Yahweh, The Breaker of Israel

My article, “Yahweh, The Breaker of Israel” was published in Perspective on the Old Testament and Hebrew, a collection of essays written in honor of Professor Page Kelley, one of my professors at The Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

The essays were edited by me and by Gregory Mobley. Greg was also one of Kelley’s students and his son-in-law. The essays were published in a special issue of Perspectives in Religious Studies in 2001.

The purpose of my essay is to study the oracle of hope and salvation in Micah 2:12-13 and to ascertain the identity of the agent of salvation who is described as “the breaker.” The essay also studies the many similes used in the oracle to describe the role of Yahweh in his relationship with Israel.

What follows is an excerpt from my article.

The Message of Micah 2:12-13

The message of the oracle in 2:12-13 has been the source of much debate. The oracle is divided into two parts. The speaker of v. 12 is Yahweh who promises the restoration of the remnant of Israel that is scattered among the nations. The speaker of v. 13 is a different person since Yahweh is spoken of in the third person. The speaker of v. 13 declares that Yahweh will save his people from their confinement by breaking the walls that confine them and by leading them into freedom.

This oracle of hope and salvation appears between the proclamation of exile in chapters 1-2 and the prophecy of the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in chapter 3. Micah, in his chastisement of the leaders of Judah, declares that the nation and its leaders will be banished from the land as punishment for their treatment of the people.

However, to the writer of the oracle in 2:12-13, the exile of the nation will not be permanent, for the time will come when the scattered people, the remnant of Israel, will be gathered by Yahweh their king, who then will lead his people home. A. S. Van der Woude believes that 2:12-13 is an oracle of the false prophets who proclaimed a false message of hope despite the rebellion of the people against Yahweh and their rejection of the ancient religious traditions of the nation.3

But this view is negated by the message of the oracle itself. The false prophets believed that Yahweh would deliver the nation from their enemies and would never admit the possibility of the people going into exile (see 3:11). As Max Margolis says, “It is not likely that the false prophets concerned themselves with the events following the downfall of the nation, which contingency they were most emphatic in denying.”4

Leslie C. Allen interprets 2:12-13 as an oracle from Micah proclaimed to reflect Judah’s situation in 701 at the time Assyria besieged Jerusalem and conquered several cities of Judah. According to Allen’s view, the place of refuge was Jerusalem. Faced with the imminent attack of Jerusalem by Sennacherib, the people from the villages and the countryside of Judah came to Jerusalem for refuge and safety.

Allen gives three reasons for this interpretation. The first reason is the similarity of this oracle with the oracle of Isaiah in 2 Kings 19:31. Since Isaiah spoke those words in response to the events in 701, the oracle of Micah reflects the same situation. The second reason to relate 2:12-13 to the events of 701 is the appearance of the word “gate” in v. 13. The use of the word “gate” in v. 13 goes back to 1:9 where Jerusalem is referred as “the gate of my people.”

Allen believes that the appearance of the word “gate” in v. 13 binds this oracle to the other oracles in chapters 1 and 2. Finally, Allen says that since God had announced the exile in 1:16, God also would provide a means of escape, by making Jerusalem a city of refuge.5 Allen describes the events as follows:

As the refugees gather from the various towns and villages in Judah in this final bastion of hope, they look behind them apprehensively at the pursuing foe. Are they safe? Will not Jerusalem fall like many another fortified city of Judah? As the last Judean villagers get through before the capital is blockaded by the Assyrian army, the prophet issues this oracle which not only assures that God is driving his people into this fold of safety, but looks confidently to the future with the forecast that the God who has led his people in will eventually lead them out in peace.6

You can read the article in its entirety online or you can download a PDF copy of the article here.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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