We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Select Bible Use this Lookup to open a specific Bible and passage. Start here to select a Bible.
Make selected Bible the default for Lookup tool.
Book: Ch.V. Select book from A-Z list, enter chapter and verse number, and click "Go."
:
OR
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result

The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

The Impending Judgment

The Impending Judgment

The first oracle begins with a classic description of a theophany, or apparition of God. Traditionally such a theophany was associated with divine deliverance, as in Deuteronomy 33 and Judges 5 (compare also the theophany on Sinai). Micah's theophany, however, is like Amos's Day of the Lord. God is not coming to save but to judge. The immediate presence of God is destructive for a sinful people. In eighth‐century BC Israel, the presence of God was not experienced as fire and earthquake but as the invasion of the Assyrian army. The destruction would fall most heavily on Samaria and Jerusalem, the major cities, homes of the royal houses and ruling classes.

The reasons for the coming destruction are spelled out most clearly in chapter 2 . The problem is that the rich devise ways to force the smaller landowners into debt and then seize their property. Isaiah 5, 8 complains about the same problem (“Woe to you who join house to house, who connect field with field, till no room remains, and you are left to dwell alone in the midst of the land”). From the prophet's viewpoint, it was only fitting that this land would be seized again by the Assyrians, so that the greed of the big landowners would be in vain.

Micah also discusses another fact of life in ancient Israel, which was only hinted at by Amos but was later a major theme in the prophecy of Jeremiah. The professional prophets were leading the people astray ( 3, 5 ). This is why Amos made his protest “No prophet I.” The phenomenon is natural enough. Prophets found that people liked to be reassured and told that all was well, and they tailored their message to their market. They were concerned with their own well‐being more than that of the nation. A classic illustration of the professional prophets in action can be found in 1 Kings 22 . In contrast, Micah saw the task of the true prophet as “to declare to Jacob his crimes and to Israel his sins” ( 3, 8 ). Compare the assertion of Jeremiah that “From of old, the prophets who were before you and me prophesied war, woe, and pestilence” (Jer 28, 8 ). Such a prophet would never be popular, but at least there could be no doubt about his sincerity.

The true prophet here, as so often in the history of Israel, finds himself in opposition to the religious leaders, the priests, and the official prophets ( 3, 11 ). On the surface of things, the priests appear to have great faith: no evil can come upon Israel because the Lord is in its midst. Such faith is no virtue for Micah. Rather virtue lies in the practice of justice and in facing reality honestly. He regarded the Temple on Mount Zion, often the focal point of Jewish religion in antiquity, as a negative force. According to the psalmist, Mount Zion was “the holy dwelling of the Most High. God is in its midst; it shall not be shaken” (Ps 46, 6 ). If kings came to attack it, they would be seized with terror and put to flight (Ps 48, 5f ). Micah realized that the Assyrians would not panic at the sight of Jerusalem. The belief that Zion could not be destroyed was a source of complacency and illusion. So Micah uttered his radical prophecy that Zion would be plowed like a field. This prophecy is quoted in Jeremiah 26, 18 as a precedent for the equally radical prophecy of Jeremiah. It was not fulfilled in Micah's time, but it was not forgotten either, and it was justified in time. Faith cannot be based on any religious institution, no matter how sacred. No temple is permanent, and no one is guaranteed the unconditional protection of God.

The Indictment of Israel

Chapter 6 presents an example of the “covenant lawsuit,” which we have discussed above in connection with Amos. According to the logic of the Sinai covenant, Israel was bound to keep the commandments because God had brought it out of the land of Egypt. If the people kept the commandments they would be blessed, if not they would be cursed. In Micah 6, 1–5 God indicts Israel by recalling that the divine part of the obligation had been satisfied in the Exodus. It is not necessary to spell out how Israel has failed to keep its part, or what the consequences will be.

Micah does not suggest that the Israelites were indifferent to religion. On the contrary, they were willing to perform any ritual that might further their interests, even human sacrifice ( 6, 7 ). According to 2 Kings 21, 6 , a king of Judah, Manasseh, immolated his son by fire in the seventh century BC. The prophet cuts through the pretenses of such superstition with a succinct formulation of the essence of religion: “to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God” ( 6, 8 ). No special beliefs or cultic observances are required. There was general agreement on what it meant to do the right. The anguished quest for the right sacrifice, then, is shown to be mere hypocrisy. The business of religion is quite straightforward. It only requires the will to do what we know we ought. It is significant that the American bishops used Micah 6, 8 as a summary of the heritage of the biblical prophets in setting the tone for the entire letter Economic Justice for All (n. 4). We might compare this passage with the Judgment scene in Matthew 25, 31–46 . There the Son of Man does not ask about beliefs or ritual practices, but whether one fed the hungry and clothed the naked.

The Faith of the Prophet

The prophets only rarely provide glimpses of their personal faith, such as we find in the “confessions” of Jeremiah. One such glimpse is provided in Micah 7, 7–10 . Micah appears as a lonely figure, as we might expect in view of his relationship to the other prophets. His attempt to reach his public appears to have failed, but he is sustained by the conviction that God will vindicate him. In all of this he resembles Jeremiah, whose trials are described at greater length. The experience of prophets such as these contributed to the ideal of the Suffering Servant (Is 53 ), which has played such an important part in Christian theology.

The Prophecies of Restoration

The oracles inserted in Micah 4–5 in the post‐exilic period include two that are especially memorable. The prophecy of the restoration of the house of the Lord in Micah 4, 1–3 is also found in Isaiah 2, 2–4 . The author of this oracle is unknown. The idea that all nations would find a spiritual center in Jerusalem may be quite old, but it flourished especially in the postexilic period when Jews who lived in other lands went to Jerusalem on pilgrimage. The prophecy is artfully placed here, immediately after the prediction that Zion would become a plowed field. The editors of the prophetic books typically placed an oracle of hope after one of judgment. In Micah's day the influence of the Temple was such that he needed to remind people that it would not last forever. By the time the book was edited the need for judgment had passed, and it was appropriate to remember the potential of the Temple for good.

Micah 5, 1–4 speaks of a ruler who will come from Bethlehem. This prophecy has been treasured by Christians for obvious reasons. In the Jewish context, the significance of Bethlehem lies in the fact that it was the birthplace of David. The prophecy, then, is that the Davidic line will be restored. In mentioning Bethlehem rather than Jerusalem, however, the prophet is making a further point. He is recalling the humble origins of the monarchy, when it was associated with a village rather than with a city, and was not yet tainted with the corruption of Solomon's empire. The hope for restoration of the native kingship, which would bring peace to the land, is similar to what is described in more rhapsodic language in Isaiah 11 .

  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2020. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice