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by Joseph Exell
“None of us liveth unto himself,” the apostle Paul says in his Epistle to the Romans. Very careful this should make us about our thoughts and our behaviour, lest we do harm by our example. But very cheering, too, when we are striving to walk as children of the light and of the day, the knowledge ought to be that we are wielding over others a “power which makes for righteousness.” The lives of good men--of all who have been in the main, with however many faults, saints and servants of God--have an incalculable value. The influence of a holy example carries weight long after the man himself has gone from the world. Such thoughts as these are awakened in us by the very name of the prophet Micah. It was not the first time in the history of the chosen people that the name had been borne by a minister of the Lord. More than a century and a half before the days when this preacher of judgment and mercy stood up to deliver his message to his nation there had been another Micah, who had testified faithfully for God. We know little regarding him; only one dramatic and thrilling incident in his career has been recorded (1 Kings 22:1-53). So Micaiah, the son of Imlah--and Micaiah is simply a fuller and more original form of Micah--was summoned; and his single voice was heard, solemn and brave in that turbulent crowd, warning Ahab that he must die, and that his people must be scattered like sheep upon the hills. The bold witness bearer was smitten and imprisoned, and we hear no more of him. But his words were vindicated. Micaiah means “Who is like the Lord?” There was a trumpet call in the very title which the man bore. It was in itself an inspiring watchword. It was a challenge to those four hundred blind leaders who stood round him; an assurance given them that Jehovah was about to prove Himself superior to every false god. But the prophet who had been so loyal to God had a further reward. Many years after his time there was need for the unfurling again of the old standard, the uttering afresh of the old watchword. It is sad to think that it was in the Kingdom of Judah, which had been more faithful to the truth than its Northern neighbour, that the need had arisen. Those evil influences had indeed begun to work within its borders which were to lead at last to the destruction of Jerusalem and to the weary captivity that ensued. The people were anxious to walk after the desires of their own hearts, without any disturbing voice to tell them that the wages of their sin must be death; they longed for men who should speak only smooth things to them; and they had their wish. There were many religious teachers in the land who were prepared, for the pay of the hireling, to give those careless and unrighteous souls all that they craved. They condoned their sins; they minimised their unjust practices; they concealed the demands and the penalties of God’s law. Then it was that a new Micah arose, possessed of the dauntless spirit of the old. The name which he had received from his parents, in memory, perhaps, of the brave preacher who had gone before him, was full of meaning to him. He determined to walk in the footsteps of his predecessor. He would ring out again the solemn challenge, “Who is like the Lord?” He, too, would show himself an Abdiel, “among innumerable false unmoved.” He would summon the world to behold the conflict, undertaken afresh which God had formerly brought to a triumphant issue. “Hear, all ye people; hearken, O earth, and all that therein is; and let the Lord God be witness against you, the Lord from His holy temple,”--these were his fearless words. Micah had no higher ambition than to reproduce the good soldier of an earlier time, who had been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts. There is a twofold lesson here which we shall do well to lay to heart. There is the comforting truth that the dead are blessed who die in the Lord, because their works do follow them--their example lives on when they are themselves away, to stimulate other souls to think of those things which are true and honourable and just and pure and lovely and of good report. The first Micah is repeated in the second, who is even greater, and who wields a wider influence than himself. So it is very often. Our success as husbandmen in God’s vineyard may seem to us meagre indeed, and we may not feel ourselves qualified to render Him any large service. But if we speak as He gives us language, and enter willingly the doors which He sets open, and pray without ceasing, He may employ us to kindle into vitality and enthusiasm a life which He is to use for the noblest ends. And the other lesson is similar. It is this, that God will take care to perpetuate His work, and to provide Himself age after age with true-hearted servants and witness bearers. When one Micah dies, his place will be filled, if need be, by another, who will utter anew the ancient watchword, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear. Micah--the Micah who wrote this book--was a native of the country and not of the town. He was born in Moresheth Gath, a village on the Philistine frontier, which could still be identified when, long centuries later, the Christian father Jerome lived in Palestine. It was from the thrifty and industrious peasantry of Judah that the prophet sprang. He was essentially a man of the people. As we read his words we can see how all along his sympathies continued to go out towards the humbler classes, the toilers of the land, those who bound the sheaf and built the house and dug the grave. There is a burning indignation in his tone when he speaks against the tyranny of the rich and noble. It is a vivid picture which he paints from his own observation of the sufferings of the commonalty at the hands of their lords. Those proud and wealthy men seemed to imagine that all who were beneath them in social station existed but for their benefit. “They coveted fields, and seized them; and houses, and took them away.” The poorer agriculturists were robbed daily of their holdings by violence or by false judgment. And so to Micah the worst enemies of Judah were not the Assyrians; they were the men of her own household--the haughty grandees who were hostile to God, because they oppressed those who were under God’s most immediate care, the needy and the helpless and the destitute. Micah was a social reformer as well as a prophet. It appears strange that the sins which he denounces in such burning words should have prevailed in what to outward seeming was a period not only of great prosperity, but even of great attention to the observances of religion. The word of the Lord came to him, the heading of the book informs us, “in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” £ It may be, as recent expositors incline to believe, that the larger part of the prophetic utterances which follow must be assigned to the last of these reigns; but the life of the prophet himself extended over them all. Now, two of the kings who are named were anxious to know and do God s will, and sought to induce their subjects to act wisely and uprightly. Ahaz, it is true, was anything but a God-fearing prince, and we need not be surprised that in his time truth should stand on the scaffold, and wrong be seated on the throne. But it is grieving to learn that, under the rule of Jotham and Hezekiah, evils should abound like those which Micah exposes and condemns. The sympathies of the sovereigns were with what was good; they were careful to see that God was outwardly honoured and obeyed; but they could not change the hearts and characters of their people. Under their government, injustice and corruption were rampant still, and the prophet had to utter severe and awful words concerning the crimes of the land. It was at a national crisis that he began to speak. Ruin was impending over the Northern Kingdom of Israel. There the storm, which had been gathering for long, was about to burst at last. Ere many months had gone Samaria would be a heap of the field; the stones of her bulwarks were to be rolled down into the valley, and her graven images dashed to pieces by the soldiers of Sargon, the Assyrian king. Amid such clouds and darkness, such wars and rumours of wars, Micah lifted up his voice. But it was not to the Kingdom of the ten tribes that he was eager to bear God’s message. It was to his own land of Judah. It, too, had shared the transgression of Samaria, and the same judgments menaced it. Outwardly it looked strong and noble; never since the time of David and Solomon had its wealth and power been greater; it seemed to be religious, too; but there was a canker eating at its heart. Beneath the fair covering, what unrighteousness dwelt, and what neglect of the Divine law! And now, when the Lord’s punishments were abroad and Israel was tottering to its fall, would Judah not learn righteousness? Would it not be roused into concern? The task given Micah to accomplish--the revealing to the Jewish people of their evil and of the grievous judgments which awaited them--was not a light or an easy task. It was one under the burden of which he would often be ready to sink. But at those moments when heart and flesh are like to fail it must have encouraged him to know that he was not alone in doing God’s strange and heavy work. He had a great coadjutor and friend. Isaiah, the noblest of all the prophets, had begun his ministry before Micah, in the reign of Jotham’s father Uzziah; and when Micah laid down his armour he left Isaiah still labouring and battling on. And we may regard it certain that the two were not contemporaries merely, but helpers one of another. In what fashion, then, did Micah finish the work given him to do? We have only to read the book in which he collected the substance of what God had taught by him, to feel assured that, if it had been possible to stir within the proud hearts of the Jews that godly sorrow which needeth not to be repented of, this was the man to break and bend and melt them. I like that old division of the prophecy, though some of the critics reject it, which finds in it three distinct parts, each of them introduced by the call, “Hear ye!” (See Micah 1:2; Micah 3:1; Micah 6:1.) If we look at the separate sections we shall discover that in all there is first an unveiling of the national sins, and then a solemn prediction of the woes with which God must visit such transgressions; and finally--as if the heart of the prophet, and the heart of the Lord whose spokesman he was, relented and shrank back from the strange work of judgment--a multitude of exceeding great and precious promises. The sins against which the preacher inveighs are sins both against God and man--a religion full of idolatry, and a false confidence in Jehovah fostered and encouraged by lying oracles; these on the one hand, and, on the other, the unjust dealing which abounded, and the oppression of the poor by the rich. Evils like these God could not leave unpunished. If Micah spoke of the terrors of the Lord--if he felt that he must put the trumpet to his lips and blow what Milton calls “a dolorous blast,” in order that the careless in Zion might be aroused--he could not refrain from telling out, too, God’s mercy and grace. He was compelled by stern necessity to show himself a Boanerges, a son of thunder; but we cannot help seeing how much rather he would have been a Barnabas, a son of consolation. And had he no reward given him for all his faithfulness? Yes, a rich and enviable reward. God’s approval rested upon him; the Master whom he served was well pleased with him. But, more than that, he was honoured to work a great reformation in the guilty land. The Divine judgment, he saw, must come sooner or later; the nation had sinned too deeply to escape the infliction of punishment; but he delayed the evil day--he rendered it possible for God to spare the erring people yet a while. His message stirred within some who listened to it a deep and saving repentance. It is the prophet Jeremiah who narrates the story (Jeremiah 26:10-19). When his own life was endangered by his uncompromising words, and the priests and false prophets were crying out for his blood, he tells us that certain of the elders of the land took his part and secured his safety. And this was how they argued, “Micah the Morasthite prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah; and he spake to all the people of Judah, saying, Zion shall be ploughed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest. Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him at all to death? Did he not fear the Lord, and entreat the favour of the Lord, and the Lord repented Him of the evil which He had pronounced against them?” Here, then, is the completion of Micah’s history. His proclamation of lamentation and mourning and woe--his sharp and piercing words--penetrated the hearts of Hezekiah and of numbers of his subjects. To this prophet the conversion of the king may be traced, and all those noble reforms which the king inaugurated. For a time the sword of Jehovah was put away into its scabbard, and His fierce anger tarried. He saw the nation awake to sorrow and to righteousness under the rebukes of His servant; and He heard it ask the way to Zion, setting its face thitherward. Was not Micah blessed indeed? If many went on still in their wickedness, there were some whom he plucked as brands from the burning, and whom he led into the ways of wisdom which are ways of pleasantness and peace. Probably his office on earth closed shortly afterwards. (Original Secession Magazine.)
the Sixth Week after Easter