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375

CHAPTER XXV

MICAH THE MORASTHITE

Micah i.

Some time in the reign of Hezekiah, when the kingdom of Judah was still inviolate, but shivering to the shock of the fall of Samaria, and probably while Sargon the destroyer was pushing his way past Judah to meet Egypt at Raphia, a Judæan prophet of the name of Micah, standing in sight of the Assyrian march, attacked the sins of his people and prophesied their speedy overthrow beneath the same flood of war. If we be correct in our surmise, the exact year was 720-719 b.c. Amos had been silent thirty years, Hosea hardly fifteen; Isaiah was in the midway of his career. The title of Micah's book asserts that he had previously prophesied under Jotham and Ahaz, and though we have seen it to be possible, it is by no means proved, that certain passages of the book date from these reigns.

Micah is called the Morasthite.809809   Micah i.; Jer. xxvi. 18. For this designation there appears to be no other meaning than that of a native of Moresheth-Gath, a village mentioned by himself.810810   i. 14. It signifies Property or Territory of Gath, and after the fall of the latter, which from this time no376 more appears in history, Moresheth may have been used alone. Compare the analogous cases of Helkath (portion of—) Galilee, Ataroth, Chesulloth and Iim.811811   Ataroth (Numb. xxxii. 3) is Atroth-Shophan (ib. 35); Chesulloth (Josh. xix. 18) is Chisloth-Tabor (ib. 12); Iim (Numb. xxxiii. 45) is Iye-Abarim (ib. 44).

In our ignorance of Gath's position, we should be equally at fault about Moresheth, for the name has vanished, were it not for one or two plausible pieces of evidence. Belonging to Gath, Moresheth must have lain near the Philistine border: the towns among which Micah includes it are situate in that region; and Jerome declares that the name—though the form, Morasthi, in which he cites it is suspicious—was in his time still extant in a small village to the east of Eleutheropolis or Beit-Jibrin. Jerome cites Morasthi as distinct from the neighbouring Mareshah, which is also quoted by Micah beside Moresheth-Gath.812812   "Michæam de Morasthi qui usque hodie juxta Eleutheropolim, haud grandis est viculus."—Jerome, Preface to Micha. "Morasthi, unde fuit Micheas propheta, est autem vicus contra orientem Eleutheropoleos."—Onomasticon, which also gives "Maresa, in tribu Juda: cuius nunc tantummodo sunt ruinæ in secundo lapide Eleutheropoleos." See, too, the Epitaphium S. Paulæ: "Videam Morasthim sepulchrum quondam Michææ, nunc ecclesiam, et ex latere derelinquam Choræos, et Gitthæos et Maresam." The occurrence of a place bearing the name Property-of-Gath so close to Beit-Jibrin certainly strengthens the claims of the latter to be Gath. See Hist. Geog., p. 196.

Moresheth was, therefore, a place in the Shephelah, or range of low hills which lie between the hill-country of Judah and the Philistine plain. It is the opposite exposure from the wilderness of Tekoa,813813   See above, pp. 74 ff. some seventeen miles away across the watershed. As the home of Amos is bare and desert, so the home of Micah is fair and fertile. The irregular chalk hills are377 separated by broad glens, in which the soil is alluvial and red, with room for cornfields on either side of the perennial or almost perennial streams. The olive groves on the braes are finer than either those of the plain below or of the Judæan tableland above. There is herbage for cattle. Bees murmur everywhere, larks are singing, and although to-day you may wander in the maze of hills for hours without meeting a man or seeing a house, you are never out of sight of the traces of ancient habitation, and seldom beyond sound of the human voice—shepherds and ploughmen calling to their flocks and to each other across the glens. There are none of the conditions or of the occasions of a large town. But, like the south of England, the country is one of villages and homesteads, breeding good yeomen—men satisfied and in love with their soil, yet borderers with a far outlook and a keen vigilance and sensibility. The Shephelah is sufficiently detached from the capital and body of the land to beget in her sons an independence of mind and feeling, but so much upon the edge of the open world as to endue them at the same time with that sense of the responsibilities of warfare, which the national statesmen, aloof and at ease in Zion, could not possibly have shared.

Upon one of the westmost terraces of this Shephelah, nearly a thousand feet above the sea, lay Moresheth itself. There is a great view across the undulating plain with its towns and fortresses, Lachish, Eglon, Shaphir and others, beyond which runs the coast road, the famous war-path between Asia and Africa. Ashdod and Gaza are hardly discernible against the glitter of the sea, twenty-two miles away. Behind roll the round bush-covered hills of the Shephelah, with David's hold378 at Adullam,814814   For the situation of Adullam in the Shephelah see Hist. Geog., p. 229. the field where he fought Goliath, and many another scene of border warfare; while over them rises the high wall of the Judæan plateau, with the defiles breaking through it to Hebron and Bethlehem.

The valley-mouth near which Moresheth stands has always formed the south-western gateway of Judæa, the Philistine or Egyptian gate, as it might be called, with its outpost at Lachish, twelve miles across the plain. Roads converge upon this valley-mouth from all points of the compass. Beit-Jibrin, which lies in it, is midway between Jerusalem and Gaza, about twenty-five miles from either, nineteen miles from Bethlehem and thirteen from Hebron. Visit the place at any point of the long history of Palestine, and you find it either full of passengers or a centre of campaign. Asa defeated the Ethiopians here. The Maccabees and John Hyrcanus contested Mareshah, two miles off, with the Idumeans. Gabinius fortified Mareshah. Vespasian and Saladin both deemed the occupation of the valley necessary before they marched upon Jerusalem. Septimius Severus made Beit-Jibrin the capital of the Shephelah, and laid out military roads, whose pavements still radiate from it in all directions. The Onomasticon measures distances in the Shephelah from Beit-Jibrin. Most of the early pilgrims from Jerusalem by Gaza to Sinai or Egypt passed through it, and it was a centre of Crusading operations whether against Egypt during the Latin kingdom or against Jerusalem during the Third Crusade. Not different was the place in the time of Micah. Micah must have seen pass by his379 door the frequent embassies which Isaiah tells us went down to Egypt from Hezekiah's court, and seen return those Egyptian subsidies in which a foolish people put their trust instead of in their God.

In touch, then, with the capital, feeling every throb of its folly and its panic, but standing on that border which must, as he believed, bear the brunt of the invasion that its crimes were attracting, Micah lifted up his voice. They were days of great excitement. The words of Amos and Hosea had been fulfilled upon Northern Israel. Should Judah escape, whose injustice and impurity were as flagrant as her sister's? It were vain to think so. The Assyrians had come up to her northern border. Isaiah was expecting their assault upon Mount Zion.815815   Isa. x. 28 ff. This makes it quite conceivable that Micah i. 9, it hath struck right up to the gate of Jerusalem, was composed immediately after the fall of Samaria, and not, as Sinend imagines, during the campaign of Sennacherib. Against the latter date there is the objection that by then the fall of Samaria, which Micah i. 6 describes as present, was already nearly twenty years past. The Lord's Controversy was not closed. Micah will summon the whole earth to hear the old indictment and the still unexhausted sentence.

The prophet speaks:—

Hear ye, peoples816816   The address is either to the tribes, in which case we must substitute land for earth in the next line; or much more probably it is to the Gentile nations, but in this case we cannot translate (as all do) in the third line that the Lord will be a witness against them, for the charge is only against Israel. They are summoned in the same sense as Amos summons a few of the nations in chap. iii. 9 ff.—The opening words of Micah are original to this passage, and interpolated in the exordium of the other Micah, 1 Kings xxii. 28. all;

Hearken, O Earth, and her fulness!380

That Jehovah may be among you to testify,

The Lord from His holy temple!

For, lo! Jehovah goeth forth from His place;

He descendeth and marcheth on the heights of the earth.817817   Jehovah's Temple or Place is not, as in earlier poems, Sinai or Seir (cf. Deborah's song and Deut. xxxiii.), but Heaven (cf. Isaiah xix. or Psalm xxix.).

Molten are the mountains beneath Him,

And the valleys gape open,

Like wax in face of the fire,

Like water poured over a fall.

God speaks:—

For the transgression of Jacob is all this,

And for the sins of the house of Israel.

What is the transgression of Jacob? is it not Samaria?

And what is the sin of the house818818   So LXX. and other versions. of Judah? is it not Jerusalem?

Therefore do I turn Samaria into a ruin of the field,819819   Wellhausen's objections to this phrase are arbitrary and incorrect. A ruin in the midst of soil gone out of cultivation, where before there had been a city among vineyards, is a striking figure of desolation.

And into vineyard terraces;

And I pour down her stones to the glen,

And lay bare her foundations.820820   Which is precisely how Herod's Samaria lies at the present day.

All her images are shattered,

And all her hires are being burned in the fire;

And all her idols I lay desolate,

For from the hire of a harlot they were gathered,821821   So Ewald.

And to a harlot's hire they return.822822   It must be kept in mind that all the verbs in the above passage may as correctly be given in the future tense; in that case the passage will be dated just before the fall of Samaria, in 722-1, instead of just after.

381

The prophet speaks:—

For this let me mourn, let me wail,

Let me go barefoot and stripped (of my robe),

Let me make lamentation like the jackals,

And mourning like the daughters of the desert.823823   בנות יענה, that is, the ostriches: cf. Arab, wa'ana, "white, barren ground." The Arabs call the ostrich "father of the desert: abu sahârâ."

For her stroke824824   LXX. is desperate;

Yea, it hath come unto Judah!

It hath smitten right up to the gate of my people,

Up to Jerusalem.

Within the capital itself Isaiah was also recording the extension of the Assyrian invasion to its walls, but in a different temper.825825   Isa. x. 28 ff. He was full of the exulting assurance that, although at the very gate, the Assyrian could not harm the city of Jehovah, but must fall when he lifted his impious hand against it. Micah has no such hope: he is overwhelmed with the thought of Jerusalem's danger. Provincial though he be, and full of wrath at the danger into which the politicians of Jerusalem had dragged the whole country, he profoundly mourns the peril of the capital, the gate of my people, as he fondly calls her. Therefore we must not exaggerate the frequently drawn contrast between Isaiah and himself.826826   It is well put by Robertson Smith's Prophets2, pp. 289 ff. To Micah also Jerusalem was dear, and his subsequent prediction of her overthrow827827   iii. 12. ought to be read with the accent of this previous382 mourning for her peril. Nevertheless his heart clings most to his own home, and while Isaiah pictures the Assyrian entering Judah from the north by Migron, Michmash and Nob, Micah anticipates invasion by the opposite gateway of the land, at the door of his own village. His elegy sweeps across the landscape so dear to him. This obscure province was even more than Jerusalem his world, the world of his heart. It gives us a living interest in the man that the fate of these small villages, many of them vanished, should excite in him more passion than the fortunes of Zion herself. In such a passion we can incarnate his spirit. Micah is no longer a book, or an oration, but flesh and blood upon a home and a countryside of his own. We see him on his housetop pouring forth his words before the hills and the far-stretching heathen land. In the name of every village within sight he reads a symbol of the curse that is coming upon his country, and of the sins that have earned the curse. So some of the greatest poets have caught their music from the nameless brooklets of their boyhood's fields; and many a prophet has learned to read the tragedy of man and God's verdict upon sin in his experience of village life. But there was more than feeling in Micah's choice of his own country as the scene of the Assyrian invasion. He had better reasons for his fears than Isaiah, who imagined the approach of the Assyrian from the north. For it is remarkable how invaders of Judæa, from Sennacherib to Vespasian and from Vespasian to Saladin and Richard, have shunned the northern access to Jerusalem and endeavoured to reach her by the very gateway at which Micah stood mourning. He had, too, this greater motive for his fear, that Sargon, as we have seen, was actually in383 the neighbourhood, marching to the defeat of Judah's chosen patron, Egypt. Was it not probable that, when the latter was overthrown, Sargon would turn back upon Judah by Lachish and Mareshah? If we keep this in mind we shall appreciate, not only the fond anxiety, but the political foresight that inspires the following passage, which is to our Western taste so strangely cast in a series of plays upon place-names. The disappearance of many of these names, and our ignorance of the transactions to which the verses allude, often render both the text and the meaning very uncertain. Micah begins with the well-known play upon the name of Gath; the Acco which he couples with it is either the Phœnician port to the north of Carmel, the modern Acre, or some Philistine town, unknown to us, but in any case the line forms with the previous one an intelligible couplet: Tell it not in Tell-town; Weep not in Weep-town. The following Beth-le-'Aphrah, House of Dust, must be taken with them, for in the phrase roll thyself there is a play upon the name Philistine. So, too, Shaphir, or Beauty, the modern Suafîr, lay in the Philistine region. Sa'anan and Beth-esel and Maroth are unknown; but if Micah, as is probable, begins his list far away on the western horizon and comes gradually inland, they also are to be sought for on the maritime plain. Then he draws nearer by Lachish, on the first hills, and in the leading pass towards Judah, to Moresheth-Gath, Achzib, Mareshah and Adullam, which all lie within Israel's territory and about the prophet's own home. We understand the allusion, at least, to Lachish in ver. 13. As the last Judæan outpost towards Egypt, and on a main road thither, Lachish would receive the Egyptian subsidies of horses and chariots, in which the politicians384 put their trust instead of in Jehovah. Therefore she was the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion. And if we can trust the text of ver. 14, Lachish would pass on the Egyptian ambassadors to Moresheth-Gath, the next stage of their approach to Jerusalem. But this is uncertain. With Moresheth-Gath is coupled Achzib, a town at some distance from Jerome's site for the former, to the neighbourhood of which, Mareshah, we are brought back again in ver. 15. Adullam, with which the list closes, lies some eight or ten miles to the north-east of Mareshah.

The prophet speaks:—

Tell it not in Gath,

Weep not in Acco,828828   LXX. ἐν Ἀκειμ; Heb. "weep not at all."

In Beth-le-'Aphrah829829   לְֽעַפְרָה cannot be the Ophrah, עָפְרָה, of Benjamin. It may be connected with עֹפֶר, a gazelle; and it is to be noted that S. of Beit-Jibrin there is a wady now called El-Ghufr, the corresponding Arabic word. But, as stated in the text above, the name ought to be one of a Philistine town. roll thyself in dust.

Pass over, inhabitress of Shaphir,830830   Beauty town. This is usually taken to be the modern Suafîr on the Philistine plain, 4½ miles S.E. of Ashdod, a site not unsuitable for identification with the Σαφειρ of the Onom., "between Eleutheropolis and Ascalon," except that Σαφειρ is also described as "in the hill country." Guérin found the name Safar a very little N. of Beit-Jíbrin (Judée, II. 317). thy shame uncovered!

The inhabitress of Sa'anan831831   March-town: perhaps the same as Ṣenan (צֵנַן) of Josh. xv. 37; given along with Migdal-Gad and Hadashah; not identified. shall not march forth;

The lamentation of Beth-esel832832   Unknown. taketh from you its standing.

The inhabitress of Maroth833833   "Bitternesses": unknown. trembleth for good,385

For evil hath come down from Jehovah to the gate of Jerusalem.

Harness the horse to the chariot, inhabitress of Lachish,834834   Tell-el-Hesy.

That hast been the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion;

Yea, in thee are found the transgressions of Israel.

Therefore thou givest ...835835   Ambassadors or letters of dismissal. to Moresheth-Gath:836836   See above, p. 376.

The houses of Achzib837837   Josh. xv. 44; mentioned with Keilah and Mareshah; perhaps the present Ain Kezbeh, 8 miles N.N.E. of Beit-Jibrin. shall deceive the kings of Israel.

Again shall I bring the Possessor [conqueror] to thee, inhabitress of Mareshah;838838   מָרֵשָׁה, but in Josh. xv. 44 מראשה, which is identical with spelling of the present name of a ruin 1 mile S. of Beit-Jibrin. Μαρησα is placed by Eusebius (Onom.) 2 Roman miles S. of Eleutheropolis ( = Beit-Jibrin).

To Adullam839839   6 miles N.E. of Beit-Jibrin. shall come the glory of Israel.

Make thee bald, and shave thee for thy darlings;

Make broad thy baldness like the vulture,

For they go into banishment from thee.

This was the terrible fate which the Assyrian kept before the peoples with whom he was at war. Other foes raided, burned and slew: he carried off whole populations into exile.

Having thus pictured the doom which threatened his people, Micah turns to declare the sins for which it has been sent upon them.


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