Cornerstone Biblical Commentary Series
The Cornerstone Biblical Commentary series is relatively new, but already over half the volumes have been published. Eventually there will be 12 volumes covering the Old Testament, and eight covering the New. Most of the contributors have written more technical commentaries on the same or related books, but this series is aimed at the pastor and layperson. Each commentary features the text of the New Living Translation in full.
Each section of Scripture is then followed by a few pages of “notes”, often explaining the meaning or significance of a single word or phrase. After that follows the “commentary” itself, which consists mainly of a summary of the main emphasis of the passage in question. The commentators have a conviction of the unity of the Bible and that the whole of Scripture is God’s word, so often in this section, teaching from other parts of the Bible will be brought in to help clarify various themes.
The commentary on Micah is contained in Volume 10, which consists of commentaries on each of the 12 minor prophets, some authored by Andrew Hill, and the others by Richard Patterson. This 650 page volume represents a cost-effective way to get hold of a basic commentary on each of the minor prophets. Rather than waiting until I have read all 12 commentaries, I will review each of them as and when I finish them.
Introduction to Micah
The brief introduction covers all the bases of introducing us to when and where Micah prophesied, what the political situation was, and what little we know of Micah from the rest of Scripture. Assyria was emerging as a super-power at the time, and Hill sees the book of Micah as essentially a collection of prophetic sermons. He sees a recurring structure to the book of several pronouncements of doom, each followed up by a brief message of hope. The doom is judgement, and the hope is restoration, but the main character in both cases is Yahweh, the covenant God who jealously guards his relationship with his special possession, Israel, and will tolerate no idolatry.
In some ways the New Living Translation itself functions as a commentary, with the translators feeling free to insert some explanatory phrases. For example, Micah 1:5 in the ESV reads:
All this is for the transgression of Jacob
and for the sins of the house of Israel.
What is the transgression of Jacob?
Is it not Samaria?
And what is the high place of Judah?
Is it not Jerusalem?
while the NLT makes this of it:
And why is this happening?
Because of the rebellion of Israel—
yes, the sins of the whole nation.
Who is to blame for Israel’s rebellion?
Samaria, its capital city!
Where is the center of idolatry in Judah?
In Jerusalem, its capital!
The translators help us out by turning Jacob into Israel, and explaining that Samaria here is a capital city, not a region. In fact, throughout the commentary I noticed many places in which the NLT helps you out with its translation. While I do prefer a more literal translation generally, it is in Old Testament prophetic books like Micah that the strengths of the NLT really shine through, as they often require a lot of background information to fully appreciate the meaning.
Micah 1:10-15 contains several puns on the names of various towns, so Hill has included a very clever poem by Peterson, which changes the names of the towns to make the puns work in English. It brings a lot of clarity to what otherwise would seem like an arbitrary list of places and comments.
As he moves through each section of the prophecy, Hill will often pick out a theme for application or theological reflection, such as covetousness in Micah 2:1-5, and the concept of a remnant in Micah 2:12-13. These effectively function as hints for preachers for ways they could apply the message of Micah to their congregations.
Both in the “notes” (for exegesis) and “commentary” (for exposition) sections, Hill often draws on the insights of other commentators. The notes section usually give an even covering of the text, picking up on words and phrases from most verses, but the commentary section is not always so thorough. For example, commenting on Micah 3, Hill chooses to use all the space for a discussion of the revelation of the Trinity in the Old Testament, prompted by the mention of the Spirit in Micah 3:8.
He detects a liturgical hymn in chapter 7, and explains the difference between a lamentation (an expression of grief over a calamity that cannot be reversed), and a lament (an appeal to God’s compassion for the purpose of changing a desperate situation for the better), and shows how an appreciation of the various elements of the lament tradition would be beneficial for us today.
Like many of the Old Testament prophetic books, Micah is known mainly for a couple of ‘famous’ verses (Micah 6:8 and Micah 5:2). Hill’s commentary provides an accessible way to get a bigger picture of Micah’s message. The NLT translation helps the reader to see the flow and cohesiveness of the prophecy in a way that many readers would miss in a more literal translation.
The “notes” section might be skipped over by some readers, as it may seem like a disjointed collection of exegetical trivia, but on the other hand, for those studying a passage, it provides a lot of useful information.
The “commentary” section, on the other hand, gives a helpful overview of the main message of Micah as well as some good practical application and theological reflection, and could provide a useful starting point for preparing a sermon, although given the limited space, will not necessarily address all the questions you might bring to the text.
I’m looking forward to reading several of the other commentaries in this volume, as I think it strikes a nice balance, and has been a good companion to my daily reading of Scripture.