Which came first, Isaiah or Micah? Comparing Isaiah 2:2-4 with Micah 4:1-3

Isaiah Micah

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!

July 2012 Biblical Studies Carnival

Head over to Reading Acts for the July “Biblical Studies Carnival.” It’s a compilation of many, many posts on all things Biblical studies on the blogosphere in July. There is some really good stuff there, and Phil has done a great job gathering some informative links. I’m thankful to have received mention in the carnival (of my July posts here, here, and here).

Leaving it all on the field

I took a Septuagint test today. It was about Micah generally, the passage where Micah and Isaiah have basically the same text, the verse in Matthew that quotes Micah, and a verse in Joel that on first glance seems to say the opposite of a verse in Micah. I was asked to explain these things and do a bunch of translating.

This is how I felt before, during and after the test:

Yes, I’m a nerd, but the Septuagint really is awesome. I hope in future posts (perhaps on Septuagint Sundays) to share more about what I’ve been learning in my Septuagint directed study.

Prophetic Whiplash…God of Mercy or God of Wrath?

Reading the Biblical prophets (like Micah) can give the reader emotional whiplash. The prophets often alternated abruptly between communicating God’s good news and bad. So which one is it: does God graciously forgive his people’s sins, or does he harbor his anger against them in judgment?

The prophets didn’t feel a need to necessarily resolve this tension; both are true in some measure. But in the end the witness of the Hebrew Bible–very much confirmed in the New Testament–is summed up in Exodus 20:5-6 (AKJV):

Do not worship any idol, and do not serve them, for I am Yahweh your God, a zealous God. For the sins of parents I hold accountable their children, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me. But I show covenant loyalty to thousands of generations of those who love me and who keep my commandments.

Insofar as the tension between God’s mercy and God’s anger finds resolution, the Bible indicates that mercy is the overriding attribute of God.

Micah’s bifid structure, alternating as it does between woe and weal, seems to resolve at the end in favor of God’s mercy to his unfaithful people. This is Septuagint Sunday at Words on the Word, so a bit of Greek is in order. (You don’t have to know Greek to follow here.)

Micah 1:1 is the book’s superscription (=title page, essentially) where Micah identifies himself as a messenger of Yahweh, who has received his word to give to his people. The very first prophetic utterance, in the next verse (AKJV, from the Greek), is,

Hear these words, people, and let the earth and all that is in it pay attention. The Lord will serve as a witness (εἰς μαρτύριον) against you, the Lord from his holy dwelling place.

What follows in chapter 1 is fairly damning lawsuit language that calls God’s people into a courtroom setting for their transgressions of God’s covenant… where, of course, they have no defense. The woe-weal or wrath-mercy alternation continues through the rest of the book, until Micah concludes in 7:18-20 with a hymn of praise to God (AKJV again, from Greek):

Who is a God like you, who forgives injustices and overlooks the sins of the remnant of his inheritance?

He does not retain his anger as a witness (εἰς μαρτύριον), for he is one who delights in mercy. He will turn and have compassion on us. He will sink our injustices and hurl all our sins into the depths of the sea.

You will give truth to Jacob and mercy to Abraham, just as you swore to our ancestors from ancient days.

Of special note is how εἰς μαρτύριον (“as a witness”) serves as bookends for the book. In the first few verses, God himself is a witness against his people that they have committed sin against him. But in the final verses, he chooses not to call himself (specifically, his anger) to the stand as a witness (εἰς μαρτύριον) against his people. Rather, he overlooks (ὑπερβαίνων) their sins, sinking them into the depths of the sea.

Quite a different use of εἰς μαρτύριον to close out the book! In his last verses, Micah echoes the Exodus passage, that God forgives our wrongdoings and shows mercy, even with all he has to call as a witness against us.

God’s wrath is real, and our sins deserve it, yet in the end he has chosen to have mercy on his people.


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.

Micah and the Septuagint

A few semesters ago I had the privilege of taking a great class at Gordon-Conwell with Dr. Doug Stuart: Intermediate Hebrew Grammar (syllabus PDF).  Dr. Stuart is an excellent professor and scholar.  In that class we worked our way through the Hebrew text of Micah (which is quite a challenge!).  The class left a lasting impression on me, and kindled in me a love for the prophet Micah.  (It doesn’t hurt that I have a really great brother with that same name.)

Now I’m doing a “reading course” (directed study) with Dr. Al Padilla in the Greek Old Testament version of Micah (as well as I Maccabees 1-4).  The Greek in Micah is as difficult as the Hebrew (which it translates), but I’m having a great time working my way through the book again and trying to increase my Greek vocabulary.

Part of my course is to read a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time, Invitation to the Septuagint, by Dr. Karen Jobes (who teaches at Wheaton, where I did undergrad) and Moises Silva (who used to teach at Gordon-Conwell).  It’s a fantastic introduction–simple enough, yet still challenging.  The Greek Old Testament (“Septuagint”) translated the Hebrew Bible beginning in about the 3rd century B.C.  Thus it “was the primary theological and literary context within which the writers of the New Testament and most early Christians worked” (23).  Our English Bibles today translated the Old Testament from Hebrew, whereas New Testament writers quoted the Old Testament in Greek–which is why a NT quotation may differ from the OT when you go look it up in an English Bible.

I’m excited to read more of this book and continue my studies in Micah.  What is really fascinating to me is how Septuagint scholars have to know both Greek and Hebrew cold, since much of their work is trying to figure out what Hebrew the Greek before them translated.  I may never get to that level with my languages, but I’m going to at least make a little progress in the meantime.