Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Micheas (Micah)

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 10
Joseph-François Michaud

by Albin Van Hoonacker


Also called Michas. In Hebrew the complete form of the name is Mikhayahu or Mikhayehu (contracted into Mikhehu? II Chronicles 18:8, kethibh) or Mikhayah (who is like Yahu, Yehu, Yah?); the shortened form is Mikhah. Among the O.—T. bearers of this name three especially deserve notice.


I. The Book of Judges

(xvii-xviii) contains the history of a certain Michas (Hebr., xvii, 1 and 4: Mfkhayehil; elsewhere Mikhah), a resident of the hill-country of Ephraim who founded an idolatrous sanctuary. As he restored to his mother the 1100 pieces of silver which he had stolen from her, she devoted 200 wherewith to make an idol which was set up in the house of Michas. In addition, Michas made an ephod and teraphim. He first appointed as priest his son, but afterwards engaged a Levite of Bethlehem, Jonathan, a descendant of Moses by Gersam. The Danites, passing by whilst on a migration, took with them the Levite Jonathan and the objects of the idolatrous worship belonging to Michas, in spite of the latter's protests, and set them up in the sanctuary which they established in the town of Dan, so called after their name. See the commentaries on Book of Judges, by G. F. Moore (Edinburgh, 1903); Budde (Tubingen, 1897); Hummelauer (Paris, 1888); Lagrange (Paris, 1903); etc.; cf. A. Van Hoonacker, "Le Sacerdote Levitique" (London and Louvain, 1899), 225, 227, 230, 239, 244, and 372.


II. Micheas, son of Jemla (Hebr. Mikhayein lII Paral., xviii, 14: Mikhah; ibid., verse 8: Mikhehu? keth.), a prophet of the Kingdom of Samaria, contemporary with Elias and Eliseus. It is related in III Kings 22 (cf. II Chronicles 18), that Achab, King of Israel (c. 873-852 B. C.), allied to Josaphat, King of Juda, having obtained from 400 prophets an assurance that his intended expedition against Ramoth-Galaad, a town which he wished to recover from the Syrians, would succeed, summoned at the earnest request of Josaphat the Prophet Micheas, son of Jemla, although the latter, he asserted, had always proved to him a prophet of evil. Micheas, in his first answer, foretold the success of the enterprise, but his words were probably spoken in an ironical tone, for Achab adjured him in the name of the Lord to speak the truth. Micheas then announced the defeat of the two kings. He added that he had seen in a vision a spirit promise Yahweh to deceive Achab by his prophets. Whereupon one of these prophets, Sedecias, son of Chanaana, struck him on the face. Achab ordered the imprisonment of Micheas till the day when he should return in peace. "If thou return in peace", said Micheas, "the Lord hath not spoken by me." In the ensuing battle Achab was severely wounded by a chance arrow and died the same day. See the commentaries on the Books of Kings by Skinner in "Edinburgh Century Bible"; W. E. Barnes (Cambridge, 1908); Kittel (Gottingen, 1900); Klostermann (Munich, 1887); cf. W. R. Harper, "Comm. on Amos and Hosea" (Edinburgh, 1905), lv sq.


III. Micheas, Minor Prophet

Micheas (Hebr. Mikhah; Jeremiah 26:18: Mikhayah keth.), the author of the book which holds the sixth place in the collection of the Twelve Minor Prophets, was born at Moresheth (Micheas 1:1; Jeremiah 26:18), a locality not far from the town of Geth (Micheas 1:14). Jerusalem was the scene of his ministry, and it occurred, as we learn from the title of his book, under the Kings Joathan (c. 740-735 B. C.), Achaz (735-727?), and Ezechias (727-698?). We do not, however, appear to possess any of his addresses prior to the reign of Ezechias. He was thus a contemporary of the Prophet Isaias. His book falls into three parts.


Part One (Chapters 1-3)

The first part consists of chapters 1-3. Micheas begins by announcing the impending destruction of Samaria as a punishment for its sins, and Jerusalem also is threatened. In chapter 2 the prophet develops his threats against the Kingdom of Juda and gives his reasons for them. In chapter 3 he utters his reproaches with greater distinctness against the chief culprits: the prophets, the priests, the princes, and the judges. Because of their transgressions, Sion shall be ploughed as a field, etc. (3, 12). This passage was quoted by the defenders of Jeremias against those who wished to punish with death the boldness with which the latter had announced God's chastisements: Micheas of Morashti was not punished with death, but, on the contrary, Ezechias and the people did penance and the Lord withdrew his threat against Jerusalem (Jeremiah 16:18 sq.). There is a general consensus of opinion to attribute to the Prophet Micheas the authorship of this part of the book; serious doubts have been expressed only concerning 2:11-12. Chapters 1-3 must have been composed shortly before the destruction of the Kingdom of Samaria by the Assyrians (722 B. C.).


Part Two (Chapters 4-5)

In the second part (4-5), we have a discourse announcing the future conversion of the nations to the Law of Yahweh and describing the Messianic peace, an era to be inaugurated by the triumph of Israel over all its enemies, symbolized by the Assyrians. In 5:1 sq. (Hebr., 2 sq.), the prophet introduces the Messianic king whose place of origin is to be Bethlehem-Ephrata; Yahweh will only give up his people "till the time wherein she that travaileth shall bring forth", an allusion to the well-known passage of Isaiah 7:14. Several recent critics have maintained that chapters 4-5, either wholly or in part, are of post-exilic origin. But their arguments, principally based on considerations inspired by certain theories on the history of the Messianic doctrine, are not convincing. Neither is it necessary to suppose that in 4:8, the comparison of the citadel of Sion with the "tower of the flock" alludes to the ruinous condition of Judea and Jerusalem at the time of the composition of the address; this comparison merely refers to the moral situation held towards the rest of the country by the capital, whence Yahweh is presumed to keep watch. The connexion of ideas, it is true, is interrupted in 4:10, and in 5:4-5 (Vulg. 5-6), both of which may be later additions. A characteristic trait of Micheas's style in chapter 1 is found in the puns on the names of localities, and it is noticeable that an entirely similar pun can be seen in 5:1 (Heb., 4:14), particularly when the LXX version is taken into account. The reading supposed by the LXX suggests a very satisfactory interpretation of this difficult passage: "And now, surround thyself with a wall (gadher), Beth-Gader." The difference of tone and contents clearly show that 4-5 must have been composed in other circumstances than 1-3. They probably date from shortly after the fall of Samaria in 722 B. C. In 1-3 Micheas had expressed the fear that after the conquest of Samaria the Assyrian army would invade Judea; but ?Yahweh withdrew His threat (Jeremiah 16:19), and the enemy left Palestine without attacking Jerusalem. Chapters 4-5 have preserved us an echo of the joy caused in Jerusalem by the removal of the danger.

Part Three (Chapters 6-7) Chapters 6-7 are cast in a dramatic shape. Yahweh interpellates the people and reproaches them with ingratitude (6:3-5). The people ask by what offerings they can expiate their sin (6:6-7). The prophet answers that Yahweh claims the observance of the moral law rather than sacrifices (6:8). But this law has been shamefully violated by the nation, which has thus brought on itself God's punishment (6:9 sqq.). The passage 7:2-13 could be transposed to follow 7:6; in this way the justification of the punishments assumes a connected form in 6:6 to 7:6 and 7:11-13. The rest of chapter 7 (7-11 + 14 sqq.) contains a prayer in which the fallen city expresses hope in a coming restoration and confidence in God. The opinions of critics are much divided on the composition of these chapters. Several consider them a mere collection of detached fragments of more or less recent origin; but the analysis just given shows that there is a satisfactory connexion between them. The chief reason why critics find it difficult to attribute to Micheas the authorship of chapters 6-7, or at least of a large portion, is because they identify the fallen city of 7:7 sqq., with Jerusalem. But the prophet never mentions Jerusalem, and there is no proof that Jerusalem is the city intended. On the contrary, certain traits are better explained on the supposition that the city in the prophet's mind is Samaria; see especially 6:16, and 7:14. According to this hypothesis, the prophet in 6-7:6 and 7:11-13, casts a retrospective look at the causes which brought about the fall of Samaria, and in 7:7-11 + 14 sqq., he expresses his desires for its return to the Lord's favour. As in the historical situation thus supposed there is nothing which does not exactly tally with the circumstances of Micheas's time, as there is no disagreement in ideas between Micheas 1 sqq., and 6-7 as on the contrary real affinities in style and vocabulary exist between Micheas 1 sqq., and 6-7, it seems unnecessary to deny to the Prophet Micheas the authorship of these two chapters.

A. Van Hoonacker.