Rorate Caeli

Saints of the Old Testament: Sts. Habacuc and Micheas, prophets

Even as the traditional Roman Martyrology yesterday commemorated the heavenly birthday of the prophet St. Malachias, so today the Martyrology again marks the holy deaths of two other Old Testament saints. Heading the list of this day's saints are St. Paul, the first hermit, followed by the abbot St. Maur, disciple of St. Benedict. Third in order for This Day, the Fifteenth of January, we read:

In Judaea, the holy prophets Habacuc and Michaeas, whose bodies were found by divine revelation in the days of Theodosius the Elder.

St. Ambachoum (Habacuc)

The writings of these two saints are grouped among the "Minor Prophets" of the Old Testament. St. Habacuc ("Habakkuk", Hebrew Chabhaqquq, said to mean "ardent embrace") prophesied during the last years of the Kingdom of Judah, and according to tradition his life extended for almost the entire length of the Babylonian Captivity (587-540 B.C.).  St. Micheas ("Micah," Hebrew Mikah, a diminutive form of Mikayahu, meaning "Who is like unto the Lord?") was a contemporary of St. Isaias, exercising his prophetic ministry during the reign of holy King Ezekias of Judah in the 700s B.C.  The first century A.D. Jewish work known as The Lives of the Prophets records several remarkable legends about Habacuc and Micheas. Below are the legends of St. Habacuc (emphasis added), followed by comments on his life and ministry, after which the legends of St. Micheas will be presented with comments on his prophetic office.

He was from the tribe of Simeon, of the field of Beth-zachariah.

Before the captivity he had a vision of the destruction of Jerusalem, and he grieved exceedingly. When Nebuchadnezzar came against Jerusalem, he fled to Ostracina (in Egypt), and then sojourned in the land of Ishmael.

When the Chaldeans returned (to their country), and all those who were left in Jerusalem went down to Egypt, he settled again in his own land. He was accustomed to carry food to the reapers of the harvest in his field; and one day, as he received the food, he announced to his family: "I am off for a far country, but will return immediately; if I should delay, carry out the food to the reapers." Finding himself straightway in Babylon, and having given Daniel his meal, he stood by the reapers as they ate; and he told no one what had happened.

He had knowledge that the people would soon come back from Babylon. Two years before the return he died, and was buried alone in his own field.

He gave a sign to the people in Judea, that they would see in the temple a light shining, and thus they would know the glory of the sanctuary. Concerning the end of the temple, he foretold that it would be brought to pass by a western nation. Then, he said, the veil of the inner sanctuary will be torn to pieces, and the capitals of the two pillars will be taken away, and no one will know where they are; but they will be carried away by angels into the wilderness where in the beginning the Tabernacle of Witness was pitched. By them in the end the presence of the Lord will be made known, for they will give light to those who are pursued by the Serpent in darkness as at the beginning.

As is true of many of the legends in The Lives of the Prophets, it is difficult to tell how much trust we should place in this narrative. It is clear at least from his own book that St. Habacuc lived around the time of the Fall of Jerusalem and the start of the Babylonian Captivity, which agrees with the chronological setting depicted in these legends. Particularly notable is the episode of Habacuc's miraculous transportation from Israel to Babylon so he could give his meal to St. Daniel the Prophet. This is an episode described in the biblical story of Daniel's defeat of Bel and the Dragon, which is told in the 14th chapter of the Book of Daniel. Ancient texts of Daniel in Greek place chapter 14 immediately after Daniel chapter 6, which like chapter 14 tells of Daniel being sentenced to be devoured in a den of lions. However, because this chapter is absent from the Hebrew/Aramaic texts of Daniel, St. Jerome transferred it from its position in the midst of the book and moved it the end of the book, as if it were an appendix. In the story of Bel and the Dragon, after King Cyrus assents to Daniel's death sentence, the scene shifts to Judaea:

Now there was in Judea a prophet called Habacuc, and he had boiled pottage, and had broken bread in a bowl: and was going into the field, to carry it to the reapers. And the angel of the Lord said to Habacuc: Carry the dinner which thou hast into Babylon to Daniel, who is in the lions' den. And Habacuc said: Lord, I never saw Babylon, nor do I know the den. And the angel of the Lord took him by the top of his head, and carried him by the hair of his head, and set him in Babylon over the den in the force of his spirit. And Habacuc cried, saying: O Daniel, thou servant of God, take the dinner that God hath sent thee. And Daniel said: Thou hast remembered me, O God, and thou hast not forsaken them that love thee. And Daniel arose and ate. And the angel of the Lord presently set Habacuc again in his own place. (Dan. 14:32-38)

Other than this remarkable episode, St. Habacuc is mentioned in Holy Scripture two others times, as the author of the book of prophecy named for him, which the Bible entitles, "The burden that Habacuc the prophet saw" (Hab. 1:1), and as the author of a psalm, "A prayer of Habacuc the prophet" (Hab. 3:1).  The content and import of St. Habacuc's book of prophecy is succinctly explained by the old Catholic Encyclopedia thus:

Like the other prophetsHabacuc is the champion of ethical monotheism. For him, as for them, the Lord alone is the living God (ii, 18-20); He is the Eternal and Holy One (i, 12), the Supreme Ruler of the Universe (i, 6, 17; ii, 5 sqq.; iii, 2-16), Whose word cannot fail to obtain its effect (ii, 3), and Whose glory will be acknowledged by all nations (ii, 14). In his eyes, as in those of the other prophetsIsrael is God's chosen people whose unrighteousness He is bound to visit with a signal punishment (i, 2-4). The special people, whom it was Habacuc's own mission to announce to his contemporaries as the instruments of the Lord's judgment, were the Chaldeans, who will overthrow everything, even Juda and Jerusalem, in their victorious march (i, 6 sqq.). This was indeed at the time an incredible prediction (i, 5), for was not Juda God's kingdom and the Chaldean a world-power characterized by overweening pride and tyranny? Was not therefore Juda the "just" to be saved, and the Chaldean really the "wicked" to be destroyed? The answer to this difficulty is found in the distich (ii, 4) which contains the central and distinctive teaching of the book. Its oracular form bespeaks a principle of wider import than the actual circumstances in the midst of which it was revealed to the prophet, a general law, as we would say, of God's providence in the government of the world: the wicked carries in himself the germs of his own destruction; the believer, on the contrary, those of eternal life. It is because of this, that Habacuc applies the oracle not only to the Chaldeans of his time who are threatening the existence of God's kingdom on earth, but also to all the nations opposed to that kingdom who will likewise be reduced to naught (ii, 5-13), and solemnly declares that "the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (ii, 15). It is because of this truly Messianic import that the second part of Habacuc's oracle (ii, 4b) is repeatedly treated in the New Testament writings (Romans 1:17Galatians 3:11Hebrews 10:38) as being verified in the inner condition of the believers of the New Law.

The martyrdom of St. Micheas, son of Jemla -- a tradition mistakenly associated with St. Micheas, author of the Book of Micheas.

Turning to the prophet St. Micheas, his book of prophecy is entitled "The word of the Lord that came to Micheas the Morasthite, in the days of Joatham, Achaz, and Ezechias, kings of Juda: which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem."  St. Micheas, who came from a small town in southwest Judah called Moresheth-Gath, is also mentioned in the Book of Jeremias, chapter 26:18, where one of his prophecies is quoted and specifically dated to the reign of the holy King Ezechias of Judah.  This clearly places St. Micheas in the latter half of the 700s B.C., making him a contemporary of St. Isaias, whose Messianic vision in Isa. 2:1-5 is repeated by St. Micheas in Mich. 4:1-3.  These chronological facts show that the traditions regarding St. Micheas in The Lives of the Prophets include an obvious error:

He was of the tribe of Ephraim. Having given much trouble to King Ahab, he was killed, thrown from a cliff, by Ahab's son Joram, because he rebuked him for the wickedness of his fathers. He was given solitary burial in his own land, near the burying place of the giants.

Since St. Micheas lived in the mid- to latter 700s B.C., he could not have been a contemporary of King Achab, who reigned about a century earlier.  The story of his martyrdom at the hands of wicked King Joram in fact belongs to another St. Micheas -- the same-named prophet Micheas, son of Jemla (Michaiah, son of Imlah), who is described in III Kings 22 and II Para. 18 as a prophetic thorn in the side of the sinful, idolatrous King Achab, who ignored Micheas' warning that he would be slain in battle at Ramoth-Galaad. The author of the Book of Micheas, however, foresaw that God would send the Assyrians to destroy the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Chaldeans to destroy the Southern Kingdom of Judah. St. Micheas also pronounced the famous prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (ch. 5:2-4), speaking of the Messiah in terms that allude to the Messiah's divinity.  It is also from the prophecies of St. Micheas that the Church has drawn the Good Friday Reproaches (cf. Mich. 6:1-5). The prophet concludes the recounting of his visions with a confident affirmation that God would fulfill His ancient Messianic promises and thereby take away His People's sins:
Who is a God like to thee, who takest away iniquity, and passest by the sin of the remnant of thy inheritance? he will send his fury in no more, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, and have mercy on us: he will put away our iniquities: and he will cast all our sins into the bottom of the sea. Thou wilt perform the truth of Jacob, the mercy to Abraham: which thou hast sworn to our fathers from the days of old. (Mich. 7:18-20)

All ye holy patriarchs and prophets,

Pray for us!