Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
This chapter is the continuation of the preceding. The offences of the great men are depicted in still more glaring colours; a bitter spirit, reminding us of Dante’s Inferno, pervades the description in Micah 3:2-3. Next follows first, a reference to the judgment (Micah 3:4, as in Micah 2:5; Micah 2:10); then, a digression on the evil prophets (Micah 3:5-7, as in Micah 2:6; Micah 2:11), whose work is contrasted with the strictly ethical character of the true revelation (Micah 3:8, comp. Micah 2:7). The close of the entire prophecy is formed by an apostrophe to the grandees (Micah 3:9-11), and the declaration that Jerusalem will be utterly destroyed on account of its sins (Micah 3:12).
And I said, Hear, I pray you, O heads of Jacob, and ye princes of the house of Israel; Is it not for you to know judgment?1–4. Chiefly a description of the savage behaviour of the ruling class
1. O heads of Jacob] The prophet addresses the official class of all Israel, especially the judges, who appear from Jeremiah 21:11-12 to have been (in Judah at any rate) chiefly members of the royal family (a numerous body in Judah as well as in Egypt).
Who hate the good, and love the evil; who pluck off their skin from off them, and their flesh from off their bones;2. who pluck off their skin from off them] The description is figurative. We may infer that cannibalism was not unknown to the Israelites by hearsay or tradition, but not necessarily that it was practised by the ancestors of the Israelites, much less by the Israelites themselves. The meaning of the figure plainly is that the peasantry had lost their old independence, and fallen into a condition like that of the peasants of the Turkish empire. This arose from a change in the social organism. “The nobles of Israel were no longer great farmers, as Saul and Nabal had been, living among the peasantry and sharing their toil … The introduction of such a commerce, throwing the Hebrews into immediate relations with the great emporium of international traffic (Tyre), necessarily led to accumulation of wealth in a few hands, and to the corresponding impoverishment of the class without capital, as exportation raised the price of the necessaries of life” (Prof. Robertson Smith, The Old Testament in the Jewish Church, p. 347).
their skin] i.e. the skin of the house of Israel.
Who also eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them; and they break their bones, and chop them in pieces, as for the pot, and as flesh within the caldron.
Then shall they cry unto the LORD, but he will not hear them: he will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings.4. Then shall they cry] We must suppose that, when Micah delivered this prophecy (of which we can have but a summary), he introduced between Micah 3:3 and Micah 3:4 a description of ‘the day of the Lord,’ the day of just retribution.
Thus saith the LORD concerning the prophets that make my people err, that bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace; and he that putteth not into their mouths, they even prepare war against him.5–8. The fate of the false prophets, whose unauthorized smooth-speaking Micah contrasts with his own divinely inspired courage
5. that bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace] i.e. who, when they are given something to eat, cry, Peace. To ‘bite with the teeth’ is a quaint, rough expression in harmony with the foregoing image from cannibalism. Choice language would have been thrown away on such seared consciences. Comp. the description of the priests, 1 Samuel 2:13-16.
they even prepare war against him] Lit., they consecrate war, a prophetic formula (Jeremiah 4:4, Joel 3:9, comp. Isaiah 13:3, ‘my consecrated ones’). The meaning is, that if at any time the rulers of the people are behindhand with the accustomed fee to these mercenary prophets, the tone of the latter at once begins to change. Instead of announcing peace, they declare that Jehovah is wroth with his people, and will send war. Strictly speaking, to ‘consecrate war’ is to open a campaign (with sacred rites), but here the antithesis with ‘that cry, Peace’ requires us to take it in a modified sense.
Therefore night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision; and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine; and the sun shall go down over the prophets, and the day shall be dark over them.6. night shall be unto you, &c.] The prophet is still addressing the rulers. Because of their rapacity, and their league with false prophets, their land shall be overshadowed by adversity, and there shall be no prophecy, whether false or true, to guide them. The false prophets will be ashamed, because of the non-fulfilment of their oracles; and the true will have no fresh revelation till the old cycle of prophecies has been fulfilled. Comp. Lamentations 2:9.
Then shall the seers be ashamed, and the diviners confounded: yea, they shall all cover their lips; for there is no answer of God.7. their lips] Rather, their beard; the phrase includes the face up to the nose. A sign of mourning, Leviticus 13:45, Ezekiel 24:17; Ezekiel 24:22.
But truly I am full of power by the spirit of the LORD, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin.8. But truly, &c.] The sign of a fresh paragraph, placed here in most editions, should rather be at the beginning of Micah 3:9.
Hear this, I pray you, ye heads of the house of Jacob, and princes of the house of Israel, that abhor judgment, and pervert all equity.9–12. A recapitulation of the national sins, with a more distinct declaration of the bitter end
10. build up Zion with blood] Probably this alludes to the building of palaces and fortifications, always a fruitful source of oppression in the East. ‘Blood’ is used by synecdoche for ‘violent conduct leading to the ruin of others;’ so Isaiah 1:15; Isaiah 59:3, Proverbs 1:11, and other passages. Unless we admit this, we shall have to take an incredibly dark view of the state of public morals in the Jewish state.
They build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity.
The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the LORD, and say, Is not the LORD among us? none evil can come upon us.11. the priests thereof teach for hire] ‘The priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law (rather, ‘law,’ lit. ‘teaching’) at his mouth,’ Malachi 2:7. The nature of the teaching appears from Deuteronomy 17:9-13; comp. Haggai 2:11-13, Jeremiah 2:8. It was explanatory of the Law, and based upon ancient tradition (comp. Deuteronomy 24:8, ‘as I commanded them’). See note on Micah 4:2.
divine for money] This was the custom of the ‘seers’ in former times; even Samuel appears to have received fees (1 Samuel 9:7-8). But it had been given up by the later prophets, when they devoted themselves more entirely to moral and spiritual functions.
lean upon the Lord] The priests and prophets, then, whom Micah so severely chastises, were like himself worshippers of Jehovah. But their worship was formal, and their faith mechanical. They said, Is not Jehovah among us? i.e. is not Jehovah’s favour assured by his presence within the temple (comp. Jeremiah 7:4), forgetting that, as Milton puts it, in the spirit of Isaiah 1:11-13, he doth ‘prefer Before all temples the upright heart and pure.’ For the phrase, comp. Exodus 17:7, ‘they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?’
Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest.12. be plowed as a field] This striking prophecy was quoted at a critical point in the history of Jeremiah when ‘the priests and the prophets and all the people’ had pronounced sentence of death upon the prophet by acclamation. ‘Certain of the elders of the land’ we are told invoked the respectful treatment of Micah by king Hezekiah as a precedent for granting Jeremiah a similar immunity. So far from putting Micah to death, Hezekiah, they declare, had been moved by his sombre prediction to ‘fear the Lord and beseech the Lord,’ ‘and the Lord repented him of the evil which he had pronounced upon them’ (Jeremiah 26:17-19). In fact, all prophecy is conditional. The prophets declare the great principles of God’s moral government, and apply them to individual cases. But if the moral conditions of the cases to which these principles are applied be altered, the threatening or the promise is postponed, modified, or recalled. We have no difficulty therefore, in reconciling the genuineness of Micah’s prophecy with the fact thus stated by Dean Stanley. “The destruction which was then threatened has never been completely fulfilled. Part of the southeastern portion of the city has for several centuries been arable land; but the rest has always been within the walls. In the Maccabæan wars (1Ma 4:38) the Temple courts were overgrown with shrubs, but this has never been the case since.” (Jewish Church, ii. 464.) There is a parallel to this passage of Micah in Isaiah (Isaiah 32:13-14), which is all the more remarkable as Isaiah generally predicts the destruction of the Assyrians and the deliverance of Jerusalem (e.g. Isaiah 29:5, Isaiah 30:19, Isaiah 31:4). At the time when Micah and Isaiah delivered their gloomy vaticinations, the moral state of Jerusalem must have been worse than usual. The uncompromising severity with which they announced the inevitable punishment was (as Jeremiah 26:17-19 shews) the means chosen of God for producing at least a partial repentance.
the mountain of the house] i.e. mount Moriah.
as the high places of the forest] Rather, heights in the wood. The temple-mount shall be overgrown with low brushwood (comp. Isaiah 32:13). The word rendered ‘heights’ (bâmôth) may also mean ‘high places,’ and perhaps the writer means to suggest that the temple shall be treated no better than if it were a ‘high place.’ The plural ‘heights’ to correspond to the plural ‘heaps.’