Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Micah 4:1-7

Posted on: May 22, 2009

Shabbat Atzmaut

Micah 4:1-7 is the haftarah for Shabbat Atzmaut, on 5 Iyar, celebrating  David ben Gurion’s declaration of independence in Tel Aviv on May 14, 1948. The hatzi-Hallel is sung in the synagogue service for Yom ha-Atzmaut. The day before is Yom ha Zikkaron, remembering the fallen of Israel’s wars. The 2008 Movement for Reform Judaism siddur includes El ha Rachamim for Yom ha Zikkaron and a variety of prayers for Yom ha-Atzmaut.[1]

Dating Micah

Micah was one of the eighth century prophets, a contemporary of Isaiah and Hosea,  in the time of King Jotham the son of King Uzziah and continuing in the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah. He was writing after the fall of the Northern capital Samaria to the Assyrians in  722 BCE, Micah’s ministry being  c 735 to 700  in the kingdom of Judah. His came from Moresheth-gath, southwest of Jerusalem.

Micah is referenced in Jeremiah by some elders who speak in defence of Jeremiah, famous for his unpopular warnings of catastrophe:

Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah. He told all the people of Judah, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: “‘Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.[2]

The verse quoted is Micah 3:12 from a passage where Micah prophesies the fall of Jerusalem, a vision  at odds with the glorious future which Micah promises in our reading from Chapter 4.

The integrity of the book of Micah as the work of a single author has of course been disputed. From the nineteenth century, the prevalent view of bible critics tends to attribute the first three chapters of the book to an eighth century prophet writing under the name Micah, but the tone and style of chapter four contrasts with the prophesies of doom in the first three chapters; there is also a reference to Babylon in Micah 4:10 which suggets a date later than the eighth century.

Many commentators consider that Micah 1 to 4 is a separate unit, but there is disagreement as to whether it is earlier or later than the first three chapters. There is also a view that Micah’s prediction in 3:12 of the imminent future, that the temple hill will be a mound overgrown with thickets, does not necessarily contradict Micah 4:1-4, which speaks  of the last days, when the mountain of the Lord will stand firm.

Duplication in Isaiah and Micah

The first three verses of Micah 4 are the same as Isaiah 2:2-4

Isaiah was urban, resident in Jerusalem and Micah was, as we saw, from Moreshet-Gath, outside Jerusalem.

The Latter Days

Verse 1

‘In the Days to come’ or ‘In the last days’ is used by  prophets to refer to an unspecified later time, where God accomplishes some kind of change in the world order. בְּאַחֲרִית could be translated as ‘latter days’ or ‘later’ but does not refer to the end of the world. It usually heralds a promise of fulfillment or redemption and this understanding of אַחֲרִית may be the reason why Kohelet says: The end of a matter is better than its beginning.[3]

טוֹב אַחֲרִית דָּבָר מֵרֵאשִׁיתוֹ

It resembles בַּיּום הָהוּא, which is often used prophetically to speak of God’s intervention in the world to bring about change and justice.

The LXX has eschaton ton emeron, which is more like ‘the last days’, the word eschaton  being the source of the English word eschatology.

Handel set to music Job’s words: I know that my Redeemer lives, and  that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth, which in Hebrew is

וַאֲנִי יָדַעְתִּי גֹּאֲלִי חָי וְאַחֲרוֹן עַל עָפָר יָקוּם[4]

It sounds final, but Jacob’s prophecy to his sons sounds less so when he tells them: I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.[5]

וְאַגִּידָה לָכֶם אֵת אֲשֶׁר יִקְרָא אֶתְכֶם בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים

The Temple Mount

Philip Peter Jenson in a commentary on Micah, notes that the Temple Mount was not high – the Mount of Olives is higher – and is ‘exalted’ in the metaphorical sense of communicating the authority of God, Who dwells there.[6]

The verb ‘they will flow’, נָהֲרוּ, suggests a river – literally, they will stream. Note also, the preposition is not ‘to it’ but עָלָיו ‘up it’.

Rashi’s interpretation is:  ‘They shall gather there together like rivers flowing into the sea’.

The word order in Isaiah varies:  וְהָיָה בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים נָכוֹן יִהְיֶה הַר בֵּית יְהֹוָה בְּרֹאשׁ הֶהָרִים וְנִשָּׂא מִגְּבָעוֹת וְנָהֲרוּ אֵלָיו כָּל הַגּוֹיִם

Nachon is in different places in the verses; Micah has the pronoun hu, and Micah has alav, ‘on it’, where Isaiah has elev, ‘to it’.

וְהָיָה בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים יִהְיֶה הַר בֵּית יְהֹוָה נָכוֹן בְּרֹאשׁ הֶהָרִים וְנִשָּׂא הוּא מִגְּבָעוֹת וְנָהֲרוּ עָלָיו עַמִּים

Poetic parallelism

Verse 2

The terms ‘mountain of the Lord/house of the God of Jacob,’ ‘teach us His ways/walk in His paths,’ and ‘Torah will go forth from Zion/the word of the Lord from Jerusalem’ display the poetic parallelism which is a predominant feature of biblical poetry.[7]

There is also the parallel use of synonyms or near synonyms, in the first line  הַר יְהֹוָה  and בֵּית אֱלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב, in the second line דְּרָכָיו and אֹרְחֹתָיו and in the third line צִּיּוֹן and ירוּשָׁלִָם

Isaiah says ‘peoples’ where Micah says nations; otherwise the verses are the same.

וְהָלְכוּ עַמִּים רַבִּים וְאָמְרוּ לְכוּ וְנַעֲלֶה אֶל הַר יְהֹוָה אֶל בֵּית אֱלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב[8]

There is a small variation on the Great Isaiah Scroll found at Qumran, where the  words אֶל הַר יְהֹוָה, are missing. The DSS version therefore reads:

וְהָלְכוּ עַמִּים רַבִּים וְאָמְרוּ לְכוּ וְנַעֲלֶה  אֶל בֵּית אֱלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב

A light to the nations[9]

The words of the nations, ‘Let us go up’ echo the exhortation of the Israelites to eachother, in  Jeremiah:

There will be a day when watchmen cry out on the hills of Ephraim, ‘Come, let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God’.[10]

Philip Peter Jenson points out that these pilgrims are not necessarily proselytes:

Rather, they come …to learn from the God of Israel how to live in truth and peace. This is not quite the same as becoming Jews or proselytes…No longer are assorted shrines, moralities and customs of the ancient world a source of division and war. It is one resolution of the tension between unity and diversity.[11]

The name of the Zionist movement BILU which originated in Russia after 1882 was an acronym of the words from Isaiah 2:5 :בֵּית יַעֲקֹב לְכוּ וְנֵלְכָה , House of Jacob, let us  go up – this was the rallying cry for the pioneers of Zionism and we see in this verse of Micah, actually in the mouths of the nations, לְכוּ and נֵלְכָה

The expression ‘the God of Jacob,’ found many times in the Pentateuch and in the Psalms, occurs only here in the prophetic books. It emphasises that the multitude of nations ascend the mountain to reach the very specific and national God, made known to Jacob the patriarch.

Zion and Jerusalem

The Talmud[12] tells that the calendar can be calculated only from within the Land of Israel, so dissident views from the Babylonian diaspora were silenced with the citation of For Torah will go forth out of Zion, and the word of God from Jerusalem

Rav Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the British Mandate for Palestine, commented on the use of the names Zion and Jerusalem:

 Zion and Jerusalem refer to the same city, but they indicate different aspects of the holy city. The word Zion literally means ‘marked’ or ‘distinctive.’ It refers to those inner qualities that distinguish the Jewish people – a ‘people who dwells alone’ with their own unique spiritual traits. Jerusalem, on the other hand, indicates the holy city’s function as a spiritual center, influencing the nations of the world. Jerusalem is the means by which the Godly spirit found in Israel penetrates the inner life of distant peoples.In short: ‘Zion’ looks inwards, at the city’s inner significance for the Jewish people, while ‘Jerusalem’ looks outwards, at the city’s external role as a spiritual focal point for the entire world. [13]

Swords into Ploughshares

Verse 3

God intervenes to abrogate war in Micah’s vision of disarmament.

This is a the reverse of the militancy found in Joel, traditionally [but debatably) dated in the eighth century and earlier than Micah:

Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, ‘I am a warrior.’[14]

A ploughshare (or plowshare) is a cutting component of a plough, the sharp edge of the mouldboard which is the curved plate used to turn over the soil.  Pruning hooks were used to remove leaves from vines. The iron available in that period was soft and could be hammered into a tool.

The metaphor has timeless relevance. One could speak of putting  nuclear resources to benign use; of  using the knowledge of biology  for medicine rather than warfare.The striking expression לֹא־יִלְמְדוּן עוד מִלְחָמָה suggests that war is not instinctive but rather a skill to be acquired, or, in this case, rejected.

The vine and the fig tree

Verse 4

This verse is not found in Isaiah but the pairing of the vine and the fig tree do not belong only to Micah. It is found in 1 Kings, in a description of Solomon’s reign as the apogee of peace and prosperity:

During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, each man under his own vine and fig tree.[15]

In one of his apocalypses, Zechariah speaks of a time when there will be redemption from sin and messianic fulfillment:

In that day, says the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor under his vine and under his fig tree, declares the Lord Almighty.[16]

The emissary (the Rabshakeh רַב־ֹשָקֵה- an Assyrian title) of the Assyrian king Sennacherib in the time of King Hezekiah uses the expression in an unsuccessful bid to elicit a surrender from Jerusalem:

Make your peace with me and come out to me; then every one of you will eat of his own vine, and every one of his own fig tree.[17]

Hezekiah, counselled by his prophet Isaiah, rejected this bit of Assyrian spin.

When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah,Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, “Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me.  I myself will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land; I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.’ “[18]

It is interesting that Isaiah’s version of ‘Nation shall not lift up sword against nation’ does not include the saying about the vine and the fig tree, which Isaiah would have heard, or had reported to him, as the propagandist words of the Rabshakeh.

Micah may not have had access to the king as did Isaiah, the court prophet, but he was contemporary with these events  and the words seem to be  loaded with  reference to Assyrian ambitions in Judah. However Micah makes it clear that coming from his mouth, they can be believed, as he states: For the mouth of the Lord of Hosts has spoken. .

These words also indicate the conclusion of  the pericope.


Note that the word מַחֲרִיד ‘to make afraid’ is, literally ‘to cause to tremble. It is the causative (hiphil) form of the verb which gives us the word haredi.

A particularistic verse

Verse 5

Scholars tend to agree that this verse does not belong to the preceding unit of Micah 4:1-4, or to verse 6 and the following verses. It takes what seems to be a contrastingly dismissive view of the ‘peoples’ who worship pagan gods. God is called our God, with an emphatic אֲנַחְנוּ to distinguish between us and them The preposition כִּי is translated variously as ‘though’, ‘for’ or ‘let’, each of which gives a different emphasis to the verse. It could be interpreted as anything from judgmental to laisser-faire, but I do not think it goes so far in affirming diversity as, for example, Dave Allen, who used to say ‘May your God go with you.’

Jacob’s limp

Verse 6

Again Micah introduces this oracle with an eschatological term  בַּיּום הַהוּא and goes on to speak of the ingathering of exiles, which some scholars regard as an indication of  later, post-exilic authorship. The limping one is interpreted in Targum Jonathan and subsequently by Rashi as the Israelites in exile. The word for limping or lame is צֹלֵעַה rather than the more usual פִּסֵּחַ, and is allusive to a verse in Genesis where Jacob limps away from the angel with whom he wrestled till daybreak:

וַיִּזְרַח לוֹ הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ כַּאֲשֶׁר עָבַר אֶת פְּנוּאֵל וְהוּא צֹלֵעַ[19]

This was of course the episode where Jacob was given the name Israel.

Ne-um and amar

נְאֻם, meaning ‘He says’ is a separate verb from א מ ר, to speak and BDB defines it as a prophetic utterance.[20] It is found in most of the prophetic books and, very significantly just after the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22:

“I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,  I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.[21]

וַיֹּאמֶר בִּי נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי נְאֻם יְהֹוָה כִּי יַעַן אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ אֶת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה וְלֹא חָשַׂכְתָּ אֶת בִּנְךָ אֶת יְחִידֶךָ:

)יז( כִּי בָרֵךְ אֲבָרֶכְךָ וְהַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה אֶת זַרְעֲךָ כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם וְכַחוֹל אֲשֶׁר עַל שְׂפַת הַיָּם וְיִרַשׁ זַרְעֲךָ אֵת שַׁעַר

The only other instance in the Pentateuch is in Shelach Lecha, where God is angered because the Israelites are disheartened by the report of the spies:

Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the LORD, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you.’[22]

אֱמֹר אֲלֵהֶם חַי אָנִי נְאֻם יְהֹוָה אִם לֹא כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתֶּם בְּאָזְנָי כֵּן אֶעֱשֶׂה לָכֶם

The two consonants in common with א מ ר  probably signify a common etymology.

A hapax legomenon and a return to Mount Zion

Verse 7

This  word for ‘lame’ is repeated, but the word for driven away is different. Verse 6 has נִדָּחָה while verse 7 has נַהֲלָאָה. Whereas  נ ד חoccurs fairly frequently, meaning ‘driven away’, נַהֲלָאָה is a hapax legomenon, a passive (niphal) form of a verb ה ל א, not attested elsewhere in the bible. It seems to be connected with an adverb הָלְאָה which means ‘beyond’ or ‘thenceforth’, suggesting distance.

The verse concludes  with an allusion to verse one where the Lord’s house is at the top of the mountains; here the prophecy goes further in that mount Zion is specified and Micah speaks explicity of God’s eternal reign.

[1]Seder ha T’filot, 2008 pp394-401

[2] Jeremiah 26:18

[3] Ecclesiastes 7:8

[4] Job 19:25

[5] Genesis 49:1

[6] Obadiah, Jonah, Micah  Philip Peter Jenson T&T Clark, 2008

[7] The Art of Biblical Poetry Robert Alter 1985

[8] Isaiah 2:3

[9] Isaiah 51:4

[10] Jeremiah 31:6

[11] Obadiah, Jonah, Micah Philip Peter Jenson T&T Clark 2008 p145

[12] Berakhot 63b

[13] Abraham Isaac Kook (1865–1935)

[14] Joel 3:9

[15] 1 Kings 4:25

[16] Zechariah 3:10

[17] 2 Kings 18:31

[18]  2 Kings 19:5-7

[19] Genesis 32:31

[20] BDB p610

[21] Genesis 22:16-17

[22] Numbers 14:26-28

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