Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
THE REV. S. L. WARREN.
INTRODUCTION TO MICAH.
THE Book of the Prophet Micah is presented as the sixth in order of the minor prophets in the Hebrew, Vulgate, and our own canon, but in the LXX. it follows Hosea and Amos as the third.
It would be deeply interesting to construct a life of Micah, for he was so full of vivid personality that it could not fail to be remarkable; but the materials are almost wholly wanting. We conclude that his birthplace was Moresheth, in the maritime plain of the kingdom of Judah, and we conjecture that this was in the neighbourhood of Eleutheropolis. St. Jerome, indeed, mentions that he visited a village in those parts “which formerly contained the sepulchre of Micah, where is now a church.”
His name itself was no uncommon one, as is at once suggested by his adding to it the title of “the Morasthite,” indicating his native town; although it seems hardly probable that he assumed it, as some have thought, for the purpose of distinguishing himself from Micaiah the son of Imlah, who lived a century before him. He was evidently a man of profound affection for his nation and fatherland, and from his native town he would doubtless pay anxious visits to Jerusalem to warn the rulers and people of the metropolis, deeply steeped as they were in the grossest wickedness, of the judgment ready to fall upon them if they did not repent. One of these occasions became historic, and was quoted in the time of Jehoiakim, when the priests and prophets were clamouring for the death of Jeremiah, who had ventured to emulate the heroic patriotism of Micah (see Note, Micah 3:12), and the precedent probably saved that prophet’s life. Micah’s prophecies extended over the reigns of Jotham and Ahaz into that of Hezekiah; but he would appear to have died a few years after the last-mentioned monarch’s accession.
 Micaiah is found in many variations until it reaches the shortened form of Micah. There is Micaiah, a great man in Josiah’s reign (2Kings 22:12), called Micah (2Chronicles 34:20). Micaiah is a name given to the wife of Rehoboam (2Chronicles 13:12). which may be a mistake for Maachah; and Michaiah son of Gemariah (Jeremiah 36:11); and others.
The Prophet Micah foresaw the Assyrian invasion, and described with the vividness of an eye-witness the approach of the enemy destroying city after city, drawing nigh even unto Jerusalem itself. As to the rival capital, Samaria, “it shall be made as an heap of the field, and as plantings of a vineyard: I will pour down the stones thereof into the valley, and I will discover the foundations thereof.”
But the message of the prophet was to the people of Judah, for if they, unwarned by the denunciations of the aroused anger of Jehovah, and unmoved by the exhibition of His judgments, continued in their evil course, they would be swept into captivity, carried away to a city the very name of which must have excited ridicule in the minds of his hearers. (See Micah 4:10.)
This, however, Micah foresaw and foretold, and the scope of his prophecy became thereupon extended. He beheld the execution of the decree, nay, even further than that, its reversal at the appointed time. The Jews shall return to their own land, and once more dwell under the protection of Jehovah. But the vision grew, its horizon was more and more extended, and the prophet uttered predictions which every Jew interpreted as referring to the advent of their Messiah and His triumphant reign. He declared the very town in which He should be born, emphasising the fact, and anticipating the objections which would naturally rise to the mind of the Jews from the insignificance of Bethlehem for such high dignity. The end of Micah’s prophecy is Messiah’s eternal reign, in accordance with the truth of Jehovah “sworn unto our fathers from the days of old.”
No student of the Books of Isaiah and Micah can fail to be struck with a similarity of style in the writings of the two prophets. There is the same power of graphic description; there is the similar identification of themselves with their subject; there are like alternate heights and depths of joy and trouble. But Micah is more terse. He gives the telling touches which, in Isaiah’s utterances, expand into long bursts of sustained eloquence. The similarity in the style of Isaiah and Micah is strikingly attested by the passage Isaiah 2:2-4, and Micah 4:1-3, common to the two writers, but which is eagerly claimed as original in behalf of both, (See Note at the place.)
As far as the individuality of Micah is discovered in his prophecy, he is conspicuous even among prophets for the boldness, the thoroughness of his denunciations, and for the rapidity of his contrasts. The thunder-cloud of blackness descending upon sin again and again darkens with the suddenness of a storm his bright visions of glory; and on the other hand, there is always visible through the heaviest clouds the rainbow of hope from the sunshine of God’s mercy. The light and the darkness are in constant juxtaposition. The period of Micah’s life was cast in very troublous times. The reign of Ahab had impressed itself ineffaceably upon the character of Israel, and had left terrible marks upon that of Judah. Idolatry had been introduced into the Temple itself; statues of the accursed Baal were found even there. The abominations of the heathen in their most repulsive form prevailed; Jewish children were burnt in the fire to propitiate the idol Moloch. All society was disorganised; it was corrupt at the core. The desire of every citizen was to outwit his fellow. No judicial decision was to be obtained except through bribery; every contract was sullied with dishonesty.
In such a time Micah stood forth, and proclaimed the fall and destruction of Samaria, which came to pass in the fourth year of Hezekiah; and he drew attention to the danger which menaced the cities of Judah, even the Holy City itself. But his predictions were not satisfied by the Assyrian invasion. Their fulfilment has to be looked for in the terrible descent upon Judæa by the King of Babylon, a city in Micah’s time too insignificant to attract any notice from Jewish politicians. And then, further than this, the prophecies of Micah reached to a far more distant horizon. His words spoke to Jewish ears of a Messiah to come, and they were treasured up as indicating the very place of His birth. The nearer and the more remote events immediately covered by his predictions were significant of the whole future of the people of God. There was the terrible wickedness which was to eat more and more deeply into the heart of society; there was the time of mourning for the good, of rejoicing for the evil; and there was the hour of signal punishment committed to the enemies of God against His faithless people; while these enemies, having become insolent and defiant, were to be eventually defeated. And then at the last there was the triumph of the faithful children of God, the Lord Himself passing on at the head of the remnant of Israel.
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) Micah the Morasthite.—Unlike Joel, who identifies himself by his father’s name, Micah introduces his personality with reference to his native village, Moresheth-gath, which was situated in the lowland district of Judah. The name—a shortened form of Micaiah, meaning “Who is like Jehovah”—was not an uncommon one among the Jews, but it was chiefly famous in times prior to the prophet, through Micaiah, the son of Imlah, who, about 150 years previously, had withstood Ahab and his false prophets.
Samaria and Jerusalem.—The younger capital is placed first because it was the first to fall through the greater sinfulness of the northern kingdom. The chief cities are mentioned as representatives of the wickedness of the respective nations.
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) Hear, all ye people.—The three-fold repetition of the appeal, “Hear ye,” seems to mark three divisions in the book: 1. “Hear, all ye people” (Micah 1:2); 2. “Hear, I pray you, O heads of Jacob” (Micah 3:1); 3. Hear ye now what the Lord saith” (Micah 6:1).
From his holy temple—i.e., from heaven; for “the Lord is in His holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven” (Psalm 11:4).
Micaiah, the son of Imlah, ended his appeal to Ahab and Jehoshaphat with the words with which Micah opens his prophecy, “Hearken, O people, every one of you” (1Kings 22:28).
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 manifestations of the presence of God are taken from the description of the giving of the Law, when “the hills melted like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth” (Psalm 97:5). Dean Stanley refers the imagery to the memorable earthquake mentioned in Amos 1:1 :—“Mountains and valleys are cleft asunder, and melt as in a furnace; the earth heaving like the rising waters of the Nile; the sea bursting over the land; the ground shaking and sliding as, with a succession of shocks, its solid framework reels to and fro like a drunkard” (Jewish Church, Lect. 37).
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 transgression of Jacob . . . the sins of the house of Israel.—The corruption of the country came from the capital cities. Samaria, on her hill, set an example of idolatry, drunkenness, and all the evils of a most profligate society; and even Jerusalem, the city “set on an hill,” gave a home in the Temple of Jehovah to heathen deities.
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) Samaria as an heap of the field.—Samaria was to be reduced to what it had been before the days of Ahab; the palatial city of the kings of the northern kingdom should return to the normal condition of a vineyard, which it had before Shemer sold it to Omri. The fruitfulness of its vines suggests one cause of its ruin. “Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine” (Isaiah 28:1).
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) And all the hires thereof.—The falling away of Israel from her loyalty to God is compared generally by the prophets to a wife deserting her husband; and these “hires” are the offerings made to the shrines of the idols to which the Israelites forsaking Jehovah had transferred their worship. All these treasures shall be destroyed; the Assyrians shall carry them off for the adornment of their temples.
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) Dragons . . . owls.—Literally, jackals and ostriches. They are selected by reason of the dismal howls and screeches they make during the night.
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 is incurable.—The state of Samaria is incurable: she is doomed: the destroyer is approaching—nay, he comes near, even to Jerusalem. The outlying towns are described as shuddering at the invader’s advance, but Jerusalem itself is spared.
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 at Gath.—The prophet lets his lament flow after the strain of David’s elegy, “Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon.” In this passage the parallelism seems to require the name of a town where the English Version has “at all.” But the Hebrew word thus represented may, by the addition of a letter which has dropped out of the text, be rendered “in Accho,” or Ptolemais, now called Acca. The LXX. translation οἱ ἐν Γεθ, μὴ μεγαλύνεσθε οἱ ἐν Ακιμ, μὴ (=οἱ ὲν ἈΚεὶ μή), accords with this reading. The parallelism is thus maintained, and the thought is completed: “Mention not the trouble in our enemies’ cities; bewail it in our own.”
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) Saphir . . . Zaanan.—The sites of these cities, like that of Aphrah, are a matter of conjecture. They were probably south-west of Jerusalem, the prophet following the march of the invading army.
The inhabitant of Zaanan came not forth—i.e., they remained in their city through fear of the enemy.
In the mourning of Beth-ezel.—Rather, the wailing of Beth-ezel shall take from you his standing—i.e., no support will be found in the inhabitants of Beth-ezel.
For the inhabitant of Maroth waited carefully for good: but evil came down from the LORD unto the gate of Jerusalem.(12) Waited carefully.—There are various ways of arriving at the interpretation of the words, but the result is the same. The people of Maroth were in distress; they were grieved at the spoiling of their property; they longed for good, but evil was the Lord’s decree against Jerusalem.
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) Bind the chariot to the swift beast—i.e., make haste to escape with thy goods. Lachish was the most important of the cities enumerated. It was fortified by Rehoboam, and was sought as a refuge by Amaziah from the conspiracy formed against him in Jerusalem. After the capture of the Holy City by Nebuchadnezzar, Lachish alone remained, with Azekah, of the defenced cities of Judah. It appears, from its position as a border city, to have been the channel for introducing into the kingdom of Judah the idolatry set up by Jeroboam in Israel.
Therefore shalt thou give presents to Moreshethgath: the houses of Achzib shall be a lie to the kings of Israel.(14) Give presents—i.e., thou shalt cease to give to Moresheth-gath the protection due from a husband to a wife: thou shalt give her a bill of divorce. The Hebrew word means either the presents sent with a daughter or the dismissal sent to a wife.
Achzib.—A town on the sea-coast between Accho and Tyre. Its name means false, deceptive; it is used of a river drying up, and disappointing the traveller. In like manner Achzib shall fulfil the import of its name, and prove a lie, a broken reed, to the kings of Israel. (See also Jeremiah 15:18, where the prophet asks God, “Wilt Thou be altogether unto me as a liar [Heb., Achzab], as waters that fail?”)
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 an heir.—Rather, the possessor, one who shall take it by force—i.e., Sennacherib.
Mareshah was a city in the plain of Judah, near the prophet’s native place, Moresheth-gath. It was fortified by Rehoboam, and became the scene of Asa’s victory over the immense host of Zerah the Ethiopian. Dr. Robinson is of opinion that after its destruction the town of Eleutheropolis was built out of its materials.
Adullam the glory of Israel.—Adullam, in the neighbourhood of Mareshah, was situated at the base of the hills, and gave its name to the famous cave in which David took refuge. Joshua mentions a king of Adullam in the list of those conquered by the Israelites. This, now the last refuge of the glory of Israel, shall be seized by the invader.
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.—Joel appeals to the land of Judah to go into deep mourning by reason of the loss of her children, slain in war or carried into captivity. The shaving of the head as a token of grief was common amongst Eastern nations, and is distinct from the idolatrous custom of cutting the hair in a peculiar shape denounced by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 9:26, margin), and forbidden by the Jewish Law (Leviticus 19:27-28).
As the eagle.—The Hebrew name for eagle includes the different kinds of vultures. Entire baldness is a marked feature of the vulture.
The terms in which Joel speaks of the entire desolation of the cities of Judah must refer to a more complete calamity than that inflicted by Sennacherib; they rather suit the period of the Babylonian captivity.