Translation commentary on Micah 6:8

This verse is the reply to the questions of the previous two verses, and the prophet himself says these words as spokesman for the Lord. In Good News Translation the link with the preceding question is brought out by the introductory word No, which shows that this verse is a reply and that it rejects the assumptions of the previous speaker. Many translators will find it helpful to use some similar link. The previous speaker is addressed literally as “O man” (Revised Standard Version), a term so general that it strengthens the view that the speaker was a representative of the whole nation. As there is no good equivalent in English, Good News Translation drops this vocative, or term of address, and many translators will wish to do the same. But in other languages it will be necessary to keep a term of address. The translator will have to decide whether to use “man” or some other general term.

As is expected after a vocative, the speaker is addressed in the second person. Good News Translation has changed this “you” to a first person plural us, which has the effect of including the prophet with the people he is speaking to. But this example is not followed by Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, and there seems to be no good reason for other translators to follow Good News Translation here. If a second person pronoun is retained, it may be singular or plural according to the usage of each receptor language. Some languages cannot use a collective singular in addressing a group, and in these languages a plural will be required.

The subject of the verb told (“showed” Revised Standard Version) is not altogether clear in Hebrew. Some translators, both ancient and modern, assume that the verb is passive, and so translate without naming anyone as the actor, as in “What is good has been explained to you” (Jerusalem Bible). The majority, however, believe that the verb is active, with the subject “He” (as Revised Standard Version). There is no noun in the immediate context for this pronoun to refer to, but the general context makes it clear that the subject must be the LORD (Good News Translation) or “God” (New English Bible). Both the LORD and “God” are used in the Hebrew of this verse, so a translator is free to use either one here. Translators should be careful, though, that the wording of this verse does not sound as though the Lord and God are two different persons.

The word good covers a broad area of meaning, and the term chosen to translate it should be a general term that refers to good moral qualities. The whole sentence the LORD has told us what is good refers in a comprehensive way to all the moral teaching the people of Israel have had. This includes both the written Law and the teachings of previous prophets. It may be clearer in some languages to say “the Lord has told us what is good for us to do.” The expression what is good also occurs in 3.2, though in a rather different context.

Micah then goes on to give his own summary of the Lord’s will as revealed through his predecessors. This summary is the best known sentence in the whole book and is indeed one of the high points of the Old Testament. In Hebrew it is put in the form of a question, as in Revised Standard Version, but a number of modern versions such as Jerusalem Bible and Good News Translation turn it into a statement. Many translators will also find it clearer to do this. What the Lord requires is explained in three brief phrases: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God. This reply completely ignores the sacrificial system that the speaker in verses 6 and 7 was thinking about, and it expresses God’s will in moral rather than ceremonial terms. The prophet’s point is that the outward and ceremonial forms of religion should reflect an inner moral relationship with God, and without this relationship all ceremony is useless.

Requires of you can be translated as “asks you to do” or “expects you to do.” Some restructuring may be necessary in some languages. One possibility is “This (meaning ‘the following’) is the way the Lord wants you to live. He wants you to….”

To do what is just (“to do justice” Revised Standard Version) is a very broad term that involves right and fair relationships in the community, especially in legal and financial affairs. As 3.1 shows, this quality was often sadly lacking in the public life of Micah’s day.

Constant love is the Hebrew term chesed. Revised Standard Version has “kindness” in the text, with the alternative “steadfast love” in a footnote. This term has a general sense of faithfulness and reliability, but it is especially used in connection with covenant relationships. It seems that this aspect of the word is in the prophet’s mind here. In verses 3-5 the Lord had accused his people of failing in their covenant obligations to him, and here constant love refers in particular to loyalty to the Lord as God of the covenant. But it also implies kindness in dealings with other men, since this is one of the obvious ways by which a man shows his relationship with God. Many translators will not have a single term to cover this wide area of meaning, and they may need to use a phrase such as “constant love to God and man.” Constant can be expressed as “faithful” or “lasting.”

The third phrase is literally “to walk humbly with your God” (Revised Standard Version). Here “walk” is used in a figurative sense, and Good News Translation brings out its plain meaning with to live. In some languages it will be possible to retain the figurative term “walk” in this sense.

The word translated humble is a rare Hebrew term, occurring in the Old Testament only here and in Prov 11.2, where it is contrasted with “proud.” The meaning is not known for certain, but it probably means humble in the sense of not insisting on one’s own way but readily doing what God wants.

Fellowship with God can also be translated as “living one’s life by always doing God’s will,” though this would not suggest the close personal relationship implied by “walking with” or “fellowship.”

It has already been suggested above that most translators will want to follow the Hebrew and use “you” rather than “we” or “us” in this verse. However, even if this is possible in most of the verse, some translators may not want to have the prophet say “your God” here at the end, since in some languages this would sound as though he is denying that God is also his God. If this a problem, it is possible to translate either as “our God” or simply “God.”

Quoted with permission from Clark, David J. et al. A Handbook on Micah. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1982, 1993. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Micah 1:1

This verse gives a brief introduction to and summary of the whole prophecy of Micah. It was probably added after the rest of the book was complete, and is similar in form to the opening verses of other prophetic books, especially Hosea and Amos. It has three purposes: (1) to give a date for the prophecy, (2) to give background information about Micah, and (3) to state the main subjects of his prophecy.

(1) The prophecy is dated by the reigns of kings, just as the prophecies of Hosea, Amos, and Isaiah are. In Hos 1.1 and Amos 1.1, the kings of both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah are mentioned. But here in Micah, as in Isa 1.1, the names mentioned are only those of kings of Judah.

(2) The background information about Micah is limited to the fact that he came from the town of Moresheth.

(3) The main topics of his prophecy are stated very briefly as Samaria and Jerusalem. These two cities were the capitals of the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah respectively, and in this verse they represent the two kingdoms.

During the time that Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah were kings of Judah: the words During the time are a way of expressing the idea that Micah’s ministry took place at some part of the time that each of these kings was ruling. It is literally “in the days” (Revised Standard Version [Revised Standard Version]) of these kings. This expression comes at the beginning of the sentence in Good News Translation, but in the translator’s languages it should be placed at any point where it sounds natural.

The translator should be careful not to suggest that all three kings ruled at the same time. There may be a term in the language meaning “one after the other” or “one at a time” that would be helpful here.

Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah: Jotham reigned approximately 740-736 B.C., Ahaz 734-716 B.C., and Hezekiah 716-687 B.C. In Jer 26.18-19 there is a reference to Micah prophesying in the reign of King Hezekiah, and scholars today believe that most of Micah’s prophecy is to be dated in the period 715-700 B.C. There is no need to go into further detail, since exact dating is rarely of importance to a translator.

For languages that do not have a word for kings, an expression like “great chiefs” or “the ones who command” may be the closest equivalent.

Judah is of course a country, and in many languages it would be helpful to identify the type of place that a name refers to, at least the first time that it is used; for example, “the country of Judah” or “the land called Judah.” The book of Micah will usually be printed only as part of a whole Bible, and it may be right to assume that most readers will have a certain amount of Bible background when they begin to read Micah. However, it is still helpful to treat each Bible book as a unit of its own, and not to assume that all readers will remember everything they have read in other parts of the Bible.

The LORD gave this message to Micah: Good News Translation restructures “The word of the LORD that came to Micah” (Revised Standard Version) to make the LORD the subject. Micah’s message carried authority as “The word of the LORD” (Revised Standard Version). In Hebrew, these words are the opening words of the book and so have more prominence than they do in Good News Translation, where the LORD gave this message to Micah comes in the middle of the sentence. If a language has a way of marking or bringing into focus the most important part of a sentence, then in this sentence, this the part that should be marked. In many languages this will mean it should come at the beginning of the verse, as in Revised Standard Version.

It may seem best to translate the LORD by some expression meaning “lord” or “master,” or in some parts of the world “boss,” rather than by trying to give the personal name of God (as “Yahweh” in the Jerusalem Bible [Jerusalem Bible]) or an expression with some other meaning (as Moffatt’s [Moffatt] “the Eternal”). The reasons for this are given in more detail in A Handbook on the Book of Ruth, page 10, and in this Handbook’s comments on The Book of Jonah, pages 50 and following, and page 62. See also the comments on Obadiah verse 1a. Many English versions have chosen to use small capital letters to mark the place where “Lord” translates the personal name of God, as in Good News Translation Micah 1.1, in order to distinguish it from places where the Hebrew word for “Lord” itself is used, as in Good News Translation Amos 9.1. It will not be necessary to follow this example in other languages unless there are enough readers who will understand the significance of the distinction, and who will want to have it marked in their own language. If only a few seminary students and pastors are interested, and if they are all familiar with Bibles in English or some other languages, it may be best to avoid these small capital letters.

In some languages it may sound odd to talk about a lord or master without saying whose lord he is. In this verse “our Lord” would be appropriate, but it will be necessary to use different pronouns in other verses, according to the sense of the verse.

This message: the Hebrew term used here means literally a single “word” (Revised Standard Version), but this does not imply that everything in the book was revealed to Micah on a single occasion. In some languages the form of the verb can show that this happened over a period of time, but it may also be helpful to say “these words.” Whatever expression is used, it should clearly refer to the whole book, and not only to the words that come right after this sentence.

Micah, who was from the town of Moresheth: Moresheth was a small and obscure place in the foothills of southwestern Judah, and this probably means that Micah himself was a peasant farmer typical of the area. He would thus be one of the poor and oppressed groups who were ill-treated by the rich. This helps to explain why he complains so sharply about their fate, for instance in 2.2, 8-9; 3.1-3.

This is the end of the first sentence in Good News Translation, but in Revised Standard Version and most English translations, verse 1 as a whole is not a complete sentence. The Hebrew begins with “The word of the LORD” (Revised Standard Version) and then adds various descriptive phrases to it, but does not complete the sentence. This verse is thus probably to be understood as something like a title for the whole book. However, it is better in translation to make the verse into one or more complete sentences. One way to do this is to follow the sense of the New English Bible (New English Bible), “This is the word of the LORD.” Another way is to make the Lord the subject of the sentence, as Good News Translation has done.

The LORD revealed to Micah: the Revised Standard Version translation “The word of the LORD that came to Micah … which he saw…” may be puzzling, since one does not normally see a word but rather hears it. The prophets of Israel often received visions through which they learned the Lord’s message (see Isa 6; Amos 7.1-9; 8.1-3, for examples), and thus they came to speak of seeing a word. The exact way in which The LORD revealed his message to Micah is not stated. We are not told that Micah had visions, though the use of the word “saw” could imply this, and some English translations (including Jerusalem Bible and New English Bible) use the word “visions” in the verse. The basic idea is that Lord used some spiritual experience to show Micah what he wanted him to say. The Hebrew form of expression (“to see a word”) should not be carried over into languages in which it is unnatural. In Good News Translation, for instance, the meaning of this phrase is divided between the two words gave and revealed.

All these things about Samaria and Jerusalem: in some languages it may be necessary to say something about the content of the message rather than simply that it concerned Samaria and Jerusalem. Good News Translation has added all these things in order to fill out the sense. Another possibility would be to say “what would happen to Samaria and Jerusalem.” The expression used should be as general as possible.

Samaria and Jerusalem were the capital cities of Israel and Judah respectively, and some translators may wish to make this explicit. If a languages has not word for “capital,” then it can be translated as “largest town.” Israel and Judah together made up the whole of God’s people, and Micah’s message thus reflects the LORD’s interest in all his people. It is not surprising that Micah took more interest in the affairs of Judah, both because he himself was a Judean citizen, and because Israel no longer existed after Samaria was destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.

Quoted with permission from Clark, David J. et al. A Handbook on Micah. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1982, 1993. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Micah 3:6

In verse 6 the Lord states his judgment on the false prophets. This is given in picture language in four clauses, as seen in Revised Standard Version, and is more conveniently discussed in Revised Standard Version order. The first two clauses are put in the second sentence in Good News Translation. They are parallel to each other and speak of the imminent end of the prophets’ influence, using the figure of night coming on. Just as one cannot see in the dark, so the prophets will lose their spiritual vision.

The second two clauses are parallel to each other, and may both suggest the figure of the sunset. They are understood this way, for instance, by Jerusalem Bible and New English Bible. However, the last clause is perhaps an expansion of the idea of loss of light using the figure of an eclipse of the sun. This has the effect of strengthening the picture. Not only will the night bring no visions or dreams, but even the day itself will be a time of darkness. The figure of sunset and eclipse is similar to the language used in Amos 5.18-20 to describe the day of the Lord.

Revised Standard Version gives a clear idea of the poetic parallelism of the Hebrew, but even if the figures of the sunset and possibly of eclipse are meaningful in other languages, the structural parallelism may not be. It is not very natural in English and has been recast considerably in Good News Translation to give a flow of thought that is easier to follow. The four figurative references to darkness have all been understood to refer to sunset. They have been combined into two clauses to avoid repetition that would be clumsy in English, and they have been placed together at the beginning of the verse: Prophets, your day is almost over; the sun is going down on you. The meaning of this figure is stated by the two clauses at the end of the verse, you will have no more prophetic visions, and you will not be able to predict anything. The figure and its explanation are linked by the repetition of the charge against the false prophets in the words Because you mislead my people. These words explain the meaning of the “Therefore” of Revised Standard Version.

Your day is almost over is an idiom in English meaning “your time of importance is about to end.” Translators should be especially careful with the English the sun is going down on you. In English this is just another way of saying “your day is almost over,” but a literal translation in other languages could sound as if the sun itself was falling on the prophets’ heads.

Prophetic visions refer to special revelations from God, often like a dream that the prophet seemed to see with his eyes. In this verse visions probably includes dreams, since Micah is speaking about nighttime. The parallel term “divination” (Revised Standard Version) in the second clause is a term with strong pagan overtones. It is never used in the Bible for the activities of true prophets but rather describes such practices as telling the future by observing the flight of birds or examining the entrails of sacrificed animals.

Good News Translation undoubtedly conveys the essential meaning of the verse clearly in English. However, it must be emphasized that Good News Translation is just one example of how to restructure a complex sentence in a situation where a literal translation would sound unnatural. Many translators will need to follow Good News Translation in its general method of approach to the problem. Few, if any, will produce the best translation in their language if they simply follow the exact wording of Good News Translation.

Quoted with permission from Clark, David J. et al. A Handbook on Micah. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1982, 1993. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Micah 5:15

The final verse, verse 15, is somewhat separate in thought from the rest of this paragraph, In it the Lord looks beyond his own people to the Gentile nations. In the case of his own people he intends to purify their religion and to renew their relationship with himself. But in the case of the Gentiles he intends simply to punish.

“Anger and wrath” (Revised Standard Version) is another example of using two words to express a single meaning. It is accordingly translated great anger in Good News Translation. In his great anger the Lord will take revenge on all nations. The reason given is that they have not obeyed me. The thought seems to be that if God’s own people need to be punished for their sins, how much more will the heathen nations deserve it. (Compare 1 Peter 4.17-18 for a similar train of thought.)

Some translators may feel that the word for revenge in their languages would not be correct to use about God here, as it may be considered immoral. The word here can be translated as “punish,” since the Hebrew word applies to the acts that a king must do to those who refuse to obey his authority.

It will be necessary in some languages to restructure this verse and say something like “I am also very angry with all the nations that have refused to obey me, and so I will take revenge on them (or, punish them).”

Quoted with permission from Clark, David J. et al. A Handbook on Micah. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1982, 1993. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Micah 7:16

When the Lord begins to work miracles for his people again, his activity will have a dramatic effect on the heathen nations around them, just as it did on the Egyptians at the time of the exodus. Many translators may need to refer to these nations as “other nations,” since the nation of Israel is not included. Or, to prepare for the references to mouths and ears later, it may even be best to say “the people of other nations.” They will see this and will be frustrated in spite of all their strength. This understanding seems to fit the context better than the “be ashamed of all their might” of Revised Standard Version, and it is also followed by Jerusalem Bible and New English Bible.

Frustrated may be a difficult word to translate. The idea is that when they see the mighty acts that God is doing, they will realize how weak they really are. In many languages “ashamed” (Revised Standard Version) may give the right meaning. It may also be necessary to restructure here and say “Even though they are so strong, the nations will be ashamed when they see these things that God is doing.” The other understanding of this line, “ashamed of all their might” (Revised Standard Version), is actually very similar in meaning. The nations, who thought they were so strong, will realize that their strength is nothing compared to God’s power, and they will be ashamed of their strength instead of being proud of it.

The nations are pictured as reacting to what they see with symbolic gestures. “They shall lay their hands on their mouths” (Revised Standard Version) because they are too amazed to speak. Also “their ears shall be deaf” (Revised Standard Version). Perhaps this is because of the thunder of the Lord’s voice, as Jerusalem Bible seems to imply with “their ears will be deafened by it.” However, Good News Translation appears to understand that the hands are placed over the ears as well as over the mouth, and translates they will close their mouths and cover their ears. The meaning of these gestures is conveyed in Good News Translation by the addition of the words in dismay, and many translators will also need to include something similar in order to explain the actions described. It is possible that translators who follow the Good News Translation understanding may meet with difficulty on the grounds that it would require three hands to cover both mouth and ears! In that case it is probably best to follow the meaning of Revised Standard Version. But it is also possible just to drop the reference to the actions and express the meaning in plainer language by saying “They will be so dismayed that they can neither speak nor hear.”

It is possible to understand verses 16 and 17 as a request rather than as a prediction, and this is the way that New English Bible and some other versions translate it. If this understanding is followed, the basic concepts are not changed, but the verbs will be. “The nations will see this” will become “May the nations see this” or “Let the nations see this,” and the same kind of change will apply to all the verbs in the two verses.

Quoted with permission from Clark, David J. et al. A Handbook on Micah. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1982, 1993. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Micah 1:12

Maroth is perhaps the same place as that called Maarath in Josh 15.59. The name means “bitterness” (compare Ruth 1.20). There is no obvious wordplay based on sound here, but there may be a play on the sense, in that bitterness is unpleasant and gives no encouragement to wait for anything good such as relief.

In some languages it may be more natural to mention first the reason that the people of Maroth are waiting, and to turn the clauses of this sentence around: “The Lord has brought disaster, so the people wait….”

Relief is literally “good” (Revised Standard Version). The idea is that they are in great danger, with only bad things happening, and they are hoping that this will change in some way. The most important good thing at a time like this would be for the enemy to stop bothering them or for someone to drive the enemy away. This is the meaning of Good News Translation‘s word relief.

They are waiting anxiously for this to happen. This means that they are hoping that somehow the enemy will be made to leave them alone, but that they are worried (anxious) that help will be too late or that it will not come. Another way of expressing the ideas here would be to say “The people of Maroth are hoping that they will be saved from the enemy, but they are afraid that no help will come.”

The LORD has brought disaster: the literal form of the Hebrew is “evil has come down from the LORD” (Revised Standard Version), and in some languages the same kind of expression may be quite natural. The meaning is that the bad things that are happening to them have been caused by the Lord himself. He was the one who sent the enemy army to punish them (compare Isa 45.7). Disaster means “the terrible things that are happening.”

Close to Jerusalem: the reason that The people of Maroth anxiously wait is that disaster has almost overtaken Jerusalem. Its closeness is shown in that it is actually at “the gate” of the city (Revised Standard Version).

Since disaster is an event, it may be impossible in some languages to speak of it as being close to Jerusalem. The meaning is that the enemy army is right at the gate of Jerusalem, and therefore it will probably only be a very short time before the city is captured. One may wish to translate “The Lord has brought the enemies close to Jerusalem, and they will soon capture it.”

It may be confusing that the people of Maroth should be concerned about the army at the gate of Jerusalem. However, if Jerusalem is captured, there will be no hope for any of the smaller towns nearby. In a sense, it is even worse to have the enemies at Jerusalem than to have them in their own town, since it means there is no one left to send help and no place to which they can escape.

Quoted with permission from Clark, David J. et al. A Handbook on Micah. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1982, 1993. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Micah 4:5

This verse stands somewhat apart from verses 1-4 and to some extent contrasts with them. For this reason it can be translated as a separate paragraph. In the earlier verses the Lord is seen as supreme over all the nations, and thus it seems an anticlimax in this verse to say that Each nation worships and obeys its own god. There are three ways of understanding the verse:

(a) Some scholars see it as the response of a practical man to the prophet’s vision of the future. This man seems to say that the future is all very fine, but that it bears little resemblance to the present, in which heathen nations do not acknowledge the Lord but rather follow their own gods. In this particular setting the faithful Israelites can only say we will worship and obey the LORD our God forever and ever.

(b) Other scholars see this verse as a refutation of the preceding verses. In contrast with the visionary idea of all the nations coming to acknowledge the Lord in a setting of peace, in actual practice they all follow their own religions, and only the people of Israel worship the true God.

(c) Still others see this verse as an addition to the previous verses, one that is in the form of a liturgical response to them and is a expression of faith on the part of the Israelites.

Though we cannot be certain exactly how this verse is related to its present context, its own meaning is clear enough. Whatever the people of other nations may do, we, the people of Israel, the people of God, will follow the true God forever.

Revised Standard Version translates literally the unusual Hebrew expression “walk in the name of.” The meaning of this can be made clear, and Good News Translation puts it in plain language with two terms, worship and obey. In other languages this meaning may be conveyed clearly enough by a construction that is closer to the Hebrew figure of speech.

Forever and ever is a standard phrase in English that may not be easy to put into other languages. It is basically an emphatic way of saying “always,” and many languages will have some natural idiomatic equivalent, though it may be very different in form.

Some English translations say that each nation follows its own gods rather than suggesting that each has only one god, as Revised Standard Version and Good News Translation suggest. But whether singular or plural, this may be a difficult concept in some languages. Many languages did not have a single term for God before the appearance of Christianity, and the term that has developed now may refer only to the Christian God. In such languages it may seen impossible or strange to use this word to refer to other gods. At least two possible solutions can be suggested. It may be possible to use a term or terms for supernatural beings that non-Christians are known to worship, even if these terms would not be suitable for God himself. Or it may be possible to construct an expression like “false gods” by using the word for the Christian God together with an adjective that will show that these are beings that are thought to be like him but are not. Compare the terms for false Christs in Matt 24.24 and Mark 13.22.

Quoted with permission from Clark, David J. et al. A Handbook on Micah. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1982, 1993. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Micah 6:11

In this verse the same charge is repeated but in somewhat more detail. It is again in the form of a question. The Revised Standard Version “Shall I acquit…?” does not suggest the answer, but Good News Translation with its How can I forgive…? makes it clearer that a negative answer is expected. The Lord cannot forgive this kind of wicked behavior, and some translators may need to recast this verse in the form of a negative statement, “I cannot forgive….”

The type of scales used were the kind still used in many areas of the world today, with two dishes hanging from a bar. Weights would be put on one of the dishes, and the thing to be weighed on the other dish. The easiest way to cheat when using scales was to use false weights. On the other hand, there may have been ways of changing the scales themselves so as to cheat the customer. No matter how it was done, the result was that the customer got less than he paid for. The Hebrew mentions “a bag of deceitful weights.” Probably the weights for the scales were kept in bags. If there are no appropriate terms for these scales and weights in the receptor language, then it is not necessary to try to give all the details of the ancient culture. A translator can simply give the main point of the accusation as Good News Translation has done. Some translators may have to express the main point in quite a different way, however, such as “If a merchant cheats his customers when he weighs the goods he is selling them, how can I forgive him?”

Quoted with permission from Clark, David J. et al. A Handbook on Micah. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1982, 1993. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .