Intertextuality in Micah 7 (Part Two: Analysis)

“The rising crescendo of salvation oracles [in Micah] climaxes surprisingly in praising I AM as a forgiving God, not as a Warrior as in Moses’ Song of the Sea with which it has striking intertextual links. The change is profoundly insightful.” – Bruce Waltke[1]

In a previous post I presented the evidence of 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)”]. However, when one pays close attention to Micah’s use of the Song of the Sea, it becomes apparent that he is doing more than simply repeating the Song. Instead, it appears that Micah has transposed the Song into a different key altogether. The most striking feature of Micah’s allusion to the Song of the Sea is the way that he transforms the meaning of the Song from its original context in order to stir up his audience towards faithfulness to YHWH.

Micah’s New Metaphor

The dominant conceptual metaphor that Micah employs throughout the first three stanzas of 7:8-20 is YHWH IS A KING.[2] This is a common metaphor in the Hebrew Bible, serving to map the concepts of royalty (traits of authority and power, roles of protector and administrator of domestic affairs) from the domain of human kingship to that of YHWH. Thus, YHWH is seen as executing judgement [v. 9], building and expanding the walls and boundary of his people [v.11], shepherding his people [v. 14], and dealing with other nations [v. 16-17].

However, Micah disrupts this metaphor with his allusion to the Song of the Sea (which climaxes in the imagery of “YHWH casting his enemies into the depths of the sea” in v. 19). The reference to Exodus 15:1 and 15:4 serves to echo the metaphor that is undergirding the war language in the source text: “YHWH IS A WARRIOR”. The disruption serves a positive purpose here as the warrior metaphor is brought in to supplement and further fill out the royal metaphor. The king will now also take on the role of a warrior – fighting a battle for his people and securing victory on their behalf.

Micah’s Transformed Metaphor

The real significance of Micah’s introduction of this new metaphor lies in his identification of the enemy to be defeated by YHWH. The enemies in the Song of the Sea are Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chosen officers – in short, they are the socio-political enemies of the people of Israel who have oppressed them in slavery and terror. The enemies in Micah 7:8-20 have been unnamed up until this point in the text (v. 8 – “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy”) and scholars have attempted to identify them in various ways as the Assyrians, Babylonians, or even the Edomites. One of these people groups would certainly seem like the expected reference for Micah to employ given the historical background of his ministry and rhetoric. However, in a stunning move, Micah does not name socio-political enemies as those who will be defeated in this new Exodus but instead identifies the great enemy as the sins of Israel.

Interestingly enough, it appears that no scholars take this explicit statement from Micah as holding weight for retrospectively identifying the enemies throughout the textual unit (v. 8-20).[3] I see two possible reasons for this: a lack of attention to the intertextual ties with Exodus 15 and/or a thin understanding of metaphors as simply descriptive language instead of a more robust understanding of the cognitive nature of metaphors. When Micah changes the identity of the enemy for YHWH the warrior, this creates a fundamental change in the conceptual map of the entire royal-warrior metaphor. Micah is calling for his people to recognize their true enemy as sin – a recognition that will reshape the nature, location, and weapons of the battle.

Micah thus sings the Song of the Sea, but inserts a shocking twist into the tradition. His revisionary employment of the warrior metaphor in Exodus 15 serves as a critical appropriation of the Song. If indeed YHWH is to act again in a way similar to the Exodus, his people would be expecting him to defeat their current socio-political enemies. Micah rejects this expectation, declaring instead that YHWH will fulfill his role as Warrior not in the killing of Israel’s enemies but in the forgiving of her sins.

[1] Waltke, A Commentary on Micah, 450.
[2] This analysis assumes an understanding of metaphor (Conceptual Metaphor Theory) which is different from the “traditional” understanding. CMT understands metaphors as a cognitive (not linguistic) phenomenon – see this post by Chad Chambers: The Nature of Conceptual Metaphor: Embodiment.
[3] For instance, see James D. Nogalski’s article “Micah 7:8-20: Re-Evaluation the Identity of the Enemy in The Bible as a Human Witness to Divine Revelation (p. 125-142). Nogalski postulates an intertextual relationship between Micah 7:8-20 and Isaiah 9-12 and the traditions surrounding Hezekiah in order to argue for an identification of the “enemy” as Assyria. Nogalski throws out Micah 7:19b as a later insertion into the text because of the change of the pronoun in v. 19b, saying that it would be “difficult to explain theologically.” (Nogalski, Literary Precursors, 152-153). However, Nogalski doesn’t recognize the intertextual ties to Exodus 15 which (I argue) provide the theological explanation he lacked in order to incorporate v. 19b into his interpretation.