Study of the Prophets #17: Micah (Cont.)
Tonight we pick up at Chapter 1:3 as we continue to explore the punishment Micah prophecies as G-d in His fullness witness the sins of the people from His Holy Sanctuary described in verse 2. Micah is talking about the destruction of Samaria in the Northern Kingdom and the punishment that will befall Jerusalem in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Again, neither kingdom is exempt from the judgment of G-d. Verse 3-7 reads “For behold, Hashem is going forth from His place; He will descend and trample the heights of the land. The mountains will melt away under Him and the valleys will split open, like wax before a fire, like water flowing down a slope. All this because of the sin of Jacob, because of the transgressions of the House of Israel. Who [caused] the sin of Jacob; was it not Samaria? Who [caused] the high places of Judah; was it not Jerusalem? I will make Samaria into a mound in the field, a place to plant vineyards. I will roll away its stones to the valley and lay bare its foundations. All of its graven images will be smashed and all of its [idolatrous] gifts will be burned in the fire, and I will make all of its idols desolate. For they were collected as harlots hire, and they will revert to harlot’s fire.”
Verse 3 must be understood allegorically. G-d does not have human characteristics and does not literally “come,” “go,” or “trample” on anything like humans. Micah is describing the manner in which G-d’s decree will come forth and metaphorically trample the heights of the land (Radak). It may be likened to G-d leaving His Throne of Mercy and ascending to His Throne of Judgment to administer justice to the people of Samaria and Jerusalem (Rashi; Metzudos). G-d makes a point that He Himself will exact the punishment due and will not use Divine agents just as He slayed the firstborn of Egypt (Exodus 11:4) (Malbim).
Verse 4: The haughty kings and officers of Samaria are described with the use of “mountains,” and the people of the nations are described as “valleys.” The leaders will be easily destroyed, as fire melts wax (Abarbanel). Fire is used to describe G-d’s wrath (Ibn Ezra; Abarbanel).
“Like water flowing down a slope…” According to Radak, the destruction and suffering will be as catastrophic as if the mountains would melt and the valleys would split apart. They will melt so quickly that the molten mass will rush as forcefully as water pouring down a steep incline; its destruction will be very swift. Another explanation of the water flowing down a slope refers not to the mountains, but to the valleys (people). The people of the nation will be split apart and the people of Israel (the Northern 10 Tribes) will be scattered among non-Jewish nations like a waterfall that sprays in all directions as it hits the ground (Ibn Ezra; Metzudos). I agree with the second opinion as it has been historically verified.
Verse 5: The name “Jacob” is used once again as we understand as in the sup- planter; one who deceived his father and received the birthright of the firstborn that was not his according to Jewish law at the time. The House of Israel also refers to the Northern Kingdom of the 10 Tribes. Judah is the Southern Kingdom comprised of Judah and Benjamin. Levi was not a tribe at this time but was included in the Southern Kingdom. Micah accuses the kings of Samaria and Judah of misleading the people and causing the proliferation of idolatry in each kingdom. Radak maintains that if the leaders would have discouraged idolatrous practices, the people would have stopped such practices.
The people of the Northern Kingdom worshiped the calves of Jeroboam, were immersed in idolatry, being led astray by the false prophets of Baal. The people of Judah brought offerings to the Temple Altar, but also offered sacrifices at the high places to G-d and for idolatry.
Verse 6: G-d was about to wreak havoc on Samaria because they were the cause of Jacob’s sins. G-d’s agent of destruction was not a Divine agent; rather the Assyrian king Shalmaneser, who captured Samaria after a 3-year conflict. He exiled the inhabitants and populated the surrounding cities with foreign nations (II Kings 17:5, 6, 24). “A place to plant vineyards…” Because Samaria was built on a mountain, it was an excellent place to plant vineyards. Micah prophesizes that Samaria will not be rebuilt but will be used for planting vineyards (Radak).
Verse 7: A pehsel is any sculpted or carved image that is worshiped. The pehsel was believed to be the supreme idol while others were subordinate to it. These idols were often coated with gold or silver. The Assyrians would smash the idols and remove the gold and silver plating. The gifts made to the idols would be burned.
“And I will make all of its idols desolate.” The prophecy is referring to the golden calves of Jeroboam, among other idols. G-d would destroy the idols and the houses in which they were kept.
“For they were collected as harlot’s hire…” According to Radak, Objects of wealth that were gathered in the entire country were brought to Samaria to be offered as gifts to the idols as were all the valuables that had been donated to false gods. The Assyrians would haul the booty away and offer them to their idols. The harlot’s fire refers to items of lesser value that the enemy would not bother to take (Abarbanel; Metzudos). Prostitution is a metaphor used throughout the Torah to describe a turning away from G-d (Ex. 34:15; Lev. 17:7; Judges 2:17). Just as the prostitute turns away from moral behavior to seek out adulterers, the idol worshiper turns away from G-d toward the worship of false gods (Metzudos; Hosea 1:2).
Verse 8 “For this I will lament and wail.” After receiving this prophecy, Micah expresses his grief and says he will lament and wail over what is about to happen. However, his grief seems to be confined to Juda and not the Northern Kingdom. WE will read more on that in a moment. I will go about delirious and naked: The destruction of his land and people will cause Micah to act as if he’d gone mad, tearing his clothing and going naked (Rashi; Mahari Kara). Although the Sages explain he didn’t actually plan to do this; it was just an expression of the extent of his grief and mourning that would overcome him. We can only imagine what he must have felt like. Perhaps we can identify with him in a way. We know what is about to happen to our country and the world in general. I submit that this should cause us to feel a sense of grief and concern for those who remain outside of G-d’s Torah and have no desire to repent. “I will make lamentation like the jackals and mourning like ostriches.” The sounds made by jackals and ostriches are similar to the sounds of wailing and lamenting. Ramban asserts that Ostriches never make a sound and never sing, giving the impression of always being in mourning. According to this train of thought, Micah is then describing two opposite forms of mourning; loud wailing and silent grieving. However, Ostriches do make sounds; the one most familiar I can only describe as a soft “oooo” type sound that is made when they expand their throats and exhale. It could be interpreted as a mournful sound; similar to a low, soft pan flute-type sound (You can hear these sounds by watching some youtube videos of ostriches).
Verse 9: “For her wound is grievous; for it has come to Judah.” Micah foresaw that the punishments that were described for Samaria would extend into Judah, for she was not free of sinful behavior. There are several other interpretations of this verse. Rashi saw the Ten Tribes as the subject of the verse and explains that for her wound is grievous…” that this is a description of Israel’s weakened state due to the punishment she would receive. Mahari Kara and Abarbanel posited that the severity of the punishment was not that it had spread to Judah, but rather that the Ten Tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were exiled from Samaria, never to return. “It has come to Judah” would then refer to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, exiling the kingdom of Judah. Malbim maintains that this verse refers to the wounds inflicted by the Northern Kingdom on Judah during the days of Ahaz. At that time, Pekah ben Remaliah [the 19th king of the Ten Tribes] killed 120,000 soldiers of the kingdom of Judah in one day (Chronicles 28:6). Note: We must always carefully examine Scripture under the guidance of the rest of G-d’s Torah and the Ruach Hakodesh (Holy Spirit). Many of the Orthodox sages and philosophers interpreted scripture to place peoples and situations in the best light. Those from Judah often times minimize Judah’s sin, emphasizing that of Samaria and the Northern Kingdom. There is often much truth to their interpretations, but we must be aware of the bias that on occasion permeates opinion and interpretation of G-d’s Torah.
Next week we will begin at Chapter1:10.
R. Tamah Davis