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).

The Great Irony of American Christianity

I’m currently leading a group of folks at my church through Lee C. Camp’s book Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World.  I first read it last year (it was highly recommended to me) and I think that it is one of the best “popular level” introductions to the theology & ethics of John Howard Yoder & Stanley Hauerwas (with a good measure of N.T. Wright and Richard Hays thrown in as well) that I have read.

The book has spurred some great conversation among our group and as I was preparing for our next meeting I was struck by the following quote:

“This is the great irony of American Christianity: exalting the nation that affords us ‘freedom of religion,’ we set aside the way of Christ in order to preserve the religion we supposedly are free to practice.  We kill our alleged enemies in order to ‘worship’ the God who teaches us to love enemies.  The most important question about our pledge of allegiance is not whether we pledge allegiance to a flag under “one God,” but to what god we are pledging our allegiance.  Perhaps it is, after all, not the God revealed in Jesus Christ we are worshiping, but the god of the nation-state, the god of power and might and wealth.”

Do you agree with his assessment of the “great irony of American Christianity”?  
Can you think of any other examples that would support his argument? 

Doctrine of Scripture and Interpretation

The doctrine of scripture fascinates me. Not as a study of doctrine, but as a study of hermeneutics. In other words, how does what I believe about scripture influence the way I interpret scripture?

First of all, I do not think that we can set aside our ideas about scripture when we sit down to read scripture. The search for an objective reading, a reading that happens separate from our preconceptions, is more illusion than allusive. Furthermore, our preconceptions are not just the confluence of social, economical, and physical factors, they include what we believe about what we are reading:

  • Whether or not you believe scripture is a source of truth (big or little ‘T’) matters;
  • Whether or not you believe scripture holds authority, and if so what kind, matters;
  • Whether or not you believe scripture is inspired, and if so in what way, matters;
  • Whether or not you believe scripture has a divinely inspired purpose, and if so what is it, matters;
  • Whether or not you believer that there is a connection between what the text meant and what it means matters.
  • What is scripture’s relationship to the church, civil authority, culture, relationships, morality, if any?

Secondly, failing to recognize our answers to these and other questions about scripture leads to bad hermeneutics. Bad in the sense they can become muddled or ad hoc, not that they always lead to bad or wrong readings.

Therefore, as I have thought about how I answer these questions, three central concepts have arisen: divinely inspired, uniquely edifying, and truth that transforms.

  1. Divinely Inspired – The divine inspiration of scripture can be a hot button issue for some today, but historically that is not really the case. The divine inspiration of scripture was the common, if not universal, conviction of the Christian Church’s forefathers.[1] Furthermore, figures from throughout the church’s history, such as Origen, Augustin, and Aquinas, considered this matter of such importance they evaluated this particular subject extensively in their respective works on scripture.[2] Thus, while I do not adopt a particular theory of inspiration (at least not with any degree of certainty) I firmly stand with Christian tradition in affirming that scripture is inspired by the Spirit of God.
  2. Uniquely Edifying – God designed scripture with a specific purpose, namely to reveal the wisdom necessary for salvation. At a fundamental level, this means God reveals Himself in scripture to lead humanity toward union with its author. In this way, scripture is not primarily a spiritual memoir that we read to find mystical utterances hoping to gain inner peace, nor is it primarily a textbook that we read hoping to gain elusive knowledge.  Rather, it is God’s self-revelation we digest, even participate in, so that it can nourish our souls and form us into the community it would have us to be.
  3. Truth that Transforms – Scripture contains Truth (I believe in “T” Truth), but truth does not concern only the mind. Rather, we are to be “transformed by the renewing of our mind” (Rom 12:7). Accordingly, Augustine thought scripture taught us not only what to believe, but what to hope for and what to love. In fact, he wrote, “Whoever, therefore, thinks that he understands the divine scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build the double love of God and of our neighbor does not understand at all.”[3] Additionally, Richard Hays writes, “No reading of Scripture can be legitimate if it fails to shape the readers into a community that embodies the love of God as shown forth in Christ.” [4]  Churches, therefore, need to be communities faithfully embodying the text for our world. Our places of worship, through our study and interpretation of scripture, must mold us into living witnesses to the transformative power of scripture.

For you, what are the central concepts for understanding the nature of scripture? And how does your understanding of scripture influence the way you interpret scripture?

[1] J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 60-64.

[2] Origen, First Principles; Augustine, On Christian Doctrine; and Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica.

[3] Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, 1.36.40.

[4] Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, 191.


Paul and Scripture

Like seemingly most things Pauline, Paul’s use of Scripture is an oceanic field of study. A steady stream of books, articles, and lectures flow from what seems to be an endless high tide of material.

Obviously, there are several reasons for the great interest in this subject but these three quotes help in finding a bearing:

N.T. Wright –  One of the central tensions in Paul’s thought, giving it again and again its creative edge, is the clash between the fact that God always intended what has happened in fact happened and the fact that not even the most devout Israelite had dreamed that it would happen like this. (Paul: In Fresh Perspective)

Richard Hays – The message Paul finds in the Old Testament is the gospel of Jesus Christ proleptically figured, a gospel proclaiming the inclusion of the Gentiles among the people of God…He saw himself…carrying forward the proclamation of God’s word as Israel’s prophets and sages had always done, in a way that reactivated past revelation under new conditions. (Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul)

Steve Moyise – Paul believed that the Scriptures were the very ‘oracles of God’ (Rom 3:2) and thus carried supreme authority in all matters. However, he had also come to believe that the divine plan revealed in Scripture had taken a significant step forward in the coming of Jesus Christ…This revelation caused Paul to look at the Scriptures with new eyes, sometimes clarifying what was written and sometimes reinterpreting it. (Paul and Scripture) 

Paul redefines, reactivates, even reinterprets scripture in light of God’s revelation of Jesus Christ. While his readings may not seem that foreign to many of us, that is only because we are conditioned to read the Old Testament through the eyes of Paul. Paul was our original guide through the Old Testament and so it hard for us to imagine how shocking many of interpretations must have been to the first hearers of his letters.

So how did Paul arrive at his conclusions? Steve Moyise (Paul and Scripture) lists three modern approaches to Paul’s use of scripture: 

  1. Intertextual –  A text is not discreet packet of meaning but part of web of other texts. Quotes/Allusions bring in more than cited words but also associations from surrounding verses. (e.g. Richard Hays)
  2. Narrative – A text (quote, allusions) brings with it is a narrative framework. The key to understanding its meaning is finding the larger story on which it hangs not in investigating the surrounding context. (e.g. N.T. Wright)
  3. Rhetorical –  Highlights what Paul does with the text in order to persuade his readers to accept his interpretation. Rhetorical views focus on those things to which Paul draws attention and not to those things he conceals. (e.g. Christopher Stanley)

Which view (or whose view) do you find the most helpful? Which views (or whose views) do you find the most suspect? Is there a view missing from the list?