4.The Endurance of the Remnant
Legal proceedings against Israel
The third cycle of oracles (Micah 6:1 – 7:20) contains sections on judgement (Mic 6:1-7:7) and redemption (Mic 7:8-20). Yaweh brings a lawsuit against Israel, using accusation (Mic 6:3-5), satire (Mic 6:6-7) and declaration (Mic 6:8). There are three “voices”: Yahweh – speaking through the prophet (Mic 6:1-2) and direct (Mic 6:3-5), a would-be worshipper (Mic 6:6-7) and the prophet (v8).
Yahweh The mountains and the foundations of the earth (i.e. the whole earth) are called to bear witness to Yahweh’s case. The root of the word for case (rib) is used three times (“plead your case”, “the lord has a case”, he is “lodging a charge”) emphasising the serious of the accusation. Yahweh addresses “my people” and asks what he might have done to burden them, as if His actions justified their behaviour. He establishes the record of His righteous acts, including redemption “I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery” (Mic 6:4), providing leadership “I sent Moses to lead you” (Mic 6:4), seen in 1 Sam 12:6-8 as God’s gift, and protection.
Balak king of Moab is from Numbers Chp 22-24. Balak counselled Balaam to put a spell on Israel so that he might defeat them, but Yahweh restrains Balaam so that he is unable to curse the people, “How can I curse those who God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom the Lord has not denounced?” (Num 23:8). “Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal” (Mic 6:5) recalls the crossing of the Jordan; Shittim was the location at the start of the crossing and Gilgal at the end (Num 25:1, Josh 4:19), They crossed whilst the river was in flood but God protected them from the water.
The worshipper What is an adequate response to Yahweh’s grace in vv3-5? Each response ascends a scale of costliness, but each is about buying Yahweh’s favour rather than pursuing a lifestyle that is acceptable. “With burnt offerings, with calves a year old?” (Mic 6:6) would have been expensive, calves did not need to be kept for a year but could be sacrificed after only seven days (Lev 22:27). In the burnt offering the whole of the animal was consumed, so none was left over to eat. More extravagant still would be “thousands of rams” or “ten thousand rivers of oil”. Even more absurd would be sacrificing their children, “my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (Mic 6:7) though this travesty was real and had been undertaken by Ahaz (2 Kgs 16:2-3) and Manasseh (2 Kgs 21:6, 23:10).
Micah Micah details an acceptable response, and it is primarily to do with their attitude of mind, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Mic 6:8). It is the attitude that should drive the action; to “walk humbly” with God denotes a continuing and active relationship.
Mic 6:9-16 continues the judgement. Lev 19:35-6 states “Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah (a measure of dry weight) and an honest hin” (a liquid measure). Yet the merchants use “the short ephah” (Mic 6:10) and “dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights.” (Mic 6:11). A violation of the law is a violation of the covenant. The rich are violent and the people are liars i.e. corruption is total. Therefore, “I have begun to destroy you” (Mic 6:13). What this means in practice is explained with a series of clauses beginning with “you will….”
“You will eat but not be satisfied; your stomach will still be empty,
You will store up but save nothing, because what you save I will give to the sword.
You will plant but not harvest; You will press olives but not use the oil on yourselves,
You will crush grapes but not drink the wine.” (Mic 6: 14-15)
The judgements focus on the failure of foodstuffs, appropriate for people who use false weights and measures. The judgements are the covenant curses Moses detailed in Deut 28:30-33 “`You will build a house, but you will not live in it. You will plant a vineyard, but you will not even begin to enjoy its fruit……” and in Deut 28:38-41 “You will sow much seed in the field but you will harvest little, because locusts will devour it….” Futility and frustration are common denominators, they will invest energy and effort and get no return.
Yahweh complains that there is an ethos like that of “Omri” and “Ahab” in the land. This is a reference to two kings (c885-853 BC) who were arguably the most corrupt within the northern kingdom (I Kgs 16:25). 1 Kgs 16:33 states “Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than did all of the kings of Israel before him.” Ahab murdered people in order to take their land (1 Kgs 21) and Judah is now following in their footsteps (Mic 6:16) and that is why Yahweh’s judgement is upon them.
Micah 7:1-7 is the personal lament of the prophet, outlining what it is like to live within a community that has rescinded on its covenant promises. The exclamation “what misery is mine” or “woe to me!” only occurs once elsewhere in the Bible, in Job 10:15, though the tone is similar to the Psalms of Lament e.g. Ps 5:1 “Give ear to my words O Lord, consider my sighing.” (also Ps 13, 31) The first verse has a chiastic structure:
“What misery is mine!
A I am like one who gathers summer fruit
B At the gleaning of the vineyard;
B there is no cluster of grapes to eat
A none of the early figs that I crave”
The cluster in B is what is missing from the grape harvest in B, whilst the lack of early figs in A is what is missing from the summer fruit in A (the first crop of figs ripened in June). The gleaning of the vineyard was meant to be for the benefit of the poor and the widows (Lev 19:9-10) “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien” but there is nothing left.
Micah explains the meaning of the analogy, it is the disappearance of godly people from the land. The word translated “godly” (hasid) is related to the man who “loves mercy” (hesed) in Mic 6:8. There is no “upright” (yasar) man remaining. Instead the dominant characteristics are violence (Mic 7:2) and corruption (Mic 7:3). The oracle identifies that the social peril permeates the whole of society, “All men”, it is intentional “lie in wait”, violent “to shed blood”, actively being pursued “each hunts” and treacherous “his brother”. But the violence and corruption stem from the top, “the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes” (Mic 7:3). The word demands (so el) indicates it is a continuing action, bribery has become a regular part of “justice.”
Sarcastically, therefore, “the best of them is like a brier, the most upright worse than a hedge.” (Mic 7:4) The prospect is of national ruin. “The watchmen” (Mic 7:5) refers to the prophets who warned of judgement e.g. Hosea 9:8 “The prophet, along with my God is the watchman over Ephraim” and Jer 6:17 “I appointed watchmen over you and said ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’” Then the oracle switches to the third person, “Now is the time of their confusion”. The prophet laments another sign of the times, the total lack of relational fidelity. It reflects an increasing level of both intimacy and disappointment from: Neighbour (rea), to close friend (allap) to spouse “Her who lies in your embrace” (Mic 7:5). Therefore, “Do not trust a neighbour, put no confidence in a friend. Even with her who lies in your embrace.” The family is as tainted as society at large, three antagonistic relationships are specified: father – son, mother – daughter, mother in law – daughter in law (Mic 7:6) and the principle “a man’s enemies are the members of his own household.” (Mic 7:6)
As we have seen Micah is not unaffected by this, “What misery is mine!” (Mic 7:1) but the passage ends with his personal response. Although he is unable able to change the situation he retains his faith and hope in ”my God”; by watching “I watch in hope”, waiting “I wait for God” and praying “My God will hear me”.
The endurance of the remnant
As with the previous sections, we move from judgement to hope and grace. Within Micah 7:8-17 are three sub sections:
vv 8-10 a “psalm” of confidence
vv 11-13 an oracle of salvation
v v14-17 a prayer of supplication
The Psalm of confidence Mic 7:8-10 warns the enemies of God’s people that they should not celebrate Judah’s disaster as their own destiny is to “be trampled underfoot like mire in the streets.” (Mic 7:10) It is thought that the disaster in v 8 refers to the exile in Babylon as darkness often refers to disaster and imprisonment in the Scriptures, e.g. Isa 45:7 “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster”, and Ps 107:10, “Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron chains.” However, even in the darkness “the Lord will be my light”, Judgement does not mean abandonment for the faithful remnant and their faithfulness means that they acknowledge the justice of the judgement, “Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the Lord’s wrath”.
Verse 9 contain two verbs at opposite poles, Yahweh’s wrath (za ap) and Yahweh’s righteousness (sedaqa). The first is to be endured, the second is to be anticipated: “He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness.” It is a process couched in legal terminology i.e. the language of the lawcourts in relation to the covenant, when “he pleads my case and establishes my right.” When that happens the mockery of those who scorned Judah, “Where is the Lord your God?”, will be silenced as they themselves are covered with shame.
The oracle of salvation Mic 7:11-13 speaks of the light beyond the darkness and introduces the idea of restoration, “the day for building your walls” and extending the nation’s boundaries “the day for extending your boundaries”, but paradoxically also destruction “the earth will become desolate”. The word translated wall (gader) refers not to a protective city wall but to a wall, often without mortar, that was used to surround a vineyard or a sheep pen. This is a figurative way of referring to normalcy, when life continues with vineyards and sheep pens.
This situation is not just for Judah alone. “On that day people will come to you”. “You” could refer to the nation or to God, but the inference is the same, other nations will be included within the restoration, and the astonishing truth is that this extends to those who are currently the scourge of Judah, the Assyrians, and the ancient enemy Egypt. However, the catchment spreads even wider, to the Euphrates, and “from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain” (Mic 7:12), i.e. the whole earth. But whilst some will experience salvation, others will experience judgement as “the earth will become desolate because of its inhabitants, as the result of their deeds.” (Mic 7:13) There is always a corollary, between those who come to the light and those who remain in darkness.
The prayer of supplication Mic 7:14-17 revolves around verse 15, when Yahweh declares “As in the days when you came out of Egypt, I will show them my wonders.” The verses on either side of this are Micah’s prayer based on this promise. God is asked to shepherd his people, and this may also include the faithful of the other nations (Mic 7:12). Micah’s prayer is that the shepherd will restore his people to fertile pasture lands. Bashan and Gilead, located east of the Jordon, were coveted by the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh, because they were ideally suited for livestock (Numbers 32). The prayer also refers to the promise given in Mic 5:4 where the future ruler “will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord.”
The promise of v 15 refers to the wonders (nipla ot) of Egypt, which are the plagues, deliverance from the Red Sea and the preservation in the wilderness. Ex 3:20, “So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them.” It implies that when Yahweh restores his people it will be as dramatic as the events of the Exodus. The verses that follow may predict the demise of the nations as a prophetic utterance or they may be the continuation of Micah’s prayer in which he is asking for these things to happen i.e. let the nations see and be ashamed, let their ears be deaf, let them lick dust like a snake. The Hebrew is ambiguous and can be taken either way.
As a result of Yahweh’s actions “nations will see and be ashamed, deprived of all their power” (Mic 7:16); they will be shocked by what happens (clapping one’s hands over one’s mouth); they will not want to hear the news of Judah’s restoration (“their ears will become deaf”) and they will be humiliated. To “lick dust like a snake” is a picture of abject defeat, e.g. Isa 49:23 “Kings will be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. They will bow down before you with their faces to the ground; they will lick the dust at your feet. Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in me will not be disappointed.” The verbs used to convey the sense of fear (ragaz and pahad) refer to shaking and trembling in dread, not to the “fear” of repentance and faith. Therefore, there is a choice, nations may come to Yahweh in submission (Mic 7:11-12) or in abject panic (Mic 7:16-17).
A paean of praise
If Micah began with an oracle about God’s wrath (Mic 1:2-9) it ends with an oracle about God’s mercy (Mic 7:18-20). The exclamation starts with a play on his own name, Micah is an abbreviated form of Micaiah, “Who is like Yahweh?” He is a God “who pardons sin” (awon – referring to a wrong and the guilt associated with it) and “ forgives the transgression” (pesa – which carries the idea of rebellion or revolt and implies something wilful). To pardon (nasa) refers to removing the sin by transferring it to another to carry. Lev 16:22, referring to the ritual in which the high priest placed his hands on the head of a goat and confessed the nation’s sins on the Day of Atonement, states “The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place.”
The idea of a remnant is specifically mentioned (Mic 7:18). There is no sense that they deserve to be forgiven, but Yahweh is a God who does not “stay angry for ever, but delight(s) to show mercy.” The Hebrew changes from “you” to “he” (not reflected in some English translations such as NIV) i.e. “He will not stay angry for ever, but delight to show mercy. He will again show compassion to us; he will trample down ours sins underfoot….” (Mic 7:18-19). Micah is telling us what God’s character is like. He emphasises God’s compassion and his power, to trample down (kabas) means to completely break our sins and God will “hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Mic 7:19) reminds us of the events of Exodus when Moses stated “The Egyptians you see today you will never see again” (Ex 14:13). It is the fulfilment of the covenant promise made to Jacob and Abraham (Mic 7:20) that started the nation’s journey with God (Gen 17:7).