by Doug Ward
JULY 2014-For over fifty years, Professor Marvin R. Wilson of Gordon College has introduced his students to the riches of the Hebrew language and scriptures and the lessons that Christians can learn from Judaism. He has also reached thousands of additional Bible students through his popular book Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith (Eerdmans, 1989).
Those who have been enriched by Our Father Abraham will be pleased to learn that Dr. Wilson has completed a sequel entitled Exploring our Hebraic Heritage: A Christian Theology of Roots and Renewal (Eerdmans, 2014). He dedicates this second book to the memory of Dwight A. Pryor, founder of the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies in Dayton, Ohio. Pryor and the Center helped to publish Our Father Abraham, and Wilson credits Pryor with "implanting the vision" of Exploring our Hebraic Heritage.
To mark the publication of the new book, the Center sponsored a series of lectures by Dr. Wilson on June 28, 2014. Along with the lectures, Wilson delivered a sermon at the services of the Church of the Messiah, an evangelical congregation that grew up around Pryor's ministry and works closely with the Center. His sermon surveyed the message of the prophet Micah. Although Micah lived some 2700 years ago, this Hebrew prophet still has much to say to followers of the God of Israel today.
A Punning Prophet
Dr. Wilson began his sermon by explaining that Micah was a contemporary of the prophet Isaiah, and the two seem to have collaborated to some extent. Their prophecies deal with a number of common themes, most notably the peaceful reign of the Messiah, which is described in Isa 2 and Micah 4. Micah hailed from the village of Moresheth, also known as Moresheth-Gath, about 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem in a lowland region known as the Shephelah.
Although Micah came from the southern kingdom of Judah, he also addressed the northern kingdom of Israel, condemning its idolatry and predicting its downfall in Micah 1:5-6. Since the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom in 722-721 B.C., the prophecy of Micah 1-2 came before this time, probably during the reign of king Jotham of Judah (750-731 B.C.).
Dr. Wilson noted that Micah 1:10-16 contains the longest continuous paronomasia (play on words) in the Bible. In this passage, Micah warns the towns of the Shephelah that they will be invaded by the mighty Assyrian Empire, making a pun on the name of each town.1 For example, verse 10 concludes, "In Beth Ophrah roll in the dust." Here Micah tells his audience to "roll in the dust" as an act of mourning for Beth Ophrah, a town whose name means "house of dust."
Another one of the places in Micah's list is Maresha (v. 15), which is either a town near Moresheth or another name for Moresheth itself. In the second and third centuries B.C. Maresha (also known as Marissa) was controlled by the Idumeans (Edomites). The Maccabean king John Hyrcanus, who reigned from 134 to 104 B.C., attacked Maresha and tried to forcibly convert its inhabitants to Judaism. The Idumeans resisted conversion, and many fled, leaving their belongings behind in Maresha's maze of underground caves.
Dr. Wilson mentioned that he had once taken a tour group to Tel Maresha, the archaeological dig at the site of ancient Maresha, where the participants had the opportunity to enter the caves. He also related that this area was known for olive production. (There are olive crushers and presses in the caves.) Olive oil was shipped from the Shephelah along the coastal highway to Egypt.2
Judgment and Hope
The book of Micah can be divided into three sections, each of which begins with a call to "hear." The first oracle (chapters 1-2) is directed to the peoples of the earth (1:2), the second (chapters 3-5) to the leaders of Judah (3:1), and the third (chapters 6-7) to the everlasting hills (6:1-2). Wilson noted that Micah's prophecies follow a pattern similar to those of Isaiah, with a message of judgment preceding a message of hope or comfort. (Roughly speaking, judgment predominates in Isaiah 1-39, while comfort follows in Isaiah 40-66).
In the second oracle, Micah condemns Judah's leaders in vivid terms, likening them to cannibals in the way that they exploit the poor (3:1-4). Wilson observed that although the language here is figurative and hyperbolic, it graphically expresses what God thinks of leaders who are not sensitive to the people in their communities. Micah also singles out "prophets for hire" who can be bribed into teaching what their patrons would like them to say, rather than communicating the word of God (3:5-7). In contrast to these prophets, Micah powerfully proclaims the truth through the leading of the Holy Spirit (3:8).
Then in chapter 4 Micah looks ahead to the ultimate establishment of God's reign on the earth. He takes us to Mount Zion, one of the two most important mountains in the Bible. (The other is Mount Sinai, where God appeared to give the Ten Commandments.) Mount Zion, the "mountain of the Lord's Temple," will be "chief among the mountains" (4:1). Dr. Wilson explained that in Ancient Near Eastern and biblical language, this is a way of saying that the God of Israel will prevail against all other deities that were believed to communicate with worshipers from "high places," including the Canaanite gods Baal and El (Mount Zephon) or Zeus (Mount Olympus).
From Mount Zion a message will go around the world, and "peoples will stream to it." Here, Wilson explained, "Micah seems to anticipate that God's Kingdom will know no ultimate ethnic boundary." All people, from whatever background, who come in humility and bow before the God of the Universe will be part of that Kingdom.
Those who come to Mount Zion will receive instruction in the ways of God (4:2).3 In typical biblical language, Micah 4:2 pictures life as a journey, with the Torah (instruction) of God designed to guide us on the right path.
In that day, Micah says, God will settle disputes among nations. Dr. Wilson observed that today, we face a number of difficult international conflicts, with nations beating up on each other. However, Micah 4:3 describes a different kind of "beating": "They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore."
Micah pictures universal peace, peace that extends beyond the physical protection of city walls because it occurs under vines and fig trees (4:4). Wilson commented that Jewish tradition distinguishes between different types of protection. The rabbis observed that some think of protection in terms of armies, high-walled cities, and military equipment that guard against external enemies. But it is also important, they said, to guard against the internal enemies of moral destruction and spiritual decay. The best defense against such enemies is solid spiritual teaching, and that is why we listen to sermons and study the Bible.4
Micah 4 describes the ultimate outworking of God's kingdom, when no one will be afraid. The ruler of the kingdom is identified in Micah 5:2, a king who would be born in the region of Bethlehem but "whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." Dr. Wilson observed that the ancient origins of the Messiah are affirmed in John 8:58, where Jesus states, "Before Abraham was born, I am!"
What Does God Require?
Micah's third oracle begins in chapter 6 with a "covenant lawsuit." This time it is the mountains that are called upon to "hear." The idea, Dr. Wilson explained, is that God has a riv (a lawsuit) against Israel. Micah is the prosecuting attorney. The hills, symbols of unchanging justice, are the judges. God, the plaintiff, pleads his case through the prophet. Through this lawsuit God brings Israel, especially the southern kingdom, to accountability. When Micah writes that God "is lodging a charge against Israel," the verb for "is lodging a charge" is the same one used in Isaiah 1:18: "Come now, let us reason together." God invites Israel to engage in a legal argument with him.5
God begins the case by addressing Israel tenderly as "my people," a term of affection (6:3). The tone, Wilson said, is "not one of rebuke, but one of passionate, affectionate appeal." God asks Israel rhetorically, "How have I burdened you?" or "How have I made you weary?" Wilson pointed out that there is a play on words in Micah 6:3-4. Instead of "wearying" the Israelites (heletika in Hebrew), God has "brought" them "up" (he'elitika) out of Egypt.
So in this passage, Dr. Wilson explained, God "satirically claims to search his own heart and actions." Is there any case against God? Did he fail Israel in any way? God is ready to hear any case against himself. Israel, of course, stands silently, because God has never let them down or failed them. Instead, God redeemed the Israelites from slavery, as the Bible mentions some 125 times. He also provided them with leaders-Moses, Aaron, and Miriam-who guided them through forty years in the wilderness. Miriam, a prophetess (Exod 15:20-21), is the first woman in the Bible to exercise ministry gifts. (Wilson asserted that Miriam’s example should remind Christians not to restrict the role of women unduly.) Aaron, who helped Moses come before Pharaoh, played a key supporting role (e.g., Exod 17:10-13). And Moses was the greatest of the teachers and prophets of ancient Israel (Deut 34:10-12).6
God calls Israel to remember other events from their history (Micah 6:5). When Balak of Moab had sought to have Israel cursed, God had turned the curse into a blessing (Num 22-24). Later God parted the Jordan River, allowing the nation to enter the Promised Land. Through his mighty acts, Israel reached and settled in the land.
Next Micah "builds to a ceremonial crescendo," listing five ways in which the people might try to please God as they respond to his correction, convicted of their sin. Would God be pleased with burnt offerings (olot), (Lev 1), a way to symbolize dedication to God? What about calves a year old? How about thousands of rams? Or rivers of olive oil from the presses at Maresha? Or even firstborn sons?
No, instead of taking the ceremonial route, Micah says, let's go from the inside out. Let's look at a person's attitude. (In this way Jesus of Nazareth followed in the footsteps of Micah and other prophets-Hosea 6:6; Joel 2:13, e.g.) Micah lists three things that one should do: (1) Do justice; (2) love kindness, mercy, loyalty (Hebrew chesed); (3) walk humbly-i.e. , carefully, modestly, and with restraint, not proudly or arrogantly, knowing one's place as a servant before God.7 Wilson referred to these requirements as "the three cardinal teachings of Hebrew religion."
Micah (whose name means "Who is like Yahweh?") closes his epistle with a play on his own name, asking, "Who is a God like you?" His answer: No one is like God, particularly in his mercy and faithfulness to his promise to Abraham (7:18-20). And what does that incomparable God desire of us, who hope to share in that promise to Abraham? Righteous living and a humble heart, Micah says, rather than a certain quantity of ceremonial acts. This, Dr. Wilson concluded, is Micah's message for us today.
1The Assyrians did indeed invade, taking a number of Judean towns and threatening Jerusalem in 701 B.C. (see 2 Kings 18-19; Isa 36-37.)
2For more on the archaeological finds at Maresha, see Amos Kloner's article "Underground Metropolis: The Subterranean World of Maresha" in the March/April 1997 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
3If you do not like instruction now, Wilson joked, "you can forget the afterlife." He explained that in Jewish tradition, this life is viewed as a prozdor (antechamber) for the life to come. For example, in Pirkei Avot 4:21 we read, "Rabbi Jacob used to say: This world is like an antechamber to the future world. Prepare yourself in the antechamber that you may enter into the banquet hall."
4The apostle Paul writes about this in Ephesians 6. His "full armor of God" includes "the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph 6:17).
5One also is reminded here of the trial of Sodom and Gomorrah, when Abraham pleads the case of the cities of the plain (Gen 18). Wilson joked that such biblical passages may help account for the number of Jewish lawyers. Jews, he said, are taught to take and defend positions, and they have clung to learning as something that can never be taken away even when persecution comes.
6Here Wilson recalled a Jewish saying, "From Moses to Moses [Maimonides], there is no one like Moses."
7Dr. Wilson remarked that the apostle Paul introduced his epistles by identifying himself as a slave of Jesus.
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On 04 Jul 2014, 18:15.