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.

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).