Religious readers often underestimate the centrality of metaphor to the Bible’s genre. Even when we acknowledge metaphor at work, we dismiss it as secondary to an assumed event in time, or contextualize its meaning with our own experience and perspective. In both cases, we ignore a symbol’s natural setting in history and its integration with a specific narrative system. In Micah, allowing these symbols to unfold in their assigned context uncovers the horrors of Judah’s immorality; in Paul’s vernacular, sins committed “against” the “body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18)
In the Ancient Near East, it was common to personify cities as women. 1 If the city is a woman in the prophetic tradition, its gate is understood as the entrance to her womb. These metaphors carry over in the New Testament, where Paul follows Ezekiel’s lead regarding the city of Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26, Ephesians 5:26-27) or in Luke, where we encounter “a dead man” at “the gate,” a metaphor for stillbirth or bareness. (Luke 7:12) In effect, the “calamity” in Micah that has “come down from the Lord to the gate of Jerusalem” (1:12) is the rape of the city. More than a way of describing the brutality of occupation, this imagery speaks to the consequences of trusting the wrong man.
From the beginning, God chose Jerusalem as his bride (Ezekiel 16:8) even as her children rejected him as their father. (1 Samuel 8:7) “In that day,” Samuel warned, “you will cry out because of the king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you.” (1 Samuel 8:18) In Micah, a faithless king was unable to fill God’s shoes as sole provider for his wife and children. Worse than a deadbeat dad, the imposter cut a deal with his adopted family’s abuser. What kind of husband invites the rape of his own bride? “Is the Spirit of the Lord impatient? Are these His doings?” (2:7) No, God answers. “My words,” those of a true father, bless “the one who walks uprightly,” exposing the “calamity” of the one who does not listen.
As if there were ever a choice.