Saturday, October 01, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (5)

The most avid promoters of tolerance on the political left are among the most intolerant people in existence. They will not tolerate intolerance of their pet vices, and those who express any disagreement with their chosen path earn a bitter enmity you almost never see coming from any Christians other than maybe members of the Westboro Baptist Church. But in expressing their intolerance of intolerance, the promoters of tolerance demonstrate that it is impossible to have no strongly held opinions at all. The opinion that one should have no opinions remains an opinion, and the people who tell you not to preach invariably end up preaching.

This was as true two and a half thousand years ago as today.

Micah 2:6-7 — Preaching About Preaching

“ ‘Do not preach’ — thus they preach — ‘one should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us.’ Should this be said, O house of Jacob? Has the Lord grown impatient? Are these his deeds? Do not my words do good to him who walks uprightly?”

Taking an Opinion Out in Public

The Hebrew word translated “preach” three times in this verse and again in verse 11 is literally “drop”, as in “drop a word from God”. Ezekiel uses it twice as a synonym for prophesying. Used figuratively like this, it means a public pronouncement, hence the translation to “preach”.

Since we are going to express opinions no matter how hard we try not to, best to hold and express the opinions that are closest to the heart of God. The Judeans of Micah’s day held the strong opinion that Micah was wrong about God’s impending judgment on their evil works — “Disgrace will not overtake us” — so they tried to shame and badger Micah into silence. The ensuing five chapters are evidence he didn’t take them too seriously.

Rhetorical Questions

Either three or four rhetorical questions follow, most of which English commentators have historically had great difficulty understanding with certainty. The first, “Should this be said, O house of Jacob?” may not even be a question. The opening clause in inferred, so it may actually be an address to the house of Jacob. In the second, “Has the Lord grown impatient?”, the words “grown impatient” are literally “been shortened”. A figurative usage in Numbers suggested “limited” or “constrained” might be a better translation than “grown impatient”. If this is correct, then the answer is obviously “No”. The answer to the third, “Are these his deeds?”, should also be “No” provided that we understand Micah to be saying that acting in judgment toward his people is not the way the Lord prefers to deal with them. The last question expands on this: “Do not my words do good to him who walks uprightly?” This is God’s intention toward his people, but their obduracy makes it impossible for him to behave toward them as he would wish.

Micah 2:8-9 — The Enemy Within

“But lately my people have risen up as an enemy; you strip the rich robe from those who pass by trustingly with no thought of war. The women of my people you drive out from their delightful houses; from their young children you take away my splendor forever.”

Once again, the rich in Israel are in view in their exploitation of the defenseless, widows and orphans for their own profit. God sees this systemic injustice as an expression of enmity toward him. There are three accusations here. The first, “You strip the rich robe from those who pass by trustingly with no thought of war”, refers to the defenseless; those who were not prepared for conflict from their fellow Israelites, and so are quickly and thoroughly exploited. Some have suggested these were refugees from the northern kingdom who had escaped to Judah after the fall of Samaria, which is certainly consistent with the teaching of Hosea. The second accusation presumably refers to widows, women without men in the family who could defend them, and therefore lost title to their homes to the predatory lenders. The last probably refers to their children, who would never see Israel as God intended it to operate, and through which, in better times, he showed his splendor to the nations as in the days of Solomon. (The Hebrew ʿôlām, translated “forever”, is better understood as meaning “all their lives”. Future generations of Judean children would not necessarily have the same experiences.)

Micah 2:10 — Restless

“Arise and go, for this is no place to rest, because of uncleanness that destroys with a grievous destruction.”

God had intended Canaan to be a place of rest for Israel, but this could not happen when the rich exploited the poor. Micah addresses the oppressors as those who are about to be banished. They had given no comfort or rest to the poor among them, and they would have no rest as a result.

As in the Assyrian captivity of the northern kingdom, it would primarily be the rich landowners, the princes and elders of the people and their families who would go into exile. Invaders tended to leave the poorest of the poor in the lands they conquered, as they posed no threat to their empires and relocating them offered no particular economic upside. So it would be the oppressors and exploiters who would lose the most.

Micah 2:11 — Hearing What You Want to Hear

“If a man should go about and utter wind and lies, saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,’ he would be the preacher for this people!”

Micah now returns to his theme of preaching. His audience during the reigns of Jotham and Ahaz was unwilling to hear what he had to say, yet he preached on in any case, probably for more than sixteen years, before finding a repentant ear in the days of Hezekiah. If his messages are in anything like chronological order, chapter 2 probably reflects things said to the people in those earlier years when nobody would hear him. In effect, he throws his hands up in disgust at their attitude: these people would only pay attention if someone were offering them free booze, even if the offer turned out to be a complete hoax.

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