Friday, September 25, 2009

Problems in Micah 4:5

I have been reading and re-reading the book of Micah for an upcoming sermon, and I came across something odd in the NIV version I was reading. Micah 4:5 (NIV) says, All the nations may walk in the name of their gods; we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever. That seemed a little queer in light of the surrounding context of Micah 4; that God will set up his kingdom on earth at Jerusalem and will rule all the nations, all people turning to him for wisdom. Notice verse 2, Many nations will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths. The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

So I looked at two other contemporary translations, the NASB and the ESV. Both of these said virtually the same thing. Though all the peoples walk Each in the name of his god, As for us, we will walk In the name of the LORD our God forever and ever (NASB). For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever (ESV). All three contemporary versions seem to indicate that, despite being drawn to the wisdom of God, the people of foreign nations will still follow other gods. Further, there is not the slightest condemnation of this practice to be found within the immediate context.

So I looked at the Hebrew. Surprisingly, I interpreted the passage far different than the editors of these three acclaimed Bible versions. I read it as, "For all the people(s) shall walk, each in the name of their God, and (even?) we shall walk in the name of Yahweh, our God, forever and ever." The more natural reading of the words seems to indicate "for" and "and" conjunctions, not "though" and "but". Further, when "am" (people) is used, it usually signifies God's covenant people (Israel), not the nations or people in general, which are usually denoted as "goyim" (Gentiles). Which would lead to the translation "people" rather than "peoples".

To me, it seems that the context of the passage is making the point that all people would be drawn to God and the implication is that they would become his people. These people, not ethnic Israel, would be drawn to Israel, to God's holy mountain, and receive his instruction in faith. It leads me to speculate further, if these are not the brothers of the ruler of Bethlehem added to Israel in 5:3?

I was even more surprised when I found that the King James Version translates this passage almost the same way as I did. For all people will walk every one in the name of his God, and we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever. I think this translation is the more accurate one, given the context.

Rather than setting up contrast - those people do those things, but we do these - the passage seems to indicate a focusing or clarifying aspect - the people will do x, even y. For all the people will walk in the name of his God (the God who has instructed at Jerusalem), we will walk even in the name of Yahweh, our God (personal revealed name, clarifying which God), forever and ever.

I would be curious what others think about this section and its interpretation. Send me some comments.

1 comment:

J&B said...

"Indeed, all the peoples (plural) will walk, each man according to the name of their god, but we ourselves will walk according to the name of YHWH our God for all time."

Steve, this is a very difficult passage (at least for me) to translate. This passage in Mic 4 parallels Isa 2:2-8 in a lot of ways. Nations flowing to the mountain of the Lord, eventual peace among all nations, but then also the present reality that according to the naked eye, it's just not like that yet. Idols abound and man chooses his own way.

I'm not sure how strong of a correlation this is, but I was reminded of Heb 6 where the author mentions those who (in a NT context) have tasted and seen that the Lord is good and yet they fall away. We know that it is possible, at least now when sin abounds, that men and women might see the goodness and greatness of God, and yet because they are blind and deaf they will continue to follow their own gods. That's for now. There is a day coming, though, that there will only be worship of the one true God when he sets up his Kingdom here to stay. It seems to me that a good bit of the time when God is talking about "Zion" and the "mountain of the Lord", he is talking about a time not yet come.

Therefore, nations WILL stream to the mountain of the Lord and there WILL be those who stand before the throne from every tribe, tongue, and nation who will praise God (Rev 7:9), but there will also be representatives from every tribe, tongue, and nation who will be consigned to hell because of their rejection of the one true God and their desire to worship what they create.

I'd be interested to hear how your preaching goes on this text.

Blessings, brother,
Justin