1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Micah

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

MICAH (מ׳כה‎), in the Bible, the name prefixed to the sixth in order of the books of the minor prophets.[1] He was a contemporary and fellow-worker of Isaiah. The name in various modifications—Mīcāiāhū, Mīcāiĕhū, Mīcāiāh—is common in the Old Testament, expressing as it does a fundamental point of Hebrew faith: Who is like Yahweh?[2] It was also borne among others by the Danite whose history is given in judges xvii. seq. (see separate article), by the prophet who opposed Ahab’s expedition to Ramoth-Gilead (I Kings xxii.),[3] and by the son of Jonathan (see Saul).,

The editorial title of the book of Micah declares that Micah prophesied “in the days of Jotham (739–734), Ahaz (753–721) and Hezekiah (720–693), kings of Judah.” Nothing in the book itself can claim to belong to the reign of Jotham, but the prophecy against Samaria (i. 5–8) may have been uttered originally before the fall of Samaria in 722, i.e. in the reign of Ahaz. In its present form, however, it has been incorporated in a prophecy against Judah, belonging, most probably, to the years 705–701, when a new Palestinian rising provoked Sennacherib’s campaign of 701 (Nowack; cf. Marti). This prophetic activity of Micah under Hezekiah is confirmed by the direct statement of Jer. xxvi. 17 seq., where Mic. iii. 12 is quoted (“Zion shall be plowed as a field,” &c.). The verse quoted forms the climax of Mic. i.–iii., from which chapters only any certain conclusions as to the prophetic message of the historic Micah can be drawn; the remaining sections of the present book (iv.–v., vi.–vii.) consist, in whole or in greater part, of writings belonging to a later period.

Chs. i.–iii. (with the exception of two verses, ii. 12, 13)[4] are a prediction of judgment on the sins of Judah and Ephraim. In a majestic exordium Yahweh Himself is represented as coming forth in the thunderstorm (cf. Amos i. 2) from His heavenly palace, and descending on the mountains of Palestine, at once as witness against His people, and the executer of judgment on their sins. Samaria is sentenced to destruction for idolatry; and the blow extends to judah also, which participates in the same guilt (ch. i.). But, while Samaria is summarily dismissed, the sin of Judah is analysed at length in chs. ii. and iii., in which the prophet no longer deals with idolatry, but with the corruption of society, and particularly of its leaders-the grasping aristocracy whose whole energies are concentrated on devouring the poor and depriving them of their little holdings, the unjust judges and priests who for gain wrest the law in favour of the rich, the hireling and gluttonous prophets who make war against every one “ that putteth not into their mouth, ” but are ever ready with assurances of Yahweh's favour to their patrons, the wealthy and noble sinners that fatten on the flesh of the poor. The internal disorders of the realm depicted by Micah are also prominent in Isaiah's prophecies; they were closely connected, not only with the foreign complications due to the approach of the Assyrians, but with the break-up of the old agrarian system within Israel, and with the rapid and uncompensated aggrandisement of the nobles during those prosperous years when the conquest of Edom by Amaziah and the occupation of the port of Elath by his son (2 Kings xiv. 7, 22) placed the lucrative trade between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea in the hands of the rulers of Judah. On the other hand the democratic tone which distinguishes Micah from Isaiah, and his announcement of the impending fall of the capital (the deliverance of which from the Assyrian appears to Isaiah as the necessary condition for the preservation of the seed of a new and better kingdom), are explained by the fact that, while Isaiah lived in the centre of affairs, Micah, a provincial prophet, sees the capital and the aristocracy entirely from the side 'of a man of the oppressed people, and foretells the utter ruin of both. But this ruin does not present itself to him as involving the captivity or ruin of the nation as a whole; the congregation of Yahweh remains in ludaea when the oppressors are cast out (ii. 5); Yahweh's words are still good to them that walk uprightly; the glory of Israel is driven to take refuge in Adullam,1 as in the days when David's band of broken men was the true hope of the nation, but there is no hint that it is banished from the land.

Our only evidence as to the reception of Micah's message by his contemporaries is that afforded by ]er. xxvi. 17 seq., both directly, in the recorded effect on Hezekiah and the people; and indirectly, in the fact that the impression created was remembered a century afterwards. Micah resembles Amos, both in his country origin, and in his general character, which expresses itself in strong emphasis on the ethical side of religion. As the last of the four great prophets of the Sth century he undoubtedly contributed to that religious and ethical reformation whose literary monument is the Book of Deuteronomy?

The remainder of the book bearing the name of Micah falls into two main divisions, viz. iv., v. and vi., vii. Each differs from the first division (i.-iii.) in a marked degree. The second consists mainly of prophecies of restoration including eschatological (iv. 1 seq.)3 and Messianic (v. 2 seq.) hopes. The third is formed of three or four apparently unrelated passages, on the spirituality of true worship (vi. 1-8), social immorality and its doom (vi. 9-16; vii. 1-6)) and Israel's future recovery from present adversity through Divine grace (vii. 7-zo). It is improbable that much, if any, of these chapters can be ascribed to Micah himself# not only because their contents are so different from his undoubted work (i.-iii.), for which he was subsequently remembered (]er. xxvi. 18), but because they presuppose the historic outlook of the Exile, or a later age (e.g, iv. 6 seq.; vii. 7 seq.). It is neither psychologically nor historically impossible for a prophet of 1 i. 15; the reference is, however, obscure and uncertain.

  • See the Introduction to the Century Bible, “ Deuteronomy and

Joshua, ” by H. Wheeler Robinson.

3 Mic. iv. 1-3 and Isa. ii. 2-4 are but slightly modified recension's of the same text, and as Isa. ii. is older than the prophecy of Micah, while on the other hand Mic. iv. 4 seems the natural completion of the passage, it is common to suppose that both copy an older prophet. But the words have little connexion with the context in Isaiah, and may be the quotation of a copyist suggested by ver. 5. On the other hand it has been urged that the passage belongs to a later stage of prophetic thought than the 8th century B.C. Reasons making this view the more probable one are given by Wellhausen (p. 142) and Marti (p. 281).

4 Nowack thinks that iv. 9, I0“, 14 and v. 10-14 may possibly belong to Micah; Wellhausen recognizes the same possibility, which he extends, however, to vi. 1-8. Marti, who (like Cheyne in Ency. Bib.) finds nothing by Micah in iv.-vii., thinks these chapters have crystallized round two central passages, viz. iv. I-4, and vi. 6-8, whose addition to the first three chapters formed the second stage in the growth of the present book. More conservative views as to authorship are taken by Driver and G. A. Smith, the former suggesting, however, that “ the existing Book of Micah consists only of a collection of excerpts, in some cases fragmentary excerpts, from the entire series of the prophet's discourses " (L. O. T., Ch. vi. § 6).

judgment to be also a prophet of comfort; but the internal evidence of composite and (in whole or part) later authorship must outweigh the traditional attachment of these passages to a MS. containing the work of Micah.

The sequence of thought in chs. iv. v. is really difficult, and has given rise to much complicated discussion. Thus iv. 11-13 stands in direct contradiction to iv, 9, IO, and indeed to iii. 12, The last two passages agree in speaking of the capture of Jerusalem, the first declares Zion inviolable, and its capture an impossible profanation. Such a thought can hardly be Micah's, even if we resort to the violent harmonistic process of imagining that two quite distinct sieges, separated by a renewal of the theocracy, are spoken of in consecutive verses. Another difficulty lies in the words “ and thou shalt come even to Babylon ” in iv. 10. Micah unquestionably looked for the destruction of Jerusalem as well as of Samaria in the near future and by the Assyrians (i. 9), and this was the judgment which Hezekiah's repentance averted. If these words, therefore, belong to the original context, they mark it as not from Micah's hand; though they might be a later gloss. The prophetic thought is that the daughter (population) of Zion shall not be saved by her present rulers or defensive strength; she must come down from her bulwarks and dwell in the open field; there, and not within her proud ramparts, Yahweh will grant deliverance from her enemies. Opposition to present tyranny expresses itself in recurrence to the old popular ideal of the first simple Davidic kingdom (iv. 8). These old days shall return once more. A new David, like him whose exploits in the district of Micah's home were still in the mouths of the common people (? i. 15), goes forth from Bethlehem to feed the flock in the strength of Yahweh. The kindred Hebrew nations are once more united to their brethren of Israel (cf. Amos ix. 12, Isa. xvi. I seq.). The remnant of Jacob springs up in fresh vigour, inspiring terror among the surrounding peoples, and there is no lack of chosen captains to lead them to victory against the Assyrian foe. In the rejuvenescence of the nation the old stays of that oppressive kingship which began with Solomon, the strongholds, the fortified cities, the chariots and horses so foreign to the life of ancient Israel, are no more known; they disappear together with the divination's, the soothsayers, the idols, the mazzebah and asherah of the high places. Yahweh is king on Mount Zion, and no inventions of man come between Him and His people.

The sixth chapter of Micah presents a very different situation from that of chs. i.-iii. or iv., v. Yahweh appears to plead with His people for their sins, but the sinners are no longer a careless and oppressive aristocracy buoyed up by deceptive assurances of Yahweh's help, by prophecies of wine and strong drink; they are bowed down by a religion of terror, wearied with attempts to propitiate an angry God by countless offerings, and even by the sacrifice of the first-born. Meantime the substance of true religion -~justice, charity and a humble walk with God—is forgotten, fraud and deceit reign in all classes, the works of the house of Ahab are observed (worship of foreign gods). Yahweh's judgments are multiplied against the land, and the issue can be nothing else than its total desolation. All these marks may be held to fit exactly the evil times of Manasseh as described in 2 Kings xxi. Cp. vii. 1-6, in which the public and private corruption of a hopeless age is bitterly bewailed, possibly belongs to the same context.

Micah may very well have lived into Manasseh's reign, but the title in i. 1 does not cover a prophecy which certainly falls after Hezekiah's death, and the style has nothing in common with the earlier part of the book. It is therefore prudent to regard the prophecy, with Ewald, as anonymous. Ewald ascribed the whole of chs. vi., vii. to one author. Wellhausen, however, remarks with justice that the thread is abruptly broken at vii, 6, and that verses 7-201 represent Zion as already fallen before the heathen and her inhabitants as pining in the darkness of captivity. The hope of Zion is in future restoration after she has patiently borne the chastisement of her sins. Then Yahweh shall arise mindful of His oath to the fathers, Israel shall be forgiven and restored, and the heathen humbled. The faith and hope which breathe in this passage have the closest affinities with the book of Lamentations and Isa. xl.-lxvi. Indeed, as Marti points out (p. 259) the triple division of the book of Micah (i.-iii.; iv., v.; Vi., vii.) -corresponds with that of the book of Isaiah (i.-xxxix.; xl.-lv.; lvi.-lxvi.) in the character of the three divisions (judgment; coming restoration; prayer for help in adversity) respectively, and in the fact that the first alone gives us pre-exilic Writing in the actual words of the prophet to whom the whole book is ascribed. In both cases, it need hardly be said, the great literary and spiritual value of the later passages ought in no way 1Regarded by Stade (Z. A. T. W., 1903, p. 164 seq.) as an inde pendent psalm. to suffer prejudice from critical conditions as to their date and authorship.

Literature.—The chief modern commentaries are those of Nowack (Die Kleinen Propheten, 1897; 2nd ed., 1904) and Marti (Dodekapropheton, 1904), where detailed references to the older literature may be found; cf. Wellhausen, Die Kleinen Propheten (3rd ed., 1898). In English, reference may be made to Cheyne (“Micah,” in the Cambridge Bible, 1882; 2nd ed., 1895), and to G. A. Smith (“The Book of the Twelve,” vol. i., in The Expositor’s Bible, 1896); also to the articles on “Micah” by Nowack in Hastings’s Dict. of the Bible (1900), iii. 359, 360, and by Cheyne in the Ency. Bibl. (1902), iii. c. 3068–3074, the latter incorporating most of the original article (Ency. Brit. 9th ed.) by W. Robertson Smith, which has been revised above. For a review of recent criticism see Cheyne, introduction to W. R. Smith’s The Prophets of Israel, 2nd ed., pp. xxiii.-xxvii.; also Ency. Bib. loc. cit. J. M. P. Smith discusses “The Strophic Structure of the Book of Micah” in a volume of Old Test. and Semitic Studies: in memory of W. R. Harper (Chicago, 1908).  (W. R. S.) 

  1. A confusion between the two prophets of the name has led to the insertion in the Massoretic text of 1 Kings xxii. 28 of a citation from Micah i. 2, rightly absent from the LXX.
  2. See, however, Gray, Hebrew Proper Names, p. 157: “In later times they were perhaps virtually synonymous; but this is not to be assumed for early times. The shorter forms may well have had a purely secular reference, signifying ‘who is like this child’?”
  3. He is called “the Morashtite” (Mic. i. I; Jer. xxvi. 18) from his birthplace, Moresheth-Gath. That Micah lived in the Shephelah or Judaean lowland near the Philistine country is clear from the local colouring of i. 10 seq., where a number of places in this quarter are mentioned together (in connexion with the war in Philistia), and their names played upon in a way that could hardly have suggested itself to any but a man of the district. The paronomasia makes the verses difficult, and in i. 14 none of the ancient versions recognizes Moresheth-Gath as a proper name. The word Morashtite (Mōrashti) was therefore obscure to them; but this only gives greater weight to the traditional pronunciation with 6 in the first syllable, which is as old as the LXX., and goes against the view, taken by the Targum both on Micah and on jeremiah, and followed by some moderns (including Cheyne, E.B., 3198), that Micah came from Mareshah. When Eusebius placed Mωρασθεί near Eleutheropolis it is not likely that he is thinking of Mareshah (Maresa), for he speaks of the former as a village and of the latter as a ruin 2 m. from Eleutheropolis. Jerome too in the Epit. Paulae (Ep. cviii.), speaking as an eye-witness, distinguishes Morashtim, with the church of Micah’s sepulchre, from Maresa., This indeed was after the pretended miraculous discovery of the relics of Micah in A.D. 385; but the name of the village which then existed (Praef. in Mich.) can hardly have been part of a pious fraud.
  4. These two verses are a prophecy of restoration; they are admittedly an interruption in their present context (so, e.g., Driver, G. A. Smith); they belong in substance to the second section of the book (iv. v.).