Intertextuality in Micah 7 (Part Three: Evaluation)

In two previous posts I have examined and analyzed the evidence for an intertextual relationship between Micah 7:8-20 and The Song of the Sea in Exodus 15:1-18.

Intertextuality in Micah 7 (Part One: Evidence)
Intertextuality in Micah 7 (Part Two: Analysis)

I would like to now evaluate the results of Micah’s transformation of the Song of the Sea. In particular, I believe that Micah is utilizing intertextuality as a countercultural and prophetic act.[1] His refiguring of the imagery from the Song of the Sea would have been unexpected to his audience, challenging their traditions and hopes. The Israelites had been conditioned (by the Song of the Sea, no less!) to see their enemies as the foreign nations who oppressed them. Yet Micah’s revisionary tune would have subverted their nationalistic hopes, violent tendencies, and eschatological expectations for YHWH’s act of salvation.

Countercultural Attitudes & Actions

First, Micah’s audience would be challenged to see and respond to the world differently. The hatred they felt towards their socio-political enemies, which fueled many aspects of their political goals and eschatological hopes, would be exposed as shallow and futile. If Israel’s sins were the true enemy, God’s people would be called to replace their hatred with humility, recognizing their complicity in the evils of the world and their own state of exile. Likewise, Israel would be called to repent of any hopes or plans of violence against their enemies. Such actions would only be a distraction from the real problem and a waste of energy. Instead, the appropriate action for those who recognize their enemy as sin is that of repentance and transformation.

Countercultural Image of God

Second, Micah’s reconfiguration of the Song of the Sea presented a new and somewhat surprising image of God. While the Song of the Sea portrays a violent God committed to spilling blood for his people, Micah ends his book with a forgiving God who will use his rightful authority and power as the Warrior-King to forgive, instead of kill. This is a fitting end to both the textual unit of Micah 7:8-20 and the book as a whole. It would appear that YHWH’s war-like action towards his people’s sin is Micah’s ultimate prophetic answer to the problem of destruction which Israel faced in Micah 1:5 – “All this for the transgression of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel.” YHWH would act again as the Exodus-God, but this time there would be no mass killing of Israel’s enemies. Instead, even the foreign nations would have some share in the life to come (Micah 4:1-5; 7:12).

Canonical Coherence

Finally, Micah’s identification of sin as the ultimate enemy of God’s people has clear affinities with the larger context of the Christian canon. Micah is simply one of the earliest in a long line of prophets to call attention to this truth. Jesus does this in the Gospels by calling Israel to peaceful interactions with Rome and to repentance of her own sin. As N.T. Wright says, “Jesus called Israel to repent of her nationalistic ambition and to follow him in a new vision of God’s purpose for Israel. Resistance to Rome was to be replaced by love and prayer for the enemy. Israel’s plight was radically redefined: sin, not Rome, was the real enemy.”[2] St. Paul echoes this sentiment with his frequent personification of sin as a power that enslaves and an enemy that must be conquered. He states in Ephesians 6:12: “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces in the heavenly places.” I believe that Micah would be tempted to give a hearty “Amen” to statements such as these.

The book of Micah thus ends with a prophetic invitation to see the world through the lens of a new Song of the Sea. It was still a song of victory, though its militaristic and nationalistic themes had been prophetically re-interpreted. Perhaps, if we have ears to hear and eyes to see, we will find ourselves listening to Micah’s new tune and responding with the dances of faithful, repentant, and peaceful lives.

[1] I draw the concept of “intertextuality as a countercultural practice” from Richard Hays’ work in his article “The Liberation of Luke-Acts: Intertextual Narration as Countercultural Practice” from Reading the Bible Intertextually (p. 101-118).
[2] Wright, “Jesus” in The New Dictionary of Theology, 348-351. See extended discussion in his Jesus and The Victory of God, 451-463.

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