Handbook on the Prophet Micah- by Uwe Rosenkranz
© 1982 by the United Bible Societies
All Rights Reserved
No part of this book may be translated or reproduced in any form without the written permission of the United Bible Societies.
The text of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible used in this publication is copyrighted 1946, 1952, © 1971, 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and used by permission.
Quotations from Today’s English Version are used by permission of the copyright owner, the American Bible Society, © 1966, 1971, 1976.
Books in the series of Helps for Translators may be ordered from a national Bible Society, or from either of the following centers:
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L.C. Cataloging-in-Publication Data:
Clark, David J., 1937–
A translator’s handbook on the book of Micah.
(Helps for translators)
1. Bible. O.T. Micah—Translating. I. Mundhenk, Norm, 1943–
II. Title. III. Series.
BS1595.2.C58 1982 224′.91077 82-8481.
ISBN 0-8267-0129-9 AACR2.
This Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Micah is similar in format and purpose to other recent volumes in the United Bible Societies’ series of Helps for Translators.
The text is divided up according to the sections in Today’s English Version.
*[A modified format had been adopted for the electronic version of this handbook, which eliminates the citing of tev and rsv at the beginning of each section. However the user of this electronic media is expected to be able to refer to these versions along with the discussion presented here.]
At the beginning of each section, there follows a discussion of the structure of the section and its component paragraphs, together with its main themes.
The tev text is to be consulted as a running text to serve as the base for the comments on each verse or group of verses. The tev text used is that of the most recent American printing, which occasionally differs from both the 1976 American edition and the British editions. In the discussion of the text, quotations from tev are underlined and those from rsv or other versions are placed in quotation marks, or “double inverted commas.” rsv, as a fairly literal translation, gives in most cases a clear idea of the structure of the Hebrew original, while tev provides a model of how the meaning of the original can be expressed in modern English. Both translations are regularly referred to in the discussion of the individual verses.
An attempt has been made to keep technical terminology to a minimum. Whenever it has not seemed possible or desirable to avoid technical terms, these terms have been explained in a glossary which is found at the end of the Handbook.
One of the aims of the series of Translator’s Handbook is to deal with matters of importance to translators which are often not mentioned in standard commentaries. Translator’s Handbooks are not substitutes for commentaries but supplements to them. In this volume a number of basic details have been included which would be taken for granted in other commentaries. This is because we have felt that in contrast with the New Testament situation, translators of the Old Testament books may be less familiar both with the content of the books and with their historical and cultural background than they are with the better known New Testament books. Where dates have been given, they have been taken as far as possible from the introductions and charts in the Good News Bible, since this is the reference most widely available to translators.
Our warm thanks must go to the Rev. Theo Aerts MSC, who made helpful comments on the exegetical drafts.
Abbreviations Used in This Volume
Books of the Bible
1, 2 Chr 1, 2 Chronicles
1, 2 Kgs 1, 2 Kings
1, 2 Sam 1, 2 Samuel
Where only a part of a verse is referred to, the verse number is followed by the letter “a” to indicate the first part of the verse, or “b” to indicate the latter part; for example, Obadiah 1a, or Micah 5:5b.
B.C. Before Christ
GeCL German common language translation
JB Jerusalem Bible
KJV King James Version
NAB New American Bible
NASB New American Standard Bible
NEB New English Bible
NIV New International Version
NJV New Jewish Version
RSV Revised Standard Version
TEV Today’s English Version
TOB Traduction Oecuménique de la Bible
Translating the Book of Micah
Micah the prophet preached God’s word to the people of Judah seven hundred years before the time of Christ. Some years before Micah, prophets like Amos and Hosea had warned the people of the northern kingdom of Israel that God would punish them if they did not give up their evil ways. In 722 b.c. Israel was destroyed by her enemies, showing that the warnings of these prophets were completely true. It was about this time or shortly after it that Micah warned the people of Judah, saying that God would do the same thing to them if they did not stop doing the same evil things that the people of Israel had done.
Micah himself was from a small village near Jerusalem. He spoke to people who shared his language and culture and who also shared a knowledge of the history of the nation of Israel. His hearers knew as well as he did the events of the years that had just passed. It is true that these people often interpreted these events in a different way from Micah, and that Micah was trying to help them to begin to change their minds and to see things as God saw them. However, even though he was trying to change their way of thinking and acting, Micah was able to refer to events and to use expressions which his listeners understood just as well as he did.
Today those of us who want to translate the book of Micah need to recognize the enormous gap between his time and ours, and between his culture and ours. When translating, we ourselves must do everything we can to understand the culture and thinking of ancient Israel. And we must also recognize that the great majority of the people who will be using our translations do not know very much about Micah’s time. Our goal is to produce a translation which is faithful to the meaning of the book, as well as we can understand it. But we must also remember that our readers will not have all the background knowledge that we have. Therefore there may be cases where their own cultural background or way of thinking will cause them to misunderstand the message, unless we as translators take special care that the correct meaning is obvious to them. In addition, we must be sure that we are using our own languages correctly. Without realizing what they are doing, translators often begin to use sentence patterns from Hebrew or English which are not really natural in their own languages, and this can make the translation very hard to follow.
In preparing this Handbook for translators, we have tried to foresee some of these problems and to give help and suggestions about how translators can translate accurately, meaningfully, and naturally. It is of course impossible to imagine all of the problems that each translator will have, so almost every translator can expect to have some questions that we do not answer for him. On the other hand, each translator should remember that not everything which we suggest will be helpful for him. In some cases our suggestions may not even be right for him.
For example, we frequently suggest places where information known to the original readers needs to be made explicit, if modern readers will not understand the message correctly without it. But just what information is needed in each case will vary from one language to another. If a verse is really clear to modern readers without making any implicit information explicit, then a translator should not do so. But if a verse would otherwise have no meaning for most readers, or would have the wrong meaning, then it is necessary to make implicit information explicit in order to make the message clear and accurate.
A translator may feel that we have gone too far in our suggestions in some places. If so, then our suggestions in those places may be wrong for his language. But we hope that everything we have suggested will be helpful for at least some translators, and we hope that each translator will consider everything we say carefully in terms of the real needs of his own language. If there are serious problems which we have not discussed, then translators should feel free to write to their Bible Society translation consultant about them, and the consultant will either deal with the problems himself or pass them on to someone else who can do so.
Special Problems in Translating Micah
Many of the comments made so far are general ones and would be true for translators of any book of the Bible. However, there are certain problems which are more serious in the books of the prophets, and translators of Micah need to be especially aware of them.
First, the structure of the book may not be clear to modern readers. It may seem as though it moves from one subject to another without any clear reason, speaking words of judgment one moment and words of hope the next. The books of the prophets are usually composed of various speeches that the prophet made at different times in his career. We can assume that there was some reason for putting the speeches together in the order in which we now have them. But often the reason for this is no longer obvious today, and scholars are still trying to come to some agreement about just how each book should be analyzed. More will be said about the structure of Micah below, and more detail is given in the discussion of each passage. Translators should try to understand the overall structure as well as they can, because there may be many ways in which this will influence their translations.
Second, the books of the prophets often do not state explicitly who is speaking the words. Careful study of the pronouns and other words of a passage will usually indicate whether the speaker is the prophet himself, or God, or some other person. In most modern languages translators will need to find some way to make this clear to their readers. This can be done in section headings, or by adding implicit information such as “the Lord said,” or in other ways that are suggested in the discussion of particular passages. In some cases different understandings are possible, such as in Micah 2:8, where some scholars believe that the Lord is speaking, and others believe that these are Micah’s own words. Many translators will simply decide what they feel is most likely to be true in such passages and translate in that way. But if a translation is to have footnotes giving alternative readings, a translator could put one interpretation in the text, and tell the readers in a footnote that some of the words may be interpreted as spoken by someone else.
Third, much of Micah, like other prophetic books, is written as poetry in Hebrew. Most if not all languages have forms of writing or speaking which can be called poetry. But this does not mean that these forms will always be appropriate for translating the book of Micah. Each translator needs to think carefully about the poetry of his own language, and then decide whether it can or should be used in the translation of this book. It seems probable to us that translators in the majority of languages should translate Micah into prose. For a more detailed discussion of this problem, see A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Amos.
How to Use This Book
This Handbook is organized by section and by verse. Therefore, anyone interested only in the problems of a particular verse needs to look in two places. First, he should look at the discussion of the section in which the verse is found (some verses are discussed in both a larger section and a smaller section). Then, he should look at the discussion of the particular verse.
However, we assume that most translators who are working on the entire book will use the Handbook during the whole time that they are doing their translation. We have tried to discuss all the problems we were aware of in each verse, but in cases where the same problem occurs several times, we have discussed it only once. For instance the idea of going into exile is first found in Micah 1:11 and then in other places in the book, such as 1:16. The Handbook discusses “going into exile” under 1:11, and at other places the reader is usually told to refer back to 1:11. In addition, there are short discussions of various principles of translation scattered throughout the book at places where they are especially relevant. Each of these principles would also apply at other passages, but we assume that a translator using the whole book will be able to make the applications himself.
We have attempted to avoid using too many difficult or technical words in this Handbook, so that it can be used both by English speakers and by those who know English only as a second language. However, certain terms have been used that may not be known to some readers, and many of these are explained in the Glossary at the back of the book. For example, if anyone reading the discussion of Micah 2:13 wonders what “third person” means, or is uncertain about “vocative” in Micah 5:1, he will find these words explained in the Glossary.
The Structure of the Book of Micah
Until fairly recently, most scholars divided the book of Micah into three main section: (1) chapters 1–3; (2) chapters 4–5; (3) chapters 6–7. This view is followed in the Outline of Contents given in the tev Introduction of the book. However, two recent major commentaries, those of Allen (1976) and Mays (1976) both differ from this view. Mays divides the book into only two major sections: (1) chapters 1–5: (2) chapters 6–7. Allen divides it into three major sections, (1) chapters 1–2; (2) chapters 3–5; (3) chapters 6–7. For further details of these alternative views, the reader should consult the books concerned. The outline below is based on the more traditional division.
I. The Lord will punish his people 1:1–3:12
A. Title (1:1)
B. The destruction of Samaria (1:2–9)
C. The enemy approaches Jerusalem (1:10–16)
D. The Lord will punish those who oppress the poor (2:1–11)
E. A note of hope (2:12–13)
F. The leaders of Judah are corrupt (3:1–12)
II. Hope after punishment 4:1–5:15.
A. The Lord will reign in peace (4:1–5)
B. The Lord’s people will return from exile (4:6–5:1)
C. The ideal future king (5:2–5a)
D. The Lord will deliver and purify his people (5:5b–15)
III. The Lord accuses and comforts his people 6:1–7:20)
A. The Lord accuses his people (6:1–5)
B. The people respond (6:6–8)
C. The Lord will punish the sins of the leaders (6:9–16)
D. The prophet laments over the wickedness of the people (7:1–7)
E. The Lord will save his people (7:8–13)
F. The people pray and praise the Lord for his love (7:14–20)
The Lord will punish his people 1:1–3:12
The first section, chapters 1–3, is generally agreed to contain the earliest of Micah’s writings. It is concerned with the same sort of problems that other eighth century prophetic writings speak of, namely corrupt leaders and the oppression of the poor. Because the Lord’s people have turned away from him, the Lord will bring enemies upon them who will cause the destruction of both Samaria and Jerusalem.
There is no section heading for verse 1 in Today’s English Version (tev) because in a sense this verse itself is a heading for the whole book. However, if a section heading is desired, it could be something like “The LORD’s message to Micah,” “The LORD tells Micah to speak for him,” or just “The heading of the book.”
Title Mic 1:1
This verse gives a brief introduction to and summary of the whole prophecy of Micah. It was probably added after the rest of the book was complete, and is similar in form to the opening verses of other prophetic books, especially Hosea and Amos. It has three purposes: (1) to give a date for the prophecy, (2) to give background information about Micah, and (3) to state the main subjects of his prophecy.
(1) The prophecy is dated by the reigns of kings, just as the prophecies of Hosea, Amos, and Isaiah are. In Hosea 1:1 and Amos 1:1, the kings of both the northern kingdom of the Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah are mentioned. But here in Micah, as in Isaiah 1:1, the names mentioned are only those of kings of Judah.
(2) The background information about Micah is limited to the fact that he came from the town of Moresheth.
(3) The main topics of his prophecy are stated very briefly as Samaria and Jerusalem. These two cities were the capitals of the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah respectively, and in this verse they represent the two kingdoms.
During the time that Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah were kings of Judah: the words During the time are a way of expressing the idea that Micah’s ministry took place at some part of the time that each of these kings was ruling. It is literally “in the days” (Revised Standard Version [rsv]) of these kings. This expression comes at the beginning of the sentence in tev, but in the translator’s languages it should be placed at any point where it sounds natural.
The translator should be careful not to suggest that all three kings ruled at the same time. There may be a term in the language meaning “one after the other” or “one at a time” which would be helpful here.
Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah: Jotham reigned approximately 740–736 b.c., Ahaz 736–716 b.c., and Hezekiah 716–687 b.c. In Jeremiah 26:18–19 there is a reference to Micah prophesying in the reign of King Hezekiah, and scholars today believe that most of Micah’s prophecy is to be dated in the period 715–700 b.c. There is no need to go into further detail, since exact dating is rarely of importance to a translator.
For languages which do not have a word for kings, an expression like “great chiefs” or “the ones who command” may be the closest equivalent.
Judah is of course a country, and in many languages it would be helpful to identify the type of place which a name refers to, at least the first time that it is used: for example, “the country of Judah” or “the land called Judah.” The book of Micah will usually be printed only as part of a whole Bible, and it may be right to assume that most readers will have a certain amount of Bible background when they begin to read Micah. However, it is still helpful to treat each Bible book as a unit of its own, and not to assume that all readers will remember everything they have read in other parts of the Bible.
The LORD gave this message to Micah: tev restructures “The word of the LORD that came to Micah” (rsv) to make the LORD the subject. Micah’s message carried authority as “The word of the LORD” (rsv). In Hebrew, these words are the opening words of the book and so have more prominence than do in tev, where the LORD gave this message to Micah comes in the middle of the sentence. If a language has a way of marking or bringing into focus the most important part of a sentence, then in this sentence, this the part that should be marked. In many languages this will mean it should come at the beginning of the verse, as in rsv.
It may seem best to translate the LORD by some expression meaning “lord” or “master,” or in some parts of the world “boss,” rather than by trying to give the personal name of God (as “Yahweh” in the Jerusalem Bible [jb] or an expression with some other meaning (as Moffatt’s [mft] “the Eternal”). The reasons for this are given in more detail in the Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Ruth, page 10, (Ruth 1:6) and the Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Jonah, pages, 19–20. See also the comments on Obadiah verse 1a. Many English versions have chosen to use small capital letters to mark the place where “Lord” translates the personal name of God, as in tev Micah 1:1, in order to distinguish it from places where the Hebrew word for “Lord” itself is used, as in tev Amos 9:1. It will not be necessary to follow this example in other languages unless there are enough readers who will understand the significance of the distinction, and who will want to have it marked in their own language. If only a few seminary students and pastors are interested, and if they are all familiar with Bibles in English or some other languages, it may be best to avoid these small capital letters.
In some languages it may sound odd to talk about a lord or master without saying whose lord he is. In this verse “our Lord” would be appropriate, but it will be necessary to use different pronouns in other verses, according to the sense of the verse.
This message: the Hebrew term used here means literally a single “word” (rsv), but this does not imply that everything in the book was revealed to Micah on a single occasion. In some languages the form of the verb can show that this happened over a period of time, but it may also be helpful to say “these words.” Whatever expression is used, it should clearly refer to the whole book, and not only to the words which come right after this sentence.
Micah, who was from the town of Moresheth: Moresheth was a small and obscure place in the foothills of southwestern Judah, and this probably means that Micah himself was a peasant farmer typical of the area. He would thus be one of the poor and oppressed groups who were ill-treated by the rich. This helps to explain why he complains so sharply about their fate, for instance in 2:2, 8–9; 3:1–3.
This is the end of the first sentence in tev, but in rsv and most English translations, verse 1 as a whole is not a complete sentence. The Hebrew begins with “The word of the LORD” (rsv) and then adds various descriptive phrases to it, but does not complete the sentence. This verse is thus probably to be understood as something like a title for the whole book. However, it is better in translation to make the verse into one or more complete sentences. One way to do this is to follow the sense of the New English Bible (neb), “This is the word of the LORD.” Another way is to make the Lord the subject of the sentence, as tev has done.
The LORD revealed to Micah: the rsv translation “The word of the LORD that came to Micah … which he saw …” may be puzzling, since one does not normally see a word but rather hears it. The prophets of Israel often received visions through which they learned the Lord’s message (see Isa 6; Amos 7:1–9; 8:1–3, for examples), and thus they came to speak of seeing a word. The exact way in which the LORD revealed his message to Micah is not stated. We are not told that Micah had visions, though the use of the word “saw” could imply this, and some English translations (including jb and neb) use the word “visions” in the verse. The basic idea is that the Lord used some spiritual experience to show Micah what he wanted him to say. The Hebrew form of expression (“to see a word”) should not be carried over into languages in which it is unnatural. In tev, for instance, the meaning of this phrase is divided between the two words gave and revealed.
All these things about Samaria and Jerusalem: in some languages it may be necessary to say something about the content of the message, rather than simply that it concerned Samaria and Jerusalem. tev has added all these things in order to fill out the sense. Another possibility would be to say “what would happen to Samaria and Jerusalem.” The expression used should be as general as possible.
Samaria and Jerusalem were the capital cities of Israel and Judah respectively, and some translators may wish to make this explicit. If a language has not word for “capital,” then it can be translated as “largest town.” Israel and Judah together made up the whole of God’s people, and Micah’s message thus reflects the Lord’s interest in all his people. It is not surprising that Micah took more interest in the affairs of Judah, both because he himself was a Judean citizen, and because Israel no longer existed after Samaria was destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 b.c.
The Destruction of Samaria Mic 1:2–9
The section heading describes the passage as A Lament for Samaria and Jerusalem. This could be translated “Micah laments for Samaria and Jerusalem.” Lament means to cry and express sorrow because someone has died, or some other bad thing has happened. If it is necessary to say what has happened, it would be “Micah laments because Samaria and Jerusalem will be destroyed.” This may be too long for a heading, however. It would also be enough just to say “The Lord is coming to punish Samaria and Jerusalem” or “Samaria and Jerusalem will be destroyed.”
This section is broken up into three paragraphs in tev. In the first (verses 2–4) the prophet summons the nations of the earth to hear his message and used vivid images to describe the Lord visiting the earth in judgment.
In verses 5–7 the reason for judgment is given, namely, the sins of God’s people. The Lord announces in detail that the form the punishment will take is the destruction of the city of Samaria.
Verses 8 and 9 state Micah’s own sorrowful reaction to this punishment and predict that the punishment will be extended to include Jerusalem also.
In Hebrew the whole book of Micah is in poetry except for 1:1, but tev has translated most of it as prose. Each translator needs to consider whether prose or poetry will be the best form to use in his own language, as discussed in the introduction, “Translating the Book of Micah.” But it seems reasonable to guess that most languages will prefer prose, and that poetry will be appropriate in only a few cases.
Although most of the book of Micah has been translated as prose in tev, verses 2–4 have been translated as poetry. The translators probably felt the picture of the Lord speaking from heaven and walking on the mountains would sound better in English as poetry than as a rather complicated prose comparison. In many languages the translators will prefer to translate verses as prose, just like the rest of the book.
When changing from Hebrew poetry to prose it is important to be aware of parallel lines and ideas. One important feature of Hebrew poetry is that two lines are often parallel to each other. This means that almost the same thing may be said in both lines by using different words with similar meanings. Or it may be that the second line will repeat most of the meaning of the first line, but add another idea as well. Many languages use types of expression like this, even in prose, but the translator should know what he is doing and not say something twice simply because it is said twice in Hebrew. Often it will be better to say it only once. This may mean leaving one of the lines out completely if does not add anything to the meaning of the other line. Or it may mean combining the ideas from both lines into a single line in the translation.
Verse 2 opens with two clauses which are parallel in meaning. In the first the prophet calls all … nations to Hear, (compare 3:1; 6:1), and in the second he literally calls the “earth, and all that is in it” (rsv) to listen. tev all who live on earth makes it clear that this is primarily a reference to the people who are the inhabitants of the earth, though it is not necessarily limited to people. jb takes a wider meaning with “earth, and everything in it.”
If the second line of verse 2 is understood as referring to all people who live on earth, then it does not add anything to the meaning of the first line, and the two lines together mean listen to this, all who live on earth. If the second line is understood as referring to everything on earth, not only the people, then the meaning of the two lines together may be translated as “Listen to this, you people of every country, and everything else on the earth.”
This and to this after Hear and listen in tev seem to refer to what the prophet is saying. He is asking the people to listen to him as he tells that the Lord is going to speak. In other versions the meaning seems to be that the people should listen to the Lord as he speaks, and this sense may be the better one to follow. One may say something like “You people of every country, listen to the Lord as he testifies against you.” Translators should note, however, that the Lord’s own words do not begin until verse 6. This may make a difference in the way the sentence is worded.
The prophet of course does not expect that everyone on earth can really hear him speaking, but this type of exaggeration is common in poetry. If the Lord speaks, on the other hand, we can assume that everyone can hear him. So if necessary, the verse may be rearranged to say that the Lord will speak to everyone, and they all must listen to him.
The people are to listen because the Sovereign LORD will testify or give evidence as a witness against them. For the translation of Sovereign Lord, see the comments on Obadiah verse 1a.
Will testify against you uses the picture of God being a witness against the people of the world in a country of law. If there is no special term for being a witness in a court, the meaning is “to speak about the bad things you have done.” This picture of God a witness must not be taken too literally, since God himself is of course the judge. If this will be a serious problem in some languages, the picture may be dropped, and the plain meaning may be given that God will speak about their bad deeds.
Listen! is repeated in tev in the last line of verse 2 for the poetic effect. The word does not appear at this point in the Hebrew.
He speaks from his heavenly temple: the last line of verse 2 says literally “the Lord from his holy temple” (rsv). jb connects this to the idea of verse 3, that the Lord is coming, and translates “the Lord, as he sets out from his sacred palace.” Most translations, however, understand this as referring to the place where the Lord is when he is testifying against the people. In many languages it will be necessary to put this line before the third line and say “the Lord is in his temple and speaks as a witness against you.”
His heavenly temple: the Hebrew refers to “his holy temple” here (rsv), but the meaning is heaven, not the temple in Jerusalem, and it will probably be necessary to make this clear in the translation, as tev has done, “Holy” in this context does not really add much to the meaning, as it simply means something which especially belongs to God. If there is no good word for “holy” which fits this passage, the meaning is really covered by saying it is God’s temple.
Temple can be translated as “the Lord’s house” or “the Lord’s big house.” If “heaven” is a problem, an expression like “up above” may be helpful. The Old Testament writers sometimes refer to God having a temple in heaven (Psa 11:4; 18:6; Jonah 2:7; Hab 2:20), and even if this is really just a picture for something spiritual (see 1 Kgs 8:27), it is probably best to translate it literally. However, if a temple in heaven is a serious problem for some reason, it would be enough just to say “heaven” here.
Verses 3 and 4 speak in traditional language of the Lord coming down to visit the earth and of the effects his presence will have. These effects are described in terms of such upheavals in nature as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and thunderstorms. Similar descriptions are to be found elsewhere in the Old Testament such as in Exodus 19:16–20; Judges 5:4–5; Psalm 18:7–12; 97:1–5; Isaiah 40:4.
Verse 3 in Hebrew begins with “For behold” (rsv), which has been left out of the tev translation. It is intended to call the reader’s attention to the vivid picture about to be described. If languages have an expression used to draw someone’s attention to something, that expression can perhaps be used here. Such an expression may imply that the person spoken to can actually see something, as “behold” sometimes does in English. This would fit the context very well, but some other expression can be used even if it only asks for a person’s attention without suggesting that something can be seen. If a language does not have a good expression, then it is quite all right to do as tev has done and not translate this word.
The first thing described is The Lord … coming from his holy place, as though the people can actually see him leaving heaven. As in verse 2, holy here refers to something especially belonging to God and can be translated simply by “his,” “his own,” or “the place where he lives,” if holy is hard to translate. It is also possible to say “his good place.” Place can be a general term as in English, but if something more specific is needed, it can be connected with his house in verse 2, or the usual expression for heaven can be used.
The next line begins with he will come down. Both tev and rsv put this in the future, which suggests that the people only see God coming from heaven, but that the other things talked about in verse 3 and 4 have not happened yet. Other versions translate verses 3 and 4 as though the people were watching all of this happen, and such a translation is probably more effective. By the time we get to verse 6, all versions switch to the future and say that Samaria will be punished. If it is not confusing to translate verses 3 and 4 in the present, and then switch to the future in verse 6, this may be more vivid and effective.
The differences between rsv and tev in this verse may need explanation, as tev has adopted a different understanding of one clause and has reordered the four parts of the verse so as to bring together those parts related in meaning. First, in the second part of verse 4 rsv takes “valleys” as the subject of the verb “be cleft.” tev, however, understands valleys as showing the place into which the melting mountains will crumble and pour down. This interpretation gives a better parallel between the two statements and links them together in a clearer logical sequence.
Second, in Hebrew, two statement are made in the first half of verse 4, and two similes or comparisons are added in the second half. The first simile relates to the first statement, and the second simile to the second statement. This is a type of Hebrew poetic structure which is not clear in meaning when transferred in the same order into English and many other languages. tev has therefore reordered the elements in the verse so that the first statement, the mountains will melt, is followed immediately by its related simile, like wax in a fire. The second statement, they will pour down into the valleys, is then followed by its related simile, like water pouring down a hill. This can be shown in a diagram as follows:
This type of adjustment makes the meaning much plainer to the reader and has been made frequently in the tev Old Testament. It is probably best to follow the tev order in most other languages.
The Lord is described in verse 3 as walking on the tops of the mountains, as though he is a great giant who can step from the top of one mountains to the top of another. When he steps on the mountains they melt. Melt can be translated as “dissolve” or “become like water.” The picture of hills or mountains melting in the presence of the Lord is quite common in the Old Testament. The idea is that God in his holiness is like a fire which destroys his enemies. Even the earth itself cannot remain unchanged by the Lord’s presence. See especially Psalm 97:2–5.
This is compared to the way that wax melts in a fire, which gives the picture of something that happens very quickly. Wax is probably beeswax, but any term for wax can be used here. Most people today probably know candles, but if wax is not known, anything which melts quickly in a fire may be substituted. The picture of wax melting in a fire may be intended to remind the reader of a stream of lava from a volcano, while the next picture, water pouring down a hill, is probably intended to bring to mind a heavy thunderstorm.
If we follow the understanding of tev, the picture describes the liquid from these melted mountains pouring down into the valleys in a great rush, like water pouring down a hill. Valleys are the low places between the mountains, or at the feet of mountains. Hill can be translated as “cliff” or “steep place” if there is a term for some place where water might run especially fast. If there is no way to distinguish between hills and mountains, and no other appropriate word to use, it is of course quite all right to say “mountain” again in the last line.
If the meaning of rsv is preferred, the second line refers to the valleys being split. This can be understood as the ground opening up, as it might do in a strong earthquake; but then it is difficult to connect it closely with the fourth line. In that case, the fourth line must be understood as another description of the melted mountains.
Another possibility is the meaning of neb, which says “valleys are torn open, as when torrents pour down the hillside.” This suggests that the comparison is with the erosion caused by a large amount of water, which actually creates valleys as it runs down. This interpretation has the advantage of connecting lines 2 and 4, as tev does, and is probably the best one to follow.
The second paragraph in this section consists of verses 5–7. Verse 5 consists of four elements, the second parallel to the first, and the fourth parallel to the third. In the first pair, the meanings of the two elements are synonymous and repetitive, as the rsv text shows. tev has therefore dropped the parallel form and repetition of meaning, and expressed the total meaning in a single sentence with the two verbs sinned and rebelled. The double mention of “Jacob” and “the house of Israel” is combined into a single term the people of Israel. As the second half of the verse shows by mentioning both Samaria and Jerusalem, the prophet has both northern and southern kingdoms in mind.
All this refers to the terrible events described in verse 2–4. Whether the translator says will happen or “is happening” depends on whether “come down” in verse 3 (as well as the rest of verses 3 and 4) was translated as a future event, or as a present event which the people could actually see happening.
The rest of the sentence in tev and rsv gives the reason why God is doing (or, will do) these things. It is because the people of Israel have sinned and rebelled. “To sin” is “to do bad things” or “to do things God does not like.” “To rebel” is “to refuse to obey God. However, these two words are saying almost the same thing in this verse, so it is not necessary for a translator to use two terms. The word translated “rebel” is sometimes translated “to commit a crime.”
The meanings of the second pair of elements in verse 5 are not synonymous, and they are therefore kept as separate units in tev. In Hebrew, each element consists of a rhetorical question, followed by a second question that is in fact the answer to the first. These second questions are translated as statements in tev in order to make clear that they do indeed serve as answers and are not really further questions. The first question asks Who is to blame for Israel’s rebellion? and thus takes up the verb rebelled from the first part of the verse. The answer, that Samaria is responsible, would have been unexpected and unwelcome to its inhabitants because, as tev makes explicit, it was the capital city of the northern kingdom. Samaria had become a center for the worship of the fertility gods Baal and Asherah after Jezebel, the pagan wife of King Ahab (874–853 b.c.), started this worship there. See 1 Kings 16:29–33. Samaria thus became a major source of religious corruption for the whole of Israel, and in due course for Judah also, as is implied in verse 9. Samaria here stands for its inhabitants, and this may need to be made clear in some languages.
The literal meaning in the first question is simply “What is the transgression (or rebellion, or crime) of the northern kingdom?” We might expect a particular evil act to be mentioned as an answer. But the answer is given as Samaria itself. The people of Samaria are not a sin, however, but the cause of sins, or the ones who do sins. tev has tried to give this idea by asking the question as Who is to blame for Israel’s rebellion?
Who is to blame may be translated as “Who is the cause of” or “Who is it that has led the people of Israel to rebel?”
The answer is literally a rhetorical question, “Is it not Samaria?” (rsv). If a language has a way of putting a question so that the answer is obviously “Yes,” then this can be used here. If there is any danger that a question used as an answer will sound like a real question, it is better to make the answer a statement, as in tev. The full form of the answer may be stated as “The people of Samaria, the capital city of Israel, are to blame.” But in many languages it will be better to leave out part of this, as it will sound more natural and will still be understood.
The second question in the verse is parallel to the first one. It asks who is responsible for idolatry in Judah, and the second answer is also parallel—it is Jerusalem. It may be necessary in some translations to state again that this is the capital city and that the city stands for its inhabitants. In the second question, rsv with its “What is the sin of the house of Judah?” is not translating the Hebrew text but is following the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament begun in the third century b.c. The Hebrew literally asks “What are the high places of Judah?” (King James Version [kjv]). “High places” is a common Old Testament name for the sites where idolatrous worship was practiced. The meaning of the question is thus “Who is to blame for the high places where the people of Judah go to worship idols?” or “Who is it in Judah who is guilty of going to high places to worship idols?” The main point is of course the idolatry and not the place where it was practiced, and tev has preferred not to mention the high places themselves. Many translators will prefer to follow the example of tev, but if the “high places” are mentioned, they can be translated as “hilltops.” However, this should not imply that they are the peaks of high mountains.
“Idols” are “false gods” or “statues.” Idolatry means the worship of idols.
The full form of the answer to this question may be stated as “It is the people of Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah, who worship idols” or “… who are to blame for the idolatry of Judah.”
This verse and the next state in some detail the punishment the Lord is to bring for the sins of his people. They use the first person, and therefore tev introduces verse 6 with So the LORD says, to make clear the identity of the speaker. So means “Because of all these sins.”
We might expect that the punishment would be described for both Samaria and Jerusalem, but in fact only Samaria is dealt with. Historically, Samaria was destroyed by the Assyrians under their king Sargon II in 722 b.c. during the adult life of Micah. This event put an end to the political existence of the northern kingdom and served as a dramatic warning of what could happen to Judah also. Perhaps the fall of Samaria was just about to happen at the time when this prophecy was first spoken, and this could explain why Micah talks mainly about Samaria in these verses.
Instead of being a prosperous and well-populated city, Samaria will become just a pile of ruins in the open country. I will make Samaria a pile of ruins means that “I will destroy Samaria and she will become a pile of ruins.” The way God will do this is by sending enemies to destroy the city, so in some languages it may be necessary to be even more specific and say “I will send enemies to destroy Samaria” or “I will cause Samaria to be destroyed.”
The pile of ruins refers to the rubble of stone and wood left when the buildings and walls of the city are knocked down and probably burned. As long as this idea is given in the translation, there is no need for a word meaning “ruins.”
Samaria was the largest city in the northern kingdom, with many people living in and around it. But these ruins will be in the open country, which means “in a place where no one lives,” or at least where there may only be a farmhouse or two. The idea is that the city will be so completely destroyed that it will no longer be used as a place to live in.
This rocky and desolated area would be suitable as a place for planting grapevines, but not for any kind of agriculture that required a deeper or more fertile soil. However, if it is difficult to translate grapevines, it will be enough to say “a place for planting things.” since the main point is to show that it is no longer a place where people live. This clause in tev and rsv connects to the “I will make Samaria” of the first line. In many languages it will have to be a separate sentence, possibly “Samaria will become a place for planting grapevines.”
It is the Lord who says I will pour, and in languages where this is possible, it may be most effective to suggest that the Lord is doing it himself. The more literal idea, however, is that this will happen as a result of the destruction that the Lord is sending by means of the enemies. In some languages it may not be possible to use pour in connection with something like rubble, and a translation like jb may sound better: “I will set her stones rolling into the valley.”
Samaria was built on a hill rising about 100 meters (300 feet) above the adjacent plain. The city will not merely be demolished, but its rubble will be poured down into the valley, making its stones harder to recover for any future rebuilding. In this way even the city’s foundations will be uncovered, marking its total destruction.
Rubble is the broken stones left when the city is destroyed.
The foundations of the city refer to the stone or bare earth that the city was built upon. The idea here is that the destruction will be so complete that even these will be uncovered.
As a matter of historical fact, the destruction of Samaria in 722 b.c. was not as severe as Micah pictures it here. Nevertheless, it did mark the end of political independence for the kingdom of Israel, and the description here is an appropriate metaphor for the political fate of the country.
Since idolatry was the cause of this punishment, the precious idols will be singled out for particular attention and smashed to pieces. Gifts given to the temple prostitutes by their clients will be destroyed by fire. It is not certain what these gifts were, whether they were objects for use in religious ceremonies, or gifts which were sold to pay for the making of more idols.
The first and third poetic lines of verse 7 in Hebrew are very similar in meaning (see rsv), and the translator may prefer to combine them into one sentence. Idols and images are the carved statues of gods, made of wood of stone and sometimes covered with metal such as gold, silver, or bronze. They will be broken into small pieces by these enemies that are coming. The verb used should be one that fits with breaking up stone, as this seems to be the main idea here. When the smashing is finished, they will just be a desolate heap of rubble.
As well as destroying the idols, the enemies will burn up everything given to Samaria’s temple prostitutes. Since we do not know just what these items were, this is rather difficult to translate. They are called “hires” in rsv, and similar terms are used in other translations (New American Bible [nab] “wages”; jb “earnings”). This word simply means that they were the pay which the women received from the men who came to sleep with them. From the context it sounds as though this pay still had some importance in the false worship. The “hires” do not refer to coins, however, since they will be burned, and in any case coins were not in common use at that time.
The basic idea seems to be that “the enemies will burn all the things which the worship place has received from the men who came to sleep with the sacred prostitutes.” Not all of this needs to be said, of course, if it can be made shorter in any way. If there is no expression for prostitutes in a language, they are “women who let men sleep with them as part of their false worship.”
Some scholars interpret the “hires” in this second line (rsv) as just another way of referring to the idols (compare neb). If this interpretation is followed, then all of the first three lines of verse 7 say basically the same thing and may be combined in one sentence: “The enemies will smash the stone idols and burn the wooden ones, and only a heap of rubble will be left.”
The second half of verse 7 contains a figurative expression whose precise meaning is not clear. A literal translation is given in rsv. The “hire of a harlot” refers to the false worship of which prostitution is frequently a picture in the Old Testament (see Ezek 16; Hos 1:2). Most likely literal prostitution was part of the false worship. This is the understanding which tev has expressed plainly with its mention of fertility rites and temple prostitutes. Whatever the details may mean, it is clear that the Lord’s intention is to make the punishment fit the crime. Thus the idols and images on which Samaria had spend its wealth will be taken away by its invaders to be used for temple prostitutes elsewhere.
The picture of the people of Israel being unfaithful to God as a woman may be unfaithful to her husband is used a number of times in the Old Testament. However, it is often difficult to translate without going into more detail than would fit the emphasis in some passages. It is because of the difficulty of keeping this picture that tev has left it out and simply given what it understands to be the meaning here.
Samaria is of course “the people” of Samaria.” These things refer to the idols and other things used in worship which are mentioned in the first part of verse 7.
Fertility rites are the various ceremonies and other acts (including sacred prostitution) which were done as part of the false worship. Their purpose was to ensure that the gods would make the land fertile and make the women bear children. It may be difficult to try to give all of this meaning in translation, and if that is the case, it is probably enough here just to say “false worship.”
If the translator wants to try to keep the picture of the people of Israel being like a prostitute, there are several possibilities. A language may have a word meaning “unfaithful” that is usually used of a woman being sexually unfaithful, but which can also be used of people in relation to God. Then one can say “The people of Samaria have been unfaithful to me, and have acquired all of these things for worshiping other gods.” If there is no one word which can help to give this idea by itself, then it will be necessary to go into more detail, saying something like “the people of Samaria have gone after other gods just as a prostitute goes after many men, and that is how they have acquired all these things.”
Her enemies will carry them off for temple prostitutes elsewhere gives the probable meaning of the last line in verse 7. Elsewhere refers to the other country or countries that the enemies come from. The meaning is that they will take the idols and other things home with them to use in the immoral worship of their own false gods.
A translator must decide just what the prostitutes in this last line refers to. There seem to be at least two possibilities. One is that the enemy soldiers will take these things that they have captured, and use them as payment when they themselves go to the temple prostitutes. If this is the meaning, then these things really do become the “hire of a harlot” or “the pay for a prostitute.”
The second possibility is that the enemy people are being compared to prostitutes, just as the people of Israel were, because they worship false gods. If this is the meaning, it is better not to take it too literally, because it is not likely that Micah is suggesting that these enemy soldiers really ought to be worshiping the God of Israel. This meaning may be translated, “but now these things will be carried off by people who are just as bad as the people of Samaria are, to use in the immoral worship of their own false gods.”
mft has a particularly good rendering of these last two lines of verse 7, which seems to take this second meaning: “once the prize of faithless living, now the prey of faithless foes.” This is a good rendering for English because of the alliteration of “prize” and “prey,” and because “faithless” has two meanings which fit well here. We would not expect other translators to be able to follow this wording exactly, but it will be excellent if they can find a way to get the same effect in their own language.
If we say that the enemies will carry these things off, for whatever purpose, this sets up a logical clash with the earlier part of the verse if taken too literally; how could the idols and images once smashed or burnt be carried off for use somewhere else? These two statements are to be seen as alternative poetic ways of speaking of the ending of the false worship, together with the destruction of the city where it was carried out. There is no real contradiction. Such paradoxical statements occur elsewhere in Scripture and serve to emphasize a point. See, for instance, Micah 6:14 You will carry things off, but you will not be able to save them; anything you do save …; Mark 4:25 (rsv) “from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away”; John 3:32–33 (rsv) “… no one receives his testimony; he who receives his testimony.…”
If possible a translator should simply allow the translation to follow the original, and not be worried about the seeming contradiction here. It may be that the prophet is simply predicting alternative possibilities. However, if it seems to create a serious problem in the language, it is possible to say that some idols will be smashed and burned and others will be carried off.
Though this verse and the next continue to use the first person, as in verses 6 and 7, there is a change of speaker. This change is signaled in tev by the introductory words Then Micah said. It will usually be necessary to include in a translation some indication of the change of speaker, because otherwise it will sound as though God himself is still talking. However, in some languages it may be more natural to solve this problem by indicating in some way that God’s speech is finished. If this can be done, it may not be necessary to mention Micah here. In some ways it will be better not to mention Micah, since he is the author of the book, and in other places where he speaks we do not put in his name.
Because of this refers not to the loss of the idols just mentioned, but to the punishment and destruction of Samaria in the whole of verses 6–8. Some scholars take this to refer not to what has preceded, but to the description of the enemy invasion in verses 10–16. (See for instance the way jb divides the paragraphs.) However, this analysis seems unlikely because there is so much text in between.
Mourn and lament are terms commonly associated with grief for the dead. It is not necessary to use two terms here if there is only one appropriate term in the translator’s language.
To walk about barefoot and naked is also a gesture which symbolizes sorrow (compare 2 Sam 15:30), and tev makes this explicit with the words To show my sorrow. To walk barefoot and naked also reminds people of prisoners of war and is perhaps intended to show what will happen to the inhabitants of Samaria. Barefoot means “without shoes (or other footwear).” The Hebrew word for naked usually means having no outer garments and wearing only a loincloth. This is probably the meaning here, though in Assyrian reliefs male prisoners are often shown completely naked. (Compare with the reference to nakedness in verse 11.) It is not likely that Micah went about fully unclothed. A similar situation is spoken of in Isaiah 20:2–4. In many languages the usual word for naked will mean that Micah was wearing nothing at all. If this is not too offensive to the readers it is possible to use this word, although it is unlikely that this is what Micah did. Otherwise it can be translated as “with nothing on but a loincloth.”
If walking around barefoot and naked is a way of mourning in the culture of the translation, then of course it is not necessary to add To show my sorrow.
A jackal is an animal like a wild dog or a fox. Jackals go about in packs, mostly at night, and have a long and unpleasant howl. (See Fauna and Flora of the Bible, pages 31–32.) The ostrich used to be widespread in the Middle East but is now found only in Africa. Ostriches rarely make a noise, and some scholars believe that the Hebrew word really means a kind of owl that does screech. neb has “desert owl,” and for many translators it may be easier to find an equivalent for owl than for ostrich. (See Fauna and Flora, pages 60–62.) The context makes it clear that some bird which does make a loud and harsh noise is in mind.
Howl and wail are used to describe the cries of mourning, or of sorrow for the dead, or for some terrible thing that has happened. If a language does not have two words which can be compared to the sounds of jackals and ostriches (or owls), then one word is enough: “I will howl like jackals and ostriches.”
In verse 9 the punishment of the people of Samaria is pictured as wounds which cannot be healed. A similar picture is used in Isaiah 1:5–6. In the expression “her wound” at the beginning of verse 9 (rsv), “her” is taken by some commentators to refer to Jerusalem. However, the picture of spreading infection is more clear if the “her” refers to Samaria. This is the way tev understands it. The wound is the punishment sent by the Lord as described in the preceding verses. In some versions it is translated as a “blow” struck by the Lord (jb, nab).
This wound cannot be healed. The picture means that the destruction of Samaria is complete, as described in verse 6, and there is no hope for it to be built again or for the people to recover from their punishment.
The “it has come to Judah” of the rsv continues the metaphor, but in tev it is expressed in plain language as Judah is about to suffer in the same way. The expression “come to” may be intended to bring to mind the idea of a flood spreading over the land. Compare the use of the same expression in Psalm 69:1.
About to suffer in the same way means that the terrible things which have happened to Samaria are about to happen to the southern kingdom of Judah. It may be expressed as “the same punishment is about to happen to Judah.” In fact it sounds as though the enemies are already in Judah, because they have reached the gates of Jerusalem itself. Jerusalem was not geographically in the center of the country. In fact it was near the northern border. However, it was the main town of the country, and if it were captured by the enemy, the whole country would be defeated.
The gates of the city are not only the place of entrance but also the center of business, legal, and social life. See for instance Ruth 4:1, 11; Psalm 127:5; Amos 5:10, 12, 15. When Jerusalem is spoken of as “the gate of my people” (rsv), this is a picture of the capital city as the center and focus of national life. Gates can be translated as “doors in the wall that surrounds the city.” They were of course strong doors which could be closed to keep the enemy out. When the enemy reached the gates, Jerusalem was in great danger of being conquered. In many languages the word “gate” would not convey the idea of the center of social life, and in such languages it may be necessary to translate as “destruction has reached Jerusalem itself, the main center where my people live.”
Jerusalem was not Micah’s own home town, so his reference to my people does not mean his immediate relatives. It is used in a broader sense, including all of his countrymen, but especially those who were suffering because of all the evil that was being done by the leaders see verses 3:3 and (see 3:5).
The Enemy Approaches Jerusalem Mic 1:10–16
In the heading to this section it may be necessary to give a little more detail than tev does. For instance, one might say “An invading army (or, An enemy army) comes near Jerusalem.” It is impossible to say who the invaders are. Micah does not make this clear, and scholars have not been able to link this section with certainty to any known historical incident. Enemy armies passed through Judah many times during Micah’s life, all following similar routes as they went toward Jerusalem. Most scholars refer this passage to an invasion by the Assyrians. Some think it was that of Sennacherib in 701 b.c., and others that of Sargon II in 711 b.c. Others again refer it to the presence of Assyrian forces in Palestine after the fall of Samaria in 722 b.c. The Philistine people of Gath are mentioned in verse 10, and tev understands them to be our enemies. This makes it possible that the passage refers to an invasion by the Philistines which took place in 735 b.c.
The question of identifying the enemies, however, is not of first importance for the translator. The whole paragraph is an extremely difficult one to understand in detail and contains a number of textual and other problems which cannot now be solved. These problems arise mainly from the place-names which are mentioned. In Hebrew, Micah used the names of the places he spoke about as the basis for puns, or plays on words. In each case he said something about the place that sounded similar to its name. Some of the places were very small and obscure, and several can no longer be identified. It seems that at an early date the meaning of these puns was lost or forgotten, as even ancient translations of this passage have great difficulty with it and are of no real help to us today. As a result of this, it seems that ancient scribes made the mistake of inserting changes into the Hebrew text as they copied it, and the problems have been increased.
Some of the particular problems will be mentioned below, but first it is necessary to say something about the original impact of the paragraph as a whole. It will seem to most users of English (and many other languages) very strange for Micah to use a series of puns, or wordplays, in a passage which is sad and serious. This is because we do not use such puns in similar situations but keep them for other purposes (usually humor, satire, or vulgarity).
In the Hebrew language, puns were not all regarded as unsuitable for use in a serious message, and there are a number of examples of them in the Old Testament. See for instance Jeremiah 1:11–12 and Amos 8:1–2, and the footnotes to these verses in tev. In most languages it is not possible or desirable to translate such plays on words. In English, mft attempted to do so in this passage, but his results were not very successful. Phillips (Phps) retained the town names but added a translation of the names as well. This sounds more natural in English and may be a suitable way to translate this passage in other languages also.
In some languages it may be possible to create something of a similar effect to that of the Hebrew by choosing words that contain sounds similar to those in the place-names, and by working them into the comments about the various places. In English the translation by Knox attempts to do this, but it is not easy to do, and it is doubtful whether many readers of this translation would even notice what Knox has done unless they read his footnote. It is probably best for translators not to attempt this unless the result fits particularly well into the expectations and patterns of language use of their readers.
If the wordplays of the Hebrew are simply ignored, the difficulty that arises is that there is then no apparent logic in the translation to link the place-names to Micah’s comments on them, or to link the comments to each other. It may be possible to put a brief footnote into the translation stating the difficulties of the passage, as for instance jb does. This will at least show the reader why he finds the passage hard, even if it does not fully explain the passage. It may also be helpful to include in footnotes information about the actual puns, as the New International Version (niv) does.
Probably the way in which Micah expressed himself here not only gave added impact to his message but also made it easier for hearers to remember. One way in which preachers today try to do this (at least in English) is by the use of alliteration or assonance. This means that for the main points of their sermons, they choose headings which either all begin with the same sound or contains words that repeat similar patterns. A example is “The” Principles of Prayer; the Power of Prayer; the Practice of Prayer.” If the readers of a translation into another language are familiar with this device and appreciate it, the translator may be able to capture something of the effect of Micah’s words by using alliteration or assonance in the comments about the various towns and villages. This will certainly not work in all languages, however. Whatever the translator does, these verses remain difficult, and it is impossible to recommend any particular approach that will be useful to everyone.
In tev this section is divided into two paragraphs, with the break coming at verse 15. However, there is no break in the meaning at verse 15 any more than at any other place in these verses where the subject changes from one town to another. Probably the tev break was put here simply because it was about halfway through the section.
If a paragraph break is desired in this section, a more meaningful place may be at verse 16 (as in jb), since this last verse is the climax to the section and is rather different from the other verses in not talking about any specific town and not having any puns.
The opening words of verse 10, Don’t tell our enemies in Gath, are an allusion to David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam 1:17–27), who were killed in battle against the Philistines. Gath is mentioned frequently in the Old Testament, perhaps because it was the Philistine city nearest to the territory of Judah. Its name is similar in sound to the Hebrew word for “tell,” which is used in this sentence.
The prophet here is speaking to the other people of Judah. It may be helpful in some languages to put in at this point the actual words “People of Judah” to show this, as tev has done in verses 14 and 16. What the prophet says to these people is that they should not tell the people of Gath what is happening to them, because the people of Gath are enemies of the people of Judah. Whether the people of Gath would simply enjoy hearing about the bad things that are happening to Judah, or whether they might try to take advantage of them to cause even more trouble, we do not know. tev has added our enemies to help to bring out part of this meaning. Since the prophet is speaking to his own people, this our would have to be the inclusive “our” used to mean “yours and mine,” if a language has more than one word for “our.” The people of Gath are the enemies, so in some languages it may be better to say “our enemies, the people of Gath.”
In many languages it will be necessary to say what you are not to tell the people of Gath about, even though it is not explicitly mentioned in the Hebrew. What is referred to is all of the bad things that are happening to Judah as the attacking army gets nearer to Jerusalem. tev has said about our defeat, but since Jerusalem itself has not yet been taken, this could be misleading. It may be better to say “about what is happening to us,” or “that we are having such a terrible time,” or “that God is punishing us.”
Don’t let them see you weeping does not mean “weep in private, not in public” but rather “weep not at all,” as in rsv. It we connect this idea with the first line, then the meaning must be that the people of Judah should not weep at all, because if they do the Philistines will find out what has happened to them. It may be better to say that the Philistines will find out by hearing them weep rather than by seeing, especially since the next line says it is all right to roll in the dust. One way to translate this line may be “do not weep at all, or they may hear you.” Weeping can be the term for crying for the dead or for some terrible thing that has happened, if a language has such a word.
The location of Beth Leaphrah is not known. The Hebrew word for “dust” is aPhar, which sounds like the last part of Leaphrah.
People of Beth Leaphrah is a term of address, to show these people that they are the ones the prophet is talking to. In some languages there will be a special word or some other way of showing that he is addressing a particular group of people that he wants to listen to him.
If it is helpful to give the reason why these people should roll in the dust, the translator may want to do something similar to tev and say show your despair or “… sorrow.” In some languages this would have to be expressed as “roll in the dust to show that terrible things are happening to you” or “… to show how sad you are.”
One sign of sorrow or despair was to put dust on one’s head or body (see Josh 7:6 and Job 2:12). Rolling in the dust, then, would be a way of covering the body with the dust, to show great sorrow. Rolling probably means turning over one way and then another to try to be sure that the whole body is covered. The Hebrew word for “roll yourselves” (rsv) sounds like the mention of the Philistine city of Gath.
The location of Shaphir is not known, and the play on this name has also been lost. Some scholars want to restore the pun by emending the text to include the Hebrew word shoPhar, “ram’s horn trumpet.” Thus the beginning of the verse is translated “Sound the horn, you who live in Shaphir” in jb. Since the pun cannot be translated, it is safer to follow the Hebrew text as it stands, as tev and rsv do. The command to “pass on your way” (rsv) is to be understood as a reference to going into exile, as tev makes clear.
The prophet here once again names the people he is talking to: You people of Shaphir. Go into exile means to be taken away by their enemies to live in a foreign land. It may be translated as “You will go away with our enemies, as their prisoners” or as “Our enemies will force you to leave your homes.” This is actually a command in Hebrew, but what the prophet means is that these people will be forced to go into exile. He is not telling them that they should do this. The use of the command here suggests that it is something that is already happening, and in this way it makes the picture more vivid.
The people are going into exile naked and ashamed. Nakedness was commonly associated with shame in Hebrew culture (see Gen 2:25; 3:7–11; 1 Chr 19:4–5; Isa 20:4; Nahum 3:5). Naked here means completely naked, with no clothes on at all. They are ashamed because everyone can see them naked, as well as for the more basic reason that they have been defeated by their enemies. These two words describe the way they look and feel as they go into exile. In some languages it may be necessary to describe this before the idea of going to exile: “Our enemies will strip you naked (or, force you to strip naked), and you will be ashamed, and they will force you to go away into exile like this.” It is possible that the words “naked and ashamed” go with the next line, those who live in Zaanan. neb takes them this way, but the sense of the verse has a better balance if the punctuation of the Masoretic text is followed, as in rsv and tev.
Zaanan is perhaps the same place as the Zenan mentioned in Joshua 15:37. Two of the Hebrew consonants in this name also occur in the word for come out and thus form the pun in this sentence. In saying that the inhabitants do not dare to come out of their city, Micah probably means that the city is under siege by the enemy.
Here Micah does not actually speak directly to those who live in Zaanan but simply describes them. If they cannot come out, this may be the reason he does not actually address them. The Hebrew simply says that they do not come out. tev has added do not dare, suggesting that they are afraid of what the enemies will do to them if they come out. It is also possible to understand this as meaning that they cannot escape from the enemies. Both of these meanings suggest that this town must have had walls around it, so that they had some protection from the enemies.
In the third section of the verse, Bethezel is unknown and no pun can be noticed. In fact it is difficult to make any sense at all of this sentence, as the literal translation of rsv shows. jb assumes that “standing place” is to be taken in its plain meaning, and translates accordingly: “Bethezel is torn from its foundations, from its strong supports.” neb and tev both take “standing place” figuratively but in different ways. neb “she can lend you support no longer” seems to refer to military strength (compare niv). tev, on the other hand, takes “standing place” as a place where one can stand or stop fleeing, that is, a place of refuge.
The wide differences between the modern versions indicate the difficulties. Almost certainly the text we have today is not what was originally written, but no suggestions for restoring the original have gained general agreement among scholars.
Whatever the prophet is saying about Bethezel, he is saying it to some group of people whom he calls you. It is probably addressed to the people of Judah in general, the same group we assumed he was speaking to at the beginning of verse 10. It is also possible that it is addressed to the people of Shaphir (and perhaps the people of Zaanan), since they were mentioned most recently.
The people of Bethezel are mourning or wailing, making a loud noise to show their sorrow, presumably because of what the enemies have done to them. Because of what has happened to Bethezel there is no refuge there, if we take the understanding of tev. This means that the people that Micah is speaking to cannot go to Bethezel to be safe from the enemies. tev connects the two parts of the sentence by saying When you hear them wailing, you will know that Bethezel is not a place to hide. There could be other ways of connecting these two ideas, such as “the wailing of the people shows you that there is no refuge there.”
If the translator prefers to follow the neb interpretation, “she can lend you support no longer,” this means “you cannot expect the people of Bethezel to come and help you when you are fighting the enemy.”
Maroth is perhaps the same place as that called Maarath in Joshua 15:59. The name means “bitterness” (compare Ruth 1:20). There is no obvious wordplay based on sound here, but there may be a play on the sense, in that bitterness is unpleasant and gives no encouragement to wait for anything good such as relief.
In some languages it may be more natural to mention first the reason that the people of Maroth are waiting, and to turn the clauses of this sentence around: “The Lord has brought disaster, so the people wait.…”
Relief is literally “good” (rsv). The idea is that they are in great danger, with only bad things happening, and they are hoping that this will change in some way. The most important good thing at a time like this would be for the enemy to stop bothering them or for someone to drive the enemy away. This is the meaning of tev’s word relief.
They are waiting anxiously for this to happen. This means that they are hoping that somehow the enemy will be made to leave them alone, but that they are worried (anxious) that help will be too late or that it will not come. Another way of expressing the ideas here would be to say “The people of Maroth are hoping that they will be saved from the enemy, but they are afraid that no help will come.”
The LORD has brought disaster: the literal form of the Hebrew is “evil has come down from the LORD” (rsv), and in some languages the same kind of expression may be quite natural. The meaning is that the bad things which are happening to them have been caused by the Lord himself. He was the one who sent the enemy army to punish them (compare Isa 45:7). Disaster means “the terrible things which are happening.”
Close to Jerusalem: the reason that the people of Maroth anxiously wait is that disaster has almost overtaken Jerusalem. Its closeness is shown in that it is actually at “the gate” of the city (rsv).
Since disaster is an event, it may be impossible in some languages to speak of it as being close to Jerusalem. The meaning is that the enemy army is right at the gate of Jerusalem, and therefore it will probably only be a very short time before the city is captured. One may wish to translate “The Lord has brought the enemies close to Jerusalem, and they will soon capture it.”
It may be confusing that the people of Maroth should be concerned about the army at the gate of Jerusalem. However, if Jerusalem is captured, there will be no hope for any of the smaller towns nearby. In a sense, it is even worse to have the enemies at Jerusalem than to have them in their own town, since it means there is no one left to send help and no place to which they can escape.
In this verse the wordplay is between Lachish and to the chariots, in Hebrew lareKesh. Again the prophet speaks directly to the people of the town, and tev places You that live in Lachish first, where it sounds best in English. Translators should follow the natural way of addressing people in their own languages.
A chariot is a two-wheeled cart pulled by two horses and normally used in war. Usually two or three people would ride in it, one to drive and the others to fight. The people of Lachish are told to hitch the horses to the chariots in order to run away from the enemies, not to fight them. The idea is that the enemies are very close and are about to capture the town. In some languages it may be clearer to talk about “fastening (or tying) the chariots to the horses.”
The charge brought against Lachish is that it was the first town in Judah which imitated the sins of Israel. The way in which this was done is not clear. The suggestions which scholars accept as most probable is that Lachish was the Last Judean town on the road to Egypt, and thus grew rich through trading with Egypt in horses (see 1 Kgs 10:28–29). Its prosperity then encouraged its people to follow the example of the northern kingdom and trust in material wealth rather than in the Lord. (A similar attitude, also connected with horses and with Egypt, is condemned in Isa 31:1–3) Such an attitude would soon have spread to the capital city of Jerusalem, and in this way Lachish could have been the evil influence that caused Jerusalem to sin.
You imitated the sins of Israel is literally “in you were found the transgressions of Israel” (rsv). You here refers to the people of Lachish. They committed the same sort of sins that the people of Israel, the northern kingdom, had been committing and which brought God’s punishment on them. It is probably enough to say “You did the same evil things that the people of Israel did.” However, if the translator wants to follow tev and suggest that they were actually imitating or copying the people of Israel, it may be necessary to go into more detail: “You saw the evil things that the people of Israel were doing, and you decided to do them too.”
The sins of the people of Lachish caused Jerusalem to sin, presumably because the people of Jerusalem copied what they saw the people of Lachish doing. The text says literally that Lachish was “the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion” (rsv). Jerusalem was built around the hill called Mount Zion, so the city and its inhabitants were known figuratively as “the daughter of Zion,” and this term is common in the writings of the prophets. It is not likely that this literal expression would be understood in many languages; here it simply means “the people of Jerusalem.”
The people of Lachish did not of course force the people of Jerusalem to sin, but they were simply the bad example which the people of Jerusalem followed. Therefore in some languages it may be better to say “The people of Jerusalem saw your evil deeds and did the same things, and so they sinned because of you.”
Note that the two ideas in this sentence (You imitated the sins of Israel and you caused Jerusalem to sin) are connected in opposite ways by tev and rsv, though the meanings are the same. In the order of tev, the action that came first in time is put first, followed by the result of this action (and so). In rsv (which follows the Hebrew) the prophet’s main point is put first (“you caused Jerusalem to sin”), followed by the explanation of how it was that they did this (“because you imitated the sins of Israel”). Each translator will need to decide which order is best in his own language.
rsv begins this verse with “Therefore,” but this does not really make sense here. tev begins with And now, which fits the context in English but does not really add anything to the meaning. This whole passage is simply a list of unrelated comments based on the names of different towns, and there is no need to treat this one differently by using some introductory expression here. Of course it may be that in many languages some sort of introductory word or phrase will be needed before each in these verses.
The subject of the verb in the first sentence is simply “you” in Hebrew, as in rsv. tev makes it explicit that this refers to the people of Judah in general. If this is not done, the reader will be confused and will naturally refer the “you” to the people of Lachish in the previous verse.
Moresheth is Micah’s home village (see 1:1). Its name as given in this verse, Moresheth Gath, probably indicates that it was not far from the Philistine town of Gath, and thus was near the border of Judean territory. The pun here is probably again one of sense rather than sound. The name Moresheth is similar to the Hebrew word for fiancee. When a girl got married, she would be given a “dowry” (jb), and this is probably what the “parting gifts” (rsv) are intended to refer to. This is the meaning of the same word in 1 Kings 9:16. Micah here sees a similarity between parents saying good-bye to a daughter when she marries, and the people of Judah saying good-bye to Moresheth. What Micah implies is that the town will fall into enemy hands and no longer be part of Judah. As this was Micah’s own hometown (verse 1), we can well imagine his sadness at having to deliver such a message as this.
If a translator wants to try to keep the picture used in this line, it is possible to say “give Moresheth Gath the gifts you give to people who are leaving you” or “give gifts to Moresheth Gath, as you would to a daughter who is leaving home to be married.” In many languages it will be better to follow tev and use a simple expression to show that you are taking leave of someone. In English this is say good-bye, but in other languages there may be a simple verb or other expression to describe the action, and there may be nothing “said” at all. It may be necessary in some languages to add the explanation for this picture and to say “because enemies are about to capture this town.”
In the second half of the verse the pun is very clear. The town name Achzib is almost identical with the Hebrew word axzaB, translated as “deceitful thing” by rsv. In Jeremiah 15:18 the word is used of a stream that dries up in summer and thus disappoints the thirsty traveler. Achzib is the town mentioned in Joshua 15:44. Micah here seems to think of a situation in which the kings of Israel depended on the people of Achzib for some help but were “disappointed” (neb) in their hopes. This cannot be linked with any known historical event.
This part of verse 14 is simply a statement, like verse 12, and is not spoken directly to anyone. If it matters to the translator, however, we can assume that in places like this the prophet is speaking to all the people of Judah.
The use of the plural kings may indicate that this was written during a period of coregency, that is, a period when the reigning king’s son was associated with him on the throne. Such periods of coregency were quite common in the eighth century in Judah. For instance, Hezekiah was coregent with his father Ahaz from 728 b.c. to 716 b.c.
However, if the plural kings will sound strange to the readers, a translator may translate a singular “king.” Indeed, a number of scholars believe that the Hebrew text should be changed at this point to say “king” in the singular.
Israel is a confusing name in the Bible, because sometimes it refers to the whole people of God; other times it refers to the northern kingdom of Israel, as distinguished from the southern kingdom of Judah; and at yet other times it refers to the southern kingdom. In this passage it seems to refer to Judah. In some languages it may be better to say simply “the kings of Judah.”
According to tev, the kings will get no help from this town. If it is necessary to state what kind of help, it is best to assume that the kings hoped that Achzib would supply some men to help them fight, but that since Achzib had been conquered by the enemy, it could not help in this way. The translation of tev loses the idea of “disappointment.” This can be easily added by saying something like “the kings of Israel will look to Achzib for help, but they will get none” or “the town of Achzib will not be able to help the kings of Israel, and so they will be disappointed.”
The town of Achzib is literally “the houses of Achzib” (rsv), but it has the meaning given in tev.
The pun in the first half of this verse depends on the similarity of sound between the name Mareshah and the Hebrew word yoresh, translated “conqueror” in rsv. Some scholars have thought that Mareshah is an alternative form of Moresheth, but it is best regarded as another village in Micah’s home area, the place named in Joshua 15:44. These words are addressed directly to the people of Mareshah.
This is the only sentence in this section which is in the first person in Hebrew. The “I” here (rsv) is the Lord speaking. When the prophets were giving a message about the Lord, they often made sudden changes from their own words to his words. In most languages this type of change will be hard to understand or may be understood as Micah himself speaking. It is better to do as tev has done here and identify the speaker as the LORD. Some translators may prefer to say “the Lord says he will hand you over.”
What the Lord says is that he will hand you over to an enemy, who is going to capture your town. This means that he will send an enemy army to conquer Mareshah, as rsv suggests. Other versions have understood this line as meaning “I will send others to take your place” (neb). This can be related to the idea of a conqueror if it means that the conquering people will take the people of Mareshah away into exile and brings others to live in their town.
rsv and jb understand that this conqueror will come to Mareshah “again.” If this is correct, it must refer to some previous incident that was the first time the conqueror came there. Other versions (kjv, mft, nab, Modern Language Bible) translate this as “yet,” which must mean that it is something which has not happened yet, but it will happen. New American Standard Bible (nasb; “Moreover”) and neb (“And you too”) seem to suggest that this is just a way of introducing this reference to Mareshah, by saying that there is a message for them, as there was a message for all the other towns that have been mentioned already. tev has simply omitted any translation here, as has niv. If “again” does not mean “a second time” in this verse, it may well be omitted in other languages, since the other alternatives are simply connecting words which do not add anything new to the sense.
The second half of the verse contains no pun which can now be recognized. The “glory of Israel” (rsv) is best taken as a reference to the leaders of Israel rather than to the country’s wealth and power. Adullam was a fortified town not far from Achzib, but the reference here is to a nearby cave in which David took refuge when he was fleeing both from King Saul and from Achish, the Philistine king of Gath (1 Sam 22:1). It thus became a symbol for the last hope in a desperate situation. When Micah here says that the leaders of Israel will go and hide in the cave at Adullam, he means that their circumstances will be critical and hopeless, just as David’s had been. Of course, if the leaders of the nation were in such a position, the ordinary people would have been even worse off.
The British edition of tev has here The glorious leaders. This can be translated as “The great leaders” or “The most important people.” There may be some idea here that everything that made the country proud in the past is now only something to be ashamed of. In some languages this can be partly brought out by saying “The leaders, great as they are” or “Even though the leaders are so important, they must run away and hide.” If it is difficult to find a term for “great” or “important,” it is enough to say just “The leaders.”
As in verse 14, Israel here seems to refer more specifically to Judah, and it may be less confusing to call them “The leaders of Judah.”
Literally, the Hebrew says only that they “shall come to Adullam” (rsv), but this will be meaningless for most readers who do not understand the importance of Adullam in Israel’s history. tev and neb have made the meaning clearer in two ways. First, they have said that Adullam is a cave; and second, they have said that the leaders will go there to hide. Some translators may want to add one more point and say “just as King David did.” If all of the 400 people mentioned in 1 Samuel 22:2 were with David inside this cave, it must have been a very large one. If a language does not have a word for cave, this may be translated as “a large hole like a room inside a mountain,” or else one may omit the word “cave” and just say “go and hide at Adullam.”
This verse forms the climax to the section and is expressed in a direct manner without the use of any wordplays. In Hebrew the verse is addressed to a singular rather than a plural “you.” This may simply be a way of talking to the whole nation by referring to each person individually. This seems to be the understanding of tev, which clearly states that the people addressed are the people of Judah. Others believe that this verse is addressed to Jerusalem, as though the town is a “parent” and all of the small towns and villages which the enemy is capturing are Jerusalem’s “children.” The tev interpretation seems preferable.
The two verbs, “make … bald” and “cut off your hair” (rsv), are synonyms used for poetic effect, and many languages will follow tev in rendering them as a single verb cut off your hair. If both ideas are used, it will probably sound better to say “cut off your hair and make yourselves bald,” as baldness is the result of cutting off the hair. The shaving of the head was a common sign of mourning among the Israelites and is referred to several times in the Old Testament, for instance in Isaiah 15:2; Jeremiah 16:6; Amos 8:10. In areas where this custom is not followed, the meaning of the action should be made explicit, as tev makes it with the words in mourning.
The people are to go into mourning for their children. This is not because the children have died but because they have been taken away from them, as the rest of the verse makes clear. The children are referred to as the children you love or “the children that give you joy.”
The second half of the verse begins by repeating the thought of the first half, Make yourselves as bald as vultures. In Hebrew there was no consistent distinction made between various large birds, and the same word sometimes means “eagle” (as in Obadiah verse 4) and sometimes “vulture,” as here. The rsv “eagle” in this verse is almost certainly wrong, as only the vulture has the bare, featherless head and neck which is the whole point of the reference here. This is recognized by mft, neb, jb, tev, and niv. However, this is not primarily a literal reference to a particular bird but is a point of comparison for baldness. (See Fauna and Flora of the Bible, pages 82–84.) Therefore, whatever bird is used in the translation, it should be a bird which is known to be bald. If there is no such bird known in the culture, it will probably be better to drop the comparison and say simply “completely bald.”
The final clause expands on what was said in the first half of the verse, by giving the reason for the mourning. This is that your children will be taken away from you into exile. It was the regular policy of the Assyrian kings, and later of the Babylonian kings also, to deport the surviving populations of territories which they had conquered. This policy was known and feared even by people who had not yet experienced its terrors. Such exile had been threatened before for the northern kingdom of Israel, for instance in Amos 5:27; 7:17, and here the same threat is extended to the southern kingdom of Judah. If the passage comes from a period later than 722 b.c., when Israel fell to the Assyrians, then the people had before them the example of a similar prophecy already fulfilled, to add urgency to Micah’s warnings. As it actually happened, the judgment on Judah was put off for over a century, and it was not until 586 b.c. that Jerusalem was captured by King Nebuchadnezzar and its surviving population was taken into exile by his Babylonian armies. See 2 Kings 25:1–21.
For a discussion of the translation of going into exile, see 1:11. The ones who take the children away are of course the enemies, and some languages will need to make this explicit.
There are several features of this verse which come from the fact that it is poetry, and it may sound better if it is restructured. The whole point of the verse is saved for the last line. This is effective in poetry and may be good in some prose translations as well. But in some languages it may be necessary to put it first. Also it may be better to refer only once to cutting off the hair, rather than to mention it in two parts of the verse. If a translator made both these adaptations, the result could be something like this: “People of Judah, you love your children, but your enemies will take them away into exile. Therefore you should go into mourning for them, and should show this by cutting off your hair, thus making yourselves as bald as vultures.”
Most commentators, however, feel that the children of this verse really stand for Jerusalem’s neighboring towns and villages. If a translator wants to make this understanding explicit, then the verse can be handled in at least two different ways. First, it may be necessary in some languages to drop the figure of speech and give the plain meaning. The verse can then be addressed to the people of Jerusalem: “People of Jerusalem, your enemies are going to capture all the people of the towns and villages near you, and take them away into exile. Therefore you should.…” Second, it may be possible to keep the figure, in which case the verse should address Jerusalem herself: “Jerusalem, the towns and villages near you are like children to you, and you love them. But your enemies will take them away into exile. Therefore.…”
The tense of the Hebrew verb in the last line literally suggests that the children have already gone into exile, and this fits more with the command that the people should go into mourning now. However, the Hebrew prophets often spoke of things with they were predicting as though they had already taken place. This is a way of showing that the prophet is certain that they will take place, and it made his predictions more vivid to the people who heard the prophet’s messages. Perhaps the prophet had actually seen it already in a vision. Some of the English translations retain this tense literally as “they have gone into exile” (neb and jb, for example), but the meaning is really future, as rsv and tev translate.
The Lord Will Punish Those Who Oppress the Poor Mic 2:1–11
Micah Chapter 2
The heading may need to be expanded so as to express the actor and include a main verb. It may appear as “God will punish those who oppress the poor” or something similar.
This section falls into two main paragraphs. The first covers verses 1–5 and contains a statement of the evil activities of the rich oppressors (verse 1–2), followed by God’s denunciation and punishment of the them (verses 3–5).
In Micah’s day, society was mainly agricultural, and wealth was therefore mainly in the form of land. Each family had its own ancestral land, which had originally been distributed by lot after the conquest under Joshua. It had been intended that this family land would never change owners but would remain in the possession of the family forever (see for instance Lev 25:23–28; Num 27:1–11; 33:54; 36:1–12). As long as each family did have its own land, the standard of living everyone enjoyed was about the same throughout the community. But after the monarchy was established, the people of the towns and especially of the court began to grow richer than the people of the rural areas. Farmers often did not have enough wealth to enable them to survive a series of bad harvests. They had to sell their ancestral land, which in this way would pass to the rich. It soon happened that the rich were no longer content to wait for misfortune to compel the poor people to sell their land; they would devise ways of forcing them to sell, and would even steal the land if necessary. (See Isa 5:8.) The courts were in the power of the same rich people (see verses 3:11 and 7:3), and there was no justice for the poor (Amos 5:10–12). The outstanding example of this kind of behavior is recorded in 1 Kings 21, where Ahab and Jezebel had Naboth murdered in order to take over his vineyard. This crime earned God’s judgment, proclaimed through the prophet Elijah.
This oracle of Micah opens quite abruptly with the announcement that those who do … evil to others will soon have the same thing done to them. If the rich could not sleep at night, they would lie awake and plan evil (compare Psa 36:4) instead of thinking about God as the psalmist did (Psa 63:6). During the daylight the would put their plans into effect as soon as they have the chance.
How terrible …: in Hebrew this word is used when expressing great sorrow because someone has died. The tev translation gives the meaning better than rsv, because the rsv “Woe to” can easily be misunderstood as a wish that evil may come to someone. The Hebrew prophets took this expression, which was usually used at funerals, and used it to make their messages more vivid. God had showed them what was going to happen to the people who did evil. When the prophets cried out, using this word, they were acting as though this punishment had already happened and the sinners were already dead. Many languages have words which are used to express sorrow for someone who has died, and it may be very effective to use these words here. In other languages translators could try to find an expression like tev’s How terrible, which will sound as though the prophet is crying out because he has just seen something very bad happen to the people.
The main reason these people are criticized is of course that they plan evil, and not that they lie awake. Their thoughts are so full of their evil plans that they cannot even sleep. Plan evil means to “think of bad things to do to other people.” In some languages it may be necessary to say that this is at night, during the time that they should be sleeping.
It may be necessary for some translators to describe these evil people first, and then to say “Woe to them” at the end of the sentence.
These people can hardly wait for morning to come, so they can do the evil they have planned. The tev clause as soon as they have the chance fits well into this meaning and is certainly not wrong. The idea is that they may not always be able to carry out their plans immediately. They may have to wait for just the right moment, but they will do these evil things as soon as they can.
However, this clause is translated by rsv as “because it is in the power of their hand,” and most other English translations interpret this clause in basically this same way. This is probably a reference to the fact that these rich people are in a position to do whatever they want. No one can or will stop them. This may be translated as “because they can do whatever they want to do,” or as neb says, “knowing that they have the power.”
Verse 2 is a development of the idea that the rich can do as they please. If they want fields or house, they simply help themselves, with never a care for the people whom they drive out.
The Hebrew word for want in this verse is the same word used for “desire” (rsv “covet”) in the tenth commandment (Exo 20:17; Deut 5:21). Its use here emphasizes that the behavior of the rich is directly contrary to the will of God as expressed in his Law.
Fields refers to the cultivated land that people owned, while houses were the people’s own homes. The exact way in which these rich people seize or take the fields and houses is not stated. It probably involved taking over property from people who were in debt to them, and using various other means that had the appearance of being legal. They did not simply come in with a number of armed men and drive the owners off their property. The use of seize and take, however, suggests that from a moral point of view the actions of the rich were just as bad as if they had actually seized the property by force. Seize and take are synonyms, and many translators may prefer to combine these ideas into one sentence: “If they want someone else’s fields and houses, they simply take them.”
Such behavior leads to the breakup of society (see also verse 9), so that No man’s family or property is safe. tev here combines the repetition of the Hebrew into a single clause (see rsv for a literal translation). The expression “a man and his house” (rsv) is understood by some to be another reference to the houses that people own, repeating the idea of the previous line. It is more likely here to mean “household,” or as tev says, family. People who were in debt were often forced to sell themselves as slaves, and this may be what is in mind here.
The word translated as “inheritance” (rsv) means primarily the family land inherited from one’s ancestors. tev translates it as property.
The evil men, then, were wrongly taking the property and even taking the owners themselves with their families. This idea is not different from what is said in the first part of this verse. Translators who try to follow the emphasis of the Hebrew may find it difficult to word this in a way that does not sound like simple repetition. It may help to put in an extra clause and say “In this way these men rob a man of his family lands and even of his family itself.”
The tev wording gives another alternative. By focusing on the victims, the same thing can be said with quite a different effect. It may be difficult to find a equivalent for is safe in some languages. Another possibility is to say “No man can be sure that they will not take his family and property.”
Verses 3–4 say more about the Lord’s disapproval of the evil rich and about the form their punishment will take. Verse 3 echoes the very words of verse 1, as the Lord says that he is planning … disaster (verse 3) for those who plan evil (verse 1). The Hebrew verb for plan is the same in both places, and the two nouns evil and disaster are formed from the same root. English requires two different words according to the two contexts, but in other languages there may be a single term that fits both. If such a term can be found, its use will serve to emphasize the way verse 3 is related to verse 1.
In the Hebrew the Lord’s speech begins with the word translated “Behold” (rsv). This is a way of showing that something new and unexpected is about to happen. It is not an easy term to translate into English, but translators in languages which have an appropriate expression of this sort should use it here. jb here has “Now it is I who plot,” which gives something of the force of “Behold,” as well as helping to draw attention to the fact that the Lord is acting toward the evil men as they have acted toward others.
On you: the first line of the Lord’s speech refers to the evildoers as “this family” (rsv), which may be an insulting way of talking about them. In the rest of the speech, however, the Lord addresses them directly as “you” (plural), and tev felt that it is clearer to use you at the beginning as well. Many translators will want to keep the same form of address throughout, but if there is a somewhat insulting form of “you” which will be all right for God to use, it may be appropriate here. A possibility in English may be “you gang” or “you crew.”
The disaster that the Lord will bring will be such that the rich will not be able to escape it. Here there is in the Hebrew a metaphor of an ox yoke which will be put on the rich, and from which “you cannot remove your necks” (rsv). In cultures where plowing with oxen is familiar, it may be more vivid to retain the metaphor as long as it sounds natural in the language. neb links the metaphor with the clause that follows it by translating “whose yoke you cannot shake from your necks and walk upright.” Other major English versions take the “upright” as a figurative expression representing arrogance, and render “haughtily” (rsv) or “proudly” (jb, niv). tev follows this interpretation and also reorders the last two clauses of the verse to put the reason (You are going to find yourselves in trouble) before the result (and then you will not walk so proudly any more). Translators should follow the clause order which is most natural in the receptor language.
The most natural expression in many languages may be closer to “it will be an evil time” (rsv) than to You are going to find yourselves in trouble, but the meaning is the same, and translators should not necessarily try to follow either English expression exactly.
Although tev has dropped the reference to the yoke on the necks, it has kept the figurative expression, walk so proudly. This refers to the proud attitude of the evildoers, and some translators may need to use a more general term which does not mention walking.
Any more has been added by tev to show that, up until this time when God punished them, these people have been walking proudly. Other languages may have quite different ways of conveying this same idea, or it may be correct to leave it implicit, as it is in the Hebrew.
When that time comes: as so often in the Old Testament, “day” (rsv) stands for a period longer that 24 hours, and thus tev has When that time comes … When it does come, the rich will find themselves in the position they had so often put the poor, namely, they will have their land taken away. In this way their fate will be such a clear example of disaster, of the punishment fitting the crime, that it will become the subject of a song of despair.
The Hebrew does not make it clear who will sing this song, and most English versions retain this vagueness with the word “they” (rsv, jb, neb). tev is somewhat more explicit with people, that is, people in general. They will at that time mock the rich people who are suffering the same indignities they had once inflicted on others. Another view is that the song is sung by the enemy invaders against the rich people whose property they are plundering. Other scholars believe that the song will be sung by the rich themselves, since it is in the first person. If that is so, it would be a “lament” (neb) rather than a “satire” (nab, jb) or “taunt” (rsv).
In order to translate clearly, each translator will have to decide which of these possibilities seems most convincing in the context, and make his translation according to the meaning he has chosen. Alternative possibilities can be put in footnotes if translators feel they are important enough. It will probably not be necessary to decide exactly who is singing the song, apart from deciding whether it is sung by the people being punished or by some other group which is mocking them. Most English translations take it to be some other group.
Use the story about you as an example of disaster means “tell what has happened to you as an example of the disaster that comes to people who do evil.” tev can be wrongly understood to mean that telling the story and singing the song are two separate things that will be done; but what is meant is that by singing the song the story is told. If we assume that the song is not sung by the people being punished but by other people, then the singers are pretending that they are the people who have been punished, and they are singing this song in mock despair. Translators may find it somewhat difficult to connect the ideas of mockery and despair. The words of the song show despair, but the whole action of singing the song is intended to mock the people who have been punished.
The song itself has four lines in rsv but only three in tev. This is because the second and third lines have been combined into one in tev, avoiding a repetition which is somewhat obscure. The general sense of the passage is clear enough, however, and is adequately conveyed by tev. The people speaking in the song (We) are the rich people whom the Lord is speaking to in verses 3 and 4. This is true whether we understand that they really sing it, or whether it is others who only pretend to be the rich people. Once more, tev makes the actor explicit (The LORD has taken our land away) and avoids pronouns that have no clear antecedent.
The Hebrew varies in the song between first person plural (rsv “We are … ruined” and “our captors”) and first persons singular (rsv “my people” and “from me”). Since this change sounds unnatural in English, tev has consistently used the first person plural.
The LORD has taken our land away means of course that the Lord no longer allows these rich evildoers to own the land that had been theirs; instead he has given it to others. This is one point where translators should be careful not to be too literal, or they may imply that the land itself has been moved from one place to another.
The rich people not only suffer the loss of the land they had wrongfully acquired but even see it given … to those who took us captive, that is, to foreign conquerors who have no claim at all to be among the Lord’s people. There is a play on words in Hebrew between “portion” and “divide,” which are both forms of the same root, and perhaps another wordplay between “utterly ruined” and “fields,” which have similar sounds.
This verse is a further comment by the prophet upon the punishment of the rich. Just as the loss of land meant destruction of the family for the poor (verse 2), so the rich will lose not only their land but also their hope of having descendants.
Micah here refers to the original division of the promised land among the tribes of Israel by lot (Josh 14:2) and implies that the time will come for the land to be given back to the LORD’s people. But by then the families of the rich oppressors will be extinct, and thus there will be no share for any of them in the restored land. This will be the full punishment for their reckless greed in Micah’s own day. The expression “the assembly of the LORD” (rsv) is the regular expression for Israel as a religious community (see for example Num 16:3; 20:4). To be excluded from this group meant not merely the loss of land in any future distribution, but even the loss of the covenant relationship with the Lord.
As in 1:7–8, so in 2:4 the words of the Lord end suddenly, and it is generally agreed that 2:5 is a comment by the prophet himself. The situation is rather complicated here, because the Lord’s words end in verse 4 with the song which refers to the Lord in the third person. A translator is fortunate if his language has clear ways of showing that someone’s speech has ended, but in any case he should make it clear that verse 5 is not still part of the song or even of the Lord’s speech. Note that the prophet addresses the rich evildoers directly. The verse is not just a comment about them.
The verse begins with So then or “Therefore” (rsv). This shows that the situation described here will be a further result of the punishment which the evildoers will receive. As understood by tev, Micah is assuming here that not only the rich but all of the LORD’s people will lose their land and go into exile, but that the time will come when they will get back the land. The idea of exile was mentioned in chapter 1, but there has been no mention up till now of the idea of the people returning. Each translator will have to decide how much of this information will need to be made explicit here in order to make this verse clear.
When the exiles return, the families of the rich people will have no share or plot of land. This is the meaning of the Hebrew, which refers more specifically to the process by which the family shares were chosen. The “lot” (rsv) was probably a set of stones with special markings on them. The stone chosen would show what God’s will was in that particular case. The “line” of rsv is the measuring line used to mark out the family plots. The lots may have been used to show where the measuring line should be placed.
“You will have none” (rsv) refers to the descendants of family of the rich oppressors. tev does not mention the descendants explicitly but simply says any of you. It may be clearer in many languages to say “any of your family” or “any of your descendants.”
The second paragraph of this section consists of verse 6–13. In the first two verses (6–7) we read of the people’s hostile reaction to Micah’s message, and in the following verses (8–11) we hear God’s response to that reaction. The closing verses (12–13) sound a note of restoration and hope.
It is hardly surprising that Micah’s stern message to the rich did not bring him popularity. Instead it earned for him mockery and rebuke, just as it did for (Isaiah Isa 28:9–10; 30:9–11) and (Amos Amos 7:12–13). This rebuke by Micah’s opponents is quoted directly in verse 6, but there is doubt about how far the quotation extends. rsv ends it at the end of verse 6, but niv and the New Jewish Version (njv) continue it to the middle of verse 7, while jb, the Traduction Oecuménique de la Bible (tob) and tev carry it through to the end of verse 7. The last option is more convincing but depends on assuming an error in copying the Hebrew text and changing it slightly in two places. The text of these and the following verses contains a number of difficulties, and some changes are almost unavoidable (see discussion below.)
The people who heard Micah’s message evidently mimicked its manner of delivery in their retort. Thus Micah could say that they preach at me and say, “Don’t preach at us.… The Hebrew uses the same word for preach in both places. It is a common word for the preaching of the prophets, but some commentators feel that it also had another sense, meaning something like “to talk on and on about nothing.” In some languages it may quite difficult to use the same word in both parts of this line, for it the usual word for preach or prophesy means “to speak God’s message,” then it will not be correct in either part of this line; the people themselves were not speaking God’s message, and they would not have admitted that Micah was either. If a language has this sort of problem, it may be helpful to look for a word with a meaning like “speaking nonsense,” which may fit into both places. (Compare jb “rave” and neb “rant.”)
Micah’s topics touched the consciences of his hearers, however, and they could not even bring themselves to mention the subject matter. They refer to it simply as “such things” (rsv) or all that. tev captures well their scornful rejection of the message with Don’t preach about all that. Because Micah’s message about their sins and the coming punishment was unwelcome to the hearers, they were easily able to convince themselves that there was nothing in it to fear. God is not going to disgrace us is the expression of their wishful thinking. Again tev turns from an impersonal construction (“disgrace will not overtake us,” rsv) and makes it clear that the implied actor is God. Disgrace can also be translated “shame” or “humiliate,” and it may refer back to verses 3 and 4 where the Lord says he will punish the evildoers and make other people mock them.
Verse 7 consists of four question which are taken by tev and jb as unbelieving by the rich against what the prophet has been saying to them. rsv may not have the same meaning, but it is not really clear, and it is best to follow the meaning of the other versions.
In the first question, the Hebrew text has heamur “said,” but many scholars prefer a small change so that the Hebrew will be hearur “cursed.” If “said” is changed to “cursed,” then the “house of Jacob” is the subject, as in tev and jb. If the change is not made, the “house of Jacob” is a vocative, calling on the people addressed (rsv, nab, neb, niv). Either way it stands for the whole nation, as tev brings out with its people of Israel.
Deuteronomy 28:15–68 describes in great detail what it means to be under God’s curse. If there seems to be no good term for curse, it may be possible to use an expression like “Do you think God has become the enemy of the people of Israel?” Another possibility may be “Is God planning to do evil to the people of Israel?” All these questions are rhetorical questions which imply a yes or no answer, according to the context. If a language has different forms for questions according to whether the implied answer is yes or no, the translator should be careful to use the appropriate form in the various parts of this verse. In this first question, for example, the rich people are implying that they are certainly not under a curse. For all of these questions, if it is more natural in the language to answer the question after asking it, or simply to use strong statements instead of questions, then these other forms should of course be used.
In the second question the “Spirit of the LORD” (rsv) stands for the Lord himself, as tev makes clear. Since this is not a reference to the Holy Spirit, rsv’s capital “S” on “Spirit” is rather misleading. (See comments on Micah 3:8.) The oppressors accept the idea of the Lord being patient and merciful (see Exo 34:6) but distort this doctrine so as to give themselves an excuse for continuing their evil conduct. They cannot believe that the Lord would really lose his patience, especially with them. Patience here means the characteristic of not getting angry quickly, or of being able to put up easily with many irritations. To lose patience means to be patient no longer. It may be necessary in some languages to say “Does the Lord get angry quickly? The question must be worded in such a way as to imply the answer “No.”
The third question simply reinforces the second: Would he really do such things? that is, bring punishment as Micah had threatened. Again, the implied answer is “No.”
The final question admits that God is righteous, but if this question comes from the mouths of the oppressors (as in tev), it shows that they assume that they also are among those who do right, and can thus expect that God will speak kindly to them. This assumption underlines their moral blindness. If this interpretation is preferred, it is necessary to follow another very minor change in the Hebrew and to read “his words” instead of “my words.” This change is supported by the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. If, however, this question is taken as part of Micah’s challenge to the rich, there is no need to change the text. (See, for instance, the way niv punctuates this verse.) The question then becomes a further probe into the consciences of the rich. It implies that people who are upright will find the prophet’s message acceptable, and that those who do not find the message acceptable cannot be walking “uprightly” (rsv). It sounds strange in English to say that someone’s “words do good” (rsv), and tev (also jb) understands this to mean that God speaks kindly. Others, such as neb, interpret the expression to mean that good will come to people like these when God speaks to them. This is the opposite of being under God’s curse.
Verses 8–9 are taken by tev to be the Lord’s reply to the rich people. In rsv they are taken to continue the words of Micah in verse 7. Since the prophet is speaking on behalf of the Lord, and the Lord is speaking through the prophet, the difference is more one of punctuation than of meaning.
The Hebrew text of verse 8 again contains a number of difficulties and a literal translation of it is almost unintelligible, as shown by niv. Several small changes in the Hebrew are generally accepted by scholars, but there is no need to discuss these in detail since they do not give rise to any significant differences between rsv and tev. For full discussion, see the commentaries of Allen (pages 292–293) and Mays (page 67).
Note that tev has added the words The LORD replies in order to make clear who is speaking. After a translator has decided who is speaking in these verses, he should make sure that his understanding comes across clearly in the translation.
In some languages it may be necessary to make clear who the You are that God is speaking to. One way this can be done is to begin the verse with “The Lord answers these people,” referring to the speakers of the previous verses. Although the context implies that the evildoers are rich and the people that they are wronging are poor, Micah does not actually use these terms himself, and it is probably best for translators to avoid doing so.
My people is a term usually applied to the whole people of Israel, but in this verse and the next it refers only to the poor people. By speaking in this way the Lord shows that he is already treating the oppressors as though they were not part of his people (see verse 5).
The rich behave as badly as foreign enemies towards the poor and attack them, even though in the sight of God the poor are my people. When men return from battle against enemies from other nations, they naturally think they will be safe at home. But in fact they meet the rich creditor, who demands that they return the money they have borrowed from him. He is like a new enemy who is all the more terrible because he is unexpected.
The description of the rich waiting to steal the coats off their backs is a reference to the law of Exodus 22:26–27. If a poor man borrowed money, he would have to give something to the lender as a guarantee that he would repay the money. When the debtor repaid his debt, he would get back whatever he had given as the guarantee, but if he did not pay back his debt, then the lender was allowed to keep it. Often the only thing a poor person owned which was valuable enough to use as a guarantee was his outer garment. But the Law stated that the lender had to return such garments to the borrower every night, since the borrower had nothing else to wrap himself in to keep warm. This humane regulation was openly broken by the creditors of Micah’s day, who kept these garments of the poor indefinitely.
Steal the coats of their backs is an English figure tev uses to express the inhumane treatment described in the more literal “you strip the robe from …” (rsv). If the reference is to the rich people wrongly keeping the garments rather than taking the garment from off a person’s body by force, it may be necessary in some languages to describe this more explicitly. One may say “There you are, waiting to take their coats as security for the money they owe you. You are just like robbers, since you refuse to return the coats when you should.” Another possibility is to say “There you are, waiting to harm them, just like robbers waiting to steal their coats.”
Micah goes on to speak in verse 9 about the women and children who remained, as if their menfolk were taken away and were thus unable to offer them any protection. Micah thus seems to imply that the male debtors were eventually sold into slavery for failure to repay their debts. However, the women may be widows. The picture given is one of unrelieved misery. The husbands are either dead, or forced by misfortune into debt and finally sold into slavery, while the wives have nothing left but the homes they love. But the greed of the creditors is still not satisfied and even makes them drive the women of my people out of their homes.
You drive the women out of their homes is a habitual or typical act of these rich men that Micah is criticizing, and it a language has a way of indicating habitual action, it should be used here. In languages where the same word is used for “women” and “wives,” it may be best to try to say this in such a way that it clearly means women who are living alone. These women are part of the group called my people by the Lord (see also verse 8).
The homes they love are called “pleasant homes” in rsv. The expression is intended to emphasize how terrible this act is, by showing how much these homes meant to the women. Translators should feel free to use whatever term sounds best in their language.
You have robbed their children of my blessings forever: it is not certain exactly what the children are robbed of. The Hebrew is literally “my glory” (rsv), but scholars have understood this in various ways. Some think it refers to the privilege of being free men, of that of being landowners in the promised land. Others think it refers to a glorious future, while others take it as a reference back to the children’s fathers, the peasant farmers who were the backbone of the nation. tev prudently translates as my blessings, which gives the general sense without being committed to any one specific interpretation. Blessings could be translated here as “all the good things I want to give them.”
Whatever it is that God’s “glory” refers to in this verse, it is probably something which the children would have enjoyed most fully after they had grown up. In some languages it may not be possible to use “rob” or “take away” of something in the future, and it may be better to say “you have prevented their children from ever having my blessings.”
Micah says that the evil men have robbed the children of God’s blessings or glory forever. This seems to be a way of stressing that there is no chance that the children will ever recover from the evil that has been done to them, and that they will die without receiving these blessings, if in fact they are not already dead. Translators should not use a term which suggests that the emphasis here is on their spiritual condition after death.
This verse takes up again the theme of verse 4 and announces the fate of the rich oppressors. It continues to be the word of the Lord, either directly if tev is followed, or indirectly through the prophet if rsv is followed. The rich must get up and go into exile. The commands are intended to resemble those which an enemy soldier would give to people about to be taken away as captives, and it will be effective if the translator can use terms that fit this sort of context.
The rich can expect to find no safety here (literally “no resting place,” as neb, niv, njv) in the promised land any more. Their sins have finally caught up with them and doomed this place to destruction. Probably Jerusalem is the place in mind which is to be destroyed (compare Micah 3:12). tev shortens the repetitive structure of the Hebrew into more natural English, and most translators will need to follow this example.
The concept doomed … to destruction may be difficult to translate into some languages, and it may be more effective to use a wording closer to the Hebrew, if a language has expressions that can do this. The idea in Hebrew is that all of the evil acts of these people have made the land itself unclean (see Lev 18:24–28; Ezek 24:13), and the only possible result of this is for God to destroy the country. “Unclean” here means to be in a state or condition that God hates. The Hebrew uses special emphasis when referring to the destruction, so it may be good to use an expression like “terrible destruction” or “completely destroy.” Compare niv “it is ruined, beyond all remedy.”
This verse continues the words of the Lord (tev) or the comment of the prophet (rsv). In the previous verses the rich oppressors have been addressed directly, but with the words these people this verse talks about them rather than to them. Some translators may wonder who the Lord (or Micah) is talking to in this verse. This is not made clear in the text, but if it is necessary to choose someone, we can assume that this verse is addressed to the people who have remained faithful to God. This is the group that is addressed in verse 12, and it is possible to understand that the Lord first speaks to them about their oppressors before giving them his promises in the next verse. On the other hand, in some languages (including English) this type of comment in the third person is quite effective in the middle of a criticism. It is then understood simply as an aside, not addressed to anyone. It may also be quite acceptable to change this verse to the second person and have it continue to address the oppressors directly, in terms such as “you people.”
The word translated prophet, prophesy in this verse is the same Hebrew word as that translated preach three times in verse 6. This has the effect of forming a link between verse 6 and verse 11, verse 6 speaking of how people reject the true prophet, and verse 11 speaking of how they welcome the false prophet. Since the people had rejected the words of the true prophet, Micah, the question arose as to what kind of prophet they would accept. The answer was of course a prophet who would say whatever they wanted to hear, and who would excuse their evil conduct and encourage them to continue in extravagant living. There were plenty of professional prophets ready to fulfill such a role, as is clear from the story of Ahab and Micaiah the son of Imlah in 1 Kings 22:1–28.
If the usual word for prophet is anything like “the one who speaks on behalf of God,” then it will be necessary to change it somewhat in this verse and say that “he claims to speak for God,” since what he is saying is of course not really God’s message.
Such people’s words were no more than lies and deceit intended to please the hearers rather than honor the Lord. Lies and deceit are really two ways of saying the same thing, and it may be necessary in many languages to use only one term here. Full of lies may be translated “speaking only lies.”
The rich clearly used their ill-gotten wealth on heavy drinking, and a false prophet who promised that wine and liquor will flow for you was certain to find their favor. Will flow for you means “you will have plenty of wine and liquor.” The word translated liquor or “strong drink” (rsv) can mean beer or wine, but probably nothing stronger than this. If a language has terms for wine and beer, or for ordinary wine and stronger wine, these may be used here. It is not necessary to have two terms, however, if it is difficult to find two. “All kinds of intoxicating drinks” is another possibility.
tev reorders the clauses to put the statement These people want the kind of prophet before the description of the prophet’s characteristics. In English this presents the content of the verse in the order easiest for the reader to understand, but translators will need to follow the order that is most natural in their own languages.
A Note of Hope Mic 2:12–13
Verses 12 and 13 form a marked contrast in theme with those which precede and follow. They speak of the restoration of the nation from its place of exile. The contrast has led many scholars to consider them a later addition to the text, but this problem does not really affect the translation. Verse 12 is in the first person, and for this reason is included within quotation marks in tev as being a continuing part of the Lord’s words beginning in verse 8. tev ends this quotation at the end of verse 12, because verse 13 is in the third person and is taken as the prophet’s comment on or expansion of verse 12. Such changes of person are quite common in prophetic writings and are not necessarily a conclusive guide to a change of speaker, though it does seem the most probable interpretation in this case. Most English translations do not use quotation marks here and therefore do not commit themselves on this point. However, niv places all of verses 12 and 13 within quotes and thus seems to regard them as the words of the Lord in a prophecy separate from verses 6–11. Another view is that these two verses are spoken by Micah’s opponents, the false prophets. If this is the case, then they are a response to the threat of exile in verse 10 and offer the people of Israel only a false sense of security. This is the view of de Waard.
Verse 12 is addressed to “Jacob” and “the remnant of Israel” (rsv). (For a discussion of the term “remnant”, see comments on 4:7.) These two terms together signify the entire nation or at least all those members of it that are left. The you (plural) of this verse does not refer to the same group of people who were addressed in verses 8–10. Here the whole nation is addressed, though it is not likely that the oppressors of verses 8–10 will be included in those that are left (see verse 5). Note that tev has felt that it is clearer to use only the single name Israel to refer to the people.
The Lord’s promise is that he will gather them all together. This is then repeated in synonymous terms, I will bring you together, and expanded with a lengthy simile. The second verb used in the Hebrew, translated bring … together in tev, is the verb most commonly associated in the writings of the prophets with the restoration of Israel from exile. See for instance Isaiah 43:5; Jeremiah 23:3; 31:8. As in verse 5, it is assumed that the whole nation will be going into exile. This has not really been stated in the preceding verses, and a reader may have thought that only the oppressors will be punished, although verse 10 may imply the whole country being destroyed. It may be necessary for some translators to make this explicit in verse 12 and say “I will bring you together from the places where you have been exiled.” (tev has made the exile explicit in verse 13.)
The simile used in the latter part of the verse is that of sheep returning to the fold. The sheep of course stand for the Lord’s people, and the fold for the land of Israel. Just as a pasture is full of sheep, so the land will once again be filled with many people. The Hebrew implies a scene of “noisy” (rsv) and bustling activity, as of a thriving community. A fold is an area enclosed by walls where the sheep may be taken for protection at night. A pasture is an area with plenty of grass, where the sheep spend most of their time. It is not enclosed by walls. In rsv the two comparisons with “sheep in a fold” and “a flock in its pasture” seem to be parallelism, which a translator will not necessarily have to translate twice. But tev has understood these to be two separate comparisons. The people being brought back from exile are like sheep returning to the fold. The land filled with people is compared to a pasture full of sheep. The Hebrew text again has some uncertainties of detail, but the overall meaning is plain.
In verse 13 God is no longer speaking but is referred to in the third person. In some languages it may sound strange or awkward to switch suddenly from God’s speech in verse 12 to the prophet’s speech in verse 13. Since the prophet is speaking on behalf of God, some translators may consider translating verse 13 as part of God’s speech, and changing the third person references to first person. However, this will not be easy in many languages because God is called here their king and the LORD. If translators prefer to keep this verse in the third person and take it as the prophet’s speech, then it is important to make clear that God’s speech ends in verse 12. This should be done in whatever way is natural in the language.
In verse 13 tev identifies the actor as God who will open the way for the people and lead them out of exile. In the Hebrew, God, the leader, is described as “He who opens the breach” (rsv; tev will open the way for them), and this verb is repeated in the next clause in reference to the people who follow: they will break out of the gates of the city of their captivity and thus go free. Their leader is finally revealed as their king, not a human figure, but the LORD himself. The very one who punished them and caused their defeat, captivity, and exile will be the one who rescues them and leads them back to their own land.
The reference to God opening the way is explained by the next sentence in tev. It means that God will help the people to break … free. There may be some confusion about whether God or the people actually break open the gates. If this is a problem, a translator can say that God breaks open the gates of the city so that the people can follow him out. Gates will probably be translated literally here, even if it was not in 1:9. It can be translated as “doors in the city wall.” Although cities sometimes had several sets of gates, it is best to assume that this means just one set of two gates that fit into a single doorway. Some translators may want to say “the city where they were held as captives.” To be in exile means to be forced to leave your own country and live in a different one. It may be translated as “imprisoned in a foreign country,” although the people were not actually kept in prisons but were allowed to have their own homes.
The Leaders of Judah are Corrupt Mic 3:1–12
Micah Chapter 3
The section heading is already a complete sentence and will need little adjustment in most translations. Others may find it helpful to include a reason for Micah’s attack on Israel’s leaders, for example, “because of their evil deeds,” or something similar.
Chapter 3 forms a unit composed of three smaller sections, namely, verses 1–4, 5–8, and 9–12. The first and last of these smaller units mainly attack the civil authorities for their injustices, while the middle unit attacks the false prophets. The first and third units are parallel in structure, each beginning with an address to you rulers of Israel (verse 1 and 9) and ending with an announcement of punishment to come (verses 4 and 12).
Verse 12 is quoted in Jeremiah 26:18, and the paragraph in which the quotation comes associates it with the reign of King Hezekiah, which began in 716 b.c. The passage in Jeremiah indicates that this section of Micah’s prophecy influenced Hezekiah in the religious reforms which he initiated. There is no reason to dispute this, and therefore chapter 3 of Micah is to be dated about 714 b.c., that is, about seven years after the fall of Samaria.
The opening words “And I said” (rsv) indicate that this section was probably delivered originally as a sermon. Since it is aimed at the leaders of the nation, it seems likely that it was delivered in Jerusalem, the capital. There it would easily have come to the attention of the king, as Jeremiah 26:18–19 states. Since the prophet is the speaker in Micah 2:13, and the section heading makes it clear that he is still speaking in chapter 3, the words “And I said” are left implicit in tev. If this makes the opening of the section sound too abrupt in other languages, the words may be retained, and the prophet may be identified by name if necessary.
For Listen, compare 1:2; 6:1.
The tev expression you rulers of Israel translates two Hebrew phrases which are parallel with each other and synonymous in meaning. Their literal form is seen in the rsv “you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel.” These are the people to whom Micah is speaking these words. This comprehensive expression probably includes both judicial and government leaders. Unless some similar double expression is common in the receptor language, it will probably be more natural to follow tev and combine the two phrases into one. The use of the terms “Jacob” and “Israel” when referring to the leaders of Judah lends support to the dating of this passage after the end of the northern kingdom.
As leaders of God’s people, these rulers of Israel were supposed to be concerned about justice. That is, they were supposed to be familiar with the instructions of the Mosaic Law, and they were responsible for administering them in a way that would encourage people to treat each other fairly. But instead these rulers used their privileged position to advance their own interests. You are supposed to be concerned about justice may be translated as “It is your duty to know what people ought to do” or “It is your responsibility to see that people act justly.” This last line of verse 1 is literally a rhetorical question (see rsv), but it carries the same meaning as the strong statement in tev.
The behavior of these rulers was so different from what God expected that Micah goes so far as to say in verse 2 you hate what is good and you love what is evil. The leaders were thus the exact opposite of what they should have been. In some languages it may be difficult to translate what is good and what is evil. These may be translated as “you hate to do good things (or, to act in a good way) and you love to do evil things (or, to act in evil ways).
In the rest of verses 2 and 3, Micah strengthens his words with a string of pictures. The pictures are short and quick, like a series of snapshot photographs. It is not certain whether there is one comparison or two at the base of this picture language. There is certainly a picture of a butcher at word on a carcass of meat, skinning it and cutting it up into pieces to be cooked. Some scholars think that the last clause of verse 2, You … tear the flesh off their bones, and the first clause of verse 3, You eat my people up, make more sense as a picture of a wild animal devouring its prey. If this is the case, this second picture comes in the middle of the first one about the butcher. The first picture begins in verse 2 with the words You skin my people alive and continues in verse 3 with You strip off their skin, break their bones, and chop them up like meat for the pot. This apparent awkwardness has led some scholars to change the Hebrew text, either by omitting some phrases or by putting them in a different order. It seems possible, however, to regard this passage as another example of what is called a chiasmus, (see the discussion of Micah 1:4). This means that each picture, the butcher and the wild animal, consists of two parts ordered as follows:
butcher (part 1): You skin my people alive.
wild animal (part 1): You tear the flesh off their bones.
wild animal (part 2): You eat my people up.
butcher (part 2): You strip off their skin.
The picture of the butcher is then further developed with two more parts:
butcher (part 3): You break their bones.
butcher (part 4): You chop them up like meat for the pot.
If this is the structure of the Hebrew, it is unlikely that it can be carried over into any other language without considerable confusion. If the translator agrees that there are two separate pictures to be seen here, it will be clearer to combine verses 2 and 3, and put part 1 of the picture of the butcher with parts 2–4. The wild animal picture can be quite separate. In this case the basis of each comparison should be made explicit. That is, one comparison can begin “You are like wild animals that.…” and the other comparison can begin “And you are also like a butcher who.…”
The alternative to all this is to regard the whole set of phrases as parts of one long and somewhat confused picture. This is what tev does. It is quite in keeping with the passion of the prophet for him to use such a series of pictures without clear distinctions. In the course of his sermon they may have tumbled out, so to speak, in this way one after another. However, for translators it is probably better to translate this passage with a clearer order, whether it is divided into two comparisons or kept as one.
If it is seen as one comparison, then it seems that Micah is comparing the rulers to cannibals, who kill their victims, tear off their skin, remove the flesh from the bones, chop up the meat and break the bones, cook it all, and eat it. This is the order that the material from verses 2 and 3 can be put in, if only one comparison is to be made.
Note that as tev has combined the two vocative phrases of verse 1, in the same way it has combined the last two phrases of verse 3. The repetition of the Hebrew is faithfully reflected in rsv, “like meat in a kettle, like flesh in a cauldron.” Most translators will prefer to follow the example of tev in cutting out the repetition and saying like meat for the pot just once.
Throughout these two verses the Hebrew text uses metaphors. rsv and tev both do the same, but translators may prefer to make the comparisons more explicit by turning them into similes. If we assume that two pictures are meant, a possible restructuring of these verses as a basis for translation is a follows:
2–3 yet you hate what is good and you love what is evil. Like a butcher, you tear the skin off my people. You break their bones, and chop them up like meat for the pot. Like a wild animal, you tear the flesh off their bones and eat my people up.
This restructuring keeps the eating at the end as a climax. In Hebrew it comes in the middle of the picture language, but this central position was often used as a position of climax in Hebrew writing. Since final position functions in the same way in English and many other languages, a transfer to final position may be the best way to give the same emphasis as the Hebrew.
Twice in these verses Micah calls the victims my people. As in 2:8–9, these words refer to all the people of Israel who are being badly treated by the leaders. The rulers that he is speaking to are, of course, also men of Israel, but Micah is purposely associating himself with the victims in this passage and not with the rulers.
When choosing the words for tearing the flesh, stripping off skin, and perhaps even eating, translators in many languages will have to be careful that they choose words which really fit the picture they believe Micah is using here. There may be one word for a butcher tearing flesh and quite a different one for a wild animal doing the same thing.
This verse concludes the first unit by announcing the punishment coming to the nation’s leaders because of their cruel and selfish behavior. It may be helpful to identify the you here as “you rulers,” to make it clear that the same people are being addressed as in verse 1. Their punishment is that they will cut themselves off from God by their sins. The rulers will cry out to the LORD in prayer for him to help, but he will not answer you.
“Then” (rsv) refers to the time when God will punish these leaders. tev translates this as The time is coming, which implies that this will happen soon. Many translators may prefer to use an expression meaning “soon.”
Micah refers to the leaders in the third person in this verse, as can be seen in rsv and most other translations. But this sounds to many readers as though the verse is continuing to talk about the leaders’ victims rather than about the leaders themselves. So tev has made the meaning clear by using you instead of “them.” Another way of solving this problem is to make clear who is being talked about here; for example, “Soon these leaders will cry out.…”
Something will happen (Micah does not say exactly what) that will force these unjust leaders to cry out to the LORD for help. It may be necessary in some languages to make clear why they are crying out. Also, if there is no good expression for cry out, an expression like “praying strongly” may be easier.
He will not listen to your prayers: the third clause in the verse says essentially the same thing again, but in Hebrew it does so by means of a figure of speech that pictures God with human features. This is retained in the literal rendering of rsv, “he will hide his face from them,” and this may be natural and vivid in many receptor languages.
Other languages may have equivalent figures of speech such as “he will turn his back on you.” Some translators may prefer to follow the example of tev in dropping the figure of speech and expressing its meaning in plain language, He will not listen to your prayers. The reason for this punishment and rejection by God is restated in summary form at the end of the verse, for you have done evil. Or, because these are people in authority, “for you have misused your power.”
In verses 5–7 Micah attacks the false prophets. These verses go closely together, though there are various understandings of the way they are related to each other. Verse 5 gives a description of the false prophets and introduces the judgment of the Lord upon them with a direct quotation. This quotation starts in tev at the beginning of verse 6. Some translations, like tev, conclude it at the end of verse 6. Others, like niv, carry it down to the end of verse 7. Others again, like jb, do not indicate where they think it ends. The uncertainty arises because there is a change from second person pronouns in the first half of verse 6 to the third person in the second half and in verse 7. This change may perhaps be intended to mark the end of the direct quotation. However, such changes of person are quite common in Hebrew and do not necessarily indicate a major change in the structure. If tev’s interpretation of the structure is followed, then verse 7 is the prophet’s own comment on the Lord’s verdict
In verse 5 rsv closely reflects the Hebrew. This has a main clause, “Thus says the LORD concerning the prophets,” followed by a series of subordinate clauses describing the noun “prophets,” Such a structure is too complex in many languages, and most translators will prefer to follow the example of tev. tev puts the description of the prophets first in a separate sentence and mentions the Lord’s speaking at the end of the verse, immediately before the direct quotation.
The term for prophet here may be a problem in some languages. Sometimes this concept is translated by a expression which means something like “a person who speaks God’s words.” Therefore it may seem wrong to say that these people who speak lies are prophets. There are passages in the Old Testament where the false prophets are accused of simply claiming to be prophets, when in fact God had not spoken to them at all (see Ezek 13:1–16). Here, however, verse 6 seems to say that these people really have received visions in the past, and that part of their punishment will be that God will no longer speak to them. If this is right, then they really are prophets in the sense that God has given them visions or messages. But they have not spoken truthfully the message that God has given them. If it seems wrong to use the usual word for “prophet” here, it may be possible to find an expression like “a lying prophet” or “someone who claims to speak God’s word, but does not.”
There are three statements about the activities of these false prophets. The first is relatively—simple-they “lead my people astray” (rsv). tev, however, has changed the form of the verb from this active form to passive (My people are deceived by prophets). This will be impossible to follow in languages which do not have a passive. Even in languages with a passive, it may not have the strong effect of the Hebrew, because it may suggest that the prophets are not intentionally misleading the people. It should be possible to restructure the verse as tev has done, and still to keep the sentence active, by saying something like “the prophets deceive my people.” “Deceive” can be “lead astray,” “mislead,” or even “lie to.”
The second and third statement about the prophets are more involved and give contrasting ways in which the prophets deal with two different groups of people who come to them. One group consists of those who pay them. For these the prophets promise peace. The other group consists of those who don’t pay them. Against these the prophets threaten war.
Peace here refers to a life of happiness, filled with God’s blessings. Promise peace can be translated as “promise (or, say) that God will let them live peaceful, prosperous lives.” War has overtones of the “holy war” of the Bible times, such as the one that Joshua led against the Canaanites when the people of Israel occupied the land. In this passage, however, it is used figuratively, meaning that the false prophets declare that God is against this group of people and that terrible things will happen to them. Threaten war may be translated as “say that God will cause bad things to happen to them” or “say that God will destroy them.” The prophets were trying to use the people’s fear of God in order to increase their own income, and in this way the prophets were sinning even more against God.
The picture given by Micah is of prophets whose chief interest is making money out of their prophecies. People paying well received favorable oracles, whereas those who were too poor or too honest to pay received only threats. The prophets gave no attention to the moral uprightness of the clients’ lives. They thus overlooked the moral nature of the Lord, whose will they claimed to reveal, and so ended up being the tools of the corrupt rich.
The more literal translation of the rsv, “when they have something to eat,” makes it clear that people often paid the prophets with food rather than with cash. In many cultures today, gifts of food are routinely given to those who make contact with the spirit world on behalf of others. In such cultures it will be more natural to retain the reference to eating than to change to the idea of cash payment, as implied by tev. Translators in other areas may also feel that there is no difficulty in being more literal at this point. Some translators may feel that it is necessary or helpful to state why the prophets are being paid, as “they promise peace to those who give them food for prophesying.”
At quite an early stage in Israel’s history, there grew up schools of prophets who lived and studied together, often under the leadership of an acknowledged master. There are many references to such groups in the Old Testament (for instance, 1 Sam 10:5; 1 Kgs 18:4, 11; 22:1–28; 2 Kgs 2:3, 5; 4:38–44; 6:1–2; Amos 7:14). Even at an early stage it was customary to make a gift to a prophet when consulting him (1 Sam 9:7–8). This was the beginning of a system which gradually became more and more abused, until the majority of prophets were entirely in the pay of the king or some other wealthy and influential man. This is clearly shown by the story of Ahab and Micaiah in 1 Kings 22.
In the early days the schools of prophets are not condemned, and in some cases they are said to be under the leadership of a true prophet like Elisha (2 Kgs 6:1). But the more these professionals came to depend on the rich for their livelihood, the more they came into conflict with the true prophets. Whereas the false prophets said only what their rich masters wanted to hear, the true prophet was always ready to speak against those in authority when they misused their positions and thus disobeyed God. Examples of this kind of bold condemnation are also frequent (see 1 Sam 2:27–36; 13:8–14; 15:13–23; and especially the story of Nathan and David in 2 Sam 12:1–15), and it became more and more necessary as time went on. (See 1 Kgs 13:1–10; 16:1–4; 17:1; 20:35–43; 21:20–24; 2 Kgs 1:2–16; 20:12–19; Isa 7:10–20; Jer 21; 34:1–7.) When true prophets condemned the rich, they necessarily included the false prophets in the condemnation, because it was the false prophets who encouraged the rich people in their evil ways (1 Kgs 22:19–25; Isa 28:7–13; Hos 4:5; Amos 7:14–17). This is the tradition in which Micah stands, and these verses form his contribution to it and give his evaluation of the false prophets of his own day.
In verse 6 the Lord states his judgment on the false prophets. This is given in picture language in four clauses, as seen in rsv, and is more conveniently discussed in rsv order. The first two clauses are put in the second sentence in tev. They are parallel to each other and speak of the imminent end of the prophets’ influence, using the figure of night coming on. Just as one cannot see in the dark, so the prophets will lose their spiritual vision.
The second two clauses are parallel to each other, and may both suggest the figure of the sunset. They are understood this way, for instance, by jb and neb. However, the last clause is perhaps an expansion of the idea of loss of light using the figure of an eclipse of the sun. This has the effect of strengthening the picture. Not only will the night bring no visions or dreams, but even the day itself will be a time of darkness. The figures of sunset and eclipse is similar to the language used in Amos 5:18–20 to describe the day of the Lord.
rsv gives a clear idea of the poetic parallelism of the Hebrew, but even if the sunset and the eclipse are meaningful in other languages, the structural parallelism may not be. It is not very natural in English, and has been recast considerably in tev to give a flow of thought which is easier to follow. The four figurative references to darkness have all been understood to refer to sunset. They have been combined into two clauses to avoid repetition that would be clumsy in English, and they have been placed together at the beginning of the verse: Prophets, your day is almost over; the sun is going down on you. The meaning of this figure is stated by the two clauses at the end of the verse, you will have no more prophetic visions, and you will not be able to predict anything. The figure and its explanation are linked by the repetition of the charge against the false prophets in the words Because you mislead my people. These words explain the meaning of the “Therefore” of rsv.
Your day is almost over is an idiom in English meaning “your time of importance is about to end.” Translators should be especially careful with the English the sun is going down on you. In English this is just another way of saying “your day is almost over,” but a literal translation in other languages could sound as if the sun itself was falling on the prophets’ heads.
Prophetic visions refer to special revelations from God, often like a dream which the prophet seemed to see with his eyes. In this verse, visions probably includes dreams, since Micah is speaking about nighttime. The parallel term “divination” (rsv) in the second clause is a term with strong pagan overtones. It is never used in the Bible for the activities of true prophets, but rather describes such practices as telling the future by observing the flight of birds or examining the entrails of sacrificed animals.
tev undoubtedly conveys the essential meaning of the verse clearly in English. However, it must be emphasized that tev is just one example of how to restructure a complex sentence in a situation where a literal translation would sound unnatural. Many translators will need to follow tev in its general method of approach to the problem. Few, if any, will produce the best translation in their language if they simply follow the exact wording of tev.
In verse 7, tev has applied much the same method as in verse 6. The “seers” and “diviners” of rsv are put together into one general expression, Those who predict the future. The parallel verbs “disgraced” and “put to shame” (rsv) are brought together in will be disgraced by their failure. The terms “seers” and “diviners” are not well known in most English-speaking countries, and tev is probably right to find a more general expression for them. But there will be many societies which have excellent translations for these two words, and translators should use equivalent terms when they are well know.
tev adds the words by their failure to show why these people are disgraced. If translators are using specific terms for “seers” and “diviners,” they may need to add a little more information, such as “their failure to predict the future” or “became they are not able to speak God’s message.”
The covering of “their lips” (rsv) is a gesture which shows shame (Lev 13:45) of grief (Ezek 24:17, 22). Here tev takes it to show shame and states this meaning plainly as They will all be humiliated, without mentioning the action itself. There are probably few modern cultures where people cover their mouths as a sign of shame or grief, and if translators decide to mention the gesture, they would do well to include the meaning of it; for example, “they will all cover their lips to show that they are ashamed.”
The reason for their shame is that the prophets will suffer the same fate as the leaders of the nation in verse 4: God does not answer them. The prophets who thought they could use their position of privilege as a means of making money will find that they cannot mock God. In times of desperate crisis, when a true word from God is most needed, those who spoke words of comfort in return for payment will have no message at all to pass on.
Since there is no specific reference to these people asking God anything, some translators may think that it will be confusing simply to say God does not answer them. The meaning is that in order to predict the future they must in some way inquire of God about it, and he must answer them. The fact that they inquire can be included in the translation if necessary.
This verse is a pivot between the three verses which precede it and the four which follow. On the one hand it goes closely with verses 5–7, since it gives the evidence that Micah himself is a true prophet, in contrast with the false prophets. On the other hand, by saying that the role of the true prophet is to denounce sin, it naturally leads into verses 9–12, where Israel’s sins are denounced. Because of these links both backwards and forwards, some translations include this verse in one paragraph with verses 5–7 (rsv, jb), and others include it in one paragraph with verses 9–12 (neb, tev, niv). In the Hebrew, the close parallel in language between verse 9 and verse 1 suggests that verse 9 is indeed the beginning of a new section, and that verse 8 is better taken with verses 5–7. However, if a translator feels that the flow of thought in his language will be made smoother by taking verses 8–12 together, he can of course do so.
The opening words of the verse, But as for me, mark a strong contrast between Micah and the false prophets. This type of contrast will be expressed in many different ways in other languages, so the translator’s main concern here should be the meaning rather than the words. For example, some languages might say “But I am not like them. Instead, I am filled.…”
The passive form of rsv “I am filled” is turned into an active in tev, with the implied actor expressed: the LORD fills me. In some languages it may not seem possible or natural to use the word for fills in the way it is used in this verse. The meaning is that God caused Micah to have these qualities in a very strong or special way, and it should be possible to find an expression which has this meaning.
Micah is filled with four things. The first is rendered power in both tev and rsv, and implies not only physical strength but moral strength as well.
The second appears in rsv as “the Spirit of the LORD.” The spelling of “Spirit with a capital” S “implies the Holy Spirit, but it is perhaps out of keeping with Micah’s time to see here a reference to a doctrine which is developed in depth only in the New Testament. The Hebrew word has a wider meaning than the English word” spirit “and also covers the area of meaning for which English uses the words” wind “and” breath.” Probably something more general than a filling by the personal Spirit of God is intended here, and the Hebrew word is translated spirit with a small “s” in tev, and “breath” in jb. To be filled with the Lord’s spirit in this sense means to share in his character, so as to be able to see contemporary society and events from the point of view of what the Lord wants people to do.
The third thing with which Micah was filled was “justice” (rsv), which is interpreted more fully in this context by tev as a sense of justice. This means the ability to tell what things are wrong in the society, and what needs to be done to make them right.
The fourth thing is courage, and this is linked closely with the task for which the prophet is sent, to tell the people of Israel what their sins are. rsv once again gives the literal form of two synonymous and parallel expressions, “to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin.” This repetitiveness is cut out in the single clause of tev, and many translators will wish to follow this example. The false prophets failed to rebuke the sins of their patrons and even encouraged them. But the true prophet who really was sent by the Lord opposed the sins of his time and society, even though such opposition was almost certain to bring unpopularity (1 Kgs 22:8) or even persecution (2 Chr 24:21–22).
This third unit is similar to the other two units of the chapter in that it consists of three verses (9–11) which are closely linked in theme, followed by a further verse (12) which is somewhat separate. Verses 9–11 repeat and expand the charges against the leaders of the nation, while verse 12 gives the punishment of the nation.
The opening part of verse 9 is almost identical with the parallel part of verse 1. Here the verb Listen has an object, “this,” which is absent in verse 1, and here, too, “house” is applied to both Jacob and Israel, whereas it is applied only to Israel in verse 1. There is no significant difference in meaning, however, and the double name is rendered in tev exactly as in verse 1 with the single expression you rulers of Israel. Translators should try to keep the beginning of verse 9 as similar as possible to the beginning of verse 1, as a small clue to the structure of this chapter.
The latter part of verse 9 repeats the general meaning of the opening part of verse 2, but in even stronger terms. The rulers of the nation do not merely hate the good and love the evil; they actually hate justice and turn right into wrong. Justice is both a reflection of the character of the Lord and the foundation of a stable society. By their attitudes and actions the rulers were really undermining the whole social structure of the nation and their own position within it. Hate justice might be translated as “hate to do what is right.” They are not content with bending the Law in their own interest, but by turning right into wrong they openly defy the Law’s most basic provisions. For similar expression from other prophets, see Isaiah 5:20 and Amos 6:12. Turn right into wrong can be translated as “you act as though evil actions are good.” In some languages a figure of speech may be effective here, such as “you take what is straight and twist it.”
One of the ways in which the wealthy used the riches they had wrongly obtained was in building luxury houses (see Amos 5:11 for a similar charge against the rich in Samaria). These fine buildings no doubt beautified Jerusalem outwardly, but they could not hide the fact that the city’s moral foundation was one of murder and injustice: the rich could only afford these buildings because they were cruel and oppressive to the poor. That Jerusalem was God’s city made the rulers’ actions all the more hateful to him. tev has combined the repetitive parallelism of the Hebrew into a single main clause. The literal “with blood and … with wrong” (rsv) become murder and injustice. Note that “blood” is a figure of speech called metonymy, which is given its plain meaning of murder in tev.
The twin names of the city, “Zion” and “Jerusalem,” are translated literally in rsv. Jerusalem is the normal geographical name for the city and is the one used in tev. “Zion” refers to the same city, but is a term which emphasizes here its religious importance as the site of the temple and the center of the worship of God. This sense is conveyed by tev with the words God’s city.
The figure of speech in this verse is translated by most English versions as though “blood” and “wrong” are the materials that the leaders are building Jerusalem with. In tev the figure has been changed slightly to suggest that murder and injustice are the foundation on which the city is being built. Most translators should be able to use one or the other of these figures. But if it is possible, the figure can be dropped to say something like “You are able to do so much building in the city only because of the murder and injustice by which you gain your money and your power.”
In verse 11 Micah sums up his accusations. The leaders of the nation, both the secular rulers and the religious priests and prophets, are all corrupt and have more interest in growing rich than in doing their jobs properly. Their corruption is all the worse because it is hidden behind an appearance of piety.
In more detail, the rulers used their position especially in the courts as a means of obtaining bribes (compare Isa 1:23; 5:23; Micah 7:3). If a language does not have a word for bribes, it is probably enough to say “for pay,” as long as the context makes it clear that this is a situation where pay should not be allowed to influence their decisions.
The main thing these leaders are accused of doing here is of accepting bribes to “give judgment” (rsv) in the courts, Many translators will have difficulty trying to translate the tev’s govern, since this is something the leaders do anyway, whether they are paid or not. One may translate as “Rulers are making decisions in favor of the people who can pay them the most.”
The priests are mentioned only here in Micah. It was their duty not only to interpret the Law in general, but also to give decisions in the most difficult and delicate legal cases (Deut 17:8–13). They too were using these occasions as opportunities to increase their pay and in this way they were allowing justice to be denied to the poor.
One of the key elements of the word priest is that he is a person with a clearly defined role in the religious system, and this is important in this passage. Translators often choose terms which refer to priests as the ones who offer the people’s sacrifices or make the people’s prayers, and if this type of term is well known, it is quite correct to use it here, even though the context is not talking about such duties. In this verse it may even be possible to simply call the priests the “religious leaders.” What these priests do for pay can be translated as “give decisions (or rulings) about the Law (or, based on the Law).”
The prophets, as stated more fully in verse 5 above, do not give their revelations impartially to all, but only in return for money. As the recurrence of the term “divine” in rsv indicates, the Hebrew word here is the same as that used in verses 6 and 7 above, and implies pagan forms of prediction. Give their revelations in tev means that the prophets claim to have received revelations from God but will only tell the people what these are when the people pay them. It can be expressed as “tell the revelations they have received” or “tell what God has shown them.”
All three groups overlook the sinful nature of their behavior and try to reassure themselves by the outward performance of religious rituals. The Hebrew expresses this in a metaphor, “they lean upon the LORD” (rsv), which can no doubt be meaningfully retained in many languages. In languages where it cannot, translators can follow the plain meaning, given in tev, they all claim that the LORD is with them. Another way to understand the metaphor is “they all believe that the Lord will help them.” This line is not merely a statement of fact. It is assumed that the reader will realize that the Lord will not be with people who behave in these ways, and it may be that this will be obvious to readers in most languages. If it is not obvious, the translator may add something to explain it, such as “they mistakenly believe that the Lord will help them” or “they claim he is with them, but he is not.”
The last part of the verse gives the direct words of these leaders. The first sentence of the quotation in Hebrew, as in rsv, is a rhetorical question expecting the answer “Yes.” In languages where such a construction is not natural, the meaning can be expressed as a positive statement, as in tev The LORD is with us. Because of this false confidence the leaders wrongly believed that No harm will come to us.
tev has translated the leaders’ words so that the second sentence gives the reason, while the first sentence gives the result. In Hebrew, the reason is stated first and the result second. In this way tev reverses the Hebrew order, though the logical relationship is not altered. Translators should follow the natural patterns of the receptor language in deciding whether the reason or the result is to be stated first. It will often be helpful to make the logical relationship explicit by means of conjunctions or other particles. One may thus say “No harm will come to us become the Lord is with us,” or “The Lord is with us and therefore no harm will come to us.”
The expression No harm will come to us probably became a popular saying among the people, as Jeremiah accused them of saying the same thing a century later (Jer 5:12). The Hebrew word translated harm in this verse is the same as the word translated disaster in Micah 2:3. In 2:3 the Lord says specifically that he is going to bring disaster on the people, whereas in 3:11 the people deny that disaster can come on them. There is something to be said for using the same word in the receptor language in both verses, since it may help to emphasize to careful readers just how foolish these leaders are (rsv and nab use “evil” in both verses, and neb and niv use “disaster”).
Micah points out that the confidence of the leaders is misplaced. Not only will harm come to them, it will come because of them. The Lord sees through their pretense and will bring judgment upon Jerusalem rather than allow their evil deeds to continue. The verse begins with And so or “Therefore” (rsv), showing that the punishment now being declared is the natural result of the terrible situation which has just been described. Note that verse 11 talks about the various groups of leaders in the third person, while verse 12 now returns to direct speech, as in verse 9–10. In a situation like this, it will usually be possible in translation to put verse 11 into direct speech also, to avoid confusion. If a translator can do this easily in the receptor language, then he may prefer to do so. However, many translators will probably find it rather difficult to turn verse 11 into direct speech because of the different groups and combinations of groups referred to. If verse 11 is kept as indirect speech, it may help to make clear in verse 12 who the you refers to, by saying “you rulers of Israel” again.
The punishment that is described resembles that which had already happened to Samaria (1:6). It is expressed in a parallel structure again, and here at the climax of the passage the parallelism in retained in English even in tev. Zion and Jerusalem here are used as synonyms. If a translator decides to mention both Zion and Jerusalem, the important thing is for readers to know that they are alternative names for the same city. This may not be clear, since different things are described as happening to them, as if they were two different places. It does seem inconsistent to omit the name Zion in verse 10 and to keep it in verse 12, especially since it is possible that verse 12 uses both names in order to refer back clearly to verse 10. Unless a translator has good reason to do different things in the two verses, it will probably be best to refer to the city in the same way in both places.
The city will be so emptied of inhabitants that its former area will be available to be plowed like a field. It will be destroyed so completely that it will be left as a pile of ruins. If these two statements are taken literally, they may seem to contradict each other, since it is difficult or impossible to plow a pile of ruins. However, it must be remember that both statements are poetic in nature and express the completeness of the destruction. (Compare the comment on 1:7.) We are not told who will plow the city, but we can assume that it is the people who take over the area after the city has been destroyed. Translators who need to use an active form of the verb can say simply “people will plow Zion.” If plowing is difficult to translate, it is enough to say that Zion will become a field for planting food.
Now even the Temple and the hill on which it stood would be spared. Since the leaders had corrupted the worship of the Lord by their evil conduct, even the Temple as the center of that worship had to be destroyed. The Temple hill will be so neglected that it will become a forest. In many languages a literal translation of forest can be misleading if it implies the lush growth of a tropical rain forest. This would be inconsistent with the climate of the Jerusalem area. The emphasis here is on the neglect and desertion of the area rather than on the type of vegetation growing there. Therefore it is better to avoid a specific but misleading term and use a more general expression such as “the Temple hill will be overgrown,” or “trees (or even grass) will grow on the Temple hill.” Temple can be translated as “the Lord’s house,” or “the Lord’s big house of worship,” or something similar. (See the discussion of 1:2, though in that verse the Temple in Jerusalem is not referred to.)
Micah was the first prophet to threaten the destruction of Jerusalem. He saw clearly that the worship of the Lord could not be separated from right conduct. Under the rule of the prudent King Hezekiah, Micah’s words were heeded and religious reforms carried out (2 Kgs 18:1–8; 2 Chr 29–31). Micah’s words, especially those of verse 12, were remembered and recorded; but although Hezekiah improved the outward behavior of the nation and its leaders, he could not change their underlying attitudes. A hundred years later, the prophet Jeremiah had to deliver to the nation a message very similar to that of (Micah Jer 7:14; 26:6). When Jeremiah was seized and charged with treason (Jer 26:7–15), the precedent given by the words of Micah 3:12 and the reaction of Hezekiah were used in his defense, and he was saved from being killed (Jer 26:16–19, 24).
Hope After Punishment 4:1–5:15
Micah Chapter 4
Chapters 4 and 5 constitute the second major section of Micah. They differ sharply in outlook from chapters 1–3 and also contain some abrupt internal changes of topic. The similarity of topics between this section and certain prophecies written after the exile has led some scholars to conclude that some or all of chapters 4 and 5 date from a period later than the eighth century b.c. and are thus not the work of Micah. From the point of view of the translator, the dating of the section is not particularly important, and it is thus not necessary to discuss the matter at length here.
Whatever its origin, this section is probably placed quite deliberately where we now find it. It is linked to the end of chapter 3 by the repetition of the phrase “the mountain of the house” (rsv 3:12 and 4:1). The themes of the two chapters, however, are absolutely opposite. Chapter 3 ended with a picture of Jerusalem destroyed and in ruins. Chapter 4 opens with a contrasting picture of Jerusalem restored and made glorious as the center to which people of many nations come to worship the Lord.
The Lord Will Reign in Peace Mic 4:1–5
This section gives a poetic picture of Jerusalem, and especially the Temple hill, as a place honored because of its connection with the Lord and his teaching. People from many other places come there to learn what the Lord wants from them.
Verses 1–3 are almost identical with Isaiah 2:2–4, and scholars have debated which passage is original, or whether both are drawn from some other document which no longer exists. Such questions cannot be given a final answer and are in any case of no real importance to the translator. Translators working in projects where both Isaiah and Micah will be included in one book should, however, be sure that these passages are as close to each other in their translations as they are in the original. The only significant difference is between one line in Micah 4:3, “shall decide for strong nations afar off” (rsv), and Isaiah 2:4, “shall decide for many peoples” (rsv).
The section heading may need considerable adaptation in translation, especially into languages which have difficulty expressing such abstract ideas as “reign” and “peace.” If it is necessary to include a main verb in the heading, the heading may say “The LORD will be king over all the earth” or “The LORD will give peace to all the nations.” It is also possible to turn the heading around and speak of the effects rather than the cause, so as to say something like “People everywhere will turn to the LORD.” If all these possibilities are too long in the receptor language, the translator may use as a basis the much shorter heading found in tev for Isaiah 2:1–4, since that passage is almost identical with this one. The heading there is Everlasting Peace, which can be expressed as “People will live peacefully together forever” or something similar.
The opening expression In days to come occurs frequently in the Old Testament. Generally, as here, it refers to the fairly distant future, especially the time when the Messiah will come. (See Hos 3:5; Dan 10:14.) One may translate it as “The time will come when …” or simply “In the future.” The prophets often connected this future time with changes in the shape of the land, especially the land in the Jerusalem area. (See Isa 40:4; Zech 14:5–10.) It is not clear whether the prophets themselves regarded these statements as literal or figurative, but they are certainly not standard literary figures of speech. Therefore they should be translated literally in order to retain the possibility of a literal interpretation.
The fact that the mountain where the Temple stands will be the highest one of all undoubtedly has a spiritual significance and reflects the preeminence of the Lord, in whose honor the Temple was build. The expression towering above all the hills is rather idiomatic in English and may need to be put more plainly in other languages as “it will be much higher than the other hills.” The meaning here may perhaps be that this mountain will be the highest in the world, not merely the highest of all the mountains in the area. Just how this could happen is not explained here in detail, but the main picture is that this mountain is raised up (see rsv) higher than it now is. In similar passages there is also talk of other mountains being leveled (as in Isa 40:4)
Because of the prominence of the Temple and of the Lord whom it represented, Many nations will come streaming to it. Many nations means of course “the people of many nations” and may need to be expressed in this fuller form. In the word streaming, tev is able to retain a figure of speech very similar to that in the Hebrew, which is literally “they will flow toward it.” If this metaphor is unnatural to a translator, he could either change it to a simile and say “Many nations will come toward it just as a river flows along,” or else change to some other metaphor which is more appropriate to his language. Among English translators, Knox has changed the metaphor by saying “the nations will flock there together.” If no suitable alternative figure of speech can be found, the plain meaning is simply “Many nations will keep coming toward it.”
As the people of the nations travel, they speak to each other and give the reason for their journey. This is recorded as direct speech and is formed with pairs of parallel clauses. The first two clauses are not exactly parallel, however. The second clause is an expansion of the latter part of the first, and the verb is left implicit in the second clause. The first clause Let us go up the hill of the Lord, giving the general direction of the journey. The second makes the destination more precise by adding to the Temple of Israel’s God. For translators who want to have two clauses, such a structure is not usually difficult to translate, though it may sound better in some languages to repeat the verb in the second clause. Other translators may prefer to combine all this information into one clause. The final phrase is literally “the God of Jacob” as in rsv. “Jacob” here stands for the whole nation, not just the northern kingdom (which had ended before the time of this passage); it is thus translated Israel in tev. Note in rsv that this speech literally begins “Come, let us go.” This sort of wording may sound very natural in some languages.
The third and fourth clauses of the people’s words are more closely parallel with each other than the first two clauses are. They are complementary, or reciprocal, in meaning. The Lord, on the one hand, will teach us what he wants us to do. The people, on the other hand, will walk in the paths he has chosen, responding completely to what the Lord has taught them. rsv shows the literal wording of the Hebrew: “that he may teach us his ways and we may walk in his paths.” In many languages the use of words like “way” and “path” to mean “customs” or “teachings” is quite natural. In such cases there may be no need to express the meaning in plain language as tev does when it says what he wants us to do for “his ways.” The paths he has chosen could also be understood as “the paths he has shown us.” If the figurative language of “paths” is not possible in a language, these two clauses may become simply “he will teach us what he wants us to do, and we will do it.”
The last two clauses of verse 2 are also parallel to each other. It is not certain whether they continue the words of the people who are going up to Jerusalem, or are the beginning of a further comment by the prophet. tev and jb regard them as part of the direct quotation, while rsv, mft, nab, neb, and niv do not. The meaning is the same no matter which form of punctuation is chosen. However, the words seem to fit the context better if they are regarded as the last part of the direct quotation, for they then give the reason for the journey to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the center and source of the LORD’s teaching, and this is why people from other nations go there. The Hebrew word translated teaching is the general word for law. It came to mean in particular the Law or Moses, which was the central and most important part of the LORD’s teaching for the Jews.
The parallel clause (“the word of the LORD from Jerusalem,” as in rsv) is expressed in tev in a verbal rather than a nominal form, and thus it becomes from Zion he speaks to his people. Note that tev has added the words to his people, to show whom the Lord is speaking to. It may be necessary in some languages to say whom he is speaking to, but some readers might understand his people to refer primarily to the people of Israel. The people referred to in these verses are mainly people of other nations, so it may be clearer to say something like “he speaks to those who want to follow him (or obey him).”
In the Hebrew, the term Zion appears in the first clause and Jerusalem in the second. Other English versions retain this order, but tev reverses the order of the terms, presumably so as to put the more familiar term Jerusalem first. The translator may or may not wish to follow this example. These two clauses, too, can be combined if to any reason the parallel expression will be awkward, or if a translator prefers not to refer to Jerusalem by two names. They may then become “From Jerusalem the LORD speaks and teaches his law.”
Verses 1 and 2 show people of many nations seeking the Lord’s teaching. Verses 3 and 4 go on to show what will happen when this teaching is accepted and practiced. The Lord will settle disputes among the nations so that there are no more causes for quarreling left. Just as the priests made the final legal decisions in Israelite society, so the Lord will made the final decisions among the nations. This refers to matters that one nation might disagree with another nation about, the sort of matters that might otherwise lead to war. It does not mean simply problems that individuals within the nations might have between themselves. The Lord will act as the “judge” (rsv).
The nations include not only the minor nations in the vicinity of Israel, but also the great powers near and far. The Lord’s influence and authority will be worldwide in extent. The Hebrew does not actually mention nearby nations (see rsv), but the meaning is that every nation will be included, even the most powerful nations and the ones farthest away from Israel. This of course includes the nearby nations, as tev says. Great powers refers to countries which are powerful and important. The first two clauses of this verse are parallel and can be translated as one unit, rather than using two verbs as rsv does, or repeating among as tev does.
Since the Lord will bring unending peace, there will be no further need for weapons of war, and people everywhere will hammer their swords into plows and their spears into pruning knives. Hebrew plows were made of wood, with only an iron tip, so the plow tip is what is technically referred to here. Pruning knives were probably knives attached to long wooden handles, used for cutting off unwanted parts of a grapevine. It is not clear whether there is supposed to be any similarity between swords and plow tips, but a spear would be like a pruning knife in having a long wooden handle. To hammer here refers to the beating or hammering of red-hot iron when it is being shaped into something.
In situations where metal swords and spears are not used as weapons, or where metal plows and pruning knives are not used as agricultural tools, some adjustment in this figure will be necessary. The essential point us that instruments of war and bloodshed will be replaced by instruments of peace and prosperity. (Contrast Joel 3:10.) If iron instruments are not used in an area, it may not be possible to keep the idea that the weapons themselves are made into agricultural tools. In this case, one can simply say that people will destroy their weapons and make tools for farming instead.
The peace brought by the Lord will not only be worldwide in extent, but it will also be eternal in duration. In two more parallel clauses the prophet asserts that Nations will never again go to war. In fact they will never even prepare for battle again. Preparation for battle seems to refer especially to instructing younger men in military skills, as in implied in rsv, “neither shall they learn war any more.” Where tev translates go to war, the Hebrew more literally talks of countries lifting up swords against each other. Some languages may have expressions for going to war which are close to this. It may seem more natural in some languages to mention training for war before going to war.
Verse 4 describes the happy results of worldwide peace in terms of an agricultural society such as that in which Micah lived. The description is given in traditional language (see also 1 Kgs 4:25; Zech 3:10). For everyone to “sit … under his vine and under his fig tree” (rsv) means that they will be able to live in peace and enjoy the results of their own labors. For people who know fig trees, it is not hard to imagine sitting under one, but it may seem more difficult to sit under a grapevine. What is probably meant here is a vine which has been allowed to grow up onto a trellis, that is, a structure of raised poles which the vines can grow on. Even though in Hebrew only one vine and one fig tree are mentioned, tev gives the correct meaning when it speaks of vineyards and fig trees. In areas where these plants are unknown, it would be better to translate by a generic expression such as “among his own fields and gardens” rather than substituting local produce such as coconuts or mangoes which were not known in Israel.
The peace each man enjoys will be so secure that no one will make him afraid. The fulfillment of the prophet’s vision was distant in time from his own day, but his confidence that it would eventually come about was based on the fact that The LORD Almighty has promised this. The literal form of this is found in rsv, “the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.” The mouth stands here for the whole being, and in English it sounds very unnatural when translated literally. However, in many languages this figure of speech would be perfectly normal, and in such cases it should be retained.
The expression “the LORD of hosts” (rsv) is a traditional and literal rendering of the Hebrew. The “hosts” in this setting refers to armies of angelic beings who obey the Lord’s commands and thus demonstrate his supreme power. A literal translation is quite obscure in meaning to the average English reader, and tev has therefore abandoned it and attempted to make the sense clear with The LORD Almighty. Translators will need to find a suitable expression in their own language to convey clearly the meaning of this phrase which occurs frequently in the Old Testament. In situations where there is already a traditional translation of the Bible, there will probably be a need to change a familiar but obscure expression into something more easily understood. One possibility would be “The LORD of the whole earth.”
This verse stands somewhat apart from verses 1–4 and to some extent contrasts with them. For this reason it can be translated as a separate paragraph. In the earlier verses the Lord is seen as supreme over all the nations, and thus is seems an anticlimax in this verse to say that Each nation worships and obeys its own god. There are three ways of understanding the verse:
(a) Some scholars see it as the response of a practical man to the prophet’s vision of the future. This man seems to say that the future is all very fine, but that it bears little resemblance to the present, in which heathen nations do not acknowledge the Lord but rather follow their own gods. In this particular setting the faithful Israelites can only say we will worship and obey the LORD our God forever and ever.
(b) Other scholars see this verse as a refutation of the preceding verses. In contrast with the visionary idea of all the nations coming to acknowledge the Lord in a setting of peace, in actual practice they all follow their own religions, and only the people of Israel worship the true God.
(c) Still others see this verse as an addition to the previous verses, one which is in the form of a liturgical response to them and is a expression of faith on the part of the Israelites.
Though we cannot be certain exactly how this verse is related to its present context, its own meaning is clear enough. Whatever the people of other nations may do, we, the people of Israel, the people of God, will follow the true God forever.
rsv translates literally the unusual Hebrew expression “walk in the name of.” The meaning of this is clear, and tev puts it in plain language with two terms, worship and obey. In other languages this meaning may be conveyed clearly enough by a construction which is closer to the Hebrew figure of speech.
Forever and ever is a standard phrase in English which may not be easy to put into other languages. It is basically an emphatic way of saying “always,” and many languages will have some natural idiomatic equivalent, though it may be very different in form.
Some English translations say that each nation follows its own gods rather than suggesting that each has only one god, as rsv and tev suggest. But whether singular or plural, this may be a difficult concept in some languages. Many languages did not have a single term for God before the appearance of Christianity, and term which has developed now may refer only to the Christian God. In such languages it may seen impossible or strange to use this word to refer to other gods. At least two possible solutions can be suggested. It may be possible to use a term or terms for supernatural beings which non-Christians are known to worship, even if these terms would not be suitable for God himself. Or it may be possible to construct an expression like “false gods” by using the word for the Christian God together with an adjective which show that these are beings which are thought to be like him but are not. Compare the terms for false Christs in Matthew 24:24 and Mark 13:22.
The Lord’s People Will Return From Exile Mic 4:6–5:1
This is a difficult section, perhaps the most difficult in the whole book. The flow of thought is not smooth but leaps back and forth between the defeat and exile of the nation (4:9–10; 5:1) and the promise of restoration and victory (4:6–8, 11–13). Even this outline is by no means certain, and the difficulties of the section are clearly seen in the different paragraph divisions in various modern translations. The problems have led many scholars to suggest that the whole section has been put together by a editor from smaller units which originated in different historical circumstances. However, scholars are not at all agreed about the extent or date of these smaller units.
For the translator, the problems of the section are in some ways easier to handle and in some ways more difficult. They are easier because the translator does not have to make decisions about origin or date, and so these questions are not discussed further in this Handbook. The translator’s problems are more difficult because he has to see what coherence there is in the passage as a whole, and decide how to reproduce this in his own language. This will involve a careful use of particles or other linguistic devices in the receptor language which signal how one clause or sentence is linked with or separated from its neighboring clauses and sentences. It will also involve a thoughtful use of such visual devices as paragraph breaks in the printed page.
It may be helpful to compare the different paragraph divisions of the major modern English versions in a diagram:
The bolding and/or horizontal lines indicate the places where some versions include additional section headings.
First, we shall discuss the differences between the paragraph breaks in tev and those in rsv. Both versions unite verses 6 and 7 into one paragraph, but they differ about verse 8. rsv prints this as a separate paragraph, whereas tev links it with verses 9–12 in a single paragraph. tev has thus made an important break after verse 7, giving emphasis to the fact that at the end of this verse in Hebrew the verbs change from first person to second person. However, despite this change of person, the theme of verse 8 is much closer to the theme of verses 6 and 7 than to the theme of verses 9 and 10, and for this reason other modern versions such as nab, neb, and niv group verses 6–8 together. We have seen previously, for instance in 2:12–13, that a change of person in the verbs does not necessarily mark a major sense break. Accordingly, translators may find that in their languages the flow of the thought will be smoother if verses 6–8 are put together as in nab, neb, and niv.
The rest of the chapter also shows considerable differences between rsv and tev in the paragraphing. rsv unites verses 9 and 10 in one paragraph and verses 11–13 in another. tev prints verses 8–12 as one paragraph and verses 13 as a separate one. Verses 9 and 10 share the image of woman in labor as a picture of the agony of the nation going into exile, and this common image may indicate that these verses should be taken together. When the prophet mentions the exile, he is taking it for granted that Israel’s enemies have first of all defeated her. In verses 11–13 the opposite happens; the enemies gather to attack Jerusalem, but they are defeated by Israel. neb puts verses 9–13 all in one paragraph, whereas jb and nab are the same as rsv in having two paragraphs composed of verses 9–10 and 11–13 respectively. This latter division seems to correspond most closely to the sense of the Hebrew, and many translators will find it to be the most convenient example to follow.
The first verse of chapter 5 is included in this section in tev, but as a separate paragraph. This matches the Hebrew numbering tradition which counts this verse as the last verse of chapter 4, as numbered in nab, rsv has a separate paragraph for this verse, but both jb and neb paragraph it with the opening verses of chapter 5. It has little in common with them, however, though it does seem to repeat the theme of defeat of 4:9–10. On the whole, it seems best to follow the tev paragraphing at this point.
We may summarize the above discussion by recommending new paragraphs beginning with verses 4:6, 4:9, 4:11, and 5:1. However, another possible analysis has been put forward by de Waard. He suggests that in chapters 4 and 5 we should see a continuation of the controversy between Micah and the false prophets, which he sees also in the earlier chapters. His views were referred in the comments on 2:12–13.
The basis in chapters 4 and 5 for de Waard’s view is a study of certain Hebrew words such as wehaya, “it will happen,” and weaTTah, “now,” which occur several times. He believes that these words mark major divisions in the structure of the text, and in particular that they are often connected with a change of speaker. There is no need to discuss his arguments in detail, but the results of them may be of interest to translators and are therefore worth stating briefly.
He sees 4:1–9 as spoken by the false prophets, who use an earlier prophecy, quoted in verses 1–4, as an answer to Micah’s threat of the destruction of Jerusalem in 3:12. They continue to give false comfort in verses 5–9.
Micah’s response to this is a further threat in 4:10, where he clearly prophesies the exile.
In 4:11–13 the false prophets are again taken as the speakers, and again they give words of comfort which are false.
In 5:1–4 Micah speaks again and introduces a note of hope for the people. However, he sees the Lord’s deliverance coming to Israel only after the people have been punished for their sins.
In 5:5–6 the false prophets again utter deceptive words of hope, which Micah modifies in verse 7.
De Waard attributes 5:8–15 to the false prophets, who continue to promise to the people military power and victory.
This analysis is quite helpful in accounting for the abrupt changes of topic in these chapters, and if translators decide to follow it, they will need to abandon the tev section headings throughout chapters 4 and 5 and substitute new ones at appropriate points.
We may note that, although de Waard’s analysis is fairly strong in most places, there are some verses where the meaning does not seem to fit the intentions of the supposed speakers. For instance, he joins 4:9 to 4:1–8 as the words of the false prophets even though the words of 4:9 can hardly be understood as words of comfort. It might be better to interpret the Hebrew word weaTTah “now” at the beginning of 4:9 as a marker of a change of speaker here as elsewhere. Verse 9 would then be linked with verse 10 as the words of Micah. This would keep the entire picture of the woman in labor in the mouth of one speaker, and would also remove from the false prophets words which do not really fit their message of comfort.
Again in 5:10–15 the subject matter does not seem appropriate to the false prophets. Here also we may note that 5:10 begins with the Hebrew word wehayah, which may well indicate another change of speaker. If these verses are indeed to be understood as spoken by Micah, then he is talking about the renewed purity of Israelite worship in the days after the Lord has rescued his people from exile.
For translators who wish to retain the tev section headings, the heading at 4:6 may need to be adapted. Israel may need to be expanded to “The people of Israel.” The term Exile may be expressed as “captivity in a foreign land.” The whole sentence may then be restructured in a more concrete way as follows: “The people of Israel will return home from being prisoners in a foreign land.” In some languages this may be too long for a heading and may have to be shortened or changed; for example, “The people of Israel will return to their own country.”
Verses 6 and 7 give a description of the people returning from exile. The prophet uses the picture of a flock of sheep being brought together after being attacked and scattered. It is thus somewhat similar to 2:12. There is no direct mention here of sheep, but the Hebrew terms for “lame” and “cast off” (rsv) certainly carry overtones which would have reminded the Hebrew of sheep. The figure of speech is not used in tev, but its meaning is conveyed directly by speaking of the people. The whole of these two verses is the utterance of the Lord and is given as direct speech. In translation it will generally be more vivid if this direct speech can be retained.
The time is coming (literally “In that day,” rsv) is a common expression in the prophetic books (see for instance Isa 4:1; Hos 2:18; Amos 8:9, although tev has slightly different translations of the same Hebrew words in each of these passages). It carries overtones of reference to the last days, but does not indicate whether they are viewed as in the near future or in the distant future.
The content of the Lord’s statement is given in rsv in the same order as the Hebrew; but in tev it has been reordered so as to give a more general statement first and then develop it. The more general statement is I will gather together the people I punished. The Hebrew uses two verbs (translated “assemble” and “gather” in rsv) which are both commonly used of the people returning from exile. These verbs mean the same thing, so tev uses the single term gather together to translate them both. The reference to the exile is only implicit in rsv, “those who have been driven away,” but is made explicit in tev, those who have suffered in exile. Theologically it is important to retain in translation the prophet’s insight that the same Lord is responsible both for punishing the people with exile and for bringing them back together to their own land.
Some translators may need to restructure verse 6 even further to follow the actual order of the events referred to. For example, this might become
“I punished the people and sent them away as prisoners to other countries, where they have suffered. But the time is coming when I will gather them together again.”
The emphasis in this verse is on the Lord gathering the people, so if it necessary to restructure the verse and mention the punishment first, this may give the wrong emphasis. If it does, a translator should see if he can find some other way in the language to show where the real emphasis is. Some translators may also want to keep the image of the sheep. This can be mentioned in connection with the thought about the people being sent away: “I sent them away to other countries, just as a flock of sheep are scattered when they are attacked.”
In the first part of verse 7, tev has again reordered the content to make the English more natural. The two descriptive terms (“lame” and “cast off” in rsv) are brought together in the opening clause, They are crippled and far from home. The term translated “remnant” in rsv is expanded in tev to I will make a new beginning with those who are left. In similar manner, the term translated “a strong nation” in rsv is expanded in tev to and they will become a great nation.
The term “remnant” or rsv is a technical term of considerable importance in the writings of the prophets, especially in relation to the exile, “Remnant” means what remains, or is left over. When used to refer to the people, it implies that they have already been punished, since only a few remain of an originally larger number. It also implies that the people will be restored, since the destruction in not total and some people are left alive. tev brings out these two complementary aspects of the term by expanding it into I will make a new beginning with those who are left. Since few languages will have a suitable technical term to convey the meaning and implications of “remnant,” many translators will need to use a longer expression such as tev has.
The phrase a great nation implies primarily great in numbers, but it does not exclude the idea of great in importance.
When the people return from exile to Jerusalem, the prophet does not picture them as having a descendent of David as a king again. Rather he foresees that “the LORD will reign over them” (rsv). The Hebrew at this point switches from the first to the third person. This change will be awkward in many languages, and most translators will prefer to retain the first person until the end of the verse and the end of the direct speech. tev does this and changes from “the LORD will reign …” (rsv) to I will rule over them on Mount Zion. Mount Zion refers of course to Jerusalem, but the use of this name here serves to emphasize the religious importance of the city. It is not merely a political capital for the people, but the center of the worship of the Lord, who will rule over them there.
A word for rule over is sometimes hard to find, and in such cases it may be simpler to say that the Lord himself will be the king of the people. It may be necessary to restructure slightly and say “I will be on Mount Zion (or, in the city of Jerusalem) as king of the people.”
In terms which are characteristic of prophecies about the Messianic era, the prophet concludes that the divine rule will not be a temporary institution like the Davidic monarchy but will last from that time on and forever (compare Isa 9:7). As in 4:5, forever may be expressed in some languages simply as “always.”
This verse contains a number of figurative expressions which rsv reproduces literally in English. These combine with an unnatural word order to make the verse almost unintelligible in that translation. The phrase “hill of the daughter of Zion” (rsv) means simply Jerusalem and is translated as such in tev. The “hill” is in Hebrew oPhel (as in jb), which refers particularly to the area of Jerusalem just south of the Temple, the district where the king lived. Here it stands for Jerusalem as a whole, which is very appropriate in a setting which speaks about the restoration of the city’s royal status.
The phrase “tower of the flock” (rsv) continues the figure of the shepherd and the sheep begun in verses 6 and 7, and refers to a watchtower from which a shepherd could guard his sheep. The meaning here is that Jerusalem is the place where God, like a shepherd from his lookout tower, watches over his people. The Hebrew metaphor is thus turned into a simile by the addition of the word like, and the basis of the comparison is made explicit, namely, God protecting his people as a shepherd protects his sheep.
Note that the words from his lookout tower are omitted from the British edition of tev. This is presumably a printing error, and they should be included. A lookout tower was a tall structure usually made of stone. However, in many areas of the world there are other types of structures which serve the same purpose, such as various kinds of raised platforms. Since this is only a comparison, it will be more important to use a term meaningful to the readers than to go into detail describing a structure strange to them.
The organization of this verse may give some problems. In some areas it may seem very strange to speak to a town in this way. If so, this verse can be put in the third person, describing what will happen to Jerusalem. In tev the figure of the lookout tower comes in the middle of the sentence, but this could be put in a separate sentence, either at the beginning or at the end of the verse.
The phrase “the former dominion” (rsv) refers to the kingdom of Israel at its greatest extent under King David and King Solomon. Later generations looked back to this period as a golden age, and prophets often spoke of future blessings in terms of the power and dominion which David and Solomon had held, as the prophet does here. Such passages have strong overtones of looking toward the coming of the Messiah. The meaning is expressed simply and plainly in tev—Jerusalem will once again be the capital of the kingdom that was yours. Most translators will need to simplify the statement in a similar way in order to convey the meaning clearly. If there is no good expression for kingdom, this can be “the great land” or something similar. Capital can be “the most important city” or even “the biggest city,” or it can be “the city where the king lives.”
Verses 9 and 10 turn away from the theme of future restoration and glory, and deal with the sadness and agony of the people at the time of their exile. Because this is a new subject, some translators may want to begin a new paragraph here, even though tev does not. However, the prophets here continues to address the city of Jerusalem, and this forms a link with verse 8.
In the Hebrew of verse 9, as reflected in rsv, the first and last clauses of the verse speak of the agony of exile, using the picture of a woman in the pain of childbirth. (This image is frequent in Jeremiah, for instance Jer 4:31; 6:24.) The second and third clauses ask whether the king and counselors of the nation have been removed. tev has reordered so as to bring together the two clauses that refer to pain, and has put them at the beginning of the verse. Then it joins the two questions in a single sentence to complete the verse. This has the advantage of putting the full figure of speech before its application, rather than moving back and forth from figure to application and then back to figure.
Since the image uses the language of childbirth, some care in the choice of vocabulary in the receptor language may be needed. There may be technical terms for the cry or the pains which are suffered by a woman in labor. If such terms are well known, their use here would add vividness to the translation. However, in some languages there are cultural restrictions on the use of terms related to childbirth, and the translators must be careful not to offend the reader by the terms he chooses. The image of childbirth is expressed in question form (Why do you cry out …? Why are you suffering …?, but the questions are rhetorical, and in some languages it may be clearer to use statements here in place of questions. The purpose of these questions is to force the people to think about what is happening to them, so that they will begin to understand what God is really doing to them. By using questions Micah pretends to be surprised at the way they are acting. Translators should decide whether questions or statements here will be best for giving this effect in their languages.
The third question suggests an answer to the first two: Is it because you have no king, and your counselors are dead? But in Hebrew this questions is famed so as to indicate that it expects the answer “No.” The prophet does not suppose that the king and counselors have actually been taken away or killed. Rather he is mocking them and implying that even though they are there, they are as useless and helpless as if they were gone. It may be necessary to change the wording in many translations in order to make this clear, but the translator should still try to keep the mocking tone of the original. For example, one might say “What is the matter with your king and your counselors? Can’t they help you?”
The Hebrew, like rsv, has the singular noun “counselor” here. This can be understood in two ways. It may be used collectively and refer to the counselors or advisors of the king. If so, it should be translated as a plural noun, as in tev and jb. Or it may refer to the king himself as the counselor of the people, in which case it may be translated, “Is it because your king who advises you is dead?” The first possibility seems more likely.
In verse 10 the prophet returns to the image of birth pains and tells the people of Jerusalem (literally “daughter of Zion,” rsv) that they will indeed have to suffer pain like a woman giving birth to a child.
There are two points in these phrases where the Hebrew wording is the same as in an earlier verse, but where tev has translated slightly differently. In the Hebrew, the prophet speaks to the “daughter of Zion” both here and in verse 8. In verse 8, where the city as a place is in focus, tev translates this as Jerusalem. Here, where we are told that the people will leave the city, “Jerusalem” alone would not make sense, and tev has people of Jerusalem. Also, tev’s two expressions, like a woman in labor (verse 9) and like a woman giving birth (verse 10), are translations of the same Hebrew expression. The two English expressions mean almost the same thing, and tev has probably used different expressions because it sounds better in English, rather than to suggest any difference in meaning. Translators may use the same or different expressions in these two verses, according to what sounds best in their languages.
The people are told to twist and groan. Twist means to move one’s body back and forth because the pain is so great. This is of course figurative language to show the agony of the people, and the translator should feel free to use words in his own language which will convey the picture of the pains of the woman in childbirth.
The cause of this agony is that the people will have to leave the city. This is a plain reference to the exile. The reason that the people have to leave the city is that enemies will force them to leave. In some languages it may be necessary to make this clear in the translation. There will be severe hardships on the journey, as the people will have nowhere to stay but will live in the open country. The open country refers primarily to land which is away from the towns and villages, so that there is no place for shelter from the weather. It is also open in the sense of having few trees, but this is not particularly important in this context, and the translator will not need to stress this point if it is a problem in his language.
The destination of the people will be Babylon. Again, in some languages it may be clearer to say “you will be taken away to Babylon” or “your enemies will take you to Babylon.” Babylon is a very distant land, and their exile there might lead the people to suppose that they would be separated from the Lord. But the prophet assures them that this is not so. Even there the LORD will save you from your enemies, presumably the Babylonians themselves. Those whom the Lord saves will become the remnant with whom he will make the new beginning spoken of in verse 7.
Save in tev translates two Hebrew verbs, given as “rescued” and “redeem” in rsv. The root of the verb “redeem” is the same as that used of Boaz in his responsibilities towards Naomi and Ruth in the Book of Ruth. (See A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Ruth, pages 42–43, (Ruth 2:20) for further details.) If a language has a expression which implies helping a relative who is in great danger, such a term may be excellent here. In other languages it is probably best not to make a special effort to emphasize this point, as it is not especially emphasized in the Hebrew. When choosing the term or terms to translate what the Lord will do, one should imagine the situation. Some of your people are in the hands of your enemies, and you must save them by an act of strength. What would be the appropriate terms to describe this?
The word “redeem” (rsv) in English sometimes implies that money will be paid to the enemies, as does “ransom,” used by jb. But this is merely figurative language, and the translator should not suggest that God is going to pay the Babylonians to free his people.
The expression from your enemies is literally “from the hand of your enemies.” The more literal wording may sound more natural in some languages.
In verse 11 and 12 the prophet describes a situation in which Jerusalem is besieged by its enemies. But here, in contrast with the previous verses, the enemies do not succeed in conquering the city. Rather they are themselves defeated and crushed by Israel. Perhaps the scene is inspired by the events of 701 b.c., when the Assyrians under King Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem but were forced to withdraw by the outbreak of disease or a similar disaster. (See 2 Kgs 19:35.) However, verse 13 is hardly a description of that situation and cannot be definitely related to any known historical event. Because the meaning of these verses is so different from the preceding verses, some translators may feel that it will be too confusing to continue the speech without a break. If so, it is possible to put another section heading before verse 11. This may be something like “Jerusalem will defeat her enemies.” If this is done, then it may be good to make clear in verse 11 that the you refers to the people of Jerusalem.
In verse 11 the prophet continues to address Jerusalem in the second person and say Many nations have gathered to attack you. The armies of the larger empires of the period were made up of contingents from various subject provinces, speaking different languages, and the description of any such army as Many nations was quite appropriate. If this expression may be misunderstood to mean “entire nations,” it should be translated as “soldiers from many nations” or “enemies from many nations.”
These enemies themselves state the reason why they have come against Jerusalem, but they express it in an indirect manner. rsv gives a literal translation, “Let her be profaned, and let our eyes gaze upon Zion.” This carries overtones of the violent lust of a man about to rape a girl. It is keeping with the larger context, in which Jerusalem is three times referred to as the “daughter of Zion” (verses 8, 10, and 13). However, there is also another level of meaning. The land of Israel was regarded as sacred, and for an army composed of heathen enemies even to walk on the land was seen as defiling it. We do not know whether the enemy themselves would have thought in such terms, and the real meaning of their words is to express their intention of destroying the city. This is the basic meaning conveyed by tev, Jerusalem must be destroyed! We will see this city in ruins! Since the overtones of rape and ritual defilement are rather closely linked with Hebrew cultural attitudes and values, many translators may find difficult to bring out these ideas. They may want to follow the example of tev and focus on the enemies’ basic aim of destruction. On the other hand, there may be other cultures where this coarse imagery of sexual attack would be appropriate and would help to show the evil attitude of the enemies.
Jerusalem here is literally “Zion.” (See comments on verses 3:10 and 3:12.) The first thought can also be expressed as “Let us attack her” or “Let us destroy Jerusalem.” We will see this city in ruins is rather idiomatic English, meaning “When we have finished attacking this city, it will be in ruins.” In ruins may also be expressed as “destroyed” or “there will be nothing left but ruined buildings.”
The heathen armies may intend to capture the city, but verse 12 tells us that these nations do not know what is in the LORD’s mind. His intention is the exact opposite of theirs. They thought that they could destroy Jerusalem, but the Lord has actually brought them together in order to destroy them. What is in the LORD’s mind is tev’s way of expressing what is more literally “the thoughts of the LORD” and “his plan” (rsv). Translators may use either of these ideas, or both of them. One possible way of expressing the sense is “they do not know what the Lord is planning to do (to them).”
The destruction of the nations is described by a comparison with grain (corn in the British edition) which is brought in sheaves or bundles “to the threshing floor” (rsv) to be threshed, that is, beaten in order to separate the ears, or heads, from the stalks. Just as grain is gathered together from the fields in order to be threshed, so the nations have been gathered together. This implies something which the Hebrew makes explicit, namely, that the Lord is the one who gathered them. In many languages it will be necessary to state clearly that the Lord is the actor. The reason that the Lord has brought these nations together is so that they can be punished. The punishment means that these nations will suffer the defeat they intended to inflict on Jerusalem.
A popular way of threshing in Old Testament times was to have cattle pull a threshing machine over the wheat. These machines had sharp stones or metal on the bottom, and this was an effective picture of how the nations were to be punished. This verse does not say just what method of threshing the prophet had in mind, though verse 13 does suggest that cattle were involved in some way. If a person is translating for a culture which has any kind of threshing, the ordinary term for it should be acceptable as long as the comparison of threshing to punishment will be understood by the readers. If threshing is not known, it may be possible to drop the comparison to threshing and to say simply “the LORD has gathered them together in order to punish them.” However, even in this case it may be possible to use a descriptive phrase to try to keep the comparison. One suggestion may be “just as farmers bring their wheat together in order to beat it and separate the part that is eaten.”
Verse 13 is direct quotation of words addressed by the Lord to his people. tev has added The LORD says to make this clear.
As elsewhere, the literal “daughter of Zion” (rsv) means People of Jerusalem.
The metaphor of threshing grain is continued in the Hebrew, where the people are told to “Arise and thresh” (rsv). tev drops the metaphor here and gives the plain meaning, go and punish your enemies!
The LORD promises to give his people strength for this task. This promise is expressed in a further metaphor, which is turned into a simile in tev, I will make you as strong as a bull with iron horns and bronze hoofs. The reference to a bull is probably a continuation of the picture of threshing, since animals were used to tread on the grain in order to separate the ears, or heads, from the stalks. (See Deut 25:4; Hos 10:11.) In cultures where this practice is still known, it may be possible to retain the image of threshing with an animal in both verse 12 and verse 13. However, in many situations this will not be the case, and where the image would not be understood it should be dropped, and the meaning should be expressed in plain language.
But even where threshing with animals is not known, it may be possible to retain the reference to the bull simply as a symbol of strength, as tev has done. The reference to iron horns and bronze hoofs may need to be expanded so as to say “I will make you as strong as a bull, as if it had horns made of iron and hoofs made of bronze.” Iron and bronze were the strongest metals available in the period of the Old Testament prophets. Even when it seems possible to keep the image, it may be helpful to make certain points a little clearer. For example, one could begin the verse with “Jerusalem (or, People of Jerusalem), you are like a threshing bull, so start the threshing now.” Some commentators say that bulls will poke the grain with their horns while threshing, but it seems more likely that the horns are mentioned only to show how strong the bull is.
With the strength which the Lord gives them, the people of Jerusalem will crush many nations, those very nations who had gathered against them. The word crush means to grind into dust. Translators who are keeping the threshing image should use a word which fits the action of threshing.
The wealth which the victorious people of Israel take from their enemies they will present to me, the Lord of the whole world. That is to say, the people are to treat the things they capture just as Joshua and his army treated the things the captured at Jericho (Josh 6:17–19, 24). They were to burn everything which could be burned and metal objects which would not burn were broken and put into the Lord’s treasury. The word translated wealth in tev includes two Hebrew words (“gain” and “wealth” in rsv). These words seem to cover both the wealth that the enemy rightfully owned and the plunder which they had taken from others by violence in the course of battle. All this would pass into the hands of the victorious people of Israel, and they would present it to the Lord.
The Lord is here described as the Lord of the whole world. This is an appropriate description in a setting in which he gives his people victory over many nations. This shows that he is the real Lord even of these nations. The nations, however, do not recognize or accept him as their ruler, so the term used for Lord here should not imply that they do.
In some languages it may be necessary to say that the people of Jerusalem will first take the wealth from their enemies and then present it to the Lord. It is probably not necessary to put into the translation the details of what will be done with the things that are captured. The important fact is that the people will not keep these things for themselves, but they will bring all of them to present or dedicate to the Lord.
The last part of verse 13 may have to be restructured in many languages because so many ideas are combined in one sentence. One possibility may be
“You will crush many nations and take away all of the valuable things that they have obtained by violence. You will bring all of these things and present them to me, the Lord of the whole world.”
This verse is numbered 4:14 in Hebrew; tev takes it as going with verses that precede it, since it takes up again the theme of Jerusalem under attack, from 4:9–10. If the translator thinks that this verse fits better with 5:2–4, as in jb, neb, and niv, then it has to be seen as establishing a contrast between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Jerusalem is the capital city, but with a weak ruler it is helpless under siege. On the other hand, the nearby but relatively unimportant Bethlehem will be the birthplace of a strong leader who will rescue his people and rule over them with God’s power.
The meaning of the first part of the verse is very uncertain. The Hebrew text as we have it contains a root GaDaD, whose meaning in this passage is generally understood to be “gather together, gather in troops.” This meaning is found in kjv and is also followed by tev and niv. It occurs also in Jeremiah 5:7, where rsv translates “they … trooped to the house of harlots.” The same root GaDaD can also mean “to cut, to make incisions,” and some translators such a mft, njv, and tob understand the word in this sense here. mft translates “gash yourself in grief.” The word has this meaning also elsewhere, as in 1 Kings 18:28, where rsv has “they … cut themselves,” but here it would be necessary to make two small changes in the Hebrew text in order to produce a form of the verb that would be in the right tense to carry this meaning.
A further complication arises from the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament. What these translators put in this verse is not translation of the Hebrew root GaDaD, but of another Hebrew root, GaDar. The letters d and r are very similar in Hebrew script, and it is not unusual for them to be confused. The root GaDar means “to build a wall,” and is found for instance in Ezekiel 13:5, where rsv has “You have not … built up a wall for the house of Israel.” Here in Micah 5:1 the rsv follows the Greek rather than the Hebrew, and the jb, nab, and neb do the same.
All three possible ways of understanding the verse can make sense in the context, and the choice is a difficult one for the translator. The choice which reads GaDaD in the meaning of “cut” seems the least likely, although to cut oneself as a sign of grief is a possible activity during a siege. However, this practice was a heathen one, and the Israelites were forbidden to follow it (Lev 19:28; 21:5; Deut 14:1), so it seems improbable that the prophet here would urge them to do so. However, it is possible to take the verb either as an imperative or as a statement. So it may be that prophet is simply describing what people are doing in this time of great danger, rather than urging them to do it. It might be “now you are cutting yourselves in grief.”
Both of the other two possibilities fit the context quite well. The rsv “you are walled about with a wall” is a specific statement which is immediately followed by the explanation in more general terms, “siege is laid against us.” In ancient sieges it was not uncommon for the attackers to build a wall right around the city they were besieging, both to cut off its communications and to protect their own troops.
The tev with its gather your forces! speaks of the defenders’ preparation to resist attack. We are besieged! is a cry of warning the forces in order to call them together. The vocative People of Jerusalem gives the plain meaning of the Hebrew, which is a further reference to Jerusalem as a woman. It is translated literally in kjv, “O daughter of troops.”
The last part of the verse is clearer. rsv gives the literal meaning, “which a rod they strike upon the cheek the ruler of Israel,” This seems to imply that the enemies have already defeated and captured the city and its leaders.
The tev They are attacking the leader of Israel is much more vague. It is hard to see why the specific details of rsv have been replaced by this general statement. Most translators will be able to follow the Hebrew more closely here and mention the exact details as rsv does. To “strike” someone “upon the cheek” (rsv) seems to have been a symbolic way of humiliating him (see 1 Kgs 22:24; Job 16:10; Lam 3:30). To do this with a “rod” (rsv) or stick would be painful as well as shameful. Therefore, if we assume that the enemies have already captured the ruler, they must have been treating him like this as a cruel way of making fun of him. On the other hand, it is perhaps possible that this expression is not meant literally, but that the attack on the city itself is in some way seen as shaming the ruler, and the reference to striking him is only a figure of speech.
There is a similarity in the sounds of the Hebrew between the word sheBeT (“rod”) and shoPheT (“ruler”). It is not likely, of course, that this can be reproduced in translation, but if a translator can do so while still keeping the meaning accurate, that will be good.
Micah Chapter 5
The Ideal Future King Mic 5:2–5a
This short section contrasts sharply with the theme of defeat in the previous verse and develops the note of hope which was begun in 4:7 and continued in 4:12, 13. The hope here is expressed in terms of a coming ruler who would fulfill all the ideals about kingship which the people of Israel held dear. Verse 2 is familiar to many readers because it is quoted in Matthew 2:6 as a prediction that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of the Messiah.
The section heading is clear in English but may be too brief to be a satisfactory base for translation. Some translators may need to expand it and include a subordinate clause with a verb: “God promises that a ruler will come from Bethlehem.” If this is too long, one may say “God will give Israel a new ruler” or “A new ruler will come from Bethlehem.”
Because the town of Bethlehem is addressed in the second person singular in verse 2, tev treats the verse as a direct quotation and identifies the speaker as treats the verse as a direct quotation and identifies the speaker as the LORD. In some languages it may not make sense to address a town as though it were a person. In such cases a translator may need to express the whole verse in indirect speech and in the third person: “The LORD says that though Bethlehem Ephrathah is only one of the smallest towns in Judah, yet out of it he will bring a ruler for Israel.…”
Bethlehem is a town about nine kilometers (six miles) south of Jerusalem. It is important in this context because it was the place which the family of King David came from (1 Sam 16:1–13). Later generations looked back to the reigns of King David and his son King Solomon as a golden age. So when the prophets began to speak of an ideal king who would come to restore God’s people and rule over them, they often expressed their messages in terms drawn from the days of David, or in terms associated with him. It is keeping with this way of thinking that Micah sees Bethlehem, David’s home, as the town from which the ideal king will come.
Ephrathah is a term added perhaps to distinguish David’s Bethlehem from other towns or villages bearing the same name. Probably Ephrathah is a name for the district in which Bethlehem was located. It comes from the name of Ephrath, one of the clans which made up the tribe of Judah (Ruth 1:2). David’s family were members of this clan (1 Sam 17:12). It is probably best to translate Bethlehem Ephrathah as the name of the town. If this seems too long for a name in some languages, then it is all right to translate as “Bethlehem in the region (or district) of Ephrathah” (see neb).
The Hebrew word translated “clans” in rsv us a word with a very wide area of meaning. It is the numeral for “a thousand” and is also a term for a military unit consisting of a certain number of soldiers, probably considerably less than a thousand. Here is refers to a social unit, the clan. This is why rsv translates “little to be among the clans of Judah.” But by a figure of speech called metonymy, the clan in this context stands for the town where the clan members lived. So tev drops the figure of speech and gives the plain meaning, you are one of the smallest towns in Judah. Smallest probably refers both to size and to importance.
Some translators understand the Hebrew here to say that Bethlehem is so small that it does not deserve to be considered as one of the clans of Judah (this seems to be the meaning of rsv and NEV, among others). This is, of course, only an emphatic way of stating how unimportant the town is, and the plain meaning is still what tev has. However, in some languages it may be quite effective to use the more emphatic way of expressing the idea. In some languages it may be very difficult to talk about “one of the smallest towns,” and some similar expression may be used to give the same meaning, such as “a very small town.”
However, though the town was insignificant in itself, this was no barrier to God. Out of it he would in the future bring a ruler for Israel, just as he had once brought David. Translators may need to use different ways of showing the contrast between the small town and the great ruler to come from it. Some languages may use a word like but or “however.” In other languages it may be better to say something like “even though you are small.” Out of you or “from you” (rsv) means that the ruler will be one of the citizens of Bethlehem, but that God will bring him from Bethlehem to be the ruler, as he brought David.
rsv says that the ruler will “come forth for me,” This “for me” refers of course to God and means that the ruler will be acting in accordance with God’s will. tev felt that is was clearer to state plainly that God was the one who caused this to happen: I will bring a ruler. Some translations may prefer to say something like “a ruler who will act on my behalf” or “a ruler who will truly obey me.” It is possible that the term ruler is used here in order to avoid the usual word for king, since the people of Micah’s day were disillusioned with the kings whom they knew. If a language has one word for “king” and a different word such a “ruler” which can also refer to the king, it may be good to use the second word here. But in many languages this may not be possible, and if not, the usual word for king is acceptable.
The family line of this ruler is described in two phrases in rsv. It is “from of old” and “from ancient days.” tev puts these two phrases together and says that the family line goes back to ancient times. This is to be understood as a description of the family of David. By Micah’s time there had been kings of Judah for about 300 years, and all of them had been descendants of David. (The older translation, “from everlasting” of kjv, rv, is improbable in this context.) Micah thus implies that the ideal ruler who was to come was also to be a member of David’s family.
All of the concepts in tev’s last clause could be difficult for some translators. Family line refers to the long line of ancestors from whom the ruler is descended. Goes back suggests that this line is being traced back from the present into the past. Ancient times means simply “long ago” or more precisely “from the early history of the country.” In other languages it may be necessary to look at these ideas from quite a different point of view. For example, this could be expressed as “he will be descended from men who were famous in the earliest days of the country” or “long ago his ancestors was a important man.” It is of course true that everyone’s family line goes back to ancient times. What is meant here is that these ancestors are people whose names are still remembered, and this suggests that they were famous or important people.
This verse is quoted in Matthew 2:6, but translators who have already finished Matthew should note that there are a number of differences between the Old Testament verse and the New Testament quotation. One should not try to make them more alike than they really are.
In rsv this verse is ambiguous at several points because pronouns are used in the Hebrew, and it is not clear to whom they refer. tev makes the participants somewhat clearer. The “he” of rsv is identified as the LORD in tev, and the “them” is identified as his people. tev also says the LORD will abandon his people to their enemies, while rsv translates only “give up,” without mentioning the enemies.
The main focus of the sentence, however, is on the length of time that the Lord will abandon the people. It is not stated exactly how long this will be, but it is given in terms related to a pregnancy—until the woman who is to give birth has her son. It is not clear whether this refers to the normal period of nine months for a pregnancy or to the shorter period during which the woman is actually in labor. It is not important to decide which is more likely. The real point is that the period is limited. A pregnancy may be burdensome for a woman, and the labor may be painful, but both come to an end when the baby is born. In the same way the Lord may abandon his people, but only for a limited time, and then he will help them and make them his own again.
This verse begins with “Therefore” (rsv) or So, which may not be clear at first. It seems to refer back to the two contrasting predictions which have just been made. The prophet has said that the people will have to spend time in exile (see 4:10, for example), but he has also said that God plans to bring them back and give them a new ruler. The connection between verses 2 and 3, then, is “God plans to give them a ruler, therefore he will give them up only until the ruler is born.” This may be clearer in many languages if something like the English “only until” is added to show that the time will not be long.
Abandon can be translated as “refuse to help” or “allow the enemies to rule.” tev does not mention the name of “the people of Israel” here, though it is clearly implied, and some translators may prefer to make this explicit. This can be done by using the full expression at this point in the verse, in place of tev’s his people.
The phrase until the woman who is to give birth has her son expresses in modern terms the rsv “when she who is in travail has brought forth.” rsv follows the Hebrew and does not express any object for the verb “brought forth.” Obviously the object is a baby, but tev goes further and states plainly that it is her son. It is clear from the general background of Hebrew prophetic thought that the one who was to deliver the nation would be a male, and so it is legitimate to make that explicit here. Similar prophecies about the birth of a boy whose life would be important in the history of God’s people come in Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6, and in both places the word “son” is used.
Micah himself has used the experience of labor pains and birth as a picture of God’s dealings with his people in 4:9–10. But here in 5:3 the picture seems to have a double purpose. Not only is the limited time of pregnancy or labor an indication that God is punishing his people for a limited period, but it also appears that the child born from this labor will be the deliverer of the nation. The prophet is saying that he sees the nation’s suffering as a punishment which carries within itself the hope of deliverance and restoration in the future. The language used is somewhat secretive and mysterious, but this was often the way in which the prophets expressed themselves. Translators can and should clarify grammatical obscurities such as the pronoun references in this verse, but they cannot entirely remove the element of mystery from the language in which the prophets spoke.
The wording of rsv (“she who is in travail”) suggest that the woman was already in labor at the time the prophet wrote. Other translations like jb, nab and tev seem to suggest rather that God has chosen someone to be the mother of the ruler, but that she was not necessarily pregnant at the time of writing. Many translators may prefer to follow this second meaning, but they may not have a construction like the English who is to give birth, and it may be necessary to restructure this part of the verse. One possibility is “The LORD will abandon his people. But this will last only until the woman goes into labor and delivers her son.”
In the second half of the verse, even tev has not entirely succeeded in removing the ambiguities of the pronouns. To whom does the his in the phrase his fellow countrymen refer? Grammatically it could refer to the LORD, but the most natural way of understanding tev would make it refer to her son. However, Hebrew does have this “his,” while neither the LORD nor her son are explicit in the Hebrew. Therefore it is possible that in Hebrew, “his” may refer back to the ruler in verse 1, as the ruler was the last male mentioned. It seems probable that this ruler is to be understood as the same person as her son, however, and if this is the case the problem is made easier. So then, when the son who is to be the ruler is born, his fellow countrymen who are in exile will be reunited with their own people.
Fellow countrymen is literally “brothers.” Some translators may prefer to say “the rest of the people of Israel who are in exile,” especially if this can be worded in such a way as to show that the ruler (the woman’s son) is also one of the people of Israel.
The words who are in exile are not explicit in Hebrew but are clearly implied in the verb reunited (rsv “return”), which is regularly used to refer to return from exile. For the translation of exile see the comments on 2:13. Reunited could be translated as “join them again.” Their own people refers to those of “the people of Israel” (rsv) who were not taken into exile.
The opening part of this verse contains a metaphor which is translated literally in rsv as “he shall stand and feed his flock.” “He” refers to the coming king, yet the words speak of the activity of a shepherd. The reason for this is that shepherds and sheep were a very important part of life in the Ancient Near East, and a king was regarded as having the same sort of relationship with his people that a shepherd had with his flock of sheep. So when language that described a shepherd was used when speaking about a king, the meaning was quite clear to the original hearers or readers. Such language includes a further allusion to David, who was a shepherd before God chose him to be king, and who, as king, looked after his people like a shepherd. See Psalms 78:70–72 and also verse 5:5 and verse 7:14. Because the meaning of this metaphor would not be clear to most modern readers of English, tev has expressed it in plain language as he will rule his people. The word rule here is an obvious link with the ruler mentioned in verse 2. Some translators may prefer to give both the figure and its meaning, as “he shall lead his people and care for them, as a shepherd takes care of his sheep.” If a language has no special word for shepherd, “man” would be enough in this sentence.
The rsv expression “in the strength of the LORD” is expanded slightly in tev to explain the relationship between “strength” and “LORD” as the strength that comes from the LORD. This can also be expressed as “the LORD will give him the power to do this” or “the LORD will make him strong so that he will be able to rule well.”
In the expression “the majesty of the name of the LORD” (rsv), the “name” stands for the personality. tev expresses this as the majesty of the LORD God himself. Majesty refers to the qualities which make a king great, powerful, and impressive. It can be translated as “excellence,” “power,” or “greatness.”
When the people have this ideal ruler, they will live in safety. They will not suffer any more defeats by their enemies because people all over the earth will acknowledge his greatness and will not dare or even wish to attack his people. Some languages may have a single term or a expression which gives the meaning of live in safety or “live securely.” This can also be expressed as “live without danger (or, fear).” Acknowledge his greatness means “recognize that he is great” or “know how great he is.” All over the earth can be translated as “in every country.”
In common with most modern English versions, tev takes the first clause of verse 5 as going with verses 2–4. This completes the sense of the paragraph, which ends with he will bring peace. With this paragraph division, the Hebrew word translated “this” in rsv is understood as being masculine and personal (he in tev) and as referring to the future ruler. The clause is literally “he will be peace,” which means that his rule will bring about true peace in the sense of a full, good life. neb’s translation, “he shall be a man of peace.” may be a helpful suggestion for some languages.
The ideas mentioned in the last part of verse 4 are closely related to the beginning of verse 5. Some translators may find that it is helpful to combine these two verses so that peace can be mentioned first. One might say something like “He will bring peace and prosperity. People all over the earth will acknowledge how great he is, and his people will live in safety.”
The Lord Will Deliver and Purify His People Mic 5:5b–15
There are some abrupt changes of emphasis within this section which lead to some difficulties of interpretation. rsv and tev agree in breaking the section into three paragraphs: verses 5 and 6, verses 7 to 9, and verses 10 to 15.
In the first paragraph the prophet reassures his people that their leaders will be able to defeat Assyria. By contrast, in the second paragraph he speaks about the effect the people of Israel will have on the nations among whom they live. This seems to assume that the people are defeated and in exile. The third paragraph takes up another topic and speaks of the cleansing of the nation by the removal of all objects connected with the worship of idols. For an alternative analysis by de Waard see the introduction to 4:6–5:1.
In most languages the heading will probably need both a subject and an object. “The LORD will both deliver and punish his people” may be more suitable as a translation base. If this is too long, then it may be possible to put another section heading at verse 10 so that the first section can be headed “The LORD will deliver his people” and the second section can be headed “The LORD will punish his people” or “The LORD will destroy the worship of idols.”
The way that tev understands the first clause of verse 5 has been dealt with in the previous section. In rsv the first clause is understood as introducing this new section. By this view, the thing that will mean peace for the people is the victory over Assyria described in verses 5 and 6.
In rsv “the Assyrian” is singular, as in the Hebrew. However, the singular noun stands for the whole nation, and in English, statements of this kind about nations are normally made in the plural. Therefore tev uses the plural the Assyrians. The translator may use singular or plural according to the custom of the receptor language.
The people who speak of our country are the people of Israel. This may be clear enough in many languages, but if it is confusing, a translator may need to make it clearer. One possible way is to say “we, the people of Israel, will send our strongest leaders” in the second part of this verse.
The rsv “treads upon our soil” is based on a small change in one word of the Hebrew text. This word as it stands in Hebrew is the one which tev translates defenses. The change accepted by rsv (also by jb and nab) improves the parallelism between this line and the previous one (“comes into our land”), but it is not essential in order to make sense of the Hebrew. The tev break through our defenses gives a meaning which is perfectly intelligible and fits the context very well (compare neb and niv).
Defenses refers literally to the large fortified homes of the wealthy people, and the Hebrew refers to the enemy soldiers walking through these buildings. tev understands the argument here to be as follows: the people of Israel thought that there buildings were strong enough to keep the enemy out, but in fact the enemy was able to break through. This idea can be expressed as “the Assyrians break into the strong buildings where we defend ourselves.”
In the second part of the verse, rsv follows the Hebrew literally with its “seven shepherds and eight princes of men.” The word “shepherds” implies “rulers” as in verse 4, and “princes of men” is simply a repetition of the same idea for the sake of parallelism. tev drops the parallelism and uses the single term leaders. The numbers “seven” and “eight” are of no special significance in themselves and simply mean a number fully adequate to meet the needs of the situation. mft translates “ample leaders.” This use of a number followed by another number which is greater by one occurs elsewhere in Scripture. (Prov 6:16; 30:15, 18, 21, 29. Compare 2 Kgs 6:10 and Eccl 11:2.) In particular Amos uses the numbers three and four in this way in the repeated expression “For three transgressions … and for four” (Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 2:1, 4, 6, rsv). The meaning there is conveyed well by neb “For crime after crime” and tev The people … have sinned again and again. In a similar manner here, tev avoids mention of a specific number and simply says our strongest leaders. The purpose of these leaders is left rather vague in the rsv “we will raise against him,” but it is made explicit in the tev to fight them.
Some translators may feel reluctant to leave out all reference to numbers when mentioning the leaders. They may prefer to say something like “many strong leaders” or “plenty of strong leaders.” However, in this context the Hebrew did not attach any especial importance to the numbers seven and eight, and so to put these numbers in a translation would give modern readers the wrong idea. If a translator wishes, he may give the literal words in a footnote.
By force of arms they will conquer Assyria: in rsv the first two lines are parallel, but tev has again combined them into one and expressed the meaning in more general terms. By force of arms means “by using weapons.” In many languages the word for conquer would imply that weapons are used, and it may not be necessary to mention weapons in that context. However, a translator could mention weapons or arms in the context of ruling Assyria, and say something like “they will conquer Assyria and rule it by force of arms” or “… and their army will rule it.”
In this verse, the use of “shepherd” in the meaning of “ruler” is continued but given an ironic sense. The kind of ruling referred to here will not be the gentle, helpful kind that “shepherd” suggests. This is brought out in neb and jb when they say the shepherds will “shepherd Assyria with the sword” instead of the usual rod and staff as mentioned in Psalm 23:4. rsv drops the figure of speech here and translates “they shall rule the land of Assyria with the sword.”
The meaning of this clause is repeated in parallel language in the next line, “the land of Nimrod with the drawn sword.” “The land of Nimrod” is another name for Assyria, since according to the tradition of Genesis 10:8–12, Nimrod was the founder of its capital city, Nineveh. Some languages may have a special term for someone in the distant past who founded a city, and it would be helpful to use such a term here. If a translation is to have cross references, a reference to Genesis 10:8–12 should be included here.
The second part of verse 6 contains a further textual problem. The Hebrew text has the subject of the main verb in the singular (“thus shall he deliver us” kjv, “He will deliver us” niv), but there is no singular noun in the context for the pronoun “he” to refer to. Several modern English translations change the Hebrew text to “they” instead of “he” and refer it to the leaders in the first part of the verse. tev for instance has they will save us from the Assyrians. jb retains the singular pronoun and moves the second half of verse 6 to the end of the previous section, following the first sentence of verse 5. (“He himself will be peace. He will deliver us from Assyria should it invade our country.…”) If this is done, the “he” will then refer to the ideal ruler whose coming the prophet speaks of there. (See comments below on the interpretation of this verse.) nab avoids the problem by using a passive verb and saying “we shall be delivered.”
“They shall deliver us from the Assyrian” (rsv) is followed by two parallel clauses which are very close in both form and meaning to those at the beginning of verse 5. tev again combines the parallel clauses into one, as it did in verse 5, and translates when they invade our territory. Whether this is understood as referring to the ideal ruler or to the strong leaders, translators should note that the last part of verse 6 does not refer to something which happens after the events of the first part of the verse. It does not mean that the Assyrians will invade the land of Israel after they have been conquered by the people of Israel, but it refers to the invasion mentioned in verse 5. It may be clearer to begin the second half of the verse with “and in this way they (or he) will save us from the Assyrians.” Some translators may find it clearer to combine verses 5 and 6, in order to mention the ideas in the order in which they happen.
Although the meaning of the words in these two verses is fairly clear, it is very difficult to know what situation the prophet is referring to. There never was any historical occasion when in seemed even remotely possible that Israel or Judah would be able to conquer Assyria. Even the deliverance from the invasion of the Assyrian King Sennacherib in 701 b.c. was in no way due to the leaders of Judah. Some scholars think that in these verses Assyria is used as a code name for some later enemy kingdom such as Babylonia, Persia, or Greece. (Compare the way in which the name Babylon stands for the Roman Empire in REV 18.) Others suggest that Assyria here is a symbol for any world power which is hostile toward the Lord and his people. If the translator prefers this last understanding, it is probably better to take verses 2–6 together in one section and thus to adopt section divisions which are slightly different from those of rsv and tev. This would have the effect of associating the miraculous conquest of Assyria in verse 6 with the coming of the ideal ruler in verses 2–4. This is quite an attractive possibility, and is followed by Knox in his translation and by McKeating and Allen in their commentaries. In any case, it the last part of verse 6 is understood as referring to the ideal ruler of verses 2–4, a translator may need to use a noun (“this ruler” or something similar) rather than the pronoun “he,” to make this clear.
Verses 7–9 speak of the effect the survivors of Israel will have on the nations among whom they live. As in the previous verses, there are a number of problems in knowing exactly what is meant, especially in verse 7. rsv is a literal translation of the Hebrew and is thus the best starting point for a discussion of the difficulties.
The expression “remnant of Jacob” in verse 7 uses the same word for “remnant” as that in 4:7 (see the discussion of that verse). This remnant probably consists of those who were taken into exile in foreign countries, as in 4:7. This fits well with the description here of the remnant being “in the midst of many peoples.” “Jacob” here probably stands for the whole nation of Israel and Judah, and not just those taken into captivity from the northern kingdom when Samaria fell to the Assyrians in 722 b.c. tev understands the phrase in this wider sense and thus translates The people of Israel who survive. This wording could be misleading, however, and translators should be careful here. Because it has moved the reference to many nations to a point later in the verse, tev could be taken as referring to the people who were left in the land after the others had been carried into exile. Further, tev does not state what disaster the people have survived, nor is this made clear in the wider context. In many languages it may be necessary to make the meaning clearer and say something like “The people of Israel who have been defeated and exiled from their country will be living in many other countries. These people will be like refreshing dew.…”
There follows a double simile, or comparison, in which the people are compared to “dew from the LORD” and “showers upon the grass.” In Palestine there is little rainfall in most areas, and the dew which forms on the ground, especially in the rainless summer months, is important in helping the crops to survive in the hot weather and ripen as they should. In ancient times, people knew the importance of the dew supply, but they did not understand how dew was formed. (This is one of the things which the Lord challenged Job to explain in Job 38:28.) Its presence was therefore surrounded by mystery, and it was regarded as a gift from the Lord (Gen 27:28; Deut 33:28). Dew was used as a symbol of refreshment (Hos 14:5) and even of resurrection (Isa 26:19). However, it was also used as a picture of silent and stealthy approach, as of a soldier creeping up on an enemy (2 Sam 17:12). In the present context, the idea of dew is joined with the idea of “showers,” which suggests a picture of refreshment. This understanding is made explicit in tev, with its like refreshing dew sent by the LORD … like showers on growing plants. The difficulty with this understanding is that the picture it gives of the effect of Israel on the nations is very different from the picture in verse 8 (see the discussion of verse 8 below).
There is a further difficulty in verse 7, however. The two relative clauses at the end of the verse, “which tarry not for men nor wait for the sons of men” (rsv), are parallel to each other and are clearly a double statement with a single meaning. But it is hard to know which noun these clauses describe. In Hebrew the verbs in the relative clauses are singular, and the clauses could thus describe any of the singular nouns in the earlier part of the sentence, namely “grass,” “dew,” or even “remnant.” The word “remnant” is the most distant but is taken as the antecedent of the verb in jb. Knox seems to take “grass” as the antecedent, while rsv, nab, neb, niv, and Phps take “dew,” and mft is ambiguous. The surface meaning of the relative clauses does little to help in making a decision. Neither “dew” nor “grass” can be said to wait for men in any literal sense, but probably a better figurative sense is obtained if the relative clauses are understood to refer to the dew. Dew was recognized as a direct gift of God which man could do nothing to provide for himself, and the description here is probably an allusion to this. rsv accepts this understanding but departs from the strict grammar of the Hebrew by making the verbs in the relative clauses plural and applying the clauses to both “dew” and “showers.” All the other versions that follow this interpretation do the same. This is justifiable because it does not change the basic meaning and makes for a smoother sentence in English. tev, in an effort to avoid both the grammatical ambiguity and the figurative expression, does not use relative clauses. Instead, in a separate sentence it expresses in plain language the meaning they convey by saying They will depend on God, not man. Grammatically this sentence refers back to The people of Israel who survive. Presumably tev also understood the relative clauses to refer to the dew and the showers. But since the dew and showers are only figures used to make a point about the people, tev has simply applied this point directly to the people. In this way tev gives a fairly clear meaning to this complicated verse. This is not the only possible understanding of this verse, as will be seen in the discussion of verse 8. However, it will be best to deal with the translation of verse 7 at this point, based on the meaning given by tev.
In order to show that the dew and showers are to be understood as helpful, tev says refreshing dew and growing plants. It may be possible to combine these ideas and say “dew and rain which God sends on plants to help them to grow well.” In areas of the world which have plenty of rain, people sometimes feel that it is pointless to mention the dew. They feel that the dew itself is so insignificant that it can hardly be said to help plants grow. As has been mentioned, this was not the case in the land of Israel.
The main idea of this verse seems to be that the people of Israel are in some way helping the nations among whom they live, although this point is not completely clear in tev. There is also the point that this work is not done by men alone but is the work of God himself. The meaning may be clearer of these two points of comparison are combined, “they will depend on God, not man, and they will do good to many nations.” They will depend on God could be translated as “God, not man, is the one who commands them” or “… tells them what to do.” Many nations means “the people of many countries.”
Verse 8 begins in a way very similar to verse 7. The phrase “remnant of Jacob” (rsv) occurs again, but the statement of where the remnant is located is expanded into two parallel phrases, “among the nations” and “in the midst of many peoples.” These phrases refer again to the people in exile, and their meaning is combined in the single phrase among the nations in tev, in order to avoid clumsy repetition. Verse 8 is parallel in structure with verse 7 and continues with a double simile, or comparison, just as verse 7 did. The similes are “like a lion among the beasts of the forest” and “like a young lion among the flocks of sheep.” They are parallel repetitions of a single image, and tev puts them together in a single comparison, with its like a lion hunting for food in a forest or a pasture.
The lion is a dangerous hunter, whether he is searching for wild animals in the forest or for sheep in a pasture. In the same way, the people of Israel who are left among the nations will be able to destroy their enemies, as verse 9 makes clear. tev has used a different expression for the “remnant” from that used in verse 7, but it is the same expression in the Hebrew. A translator can either use the same expression as in verse 7, or it may be possible by the use of pronouns to make clear that the same group of the people of Israel is being spoken of here. Or, if it sounds better to use a different term with the same meaning, as tev has done, that too is quite all right.
The remaining lines of verse 8 describe what a lion does when he gets among the sheep, helping to make more vivid the picture of how the people of Israel will deal with their enemies. As in verse 7, these last two lines of verse 8 are both relative clauses, but they are more complex in structure than those in verse 7. rsv follows the Hebrew structure closely: “which, when it goes through, treads down and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver.” There is no difficulty here with either the grammar or the meaning. tev expresses the same meaning, but with a sentence structure and a vocabulary which are much more natural in English: he gets in among the sheep, pounces on them, and tears them to pieces—and there is no hope of rescue. Pounces on them means “jumps on them” in the way cats do when catching prey. There is no hope of rescue can be translated “there is no one who can save the sheep from him.” In tev the lion is called he, but translators should of course follow the patterns of their own language. If a pronoun is used, it should be the appropriate one for a lion. In some languages it may seen strange to compare a group of people to a single “lion,” and it may be necessary to talk about “lions” instead.
The real problem is that the picture here of the effect that the people in exile will have on their neighbors is so different from that given in verse 7. The parallel structure of the two verses, which is closer in Hebrew than in English, makes it clear that they go together as a unit. Since this is so, we must come to one or the other of two conclusions. The first possibility is that these verses give opposite and complementary pictures of Israel’s relations with its neighbors in the exile. Many scholars do indeed accept the idea that one of these speaks of blessing and the other of destruction. Such contrasts can be found elsewhere, as in Proverbs 19:12, where images of a lion and dew are combined in one verse. Knox, Phps, and tev all make it clear that this is the interpretation they are following.
The second possible conclusion is that verse 7 does not refer to blessing. Some scholars interpret it in the light of 2 Samuel 17:12, where Hushai speaks of attacking David in these words: “we shall light upon him as the dew falls on the ground; and of him and all the men with him not one will be left” (rsv). Here the falling of dew is likened to a sudden, silent, and irresistible attack. tev has We will … attack him before he knows what’s happening. It is possible to see a similar meaning in 5:7, with both the dew and the showers of rain standing for the power of God, which is in no way dependent on man. If a translator prefers this understanding, he will have the following meaning in verse 7; “The people of Israel who survive among the nations will fall upon (or attack) their enemies just as suddenly as dew or rain falls on the plants. Their power will come from God, and not from man.” Such a translation will bring the message of verse 7 much closer to that of verse 8. Nevertheless, the majority of scholars prefer to understand the image of the dew in verse 7 in its more common meaning as something refreshing and helpful. This means that verses 7 and 8 describe different aspects of the people of Israel in their exile.
Verse 9 expresses much the same ideas as verse 8, but in simpler language. Some translators may prefer to make the connection between verse 8 and verse 9 clearer. This can be done by beginning verse 9 with something like “In the same way” or “In this way.”
“Your hand shall be lifted up over your adversaries” (rsv) describes a sign of victory (see Exo 17:11–13, where the people of Israel were victorious in battle as long as Moses kept his arms raised). To say “your enemies shall be cut off” is to speak of their utter defeat. The Hebrew verb for “cut off” is often used in this way, and its occurrence here foreshadows its use four times in verses 10–13. tev avoids mention of the symbolic gesture of raising the hand in victory, and also avoids the figurative use of “cut off.” Thus it expresses the sense of the verse in plain language as Israel will conquer her enemies and destroy them all. Israel means of course “the people of Israel.” tev refers to Israel as her in the expression her enemies, but translators should use whatever pronoun is natural in their own languages.
In Hebrew, the prophet speaks directly to the people of Israel in this verse, as shown by the “Your hand” in rsv. tev has felt that it is easier to translate this verse in the third person, but translators can keep the direct address by showing in their translations who it is that is spoken to: “Israel, you will conquer.”
Verse 10–15 form a single paragraph in which the prophet speaks about removing everything evil from the nation of Israel and stopping all activities related to idol worship. Verses 10–13 are similar to one another in form, and each begins with “and I will cut off.” This is a single word in Hebrew, a form of the verb KaraTh which occurred in verse 9, and is a key word in this section. In Hebrew, the word does mean “cut” in the literal sense, but it is also used in extended and figurative ways. In many languages it will not be possible to use the same word for each of the occurrences of KaraTh here. However, translators may be able to find some other word which they can use several times in this paragraph, even if it is not always used to translate KaraTh. tev has done something like this with its repetition of the word destroy. The first time it occurs (verse 10) it translates a different Hebrew verb, but in the other three occurrences it translates KaraTh. If some repetition of this kind can be used in other languages, it may help to convey some of the rhythm of the Hebrew and some of its emotional impact.
The whole paragraph is the direct word of the Lord and is placed in quotation marks in tev. The Lord is speaking to the people of Israel here, and some translators may need to make this clear so that readers will know who you and your refer to in this quotation. The you is singular in Hebrew, but it will probably need to be translated by a plural in many languages.
The opening expression “in that day” (rsv) refers to an indefinite point in the future, as in 4:6, and is translated At that time in tev. In the present context it follows verses 7 and 8 which speak of the time of the exile, and it probably refers to the same period also. Historically, it was indeed during the exile that the people of Israel finally overcame the temptation to worship idols. This practice, though repeatedly condemned, had never been completely removed during the period of the kings.
However, before mentioning false religion specifically, this passage first deals with reliance on human military strength. The Lord declares that he will take away your horses and destroy your chariots. The prophets often condemned Israel for relying on such things, because this frequently involved military alliances with foreign powers, and such alliances could mean that a certain amount of recognition would have to be given to foreign gods. See for instance Isaiah 2:7–8; 30:15–16; 31:1; Hosea 14:3. As has been mentioned already, the word translated here as take away is literally “cut off,” which means to destroy completely. tev used a different word here in order to use the word destroy with chariots. Some translators may prefer to use a single verb with both horses and chariots and say “I will destroy all your horses and chariots.” Horses were used only for war in Israel at that time, but modern readers who do not know this may wonder why all the horses should be destroyed. It may be clearer to state explicitly that these are “war-horses” or “horses used for war.” The horses pulled the chariots and sometimes were also ridden by soldiers. Chariots are discussed in the comments on 1:13.
Verse 11 continues on the same theme, with a further threat to destroy the cities in your land and tear down all your defenses. It may be that this verse is really using a double expression to speak of a single object: cities and defenses together may simply mean “fortified cities.” The word translated defenses means any place which has been fortified or strengthened to make it easy to defend against an enemy army. It can refer both to places in the mountains which have been fortified, and to fortified cities.
In verse 12 we meet the first direct mention of false religion. The Lord promises to destroy the magic charms you use, and leave you without any fortunetellers. The practice of magic and fortunetelling was condemned clearly in the Law (Lev 19:26; Deut 18:9–14) but was nevertheless carried on in Israel, as is indicated in 1 Samuel 28; 2 Kings 21:6. The aim of magic is to get power over other people or things, and the aim of fortunetelling is to obtain information about the future. The terms used here are general ones, and as such activities are still widespread, many translators will easily find suitable terms in their own languages. Magic charms refers to various kinds of things which a person might wear or might use in some other way. They were things believed to have some sort of magic power. If there is no word for fortunetellers, these are “people who tell others what is going to happen to them in the future.”
In verses 13 and 14 the Lord condemns the objects used in pagan worship. Three specific types of object are mentioned, idols and sacred stone pillars in verse 13, and images of the goddess Asherah in verse 14. Idols were images carved out of wood or stone. Their use was forbidden in the Ten Commandments (Exo 20:4). Sacred stone pillars were frequently used in Canaanite fertility religion to represent the male deity, and images of the goddess Asherah were wooden poles which represented the female deity.
The people of Israel had been told to break down the pillars (Exo 23:24) and to cut down the images of Asherah (Exo 34:13), but they had never destroyed all of them. These objects were not only symbols used in pagan worship, but they also showed that the people of Israel had rejected their own God. In order to make the nation pure again it was necessary to remove all such evil things. Since the people had not done so, the Lord says that he himself will do it. It is unlikely, of course that many languages will have terms which exactly fit all of these different kinds of idols, but translators should at least be able to describe them as images, stone pillars, and wooden poles which the pagan peoples worshiped.
Sacred is merely a word which shows that the people considered their idols to have spiritual significance or power. The fact that the pagan people worshiped these idols shows why God was angry about them.
These items are only things that you yourselves have made (“the work of your hands” rsv). It is therefore ridiculous for the people to worship such things. Accordingly the Lord will no longer permit the people to worship them. Worship can be translated by such expressions as “to pray to,” “to bow down to,” “to serve,” “to honor,” or “to respect as someone very great.”
At the end of verse 14 the Lord says again that he will destroy your cities (tev and rsv). The repetition of cities, which was already mentioned in verse 11, may be a way of rounding off the list. However, some translations such as jb, mft, and Phps translate as “images” or “idols.” This meaning is obtained either by making a change of one letter in the Hebrew text from areKa to TsireKa (as suggested by, for instance, Deissler), or else by supposing that Hebrew had a word identical in form with the word for city, but bearing the meaning “idol” (Allen). This meaning fits better with the rest of verses 13 and 14.
The final verse, verse 15, is somewhat separate in thought from the rest of this paragraph, In it the Lord looks beyond his own people to the Gentile nations. In the case of his own people he intends to purify their religion and to renew their relationship with himself. But in the case of the Gentiles he intends simply to punish.
“Anger and wrath” (rsv) is another example of using two words to express a single meaning. It is accordingly translated great anger in tev. In his great anger the Lord will take revenge on all nations. The reason given is that they have not obeyed me. The thought seems to be that if God’s own people need to be punished for their sins, how much more will the heathen nations deserve it. (Compare 1 Peter 4:17–18 for a similar train of thought.)
Some translators may feel that the word for revenge in their languages would not be correct to use about God here, as it may be considered immoral. The word here can be translated as “punish,” since the Hebrew word applies to the acts which a king must do to those who refuse to obey his authority.
It will be necessary in some languages to restructure this verse and say something like “I am also very angry with all the nations that have refused to obey me, and so I will take revenge on them (or, punish them).”
The Lord Accuses and Comforts His People 6:1–7:20
Micah Chapter 6
Chapters 6 and 7 form the third and last section of the book. Some scholars see them as made up of various paragraphs having little connection with each other, but it is possible to see the whole section as having a coherent flow of thought. This view is set forth by Mays in his commentary. Views which show how a text fits together are generally more useful to translators than views which emphasize diversity, and for this reason it is worthwhile to summarize Mays’ position.
The opening verses of the section (6:1–5) take the form of a court case in which the Lord brings charges against his people. This much is accepted by all scholars, but there is considerable disagreement about whether the form of the court case extends further than verse 5. Mays believes that it does, and that 6:6–7 are the response of the people, or of one Israelite who represents the people, to God’s charge. 6:8 is then the reply of the Lord’s representative, correcting this Israelite’s mistaken ideas. In 6:9–16 the Lord announces his judgment on his guilty people. In 7:1–10 the city of Jerusalem is personified as a feminine figure who responds with an utterance of both confession and hope. In 7:11–13 the Lord reassures them with a promise of salvation. And finally in 7:14–20 the people reply with a prayer for the fulfillment of the promise (7:14–17) and with a note of praise to God for his faithfulness and mercy (7:18–20).
Thus Mays sees the whole section as united by the interchanges between the speakers, and he believes that the court setting continues from 6:1 to the end of the book.
Other scholars hold that the court scene extends only to 6:5 (Smith, Wolfe, Deissler), 6:8 (Goldman, King, Allen) or 6:16 (McKeating), and they thus give different explanations for those parts of the section which they exclude from the court scene.
The Lord Accuses His People Mic 6:1–5
This section sets the stage for the court scene. The Lord, as plaintiff or accuser, is called to present his case against his people, Israel. The mountains and other natural features are summoned as witnesses, and the statement of the case begins.
The heading may be easier to translate if it contains a verb, for example “The Lord accuses Israel.” The vocabulary chosen should if possible suggest legal procedures.
The verse opens with a summons by the prophet to Listen. Here, as elsewhere in (Micah 1:2; 3:1, 9), this word indicates the beginning of a new section. The verb is plural in Hebrew, but we are not told who is being spoken to. We may assume it to be the people of Israel.
The object of the verb Listen to is literal “what the LORD says” (rsv), but tev has expanded this to the LORD’s case against Israel. The use of the legal term case prepares the reader for the court scene which follows, and many translators will find it helpful to use similar terminology. Case refers to any matter which a person may bring to a court of law. In some languages this idea will have to be expressed as a verb such as “accuse.” This may then be expressed as “Listen to what the LORD accuses Israel of doing.”
The second clause of the verse has the verb Arise in the singular, while Listen in the first clause is in the plural. This shows that someone different is being spoken to. If this clause is understood to be spoken by the Lord, as rsv seems to understand it, then it is probably addressed to the nation of Israel. The singular would then be a figurative way of addressing the whole group. By this understanding, the people would thus be summoned to state their case in answer to the accusation which the Lord is about to bring. Some scholars have understood the singular verb to be addressed to the prophet, calling him to speak as an advocate on behalf of the Lord. Others, however, point out that there is no parallel to this in other court scenes in the Old Testament. tev with is Arise, O Lord, and present your case understands this clause to be spoken by the prophet and addressed to the LORD. Since the clause which precedes and the one which follows are both the words of the prophet, it seems best to understand this middle clause also to be his words, and addressed to the Lord.
Arise means “Stand up,” as someone might do who was about to make a speech. It can be translated as “Get ready to speak,” or it can be omitted.
Present your case means to explain in court your understanding of the matter the court is supposed to make a judgment about. In this context it may be translated as “accuse the people.” It may seem strange that the Lord should present his case, as though someone could serve as judge over him, and it is possible to understand that the Lord himself is both the judge and the one who accuses the people. However, even if the Lord is seen as only one of the participants in the trial, we must remember that this language is figurative and is used to make a point more vividly. If we do not understand the Lord to be the judge, then we are not told who the judge is, and it is likely that the prophet was not concerned about filling out all the details of the picture.
The mountains and the hills are called upon as witnesses, as are other features of the natural world in other Old Testament court scenes (see also Deut 4:26; 30:19; 31:28; Psa 50:4; Isa 1:2; 41:1; Jer 2:12). In the Hebrew they are mentioned in separate clauses, but in tev the two nouns are put together in one clause, as this sounds better in English. Mountains and hills here are simply parallel expressions. If there are not two convenient terms in a language, it is quite acceptable to use only one term.
The Hebrew imperative verb translated let … hear is again in the plural, since its subject hills is plural. In some languages it may seem very strange to speak to the mountains and hills and to ask them to do things. This is of course only figurative language, but it is a major part of the total image being created by the prophet in these verses, and it will be good to keep it, if possible. In some cases it may be possible to turn the image into a simile and say “the mountains and hill should be like the witnesses in the trial.”
It is necessary to note that the mountains and the hills are not called to give evidence, like the witnesses in a modern law court. Rather they are called to witness or observe the trial itself. Some scholars think that they are called to witness the trial because they were in existence at the time the original covenant was made between the Lord and his people, and thus were in a sense witnesses at that time also.
rsv “voice” is a literal translation of the Hebrew. The meaning is brought out plainly in tev what you say. Some translators will need to follow tev in dropping the figure of speech, but for many others, a more literal translation of “voice” will be perfectly natural and will carry the right meaning clearly.
Here the prophet addresses the witnesses directly and calls them to listen to the LORD’s case. The mountains are repeated from verse 1, but in place of the hills, the everlasting foundations of the earth are summoned as witnesses. These parts of the natural world were also witnesses to the original covenant which the Lord made with his people, as mentioned above. Therefore they are called now as witnesses in this court case, because they will be in a position to confirm the strength of the Lord’s complaint against his people. This complaint is essentially that they have broken the covenant. The everlasting foundations were pictured by the people of Israel as pillars upon which the earth was supported (see neb), just as people might build a house supported on wooden posts. These pillars were thus the foundations of the earth. This idea is of course quite different from our modern understanding of the way the world actually is, and some translators may feel that there is no need to translate so as to show old views which are no longer accepted. But on the other hand, we should not translate so as to suggest that the ancient people believed things about the world which have only been discovered more recently.
There are at least three possible approaches to translation in situations like this. First, one can try to use an expression which gives modern readers some idea of what the people of Israel actually believed. This is what neb has done with its “you everlasting pillars that bear up the earth.” Second, one can use a term which fits both the modern ideas and the ancient ones. This does not draw attention to the old ideas but at least does not deny them. This seems to be what tev and rsv have done with the word foundations, which is accurate but is also a possible way of describing modern ideas of the world. Third, it is possible to add a footnote to explain in more detail what was originally meant by this expression.
tev can be understood to suggest that the mountains and the foundations are the same things described in two different ways. However, it seems better to assume that two different parts of the natural world are being spoken to here.
These foundations or pillars were the oldest and most unchanging part of the world, and it is in this sense that they are called “enduring” (rsv) or everlasting. This may be translated as “very strong” or “firmly in place.”
The meaning of the rest of the verse is quite clear. It basically summarizes the position already outlined: The LORD has a case against his people. He is going to bring an accusation against Israel. Has a case against means basically the same thing as bring an accusation against, and it may be necessary in some languages to combine these two parallel lines into one line. If this is done, the translator should be sure to include both Israel and his people in this line. The use of the term his people suggests that the accusation will be about breaking the covenant with Israel that made them his people.
This verse begins the actual words of the Lord, so tev has added the words The LORD says to make this clear. The Lord opens his case, but instead of a series of accusations, he starts with questions which are defensive in nature. It is as though Israel were accusing the Lord rather than the other way round. The assumption is that the people by their conduct have already acted as though the Lord had not kept his side of the covenant. Therefore he asks his questions, My people, what have I done to you? How have I been a burden to you? to demand an explanation of their apparent grievances. To be a burden is literally “to weary” or “to make someone tired.” It can be translated as “to give trouble to” or “to make someone’s life difficult or heavy.”
The questions are followed by the command Answer me, but the people give no answer. (Compare the German common language translation [gecl] “Why do you not answer?”) The implication is that since the people really have nothing to complain about, they cannot answer and so their behavior is not justified. Once this point has been made, the way is open for the Lord to state how he has kept his side of the covenant and blessed his people. This makes the people’s failure to serve the Lord stand out very clearly, and thus the whole paragraph (verses 3–5) amounts to an indirect but very effective accusation.
In other places, sentences which are questions in Hebrew can often be replaced by statements which convey the same meaning. However, in this passage such a procedure is unlikely to work. Here the questions are real questions, not merely rhetorical ones, and the absence of any answer to them is part of the logical development of the paragraph. If this form of argument will not be clear in the receptor language, it may be helpful to include a sentence at the end of verse 3 to the effect that “you cannot answer me.” Verse 4 can then begin with some expression of strong contrast, such as “Far from being a burden to you, I have helped you (or, done only good to you). I brought you out of Egypt.…”
The words of the Lord continue in this verse and the next. The argument proceeds by stating some of the ways in which the Lord had blessed his people and thus carried out his obligations to them under the covenant. The two statements I brought you out of Egypt and I rescued you from slavery are two ways of referring to the events of the exodus. These two expressions are often joined together (see Exo 13:3; Deut 5:6; 6:12; Jer 34:13). God’s covenant with the people of Israel was actually based on the fact that he had saved them from Egypt (Exo 20:2). The acts of mercy mentioned in this verse therefore occurred before the covenant itself, before the Lord had such formal obligations to the people.
Slavery is literally “the house of slavery,” which is a figurative way of talking about Egypt in terms of the experience of the Israelite people there. If there is no good term for slavery in a language, this may be translated “the place where we were forced to work very hard.” A term like “prison labor” may be correct in some languages. Translators should be sure that it is clear that the two expressions (brought you out of Egypt and rescued you from slavery) refer to the same act, not to two completely separate acts.
It is also important to be sure that the connection between verses 3 and 4 is clear. One suggestion about this was given at the end of the discussion on verse 3. mft connects them by putting verse 4 in the form of rhetorical questions, such as “Did I not bring you up from Egypt’s land?” tob uses ironical questions which ask “Did I trouble you by bringing you up from Egypt?” and so on. In Hebrew the word for “be a burden” in verse 3 also sounds very much like “bring you out” in verse 4, which helps to show the contrast between what the people seem to think God did and what he actually did for them. In some languages it may be effective to use words with similar sounds as the Hebrew does.
Another thing that the Lord had done was to send Moses, Aaron, and Miriam as leaders of the people, at the time of the exodus and afterward. Aaron and Miriam are mentioned only here in the writings of the prophets. They were both older than Moses, and probably Miriam was the oldest of the three. Translators need to consider the rules of their languages, and decide whether it will be more natural to list the most important first or the oldest first. In languages where it is the custom to mention the oldest of a family first, the translator may give the names in reverse order: Miriam, Aaron, and Moses. In Hebrew and English, Moses is mentioned first because he was the main leader of the people. I sent them to lead you may be translated as “I chose them as your leaders.”
In this verse, two more events are mentioned which show how the Lord had blessed and protected those he called my people. First, he bids them remember the story of King Balak of Moab and the prophet Balaam. Micah here takes for granted that his hearers are familiar with the story told in Numbers 22–24. Balak planned to have Balaam curse the people of Israel, but instead the Lord gave Balaam words of blessing to say, and he answered the king in a manner opposite to what the king wanted. The incident is seen as another example of the Lord’s intervention on behalf of his people. This event had taken place in the early history of the people of Israel, hundreds of years before the time of Micah. Remember of course does not mean remembering something that had happened directly to them, but rather it means remembering the story that they had heard many times. Similarly, when tev speaks of what Balak planned to do to you, or when the Lord speaks of what he did for you in verse 4, “you” must be understood as referring to the people of Israel as a group continuing over a long period. If “you” cannot be used in this way in some languages, “your ancestors” or some such expression should be substituted.
Translators using cross references should have one to Numbers 22–24 at this verse, but in some cases it may be necessary or at least helpful to add a little of the implicit information in the translation itself. For example, one may say “remember how King Balak of Moab wanted to harm you and how the prophet Balaam son of Beor told him that I would only do good to you.”
The second incident is mentioned in so few words that some scholars think there is something missing from the Hebrew. (See jb, for instance.) The Hebrew merely says “from Shittim to Gilgal,” but it is fairly obvious that Micah is referring to “what happened from Shittim to Gilgal” (rsv). Shittim was the last Israelite camp on the east bank of the Jordan (Josh 3:1), and Gilgal was their first camp in the promised land on the west bank (Josh 4:19). The event which took place between these two camps was of course the miraculous crossing of the river Jordan (Josh 3–4). This is what the prophet is referring to here as a further example of the Lord’s action in support of his people. Since the names of the two camps will not be familiar to most readers, it may be useful to add a footnote or to make explicit the reference to the crossing of the Jordan. Where tev has Remember the things that happened on the way from the camp at Acacia to Gilgal, a fuller translation base may be “Remember how you crossed the River Jordan on the way from the camp at Acacia to the camp at Gilgal.” Camp has been added by tev to show the significance of the place-names. It refers to a place where the people put up their tents and stayed temporarily during their wanderings.
Note also that tev has translated the name Acacia rather than following the usual custom of transliterating place-names. This is done here to avoid the unfortunate sound in English of the Hebrew name Shittim. Few other languages will need to do the same in this verse, but translators should be aware of the possibility that other Hebrew names may accidentally sound like bad words in their own language. If this happens, then the name should be translated or else altered slightly in spelling to avoid suggesting the bad word.
tev translates the end of the verse as a separate sentence which summarizes verses 4 and 5, Remember these things and you will realize what I did in order to save you. Note that tev has added the words Remember these things in order to make clear the meaning that is carried over from the previous sentences. In the Hebrew, the Lord refers to himself in the third person (“the saving acts of the LORD” rsv), but tev turns this into a first person form (what I did) in order to produce natural English. Most translators will need to do the same. To save you could be translated “to help you.” The words translated what I did in order to save you could also be understood as “that all my actions toward you have been righteous” or “… faithful.”
The People Respond Mic 6:6–8
Micah 6:6–16 contains three units: (1) the response of the Israelites to the Lord’s charge made in the previous paragraph (6:6–7); (2) the comment of the prophet upon that response (6:8); and (3) the Lord’s judgment upon his people (6:9–16). The first two of these units go closely together, and the tev section heading What the LORD Requires refers to them. The third unit is rather distinct in content, and therefore some translators may prefer to add another section heading at 6:9 (see introduction to verses 9–16).
As for the heading before verse 6, many translators will need to restructure it and say “The conduct which the LORD requires” or “The way the LORD’s people should behave,” or something along these lines.
In verses 6–7 we have a response to the accusation which the Lord made against his people in the previous paragraph. The response is expressed in the singular and is probably to be understood as coming from one man who represents the whole people of Israel. It seems most likely that we are to assume that the speaker is genuinely repentant and is sincerely seeking to please the Lord. He makes suggestions which are put in the form of questions, asking how this may be done. These questions concern various kinds of sacrifices, since the sacrificial system was the background with which he was familiar.
The two clauses of the first sentence of verse 6 are joined together in rsv by the conjunction “and.” The actual relationship between these clauses, however, is better expressed by the when of tev, for it is at the time when the speaker comes to worship that he has to bring to the LORD some suitable offering. Bring here means “bring as a gift.” Translations of worship are discussed in the comments on 5:13. Here the Hebrew says literally “to how down before,” which many translators may be able to use. The Lord is referred to as the God of heaven, this being the meaning of the literal “God on high” of rsv. Heaven here refers to the place where God lives. The translator should be careful to avoid any expression which suggests that God is only in heaven and is not the God of the earth also.
The second sentence of the verse mentions in rsv “burnt offerings” and “calves a year old,” as though they were two different kinds of offering. In fact this is another example of hendiadys, a figure of speech in which one idea is expressed in two ways: the calves are the animals for the burnt offering. This is made clear in tev: Shall I bring the best calves to burn as offerings to him? The calves are described in the Hebrew as “a year old” (rsv). There is no religious significance in the age, but animals a year old were considered more valuable than younger ones. This meaning is adequately conveyed in tev, the best calves. In burnt offerings the whole animal, normally a male, was consumed by fire on the altar, and the worshiper was not allowed to eat any part of it (Lev 1:9, 13). Only the rich could afford to treat valuable year-old calves in this way. Calves in English refers to young bulls or cows, but in some languages it may not be correct to use such a term after the animals are one year old. In such cases a translator should use the appropriate term in his language.
In verse 7 the offerings suggested gradually increase in size and value until they reach a climax which is both horrifying and self-defeating. It was quite beyond the ability of the ordinary Israelite to offer thousands of sheep, though on rare state occasions such huge offerings were made (1 Kgs 8:63; 2 Chr 30:24; 35:7). Some translators may need to express the sex of the sheep. As the rsv “rams” indicates, they were males. Be pleased here means that the Lord will consider that the offering is a good one and will accept it, and therefore he will accept and be happy with the one who brings it.
The next suggestion the worshiper makes is literally “ten thousands of rivers of oil” (rsv). The numeral is not meant literally and simply stands for a very large number. tev expresses this well with its endless streams. tev also makes it explicit that the kind of oil was the olive oil which was required to accompany grain offerings (compare 6:15; and see for example Lev 2). Endless streams of olive oil would therefore imply grain offerings vast beyond imagination. Translators should find a good expression in their own language to suggest a huge amount of liquid. It is not likely that endless streams will be the right solution in many languages. In languages where the olive or olive oil is not known, the word chosen for oil should suggest cooking oil. Olives are a kind of fruit which grows on a tree (see Fauna and Flora of the Bible, olive. Another possibility is to say “enough oil to go with huge grain offerings.”
In the last part of verse 7 the speaker seems to realize that all his suggestions are futile. At the climax or the list he suggests something that was forbidden in Israel, namely, child sacrifice. Although this practice was forbidden, it was nevertheless sometimes carried out, as for instance by King Ahaz in 2 Kings 16:3. Perhaps some reference to this event is intended here.
In the Hebrew this suggestion is made in two parallel clauses (see rsv), with synonyms for child (“my first-born” and “the fruit of my body”) and for sin (“transgression” and “sin”). In tev Shall I offer him my first-born child to pay for my sins? this parallelism is combined into a single clause, and there is no repetition of synonyms. Many translators will find this shorter form of expression more natural in their own languages. First-born means oldest. The rsv phrase “the sin of my soul” probably means “my own personal sin” and is adequately conveyed by my sins of tev. The intended purpose of the child sacrifice was to remove sin, and this is made explicit in to pay for of tev. Of course, the killing of one’s child counted as murder, and if carried out it would in fact increase the sin of the speaker, not remove it. The sacrifice of the highest possible value is thus shown to be useless in pleasing God. In this way the speaker is partially prepared for the answer that comes from the prophet in the next verse, which ignores the sacrificial system entirely. (Compare Heb 10:4.)
Because human sacrifice is so opposed to the teaching of the Bible, many readers may not realize that this is the meaning here unless it is made very clear. It may be expressed as “Shall I kill my first-born child as an offering?” To pay for may cause problems for some translators. If there is a word to express the payment or other action which is required by the law in order to put right the bad effects of a crime, this can perhaps be used here. In some languages it may be necessary to mention these events in the order in which they occurred and say something like “I have sinned, so should I sacrifice my child to God to pay for my sins?”
This verse is the reply to the questions of the previous two verses, and the prophet himself says these words as spokesman for the Lord. In tev the link with the preceding question is brought out by the introductory word No, which shows that this verse is a reply and that it rejects the assumptions of the previous speaker. Many translators will find it helpful to use some similar link. The previous speaker is addressed literally as “O man” (rsv), a term so general that it strengthens the view that the speaker was a representative of the whole nation. As there is no good equivalent in English, tev drops this vocative, or term of address, and many translators will wish to do the same. But in other languages it will be necessary to keep a term of address. The translator will have to decide whether to use “man” or some other general term.
As is expected after a vocative, the speaker is addressed in the second person. tev has changed this “you” to a first person plural us, which has the effect of including the prophet with the people he is speaking to. But this example is not followed by gecl, and there seems to be no good reason for other translators to follow tev here. If a second person pronoun is retained, it may be singular or plural according to the usage of each receptor language. Some languages cannot use a collective singular in addressing a group, and in these languages a plural will be required.
The subject of the verb told (“showed” rsv) is not altogether clear in Hebrew. Some translators, both ancient and modern, assume that the verb is passive, and so translate without naming anyone as the actor, as in “What is good has been explained to you” (jb). The majority, however, believe that the verb is active, with the subject “He” (as rsv). There is no noun in the immediate context this pronoun to refer to, but the general context makes it clear that the subject must be the LORD (tev) or “God” (neb). Both the LORD and “God” are used in the Hebrew of this verse, so a translator is free to use either one here. Translators should be careful, though, that the wording of this verse does not sound as though the Lord and God are two different persons.
The word good covers a broad area of meaning, and the term chosen to translate it should be a general term which refers to good moral qualities. The whole sentence the LORD has told us what is good refers in a comprehensive way to all the moral teaching the people of Israel have had. This includes both the written Law and the teachings of previous prophets. It may be clearer in some languages to say “the LORD has told us what is good for us to do.” The expression what is good also occurs in 3:2, though in a rather different context.
Micah then goes on to give his own summary of the Lord’s will as revealed through his predecessors. This summary is the best known sentence in the whole book and is indeed one of the high points of the Old Testament. In Hebrew it is put in the form of a question, as in rsv, but a number of modern versions such as jb and tev turn it into a statement. Many translators will also find it clearer to do this. What the Lord requires is explained in three brief phrases: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God. This reply completely ignores the sacrificial system which the speaker in verses 6 and 7 was thinking about, and it expresses God’s will in moral rather than ceremonial terms. The prophet’s point is that the outward and ceremonial forms of religion should reflect an inner moral relationship with God, and without this relationship all ceremony is useless.
Requires of you can be translated as “asks you to do” or “expects you to do.” Some restructuring may be necessary in some languages. One possibility is “This (meaning ‘the following’) is the way the Lord wants you to live. He wants you to.…”
To do what is just (“to do justice” rsv) is a very broad term which involves right and fair relationships in the community, especially in legal and financial affairs. As 3:1 shows, this quality was often sadly lacking in the public life of Micah’s day.
Constant love is the Hebrew term heseD. rsv has “kindness” in the text, with the alternative “steadfast love” in a footnote. This term has a general sense of faithfulness and reliability, but it is especially used in connection with covenant relationships. It seems that this aspect of the word is in the prophet’s mind here. In verses 3–5 the Lord had accused his people of failing in their covenant obligations to him, and here constant love refers in particular to loyalty to the Lord as God of the covenant. But it also implies kindness in dealings with other men, since this is one of the obvious ways by which a man shows his relationship with God. Many translators will not have a single term to cover this wide area of meaning, and they may need to use a phrase such as “constant love to God and man.” Constant can be expressed as “faithful” or “lasting.”
The third phrase is literally “to walk humbly with your God” (rsv). Here “walk” is used in a figurative sense, and tev brings out its plain meaning with to live. In some languages it will be possible to retain the figurative term “walk” in this sense.
The word translated humble is a rare Hebrew term, occurring in the Old Testament only here and in Proverbs 11:2, where it is contrasted with “proud.” The meaning is not known for certain, but it probably means humble in the sense of not insisting on one’s own way but readily doing what God wants.
Fellowship with God can also be translated as “living one’s life by always doing God’s will,” though this would not suggest the close personal relationship implied by “walking with” or “fellowship.”
It has already been suggested above that most translators will want to follow the Hebrew and use “you” rather than “we” or “us” in this verse. However, even if this is possible in most of the verse, some translators may not want to have the prophet say “your God” here at the end, since in some languages this would sound as though he is denying that God is also his God. If this a problem, it is possible to translate either as “our God” or simply “God.”
The Lord Will Punish the Sins of the Leaders Mic 6:9–16
In this section the Lord resumes his accusations against his people which he began in verses 3–5. If an additional section heading is desired, it can be “The LORD will punish his people” or something similar.
Verses 9 contains difficulties both in text and in order. The question of order affects especially the line which comes in the middle of the verse in rsv, “and it is sound wisdom to fear thy name.” Most scholars believe that this line is a later scribe’s comment which has become incorporated into the text. It certainly disturbs the flow of the sense through the verse. Some modern translation omit it altogether (mft, jb), but there is no need to be quite as severe as this. tev makes the flow of meaning easier by placing this line at the beginning of the verse. This allows the more closely linked sentences before and after it to stand together. This reordering is only a point of translation procedure and does not depend on any reordering of the Hebrew text. The sentence It is wise to fear the LORD thus stands a little apart from the main body of the section. Note that in the literal form “thy name” (rsv), the name is understood to stand for the person, and tev makes this explicit by saying the LORD.
In some languages it may be necessary to restructure this line. One possibility is “If a person is wise, he will fear the LORD.” The person who fears the Lord is a person who knows the good way to act. Fear may include the idea of being afraid of, but its main meaning is to have great respect or reverence for, as a child might have toward its parents. In the Hebrew this sentence seems to be spoken directly to God, but tev has made it simply a statement. It can be translated as direct speech by showing clearly who is spoken to: “Lord, it is wise (for a person) to have reverence for you.”
The clause which opens the verse in rsv, “The voice of the LORD cries to the city,” contains a figurative use of “voice,” which here stands for the Lord himself. Some translators may be able to retain this figure expression, but many will need to follow the example of tev and state in plain language that it is the Lord who calls to the city. (Since the Lord has already been mentioned by name in the previous sentence, tev does not repeat the name but refers to him here with the pronoun He.) The city is generally understood to be Jerusalem, and some translators may think it best to make that explicit here. As is clear in the next line, it is the people of the city that the Lord is speaking to, and some translators may also need to make this explicit and say “He calls to the people of Jerusalem.”
In the last clause the Lord begins his direct address to the people. This part of the verse is the one which presents textual problems. The Hebrew text is practically unintelligible, but it is followed literally by kjv and even by the recent niv. niv has “Heed the rod and the One who appointed it.” It is hard to see what this is supposed to mean. The large majority of modern translation (rsv, jb, nab, mft, tev) and commentaries differ from this interpretation in three ways. First, they take the word translated “rod” in niv to mean “tribe” instead. In other passages, this Hebrew word sometimes means “rod” and sometimes means “tribe.” Second, they divide the Hebrew text so as to include the first word of verse 10 with verse 9. Third, they change three consonants in the Hebrew which a scribe could easily have copied wrongly. The meaning of their revised text is “tribe and assembly of the city” (rsv). The term “assembly” may refer to a formal gathering, but this is not certain. The two nouns “tribe” and “assembly” together stand for the people, and tev expresses this in more natural English as you people who assemble in the city. The word assemble may suggest that not all the people addressed actually lived in the city. This may in fact be one reason why the word “tribe” is used, to refer to the people of the tribe of Judah, whether they were citizens of Jerusalem itself or not. Even if they lived in smaller towns or villages outside of Jerusalem, they would gather or assemble in Jerusalem for important occasions.
This verse also has textual problems, as is shown by the footnotes in rsv and tev. The first word in the Hebrew haish may mean “Are there?” (as in kjv) but is usually taken to be a short form of writing a longer word. This is thought to be either haeshsheh “can I forget” (rsv, compare mft, neb, niv; and among commentators, Smith, Allen, and Mays) or haessa “can I bear?” (compare nab, jb, Deissler). Many translators and commentators also think that the Hebrew words translated in rsv, “in the house of the wicked,” are too repetitive, and they therefore omit them (jb, NAV, neb, mft, Mays, Deissler). However, despite these uncertainties the Hebrew text can make sense as it stands, and tev translates it without any changes or omissions.
Note, however, that the Hebrew is in the form of a question, to which the answer “Yes” is clearly expected. tev turns this into a positive statement in order to avoid any misunderstanding of the question.
The theme of this verse is similar to that of 3:1–4, namely social justice, the very opposite of what the Lord required in verse 8. Evil men have in their houses treasures which they got dishonestly. These treasures included not only money, but also all the rich goods and luxuries which money can buy. The adverb dishonestly may need to be expanded into “by cheating in business.” The following sentence shows that this is indeed its meaning.
The particular form of cheating mentioned here involved the use of false measures. The were measuring containers that held less than they should. When a customer bought something which needed to be measured, the merchant would measure it out with false measures, and the customer would get less than he had paid for. If it is difficult to express this concept in this way, a translator can try to describe what happened: “merchants cheat their customers by giving them less than they have paid for,” or something like that.
The Lord says that this is a thing that I hate. Thing here refers to the false measures, but if this is not mentioned in a translation, and the action of cheating is described instead, then a different word will have to be used in place of thing. A translator may say, for instance, “This kind of behavior is something I hate.” This type of cheating is mentioned frequently in the writings of the prophets (Hos 12:7; Amos 8:5).
Although the use of false measures was one way that the evil men became rich, it was obviously not the only way. The various things mentioned in this verse and in verses 11 and 12 should probably be understood as a list of various sins which are typical of the rich people. tev’s wording of this verse does not mean that all the treasures of the evil men were acquired simply by using false measures.
In this verse the same charge is repeated but in somewhat more detail. It is again in the form of a question. The rsv “Shall I acquit …?” does not suggest the answer, but tev with its How can I forgive …? makes it clearer that a negative answer is expected. The Lord cannot forgive this kind of wicked behavior, and some translators may need to recast this verse in the form of a negative statement, “I cannot forgive.…”
The type of scales used were the kind still used in many areas of the world today, with two dishes hanging from a bar. Weights would be put on one of the dishes, and the thing to be weighed on the other dish. The easiest way to cheat when using scales was to use false weights. On the other hand, there may have been ways of changing the scales themselves so as to cheat the customer. No matter how it was done, the result was that the customer got less than he paid for. The Hebrew mentions “a bag of deceitful weights.” Probably the weights for the scales were kept in bags. If there are no appropriate terms for these scales and weights in the receptor language, then it is not necessary to try to give all the details of the ancient culture. A translator can simply give the main point of the accusation as tev has done. Some translators may have to express the main point in quite a different way, however, such as “If a merchant cheats his customers when he weighs the goods he is selling them, how can I forgive him?”
This verse is in effect a general summary of the accusations of the two previous verses. The possessive Your refers to the city addressed in verse 9. In many languages it will not be possible to speak of rich men being “full of violence” (rsv), and many translators will need to follow tev in making a more general statement like exploit the poor. The Hebrew does not actually say who the rich men were exploiting, but it is reasonable to assume that it was the poor rather than other rich men. Many translators will need to make this explicit as tev does. Exploit means “to take advantage of,” “to mistreat,” or “to cheat.” If a language has a term which has this sort of meaning and which also implies rather violent actions, that will be particularly good.
In the second half of the verse, the two clauses of rsv, “your inhabitants speak lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth,” are parallel statements with the same meaning. When translated literally, the second clause sounds very strange in most languages (including English!), and tev accordingly combines the two clauses into one: all of you are liars. This conveys the meaning very adequately and also carries something of the emotional impact of the Hebrew with the strong word liars. Translators should try to maintain this impact in some way appropriate to their own languages. Note that the first part of the verse mentions only the rich men, but the second part speaks of all the inhabitants, apparently including both rich and poor.
Some translations place verse 12 between verses 9 and 10 (mft, nab, jb), but ordinarily there is no need to do this.
Verses 9–12 stated the accusations of the Lord against his people, and verses 13–16 state the punishment. If we continue to use the legal language of the court scene, we can say that the verdict on the people is “guilty” and these verses state the verdict. Verse 13 is a general introduction, verses 14 and 15 give specific details of the punishment, and verse 16 forms a closing summary.
Verse 13 consist of two clauses, as in rsv, but tev combines them into a single clause, and many translators will find it convenient to do the same. The Lord declares that he has already begun the set of events which will bring ruin and destruction on the city. Ruin perhaps refers more to commercial disaster, and destruction to military defeat, but the terms are general. More detail is given in the following verses. The reason for this punishment, because of your sins, is again emphasized. Note that in translating begun, rsv and tev are following the ancient Greek and Syriac translations. The Hebrew text says literally “I have made sick to smite you.” If this is followed, it must be understood in the sense of “deal you a crippling blow” (Allen), so the general meaning is about the same, whether one text is followed, or the other.
Since the actions of this verse are expressed as nouns in English and the reason is given last, it many be necessary to restructure these ideas in some languages. The verse can become “(In all these ways) you have sinned, therefore I have already begun to punish you and to destroy you.” The optional “In all these ways” can be added to show the relation of this verse to verses 10–12, but it should be remembered that the list of sins given in these verses is probably only a sample of all the evil that had been done.
This verse and the next give a series of statements parallel in structure. Each statement has two lines, or clauses, in the Hebrew. The first line describes some normal activity of the people, and the second line describes how the usual expected result of that activity will not happen. In these ways the people will be punished for their sins.
The main aspect of the punishment is hunger. The people will eat, but not be satisfied. Satisfied refers to the feeling of having had enough to eat. In some languages not be satisfied can be expressed as “you will still feel hungry.” In fact that case, this clause and the next will probably have to be combined.
The implication is that there will not be enough food, so that they will still be hungry. This second clause contains a word of unknown meaning. rsv “hunger” and tev hungry are both guesses based on the context, and they fit the context well. neb “your food shall lie heavy on your stomach” suggests indigestion rather than hunger, and matches neither the opening line nor the statements that follow.
The people will carry things off, but … will not be able to save them. The Hebrew does not indicate what kind of things are in mind. However, life in Micah’s day was mainly agricultural, and the references in the following verse are to farming, so that the things may refer to normal farm produce. If the people manage to keep anything long enough to save it, the Lord will destroy it in war. This is the meaning of the Hebrew “I will give to the sword” (rsv). Such an expression usually refers to the killing of people, but it can also have an extended sense and refer to the destruction of property. This is the way tev seems to take it, and it fits with the suggestion above that the things in mind are the agricultural products of verse 15. This second half of verse 14 is then a general statement to which verse 15 adds specific examples. Carry … off is probably best understood as meaning “carrying away so that the things can be stored for future use,” as one might do with certain crops, for example.
The purpose of putting these things away is to save them, but something will happen to the things, and the people will not be able to save them. This seems to contradict the next statement, anything you do save, but it is a typical Hebrew way of speaking. (Compare 1:7.) This contradiction may not bother readers in many languages, but if is a problem, the translator can make some small adjustment. For example, one can say “You will hardly be able to save any of these things, and the things you do save I will destroy in war.” I will destroy in war can be translated as “I will send your enemies to destroy.”
Three of the main products of the land are mentioned. First, the people will sow grain, but not harvest the crop. Thus there will be no flour to make bread, and the staple element of their diet will be missing. Sow means to plant by scattering on the ground, but the form of planting is not really important here, and it can be translated simply by the general word for “plant.” Not harvest the crop can mean either that someone else will harvest the crop, or that something will happen to the crop before harvest time and no one will harvest it. If a translator cannot use a general term, either one of these possibilities is acceptable.
Second, the people will press oil from olives, but never get to use it (British edition never be able to use it). Olive oil was used for cooking, for burning in oil lamps, and for anointing the body; its loss would be a severe hardship. There were various ways to press oil, and the one actually mentioned here was for people to walk on the olives. Here, too, a general term is quite acceptable, and some translators may need to say simply “make oil from olives.” The Hebrew here mentions only one way to use the oil, pouring it on the body (“anoint yourselves” in rsv). If olive oil is used this way in a particular culture, it may be good to mention such a specific use in a translation. Otherwise a more general expression like tev’s can be used.
Third, the people will make wine, but never drink it. Wine was a normal daily drink and was very important in a country where water supplies were scarce and often impure. The way to make wine was also by walking or treading on the grapes. When this process was finished, the juice (or new wine) would have to ferment for some time before it became good wine. In areas where winemaking is known, and there are terms for the different stages in the process, translators may be able to follow the Hebrew closely and say “You will tread out the juice from the grapes, but never drink the wine.”
The reason why the people would not harvest the grain, use the oil, or drink the wine is not stated, but in the light of verse 14 it seems most probable that an enemy army would come and either destroy these things or take them for themselves.
This verse repeats the accusation that the people have been disloyal to God, and it also repeats the threat that God will punish them.
Here the people’s sin is stated in terms of a historical example. They had “kept the statutes of Omri, and all the works of the house of Ahab” (rsv). Omri was politically one of the most important kings of the northern kingdom of Israel. He ruled from 885 to 874 b.c. and was followed by his son Ahab from 874 to 853 b.c. The family of Omri held the throne longer than any other family in the northern kingdom, yet they were outstanding for their wickedness. Ahab encouraged people to worship foreign gods because he was under the influence of his pagan wife Jezebel. He is condemned especially for this in 1 Kings 16:23–24; 21:25–26.
Notice how tev has built into its translation some of the information which is only implicit in the Hebrew. The words This will happen because link this verse with those that precede. In the rest of the sentence, you have followed the evil practices of King Omri and of his son, King Ahab, the words evil, King, and his son are all added to make explicit to the modern reader information which was already known to the original headers or readers. Most translators will find it helpful to their readers if they do the same. Followed means “to do the same thing that someone else does,” or “to copy.” Evil practices could be translated as “the evil things they did.”
On the other hand, tev has translated the literal “of the house of Ahab” as of his son, King Ahab. “The house of Ahab” means Ahab and the others of his family who became kings. Ahab was followed as king first by one son, Ahaziah, then by another son, Joram or Jehoram. These were the last kings of Israel who came from the family of Omri and Ahab. Both Ahaziah and Joram are called evil kings (see 1 Kgs 22:52 and 2 Kgs 3:2). The whole line can be restructured as “you have done the same evil things that King Omri and his son King Ahab and the others of their family did.” Or it may be easier in some languages to say “… and his son King Ahab and his sons did.”
The people of Micah’s day, about 150 years later than Omri and Ahab, had followed the bad example of these kings and could thus be said to have continued their policies. Policies means “their usual way of acting.” Because of their evil deeds, the Lord would bring these people to ruin. This can be translated as “destroy your country.” The prophets probably thought that this would happen by sending an enemy army to conquer them. When this happened, all the neighboring nations would despise them. This is the meaning of the expression “make … your inhabitants a hissing” (rsv). In places where hissing is used as a sign of scorn, translators may be able to mention hissing, but even then they will probably need to expand the sentence and say “I will make the people of other nations hiss at you.”
The last sentence of the verse repeats the sense of the previous one. tev has restructured the literal translation of rsv into simple and natural modern English: People everywhere will treat you with contempt. People everywhere refers to “the people of other nations.” If this group has just been mentioned in the previous line, translators could just refer to them with a pronoun “they,” or perhaps one could even combine the last two lines of this verse, since the meaning of the two is so similar.
As the footnotes in rsv and tev show, the reading “peoples” or People everywhere follows the ancient Greek translation. If the Hebrew text is followed, the meaning of the final line is as in tev’s second footnote. The thought is then that the people of Israel deserve to be scorned by other nations, even though they are God’s people, because they have disobeyed him.
Micah Chapter 7
The Prophet Laments Over the Wickedness of the People Mic 7:1–7
Scholars vary in their opinions as to the exact limits of this paragraph. Some end it after verse 6, but both rsv and tev include verse 7. This seems a better division, as verse 7 is in the first person, like verse 1, and in contrast with verses 2–6. Thus it can be said to match verse 1 and to close the paragraph in a balanced way. Within the paragraph, verse 1 is the prophet’s outburst in figurative language, describing his loneliness and isolation. Verses 2–6 expand on this by speaking of the evil practices current in the society of the time. Verse 7 expresses hope in God in spite of the unfavorable outward circumstances.
As mentioned in the introduction to chapters 6 and 7, Mays believes that these verses are the words of the city of Jerusalem, which is personified as a feminine figure. Other scholars prefer to regard these verses as the words of the prophet himself. It is not possible to give an exact date for this section.
The section heading may need restructuring in many languages so as to include a verb. A suitable translation base can be “The people of Israel act wickedly” or “The evil deeds of the people of Israel.”
The opening phrase is a standard exclamation of despair in Hebrew, as is the rsv “Woe to me!” in English. It cannot be translated literally, but many translators will find some common expression in their language which will fit very well here. Others may have to use an ordinary sentence in much the same way as tev has done with It’s hopeless! Very few translators however will want to translate literally It’s hopeless! Hopeless means that there is no chance of succeeding. The whole sentence in tev then means “There is no change of doing what I am trying to do.” Other ways of putting this may be “All my work is wasted” or “I feel very sad.”
The picture in the rest of the verse is derived from the farming practices of Israel. After the main harvest had been gathered, the farmer was forbidden by the Law to go back over the fields or orchards to gather any grain or fruit that had been missed the first time (Lev 19:9–10; Deut 24:21). Whatever remained was to be left for the poor to take, or glean, as Ruth did (Ruth 2). Once the fields or orchards had been gleaned in this way by the poor, there really would be nothing left. Here Micah says he feels as disappointed as a hungry man would be if he went out to glean, but found that he was too late, and that no fruit was left on the trees and no grapes on the vines. Because the gleaners have already been at work, All the grapes and all the tasty (rsv “first-ripe”) figs have been picked. The Hebrew expression here is a rather difficult one, as seen in rsv. “I have become as when the summer fruit has been gathered.” Note that tev’s hungry is from the Hebrew phrase “which my soul desires,” but is applied to the person’s general desire for food rather than for “first-ripe figs” alone.
In some languages it may be necessary to say clearly that the man was looking for fruit and grapes, but finds none, although the idea of looking for them has been left implicit in both the Hebrew and tev.
If the translator wishes to keep “which my soul desires” (tev hungry) as a description of the “first-ripe (tasty) figs, “he may say”.… all the tasty figs which I would have liked so much have been picked.” In areas where grapes and figs are not known, it is usually better to use general terms for fruit and crops rather than to substitute particular fruits which are grown in the region but may not be known in Israel.
This verse and those that follow give the explanation of the figurative language in verse 1. The fruit that the prophet was looking for is identified as people who are honest and loyal to God. The word translated loyal to God (“godly” in rsv) is a form of the same Hebrew root translated as constant love in 6:8 and 7:18. Honest can be translated as “someone who does what is right.” Loyal here means “always obedient to God,” or “always doing what God wants,” and it includes the idea of acting right toward others, which is one of the main things God wants (6:8). The prophet says that there is no such person left in the land. Land is better than the “earth” of the rsv, since the prophet is concerned with his own nation in particular rather than the whole world.
The people are pictured as being so bad that Everyone is waiting for a chance to commit murder. This is the plain meaning of “lie in wait for blood” (rsv). Commit murder may be simply “kill other people” in many languages.
Everyone hunts down his fellow countryman is an expansion of the same idea. the word translated “brother” in rsv has a sense here which is wider than “member of the same family,” and so tev says fellow countryman. The Hebrew, followed by rsv, mentions the method of hunting as “with a net.” In areas where this method is known and used, translators may wish to include a reference to it, but where it is not known, translators may prefer to use a general term, such as hunts down in tev. This is of course only a figurative expression, and it should not be used at all if readers will think it literally describes the way the murder was done. It is a picture of how each person was eagerly searching for ways to take advantage of other people, and how everyone was eager to harm others if he thought he could help himself by doing so.
This verse has certain textual difficulties in the Hebrew. Some scholars feel it is incomplete as it stands (see jb). But even if this is true. the general sense is fairly clear. rsv understands this verse in essentially the same way as tev. The people are all experts at doing evil. Evil actions are the kind that they like to do, and that they do well. Those in the positions of authority, the officials and judges, do not do their work normally but ask for bribes. (Compare 3:9–11. Translation of “bribes” is discussed in 3:11.)
Justice is ignored, because the influential man tells those in authority what he wants, and so they scheme together to get it done. The phrase scheme together is literally “weave … together” (rsv), and some translators may be able to retain this figurative use of “weave.” The influential man means “the important man” or “the man with power.” He would usually be a rich man, and in some languages it may be necessary to translate this way.
There is a break in sense in the middle of this verse. The first half continues and completes the description of the evil of the time, while the second half begins an announcement of punishment. tev marks this change of topic by beginning a new paragraph in the middle of the verse, and many translators will wish to do the same.
The first half of the verse is expressed in Hebrew in two parallel clauses, as rsv shows. As in many other places, tev combines the two parallel clauses into one and says Even the best and most honest people are as worthless as weeds. In Hebrew, two specific plants, “briers” and “thorns,” are mentioned (compare rsv; see also Fauna and Flora of the Bible, briers). These may be retained if they are well-known as a nuisance to farmers. If they are not known, or if they are considered useful for some purpose, it may be better to translate with a more general expression like tev’s as worthless as weeds. Weeds are not particular types of plant but rather any plant which is not wanted. In some languages, particular plants may be commonly referred to as symbols of uselessness, and an expression of this kind will probably fit well in this context. However, translators should not introduce the names of plants significantly different from plants known in Judah in the eighth century b.c.
In some languages it may be difficult to compare good, honest people with something worthless. This is irony, or sarcasm, and when the prophet says they are good and honest, he does not really mean it.
The point is that if the best of the people are worthless, then all the others are really terrible. Many languages may be able to find a way to make this point with sarcasm, but it may be necessary to change the wording slightly. If it seems impossible to use sarcasm, then a translator can just something like “some of them are as worthless as briers and thorns, and the rest of them are even worse.”
In the second half of the verse the Hebrew has second person singular possessives (“your,” nab, niv; “thy, thine,” neb). Since it is not clear to whom these possessives refer, a number of modern versions and commentators have changed them to third person plural to match the context (rsv, bj, jb, tev, mft, Smith, Mays). But even then the Hebrew text is very condensed, as rsv shows. Therefore tev fills it out by making explicit the relationship which are to be understood between the different clauses. “The day … of their punishment has come” (rsv) is taken as the main statement, and tev makes explicit who will do the punishing: The day has come when God will punish the people. Day can be translated more generally as “time” if this sounds better. The people refers of course to the people just mentioned in the preceding lines, and a translator may need to say “these people.”
The “watchmen” of rsv are further identified as the prophets in tev, and tev also tells what the prophets did: as he warned them through their watchmen, the prophets. (The British edition of tev omits the words their watchmen, but they should be included.) The punishment will be as foretold and not something unexpected. The prophets are called watchmen because they are supposed to see trouble coming on the people and to warn them about it so that they can change their evil ways and be saved (see Jer 6:17; Ezek 3:17; Hos 9:8). Another way of expressing this idea may be “The prophets warned them that God would do this, just as watchmen warn people that their enemy is coming.”
As a result of this punishment, the people will be in confusion. This probably suggests the confusion arising from a military defeat (compare Isa 22:5, the only other place where the same word occurs). A translator should use a word which suggests that the people have no idea what they should do.
The result of the social evil described in verses 2–3 is that nobody can be trusted. The wisest advice the prophet can give is Don’t believe your neighbor or trust your friend. If it is difficult to find different words for neighbor and friend, it is possible to translate these two Hebrew expressions as “friend” and “special friend” or “close friend.” Believe and trust mean almost the same thing here, and if necessary the same word can be used, or this can be translated as “Do not trust your neighbor or even your friend.”
The relationships mentioned become increasingly close, and from neighbor and friend we even move on to wife. The Hebrew employs two figurative expressions in this sentence. “Guard the doors of your mouth” (rsv) sounds very strange in many languages if translated literally, and most translators will prefer to use plain language such as tev’s Be careful what you say. The second figurative expression is “her who lies in your bosom” (rsv). This reference suggests the intimacy of a sexual embrace and shows that there can no longer be full trust between people even in this, the most intimate of human relationships. The tev’s even to your wife conveys the basic meaning but loses the emotional effect of the Hebrew. Translators may be able to regain some of this effect by saying “your wife whom you love.”
The prophet expands on the theme of the breakdown of family relationships and gives three examples. tev begins this verse with In these times, which is simply a way of reminding the reader that Micah is talking about a particular period of time in this passage. These words do not actually appear in the Hebrew and do not need to be translated in just this way, but a translator should be careful that the translation does not sound as though these statements are true for all times and places. Verse 6 is describing the general situation at that time. It is because of this terrible situation that the prophet gave his advice in verse 5. The important thing is that translators find some way to show the correct relationship between the two verses. In some languages it may sound better to describe the general situation first (verse 6), and then to tell what people should do because of it (verse 5), so that order of the verses will be turned around. If a translator decides to do this, the two verses together should be numbered “5–6.”
tev, sons treat their fathers like fools, here catches well the emotional effect. Treat … like fools means to show no respect to them, or to look down on them, as though they were nothing but fools. Many languages may have one word which carries the meaning of these three English words (it is only one word in Hebrew). The corresponding attitude among women means that daughters oppose their mothers. Both actions involve breaking the commandment to respect your father and mother (Exo 20:12; Deut 5:16), so that this kind of behavior is in direct disobedience to God.
The third example involves young women who quarrel with their mothers-in-law. Since a daughter-in-law normally joined her husband’s family, it would naturally be the wives rather than the husbands who had most opportunity for contact with their in-laws and disagreement with them. This is why sons-in-law and fathers-in-law are not mentioned. In Hebrew the same verb (translated “rises up against” in rsv) refers to the relation between the daughter and the mother and between the daughter-in-law and the mother-in-law. For variety in style, tev has translated this as oppose in the first case, and as quarrel with in the second, but there is no need to try to follow these meanings exactly in another translation. The point is that these women, like the young men, are not showing proper respect to the senior members of their families. The breakdown of normal family life is so complete that a man’s enemies are the members of his own family.
This verse was quoted several times by Jesus in his teaching (Matt 10:35–36; Luke 12:53; see also Matt 10:21; Mark 13:12), but the wording is somewhat different from passage to passage, and the translator should not try to make the various forms of the text identical with each other.
Here the prophet speaks again in the first person, as in verse 1, but this time his words are full of confidence and hope in contrast to the despair of the earlier verse.
The opening words “But as for me” (rsv) convey quite a strong break from the previous verse. Whatever the problems of family life, perhaps even within his own family, Micah himself asserts that he will watch for the LORD. In some languages this may sound incomplete, and it may be necessary to complete the sense by saying “I will watch for the Lord to act” or something similar. It is possible that in some languages watch for will suggest too strongly that Micah expected actually to see God. If this is a problem, “wait for” can be used in this line as well as in the second line.
In the second half of the sentence, the meaning of the phrase “the God of my salvation” (rsv) is rather obscure, and so tev makes the relations between participants clear with God, who will save me. However, it may be necessary to restructure and say something like “I will wait for God because I am sure he will save me.” Save can be translated as “rescue,” “deliver,” or even “help me to stay alive.”
The final sentence, My God will hear me, may also need slight expansion in some languages in which one speaks of hearing a person’s words rather than hearing the person. An expression like “My God will hear my prayer” will probably be suitable. In many languages My God will be a meaningful expression which suggests an intimate relationship with God. In other languages, however, it may be necessary to say “God, whom I worship” or something similar.
The Lord Will Save His People Mic 7:8–13
The heading for this section is probably not difficult to translate. Something such as “The LORD will save his people” will be suitable in most languages.
This section develops the theme of hope and confidence introduced in verse 7. It consists of two paragraphs, verses 8–10 and 11–13, with different speakers for each paragraph. In the first paragraph a representative Israelite, or perhaps the prophet speaking on behalf of the nation, confesses sin and expresses the assurance that the Lord will in the end give victory to his people over their enemies. The pronouns in these verses are feminine, suggesting that the speaker is the “daughter of Zion,” a personification of the city of Jerusalem, such as also occurs in 1:13; 4:8, 10, 13. The historical identity of the enemy referred to is not known, but this is not of great importance to the translator. The enemy here can be seen as standing symbolically for all the enemies of God’s people through the ages.
In the second paragraph the prophet speaks on behalf of the Lord about the restoration of his people and the rebuilding of their city, in order to strengthen their confidence in the Lord.
In this verse, the speaker and the addressee are both singular in Hebrew (as shown in rsv). However, since these singular forms are to be understood as collective in meaning, tev translates them as plurals.
The verse opens with a command to the enemy, “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy” (rsv). tev turns this into a statement, Our enemies have no reason to gloat over us, but in many languages it will be perfectly natural to keep the form of a command.
The word gloat implies that the enemies are rejoicing with bad motives. It will help to strengthen the emotional effect of the verse in other languages if translators can find a term that implies something similar.
The reason why the enemy should not gloat is expressed in the two statement that follow. Both are figurative, and both contain two clauses, of which the second contrasts with the first. The figure in the first statement involves falling and getting up again, and in the second, darkness and light. These figures can usually be retained in translation, since they speak of universal human experiences and do not depend on particular features of Hebrew culture.
Notice that there may be several ways of expressing the contrasts between the two clauses in each figure. rsv has “When I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me,” using a subordinate temporal clause followed by a main clause. tev with its We have fallen, but we will rise again. We are in darkness now, but the LORD will give us light uses two main clauses linked by the conjunction but. The construction is different, but the underlying relationship expressed is basically the same. Translators should consider what constructions are available to them in their own languages to express this relationship of contrast, and should use the one which is most clear and natural. They should be careful that they do not translate the “when” of rsv or the but of tev literally without considering whether these terms express the correct relationships in their languages. They should be sure that the resulting construction in the receptor language really does carry the meaning of contrast.
Although tev says The LORD will give us light, the Hebrew is more precisely “the LORD will be a light to me (or, to us)” (see rsv), and it may be quite meaningful in many languages to express the idea in this way.
In this verse the speaker confesses the sins of the people and sees the punishment now taking place to be a result of these sins. But he also expresses hope that the Lord will eventually restore his people. In the opening sentence, rsv and tev again convey essentially the same relationship of cause and effect between the sin and the punishment, but again they do so by different constructions. rsv puts the result (“I will bear the indignation of the LORD’) before the reason (“because I have sinned against him”). tev puts the reason (We have sinned against the LORD) before the result (so now we must endure his anger for a while). Some languages prefer one order and some the other. Translators should of course follow the order which most naturally conveys the correct relationship in their own language.
The Lord’s anger here refers to the results of his anger, namely, the way that he is punishing the people of Israel. It may be necessary to make this clear in some languages and say something like “We have sinned against the LORD, so now he is angry with us, and we must accept our punishment.” At the end of this line tev has added for a while. This phrase brings out part of the meaning of the word “until” in the third line of rsv, showing that the experience of punishment will not last forever.
The middle part of verse 9 again uses the language of the law court and asserts that in the end the Lord will defend us. In the end means “after a while” or “eventually.” It is not a reference to the last judgment. Defend (“pleads my cause” in rsv) means to speak in court to convince the judge that someone is right. As in 6:1 (see the discussion there), this is figurative language, and we should not be troubled about who the judge is that the Lord is speaking to. The plain meaning is that the Lord is going to help them and see that justice is done. “Execute judgment” of rsv is explained in more detail in tev as right the wrongs that have been done to us. In languages which require the actor to be stated, this can be restructured as “put right the wrongs our enemies have done to us.”
In the last part of the verse, some translators may need to expand tev a little and say He will bring us out of the darkness into the light. As in verse 8, the images of darkness and light refer to the time of trouble and the time of peace.
The final clause of rsv, “I shall behold his deliverance,” is expanded to we will live to see him save us in tev. This makes the participants explicit, and many translators will wish to do the same. tev has translated live to see, where rsv follows the Hebrew more literally with one word, “behold.” These words are apparently spoken in a time of great trouble, when it would be easy to think that there is no hope and that all the people will be killed. These words not only express hope that the Lord will save them, but that the speakers themselves will actually see this happen. This idea is expressed well in English by the expression “live to see,” but in other languages it may be enough simply to say “we will see,” as the Hebrew does.
The enemies in verse 8 were ready to gloat over the defeat and misfortune of the Lord’s people. But when the Lord saves his people, the position will be reversed, and these enemies will see this and be disgraced themselves. This refers to the things that the Lord will do to save his people and bring them out to the light, as stated in verse 9. When they see this, the enemies will realize how great the Lord really is, and they will be disgraced. That is, they will feel great shame for what they have done and said to the people of Israel.
When the Lord’s people were suffering, their enemies interpreted this to mean that their God was unable to save them. Thus they asked the scornful question Where is the LORD your God? The fact that the question was not a request for information but was intended to be scornful is indicated in tev by the expression taunted us by asking. Many translators will find it helpful to use some term which carries implications of scorn similar to those carried by taunted in English.
This mocking question Where is the LORD your God? is not a real question but a rhetorical one. The enemies really meant that the Lord was nowhere, or at least that he was so weak that it did not matter where he was. If this meaning is not clear in a translation, then the translation should be restructured to make it clear. One possibility is to say “The Lord your God cannot help you.” Translators should try to make the words of the enemies sound mocking, like a taunt.
The enemies of God’s people will in their turn suffer the same kind of fate that they inflicted on others. Israel will see them defeated, trampled down like mud in the streets. The Hebrew translated We will see them is more literally “Our eyes will look at them.” This may mean simply that the time will come when God’s people see their enemies in this lowly position without saying how they feel about it. This is the meaning followed by the tev text. However, it is also quite possible that the Hebrew expression implies that God’s people will be glad to see their enemies trampled down. rsv “gloat over” follows this interpretation (compare jb, neb), and tev also gives this alternative in the footnote. “Gloat over” here can be translated as “be happy to see” or even “laugh at.”
Trampled down like mud in the streets: when people walk in the streets, they trample down any mud that may be lying there, without even thinking about it. By comparing their enemies to mud, the prophet is saying that the enemies are weak and of no importance. If it is necessary to say who does the trampling, it is possible to translate something like “We will see their enemies come and defeat them and destroy them, just as easily as men trample down the mud in the streets.” If a language has no special word for trampled down or “trodden down” (rsv), this means simply “walked on” or “stepped on.”
This verse begins the second paragraph of the section, in which the prophet addresses the people to encourage them in their hope in the Lord. Again the people are addressed as collective singular, and again this is translated with English plural forms in tev. tev has added the words People of Jerusalem in order to make clear to whom this is addressed. The promise is that the time to rebuild the city walls is coming. This actually took place under Nehemiah, probably beginning about 445 b.c. In areas where walled cities are unknown, it may be sufficient to say “the defenses to your city.”
Not only will the city itself be restored, but also at that time the territory held by the Lord’s people will be enlarged. Perhaps this means that they will be given back all the lands ruled by King Solomon when the monarchy was at the height of its power. In languages with no passive forms, this may be restructured to “the territory you hold will be much greater than it is now.”
The prophet here goes on to speak of the return of the people of Israel from exile. There is some textual difficulty with the list of places mentioned, but the general effect of the list is well expressed by tev which begins Your people will return to you from everywhere. Of the places listed, Assyria and Egypt were the opposite ends of the familiar world. The original readers knew in which directions they were, but tev makes this explicit by saying Assyria in the east and Egypt in the south.
The Hebrew actually contains two reference to Egypt, as shown in rsv. Some translators here reference to follow the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, and read “Tyre” instead of the second reference to Egypt. (The names for these two places were more similar in Hebrew than they appear in English.) jb is one translation which does this, and the effect is to give two pairs of names (Assyria and Egypt, Tyre and the River [Euphrates]) which form a better balanced list than the three names of rsv and tev. However, the Hebrew makes good sense as it stands and should be followed. Translators should note that the Euphrates River is in the same direction as Assyria, so that the two lines seem to describe the same set of directions, first moving from northeast (Assyria) to southwest (Egypt), then from southwest (Egypt) back to northeast (the Euphrates). If this is the intention, it may be clearer just to say it once (“from Assyria and the Euphrates River in the east and from Egypt in the south”), rather than to suggest that three separate places are in mind, as tev does. Note than in Hebrew the Euphrates in simply referred to as “the River” (rsv).
The literal “from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain” (rsv) refers to all seas and mountains in general. This idea is well expressed in English by tev’s from distant seas and far-off mountains, but many languages may prefer a form closer to the Hebrew, as long as it has the correct meaning.
This verse gives something of a contrast with the two previous verses. Whereas they spoke of the restoration of Jerusalem and its people, this one speaks of the punishment of the enemy nations. They may have been used as God’s instruments for disciplining his people in the past, but they did this work in such a way as to increase their own sins. Therefore the earth, that is, those parts of it outside the territory of the Lord’s people, will become a desert.
To make clear what is meant here by the earth, many translators may want to say something like “the rest of the earth.”
Desert is literally “desolate” (rsv). This means an area which has been destroyed, as if by an invading army. If translators cannot find a suitable term, it is possible to say “The earth will become barren” or “The earth will be spoiled.”
The reason why this will happen is clearly given: because of the wickedness of those who live on it. However, it may be clearer in some languages to say “as punishment for the wickedness of those who live on it.” If it is necessary to say who punishes, the Lord can be mentioned here. In 6:16 Jerusalem was an island of ruin amidst a sea of scornful enemies. Here the picture is reversed, and it is an island of blessing amidst a sea of desolation.
Wickedness is literally “the fruit of their doings” (rsv). This metaphor is unnatural in English, and tev has expressed its meaning in plain language. Many translators will need to do the same.
The People Pray and Praise the Lord for His Love Mic 7:14–20
The final section of the book is in the form of a prayer addressed to the Lord by the nation, or by the prophet as the representative of the nation. tev breaks it into three paragraphs consisting of verse 14, verses 15–17, and verses 18–20. The first two of these go quite closely together and ask the Lord to fulfill his promises to restore his people and overcome their enemies. The third paragraph is an outburst of praise to the Lord for his faithfulness, and especially for his mercy in forgiving the sins of his people.
The section heading can be translated as “The LORD will show mercy to his people” or “The LORD will be kind to his people again.”
The people here address the Lord in his role as their shepherd. This is an important Old Testament picture of the Lord’s relationship to his people, best known in Psalm 23. Here the shepherd is asked to fulfill his task of taking care of the people who are called “the flock of thy inheritance” (rsv). The means of doing this is “with thy staff,” that is, with the usual equipment of a shepherd. (Contrast the expression “shepherd Assyria with the sword” in 5:6, jb, neb.) tev does not mention the staff as the instrument the shepherd uses, but it conveys the idea of protection by using a noun rather than a verb and saying Be a shepherd to your people. In areas where sheep are not kept, it will probably be good for translators to follow this example. But it may be necessary to change the figure of speech from a metaphor to a simile and say “Be like a shepherd to your people” or “Look after your people as a shepherd looks after his sheep.” Another possibility is to mention the staff or crook and state its purpose as jb does: ‘With shepherd’s crook lead your people to pasture.” A shepherd is simply a man who takes care of a flock of sheep, or who looks after them. His “staff” is a long, straight pole, which he used mainly as a walking stick and as a support while he was standing watching the flock. This verse suggests that he may also have used it to guide the sheep or to protect them.
rsv “flock of thy inheritance” is a literal translation which continues the metaphor. “Thy inheritance” here means “belonging to you in a special way.” tev drops the figure in this phrase and states the plain meaning with the people you have chosen. If a simile has been used in the opening clause, it can well be continued here by saying “we are like a flock that you own” or “your very own flock.” Even if a translator decides not to use the figure, it may be helpful in some languages to say “the people you have chosen to be your own.” In any case, translators should be careful no to use a word meaning “inheritance” if this will suggest that someone has to die before the heir can take possession.
The middle part of the verse is less clear in meaning. For rsv’s “forest” and “garden land” tev has wilderness and fertile land. The basic contrast is between cultivated and uncultivated land, and in the majority of languages there will be little difficulty in expressing this distinction. The sentence seems to describe the Lord’s people as dwelling only in the rather barren uplands of Judah. It is therefore an implied request for the extension of their territory, as mentioned in verse 11, to include the better land in surrounding areas such as the coastal plain, the plain of Jezreel, and the Jordan valley.
The word apart or “alone” (rsv) is probably used to stress that they are not living in a good situation. Not only is their ground poor, but they are cut off from other peoples and cannot get goods or help from them. Some commentators see this as a reference to the people of Israel being set apart as a special people of God, but that is probably not the main meaning here.
The third sentence continues the metaphor of the first with its plea Let them go and feed. The reference to Bashan and Gilead supports the view that the people are asking to extend their territory. As tev makes explicit, these were areas of rich pastures. They were located on the east of the River Jordan and were among the first areas to come into the possession of the Israelites at the conquest. They had been lost to invaders in the eighth century. The prayer for their restoration in effect suggests a picture of a future which will be as glorious as the past, when the united monarchy was at the height of its power under King Solomon.
The translation of tev is rather surprising here, since it continues with the metaphor of the people as a flock of sheep who are going to feed, after having dropped this metaphor earlier and not actually having called the people a “flock.” It will probably be better for translators to be consistent. Either the picture should be kept throughout the verse, or else it should be dropped here at the end as well as in the reference to the people. If it is dropped, it is enough to say “Let them go and live in the rich land of Bashan and Gilead.” Rich in reference to pastures or fields means that the land is very fertile. Pastures are large fields with good grass for the sheep to eat.
Though the individual clauses of this verse make sense in themselves, it is not easy to see what the relationships are between them. tev tries to make these clearer by its use of Although. The sequence of thought is a follows: at this time the Lord’s people occupy only a small territory, but there is better land in neighboring areas; therefore they ask the Lord to allow them to expand and use it again, as they did long ago.
As the literal translation of the tev footnote and the rsv text and footnote show, there is in this verse in the Hebrew a variation in personal pronoun forms which is very confusing. If the Hebrew text is translated as it stands, the English will be “I will show him marvelous things” (compare rsv footnote, kjv, rv, tob). In this sentence the “I” must refer to the Lord and the “him” to the people of Israel. Since they have been called “you” in the earlier part of the sentence, the change is very awkward. Even rsv and niv, which try to follow the Hebrew closely here, translate as “them” instead of “him,” referring to the people.
A relatively small change in the Hebrew lets us translate “I will show them” (footnote “him”) of rsv as an imperative, and this change is accepted by bj, jb, and neb, as well as tev. This certainly gives a smooth and intelligible meaning to the verse, which on this understanding continues the prayer of the previous verse.
tev reorders the lines of this verse and puts the main clause, Work miracles for us, first. This clause may have to be structured in quite a different way in other languages. Miracles are amazing, wonderful, unexpected acts. Some languages may have a single word for this, while others may have to describe the idea in a longer expression. For us may have to be translated as “in order to help us.” Another restructuring can be “Help us by doing marvelous things.”
rsv “As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt” is a reference to the idea of the Lord being at the head of his people at the time of the exodus. This is expanded and made more explicit in tev: as you did in the days when you brought us out of Egypt. The days can of course be translated as “the time,” or just “when.” You brought us can be translated as “you led us.”
When the Lord begins to work miracles for his people again, his activity will have a dramatic effect on the heathen nations around them, just as it did on the Egyptians at the time of the exodus. Many translators may need to refer to these nations as “other nations,” since the nation of Israel is not included. Or, to prepare for the references to mouths and ears later, it may even be best to say “the people of other nations.” They will see this and will be frustrated in spite of all their strength. This understanding seems to fit the context better than the “be ashamed of all their might” or rsv, and it is also followed by jb and neb.
Frustrated may be a difficult word to translate. The idea is that when they see the mighty acts that God is doing, they will realize how weak they really are. In many languages “ashamed” (rsv) may give the right meaning. It may also be necessary to restructure here and say “Even though they are so strong, the nations will be ashamed when they see these things that God is doing.” The other understanding of this line, “ashamed of all their might” (rsv), is actually very similar in meaning. The nations, who thought the were so strong, will realize that their strength is nothing compared to God’s power, and they will be ashamed of their strength instead of being proud of it.
The nations are pictured as reacting to what they see with symbolic gestures. “They lay their hands on their mouths” (rsv) because they are too amazed to speak. Also “their ears shall be deaf” (rsv). Perhaps this is because of the thunder of the Lord’s voice, as jb seems to imply with “their ears will be deafened by it.” However, tev appears to understand that the hands are placed over the ears as well as over the mouth, and translates they will close their mouths and cover their ears. The meaning of these gestures is conveyed in tev by the addition of the words In dismay, and many translators will also need to include something similar in order to explain the actions described. It is possible that translators who follow the tev understanding may meet with difficulty on the grounds that it would require three hands to cover both mouth and ears! In that case it is probably best to follow the meaning of the rsv. But it is also possible just to drop the reference to the actions and express the meaning in plainer language by saying “They will be so dismayed that they can neither speak nor hear.”
It is possible to understand verses 16 and 17 as a request rather than as a prediction, and this is the way that neb and some other versions translate it. If this understanding is followed, the basic concepts are not changed, but the verbs will be. “The nations will see this” will become “May the nations see this” or “Let the nations see this,” and the same kind of change will apply to all the verbs in the two verses.
The description of the heathen nations’ reaction to the Lord’s miracles continues, and again symbolic actions are used. The first two lines of rsv, “They shall lick the dust like a serpent, like the crawling things of the earth,” are two parallel lines expressing a single idea. tev unites them into a single clause, They will crawl in the dust like snakes. This picture is meant to show the humiliation of the nations, and if this meaning will not be clear, it should be made explicit. One way to express this may be “They will lie with their faces in the dust (like snakes) to show that they are weak and unimportant people.”
In the rest of the verse rsv gives the order of elements as they occur in the Hebrew. tev reorders the lines to cut down the repetition and to give a smoother style in English. In they will come from their fortresses, trembling and afraid, the word afraid represents what is a whole line in rsv, “and they shall fear because of thee.” Thus the nations will acknowledge their defeat and will turn in fear to the LORD our God. Fortresses here refers to places which can be easily defended, where people go to be safe from their enemies. They are not necessarily towns, but it is all right to translate it as “strong town” if no better term seems to be available. Trembling and afraid can also be expressed as “trembling with fear” or “so much afraid that they are trembling.”
The expression turn … to … God is sometimes used in English to refer to people giving up their old ways and becoming true followers of God. The Hebrew includes the idea of somehow turning to God, but the major emphasis is that these heathen nations are afraid of the LORD our God and recognize him as great and powerful. tev has tried to express both the fear and the idea of yielding to God in They will turn in fear to.… if it is too difficult to express both ideas, it may be enough to express the idea simply as “they will come out from their fortresses, trembling and afraid before you, the Lord our God” (compare bj, jb, nab, and neb). Note that tev does not make explicit that these words are addressed to God as “you,” but there is no reason why this should not be included.
We have come to the last paragraph in the book, a prayer or hymn of praise to God. Verse 18 opens with a question, “Who is a God like thee …?” (rsv). The answer expected is clearly that there is no one like God, and so tev restructures the question as a negative statement, There is no other god like you, and adds O LORD, to show who is being spoken to. No matter how this is expressed, some translators may be hesitant to allow people to think that there are any other gods at all, even if they are not like the Lord. The problems in 4:5 are somewhat similar to this, and it may be useful to reread the discussion there on how to talk about the “gods” of other nations. As for this verse, we should note that in many languages these words would not be understood as saying that other gods do exist. It may be just a way of speaking, looking at the situation from the point of view of other peoples. Therefore it would seem best to follow the Hebrew wording here if at all possible. But if a translation will definitely suggest to the readers that the prophet is stating that other gods exist, then a translator should try to find some others way of expressing this idea. In that case, something like “No other god like you exists” or “There is no one like you, O God” may be a possibility.
The characteristic of God which marks him off as unique is here stated as his ability and willingness to forgive sin. In the Hebrew in this verse and the next, three common terms for sin are used (rsv “iniquity” and “transgression” in verse 18, and “iniquities” and “sins” in verse 19). This has the effect of emphasizing the completeness of God’s ability to forgive all kinds of sin. If a translator has several words available in his language for sin is its different aspects, it would be good to use a variety in this passage. tev uses only the word sins in both verses, partly because the other terms available in English are less commonly known and therefore more difficult to the reader. tev also cuts out the parallel expressions “pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression” (rsv), combining these statements into a single one, you forgive the sins of your people.
This experience of forgiven sin is for “the remnant of his inheritance” (rsv), that is to say, those of God’s people who are still alive after the nation has been punished. tev expresses this as your people who have survived. The Hebrew word that is used for “inheritance” is the same term that occurred in verse 14, and it is represented by the words your people in tev. In some languages it may be necessary to make explicit what it is that the people have survived. One can say something like “your people who are still alive after we have been punished” or “those of your people whom our enemies have hot destroyed.” It may also be confusing in some languages for the people to refer to themselves simply as your people, as though they were speaking about someone other than themselves. It may be better to use an expression like “us, who are your people.”
In Hebrew, the second half of verse 18 and the first half of verse 19 are in the third person, whereas the beginning of verse 18, the end of verse 19, and the whole of verse 20 are in the second person. Some scholars think that this indicates that these verses were used for responsive reading or chanting. For many translators, the change from second person to third person and back to second is very awkward and interrupts the flow of the sense. A number of modern English translations (tev, jb, neb, niv, and mft) keep the second person throughout the three verses, and most translators will prefer to do the same.
God may be angry with his people when they provoke him by their sins, but once they have been punished, he does not stay angry forever but takes pleasure in showing … constant love. Constant love is the quality that God has always shown toward his people in fulfillment of his covenant relationship with them. It is the quality which he expected his people to show toward him in return. At the opening of the court scene in 6:1–5, the Lord charged his people with falling to fulfill their side of the covenant, and in 6:8 the requirement of constant love was again emphasized. The same Hebrew root occurred again in 7:2, where the prophet complained of the lack of people “loyal to God.” Despite this he retains his assurance that the constant love of the Lord never changes, and that it is the basic for his willingness to forgive his people for their sins. The recurrence of this theme is one of the unifying factors in chapters 6 and 7, and it will be useful if translators can find some word or expression in their own language which may be used in all four places. However, this should not be done if there is no expression which sounds natural in all these contexts.
Note that tev makes explicit the objects of God’s constant love by including the word us. It may be necessary to restructure the last clause of this verse, since many languages may express these ideas in quite different ways. One possibility may be “you always love us faithfully.” There is a difference in emphasis between rsv and tev in the way they relate the two clauses of this sentence. rsv says that God does not stay angry “because” of his love. tev connects the two parts with the word but, simply contrasting the two attitudes. Translators may feel free to use whichever relationship sounds best in their languages.
The outburst of praise continues in verse 19 along the same lines. First is the general statement that the Lord will be merciful to us once again. Be merciful or “have compassion” (rsv) refers to the concern and care which a person gives to someone weaker than he is, someone for whom he feels responsible. In many languages the usual word for “love” often has a meaning quite close to this. Once again refers back to the time before God began to punish Israel for their sins, when he had been merciful to them as he will be again.
Then come further pictures of how he forgives sins and removes them completely. The first picture says that the Lord will trample our sins underfoot. This action demonstrates his complete victory over our sin. The theme recalls the treatment of the enemies of God’s people in verse 10, though the words used here are different. The symbolic meaning of the treading will probably be clear in most languages. If it is not, it can be made clearer by turning the metaphor into a simile and saying “You will conquer our sins as if you trampled them underfoot.” Some languages will have a single word which means “trample underfoot.”
The second picture speaks of sins being “cast … into the depths of the sea” (rsv). The point is that sins are totally and permanently removed. Again, the meaning should be clear, but if necessary the metaphor can be turned into a simile. A translation base may be “You will remove our sins as if you dropped them to the bottom of the sea.”
The themes of verse 18 and 19 recur in the form of a simple pattern. This is shown as follows, quoting the key words from rsv:
A. God’s forgiveness—”pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression.”
B. God’s changed attitude—”He does not retain his anger for ever.”
C. God’s loyalty to the covenant—”he delights in steadfast love.”
B′ God’s changed attitude—”He will again have compassion.”
A′ God’s forgiveness—”tread our iniquities underfoot”
and “cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”
In structures of this kind, the climax is often found in the middle unit, which is here labeled C and contains the reference to God’s covenant love. It is therefore hardly surprising that this, the central idea of verse 18 and 19, is the one which is repeated in verse 20 and thus forms the climax to the whole book.
The occurrence of structures like this, involving what is called “inverted parallelism,” is quite common in Hebrew. However, if passages which have such a structure are translated into other languages with their parts in the same order as in the Hebrew, they may sound disjointed. It is therefore quite acceptable, if necessary, to restructure the whole of these two verses so as to bring together the sentences which contain the same themes. A possible translation base adapted from tev can be as follows: “There is no other god like you, O Lord. You forgive the sins of your people who have survived. You trample our sins underfoot, and send them to the bottom of the sea! You do not stay angry forever, but will be merciful to us once again. You do all this because you take pleasure in showing us your constant love.
This rearrangement puts the reference to constant love at the end and thus leads smoothly into verse 20, where it is again the main theme. If translators restructure in this way, they should number these verses together as 18–19.
In this verse, Abraham and Jacob are ancestors of the nation, but their names are used to represent their descendants, and tev makes the relationship explicit. The opening part of the verse uses typical Hebrew parallelism (rsv “faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham”). tev retains all the elements of this parallelism but expresses them in an order which is more natural for English: You will show your faithfulness and constant love to your people, the descendants of Abraham and of Jacob. Notice that the names here occur in the order opposite to that in the Hebrew. This is because English prefers to follow the chronological order and mention the earlier ancestor first. Many translators will wish to do the same.
The Lord’s faithfulness and constant love are the proof that he observes his side of the covenant which he promised our ancestors long ago. Thus the Book of Micah, despite its threats of punishment in the earlier chapters, ends on a note of joy and confidence that the nation will eventually enjoy a restored relationship with the Lord. The ancestors referred to here are primarily Abraham and Jacob but could include all the ancestors alive at the time the covenant was made at Sinai. Constant love is the same expression as that used in verse 18. Faithfulness is a word used here as a parallel term for constant love, bringing out the part of the meaning already expressed by constant in tev. As long as translators use an expression which includes this meaning, there is no need to try to find two separate expressions in this verse.
Biblia Hebraica. 7th edition. 1951. Edited by Rudolph Kittel. Stuttgart: Württembergische Bibelanstalt.
Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. 1977. Edited by K. Elliger and M. Rudolph. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelstiftung.
Septuaginta. 1935. Edited by Alfred Rahlfs. Stuttgart: Württembergische Bibelanstalt.
The Bible: A New Translation. 1926. James Moffatt, translator. London: Hodder & Stoughton. (Cited as mft.)
La Bible de Jérusalem. 1978. Paris: Editions du Cerf. (Cited as bj.)
Four Prophets. 1963. J. B. Phillips, translator. London: Geoffrey Bles. (Cited as Phps.)
Good News Bible: The Bible in Today’s English Version. 1976, 1979. New York: American Bible Society. (Cited as tev.)
Die Gute Nachricht, Altes Testament: Eine Auswahl in heutigem Deutsch. 1977. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelstiftung. (Cited as gecl.)
The Holy Bible. Authorized Version, or King James Version. 1611. (Cited as kjv.)
The Holy Bible. 1955. Ronald A. Knox, translator. London: Burns & Oates. (Cited as Knox.)
The Holy Bible. New International Version. 1978. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Bible Publishers. (Cited as niv.)
The Holy Bible. Revised Standard Version. 1980. New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons. (Cited as rsv.)
The Jerusalem Bible. 1966. London: Darton, Longman & Todd. (Cited as jb.)
The Modern Language Bible. New Berkeley Version. 1970. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
The New American Bible. 1970. New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons. (Cited as nab.)
The New American Standard Bible. 1973. La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation. (Cited as nasb.)
The New English Bible. 1970. London and Cambridge: Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press. (Cited as neb.)
The Prophets. 1978. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America. (Cited as the New Jewish Version, or njv.)
Traduction Oecuménique de la Bible. 1975. Paris: Société Biblique Française et Éditions du Cerf. (Cited as tob.)
Commentaries and Articles
Allen, Leslie C. 1976. The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans.
Bewer, Julius A. 1911. Obadiah and Joel (International Critical Commentary). Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
Cheyne, T. K. 1891. Micah (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Clark, David J. 1979. Micah. In: A Bible Commentary for Today. Glasgow: Pickering & Inglis.
Dahlberg, B. T. 1971. The Book of Micah. Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
Deissler, A. 1964. Michée. In: La Sainte Bible, Vol. 8, Part 1. Paris: Letouzey & Ane.
Gasque, W. Ward. 1979. Obadiah. In: A Bible Commentary for Today. Glasgow: Pickering & Inglis.
Goldman, S. 1948. Micah. In: The Soncino Books of the Bible: The Twelve Prophets. London, Jerusalem, New York: The Soncino Press.
———. 1948. Obadiah. In: The Soncino Books of the Bible: The Twelve Prophets. London, Jerusalem, New York: The Soncino Press.
King, Philip J. 1968. Micah. In: The Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.
Marsh, John, 1959. Amos and Micah (Torch Bible Paperbacks). London: SCM Press.
Mays, James L. 1976. Micah (Old Testament Library). London: SCM Press.
McKeating, Henry. 1971. The Books of Amos, Hosea and Micah (The Cambridge Bible Commentary). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Smith, George Adam. 1928. The Book of the Twelve Prophets. 2 Vols. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
Smith, J. M. P. 1911. Micah, Zephaniah and Nahum (International Critical Commentary). Edinburgh: T & T. Clark.
Thompson, John A. 1956. The Book of Obadiah. In: The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 6. New York and Nashville: Abingdon Press.
de Waard, Jan. 1979. Vers une identification des participants dans le livre de Michée. In: Revue d’Histoire et de Philosophie Religeuses 3–4. 509–516.
Watts, John D.W. 1975. The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah (The Cambridge Bible Commentary). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wolfe, Rolland E. 1956. The Book of Micah. In: The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 6. New York and Nashville: Abingdon Press.
Wood, Geoffrey F. 1968. Joel, Obadiah. In: The Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.
Dictionaries, Grammars, and Helps
Brown, Francis; Driver, S. R.; and Briggs, Charles A. 1962. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. London: Oxford University Press.
Buttrick, G. A., ed. 1962. The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. 4 Vols. New York and Nashville: Abingdon Press.
Fauna and Flora of the Bible. 1972. London: United Bible Societies.
Gesenius, W., and Kautzsch, E. 1910. Hebrew Grammar. Oxford: University Press. (Translated by A. E. Cowley.)
Koehler, L., and Baumgartner, W. 1958. Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros. Leiden: Brill.
This glossary contains terms which are technical from an exegetical or a linguistic viewpoint. Other terms not defined here may be referred to in a Bible dictionary.
active. See voice.
actor is the one who accomplishes the action in a sentence or clause, regardless of whether the grammatical construction is active or passive. In “John struck Bill” (active) and “Bill was struck by John” (passive), the actor in either case is John.
adjective is a word which limits, describes, or qualifies a noun. In English, “red,” “tall,” “beautiful,” “important,” etc., are adjectives.
adverb is a word which limits, describes, or qualifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. In English, “quickly,” “soon,” “primarily,” “very,” etc., are adverbs.
alliteration is the repetition of the same sound or group of sounds in a series of words, as in “He is a genuine genius of a gentleman.” See assonance.
ambiguous describes a word or phrase which in a specific context may have two or more different meanings. For example, “Bill did not leave because John came” could mean either (1) “the coming of John prevented Bill from leaving” or (2) “the coming of John was not the cause of Bill’s leaving.” It often the case that what is ambiguous in written form is not ambiguous when actually spoken, since features of intonation and slight pauses usually make clear which of two or more meanings is intended. Furthermore, even in written discourse, the entire context normally serves to indicate which meaning is intended by the writer.
antecedent describes a person or thing which precedes or exists prior to something or someone else. In grammar, an antecedent is the word, phrase, or clause to which a pronoun refers.
assonance is the repetition of the same or similar vowels in two or more words in close succession. For example, “A good look at the wool,” “Stick the pin in his fingertip.” See alliteration.
causative relates to events and indicates that someone or something caused something to happen, rather than that the person or thing did it directly. In “John ran the horse,” the verb “ran” is a causative, since it was not John who ran, but rather it was John who caused the horse to run.
chiasmus is a reversal of the order of words or phrases in an otherwise parallel construction. For example: “I (1)/was shapen (2)/in iniquity (3)//in sin (3)/did my mother conceive (2)/me (1).”
clause is a grammatical construction, normally consisting of a subject and a predicate. The main clause is that clause in a sentence which could stand alone as a complete sentence, but which has one or more dependent or subordinate clauses related to it. A subordinate clause is dependent on the main clause, but it does not form a complete sentence.
climax is the point in a discourse, such as a story or speech, which is the most important, or the turning point, or the point of decision.
cohesion refers to the way in which the parts of a text are related to one another, thus making clear the development of a story or argument. See discourse.
collective refers to a number of things (or persons) considered as a whole. In English, a collective noun is considered to be singular or plural, more or less on the basis of traditional usage; for example, “The crowd is (the people are) becoming angry.”
conditional refers to a clause or phrase which expresses or implies a condition, in English usually introduced by “if.”
conjunctions are words which serve as connectors between words, phrases, clauses, and sentences. “And,” “but,” “if,” “because,” etc., are typical conjunctions in English.
connotation involves the emotional attitude of a speak (or writer) to an expression he uses, and the emotional response of the hearers (or readers). Connotations may be good or bad, strong or weak, and they are often described in such terms as “colloquial,” “taboo,” “vulgar,” “old-fashioned,” and “intimate.”
construction. See structure.
context is that which precedes and/or follows any part of a discourse. For example, the context of a word or phrase in Scripture would be the other words and phrases associated with it in the sentence, paragraph, section, and even the entire book in which it occurs. The context of a term often affects its meaning, so that a word does not mean exactly the same thing in one context that it does in another.
culture is the sum total of the beliefs, patterns of behavior, and sets of interpersonal relations of any group of people. A culture is passed on from one generation to another, but undergoes development or gradual change.
direct quotation is the reproduction of the actual words of one person quoted and included in the speech or writing of another person; for example, “He declared, ‘I will have nothing to do with this man.’ Indirect quotation is the reporting of the words of one person within the speech or writing of another person, but in an altered grammatical form; for example, “He said he would have nothing to do with that man.”
discourse is the connected and continuous communication of thought by means of language, whether spoken or written. The way in which the elements of a discourse are arranged is called discourse structure.
emphasis is the special importance given to an element in a discourse, sometimes indicated by the choice of words or by position in the sentence. For example, in “Never will I eat pork again,” “Never” is given emphasis by placing it at the beginning of the sentence.
exclusive first person plural excludes the person(s) addressed. That is, a speaker may use “we” to refer to himself and his companions, while specifically excluding the person(s) to whom he is speaking. See inclusive.
explicit refers to information which is expressed in the words of a discourse. This is in contrast to implicit information. See implicit.
figure, figure of speech, or figurative expression involves the use of words in other than their literal or ordinary sense, in order to bring out some aspect of meaning by means of comparison or association. For example, “raindrops dancing on the street,” or “his speech was like thunder.” Metaphors and similes are figures of speech.
first person. See person.
future tense. See tense.
generic has reference to a general class or kind of objects, events, or abstracts; it is the opposite of specific. For example, the term “animal” is generic in relation to “dog,” which is a specific kind of animal. However, “dog” is generic in relation to the more specific term “poodle.”
hendiadys is a figure in which a single complex idea is expressed by two words, usually connected by a conjunction. For example, “weary and worn” may mean “very tired.”
hyperbole is a figure of speech that makes use of exaggeration. That is, a deliberate overstatement is made to create a special effect. For example, “John ate tons of rice for dinner.”
idiom or idiomatic expression is a combination of terms whose meanings cannot be understood by adding up the meanings of the parts. “To hang one’s head,” “to have a green thumb,” and “behind the eightball” are American English idioms. Idioms almost always lose their meaning or convey a wrong meaning when translated literally from one language to another.
imperative refers to forms of a verb which indicate commands or requests. In “Go and do likewise,” the verbs “Go” and “do” are imperatives. In most languages, imperatives are confined to the grammatical second person; but some languages have corresponding forms for the first and third persons. These are usually expressed in English by the use of “may” or “let”; for example, “May we not have to beg!” “Let them work harder!”
implicit (implied) refers to information that is not formally represented in a discourse, since it is assumed that it is already known to the receptor, or evident from the meaning of the words in question. For example, the phrase “the other son” carries with it the implicit information that there is a son in addition to the one mentioned. This is in contrast to explicit information, which is expressly stated in a discourse. See explicit.
inclusive first person plural includes both the speaker and the one(s) to whom that person is speaking. See exclusive.
indirect quotation. See direct quotation.
ironical is having the quality of irony, which is a sarcastic or humorous manner of discourse in which what is said is intended to express its opposite; for example, “That was a smart thing to do!” when intended to convey the meaning, “That was a stupid thing to do!”
literal means the ordinary or primary meaning of a term or expression, in contrast with a figurative meaning. A literal translation is one which represents the exact words and word order of the source language; such a translation is frequently unnatural or awkward in the receptor language.
main clause. See clause.
manuscripts are books, documents, letters, etc., written by hand. Thousands of manuscript copies of various Old and New Testament books still exist, but none of the original manuscripts. See text.
metaphor is likening one object, event, or state to another by speaking of it as if it were the other; for example, “flowers dancing in the breeze.” Metaphors are the most commonly used figures of speech and are often so subtle that a speaker or writer is not conscious of the fact that he is using figurative language. See simile.
metonym is a figure of speech in which the name of one thing is replaced by the name of another, based on association. For example, in “the pen is mightier than the sword,” the words “pen” and “sword” symbolize and replace “written words” and “war.”
nominal refers to nouns or noun-like words. See noun.
noun is a word that names a person, place, thing, idea, etc., and often serves to specify a subject or topic of discourse.
object of a verb is the goal of an event or action specified by the verb. In “John hit the hall,” the object of “hit” is “ball.”
parallel, parallelism, generally refers to some similarity in the content and/or form of a construction; for example, “The man was blind, and he could not see.” The structures that correspond to each other in the two statements are said to be parallel.
participle is a verbal adjective, that is, a word which retains some of the characteristics of a verb while functioning as an adjective. In “singing children” and “painted house,” “singing” and “painted” are participles.
particle is a small word whose grammatical form does not change. In English the most common particles are prepositions and conjunctions.
passive. See voice.
past tense. See tense.
perfect tense is a set of verb forms which indicate an action already completed when another action occurs. For example, in “John had finished his task when Bill came,” “had finished” is in the perfect tense. See also tense.
person, as a grammatical term, refers to the speaker, the person spoken to, or the person or thing spoken about. First Person is the person(s) speaking (“I,” “me,” “my,” “mine,” “we,” “us,” “our,” “ours”). Second person is the person(s) or thing(s) spoken to (“thou,” “thee,” “thy,” “thine,” “ye,” “you,” “your,” “yours”). Third person is the person(s) or thing(s) spoken about (“he,” “she,” “it,” “his,” “her,” “them,” “their,” etc.). The examples here given are all pronouns, but in many languages the verb forms have affixes which indicate first, second, or third person and also indicate whether they are singular or plural.
phrase is a grammatical construction of two or more words, but less than a complete clause or a sentence. A phrase is usually given a name according to its function in a sentence, such as “noun phrase,” “verb phrase,” “prepositional phrase,” etc.
play on words. See wordplay.
plural refers to the form of a word which indicates more than one. See singular.
possessive refers to a grammatical relationship in which one noun or pronoun is said to “possess” another (“John’s car,” “his son,” their destruction”).
predicate is the part of a clause which contrasts with or supplements the subject. The subject is the topic of the clause, and the predicate is what is said about the subject. See subject.
preposition is a word (usually a particle) whose function is to indicate the relation of a noun or pronoun to another noun, pronoun, verb, or adjective. Some English prepositions are “for,” “from,” “in,” “to,” and “with.”
present tense. See tense.
pronouns are words which are used in place of nouns, such as “he,” “him,” “his,” “she,” “we,” “them,” “who,” “which,” “this,” or “these.”
proper name or proper noun is the name of a unique object, as “Jerusalem,” “Joshua,” “Jordan.” However, the same name may be applied to more than one object; for example, “John” (the Baptist or the Apostle) and “Antioch” (of Syria or Pisidia).
prose is the ordinary form of spoken or written language, without the special forms and structure of meter and rhythm which are characteristic of poetry.
pun is the use of similar sounds of two words to produce a special effect; in English puns, humor is usually intended. See wordplay.
quotation. See direct quotation.
receptor is the person(s) receiving a message. The receptor language is the language into which a translation is made. For example, in a translation from Hebrew into German, Hebrew is the source language and German is the receptor language.
relative clause is a dependent clause which describes the object to which it refers. In “the man whom you saw,” the clause “whom you saw” is relative because it relates to and describes “man.”
restructure is to reconstruct or rearrange. See structure.
rhetorical question is an expression which is put in the form of a question but which is not intended to ask for information. Rhetorical questions are usually employed for the sake of emphasis.
sarcasm (sarcastic) is an ironical and frequently contemptuous manner of discourse in which what is said is intended to express its opposite; for example, “What a brilliant idea!” when intended to convey the meaning, “What a ridiculous idea!”
second person. See person.
sentence is a grammatical construction composed of one or more clauses and capable of standing alone.
Septuagint is a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek, made some two hundred years before Christ. It is often abbreviated as LXX.
simile (pronounced SIM-i-lee) is a figure of speech which describes one event or object by comparing it to another, using “like,” “as,” or some other word to mark or signal the comparison. For example, “She runs like a deer,” “He is as straight as an arrow.” Similes are less subtle than metaphors in that metaphors do not mark the comparison with words such as “like” or “as.” See metaphor.
singular refers to the form of a word which indicates one thing or person in contrast to plural, which indicates more than one. See plural.
source language is the language in which the original message was produced For the Old Testament it is the Hebrew language spoken at that time.
specific. See generic.
structure is the systematic arrangement of the elements of language, including the ways in which words combine into phrases, phrases into clauses, and clauses into sentences. Because this process may be compared to the building of a house or a bridge, such words as structure and construction are used in reference to it. To separate and rearrange the various components of a sentence or other unit of discourse in the translation process is to restructure it.
subject is one of the major divisions of a clause, the other being the predicate. Typically the subject is a noun phrase. It should not be confused with semantic “agent.”
subordinate clause. See clause.
synonyms are words which are different in form but similar in meaning, as “boy” and “lad.” Expressions which have essentially the same meaning are said to be synonymous. No two words are completely synonymous.
temporal refers to time. Temporal relations are the relations of time between events. A temporal clause is a dependent clause which indicates the time of the action in the main clause.
tense is usually a form of a verb which indicates time relative to a discourse or some event in a discourse. The most common forms of tense are past, present, and future. See also perfect tense.
text, textual refers to the various Greek and Hebrew manuscripts of the Scriptures. Textual problems arise when it is difficult to reconcile or to account for conflicting forms of the same text in two or more manuscripts. See also manuscripts.
third person. See person.
translation is the reproduction in a receptor language of the closest natural equivalent of a message in the source language, first, in terms of meaning, and second, in terms of style.
transliteration is representing in the receptor language the approximate sounds or letters of words occurring in the source language, rather than translating their meaning; for example, “Amen” from the Hebrew, or the title “Christ” from the Greek.
verbs are a grammatical class of words which express existence, action, or occurrence, as “be,” “become,” “run,” or “think.”
verbal has two meanings. (1) It may refer to expressions consisting of words, sometimes in distinction to forms of communication which do not employ words (“sign language,” for example). (2) It may refer to word forms which are derived from verbs. For example, “coming” and “engaged” may be called verbals, and participles are called verbal adjectives.
vernacular refers to the ordinary language used in daily speech by any group of people; it is in contrast with a learned or literary language.
vocative indicates that a word or phrase is used for referring to a person or persons spoken to. In “Brother, please come here,” the word “Brother” is a vocative.
voice in grammar is the relation of the action expressed by a verb to the participants in the action. In English and many other languages, the active voice indicates that the subject performs the action (“John hit the man”), while the passive voice indicates that the subject is being acted upon (“The man was hit”).
wordplay (play on words) in a discourse is the use of the similarity in the sounds of two words to produce a special effect. See also pun.
Published: January 28, 2015, 13:29 | Comments Off on Handbook on the Prophet Micah- by Uwe Rosenkranz
Category: ROSARY 4 z Bishop