In Micah chapter 1, the prophet makes a number of puns (technical rhetorical term, paronomasis) based upon the names of various villages and cities. Since those using English at this time only use such puns for purposes of jokes, it is difficult to understand the purpose of such puns, even if you know they are present. Farrar, in his commentary on the Minor Prophets explains this usage and how we should hear it:
Yet how can the prophet refrain from lamenting over this doom, and more especially since it will reach to his native Judah, and even to the gate of Jerusalem? He expresses his anguish, or rather relieves its tension, in a series of paronomasias:
“In Gath (Tell-town) tell it not;
In Akko (Weep-town) weep not!
In Beth-le-Aphrah (Dust-town) roll thyself in dust.
Pass by, thou inhabitress of Shaphir (Fair-town) in nakedness and shame!
The citizen of Zaanan (March-town) marched not forth.
The mourning of Bethezel (Neighbour-town) taketh from you its standing-place.
The inhabitress of Maroth (Bitter-town) is in travail about good,
Because evil hath come down from Jehovah to the gate of Jerusalem.
Bind the chariot to the swift horse, thou inhabitress of Lachish (Horse-town);She was the beginning of sin for the daughter of Zion,
For the transgressions of Israel were found in thee.
Therefore will thou (Oh Zion) give dismissal (farewell presents) to Moresheth-Gath (The Possession of Gath).
The houses of Achzib (False-spring) become Achzab (a disappointing book) to Israel’s kings.
Yet will I bring the heir (namely, Sargon, king of Assyria) to thee, thou citizen of Mareshah (Heir-town).
Unto Adullam (the wild beasts cave) shall the glory of Israel come!1
Make thyself bald (Oh Zion) for the children of thy delight.
Enlarge thy baldness as the vulture,
For they are gone into captivity from thee” (1:10–16).
This passage suggests a curious psychological problem. Unlike the description of the advancing host in Isa. 10:28–34, it does not mark out a definite geographical route, though it mentions certain towns in the hill-country between Samaria and Jerusalem, and others which are nearer to the capital itself. The prophet, contemplating an advance of the Assyrian king through the towns of the Shephelah, takes the names of town after town chiefly in the neighbourhood of his own native village, and extorts from their sense, or even from their mere assonances, an omen of mourning, failure, and woe. Such paronomasia, though little in accordance with modern English taste—though to some minds they suggest artificiality and childishness—are yet found inpassages of noble and solemn import, and are very frequent in “the stately, grave tragedians” of Greece. They would have had a far deeper meaning in countries and ages filled with the conviction that the tongue does not move at random in the region of destiny, but that even in the physiological quality of words there often lies a depth of prophetic import.
F.W. Farrar, The Minor Prophets, 131-132. Such use of word plays are quite common throughout the Hebrew Bible, as Kang Na explains:
Paronomasia is a play on words, a verbal pun, that makes specialized use of alliteration. The poetry of prophecy contains examples of this device. Amos used it masterfully, as in the following line where Gilgal puns on “go into exile.”
ki hagilgal galoh yigleh
For Gilgal will surely go into exile.
Also, when Amos saw a basket of summer fruit, qayits, he took this as a sign that the end, qets, was near (8.12). Paranomasia is used throughout the Hebrew Bible and is not restricted to poetry. For exampl
e, Genesis 2.7 says that God formed man, adam, out the ground, adamah.
Bullinger’s Figures of Speech Used in the Bible explains that such plays on sound and sense are not for humor, but rather to draw explicit attention to the text:
This figure is not by any means what we call a pun. Far from it. But two things are emphasized, and our attention is called to this emphasis by the similarity of sound. Otherwise we might read the passage, and pass it by unnoticed; but the eye or the ear is at once attracted by the similarity of sound or appearance, and our attention is thus drawn to a solemn or important statement which would otherwise have been unheeded. Sometimes a great lesson is taught us by this figure; an interpretation is put upon the one word by the use of the other; or a reason is given in the one for what is referred to by the other. Sometimes a contrast is made; sometimes a thought is added.
Figures of Speech, 306-307. Bullinger gives over ten pages of examples from the Bible.