Micah, Part 2

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Micah’s first chapter opens with a condemnation of idolatry in Shomron (Samaria) and a prophecy of its destruction.  However, the judgment isn’t solely against Shomron; it is addressed to all the peoples.  Shomron is to be an example of what happens to idolatrous peoples–peoples who worship on the “high places”.  As is so common among the prophets, punishments are a prelude to potential blessings.  In this case, the destruction of Shomron creates the potential for prosperity in the area.  In an agricultural reference to burning and plowing a field before planting it, Micah (1:6) writes,
Therefore I will make Shomron a heap in the open country, a place for planting vineyards, and I will pour down her stones into the valley and uncover her foundations.
Destruction creates the potential for fruitfulness.  The two cannot be separated.  Yesheyahu (Isaiah) wrote along similar lines in noting the necessity of destruction to producing a righteous people:
Give ear, and hear my voice;
    give attention, and hear my speech.
Does he who plows for sowing plow continually?
    Does he continually open and harrow his ground?
When he has leveled its surface,
    does he not scatter dill, sow cumin,
and put in wheat in rows
    and barley in its proper place,
    and emmer as the border?
For he is rightly instructed;
    his God teaches him.
Dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge,
    nor is a cart wheel rolled over cumin,
but dill is beaten out with a stick,
    and cumin with a rod.
Does one crush grain for bread?
    No, he does not thresh it forever;
when he drives his cart wheel over it
    with his horses, he does not crush it. 
This also comes from the Lord of hosts;
    he is wonderful in counsel
    and excellent in wisdom.
-Yesheyahu 28:23-29

Chapter two outlines the specifics of Yehudah’s wickedness.  As most prophets did, Micah condemns idolatry, and like other southern prophets, Micah is especially concerned with corruption among the members of the upper class:

They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away; they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance. –Micah 2:2
More interesting, though is that the passage in which this verse occurs draws a contrast with Devarim.  While a righteous people remember HaShem and His Law when they rise up and when the go down and when they walk by the way (Devarim 6:4-7), Micah finds himself condemning “those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds,” and then act on such plans “when the morning dawns,” rejecting HaShem and His Torah both at their going down and rising up.
This passage is also a comparison to an episode in the story of Achav (Ahab), who in 1 Melechim (1 Kings) 21, on the action of his idolatrous wife, Yezevel (Jezebel), murdered Navot (Naboth) in order to seize a vineyard the man refused to sell to Achav. Micah 2:2 is a summary of the episode, as Achav coveted the vineyard, permitted Yezevel to have Navot oppressed (falsely condemned and executed), and seized the vineyard that had been denied him on the grounds that it was Navot’s family inheritance.
Micah is hardly the only prophet to compare himself or his time to those of Eliyahu (Elijah) or Elishai (Elisha), let alone other individuals found in Shoftim, Melechim, or D’Vrei haYomim (Judges, Kings, or Chronicles, respectively).  In this case, though, the comparison is particularly apt.  King Achav faced invasion by the Syrians, under the leadership of Ben Hadad.  Achav permitted Ben Hadad’s men to carry off Achav’s wives, children, and wealth as tribute.  But, as the saying goes, “If you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.”  Ben Hadad’s men returned, and having seen all that Achav possessed on their previous visit, demanded the rest.  On the advice of the elders, Achav refused the second demand and faced Ben Hadad on the battlefield.  As a sign intended to draw Achav back to HaShem, Achav was assured victory by a prophet.  In a similar show, Achaz (Hizkiyahu’s father) was given Hizkiyahu as a sign of HaShem’s supremacy, according to Yesheyahu 7.

Later, after Achav took Navot’s vineyard, Eliyahu confronted Achav about it.  Achav, we are told was the wickedest of Israel’s kings, yet his repentance following Eliyahu’s condemnation was sufficient to earn him a measure of mercy.  Achav would keep his crown, but disaster would befall his descendants.  Indeed, Achav’s descendants were slaughtered at the instigation of Eliyahu’s successor Elishai.
In this passage of Micah, Micah appears to address Hizkiyahu.  Like Achav, Hizkiyahu has made the fatal mistake of showing the Assyrian king’s emissaries his wealth.  Like Achav, Hizkiyahu ruled over times of famine in the Shomron. Like Achav, Hizkiyahu faces the difficult proposition of avoiding conquest by a powerful aggressor.  Like Achav, Hizkiyahu repents his miscalculation and is granted peace in his time on the understanding that the can has simply been kicked down the road.  The parallels are particularly noteworthy because Hizkiyahu is a descendent of Omri, who toppled the house of Achav.  Another prophet later declared the Omride dynasty so corrupt that its destruction by Assyria would be divine retribution for the destruction of Achav’s heirs. 
The richness of the comparison is all designed to drive home and build up the idea that the coming conquest will be the fulfillment of 1 Melechim 20:42:
And he [the prophet] said to him [Achav], “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall be for his life, and your people for his people.’”
Nonetheless, there will be a return.  The land has been rendered unclean, and must be vacated to be cleansed and purified.  The remnant that survives the expulsion will one day return, as so vividly described by Yehezkiel (Ezekiel) in a later generation.
To be cleansed, the corrupt judges, priests, and prophets will be silenced; HaShem will remove His Name from among them; and Tzion, Jerusalem, and the Temple will be destroyed (3:11-12).  But the Return would be glorious, supported by many nations, and the remnant placed in a position of power (as they were in their return under Persian rule).
Chapter 5 foretells the emergence of either a great Davidic king (David having been from Bethlechem Ephratah) or a great judge and prophet like Shmuel (Samuel), also a Bethlechem Ephrathite.
However, chapter 5 is primarily concerned with the conquest of Assyria.  The chapter anticipates Yehudah being at the head of an alliance against the Assyrians—an effort that was ultimately abortive, making this part of the averted prophecy.  However, Assyria was ultimately conquered by Chaldea, and we are told by Yermiyahu that the deposed and exiled king Yeconiah (or Coniyahu or Yehoyaquin, depending on where you look) was placed in charge of the other kings conquered by Chaldea.  At the same time, Yermiyahu instructed the exiled Israelites on how to live peaceably in the situation they found themselves and went with the Israelites that fled to Egypt to serve as their priest.  In a sense either one of those men could fulfill the role of being “the peace” described at 5:5, just later than Micah anticipated.  Micah’s prophecy at 5:8 that “the remnant of Yacov shall be among the gentiles in the midst of many people as a lion among the beasts of the forest” was also fulfilled after its aversion with Yeconiah’s role in Babylon.  The bringing low of Israel foretold in this chapter did indeed coincide with the conquest of Israel’s regional enemies—another prophecy that was ultimately fulfilled with the Chaldean conquest, and included the destruction of all the local shrines and places of idol worship.
Chapter 6 returns to Torah, reminding the reader of all that HaShem has done and that the point is for us to follow the Law, not to bribe HaShem with offerings.  Interestingly, the chapter concludes thus:
You shall eat, but not be satisfied,
    and there shall be hunger within you;
you shall put away, but not preserve,
    and what you preserve I will give to the sword.
You shall sow, but not reap;
    you shall tread olives, but not anoint yourselves with oil;
    you shall tread grapes, but not drink wine.
For you have kept the statutes of Omri,
    and all the works of the house of Ahab;
    and you have walked in their counsels,
that I may make you a desolation, and your inhabitants a hissing;
    so you shall bear the scorn of my people.
 -Micah 6:14-16
This passage wraps together three concepts.  First, it bears contrast to Devarim 6:10-12:
 “And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
Now the tables have turned, and the Israelites will sow and not reap.  Second, Micah completes and makes explicit the parallel between the house of Achav and the House of Omri.  The acceptance and adoption of their corrupt ways by the people are the source of Israel’s downfall.  Third, because of the wickedness of the people and their leaders, the land will be laid waste and her people mocked.  This final concept concludes that Israel will receive the curses laid out in Devarim 28.  The whole thing could be paraphrased as a legislative resolution:
·      Whereas the wicked forfeit the fruits of their labor as the price of their misdeeds, and
·      Whereas the Israelites have adopted and perpetuated the wickedness of both Achav and Omri in preference to the righteousness instructed by Torah,
·      Therefore be it resolved that the Israelites will suffer the same fate as their predecessors in the land, and
·      Therefore be it further resolved that the Israelites will suffer the curses enumerated in the Torah to which they committed themselves in the Covenant.
Micah presents the reasoning of HaShem’s decision with expressions that communicate frustration and disappointment, but he is, nonetheless, making a legal case:  HaShem has upheld his end of the Covenant, and the Israelites have not.  The outcome is a foregone conclusion.
Chapter 7 begins very much like something out of Tehillim and bears a message similar to that found in Yermiyahu.  Indeed, the conflict discussed among family members and the treachery of friends and lovers bears a striking resemblance to Yesheyahu 9:4 and 12:6 in its description of social chaos.  It also brings to mind the story of Samson, who learned the hard way to “…keep the doors of your mouth from her that lies in your bosom” (7:5), and Israel, like Samson, will be destroyed in the rubble of its idols.
However, chapter 7 also bears a message of hope.  It describes a return from exile (and from disgrace) that will rival HaShem’s leading Israel out of Egypt.  Later, Yermiyahu would echo this sentiment:
Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries. 
-Yermiyahu 16:14-15

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