Intertextuality in Micah 7 (Part One: Evidence)

It’s a mistake to think of biblical interpretation as an activity that only began once the canon was closed. In fact, the Bible contains many examples of biblical authors who are interacting (often in surprising ways) with earlier sacred texts. Scholars call this intertextuality, or “the embedding of fragments of an earlier text within a later one.”[1] The prophet Micah is one such example –  a biblical author who was also an artful interpreter of Israel’s scriptures.

One of the most spectacular examples of Micah’s “inner-biblical exegesis” is found in Micah 7:8-20 (climaxing in v. 18-20).  In this passage, Micah echoes (and subtly changes) the infamous Song of the Sea from Exodus 15:1-18 [see the texts side-by-side here]. Close attention to the way that Micah alters the lyrics of this salvation-song reveals a powerful countercultural and prophetic call to see the world rightly, think about it properly, and act in it faithfully.

In this post I will first present the evidence for the intertextual relationship between Micah 7:8-20 and Exodus 15:1-8. In a second post I will analyze the way that Micah transforms the metaphor found in his allusion to the Song of the Sea. Finally, in a third post I will evaluate the remarkable implications that result from this analysis.[2]

Evidence of Intertextuality in Micah 7:8-20

1: Historical References

Micah references the Exodus to prepare the reader to hear the allusion in Exodus 15

Micah 7:17: “As in the days of when you came out of the land of Egypt, I will show them wonders.”
Micah 7:19: “He will again have compassion on us.”

2: Rhetorical Question Concerning YHWH’s Uniqueness

Micah & the Song of the Sea celebrate YHWH’s victory by asking a rhetorical question about his uniqueness

Micah 7:18: “Who is a God like you?”
Exodus 15:11: “Who is like you, O YHWH, among the Gods?”

3: Shared Language

Micah & the Song of the Sea share a large amount of vocabulary – much of which is pre-exilic, making it all the more unusual in Micah (including some fairly rare Hebrew words)

“inheritance” – Micah 7:14, 18 | Exodus 15:17
“wonder” – Micah 7:15 | Exodus 15:11
“awe” – Micah 7:17 | Exodus 15:16
“tremble” – Micah 7:17 | Exodus 15:14
“steadfast love” – Micah 7:18 | Exodus 15:13
“sea” – Micah 7:19 | Exodus 15:1, 4, 8
“depth” – Micah 7:19 | Exodus 15:5  (extremely rare – 12 times in the Hebrew Bible)
“father” – Micah 7:20 | Exodus 15:2 

4: Similar Poetic Images

Micah & the Song of the Sea share specific poetic images

Muteness afflicting the enemies of YHWH
Micah 7:16: “They shall lay their hands on their mouths”
Exodus 15:11: “They are silent as a stone”

YHWH throwing his enemies into the depths of the sea (completely original imagery to the Song of the Sea)
Micah 7:19: “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea”
Exodus 15:1: “The horse and his rider he has thrown into sea”
Exodus 15:4: “Pharaoh’s chariots and his host he cast into the sea”

The Intertextual Relationship between Micah 7:8-20 & Exodus 15:1-18

Utilizing Richard Hays’ 7 tests for detecting intertextuality, there is a very strong case to be made that Micah was intentionally “echoing” the Song of the Sea.[3] Far more fascinating than the similarities between these two texts, however, are the differences. It appears as though Micah has intentionally and dramatically altered the Song of the Sea. Unfortunately, while many scholars have noticed the relationship between these two texts, not many have explored the significance of their differences.[4] In my next post, I will detail how Micah’s “revised” song acts as a countercultural and prophetic call.

Update: Find my next post here – “Intertextuality in Micah 7 (Part Two: Analysis)

[1] Hays, Echoes of Scripture, 14.
[2] These posts will be a shortened form of a paper I have written titled “Echoes of Exodus in Micah 7:8-20: Micah’s Critical Appropriation of the Song of the Sea.”
[3] 1) Availability: The Song of the Sea easily predates Micah 7:8-20 and is alluded to in other parts of the Hebrew canon, indicating a high level of availability. 2) Volume: The “volume” of the illusion increases throughout the unit, culminating in the imagery of YHWH hurling his enemies into the sea. At that point it can be said to be a “loud” and clear allusion. 3) Recurrence: No apparent references to the Song of the Sea elsewhere in Micah. 4) Thematic Coherence: Both texts have the Exodus as a background, both celebrate YHWH’s victory, and both use warrior and royal metaphors. 5) Historical Plausibility: The important role that the Song of the Sea played in Israelite history supports the notion that Micah might employ it to speak of a coming act of redemption. 6) History of Interpretation: Modern scholars regularly see the intertextual relationship (I have not researched ancient interpreters). 7) Satisfaction: Intertextual relationship makes sense both historically and in literary context. However this criteria must be reevaluated after my proposed reading is fully argued.
[4] This is a vital part of the study of intertextuality: “One should only speak of intertextuality when one is interested in exploring the effects of meaning that emerge from relating at least two texts together, and indeed, that neither of those texts considered alone can produce.” (Stefan Alkier, Intertextuality and the Semiotics of Biblical Texts, 9).