Micah’s Zero Sum Game

The difficulty of biblical wisdom is that it imposes the concatenation of words with real world actions, things, and outcomes. In Genesis, male patriarchy is subverted through successive generations plagued by sterility. We call Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob “fathers,” yet which of them was able to produce offspring? (Genesis 21:1-2; 25:21) While our chauvinism presumes the dysfunction of Sarah’s womb, in reality, it is Abraham’s seed that failed, since God had no difficulty whatsoever fathering Sarah’s child. The Matthean commandment, “call no man your father,” is not an opinion “about” fatherhood. On the contrary, it is the factual exposition of Abraham’s infertility in Genesis, which defers to God as the only Father. For the modern reader, this raises the question, “why then have patriarchs?” Micah’s answer comes in the form of the question restated: “If God is the ‘chief of mountains,’ (4:1) why must I submit to the Assyrians?”

In chapter 4, Micah heralds the coming of the Lord’s house as “chief of the mountains,” promising a world without war (4:3) through the absolute dominance of God’s teaching. (4:2) In principle, no self-respecting Judahite could wish for anything less. Not only peace, but peace through strength with the promise that God will “pulverize many peoples” for the sake of Zion. (4:13) The fly in the ointment, of course, is that the exaltation of God’s mountain in chapter 4 requires the “melting away” of Judah’s mountain in chapter 1. (1:4) This tension is amplified by word play in verse 8, since the term ophel (עֹ֫פֶל) translated “hill of the daughter of Zion,” is just as easily read “tumor of the daughter of Zion.” (4:8) The use of ophel stands out in the poetry of the text, which repeats the word har several times (mountain, hill, hill country/הָר) but only in reference to God’s mountain. In other words, Micah’s “peace on earth” is a zero sum game in which the mountain of Zion is asked to step aside. Judah is not “the first” in abstraction, but the first of many nations to be evangelized. (4:2)

Had Micah begun his book in chapter 4, addressing Judah’s sin with the promise of better days, no doubt, many in Zion would have cried, “Lord, Lord,” to no avail. (Matthew 7:22) As the Matthean Jesus explains, it is not enough to say how much you “like” God. If you want to find life, the word must take flesh in the real world–in your actions toward others. Holding Zion’s feet to the fire of its self-made platonic fold, 1 Micah concatenates the love of neighbor (Leviticus 19:18) with the reality of Assyria’s brutal occupation. Do you love God, Judah? Do you want to find life? Then you must look to Assyria; Because in Micah, the evil from the north is the right hand of God.

In John’s first epistle:

If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20)

Alternatively:

The more I love humanity, the less I love my neighbor.” 2

Notes:

  1. “The Platonic Fold is the explosive boundary where the Platonic mindset enters in contact with messy reality, where the gap between what you know and what you think you know becomes dangerously wide.” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan
  2. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

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