled people, Micah of Moresheth prophesied during the days of Hezekiah king of Judah" (Jeremiah 26:17).

Setting

During the reigns of Uzziah, king of Judah, and Jeroboam II, king of Israel, a period of relative peace and prosperity began to wane. This was in part due to the rise of the nation of Assyria, who, after a period of quiescence, became a potent political force in the Near East. With the rise of Assyria came a rise in military pressure upon the kingdoms of Judah and Israel.

At the same time, as trade and commerce flourished, this was done largely at the expense of small landowners and peasants, who lost their land to the greed of the wealthy classes. Rich landowners bribed judges to look favorably upon illicit land acquisitions, which resulted in a rapid disappearance of small farmers. Those who were dispossessed drifted from the countryside to the cities, which led to overcrowding in the major population centers. Micah outspokenly reproaches these practices of perverting the covenant so as to increase economic gains.

Micah, and the other minor prophets, also speak out against the lack of obedience to the Covenantal stipulations. Many aspects of the covenant had been abandoned in favor of Baal-worship and other Pagan practices. In this light, Samaria, one of the leaders in this apostasy, is condemned to destruction.

Micah’s period of activity also overlaps that of Isaiah’s, and it is possible that the two contemporaries were often mistaken for one another. Jeremaiah 26:18–20 speaks of Micah’s effect on the King, and that he and the king not only were able to meet, but also that Micah’s message was able to bring the king to repentance. However, some scholars view that it may be more probable that Isaiah was the one who caused the king’s repentance, as he, having access to the king, was much more likely to influence the king’s decisions.

Literary structure and devices

The book of Micah, like many of the minor prophets, is made up of many poetical ideas placed together. These individual poems are listed, with brief synopses, by the Anchor Bible Dictionary. Here is a paraphrase of this section.

  • The Heading (1:1): As is typical of prophetic books, an anonymous editor has supplied the name of the prophet, an indication of his time of activity, and an identification of his speech as the “word of Yahweh.” Samaria and Jerusalem are given prominence as the foci of the prophet’s attention.
  • Punishment of Samaria (1:2–7): Drawing upon ancient traditions for depicting a theophany, the prophet depicts the coming of Yahweh to punish the idolatrous city.
  • A transitional Lament (1:8–9): depicting the prophet’s own grief at the calamity leading to the new subject: the doom of Judah and Jerusalem.
  • A Taunt or Lament over Judah (1:10–16): describes the destruction of the lesser towns of Judah, either as already suffered or as to come (this latter point evidently referring to the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib, 701 BCE).
  • N.B. For these passages of doom that will befall the various cities, the device paronomasia is used. Paronomasia is a literary device which 'plays' on the sound of each word for literary effect. For example, the inhabitants of Beth-le-aphrah (“house of dust”) are told to “roll yourselves in the dust.” 1:14. Though most of the Paronomasia is lost in translation, it is the equivalent of ‘Ashdod shall be but ashes,’ where the fate of the city matches its name.
  • Two Successive Doom speeches (2:1–5, 6–11): introduce themes characteristic of the prophet Micah as champion of the oppressed small landholder. These speeches warn of the impending doom that will befall those who accumulate land from the sacred community.
  • The Divine Shepherd King (2:12–13): is pictured as gathering and leading a dispersed people. Though all agree that this passage is not connected to its immediate textual context, there is still debate over whether this is actually Micah’s own words.
  • Speech against the courts (3:1–4): which focuses on the judges who are allowing illicit land acquisition.
  • Speech against the prophets (3:5–8): that depicts the prophets who were members of the prophetic guilds at that time as venal and blind.
  • Climactic Speech about Zion (3:9–12) resumes the indictment of judges and prophets, adds a line against priests and culminates in the famous saying, “Zion shall be plowed as a field.”
  • The Coming Kingdom of God (4:1–5) centered at the sacred mountain, Zion, this passage shares themes with Isaiah (2:2–4), preaching universal justice, peace, and security.

The remainder of the chapter is made up of poems that focus on the glorious future:

  • The Kingdom of the Gathered Exiles (4:6–7)
  • Zion’s Rule Restored (4:8)
  • Deliverance from Distress in Babylon (4:9–10)
  • The Threshing of Enemies (4:11–13)
  • The Humiliation of the King (4:14): Some scholars consider this a fragment that is incomplete, though it still serves its purpose to introduce the theme of the royal Messiah.
  • The Return of the Great Ruler from Bethlehem (5:1–4): this foretold king is very influential among the book’s Christian interpreters.

The remainder of this chapter’s poems are focused on expounding on the coming peace

  • Assyria Eliminated (5:4–5)
  • The Irresistible Might of Jacob (5:6–8)
  • The Purified Nation (5:9–14): Alien elements that offend Yahweh are removed
  • A Covenant lawsuit (6:1–8): that represents God as indicting his people for breach of their breach of the covenant.
  • The City as a Cheat (6:9–16): It is unsure whether it is Jerusalem or Samaria, but the city is reprimanded for its dishonest trade practices.
  • A Disintegrated Society (7:17): gives a grim picture of the loss of trust due to the dishonesty of the society.
  • A Prophetic Liturgy (7:8–20): has been known by this designation since the studies of H. Gunkel (in 1924). It is a ‘liturgy’ due to the alteration of speakers, the combination of themes, and the progression of mood.

Controversy

Modern Critics of Micah argue that only chapters 1–3 of Micah (excluding 2:12–13), are actually the prophet’s. The hopeful material appears to contradict these initial chapters, especially in the light of Jeremiah 26:18, which portrays the prophet as a prophet of doom, without mentioning the passages of hope. Other critics focus on the ‘liturgy’ which they say presupposes a different historical situation than that of the 8th century prophet. Unfortunately, due to the restricted compass of Micah, the study of vocabulary and style has had little place in these arguments. Some scholars have sought to restore a kind of unity to the book of Micah by picturing it as the result of a process of growth over time within a community, changing to fit their needs. However, the range of speculation for this theory is very great, and though this theory has some appeal, the lack of agreement only weakens this argument. Another idea is presented in the commentary by Hillers (Micah Hermeneia). It attempts to view the book of Micah as changing due to Micah’s own experiences. Beginning as a call of doom, once Samaria falls and the Assyrian pressure increases, Micah’s reacts to this depressing situation with a call of hope. This allows for the book of Micah to adopt these two, more different tones, while still remaining united. This theory would place the writing of parts of Micah at different times, and may well be the best fit for unifying Micah. This is under the pretense that Micah is a unified text, which is still argued by many critics who insist that only the first three chapters are, in fact, Micah’s.

References

  • “Book of Micah.” The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 4, Editor-in-Chief: Freedman, David N. Doubleday; New York, NY. 1992.
  • “Book of Micah.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. General Editor: Bromley, G.W. Wlliam B. Erdmans Publishing Co.; Grand Rapids, MI. 1986.
  • Holy Bible: The New Oxford Annotated Bible. Coogan; Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • “Micah.” The New Oxford Bible Commentary. Ed.: Barton, John & Muddiman, John. Oxford University Press; New York, NY. 2007.
  • Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.
  • LaSor, William Sanford et al. Old Testament Survey: the Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1996.
  • BELIEVE Religious Information Source. Book of Micah. (n.d.). 13 Paragraphs. Retrieved October 4, 2005, from http://mb-soft.com/believe/txs/micah.htm
  • Hailey, Homer. (1973). A Commentary on the Minor Prophets. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
  • Maxey, Al. THE MINOR PROPHETS: Micah. (n.d.). 20 Paragraphs. Retrieved October 4, 2005, from http://www.zianet.com/maxey/Proph11.htm
  • McKeating, Henry. (1971). The Books of AMOS, HOSEA, AND MICAH. New York: the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press.
  • Pusey, E. B. (1963). The Minor Prophets: A Commentary (Vol. II). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
  • Smith, John Merlin Powis. (1914). A Commentary on the Books of AMOS, HOSEA, AND MICAH. New York: The MacMillan Company.
  • Wood, Joyce Rilett. (2000). Speech and action in Micah’s prophecy. Catholic Biblical Quarterly, no. 4(62), 49 paragraphs. Retrieved September 30, 2005, from OCLC (FirstSearch) database http://newfirstsearch.oclc.org
  • Stahlhoefer, A. B. Exegese de Miquéias 2.6–11. São Bento do Sul: FLT, 2005

External links

This article incorporates text from the entry Micah, Book of in Easton's Bible Dictionary (1897), a publication now in the public domain.

Preceded by
Jonah
Hebrew Bible Followed by
Nahum
Christian Old Testament

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