Clever Literary Foil


Micah 1:10-16
10Tell it not in Gath; weep not at all; in Beth-le-aphrah roll yourselves in the dust.
11Pass on your way, inhabitants of Shaphir, in nakedness and shame; the inhabitants of Zaanan do not come out; the lamentation of Beth-ezel shall take away from you its standing place.
12For the inhabitants of Maroth wait anxiously for good, because disaster has come down from the Lord
to the gate of Jerusalem.
13Harness the steeds to the chariots, inhabitants of Lachish; it was the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion,
for in you were found the transgressions of Israel.
14Therefore you shall give parting gifts to Moresheth-gath; the houses of Achzib shall be a deceitful thing to the kings of Israel.
15I will again bring a conqueror to you, inhabitants of Mareshah; the glory of Israel shall come to Adullam.
16Make yourselves bald and cut off your hair, for the children of your delight; make yourselves as bald as the eagle, for they shall go from you into exile.

Here in the U.S., many of our larger cities have nicknames. If I say “The Big Apple” people immediately think New York City; “Bean Town” is Boston, “The Windy City” is Chicago, “Sin City” is Las Vega. And if I said that I was going to take a bite out of New York City, you might get the reference to “The Big Apple”, but it would be a little obscure. The only nickname that comes to mind where it may not be as difficult to get the point is “The City of Brotherly Love” which is Philadelphia. That’s because the word Philadelphia actually means "city of brotherly love". Micah now takes on the idolatry of the towns surrounding Jerusalem and does so in a very clever way. He uses the names of the towns to make suggestions about their future actions. While the content of the passage is dire, one must admire the creativity of Micah and his use of words.

Here are some examples taken from the text:
  • Tell it not in Gath – Gath literally means “tell-town”
  • …in Beth-le-aphrah roll yourselves in dust – Beth-le-aphrah literally mean “dust-town”
  • Shaphir – means “beautiful town – they won’t feel beautiful when hauled away naked!
  • Zaanan – literally means “exit-town” – they will be too frightened to leave their town
  • Jerusalem – literally means “city of peace” or “peace of Yahweh” – but they will not experience peace when the Assyrians attacks!
These are just a few examples from today's passage of how Micah uses their names to describe the disastrous consequences of God’s judgment upon their idolatries. Verse 16 declares it all, “Make yourselves bald and cut off your hair, for the children of your delight; make yourselves as bald as the eagle, for they shall go from you into exile.” Clever literary foils aside, the message here is serious and specific. Turn to the God of the Universe in repentance or suffer His wrath. I understand why people don’t want to hear this. I don’t want to hear it! But pretending God doesn’t exist or that He isn’t affected by our sin is foolish and dangerous. I can also understand why people don’t want to even read these passages. I don’t want to read them! But to cherry pick our way through the Bible is a terrible idea and gives us a warped view of God. If His wrath wasn’t real, Jesus wouldn’t have had to die. If God were willing to brush our sin under the rug, Jesus wouldn’t have had to suffer. But He did suffer, and He did die – all because we are sinful and stubborn. Now God brings us to Himself in the waters of baptism and all that Jesus did covers our sin. We do well to take it as seriously as God does.

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