Micah 7:18-20

Blaine Robison, M.A.

Published 5 October 2019; Revised 20 September 2021

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Scripture Text: The Scripture text of this commentary is prepared by Blaine Robison based on the Westminster Leningrad Codex found at BibleHub.com. The essentially literal translation seeks to reflect the Hebraic character of the author and writing. Other Bible versions may be quoted. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions.

Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited may be found at the end of the chapter commentary. Works without page numbers are cited ad loc. Important Jewish sources include the following:

LXX: The abbreviation "LXX" ("70") stands for the Septuagint, the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which was in use among Jews by the mid-2nd century B.C. Online.

MT: The Masoretic Text is the authoritative Hebrew text of the Tanakh for Rabbinic Judaism. Work on developing a uniform Hebrew Bible began in the 2nd century under Rabbi Akiva, but completed by Jewish scholars known as the Masoretes between the 7th and 10th centuries A.D. The oldest extant manuscripts date from around the 9th century. Online.

Talmud: Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. The Jerusalem Talmud, identified with "TJ," may be found here. Click here for Talmud abbreviations.

Targums: The targums are early Aramaic translations of the Hebrew text with commentary: Targum Jerusalem (1st c. AD), Targum Neofiti (1st c. AD), Targum Onkelos (c. 35120 AD) and Targum Jonathan (2nd c. AD). See an index of Targum texts here.

Special Terms: In order to emphasize the Hebraic nature of Scripture I use the terms ADONAI (for 'LORD' when quoting a Tanakh source), Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus) and Messiah (Christ).

Syntax: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB" and the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009). Parsing information for Hebrew verbs is taken from John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament (1989). An explanation of Hebrew verbs and grammatical construction can be found at Hebrew4Christians.com.

The Author

Micah (Heb. Mikah, "Mee-kah" an abbreviated form of Mikayah "who is like Yah?; LXX Michaios) was from Moresheth-Gath in Judah (1:1; cf. Jer 26:18). The ministry of Micah spanned 740-700 BC during the reigns of Jotham (740-732 BC), Ahaz (732-716) and Hezekiah (716-687) (Mic 1:1). He was a younger contemporary of Isaiah and may have even been his student (cf. Isa 1:1).

The Book

The book of Micah divides easily into three major blocks of material, each beginning with the call to "hear:" 1:2−2:13; 3:1−5:15; and 6:1−7:20 (Kaiser 149). Micah rebukes the corrupt leaders of Judah for falling into the sins of Samaria (1:5), blasts pervasive injustice in all its forms (2:1-9; 3:9-11; 6:10-12; 7:3), pronounces God's wrath on the wicked (5:10-15; 6:16; 7:4), and calls for repentance (6:8). God delights in being a loving God (7:18) and God is faithful to His covenant with Abraham and Jacob (7:20). The prophet Micah gives a more detailed account of the Messianic hope than previous pre-exile prophets. The book contains remarkable prophecies of the birth of Messiah, the kingdom of Messiah, and Judah's future restoration.

Micah depicts the Messiah as the Gate of the sheep (2:12-13), the Teacher-Ruler (4:1-3), an eternal ruler-shepherd from Bethlehem (5:2-4) and the Light of salvation (7:7-9). In verse 9 of this chapter Micah confessed his own sin, which the Targum interpreted as Micah speaking for Jerusalem. The prophet then closes his book with a praise of God's grace and covenant faithfulness.

Micah offered a message of comfort and future hope. Micah promised that a remnant of Jacob will be preserved and dispersed among the nations (2:12; 4:7-8; 5:7-8). There will be restoration of the land and the spread of Torah among the nations in the last days (4:1-7). He also promised take away iniquity from His people and the nations to fulfill covenantal promises made to Abraham and Jacob (7:18-20).

Micah, with an allusion to the significance of his own name ("Who is like Yah"), concludes his book with a burst of enthusiastic homage to the God of gods (Ellicott).

Chapter Overview

Chapter Seven concludes the third message of the book that began at 6:1. This chapter begins with a lamentation of the prophet, in the name of the people of God, concerning the general decay of piety and the growth of ungodliness during the times in which he lived (7:1-6). The prophet then declares that in the midst of these circumstances he will wait for God's salvation and grants vindication before his enemies (7:7). Micah next identifies with his nation, and confesses their sin as if it were his own (7:8-9). Micah knows that judgment is coming on Judah in spite of past and future blessings. The land shall also be judged and become desolate (7:10-13).

Micah appeals to God to shepherd His people as He did in the time of the exodus from Egypt (7:14-15). Micah is confident that as God works in behalf of His people the nations will take notice and come in penitence (7:16-17). Micah closes his book with a chorus of thanksgiving that answers the question "Who is a God Like You?" (7:18-20). Micah stresses that God will have compassion on His people and fulfill promises He made to Abraham and Jacob.

Chapter Outline

Sinful State of Judah, 7:1-4

Deterioration of Relationships, 7:5-7

Confession and Vindication, 7:8-10

Desolation and Restoration, 7:11-13

God's Shepherding Care, 7:14-15

The Subjection of the Nations, 7:16-17

Thanksgiving for Covenant Faithfulness, 7:18-20

Thanksgiving for Pardon, 7:18-20

18 Who is a God like You taking away iniquity, passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain forever His anger, because He delights in covenant loyalty.

Who is: Heb. mi, who, interrogative pronoun. a God: Heb. El., God, generally used in the Tanakh of the one only and true God of Israel. El is the mighty God. like You: Heb. kemo, prep., like as, none in existence. The opening question is an allusion to the meaning of Micah's name. taking away: Heb. nasa, Qal part., lift, carry, take. The verb is a word picture of the scapegoat that carried the sins of the people into the wilderness on Yom Kippur (Lev 16:7-10, 21-22). The LXX has exairō, to lift up, remove or eject. iniquity: Heb. avon (SH-5771), wicked conduct (Gen 15:16), guilt for sinful acts (Lev 5:1), or the punishment prescribed for sinful conduct (Lev 5:17). Avon is disobedience or rebellion against God's expectations.

The LXX translates avon with adikia, injustice, unrighteousness, a deed deliberately violating a Torah commandment. The noun avon denotes both the deed and its consequences. In Hebraic thought the act of sin and its penalty are not radically separate (TWOT 2:650). Most scholars believe that implicit in avon is an awareness of the culpability of the action. Micah's statement alludes to the Torah passage, "taking away [nasa] iniquity [avon], and transgression [pesha], and sin [chatta'ah]" (Ex 34:7 BR). Iniquity describes behavior that deserves and receives the punishment due the offense (Ex 28:43; 1Sam 20:8; 2Sam 14:32; 1Kgs 17:18; Neh 4:5). The first part of the verse could also hint at a future meaning: "Who is a God like you, taking the punishment for iniquity."

The opening clause alludes to the national Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur, Tishri 10). On this day Aaron was to lay his hands on a goat and confess the iniquities (Heb. avon) of the people and then send this goat into the wilderness to symbolically carry the iniquities of the nation away from the presence of God (Lev 16:21-22). The sins and iniquities of Israel polluted the sanctuary (Lev 16:16), so Micah depicts God's response as taking that impurity away from the Holy Place so that He could continue to dwell in the midst of His people. The benefit of the national atonement was temporary had to be repeated year after year.

passing over: Heb. abar, Qal part., pass over, by or through. used here in the sense of overlooking or forgiving. The LXX has huperbainō, to step over, go beyond. transgression: Heb. pesha (SH-6588), violation of God's express commandments. The LXX has asebeia, impiety, irreverence, ungodliness, wickedness. for the remnant: Heb. sheerith (SH-7611), remnant, remainder, what is left. Perhaps those who returned from captivity. The term remnant is a reminder of the losses Israel has suffered in the past, but it offers the hope of salvation in the future (Allen). of His heritage: Heb. nachalah (SH-5159), possession, property, inheritance. God took away the pollution caused by those that committed iniquity and passed over the transgressions for the sake of his faithful remnant. Otherwise, God's holiness and justice would have obligated Him to destroy the nation (cf. Ex 32:9-10, 30-35).

He does not retain: Heb. chazaq (SH-2388), Hiphil perf., grow firm or strengthen. forever: Heb. ad, continuing future, perpetuity. His anger: Heb. aph (SH-639), nostril, anger. because: Heb. ki, conj. He: Heb. hu, pronoun, he. delights: Heb. chaphets (SH-3654), adj., to delight in, take pleasure. in covenant loyalty: Heb. chesed (SH-2617), goodness, kindness, loyal love, lovingkindness, covenant loyalty. Many versions tanslate the noun as "mercy." Mercy is natural for God; it is not natural for us. However, chesed represents the solidarity which the partners in the covenant owe one another. A better interpretation is found in versions that have "love" with the adjective constant, faithful, loyal, steadfast or unfailing.

The LXX translates chesed with eleos, kindness expressed for one in need, "mercy." The characteristic is an evidence of God's love toward those who love Him and keep His commandments (Ex 20:6; Ps 25:10). Motivated by chesed God not only loves but forgives (Ex 34:6-7; Num 14:18-19; Neh 9:17; Ps 86:15; 145:8). God's chesed also prompts Him to remember His covenant with Israel and David (Deut 7:9, 12; 1Kgs 8:23; 2Chr 6:14; Neh 1:5; 9:32; Ps 89:1-4, 28; 90:14; 106:45; Isa 54:10; Dan 9:4).

Exposition

Micah poses a rhetorical question concerning the reality of his time, but also offers a promise that would eventually be fulfilled by the Messianic ruler from Bethlehem. It is important to make a distinction between the national atonement on Yom Kippur and atonement in individual cases. In the national atonement the accumulated sins of the nation (of whatever kind) are depicted as a single group that is placed on the back of the goat and sent away into the wilderness. Sending the sins away is the definition of cleansing in that context and this action enabled God to continue dwelling among His people. Individual atonement is quite another matter and accountability was still required in the case of capital crimes, such as the case of Achan who confessed his sin, but was still executed (Josh 7:19-20, 25).

It is strange that after the Torah prescription the Tanakh is silent on the observance of Yom Kippur in the land. By the time of the divided kingdom God was fed up with the religious practice of sacrifices without national repentance (Isaiah 1:11-17). Zechariah mentions that Jews kept the fast of the seventh month (Yom Kippur) during the seventy years of exile in Babylon (Zech 7:5; 8:19), but he questions their motive for doing so when there was no commitment to doing justice. Isaiah provided the same criticism of religious fasting without concern for the poor (Isa 58).

Paul pointed out  the sacrifices of Israel did not actually take away sins from the worshipper (Heb 10:4). They could not cleanse the conscience of the worshipper (Heb 10:9). In contrast to the Yom Kippur sacrifice Yeshua's death provided a "once-for-all" atonement (Heb 7:27; 9:7-12, 28; 10:10); i.e., efficacious indefinitely into the future. Unlike the promise of the New Covenant, sacrificial offerings under the Old Covenant never gave spiritual life to the people. The fact is illustrated in Paul's declaration, "the blood of bulls and goats cannot really remove the guilt of sin" (Heb 10:4 Phillips). Sacrifices could not cleanse the human conscience (Heb 9:9). The good news is that Yeshua accomplished what the Torah could not do (Rom 8:3; Heb 9:14).

19 He will turn again; He will have compassion on us. He will subdue our iniquities, and You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.

He will turn again: Heb. shuv (SH-7725), Qal impf., turn back, return. The Targum has "His word will return" (Gill). The verb as used here denotes repetition, that of reversing a previous action (BDB 996). The LXX has epistrephō, to turn or return, which marks a definite change in behavior. He will have compassion on us: Heb. racham (SH-7355), Piel impf., 1p-cpl. suffix, to love, show compassion. The LXX has oiktirō, to pity, have compassion on (cf. Rom 9:15). He will subdue: Heb. kabash (SH-3533), Qal impf., subdue, bring into bondage. The LXX has katadusei from katadunō (SG-2616.2), to sink, to plunge into (LSJ). our iniquities: pl. of Heb. avon (SH-5771), 1p-pl. suffix. See the previous verse.

and You will cast: Heb. shalak (SH-7993), Hiphil impf., throw, cast, hurl. The Hiphil denotes causative action. The LXX has aporiptō, throw away from, throw overboard (cf. Acts 27:43). into the depths: Heb. metsolah (SH-4688), depth, deep. The LXX has bathos, extreme degree, deep water. of the sea: Heb. yam (SH-3220), sea. The LXX has thalassa. all: Heb. kol, the whole, all. our sins: pl. of Heb. chattah'ah (SH-2403), sinful thing, sin, whether act or condition. The LXX has hamartia, sin. God will turn from His anger toward His people and show His unchangeable love, His covenant faithfulness. The second part of the verse depicts complete removal of guilt.

Exposition

Micah uses a dramatic parable to describe the spiritual removal operation, but makes the action future. God will cast both iniquities and sins into the sea. "It is very common in the Jerusalem Talmud to say of anything that is useless, abominable, accursed, and utterly rejected, that it is to be cast into the salt sea" (TJ Demai 25. 4.; ibid. Sotah 19.1.; ibid. Avoda Zara 39.2. & ibid. Nazir 53.1) (Gill). That sea is appropriately called "Dead."

Micah prophesied that the day would come when God would take avon from His people by taking the punishment for avon on Himself. In his sermon in Pisidian Antioch Sha'ul declared that the death of Yeshua provided atonement for sins for which there was no atonement in the Torah (Acts 13:38-39). Thus, there is no sin that cannot be forgiven, if there is sincere confession and repentance. From God's point of view sin is a choice and Paul warned "if we keep on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment" (Heb 10:26-27).

20 You will give faithfulness to Jacob, loyalty to Abraham, which You have sworn to our fathers from the days of old."

You will give: Heb. nathan (SH-5414), Qal impf., give, put or set. NJB translates the verb as a petition rather than an affirmation. faithfulness: Heb. emet (SH-571), firmness, faithfulness, reliability, truth. The LXX has alētheia, truth, sincerity, what is true in things appertaining to God and the duties of man. Bible versions are divided in translation with either "faithfulness, faithful, loyalty, loyal, or be true" (AMPC, CEB, CEV, CSB, ERV, ESV, GNB, HCSB, JPS-1917, LEB, LITV, NABRE, NCV, NET, NIV, NIRV, NJB, NJPS, NLT, NLV, RSV) or "truth" (AMP, ASV, CJB, KJV, NASB, NKJV, TLV, WEB, YLT). Even with the translation of "truth" Bible commentators interpret the noun to be the faithful performance of promises made.

to Jacob: Heb. Ya'akov (SH-3290), son of Isaac and fig. of the nation of Israel. The meaning of Jacob's name, "heel-catcher," originally had no pejorative connotation. As indicated by Hosea 12:3, "heel-catcher" illustrated the strength and power he had with God. The story of Jacob is narrated in Genesis 2550. He was the second born of the twin sons of Isaac by Rebekah, probably at Beer-Lachai-Roi in the Negev (cf. Gen 24:62; 25:11), when his father was 60 (cf. Gen 25:20, 26) and Abraham 160 years old (Gen 21:5). Before Jacob's birth God informed Rebekah of Jacob's future preeminence over his brother Esau (Gen 25:23).

The prophetic revelation given to Rebekah meant that Jacob, even though born second, would have all the rights of the firstborn: (1) superior rank in his family (Genesis 49:3); (2) a double portion of the paternal inheritance (Deut 21:17); (3) the priestly office in the family (Num 8:17-19); and (4) the promise of the Seed in which all nations of the earth were to be blessed (Gen 22:18). From the time of his birth Jacob was a good man who lived as a shepherd, whereas his brother Esau became an enterprising hunter and eventually an immoral and godless man (Heb 12:16). Unfortunately common Christian interpretation of Jacob's story has conveniently ignored God's will and twisted the facts of the story in order to take up an offense for Esau.

Soon afterwards and fearful of Esau's anger, Jacob left for Haran at the suggestion of his parents to find a wife among his cousins, the family of Laban. On the way God revealed to Jacob in a miraculous manner that he had succeeded to the covenant made with Abraham (Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-21; 17:1-22) and his father Isaac (Gen 26:2-5, 23-24) with all its promises (Gen 28:13-16). God assured Jacob that his descendants would possess the land of Canaan, that his descendants would multiply as the dust of the earth and spread out in all directions, that through him all the peoples of the earth would be blessed and that God would never leave him.

Jacob's lengthy stay in Haran gained him four wives, eleven sons and a daughter. After spending 20 years in Haran Jacob moved his family back to Canaan (Gen 31). En route to Haran Jacob wrestled with an angel (Gen 32:24-30) and was given the name Israēl ("God prevails," BDB 975). Shortly thereafter Jacob met his brother Esau with whom he gained a reconciliation. Eventually Jacob moved to Bethel where God appeared to him and again affirmed his continuing inheritance of the Abrahamic covenant, specifically mentioning the land promised to Abraham and Isaac and adding a new promise that Jacob would become a "company of nations" (Gen 35:11-12).

Not long after Rachel died in giving birth to their twelfth son, Benjamin (35:16-20). After the death of Isaac follows the story of Joseph being sold into Egyptian slavery, famine, the removal of the family of seventy into Egypt and the reconciliation between father and sons (Gen 3747). There in the land of Goshen Jacob lived out 17 years, then gave final blessings to his sons (Gen 49) and died at the age of 147 (Gen 47:28). Jacob's body was embalmed and carried with great ceremony into the land of Canaan, and buried beside his wife Leah in the cave of Machpelah, according to his dying charge.

Jacob son of Isaac was a great and godly man who held a place of high honor among the people of Israel. It is not surprising then that five different men bear his name in the Besekh. For a complete analysis of the story of Jacob see my web article Our Father Jacob.

loyalty: Heb. chesed (SH-2617). See verse 18 above. The LXX has eleos, mercy. A few versions have "loyalty" (NABRE, NRSV, NJPS) or "love" which is modified with an adjective "constant, faithful, loyal, steadfast or unfailing" (CSB, CEB, ESV, GNB, LEB, NASB, NET, NIRV, NIV, NLT, RSV). Others have "mercy" (AMP, GW, JUB, KJV, NOG, NKJV, TLV). to Abraham: Heb. Abraham (SH-85), exalted father; the first Hebrew, but also fig. of those in him that God promised to bless, all nations. The first Hebrew patriarch, he became the prime example of trusting faithfulness. He was the son of Terah, a descendant of Noah's son, Shem (Gen 11:27). He grew up in Ur of the Chaldees, a prominent Sumerian city.

The patriarch was known at the beginning as Abram ("father is exalted"), but his name was changed subsequently to Abraham ("father of a multitude") (Gen 17:5). Abraham was living in Haran when God called him to migrate to Canaan, and during his sojourn there God spoke to him and established a covenant with him (Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-21; 17:1-22). Abraham married his half-sister, Sarah (Gen 11:29; 20:12) and later took Sarah's servant Hagar as a wife (Gen 16:1-3), who bore him his first-born son Ishmael.

Conflict between Sarah and Hagar after the birth of Isaac resulted his divorcing and sending Hagar away (Gen 21:14). After the death of Sarah Abraham apparently had at least two concubine wives, one named Keturah who bore him six sons (Gen 25:1-6). Abraham died at the age of 175 and was buried with his wife Sarah in the cave of Machpelah in Ephron by his sons Isaac and Ishmael (Gen 25:7-10).

As a people Jews could rightly take pride in their descent from Abraham. He was the greatest of the patriarchs, perhaps the greatest in all the history of Israel. The Torah may have been given to Moses, but all the covenantal promises were given to Abraham. For more information on the great patriarch see my article The Story of Abraham.

which: Heb. asher, relative pronoun; who, which, that. You have sworn: Heb. shaba (SH-7650), Niphal perf., swear, take an oath. The LXX has omnuō, swear, take an oath, promise with an oath. The verb indicates that the promise was repeatedly made in the past. The Hebrew word for swear is derived from the feminine form of the word for "seven" (Heb. sheba) and there is evidence in ancient literature that it was not uncommon to seal an agreement by the number "seven."

A relationship between the two words is suggested in the narrative of Genesis 21. Abraham sealed an oath to Abimelech by giving seven ewe lambs as a witness (Gen 21:22-34), and Abraham named the well where he and Abimelech met "Beersheba" or "Well-of-the-seven-oath" (Gen 21:31). Thus, the literal meaning of the Hebrew word "swear" is to "seven oneself, or bind oneself by seven things" (BDB 989).

to our fathers: pl. of Heb. ab (SH-1), father; i.e., Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The plural noun could include Moses and the leaders of Israel who received the covenantal promises passed from Abraham and Jacob. from days: pl. of Heb. yom (SH-3117), day. of old: Heb. qedem (SH-6924), aforetime, beginning, formerly. The translation of emet and chesed derives from the last clause of the verse, which says that God swore something to them. God promised to be faithful to the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Exposition

Micah gives the reason for the divine removal of iniquity. God made irrevocable covenants with Abraham and Jacob. God made these four promises:

1. Perseverance of the descendants of Abraham (Gen 12:2; 15:4; 17:7; 22:17; 26:4; 28:14)

2. Provision of the land of the Jordan, formerly called Canaan (Gen 15:18-20; 17:8; 26:3; 28:4; 35:12).

3. Projection of blessing to all the nations of the world and to become a company or commonwealth of nations (Gen 12:3; 17:4-5; 26:4; 28:3, 14; 35:11).

4. Power of salvation through the Seed of Abraham, the Messiah (Gen 14:18-20; 15:5; 22:1-17).

God promised Abraham to make him a father of a multitude of nations (Gen 17:5). Through the Seed of Abraham, Yeshua the Messiah, God promised to bless the nations (cf. Gal 3:16). This blessing was not prosperity, but redemption from the curse of sin (Gal 3:22). In a similar vein God twice promised Jacob to make him a company of nations (Gen 28:3; 35:11). Paul referred to it as a commonwealth (Eph 2:12). Thus, God would take away iniquity not just from Jacob's descendants, but all the nations of the world, a once-for-all atonement, so that there would be one flock serving the Great Shepherd, Yeshua the Messiah.

Works Cited

Allen: Leslie C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1976. (New International Commentary on the Old Testament)

BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981.

Gill: John Gill (1697-1771), Exposition of the Entire Bible. Online.

Kaiser: Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. The Messiah in the Old Testament. Zondervan Pub. House, 1995.

Leman: Derek Leman, A New Look at the Old Testament. Mt. Olive Press, 2006.

LSJ: Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon (1889). rev. by Sir Henry Stuart Jones. Clarendon Press, 1940. Online

TWOT: R. Laird Harris, ed., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. 2 Vols. Moody Press, 1980.

Copyright 2019 by Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.