August 10, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: The Book of the prophet Micah

John F. FinkNext week, the biblical readings in the Office of Readings will finish the Book of Hosea begun this week then continue with the Book of Micah.

A quick quiz: Which prophet wrote, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again”? If you replied Isaiah, you’re right (Is 2:4). But if you replied Micah, you’re right, too (Mi 4:3).

The prophets apparently didn’t mind one of them borrowing something from another. After all, they thought alike. In the case of Isaiah and Micah, they were contemporaries, although Micah was a bit younger.

They lived in the eighth century B.C. when the Assyrians were threatening the southern kingdom of Judah. However, Isaiah lived in Jerusalem while Micah lived in the Judean lowland. They also were contemporaries of Amos and Hosea, the prophets in the northern kingdom of Israel, whom we met last week.

The seven chapters in Micah have traditionally been broken down into three parts. Each part consists of an announcement of God’s judgment followed by a declaration of God’s promise for Judah.

The first part describes Judah’s pending desolation because of its crimes, mainly sins against social justice. Like Amos, Micah was appalled by the rampant corruption in Jerusalem. The desolation will be followed by God’s gathering his scattered sheep into one flock.

The second part focuses on the corruption of Judah’s leaders. This is followed by God’s promise of Zion’s future restoration.

The third part presents a lawsuit against Judah for breach of covenant in which God is portrayed as the plaintiff who has maintained fidelity to the covenant. This will be followed with the people’s repentance and God’s healing and deliverance.

In the Book of Jeremiah, written about a century later, the leaders in Jerusalem recalled that Micah’s warnings at the time of King Hezekiah caused the people to “entreat the favor of the Lord, so that he repented of the evil with which he had threatened them” (Jer 26:18-19).

In the New Testament, Matthew’s Gospel uses Micah’s prophecy in his account of the magi who came from the East to adore the newborn Christ. When they stopped to consult with King Herod, he assembled the chief priests and scribes to learn where the Messiah was to be born.

They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel” (Mt 2:5-6). They were quoting Micah (Mi 5:1) who believed that the Immanuel whom Isaiah had spoken of (Is 7:14) would come from the almost-forgotten territory of Bethlehem, King David’s birthplace.

We also have this advice from Micah: “You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mi 6:8). †

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