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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Micah 6

 

 

Verse 1

This begins the concluding section of Micah (Micah 6-7). The prophet had already declared the guilt of Israel and pronounced dramatically the divine sentence of the destruction of their "sinful kingdom," stating also at the same time the salvation that would yet be available to a faithful remnant of the chosen people, preserved and purified through the terrible punishment to come. In this last division of the prophecy, Micah again stressed that the judgment to fall upon them was due solely to "their ingratitude and resistance to the commandments of God,"[1] and that only by sincere repentance would any of them be able to participate in the covenant blessings. Most of this chapter is in the form of a formal "lawsuit, in which God, as both accuser and judge, indicts, and then pronounces sentence on his people."[2] The basic assumption underlying Micah, and all of the prophets, is the prior existence of a covenant relationship between God and Israel. The whole Pentateuch and the entire previous history of Israel are the background. The legal fabric in which this lawsuit appears, therefore, "is related directly to Israel's chosenness. Her election status is the reason for her obligation to act according to Yahweh's moral requirements."[3] In a precious summary attributed by Hailey to Farrar:

"In the earlier chapters, we have the springtide of hope; but we have in these (Micah 6-7) the paler autumn of disappointment."[4]

The charge against Israel in this chapter is simply that of breach of contract. In every age, without exception, God's blessing is conditional, always dependent upon the continued love and obedience of God's people to himself; but Israel had made the tragic mistake of supposing that God would still be with them, even though they had wantonly rejected and disobeyed his commandments.

Micah 6:1

"Hear ye now what Jehovah saith: Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice."

"This language and style of the saying are drawn from the sphere of legal practice in Israel."[5] It is exactly the same type of courtroom language that appears continually in the prophets "across the history of prophecy from Hosea to Malachi."[6]

The calling of the mountains and hills to be witness was characteristic courtroom procedure in those days. Nature itself would be an appropriate witness against Israel, whose conduct in rejecting their God and protector was contrary to nature.


Verse 2

"Hear, O mountains, Jehovah's controversy, and ye enduring foundations of the earth; for Jehovah hath a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel."

The climax of this eloquent and impressive beginning is the announcement of the defendant. It is Israel!

"Who can be the guilty party in so awesome a court hearing? Micah finally satisfies the deliberately aroused curiosity of his audience with the shocking news that the one to stand trial is Yahweh's people, Israel, the Southern Kingdom by its covenant name."[7]

The charge, of course, is breach of contract, under the terms of which God had long ago forewarned his people that their covenant would be abrogated and the intended blessings denied.

"His people ..." These words are most significant, the equivalent of which is repeated again and again (Micah 6:3,5,16). The word used here is [~amiy]; (Jehovah's people), a word that stands with special significance to indicate the sacred relationship between God and his family. "It also indicated the right of Jehovah to contend with it."[8]


Verse 3

"O, my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me."

This plaintive cry was addressed by God Himself to his sinful people; and it is related to the basic marvel of unbelief (Mark 6:6). What an incredible thing, really, that a people so blessed and honored by God would rebel against him, despise his laws, and revert to the wretched licentiousness of the Canaanite paganism! Isaiah also echoed this same exclamation: "What more could have been done to my vineyard, that I have not done it?" (Micah 5:4).


Verse 4

"For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of bondage; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam."

The one greatest act of God's grace and mercy had been, of course, their redemption from Egyptian slavery. Moses, Aaron, and Miriam were the great personalities associated with that deliverance; and by such a reference God is reminding Israel of all that they owe to his merciful providence and protection. God had not burdened his people, but he had loaded them with mercies and blessings.


Verse 5

"O my people, remember now what Balak, king of Moab, devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him; remember from Shittim unto Gilgal, that ye may know the righteous acts of Jehovah."

It appears that most of the commentators have missed the point here, Deane, for example, stressing that, "An these instances of God's interposition prove how faithful he is to his promises."[9] However, what the children of Israel were commanded to remember here was not merely God's blessing which had indeed included many marvelous things, even the passage of the Jordan river on dry land at flood stage, but not even mentioned here. They were commanded to remember what Balaam answered to Balak. And what was that? He had counseled Balak that Israel could be destroyed by inducing the people to worship Baal through the temptation to commit adultery with the sacred-prostitutes of that religion. The whole nation (practically) fell into the trap and "joined themselves to Baal at Baal-Peor" (Numbers 25:1ff). That was what Jehovah commanded Israel to remember here. Shittim and Gilgal, mentioned at the same time, had the same wretched significance in the history of Israel. It was when Israel was in Shittim that, "they began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab" (Numbers 25:1). Another moral disaster occurred at Gilgal. There Saul was anointed King, signaling their rejection of God that he should reign over them. We believe that it was at Gilgal and Shittim that the moral ruin of Israel became inevitable. Therefore, they were commanded here to "remember," why? "That ye may know the righteous acts of Jehovah." (Last clause of this verse). In that remembrance, Israel was expected to see that God's rejection and punishment of his people was not a capricious or unjust act, but a result of his righteousness. God in justice simply could not do anything else. The blindness of most of the scholars to the tremendous significance of all this is evident in such a criticism as this: "The progress of Israel from Shittim to Gilgal cannot be part of the Balaam incident."[10] But of course, both places were intimately connected with the Balaam incident. It was in those places that the people of Israel fell into the error of Balaam. Baal-Peor of infamous connotation in Israel's history was situated precisely there. (See Numbers 25:1ff). "All their wickedness is in Gilgal, for there I hated them." (Hosea 9:15, also Amos 4:4). Therefore, the mention of Shittim and Gilgal in this passage was not for stressing the wonderful blessings of God upon his people, but for the purpose of showing what an evil response Israel had made to those blessings.


Verse 6

"Wherewith shall I come before Jehovah, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? will Jehovah be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousand rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth Jehovah require of thee, but to do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God?"

This is one of the most popular passages in the whole Bible, and, it should be added, one of the most misunderstood and abused. Contrary to what is frequently alleged, the passage does not say:

"The true worship of God is the service of man. The Old Testament has no greater word than this.[11] This passage is one of the greatest in the Bible on the futility of ritualistic worship."[12]

There are many such comments regarding these verses, but they miss the point completely. This passage does not condemn God's own religion revealed to the Hebrews which was a ritualistic worship; and the true worship of God is the service of man, only if it is related also to the service of God through obedience to God's commandments. It is definitely untrue that "service to man is worshipping God."

"It would be a gross misinterpretation of this verse, a violent wrenching the text out of its context, to construe this as a mere pronouncement that the whole point of religion is a virtuous life, without the need of atonement or of faith in God's revealed word."[13]

To take the view which some have advocated would be to degenerate holy religion into mere humanism, which in the last analysis is pure atheism and the ultimate seed-bed of every evil ever known to mankind. Scoggin also stressed this:

"Sacrifices of whatever kind have no meaning when unaccompanied by ethical behavior. Sacrifice in itself is not wrong but unaccompanied by ethical living, it is simply irrelevant."[14]

We should go beyond Scoggin's remark that "sacrifice is not wrong." Indeed, it is commanded; and Christians are commanded to present themselves "a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God" (Romans 12:1); and such a ritual as the Lord's Supper is made to be a synecdoche of the entire Christian religion by none other than Jesus Christ himself (John 6:53ff). Without sacrifice, of the kind that God has required in his revealed will, there can be no such thing as salvation. True, the sacrifices that Christians must offer are "spiritual" (1 Peter 2:5); but they are nevertheless sacrifices.

In Micah 6:6-8, therefore, God was not abolishing the institution of sacrifice, despite the conclusion to that effect which some have mistakenly made.

The thing that was wrong with Israel's sacrifices was the fact of their supposing that as long as they offered them it did not make any difference to God what they did.

In fact, this verse must not be viewed as the honest response of people intent on doing God's will. Far from it. They were attempting to justify their wickedness on the basis of their having proliferated and multiplied the very sacrifices God had commanded, and in addition had also added a lot of sacrifices God had never commanded, such as human sacrifice! The scholars who see these verses (Micah 6:6,7) as the plea of a truly religious people trying to do God's will, simply need to look at the passage again.


Verse 7

"Will Jehovah be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousand rivers of oil? shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul."

"Thousands of rams ..." God had never commanded any such excessive sacrifice as that; but it was one of the conceits of the northern Israel that the multiplication of sacrifices God had indeed commanded would make up for their shameless worship at the godless shrines of the Baalim. Amos (Amos 4:4-5) reveals that instead of offering sacrifices as God had requested, they were offering them "every morning"; and the tithes which were due once a year, they were offering "every three days." We followed other commentators in the supposition that all of that was "hyperbole"; but in the light of what is evident here, it is clear enough that Israel had indeed attempted to buy God off with "thousands of rams," and with "ten thousand rivers of oil."

Some of Israel's kings, especially, had offered the most outlandish numbers of beasts as sacrifices. Solomon offered 1,000 burnt-offerings (1 Kings 3:4), 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep (1 Kings 8:63; 2 Chronicles 30:24; 35:7). Solomon must have supposed that cleared him of the blame for having 700 wives and 300 concubines!

"The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul ..." Having already taken the position that Micah 6:6-7 are the response of a "truly sincere people" wishing to know how to approach God, some of the exegetes are really embarrassed by this; so they try to get rid of it. "The proposal (about human sacrifice) is not drawn from the recognized range of possibilities ... it is rather a function of the escalation of the list."[15] However, this is no mere rhetorical exaggeration. Human sacrifice was indeed being practiced in Israel:

"A god especially associated with child sacrifice was Molech, who was given a sanctuary called Topheth, "burning place," somewhere on the southern side of Jerusalem, where the grisly rite was performed."[16]

"They offered to appease God's wrath by the pagan practice of infanticide, as in the examples of the kings of Israel, and Ahaz of Judah (2 Kings 16:3; 17:17)".[17]SIZE>

Furthermore, it is not true, necessarily, that the Biblical accounts of Israel's kings doing such things "are told as exceptional cases."[18] On the contrary, there must have been a wide-spread indulgence in that sinful thing, as indicated by the presence in the city of Jerusalem itself of a sanctuary to Molech.

Before leaving Micah 6:7, one other thing needs to be noted. In order to proclaim the humanist manifest of "no sacrifice" in the service of God, some offer a comment like this: "When Abraham had shown himself willing to offer his son, Isaac is not required from him."[19] But the implication that God required "nothing" is wrong. On that very occasion, a sacrifice was required, God himself providing it in the instance of the lamb caught by his horns in the bushes.


Verse 8

"He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth Jehovah require of thee, but to do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God."

"So at a profound level the answer does call for sacrifice."[20] Micah taught nothing new here. It was the same old story that shines in every word of the Pentateuch. He did not repeal the institution of sacrifice.

"He had nothing new to say with regard to the divine will. Israel had already been given the message long ago and reminded of it regularly."[21]

This verse is often misinterpreted to mean merely "doing good to one's fellow human beings"; and while God's true religion certainly does include that, it is a satanic error to proclaim that, "Nothing more is needed."[22] To be truly forgiven requires acceptance of the revealed will of God and full compliance with the conditions given thereto to the fullest extent of human ability. And, although the grace of God will surely make provision for one who falls short while sincerely striving to do God's will, there is no promise of salvation for the willfully disobedient.


Verse 9

"The voice of Jehovah crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom will see thy name; hear ye, the rod, and who hath appointed it."

The translation of this, verse is doubtful, due to imperfections in the manner of the text's transmission through history; but the meaning is clear anyway. "The city is called to attention with a litany of changes, as the voice of God continues to speak to the end of the chapter."[23] As McKeating observed, the lawsuit continues in this verse. "The prosecution is resumed with an appeal this time, not to the mountains and hills, but to the populace."[24] "The rod is the chastisement, or judgment, about to be made known to the people."[25] The city in view here is Jerusalem, the chief city of the nation.


Verse 10

"Are there yet treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and a scant measure that is abominable?"

The common sins of the traders were spoken of here. Although stated as questions, it is the charge made by the Lord that the treasures of wickedness and the deceitful and crooked instruments by which they had been amassed were still in Israel, hence the necessity for the nation's punishment. All of the prophets mentioned these same things.


Verse 11

"Shall I be pure with wicked balances, and with a bag of deceitful weights?"

Amos denounced these very things (Amos 8:5), as did all the holy prophets.

The corollaries of this verse are easily discerned. (1) God can never be pleased by the exploitation inherent in crooked weights and measures. (2) Mountains of sacrifices, or the constant observance of religious routines are impossible of pleasing God if found in the conduct of people whose lives are immoral, unethical, unselfish, or deceitful.


Verse 12

"For the rich men thereof are full of violence, and the inhabitants thereof have spoken lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth."

Allen translated Micah 6:11-12 thus:

"Can I condone the wrongly set scales or the bag of false weights?

Her men of wealth are addicted to violence, her citizens speak lies, the tongues in their mouths are utterly deceitful."[26]SIZE>

Throughout Micah 6:9-12, "The questions are affirmative."[27] God is not asking the people about their wickedness; he is confronting them with it.


Verse 13

"Therefore I also have smitten thee with a grievous wound; I have made thee desolate because of thy sins."

This tragic verse reveals that the awful fate about to befall "the sinful kingdom" was fully and unqualifiedly deserved. It reminds one of what the Christ himself said to the same people upon the occasion of his prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem in a much later era, "Behold, thy house is left unto thee desolate" (Matthew 23:38).


Verse 14

"Thou shalt eat, but not be satisfied; and thy humiliation shall be in the midst of thee: and thou shalt put away, but shalt not save; and that which thou savest will I give up to the sword."

It is clearly a military disaster that shall humble and destroy the city of Jerusalem. "This is the old story of corrupt social, financial and moral conditions, despite the warnings of Jehovah; therefore, destruction!"[28] It is a mistake to read the prophecy of this passage apart from the specific commandments in the Pentateuch, the violation of which resulted in the judgment of Israel. Deane pointed out that the following passages strictly forbade the very conduct reproved here: Leviticus 26:25, etc., and Deuteronomy 28:29, etc.


Verse 15

"Thou shalt sow, but shalt not reap; thou shalt tread the olives, but thou shalt not anoint thee with oil; and the vintage, but shalt not drink the wine."

This is a continuation of the thought of Micah 6:14. Scoggin, as so many others, discerned that the military conquest about to befall Israel would be the means of causing all of the dire things promised in these verses.

"The prophet indicated by the language of this verse that the scourge, the enemy, would make rather short work of decimating Jerusalem. It would happen in those few months between planting time and harvest. They would not be able to reap the crops which they had planted."[29]

What might have seemed to be almost impossible to the proud and arrogant cities of rebellious Israel would not require any special trouble at all for God to execute upon them. One quick, disastrous siege; and all would come to pass in a single summer!


Verse 16

"For the statutes of Omri are kept, and all the works of the house of Ahab, and ye walk in their counsels; that I may make thee a desolation, and the inhabitants thereof a hissing: and ye shall hear the reproach of my people."

"The statutes of Omri are kept ..." "All that is related of Omri in the Bible, is that he was worse than all of his predecessors!"[30] "No special statutes of his are anywhere mentioned; but he was the founder of that evil dynasty that gave Ahab to Israel and Athaliah (the murderess) to Judah."[31] She, Athaliah, was called "the daughter of Omri" (2 Kings 8:26). Of course, it was through those persons that the cult of Baal had been introduced in Israel, resulting, at last, in the total apostasy of the whole nation. This was dealt with extensively in the prophecy of Hosea, above.

"The chapter closes with the melancholy fact that Jehovah's law was despised."[32] In the light of this, one may plainly see that the questions asked by the people in Micah 6:6-7, were not at all the questions of sincere worshippers of Jehovah, but the quibbling efforts of the Baal-worshippers to justify their abominable paganism.

It is heartening indeed to find an admission by McKeating, a great scholar who often accepts critical views impossible for this writer to receive, that, after all, "There is nothing in Micah which might not belong to the eighth century!"[33] Indeed, there is not; and it is our conviction that every word of it belongs.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Micah 6:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/micah-6.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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