Ver. 17. "And upon Mount Zion shall be they that have escaped, and it is holy (compare Joel iii. 5, iv. 17 [ii. 32, iii. 17]), and the house of Jacob occupies their possessions."
The suffix in [Hebrew: mvrwihM] refers to all the heathen in ver. 16. The kingdom shall be the Lord's, according to ver. 16, and the dominion of His people extends as far as His own. We have here the general prophecy; and in what immediately follows, the application to Edom. The first two clauses serve as a foundation for the third. The holiness has, so to speak, not only a [Pg 404] defensive, but also an offensive character. Its consequence is the dominion of the world.
Ver. 18. "And the house of Jacob becomes a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble, and they kindle them, and devour them; and there shall not be any remaining to the house of Esau; for the Lord has spoken."
Besides the whole of the people, that part of them (the house of Joseph, the people of the ten tribes) is specially mentioned which one might have expected to be excluded. That there is none remaining to the house of Esau (and to all who are like him) agrees with the declaration uttered by Joel in iii. 5 (ii. 32): "Amongst those who are spared, is whomsoever the Lord calleth." They, however, whom the Lord calls, are, according to the same verse, they who call on the name of the Lord. But the characteristic of Edom is his hatred against the kingdom of God,—and that excludes both the calling on the Lord, and the being called by the Lord. The single individual, however, may come out of the community of his people, and enter into the territory of saving grace, as is shown by the example of Rahab. In the further description of the conquering power, which the people of God shall, in future, exercise, we are, in ver. 19, first met by Judah and Benjamin.
Ver. 19. "And they of the south possess the Mount of Esau, and they from the low region, the Philistines; and they (i.e., they of Judah, the whole, of whom they of the South and of the low region are parts only) possess the fields of Ephraim, and the fields of Samaria, and Benjamin—Gilead."
It is obvious that we have here before us only an individualized representation of the thought already expressed in Gen. xxviii. 14: "And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt break forth to the East and to the West, to the North and to the South; and in thee, and in thy seed, all the families of the earth are blessed;" compare also Is. liv. 3: "Thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left, and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles."—[Hebrew: ngd] is the south part of Judea, at the borders of Edom; [Hebrew: wplh] the low region on the West, at the borders of the Philistines. As, according to the vision of the prophet, the exaltation of Judah is preceded by his total overthrow and captivity (compare vers. 11-14, 20, 21), the tribe of Judah, which, before the catastrophe, was settled in [Pg 405] the South and low region, is here meant. That [Hebrew: at] can be taken only as the sign of the Accus., and "Mount of Esau," accordingly, as the object only, appears from ver. 20, according to which the South is vacant. Judah thus extends in the South, over Edom, in the West, over Philistia, in the North, over the former territory of the ten tribes, and hence also over the territory of Benjamin, which formerly lay betwixt Judah and Joseph. Benjamin is indemnified by Gilead. The whole of Canaan comes thus to Judah and Benjamin. Joseph, to whose damage, according to ver. 18, this enlargement of Judah's territory must lead, must be transferred altogether to heathenish territory. We expect to find, in ver. 20, how he is indemnified.
Ver. 20. "And the exiles of this host of the children of Israel (shall possess) what are Canaanites unto Zarephath, and the exiles of Jerusalem that are in Sepharad shall possess the cities of the South."
The circumstance that the Athnach stands below [Hebrew: sprd] indicates that [Hebrew: irwv] implies the common property of the exiles of this host, and of the exiles of Jerusalem. The "Sons of Israel," in this context, can only be the ten tribes; for they are here indemnified for their former territory, which, according to ver. 19, has become the possession of Judah. "The exiles of this host" is equivalent to: "This whole host of exiles,"—the whole mass of the ten tribes, carried away according to prophetic foresight (compare Amos v. 27: "And I carry you away beyond Damascus, saith the Lord, the God of hosts"), as opposed to a piecemeal carrying away, such as had once already taken place before the time of the prophet in respect to Judah, but not in respect to the children of Israel; compare Joel iv. (iii.) 6. That the "Canaanites unto Zarephath"—i.e., the Ph[oe]nicians, whose territory formed part of the promised land, but had never, in former times, come into the real possession of Israel—are the objects of conquest, and that, hence, we cannot explain as Caspari does, "Who are among the Canaanites, even unto Zarephath," is evident from the circumstance, that all the neighbouring nations appear as objects of the conquering activity;—that the great mass of the Israelitish exiles were not among the Canaanites;—that the [Hebrew: b] could, in that case, not have been omitted;—and that the South country is too small [Pg 406] a space for the children of Israel, and of Jerusalem together. Sepharad, the very name of which is scarcely known, is mentioned as a particularizing designation of the utmost distance. The description becomes complete by its returning to the South country, from which it had proceeded. The South country penetrates to Edom; the inhabitants of Jerusalem extend beyond the South country.
Ver. 21. "And saviours go up on Mount Zion to judge the Mount of Esau, and the kingdom shall be the Lord's."
[Hebrew: elv] is to be accounted for from the consideration, that the deliverance and salvation imply the entire overthrow—the total carrying away of the people. The Saviour [Greek: kat' exochen] is hidden beneath the "saviours;" compare Judges iii. 9, 15; Neh. ix. 27. But even here, everything is connected with human individuals; and the more glorious the salvation which the prophet beholds in the future, viz., the absolute dominion of the Lord, and His people, over the world, the less can it be conceived that the prophet should have expected the realization of it by a collective body of mortal men without a leader. But the plural intimates that the antitype is not without types,—that the head cannot be conceived of without members. In Jer. xxiii. 4, we read: "And I raise up shepherds over them which shall feed them;" and immediately afterwards the one good shepherd—Christ—forms the subject of discourse.—"And the kingdom shall be the Lord's."—His dominion, till then concealed, shall now be publicly manifested, and the people of the earth shall acknowledge it, either spontaneously, or by constraint. The coming of this kingdom has begun with Christ, and, in Him, waits for its consummation. The opinion of Caspari, that the contents of vers. 19 and 20, as well as the close of this prophecy, belong altogether to the future, rests on a false, literal explanation, the inadmissibility of which is sufficiently evident from the circumstance that the Edomites, Philistines, and Canaanites have long since disappeared from the scene of history; so that there exists no longer the possibility of a literal fulfilment.
Footnote 1: The fact that, everywhere, the discourse is addressed to the Edomites, proves that here also Edom is addressed. The [Hebrew: ki] and the [Hebrew: kawr] in this verse, compared with those in the preceding verse, likewise suggest this. Compare, moreover, Joel iv. (iii.) 3, to which passage there is already an allusion in ver. 11.
Footnote 2: Namely, the cup of punishment, of divine wrath.
THE PROPHET JONAH.
It has been asserted without any sufficient reason, that Jonah is older than Hosea, Joel, Amos, and Obadiah,—that he is the oldest among the prophets whose written monuments have been preserved to us. The passage in 2 Kings xiv. 25, where it is said, that Jonah, the son of Amittai the prophet, prophesied to Jeroboam the happy success of his arms, and the restoration of the ancient boundaries of Israel, and that this prophecy was confirmed by the event, cannot decide in favour of this assertion, because it cannot be proved that the victories of Jeroboam belonged to the beginning of his reign. On the other hand, it is opposed, first, by the position of the book in the collection of the Minor Prophets, which, throughout, is chronologically arranged, and which is tantamount to an express testimony that Jonah wrote after Hosea, Joel, Amos, and Obadiah. Then,—the circumstance that Nineveh is mentioned here, and that too in a way which implies that, even at that time, the hostile relations of the Assyrians to the Covenant-people had already begun, while in the first part of Hosea, in Joel, Amos, and Obadiah, no reference to the Assyrians is as yet found. Even ancient interpreters, as Chr. B. Michaelis, Crusius (in the Theol. Proph. iii. S. 38), inferred from this mention of Nineveh, that the book had been composed in consequence of the first invasion of the Assyrians under Menahem, who ascended the throne 13 years after the death of Jeroboam II. Finally,—the book begins with and. Wherever else, in the canonical books of the Old Testament, such a beginning occurs, it indicates a resumption of, and a junction with, former links in the chain of sacred literature; compare Judges i. 1; 1 Sam. i. 1; Ezek. i. 1. That the expression, "And it came to pass," with which the book opens, is intended to establish the connection with the prophecy of Obadiah, which occupies the immediately preceding place in the Canon, is intimated by the internal relation of the two books to each other. The prophecy of Obadiah bears, throughout, a hostile aspect to the heathen world; it appears to him as the object only of God's judging activity. Jonah, on the other hand, received the mission, distinctly to point out the other aspect of the matter, and [Pg 408] thereby, not indeed to correct, but certainly to supplement his predecessor.
The time was approaching when the heathen world was to pour out its floods upon the people of God. It was obvious that the position of Israel towards it became one altogether repulsive, that the susceptibility of the heathen for salvation was denied, and God's mercy was limited to Israel. Narrow-minded exclusiveness received a powerful support from the oppression and haughtiness of the heathen. Whilst other prophets opposed such exclusiveness by their words, by announcing the extension of salvation to the Gentiles, Jonah received the mission to illustrate, by a symbolical action, the capacity of the heathen for salvation, and their future participation in it. The effect of this must necessarily have been so much the greater, as the whole of the little book is exclusively devoted to this subject, as it appeared at the first beginning of the conflict, and as Nineveh is mentioned here, for the first time, in so peaceable and conciliatory a relation, and in close harmony and connection with the announcement of the willing submission of the heathen world to the dominion of Shiloh, spoken of in Gen. xlix. 10. It is remarkably impressive to see how spirit here triumphs over nature—a triumph which appears so much the brighter because the prophet himself pays his tribute to nature; for it was because he listened to the voice of nature, that, at first, he intended to flee to Tarshish. The reason why the commission of the Lord was so disagreeable to him, we learn from chap. iv. 2. He was afraid lest the preaching of repentance, which was committed to him, might turn away the judgments of the Lord from Nineveh, the metropolis of that country which threatened destruction to Israel. He knew the deep corruption of his own people, and foreboded the issue which the extension of the means of grace to the Gentiles might very easily bring about in the end. But yet, he felt almost irresistibly impelled to carry out the commission of God, and in order to cut himself off from the possibility of following the voice which called him to the east, he resolved to go to the far distant west. The voice, however, followed him even there; but the farther he advanced on his journey, the more difficult it became for him to follow it. At a later period, when the Lord granted mercy to Nineveh, he was angry and wished to die, not by any means because he [Pg 409] felt himself injured in his honour as a prophet (as was erroneously supposed, even by Calvin), but because he grudged to the Gentiles the mercy which he considered as a prerogative of Israel only, and because he was anxious for the destruction of Nineveh as the metropolis of that kingdom which was destined to be the rod of chastisement for his own people. He was thus actuated by the same ardent love for his people which called forth the wish of St Paul, that he might become an anathema for his brethren,—by the same disposition of mind which prevailed in the elder brother at the return of the prodigal son (Luke xv. 25 ff.), and which at first would manifest itself even in Peter, Acts x. 14 ff. The Jewish sentence (Carpzov. Introd. 3, p. 149), "Jonah was anxious for the glory of the Son, but he did not seek the glory of the Father," is very significant. Jonah exhibits, in a very striking way, the thoughts of his old man, in order that Israel might recognise themselves in his image. But we are not at liberty to say that the prophet represented the people only. It is true that, as one of the people, he also entertained those thoughts; but, besides these, he entertained other thoughts also. The voices of the Lord which he heard were spiritual; and such voices can be heard only when there is something akin in the heart. Not even with one step did Jonah touch the territory of the false prophets, who prophesied out of their own hearts. He retained all his human weakness to himself, and the Word of God stood by the side of it in unclouded brightness, and obtained absolute victory.
There can be no doubt that we have before us in the Book of Jonah the description of a symbolical action,—that his mission to Nineveh has an object distinct from the mission itself,—that it is not the result attained by it in the first instance which is the essential point, but that it is its aim to bring to light certain truths, and in the form of fact, to prophesy future things. The truths are these:—First, that the Gentiles are by no means so unsusceptible of the higher truth as vulgar prejudice imagined them to be. This was manifested by the conduct of the sailors, who, at last, offer sacrifices and even vows to Jehovah; but, in a more striking manner, by the deep impression which the discourse of Jonah produced upon the Ninevites. In this we have the actual proof of Ezek. iii. 5, 6, where the prophet represents his mission as one of peculiar difficulty—more [Pg 410] difficult, even, than it would have been if addressed to the Gentiles: "Had I sent thee to them, surely they would have hearkened to thee." Further,—that it is not in His relation to Israel only, but in His relation to the Gentiles also, that the Lord is "gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness," chap. iv. 2. The view which these words, at once, open up into the future, is, that at some future period the Lord will grant to the Gentiles the preaching of His word, and admission into His kingdom. The glory of His mercy and grace would have been darkened, if the revelation of them had been for ever limited to a particular, small portion of the human race. Nineveh, the representative of the heathen multitude, is very significantly called the "great city" at the very outset, in i. 2, and "a great city for God," in iii. 3, for which, as Michaelis remarks, God specially cared, on account of the great number of souls; compare iv. 11.
If the symbolical and prophetical character of the book be denied, the fact of its having its place among the prophetical, and not among the historical, books, admits of no explanation at all. For so much is evident, that this fact cannot be satisfactorily accounted for by the circumstance that the book reports the events which happened to a prophet. The sound explanation has been already given by Marckius: "The book is, in a great measure, historical, but in such a manner, that in the history itself there is hidden the mystery of the greatest prophecy, and that Jonah proves himself to be a true prophet, by the events which happened to him, not less than by his utterances." A similar explanation is given by Carpzovius: "By his own example, as well as by the event itself, he bore witness that it was the will of God that all men should be saved, and should come to the knowledge of the truth," 1 Tim. ii. 4.
We are led to the same conclusion by the representation itself. This differs very widely from that given in the historical books. The objection raised by Hitzig against the historical truth,—viz., that the narrative is fragmentary,—that it wants completeness,—that a number of events are communicated only in so far as is required by the object of gaining a foundation for the graphic representation of the doctrinal contents,—cannot be set aside so easily as is done by Haevernich when he says: [Pg 411] "By arguments of a nature so flimsy, suspicions may be raised against the truth of every historical report." We cannot but confess that, to the writer, history is indeed a means only of representing a thought to which he is anxious to give currency in the Church of God. It is just for this reason that he abstains from graphically enlarging, because that would have been an obstacle to his purpose. The narrative of a symbolical action which took place outwardly, comes, in this respect, under the same law as the narrative of a symbolical action belonging to the internal territory, and to that of the parable. The narrative would lose the character of perspicuity which is so necessary for the whole matter, if it were complete in the subordinate circumstances.
It also tells in favour of the symbolical character of the history of Jonah, that the missionary activity on behalf of the Gentiles does not properly belong to the vocation of the prophets, their mission being to the two houses of Israel only. In the entire history, not even a single example is to be found of a prophet who, for the good of the heathen world itself, went out among them. The history of Elisha, in 2 Kings viii. 7 ff., has, without sufficient reason, been adduced by Haevernick. According to the visions of the prophets themselves, the conversion of the heathen is not to be accomplished at present, but in the Messianic time, and by the Messiah Himself. If, then, the book itself is not to stand altogether isolated, the symbolical character of Jonah's mission must be acknowledged. But then it is only in the form that it differs from the announcements of the extension of salvation to the heathen also,—announcements which occur in the other prophets also. That which these exhibited in words merely, is here made conspicuous by deeds. The influence thereby produced upon the heathen appears then only as the means, while the real purpose is to make an important truth familiar to the Congregation of God, and, by a striking fact, to remove the prejudices which prevailed in it.
Finally,—If the symbolical character of the facts be denied, the mission of Jonah appears to be almost divested of every aim; for the good emotions of the crew, and the repentance of the Ninevites, evidently did not lead to any lasting result. If anything else were aimed at than the prefiguring of future events, the prophet might better have stayed at home; an unassuming [Pg 412] ministry in some corner among the Covenant-people would have carried along with it a greater reward.
If, on the other hand, the symbolical character of the history of Jonah be admitted, remarkable parallels in the history of Jesus present themselves. The Saviour, in the days of His flesh, was satisfied with the prophetic intimation of the future farther extension of His salvation. That which He Himself did for this extension, in those particular cases where the faith of non-Israelites obtruded itself upon Him, must, in its isolation, be viewed as an embodiment of that intimation,—as a prophecy by deeds. He says in Matt. xv. 24: "I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel;" but if, nevertheless. He purposely makes His abode in the territory of Tyre and Sidon; if there He hears the prayer of the Canaanitish woman to heal her daughter, after having first tried her faith, then His purpose evidently is: That His prophecy in words concerning the extension of salvation to the Gentiles, might find a support in His prophecy in deeds. Jesus, prefiguring the future doings of His servants, passed over the boundaries of the Gentiles. Whilst the Jews had rejected the salvation offered to them, and forced Jesus to retire into concealment, the heathen woman comes full of faith, and seeks Him in His concealment. The Canaanitish woman is a representative of the heathen world, the future faith of which she was called to prefigure by sustaining the trial. From her example, the Apostles were to learn what might be expected from the Gentiles when the time should arrive for proclaiming the Gospel to them also. In Matt. x. 5, 6, the Lord speaks to the Apostles: "Go not in the way of the Gentiles, and into any of the cities of the Samaritans enter ye not; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." His own conduct, however, as it is reported in John iv., stands in contradiction to this command to His Apostles, so long as its prophetical significance is not acknowledged. That which was, on a large scale, to be done by Christ in the state of glorification, was prefigured by Him, on a smaller scale, in the state of humiliation. The ministry of Christ in Samaria bears the same relation to the later mission among this people, that the single instances of Christ's raising the dead do to the general resurrection. The Lord afterwards did not foster the germs which had come forth among the Samaritans; He, in the meantime, left them altogether [Pg 413] to their fate. That prelude was quite sufficient for the object which He then had in view, and nothing further could be done without violating the rights of the Covenant-people, to which, in the conversation as recorded by John, the Lord as expressly pays attention, as He does in Matt. x.
THE PROPHET MICAH.
Micah signifies: "Who is like Jehovah;" and by this name, the prophet is consecrated to the incomparable God, just as Hosea was to the helping God, and Nahum to the comforting God. He prophesied, according to the inscription, under Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. We are not, however, entitled, on this account, to dissever his prophecies, and to assign particular discourses to the reign of each of these kings. On the contrary, the entire collection forms only one whole. At the termination of his prophetic ministry, under Hezekiah, the prophet committed to writing everything which was of importance for all coming time that had been revealed to him during the whole duration of that ministry. He collected into one comprehensive picture all the detached visions which had been granted to him in manifold repetition; giving us the sum and substance (of which nothing has been lost in the case of any of the men inspired by God) of what was spoken at different times, and omitting all which was accidental, and purely local and temporary.
This view, which alone is the correct one, and which contributes so largely to the right understanding of the prophet, has been already advanced by several of the older scholars. Thus Lightfoot (Ordo temporum, opp. i. p. 99) remarks: "It is easier to conceive that the matter of this whole book represents the substance of the prophecy which he uttered under these various kings, than to determine which of the chapters of this book were uttered under the particular reign of each of these kings." Majus also (Economia temporum, p. 898) says: "He repeated, at a subsequent period, what he had spoken at different [Pg 414] times, and under different kings." In modern times, however, this view had been generally abandoned; and although, at present, many critics are disposed to return to it, Hitzig and Maurer still assert, that the book was composed at different periods.
We shall now endeavour to prove the unity of the book, first, from the prophecies themselves. If we were entitled to separate them at all, according to time and circumstances, we could form a division into three discourses only; viz., chap. i. and ii.; chap. iii.-v.; and chap. vi. and vii. For, 1. Each of these discourses forms a whole, complete in itself, and in which the various elements of the prophetic discourse—reproof, threatening, promise—are repeated. If these discourses be torn asunder, we get only the lacera membra of a prophetic discourse. 2. Each of these three discourses, forming an harmonious whole, begins with [Hebrew: wmev], hear. That this is not merely accidental, appears from the beginning of the first discourse, [Hebrew: wmev emiM klM], "Hear, all ye people." These words literally agree with those which were uttered by the prophet's elder namesake, when, according to 1 Kings xxii. 28, he called upon the whole world to attend to the remarkable struggle betwixt the true and false prophets. It is evidently on purpose that the prophet begins with the same words as those with which the elder Micah had closed his discourse to Ahab, and, it may be, his whole prophetic ministry. By this very circumstance he gives intimation of what may be expected from him, shows that his activity is to be considered as a continuation of that of his predecessor, who was so jealous for God, and that he had more in common with him than the mere name. Rosenmueller (Prol. ad Mich. p. 8) has asserted, indeed, that these words are only put into the mouth of the elder Micah, and that they are taken from the passage under consideration. But the reason which he adduces in support of this assertion, viz., that it cannot be conceived how it could ever have entered the mind of that elder Micah to call upon all people to be witnesses of an announcement which concerned Ahab only, needs no detailed refutation. Why then is it that in Deut. xxxii. 1, Is. i. 2, heaven and earth are called upon to be witnesses of an announcement which concerned the Jewish people only? Who does not see that, to the prophet, Israel appears as too small an audience [Pg 415] for the announcement of the great decision which he has just uttered; in the same manner as the Psalmist (compare, e.g., Ps. xcvi. 3) exhorts to proclaim to the Gentiles the great deeds of the Lord, because Palestine is too narrow for them?—But now, if it be established that it was with a distinct object that the prophet employed the words, "Hear ye," does not the circumstance that they are found at the commencement of the three discourses, which are complete in themselves, afford sufficient ground for the assumption, that it was the intention of the prophet, not indeed absolutely to limit them to the beginning of a new discourse (compare, on the contrary, iii. 9), but yet, not to commence a new discourse without them; so that the want of them is decisive against the supposition of a new section? 3. As soon as an attempt is made to break up any of these three discourses, many particular circumstances are at once found, upon a careful examination, to prove a connection of the sections so close, as not to admit of a separation without mutilating them. Thus chap. i. and ii. cannot be separated from each other, for the reason that the promise in ii. 12, 13, refers to the threatening in i. 5. That promise refers to all Israel, just as does the threatening in chap. i.; whilst in the threatening and reproof in chap. ii. the eye of the prophet is directed only to the main object of his ministry, viz., to Judah.
But even these three divisions, which hitherto we have proved to be the only divisions that do exist, can be considered as such, in so far only as in them the discourse takes a fresh start, and enters upon a new sphere. They cannot be considered as complete in themselves, and separated from one another by the [Pg 416] difference of the periods of their composition; for even in them there are found traces of a close connection. Even the uniform beginning by "Hear" may be considered as such. The second discourse in iii. 1 begins with [Hebrew: vamr]; but the Fut. with Vav convers. always, and without exception, connects a new action with a preceding one, and can never be used where there is an absolutely new commencement. Its significance here, where it is used in the transition from the promise to a new reproof and threatening, has been very strikingly brought out thus, by Ch. Bened. Michaelis: "But while we are yet but too far away from those longed-for times, which have just been promised, I say in the meanwhile, viz., in order to complete the list of the iniquities of evil princes and teachers, begun in chap. ii." The words of iii. 1, "Hear, I pray you, ye heads of Jacob, and ye princes of the house of Israel," have an evident reference to ii. 12: "I will assemble Jacob all of thee, I will gather the remnant of Israel." In the new threatening, the prophet chooses quite the same designation as in the preceding promise, in order to prevent the latter from giving support to false security. It is not by any means Samaria alone, but all Israel, which is the object of divine punishment. It is only a remnant of Israel that shall be gathered. But the reference to the preceding discourse is still more obvious in ver. 4: "Then they shall cry unto the Lord, and He will not answer; and may He hide His face from them at this time, as they have behaved themselves ill towards Him in their doings." Now, as in vers. 1-3 divine judgments had not yet been spoken of, the terms "then," and "at this time," can refer only to the threatenings of punishment in ii. 3 ff., which have a special reference to the ungodly nobles.
Thus the result presented at the beginning, is confirmed to us by internal reasons. The inscription announces the oracles [Pg 417] of God which came to Micah under the reign of three kings; while the examination of the contents proves that the collection forms a connected whole, written uno tenore. How, now, can these two facts be reconciled in any other way than by supposing that we have here before us a comprehensive picture of the prophetic ministry of Micah, the single component parts of which are at once contemporaneous, and yet belonging to different periods? This supposition, moreover, affords us the advantage of being allowed to maintain all the historical references in their fullest import, without being led to disregard the one, while we give attention to the other; for nothing is, in this case, more natural, than that the prophet connects with one another different prophecies uttered at different times.
The weight of these internal reasons is increased, however, by external reasons which are equally strong. When Jeremiah was called to account for his prophecy concerning the destruction of the city, the elders, for his justification, appealed to the [Pg 418] entirely similar prophecy of Micah in iii. 12: "Therefore shall Zion for your sake be ploughed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest." In Jer. xxvi. 18, 19, it is said, "Micah prophesied in the days of Hezekiah, king of Judah, and spake to all the people of Judah, etc. Did Hezekiah, king of Judah, and all Judah, put him to death? Did he not fear the Lord, and besought the Lord, and the Lord repented Him of the evil which He had pronounced against them?" All interpreters admit that this passage forms an authority for the composition of the discourse in iii.-v. under Hezekiah; but we cannot well limit it in this way, we must extend it to the whole collection. For, even apart from the reasons by which we proved that the entire book forms one closely connected whole, it is most improbable that the elders should have known, by an oral tradition, the exact time of the composition of one single discourse, which has no special date at the head of it. Is it not a far more natural supposition, that they considered the collection as a whole, of which the component parts had, indeed, been delivered by the prophet at a former period, but had been repeated, and united into one description under Hezekiah; and that they mentioned Hezekiah, partly because it could not be determined with certainty whether this special prediction had already been uttered under one of his predecessors, and, if so, under which of them; and partly, because among the three kings mentioned in the inscription, Hezekiah alone formed an ecclesiastical authority?
But just as that quotation in Jeremiah furnishes us with a proof that all the prophecies of Micah, which have been preserved to us, were committed to writing under Hezekiah, so we can, in a similar manner, prove from Isaiah, chap. ii., that they were, at least in part, uttered at a previous period. The problem of the relation of Is. ii. 2-4 to Micah iv. 1-3, cannot be solved in any other way than by supposing, that this portion of a prophecy which, in Jeremiah, is assigned to the reign of Hezekiah, was uttered by Micah as early as under the reign of Jotham, and that soon after it Isaiah, by placing the words of Micah at the head of his own prophecies, expressed that which had come to him also in inward vision; for, being already known to the people, they could not fail to produce their impression. [Pg 419] Every other solution can be proved to be untenable. 1. Least of all is there any refutation needed of the hypothesis which is now generally abandoned, viz., that the passage in Isaiah is the original one; compare, against this hypothesis, Kleinert, Aechtheit des Jes. S. 356; Caspari, S. 444. 2. Equally objectionable is another supposition, that both the prophets had made use of some older prophecy—one uttered by Joel, as Hitzig and Ewald have maintained. The connection in which these verses stand in Micah, is by far too close for such a supposition. We could not, indeed, so confidently advance this argument, if the connection consisted only in what is commonly brought forward, viz., that upon the monitory announcement of punishment in chap. iii., there follows, in chap. iv. 1 ff., the consolatory promise of a glorious future for the godly, and that the [Hebrew: ihih] in ver. 1 evidently connects it with what immediately precedes. But the reference and connection are far more close. The promise in iv. 1, 2, is, throughout, contrasted with the threatening in iii. 12. "The mountain of the house shall become as the high places of the forest,"—hence, despised, solitary, and desolate. In iv. 1, there is opposed to it, "The mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established on the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills, and upon it people shall flee together." "Zion shall be ploughed as a field, and Jerusalem become a heap of ruins." Contrasted with this, there is in iv. 2 the declaration: "For the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord of Jerusalem." The desolate and despised place now becomes the residence of the Lord, from which He sends His commands over the whole earth, and of which the brilliant centre now is Jerusalem. In order to make this contrast so much the more obvious, the prophet begins, in the promise, with just the mountain of the temple, which, in the threatening, had occupied the last place; so that the opposites are brought into immediate connection. Nor is it certainly merely accidental that, in the threatening, he speaks of the mountain of the house only, while, in the promise, he speaks of the mountain of the house of the Lord; compare Matt. xxiii. 38, where "your house," according to Bengel, "is the house which, in other passages, is called the house of the Lord," just as the Lord, in Exod. xxxii. 7, says to Moses, "Thy people." The temple must have ceased to be the house of the Lord, before it would be destroyed; for [Pg 420] which reason, as we are told In Ezekiel, the Shechinah removed from it before the Babylonish destruction. And in point of form, the [Hebrew: ihih] in iv. 1 so much the more corresponds with the [Hebrew: thih] in iii. 12, as from the latter [Hebrew: ihih] must be supplied for the last clause of the verse; compare Caspari, S. 445. That ver. 5 must not be separated from the prophecy which Isaiah had before him, is seen from a comparison of Is. ii. 5: "O house of Jacob, come ye and let us walk in the light of the Lord." According to the true interpretation, "the light of the Lord" signifies His grace, and the blessings which, according to what precedes, are to be bestowed by it; and "to walk in the light of the Lord," means to participate in the enjoyment of grace. These words, accordingly, are closely related to those in Mic. iv. 5: "For all the people shall walk, every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever:" i.e., the fate of the people in the heathen world corresponds to the nature of their gods; because these are nothing, they too shall sink down into nothingness, while Israel shall partake in the glory of his God. There is the same thought, and in essentially the same dress, both in Isaiah and Micah,—only that the words which in Micah embody a pure promise, are transformed by Isaiah into an exhortation that Israel should not, by their own fault, forfeit this preference over the heathen nations, that they should not wantonly wander away into dark solitudes, from the path of light which the Lord had opened up before them. This transformation in Isaiah, however, may be accounted for by the consideration, that he was anxious to prepare the way for the reproofs which now follow from ver. 6; whilst Micah, who had already premised them, could continue in the promise. It is also in favour of the originality of the passage in Micah, that the text which, in Isaiah, appears as a variation, appears as original in Micah; so that both cannot be equally dependent upon a third writer. 3. There now remains only the view of Kleinert, according to which the prophecy of Micah, in chap. iii.-v., was first uttered under the reign of Hezekiah; and, under the reign of the same king, but somewhat later, the prophecy, in chap. ii.-iv. of Isaiah, who avails himself of it. But, upon a closer examination, this view also proves untenable. Isaiah's description of the condition of the people in a moral point of view, the general spread of idolatry [Pg 421] and vice, exclude every other period in the reign of Hezekiah except the first beginning of it, when the effect and influence of the time of Ahaz were still felt; so that even Kleinert (p. 364) is obliged to assume, that not only the prophecy of Micah, but also that of Isaiah, were uttered in the first months of the reign of this king. But other difficulties—and these altogether insuperable—stand in the way of this assumption. In the whole section of Isaiah, the nation appears as rich, flourishing, and powerful. This is most strongly expressed in chap. ii. 7: "His land is full of silver and gold, there is no end to his treasure; his land is full of horses, and there is no end to his chariots." To this may be added the description of the consequences of wealth, and of the unbounded luxury, in iii. 16 ff.; and the threatening of the withdrawal of all power, and all riches, as a strong contrast with their present condition, upon which they, in their blindness, rested the hope of their security, and hence imagined that they stood in no need of the assistance of the Lord, iii. 1 ff. Now this description is so inapplicable to the commencement of Hezekiah's reign, that the very opposite of it should rather be expected. The invasion by the allied Syrians and Israelites, the oppression by the Assyrians, and the tribute which they had to pay to them, the internal administration, which was bad beyond example, and the curse of God resting on all their enterprises and efforts, had exhausted, during the reign of the ungodly Ahaz, the treasures which had been collected under Uzziah and Jotham, and had dried up the sources of prosperity. He had left the kingdom to his successors in a condition of utter decay. To these, other reasons still may be added, which are in favour of the composition of it under Jotham, while they are against its composition under Hezekiah; especially the circumstance of their standing at the beginning of the collection of the first twelve chapters (a circumstance which is of great weight, inasmuch as these chapters are, beyond any doubt, arranged chronologically), but still more, the indefiniteness and generality in the threatening of the divine judgments, which the prophecy of Micah has in common with the nearly contemporaneous chapters i. and v. of Isaiah, whilst the threatenings out of the first period of the reign of Ahaz have at once a far more definite character. By these considerations we are involuntarily led back to a period when Isaiah still [Pg 422] pre-eminently exercised the office of exhorting and reproving, and had not yet been favoured with special revelations concerning the events of a future which, at that time, was as yet rather distant,—perhaps as far as the time when Jotham administered the government for his father, who was at that time still alive; compare 2 Kings xv. 5. By this hypothesis. Is. iii. 12 is more satisfactorily explained than by any other; and we are no longer under the necessity of asserting, that the chronological order is interrupted by chap. vi.; for this certainly could not have been intended by the collector. The solemn call and consecration of the prophet to his office, accompanied by an increased bestowal of grace, must be carefully distinguished from the ordinary ones which were common to him with all the other prophets. But if the prophecy of Isaiah was uttered as early as under Jotham (which has lately been most satisfactorily proved by Caspari in his Beitraege zur Einl. in das Buch Jesaias, S. 234 ff.), that of Micah also must have existed at that time, and must have been in the mouths of the people. And since its composition is assigned to the reign of Hezekiah, it follows that the prophet delivered anew, under the reign of this king, the revelations which he had already received at an earlier period.
It will not be possible to infer with certainty from vers. 6, 7, as Caspari does, that the book was committed to writing before the destruction of Samaria, and hence, before the sixth year of Hezekiah. Since the book gives the sum and substance of what was prophesied under three kings, all that is implied in vers. 6, 7, is, that the destruction of Samaria was foretold by Micah; but the prophecy itself may have been committed to writing even after the fulfilment had taken place. But, on the other hand, according to the analogy of Is. xxxix., and xiii. and xiv., we are led by iv. 9, 10, to the time of Sennacherib's invasion of Judea, in which the prophetic spirit of Isaiah likewise most richly displayed itself, and in which he was privileged with a glance into the far distant future.
The exordium in chap. i. and ii., and the close in vi. and vii., are distinguished by the generality of the threatening and promise which prevails in them. They have this in common with the first five chapters of Isaiah, and thus certainly afford us pre-eminently an image of the prophetic ministry of Micah, in the time previous to the Assyrian invasion; whilst the main [Pg 423] body (especially from iv. 8) represents to us particularly the character of the prophecy during the Assyrian period.
We shall now attempt to give a survey of the contents of Micah's prophecy.
Upon Samaria and Jerusalem—the kingdom of the ten tribes, and Judah—a judgment by foreign enemies is to come. Total destruction, and the carrying away of the inhabitants, will be the issue of this judgment, and, as regards Judah more particularly, the total overthrow of the dominion of the Davidic dynasty.
Samaria is first visited by this judgment. This is indicated by the fact that it is first mentioned in the inscription, and that in i. 6, 7, the judgment upon Samaria is, first of all, described; but especially by the circumstance that Samaria, in i. 5, appears as the chief seat of corruption for the whole people, whence it flowed upon Judah also, i. 14, and particularly, vi. 16. We expect that where the carcases first were, there the eagles would first be gathered together.
As the first, and principal instrument of the destructive judgment upon Judah, Babylon is mentioned in iv. 10.
As the representative of the world's power, at the time then present, Asshur appears in v. 4, 5. If destruction is to fall upon the kingdom of the ten tribes before it falls upon Judah—which is most distinctly foretold by Hosea in i. 4-7—then, nothing was more obvious than to think of Asshur as the instrument of the judgment. That to which Micah, on this point, only alludes, is more fully expanded by Isaiah.
Judah is delivered from Babylon, but without a restoration of the kingdom, iv. 10, compared with ver. 14 (v. 1).
But a second catastrophe comes upon Judah, inasmuch as many heathens gather themselves against Jerusalem, with the intention of desecrating it, but yet in such a manner that, by the assistance of the Lord, it comes forth victoriously from this severe attack, chap. iv. 11-13. Then follows a third catastrophe, in which Judah becomes anew and totally subject to the world's power, iv. 14 (v. 1).
From the deepest abasement, however, the Congregation of the Lord rises to the highest glory, inasmuch as the dominion returns to the old Davidic race, iv. 8. From the little Bethlehem, the native place of David, where his race, sunk back again into [Pg 424] the lowliness of private life, has resumed its seat, a new and glorious Ruler proceeds, born, and at the same time eternal, and clothed with the fulness of the glory of the Lord, v. 1, 3 (2, 4), by whom Jacob obtains truth, and Abraham mercy, vii. 20, compared with John i. 17; by whom the Congregation is placed in the centre of the world, and becomes the object of the longing of all nations, iv. 1-3, delivered from the servitude of the world, and conquering the world, v. 4, 5 (5, 6), vii. 11, 12; and at the same time lowly, and inspiring the nations with fear, v. 6-8 (7-9). To such a height, however, she shall attain after, by means of the judgment preceding the mercy, all that has been taken from her upon which she in the present founded the hope of her salvation, v. 9-14 (10-15).
Footnote 1: It must not, however, be overlooked, that there the term "hear" is only a resumption of "hear" in iii. 1 (and, to a certain extent, even of that in i. 2), intimating, that that which they are about to hear, will concentrate itself in a distinct and powerful expression,—the acme of the whole threatening in iii. 12.
Footnote 2: Besides the division into three sections, there is, to a certain extent, a division also into two. By [Hebrew: vamr] in iii. 1, the first and second discourses, or the exordium and principal part, are brought into a still closer connection,—a connection founded upon the circumstance that the reproof and threatening of the first part are to be here resumed, in order that thus a comprehensive representation may be given. It is only in iii. 12 that the threatening reaches its height. But yet the tripartition remains the prominent one. This cannot be denied without forcing a false sense and a false position upon ii. 12, 13.
Footnote 3: The Fut. apoc. forbids us to translate: "He will hide." In order to express his own delight in the doings of divine justice, the prophet changes the prediction into a wish, just as is the case in Is. ii. 9, where the greater number of interpreters assume, in opposition to the rules of grammar, that [Hebrew: al] stands for [Hebrew: la].
Footnote 4: Against the genuineness of the inscription, doubts have been raised by many, after the example of Hartmann, and last of all by Ewald and Hitzig; but it is established by the striking allusions to, and coincidences with it, in the text. With the mention of Micah's name in the former, the allusion to this name in the close of the book, in chap. vii. 18, corresponds. The circumstance of Micah being called the Morasthite, accounts for the fact that, in this threatening against the cities of Judah, in i. 14, it is Moresheth alone which is mentioned. In the inscription, Samaria and Jerusalem are pointed out as the objects of the prophet's predictions; and it is in harmony with this, that in i. 6, 7, the judgment upon Samaria is first described, and then the judgment upon Judah; that the prophet—although, indeed, he has Judah chiefly in view—frequently gives attention to the ten tribes also, and includes them,—as in the promise in ii. 12, 13, v. 1 (2), where the Messiah appears as the Ruler in Israel, and vers. 6, 7 (7, 8), of the same chapter; and that in iii. 8, 9, Judah is represented as a particular part only of the great whole. Finally—It is peculiar to Micah, that he thus views so specially the two capitals; and this again is in harmony with the inscription, where just these, and not Israel and Judah, appear as the subjects of the prophecy. It is in the capitals that Micah beholds the concentration of the corruption (i. 5); and to them the threatening also is chiefly addressed, i. 6, 7, iii. 12. Of the promise, also, Jerusalem forms the centre.—The statement, too, in the inscription—that Micah uttered the contents of his book under various kings—likewise receives a confirmation from the prophecy. The mention of the high places of Judah in i. 5, and of the walking in the statutes of Omri, and in all the works of the house of Ahab, refers especially to the time of Ahaz; compare 2 Kings xvi. 4; 2 Chron. xxviii. 4, 25; further, 2 Kings xvi. 3; 2 Chron. xxviii. 2; and Caspari on Micah, S. 74. On the other hand, the time of Hezekiah is suggested by v. 4, 6 (5, 6), which implies that already, at that time, Asshur had appeared as the enemy of the people of God,—and so likewise by the prophecy in iv. 9-14.
CHAP. I. AND II.
The prophet begins with the words: "Hear, all ye people, hearken, O earth and the fulness thereof, and let the Lord God be witness against you, the Lord from His holy temple. For, behold, the Lord cometh forth out of His place, and cometh down, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth. And the mountains are melted under Him, and the valleys are cleft, as wax before the fire, as waters poured down a steep place. For the transgression of Jacob is all this, and for the sins of the house of Israel." Vers. 2-5.
This majestic exordium has been misunderstood in various ways: First, by those who, like Hitzig, would understand by the people, [Hebrew: emiM] in ver. 2, the tribes of Israel. We shall show, when commenting on Zech. xi. 10, that this is altogether inadmissible. But in the present case especially, this interpretation must be rejected; partly on account of the reference to the words of the elder Micah, and partly on account of the parallel terms, "O earth and the fulness thereof," which, according to the constant usus loquendi, lead us far beyond the narrow limits of Palestine. On the other hand, they who by the [Hebrew: emiM] rightly understand the nations of the whole earth, are mistaken in this, that they consider them as mere witnesses, whom the Lord calls [Pg 425] up against His unthankful people, instead of considering them as the very same against whom the Lord bears witness; and that they come into consideration from this point of view, clearly appears from the words, "The Lord be witness against you." As regards [Hebrew: ed] with [Hebrew: b] following, compare, e.g., Mal. iii. 5.—Another mistake is committed in the definition of the way and manner of the divine witness. The greater number of interpreters suppose it to be the subsequent admonitory, reproving, and threatening discourse of the prophet. Thus, e.g., Michaelis, who explains: "Do not despise and lightly esteem such a witness, who by me earnestly and publicly testifies to you His will." But in opposition to this view, it appears from ver. 3, that here, as well as in Mal. iii. 5, "And I will come near to you in judgment, and I am a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against those that swear to a lie," the witness is a real one,—that it consists in the actual attestation of the guilt by the punishment, viz., by the divine judgment described in vers. 3, 4. The words, "The Lord cometh forth out of His place, and cometh down," there correspond to, "From His holy temple,"—from which it is evident, at the same time, that by the temple, the heavenly temple must be understood.
We have thus, in vers. 2-4, before us the description of a sublime theophany, not for a partial judgment upon Judah, but for a judgment upon the whole world, the people of which are called upon to gather around their judge—whom the prophet beholds as already approaching, descending from His glorious habitation in heaven, accompanied by the insignia of His power, the precursors of the judgment—and silently to wait for His judicial and penal sentence.
But how is it to be explained that with the words, "For the transgression of Jacob is all this," etc., there is a sudden transition to the judgments upon Israel, yea, that the prophet [Pg 426] goes on as if Israel alone had been spoken of? Only from the relation in which these two judgments stand to one another. For they are perfectly one in substance. They are separated only by space, time, and unessential circumstances; so that we may say that the general judgment appears in every partial judgment upon Israel. In order to give expression to the thought, that it is the judge of the world who is to judge Israel, the prophets not unfrequently represent the Lord appearing to judge the whole world; and in Israel, the Microcosmos, it was indeed judged. We have a perfectly analogous case, e.g., in Is. chap. ii.-iv. It is only by means of a very forced explanation, that it can be denied that after the prophet has, by a few bold touches, from ii. 6-9, described the moral debasement of the Covenant-people, and marked out pride as its last source, the last judgment upon the whole earth forms the subject of discourse. In that judgment there will be a most clear revelation of the vanity of all which is created—a vanity which, in the present course of the world, is so frequently concealed—and that the Lord alone is exalted, and that those who now shut their eyes will then be compelled to acknowledge these truths. That Isaiah has this general judgment in view, is too clearly proved by the sublimity of the whole description, by the express mention of the whole earth, e.g., ii. 19, and by not limiting, in the individualized description in ver. 12 sqq., the high and lofty which is to be brought low to Judah alone, but by extending it to the whole world. But in iii. 1 ff. the prophet suddenly passes over to the typical, penal judgment upon Judah; and the [Hebrew: ki], at the commencement, shows that he does not consider this subject as one altogether new, but as being substantially identical with the preceding subject. This reminds us forcibly of the mode in which, in the prophecies of our Lord, the references to the destruction of Jerusalem, and to the last judgment, are connected with one another. In the "burden of Babylon" in chap. xiii. likewise, the judgment of the Lord upon the whole earth is first described. Nor is it only on the territory of prophecy that this close connection of the general judgment with the inferior judgments upon the Covenant-people appears. In Ps. lxxxii. 8, e.g., after the unrighteousness prevailing among the Covenant-people has been described, the Lord is called upon to come to judge, not them [Pg 427] alone, but the whole earth; compare my Commentary on Ps. vii. 8, lvi. 8, lix. 6.
The prophet thus passes over, in ver. 5, from the general manifestation of divine justice to its special manifestation among the Covenant-people, and mentions here, as the most prominent points upon which it will be inflicted, Samaria and Jerusalem, the two capitals, from which the apostasy from the Lord spread over the rest of the country. He mentions Samaria first, and then, in vers. 6, 7, he describes its destruction which was brought about by the Assyrians, before he makes mention of that of Jerusalem, because the apostasy took place first in Samaria, and hence the punishment also was hastened on. The latter circumstance, which is merely a consequence of the former, is in an one-sided manner made prominent by the greater number of interpreters, who therein follow the example of Jerome. It was at the same time, however, probably the intention of the prophet to be done with Samaria, in order that he might be at liberty to take up exclusively the case of Judah and Jerusalem—the main objects of his prophetic ministry.
He makes the transition to this in ver. 8, by means of the words: "On that account I will wail and howl, I will go stripped and naked; I will make a wailing like the jackals, and a mourning like the ostriches." "On that account"—i.e., on account of the judgment upon Judah, to be announced in the subsequent verses. It is commonly supposed that the prophet here speaks in his own person; thus, e.g., Rosenmueller: "The prophet mourns in a bitter lamentation for the number and magnitude of the calamities impending over the Israelitish people." But the correct view rather is, that the prophet, when, in his inward vision, he sees the divine judgments not remaining and stopping at Samaria, but poured out like a desolating torrent over Judah and Jerusalem, suddenly sinks his own consciousness in that of his suffering people. We have thus here before us an imperfect symbolical action, similar to that more finished one which occurs in Is. xx. 3, 4, and which can be explained only by a deeper insight into the nature of prophecy, according to which the dramatic character is inseparable from it. The transition from the mere description of what is present in the inward vision only, to the prophet's own action, is, according to this view, very easy. If we confine ourselves to the passage before us, the following [Pg 428] arguments are in favour of our view. 1. The predicates [Hebrew: will] and [Hebrew: ervM] cannot be explained upon the supposition that the prophet describes only his own painful feelings on account of the condition of his people. Even if [Hebrew: ervM] stood alone, the explanation by "naked," in the sense of "deprived of the usual and decent dress, and, on the contrary, clothed in dirt and rags," would be destitute of all proof and authority. No instance whatsoever is found of the outward habit of a mourner being designated as nakedness. But it is still more arbitrary thus to deal with [Hebrew: will], whether it be explained by "deprived of his mental faculties on account of the unbounded grief of his soul,"—as is done by several Jewish expositors (who, in the explanation of this passage, would have done much better, had they followed the Chaldee, in whom the correct view is found; only that he, giving up the figurative representation, substitutes the third person for the first, paraphrasing it thus: "On that account they shall wail and howl, they shall go stripped and naked," etc.),—or by "badly clothed," as is done by the greater number of Christian expositors. The signification "robbed," "plundered," is the only established one; compare [Hebrew: wvll] in Job xii. 17-19. The parallel passages, in which nakedness appears as the characteristic feature of the captives taken in war, show how little we are entitled to depart from the most obvious signification, in these two words. Thus we find immediately afterwards, in ver. 11: "Pass ye away, ye inhabitants of Saphir, having your shame naked;" on which Michaelis remarks: "With naked bodies, as is the case with those who are led into captivity after having been stripped of their clothes." Thus Is. xx. 3, 4: "And the Lord said. Like as My servant Isaiah walketh naked and barefoot three years, for a sign and wonder upon Egypt and Ethiopia, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the prisoners of Egypt, and the prisoners of Ethiopia, young men and old men, naked and barefoot;" compare Is. xlvii. 3.—2. The term [Hebrew: htplwti], in ver. 10, is in favour of the supposition, that the prophet here appears as the representative of the future condition of his people. The Imperat. fem. [Hebrew: htplwi] of the marginal reading is evidently, as is commonly the case, only the result of the embarrassment of the Mazorets. The reading of the text can be pointed as the first person of the Preterite only; for the view of Rosenmueller, who takes it as the [Pg 429] second person of the Preterite, which here is to have an optative signification, is, grammatically, inadmissible. Rueckert's explanation, "In the house of dust (zu Staubheim), I have strewed dust upon me," is quite correct. But if here we must suppose that the prophet suddenly passes over from the address to his unfortunate people, to himself as their representative, why should not this supposition be the natural one in ver. 8 also?
The correctness of the view which we have given is further strengthened, if we compare the similar lamentations of the prophets in other passages, in all of which the same results will be found. In Jer. xlviii. 31, e.g., "Therefore will I howl over Moab, and cry out over all Moab, over the men of Kir-heres shall he groan," the "he" in the last clause sufficiently shows how the "I" in the two preceding clauses, is to be understood,—especially if Is. xvi. 7, "Therefore Moab howleth over Moab," be compared. But if this interpretation be correct in Jeremiah, it must certainly be correct in Is. xv. 5 also: "My heart crieth out over Moab,"—a passage which Jeremiah had in view; and this so much the more, that in Is. xvi. 9-11—where a similar lamentation for Moab occurs: "Therefore do I bewail as for Jazer for the vine of Sibmah; I water thee with my tears, O Heshbon and Elealeh.... Therefore my bowels sound like a harp for Moab, mine inward parts for Kirhareseth"—it is quite unsuitable to think of a lamentation of the prophet, which is expressive of his own grief. This was seen by the Chaldee, who renders "my bowels" by "bowels of the Moabites,"—a view the correctness of which has been strikingly demonstrated by Vitringa: "Although," he says, "the emotion of compassion be by no means unsuitable in the prophet, yet no one will be readily convinced that the prophet was so much concerned for the vines of Sibmah and Jazer, and for the crops of the summer-fruits of a nation hostile and opposed to the people of God, that it should have been for him a cause for lamentation and wailing." In Is. xxi., in the prophecy against Babylon, and in the lamentation in vers. 3, 4, "Therefore are my loins filled with pain, pangs take hold upon me as the pangs of a woman that travaileth, etc., the night of my pleasure has been turned into terror," it is clearly shown in what sense such lamentations are to be understood. By "the night of pleasure," we can, especially by a comparison of Jeremiah, understand only the night of the capture of Babylon, [Pg 430] in which the whole city was given up to drunkenness and riot. But it is impossible that the prophet should say that this night—the precursor of the long-desired day for Israel—had been turned for him into terror. Either the whole lamentation is without any meaning, or the prophet speaks in the name of Babylon, and that, not of the Babylon of the present, but of the Babylon of the future. This must be granted, even by those who assert that this portion was composed at a later period; so that, even from this quarter, the soundness of our view cannot be assailed.
In ver. 9, the prophet returns to quiet description, from the symbolical action to which he had been carried away by his emotions. The subject of this description he states in the words: "It cometh unto Judah; it cometh unto the gate of my people, unto Jerusalem." By individualizing, he endeavours to give a lively view of the thought, and to impress it. He begins with an allusion to the lamentation of David over Saul and Jonathan in 2 Sam. i. 17 ff., which is so much the more significant, that in this impending catastrophe, Israel also was to lose his king (compare iv. 9), and that in it David was to experience the fate of Saul. He then indicates the stations by which the hostile army advances towards Jerusalem, and describes how, from thence, it spreads over the whole country, even to its southern boundary, and carries away the inhabitants into exile. But, in doing so, he always chooses places, whose names might, in some way, be brought into connection with what they were now suffering; so that the whole passage forms a chain of paronomasias. These, however, are not by any means idle plays. They have, throughout, a practical design. The threatening is thereby to be, as it were, localized. The thought of a divine judgment could not but be called forth in every one who should think of one of the places mentioned. Jerusalem is first spoken of in ver. 9 as the centre of the life of Judah: "The gate of my people," etc., being tantamount to "the city or metropolis of it." Then, it appears a second time in ver. 12, in the middle between five Judean places preceding and five following it,—the number ten, which is the symbolical signification of completeness, indicating that the judgment is to be altogether comprehensive. The five places mentioned after Jerusalem are all of them situated to the south of it. That the [Pg 431] five places, the mention of which precedes that of Jerusalem, are all to be sought to the north of it, and that, hence, the judgment advances from the north in geographical order, as is the case in Is. x. 28 ff. also, is evident from the fact that Beth-Leaphrah, which is identical with Ophrah, is situated in the territory of Benjamin, and that Beth-Haezel, which is identical with Azal in Zech. xiv. 5, was situated in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem. Hence, we cannot suppose that Zaanan here is identical with Zenan, which is situated in the south of Jerusalem, Josh. xv. 37, nor Saphir with Samir.
The question still arises, In what event did the threatening of punishment, contained in chap. i., find its fulfilment? Theodoret, Cyril, Tarnovius, Marckius, Jahn, and others, refer it to the Assyrian invasion. Jerome referred it to the Babylonish captivity: "The same sin," he says, "yea, the same punishment of sin which shall overturn Samaria, is to extend to Judah, yea, even unto the gates of my city of Jerusalem. For, as Samaria was overturned by the Assyrians, so Judah and Jerusalem shall be overturned by the Chaldeans." This opinion was adopted by Michaelis and others.
At first sight, it would appear as if the circumstance, that the judgment upon Judah is brought into immediate connection with that upon Israel, favoured the first view. But this argument loses its weight when we remark, that the events appear to the prophet in inward vision, and, therefore, quite irrespective of their relation in time; that the continuity of the punitive judgment upon Israel and Judah only, points out distinctly the truth, that both proceed from the same cause, viz., the relation of divine justice to the sin of the Covenant-people. It is this truth alone which forms the essence and soul of the prophetic threatenings; and with reference to that, the difference in point of time, which is merely accidental, is altogether kept out of view. Another argument in favour of the Assyrian invasion might be derived from the expression, "to Jerusalem," in ver. 9, inasmuch as the Chaldean invasion visited Jerusalem itself. But, because the calamity was not by any means to stop at Judah, but to overflow even it, it is shown by the preceding expression, "unto Judah," that [Hebrew: ed] (compare on this word, Dissertations on the Genuineness of Daniel, p. 55 seq.) must, in both cases, be explained from a tacit antithesis with the expectation, [Pg 432] that the judgment would either stop at the boundary of Judah, or, although this should not be the case, would at least spare the metropolis. The prophet contents himself with representing that this opinion was erroneous. Although this passage itself asserts nothing upon the point as to whether Jerusalem itself is to be thought of as the object of the divine punishment, or whether it will be spared, the following reasons show that the former will be the case. Even ver. 5 does not admit of our expecting anything else. Jerusalem is there marked out as the chief seat and source of corruption in the kingdom of Judah, just as is Samaria in the kingdom of Israel. The declaration which is there made forms the foundation of the subsequent threatening. How is it possible, then, that, while in the kingdom of Israel it is concentrated upon Samaria, in the kingdom of Judah the seducer should be altogether passed over, and punishment announced to the seduced only? That such is not the intention of the prophet, is clearly seen from ver. 12: "For evil cometh down from the Lord upon the gate of Jerusalem." The [Hebrew: ki] alone is sufficient to prevent our limiting the sense of these words, so that they mean only that evil will come no farther than to the gate of Jerusalem, and will stop there. The Particula causalis proves that they are the ground of the declaration in ver. 11, and that the mourning will not cease at Beth-Haezel, "the house of stopping;" compare the remarks on Zech. xiv. 5. But, altogether apart from this connection, the words themselves furnish a proof. They contain a verbal reference to the description of the judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrha, Gen. xix. 24. Jerusalem is marked out by them as a second Sodom (compare Is. i. 10), upon which the divine judgments would discharge themselves. As a second mark of this extension to Jerusalem, the carrying away of the people into captivity is added (compare vers. 11, 15, 16), which, in the promise in chap. ii. 12, 13, is supposed to have taken place. It is not Israel alone, but the whole Covenant-people, who are in a state of dispersion, and are gathered from it by the Lord.
Now, both of these marks are not applicable to the Assyrian invasion; and if once we suppose the divine illumination of the prophet, it cannot be regarded as the real object of his threatenings. This, too, is equally inadmissible, if we consider the matter from a merely human point of view. The predictions [Pg 433] of the prophets with regard to Assyria are, from the very outset, rather encouraging. It is true that they are to be, in the hand of the Lord, a rod of chastisement for His people, but these are never to be altogether given up to them for destruction. By an immediate divine interference, their plan of capturing Jerusalem is frustrated. Thus the matter is constantly represented in Isaiah; thus also in Hosea i. 7. We can, moreover, adduce proofs from Micah himself, that his spiritual eye was not pre-eminently, or exclusively, directed to the Assyrians. In the prophecy from chap. iii. to v., where he describes the judgment upon Judah in a manner altogether similar to that in which he mentions it here, he passes over the Assyrians altogether in silence. Babylon is, in iv. 10, mentioned as the place to which Judah is to be led into captivity.
Yet here, as well as everywhere else in the threatenings and promises of the prophets, we must beware, lest, in referring them to some particular historical event, we lose sight of the animating idea. If this, on the other hand, be rightly understood, it will be seen that a particular historical event may indeed be pre-eminently referred to, but that it can never exhaust the prophecy. Although, therefore, the main reference here be to the destruction by the Chaldeans, we must not on that account exclude anything in which the same law of retaliation was manifested, either before, as in the invasion of the Syrians and Assyrians; or afterwards, as in the destruction by the Romans. The prophet himself points, in iv. 11-14 (iv. 11-v. 1), to two other phases of the divine judgment which are to follow upon that by the Chaldeans.
After the prophet has thus hitherto described the impending divine judgment in great general outlines, he passes on, in chap. ii., to chastise particular vices, which, however, must always be at the same time, yea, prominently, considered as indications of the wholly depraved condition of the nation, and of the punishments to follow upon it. One feature upon which he here chiefly dwells, and which must, therefore, have been a peculiarly prominent manifestation of the sinful corruption, consists in the acts of injustice and oppression committed by the great, the description of which presents striking resemblances to that in Is. v. 8 ff. The prophet interrupts this description only in order [Pg 434] to rebuke the false prophets, who reproved him for the severity of his discourses, and asserted that they were unworthy of the merciful God. Such severity, answered the prophet, was true mildness, because it alone could be the means of warding off the approaching punitive judgment; that his God did not punish from want of forbearance—from want of mercy; but that the fault was altogether that of the transgressors, who drew down upon themselves, by force. His judgments.
The prophecy closes with the promise in vers. 12, 13. It is introduced quite abruptly, in order to place it in more striking contrast with the threatening; just as, in iv. 1, there is a similar abrupt and unconnected contrast between the promise and the threatening. It is only brief; far more so than in the subsequent discourses, and far less detailed than it is in them. The prophet desires first of all to terrify sinners from their security; and for this reason, he causes only a very feeble glimmering of hope to fall upon the dark future.
Ver. 12. "I will assemble, surely I will assemble, O Jacob, thee wholly: I will gather the remnant of Israel. I will bring [Pg 435] them together as the sheep of Bozrah; as a flock on their pasture, they shall make a noise by reason of men. Ver. 13. The breaker goeth up before them; they break through, pass through the gate and go out, and their King marches before them, and the Lord is on the head of them."
The remark, that almost all the features of this description are borrowed from the deliverance out of Egypt, will throw much light upon the whole description. In the midst of oppression and misery, Israel, while there, increased by means of the blessing of the Lord, hidden under the cross, to greater and greater numbers; compare Exod. i. 12. When the time of deliverance had arrived, the Lord, who had for a long time concealed Himself, manifested Himself again as their God. First, the people were gathered together, and then, the Lord went before them,—in a pillar of cloud by day, and in a pillar of fire by night: Exod. xiii. 21. He led them out of Egypt, the house of bondage: Exod. xx. 2. So it is here also. Ver. 12 describes the increase and gathering, and ver. 13 the deliverance. In both passages, Israel's misery is represented under the figure of an abode in the house of bondage, or in prison, the gates of which the Lord opens—the walls of which He breaks down. In this allusion to, and connection with, the former deliverance, Micah agrees with his contemporaries, Hosea and Isaiah. The deeper reason of this lies in the typical import of the former deliverance, which forms a prophecy by deeds of all future deliverances, and contains within itself completely their germ and pledge; compare Hosea ii. 1, 2 (i. 10, 11); Is. xi. 11 ff.: "And the Lord shall stretch forth His hand a second time to redeem the remnant of His people.... And He sets up an ensign for the nations, and gathers together the dispersed of Israel, and assembles the scattered of Judah from the four corners of the earth.... And the Lord smites with a curse the tongue of the Egyptian sea, and shakes His hand over the river, in the violence of His wind, and smites it to seven rivers, so that one may wade through in shoes. And there shall be a highway to the remnant of His people, ... like as it was to Israel in the day when he came up out of the land of Egypt." This reference to the typical deliverance clearly shows, that in the description we have carefully to separate between the thought and the language in which it is clothed.
Ver. 12. The Infin. absol., which in both the clauses precedes the tempus finitum, expresses the emphasis which is to be placed on the gathering, as opposed to the carrying away, and the scattering formerly announced; for the latter, according to the view of man, and apart from God's mercy and omnipotence, did not seem to admit of any favourable turn. By "Jacob" and "Israel," several interpreters understand Judah alone; others, the ten tribes alone; others, both together. The last view is alone the correct one. This appears from i. 5, where, by Jacob and Israel, the whole nation is designated. The promise in the passage before us stands closely related to the threatening uttered there. All Israel shall be given up to destruction on account of their sins; all Israel shall be saved by the grace of God. This assumption is confirmed by a comparison of the parallel passages in Hosea and Isaiah, where the whole is designated by the two parts, Judah and Israel. Micah does not notice this division, because that visible separation, which even in the present was overbalanced by an invisible unity, shall disappear altogether in that future, when there shall be only one flock, as there is only one Shepherd. The expression, "remnant of Israel," in the second clause, which corresponds to, "O Jacob, thee wholly," in the first, indicates, that the fulfilment of the promise, so far from doing away with the threatening, rather rests on its preceding realization. The Congregation of God, purified by the divine judgments, shall be wholly gathered. Divine mercy has in itself no limits; and those which in the present are assigned to it by the objects of mercy, shall then be removed.—The words, "I will bring them together," etc., indicate equally the faithfulness of the great Shepherd, who gathers His dispersed flock from all parts of the world, and the unexpected and wonderful increase of the flock; compare Jer. xxiii. 3: "And I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and lead them back to their pasture-ground, and they are fruitful and increase;" and xxxi. 10: "He that scattereth Israel will gather him and keep him as a shepherd does his flock."—Bozrah we consider to be the name of a capital of the Idumeans in Auranitis, four days' journey from Damascus. The great wealth of this town in flocks appears from Is. xxxiv. 6 (although a slaughter of men is spoken of in that passage, yet evidently the wealth of Bozrah in natural [Pg 437] flocks is there supposed), and can with perfect ease be accounted for from its situation. For, in its neighbourhood, there begins the immeasurable plain of Arabia, which, on one side, continues without interruption as far as Dshof, into the heart of Arabia, while, towards the North, it extends to Bagdad, under the name of El Hamad. Its length and breadth are calculated to amount to eight days' journey. It contains many shrubs and blooming plants; compare Burkhardt and Ritter. Several interpreters consider [Hebrew: bcrh] to be an appellative, and assign to it the signification "sheepfold," "cote." But there is no reason whatsoever in favour of such a meaning of Bozrah, while there is this argument against it, that the probable signification of [Hebrew: berh] as the name of a town is "locus munitus" = [Hebrew: mbcr] or [Hebrew: bcrvN]. It can hardly be supposed that the word should at the same time have had the significations of "fortress" and "fold." It is, moreover, more in harmony with the prophetical character to particularize, than to use a general term. As is shown, however, by the last member (with which, according to the accents, the words, "As [Pg 438] a flock on their pasture," must be connected), the point of comparison is not the assembling and gathering, but the multitude, the crowd,—"As the sheep of Bozrah" being thus tantamount to, "So that in multitude they are like the sheep of Bozrah." [Hebrew: hdbrv], from [Hebrew: dbr], is, contrary to the general rule, doubly qualified, both by the article and by the suffix. This has been accounted for on the ground that the little suffix had gradually lost its power. But it is perhaps more natural to suppose that the article sometimes lost its power, and coalesced with the noun. The frequent use of the Status emphaticus in undefined nouns, in the Syriac language (compare Hofmann, Gram. Syr., p. 290), presents an analogy in favour of this opinion.—The last words graphically describe the noise produced by a numerous, closely compacted flock. The plur. of the Fem. refers to the sheep.—[Hebrew: MN] denotes the causa efficiens. They make a noise; and this noise proceeds from the numerous assembled people. The same connection of figure and thing occurs in Ezek. xxxiv. 31: "And ye ([Hebrew: vatN]) are My flock, the flock of My pasture are ye men;" compare Ezek. xxxvi. 38.
Ver. 13. The whole verse must be explained by the figure of a prison, which lies at the foundation. The people of God are shut up in it, but are now delivered by God's powerful hand. By the "breaker," many interpreters understand the Lord Himself. But if we consider, that in a double clause, at the end of the verse, the Lord is mentioned as the leader of the expedition if we look to the type of the deliverance from Egypt, where Moses, as the breaker, marches in front of Israel; and if, further, we look to the parallel passage in Hosea, where, with an evident allusion to that type, the children of Israel and of Judah appoint themselves one head; we shall rather be disposed to understand by the "breaker" the dux et antesignanus raised up by God. With the raising up and equipping of such a leader every divine deliverance commences; and that which, in the inferior deliverance, the typical leaders, Moses and Zerubbabel, were, Christ was in the highest and last deliverance. To Him the "breaker" has been referred by several Jewish interpreters (compare Schoettgen, Horae ii. p. 212); and if we compare chap. v., where that which is here indicated by general outlines only is further expanded and detailed, we shall have to urge against this interpretation this objection only, viz., that it excludes the [Pg 439] typical breakers,—that, in the place of the ideal person of the breaker, which presents itself to the internal vision of the prophet, it puts the individual in whom this idea is most fully realized.—The words [Hebrew: viebrv wer] are, by several interpreters, referred to the forcing and entering of hostile gates. Thus Michaelis, whom Rosenmueller follows: "No gate shall be so fortified as to prevent them from forcing it." But this interpretation destroys the whole figure, and violates the type of the deliverance from Egypt which lies at the foundation. For the gate through which they break is certainly the gate of the prison.—The three verbs—"They break through, they pass through, they go out"—graphically describe their progress, which is not to be stopped by any human power.—The last words open up the view to the highest leader of the expedition; compare besides, Exod. xiii. 21; Is. lii. 12: "For ye shall not go out in trembling, nor shall ye go out by flight. For the Lord goeth before you, and the God of Israel closeth your rear;" Is. xl. 11; Ps. lxxx. 3. In the exodus from Egypt, a visible symbol of the presence of God marched before the host, besides Moses, the breaker. On the return from Babylon, the Angel of the Lord was visible to the eye of faith only, as formerly when Abraham's servant journeyed to Mesopotamia, Gen. xxiv. 7. At the last and highest deliverance, the breaker was at once the King and God of the people.
As this prophecy has no limitation at all in itself, we are fully entitled to refer it to the whole sum of the deliverances and salvation which are destined for the Covenant-people; and to seek for its fulfilment in every event, either past or future, in the same degree as the fundamental idea—God's mercy upon His people—is manifested in it. Every limitation to any particular event is evidently inadmissible; but, most of all, a limitation to the deliverance from the Babylonish captivity, which, especially with regard to Israel, can be considered as only a faint prelude of the fulfilment. They, however, have come nearest to the truth who assume an exclusive reference to Christ,—provided they acknowledge, that the conversion of the first fruits of Israel, at the time when Christ appeared in His humiliation, is not the end of His dealings with this people.
Footnote 1: The reference to the general judgment would indeed disappear, if we suppose [Hebrew: bkM] in ver. 2 to be addressed to Israel. It seems, indeed, to be in favour of this supposition, that, in 1 Kings xxii. 28, the people alone are called upon as witnesses, and that in Deut. xxxi. 28, xxxii. 1, and Is. i. 2, heaven and earth, and in Hos. vi. 1, the mountains also, are called upon only in order to make the scene more solemn. But the reference of [Hebrew: bkM] to the nations mentioned immediately before, is too evident.
Footnote 2: Ver. 6 must be translated thus: Not shall ye drop (prophesy),—they (the false prophets) drop; if they (the individuals addressed, the true prophets) do not drop to these (the rapacious great), the ignominy will not cease, i.e., the ignominious destruction breaks in irresistibly. The fundamental passage in Deut. xxxii. 2, and ver. 11 of the chapter before us, show that [Hebrew: hTiP] has not the signification, "to talk," which is assigned to it by Caspari. The false prophets must be considered as the accomplices of the corrupted great, especially as to the bulwark which they opposed to the true prophets, and their influence on the nation, and on their own consciences,—as indeed material power everywhere seeks for such a spiritual ally. If this be kept in view, the censure and threatening acquire a still greater unity.
Footnote 3: To a certain extent, however, verse 11 forms the transition: "If one were to come, a wind, and lie falsely: I will prophesy to thee of wine and of strong drink,—he would be the prophet of this people." Such a prophet Micah, indeed, is not; but although he neither can nor dare announce salvation without judgment, he has, in the name of the Lord, to announce salvation after the judgment. The very singular opinion, that in vers. 12, 13, the false prophets are introduced as speaking, is refuted by the single circumstance that, in ver. 12, the gathering of the remnant of Israel only is promised, and hence the judgment is supposed to have preceded. It is no less erroneous if, instead of considering ver. 11 as introductory to vers. 12, 13, the latter be made to depend upon ver. 11, and be therefore considered as, to a certain extent, accidental.
Footnote 4: After the example of v. Raumer, Robinson, Ritter (Erdk. 14, 101), it has now become customary to distinguish between two Bozrahs,—one in Auranitis, and the other in Edom. But the arguments adduced for this distinction are not of very great weight. Nowhere is a "high situation" in reality ascribed to the Bozrah in Edom. The assertion, that Edom was always limited to the territory between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea, is opposed to Gen. xxxvi. 35, according to which passage, even in the time before Moses, the Edomitic king, Hadad, smote Midian in the field of Moab; and further, to Lam. iv. 21, according to which Edom dwells in the land of Uz, which can be sought for only in Arabia Deserta. We need to think only of that branch of the Midianites who had gone over to Arabia Deserta, whilst their chief settlement continued in Arabia Petraea. But the following arguments may be adduced against the distinction. 1. Bozrah is constantly and simply spoken of, without any further distinctive designation. 2. The Edomitic Bozrah must have been a great and powerful city, which agrees well with the "mighty ruins" in Hauran, but not with the much more insignificant ruins near Busseireh in Dshebal. 3. It is improbable that so important a city as that of Bozrah in Auranitis should never have been mentioned in Scripture.—But not satisfied with a double Bozrah, even a third, in Moab, has been assumed on the ground of Jer. xlviii. 24. But it is certainly strange that Bozrah, in that passage, is mentioned as the last of all the Moabitish towns, and that, immediately after its mention, there follow the words, "Upon all the cities of the land of Moab, far and near." It may be that Bozrah was conquered by the Edomites and Moabites in common, or that, in later times, the latter obtained a kind of possession of the town in common with the former.
The discourse opens with new reproofs and threatenings. It is first, in vers. 1-4, directed against the rapacious great, who in ver. 2 are described as murderers of men (compare Sirach xxxi. 21: "He who taketh from his neighbour his livelihood, killeth him"), and in ver. 3, as eaters of men, because they turn to their own advantage the necessaries of life of which they have robbed the poor. The discourse then passes over to the false prophets, vers. 5-7. Their character is described as hypocritical, weak, and selfish, and is incidentally contrasted with the character of the true prophet, as represented by himself, whose strength is always renewed by the Spirit of the Lord, and who, in this strength, serves only truth and righteousness, and holds up their sins to the people deluded by the false prophets, ver. 8. This the prophet continues to do in vers. 9-12. The three orders of divinely called rulers, upon whom the life or death of the Congregation was depending,—the princes, the priests, and the prophets (compare remarks on Zech. x. 1),—have become so degenerate, that they are not at all concerned for the glory of God, but only for their own interest. And while they have thus inwardly apostatized from Jehovah, they are strengthened in their false security by the promises which God has given to His people, and which they, altogether overlooking the fact that these are conditional, referred, in hypocritical blindness, to themselves. But God will, in a fearful manner, punish them for this apostasy, and frighten them from their security. The Congregation of the Lord, which has been desecrated inwardly, shall be so outwardly also. Zion shall become a corn-field; Jerusalem, the city of God, shall sink into rubbish and ruins; the Temple-hill shall again become what it was previous to its being the residence of God, viz., a thickly wooded hill, which shall then appear in all its natural lowness, and be considered as insignificant when compared with the neighbouring mountains.—In the whole section, the twelve verses of which are equally divided into three portions of four verses each, the prophet views chiefly the great, and the civil rulers. The false prophets, whom he takes up in the second of these subdivisions (vers. 5-8), come under consideration as their helpers only. In the third subdivision, [Pg 441] the discourse is again directed to the great alone, in vers. 9, 10. The two other orders are added to them in vers. 11, 12 only; and the charges raised against them refer to their relation to the great. The priests are not by any means reproved because they made teaching a profession, from which they derived their livelihood, but because, for bribes, they interpreted the law in a manner favourable to the rapacious lusts of the great, and thereby, no less than the false prophets, assisted them in their wickedness.—The charge raised in ver. 10 against the great,—"Building up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity,"—has been frequently misunderstood. The words must not be explained from Hab. ii. 12, but from Ps. li. 20, where David prays to the Lord, "Build Thou the walls of Jerusalem," which he had destroyed by his blood, ver. 16. The word "building" is used ironically by Micah, and is tantamount to: "Ye who are destroying Jerusalem by blood and iniquity (compare ver. 12: 'For your sakes Zion shall be ploughed as a field'), instead of building it up by righteousness." Righteousness builds up, because it draws down God's blessing and protection; but unrighteousness destroys, because it calls down the curse of God.
The unfaithfulness of the Covenant-people can nevertheless not make void the faithfulness of God. The prophet, therefore, passes suddenly from threatening to promise. Calvin thus expresses the relation of these two: "But I must now come to the little remnant. Hitherto I have spoken about the judgment of God, which is near at hand, upon the king's councillors, upon the priests and prophets, upon the whole people in short, because they are all wicked and ungodly, because the whole body is pervaded by contempt of God, and by desperate obstinacy. Let them receive, then, that which they all have deserved. But I now gather the children of God apart, for to them too I have a message to deliver."
The intimate relation of the first part of the promise to the preceding threatening has been already demonstrated, p. 420. The Mount of Zion, which forms the subject of vers. 1-7, shall, in future, not only be restored to its former dignity, but it shall be exalted above all the mountains of the earth. The kingdom of God, which is represented by it, shall, by the glory imparted to it by a new revelation of the Lord (compare ver. 7: "And [Pg 442] the Lord shall be King over them on Mount Zion"), outshine all the kingdoms of the world, and exercise an attractive power upon their citizens; so that they flow to Zion, there to receive the commands of the Lord, vers. 1, 2. By the sway which the Lord exercises from Zion, peace shall have its dwelling in the heathen world, ver. 3, and, consequently, the Congregation of the Lord ceases to be a prey to injury from the world's power, ver. 4^a. How incredible soever it may appear, this promise shall surely be fulfilled; for omnipotent faithfulness has given it, ver. 4^b, and has given it indeed for this very purpose; for it is altogether natural, and to be expected, that the glory of the Lord should in all eternity display itself in His dealings with His people, ver. 5. In vers. 6, 7, the promise receives a new impetus, by which it connects itself with ver. 4^a. In that time of mercy, the Lord will put an end to all the misery of His people.
Ver. 1. "And it shall come to pass at the end of the days, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be firmly established on the top of the mountains, and exalted above the hills, and people flow unto it."
The words, "And it shall come to pass," excite the attention to the great and unexpected turn which things are to take. The expression, [Hebrew: baHrit himiM], is explained by many as meaning: "In times to come," "in future." But we have already proved, in our work on Balaam, p. 465 seq., that the right explanation is: "At the end of the days." This is the explanation given by the LXX. also, who commonly render it by [Greek: en tais eschatais hemerais]; and by the Chaldee Paraphrast, who translates it by [Hebrew: bsvP ivmia]. The reasons which seem, at first sight, to favour the signification "in future," are invalidated by these two considerations:—first, that it is not at all necessary that the end be just absolutely the last, but only the end of those events which the speaker is reviewing; and, second, that it altogether depends upon the will of the speaker, what extent he is to assign to the beginning and to the end. The expression is used by the prophets in a manner different from that of the Pentateuch. The prophets use it almost exclusively with a reference to the Messianic times,—an usus loquendi which originated in Deut. iv. 30. They divide the whole duration of the kingdom of God into two parts, the beginning and the end,—the state of humiliation, and [Pg 443] the state of glorification. The line of demarcation is formed by the birth of the Messiah, according to v. 2 (3): "He will give them up