Micah 4 – The Coming of Law and Peace & Carthage: Rome’s Imperial Rival

Finger Pointing UpWhile were still in Carthage, let’s look at… 

Micah 4
The Coming of Law and Peace

1 King David tomb
King David’ tomb
The site, located on Mount Zion, is the traditional site of the tomb of King David, and one of the most holiest places for Jews, Christians and Muslims. It is one of the few sites in the world that is shared by the 3 religions.

1 But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it.

4:1-4 – these verses need to be understood as a perfect counterpart to Mic 3:9-12 – Zion is both plowed as a field (3:12) and exalted above the hills (4:1).  She is built in violence and bloodshed (3:10) and yet is the place from which the Lord’s word and teaching go forth and nations are judged (4:2).  Only God can effect such radical transformation.

2 And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

3 And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

2 Jerusalem Dormitio church from the Mount of Olives.
Jerusalem, Dormitio church from the Mount of Olives.

4 But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it.

“Vine and…fig tree” – a reference to the peaceful security of the kingdom of God.

“None shall make them afraid” – fear will be a thing of the past.

5 For all people will walk everyone in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever.

“Walk in the name of the LORD” – confess, love, obey and rely on the Lord.

6 In that day, saith the LORD, will I assemble her that halteth, and I will gather her that is driven out, and her that I have afflicted;

3 Mt. Zion a view from Abu Tor
Mt. Zion, a view from Abu Tor

7 And I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off a strong nation: and the LORD shall reign over them in mount Zion from henceforth, even forever.

“Remnant” – not just the Israelites, but all of the people of God.

8 And thou, O tower of the flock, the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem.

“Tower of the flock” – the capital city of David, the shepherd-king.

9 Now why dost thou cry out aloud? is there no king in thee? is thy counsellor perished? for pangs have taken thee as a woman in travail.

4 Zion Gate
Zion Gate
Providing access to Mt. Zion, this gate bears the marks of the Arab and Israeli battles in the 1948 War of Independence.
This gate is also known as the Gate of the Prophet David because of the traditional location of David’s tomb on Mt. Zion. During the medieval period it was called the Gate of the Jewish Quarter.

4:9-13 – Micah foresees the collapse of the monarchy and the impending exile in 586 B.C. as well as the restoration beginning in 538 B.C.

Verses 11-13 are a prophecy of  judgment against the gloating enemies of Jerusalem.  If this oracle was delivered after 701 B.C. when God saved Jerusalem from Sennacherib, then Micah’s language could be understood in light of the prayer of King Hezekiah.

No doubt, that event (2 Kgs 19:1-19) led many to conclude that God would always “deliver” Jerusalem.  The phrase “taken thee” in v. 9 is from the same root as Hezekiah’s name.  relying on a new Hezekiah’s futile.

10 Be in pain, and labor to bring forth, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in travail: for now shalt thou go forth out of the city, and thou shalt dwell in the field, and thou shalt go even to Babylon; there shalt thou be delivered; there the LORD shall redeem thee from the hand of thine enemies.

11 Now also many nations are gathered against thee, that say, Let her be defiled, and let our eye look upon Zion.

12 But they know not the thoughts of the LORD, neither understand they his counsel: for he shall gather them as the sheaves into the floor.

13 Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion: for I will make thine horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass: and thou shalt beat in pieces many people: and I will consecrate their gain unto the LORD, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth.

“Thou shalt beat in pieces many people” – whereas Micah promised that “the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem” in v. 8, here he preached that the kingdom would come by force (a common prophetic emphasis).

Rome’s Imperial Rival

Beginning in 264 B.C. and continuing on and off for more than a century, Rome and Carthage engaged in an epic struggle, known as the Punic Wars because Carthaginians were of Punic, or Phoenician, origin.5 Punic Wars

The Phoenicians were merchants and seafarers who fanned out from the coast of Lebanon across the Mediterranean.

Among the goods they offered in trade were the famed cedars of Lebanon, used to build ships and palaces, and fabrics tinted with an alluring reddish-purple dye the Greeks called phoenix, a term also applied both to a mythical bird of that fiery color and to the Phoenician people.

Culturally, their most important export was their phonetic alphabet, consisting of 22 consonants and much simpler to learn than the hundreds of characters Egyptian or Mesopotamian scribes had to master to write in hieroglyphs or cuneiform. The Greeks added vowels to that alphabet, which helped promote literacy.

Like the Greeks, the far-ranging Phoenicians founded distant colonies, the greatest of which was Carthage, situated across from Sicily on the coast of present-day Tunisia. By 300 B.C., Carthage was the maritime master of the western Mediterranean, equipped with a large merchant fleet and a formidable navy.

6 The Phoenician alphabet
The Phoenician alphabet was successful because it was easy for people to learn when compared to previous writing systems. The language gained more success because it was spread into areas in North Africa and Europe by Phoenician merchants.

It had little reason to fear Rome, which had no navy. But the Romans were growing ever stronger as they used armed forces and diplomacy to become the dominant partner in alliances with other Italians.

Before long, they had extended their authority south to the Strait of Messina, the Italian mainland from Sicily.

The First Punic War began when Roman ferried troops across the strait and challenged Carthage  for control of Messina and other Sicilian cities.  They won some battles, but they knew they had no chance of defeating Carthage and its navy without  a war fleet of their own – so they built one.

The Roman’s modeled their ships on a Carthaginian  galley they seized after it ran aground, but added to that design an ingenious device: a heavy wooden gangplank called a corvus  (Latin for “crow”).

They could winch it up and drop it down on an enemy ship with such force that a metal spike at its base would penetrate the deck, fixing the gangplank in place and allowing Roman forces to storm the vessel.  

The device could not be used in rough seas and made ships heavier and more unstable. But it helped the upstart Roman navy gain victories and bought time for construction of a better fleet, which won control of the seas off Sicily in 241 B.C. and forced Carthage to surrender that island.

7 The Strait of Messina
The Strait of Messina is 20 miles (32 km) long and from 2 to 10 miles (3.2-16 km) wide, separating the Italian peninsula from Sicily and connecting the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas. The massive amounts of water being funneled into a relatively small space creates strong currents and whirlpools.

This defeat was costly for Carthage, which had to pay tribute to Rome and was slow to compensate its mercenaries, who rebelled after the war. That revolt, put down by the Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca, underscored a crucial distinction between Carthage and Rome.

The Romans relied on citizen-soldiers and acquired an increasingly large pool of them by extending citizenship to their Italian allies, while Carthaginians were reluctant to grant citizenship to other people within their empire and relied heavily on mercenaries.

Rome, Carthage needed new sources of wealth and manpower.  These it found in Spain, where Hamilcar secured control of much of the Iberian Peninsula and its resources, including vast deposits of silver.

Spain served as the base for Hamilcar’s son Hannibal when that brilliant general set out to defeat Rome in the Second Punic War, which began in 218 B.C. 

Carthage was no longer a great naval power, but its Spanish treasure allowed Hannibal to assemble a formidable army, including mercenaries from North Africa, Spain, and Gaul—a country encompassing modern-day France and environs and inhabited by Celtic tribes.

Some of those recruits were motivated not just by the pay they received but also by hatred for Rome, notably the Celts Hannibal enlisted as his forces marched from Spain to northern Italy, a former Celtic stronghold.

8 Greek temple at Selinunte
Greek temple at Selinunte. (Temple dedicated to Hera, built in the 5th century BC.)
Sicily was colonized by Greeks in the 8th century BC. Initially, this was restricted to the eastern and southern parts of the island. The most important colony was established at Syracuse in 734 B.C.

Hannibal’s daring advance through the Alps with at least 40,000 troops and dozens of war elephants became legendary. As Roman historian Livy described it:

At the head of the column were the cavalry and elephants. Hannibal himself, with the pick of the infantry, brought up the rear, keeping his eyes open and alert for every contingency.

Hannibal’s invasion stunned the Romans. In 216 B.C., he dealt them a staggering defeat in the Battle of Cannae by drawing back the endangered center of his line to form a pocket in which the oncoming Romans were trapped when his resilient forces swept around their flanks  and enveloped them—one of the most celebrated maneuvers in military history.

His strategic objective was to demoralize Rome’s Italian allies and cause them to defect. And some did defect to him in southern Italy, where Hannibal and his army held out for more than a dozen years.

In the end, Hannibal was forced to abandon Italy by a general as bold as he was, Publius Cornelius Scipio. Scipio took the offensive against Rome’s enemies in Spain and later crossed to North Africa, reckoning that Hannibal would have to meet him there to defend his capital.

9 Marcus Porcius Cato
Marcus Porcius Cato was a Roman statesman, commonly referred to as Censorius, Sapiens, Priscus, or Major, Cato the Elder, or Cato the Censor, known for his conservatism and opposition to Hellenization.

He overcame Hannibal’s vaunted cavalry— which included skilled horsemen from Numidia in North Africa—by inducing Numidians to switch sides and fight for Rome in the Battle of Zama, waved in 202 B.C. not far from Carthage.

By crushing Hannibal there, Scipio won the war and the honorific “Africanus.” Carthage ceded to Rome all its territories outside Africa and disbanded its army, but continued to profit from trade.

In 150 B.C., Carthage raised troops to fend off assaults by Rome’s ally Numidia.  That provided a pretext for the Third Punic War (149-146 B.C.), launched at the urging of Roman orator Marcus Porcius Caro, who declared, “Carthage must be destroyed.” And so it was, in a punishing campaign that ended when Romans razed the city and sold much of its population into slavery.

...Hamilcar Barca.

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