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Gustave Doré

Micah Exhorting the Israelites to Repent, from Dore Bible, 1866, Engraving, Internet Archive

Unknown Franco-Flemish artist

Initial V: An Angel before Micah, c.1270, Tempera colours, black ink, and gold leaf on parchment, Leaf: 47 x 32.2 cm, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. Ludwig I 8, v2 (83.MA.57.2), fol. 183, Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program

Unknown Assyrian artist

Sennacherib Watches the Capture of Lachish, 700–692 BCE, Gypsum wall panel, 251.46 x 177.80 cm, The British Museum, London, 1856,0909.14, Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY

‘Warnings, and portents, and evils imminent’

Comparative Commentary by

The Word of the LORD that came to Micah the Morasthite…

That’s it. No mention of Micah’s father, clan, or profession. We are merely told that he is from Moresheth, a town in the Judean lowlands, the rural periphery for which Jerusalem was the urban centre. The only thing the book of Micah tells us about its namesake is that he is from the countryside. He is a peasant, a rustic. A hick.

This Morasthite hick, who appears at the source and origin of classical Hebrew prophecy, never refers to himself as writing anything, nor is he remembered as having written the oracles that now constitute the book that bears his name. Micah is imagined in the book of that accomplished litterateur, the prophet Jeremiah, as every bit the plaintive principal of Gustave Doré’s engraving—haranguing his audience, but not writing to them.

Though his words have come down to us written on a scroll, Micah expressed himself in the spoken word. His métier is that of Orpheus and Muhammad. Micah is not a writer. He is a rapper, albeit quite ‘old school’. He does not write lines: he ‘spits rhymes’, as it were.

Yet Micah the man comes to be effaced by Micah the book. It is only in the first three chapters of that book that we come close to Micah the man, depicted in the Vulgate illumination as an insomniac to whom the Word of the LORD comes in the night, delivered by a winged angel.

The Latin Vulgate has captured the force of the original Hebrew: Verbum Domini quod factum est ad Micham = Yahweh ašer hāyāh el Mîkāh; literally, ‘The Word of the LORD, which happened to Micah’. The Word is uncanny, unpredictable, an event that Lloyds of London would have formally referred to as an ‘Act of God’. The prophet’s vocation is not his volition; it is not something that he has sought, but something that has sought, and found, him. It invades his privacy—that still, small voice that comes to rob him of his rest.

Prophecy, the message of the prophet, is not his own. Or at least, that disclaimer must be his claim: the prophet’s lips move, but it is God who speaks—God, that Great Ventriloquist in the Sky. What the prophet His hand puppet says is what the LORD says (Micah 2:3; 3:5).

Later ages would remember Micah’s prophecy as both repudiated and vindicated.

Repudiated, because the books of Chronicles would claim that God answered the prayers of King Hezekiah and his court prophet, Isaiah, by restraining Sennacherib from doing to Jerusalem what he did to Lachish (2 Chronicles 32:20–22). The Chronicler thus suggests that the tardy piety of a couple of contrite elites could forestall the justice due a society that allowed its ruling class to eat its impoverished masses alive (Micah 3:3).

Vindicated, because the Babylonians, the imperial successors to the Assyrians, would ultimately wreak upon Jerusalem the catastrophe gruesomely depicted in the Lachish Relief, consigning its princes, priests, and prophets to the dustbin of history.

But the elites would exact a posthumous revenge. Micah’s oracles would come to be curated by the descendants of the very class they came into existence to condemn, and the book of Micah would thereby become an heirloom of its despised heirs.

Modern scholars argue that later revanchist redactors have interpolated this prophecy of divine restoration—so incongruous with his outrage—into the Morasthite hick’s oracles of judgment.

I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob, I will gather the survivors of Israel; I will set them together like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture; it will resound with people. The one who breaks out will go up before them; they will break through and pass the gate, going out by it. Their king will pass on before them, the Lord at their head. (Micah 2:12–13)

It is those ancient, anonymous custodians of Micah’s oracles—oracles written on a long scroll, along with other oracles that he could not have spoken let alone written—who have written into Micah’s denunciations this grandiose post-exilic promise to Make Israel Great Again.

 

References

Cuffey, Kenneth H. 2015. The Literary Coherence of the Book of Micah: Remnant, Restoration, and Promise, LHBOTS (London: T&T Clark)

Jacobs, Mignon R. 2006. ‘Bridging the Times: Trends in Micah Studies since 1985’, Currents in Biblical Research 4.3: 293–329

Wagenaar, Jan A. 2001. Judgement and Salvation: The Composition and Redaction of Micah 2–5, Vetus Testamentum, Supplements, vol. 85 (Leiden: Brill)