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.

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).

You Might Be a Prophet If…

[a case study from the book of Micah]

(1) You deeply desire to reform God’s people.
Prophets have a tendency of pointing out the sins of the church (Micah 1:1-7) and calling her to replace false & empty worship with just & faithful living (Micah 6:1-8).

[Perhaps you sometimes wonder out loud why and how Jesus’ message got kidnapped for other agendas – “How Did Jesus Come to Love Guns and Hate Sex?”]

(2) You are hyper-sensitive to economic injustice and the plight of the poor.
Prophets also often condemn the greed of the wealthy and powerful (Micah 2:1-5), criticize political leaders and ideologies that allow the poor to suffer (Micah 3:1-4), and remind the wealthy of their responsibility to the poor and powerless (Micah 6:9-16).

[Warning: Fox News might call you an anti-Christian marxist – “Pope Francis’ Stinging Critique of Capitalism”]

(3) You find anything short of radical peace and inclusion simply unacceptable.
Prophets are sometimes foolish & unrealistic enough to long for a day when: vastly different people get along, war tactics/strategies are forgotten and left behind, and weapons of violence are transformed into tools of life (Micah 4:1-5).

[In fact, you might even have the gall to start being obedient now – “Beating AK-47’s into Shovels”]

(4) You are mocked and ignored because of your pleas for counter-cultural obedience.
Prophets are frequently considered dramatic, negative, and pointlessly contrarian.  The truth is that they truly feel the weight of all that has gone wrong with the world (Micah 1:8-9; Micah 7:1-13) and they can’t help but speak and act.  Unfortunately, this is often ignored or misinterpreted by those who only want to be affirmed and hear good news (Micah 2:6-13; Micah 3:5-8).

[Pro-Tip: You might receive a lot of patronizing questions and rolling of the eyes  – “You’re Not a Pacifist, Are You?”]

Is there anything you might add to this profile of a prophet?
Who do you know you is currently acting in a prophetic way?

non-prophet comic jpg