Historical Background:

Micah’s first verse is a timestamp that would seem to make it much easier for us to know when the text was historically composed. Sadly, this timestamp is actually not as helpful as we would hope. Micah the prophet is remembered by Israel as a prophet who proclaimed a message against Jerusalem around the same time as Isaiah, as attested to by Jeremiah’s quotation of Micah,[1] but most of the sections and word usages in the text of Micah reveal it to be composed at a date much later than the 8th century BCE.

There are a number of interesting characteristics about the Micah text, but surely the most striking is that Micah 4:1-4 is a near exact script as that of Isaiah 2:2-4. The reality that this prophetic pericope was able to be applied to both the composition of the Isaiah and Micah texts lends credence to the likelihood that Isaiah is a patchwork composition of prophetic sayings and texts held onto throughout the centuries and later attributed to the memory of the prophet Isaiah. This prophetic saying being used in Micah make me initially inclined to approach the Micah text with a similar expectation, there may be some older sections to it but there will be a number of later attributions to the memory of prophet from long before.

My expectation is then fulfilled by a number of word usages that indicate Exilic or Post-Exilic language in most sections, thereby pushing the likely final composition of Micah into that same time period. Here are some of the examples I came across:

  • 1) Describing the nations as jackals and ostriches in 1:8-9 is prophetic terminology only used in later texts.[2]
  • 2) The conceptual language of “God is King” primarily comes out of the Exilic and Post-Exilic texts.[3]
  • 3) The references to exile,[4] the return,[5] and Jewish hopes for the return of the Davidic king of former, ancient days[6] also speak of the post-Exilic period.
  • 4) Lastly, there are plenty of names throughout Micah[7] that individually are just possible references select stories in Israel’s collective memories.[8] But put together these names come from across Genesis, Exodus, and even Numbers, which would indicate the expected audience of the Micah text would be familiar with the compiled Books of Moses and were being circulated in the mid-5th century BCE.

This last point is quite convincing and leads me to date the final compilation of the book of Micah as sometime in the 4th century BCE.

 

Literary Synopsis:

The purpose of the Micah text is similar to many of the post-Exilic Jewish texts; to theologically come to grips with the reality of the Exile while maintaining their beliefs that God is the all-powerful Creator god and that the Creator had specially chosen Israel his own worshipping people. Micah is partially a theodicy, explaining why the Exile came against the people of Israel, both the northern and southern kingdoms. A major theme is dedicated to making clear that both of the capital cities, Samaria and Jerusalem, had given themselves to idolatry and ways of life contrary to God’s teachings, such as greediness, oppression, and violence.[9]

There is a second theme about the promise of God after judgement in which God will gather a remnant of his people and return them to the land, allowing them to rebuild the temple at Zion, that is Jerusalem.[10] This back and forth of judgment and renewal is meant to reveal and instill the hope that God is the king over his people. He is able to lead them back into a time of blessing where they will not fear of any other nation as long as God’s people learn to obey him rather than rebel as they did in the past.[11]

Thirdly, there is a theme similar to one found in Zechariah. The Micah text includes a strong desire to see God express his kingly rule through restoring the Davidic kingship of old.[12] This new David will, of course, rally the exiles throughout the world to overthrow their oppressors and execute vengeance on the nations by divine empowerment.[13]

The last, and primary, thrust of the Micah is encourage the Jews in the 2nd Temple era to obey the teachings of God. This is indicated by many references to God’s empowerment and leadership of the people through individuals like Moses, Aaron, and Miram, especially in the face of opposing kings and other religious peoples, like Balak and Balaam.[14] The hope of the Jews is that the God of the Exodus[15] and the Patriarchs[16] is a God of unfailing love, or more clearly, fully devoted to being faithful to the covenant he has made with Israel. God will always save his people, even from themselves.

 

Observations:

  1. There is a similarity in Micah’s call to obey the teachings of God while keeping in mind doing these things is about being dedicated to living a life faithful and right before God as a creature made by him and taught by him how to live within his Creation[17] and King Jesus’ statement to the leaders in Jerusalem that they should keep both the smallest parts of the Law while still leading God’s people in justice, mercy, and faithfulness.[18]
  2. It is also interesting that the dedication of the firstborn in Micah 6:7 is depicted as a sacrifice given to God as a substitution for the sins of the child’s father. Something that has been surprising in this study has been that the Exile seemed to create, or at least strongly emphasize, the idea that human sacrifice, whether as punishment for sin or as a substitute for sin, was a viable form of sacrifice by God or to God. The dedication of the firstborn is linked to the Passover sacrifice. God spared the firstborn of Israel by protecting them from Death so their lives are to be a sacrifice to God in dedicated service.[19] The Passover lamb’s sacrifice took the place of the life of the firstborn. Later, the whole tribe of Levi is taken as the substitute in the place of the firstborns to be forced into dedicated service to God.[20] Micah’s quick statement about the dedication of the firstborn as a man giving the fruit of his body for the sin of his life gives an indication of what 2nd Temple Jews were interpreting the sacrificial practices to mean.
  3. King Jesus also quotes Micah 7:6, the text about a man’s enemies being the people of his own family, when explaining that his followers would find harsh persecution at the hands of those they live with.[21] King Jesus seems clear that he is bringing about the moment when this inter-family destruction takes place. In Micah, when such a chaotic time comes judgement and punishment from God are soon to follow. The faithful dedication of King Jesus’ followers bring about an intense moment of obedience or rebellion in the people of God, forcing them to choose to obey God through following King Jesus or rebelling against God by choosing their temple system and aspirations instead. Later on, King Jesus makes this warning explicit in his teachings in the temple and the leaders make their choice.
  4. Lastly, Paul uses the phrase “For he is our peace…” in Ephesians 2:14, which sounds very near to Micah 5:5, “And he will be, this one, peace…” This text in Micah is all about the coming of the Davidic king who would bring back the remaining Jewish exiles scattered through the world by the oppressing empire, and we know that Christians would use this text to talk about Jesus in relation to Bethlehem.[22] Paul uses this phrase in Ephesians as he is arguing that in the cross those both far and near into a united in one new kingdom of Israel. This quotation of Micah 5:5 by Paul in Ephesians would then be another time he uses an OT text about the return of the exiles to be about King Jesus’ inclusion of the gentiles into the people of God.[23]

 

 

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This post is a part of a Read-Through project in which I am reading through biblical and extra-biblical literature. I’m reading the texts in an order based on a couple of timelines I compiled. If you would like to join me on this journey the timelines are available, as well as my prior posts. Each one gives some historical background, a literary synopsis, and a few observations I found interesting enough to share about the examined text.

 

 


[1] Jer. 26:18 cf. Micah 3:12.

[2] Isa. 13:21, 34:13, 43:20; Job 30:29; Jer. 50:39; Lam. 4:3.

[3] The only examples of texts I could find that might come before the Exilic or Post-Exilic period using the conceptual language of God is King would be Isaiah 6:5 and Zephaniah 3:15.

[4] 1:16, 6:13-16.

[5] 2:12, 4:6-7, 10.

[6] 4:8, 5:2-5a

[7] Nimrod in 5:6. Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Balak, and Balaam in 6:4-5. Jacob, Abraham, and the fathers in 7:20.

[8] Such as can be seen in the garden creation language of Joel, the flood-like destruction/tower of Babel language of Zephaniah, the Gibeah references in Hosea, etc.

[9] 1:1-2:11, 3:1-12, 6:9-7:13.

[10] 2:12-13, 4:1-5:15, 7:14-20.

[11] Particularly in 2:12-13 and 4:1-7.

[12] 4:8-5:6, especially seen in 4:8 and 5:2.

[13] 5:7-15.

[14] 6:1-8.

[15] 7:14-17.

[16] 7:18-20.

[17] 6:6-8.

[18] Mt. 23:23.

[19] Ex. 13:1-16

[20] Num. 3:11-13.

[21] Mt. 10:35-36; Lk. 12:52-53.

[22] Mt. 2:4-6.

[23] Another good example is Romans 9:24-29.

Posted by Justin Gill

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