Friday, June 2nd, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Micah 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ micah-2.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Micah 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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§ 6. The prophet justifies his threat by recounting the sins of which the grandees and guilty.
The prophet, himself one of the people, first inveighs against the sins of injustice and oppression of the poor. Devise … work … practise. A gradation. They are not led into these sins by others; they themselves conceive the evil purpose in their own heart; then they prepare and mature their scheme by reflection; then they proceed to execute it. Work evil; i.e. prepare the means for carrying out their conception (comp Isaiah 41:4). Upon their beds. At night, the natural time for reflection (comp. Job 4:13; Psalms 4:4; Psalms 36:4). Is light. Far from shrinking from the light of day in putting into effect their evil projects, they set about their accomplishment as soon as ever the morning allows them. Because it is in the power of their hand. Their might makes their right. (For the phrase, comp. Genesis 31:29; Proverbs 3:27.) As the word el may be taken to mean "God" as well as "power," some render here, "For their hand is their god," comparing the boast of Mezentius in Virgil, 'AEneid,' 10:773—
"Dextra mihi Deus et telum quod missile libro."
The Vulgate has, Quoniam contra Deum est manus eorum; LXX; Διότιοὐκ ἦραν πρὸς τὸν Θεὸν χεῖρας αὐτῶν, Because they lifted not up their hands unto God." So the Syriac, with the omission of the negative.
They carry out by open violence the fraud which they have devised and planned (comp. Isaiah 5:8; Amos 4:1). Covet fields. Compare the ease of Ahab and Naboth (1 Kings 21:1-29.). The commandment against coveting (Exodus 20:17) taught the Jews that God regarded sins of thought as well as of action. The Law forbade the alienation of landed property and the transfer of estates from tribe to tribe (Leviticus 25:23-28; Numbers 36:7). A rich man might buy a poor man's estate subject to the law of jubilee; but these grandees seem to have forced the sale of property, or else seized it by force or fraud. Oppress; Vulgate, calumniabantur. The Hebrew word involves the idea of violence.
The sin shall be followed by its appropriate punishment. As they devised evil, God will devise a penalty. This family. The whole people (Amos 3:1). An evil. A chastisement, a judgment (Amos 3:6). Ye. The prophet suddenly addresses them, the "family." Your necks. He speaks of the calamity as a heavy, galling yoke, from which they should be unable to free themselves (comp. Hosea 10:11). This yoke is their conquest and exile at the hands of foreigners (comp. Jeremiah 27:12). Haughtily. With head erect. Septuagint, ὀρθοί. Their pride shall be brought low. This time is evil; full of calamity, which is announced in the following verses. The words occur in Amos 5:13, but the evil there spoken of is moral (comp. Ephesians 5:16).
In that day. The evil time mentioned in Micah 2:3. A parable (mashal); probably here "a taunting song." The enemy shall use the words in which Israel laments her calamity as a taunt against her (Habakkuk 2:6). And lament with a doleful lamentation. The Hebrew gives a remarkable alliteration, Nahah nehi niheyah; Septuagint, Θρηνηθήσεται θρῆνος ἐν μέλει, "Lament a lamentation with melody;" Vulgate, Cantabitur canticum cum suavitate; "Wail a wail of woe." (Pusey). The Syriac coincides with the LXX. By taking the three words as cognates, we get a very forcible sentence; but most modern commentators consider niheyah not a feminine formation, butniph. of the substantive verb hayah; hence the words would mean, "Lament with the lamentation;" "It is done," they shall say; "we are utterly spoiled." Thus Cheyne. The lamentation begins with "It is done," and continues to the end of the verse. The verbs are used impersonally—"one shall take up," "one shall lament," "one shall say;" but it is plain that the last two refer to the Jews who shall utter the given dirge, which in turn shall be repeated as a taunt by the enemy. We are utterly spoiled. According to the second of the explanations of the preceding clause, these words expand and define the despairing cry, "It is done!" In the other case, they are the commencement of the lamentation. Septuagint, Ταλαιπωρίᾳ ἐταλαιπωρήσαμεν, "We are miserably miserable." The complaint is twofold. First, the once flourishing condition of Israel is changed to ruin and desolation. Secondly, He hath changed (changeth) the portion of my people. This is the second calamity: he, Jehovah, passes our inheritance over to the hands of others; the land of Canaan, pledged to us, is transferred to our enemies. Septuagint κτεμετρήθη ἐν σχοινίῳ, "hath been measured with a line." How hath he removed it [the portion] from me! This is better than the alternative rendering, "How doth he depart from me?" Turning away he hath divided our fields; rather, to an apostate he divideth our fields. The apostate is the King of Assyria or Chaldea; and he is so named as being a rebel against Jehovah, whom he might have known by the light of natural religion (comp. Micah 5:15; Romans 1:20). This was fulfilled later by the colonization of Samaria by a mixed population.
Therefore thou. Because thou, the tyrannical, oppressive grandee (Micah 2:1, Micah 2:2), hast dealt with thy neighbour's land unjustly, therefore thou shalt have none that shall cast a cord (the line) by lot (for a lot); i.e. thou shalt have no more inheritance in Israel. The "line" is the measuring line used in dividing land, as Amos 7:17. The reference is to the original distribution of the land by lot in Joshua's time (see Joshua 14:2, etc.). In the congregation of the Lord. The Lord's own people, whose polity was now about to be dissolved. Hitzig, Reuss, and Orelli suppose that this verse contains a threat against Micah himself on the part of the ungodly Jews, intimating that they will punish him for presuming to prophesy against them, and that he shall die without leaving children. But this seems far fetched and inadmissible.
§ 7. The threat announced in Micah 2:3 is further vindicated and applied to individual sinners, with a glance at the false prophets who taught the people to love lies.
Prophesy ye not; literally, drop ye not, as Amos 7:16 (where see note). The speakers are generally supposed to be the false prophets who wish to stop the mouths of Micah and those who are like minded with him. This is probably correct; but these are not the only speakers; the people themselves, the oppressing grandees, who side with the popularity hunting seers, are also included (see note on verse 12). Say they to them that prophesy; rather, thus they prophesy (drop). Micah uses their own word sarcastically, "Do not be always rebuking; Thus they rebuke." The rest of the verse belongs to the same speakers, and should be rendered, "They shall not prophesy of these things; reproaches never cease." The great men and the false prophets complain of the true prophets that they are always proclaiming misfortune and rebuking the people, and they bid them leave such denunciations alone for the future. The passage is very difficult, and its interpretation has greatly exercised commentators; the above is virtually the explanation of Ewald, Hitzig, Caspari, and Cheyne. Orelli makes the two last clauses Micah's answer to the interdict of the adversaries, "Should one not prophesy of these things? Should reproaches (against the true prophets) never cease?" We prefer the interpretations given above, and consider the prophet's reply to be given in the next verse.
The prophet answers the interdict of the speakers in the preceding verse by showing that God's attributes are unchanged, but that the sins of the people constrain him to punish. O thou that art named the house of Jacob. Other renderings of these words are given, viz. "Ah! what a saying!" or, "Is this a thing to be said, O house of Jacob?" The versions of the LXX; Ὀ λέγων οἶκος Ἰακὼβ κ.τ.λ; and of the Vulgate, Dicit domus Jacob, do not suit the Hebrew. If we adopt the rendering of the Authorized Version, we must consider that Micah addresses those who gloried in their privilege as the family of Jacob, though they had ceased to be what he was, believing and obedient. "O ye who are only in name and title the chosen nation" (comp. Isaiah 48:1; John 8:33, John 8:39). Professor Driver obtains the very suitable meaning, Num dicendum, "Shall it be said, O house of Jacob, Is the ear of the Lord shortened?" etc; by the change of a vowel point. Somewhat similarly Orelli, "Is this the speech of the house of Jacob?" viz.—Should Jehovah be impatient? or were these his doings? The following clause is Jehovah's answer to the objection. Is the Spirit of the Lord straitened? or, shortened. Is he less long suffering than Jehovah of heretofore? Will you accuse Jehovah of impatience? "Shortness" of spirit is opposed to longanimity (see Proverbs 14:29). Are these his doings? Are these judgments and chastisements his usual doings that which he delights in? Is the cause of them in him? Is it not in you (Lamentations 3:33; Ezekiel 33:11; Micah 7:18)? Do not my words do good, etc.? This may be Jehovah's answer to the previous questions, or Micah's refutation of the complaint. The Lord's word is good, his action is a blessing, but only to him who does his commandments (Psalms 18:25, Psalms 18:26; Psalms 25:10; Psalms 103:17, etc.; Luke 1:50).
Even of late; but of late; literally, yesterday, implying an action recent and repeated. Septuagint, ἔμπροσθεν, "before;" Vulgate, e contrario. The prophet exemplifies the iniquity which has led God to punish. They are not old offences which the Lord is visiting, but sins of recent and daily occurrence. My people is risen up as an enemy. A reading, varying by a letter or two, is rendered, "But against my people one setteth himself." But them is no valid reason for altering the received text; especially as, according to Ewald, the present reading may be taken in a causative sense "They set up my people as an enemy," i.e. the grandees treat the Lord's people as enemies, robbing and plundering them. This translation obviates the difficulty of referring the words, "my people," in this verse to the oppressor, and in Micah 2:7 to the oppressed. According to the usual view, and retaining the authorized rendering, the meaning is that the princes exhibit themselves as enemies of the Lord by their acts of violence and oppression, which the prophet proceeds to particularize. Septuagint, Ὀ λαός μου εἰς ἔχθραν ἀντέστη, "My people withstood as an enemy." Ye pull off the robe with the garment; ye violently strip off the robe away from the garment. The "robe" (eder) is the wide cloak, the mantle sufficient to wrap the whole person, and which was often of very costly material. The "garment" (salmah) is the principal inner garment, or tunic. There may be an allusion to the enactment which forbade a creditor retaining the pledged garment during the night (Exodus 22:26, etc.). Septuagint, Κατέναντι τῆς εἰρήνης αὐτοῦ τὴν δορὰν αὐτοῦ ἐξέδειραν, "Against his peace they stripped off his skin." From them that pass by securely as men averse from war. This is probably the correct translation. The grandees rob those who are peaceably disposed, perhaps strip their debtors of their cloaks as they pass quietly along the road. The versions vary considerably from the received Hebrew text. The LXX. (with which the Syriac partially agrees) has, Τοῦ ἀφελέσθαι ἐλπίδας συντριμμομου, "To remove hope in the destruction of war;" Vulgate, Eos qui transibant simpliciter convertistis in bellum. From this rendering Trochon derives the paraphrase—Ye treat them as if they were prisoners of war. Hitzig considers that the reference is to fugitives from the northern kingdom who passed through Judaea in their endeavour to escape the evils of the war, leaving wives and children in the hands of the Judaeans. But these treated the refugees harshly.
The women of my people. The prophet refers to the widows, who ought to have been protected and cared for (comp. Isaiah 10:2). The LXX; with which the Arabic agrees, renders, ἡγούμενοι λαοῦ μου, "the leaders of my people." Have ye cast out. The word expresses a violent expulsion, as Genesis 3:24. Their pleasant houses; literally, the house of their delights (Micah 1:16). The house which was very dear to them, the scene of all their joys. My glory. All the privileges which they enjoyed as God's people and his peculiar care are called "the ornament" of the Lord (comp. Ezekiel 16:14). The "glory" is by some commentators, but not so appositely, referred to vesture exclusively. These fatherless children had been ruthlessly stripped of their blessings either by being forced to grow up in want and ignorance, or by being sold into slavery and carried away from their old religious associations. Forever. The oppressors never repented or tried to make restitution; and so they incurred the special woe of those who injure the poor, the fatherless, and the widow (Pusey). The Septuagint has no connection with the present Hebrew text of this verse, reading, Ἐγγίσατε ὄρεσιν αἰωνίοις, "Draw ye near to the everlasting hills," and previously introducing a gloss, Διὰ τὰ πονηρὰ ἐπιτηδεύματα αὐτῶν ἐξώσθησαν, "They were rejected because of their evil practices." Jerome explains the Greek mystically, despairing of the literal interpretation in its present connection.
Arise ye, and depart. The prophet pronounces the oppressors' punishment—they shall be banished from their land, even as they have torn others from their home. This is not your rest. Canaan had been given as a resting place to Israel (Deuteronomy 12:9, Deuteronomy 12:10; Joshua 1:13; Psalms 95:11), but it should be so no longer. Because it is polluted. The land is regarded as polluted by the sins of its inhabitants. The idea is often found; e.g. Leviticus 18:25, Leviticus 18:28; Numbers 35:33; Jeremiah 2:7. It shall destroy you, even with a sore destruction. The land is said to destroy when it ejects its inhabitants, as though the inanimate creation rose in judgment against the sinners. The Revised Version, with Keil and others, translates, Because of uncleanness that destroyeth, even with a grievous destruction; Septuagint, Διεφθάρητε φθορᾷ, "Ye were utterly destroyed;" Vulgate, Propter immunditiam ejus corrumpetur putredine pessima. The Authorized Version is correct.
Such prophets as speak unwelcome truths are not popular with the grandees; they like only these who pander to their vices and prophesy lies. This was their crowning sin. If a man walking in the spirit and falsehood do lie. "The spirit and falsehood" may be a hendiadys for "a spirit of falsehood," or "a lying spirit," as 1 Kings 22:22 (comp. Ezekiel 13:2, Ezekiel 13:3, Ezekiel 13:17). But it is better to render, If a man walking after (conversant with) the wind and falsehood do lie. Wind is symbolical of all that is vain and worthless, as Isaiah 26:18; Isaiah 41:29. The Septuagint introduces a gloss from Le Isaiah 26:17, Κατεδιώχθητε οὐδενὸς διώκοντος, "Ye fled, no one pursuing you," and translates the above clause, πνεῦμα ἔστησε ψεῦδος: "spiritus statuit mendacium, i.e. finem posuit mendacii" (St. Jerome); Vulgate, Utinam non essem vir habens spiritum et mendacium potius loquerer. I will prophesy unto thee, etc. These are the words of a false prophet, "Prophesy," "drop," as Isaiah 26:6. Of vine and of strong drink. Concerning temporal blessings, dwelling on God's promises of material prosperity (Le Isaiah 26:4, etc.; Deuteronomy 28:4, Deuteronomy 28:11) in order to encourage the grandees in self-indulgence. He shall even be the prophet of this people. Such a one is the only prophet to whom the great men, the representatives of "this people," will listen.
Micah 2:12, Micah 2:13
§ 8. Promise of restorations and deliverance.
The prophet, without any preface, introduces abruptly a promise of restoration after exile, a type of the triumph of Messiah. Some commentators, indeed, regard this and the following verso as the language of the false prophets; others, as a denunciation of punishment, not a promise of deliverance; others, as a late interpolation. But the style is entirely Micah's (comp. Micah 4:6, Micah 4:7), the promise is a true one, and such like sudden transitions are common in the prophetical books (comp. e.g. Isaiah 4:2-6; Hosea 1:10; Hosea 11:9; Amos 9:11); so that we need not resort to the hypothesis that some connecting link has dropped out of the text, or that the clause is misplaced; and we are fully justified in considering the paragraph as inserted here in its right position, and as predictive of the restoration of the Jews after captivity. Micah would seem to imply—I am not, indeed, as one of the false prophets who promise you earthly good without regard to your moral fitness for receiving God's bounty; neither am I one who has no message but of woe and calamity; I, too, predict salvation and happiness for a remnant of you after you have been tried by defeat and exile. I will surely assemble. This presupposes dispersion among the heathen, such as is foretold in Micah 1:8, etc.; Micah 2:4, etc. O Jacob, all of thee. The promise extends to the whole nation, whether called Jacob or Israel, as Micah 1:5; but still only a remnant, i.e. that portion of the nation which should make a good use of adversity, and turn to the Lord with sincere repentance (comp. Isaiah 10:20, etc.; Jeremiah 31:8; Ezekiel 34:11, etc.; Zephaniah 3:12,. etc.). Some see in the term "remnant" an allusion to the people that were left in the northern kingdom after the fall of Samaria. As the sheep of Bozrah. There were two or more towns so named—one in Sidon, for which see note on Amos 1:12; and another, hod. Buzrah, on the south border of the Hauran. This is mentioned in Jeremiah 48:24, as one of the cities of Moab, a district celebrated for its flocks (2 Kings 3:4); hence "sheep of Bozrah" may have become a proverbial saying. Many commentators take Botsrah as an appellative, meaning "fold," in agreement with the Vulgate, quasi gregem in ovili, and Chaldee, as well as Aquila and Symmachus. The parallelism in the following words seems to favour this view. The LXX. reads differently, rendering, ἐν θλίψει, "in trouble." Thus, too, the Syriac. As the flock in the midst of their fold; rather, as a flock in the midst of its pasture. They shall make great noise, etc. Like a numerous flock bleating in its fold, so shall the returned Israelites be, prosperous and happy, celebrating their salvation with praise and exultation (comp. Ezekiel 34:31). Septuagint, Ἐξαλοῦνται ἐξ ἀνθρώπων, "They shall leap forth from among men," which St. Jerome explains as meaning that the repentant Israelites shall rise above worldly things and aspire to heaven.
The breaker is come (gone) up before them. Micah depicts Israel's redemption under the figure of release from captivity. The passage is clearly Messianic, and can neither be considered an interpolation nor tortured into a declaration of the siege and ruin of Samaria or Jerusalem. "One that breaketh" is a liberator, a leader that overcomes all obstacles which oppose Israel's return. There may be an allusion in the first instance to a human leader, such as Zerubbabel, in analogy with Moses and Joshua in old time, but the real conqueror intended is generally regarded as Messiah. The Breaker up is supposed to be a title of the Messiah well known to the Jews (see Pusey; and Pearson, 'Exposition of the Creed,' art. 7; note y). This interpretation is rejected by Professor Driver, who considers the "breaker up" to be "either a leader or a detachment of men, whose duty it was to break up walls or other obstacles opposing the progress of an army." But is not this to introduce an agency unknown to these times? Was there any special body of men trained and maintained for this particular duty? This "breaker up," according to Dr. Driver's conception, "advances before them, breaking through the gates of the prison in which the people are confined; they follow, marching forth triumphantly through this open way; their king, with Jehovah at his side (Psalms 110:5), heads the victorious procession (Exodus 13:21; Isaiah 52:12)? They have broken up; broken forth, or through. The captives cooperate with their leader. Have passed through the gate, etc. The prophet speaks of a solemn, regular removal, like the Exodus from Egypt, which no human power can oppose. Their king. The same as Jehovah in the next clause (Isaiah 33:22). He shall lead the host, as he headed the Israelites when they left the house of bondage (Exodus 13:21). The prediction may look forward to the final gathering of Israel, which St. Paul seems to contemplate when he writes, "And so all Israel shall be saved" (Romans 11:26).
Delineations of deep transgression, righteous retribution, and Divine equity.
We have in these verses three pictures, drawn by a master hand, and very suggestive of practical teaching.
I. A PICTURE OF DEEP TRANSGRESSION. (Micah 2:1, Micah 2:2, Micah 2:8, Micah 2:9.) Observe delineated in it:
1. The abuse of privilege. (Micah 2:1.) What a boon is night! "The season of repose; the blessed barrier betwixt day and day," when the hum and bustle, the anxiety and fatigue, of business is suspended, when the tired artisan rests from his toil; when the voyager on the wide sea forgets awhile the perils of the main; when the warrior ceases for a time to hear the roar of the cannon and to face the foe; and when all nature is hushed to slumber, save the weary watchers by the bed of suffering, and wakeful, loving mothers tending their dear ones in their quiet nests. We bless God for the day with its early sunrise, its noontide glory, its evening shades; but we bless him also for the night, with her sable mantle, her vague solitude, her quiet rest. And this high privilege was grossly abused. "Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds!" (Micah 2:1). It was not that evil thoughts unwillingly invaded their minds, but that they deliberately planned evil—they devised it. It is one thing for evil thoughts to enter the mind in its quiet hours unbidden; it is quite another to entertain these; and worst of all is it to "devise" these, and in the very seasons given to man for rest, to be found plotting and contriving harm. So has it ever been with the ungodly, that they have abused God's best gifts (Psalms 36:4; Proverbs 4:16).
2. The non-improvement of opportunity. (Micah 2:1.) Each morning comes bearing to us a new gift of time from our God. With our waking hours comes the Divine call to fresh service. Strength has been gathered up, now to be expended in the improvement of the opportunities of holy service which will assuredly arise. Happy they who begin the day with God, and then go forth to hallow every engagement of life, and to use for him every opportunity which may be given—
"True hearts spread and heave
Unto their God, as flowers do to the sun:
Give him thy first thoughts, so shalt thou keep
Him company all day."
The grave charge here urged was that with the breaking of the day they went forth to renew their evil deeds; that the fresh strength imparted to them by God became employed by them against him; the evil plotted by them in the night they went forth with the morning's dawn to commit; the energies which ought to have been consecrated to God they devoted to dark and daring deeds of impiety. "When the morning is light, they practise it, because it is in the power of their hand" (Micah 2:1).
3. The perversion of power. (Micah 2:2, Micah 2:8, Micah 2:9.) Both Micah and Isaiah laid stress upon the prevailing sin of covetousness, leading the mighty and influential to pervert the power and influence they possessed, to the injury of the feeble and obscure, oppressing and tyrannizing over them. Thus they are charged here with
(1) unscrupulously depriving them of their inheritance (verse 2);
(2) stripping of their raiment peaceful, unoffending persons (verse 8);
(3) driving widows from their houses, and causing fatherless children to suffer from want and neglect (verse 9).
In this way the sad picture of shameless sin here presented to us is rendered increasingly dark through the prevailing sin of covetousness, leading to harsh oppression and grievous wrong.
4. The wilful rejection of light and preference of darkness. (Verses 6, 11.) To the true prophets of the Lord, who sought to bring home to them a sense of their guilt, and to lead them to return unto the Lord, they said, "Prophesy ye not" (verse 6), whereas to lying spirits they would readily give heed (John 3:19, John 3:20).
II. A PICTURE OF MERITED CHASTISEMENT. (Verses 3, 4, 5, 10.) The main feature in this picture is the illustration it affords of the retributive character of the Divine chastisement for sin. Observe:
1. They had "devised" evil against others; now God would "devise" evil against them (verse 3).
2. They had oppressed others; now they should be oppressed (verse 3), and even their own sad elegies, wrung from them through their sorrow, should be taken up and repeated against them in sheer mockery by their oppressors (verses 4, 5).
3. They had voluntarily chosen their false prophets and had welcomed their lying words, and they should now get no comfort from the words of hope which, in the dark days, should be spoken by the true prophets, and which should prove consolatory to the remnant of God's people who had remained faithful (verse 6).
4. They had cast out the widows and the fatherless, and they should be themselves cast out (verse 10). We look on this picture of coming chastisement, and we learn from it that retribution follows sin; we see in it an Old Testament illustration of the New Testament assurance that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7, Galatians 6:8).
III. A PICTURE OF THE DIVINE EQUITY. (Verse 7.) God, through his prophet, expostulated with the people who had acted so unworthily, who bore the name of Israel, but who so dishonoured their pious ancestry; and declared to them that his ways were not unequal; that rectitude and mercy characterized all his operations; that through all he had been seeking their good; that it was not his will that the threatened woes should befall them; that this was entirely their own act; and that neither their sins nor their sorrows could truthfully be charged upon him. There are many such passages scattered throughout the prophetical writings, in which God deigned to expostulate with the erring—passages which are inexpressibly tender and touching (Jeremiah 2:5; Isaiah 5:4; Isaiah 43:22, Isaiah 43:25). So Christ to the Jews of his day, when they took up stones to stone him, asked," For which of these works do ye stone me?" (John 10:32). And the same Divine voice expostulates with us in our sinfulness; and our response should be, "Unto thee," etc. (Daniel 9:6, Daniel 9:7). These Divine expostulations are the arrows of conviction coming from God to the hearts of men, and which, unlike the poisoned arrows of the ancients that carded death in their flight, carry mercy and life into the human soul.
God's ways vindicated.
In this verse three important questions are asked, and in the answers to these lies the clear vindication of God's ways in his dealings with transgressors.
I. "IS THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD STRAITENED?" i.e. when his judgments overtake men for their sins, is this to be regarded as a token that God's loving kindness and long suffering have failed? No; his compassions never fail. "His mercy endureth forever." What, then, is the explanation? It is that such Divine judgments are imperatively demanded. They are so:
1. In vindication of the Divine rectitude. If sin went unpunished, the Divine righteousness might, indeed, be questioned. It was this consideration, and not a spirit of vindictiveness which called forth "the imprecatory psalms," in which chastisement was invoked upon the workers of iniquity.
2. In the interest of the wrong doers themselves. It is not for the advantage of transgressors themselves that they should be allowed to go on unblushingly in sin. The Divine long suffering may operate in checking and bringing such to a stand; in chastening them with a view to their reformation.
3. In order to the promotion of the well being of society at large. Jehovah is the sovereign Ruler; the universe is his domain; and it may be essential, in order to the good of the race, that he should at times interpose in judgment. "When his judgments are abroad in the earth, the inhabitants thereof learn righteousness" (Isaiah 26:9).
II. "ARE THESE HIS DOINGS?" i.e. is God the Author and Cause of the evils men have to experience when they stray from righteousness? No; he cannot be; these are to be traced to the wrong doers themselves, and are the outcome of their misdeeds. The sinner is his own punisher. The woes which befall him he has worked out for himself. "Judas fell from the ministry and apostleship, that he might go to his own place." "Men meet with all sorts of bitter, painful, and had things in their life, just because they are bitter, painful, and bad themselves, and do not see that this is the root of their misery" (Bushnell).
III. "DO NOT MY WORDS DO GOOD TO HIM THAT WALKETH UPRIGHTLY?" Assuredly; and hence, if this good is missed, must it not be because there is a lack of obedience in those who miss it, so that the responsibility is entirely theirs?
The beneficial influence of God's words upon the obedient.
By the "words" of God we understand the utterances of his gracious mind. These were communicated unto the fathers by the prophets; in "the fulness of time" they were made known by his Son; to us they are given in the Scriptures of eternal truth. Their influence upon us depends upon our attitude towards them and upon the spirit we cherish. If our aim is to live a godly life, and to pursue the path of rectitude and obedience, they will prove truly helpful to us.
I. GOD'S "WORDS" "DO GOOD" TO THE UPRIGHT IN HEART, AS IT RESPECTS THEIR PERSONAL AND INDIVIDUAL LIFE. They become thus benefited:
1. Physically; being preserved by these teachings from those excesses into which the ungodly often fall (Psalms 91:16; Psalms 119:95).
2. Mentally; their minds being directed to the sublimest themes, by meditating upon which their intellectual faculties become purified and strengthened. Men possessed of the highest intellectual endowments have acknowledged their deep indebtedness to the holy words of God, and have accepted them with the profoundest reverence and the warmest gratitude.
3. In the darkest seasons of their life "God's words" have cheered and comforted them, and through the sanctifying influence of these they have been rendered in times of severest trial so tranquil, and so calm in death that it may be said—
"The night dews fall not gentlier on the ground,
Nor weary, worn out winds expire so soft."
II. GOD'S "WORDS" "DO GOOD" TO THE UPRIGHT IN HEART, AS IT RESPECTS THEIR SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS.
1. Their healthful influence is experienced in the home life of the obedient. In such homes, selfishness, coldness, jealousy, anger, strife, are avoided; and love, sympathy, union, harmony, are continually cherished. God's words are daily recalled to mind, and the voice of praise and prayer continually ascends to their Author. "Good" is thus experienced. There is written on such abodes, in characters legible and golden, the inscription, "Peace." Day by day the members of such households become united in a firmer bond to each other and to God. Yea, it is theirs to enjoy in the home of earth constant foretastes of the home of heaven.
2. And their healthful influence is experienced in the intercourse of man with man. God's words give special enforcement to the principle of mutual regard which should be cherished by the children of men. In proportion as the power of his utterances is realized will the servant be led to promote the best interests of the employer, and the employer to act generously towards even the humblest in his service. The holy teachings of our God impel those who truly accept them to minister to the necessities of the distressed, and to endeavour to alleviate human suffering and woe. Love is indeed the essence of all that he has spoken. And abounding in loving teachings for the guidance of its recipients in their social and everyday life, God's "words" promote the good even of those who unconsciously come within the range of their influence.
III. GOD'S "WORDS" "DO GOOD" TO THE UPRIGHT IN HEART, AS IT RESPECTS THEIR POLITICAL INFLUENCE. The men who are under the sway of these pure words which God hath spoken are the true promoters of the national weal. Nations, in order to their real prosperity, need to hear and heed the voice of God speaking to them as to Israel of old, and saying, "And now what doth the Lord require of thee but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways … for thy good?" (Deuteronomy 10:12, Deuteronomy 10:13).
Micah 2:12, Micah 2:13
Glorious things spoken of the true Israel.
No member of "the goodly fellowship of the prophets" had a more vivid sense of the ultimate enfranchisement from all evil, awaiting the race, to be effected by the Messiah in due course, than was possessed by "Micah the Morasthite." Even as in the opening portion of his prophecy, he lingered, in thought and expression, upon the prevailing ungodliness, marking on every hand confusion and strife and wrong, he could yet see coming "the age of gold," when peace and harmony, purity and righteousness should secure the victory; and of that glorious age, lo! he here sings. Just what the oasis is to the surrounding desert, or the silver lining to the dark cloud, or the momentary pause in the storm, when for an instant the noise of the waves is stilled, telling of the coming calm, that these two verses seem to be to the first three chapters of this book of Scripture, add by their bright and hopeful tone the hearts of "the remnant" who deplored the abounding iniquity of the times became, we doubt not, lifted up with devout thankfulness and inspired with renewed strength. Are we to understand these bright passages scattered throughout this prophecy, and alluding to a glory to be realized in the future, as referring simply to happier days to be experienced by the Jewish nation, or are they to be regarded as having a more comprehensive range? Whilst believing firmly that a glorious destiny is before the Hebrew nation, and that the working out of that destiny shall be not only for its own spiritual good, but also for the enrichment of the world (Romans 11:12), yet we should lose much of the force of the prophetic Scriptures in their allusions to "the latter day glory," by limiting their utterances thus. We should not half realize the depth of meaning underlying these verses by simply regarding the passage as setting forth that the Jews, after a period of captivity in Babylon, should return again to their own land. Prophecy was designed to prepare the way of the Lord Christ. And, thus viewed, it was marked by progressive stages. The work began in the revelation made through Moses of the will and Law of God. Then, after a time, followed the era of Samuel, who, with his contemporaries and successors, laboured to maintain true religion in Israel, chosen of God as the nation through whom his purposes of mercy were to be unfolded. And following these, we come to the age of written prophecy, in which the holy seers, whilst not neglecting the claims of their own nation, took a wider range of vision and looked forward to a new covenant affecting all nations, and to the coming of the Messiah as One who should establish a spiritual kingdom, whose claims were to be urged upon all the world, and unto whom men of every nation and kindred and tribe should turn, thus forming the spiritual Israel over whom the Messiah should reign in righteousness (see Dr. Payne Smith's 'Prophecy a Preparation for Christ'). Micah notably belonged to this more advanced period of the prophetic development, and hence his bright anticipations of the glorious future are to be understood as having this wider scope. He was contemporary with Isaiah, who constantly represented the Lord as reigning over the whole earths and even the far distant lands as bringing unto him their tribute. We are led to ask—How did they gain these broad and far reaching conceptions of all the nations as gathering together, and becoming loyal to the God of the Hebrews, and becoming one as being alike citizens of the heavenly King? It was not natural for them to cherish such a notion as this. It involved their breaking away from their national traditions, and it did violence to all their prejudices as Jews. The Hebrews regarded themselves as the elect of God, chosen by him out of every nation to the highest dignity and honour. How, then, did this conviction, of the world embracing character of the blessings of the Messiah's reign become developed in the minds, and expressed in the burning words of enthusiasm, by the tongues of men who shared in the national bias? There is no explanation of this remarkable phenomenon save one, even that they had it wrought in them, and were led to embrace it and proclaim it by the inspiration of God's own Spirit (Galatians 1:12). "Glorious things" are here spoken of the true Israel, the spiritual kingdom of the Redeemer, the Church of the living God. Observe—
I. ENLARGEMENT. (Verse 12.) The good in the land were but few. The vast multitudes of the people, of all sorts and conditions, had corrupted their way. They had turned aside to the practice of iniquity in all its forms. It seemed as though true piety would soon be extinguished in the land. The hearts of the few who amidst the prevailing faithlessness were found faithful were naturally despondent and depressed. And the words of hope here spoken by the prophet were specially designed for the comfort and help of such. God, by the mouth of his holy prophet, reminded such that as there would be, in consequence of the nation's guilt, the scattering and the dispersing, so there should come a time of revival and regathering. The true Israel should not perish. As the shepherd gathers together the scattered members of his flock, so "the remnant according to the election of grace," now to be dispersed through sins not their own, should be watched over in their exile, and eventually be gathered as forming part of the Messiah's flock. Nor they alone; but as in the early days of their national history, the more they were persecuted the more they multiplied and grew, so, as the result of the sorrows now in store, there should be secured a great spiritual increase. Yea, further, whilst "all Israel should be saved;" "the fulness of the Gentiles" should also come in. And hence the obedient should be so multiplied in number that they should be as "the sheep of Bozrah," the wealth of which consisted in the abundance of its flocks and herds; indeed, so numerous should they be, that they should make "great noise by reason of the multitude of men" (verse 12). There are times when we get depressed and sad at heart in holy service, and specially when we mark the vast portions of the human race as yet untouched by the sacred and saving influences of God's truth. We cry, "How long, O Lord, how long? Why is his chariot so long in coming?" But, courage! it will not be ever thus. The Divine purpose is to flood the world with the light of truth, and to gather a multitude out of every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people. There shall be enlargement. The Messiah "shall see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied." "Of the increase of his kingdom there shall be no end." This is sure; it is certain; it cannot fail. "The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."
II. SECURITY. "As the flock in the midst of their fold" (verse 12). One of the most impressive and encouraging of the figures of speech employed in Scripture to reveal to us the Divine character is that in which the Lord is referred to as the Shepherd folding the flock in his care. True, the figure is suggestive of much that is calculated to humble us; for if he is our "Shepherd," then are we "the sheep of his pasture," and as such are very helpless ourselves, in the midst of the dangers by which we are surrounded, and very prone by reason of our weakness to wander from the fold; but then the beautiful simile encourages us, assuring us that the Lord will be our Strength in weakness, that he will defend us amidst every peril, and that in all our strayings he will follow us with a view to restoring us by his power and grace. Since he is "the Shepherd of Israel," his people are secure "as sheep in the midst of their fold." And this protection will be afforded to "his own," even amidst the gloomiest experiences of their life. There are times when even the best of men are called upon "to walk in darkness" having "no light." And what is needed in such seasons is the spirit of holy trust, a trust which will repose unswervingly in the good Shepherd's faithfulness and love, and which will take comfort in his rod and staff, in the tokens of his presence, the conviction of his sovereign sway, and the assurances of his Word. So Micah would have the tired, yet true hearted, in his day feel; and so should such in all ages realize, that in the care of God they are as secure from harm as "the flock in the midst of their fold," watched over by the faithful shepherd's continual care.
III. DELIVERANCE. (Verse 13.) The passage indicates that not only shall there be protection afforded in the times of peril, but also deliverance out of danger. It is in this connection that Micah here introduces into the words of hope he was uttering an allusion to the Messiah. He referred to him as "the Breaker," going on before his servants, overcoming and breaking through every hindrance to their advancement; they following him and through him becoming themselves triumphant. "The Breaker is come up before them," etc. (verse 13).
IV. HONOUR. "And the Lord at the head of them" (verse 13). Through all it was their privilege and distinction to be associated with the Lord Most High. The true Shechinah glory was theirs. And when at length the conflict should be past, and the time of "storm and scattering" should have ended, the all-presiding Love would still be at their head, their everlasting Light, their eternal Glory. "His name shall be in their foreheads" (Revelation 22:4); "They shall be his people, and he will be their God." They shall dwell with him, and he abide with them; and from the constant experience of his love and favour their blessedness shall perpetually flow, and flow on forevermore. Thus this messenger of the Lord appears to have turned away his thoughts for a moment from the burden of woe he was delivering, and to have fixed his mind upon that brighter era which should at length dawn upon the world sin had darkened and defiled. We do well also to keep that era in view, and in anticipation of it "in patience to possess our souls."
The Breaker. In these words the prophet represents the Messiah as going before his people, removing every barrier, overcoming every obstruction, preparing the way for them, and bringing them through every difficulty. This representation was frequently made by the Jewish prophets, and the title, "The Breaker through" was familiar to the Jews as one of the titles of the Messiah.
I. THIS TITLE HAS ITS APPLICATION TO THE MESSIAH IN HIS RELATIONSHIP TO THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH. The ultimate victory and glory of the Church of God is assured. Such is God's eternal purpose, and which by his sovereign power he will eventually accomplish. Obstacles to the fulfilment of this purpose are continually arising. Impediments are placed in the way. Active opposition has been offered to the advancement of the kingdom of truth and righteousness. "The kings of the earth set themselves," etc. (Psalms 2:2). Or when not thus actively engaged against the truth they have often taken such measures in the interests of their own worldly policy as have seriously impeded the progress of truth. Hoary systems of idolatry also have long held sway over millions of the human race, and the glory due unto the Lord has been given to "graven images." Yet "the counsel of the Lord standeth sure," and the purpose he has purposed shall be accomplished. And with respect to its accomplishment the Messiah is "the Breaker through." He, "the Leader and Commander of his people," shall go before them, casting down the imaginations and frustrating the designs of the evil, "opening the blind eyes, bringing out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house." Every mountain shall become a plain before him. He shall go on conquering and to conquer, until at last there shall rise the cry of victory, "The kingdoms of this world," etc. (Revelation 11:15).
II. THIS TITLE HAS ITS APPLICATION TO THE MESSIAH ALSO IN THE RELATIONSHIP HE SUSTAINS TO HIS SERVANTS INDVIDUALLY. It is a title which may be accounted precious, not only to the Church of God as a whole, but also to each servant of the Lord. It is interesting to notice how that Christ, in one of his memorable discourses, associated this thought, of his going before his servants with a view to their being brought through every difficulty, with his references to himself as "the good Shepherd;" so that in the recorded words of Jesus (John 10:3, John 10:4) we find the very same association of figures of speech which were here employed by Micah; for Christ said of himself as the Shepherd, "He calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out;" "He goeth before them, and they follow him." And may not the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews have had the words Micah here employed, and the words of Christ alluded to, in mind when he wrote of the Saviour as being "the Forerunner" of his people (Hebrews 6:20)? Christ has gone before his servants, and has gained the victory over their spiritual foes. He has conquered the evil one. In his life he conquered, for not once did the adversary gain the ascendancy over him; and in his death he conquered, for then "he spoiled principalities and powers, and made a show of them," etc. (Colossians 2:15). He has conquered the world, and could say to his disciples," I have overcome the world." And he has conquered death and the grave, fulfilling the triumphant declaration, "O death! I will be thy plagues! O grave! I will be thy destruction" (Hosea 13:14; Isaiah 25:8). Thus he is, in the interests of each of his servants, "the Breaker." By his victory he has so weakened the strength of our spiritual adversaries as to render the conflict comparatively easy to us. We have to encounter foes already defeated by our Lord. We have to face enemies already dispirited by failure, and who know assuredly that the time of their triumphing is short. Beautiful representation of the Messiah this! "The Breaker," who removes all difficulty out of the way of his servants; who has gone before them to clear the ground, to cast down every obstruction, to make "the crooked things straight, and the rough places plain," that "the glory of the Lord may be revealed." Let us hear his voice saying to us, as he thus leads us on, "Follow me;" and be it ours
(3) and courageously to obey the great Captain's call, and to enter through him into honour, glory, and immortality!
HOMILIES BY E.S. PROUT
Deliberate sins bringing predestined punishments.
We see here—
I. THE GENESIS OF CRIME. Three stages are described.
1. Sinful desires are cherished in the heart. These sinners "devise iniquity," think over it (Psalms 7:14), imagine it (the same word as in 1 Samuel 18:25, referring to Saul's thought and plan to secure David's death), dwell on it; for wickedness is "sweet in their mouth" (Job 20:10-12). Illustrate from the licentious thoughts of David (2 Samuel 11:2, 2 Samuel 11:3) or Amnon (2 Samuel 13:1, 2 Samuel 13:2), the covetous thoughts of Ahab (1 Kings 21:1-29), or the envious and revengeful thoughts of Haman (Esther 3:5, Esther 3:6; see James 1:14, James 1:15). Here sin is not traced during its growth. From its birth St. James passes on to its maturity: "The sin, when it is full grown, bringeth forth death." But Micah points out stages in its growth.
2. Plans of wickedness are deliberately contrived. They "work," prepare or fabricate, "evil upon their beds." In their hours of rest they "cannot cease from sin." On their beds, where they might enjoy the sleep of God's beloved, where in wakeful hours they might commune with God and their own hearts (Psalms 4:4; Psalms 16:7; Psalms 63:6; Psalms 104:34), they plot their crimes (Psalms 36:4; Proverbs 4:16). If they want allies they hesitate not to secure the aid of the false witness, the procuress, the dishonest lawyer, the bribed judge. Illust.: Jezebel; the priests (Matthew 28:11-14); the assassins (Acts 23:12-15).
3. The plot is executed in a crime. They act promptly, early, showing no signs of repentance or reflection (Jeremiah 8:6); in the daylight, without shame (Esther 6:4; Matthew 27:1, Matthew 27:2)—"swift to shed blood," or defraud, or debauch. Might constitutes their right; "impiously mighty and mighty in impiety," "because it is in the power of their hands." "Dextra mihi Deus" (Virgil). They are reckless of the ruin caused to an innocent man or a whole family robbed of their heritage (Nehemiah 5:1-5), or of their head (1 Kings 21:13), or of the flower of the flock, some beloved child more precious than any heritage (2 Samuel 12:1-9).
II. ITS INEVITABLE CONNECTION WITH RETRIBUTION. While sinners are coveting, plotting, plundering, God is watching, devising, and framing punishment. This is:
1. Predestined; on the ground of deliberate sin. God's "therefores" have all the force of demonstrative reasoning (Proverbs 1:31; Isaiah 65:12, etc.).
2. Hard to be borne. Compared to a yoke. Contrast the yoke of the Father's discipline (Lamentations 3:27), and of the Redeemer's service (Matthew 11:29, Matthew 11:30). If these yokes are contemptuously cast away, the evil yoke of punishment, a "yoke of iron," is prepared (Deuteronomy 28:48; Jeremiah 28:14).
3. Inevitable. See the striking figures in Amos 9:1-4 and Zechariah 14:16-18 (God's manifold instruments of punishment); cf. 1 Timothy 6:9, 1 Timothy 6:10.
4. Humiliating. "Neither shall ye go haughtily." How often the retribution on the proud or the extortioner is strikingly appropriate to their sin! Man's skill in successful sinning is outmatched by God's wisdom in punishing (Job 9:4). When God's wisdom and power are both arrayed against us, it is an evil time indeed.
5. Utterly disastrous. A revolution in their entire circumstances (1 Timothy 6:4). Thus the consequences of sin may be irreparable in this world; but the gospel of the grace of God tells of a forgiveness whereby sin may be righteously forgiven, and the eternal consequences may be cut off (Isaiah 43:25; John 5:24).—E.S.P.
An impious veto; a fatal withdrawal.
We adopt as our rendering of this difficult verse, "Prophesy not; they shall indeed prophesy; they shall not prophesy to these; shame shall not depart." We see hers—
I. AN IMPIOUS VETO. Men may seek to put their veto on a faithful messenger in various ways.
1. By seeking to persuade him to utter smooth words. Thus Micaiah's integrity was first assailed (1 Kings 22:13). So, too, in the later days of Amos (Amos 2:12, where the corruption of prophets as well as of Nazarites is suggested) and of Isaiah (Isaiah 30:9-11).
2. My direct veto, supported by threats, uttered or implied, as in the ease of Amos (Amos 7:10-13).
3. By direct persecution. Micaiah was imprisoned; Jezebel "cut off the prophets of the Lord," and sought to slay Elijah. Conspiracies were formed against the liberty and the life of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20:1, Jeremiah 20:2; Jeremiah 26:8, Jeremiah 26:9). God's faithful witnesses are always odious to "the beast" and those who bear his mark (Revelation 11:7-10). Successive steps in this impious veto are seen in the experience of Christ's apostles (Acts 4:1-3, Acts 4:18-21; Acts 5:17, Acts 5:18, Acts 5:26 Acts 5:40).
4. By stubborn neglect or haughty contempt. These are virtually a veto on faithful preachers (cf. Isaiah 28:9-12; Isaiah 53:1). It is as though their hearers said, "Spare your breath," etc; or in still ruder phrase, "Shut up!" For they actually prefer such teachers as those alluded to in verse 11, who encourage them in sin and delusion (Deuteronomy 29:19, Deuteronomy 29:20). The contempt with which preachers and their messages are often regarded are a temptation to abandon the work. They say, "Drop not" (Hebrew), which seems almost equivalent to "Drivel not," We hear of "the decay of preaching," and know by how many it is neglected. To say, "We do not care to hear your message," is much the same as to say, "Prophesy not," And the neglect of God's truth by courteous and even complimentary hearers is a sore temptation to an earnest preacher who watches for souls not for smiles (Ezekiel 33:30-32). To this impious veto a reply comes in the form of—
II. A FATAL WITHDRAWAL. We hear three sharp, decisive messages.
1. "They shall prophesy." God's servants shall continue to do so under the constraint of both a Divine command and an irresistible impulse. Both these are illustrated in the history of Jeremiah, who shrank from his mission (Jeremiah 1:5-19; Jeremiah 15:10; Jeremiah 20:7, Jeremiah 20:8), yet undertook it (Jeremiah 2:1), and returned to it again and again (Jeremiah 15:15, Jeremiah 15:16; Jeremiah 20:9). St. Paul is another example (Acts 26:16-20; Galatians 1:15, Galatians 1:16; see too Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 9:16). Men's impiety shall not frustrate God's purposes.
2. "They shall not prophesy to these." The ministry shall be withdrawn (Psalms 74:9; Amos 8:11-13; and see 1 Macc. 4:46; 9:27; 14:41); or, if continued, it will be of no avail because of the hardness of heart of the hearers (Ezekiel 3:24, Ezekiel 3:27). Both these threats are illustrated by the treatment of the gospel by the Jews, and of the Jews by the apostles (Acts 13:46, Acts 13:47; Acts 28:23-28). Many now are subject to a similar sentence. They nominally attend some pastor's ministry, but practically are without it, because deaf to the message it brings to them. Then the threat against God's ancient vineyard is fulfilled, "I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it" (Isaiah 5:6). Showers of blessing are dropping on others, but their hearts are dry, like Gideon's fleece when the floor around was soaked with dew.
3. "Shame shall not depart." By silencing God's messengers they hoped to silence the reproaches of conscience and the shame they felt at the prophet's rebukes. But in vain. The fact of the withdrawal of the messengers was itself a shame to the people; like the withdrawal of an ambassador because he had been shamefully treated (illust.: 2 Samuel 10:1-4; Roman ambassador insulted at Tarentum; and cf. Luke 10:16). This shame was the fruit of their own doings, and was thus bound up with their future history. It became more and more aggravated, owing to the degrading influence of sin. The wrath of God abode on them, whereas, by repentance and faith, it might have been removed (cf. John 3:36 with John 9:41). The final issue of shameful sin must be a resurrection "to shame" and "condemnation" (Daniel 12:2; John 5:29).—E.S.P.
Judgment, God's strange work; mercy, his delight.
Adopting as our translation, "O thou, called the house of Jacob, is the patience of Jehovah short? Are these his doings? Do not his words do good to him that walketh uprightly?" we learn two truths respecting God.
I. JUDGMENT IS GOD'S "STRANGE WORK."
1. The people are reminded of this by their very name. It is a great honour but a grave responsibility to have a good name and ancestry (John 8:39; Acts 3:25). What sacred associations clustered around the name, "house of Jacob"! The personal history of their ancestor Jacob gave great significance to the name, "God of Jacob" (Psalms 46:11). The history of Jacob shows that he had to do with a God who is forbearing to sinners; who enters into covenant with men, and renews that covenant even with the unworthy children of godly parents; who is the Hearer of prayer, and condescends to represent himself as being overcome by it; who bestows eternal life on those who die in faith (Exodus 3:6; Matthew 22:31, Matthew 22:32). Similar lessons might be learned from God's treatment of "the house of Jacob" which name they gloried in. They could look back to a long catalogue of mercies (Psalms 78:1-72; Psalms 105:1-45; Psalms 106:1-48.). Yet the very fact that they bore this name made more glaring the contrast between it and their real character (Micah 2:5, Micah 2:6; Hosea 12:2-7; John 8:33-40; Romans 2:17-29). Apply to the name we English bear as a Christian nation.
2. An appeal is made to their judgments as to the character of God. "Is the patience of Jehovah short?" Let God testify to them (Exodus 34:6, Exodus 34:7), and Moses respond (Numbers 14:17-20), and David take up the strain (Psalms 103:8-10), and the long lives of the ungodly, and late repentances confirm the Divine words, and their own consciences confess that Jehovah is a long suffering God.
3. They are reminded that God is not responsible for sin, and has no pleasure in punishment. "Are these his doings?" We take it as a moral axiom that God is not responsible for sin, unless the sun can be held responsible for the shadows caused by opaque objects (James 1:13; 1 John 1:5). At the best, sin is the corruption of what God made good; e.g. selfishness is depraved self-love; envy is fallen emulation; and so with other sins. In regard to punishment we know that "he doth not afflict willingly." He presides over his own laws and executes his threats; but it is sin, not God, who is the great destroyer. "Evil shall slay the wicked" (Psalms 34:21).
II. MERCY IS GOD'S DELIGHT. "Do not my words do good," etc.? The special reference seems to be to God's words through his prophets, so that it was a glaring sin as well as folly to try to silence God's prophets (Micah 2:6), whose words were so wholesome (Jeremiah 15:16), because they revealed God's Name, and therefore the path of peace and safety (Psalms 9:10). The prophets would have grievously misrepresented God's Name if they had spoken comfort to the wicked in their wickedness Isaiah 3:10, Isaiah 3:11). Contrast Zedekiah with Micaiah and Elijah in their conduct towards Ahab; and cf. Ezekiel 13:1-23. with Psalms 18:25, Psalms 18:26; Psalms 34:15, Psalms 34:16. To us God's words do good still more abundantly. The psalmist's words, "Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy Name," are true of the revelation of God in "the word of the truth of the gospel." Yet even the gospel, though offering mercy to the vilest, can do good only to those who deal truly with it and thus walk uprightly. The perversion of the greatest blessing may be the most fatal curse. The word of life will be the word of judgment (John 12:48); ministers may become a "savour of death," and Christ a stone that shall grind to powder. "When the gospel becomes deadly to a man, it is a terrible thing; to die of a gospel plague is a terrible way of dying" (John Howe). The revelation of God's delight in mercy by Christ's sacrifice for sinners makes it possible for the vilest to walk uprightly. But salvation is from sin itself. Character is essential to heaven, or even God could not make it heaven to us.—E.S.P.
Sin, the great disturber.
It has been so from the beginning; it will be so to the very end.
I. SIN WAS THE DISTURBER OF THE EARLIEST EARTHLY PARADISE. It was not the serpent or the temptation, but Adam's sin, that destroyed our first parents' rest. They might have known of the presence of the tempter, have seen his trail, heard his hiss, and been conscious of his solicitations, and yet have continued in the rest of unbroken confidence in God. But when sin entered their hearts, rest fled, and guilt, shame, and fear took its place. If allowed to remain in the garden, it would no longer have been an Eden, a Paradise to them. The groans of creation begin to mingle with the reproaches of their own hearts. But the voice is heard, "Arise, and depart," etc. (Genesis 3:22-24).
II. SIN EJECTED THE FIRST INHABITANTS OF CANAAN. Even then it was "the glory of all lands," a splendid inheritance (Genesis 13:10; Numbers 14:7, Numbers 14:8; Deuteronomy 8:7-9). But sin of the foulest kind was there. Vice and crime rendered real rest impossible. The land is represented as stained, saturated with sin, no longer able to tolerate any further iniquity (cf Genesis 15:16); but ready to "spue out" its inhabitants (Leviticus 18:24-28; Leviticus 20:22, Leviticus 20:23). The summons went forth—Arise, and depart, yet not to exile, but to utter destruction.
III. SIN CHANGED THE REST OF CANAAN INTO A LAND OF UNREST TO THE CHOSEN NATION. Canaan was promised as one of God's rests—not the highest, but none the less real (Deuteronomy 12:9; Psalms 95:11). What a rest it might have been, enriched with its natural resources, blessed with peace and brotherhood among the tribes, and crowned with the assurance of Divine protection (Exodus 34:24; Deuteronomy 12:10). A dim vision of the fulness of rest they might have enjoyed was seen in the reign of Solomon the peaceful (1 Kings 4:25). But throughout their whole history they allowed sin to mar their inheritance and break in upon their rest. There were periods of special demoralization, as in the days of the judges and of the later kings. They cast out the fatherless and the widow (Micah 2:9), they plundered the peaceable (Micah 2:8), they indulged in some of the abominations of the old Canaanites (1 Kings 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7). They could therefore have no rest themselves, but were doomed to exile (Revelation 13:10). The land is represented as once more taking sides with God and turning against those who abused his goodness. The false report of the spies (Numbers 13:32) received a fulfilment, as Moses foretold (Leviticus 26:18-35) and Ezekiel described (Ezekiel 36:13-19), as though an earthquake or a flood drove the sinners far away (Amos 8:8). Illust.: Pompeii. So has it been in the history of nations ever since (wars, slavery, despotism, revolutions, etc.). Illustrate from the Indian chief with his tribe fleeing from his foes. till, on the banks of a splendid river, he stuck his spear into the ground, exclaiming, "Alabama! Here we rest!" But in vain.
IV. SIN BREAKS THE REST OF THE HAPPIEST HOME. A young bride and bridegroom may think they have reached the goal of earthly happiness. But unless Christ occupies in their hearts the place which he claims, and which he alone can fill, they may soon learn that sin is a great disturber, even in a domestic Eden. Augustine's words are found to be true, "O God, thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless till it rests in thee." Sickness, suffering, death, and other fruits of sin stir up their nest (Deuteronomy 32:11), and remind them that their rest is polluted and therefore insecure.
V. SIN INVADES AND DISTURBS EVEN THE ADOPTED FAMILY OF GOD. For "death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned," so that "ourselves also which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan within ourselves" (Romans 5:12; Romans 8:23). We rejoice to know that "here we have no continuing city," because it is polluted. But already we know of a rest in Christ (Matthew 11:28, Matthew 11:29; Hebrews 4:3), which will be perfected into a rest with Christ (Hebrews 4:9), when we shall have completely" escaped the corruption which is in the world by lust," and be made fully "partakers of the Divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). To us the summons, "Arise, and depart," will be the signal of emancipation; the curse will be changed into a blessing, for we shall "depart to be with Christ, which is far better."—E.S.P.
God the great Bond breaker.
There is a marked contrast between the tone of Micah 2:10, Micah 2:11 and that of verss 12, 13. God delights in such contrasts. He loves to turn from threats to promises. Judgment is his strange work; mercy is his delight. The dispersion of his people is a painful necessity, their restoration is a joy to him. Hence the jubilant tone of the concluding verses of this chapter. The great Bond breaker is God himself. Apply—
I. TO THE BREAKING OF THE BABYLONISH BONDAGE. Cyrus was a bond breaker. In a certain sense the words are applicable to him (Ezra 1:2 Ezra 1:4, etc.). But above him was the greater Deliverer, whom Cyrus himself recognized, who had long before predicted deliverance (Isaiah 45:1-6), and who now puts it into the heart of the Persian monarch to act as his servant. Before God interposed, the captives were but as a flock of sheep (Micah 2:12) whom a fold, not to say a fortress, could restrain. Till the seventy years of destined captivity were fulfilled no breaker could release that flock; but then "the man that executeth my counsel from a far country" appeared (Isaiah 46:9-11). When God broke through, it was an easy thing, even for those timid sheep, to pass through or to break through any gate (like Peter passing the iron gate of his prison). As they streamed forth from Babylon, Zerubbabel, "the Prince of Judah" (Ezekiel 1:8), led them. But there was another invisible Leader, of a nobler royalty than Zerubbabel—"their King," who went before them (Isaiah 49:8-10; Isaiah 52:12). See Exodus 13:21 : there the symbol was visible; now the invisible King was seen by the eye of prophetic faith. Learn to recognize the Divine hand in all national deliverances; as did David (2 Samuel 5:20), and Queen Elizabeth at the destruction of the Armada (medal and its inscription, "Afflavit Deus, et dissipuntur"), and godly monarchs in later days.
II. TO DELIVERANCE FROM THE BONDAGE OF SIN. "The Word" was the Divine Deliverer of Israel from Babylon (Isaiah 63:9), and is so of us. The Jews recognized "the Breaker" as a title of Messiah their Prince. In this work of spiritual deliverance he was foretold, and now is revealed as:
1. A Bond breaker. (Isaiah 42:7; Isaiah 49:8, Isaiah 49:9, Isaiah 49:24, Isaiah 49:25.)
2. A Leader and Commander. (Isaiah 55:4.)
3. A Redeemer at the cost of conflict. (Isaiah 63:1-6.)
4. A Shepherd-King (Ezekiel 34:23, Ezekiel 34:24); who gains supremacy by dying for the flock he seeks to deliver (John 10:11, John 10:27-30; Hebrews 2:9-15).
5. A Savior from foes within as well as oppressors without. (Matthew 1:21; Titus 2:14.) Who shall save all Israel at last. (Isaiah 59:20,Isaiah 59:21; Romans 11:26.) In both these deliverances the redeemed have their appointed work. Israel was hidden to humble themselves in repentance (Leviticus 26:40-42), to pray in faith (Jeremiah 29:12, Jeremiah 29:13), and to accept the Lord as their Redeemer and Leader (Hosea 1:11). And we, too, are commanded to repent, to "believe in the Name of his Son Jesus Christ" (Acts 17:30; 1 John 3:23), and thus to work "the work of God" (John 6:29). Then Christ our Bond breaker will, for us, break through the power of evil habit, of this present evil world, and of the infernal oppressor of our souls.
"The world, with sin and Satan,
In vain our march opposes;
By faith we shall break through them all,
And sing the song of Moses."
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
"Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! when the morning is light, they practise it, because it is in the power of their hand," etc. The prophet, in the preceding chapter, foretold the judgment that would befall both kingdoms on account, of their apostasy from the living God. He begins this chapter by denouncing the rapacious avarice of their leading men. Oppression is one of the greatest social crimes; alas! one that has been prevalent in every age and land; a crime this, too, which the Bible denounces with great frequency and with terrific force. Avarice, or greed, is the spring and spirit of all oppression. In the text we have this rapacious avarice presented to us in three aspects.
I. SCHEMING IN THE LIGHT. The avaricious men "devise iniquity and work evil upon their beds." When avarice takes possession of a man, it works the brain by night as well as by day. It keeps the intellectual faculties busy in the stillness of nocturnal hours. What schemes to swindle, defraud, and plunder men are fabricated in this London of ours every night upon the pillow! Perhaps there is no passion that takes a stronger hold upon man than this, and that moves his intellect with such concentration and constancy. It has been called "the great sepulchre of all other passions."
II. WORKING IN THE DAY "When the morning is light, they practise it, because it is in the power of their hand." Delitzsch renders this," In the light of the morning they carry it out, for their hand is their god." The idea is, perhaps, that which they esteem most is the worldly gain of their avaricious labour. So it ever is; gain is the god of the greedy man. He sacrifices all his time and labour on its altar. Before it he prostrates his soul Your avaricious man in the day trots about the streets, the shops, the markets, like a hungry hound in search of food. Shakespeare compares such a man to a whale, which plays and tumbles, driving the poor fry before him, and at last devours them all at a mouthful. Such whales have I heard of on the land, who never leave gaping till they've swallowed the whole parish—church, steeple, bells, and all.
III. SUFFERING IN THE JUDGMENT. "Therefore thus saith the Lord; Behold, against this family do I devise an evil, from which ye shall not remove your necks," etc. Judgment comes at last; and in the judgment, as these words give us to understand, the punishment will correspond with the sin. "Because they reflect upon evil," says Delitzsch, "to deprive their fellow men of their possessions, Jehovah will bring evil upon this generation, lay a heavy yoke upon their necks, under which they will not be able to walk loftily or with extended neck." Ay, the time will come when the avaricious millionaire will exclaim, "We be utterly spoiled." "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you," etc. (James 5:1).—D.T.
"O thou that art named the house of Jacob, is the Spirit of the Lord straitened? are these his doings? do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?' "Thou called house of Jacob, is the patience of Jehovah short then? or is this his doing? Are not my words good to him that walketh uprightly?" Such is a modern translation. We prefer the translation of Henderson, as follows: "What language, O house of Jacob! Is the Spirit of Jehovah shortened? Are these his operations? Do not my words benefit him that walketh uprightly?" These words seem to be a reply to an objection raised against the prophets in the preceding verse. The objector did not approve of predictions so terribly severe. "It is not strange," says Matthew Henry, "if people that are vicious and debauched covet to have ministers that are altogether such as themselves, for they are willing to believe that God is so too." There are people in all congregations who revolt at the proclamation of any doctrines from the pulpit that chime not in with their love of ease and their cherished notions, and especially so if such doctrines are unfamiliar to their ears. They desire the old things to be iterated without end, and with as little change of form and note as possible. The text may be taken as a reproof to such. It says two things to them.
I. THAT THE SPIRIT OF DIVINE TRUTH CANNOT BE RESTRAINED. "Is the Spirit of the Lord straitened?" There is no limit to truth; it is an ocean that has no shore, a field whose ever-springing seeds are innumerable. Men's theological systems, even the largest of them, have narrow limits. They are, as compared to Divine truth, only as a barren rood to a fertile continent; a little sand pool to the mighty Atlantic. It is not "straitened." It has no limit. To every true minister this Spirit has something fresh to suggest, and which he is bound to propound and enforce. "The Lord hath yet more light and truth to break forth from his Word."
II. THAT THE PRACTICE OF DIVINE TRUTH CANNOT BUT DO GOOD. "Do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?" Though you have never heard the particular truth before, though it may be too severe to please you, though it may clash with all your prejudices and wishes, if you practise it, it will do you good.
1. It is to be practised. It is not fitted merely for speculation, systematizing, controversy, and debate; it is for inspiring the activities and ruling the life. It is a code rather than a creed; it is not something to play about the brain, the imagination, or the emotions, but to possess, permeate, and transform the whole life. It must be incarnated, made flesh, and dwell in the land.
2. When practised it is a blessing. "Do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?" Yes, they do good—when they are translated, not into languages and creeds, hut into living deeds. A man gets good only as he builds up a noble character. But what is a good character? It is made up of good habits, and good habits are made up of good acts, and good acts are but the forms and expressions of God's words and ideas.—D.T.
Micah 2:8, Micah 2:9
Sin an antagonist.
"Even of late my people is risen up as an enemy: ye pull off the robe with the garment from them that pass by securely as men averse from war. The women of my people have ye cast out from their pleasant houses; from their children have ye taken away my glory forever." This chapter refers to the character and doings of Israel during the last nine years of Ahaz. A very dark period in Israelitish history was this. "We are told in 2 Chronicles 28:24, 2 Chronicles 28:25 that Ahaz shut up the doors of the temple, and erected altars in every corner of Jerusalem. We may safely conclude, from the language of Micah (2) and Isaiah (11), that when he did so, abominations of every kind overran the land. A prophet like Micah was no longer permitted to speak. The testimony of Isaiah (Isaiah 7:8.) had borne no fruit; the fruitlessness of invoking the aid of Assyria had taught him no better. Ahaz did not repent, like Manasseh, but persisted in his evil ways. What a melancholy course of conduct! Like Uzziah, Ahaz was denied honourable burial (2 Chronicles 28:27). The prophet here, in denouncing the sins which were then moat prevalent in Judah and Ephraim, alludes expressly to the acts of oppression and violence then common, and tells them that for these they would be driven out of the land." The verses lead us to look at sin in the aspect of an antagonist, and suggest—
I. THAT IT IS AN ANTAGONIST TO THE DIVINE. "Even of late [margin, 'yesterday'] my people has risen up as an enemy." "It is not stated," says Delitzsch, "against whom the people rise up as an enemy; but, according to the context, it can only be against Jehovah." Sin is an antagonist to God; it lifts up the soul in hostility against its Maker. We are told that the carnal mind is at enmity with God; it is not only alienated from him, but in deadly opposition to him. Unregenerated men say that they are not conscious of any enmity in their hearts towards their Maker; on the contrary, sometimes they feel a passing glow of gratitude and adoration for him. But it is the conduct of a man that proves the settled state of his heart. What though a man may say that he has no unkind feeling towards me, on the contrary, that he has some amount of respect; if he pursues a course of conduct that he knows is in direct opposition to my wishes, interests, and reputation, can I believe him? I judge his state of heart towards me, not by his words, but by his habitual conduct. Thus men prove their enmity to God; they pursue a course of life which they know is repugnant to his nature, hostile to his government, and injurious to the order and happiness of his universe.
1. This enmity is most unjustifiable. Enmity sometimes admits of justification, but never in this case. "They hated me without a cause." There is nothing in his character or procedure to justify one spark of animosity m any intelligent creature in the universe towards him.
2. This enmity is most wicked. It is against reason and justice. The character and relations of God are such as to demand the supreme love of all his intelligent creatures.
3. This enmity is most miserable. Enmity to God is the fountain of all the misery in the universe; it is the root of all the cursed passions of the soul. The soul's salvation is in love, its damnation is in enmity.
II. THAT IT IS AN ANTAGONIST TO THE HUMAN. "Ye pull off the robe with the garment [margin, 'over against the garment'] from them that pass by securely as men averse from war." Not content with the outer garment, ye greedily rob passers-by of the ornamental robe fitting the body closely and flowing down to the feet; and this you do, not to enemies, but to friends, to those who are "averse from war." More, "The women of my people have ye cast out from their pleasant houses." The widows of the men slain by you in battle you have deprived of their homes. They "devoured widows" houses." This was not all. "From their children have ye taken away my glory forever." The orphan children you have despoiled. In all this there is the manifestation of sin, as an antagonist to human fights and human happiness. Sin puts man against his brother; hence the slanders, quarrels, litigations, wars, that are rife in every human society. John says, "If a man love God, he will love his brother." The converse of this is true too. If a man hate God, he will hate his brother.
CONCLUSION. Look at sin as an antagonist to God and man, shun it with horror, and battle against it with all the force of your being. This is the great battle of life.—D.T.
The soul's exodus.
"Arise ye, and depart; for this is not your rest: because it is polluted, it shall destroy you, even with a sore destruction." "The prophet, having overthrown, in Micah 2:7-9, the objection to his threatening prophecies by pointing to the sins of the people, now repeats the announcement of punishment, and that in the form of a summons to go out of the land into captivity, because the land cannot bear the defilement consequent upon such abominations" (Delitzsch). This injunction does not mean either of the three following things:
1. It does not mean the termination of our mortal life. Life is a talent which we should guard. Suicide is a crime.
2. It does not mean neglect of material interests and duties. We are commanded to be diligent in business, etc.
3. It does not mean absolute retirement from the world. The life of the hermit is a sin against our social affections, the claims of our species, and the commands of the Bible. What, then, shall we take it to mean? The rising of the soul above the dominant materialism of this life. It is the setting of the "affections upon things above." It is the exodus of the soul from the Egypt of a dominant materialism. There are three reasons suggested here for this moral exodus of the spirit.
I. THERE IS NO REST FOR THE SOUL IN A DOMINANT MATERIALISM. "This is not your rest." There are four forms in which this dominant materialism exists amongst us, and in neither of which can the soul find rest.
1. There is the gross, sensual form. The sensualist and the voluptuary live in this; but they have no rest. Ask the epicurean and the debauchee.
2. There is the thoroughly secular form. The man who is absorbed in the work of making money lives here; but he finds in it no rest. Ask the man who has become the creature of business, etc.
3. There is the intellectual form. The region of mere flesh wisdom, flesh arts, and flesh literature—poetry and novels that appeal to the flesh. There is no rest for the soul here. Ask Byron, Burns, Dryden, Churchill, etc.
4. There is the religious form. There is a fleshly religion amongst men—a religion of pictures, music, pompous rites and ceremonies, all appealing to the senses. There is no rest for the soul here. Let it "arise, then, and depart."
II. THERE IS POLLUTION FOR THE SOUL IN IT. To allow the material in any form to rule us is a sin.
1. Reason shows this. Mind was made to govern matter; the senses were made to be the servants, not the sovereign, of the soul
2. Conscience testifies this. Conscience is everlastingly protesting against the dominion of the flesh.
3. Bible declares this. The carnal mind is enmity against God (Romans 8:7).
III. THERE IS DANGER TO THE SOUL IN MATERIALISM "It shall destroy you." "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption" (Galatians 6:7, Galatians 6:8). For to be carnally minded is death. The work of soul destruction is going on every moment; the soul decays in this state. Force of intellect, discrimination of judgment, freedom of will, sensibility of conscience, elasticity of soul, are being destroyed.
CONCLUSION. Arise, then! The voice of philosophy, the voice of history, the voice of the Bible, and the voice of departed saints, all combine in the injunction, "Arise, and depart!"—D.T.
Israel's popular preacher.
"If a man walking in the spirit and falsehood do lie, saying, I will prophesy unto thee of wine and of strong drink; he shall even be the prophet of this people" Henderson's translation of this verse is worth quoting: "If any one conservant with mind and falsehood lie, saying, I will prophesy to thee of wine and strong drink, even he shall be the prophet of this people." This is Micah's idea as to the kind of prophet, or, as we should say, pulpit, the men of Israel would willingly and unanimously accept. Now, if we look a little into the sketch here of this popular preacher, we shall find that he was marked by two things which always tend to make a preacher generally acceptable to thoughtless men in every age.
I. BY EMPTINESS OF MIND. "If a man walking in the spirit and falsehood do lie," or, as in the margin, "walk with the wind, and lie falsely." He has nothing in his mind but wind, vain conceits, vapid notions; no deep thought, no rich store of information, no well digested belief or profound conviction. He walks with the wind. His movements are the swellings of wind, his voice the echoes of wind. Now, the kind of preacher that the Israelites desired is the kind of preacher that is in general request almost everywhere. What thoughtful man of any extensive acquaintance with the religious world does not know that, as a rule, the less brain, intelligence, conviction, a preacher has—if he possesses the gift of passion, voice, and utterance—the more attractive he will be to the people in general? He is the man who attracts the crowd. The causes of this are obvious. The more empty a man is, the more fluent he is. The pauses in speech necessitated by thoughtfulness are never pleasing to the thoughtless; they like the rattling flow. The empty mind has generally a glib tongue. Again, the more empty a man is, the more dogmatic. The thoughtful man can only suggest and hint, and cautiously and reverentially submit his doctrines. For, as a thinker, he has touched difficulties and mysteries at every point; he can only speak with modesty. This, to the people, is more or less distasteful; they want dogmatism, positiveness, assurance, amounting to audacity. This the empty man can give. The more empty a man is, the more somnific. The people do not like mental effort in their pews; what they want is gentle titillation and spiritual dreaminess. This the empty man can and does supply.
II. BY MINISTERING TO PLEASE. "I will prophesy unto thee of wine and of strong drink." These prophets would accommodate themselves to their hearers' tastes and habits, and sanction their indulgences. They would not disturb their consciences nor strike against their prejudices, but talk to them in such a way as to leave them satisfied with themselves. The preacher who can do this, who can enunciate his discourses in such a way as to avoid interference with the tastes, habits, and pleasures of the people, will always be popular. Oh, it is sad to think of the thousands of sermons that are preached every year by our clergy and our ministers which interfere in no measure with the sinful delights of the people, which leave them in the full indulgence of their wine, strong drink, and other carnal gratifications!
CONCLUSION. Such a preacher as this popular preacher is, for many reasons, the greatest curse to his race. I see but little hope for the progress of Christianity or for the spiritual reformation of mankind, until the pulpits of Christendom are closed forever against such men. Oh, haste the time when none shall assume the solemn office of preacher but those who, by the manifestation of the truth, "commend themselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Corinthians 4:2)!
"I venerate the man whose heart is true,
Whose hands are pure, whose doctrine and whose life,
Coincident, exhibit lucid proof
That he is honest in the sacred cause
To such I render more than mere respect,
Whose actions say that they respect themselves."
Micah 2:12, Micah 2:13
"I will surely assemble, O Jacob, all of thee; I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together as the sheep of Bozrah, as the flock in the midst of their fold: they shall make great noise by reason of the multitude of men. The breaker is come up before them: they have broken up, and have passed through the gate, and are gone out by it: and their king shall pass before them, and the Lord on the head of them." "I will surely gather thee entirely, O Jacob: I will surely collect the remainder of Israel; I will put them together like the sheep of Bozrah, like a flock in the midst of their pasture: they shall be in commotion, because of the multitude of men. The Breaker is gone up before them, they break through and pass to the gate, they go out at it; the king passeth on before them, even Jehovah at their head" (Henderson). The prophet here passes from threats to promises, from a dark present to a bright future. The future was to embrace two things.
1. A grand gathering. Jacob and the remnant of Israel were to be "gathered" as a mighty flock in the fruitful and lovely region of Bozrah. The scene of the gathering would be like the rich pastures of Bozrah, and the numbers of the gathered would be enormous. "They shall make great noise by reason of the multitude of men."
2. A triumphant deliverance. "The breaker is come up before them." Who is the breaker? If reference is here made to Jewish bonds, it was to Moses; if to Babylonish captivity, it was to Cyrus; if to the bondage of the devil, it was to Christ. We shall apply the words to illustrate the grand work of the gospel. "The fulfilment of this prophecy," says Delitzsch," commenced with the gathering together of Israel to its God and King by the preaching of the gospel, and will be completed at some future time, when the Lord will redeem Israel, which is now pining in dispersion, out of the fetters of its unbelief and life of sin. We must not exclude all allusion to the deliverance of the Jewish nation out of the earthly Babylon by Cyrus; at the same time, it is only in its typical significance that this comes into consideration at all, viz. as a preliminary stage and pledge of the redemption to be effected by Christ out of the spiritual Babylon of this world." Taking the words, then, as an illustration of gospel work, two thoughts are suggested.
I. UNIFICATION. "I will put them together as the sheep of Bozrah." Men are morally divided; there is a schism in the great body of humanity. Men have not only lost interest in their fellows, but an antipathy prevails amongst them. They are scattered abroad in different countries, under different governments, and in connection with different religions and interests. The great work of the gospel is to bring men together, to gather them together in some moral Bozrah, to unite them in the fold of Christ. How is this to be done? Not by any political compact, or ecclesiastical concordat, or social organization. These things can never unite souls together; they have been tried a thousand times, but failed. There is only one way, and that is the presentation of an object of supreme moral attraction to all men. That object the gospel presents; it is Christ. It was predicted that unto him should the gathering of the people be, and that he should gather together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad. And he himself said, "I, if I be lifted up … will draw all men unto me." There is in him what is not found anywhere else—that which can attract with equal power all souls, and centralize in him the strongest sympathies of all hearts. Men can only become socially united to each other in brotherly love by first becoming united to Christ. The true union of souls is like the union of planets having one centre of light, life, and rule. As a matter of philosophy, I proclaim that there is nothing but the gospel that can hush the discords, heal the divisions, and terminate all wars and strifes amongst men; and historically I declare nothing else has ever done anything successfully towards it.
II. EMANCIPATION. "The breaker is come up before them: they have broken up, and have passed through the gate." Men everywhere are in moral bondage. They are the slaves of sin and the devil. "Carnal, sold under sin." Moral bondage is the worst of all bondage; it is a bondage
(1) connected with self-compunction; it is a bondage
(2) of the soul, the self; it is a bondage
(3) that death cannot terminate.
Who shall free man from this bondage? Who is the Moses that will take us out of this Egypt, the Cyrus that will free us from this Babylon? There is One, and but One—Christ. He is the "Breaker." He snaps the chains, breaks open the prison gates, and lets the soul into the true light and liberty of life. He came to preach liberty to the captive and to oven the prison doors of them that are bound.
CONCLUSION. Blessed gospel, speed thy work! Bring all the scattered sections of the world together, and unite them together by uniting them to one common centre—Christ. Break the moral chains that bind the faculties, sympathies, and souls of men to sin and the devil. Bring on the moral jubilee of the race, and let the clarion blast of liberty be heard through all the land.—D.T.