Universität Duisburg-Essen, Institut für Evangelische Theologie 

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Schart, Aaron, Stand: 2006-09-02

Jeppesen, Knud: Because of You! An Essay on the centre of the Book of the Twelve.

In: In Search of True Wisdom, ed. Edward Ball, Journal for the study of the Old Testament Supplement series 300. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999, 196-210. ISBN 1-84127-071-7


<198:> I will take my point of departure in a verse from the book named after Micah, a prophet from the eighth century BCE, and yet a verse which is mythically as well as historically related to the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE; and then I will discuss the context of this verse.

1. The Centre of the Book of Twelve: Micah 3.12

According to the Masoretes' notes in the Hebrew Bible the reader is half way through the Book of the Twelve Prophets, when coming to the words linken biglalekem siyyon dcadeh in Mic. 3.12. This verse is number 526 out of 1050 verses in the whole Book of the Twelve. The words `therefore, because of you, connect the claim of some Israelite officials: `Is not Yahweh in our midst? No evil can come upon us!' with the threat of God: `Zion shall be ploughed as a field'. Thus the verses in the centre of this biblical book deal with topics which are in the centre of both the theology of the Hebrew Bible and the history of the Israelite people, and this is probably not without importance

The idea that God is dwelling in the midst (beqereb) of Israel is one of the expressions for God's presence (see, e.g., Exod. 17.7; Num. 11,20), a variant of the formula Immanuel, `God is with us' (cf., e.g., Isa. 7.14). And God's presence in Zion is of special ideological and theological importance.s When Yahweh is in the midst of Zion or the temple, the future is secure and no harm will fall upon the people; his presence indicates his hesed, his steadfast love (Ps. 46.6; 48.10).

<199:> The claim, God is `in our midst', would normally in a Zion context be heard as a manifestation of faith in God, and of piety. But the people who in Micah 3 express their confidence in Yahweh's presence, are leaders, priests and prophets, who have taken advantage of their office and earned money for their own advantage; and as often pointed out, according to the prophets a declaration of piety must not be isolated from the way of life of those who make the declaration. If their ways are wrong, it is in vain that they refer to God's authority.
It is, therefore, no surprise that after the phrase `because of you' we find a text which speaks of events that express the very opposite of Yahweh's protective presence in Zion. Zion will become field and forest, and the abode of God will become ruins. This probably means that God, at least for the time being, will not reside on Mt Zion.
Just as it is part of biblical ideology or theology that God is present with his blessing and his love, it is also part of that ideology that God can leave a person or a place, d and thus take his blessing and love away. Most dramatically this feeling of forsakenness has found an expression in the words of the poet in Ps. 22.2: `My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?', and indirectly the same feeling is found in prayers for salvation (e.g. Ps. 38.22-23).

<202:> 2. The Centre of the Book of Micah: Micah 4.12

The Masoretes did not mark the centre of the single book among the twelve; they considered the Dodekapropheton to be one book. There is doubtless much to be learnt from a holistic or a canonical reading of the Book of Twelve - and that is what happens in the modern discussion./10/ But just as it is and has always been legitimate to take units out of the prophetic books and discuss them separately as single entities," so it is still legitimate to deal with, for example, the text between the introductory lines `The word of Yahweh that came to Micah...' (Mic. 1.1) and `An oracle (massa') about Nineveh" (Nah 1.1) as one unit and look for its centre.
Micah 4.12 is verse number 53 out of the 105 verses in the book of Micah; thus the centre of the book says, `But they do not know the plans of Yahweh'. This means that a shift of emphasis has taken place in comparison with 3.12. There a you (plural), a group of people, is spoken to, while here in 4.12 a they, a group of people, is spoken about. It is not the same group of people in the two verses; you in 3.12 are the Israelites, because of whom Jerusalem was going to be destroyed, and the they in 4.12 are the foreigners, who were involved in the act of the destruction and humiliation of Zion.

<203:> But where the variations of the preaching of doom in ch. 3 lead to the arrival of the disaster, the various descriptions of the situation in ch. 4 lead to the overcoming of the disaster, to a prophecy of hope. After the humiliation the former kingdom returns to Zion (4.8), Zion shall be delivered in Babylon (v. 10) and become as strong as a threshing heifer (v. 13), and a new ruler will go out from Bethlehem in Judah (5.1-5).

<208:> 3. Micah 3-4: A Prophecy of Hope

<209:> Even if one takes a long pause for breath between Mic. 3.12 and 4.1, the change in outlook for the future is surprising; it is like moving suddenly from night to day--and that is, of course, one of the reasons why scholars declined to read the two texts together. You cannot go directly from one statement that the mountain of the temple will become hills with forest, to another which claims that the mountain of Yahweh's temple will be placed on top of the other mountains as, so to speak, the centre of the world; so scholars thought. ...

<210:> The purpose of the redactional activity which connected 4.1-5 to ch. 3, which is the centre of the Book of Twelve, was to bring the people to the point, where they could appreciate what was said elsewhere, in an oracle from Yahweh in the book of Isaiah:

For a short moment I left you;
but with great mercy I take you back (Isa. 54.7).