Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 8 (2008) - Review

Bruce K. Waltke, A Commentary on Micah (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007). Pp. xviii + 490. Hardcover, US $32.00, £18.99. ISBN 0-8028-4933-4.

            The genre of biblical commentary is a politically powerful tool for promoting and subverting ideologies about texts and the act of reading. Every commentator frames certain questions as viable and then seeks to offer persuasive responses to those questions through close study of the text. The commentator may also dismiss or ignore questions that are inconvenient for the interpretive endeavor. This learned and lucidly written commentary by Bruce Waltke not only illumines the Book of Micah, it makes for an interesting study in hermeneutical politics.

            The evangelical cast of the commentary is nowhere overtly named, so readers unfamiliar with Waltke’s theological context may not understand why his book does not engage questions of Deuteronomistic editing, liberation-theological interpretation, postcolonial study of Micah, or nuanced literary readings that take seriously the book’s development over time. Literary-structural matters receive brief attention. Waltke quite reasonably identifies three cycles in Micah, each comprising oracles of doom followed by promise material (1:2-2:13, 3:1-5:14, and 6:1-7:20), and notes that the disparate oracles have been artfully linked by catchwords and “logical connectives” (pp. 13-15). Waltke’s engagement with methodological issues consists chiefly of a sustained argument against the historical-critical rationalism that assumes biblical prophecy to reflect vaticinia ex eventu (pp. 8-13 and passim). He concedes the presence of redaction here and there in Micah, but attributes the editorial work to Micah himself (e.g., p. 13). Waltke’s exegesis does not tend to embrace the possibility of polyvalence, irony, or ambiguity as artistic devices in Micah. For example, he counters the suggestion that Micah’s representation of the worshipper’s questions in 6:6-7 might be ironic, citing with apparent approval a scholar who hears there a breathless earnestness (pp. 370-71). Conservative Christian theologizing is present in virtually every section of the book. Waltke affirms the New Testament’s supersession of the Old Testament (p. 43), identifies the prophetic spirit animating Micah with the “Spirit of Christ” (pp. 155, 175), reads the reference in 4:1 to an eschatological future as pointing to “the advent of Jesus Christ and of Pentecost” (p. 208), interprets the Exodus allusion in 6:4 through the lens of Pauline theology (p. 385), and so on.

            Waltke’s intelligent exegesis combines a light and unsystematic attention to rhetorical features (anacrusis, metonymy, anaphora) with a wealth of grammatical and syntactical information that will be beneficial for students. On every page one finds evidence of Waltke’s immense learning, and his gift for graceful written expression makes the commentary a pleasure to read. Waltke does a beautiful job of illuminating the theological power of Micah’s prophecy. Few readers will remain unmoved as they work through his passionate exposition of the prophet’s theology. Waltke suggests that for the ancient audience and for contemporary readers as well, nothing less than the spiritual survival of God’s people is at stake. Notable but harmless is Waltke’s tendency to wax hyperbolic in his elucidation of Micah’s message and in his critique of contemporary society. We are told that the speaker in 6:6-7 speaks from a “desperately wicked heart” and a “depraved frame of reference,” “betrays his total darkness about divine grace,” and “falls into the black apostasy of the licentious pagan cult” (pp. 387-89). Reform-minded evangelicals will be gratified to hear that the “evangelical church today” is guilty of imbibing “greedily the spiritually lethal message of wealth and prosperity” (p. 130); those committed to intercultural dialogue may be less pleased to learn that “the United Nations building in New York City is a long shadow of the Tower of Babel” (p. 211). The dispassionate analytical posture of David J. A. Clines’s meta-commentator is nowhere in evidence here. But to put the matter in a positive light, no reader of this commentary will fail to grasp the urgency of the ancient prophetic witness. That is surely an important accomplishment in its own right.

            Waltke clearly has read widely in the literature on Micah, but he does acknowledge that his research is not as up-to-date as he would have liked (p. xiii). Only six works listed in the bibliography are from 1990 or later (not counting English translations of works from earlier decades), and three of those are not actually referenced in the commentary proper. The contributions of Francis Andersen and David Noel Freedman, Marvin Sweeney, William McKane, and Ehud Ben Zvi are not engaged here. Thus this commentary is not the best choice for readers seeking guidance in contemporary scholarship on Micah. But readers of every hermeneutical stripe will appreciate the author’s impressive erudition, his deep reverence for the text as Scripture, and his stirring exposition. As regards the book’s pedagogical usefulness, theological students unquestionably will find much here to deepen and enrich their study of Micah.

Carolyn J. Sharp
Yale Divinity School