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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Bible Commentary

Micah 7

Verses 1-6

6

THE SIN OF THE SCANT MEASURE

Micah 6:9-16; Micah 7:1-6

THE state of the text of Micah 6:9-16; Micah 7:1-6 is as confused as the condition of society which it describes: it is difficult to get reason, and impossible to get rhyme, out of the separate clauses. We had best give it as it stands, and afterwards state the substance of its doctrine, which, in spite of the obscurity of details, is, as so often happens in similar cases, perfectly clear and forcible. The passage consists of two portions, which may not originally have belonged to each other, but which seem to reflect the same disorder of civic life, with the judgment that impends upon it. In the first of them, Micah 7:9-16, the prophet calls for attention to the voice of God, which describes the fraudulent life of Jerusalem, and the evils He is bringing on her. In the second, Micah 7:1-6, Jerusalem bemoans her corrupt society; but perhaps we hear her voice only in Micah 7:1, and thereafter the prophet’s.

The prophet speaks:-

"Hark! Jehovah crieth to the city! (‘Tis salvation to fear Thy name!) Hear ye, O tribe and council of the city!"

God speaks:-

"… in the house of the wicked treasures of wickedness, And the scant measure accursed? Can she be pure with the evil balances, And with the bag of false weights, Whose rich men are full of violence, And her citizens speak falsehood, And their tongue is deceit in their mouth? But I on my part have begun to plague thee, To lay thee in ruin because of thy sins. Thou eatest and art not filled,"

"But thy famine is in the very midst of thee! And but try to remove, thou canst not bring off And what thou bringest off, I give to the sword. Thou sowest, but never reapest; Treadest olives, but never anointest with oil, And must, but not to drink wine! So thou keepest the statutes of Omri, And the habits of the house of Ahab, And walkest in their principles, Only that I may give thee to ruin, And her inhabitants for sport-Yea, the reproach of the Gentiles shall ye bear!"

Jerusalem speaks:-

"Woe, woe is me, for I am become like sweepings of harvest, Like gleanings of the vintage-Not a cluster to eat, not a fig that my soul lusteth after. Perished are the leal from the land, Of the upright among men there is none: All of them are lurking for blood; Every man takes his brother in a net. Their hands are on evil to do it thoroughly. The prince makes requisition, The judge judgeth for payment, And the great man he speaketh his lust; So together they weave it out. The best of them is but a thorn thicket, {cf. Proverbs 15:19} The most upright worse than a prickly hedge. The day that thy sentinels saw, thy visitation, draweth on; Now is their havoc {cf. Isaiah 22:5} come! Trust not any friend! Rely on no confidant! From her that lies in thy bosom guard the gates of thy mouth. For son insulteth father, daughter is risen against her mother, daughter-in- law against her mother-in-law; And the enemies of a man are the men of his house."

Micah, though the prophet of the country and stern critic of its life, characterized Jerusalem herself as the center of the nation’s sins. He did not refer to idolatry alone, but also to the irreligion of the politicians, and the Cruel injustice of the rich in the capital. The poison which weakened the nation’s blood had found its entrance to their veins at the very heart. There had the evil gathered which was shaking the state to a rapid dissolution.

This section of the Book of Micah, whether it be by that prophet or not, describes no features of Jerusalem’s life which were not present in the eighth century; and it may be considered as the more detailed picture of the evils he summarily denounced. It is one of the most poignant criticisms of a commercial community which have ever appeared in literature. In equal relief we see the meanest instruments and the most prominent agents of covetousness and cruelty the scant measure, the false weights, the unscrupulous prince, and the venal judge. And although there are some sins denounced which are impossible in our civilization, yet falsehood, squalid fraud, pitilessness of the everlasting struggle for life are exposed exactly as we see them about us today. Through the prophet’s ancient and often obscure eloquence we feel just those shocks and sharp edges which still break everywhere through our Christian civilization. Let us remember, too, that the community addressed by the prophet was, like our own, professedly religious.

The most widespread sin with which the prophet charges Jerusalem in these days of her commercial activity is falsehood: "Her inhabitants speak lies, and their tongue is deceit in their mouth." In Mr. Lecky’s "History of European Morals" we find the opinion that "the one respect in which the growth of industrial life has exercised a favorable influence on morals has been in the promotion of truth." The tribute is just, but there is another side to it. The exigencies of commerce and industry are fatal to most of the conventional pretences, insincerities, and flatteries which tend to grow up in all kinds of society. In commercial life, more perhaps than in any other, a man is taken, and has to be taken, in his inherent worth. Business, the life which is called par excellence Busyness, wears off every mask, all false veneer and unction, and leaves no time for the cant and parade which are so prone to increase in all other professions. Moreover the soul of commerce is credit. Men have to show that they can be trusted before other men will traffic with them, at least upon that large and lavish scale on which alone the great undertakings of commerce can be conducted. When we look back upon the history of trade and industry, and see how they have created an atmosphere in which men must ultimately seem what they really are; how they have of their needs replaced the jealousies, subterfuges, intrigues which were once deemed indispensable to the relations of men of different peoples, by large international credit and trust; how they break through the false conventions that divide class from class, we must do homage to them, as among the greatest instruments of the truth which maketh free.

But to all this there is another side. If commerce has exploded so much conventional insincerity, it has developed a species of the genus which is quite its own. In our days nothing can lie like an advertisement. The saying, "the tricks of the trade" has become proverbial. Everyone knows that the awful strain and harassing of commercial life are largely due to the very amount of falseness that exists. The haste to be rich, the pitiless rivalry and competition, have developed a carelessness of the rights of others to the truth from ourselves, with a capacity for subterfuge and intrigue, which reminds one of no, thing so much as that state of barbarian war out of which it was the ancient glory of commerce to have assisted mankind to rise. Are the prophet’s words about Jerusalem too strong for large portions of our own commercial communities? Men who know these best will not say that they are. But let us cherish rather the powers of commerce which make for truth. Let us tell men who engage in trade that there are none for whom it is more easy to be clean and straight; that lies, whether of action or of speech, only increase the mental expense and the moral strain of life; and that the health, the capacity, the foresight, the opportunities of a great merchant depend ultimately on his resolve to be true and on the courage with which he sticks to the truth.

One habit of falseness on which the prophet dwells is the use of unjust scales and short measures. The "stores" or fortunes of his day are "scores of wickedness," because they have been accumulated by the use of the ’lean ephah,’ the balances of wrong," and "the bag of false weights." These are evils more common in the East than with us: modern government makes them almost impossible. But, all the same, ours is the sin of the scant measure, and the more so in proportion to the greater speed and rivalry of our commercial life. The prophet’s name for it, "measure of leanness," of "consumption" or "shrinkage," is a proper symbol of all those duties and offices of man to man, the full and generous discharge of which is diminished by the haste and the grudge of a prevalent selfishness. The speed of modern life tends to shorten, the time expended on every piece of work, and to turn it out untempered and incomplete. The struggle for life in commerce, the organized rivalry between labor and capital, not only puts every man on his guard against giving any other more than his due, but tempts him to use every opportunity to scamp and curtail his own service and output. You will hear men defend this parsimony as if it were a law. They say that business is impossible without the temper which they call "sharpness" or the habit which they call "cutting it fine." But such character and conduct are the very decay of society. The shrinkage of the units must always and everywhere mean the disintegration of the mass. A society whose members strive to keep within their duties is a society which cannot continue to cohere. Selfishness may be firmness, but it is the firmness of frost, the rigor of death. Only the unselfish excess of duty, only the generous loyalty to others, give to society the compactness and indissolubleness of life. Who is responsible for the enmity of classes, and the distrust which exists between capital and labor? It is the workman whose one aim is to secure the largest amount of wages for the smallest amount of work, and who will, in his blind pursuit of that, wreck the whole trade of a town or a district; it is the employer who believes he has no duties to his men beyond paying them for their work the least that he can induce them to take; it is the customer who only and ever looks to the cheapness of an article-procurer in that prostitution of talent to the work of stamping which is fast killing art, and joy, and all pity for the bodies and souls of our brothers. These are the true anarchists and breakers-up of society. On their methods social coherence and harmony are impossible. Life itself is impossible. No organism can thrive whose various limbs are ever shrinking in upon themselves. There is no life except by living to others.

But the prophet covers the whole evil when he says that the "pious are perished out of the land." "Pious" is a translation of despair. The original means the man distinguished by "hesedh," that word which we have on several occasions translated "real love," because it implies not only an affection but loyalty to a relation. And, as the use of the word frequently reminds us, "hesedh" is love and loyalty both to God and to our fellowmen. We need not dissociate these: they are one. But here it is the human direction in which the word looks. It means a character which fulfills all the relations of society with the fidelity, generosity, and grace which are the proper affections of man to man. Such a character, says the prophet, is perished from the land. Every man now lives for himself, and as a consequence preys upon his brother. "They all lie in wait for blood; they hunt every man his brother with a net." This is not murder which the prophet describes: it is the reckless, pitiless competition of the new conditions of life developed in Judah by the long peace and commerce of the eighth century. And he carries this selfishness into a very striking figure in Micah 7:4: "The best of them is as a thorn thicket, the most upright" worse "than a prickly hedge." He realizes exactly what we mean by sharpness and sharp-dealing: bristling self-interest, all points; splendid in its own defense, but barren of fruit, and without nest or covert for any life.

Verses 7-20

OUR MOTHER OF SORROWS

Micah 7:7-20

AFTER so stern a charge, so condign a sentence, confession is natural, and, with prayer for forgiveness and praise to the mercy of God, it fitly closes the whole book. As we have seen, the passage is a cento of several fragments, from periods far apart in the history of Israel. One historical allusion suits best the age of the Syrian wars; another can only refer to the day of Jerusalem’s ruin. In spirit and language the Confessions resemble the prayers of the Exile. The Doxology has echoes of several Scriptures.

But from these fragments, it may be of many centuries, there rises clear the One Essential Figure: Israel, all her secular woes upon her; our Mother of Sorrows, at whose knees we learned our first prayers of confession and penitence. Other nations have been our teachers in art and wisdom and government. But she is our mistress in pain and in patience, teaching men with what conscience they should bear the chastening of the Almighty, with what hope and humility they should wait for their God. Surely not less lovable, but only more human, that her pale cheeks flush for a moment with the hate of the enemy and the assurance of revenge. Her passion is soon gone, for she feels her guilt to be greater; and, seeking forgiveness, her last word is what man’s must ever be, praise to the grace and mercy of God.

Israel speaks:-

"But I will look for the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation: My God will hear me! Rejoice not, O mine enemy, at me: If I be fallen, I rise; If I sit in the darkness, the Lord is a light to me."

"The anger of the Lord will I bear-For I have sinned against Him-Until that He take up my quarrel, And execute my right. He will carry me forth to the light";

"I will look on His righteousness: So shall mine enemy see, and shame cover her, She that saith unto me, Where is Jehovah thy God?-Mine eyes shall see her, Now is she for trampling, like mire in the streets!"

The prophet responds:-

"A day for the building of thy walls shall that day be! Broad shall thy border be on that day! and shall come to thee From Assyria unto Egypt, and from Egypt to the River, And to Sea from Sea, and Mountain from Mountain; Though the land be waste on account of her inhabitants. Because of the fruit of their doings."

An Ancient Prayer:-

"Shepherd Thy people with Thy staff, The sheep of Thy heritage dwelling solitarily May they pasture in Bashan and Gilead as in days of old! As in the days when Thou wentest forth from the land of Misraim, give us wonders to see! Nations shall see and despair of all their might; Their hands to their mouths shall they put, Their ears shall be deafened. They shall lick the dust like serpents; Like worms of the ground from their fastnesses, To Jehovah our God they shall come trembling, And in fear before Thee!"

A Doxology:-

"Who is a God like to Thee? Forgiving iniquity, And passing by transgression, to the remnant of His heritage; He keepeth not hold of His anger forever, But One who delighteth in mercy is He; He will Come back, He will pity us, He will tread under foot our iniquities-Yea, Thou wilt cast to the depths of the sea every one of our sins. Thou wilt show faithfulness to Jacob, real love to Abraham, As Thou hast sworn to our fathers from the days of yore."

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Micah 7". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/micah-7.html.