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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 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ micah-3.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Micah 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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Part II. DENUNCIATION OF THE CRIMES OF THE GRANDEES, FOLLOWED BY A PROMISE OF THE GLORIFICATION OF ZION, THE BIRTH OF MESSIAH, AND THE HIGHEST EXALTATION OF THE PEOPLE.
§ 1. Sins of the rulers, and their punishment.
The prophet denounces the sins of the rulers, false prophets, and priests; and begins with the injustice and oppression practised by the great men. And I said. The new address is thus introduced as being analogous to the denunciations in the preceding chapter, which were interrupted by the promise of deliverance, to which there is no reference here. O heads of Jacob; synonymous with princes of the house of Israel (comp. Micah 3:8; Micah 1:5). Micah addresses the heads of families and the officials to whom the administration of justice appertained. These magistrates and judges seem to have been chiefly members of the royal family, at any rate in Judah; see Jeremiah 21:11, Jeremiah 21:12 (Cheyne). Septuagint, οἱ κατάλοιποι οἴκου Ἰσραήλ, "ye remnant of the house of Israel." Is it not for you to know judgment? Ye, of all men, ought to know what is just and fair, and to practise it (compare the opening of the Book of Wisdom).
The good …the evil; i.e. goodness and wickedness. Septuagint, τὰ καλά τὰ πονηρά (Amos 5:14, etc.; John 3:20; Romans 1:32). Who pluck off their skin from off them. They are not shepherds, but butchers. We have the same figurative expression for merciless extortion and pillage. Ezekiel makes a similar complaint (Ezekiel 34:2-4). Cheyne sees in this and the following verse a possible allusion to cannibalism as at least known to the Israelites by hearsay or tradition. There is a passage in Wisdom (Ezekiel 12:5) which somewhat countenances the idea that the Canaanites were guilty of this enormity, but it is probably only a rhetorical exaggeration of the writer. In the present passage the terms seem to be simply metaphors taken from the preparation of meat for human food. Such an allusion is natural in the mouth of one who had just been speaking of Israel as a flock (Micah 2:12).
The idea of the last verse is repeated here with more emphasis. The people are treated by their rulers as cattle made to be eaten, flayed, broken up, chopped into pieces, boiled in the pot (comp Psalms 14:4). (For an analogous figure, see Ezekiel 34:3-5.)
The merciless shall not obtain mercy. Then, when the day of chastisement has come, "the day of the Lord," of which, perhaps, the prophet spoke more fully when he originally delivered this address. He will not hear them. A just retribution on those who refused to hearken to the cry of the poor and needy (comp. Psalms 18:41; Proverbs 1:28; Jeremiah 11:11; James 2:13). As they have behaved themselves ill in their doings; according as they have made their actions evil, or because they have, etc.; ἀνθ ὦν.
§ 2. Sins of the false prophets who led the people astray.
Concerning the prophets (Micah 2:11). These are the lying prophets of whom Jeremiah complains (Lamentations 2:14). That bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace. Very many commentators take the phrase, "bite with the teeth," to mean "eat," so that the clause signifies that the prophets when bribed with food predict peace and happiness to people. The antithesis of the following clause seems to require this explanation, which is further supported by the Chaldee. But it is quite unprecedented to find the word translated "bite" (nashakh) in the sense of "eat," or as it is taken here, "to have something to eat;" wherever it occurs it means "to bite like a serpent," to wound (see Genesis 49:17; Numbers 21:8, Numbers 21:9; Amos 5:19; Amos 9:3). The parallelism of the succeeding member does not compel us to put a forced interpretation upon the word. These venal seers do vital harm, inflict gravest injury, when they proclaim peace where there is no peace; by such false comfort they are really infusing poison and death. He that putteth not into their mouths. If any one does not bribe them, and so stop their evil mouths. They even prepare war against him. The Hebrew expression is, "they consecrate" or "sanctify war." There may be allusion to the religious rites accompanying a declaration of war (Jeremiah 6:4; Joel 3:9); but Micah seems to mean that, if the customary bribes are withheld, these prophets announce war and calamity as inevitable; they proclaim them in God's name, as speaking with his sanction and under his Inspiration (comp. Jeremiah 23:16, etc.; Ezekiel 13:19; see note on Zephaniah 1:7).
Night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision. The Hebrew is, "from," or "without a vision." Septuagint, ἐξ ὁράσεως, "out of vision;" Vulgate, pro visione. Hence some interpret this as spoken to the false prophets, who, to punish their lying prophecies and pretended revelations, shall be overwhelmed with calamity. But it is best taken as still addressed to the rulers, and Micah tells how that in the time of their distress there shall be no prophecy to direct them. "Night shall be unto them without a vision." "Night" and "darkness" are metaphors for calamity, as in all languages. That ye shall not divine; without divination. Septuagint, ἐκ μαντείας, "out of prophecy." Parallel and identical in meaning with the preceding clause. The sun shall go down over the prophets; i.e. over the false prophets. The sun of their prosperity shall set. Micah seems to derive his imagery from the phenomena of an eclipse (comp. Jeremiah 15:9; Amos 8:9). The day. The time of their punishment (Micah 2:4; Amos 5:18).
Shall the seers be ashamed. The false prophets shall be ashamed because their oracles are proved to be delusive. They shall all cover their lips; the upper lip; i.e. the face up to the nose, in sign of mourning and shame (see Leviticus 13:45; Ezekiel 24:17, Ezekiel 24:22). It is equivalent to covering the head for the same reason, as Esther 6:12; Jeremiah 14:4. Septuagint, Καταλαλήσουσι καὶ αὐτῶν πάντες αὐτοί, taking the verb to mean "shall open" (not "cover") their lips against them. For there is no answer of God. There was no revelation (Psalms 74:9; Ezekiel 7:26). Septuagint, Διότι οὐκ ἔσται ὁ ἐπακούων αὐτῶν, "Because there shall be none that hearkeneth unto them."
Micah contrasts his own powers and acts with those of the false prophets. I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord. Micah asserts that he speaks and sots by the direct inspiration of God; he claims three gifts bestowed upon him by the Holy Spirit to enable him to effect his purpose. The first of these is "power,"—such might imparted to him that his words fall with force and proclaim their Divine origin (comp. Luke 1:17; Acts 1:8). The second gift is judgment—the righteous judgment of God; this fills his mind and comprises all his message. The third gift is might, i.e. a holy courage that enables him to face any danger in delivering his testimony. In these points he is in strong contrast to the false prophets, who were not inspired by the Spirit of God. spoke not with power, called good evil, and evil good, were timid and time-serving. Jacob … Israel. The two are identical as in verse 1, and the clauses in which they occur contain the same thought repeated for emphasis' sake.
§ 3. Recapitulation of the sins of the three classes—rulers, priests, and prophets, with an announcement of the destruction of Zion and the temple.
The prophet exemplifies his courage by delivering in full the denunciation with which he commenced (Micah 3:1 : see note there). Hear this. What follows. Pervert all equity. Ye, who by your position ought to be models and guardians of justice and equity, violate all laws, human and Divine, make the straight crooked, distort every notion of right (comp. Isaiah 59:8).
They build up Zion with blood. Blood is, as it were, the cement that binds the building together. They raise palaces with money gained by extortion, rapine, and judicial murders like that of Naboth (1 Kings 21:1-29.; comp. Jeremiah 22:13, etc.; Ezekiel 22:27; Habakkuk 2:12). Cheyne thinks this to be a too dark view of the state of public morals, and would therefore consider "blood" to be used for violent conduct leading to ruin of others, comparing Isaiah 1:15; Isaiah 59:3; Proverbs 1:11. In these passages, however, actual bloodshed may be meant; and we know too little of the moral condition of Judaea at this time to be able to decide against the darker view.
Judge for reward. The very judges take bribes (Isaiah 1:23; Ezekiel 22:12), which the Law so stringently forbade (see Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19, etc.). The priests thereof teach for hire. The priests were bound to teach and explain the Law, and decide questions of religion and ritual (Leviticus 10:11; Deuteronomy 17:11; Deuteronomy 33:10; comp. Haggai 2:11, etc.). This they ought to have done gratuitously, but they corruptly made it a source of gain. Divine for money. The accusation in Micah 3:5 is repeated. These false prophets sold their oracles, pretending to have a suitable revelation when paid for it (Ezekiel 22:28; Zephaniah 3:3, Zephaniah 3:4). Yet will they lean upon the Lord. These priests and prophets were worshippers of Jehovah and trusted in him, as though he could not fosake his people. They had faith without love, divorced religion from morality, made a certain outward conformity serve for righteousness and truth. Is not the Lord among us? (Exodus 17:7). As though the very fact that they had in their midst the temple, wherein Jehovah's presence was assured, would protect them from all harm, whatever their conduct might he. Such presumptuous confidence is reproved by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:4, Jeremiah 7:8, etc.; comp. Amos 5:14, and note there).
This is the prophecy quoted by the elders to King Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 26:17, etc.). It may have been delivered before Hezekiah's time originally, and repeated in his reign, when it was productive of a reformation. The denunciation is a mourn-fill contrast to the announcement in Micah 2:12; but it was never completely fulfilled, being, like all such judgments, conditioned by circumstances. Therefore … for your sake. For the crimes of rulers, priests, and prophets. Shall Zion … be ploughed as a field. Three localities are specified which destruction shall overtake Zion, Jerusalem, and the temple. Zion means that part of the city where stood the royal palace. The prophecy relates primarily to the destruction of the city by the Chaldeans, when, as Jeremiah testifies (Lamentations 5:18), Zion was desolate and foxes walked upon it. The expression in the text may be hyperbolical, but we know that the ploughing up of the foundations of captured cities is often alluded to. Thus Horace, 'Carm.,' 1.16, 20—
"... imprimeretque muris
Hostile aratrum exercitus insolens."
(Comp. 'Propert.,' 3.7, 41; and for the whole passage, Isaiah 32:13, Isaiah 32:14.) "The general surface of Mount Zion descends steeply eastwards into the Tyropoeon and Kidron, and southwards into the Valley of Hinnom. The whole of the hill here is under cultivation, and presents a most literal fulfilment of Micah's prophecy". "From the spot on which I stood," says Dr. Porter, "I saw the plough at work in the little fields that now cover the site of Zion". Jerusalem shall become heaps. The city proper shall become heaps of ruins (Jeremiah 9:11; Nehemiah 2:17; Nehemiah 4:2) Septuagint, ὡς ὀπωροφυλάκιον ἔσται, "as a storehouse for fruits," as in Psalms 78:1-72. (79) 1. The mountain of the house. The mountain on which the temple was built, Mount Moriah, and therefore the temple itself, no longer mentioned as the Lord's dwelling place. As the high places of the forest; or, as wooded heights, returning, as it were, to the wild condition in which it lay when Abraham offered his sacrifice thereon. In the time of the Maccabees, after its profanation by tile heathen, the account speaks of shrubs growing in the courts as in a forest or in one of the mountains (1 Macc. 4:38). Such was to be the fate of the temple in which they put their trust and made their boast.
The abuse of influence.
God has imparted to all men the power of influencing others. We daily exert an influence either for good or for evil. They who know us, and who come into contact with us, are the better or the worse as the result of such knowledge and association. The nature of our influence depends upon our own character. Whether this subtle power we all possess is to result in good or ill depends altogether upon what we are ourselves. Let the life be pure and holy, fed and sustained by those hidden springs which take their rise in the throne of God, and then a healthy and helpful influence will assuredly follow, as effect follows cause. The extent of the range of a man's influence depends very much upon the social position he occupies. The more prominent a man is among his fellows, the wider will be the circle of his influence. In every community there will be, of necessity, positions of special prominence to be occupied. To desire to occupy these for the sake of being prominent, and accounted great, is indeed a very poor ambition; but to desire to reach these in the hope of gaining and using for good the additional influence thus acquired; whilst "rising in the world," to be also ascending the heights of holiness an,t goodness, and in ascending thus to reach out the hand of help to others and to assist them to climb above the mists of error and sin, is an aspiration that is truly noble; and happy is it for communities when such men rise. When good men are exalted "the city rejoiceth." These verses present to us a painful example of the opposite of all this. Note we have here
I. GREAT INFLUENCE GROSSLY ABUSED. Three influential classes in the kingdom of Judah are specially referred to.
1. The princes; i.e. the ruling class, the judges and magistrates, these functions being exercised by members of the royal family (Jeremiah 21:11, Jeremiah 21:12).
2. The priests; i.e. members of the Jewish priesthood, taking part in the services of the temple, and also in teaching the people.
3. The prophets; i.e. not the men who were specially inspired of God, like Micah, but men who claimed to possess a desire to work for God, who were trained in "the schools of the prophets," and who became a very numerous class in the land, and took an important part in the education of the community. In these three classes we have comprehended the most influential men in the land; men who, by virtue of their position, ought to have exerted the wisest and most salutary influence upon the people. But instead of this the very opposite was actually the case. They who should have been "the salt of the earth" were "as salt which had lost its savour." The princes, instead of righteously administering the Law, sought their own enrichment. They accepted bribes ("The heads thereof judge for reward," verse 11), and they utterly sacrificed the rights and interests of the people. "They built up Zion with blood" (verse 10), i.e. they reared their luxurious palaces and increased their own store of wealth by perverting equity, and by unrighteous decisions. Their unjust judgments, their extortions and oppressions, so pressed upon the people that the very life blood of the nation was drained. Under the expressive figure of cannibalism, the seer describes the effect of their rapacity (verses 2, 3). The prophets also were utterly mercenary. If the bribe was only given, they prophesied as desired. "They caused the people to err, biting with their teeth [i.e. feeding upon the bribe] and crying, Peace" (verse 5); but only let the bribe be withheld, and they altered their tone and became the heralds of evil tidings (verse 5). Nor were the priests behind in cherishing the same spirit. "The priests teach for hire" (verse 11). The support of the Jewish priesthood was provided for by special Divine arrangement. The tenth in Israel was apportioned to the sons of Levi as their inheritance (Numbers 18:20; Deuteronomy 18:2). But though thus provided for, such was their greed that, "producing the answer of God upon the receipt of money, they sold the grace of the Lord for a covetous price" (Jerome). And so did these prominent and distinguished classes in the kingdom of Judah abuse the great influence which had been bestowed upon them. History repeats itself; and there have been times in the development of other nations which have presented the counterpart to that which is here recorded respecting the kingdom of Judah (see, for example, the state of Europe during the age preceding "the Reformation," as described by D'Aubigne, 'History of the Reformation,' bk. 1.Micah 3:1-12.).
II. THE ABUSE OF INFLUENCE RESULTING IN CALAMITY.
1. To the abusers themselves. The prophet declared that the day of retribution would duly come, and that in that day of Divine manifestation in judgment
(1) the rulers should be requited for their evil deeds "measure for measure" (verse 4), and in the time of trial should find no help in God, for he would hide his face from them (verse 4);
(2) the false priests and prophets should be overtaken by judicial blindness (verse 6), shame and confusion should be theirs, as the coming events brought to light the falsity of their declarations (verse 7), and the Divine oracles would be silent in that day (verse 7).
2. To the nation. The land they were seeking to "build up" by unrighteous deeds should be brought to nought, and the responsibility of its overthrow would rest upon them. "Therefore shall Zion for your sake be ploughed as a field," etc. (verse 12).
1. The blessing of influence well directed.
2. The boon those who in high places exert such an influence confer upon a community.
3. The need of constant intercession with God on behalf of the leaders of a nation, in order that peace and prosperity may rein. "I exhort," etc. (1 Timothy 2:1, 1 Timothy 2:2).
There is nothing wrong in a man's seeking to acquire fiches. Money is good. Its possession is to be desired, since it carries with it the means of surrounding its possessor with the comforts of life, and at the same time gives him the ability to impart good to those who are less favoured and in circumstances of need. The very endeavour also to secure this calls into exercise such qualities as industry and thrift, which are truly commendable. It is rather the love of money, and the inordinate desire for it for its own sake, that merits condemnation. Worldly treasure becomes the greatest possible curse when it is accounted by men the chief good. It will buy up everything else. Time, intellect, justice, truth, conscience, the most sacred rights of humanity, will be bartered for this; and every true well wisher of the race will endeavour to stem the ever-swelling torrent, and to present motives to turn the energies and enterprises of the world into another and higher direction. This chapter may be viewed as illustrative of the deplorable evils and the fatal results of this spirit of avarice.
I. THE DEPLORABLE EVILS CONNECTED WITH AVARICE.
1. It saps the foundations of equity. (Micah 3:1.) These rulers understood the Law, but being so thoroughly possessed by the mercenary spirit, they failed to administer it righteously—were partial in their decisions, favouring those who offered the most tempting bribe, and thus caused the legal administration in the land to become rotten and corrupt.
2. It leads to oppression and cruelty. (Micah 3:2, Micah 3:3, Micah 3:10.) The one concern of the princes was to enrich themselves and to find themselves surrounded with all luxuries and splendours; and hence they cared not to what lengths of extortion and fraud and oppression they went, or what suffering might be involved, if only they could compass this end.
3. It renders its subject unfaithful in the discharge of the most sacred trusts. No trust can be more sacred than that committed to the man who is constituted a teacher of spiritual truth, and upon whom it devolves to direct men in the ways of righteousness and God; but here (Micah 3:5) we have such catching the spirit of covetousness, and, as the result, proving altogether faithless to God and to the consciences of men, prophesying, "peace" to those who bribed them, and "war" to those who withheld the mercenary gift.
4. It excites the spirit of self-confidence and self-sufficiency. These leaders of the people, whilst acting thus at variance with the true and the right, yet finding their ill-gotten gains increasing in their hands, boasted that evil could not reach them (Micah 3:11).
II. THE FATAL RESULTS OF AVARICE.
1. Loss of the Divine favour. For "covetousness is idolatry," and God will not give his glory to another (Micah 3:4).
2. Non-apprehension of spiritual realities. (Micah 3:7.)
3. Complete frustration of their designs. The palaces they had built up with blood, and the city they had defiled by their iniquity, should come to nought, and in its overthrow all that they had unrighteously sought to secure for themselves should perish (Micah 3:12). They who boast that they are "full and increased in riches, and have need of nothing," are in reality the most needy and desolate. Spenser, in 'The Faery Queene,' has described their true condition -
"Most wretched wight whom nothing might suffice,
Whose greedy lust did lack in greatest store,
Whose need had end, but no end covetize,
Whose wealth was want, whose plenty made him poor,
Who had enough, yet wished evermore."
Worldly and spiritual power: a contrast.
In this verse the prophet seems to place himself in contrast with the false prophets to whom he had referred. They, and the priests and rulers with whom they were in association, may be taken as representing the worldly power of that age, whilst he represented that spiritual power which is inspired in the true servants of God by the working of his own Spirit. It is instructive, in reading this chapter, to contrast these worldly and spiritual forces.
I. THE FORMER IS POWER OFTEN EMPLOYED TO CRUSH; THE LATTER IS POWER EVER EXERTED TO SAVE.
II. THE FORMER IS POWER BRINGING BLIGHT UPON THOSE WHO COME UNDER INFLUENCE; THE LATTER IS POWER THE EXERCISE OF WHICH EVER RESULTS IN BLESSING.
III. THE FORMER IS POWER THE PUTTING FORTH OF WHICH IS PROMPTED BY SELFISHNESS; THE LATTER IS THE OUTCOME OF LOVE.
IV. THE FORMER BRINGS SHAME AND DISHONOUR UPON THOSE WHO EMPLOY IT; THE LATTER YIELDS TO ITS POSSESSORS PRESENT DISTINCTION, AND SHALL SECURE TO THEM IMPERISHABLE RENOWN.
Gifts for Divine service.
I. THEIR NATURE. (Micah 3:8.)
1. "Power." (Micah 3:8.) Weak as the prophet felt himself to be, he was conscious of a Divine influence resting upon him and inspiring him, clothing him with holy energy and irresistible might. His mind and heart had been brought into an enjoyment of the highest and holiest fellowship with the Invisible and Eternal. His soul was animated by the inward witness of the Father's love. His whole nature was quickened so that the spirit, instead of being ruled by the body, had the body as its willing instrument, and all acting in concert with the will of God. God dwelt in him and he in God. His spiritual life was healthy and vigorous. His was the strength of a man who felt that he had been called to engage in a work demanding peculiar gifts and endowments in order to its successful discharge, but that all he thus wanted God would bestow, so as to render him efficient; and hence he was ready for service—full of inward strength, "full of power."
2. "Judgment." (Micah 3:8.) The reference is not to judgment in the sense of being able to discriminate character (although this is very desirable), but judgment in the sense of enlightenment to understand the message to be delivered. Here was a messenger who knew what to say; who did not go forth with a sense of uncertainty, but as one who had received his message and was prepared without hesitation to deliver it.
3. "Might." The idea is that of courage. He not only knew what to say, but was ready to say it fearlessly. Humble in origin, born and trained up in obscurity, he cowered not even before princes and nobles, but rather caused them to tremble by the holy boldness with which he declared unto them "all the counsel of God."
II. THEIR SOURCE. (Micah 3:8.) "But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord." These words betray no egotism on the part of the prophet. Had he simply affirmed himself to be a man of power, he had doubtless laid himself open to the charge of manifesting that "self-praise" which is "no recommendation;" but the qualifying sentence entirely frees him from the charge—"by the Spirit of the Lord." He was inwardly strong; he was enlightened to know what he ought to utter in God's name, and he was prepared to go forth and to say it with unflinching courage, because there rested upon him "an unction from the Holy One," and he was inspired by God's own Spirit.
III. THEIR EXERCISE. "He declared unto Jacob his transgression," etc. (Micah 3:8). With an inspiring consciousness of the presence with him el the Lord he served; with a clear perception of the character of the age and of the announcements he was to make in God's name, and with a boldness no adverse force could intimidate, because divinely sustained, he went forth to his appointed service, reproved the rulers for their unrighteous judgments and their acceptance of bribes, and their acts of cruelty and oppression (Micah 3:9, Micah 3:10), chastised the priests and prophets for degrading, by their mercenary conduct, the high functions they were called upon to discharge (Micah 3:11), and predicted the coming overthrow of the nation, fastening upon these guilty leaders the responsibility of occasioning the impending doom (Micah 3:12). The history of the Church of God through all ages tells of men thus inspired by God's Spirit with "power" and "judgment" and "might;" and hence who nobly fulfilled their commission. Peter on the Day of Pentecost, Paul before kings and governors, Luther before the Diet of Worms, Knox carrying on the work of Reformation in Scotland, Whitefield and the Wesleys in the work of revival—there rested upon the heads of these true servants of the living God the tongues of heavenly fire; their arms were nerved by the might of omnipotence, and there dwelt in them the wondrous spiritual force that shall yet regenerate the world. There are difficulties connected with service to God in the present as in all past times; yet these should not dishearten or daunt us, but in the Divine strength we should courageously meet these and contend against them until they are all overcome. It betrays the possession of a weak faith, and seems to indicate that he does not realize what Divine resources are available to him, if a man in his work for God sits down before the difficulties of his position as a worker, dispirited and fretful shall we manifest less courage in reference to spiritual service than men exhibit in the ordinary pursuits of life? Shall we acknowledge ourselves baffled and beaten when the mighty energy of God's own Spirit is available, and may be ours if we will? There was exhibited on one occasion at the Royal Academy a striking picture of a gallant knight mounted on his charger and approaching a dark cavern. His steed was represented as drawing back through fear, and the dogs following as shrinking through terror; but lo! the knight wears a countenance untouched by alarm. There may be perils ahead, but he recks not, for his hand grasps the cross and his trust is in the living, loving Lord. Let our trust be thus centred, and no difficulty lying before us, or no antagonism against which we may have to contend in holy service, shall be able to daunt us, but we shall say," Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shall become a plain." We should "covet earnestly the best gifts," and above all seek to be "endued with power from on high."
I. THE ENDEAVOUR TO SECURE NATIONAL STABILITY IS LAUDABLE AND TO BE COMMENDED. Princes, nobles, leaders of the people of all classes, ought to seek to build up Zion and Jerusalem; and earnest, enthusiastic effort directed to this end is honourable and worthy of all praise.
II. THIS RESULT CAN ALONE BE GAINED BY RIGHTEOUS MEANS. National strength and stability has its very foundations in truth, rectitude, justice, and goodness.
III. THE ADOPTION OF ANY OTHER METHODS MUST INEVITABLY RESULT IN DISGRACE AND DECAY. These rulers built up Zion with "blood," i.e. oppression, wrong, cruelty; and Jerusalem with "iniquity," perverting all that was true and right; and hence, despite the semblance of outward prosperity, the process of decay and dissolution was going on, and became at length completed in the ruin of the nation (Micah 3:12).
IV. THEY ARE THE TRUE PATRIOTS WHO LIFT UP THE VOICE OF WARNING, AND WHO EXPOUND AND ENFORCE THE PRINCIPLES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. To adopt this course specially in a worldly, self-indulgent age is sure
(1) to render the teacher unpopular with many;
(2) hence it requires holy courage and daring;
(3) which will be possessed in proportion as the man is "moved by the Holy Ghost."
The ministry viewed in relation to hire.
The Jewish priests and prophets were the teachers of the people in matters of religion and morals. They exercised "the teaching faculty;" and this must form a prominent feature in those who devote themselves to the work of the ministry in every age (1 Timothy 3:2; Colossians 1:28; 2 Timothy 2:15; 2 Corinthians 4:2). The power of the pulpit in these modern times depends very largely upon the maintenance of its teaching efficiency. The men the Church requires as its ministers are such as will come forth week by week not to utter a number of weary platitudes, but to enforce living truths, and to present these in forms fresh and new. Note
I. SUCH "LABOURERS" ARE "WORTHY OF THEIR HIRE." The support of the Jewish priesthood was arranged under the Law (Deuteronomy 18:2); the prophets also received temporal gifts in recognition of their services (1 Samuel 9:7, 1 Samuel 9:8). In the New Testament this principle of pecuniary acknowledgment being made for spiritual service is distinctly enunciated (Luke 10:7; 1 Corinthians 9:7, 1 Corinthians 9:14).
II. TO RENDER THIS SERVICE FOR THE SAKE OF THE "HIRE" IS SELF-DEGRADING, AND IS AN OFFENCE TO GOD AND THE GOOD.
1. It leads to mere officialism.
2. It results in the perversion of truth, the character of the message being made to depend upon the nature of the bribe and the desire to gratify those who offer it.
3. It gives rise to sheer hypocrisy. "Yet will they" (i.e. hypocritically) "lean upon the Lord and say, Is not the Lord among us?" (Micah 3:11).
4. It awakens vain self-confidence. "None evil can come upon us" (Micah 3:11).
5. It incurs fearful responsibility. "The blood of souls" will be required of such. The ruin of Zion and Jerusalem was here fastened upon such, "Therefore shall Zion for your sake," etc. (Micah 3:12). How honourable is the work of the faithful minister of truth! How essential it is that they who engage in it should experience the Divine call, and should guard well their hearts so that they may be true to themselves and may render acceptable service to others! Whatever their "hire" here may be, how glorious is the reward awaiting all who are found true in this calling; for "when the chief Shepherd appears they shall receive the crown of life" (1 Peter 5:4).
The desolating effects of sin. The Book of Micah may popularly be considered as consisting of three sections—the first setting forth national guilt and corruption (ch. 1-3); the second (Micah 4:1-13; Micah 5:1-15.) as presenting glimpses of a brighter and better age; and the third (Micah 6:1-16; Micah 7:1-20.) as unfolding the nature and importance of sincere and practical religion, and the Divine mercy to all who thus turn to God and serve him with all their hearts. The verse before us closes the first part of the prophecy, and presents to us the culmination of a course of impiety and iniquity. We have described here that "death" which "sin when it is finished" ever "bringeth forth" (James 1:15). Notice—
I. THE HISTORICAL FACT OF THE MATERIAL DESOLATION WHICH WAS TO RESULT FROM THE PREVAILING NATIONAL TRANSGRESSION. (Verse 12.) Observe:
1. This prophecy was doubtless oft repeated by the prophet. That it was uttered by him during the reign of Hezekiah is clear from Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26:17, Jeremiah 26:19). But it had probably been uttered by him previously, for the words which follow (Micah 4:1-3), and which are closely connected with them, were quoted by Isaiah from Micah during the earlier reign of Jotham (Isaiah 2:2 Isaiah 2:4). The prophets enforced their teaching by constant reiteration. "To write the same things," etc. (Philippians 3:1).
2. The faithful utterance of this "dark saying" was the means of working a temporary reformation. (See Jeremiah 26:17, Jeremiah 26:19.) It might have exposed the seer to the greatest peril. To declare such evil omens at a time when the prosperity of the land was reviving under the wise rule of Hezekiah might have involved the prophet in suffering, and even death. But, happily, it had its desired effect; it caused the king and the people to bow before God in humiliation, and "judgment" against the evil works which had been wrought "was not executed speedily" (Jeremiah 26:19).
3. Though thus delayed, the destruction of the land was ultimately effected. Dean Stanley observed in reference to this prediction by Micah, "The destruction which was then threatened has never been completely fulfilled. Part of the southeastern portion of the city has for several centuries been arable land, but the rest has always been within the walls. In the Maccabean wars (1 Macc. 4:38) the temple courts were overgrown with shrubs, but this has never been the case since" ('Jewish Church,' 2:464). It is possible to be too literal in our interpretations, and the facts of history are simply sufficient to indicate how entirely that which Micah predicted (verse 12) has come to pass.
II. CONSIDER THIS AS SYMBOLICAL OF THAT SPIRITUAL DESOLATION WHICH IS EVER THE OUTCOME OF EVIL. It is the natural tendency of sin to render the transgressor desolate in heart; indeed, a man cannot indulge in a course of evil without his inner self, his spiritual being, becoming waste. A man yields to the sin of avarice, and perhaps as the result of its indulgence he gains his hundreds and thousands, gets the best of many a bargain, and at length amasses a fortune; but then he loses peace of mind, kindliness of heart, the joy resulting from cherishing all generous impulses, and probably also his soul; so that whilst in the worldly sense he has succeeded, he has prospered at a terrible sacrifice, even the withering of his highest and noblest powers; he has "got on," has "risen in the world," but his heart is left void and desolate. So also is it with unholy ambition. We think of Sennacherib saying to Hezekiah, "Where are the gods of Hamath?" etc. (Isaiah 36:19, Isaiah 36:20), thus proclaiming defiantly his victories; or of Herod sitting upon his throne, arrayed in gorgeous apparel, making his oration to the people, and priding himself in their flattery as he heard their cry, "It is the voice of a god, and not of a man" (Acts 12:21, Acts 12:22); and whilst on the one hand we see in them representatives of the lovers of power, of outward show, of flattery and applause, we see on the other hand men who, amidst all these outward pretences, were inwardly empty, waste, desolate. And there may be this spiritual desolation amidst much of apparent good. It does not follow that because a man is becoming thus spiritually desolate, his heart is necessarily closed against all that is good, or that because a man is susceptible of some good he is not spiritually becoming waste. There may be love of kindred with all those praiseworthy acts to which this may prompt. There may be large and generous sympathies. Attention, too, may even be paid to religious observances; and yet with all this the heart may be closed to the heavenly influences of the Spirit of God, and may be found at length a moral waste (Proverbs 4:23). Think of the inestimable value of that Sacrifice, the design of which was the putting away of sin and the raising to honour and dignity those whom sin had covered with ignominy and had plunged into ruin. Our very desolation has rendered us the objects of the special concern of the Most High (John 3:16). Trusting to Christ, we become delivered from sin with all its thraldom and misery. And the happy era shall at length dawn, to which we look forward with longing, expectant hearts, when the entire moral aspect of the uuiverse shall be changed, and "the desert rejoice and blossom as the rose."
HOMILIES BY E.S. PROUT
God's gift of a faithful ministry.
The expression, "But truly (אוּלָם)," implies a contrast to what precedes. The false prophets were in alliance with the tyrannical princes, and were destined to humiliation and to the utter loss of whatever power they once possessed. But Micah, conscious of a Divine calling and of fidelity to it, can point to himself as an illustration of God's precious gift of a faithful ministry. Note—
I. ITS QUALIFICATIONS. The fundamental one is:
1. The indwelling of the Spirit of God. The true prophet or minister magnifies his office, but does not exalt himself. He traces all he has to God, as does St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:10; 1 Timothy 1:12-16). Pretenders to the prophetic or pastoral office were "sensual (ψυχικοί), not having the Spirit," inspired only by the spirit of t h e world, or of self; but true ministers can use St. Paul's words (1 Corinthians 2:12), for they are relying on their Divine Master's promise of the Holy Spirit.
2. Hence spiritual power. It may be special and superhuman, such as prophets and apostles enjoyed. But the more valuable power is that which enables us to witness for Christ (Acts 1:8), to exert a holy influence (2 Corinthians 3:2, 2 Corinthians 3:3), and to preach "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." Power is a general term; the Divine Spirit manifests his presence by a diversity of gifts appropriate to special necessities. Two of these are mentioned here as needed by the prophet and, in truth, by every faithful minister.
3. Judgment, including such thoughts as these—a clear sense of God's equity in his dealings (Ezekiel 18:1-32.), an impartial utterance of God's sentences (Jeremiah 1:16-19), and therefore discrimination in all his messages and in his treatment of his hearers, "doing nothing by partiality," "rightly dividing the Word of truth," "warning every man and teaching every man." Such a ministry will emit light as well as heat, will show discretion as well as zeal.
4. Moral courage. "Might," such as the apostles sought and received (Acts 4:29-31; cf. Ephesians 6:19, Ephesians 6:20; Colossians 4:4; 2 Timothy 1:7). All these gifts are needed in a high degree—"full," etc. "However the Lord may bless the meanest gifts of such as be honest, yet neither are ministers to be empty vessels nor swelled with ostentation, but a large measure of real furniture is to be sought after." All these qualifications were more or less fully manifested in the true prophets of God; e.g. Elijah (Ecclus. 48:1), Isaiah (Isaiah 58:1), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 6:11, Jeremiah 6:27), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3:8-11), and many others.
II. ITS DIFFICULTIES. The main difficulty here suggested arises from its relation to the sins of men.
1. The burden of the Lord laid on ministers requires them to be willing to be used in the disagreeable task of convicting communities and individuals of sin. This may be traced in the long prophetical and apostolical succession of God's true ministers, including such illustrious names as Moses, Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Daniel, John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul. We too must be prepared to show to the Church and to individuals their sins in trade, their transgressions of the royal law in their conduct, whether towards servants or masters. Thus we may seem to many "men of strife," or even enemies (Galatians 4:16).
2. But we do not successfully "show" to men their transgressions unless they are induced to abandon their sin and accept God's method of deliverance. We seek to take men alive out of the snare of the devil (see 2 Timothy 2:24 2 Timothy 2:26, Revised Version). It is a terrible thing to convict a man of sin, and yet fail to save him, thus increasing his condemnation.
III. ITS ENCOURAGEMENTS.
1. Frequent successes. We learn from Jeremiah 26:17-19 that Micah's message on this occasion led to the conversion of Hezekiah, or to the reawakening of his zeal as a reformer. The Christian minister's song of victory is often heard (2 Corinthians 2:14).
2. Constant Divine approval. Sometimes a sense of failure causes a feeling of isolation and of heart sickness, such as Jeremiah often felt. But even then we can fall back on the sense of the abiding presence of God (John 16:32), and of his approving smile (Isaiah 49:4, Isaiah 49:5).—E.S.P.
The prophet at once vindicates the claim he has just made (Micah 3:8). We have here—
I. AS UNSPARING EXPOSURE OF SINS IN HIGH QUARTERS. All classes are involved, and to each class the most scandalous characteristic offences are imputed.
1. Civil rulers. They are open to bribes, in direct violation of Exodus 23:8, and therefore pervert judgment. These sophists on the judgment seat make "the worse appear the better reason;" and at length reach such a stage of iniquity that they "abhor judgment," and "call evil good" etc. (Isaiah 5:20; cf. 2 Peter 2:14). In the striking figure of Isaiah (Isaiah 59:14), "truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter." Their crimes are set out in detail in verses 14. Meanwhile they are building fine mansions or laying out estates, but at the price of blood, like Ahab (1 Kings 19:1-21.) or Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 22:13-19); or they are wronging the poor, though the consequences may be fatal; as in modern society some of the "heads thereof" connive at social systems in government or in business, by which the poor are defrauded of their claim to a livelihood. "The bread of the needy is their life; he that defraudeth him thereof is a man of blood. He that taketh away his neighbour's living slayeth him: and he that defraudeth the labourer of his hire is a bloodshedder" (Ecclus. 35:21, 22).
2. Ecclesiastical leaders. The priests' duty was to teach the Law (Le Isaiah 10:11; Deuteronomy 17:11; Deuteronomy 33:10), but they too needed douceurs, or fees or bribes. They probably misinterpreted the Law from the same motive as did Eli's sons (1 Samuel 2:12-17). "So Arian bishops, themselves hirelings, by false expositions of Scripture countenanced Arian emperors in their persecution of the faithful" (Pusey). So, too, persecuting priests and prelates in more recent days.
3. Prophets. These religious teachers were raised up to promote a reformation; but they too had been dragged down to the level of other teachers. Divine prophecy had been corrupted into divination, as in the case of Balaam, and covetousness was universal (verse 5; and cf. Ezekiel 13:1-6). An instructive parallel may be found in the case of the regular clergy of the medieval Church, who were gradually degraded to the low moral level of the secular clergy. We are reminded of the odiousness of a mercenary ministry. Thus all classes were combined in a conspiracy of unrighteousness (as in Ezekiel 22:23-31), and the love of money was the root of all this evil.
II. AN INDIGNANT PROTEST AGAINST UNWARRANTED FAITH IN GOD. They flatter themselves:
1. That they may lean upon the lord. Deaf to all past teachings, blind to the danger signals which history has erected, they insult God by leaning upon him, and expecting him to support their vile souls and pampered bodies (cf. Deuteronomy 29:19, Deuteronomy 29:20). They further take for granted:
2. That the lord is among them. Though invisible to sense, and sending repeated protests, they assume his favourable presence. They trust in lying words, saying. "The temple of the Lord are these," as though the temple of the Lord and the Lord of the temple were identical. In a church at Innsbruck, on the tabernacle containing the consecrated wafer are the words, "Ecce tabernaculum Dei." If this daring perversion of Scripture had proclaimed a truth, what a false confidence for an unworthy communicant; as though "Corpus Christi" and "Christ in you" were the same! "There standeth One among you whom ye know not" may be true, but in a new sense; if not to sanctify, to condemn.
3. That no evil will be fall them. As though God's protests and a guilty conscience were not in themselves evils and the forecast shadows of coming doom. So deceitful and desperately wicked is the heart of man. These truths may be applied to many "nominal Christians."
(1) Ambitious monarchs or statesmen, "building up" their country by huge standing armies, or navies, or palaces, at the cost of grinding taxation, leading to semi-starvation and loathsome disease as among the Italian peasantry, or of tyrannical extortions from Egyptian felaheen, or of a merciless conscription as in Germany, driving some of her best sons from her shores.
(2) Landlords amassing fortunes from rack renting the fever slums of London, or confiscating the fruits of the tenants' industry in Ireland.
(3) Drink sellers fattening on the pauperism of their wretched customers, or carrying liquid poisons to tribes just emerging from barbarism.
(4) Hireling preachers or priests, prophesying smooth things to unrighteous aristocrats or plutocrats, or lulling guilty consciences by the opiate of the sacrament. Such men of expediency crucified even the Son of God that Zion might be "built up" (John 11:48; see Jer 5:1-31 :80, Jeremiah 5:31). To that final question an answer is found in verse 12.—E.S.P.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
"And I said, Hear, I pray you, O heads of Jacob, and ye princes of the house of Israel; Is it not for you to know judgment? Who hate the good and love the evil; who pluck off their skin from off them, and their flesh from off their bones," etc. The punishment threatened in this chapter is against the authorities of Israel, against the princes who turn right into wrong and slay the people, against false prophets who lead the people astray and confirm them in their sin, and against the priests in connection with both princes and prophets. The passage before us is directed to the princes and the rulers. These are represented as radically corrupt, hating good and loving evil, and cruelly oppressive: "Who pluck off their skin from off them, and their flesh from off their bones." And more than this, "they eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them." They are represented not only as slaying the people, robbing them of the means of existence, but devouring them, treating them like cattle, which are first killed and then boiled in the pot for food. All this, of course, is strong figure used to make a strong impression. We have two things worthy of notice concerning civil rulers.
I. WHAT CIVIL RULERS OUGHT ALWAYS TO BE, They ought always to "know judgment," that is, always practically to know the right. The ruler who has not a practical knowledge and love of the right is out of his place; he is a usurper. There is such a thing as right in the universe. What is the standard of right? Not public sentiment, not human law, but the Divine will. God's being is the foundation of right; God's will is the standard of right; God's Christ is the completest revelation of that standard. The man who is not Christly in character is more or less despicable everywhere, but nowhere so much as on a throne. Are we not commanded to honour the king? Yes, but the command implies that the king is honourworthy. Reason, conscience, and the Bible call upon us to loathe and despise moral corruption on a throne.
"He, a king,
A true right king, that dare do aught save wrong,
Fears nothing mortal but to be unjust;
Who is not blown up with the flattering puffs
Of spongy sycophants; who stands unmoved
Despite the jostling of opinion."
II. WHAT CIVIL RULERS OFTEN ARE. What were these rulers?
1. They were morally corrupt. These rulers were of those who "hate the good and love the evil." They were in heart radically wrong, corrupt to the very core, hating good.
2. They were socially cruel. They treated the people as the butchers and the cooks treat beasts—kill them, boil them for their own use. How often, even in the history of England, have rulers treated the people as mere cattle for food!
3. They were divinely abandoned. "Then shall they cry unto the Lord, but he will not hear them: he wilt even hide his face from them at that time." The Monarch of the universe is no "respecter of persons." Princes are no more in his eyes than paupers; and he will treat both according to their character, their responsibility, and their merits. He has often roused nations to send their rulers howling into infamy and ruin. After all, the existence of corrupt kings is to be ascribed to the ignorance, the cowardice, and servility of the people. Let the peoples of the earth advance in intelligence, moral discernment, and independency, and such rulers will disappear. Corrupt rulers are like glowworms, that in the night seem brilliant, but in the day contemptible grubs. Weak, ignorant, and tyrannic kings appear glorious in the night of popular ignorance, but abhorrent as the day of mental intelligence advances.—D.T.
"Thus saith the Lord concerning the prophets that make my people err, that bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace; and he that putteth not into their mouths, they even prepare war against him. Therefore night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision," etc. The following is the version of Delitzsch: "Thus saith Jehovah concerning the prophets who lead my people astray, who bite with their teeth and preach peace. And whoever should put nothing into their mouths, against him they sanctify war. Therefore night to you because of the vision, and darkness to you because of the soothsaying; and the sun will set over the prophets, and the day blacken itself over them. And the seers will be ashamed and the soothsayers blush, and all cover their head, because there is no answer of God."
"Here he attacks the false prophets, as before he had attacked the 'princes.' 'That make my people err'—knowingly mislead my people, by not denouncing their sins as incurring judgments. 'That Bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace;' i.e. who, so long as they are supplied with food, promise peace and prosperity in their prophecies. 'And he that putteth not into their mouths, they even prepare war against him.' Whenever they are not supplied with food, they foretell war and calamity: they sanctify war, i.e. proclaim it as a holy judgment of God, because they are not fed. 'Therefore night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision; and it shall be dark.' Calamities press on you so overwhelmingly as to compel you to cease pretending to divine (Zechariah 13:4). Darkness is often the image of calamity (Isaiah 8:22; Amos 5:18; Amos 8:9). 'Then shall the seers be ashamed, and the diviners confounded: yea, they shall all cover their lips.' The Orientals prided themselves on the moustache and beard. To cover the upper lip, therefore, was a token of shame, mourning, and sorrow (Leviticus 13:45; Ezekiel 24:17). 'Cover not thy lips,' i.e. assume not the usual token of one mourning (Ezekiel 24:22). They shall be so ashamed of themselves as not to dare to open their mouths, or boast of the name of prophet. 'For there is no answer of God.' They shall no more profess to have responses from God, being struck dumb with calamities" (Fausset). False prophets are here brought under our attention again, and three things are suggested concerning them.
I. THEY ARE DECEIVING. God says, they "make my people err." Preachers often make their hearers err.
1. In theology. They propound ideas, crude and ill digested, concerning God, Christ, moral conditions and relations, utterly inconsistent with truth.
2. In worship. The forms they propose to use in worship, the rules they enjoin for it, are often such as to give the people wrong ideas as to what worship really is.
3. In morality. Their standard of duty is often wrong; hence wars are sanctioned, priestly exactions and assumptions encouraged and maintained. Ah me! how the preachers make men err on these great subjects!
II. THEY ARE AVARICIOUS. They "bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace." Greed governs them in all their ministries. They are ever hungering after gain; pelf with them is a passion. Their eyes are ever on pew rents, offerings, tithes, etc. If their greed is offended, they "prepare war against" the offender; they raise an opposition strong and deadly against him. They are "greedy of filthy lucre."
III. THEY ARE CONFOUNDED. Confounded in darkness. "Night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision; and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine; and the sun shall go down over the prophets, and the day shall be dark over them." They were blind leaders of the blind, and they themselves fall into the ditch. Confounded in shame. "Then shall the seers be ashamed, and the diviners be confounded." Jehovah ignores them. "There is no answer of God." "Those," says Matthew Henry, "who deceive others are but preparing confusion for their own faces."—D.T.
The true prophet.
"But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin. Hear this, I pray you," etc. It is supposed that this chapter belongs to the reign of Hezekiah; if so, the mournful state of matters which it depicts belongs to the time preceding the reformation. These words lead us to consider the true prophet.
I. THE WORK OF A TRUE PROPHET. "To declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin." It is a characteristic of all true prophets, that they have a keen moral sense to discern wrong, to loathe it, and to burn at it. No man is a true prophet who is not roused to thunder by the wrong. It has been charged against the preachers of England that it is not wrong that rouses them, but little dogmas that agree not with their theology, sects that unite not with their Church, policies that interfere with their income and position. We fear this is too true. The crimes of the people of England are not denounced by the pulpit as they should be—the vice in high places, the injustices perpetrated under the name and sanction of law, the cupidity of traders, the swindlings of joint stock company men, by which they become millionaires and win a seat in the Parhament of the nation. These things are not held up as they should be for public execration, in the broad sunlight of eternal truth,
Where have we men now to "declare unto Jacob his transgression, and unto Israel his sin"?
1. This is a painful work. It will incur the disfavour of some, and rouse the antagonism of the delinquents. Still, it must be done—done as John the Baptist did it, who denounced his countrymen as a "generation of vipers;" done as Christ did it, who levelled his terrible "woes" at the heads of the great criminals of his age.
2. This is an urgent work. No work is more needed in England today. To expose wrong goes a great way towards its extinction. Honeyed words in the pulpit we have enough, tawdry disquisitions, and sensational inanities. God multiply men of the stamp of John the Baptist and of the Apostle Peter, who on the Day of Pentecost charged home the terrible crime of the crucifixion to the men he addressed!
II. THE POWER OF A TRUE PROPHET. "Truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of might." There is no egotism in this. A powerful man knows his power, and will ascribe it to the right Source—the "Spirit of the Lord." Micah's power was moral; it was the might of conscience, moral conviction, of invincible sympathy with eternal right and truth. This is a very different power to that of mere intellect, imagination, or what is called genius. It is higher, more creditable, more influential, more God-like. What does the man who has it care for the smiles or frowns of his audiences? He sets his face like a flint. The praises of his fellow men affect him no more than the twitterings of a sparrow would an eagle; their frowns, no more than the yelpings of a cur affect the monarch of the forest.
III. THE FIDELITY OF A TRUE PROPHET. This is seen here in three things.
1. In the class he denounces. "Hear this, I pray you, ye heads of the house of Jacob, and princes of the house of Israel." He struck at the higher classes of life. "Heads of the house of Jacob, and princes of the house of Israel." Ah me! how little we pulpiteering cowards here in England address ourselves to the crimes of the upper classes! The low, the helpless, the destitute, we are always lecturing. Do your ecclesiastical lords lecture royalty, think you? I read their fulsome flatteries often, but their denunciations never. The prophet's fidelity is seen:
2. In the charges he makes. "They build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity."
(1) He charges them with extortionate cruelty. "The civic rulers only are addressed in verse 9, viz. those who were charged with the administration of justice and of the affairs of the state, but who did the very opposite—who abhorred justice and made the straight crooked because they passed sentence for bribes. They thereby build Zion with blood, etc; i.e. obtain the means of erecting splendid buildings by cruel extortions, partly also by actual judicial murder, as Ahab, and after him Jehoiakim, had done" (Delitzsch). Building up Jerusalem by blood is something like building up churches by beer. It is not uncommon now for large brewers, from the enormous profits of their pernicious craft, to build up magnificent temples for God. What an outrage on decency! What an insult to omniscient Purity!
(2) He charges them with base mercenariness. "The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money." He saw mercenariness on the bench, inspiring the judge; mercenariness at the altar, inspiring the priests; mercenariness in the pulpit, inspiring the preachers. Money was the motive power of all. With all this mercenariness, still they "leaned upon the Lord," that is, professed to worship the one true and living God, and ignorantly and presumptuously concluded that he would be ever amongst them, and that consequently no great evil would overtake them. The prophet's faithfulness is seen:
3. In the doom he proclaims. "Therefore shall Zion for your sake Be ploughed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest." The prophecy was never literally fulfilled till the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, when the ground on which the city stood was ploughed up, in token of its utter demolition, and no city was to be built there without the emperor's leave. "It is," says an old writer, "the wickedness of those who preside in them that brings the ruin. It is for your sake that Zion shall be ploughed as a field; you pretend to build up Zion, but, doing it by blood and iniquity, you pull it down. The sin of priests and princes is often the ruin of states and Churches. Delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi the kings act foolishly, and the people suffer by it."
CONCLUSION. Such is the true prophet.—D.T.