The following essay will share my views on why verse 6:8 of Micah does not necessarily contain the central message of the book. Although many parts of the book can be related to verse 6:8, this does not mean that they are distinct themes. I believe that there are different messages which are spread over the whole of the book. The biblical Hebrew “Navi” has been mistranslated to fuel the common misconception of a seer or fortune-telling character. The role of the prophet was more one of a messenger, interpreting and delivering the word of God to make it available to the masses.
Prophets were chosen by God to identify problems in society and to try and persuade those responsible to rectify the situation. Prophets were often required to perform as leaders; however the crucial dissimilarity between the two roles is the notion that whereas leaders will accept human weakness and will lead accordingly, a prophet is an eternal optimist who refuses to accept human failure. We, therefore, need to identify what the specific problems in society were and ask whether verse 6:8 addresses those problems.
This will help determine whether our verse contains the central message or not. As a messenger of G-d however, at least from a traditional perspective, the message Micah brings is independent of himself. He is simply the messenger. The message is G-d’s and not Micha’s. The prophet Micah, a contemporary of the prophet Isaiah ben Amoz, was active from before the fall of Samaria in 722 B. C. E. , and apparently through Sennacharib’s invasion of Judah in 710 BCE. Consequently, he applies the moral and ethical lessons of Samaria’s fall to the approaching plight of Jerusalem.
Micah has some material in common with Isaiah (Micah 4:1-5 = Isaiah 2:2-4) He was also a contemporary of Amos and Hoshea. As we mentioned earlier, Micha is simply a messenger and there is no reason to assume that his message would not be similar to the other prophets of his day. To argue that our verse 6:8 is the central message of Micha would necessitate the argument that he prophesized from his own motivation, inserting his own ideas of which there is no evidence. The people of this generation were religious, however it was an empty ceremonialism.
Religion had become a matter of form. People considered religious ceremonies were thought to meet all religious requirements. The people mistakenly led to believe that as long as the external ceremonial observances were being met, their religious duties had been completed, and thus entitled to divine protection. They had completely ignored the need for justice, kindness, and general social fairness, instead the considered an offering to G-d more important than treating their fellow citizens with respect and justice.
So say that our verse is the central theme is to ignore this aspect of insincere worship, [which is found most strongly in Amos ] Indeed, our verse follows directly from the verse 6:7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? ‘ This verse clearly criticizes insincere worship and Micah then emphasises that this is not what G-d wants. In other words, verse 6:8 is a response to the question posed in 6:7
Injustice shows itself, according to Micah, primarily in three activities: in coveting what belongs to others, in perverting justice, and in hypocritical religiosity. Selfish coveting is for Micah the source of all sorts of evil… Micah takes the word “covet’ from the ninth and 10th commandments (Exodus 20:17) and says: (2:2), “They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them; they oppress a man and his family, a man and his inheritance. ” One thinks immediately of officers and administrative officials from Jerusalem who are assigned to the fortress cities around Moresheth.
They seek beautiful fields and houses in the pleasant countryside. Micah describes their psychology (2:1) as they keep themselves awake in bed at night, devising their plans. The next morning they carry out the plans “because it is in their power to do so. ” The three main activities of sin mentioned here can be related to our verse, but this only strengthens my hypothesis of 6:8 not being the central message as g-d. These examples are not just details of 6:8 because the detail is what matters to a religious society.
Otherwise, Micha or the Torah for that matter could simply have had one rule such a ‘Love’ and it then could be said that all else is a detail of this concept. The rules for example in keeping the Shabbat holy are not just based on an airy notion of rest. The details of the 39 melachot is what makes Shabbat, Shabbat. Like other prophets of the time, Micah speaks of idolatrous practice ‘her pay as a harlot shall be burned with the fire’ Micah combines the ideas of idolatry and spiritual adultery. Money spent on idols and their worship will be brought to nothing when the mighty army of the Assyrians destroys Samaria. Golden images, of such monetary value yet so spiritually and politically worthless, were constructed from the wages of cult prostitutes. The conquerors will break them up and use the money to repeat the same cycle. Only the heart of depraved man could worship gods like that! ” (Waltke) This is obviously a distinct theme of the book. Furthermore, because of their imaginative planning their basic covetousness quickly matures into brutal acts of violence against property and people: property they “seize”; people they “oppress” (2:2).
Both measures are strictly forbidden by God’s law, “Thou shalt not oppress thy neighbour or rob him” (Lev. 19:13) Again these are separate themes. Modern bible scholars have recognised in Micah his ability to indoctrinate the masses by using a tried and tested pattern common with all prophets. He first identifies the problems and criticises them, eventually reintroducing the Jewish ethical monotheistic idea of God and what He expects as common moral integrity, as a supplier of comfort and redemption.
This thematic segregation is consistent throughout the book and it serves to highlight that there is no central theme. Essentially, chapters 1-3 feature rebuke and threat; chapters 4-5 provide hope and possible consolation and chapters 6-7 act as a synoptic conclusive reiteration of the book as a whole. This shows that the book can not revolve around just one section. Firstly g-d makes his threats surely that should be enough of a message for teshuvah, next g-d shows how his power can be a positive tool for the Jewish nation 6:8 is just a verse telling them how they can achieve all this.
Micah condemned prophets who worked for wages. Perhaps he was standing in critique of cult or royal prophets who were eager to please (3:5-6). Based on their belief in the divine election of the nation, the Davidic dynasty, and the city of Jerusalem, it defined a theology highly supportive of the establishment and designed to foster high morale and fierce loyalty and pride. Micah merely pointed out that a prophecy that supported this type of theology was prone to deceive the people by feeding their need for support and reassurance, and by telling them exactly what they wanted to hear.
When he says “I am filled with power and justice and strength to declare to Jacob his transgression” (3:8), his challenge sounds very much like Amos’. Micah must accuse Jerusalem’s leading officials in every field of one crime above all others–the hankering for money. Not a very ‘humble’ approach from Micah but making a valid point that absolutely everyone has to change their ways, injustice shown by prophets working for wages and Micahs non-humble approach of accusation.
In the next section of the book Micah begins by cleverly using his metaphor of the mountains in a positive light, in contrast to its earlier use, “as the highest in the mountains”. (4:1) By using ideas popular to his audience such as peace and social equity, Micah adds to the authority of his teachings and creates an appeal that would increase the amount of people acting on his words, “He shall judge… war any more. ” (4:3) Another method he employs is that of generalisation. He groups together the lower classes and the ill as an afflicted congregation, using them to prove God’s pity and goodness, “I will assemble the lame… aughter Jerusalem. ” (4:6-8) He uses the idea of sympathy to promote a “rags to riches” mentality and hopeful possibility. This concept manifests itself in the idea of exile preceding redemption, “for now you shall go forth from the city… will redeem you from the hands of your enemies. ” (4:10)
This theme is also subliminally recognisable by the people from similar events in Exodus, a main theme of g-d saying what will come if society repents. Chapter 5 continues the sentiments of the previous chapter, but in a more poetic form. “I will eliminate your use of sorcery . ” When the Jewish people realise the hand of g-d is on their side they will not have any need for sorcerers or fortune tellers for military predictions which leads to the next step forward (5:12) “i will purge your idols”, they will then realise they need not to turn to any one but g-d. The direct commandments go on to finish the chapter by saying for not having obeyed my Torah I will seek wrathful vengeance. This portion of the book is a convincer in itself as g-d is offering reward for repentance, it is message of hope leading to our verse which is just instruction to the Jewish nation of how to achieve all this.
After a prolonged warning to the Jews of what will happen to them, Michah gives the people a vision of hope, this being the messianic message contained throughout chapter 4. Michah spoke of the messiah and the messianic age in order to give the people a ‘light at the end of the tunnel,’ the tunnel being the long dark age of destruction that the people were to endure. The coming of the messiah acted as an incentive to the people, the prophet was giving them something positive to work for.
Chapter 6 then goes on to discuss how the people, in order to gain that messianic redemption, need to meet G-d halfway, and make an effort to live more ethical lives, and G-d will redeem them with the times of messiah. This brings in the title quote of this essay which is a perfect formula of how to serve G-d in a way that will enable the coming of the messiah, the rebuilding of the holy temple, and the age of complete peace among all nations of the world. All of course are important and separate ideas. Chapters 6-7, begin with judgment and move to hope.
Micah puts a protest on the people’s lips, offering any religious response God cared to ask for. God’s indictment becomes specific in 6:9-16. Violence, deception, and crooked business practices were rampant. They would bring desolation and destruction to the land. Micah mentions the prevalent practise of offering sacrifices as an excuse for doing wrong; possibly preconceived with a view to “rectifying” their actions afterwards, “Shall I come to him with burnt offerings? ” (6:6) although calves are the finest offerings g-d does not require them.
This leads us to the title quote: a basic instruction on how the people should go about improving their ethical and moral outlook and practise. It is a summary of a method for redemption, fulfilling the essential requirements of God. “Act justly . . . Love kindness . . . walk modestly with your g-d”(6:8) g-d has already stated what needs to be done by the people in their own way to repent. The only way this could be the central message is that every sin can come under the category of love, kindness and walking humbly and could be told to any nation in need of performing teshuvah.
Once this has been established, however, Micah feels the need to reiterate the evil that has penetrated Jerusalem, “The voice of the Lord… deceit in their mouths” (6:9-12) and the inevitable consequences of what will happen to those who do not take heed of his warnings, “Therefore… scorn of my people. ” (6:13-16) A well thought out punishment for each sin committed. The final chapter Micah’s yearning request of mercy upon the Jewish people is accepted with the added bonus of “fertile fields” (7:14). G-d answers poetically saying he will perform wonders to the other nations as the day I took the Jews from Egypt.
All nations will lick dust like a snake and prostrate them selves before the Jewish nation. (7:15-17) A loving forgiving g-d finally casts the sins away due to being true to loving-kindness covenant with our forefather Jacob in Abraham act of loving-kindness “your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth . . . ” The messages of the Book of Micah are a complex mixture of judgment and hope. On the one hand, the prophecies announce judgment upon Israel for social evils, corrupt leadership and idolatry.
This judgment was expected to culminate in the destruction of Samaria and Jerusalem. On the other hand, the book proclaims not merely the restoration of the nation, but the transformation and exaltation of Israel and Jerusalem. The title quote provides us with one method that is identified as a basic requirement of God’s will, sufficient to bring about eventual salvation. However, this does not have wholly positive connotations. Eventually the situation in Jerusalem has deteriorated to a point where the people are such a low level that they have only minimal expectations.
However, this does prove the importance of the quote. It suggests that the fundamentals of ethical monotheism are contained within these few words. Indeed, the positive effects of doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly lead to a life that encompasses all other good traits. Once these basic morals have been accepted and are continuously practised, deeper moral understanding becomes obvious and attainable. The messages of hope and doom are not necessarily contradictory, however, since restoration and transformation take place only after judgment.
Micah’s aim for change, this quote provides an adequate route for redemption, but cannot be described as a summary of the central theme, as there simply is no one central theme. Micah aims to achieve a general acceptance of inevitable exile, providing reasons for the deterioration of society, throughout. He also makes clear that redemption is possible with change, and uses this quote as a means to achieve this end, and it is here that the relevance and importance of these words become apparent.