AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. by W. O. E. Oesterley, D.D., Litt.D.,& T. H. Robinson, D.D., Litt.D. Hon. D.D. (Aberdeen), Hon. D.Th. (Halle Wittenberg). © W O E Oesterley & T H Robinson 1934. First published SPCK. 1934. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.

THE BOOK OF MICAH

HOME | Place in the Canon. | Historical Background. | Structure and Contents. | Date and Authorship. | The Man and his Message. | The Hebrew Text and the Septuagint.

I. PLACE IN THE CANON

In the Hebrew Bible, the Peshitta, the Vulgate and modern versions, the book of Micah stands sixth among the "Twelve", following Jonah and preceding Nahum.

In the Septuagint, however, it stands third, being placed after Amos, probably on account of its length.
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II. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah, and witnessed the same series of historical events as he. But he was far more impressed than Isaiah by the condition of the rural population, since he lived in the agricultural district of the Shephelah. (The tract of land lying between the hill country & the Mediteranean.)

Life as he saw it was very similar to that which Amos observed in the north, with the rich oppressing the poor, and the working peasant often reduced to the most distressing and humiliating position. Like Amos, Micah realised that this state of affairs could not continue, and that destruction was the only possible outcome. The book is quoted in Jer.xxvi.18, and we gather from that passage that his message did effect some improvement in conditions. Certainly, apart from one or two passages in Isaiah, we hear comparatively little elsewhere about social injustice in the Judaean countryside.
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III. STRUCTURE AND CONTENTS

The book of Micah falls into three clearly marked sections.

Chs.i-iii, The first section, consisting of is a collection of oracles in which the sins of Samaria and Judah are denounced.
Chs.iv-v are eschatological, and even Messianic, in tone,
Chs.vi-vii contain both threat and promise.

We may look at these in rather more detail.

1. Chs. i-iii: This collection opens with an oracle in which the whole world is summoned to witness the catastrophes which will take place as a result of the sins of Judah and Israel (i.2-5a). 5b-6 fastens the sin more particularly on Jerusalem and Samaria, and in 7-9 we have another account of the doom that befalls these places. Verse 7 is sometimes regarded as a later addition; if so, it must have been appended to 6 at an early stage. If, on the other hand, it belongs to what follows, we must assume that something has been lost before it. Verse 9 seems to be incomplete, and this oracle was almost certainly mutilated. Verses 10-16 constitute a dirge over the disasters that have come upon various cities in Judah. It is especially marked by paranomasia.

The first three verses of ch.ii are in dirge form, but are a complaint of the oppressiveness of the country magnates. Another dirge - or fragment of a dirge - follows in verse 4, to which an explanatory note has been attached in verse 5. Verses 6-7 are a remonstrance by the prophet's hearers, which is answered, in verses 8-10. Verse I 1 seems to be isolated unless we can suppose that it is the retort of the people to what the prophet has just said. Verses 12-13 are a consolatory utterance, which, apparently, assumes that the Exile has already taken place. Unless we can suppose that the scattered remnant to be restored, are the exiles of the north, taken away by Tiglath-pileser and Sargon, this must date from the sixth century at the earliest.

Ch. iii opens with a bitter denunciation of the local magnates of the countryside (iii. 1-4). This is followed by a condemnation of the false prophets, with whom Micah contrasts himself (verses 5-8). The section concludes with a further denunciation of the local powers in iii. 9-13.

2. Chs. iv-v: This collection opens with a passage, verses 1-4, which occurs also in Isa.ii.2-4; though here it is in a more complete form, and an isolated fragment has been appended to verse 5. iv.6-8 depict the restoration of the exiles and Zion's recovery of her ancient sovereignty. Verses 9-10 tell of the Exile (now in the near future) but with a promise of restoration.

In 11-13 this promise is realized, and v.1 is a summons to mourning, which suggests that Israel is actually suffering foreign invasion. (Heb.iv.14; the numeration of the verses in ch.v differs in the Hebrew Bible accordingly.)

Ch.v.2-4 foretell the coming of a Davidic king; to this has been appended a prophecy of the seven princes which is assigned by many to the Maccabaean age (verses 5-6). Verses 7-9 predict miraculous prosperity to the Diaspora, while verses 10-15 threaten Israel with disaster in terms that are more suited to the pre-exilic than to a later period.

3. Chs. vi-vii: In this section also we have a collection of different pieces, but they vary in character, not only from what has gone before but also from one another. The collection opens with what appears to be a fragment of an appeal to the people, based on their history (vi.1-5) recalls passages like Am.ii.9-11, but lacks a conclusion. This is followed by the best-known passage in the book, vi.6-8, dealing with the essentials of true religion. Verses 9-12 are a denunciation of commercial iniquity, and 13-16 foretells punishment because the people have followed in the sins of the house of Omri. vii.1-3 offers a lament over the moral state of the people, and perhaps verse 4 belongs to this passage, though its meaning and text are not clear. Verses 5-7 afford a parallel to the last oracle. In verses 8-10 we have a fragment of a Psalm of justification, in which the speaker tells his accusers that, though he has suffered from the just anger of Yahweh, he will yet rise triumphant from his sorrows. Verses 11-13 predict the restoration of the walls of Jerusalem, and the concluding passage, vii.14-20, is a prayer for the forgiveness and restoration of the whole people.
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IV. DATE AND AUTHORSHIP

(An adequate summary of the history of the criticism of this book will be found in J. M. P. Smith, Micah (ICC) pp.9-16 (1912). The most recent contribution to the subject is that found in Lindblom, Micha literisch untersucht (1929).)

We learn from Jer.xxvi.18 that, at the end of the seventh century BC, Mi.iii.12 was held to be the work of Micah the Morashtite, a prophet who had lived in the days of Hezekiah. Since this passage is to be dated only a hundred years after the time to which it refers, it may be accepted as reliable. Further, we may assume that everything in the first collection that corresponds with this verse may be assigned to the same prophet. But the language used in Jeremiah makes it evident that Micah was not known to have said anything that was inconsistent with, or contradictory to, this condemnation.

It does not follow that the words of Micah were current in book form. They may still have been at the stage of oral tradition, or known in isolated oracular pieces, and we have to allow for the possibility that the collection in Mic.i-iii was made later than the time of Jeremiah. This possibility becomes a probability when we notice that the collection includes a passage (ii.12-13), which presupposes the Exile. It is true that it mentions a "king", but the parallel in the second part of the line shows that this is Yahweh, and it is so much the clearer that the utterance reflects the theocratic ideals of the late exilic and the post-exilic period.

Where we have indications of date elsewhere in this collection, they invariably point to a pre-exilic date, and usually, to the period to which Jer.xxvi.18 assigns Micah, e.g. in i.5f we have references which show that Samaria was still standing, though its fall was expected. This collection, then, composed mainly of the oracles of Micah of Moresheth-Gath, was probably made not long after the return from the Exile.

The second collection, on the other hand, must be a good deal later than the first. There may be pre-exilic passages in it, e.g. iv.9-10 may come from the age of Jeremiah. V.6-7 suggests the last quarter of the seventh century BC, and v.10-15 would suit a pre-exilic period at least as well as a later age. (The alternative to the Maccabaean age, when Syria was spoken of as Assyria. But it is less likely that the name of Nimrod would have appeared in a prophecy of this age.)

On the other hand, the Messianic passage in v.2-4 can hardly be earlier than the Exile, and may be very much later, while the references to the Diaspora in iv.6-8, and the eschatological tone of iv.11-v.1, suggest a comparatively late date.

On the whole, we cannot assign the compilation of the collection to a period earlier than the fifth century BC, and, if the references in v.5-6 are really to be ascribed to the Maccabaean age, then the collection must be very late indeed.

It is interesting to note that the third collection contains some passages that might quite well be by Micah himself. Thus vi.14-16 have been held [By Lindblom; cp. Micha literisch untersucht. Pp.116-120.] to refer to Samaria before 722BC, and it has been suggested that in the great passage vi.6-8 we have an answer given by the prophet to the doubts of the new settlers, after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom.  [Cp. Ii Kgs.xvii.24-31. The suggestion is due to Burkitt; see the Journal of Biblical Literature, xlv. Pp.159-161 (1926).]

On the other hand, in vii.11-13 we have a passage that may be nearly as late as the age of Nehemiah, and cannot be earlier than the Return from the Exile.

Here, again, we have a collection that can hardly have reached its present form before the latter part of the fifth century BC, and may be later still.
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V. THE MAN AND HIS MESSAGE

Since the reference in Jer.xxvi.18 confirms, but does not add to, what we know of Micah from the book that bears his name, it is to that, that we must turn for our information.

As with most of the prophets, there is little for us to learn. Micah came from Moresheth-Gath, whose site has not been identified, though it clearly lay in the Judean Shephelah. Unlike Isaiah, he was thus a countryman, and his outlook resembles that of Amos more than that of any other prophet. He differs from Amos, however, in being more deeply in sympathy with the sufferings of the oppressed peasantry. We are left with the impression that he was himself under the harrow. Micah had a fervid and vigorous personality, and employed powerful modes of expression.

No prophet is more bitter - we might almost say more, savage - in his condemnation of the social evils of his day. The denunciation of the rural magnates and of the prophets in iii.1-4, 5-7 breathes an extraordinary vindictiveness and passion. Like Amos, he stood for righteousness, and for a type of righteousness that gave full value to the rights and needs of human personality. Any other ruling principle must lead to ruin. Micah thus adds nothing to the doctrines of Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah, but he does reinforce them and apply them to the conditions of his own time with peculiar effectiveness.

It is impossible even to speculate on the authors of the later passages in the second and third sections of the book. But, again, their message has little significance beyond the fact that it represents the general trend of prophetic, Messianic, and early eschatological teaching. The only point specifically used by later times was the identification of Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah.
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VI. THE HEBREW TEXT AND THE SEPTUAGINT

The Hebrew text of this book is often corrupt, though it is not in such a bad state of preservation as that of Hosea. Illustrations may be seen in i.10, ii.4, 8, 12, vii.11, while scribal additions are probably included in ii.3, iii.8, vi.5 and elsewhere.

Occasionally the versions, especially the Septuagint, offer some help, as in iv.13, vii.12, 19, though it is clear that many of the erroneous readings had already found their way into the book before the separation of the Egyptian from the Palestinian text.
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