Bifid

The prophets in the Hebrew Bible knew how to throw down. They often ran the risk of death for their faithfulness in sharing God’s message with others. But that didn’t stop them.

One potentially confusing thing about the prophets is their frequent and sometimes abrupt transition between good news and bad news. Scholars refer to prophetical books like Micah as “bifid,” meaning that it has two primary kinds of prophecies: woe and weal. Woe prophecies are prophecies of bad things that will come to those who do injustice, who disobey God, who oppress the poor in their midst, etc. Weal prophecies are the comforting good news to God’s people: that though they are sinful and fall far short of God’s commands, yet he will have compassion and forgive.

The alternation between woe and weal in the prophets can be pretty unsettling to the reader, as I imagine it was to the people who first heard the prophecies. (“Oh, hey, cousin Asher… everything is cool! God’s going to forgive us. Wait… what’s he saying now? We’re going to perish in our transgressions?”)

Micah is a bifid book. One fairly common structural understanding of the book, which I first learned from my Hebrew professor, but have since seen elsewhere, has the book split up something like this:

1:1                Superscription (i.e., title) identifying Micah as a messenger of Yahweh

1:2-2:11       Punishment, part 1 (Woe):
Yahweh will punish Israel (the North) and Judah (the South) for their Idolatry

2:12-13        Restoration, part 1 (Weal):
Yahweh will gather the remnant of Israel like a flock

3:1-12           Punishment, part 2 (Woe):
Leaders, rulers, prophets, and priests are all corrupt, distorting justice.
Darkness will come over them and Jerusalem will be razed.

4:1-5:8          Restoration, part 2 (Weal):
Many nations will come to the mountain of Yahweh to worship the God of Jacob.
There will be peace.

5:9-7:6         Punishment, part 3 (Woe):
Yahweh will cut off idolatry from the land, destroying the unfaithful cities of Israel.

7:7-7:17      Restoration, part 3 (Weal):
The enemy will be trampled, the cities of Israel rebuilt.

7:18-7:20      Hymn of praise to God

There’s a particularly striking relationship between the first few and the last few verses of the book, that I think helps to resolve some of the tension that the reader experiences in the back-and-forth prophecies of Micah.

Reading through a short prophetical book like Micah with the above outline in hand can be a useful exercise in deepening one’s own understanding of Scripture and the character of God. Even as I’ve grown to deeply appreciate the book of Micah, I’ve found it quite challenging to work through.

I’ll post again in the future about how I think 1:1 and 7:18-20 work together to frame the book into a unified whole.

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