Study of the Prophets #18: Micah (Cont.)
This week we begin with Chapter 1 verse 10 and forward to the end of the chapter: ” Tell it not in Gath; weep not at all; in each house of Aphrah, wallow in the dirt. Pass on [to exile], O inhabitant of Saphir, with nakedness uncovered. The inhabitant of Zaanan did not go forth in lamentation for Beth-ezel; [the enemy] will seize [the cost of] his stay from you. For the inhabitants of Maroth were anguished over [the lost] good, but evil came down from before HaShem, to the gate of Jerusalem. Fasten the chariot to the swift steed, O inhabitant of Lachish; that was the origin of sin for the people of Zion, for it was in you that the sins of Israel were found. Therefore, send gifts to Moresheth-gath! The houses of Achzib will become a lost cause to the kings of Israel. I will yet bring a dispossessor against you. O inhabitant of Mareshah; the glory of Israel will withdraw to Adullam. Make yourself bald and pull out your hair for the children of your delight; make your baldness broad like and eagle’s, for they have departed from you.”
Verse 10: Micah had previously used the words of Micaiahu son of Imiah, who was his namesake in his first prophecy (verse 2). In this verse, Micah adopts the words of King David do not tell it in Gath (2 Sam. 1:20). From David’s dirge over the death of Saul and Jonathan. David wished the enemy should ot hear of Israel’s suffering or weeping, lest th enemy rejoice and celebrate, even though the enemy were the ones who killed them. Similarly, in this verse, the inhabitants of Gath surely knew of the destruction of Samaria and Jerusalem. However, Micah hoped their rejoicing would be minimized (Radak).
According to Malbim, Micah was saying “Do not let the Philistines of Gath hear that you have been defeated, for they may then try to overpower you; but go far away, to Aphrah, and mourn there.”
The Philistine city of Gath was located between Jerusalem and the Mediterranean coast.
“in each house of Aphrah wallow in the dirt.” Rolling in the dirt or ashes was common among those who were mourning. Thus, Micah is lamenting grievously. According to Radak , “ For the houses of Aphrah that are no more, roll in the dirt and mourn their destruction.” It must be noted that Micah was mourning the the desolation of the entire land, although only a few cities are mentioned in these verses. There were two cities in the Land of Israel with the name Aphrah; one ni the territory belonging to Manasseh (Rashi to Judges 6;11) and ne belonging to the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 18:23). Rashi maintains the Aphrah in the previous verse to be in Manasseh’s territory, while Radak and Malbim cite Joshua 18:23 indicating the city belongs to the tribe of Benjamin.
Verse 11: “Pass on [to exile], O inhabitant of Saphir.” Micah describes the exile of various cities of Israel. Starting with the city of Saphir (Rashi), he foretells that its inhabitants will be led into captivity with their nakedness uncovered, in torn, tattered clothes. The exact location of the city is unknown, because it is only mentioned in this book.
“…with nakedness uncovered.” Metzudos notes the use of paronomasia; a play on words rather than the name for the city actually being the name of a city. Sefir is the word usually used for the fetus or placenta that is expelled from a woman’s after birth. Simialrly, Rashi translates Sefir as a stillborn child.
Still, Radak maintains that paronomasia is not being used in this verse. Rather, a different poetic device was used. Ranslating Sefir as beautiful (Gen. 49:21), he explains that at times Scripture may use one word at the beginning of the verse and end with a word that means the opposite. Thus, the Sefir; beautiful nation, was ultimately expelled from its land with revealed nakedness; indicative of ugliness.
“ The inhabitant of Zaanan did not go forth…” This translation is consistent with most commentators, who connect this section with the end of the verse. Radak notes that Micah is using paronomasia again, for the words used in Hebrew have similar sounds.
Beth-ezel and Zaanan were neighboring cities. The inhabitants of Beth-ezel were the first to be exiled, wailing and lamenting their fate. Their neighbors in Zaanan did not come to comfort them. Instead, they stayed in their own city, anticipating their own doom (Radak; Metzudos). The identity of Zaanan is not clear, for there is no other mention of it in Scripture. A smililarly named city, Zanon, is mentioned in Joshua (15:37) among the cities of Judah. Malbim assumes they are identical.
“[The enemy] will seize [the cost of] his stay from you.” The enemy will demand payment for the time he spent standing in position while taking over the city. He will plunder the city, take all its possessions, and send its citizens into exile. Metzudos offers an explanation that seems more viable; “since you stood and ignored your neighbors’ cries while they were being exiled, the enemy will repay each of you for your callous standing by and send you into exile. Rashi that the lament and anguish caused by those who stole the neighboring land will in turn cause the structures that they erected [that are standing] to be taken from them.
Verse 12: “For the nhabitants of Maroth were anguished over [the lost] good.” Most commentators understand Maroth to be the name of a city (Ibn Ezra; Radak; Metzudos). And explain that in recalling the benevolence of G-d, they were filled with anguish and pain for what they had lost. The evil that befell them was entirely from G-d and not a mere coincidence (Radak’ Metzudos). Mahari Kara interest Maroth to be the same as Jerusalem evidenced by the end of the verse. Another commentary by Rashi translates Maroth not as a city, but as an adjective meaning rebellious; the nation had rebelled against the words of the prophets. He also relates Psalms (130:5-7), to hope or anxiously wait (R. Hirsch ibid.). Although Jerusalem had been at peace and was hoping for the best, only evil would descend from Heaven because of her rebellious actions against the prophets.
“To the gate of Jerusalem.” Even if Maroth is not Jerusalem, it is clear that the evil extended even to the gate of Jerusalem.
Verse 13: “Fasten the chariot to the swift steed, O inhabitant of Lachish.” The word translated as fasten, is actually an Arabic word meaning to harness or tie (Rashi: Radak). Using the analogy of a swift animal, Micah is exhorting the inhabitants of Lachish to flee into exile before the enemy overtakes the city (Rashi; Radak).
”… that was the origin of sin for the people of Zion,…” although situated in the territories of Judah, it was in close proximity to the Northern Kingdom and was the first area affected by its evil ways. (Ibn Ezra), and introduced idol worship to the people of Zion (Metzudos).
Ba’al worship had been introduced to the Northern Kingdom by none other than Jezebel, the Sidonite wife of Ahab, the eighth king of Israel, and it was she that influenced him to spread its worship among the people. The inhabitants of Lachish followed their neighbors to the north in their worship of Ba’al. [They were led there by Amatziah, the 11th monarch of Judah, who had taken refuge there (II Kings 14:19; II Chron. 2514-16, 27). He was the first of the kings of Judah to embrace idol worship.] They subsequently introduced this form of worship to their brethren who inhabited the rest of the Southern Kingdom (Radak).
“… for it was n you that the sins of Israel were found.” The idols of the Northern Kingdom were found in Lachish (Metzudos). The scripture does not say that the transgressions of Israel were practiced in Lachish but were found there, implying that Israel’s transgressions were not rampant in Judah. However, we cannot be sure of this as this may be an emphasis on semantics through the bias of the commentators.
Verse 14: “Therefore, send gifts to Moresheth-gath!” (Ibn Ezra; Radak; Metzudos). Micah scornfully addresses the inhabitants of Lachish that may be prahsed in the following way; “Since you practiced idol worship and you taught this practice to others, you will need the assistance of others to ward of the invading enemy.” Micah suggests that the people send gifts to the people of Moresheth-gath hoping they will assist the Judeans (Radak).
“… to Moresheth-gath.” Although the word “al” is usually translated on, sometimes it is translates to (Radak). Moresheth-gath was the Philistine city of Gath often mentioned in Scripture. It was renamed Moresheth0gath when the Philistines recaptured it from the Jews, thereby making the Philistines the inheritors of Gath [Moresheth from the Hebrew word yerushah, inheritance]. It is as if Micah is saying, “Look where your transgressions have gotten you. The city of Gath had been captured by King David and was out inheritance, but due to your sins it has now become a Philistine legacy. You must now humiliate yourselves and try to bribe the Philistines to offer you protections” (Radak).
An interpretation by Malbim explains that Moreshah and Gath were two different cities; adjacent to each other. The walls of Gath had been destroyed by Uzziah [ the 9th king of Judah] during his successful campaign to capture the city. Afterward, the inhabitants of neighboring Moreshah protected Gath and saw to it that the Philistines would not retake it from Judah. Hence, the composite name Moresheth-gath.
“…The houses of Achzib will become a lost cause to the kings of Israel.” This literally means “are a dried-out spring.” Just as one who hoped to get water to quench his thirst is disappointed when he realizes that there is no water, you will also be disillusioned when you realize you had placed your hope in false gods. (Radak). Recall that the inhabitants of Achzib rebelled against their king. Ahaz [ the 11th monarch of Judah] and chose to follow Pekah ben Remaliah. Micah is telling his fellow Judeans that their defection was a futile move, for when the enemy arrives, he will destroy the houses of Achzib and sever their ties with the Northern Kingdom (Rashi; Metzudos). However, Radak explains that the houses of Achzib refer to the houses of idol worship in which the people had placed their hope. With their destruction, the nation will realize that their hope had been placed in false gods. We can certainly see the similarities in our contemporary society. As Americans and others throughout the world turn to the false hope in humanistic secularism, those who do will one day be quite alarmed and I submit surprised that they placed their hope and trust in false gods.
Verse 15: “I will yet bring a dispossessor against you, O inhabitant of Mareshah;” The enemy dispossessor is the Assyrian army led by Sennacherib (II Kings 18:13). Sennacherib had captured all the fortified cities of Judah during the 14th year of Hezekiah’s reign (Radak). Alternatively, Metzudos identifies Nebuchadnezzar as the dispossessor (II Kings Chap. 25).
“…the glory of Israel will withdraw to Adullam.” The dispossessor will remove the glory of Israel even as far as the city of Adullum, for he will plunder the wealth of the entire land (Metzudos). Radak identifies Adullam as a city of Judah (Josh. 15:34).
Verse 16: “Make yourself bald and pull out your hair.” Micah is figuratively addressing the cities and the land of Judah telling them to mourn for their exiled inhabitants. He pictures the land as tearing out its hair (Radak). Although the Torah explicitly prohibits the making of bald patches (Deut. 14:1), this prohibition applies only when the bald patches are made as an expression of grief over death. When done for any other reason, it is forbidden only by Rabbinic decree (Rambam, Hilchos, Avodah Zarah 12:15-16; Shulcahan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 180:9; Radbaz, from Manuscript 134). Note: G-d’s Torah states in Deut. 14:1 “You are the people of Adonai your G-d. You are not to gash yourselves or shave the hair above your foreheads in mourning for the dead, because you are a people set apart as holy for Adonai your G-d.” A parallel text is found in Lev. 19:27: Don’t round your hair at the temples or mar the edges of your beard. Don’t cut gashes in your flesh when someone dies or tattoo yourselves; I am Adonai.”
“…for the children of your delight;” Radak, who cites Lamentations 4:2. Accordingly. Micah is referring to the nation as it appeared in its former glory, the precious, beloved nation. Metzudos and Targum Yonasan translate your pampered (delicate) children as referring to the nation that had become spoiled and accustomed to having everything they wanted.
“…make your baldness broad like an eagle’s, for they have departed from you.” At times, the eagle sheds most of its feathers (Rashi; Radak). As the eagle (nesher). The vulture is meant, either Vultur percnopterus, common in Egypt and Palestine, which is bald on the front of the head and neck, or more probably Vultur fulvus, the griffon vulture, whose whole head and neck are destitute of true feathers. “For they have departed from you” implies captivity or exile. This cannot refer exclusively to the Assyrian invasion, wherein very few captives were taken, but must look forward to the Babylonian deportation in Ch. 4:10. The latter calamity alone is parallel to the destruction of Samaria announced in verses 6, 7 of this chapter.
Next week we will begin our lesson beginning at Chapter 2 where Micah decries the depths to which the nation has fallen.
R. Tamah Davis
• I encourage you to explore the Jewish commentators cited in this and all of the studies on the prophets for your continued learning and for a better understanding of who these individuals were, the focus of their studies, possible biases that may be reflected in their commentaries, and their backgrounds. I will be happy to assist you with any questions you may have if you send them to me with the references related to your questions so that I may research your questions appropriately.