Which came first, Isaiah or Micah? Comparing Isaiah 2:2-4 with Micah 4:1-3
Isaiah 2:2-4 shares much in common with Micah 4:1-3. But who quoted whom?
Isaiah and Micah both prophesied in the 8th century B.C. Their prophetic oracles were delivered in Hebrew, and the Greek below is translated from that. But because I’m doing Greek Isaiah in a Year right now, I’ll confine my comments to the Greek text. Of course a more thorough examination of these two passages needs to consider the Hebrew, too.
Isaiah is in black and on top below. Micah is in red and on bottom.
ὅτι ἔσται ἐν ταῖς ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις ἐμφανὲς τὸ ὄρος κυρίου,
καὶ ἔσται ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν ἐμφανὲς τὸ ὄρος τοῦ κυρίου,
καὶ ὁ οἶκος τοῦ θεοῦ ἐπ᾽ ἄκρων τῶν ὀρέων,
ἕτοιμον ἐπὶ τὰς κορυφὰς τῶν ὀρέων,
καὶ ὑψωθήσεται ὑπεράνω τῶν βουνῶν.
καὶ μετεωρισθήσεται ὑπεράνω τῶν βουνῶν·
καὶ ἥξουσιν ἐπ᾽ αὐτὸ πάντα τὰ ἔθνη.
καὶ σπεύσουσιν πρὸς αὐτὸ λαοί,
καὶ πορεύσονται ἔθνη πολλὰ, καὶ ἐροῦσιν,
καὶ πορεύσονται ἔθνη πολλὰ καὶ ἐροῦσιν,
δεῦτε καὶ ἀναβῶμεν εἰς τὸ ὄρος κυρίου,
δεῦτε, ἀναβῶμεν εἰς τὸ ὄρος κυρίου,
καὶ εἰς τὸν οἶκον τοῦ θεοῦ Ιακωβ, καὶ ἀναγγελεῖ ἡμῖν τὴν ὁδὸν αὐτοῦ,
καὶ εἰς τὸν οἶκον τοῦ θεοῦ Ιακωβ· καὶ δείξουσιν ἡμῖν τὴν ὁδὸν αὐτοῦ,
καὶ πορευσόμεθα ἐν αὐτῇ·
καὶ πορευσόμεθα ἐν ταῖς τρίβοις αὐτοῦ·
ἐκ γὰρ Σιων ἐξελεύσεται νόμος, καὶ λόγος κυρίου ἐξ Ιερουσαλημ
ὅτι ἐκ Σιων ἐξελεύσεται νόμος, καὶ λόγος κυρίου ἐξ Ιερουσαλημ.
καὶ κρινεῖ ἀνὰ μέσον τῶν ἐθνῶν,
καὶ κρινεῖ ἀνὰ μέσον λαῶν πολλῶν,
καὶ ἐλέγξει λαὸν πολύν·
καὶ ἐξελέγξει ἔθνη ἰσχυρὰ ἕως εἰς γῆν μακράν·
καὶ συγκόψουσιν τὰς μαχαίρας αὐτῶν εἰς ἄροτρα,
καὶ κατακόψουσιν τὰς ῥομφαίας αὐτῶν εἰς ἄροτρα,
καὶ τὰς ζιβύνας αὐτῶν εἰς δρέπανα·
καὶ τὰ δόρατα αὐτῶν εἰς δρέπανα,
καὶ οὐ λήμψεται ἔτι ἔθνος ἐπ᾽ ἔθνος μάχαιραν,
καὶ οὐκέτι μὴ ἀντάρῃ ἔθνος ἐπ᾽ ἔθνος ῥομφαίαν,
καὶ οὐ μὴ μάθωσιν ἔτι πολεμεῖν.
καὶ οὐκέτι μὴ μάθωσιν πολεμεῖν.
The Isaiah and Micah passages are similar thus:
- The content is virtually the same; this is clearly the same prophetic oracle
- Both use parataxis (lots of καὶ to conjoin clauses), as was common in the Greek OT
- Whole phrases are identical (e.g., καὶ πορεύσονται ἔθνη πολλὰ καὶ ἐροῦσιν…)
- The general ordering of phrases/concepts and the flow of the oracle is the same in each
The Isaiah and Micah passages differ thus:
- Preceding this passage in Isaiah (actually part of the same passage in Isaiah, though not reprinted above) is a superscription. Isaiah 2:1 says, Ὁ λόγος ὁ γενόμενος παρὰ κυρίου πρὸς Ησαιαν υἱὸν Αμως περὶ τῆς Ιουδαίας καὶ περὶ Ιερουσαλημ (“The word which came from the Lord to Isaiah, son of Amos, concerning Judah and Jerusalem”)
- (Micah lacks any such superscription)
- There is minor variation in the prepositions; e.g., Micah has ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν where Isaiah has ἐν ταῖς ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις
- Different synonyms are used for the same idea; e.g., “swords” in Micah is ῥομφαίας but in Isaiah is μαχαίρας. And μετεωρισθήσεται in Micah is ὑψωθήσεται in Isaiah
- Isaiah has the emphatic πάντα τὰ ἔθνη in 2:2 (though this just follows the Hebrew, where this is not in the Hebrew in Micah)
- Other than this phrase, Micah seems more expansive
- What follows/concludes the oracle is different in each
If Micah is original, the changes between the two texts could just be stylistic and poetic variation. One author I read on this passage suggests that inverted quotations (e.g., the variations between λαός and ἔθνος) are deliberate and purposely show that a passage at hand is being quoted. If this oracle originates with Micah, then perhaps Isaiah 2:5 differs so much from Micah 4:4-7 because Isaiah used just what he needed, then made the application in his own way with, “And now, house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
But if this is true, then why Isaiah 2:1? I’m not the first to notice this, but couldn’t “The word of the Lord which came to Isaiah” be perceived as Isaiah claiming the oracle as originally his own?
In the end it’s impossible to be sure. My best guess is that this is some kind of shared liturgical material that the people would have been familiar with–not just a once-delivered oracle. Each prophet used it, I suspect, for his own purposes, as God guided. Where or with whom did the oracle originate? As Origen said regarding the author of the book of Hebrews… God only knows!