Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
This chapter, to which the first six verses of chap. 7 should form the conclusion, presents several striking points. Though quite as earnest against sin as chaps. 1–3, it contains none of those vigorous detailed descriptions of particular transgressions, none of those earnest exhortations, which characterize the preceding chapters. It seems to have been written at a time when persecution had thinned the ranks of the pious worshippers of Jehovah, and we must evidently allow a considerable interval between its composition and that of chaps. 1–3, and 4, 5
Hear ye now what the LORD saith; Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice.1–5. The first part of a controversy between Jehovah and His people
1. before the mountains] The mountains have witnessed all Israel’s past history, the favours conferred upon him, and his base return. Comp. Deuteronomy 32:1, Isaiah 1:2.
Hear ye, O mountains, the LORD'S controversy, and ye strong foundations of the earth: for the LORD hath a controversy with his people, and he will plead with Israel.2. ye strong foundations] ‘Strong’ should rather be enduring. The hills have outlived generation after generation of rebellious Israelites.
with his people] The phrase is very significant in this connexion; if anything could awaken Israel’s conscience, it would be the thought of the special mercies of which he had been the recipient.
O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me.3. O my people] Jehovah opens the controversy. He assumes, what is too patent for denial, that Israel has fallen away from his God.
wherein have I wearied thee] The requirements of God’s service were not wearisome (as Micah 6:6-7 will show). As long as justice, mercy, and humility are present, Jehovah asks no more. A splendid ceremonial is the luxury of worship, not a necessity.
For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.4. For I brought thee up] ‘Nothing,’ is the only truthful answer to the divine question. Jehovah has indeed wonderfully assisted His people in their troubles. Nothing could extinguish the sense of the overwhelming grandeur of Israel’s first deliverance. A prophet, writing in the name of the Jewish Church of the Captivity, points back to the happy days of old, when he ‘brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock’ (Isaiah 63:11).
I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam] These were the shepherds, by whom ‘God led His people like sheep’ (Psalm 77:20)—Eastern shepherds going before their sheep (John 10:4).
O my people, remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him from Shittim unto Gilgal; that ye may know the righteousness of the LORD.5. O my people, remember now …] The prophet, in the name of Jehovah, reminds his people of another great mercy, the bringing to nought of Balak’s plan to destroy Israel.
consulted] i.e. with the elders of Midian (Numbers 22:4).
from Shittim unto Gilgal] Shittim was the last station of the Israelites on the other side of Jordan; Gilgal the first in the land of Canaan. It is not clear how these words are to be connected grammatically with what precedes. The sense appears to be, ‘Remember that which happened between Shittim and Gilgal,’ i.e. not only the episode of Balak and Balaam, but the wonderful passage of the Jordan and the entrance into the promised land. Probably some words have dropped out before this clause.
the righteousness] Rather, the righteous acts; lit. ‘the righteousnesses’ (so Jdg 5:11, 1 Samuel 12:7).
Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?6. Wherewith] i.e. with what present?
bow myself] With the obeisance of a subject before his king, or of a poor man before a rich.
with calves of a year old] These were considered the choicest (Leviticus 9:3).
6–8. The people, feeling its need of atonement, anxiously (note the repeated questions) inquires of the prophet how it is to propitiate Jehovah. Bishop Butler, in his Sermon on the Character of Balaam, adopts the view that Micah 6:6-7 represent the question of Balak, and Micah 6:8 the answer of Balaam. This was probably suggested by 2 Kings 3:27, where it is recorded that the king of Moab offered up his eldest son as a burnt-offering. But the inference is hasty; human sacrifices were one of the abominations of Israel (see below), which most excited the reprobation of the prophets. Bishop Butler, too, had probably not realized the amount of personification which exists in the prophetic writings. It is the people personified which speaks in these two verses (6 and 7).
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?7. with thousands of rams] With hecatombs, a Greek would have said. The calves are estimated by quality; the rams, by quantity.
rivers of oil] Or, ‘torrents of oil;’ like ‘brooks [torrents] of honey,’ Job 20:17.
my firstborn for my transgression] This is the climax of Israel’s offers; he will not withhold his most precious possession. The valley of Hinnom was for centuries defiled by sacrifices of children to the ‘devouring’ Fire-god, Moloch; a custom derived from ‘the nations whom Jehovah cast out from before the children of Israel’ (2 Kings 16:3). The narrative of the substitution of the ram for Isaac (Genesis 22:13), and the law of the redemption of the firstborn of man (Exodus 13:13), show that, although perhaps permitted ‘for the hardness of men’s hearts’ in earlier times, such human sacrifices were no longer admitted by the prophetic and legal interpreters of the Divine will to Israel. Comp. Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2, 2 Kings 16:3; 2 Kings 23:10, Isaiah 57:5, Jeremiah 7:31, Ezekiel 16:20; Ezekiel 20:26
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?8. The prophet denies that any external forms will make up for the want of spiritual qualities. The sacrifice of the heart is what God demands; but “man convinced of sin is ready to sacrifice what is dearest to him rather than give up his own will and give himself to God” (W. Robertson Smith). The passage reminds us of Isaiah 1:10-15, Hosea 6:6. Evidently Hezekiah’s reformation had been purely external (comp. Isaiah 29:13).
He hath shewed thee] viz. Moses in the Law, especially in Deuteronomy.
what doth the Lord require of thee …] Comp. Deuteronomy 10:12, ‘And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul?’
to do justly …] The opposite of Israel’s present characteristics (comp. Micah 6:10, Micah 2:1-2, Micah 3:2-3; Micah 3:9-10).
to walk humbly with thy God] Humility is the primary religious virtue in the Old Testament (comp. Isaiah 2:12).
The LORD'S voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name: hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it.9–16. Jehovah’s indignant Denunciation
9. The Lord’s voice] Because before this it was the prophet who spoke.
unto the city] i.e. Jerusalem.
the man of wisdom shall see thy name] A very dubious translation. Others render, ‘wisdom is it to fear thy name,’ which is supported to some extent by the ancient versions (‘fear’ for ‘see’ has this important sanction); this requires no alteration of the text (i.e., the consonants), but merely of one of the vowel-points. Caspari’s version of the received reading, ‘Thy name hath wisdom for its object,’ is unnatural.
hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it] i.e. hear ye the prophecy of punishment, and hear him who hath ordained the judgment. It is the Assyrian invasion which is referred to; comp. Isaiah 10:5; Isaiah 10:24.
Are there yet the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is abominable?10. The denunciation is couched in the form of questions, to prick the conscience of the guilty ones.
Are there yet the treasures …] i.e. Does the oppressor go on heaping up unjustly acquired spoil?
the scant measure] A particular measure is referred to, viz. the ephah (about three pecks, dry measure). The sin specified reminds us forcibly of Deuteronomy, where it is forbidden to have in one’s house ‘divers ephahs, a great and a small,’ and ‘a perfect and right ephah’ is prescribed (Deuteronomy 24:14-15). Amos, too, Micah’s senior, speaks of those who longed for the expiration of the sabbath, ‘that they might set forth wheat, making the ephah small’ (Amos 8:5).
Shall I count them pure with the wicked balances, and with the bag of deceitful weights?11. Shall I count them pure …] This rendering is barely defensible, even if we alter the vowel-points. It was dictated by the very natural feeling that the speaker ought to be the same person as in Micah 6:10. Keil thinks that the reading of the Hebrew text may be justified, if we suppose the speaker to be the prophet speaking as the representative of the human conscience. The text-reading is, Can I be pure, &c., which, according to this commentator, means ‘Can a man be pure?’ It is simpler, however, and in accordance with what we know of the confusions of Hebrew pronunciation, to follow the Septuagint, the Peshito, and the Targum, and restore the third person instead of the first; unless, looking at Micah 6:12, we prefer to read the verb in the second person, ‘Canst thou (O Jerusalem) be pure.’ For the prophet continues, ‘The rich men thereof’ (i.e. of Jerusalem).
For the rich men thereof are full of violence, and the inhabitants thereof have spoken lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.
Therefore also will I make thee sick in smiting thee, in making thee desolate because of thy sins.13. will I make thee sick] Deadly sick is the meaning; comp. Nahum 3:19, where the term is explained in the parallel clause to mean ‘incurable.’
Thou shalt eat, but not be satisfied; and thy casting down shall be in the midst of thee; and thou shalt take hold, but shalt not deliver; and that which thou deliverest will I give up to the sword.14, 15. Thou shalt eat, but not be satisfied] The description in these two verses again reminds us of Deuteronomy, and of that portion of Leviticus which most recalls Deuteronomy (see Deuteronomy 28:39, and Leviticus 26:25-26).
thy casting down] The meaning of the Hebrew is very uncertain. Thy emptiness is the rendering which has the best support of recent authorities; if we adopt it, we must substitute ‘remain’ for ‘be’—it is emptiness of the stomach which is meant. But the rendering is precarious, and the text, as so often, is probably corrupt. We might restore, ‘thy leanness shall be in the midst of thee’ (i.e. of the people).
thou shalt take hold] Rather, thou shalt remove (thy goods). The prospect held out is that the enemy will fall so suddenly upon the Jews, that they will not be able to remove their property or family to a place of security; or if they should, by a rare good fortune, succeed in saving a little, it should soon become the prey of the foe (comp. Isaiah 23:12, Jeremiah 44:12).
Thou shalt sow, but thou shalt not reap; thou shalt tread the olives, but thou shalt not anoint thee with oil; and sweet wine, but shalt not drink wine.15. tread the olives] It is now the custom only to press the olives; in olden times, they must have been trodden as well (like grapes). Ancient oil-presses are still found in Palestine. The olives were ground to a pulp sometimes by treading, sometimes by a stone-wheel. (Thomson, The Land and the Book, p. 207.)
For the statutes of Omri are kept, and all the works of the house of Ahab, and ye walk in their counsels; that I should make thee a desolation, and the inhabitants thereof an hissing: therefore ye shall bear the reproach of my people.16. the statutes of Omri] ‘Statutes’ is here used in a religious sense = ceremonies or rules of worship (as Jeremiah 10:3, Leviticus 20:7, 2 Kings 17:34). Omri is said to have ‘done worse than all [the kings] that were before him.’ Little more is recorded of him in 1 Kings, but the Assyrians always associated his name with that of his kingdom: the northern realm has for its Assyrian name Bit Khumri ‘place of Omri.’ ‘The statutes of Omri’ and ‘the works of the house of Ahab’ (Omri’s son) are of course the worship of Baal (comp. 1 Kings 16:31-32). ‘The separation of the kingdoms had not broken the subtle links that connected Judah with the greater Israel of the north’ (Prof. Robertson Smith, The Old Testament in the Jewish Church, p. 345). Hence the low religious state of the kingdom of Israel reacted most injuriously on the kingdom of Judah.
in their counsels] i.e. in those of Omri and Ahab. It is singular that these two should be the only kings of N. Israel mentioned in the prophetical books.
the reproach of my people] i.e. the reproach which attaches to the people of Jehovah when it is cast out of ‘Jehovah’s land’ (Hosea 9:3). Most probably, however, we should read, ‘the reproach of the peoples’ (comp. Ezekiel 34:29; Ezekiel 36:6). The final m may have dropped out, or the sign of abbreviation may have been overlooked.
This latter part of the verse assumes a different form in the versions. Upon what text they are based is uncertain; but they all agree in rendering “fearers of (his) name” (the pronoun is omitted in Targ.), and (except Targ.) ‘tribe’ for ‘rod.’ Hence Ewald renders, ‘Hear, O tribe, and thou who summonest it.’ The Septuagint also changes the ‘yet’ of Micah 6:10 into ‘city,’ and connects it with Micah 6:9. Following up these traces of what he conceives to be the original reading, Roorda restores, ‘And they that fear his name have heard wisdom. He hath declared who is he that stirreth up his rod.’