Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The judgment upon Samaria and the land of Judah; and the prophet’s lament. The historical fulfilment of the prophecy is in the capture of Samaria by Sargon in 722 and that same king’s invasion of Judah in 711 (see note A). Compare the topographical allusions in Micah 1:10-15 with the corresponding section in Isaiah 10:28-32.
The word of the LORD that came to Micah the Morasthite in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.1. Heading (see Introduction)
1. Micah the Morasthite] i.e. Micah of Moresheth-gath (see Micah 1:14).
which he saw] To ‘see’ is a very early and very natural synonym for ‘to prophesy;’ ‘he that is now (called) a Prophet was beforetime called a Seer’ (1 Samuel 9:9). Hence the prophecies of Isaiah are called a ‘vision’ (Isaiah 1:1; comp. Nahum 1:1, Obadiah 1:1). Another figure for prophecy is ‘hearing’ (see Isaiah 21:10; Isaiah 28:22). The meaning is that the prophet has an inward perception of certain facts through the influence of the Divine Spirit (Zechariah 7:12).
Hear, all ye people; hearken, O earth, and all that therein is: and let the Lord GOD be witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple.2–7. The Threat of Punishment
2. all ye people] Rather peoples. God’s judgment upon the world is now in progress (comp. Isaiah 3:13-14; Isaiah 34:1-5), and one of the principal acts in the great drama is the judgment impending over Israel. Hence all nations are summoned, not merely as legal witnesses (as when ‘heaven and earth’ are called upon in a figure in Deuteronomy 4:26; Deuteronomy 30:19; Deuteronomy 31:28, Isaiah 1:2), but that they may learn wisdom in time from Israel’s fate. Hence the next half of the verse continues, ‘… against you.’ The opening words of this verse are uttered by Micaiah in 1 Kings 22:28, which can hardly be an accidental coincidence, as Micah is a shortened form of Micaiah. Probably the words in 1 Kings were interpolated by some ill-advised scribe, who identified Micaiah with our prophet Micah.
the Lord God] Rather, the Lord Jehovah. This is the reading of the Hebrew text; A. V. follows the vowel-points, which in this case merely express the exaggerated reverence of the later Jews for the sacred name.
his holy temple] It is ‘the temple of heaven’ which is meant (Revelation 16:17). Comp. Habakkuk 2:20, Zechariah 2:13, Isaiah 63:15, Psalm 11:4.
For, behold, the LORD cometh forth out of his place, and will come down, and tread upon the high places of the earth.3. cometh forth out of his place] Two persons may use the same expressions in very different senses. Heathen poets imagined that divine beings ‘came forth’ and mingled in the strife of mortals; the prophets adopt the same language as the symbol of the working of a spiritual Deity.
And the mountains shall be molten under him, and the valleys shall be cleft, as wax before the fire, and as the waters that are poured down a steep place.4. the mountains shall be molten …] The figure is that of a storm, but no ordinary storm. Lightning descends, and dissolves the very mountains, and torrents of rain scoop out channels in the valleys. Similar symbolic descriptions occur in Jdg 5:5, Isaiah 64:1, Habakkuk 3:6; comp. Exodus 19:18.
For the transgression of Jacob is all this, and for the sins of the house of Israel. What is the transgression of Jacob? is it not Samaria? and what are the high places of Judah? are they not Jerusalem?5. The cause of this awful manifestation—the sin of Samaria and Jerusalem.
Jacob] A poetic synonym for Israel. The term has a slightly different meaning in the two halves of the verse. In the first, it clearly means the whole of the chosen people, including Judah; but in the second, only the Ten Tribes, sometimes called ‘Ephraim’ (e.g. Isaiah 7:5), but oftener (in the historical books) ‘Israel.’
What is the transgression] From what does it proceed? In what is it summed up? ‘Transgression’ is a weak rendering; apostasy would be nearer the Hebrew.
what are the high places of Judah?] In order to make sense, it is necessary to assume that the term ‘high places’ is here synonymous with ‘apostasy’ in the parallel line. But have we a right to make this assumption, for which there is no analogy in Hebrew? Our present text rests on such imperfect authority, that it is more reasonable to suppose here a corruption in the reading, and to follow the three most ancient versions (the Septuagint, the Peshito, and the Targum), which presuppose the reading ‘What is the sin of Judah?’ This is also more in harmony with what we know of the prophets of this period, who do not elsewhere so emphatically denounce the ‘high places,’ or shrines scattered up and down the country (comp. on Micah 5:14). They were more concerned with principles than with the detailed application of them. Some abominations were too obvious to be passed over; other evils, less distinctly seen as evils, were tolerated, or only gently protested against. Perhaps ‘high places’ in this passage was originally a marginal note in an early manuscript, intended to explain in what the sin of Judah consisted.
Therefore I will make Samaria as an heap of the field, and as plantings of a vineyard: and I will pour down the stones thereof into the valley, and I will discover the foundations thereof.6. as a heap] Rather, into a heap (i.e. into ruins).
as plantings of a vineyard] Rather, into the plantings, &c. Samaria should remain so long in ruins, that vineyards should be laid out upon it (comp. Isaiah 28:1 ‘the fat valley of those who are smitten down with wine’).
I will pour down the stones] Samaria standing on a hill (see 1 Kings 16:24). “There is every appearance of the ancient buildings having been destroyed, and their materials cast down from the brow of the hill, in order to clear the ground for cultivation; masses of stone are thus seen hanging on the steep sides of the hill, accidentally stopped in the progress of their descent by the rude dykes and terraces separating the fields.” “The materials of the ruins … are piled up in large heaps, or used in the construction of rude stone fences; many of these heaps of stone are seen in the plains at the foot of the hill.” Journal of a Deputation sent to the East by the Malta Prot. College, Vol. ii. p. 425.
discover] i.e. lay bare.
And all the graven images thereof shall be beaten to pieces, and all the hires thereof shall be burned with the fire, and all the idols thereof will I lay desolate: for she gathered it of the hire of an harlot, and they shall return to the hire of an harlot.7. the hires] i.e. the rich votive offerings in the sanctuaries, shortly afterwards called ‘the hire of a harlot,’ with reference to the shameful practices of heathenish religion (Deuteronomy 23:17-18).
shall return] i.e. shall again become (as Genesis 3:19 ‘unto dust shalt thou return’). The material of the costly images acquired through the offerings of devotees shall again be used for votive offerings in other no less shameful religions, based, like those of heathen Syria, on the worship of the powers and processes of nature.
Therefore I will wail and howl, I will go stripped and naked: I will make a wailing like the dragons, and mourning as the owls.8–16. Micah’s Lamentation
8. Therefore I will wail] Such exuberance of emotion specially characterizes the Jews and the Arabs; it reminds us of the Homeric heroes. The prophets did not cease to be men when they received the gift of inspiration. Sometimes they seem to have had a kind of double consciousness, uniting them on the one hand with the inspiring Spirit, and on the other with their much-loved people. Hence their abrupt transitions from stern denunciation to tender compassion.
stript and naked] i.e. without an outer garment; comp. 1 Samuel 19:24, Amos 2:16, John 21:7. It seems to be a single symbolic act which is referred to (comp. Isaiah 20:2). The word ‘stripped’ indicates that the appearance of the prophet is significant of the enforced nakedness of his people on their way to captivity (Isaiah 20:3-4).
dragons … owls] Rather, jackals … ostriches (comp. Job 30:29). The Hebrew poets are fond of likening the note of lamentation to those of animals. In Isaiah the swift, the crane, the dove, and the bear are referred to (Isaiah 38:14; Isaiah 59:11); while here it is the ‘long, piteous cry’ of the jackal, and the ‘fearful screech’ of the ostrich which furnish the object of comparison.
For her wound is incurable; for it is come unto Judah; he is come unto the gate of my people, even to Jerusalem.9. her wound] Lit. her stripes. Samaria’s trouble is a chastisement (comp. Isaiah 1:3-4), but it is not Samaria’s trouble only. It has reached Jerusalem; hence the ‘incurableness’ of the ‘wound,’ for Jerusalem is the heart of the nation. The past tenses vividly express the certainty of the prophet’s intuition of the future.
he is come] Or, it is come. The subject may be either the ‘stripe’ or the dealer of the stripe—Jehovah.
the gate of my people] Jerusalem is to the chosen people in general what the gate is to the city itself. The shady space in the city gate was the favourite place of meeting; so Jerusalem is the scene of ‘our solemn meetings’ (Isaiah 33:20), our religious and political centre.
Declare ye it not at Gath, weep ye not at all: in the house of Aphrah roll thyself in the dust.10. Declare ye it not …] ‘May we at least be spared the sight of the malicious joy of our envious neighbours!’ Here begins a series of paronomasias, which however are far from indicating a playful mood in the prophet. Most of them refer to Judæan towns in the prophet’s own neighbourhood. He could not possibly jest about the fate of his friends! No; he is in sober earnest, and sees (like Isaiah in Isaiah 10:30) a pre-ordained correspondence between names and fortunes (comp. the familiar phrase ‘his name shall be called’ = ‘he shall be’). It is not always easy to catch his allusions, nor to reproduce them when caught. Some idea of the general effect is given by M. Reuss in the following imitation, ‘N’allez pas le dire à Dijon! N’allez pas pleurer à Plœrmel! Pars, Paris! Chartres, attèle ton char!’
at Gath] Alluding to 2 Samuel 1:20. The substance of the power of Gath had passed away (Amos 6:2). Like Ashdod (see Amos 1:8), it seems not to have recovered from the severe blow inflicted by Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:6). But its name was still a symbol of bitter hostility.
weep ye not at all] Or, in Acco weep ye not (another reading). According to Jdg 1:31, the Canaanites were not driven out of Acco. Thus Acco (the later Ptolemais) would be the representative of the Canaanites or Phœnicians of the north. The choice of the town would be dictated (as the Hebrew suggests) by the love of paronomasia. The Sept. has οἱ Ἐνακείμ; but we should probably read οἱ ἐν Ἀκή (μ came from the following μή; and η and ει are often confounded).
in the house of Aphrah] Rather, in Beth-le-aphrah (i.e. House of dust). There was a town of the tribe of Benjamin called Ophrah, Joshua 18:23. Most, if not all, however, of the other eight towns appear to lie in the Shephélah, i.e. the ‘low country’ between Joppa and Gaza; probably therefore the Benjamite Ophrah is not here intended. It may be asked, Why does the prophet single out the Shephélah? Isaiah, in a strictly parallel passage (Isaiah 10:28-32), mentions an altogether different region as suffering from the invasion? The answer is, that the prophet has the feelings (if we may say so) of a provincial. The ‘low country’ was even less able than Aiath, Migron, Michmash, &c., to oppose the rapid movements of the Assyrians.
roll thyself in] Rather, besprinkle thyself with. So Tamar, as a sign of mourning, ‘put ashes upon her head,’ 2 Samuel 13:19. But the reading of the Hebrew text is preferable to that of the margin and of A. V., viz. ‘I have besprinkled myself with.’
Pass ye away, thou inhabitant of Saphir, having thy shame naked: the inhabitant of Zaanan came not forth in the mourning of Bethezel; he shall receive of you his standing.11. inhabitant] The word in the Hebrew is feminine, the population of the city being (as often, e.g. Isaiah 1:8) personified as a virgin.
Saphir] as if Fair town (a play on the name).
Zaanan] The Zenan of Joshua 15:37.
came not forth, &c.] Rather, is not come forth; the mourning of Beth-ezel taketh from you its standing-ground. Zaanan would willingly take to flight, but the sound of the mourning at Beth-ezel (which might mean ‘the house, or place, at one’s side’) fills them with despair. An ‘Azal,’ or rather Azel, is mentioned in Jerusalem in Zechariah 14:5 (see however on ‘Aphrah,’ Micah 1:10).
For the inhabitant of Maroth waited carefully for good: but evil came down from the LORD unto the gate of Jerusalem.12. Maroth] The name might mean Bitternesses, i.e. ‘perfect grief.’ Comp. Ruth 1:20, ‘Call me Mara, for the Lord hath made it bitter unto me,’ i.e. hath grieved me.
waited carefully] Rather, hath been in pain.
for good] i.e. for the good of liberty which it has lost.
but evil came down] Rather, for evil is come down.
unto the gate of Jerusalem] It is the ‘great gate’ spoken of thus by Sennacherib in his boastful inscription, ‘the exit of the great gate of his city I caused (them) to break through’ (Taylor’s cylinder, Colossians 3. lines 22, 23). Sargon, however, is probably the Assyrian king referred to by the prophet, as also by Isaiah in a parallel passage (Isaiah 22:7), “the horsemen [of the enemy] set themselves in array towards the gate” (this is the correct rendering).
O thou inhabitant of Lachish, bind the chariot to the swift beast: she is the beginning of the sin to the daughter of Zion: for the transgressions of Israel were found in thee.13. Lachish] That well-known fortified town in the Shephélah, or maritime plain, the capture of which was commemorated by Sennacherib in two bas-reliefs in his palace; comp. Isaiah 36:2; Isaiah 37:8. These small Syrian and Palestinian fortresses had to sustain repeated sieges. ‘Lachish’ and rechesh (‘swift beast’) make what is called an assonance; hence the mention of Lachish suggests the thought of harnessing the chariot for flight. The imperative is of course to be understood poetically. It would be well for Lachish if her ‘swift steeds’ could carry her far away—those ‘swift steeds’ which were so violently obnoxious to Micah and his fellow-prophets (Isaiah 2:7; Isaiah 31:1).
she is the beginning of the sin] Rather, she was the beginning of sin, i.e. the image-worship of the northern kingdom took root first of all in Lachish, and from thence spread over the rest of Judah (comp. Micah 6:16). It is remarkable that the infection of idolatry should have appeared at a bound so far from its original focus. No light can be thrown upon this.
Therefore shalt thou give presents to Moreshethgath: the houses of Achzib shall be a lie to the kings of Israel.14. Therefore] There is no logical sequence implied: ‘therefore’ often introduces a threatening passage—sin leading to punishment. The prophet abruptly turns to the people of Judah.
shalt thou give presents, &c.] More strictly, farewell-presents. The meaning of the whole clause is that Judah will have to give up Moresheth-gath. True, it was to an enemy that this town was to be surrendered, and ‘farewell presents’ seems to have been a technical term for the marriage-portion of a bride (so 1 Kings 9:16). But a loose use of the phrase is quite intelligible; the literal meaning is simply ‘dismissal.’
Moresheth-gath] The birth-place of the prophet (see Introduction), who here makes an allusion to its meaning—‘possession of Gath.’
Achzib] Mentioned as in the Shephélah, Joshua 15:44. Its name suggests the thought of deception or disappointment; hence the following words. It is probably the same as Chezib, and, remarkably enough, the passage where Chezib is mentioned contains a similar reference to the ominous purport of the name. ‘He (Judah) was at Chezib,’ we read in Genesis 38:5, ‘when she (Tamar) bare him.’ It was an appropriate birthplace for Shelah, who afterwards disappointed the just expectations of Tamar in regard to Judah.
a lie] Rather, a disappointing brook. The word for ‘brook’ is omitted as in Jeremiah 15:18, where the parallel clause explains the phrase to mean ‘waters that fail.’
the kings of Israel] ‘Israel,’ after the fall of the northern kingdom (predicted in Micah 1:6-7) is legitimately applied to Judah.
Yet will I bring an heir unto thee, O inhabitant of Mareshah: he shall come unto Adullam the glory of Israel.15. Yet will I bring, &c.] Rather, Moreover unto thee will I bring him that shall possess thee (viz. Sargon and his Assyrians). ‘Mareshah’ was near Achzib (Joshua 15:44). There is an allusion to its possible meaning of ‘possession.’
he shall come unto Adullam, &c.] Rather, the glory of Israel shall come even unto Adullam. The nobility of Israel are to take refuge in the cave which once harboured David and his band (1 Samuel 22:1-2). These limestone caverns are of great extent; some of them, says Dr Pusey, will hold thousands of men. A second meaning may be implied by a paronomasia, ‘The glory of Israel shall set for ever’ (as if Adullam meant ‘for ever,’ Hebr. ad olam). Adullam was a fortified town in the Shephélah, Joshua 15:35.
Make thee bald, and poll thee for thy delicate children; enlarge thy baldness as the eagle; for they are gone into captivity from thee.16. Make thee bald] The prophet addresses the sorrowing mother, Judah, who sees her children go forth into exile. The injunction is to be understood poetically (see on Micah 1:13). Artificial baldness, as a sign of mourning, was against the Law (Leviticus 19:27-28, Deuteronomy 14:1), but this prohibition was apparently not recognized in the Shephélah. Micah speaks in the character of a man of the Shephélah.
as the eagle] The word for ‘eagle’ (nesher) seems, in common discourse, to have included the vulture (so also ἀετός, Matthew 24:28), which is common in Egypt and Palestine.