Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! when the morning is light, they practise it, because it is in the power of their hand.
Verses 1-5. ? § 6. The prophet justifies his threat by recounting the sins of which the grandees and guilty. Verse 1. - The prophet, himself one of the people, first inveighs against the sins of injustice and oppression of the poor. Devise... work... practise. A gradation. They are not led into these sins by others; they themselves conceive the evil purpose in their own heart; then they prepare and mature their scheme by reflection; then they proceed to execute it. Work evil; i.e. prepare the means for carrying out their conception (comp Isaiah 41:4). Upon their beds. At night, the natural time for reflection (comp. Job 4:13; Psalm 4:4; Psalm 36:4). Is light. Far from shrinking from the light of day in putting into effect their evil projects, they set about their accomplishment as soon as ever the morning allows them. Because it is in the power of their hand. Their might makes their right. (For the phrase, comp. Genesis 31:29; Proverbs 3:27.) As the word el may be taken to mean "God" as well as "power," some render here, "For their hand is their god," comparing the boast of Mezentius in Virgil, 'AEneid,' 10:773 -
"Dextra mihi Deus et telum quod missile libro." The Vulgate has, Quoniam contra Deum est manus eorum; LXX., Διότιοὐκ η΅ραν πρὸς τὸν Θεὸν χεῖρας αὐτῶν, Because they lifted not up their hands unto God." So the Syriac, with the omission of the negative.
And they covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage.
Verse 2. - They carry out by open violence the fraud which they have devised and planned (comp. Isaiah 5:8; Amos 4:1). Covet fields. Compare the case of Ahab and Naboth (1 Kings 21.). The commandment against coveting (Exodus 20:17) taught the Jews that God regarded sins of thought as well as of action. The Law forbade the alienation of landed property and the transfer of estates from tribe to tribe (Leviticus 25:23-28; Numbers 36:7). A rich man might buy a poor man's estate subject to the law of jubilee; but these grandees seem to have forced the sale of property, or else seized it by force or fraud. Oppress; Vulgate, calumniabantur. The Hebrew word involves the idea of violence.
Therefore thus saith the LORD; Behold, against this family do I devise an evil, from which ye shall not remove your necks; neither shall ye go haughtily: for this time is evil.
Verse 3. - The sin shall be followed by its appropriate punishment. As they devised evil, God will devise a penalty. This family. The whole people (Amos 3:1). An evil. A chastisement, a judgment (Amos 3:6). Ye. The prophet suddenly addresses them, the "family." Your necks. He speaks of the calamity as a heavy, galling yoke, from which they should be unable to free themselves (comp. Hosea 10:11). This yoke is their conquest and exile at the hands of foreigners (comp. Jeremiah 27:12). Haughtily. With head erect. Septuagint, ὀρθοί. Their pride shall be brought low. This time is evil; full of calamity, which is announced in the following verses. The words occur in Amos 5:13, but the evil there spoken of is moral (comp. Ephesians 5:16).
In that day shall one take up a parable against you, and lament with a doleful lamentation, and say, We be utterly spoiled: he hath changed the portion of my people: how hath he removed it from me! turning away he hath divided our fields.
Verse 4. - In that day. The evil time mentioned in ver. 3. A parable (mashal); probably here "a taunting song." The enemy shall use the words in which Israel laments her calamity as a taunt against her (Habakkuk 2:6). And lament with a doleful lamentation. The Hebrew gives a remarkable alliteration, Nahah nehi niheyah; Septuagint, Θρηνηθήσεται θρῆνος ἐν μέλει, "Lament a lamentation with melody;" Vulgate, Cantabitur canticum cum suavitate; "Wail a wail of woe." (Pusey). The Syriac coincides with the LXX. By taking the three words as cognates, we get a very forcible sentence; but most modern commentators consider niheyah not a feminine formation, butniph. of the substantive verb hayah; hence the words would mean, "Lament with the lamentation;" "It is done," they shall say; "we are utterly spoiled." Thus Cheyne. The lamentation begins with "It is done," and continues to the end of the verse. The verbs are used impersonally - "one shall take up," "one shall lament," "one shall say;" but it is plain that the last two refer to the Jews who shall utter the given dirge, which in turn shall be repeated as a taunt by the enemy. We are utterly spoiled. According to the second of the explanations of the preceding clause, these words expand and define the despairing cry, "It is done!" In the other case, they are the commencement of the lamentation. Septuagint, Ταλαιπωρίᾳ ἐταλαιπωρήσαμεν, "We are miserably miserable." The complaint is twofold. First, the once flourishing condition of Israel is changed to ruin and desolation. Secondly, He hath changed (changeth) the portion of my people. This is the second calamity: he, Jehovah, passes our inheritance over to the hands of others; the land of Canaan, pledged to us, is transferred to our enemies. Septuagint κτεμετρήθη ἐν σχοινίῳ, "hath been measured with a line." How hath he removed it [the portion] from me! This is better than the alternative rendering, "How doth he depart from me?" Turning away he hath divided our fields; rather, to an apostate he divideth our fields. The apostate is the King of Assyria or Chaldea; and he is so named as being a rebel against Jehovah, whom he might have known by the light of natural religion (comp. Micah 5:15; Romans 1:20). This was fulfilled later by the colonization of Samaria by a mixed population.
Therefore thou shalt have none that shall cast a cord by lot in the congregation of the LORD.
Verse 5. - Therefore thou. BECAUSE thou, the tyrannical, oppressive grandee (vers. 1, 2), hast dealt with thy neighbour's land unjustly, therefore thou shalt have none that shall cast a cord (the line) by lot (for a lot); i.e. thou shalt have no more inheritance in Israel. The "line" is the measuring line used in dividing land, as Amos 7:17. The reference is to the original distribution of the land by lot in Joshua's time (see Joshua 14:2, etc.). In the congregation of the Lord. The Lord's own people, whose polity was now about to be dissolved. Hitzig, Reuss, and Orelli suppose that this verse contains a threat against Micah himself on the part of the ungodly Jews, intimating that they will punish him for presuming to prophesy against them, and that he shall die without leaving children. But this seems far fetched and inadmissible.
Prophesy ye not, say they to them that prophesy: they shall not prophesy to them, that they shall not take shame.
Verses 6-11. - § 7. The threat announced in ver. 3 is further vindicated and applied to individual sinners, with a glance at the false prophets who taught the people to love lies. Verse 6. - Prophesy ye not; literally, drop ye not, as Amos 7:16 (where see note). The speakers are generally supposed to be the false prophets who wish to stop the mouths of Micah and those who are like minded with him. This is probably correct; but these are not the only speakers; the people themselves, the oppressing grandees, who side with the popularity hunting seers, are also included (see note on ver. 12). Say they to them that prophesy; rather, thus they prophesy (drop). Micah uses their own word sarcastically, "Do not be always rebuking; Thus they rebuke." The rest of the verse belongs to the same speakers, and should be rendered, "They shall not prophesy of these things; reproaches never cease." The great men and the false prophets complain of the true prophets that they are always proclaiming misfortune and rebuking the people, and they bid them leave such denunciations alone for the future. The passage is very difficult, and its interpretation has greatly exercised commentators; the above is virtually the explanation of Ewald, Hitzig, Caspari, and Cheyne. Orelli makes the two last clauses Micah's answer to the interdict of the adversaries, "Should one not prophesy of these things? Should reproaches (against the true prophets) never cease?" We prefer the interpretations given above, and consider the prophet's reply to be given in the next verse.
O thou that art named the house of Jacob, is the spirit of the LORD straitened? are these his doings? do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?
Verse 7. - The prophet answers the interdict of the speakers in the preceding verse by showing that God's attributes are unchanged, but that the sins of the people constrain him to punish. O thou that art named the house of Jacob. Other renderings of these words are given, viz. "Ah! what a saying!" or, "Is this a thing to be said, O house of Jacob?" The versions of the LXX., Ὀ λέγων οϊκος Ἰακὼβ κ.τ.λ., and of the Vulgate, Dicit domus Jacob, do not suit the Hebrew. If we adopt the rendering of the Authorized Version, we must consider that Micah addresses those who gloried in their privilege as the family of Jacob, though they had ceased to be what he was, believing and obedient. "O ye who are only in name and title the chosen nation" (comp. Isaiah 48:1; John 8:33, 39). Professor Driver (Expositor, April, 1887) obtains the very suitable meaning, Num dicendum, "Shall it be said, O house of Jacob, Is the ear of the Lord shortened?" etc., by the change of a vowel point. Somewhat similarly Orelli, "Is this the speech of the house of Jacob?" viz. - Should Jehovah be impatient (as these threats declare him to be)? or were these his doings? The following clause is Jehovah's answer to the objection. Is the Spirit of the Lord straitened? or, shortened. Is he less long suffering than Jehovah of heretofore? Will you accuse Jehovah of impatience? "Shortness" of spirit is opposed to longanimity (see Proverbs 14:29). Are these his doings? Are these judgments and chastisements his usual doings that which he delights in? Is the cause of them in him? Is it not in you (Lamentations 3:33; Ezekiel 33:11; Micah 7:18)? Do not my words do good, etc.? This may be Jehovah's answer to the previous questions, or Micah's refutation of the complaint. The Lord's word is good, his action is a blessing, but only to him who does his commandments (Psalm 18:25, 26; Psalm 25:10; Psalm 103:17, etc.; Luke 1:50).
Even of late my people is risen up as an enemy: ye pull off the robe with the garment from them that pass by securely as men averse from war.
Verse 8. - Even of late; but of late; literally, yesterday, implying an action recent and repeated. Septuagint, ἔμπροσθεν, "before;" Vulgate, e contrario. The prophet exemplifies the iniquity which has led God to punish. They are not old offences which the Lord is visiting, but sins of recent and daily occurrence. My people is risen up as an enemy. A reading, varying by a letter or two, is rendered, "But against my people one setteth himself." But them is no valid reason for altering the received text; especially as, according to Ewald, the present reading may be taken in a causative sense "They set up my people as an enemy," i.e. the grandees treat the Lord's people as enemies, robbing and plundering them. This translation obviates the difficulty of referring the words, "my people," in this verse to the oppressor, and in ver. 7 to the oppressed. According to the usual view, and retaining the authorized rendering, the meaning is that the princes exhibit themselves as enemies of the Lord by their acts of violence and oppression, which the prophet proceeds to particularize. Septuagint, Ὀ λαός μου εἰς ἔχθραν ἀντέστη, "My people withstood as an enemy." Ye pull off the robe with the garment; ye violently strip off the robe away from the garment. The "robe" (eder) is the wide cloak, the mantle sufficient to wrap the whole person, and which was often of very costly material. The "garment" (salmah) is the principal inner garment, or tunic. There may be an allusion to the enactment which forbade a creditor retaining the pledged garment during the night (Exodus 22:26, etc.). Septuagint, Κατέναντι τῆς εἰρήνης αὐτοῦ τὴν δορὰν αὐτοῦ ἐξέδειραν, "Against his peace they stripped off his skin." From them that pass by securely as men averse from war. This is probably the correct translation. The grandees rob those who are peaceably disposed, perhaps strip their debtors of their cloaks as they pass quietly along the road. The versions vary considerably from the received Hebrew text. The LXX. (with which the Syriac partially agrees) has, Τοῦ ἀφελέσθαι ἐλπίδας συντριμμὸν πολέμου, "To remove hope in the destruction of war;" Vulgate, Eos qui transibant simpliciter convertistis in bellum. From this rendering Trochon derives the paraphrase - Ye treat them as if they were prisoners of war. Hitzig considers that the reference is to fugitives from the northern kingdom who passed through Judaea in their endeavour to escape the evils of the war, leaving wives and children in the hands of the Judaeans. But these treated the refugees harshly.
The women of my people have ye cast out from their pleasant houses; from their children have ye taken away my glory for ever.
Verse 9. - The women of my people. The prophet refers to the widows, who ought to have been protected and cared for (comp. Isaiah 10:2). The LXX., with which the Arabic agrees, renders, ἡγούμενοι λαοῦ μου, "the leaders of my people." Have ye cast out. The word expresses a violent expulsion, as Genesis 3:24. Their pleasant houses; literally, the house of their delights (Micah 1:16). The house which was very dear to them, the scene of all their joys. My glory. All the privileges which they enjoyed as God's people and his peculiar care are called "the ornament" of the Lord (comp. Ezekiel 16:14). The "glory" is by some commentators, but not so appositely, referred to vesture exclusively. These fatherless children had been ruthlessly stripped of their blessings either by being forced to grow up in want and ignorance, or by being sold into slavery and carried away from their old religious associations. Forever. The oppressors never repented or tried to make restitution; and so they incurred the special woe of those who injure the poor, the fatherless, and the widow (Pusey). The Septuagint has no connection with the present Hebrew text of this verse, reading, Ἐγγίσατε ὄρεσιν αἰωνίοις, "Draw ye near to the everlasting hills," and previously introducing a gloss, Διὰ τὰ πονηρὰ ἐπιτηδεύματα αὐτῶν ἐξώσθησαν, "They were rejected because of their evil practices." Jerome explains the Greek mystically, despairing of the literal interpretation in its present connection.
Arise ye, and depart; for this is not your rest: because it is polluted, it shall destroy you, even with a sore destruction.
Verse 10. - Arise ye, and depart. The prophet pronounces the oppressors' punishment - they shall be banished from their land, even as they have torn others from their home. This is not your rest. Canaan had been given as a resting place to Israel (Deuteronomy 12:9, 10; Joshua 1:13; Psalm 95:11), but it should be so no longer. Because it is polluted. The land is regarded as polluted by the sins of its inhabitants. The idea is often found; e.g. Leviticus 18:25, 28; Numbers 35:33; Jeremiah 2:7. It shall destroy you, even with a sore destruction. The land is said to destroy when it ejects its inhabitants, as though the inanimate creation rose in judgment against the sinners. The Revised Version, with Keil and others, translates, Because of uncleanness that destroyeth, even with a grievous destruction; Septuagint, Διεφθάρητε φθορᾷ, "Ye were utterly destroyed;" Vulgate, Propter immunditiam ejus corrumpetur putredine pessima. The Authorized Version is correct.
If a man walking in the spirit and falsehood do lie, saying, I will prophesy unto thee of wine and of strong drink; he shall even be the prophet of this people.
Verse 11. - Such prophets as speak unwelcome truths are not popular with the grandees; they like only these who pander to their vices and prophesy lies. This was their crowning sin. If a man walking in the spirit and falsehood do lie. "The spirit and falsehood" may be a hendiadys for "a spirit of falsehood," or "a lying spirit," as 1 Kings 22:22 (comp. Ezekiel 13:2, 3, 17). But it is better to render, If a man walking after (conversant with) the wind and falsehood do lie. Wind is symbolical of all that is vain and worthless, as Isaiah 26:18; Isaiah 41:29. The Septuagint introduces a gloss from Leviticus 26:17, Κατεδιώχθητε οὐδενὸς διώκοντος, "Ye fled, no one pursuing you," and translates the above clause, πνεῦμα ἔστησε ψεῦδος: "spiritus statuit mendacium, i.e. finem posuit mendacii" (St. Jerome); Vulgate, Utinam non essem vir habens spiritum et mendacium potius loquerer. I will prophesy unto thee, etc. These are the words of a false prophet, "Prophesy," "drop," as ver. 6. Of vine and of strong drink. Concerning temporal blessings, dwelling on God's promises of material prosperity (Leviticus 26:4, etc.; Deuteronomy 28:4, 11) in order to encourage the grandees in self-indulgence. He shall even be the prophet of this people. Such a one is the only prophet to whom the great men, the representatives of "this people," will listen.
I will surely assemble, O Jacob, all of thee; I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together as the sheep of Bozrah, as the flock in the midst of their fold: they shall make great noise by reason of the multitude of men.
Verses 12, 13 - § 8. Promise of restorations and deliverance. Verse 12. - The prophet, without any preface, introduces abruptly a promise of restoration after exile, a type of the triumph of Messiah. Some commentators, indeed, regard this and the following verso as the language of the false prophets; others, as a denunciation of punishment, not a promise of deliverance; others, as a late interpolation. But the style is entirely Micah's (comp. Micah 4:6, 7), the promise is a true one, and such like sudden transitions are common in the prophetical books (comp. e.g. Isaiah 4:2-6; Hosea 1:10; Hosea 11:9; Amos 9:11); so that we need not resort to the hypothesis that some connecting link has dropped out of the text, or that the clause is misplaced; and we are fully justified in considering the paragraph as inserted here in its right position, and as predictive of the restoration of the Jews after captivity. Micah would seem to imply - I am not, indeed, as one of the false prophets who promise you earthly good without regard to your moral fitness for receiving God's bounty; neither am I one who has no message but of woe and calamity; I, too, predict salvation and happiness for a remnant of you after you have been tried by defeat and exile. I will surely assemble. This presupposes dispersion among the heathen, such as is foretold in Micah 1:8, etc.; Micah 2:4, etc. O Jacob, all of thee. The promise extends to the whole nation, whether called Jacob or Israel, as Micah 1:5; but still only a remnant, i.e. that portion of the nation which should make a good use of adversity, and turn to the Lord with sincere repentance (comp. Isaiah 10:20, etc.; Jeremiah 31:8; Ezekiel 34:11, etc.; Zephaniah 3:12,. etc.). Some see in the term "remnant" an allusion to the people that were left in the northern kingdom after the fall of Samaria. As the sheep of Bozrah. There were two or more towns so named - one in Sidon, for which see note on Amos 1:12; and another, hod. Buzrah, on the south border of the Hauran. This is mentioned in Jeremiah 48:24, as one of the cities of Moab, a district celebrated for its flocks (2 Kings 3:4); hence "sheep of Bozrah" may have become a proverbial saying. Many commentators take Botsrah as an appellative, meaning "fold," in agreement with the Vulgate, quasi gregem in ovili, and Chaldee, as well as Aquila and Symmachus. The parallelism in the following words seems to favour this view. The LXX. reads differently, rendering, ἐν θλίψει, "in trouble." Thus, too, the Syriac. As the flock in the midst of their fold; rather, as a flock in the midst of its pasture. They shall make great noise, etc. Like a numerous flock bleating in its fold, so shall the returned Israelites be, prosperous and happy, celebrating their salvation with praise and exultation (comp. Ezekiel 34:31). Septuagint, Ἐξαλοῦνται ἐξ ἀνθρώπων, "They shall leap forth from among men," which St. Jerome explains as meaning that the repentant Israelites shall rise above worldly things and aspire to heaven.
The breaker is come up before them: they have broken up, and have passed through the gate, and are gone out by it: and their king shall pass before them, and the LORD on the head of them.
Verse 13. - The breaker is come (gone) up before them. Micah depicts Israel's redemption under the figure of release from captivity. The passage is clearly Messianic, and can neither be considered an interpolation nor tortured into a declaration of the siege and ruin of Samaria or Jerusalem. "One that breaketh" is a liberator, a leader that overcomes all obstacles which oppose Israel's return. There may be an allusion in the first instance to a human leader, such as Zerubbabel, in analogy with Moses and Joshua in old time, but the real conqueror intended is generally regarded as Messiah. The Breaker up is supposed to be a title of the Messiah well known to the Jews (see Pusey; and Pearson, 'Exposition of the Creed,' art. 7, note y). This interpretation is rejected by Professor Driver (Expositor, April 1887), who considers the "breaker up" to be "either a leader or a detachment of men, whose duty it was to break up walls or other obstacles opposing the progress of an army." But is not this to introduce an agency unknown to these times? Was there any special body of men trained and maintained for this particular duty? This "breaker up," according to Dr. Driver's conception, "advances before them, breaking through the gates of the prison in which the people are confined; they follow, marching forth triumphantly through this open way; their king, with Jehovah at his side (Psalm 110:5), heads the victorious procession (Exodus 13:21; Isaiah 52:12)? They have broken up; broken forth, or through. The captives cooperate with their leader. Have passed through the gate, etc. The prophet speaks of a solemn, regular removal, like the Exodus from Egypt, which no human power can oppose. Their king. The same as Jehovah in the next clause (Isaiah 33:22). He shall lead the host, as he headed the Israelites when they left the house of bondage (Exodus 13:21). The prediction may look forward to the final gathering of Israel, which St. Paul seems to contemplate when he writes, "And so all Israel shall be saved" (Romans 11:26).