Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Gluttonous Prophets

As noted, greedy magistrates are not the only ones condemned by Micah. In verses 5-8, a judgment oracle is issued against the gluttonous prophets. Micah is upset that they have joined the cannibals to satisfy their own appetites instead of being the moral watchdogs of the theocracy. They failed to condemn injustice and crimes.

The “prophets” addresses by Micah are part of a long line of false prophets who lead the people astray. These false prophets, who misrepresented the judicial activity of Yahweh, were motivated by personal gain. The religious system joined the judicious system in protecting the criminal. They colluded with the rulers and the magistrates.

Today, some religious institutions use the judicial system to protect their status rather than challenging the system to protect the oppressed members of society. Are there no prophets left? Would we recognize them?

Copyrighted 2007

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

You who abhor justice and pervert all equity

To me the third chapter of Micah is the most interesting. The oracle contained in the first four verses is a condemnation of the ruling class including the persons responsible for administering justice. The leaders have failed to render just decisions in accordance with the requirements of the law. Micah delivers a devastating critique of the injustice and oppression perpetuated by the leaders and officials.

“And I said: Hear, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel! Is it not for you to know justice?--
you who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin from off my people, and their flesh from off their bones;
who eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them, and break their bones in pieces, and chop them up like meat in a kettle, like flesh in a caldron.
Then they will cry to the LORD, but he will not answer them; he will hide his face from them at that time,
because they have made their deeds evil.”

The leaders and officials are guilty of violent acts of oppression. The social critique focuses on the hatred of justice, oppression, murder and bribery linked to Jerusalem and ultimately requiring its downfall. The major point being made by the Prophet is that this failure of the leadership is the cause of the punishment about to be suffered by the nation. Micah expects a destructive punishment upon those who oppress “my people.”

If a prominent cynical law school professor can ask the question, “Are there any honest lawyers left?” it is apparent there may be something wrong with the legal system. The professor answered his own question by indicating there are, but they operate in a profession which “... preaches honesty, but all too often it practices and rewards corruption.” It has been said that one of the signs of the decline of a particular society is the perversion of the judicial system. I wonder what Micah would say!

The Prophet provides a detailed accounting of the abuses beginning with the rhetorical statement: “should you not know justice?” The allegation of cannibalism that follows is a devastating metaphor charging the leadership with abuse of the people. There is no statement that the rulers, judges and/or prophets are eating human flesh. This according to some scholars is an indication that the image is probably metaphorical. Nonetheless, it is the most devastating condemnation of the legal system ever delivered.

There is no suggestion that the condemnation is issued by Micah because the rulers had shifted judicial power from local courts to central administration. There is no indication that traditional local courts had been abolished or curtailed. When Jehoshaphat conducted the reform of the judiciary, he made it clear the officials appointed to administer justice were agents of Yahweh in the performance of their judicial functions. With this very brief background, it is understandable why Micah would be upset that the judges “give judgment for a bribe.” It is because the judicial agents of Yahweh had perverted justice. Micah also condemned the rulers and prophets because they colluded with the rulers and magistrates.

No wonder Micah said:

“Therefore because of you
Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins;
And the mountain of the house a wooded height.”

Copyrighted 2007

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Shepherd King

Chapter 2 ends with a prophecy of hope and salvation in these words:

I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob,
I will gather the remnant of Israel;
I will set them together like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture, a noisy multitude of men.
He who opens the breach will go up before them;
they will break through and pass the gate, going out by it.
Their king will pass on before them, the LORD at their head.

The idea that a king can be a shepherd is well established in Judaism. Ezekiel reminds us that the term “shepherd” is intended as another image for king in the ancient Near East. The shepherd image for David derives from a common metaphor for rulers in the ancient Near East. It suggested the care, concern, and protection that a shepherd was to provide his flock of people. When the kings of Israel prove to be bad shepherds, Ezekiel declares that the Lord will assume the role of shepherd.

Before the son of man “will be gathered all nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.” The Matthean parable starts with animal imagery. Sheep need a shepherd. Unlike goats, sheep cannot fend for themselves. They often go astray and become lost and in such instances must be sought and found (Ezekiel 34:6; Luke 15:4). They depend on a shepherd to "go out before them and go in before them, ... lead them out and bring them in" (Numbers 27:17), and to ascertain that they are provided pasturage (Ezekiel 34:2, 13f) and "still waters" (Psalm 23:2). We repeatedly read in Holy Scriptures the lament for "sheep which have no shepherd" (e.g., Numbers 27:17). "They are in trouble because there is no shepherd" (Zechariah 10:2). "So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered" (Ezekiel 34:5). "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered" (Zechariah 13:7).

The Prophet Micah tells us Yahweh will preserve a remnant out of the house of Jacob. Several scholars have shown that “remnant” terminology predates the exile. After the fall of Samaria, many refugees fled south to Jerusalem including many priests and Levites. Yahweh saves the remnant in the midst of the enemy’s siege. In this instance, the place of salvation is Jerusalem and Yahweh saves the remnant by decimating the Assyrian army which had demolished Judah.

185,000 men died in the Assyrian camp causing Sennacherib to withdraw. Herodotus attributed these deaths to the bubonic plague. Josephus quotes the Chaldean historian Berosus as follows:

“Now when Sennacherib was returning from his Egyptian war to Jerusalem, he found his army under Rabshakeh his general in danger [by a plague], for God had sent a pestilential distemper upon his army; and on the very night of the siege, a hundred fourscore and five thousand, with their captains and generals, were destroyed (Antiquities 10.1.5).”

Sacred scripture simply indicated that the army was wiped out by “an angel of the Lord.”

There is no question that Yahweh as the divine shepherd king preserves a remnant in Zion. This passage is not discussed in conjunction with the shepherd king. Yet it may be that this passage (Mi 2:12-13) is the origin and source of the idea.

Micah did not tell us about the “angel of the Lord” destroying the Assyrian army. Nor did Micah tell us about the miraculous cure of King Hezekiah that occurred about this same time. Instead the Prophet addressed those currently oppressed and suffering. Yahweh will surely gather the oppressed who are like sheep in distress. The Prophet can be certain that a radical change of circumstances is imminent. The tide is about to turn. Yahweh accomplished a victory through a King diagnosed by medical historians with bubonic plague. Micah did not tell us the King had some help.

Copyrighted 2007

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Centralization for the war economy

The religious reform, instituted by Hezekiah, was an attempt to centralize worship in Jerusalem. This attempt made the people dependent upon Jerusalem. It also increased the economic power of Jerusalem. Religious reforms placed King Hezekiah in total control of the economy and the food supply. Is it possible that these efforts were part of an overall plan to prepare for the invasion of the Assyrians?

The text in 2 Chronicles 32:1-9 indicates that many preparations, including the building of water courses, aqueducts and the Gihon to Siloam tunnel dug through solid rock, were started and completed before the siege began because the invasion of Sennacherib was believed to be imminent. The invasion in 701 BC that included the siege of Lachish is much too close in time to the siege of Jerusalem to have allowed time to complete the vast public works programs which Sennacherib's threats caused Hezekiah to create. Thus the preparations for the impending attack by the Assyrians occupied a lengthy period of time. The preparations probably began before Hezekiah announced that he was suspending tribute payments knowing such announcement would result in an invasion.

Copyrighted 2007

Monday, August 20, 2007

Assembly of Yahweh

Chapter Two provides a detailed explanation of the wrongs that led to ruin. Micah tells us about the premeditated plotting and planning and coveting land. This is followed by the plotting and planning of Yahweh against the oppressors. The judgment fits the crimes. Thus those who have seized land will suffer the expropriation of their ill-gotten land when the “assembly of Yahweh” meets to allot land. It is unlikely that Micah is describing an ancient historical practice of periodically reallocating land. This describes an eschatological reversal. It was the kind of eschatological reversal anticipated by Luke.

It has been suggested that it is unlikely that the rich would be busy seizing land when the invasion is imminent. Jeremiah 32:6-15 is cited to demonstrate that such conduct was considered foolish. Initially, it should be noted that the false prophets were bolding asserting that no harm would come to Jerusalem. Therefore the rich, who believed the false prophets, did not consider the invasion to be imminent. Furthermore, this position, that the rich would not be seizing land, ignores a number of known historical facts about this time period when Hezekiah was king.

Hezekiah is one of three kings in the Bible, not described as wicked. The account of this king in the Hebrew Bible is contained in 2 Kings 18-20, Isaiah 36-39, and 2 Chronicles 29-32. He introduced religious reform, reinstated religious traditions and abolished idolatry from his kingdom. It is believed that the religious reforms of Hezekiah were provoked by the words of the Prophet Micah.

Hezekiah refused to pay the tribute imposed upon his father. This led to the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:13-16) in the 4th year of Sennacherib (701 BC). Hezekiah anticipated the Assyrian invasion, and made several major preparations. One is considered to be an impressive engineering feat. A tunnel 533 meters long was dug in order to provide Jerusalem exclusive access to the waters of the Spring of Gihon, which was located outside the city. In addition, a wall, described in Isaiah 22:11 as the broad wall, was built around the city.

In my last blog, I noted “What is generally not known nor mentioned by the Micah commentaries is that in the accounts of his campaigns, Sennacherib mentioned how Hezekiah captured the cities of the coastal plains controlled by the Philistines and held their king a captive in Jerusalem.”

2nd Kings and 2nd Chronicles does report that Hezekiah was successful in his wars against the Philistines driving them back in a series of battles as far as Gaza. He regained all the cities his father had lost plus some but no mention was made of the capture of the King of the Philistines. Josephus indicated that Hezekiah captured all their cities from Gaza to Gath. This campaign was undertaken to strengthen the defense of Judah and secure the agricultural region that supplied Jerusalem with food. Finally, Hezekiah fortified the Jerusalem perimeter for the protection of the city. Moresheth, located about 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem was probably part of this fortified perimeter.

Broshi has written about expansion of Jerusalem during the reigns of Hezekiah and Manasseh. During the 8th century, the socio-economic effects of urbanization and surplus farming became acute. Surplus farming describes the growth of wealth by those family farmers able to grow more than the family actually needed to support itself. The surplus was used to purchase other assets including land. The growth of Jerusalem in this period is attributed to the influx of refugees from the Northern Kingdom after its collapse and the border policy that forced people residing in the perimeter area to relocate. Many of people moved to Jerusalem. Finally when the war began, additional refugees arrived in Jerusalem from the war zone.

The preparation of Hezekiah began when the King decided to stop paying tribute. The preparations set forth in the preceding paragraphs did not occur overnight. This time period of extensive preparation, during which the invasion was imminent, probably lasted more than four years. It is my opinion that Micah in his violent verbal assault of the rich people coveting and seizing land was in fact, inter alia, critiquing the King’s border policy that forced relocation of small poor family farmers and allowed the rich people to seize the vacated land so that it could be used for surplus farming.

The woe speech contained in the second chapter was designed to convince the audience that the exile of the northern kingdom of Israel was an act of Yahweh that was intended to punish Israel for enabling its more powerful elements to seize the land of small family farmers. The woe speech was devastating because the same practice is now occurring in Judah as the country prepares for the Assyrian invasion. If the same land practice was not occurring, there would be no point to the speech as it would have no impact on the audience. It would be a history lesson spoken with no purpose. The audience was prepared. Its response indicated that they believed the false prophets who had said no harm will harm to Jerusalem. Micah’s reaction was strong: “My people have become an enemy.”

Copyrighted 2007

Friday, August 17, 2007

For this I will lament and wail

In verses 8-16, the Prophet Micah presents us with some biographical information in that Micah is mourning the destruction of the cities of the coastal plain. At the time of the lament, his city of Moresheth was being threatened. Moresheth was situated in the fertile foothills of Judah near its frontier with Philistia. These cities of the coastal plain were captured and destroyed by Sennacherib in preparation for the siege of Jerusalem. This invasion forced Micah to flee Moresheth for refuge in Jerusalem.

Micah probably did “pass by on [his] way inhabitants of Shaphir, in nakedness and shame.” These people that he saw may have been prisoners of war who were marched off naked and barefoot by their captors.

I noted earlier this month that Sennacherib has been in the news again. What is generally not known nor mentioned by the Micah commentaries is that in the accounts of his campaigns, Sennacherib mentioned how Hezekiah captured the cities of the coastal plains controlled by the Philistines and held their king a captive in Jerusalem. When Sennacherib invaded the coastal region he first seized and destroyed the Philistine cities before attacking the Judean coastal cities and marching on Jerusalem. This Hezekiah’s event, not mentioned in the Bible, is the clue that the cities mentioned in verses 10-12, and not previously identified, are probably part of the Philistine territory seized by Hezekiah to strengthen the defense of Judah and secure the agricultural region that supplied Jerusalem with food (See generally, Sennacherib’s Campaign at the Internet History Sourcebooks Project, Paul Halsall, editor; ANET 287-8).

Thus Micah’s depiction of the destruction of the coastal plains, as an eyewitness account, is confirmed in part by the accounts of the campaigns of Sennacherib.

Copyrighted 2007

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Hear give ear

Typically the covenant lawsuit begins with heaven and earth being summoned to act as witnesses and a demand that the accused listen. Verse two states:

“Hear, all you peoples,

Give ear, O earth and all that is in you,

That the Lord Yahweh may testify against you.”

There are two other verses where the “peoples” are assembled to hear Yahweh’s wrath against them. In Isaiah 34:1 we read: “Draw near, O nations, to hear, and hearken, O peoples! Let the earth listen, and all that fills it; the world, and all that comes from it.” Isaiah 3:13-14 states: “The Lord has taken his place to contend, he stands to judge the peoples. The LORD enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: ‘It is you who have devoured the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses.’”

Hear is a command word Micah used in 1:2; 3:1; 6:1 to begin major sections. Each of the three divisions contains words of judgment followed by words of salvation. Catchwords and motifs, comparisons and contrasts, link the different units into coherence.

Although the second verse contains the phrase “that the Lord Yahweh may testify against you,” verse 2-7 is not considered a covenant lawsuit. Micah 6:1-8 is a good example of a covenant lawsuit.

One of the elements missing from this so-called “covenant” lawsuit in verse 2-7 is that the accused is not present or if present has not yet been identified. This point is briefly mentioned by Andersen and Freedman in their commentary.

A criminal trial in absentia is certainly possible although not generally allowed in American jurisprudence. Lately we have seen trials in absentia in certain European terrorism cases. It was probably not allowed in Hebrew law in the 8th century BCE. If covenant lawsuits mirror secular law, then we should be able to cite an example of such procedure from the secular law. The evidence suggests otherwise. The existence of the cities of refuge indicates that the person charged with manslaughter that had fled to the city was, not only physically safe, but also he could not be tried in absentia.

The more satisfactory explanation for verse 2-7 is that these verses represent a judgment oracle proclaimed by the Prophet. Has Micah turned the tables on the people by initially summoning them as an audience and now the people have become the accused and the recipients of the judgment oracle with trial omitted? Or is this the judgment issued against Samaria with sentence omitted as to Jerusalem being reviewed by the people of Jerusalem?

Perhaps the Prophet Micah in uttering this judgment oracle prior to the fall of Samaria (722 BCE) viewed this oracle as a warning against Jerusalem. This technique is effective because God’s judgment against Samaria implies a judgment against others such as Jerusalem. This strategy attempts to convince a Judean audience that Jerusalem will suffer a similar fate for similar reasons.

Copyrighted 2007

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Sentence Omitted

Our lives are so well organized that we expect public speakers and preachers and other people with whom we interact to also be organized. We also expect our sacred writings to be well organized. When we are told the presentation has three parts we expect there will be three parts.

The prophetic lawsuit was constructed to mirror the forms employed in secular law. It included the depiction of trial, the prosecutor’s speech and the judge’s speech. Each of these three parts was further subdivided. A prominent part of the judge’s speech was the declaration that the accused had no defense followed by the pronouncement of sentence.

Many summers ago I represented a young man in juvenile court. He was charged with throwing snowballs at passing automobiles. The judge called this juvenile case last, and after hearing a few comments from the police officer how dangerous the activity was, started yelling and screaming. During the judicial tirade, the courtroom started emptying and soon only the judge, the juvenile and I were left in the room.

Isaiah includes two prophetic lawsuits in Isa. 1:2-3 and 3:13-15 both of which omits the verdict. The judge’s final words were, “you are free to leave now.” There was no adjudication and no sentence but everyone, including the juvenile, knew the judge considered the juvenile to be guilty as charged. Nothing more needed to be said.

Kirsten Nielsen, Yahweh as Prosecutor and Judge, noted “the tendency to omit the verdict as a means of forcing the audience to draw their own conclusions. The uncompleted lawsuit demands its conclusion, and by the use of metaphor and the omission of defence the prophet indicates what the verdict must be. Moreover, by compelling the audience themselves to pass sentence, the prophet forces them to accept it as a just consequence of the given accusations.”

The prophetic lawsuit with sentence omitted has the same purpose as a juridical parable. The Parable of the Wicked Tenants appearing in the Gospel of Luke is a juridical parable. Designating the parable as a juridical parable makes sense only if the parable is directed at the chief priests. In fact, all three synoptic gospels report that the chief priests realized that Jesus had told the parable against them. A juridical parable can not be directed at the nation, only towards individuals, because the purpose of the juridical parable is to have the addressee recognize himself. Uriel Simon has explained: “The juridical parable is a disguised parable designed to overcome man's closeness to himself, enabling him to judge himself by the same yardstick that he applies to others.”

The prophetic lawsuit utilized by Micah initiated these thoughts. The first chapter of Micah begins like a prophetic lawsuit but is not considered as such by any of the commentaries. Perhaps sentence omitted ought to be considered in other situations where the audience is being asked to provide the missing element particularly where existing explanations are not satisfactory. This missing element may not always be the verdict.

“Sentence omitted” may be a biblical literary technique.

Copyrighted 2007

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Micah and Jeremiah

Micah denounced his own nation for its corruption, and foretold the fall of Jerusalem, a prophecy which was remembered in the time of Jeremiah. When Jeremiah was brought before the leaders and placed on trial for making a prophecy against Jerusalem, certain of the elders of the land spoke out and reminded the assembled group what Micah had prophesied in the days of Hezekiah. Micah had said: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.” Micah must have made quite an impression that more than 100 years after his prophecy the elders of the land could use his prophecy as a defense in the trial of Jeremiah. The appeal of Jeremiah's supporters to the prophecy of Micah confirms his connection with Hezekiah.

There is a recent story on the internet, mentioned by many biblioboggers, indicating that scholars have again linked biblical and Assyrian records. This statement prepared by Laura Sexton nicely summarized the finding. “Austrian Assyriologist Michael Jursa recently discovered the financial record of a donation made a Babylonian chief official, Nebo-Sarsekim. This archaeological find may lend new credibility to the Book of Jeremiah, which cites Nebo-Sarsekim as a participant in the siege of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.” The Babylonian ruler ordered Nebo-Sarsekim to look after Jeremiah in these words recorded in the 26th chapter of Jeremiah: “Take him, look after him well and do him no harm, but deal with him as he tells you.” Jeremiah must have made quite an impression upon the Babylonian King if he would direct one of his officials to take personal charge of Jeremiah.

Recorded history saves memorable impressions of prophetic religious leaders speaking to the centers of power against the king's excesses and religious practices that had gone awry. These events were worth recording. The Babylonian King made a point of seeing Jeremiah much like Herod Antipas made a point of seeing Jesus. There must be a fascination about men like Micah, Jeremiah and Jesus speaking to the centers of power that attract men to them like the Hezekiah, Sennacherib and Herod Antipas.

Copyrighted 2007

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Comforting Jacob

Ben Sira writing in the first part of the second century BCE summarized the Twelve Prophets as a ministry “comforting Jacob.” Presumably ben Sira noted that the name “Jacob” appeared 26 times in the Twelve Prophets. It is not known whether ben Sira noticed that the name “Jacob” appeared eleven times in Micah. Another theme of hope in Micah is expressed in the word “remnant.”

Both of these themes of hope are set forth in Micah in response to the fall and destruction of the Northern Kingdom. No has suggested that these two ideas expressing comfort and hope can help us date the Book of Micah. More work needs to be done. However, it is not surprising that Luke would include themes of hope using Jacob and remnant concepts to develop his ideas even as the Lucan Jesus predicts the fall and destruction of Jerusalem.

Copyrighted 2007

Friday, August 03, 2007

Defective Church

It is important that terms be defined. “Technical theology demands precision and precision is only possible when terms are clearly understood.” Some terms can not be clearly defined. More than one church has published membership statistics indicating not only that their church attendance and membership declining, but also that it is declining at a faster rate than five years ago. Membership decline must be an indication of a defective church but this factor is not part of the definition.

Where did all the members go? When I ask the clergy this question, usually the answer is that they stay home but sometimes I am told they are attending the Chapel of Holy Comfort where St Mattress is their patron saint. Recently I have been reminded of the phenomenal church growth rate in third world countries and occasionally the reason for this growth is succinctly stated: fear of Islam.

Copyrighted 2007