Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
II. Zion's Deepest Degradation and Highest Exaltation - Micah 3-5
The prophet's second address is of a predominantly Messianic character. The announcement of the utter desolation of Zion on account of the corruption of both the civil rulers and the spiritual leaders of the nation, with which this address opens in Mic 3:1-12, serves to a certain extent simply as a foil for the prophecy which follows in Mic 4:1-13 and Mic 5:1-15 of the salvation with which the remnant of Israel, that has been rescued throughout the judgment, will be blessed in the future. This salvation is depicted first of all in all its fulness (Mic 4:1-7); then in its gradual development, in the re-erection of the former dominion of the daughter of Zion, by her redemption out of Babylon, and her victory over the powers of the world (Mic 4:8-13); and lastly, in its realization by the Ruler proceeding out of Bethlehem, and by the power and blessing of His rule (Mic 5:1-15).
Sins of the Leaders of the Nation, and Destruction of Jerusalem - Mic 3:1-12
The threatening of punishment contained in this chapter is specially directed against the heads and leaders of Israel, and proclaims, in three strophes of four verses each, (a) to the princes, who turn right into wrong and flay the people (Mic 3:1-4), and (b) to the false prophets, who lead the people astray and confirm them in their sin by lying prophecies of peace (Mic 3:5-8), retribution for their wicked conduct; and (c) to all three classes of the divinely-appointed chiefs of the nation - the princes, the priests, and the prophets - the destruction of Jerusalem, and the turning of Zion and the temple mountain into a ploughed field and wooded heights on account of their degeneracy (Mic 3:9-12).
First strophe. - Mic 3:1. "And I said, Hear ye, O heads of Jacob, and princes of the house of Israel: Is it not for you to know the right? Mic 3:2. Ye who hate good, and love evil; who draw off their skin from them, and their flesh from their bones. Mic 3:3. And who have eaten the flesh of my people, and stripped off their skin from them; and broken their bones, and cut them in pieces, as if in the pot, and like flesh in the midst of the caldron. Mic 3:4. Then will they cry to Jehovah, and He will not hearken; and let Him hide His face from them at the same time, as they have made their actions evil." By the expression "And I said" (vâ'ōmar), the following address is indicated as a continuation of the preceding one. The reproofs of this chapter are also a still further expansion of the woe pronounced in Mic 2:1-2 upon the godless chiefs of the nation. The heads of Jacob are addressed, that is to say, the princes of the tribes and families of Israel, and the qetsı̄nı̄m, lit., deciders (answering to the Arabic qâḍy, a judge) of the house of Israel, i.e., the heads of families and households, upon whom the administration of justice devolved (cf. Isa 1:10; Isa 22:3). הלוא לכן, is it not your duty and your office to know justice? Da‛ath is practical knowledge, which manifests itself in practice; mishpât, the public administration of justice. Instead of this, they do the opposite. The description of this conduct is appended by participles, in the form of apposition to the heads and princes addressed in Mic 3:1. Hating good and loving evil refer to the disposition, and indicate the radical corruption of these men. רעה, generally misfortune, here evil; hence the Masoretes have altered it into רע; but the very fact that it deviates from the ordinary rule shows that it is the original word. Instead of administering justice to the people, they take off their skin, and tear the flesh from the bones. The suffixes attached to עורם and שׁארם point back to בּית־ישׂראל in Mic 3:1. The words answer to the German expression, "to pull the skin over the ears." In Mic 3:3 the expression is still stronger; but the address is continued in the form of a simple description, and instead of the participles, אשׁר is used with the finite verb. They not only flay the people, i.e., rob them of all their means of subsistence, but even devour them - treat them like cattle, which men first of all flay, then break their bones, but the flesh into pieces, and boil it in the pot. In this figure, which is carried out into the most minute details, we must not give any special meaning to the particular features, such as that "the skin, and boiling portions, which are cut up and put into the pot, are figures signifying the pledged clothing and coveted fields (Mic 2:2, Mic 2:8)." The prophet paints in very glaring colours, to make an impression upon the ungodly. Therefore, in the time of judgment, God will not hear their crying to Him for help, but will hide His face from them, i.e., withdraw His mercy from them. אז and בּעה ההיא point back to the evil time announced in Mic 2:3. For Mic 3:4, compare Pro 1:28. Veyastēr in Mic 3:4 is an optative. The prophet continues the announcement of the punishment in the form of a desire. כּאשׁר, as = according to the way in which, as in Sa1 28:18; Num 27:14, etc., i.e., answering to their evil doings.
In the second strophe, Micah turns from the godless princes and judges to the prophets who lead the people astray, with whom he contrasts the true prophets and their ways. Mic 3:5. Thus saith Jehovah concerning the prophets who lead my people astray, who bite with their teeth, and preach peace; and whoever should put nothing into their mouths, against him they sanctify war. Mic 3:6. Therefore night to you because of the visions, and darkness to you because of the soothsaying! and the sun will set over the prophets, and the day blacken itself over them. Mic 3:7. And the seers will be ashamed, and the soothsayers blush, and all cover their beard, because (there is) no answer of God. Mic 3:8. But I, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of Jehovah, and with judgment and strength, to show to Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin." As the first strophe attaches itself to Mic 2:1-2, so does the second to Mic 2:6 and Mic 2:11, carrying out still further what is there affirmed concerning the false prophets. Micah describes them as people who predict peace and prosperity for a morsel of bread, and thereby lead the people astray, setting before them prosperity and salvation, instead of preaching repentance to them, by charging them with their sins. Thus they became accomplices of the wicked rulers, with whom they are therefore classed in Mic 3:11, together with the wicked priests. המּתעים, leading astray (cf. Isa 3:12; Isa 9:15) my people, namely, by failing to charge them with their sins, and preach repentance, as the true prophets do, and predicting prosperity for bread and payment. The words, "who bite with their teeth," are to be connected closely with the next clause, "and they preach peace," in the sense of "who preach peace if they can bite with their teeth," i.e., if they receive something to bite (or eat). This explanation, which has already been expressed by the Chaldee, is necessarily required by the antithesis, "but whoever puts nothing into their mouth," i.e., gives them nothing to eat, notwithstanding the fact that in other passages nâshakh only signifies to bite, in the sense of to wound, and is the word generally applied to the bite of a snake (Amo 5:19; Gen 49:17; Num 21:6, Num 21:8). If, however, we understand the biting with the teeth as a figurative representation of the words of the prophets who always preach prosperity, and of the injury they do to the real welfare of the people (Ros., Casp., and others), the obvious antithesis of the two double clauses of Mic 3:5 is totally destroyed. The harsh expression, to "bite with the teeth," in the sense of "to eat," is perfectly in harmony with the harsh words of Mic 3:2 and Mic 3:3. Qiddēsh milchâmâh, to sanctify war, i.e., to preach a holy war (cf. Joe 3:9), or, in reality, to proclaim the vengeance of God. For this shall night and darkness burst upon them. Night and darkness denote primarily the calamity which would come upon the false prophets (unto you) in connection with the judgment (Mic 2:4). The sun which sets to them is the sun of salvation or prosperity (Amo 8:9; Jer 15:9); and the day which becomes black over them is the day of judgment, which is darkness, and not light (Amo 5:18). This calamity is heightened by the fact that they will then stand ashamed, because their own former prophecies are thereby proved to be lies, and fresh, true prophecies fail them, because God gives no answer. "Convicted by the result, they are thus utterly put to shame, because God does not help them out of their trouble by any word of revelation" (Hitzig). Bōsh, to be ashamed, when connected with châphēr (cf. Jer 15:9; Psa 35:26., etc.), signifies to become pale with shame; châphēr, to blush, with min causae, to denote the thing of which a man is ashamed. Qōsemı̄m (diviners) alternates with chōzı̄m (seers), because these false prophets had no visions of God, but only divinations out of their own hearts. ‛Atâh sâphâm: to cover the beard, i.e., to cover the face up to the nose, is a sign of mourning (Lev 13:45), here of trouble and shame (cf. Eze 24:17), and is really equivalent to covering the head (Jer 14:4; Est 6:12). Ma‛ănēh, the construct state of the substantive, but in the sense of the participle; some codd. have indeed מענה. In Mic 3:8 Micah contrasts himself and his own doings with these false prophets, as being filled with power by the Spirit of Jehovah (i.e., through His assistance) and with judgment. Mishpât, governed by מלא, is the divine justice which the prophet has to proclaim, and gebhūrâh strength, manliness, to hold up before the people their sins and the justice of God. In this divine strength he can and must declare their unrighteousness to all ranks of the people, and predict the punishment of God (Mic 3:9-12).
Third strophe. - Mic 3:9. "Hear this, I pray, O he heads of the house of Jacob, and princes of the house of Israel, who abhor right, and bend all that is straight. Mic 3:10. Building Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with wickedness. Mic 3:11. Their heads, they judge for reward; and their priests, they teach for hire; and their prophets, they divine for money, and lean upon Jehovah, saying, Is not Jehovah among us? evil will not come upon us." With the words "Hear this, I pray," the address returns to its starting-point in Mic 3:1, but only to announce to the leaders of the people the threat of punishment for which the way has been prepared by Mic 3:2-7. To this end their God-forgetting conduct is briefly summed up once more in Mic 3:10, Mic 3:11. The summons to hear is really attached to the end of Mic 3:8. They are to hear the sin of Jacob (Mic 3:9-11); but they are also to hear the punishment for their sin, to which the word "this" points. The civil rulers only are addressed in Mic 3:9, - namely, those who were charged with the administration of justice and of the affairs of the state, but who did the very opposite, who abhorred justice, and made the straight crooked, because they passed sentence for bribes (Mic 3:11). They thereby build Zion with blood, etc., i.e., obtain the means of erecting splendid buildings by cruel extortions, and partly also by actual judicial murders, as Ahab (1 Kings 21 compared with Mic 6:16), and after him Jehoiakim, had done (Jer 22:13-17). The Chaldeans built with blood in a different sense (Hab 2:12). The participle bōneh (building) is also in apposition to râ'shē bēth (heads of the house, etc.), and the singular without the article is to be taken collectively. They do not, however, truly build the city by this, they simply labour for its destruction (Mic 3:12). But before saying this, Micah once more sums up briefly all the sins of the leading ranks. The teaching of the priests for reward refers to the fact that they had to give instruction as to the ritual requirements of the law, and were to do this gratuitously (cf. Lev 10:11; Deu 17:11; Deu 33:10), and that in disputed cases the judges were to pronounce sentence accordingly. At the same time, these men (not the prophets merely, but also the priests and the heads of the nation as the administrators of justice) placed their reliance upon Jehovah, upon the assurance that He was in the midst of them enthroned in His temple at Jerusalem, and that He would protect the city and its inhabitants from misfortune, without ever reflecting that Jehovah as the Holy One demands sanctification of life, and exterminates the sinners out of His people.
"Therefore will Zion for your sake be ploughed as a field, and Jerusalem become stone heaps, and the mountain of the house become forest heights." Lâkhēn (therefore) applies primarily to Mic 3:11, directing the threat of punishment by בּגללכם to all the sinners mentioned there; but it also points back to Mic 3:9, Mic 3:10, expressing what is there indicated by "this." Zion is not "the site on which the city stood," or Jerusalem, "the mass of houses in the city," as Maurer and Caspari suppose; but Zion is that portion of the city which contained the royal palace, and Jerusalem the rest of the city (cf. Mic 4:8). The mountain of the house, i.e., the temple hill, is also specially mentioned, for the purpose of destroying all false trust in the temple (cf. Jer 7:4). The predicates are divided rhetorically, and the thought is this: the royal palace, the city, and the temple shall be so utterly destroyed, that of all the houses and palaces only heaps of rubbish will remain, and the ground upon which the city stood will be partly used as a ploughed field, and partly overgrown with bushes (cf. Isa 32:13-14). On sâdeh as an accusative of effect (as a field = becoming a field), see Ewald, 281, e; and for the plural form עיּין, see Ewald, 177, a. Habbayith (the house) is probably chosen intentionally instead of bēth Yehōvâh (the house of Jehovah), because the temple ceased to be the dwelling-place of Jehovah as soon as it was destroyed. Hence in Ezekiel (Eze 10:18., Eze 11:22.) the Schechinah departs before the Babylonians destroy it. With regard to the fulfilment of this threat, see the points discussed at Mic 4:10.