Recently I read Micah chapter 2 with a friend and I would like to share with you some surprises that appeared. The passage highlighted so much of what I have previously written on how to read the Bible that it seemed like an appropriate case study.
When my friend and I decided to read Micah we had no idea what it was going to be about. Half the time it is hard to know what the Minor Prophets are referring to (actually more like 90% of the time).
So we began by watching the Bible Project's overview of the book. (Take YouTube videos like this with a grain of salt; they are man-made after all—always weigh it against what the Bible actually says.)
Watching this short overview meant that when we were reading the Hebrew poetry in Micah we were not in the dark about the context. We could then enjoy the images that Micah called on without needing to dissect them.
I don't think the importance of reading the passage aloud when you're together with one another can be understated. I can't think of a Bible study I've done with others where we haven't read the passage aloud.
As my friend and I have different translations (she NIV and me ESV) this is especially helpful. Each translation's word choices can be significant for what you pick up on.
One of the reasons reading the Bible together with a friend is so wonderful is because they see things you would otherwise miss.
Here is a sample of the observations we made:
- Micah starts with the stealing of land, which was prohibited in Leviticus. (They were meant to have an amazingly kind social welfare system!)
- The oppressors could not save themselves from disaster, or as the ESV puts it 'remove [their] necks.' It could be easy to skim over a familiar phrase like 'cannot save themselves,' but 'cannot remove your necks' makes you stop and visualize the scene. Intimidating!
- How evil Israel had become! They harmed the person who passed by with no thought of war! Makes you weep doesn't it?
- Verses 11 and 12 seem strange next to each other. There is no paragraph break in the ESV, so judgment and salvation together read rather strangely. This makes me lament that I cannot read Hebrew; there are possibly puns there which help the flow or conventions that make a thought break clear.
- And hello prophecy about the return from the exile! The Bible Project's video said there would be hope at the end of chapter two. The cross references are interesting in verse 13; translators have linked this verse with one about Babylon breaking down the gates of Jerusalem.
While none of these points begin with 'I notice...' (see the previous article), hopefully you can slot the words before nearly everything I've noticed.
When reading the Bible with others I have a piece of paper with these questions (and more) on it. I refer to them when appropriate.
Here are some of the answers we came up with:
What is being revealed about God in this passage?
God really hates sin. Really hates it. He pronounces judgment on the wicked, even if they are His own people!
How does this passage point to Jesus?
Verses 12 and 13 speak of a hope to come in the future.
Prophecies in the Bible will often refer to more than just one event. For example, these verses can refer to Israel's return from exile, Jesus entering Jerusalem before His death, Gentiles and Jews becoming Christians and ultimately us all worshiping God in heaven.
What would God's Word be lacking if this passage weren't here?
This was a tricky question to answer, as I would have thought other prophets pick up the same themes elsewhere. But Paul teaches that all of God's Word is useful for teaching, rebuking, training in righteousness, including this passage.
Going straight from chapter 1 to chapter 3 makes you feel sort of sick. The description at the beginning of chapter 3 is so grotesque. I am glad chapter 2 is in the middle!
It is helpful to learn in chapter 2 about the land being stolen off the poor. This develops the sinful acts that we see in chapter 1: idolatry. We learn idolatry leads to treating our neighbors evilly.
Are there any significant times or places? (Having a map out can be helpful!)
No. Sometimes there aren't so we move on.
Are there any metaphors or similes that illustrate an aspect of something?
I want to write 'yes, lots' but there is actually only one I can spot. It is the gathering of Israel like sheep. Sheep are a little bit simple-minded. They need a shepherd to watch over them and keep them from harm. And this is what God offers to do!
After reading the Bible together we always pray, usually highlighting an aspect of the passage.
From this passage we prayed God would forgive us for when we cheat or steal from others in ways that aren't obvious. (Stealing time is one that often goes unnoticed).
We prayed that God would help us to be godly and faithful too.
I hope this case study of how to read a more challenging passage from the Old Testament is helpful. I encourage you to immerse yourself in God's Word through any means possible!
Rachel Bartlett lives in Christchurch, New Zealand with her husband James and her puppy Pip.
Rachel Bartlett's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/Rachel-Bartlett.html