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Part III. In this address, which is later than the preceding parts, the prophet sets forth the way of salvation: PUNISHMENT IS THE CONSEQUENCE OF SIN; REPENTANCE IS THE ONLY GROUND FOR HOPE OF PARTICIPATING IN THE COVENANT MERCIES.
1. God's controversy with his people for their ingratitude.
Hear ye now. The whole nation is addressed and bidden to give heed to God's pleading. Arise, contend thou. These are God's words to Micah, bidding him put himself in his people's place, and plead as advocate before the great inanimate tribunal. Before the mountains; i.e. in the presence of the everlasting hills, which have as it were witnessed God's gracious dealings with his people from old time and Israel's long ingratitude (comp. Micah 1:2).
Hear ye, O mountains. Insensate nature is called upon as a witness. (For similar appeals, comp. Deuteronomy 4:26; Deuteronomy 32:1; Isaiah 1:2; Jeremiah 22:29.) The Lord's controversy. So God calls his pleading with his people to show them their sin and thankless unbelief; as he says in Isaiah 1:18, "Come, and let us reason together" (comp. Hosea 4:1; Hosea 12:2). Ye strong (enduring) foundations of the earth. The mountains are called everlasting (Genesis 49:26; Deuteronomy 33:15), as being firm, unchangeable, and as compared with man's life and doings, which are but transitory. The LXX. offers an interpretation as well as a translation, Αἱ φάραγγες θεμέλια τῆς γῆς, "Ye valleys, the foundations of the earth." With his people. It is because Israel is God's people that her sin is so heinous, and that God condescends to plead with her. He would thus touch her conscience by recalling his benefits. So in the following verses.
O my people. The controversy takes the form of a loving expostulation; and thus in his wonderful condescension Jehovah opens the suit. What have I done unto thee? What has occasioned thy fall from me? Hast thou aught to accuse me of, that thou art wearied of me? Have my requirements been too hard, or have I not kept my promises to thee (comp. Isaiah 43:23, etc.; Jeremiah 2:5)? Testify. A judicial term; make a formal defence or reply to judicial interrogatories; depose (Numbers 35:30) (Pusey).
God answers his own question by recounting some of his chief mercies to Israel. He has not burdened the people, but loaded them with benefits. I brought thee up, etc. The Exodus was the most wonderful instance of God's intervention and to it the prophets often refer (comp. Isaiah 63:11, etc.; Jeremiah 2:6; Amos 2:10). Out of the house of servants; of bondage , quoting the language of the Pentateuch, to show the greatness of the benefit (Exodus 13:3, Exodus 13:14; Deuteronomy 8:14, etc.). I sent before thee. As leaders of the Lord's flock (Psalms 77:20). Moses, the inspired leader, teacher, and lawgiver. Aaron, the priest, the director of Divine worship. Miriam, the prophetess, who led the praises of the people at their great deliverance (Exodus 15:20), and who probably was charged with some special mission to the women of Israel (see Numbers 12:1, Numbers 12:2).
The Lord reminds the people of another great benefit subsequent to the Exodus, viz. the defeat of the designs of Balak, and the sorceries of Balaam. Consulted. United with the elders of Midian in a plot against thee (see Numbers 22:1-41. etc.). Answered him. There ought to be a stop here. The answer of Balaam was the blessing which he was constrained to give, instead of the curse which he was hired to pronounce (comp. Joshua 24:10). From Shittim unto Gilgal. This is a fresh consideration, referring to mercies under Joshua, and may be made plainer by inserting "remember" (which has, perhaps, dropped out of the text), as in the Revised Version. Shittim was the Israelites' last station before crossing the Jordan, and Gilgal the first in the land of Canaan; and so God bids them remember all that happened to them between those places—their sin in Shittim and the mercy then shown them (Numbers 25:1-18.), the miraculous passage of the Jordan, the renewal of the covenant at Gilgal (Joshua 5:9). Shittim; the acacia meadow (Abel-Shittim), hod. Ghor-es-Seisaban, was at the southeastern corner of the Ciccar, or Plain of Jordan, some seven miles from the Dead Sea. Gilgal (see note on Amos 4:4). That ye may know the righteousness (righteous acts) of the Lord. All these instances of God's interposition prove how faithful he is to his promises, how he cares for his elect, what are his gracious counsels towards them (see the same expression, Judges 5:11; 1 Samuel 12:7).
§ 2. The people, awakened to its ingratitude and need of atonement, asks how to please God, and is referred for answer to the moral requirements of the Law.
It is greatly doubted who is the speaker here. Bishop Butler, in his sermon "Upon the Character of Balaam," adopts the view that Balak is the speaker of Micah 6:6 and Micah 6:7, and Balaam answers in Micah 6:8. Knabenbauer considers Micah himself as the interlocutor, speaking in the character of the people; which makes the apparent change of persons in verse 8 very awkward. Most commentators, ancient and modern, take the questions in verses 6 and 7 to be asked by the people personified, though they are not agreed as to the spirit from which they proceed, some thinking that they are uttered in self-righteousness, as if the speakers had done all that and more than could be required of them; others regarding the inquiries as representing a certain acknowledgment of sin and a desire for means of propitiation, though there is exhibited a want of appreciation of the nature of God and of the service which alone is acceptable to him. The latter view is most reasonable, and in accordance with Micah's manner. Wherewith; i.e. with what offering? The prophet represents the congregation as asking him to tell them how to propitiate the offended Lord, and obtain his favour. Come before; go to meet, appear in the presence of the Lord. Septuagint, καταλάβω, "attain to." Bow myself before the high God; literally, God of the height, who has his throne on high (Isaiah 33:5; Isaiah 57:15); Vulgate, curvabo genu Deo excelso; Septuagint, ἀντιλήψομαι Θεοῦ μου ὑψίστου, "shall I lay hold of my God most high." Calves of a year old. Such were deemed the choicest victims (comp. Exodus 12:5; Le Exodus 9:2, Exodus 9:3).
Thousands of rams, as though the quantity enhanced the value, and tended to dispose the Lord to regard the offerer's thousandfold sinfulness with greater favour. Ten thousands of rivers (torrents, as in Job 20:17) of oil. Oil was used in the daily meal offering, and in that which accompanied every burnt offering (see Exodus 29:40; Le Exodus 7:10-12; Numbers 15:4, etc.). The Vulgate has a different reading, In multis millibus hircorum pinguium; so the Septuagint, ἐν μυριάσι χιμάρων [ἀρνῶν, Alex.] πτόνων, "with ten thousands of fat goats," so also the Syriac. The alteration has been introduced probably with some idea of making the parallelism more exact. Shall I give my firstborn? Micah exactly represents the people's feeling; they would do anything but what God required; they would make the costliest sacrifice, even, m their exaggerated devotion, holding themselves ready to make a forbidden offering; but they would not attend to the moral requirements of the Law. It is probably by a mere hyperbole that the question in the text is asked. The practice of human sacrifice was founded on the notion that man ought to offer to God his dearest and costliest, and that the acceptability of an offering was proportioned to its preciousness. The Hebrews had learned the custom from their neighbours, e.g. the Phoenicians and Moabites, and had for centuries offered their children to Moloch, in defiance of the stern prohibitions of Moses and their prophets (Leviticus 18:21; 2 Kings 16:3; Isaiah 57:5). They might have learned, from many facts and inferences, that man's self-surrender was not to be realized by this ritual; the sanctity of human life (Genesis 9:6), the substitution of the ram for Isaac (Genesis 22:13), the redemption of the firstborn (Exodus 13:13), all made for this truth. But the heathen idea retained its hold among them, so that the inquiry above is in strict keeping with the circumstances. The fruit of my body; i.e. the rest of my children (Deuteronomy 28:4).
The prophet answers in his own person the questions in Micah 6:6 and Micah 6:7, by showing the worthlessness of outward observances when the moral precepts and not observed. He hath showed thee; literally, one has told thee, or, it has been told thee, i.e. by Moses and in the Law (Deuteronomy 10:12, etc.). Septuagint, Εἰ ἀνηγγέλη σοι,"Hath it not been told thee?" What doth the Lord require of thee? The prophets often enforce the truth that the principles of righteous conduct are required from men, and not mere formal worship. This might well be a comfort to the Israelites when they heard that they were doomed to be cast out of their country, and that the temple was to be destroyed, and that the ritual on which they laid such stress would for a time become impracticable. So the inculcation of moral virtues is often connected with the prediction of woe or captivity. (For the prophetic view of the paramount importance of righteousness, see 1 Samuel 15:22; Psalms 40:6, etc.: Psalms 50:8, etc.; Isaiah 1:11-17; Jeremiah 6:20; Hosea 6:6, etc.; see on Zechariah 7:7.) To do justly. To act equitably, to hurt nobody by word or deed, which was the exact contrary of the conduct previously mentioned (Micah 2:1, Micah 2:2, Micah 2:8; Micah 3:2, etc.). To love mercy. To be guided in conduct to others by loving kindness. These two rules contain the whole duty to the neighbour. Compare Christ's description of genuine religion (Matthew 23:23). To walk humbly with thy God. This precept comprises man's duty to God, humility and obedience. "To walk" is an expression implying "to live and act" as the patriarchs are said to have "walked with God," denoting that they lived as consciously under his eye and referred all their actions to him. Humility is greatly enforced in the Scriptures (see e.g. Isaiah 2:11, etc.). Septuagint, ἕτοιμον εἶναι τοῦ πορεύεσθαι μετὰ Κυρίου, "to be ready to walk with the Lord;" Vulgate, Solicitum ambulare cum Deo; Syriac, "Be prepared to follow thy God." But our version is doubtless correct.
§ 3. Because Israel was very far from acting in this spirit, God sternly rebukes her for prevailing sins.
The Lord's voice (Isaiah 30:31; Joel 2:11; Amos 1:2). These are no longer the words of the prophet, but those of God himself, and not spoken in secret, but unto the city, that all may hear the sentence who dwell in Jerusalem. The man of wisdom shall see thy Name; i.e. he who is wise regards thy Name and obeys time, does not simply hear, but profits by what he hears. The reading is uncertain. Others render, "Blessed is he who sees thy Name;" but the construction is against this. Others, "Thy Name looketh to wisdom" (or prosperity), has the true wisdom of life in sight. The versions read "fear" for "see." Thus the LXX; Σώσει φοβουμένους τὸ Ονομα αὐτοῦ, "Shall save those that fear his Name;" Vulgate, Salus erit timentibus Nomen tuum; Syriac, "He imparts instruction to those that fear his Name;" Chaldee, "The teachers fear his Name." This reading depends upon a change of vowel pointing. Orelli renders, "Happy is he who fears thy Name." The Authorized translation, which seems on the whole to be well established, takes the abstract noun "wisdom" as equivalent to "the wise," or "the man of wisdom." For similar expressions, Henderson refers to Psalms 109:4; Proverbs 13:6; Proverbs 19:15. The prophet parenthetically announces that, however the bulk of the people might receive the message, the truly wise would listen and profit by it. Hear ye the rod. Observe the rod of God's anger, the threatened judgments (so Isaiah 9:4 [3, Hebrew]; Isaiah 10:5, Isaiah 10:24). The power of Assyria is meant, The LXX. renders differently,] Ακουε φυλή, "Hear, O tribe;" so the Vulgate, Audite, tribus. And who hath appointed it. Mark who it is who hath ordained this chastisement. It is from the Lord's hand. Septuagint, Τίς κοσμήσει πόλιν; "Who will adorn the city?" with some reference, perhaps, to Jeremiah 31:4, "Again shalt thou be adorned with thy tabrets;" Vulgate, Et quis approbabit illud? This implies that few indeed will profit by the warning.
The reproof is given in the form of questions, in order to rouse the sleeping conscience of the people. Are there yet the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked? Do the wicked still continue to bring into their houses treasures obtained by wrong? The old versions compare this ill-gotten wealth to a fire which shall consume the homes of its possessors. Septuagint, Μὴ πῦρ καὶ οἶκος ἀνόμου θησαυρίζω θησαυρουμους; "Is there fire and the house of the wicked treasuring up wicked treasures?" Vulgate, Adhuc ignis in domo impii thesauri iniquitatis? So the Syriac; the Chaldee keeps to the Masoretic reading. The scant measure; literally, the ephah of leanness. The ephah was about three pecks. According to Josephus ('Ant.,' 15.9. 2), it contained one Attic medimnus, which would be nearly a bushel and a half. Fraudulent weights and measures are often denounced (Leviticus 19:35, etc.; Deuteronomy 25:14, etc.; Proverbs 20:10, Proverbs 20:23; Amos 8:5). Vulgate, Mensura minor irae plena, where the Hebrew has, that is abominable. Such frauds are hateful to God, and are marked with his wrath.
Shall I count them pure? literally, Shall I be pure? The clause is obscure. The Authorized Version regards the speaker as the same as in Micah 6:10, and translates with some violence to the text. It may be that the prophet speaks as the representative of the awakened transgressor, "Can I be guiltless with such deceit about me?" But the sudden change of personification and of state of feeling is very harsh. Hence some follow Jerome in regarding God as the speaker, and rendering, "Shall I justify the wicked balance?" others, the Septuagint, Syriac, and Chaldee, Εἰ δικαιωθήσεται ἐν ζυγῷ ἄνομος; "Shall the wicked be justified by the balance?" Cheyne is inclined to read the verb in the second person, "Canst thou (O Jerusalem) be pure?" since in the next verse the prophet proceeds, "the rich men thereof" (i.e. of Jerusalem). If we retain the present reading, "Can I be innocent?" we must consider the question as put, for effect's sake, in the mouth of one of the rich oppressors. Jerome's translation is contrary to the use of the verb, which is always intransitive in kal.
The rich men thereof; i.e. of the city mentioned in Micah 6:9. They have just been charged with injustice and fraud, now they are denounced for practising every kind of violence. And not only the rich, but all the inhabitants fall under censure for lying and deceit. Their tongue is deceitful; literally, deceit; they cannot open their mouth without speaking dangerous and destructive lies.
§ 4. For all this God threatens punishment.
Will I make thee sick in smiting thee; literally, have made the smiting thee sick; i.e. incurable, as Nahum 3:19, or, "have made the blows mortal that are given thee." The perfect is used to express the certainty of the future. The Septuagint and Vulgate read, "I have begun [or, will begin] to smite thee."
Thou shalt eat, etc. The punishment answers to the sin (which proves that it comes from God), and recalls the threats of the Law (Leviticus 26:25, etc.; Deuteronomy 28:29, etc.; comp. Hosea 4:10; Haggai 1:6). Thy casting down shall be in the midst of thee; i.e. thy humiliation, thy decay and downfall, shall occur in the very centre of thy wealth and strength, where thou hast laid up thy treasure and practised thy wickedness. But the meaning of the Hebrew is very uncertain, and the text may be corrupt. The LXX. had a different reading, συσκοτάσει εν σοι, "darkness shall be in thee." The Syriac and Chaldee interpret the word rendered "casting down" (ישח, which is found nowhere else) of some disease like dysentery. It is most suitable to understand this clause as connected with the preceding threat of hunger, and to take the unusual word in the sense of "emptiness." Thus, "Thy emptiness (of stomach) shall remain in thee." Jeremiah (Jeremiah 52:6)speaks of the famine in the city at the time of its siege. Thou shalt take hold; rather, thou shalt remove (thy goods). This is the second chastisement. They should try to take their goods and families out of the reach of the enemy, but should not be able to save them. The LXX. interprets the verb of escaping by flight. That which thou deliverest. If by chance anything is carried away, it shall fall into the hands of the enemy.
Here is another judgment in accordance with the threatenings of the Law (Deuteronomy 28:33, Deuteronomy 28:38, etc.; comp. Amos 5:11; Zephaniah 1:13; Haggai 1:6). Shalt not reap. The effect may be owing to the judicial sterility of the soil, but more likely to the incursions of the enemy. Trochon quotes Virgil, ' Eel.,' 1:70—
"Impius haec tam culta novalia miles habebit?
Barbarus has segetes? en, quo discordia cives
Produxit miseros! his nos consevimus agros!"
Tread the olives. Olives were usually pressed or crushed in a mill, in order to extract the oil; the process of treading; was probably adopted by the poor. Gethsemane took its name from the oil presses there. The oil was applied to the person for comfort, luxury, and ceremony, and was almost indispensable in a hot country. Sweet wine. Thou shalt tread the new wine of the vintage, but shalt have to leave it for the enemy (comp. Amos 5:11). The Septuagint has here an interpolation, Καὶ ἀφανισθήσεται νόμιμα λαοῦ μου, "And the ordinances of my people shall vanish away," which has arisen partly from a confusion between Omri, the proper name in the next verse, and ammi, "my people."
The threatening is closed by repeating its cause: the punishment is the just reward of ungodly conduct. The first part of the verse corresponds to Micah 6:10-12, the second part to Micah 6:13-15. The statutes of Omri. The statutes are the rules of worship prescribed by him of whom it is said (1 Kings 16:25) that he "wrought evil in the eyes of the Lord, and did worse than all that were before him." No special "statutes" of his are anywhere mentioned; but he is named here as the founder of that evil dynasty which gave Ahab to Israel, and the murderess Athaliah (who is called in 2 Kings 8:26, "the daughter of Omri") to Judah. The people keep his statutes instead of the Lord's (Leviticus 20:22). The works of the house of Ahab are their crimes and sins, especially the idolatrous practices observed by that family, such as the worship of Baal, which became the national religion (1 Kings 16:31, etc.). Such apostasy had a disastrous effect upon the neighbouring kingdom of Judah (2 Kings 8:18). Walk in their counsels. Take your tone and policy from them. That I should make thee. "The punishment was as certainly connected with the sin, in the purpose of God, as if its infliction had been the end at which they aimed" (Henderson). The prophet hero threatens a threefold penalty, as he had mentioned a threefold guiltiness. A desolation; ἀφανισμόν; perditionem (Vulgate). According to Keil, "an object of horror," as Deuteronomy 28:37; Jeremiah 25:9. Micah addresses Jerusalem itself in the first clause, its inhabitants in the second, and the whole nation in the last. An hissing; i.e. an object of derision, as Jeremiah 19:8; Jeremiah 25:18, etc. Therefore (and) ye shall bear the reproach of my people. Ye shall have to hear yourselves reproached at the mouth of the heathen, in that, though ye were the Lord's peculiar people, ye were cast out and given into the hands of your enemies. The Septuagint, from a different reading, renders, Καιδη λαῶν λήψεσθε, "Ye shall receive the reproaches of nations," which is like Ezekiel 34:29; Ezekiel 36:6, Ezekiel 36:15.
The memories of the way.
Truly affecting are those portions of Scripture in which God is represented as expostulating and pleading with erring men (Hosea 6:4; Hosea 11:8; Isaiah 1:16-20; Jeremiah 2:1-14). The opening verses of this chapter are of the same character. God testifies, and in so doing calls upon the mountains and hills and strong foundations of the earth which have stood from age to age to bear him witness and confirm his testimony (Micah 6:2). "O my people," he cries, "what have I done unto thee," etc.? What sadness, what piercing grief, what ineffable sorrow, is implied in these words! Truly God grieves over sinning men. He is not impassive, but is infinitely sensible to the sins and sorrows of men, and every transgression strikes a pang into the heart of the Divine Father. Surely this sorrow of Divine love over the evils inflicted by man upon himself through sin should lead us back to God in humility, in penitence, and in submission to his authority and will. How remarkable is the faculty of memory, strengthening the affections, aiding progress, increasing enjoyment, and alleviating sorrow! Well may the poet sing of "the morning star of memory." The prophet desired his people to review the past of their national history, that by these "memories of the way" they might be impelled to "return unto the Lord." Concerning these memories, note—
I. THEIR REMARKABLE VARIETY. There were memories of:
1. Wondrous deliverances. From Egyptian bondage (Micah 6:3); from the curse pronounced by Balaam (Micah 6:4).
2. Heavenly guidance. "I sent before thee Moses" (Micah 6:4)—the distinguished leader and lawgiver.
3. Sacred fellowship. "Aaron" (Micah 6:4)—their high priest and intercessor, who led them in thought into "the holiest of all."
4. Grateful adoration. "Miriam" (Micah 6:4), with timbrel and dance inspiring them to celebrate in rapturous praise God's redeeming mercy.
5. Continuous interposition. "From Shittim unto Gllgal" (Micah 6:5), i.e. from the desert unto the promised laud; by miracle, type, prophecy, and promise, they were continually experiencing Divine help and encouragement. So with us; mercies temporal and spiritual have been bestowed upon us in infinite variety; whilst in number they have been more than could be counted.
II. THEIR INTENDED INFLUENCE. These remembrances and memories of God's great goodness are designed to lead men to "know the righteousness of the Lord" (Micah 6:5), and to give him the unswerving confidence of their hearts. Through all his dealings with the children of men he has been calling them to repentance, faith, newness of life, the putting away of cherished sin, the detaching themselves from ungodly associations, the breaking away from habits of evil, the experience of the most satisfying good, and to the purest and noblest service.
III. THEIR EMPHATIC TESTIMONY. The Most High, in deigning to expostulate with erring men, makes his appeal to these (Micah 6:3). He asks, "O my people, what have I done unto thee?" And must not this be our answer, "Nothing but good; good, only good"? "Wherein have I wearied thee?" he asks. And must we not reply, "Thy commandments are not grievous; yet surely we have wearied thee by the way in which we have slighted and neglected them, and have failed to yield to them the true obedience of our hearts and lives?" "Testify against me," says God. "Nay, we can only testify against ourselves." To thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy, but unto us shame and confusion of face'" (Daniel 9:7). "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God," etc. (Romans 12:1). Then all must be well with us here, and at last we shall enter the land of light and rest and fulness of joy, where, with memory never failing, and with gratitude rising ever higher, we shall reflect upon the entire course along which we have been guided and upheld by him whose mercy and love endure forevermore.
Man's spiritual need, and its supply.
These verses form one of the most striking passages in the Old Testament Scriptures. Let any one inquire as to the nature of true religion, and he may find the exposition of it expressed here with marvellous vigour and terseness of speech, and with a completeness leaving nothing to be supplied. The false conception respecting true religion as consisting in that which is external is swept clean away as with a besom, and the loftiest view concerning it is set before us in diction so simple that it cannot be misunderstood and in tone so earnest that it cannot fall to come home to the conscience and the heart.
I. THERE UNDERLIES THESE WORDS THE THOUGHT OF MAN'S DEEP NEED OF GOD. To "come before the Lord" and to "bow before the most high God" is a necessity of humanity. Uncentred from God, the children of men are ever craving after seine unattained good, and which alone consists in the Divine favour and blessing. They turn to objects that are unworthy and that can never meet the wants of their higher nature. They seek satisfaction in that which is material, in cherishing attachment to the outward, the fleeting, the unreal; even as these people of Judah turned to luxury, ease, and self-indulgence; and the result is and ever must be miserable disappointment. Or they turn to objects such as are really worthy—wealth, scholarship, oratory, political and civic honours; but anticipating getting more out of these than they had any right to expect, there is failure and consequent disquietude. "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good." God has declared that true heart rest can alone be found in himself. "Thou hast formed us for thyself, and our heart is disquieted till it resteth in thee". Consider—
II. THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF FINDING THE SATISFACTION OF THIS DEEP NEED OF THE SOUL IN A MERELY FORMAL AND EXTERNAL SERVICE. It is a great thing when a true reformer succeeds in making an impression. When evils have become deep-rooted, when men have become accustomed to perverted ways, there is an indifference and callousness about them which it is difficult indeed to overcome. And the distinction of this Hebrew seer is seen in the success he achieved where so many have signally failed. By the force of his own personal character, combined with the simplicity and vividness, the mingled severity, tenderness, and the intense earnestness of his language, he succeeded in rousing many to a sense of their sinfulness, and in awakening within them desires and aspirations after a truer life, and impelling them to cry, "Wherewith shall I come," etc.? (Micah 6:6). But mark what followed. Micah prophesied in the reign of Hezekiah, and the history shows that the people rested in outward reformation and external forms. They cried, "Shall I come before him with burnt offerings …rivers of oil?" (verses 6, 7); i.e. shall I bring the costliest and choicest sacrifices, and cause the oil which accompanies the offerings to flow plenteously? "Shall I" (following the practice of the heathen) "give my firstborn," etc.? (verse 7). And they acted in the spirit of these inquiries. The interest in the temple and its services became revived, the Law was read, the sacrifices renewed, the fasts and feasts once more observed, and the threatened judgments were delayed. But all this was only temporary, there was outward reformation, but unaccompanied by inward renewal; the observance of external forms and the resting in these instead of in God; so that the spiritual unrest continued, and the process of national decay went on, whilst the voice of God was heard uttering the strongest denunciations, saying, "To what purpose," etc.?(Isaiah 1:11-15). Beware of cherishing a merely formal piety, of honouring God with your lips whilst your hearts are far from him, of resting in outward reformation and external worship (Psalms 51:16, Psalms 51:17; John 4:23, John 4:24).
III. THIS NEED OF THE HEART IS MET IN THE POSSESSION OF SINCERE AND GENUINE PIETY. Such piety is described (verse 8) as consisting in doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. It is spiritual in its nature, and has its seat in the heart. Possessing a heart renewed, trustful, and obedient to the Divine will, God will dwell with us, will be cur chief joy, and in all places and at all seasons will manifest himself to us. So shall we at all times and under all circumstances find tranquillity and peace. So shall we sing—
"Without thee life and time are sadness,
No fragrance breathes around;
But with thee even grief is gladness,
The heart its home hath found."
The Divine response to the cry of humanity.
"He hath showed thee, O man, what is good." "Who will show us any good?" (Psalms 4:6) is the cry of humanity, and has been its reiterated inquiry all through the ages of the world's history. And not only has man ceaselessly raised the question, but he has sought its solution, and has thus fallen into errors, which are corrected by the response God has given to this aspiration of the human spirit. We turn, in our darkness, to his unerring Word, and we find light shed upon this otherwise dark problem.
I. IT CORRECTS THE NOTION THAT "GOOD" IS TO BE SOUGHT AND FOUND IN MATERIAL THINGS BY SHOWING THAT IT IS TO BE OBTAINED ALONE BY THE SPIRIT RESTING IN GOD.
II. IT CORRECTS THE NOTION THAT "GOOD" MAY BE OBTAINED BY EXTERNAL OBSERVANCES AND SACRIFICES, BY SHOWING THAT IT DEFENDS UPON THE STATE OF THE HEART, AND LIES IN OBEDIENCE AND SELF-SURRENDER TO THE DIVINE WILL.
III. IT CORRECTS THE NOTION THAT "GOOD" IS THE MONOPOLY OF ANY CLASS OR NATION, BY APPEALING TO MAN AS MAN. "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good."
True piety: its clear delination.
"And what doth the Lord require of thee," etc.?
I. To "DO JUSTLY." He requires that rectitude and uprightness should characterize us in all our relationships. We are not to oppress or defraud. We are not to seek to damage the reputation of another, or by word or deed to endeavour to lessen the good opinion which has been formed respecting him. The golden rule is to be acted upon, and we "do unto others as we would that they should do unto us."
II. To "LOVE MERCY." There are two ideas here that of forgiveness, and that of compassion. Mercy is forgiveness towards the erring and benevolence towards the tried; over both the sinful and the suffering she spreads her wing. This quality is truly royal in its character. "Sweet mercy is nobility's true badge." It is indeed God-like and Divine, and cannot Be exercised without securing to us real happiness. "It is twice blessed," etc. It is well for men to be upright towards their fellow men, to "do justly;" but let this be joined to "loving mercy," we seeking thus to smooth each other's path through life. We respect the man whose conduct is regulated in accordance with strict justice; but we can love the man who rises higher than this, and who, whilst doing that which is just, is also large hearted and generous.
III. To "WALK HUMBLY WITH THY GOD." To walk with God is to make it our fixed purpose and determination to live to him; to devote ourselves to his service. To walk with God is to acknowledge him as our Sovereign and our Father; to set him ever before us; to live a life of hallowed communion with him; to make his glory the great object and end of life; to seek to do only those things which are well pleasing in his sight. To walk with God is to have our mind and will brought into subjection to his; to strive to do all he would have us do and to be all he would have us be; to endeavour more and more to resemble him, and to have taken from us whatever in us is contrary unto him. To walk with God is to love him; to rejoice in his presence; to feel ourselves attracted towards him; to value nothing more than his favour; to deprecate nothing more than his displeasure. To walk with God is to have him dwelling continually in our hearts; ever to seek his approval; ever to make it the great business of life to glorify and to honour him. And in all this true humility is to mark us as we think of his greatness and our own littleness and unworthiness. True piety thus covers the whole range of human duty; it embraces our duty towards God and towards our fellow men. The fulfilment of this is "required" of us, and in such obedience lies the evidence that we are the possessors of sincere and vital godliness.
True piety: its exalted character.
"And what doth the Lord require of thee," etc.? The standard God has set up for human conduct is very high. His law covers the whole range of man's relationships, and demands lofty attainments. Note—
I. PIETY AS DEFINED IN THE TEXT IS VERY EXALTED IN ITS NATURE. See this:
1. In its eminently practical character. It is to enter into all the concerns of our daily life. It does not ignore the emotional in man, but it insists upon holy feeling being transmuted into holy service to God and to man.
2. In its being synonymous with morality. The distinction often drawn between "a religious man" and "a moral man" has no recognition here. God's Law has two tables—the one having reference to our obligations to God, and the other to our duties to man; and, correctly speaking, the term "morality" can only be applied to those who are endeavouriug to heed both these requirements, and he has no claim to it who regards only one of these tables, and that the lesser, and who virtually excludes God from his own Law. And the converse is also true. As there can be no true morality apart from piety, so also there can be no true piety apart from morality; in other words, that these cannot practically be separated. Profession and life must go together, and be in harmony; it is the union of religion and morality that constitutes the life of true and vital godliness.
II. THE CONTEMPLATION OF THIS EXALTED NATURE OF TRUE PIETY IS CALCULATED TO EXERT A DEPRESSING INFLUENCE UPON OUR HEARTS. When we reflect upon the Divine requirement in the light of our own actions and conduct, we feel how infinitely and painfully short we have fallen below what we ought to have been. The standard set up is so lofty that we fear we shall never reach it. "It is high, we cannot attain unto it," we cry, and almost feel despairing and hopeless.
III. BUT WITHAL THERE ARE GLORIOUS ENCOURAGEMENTS.
1. The Divine purpose. What encouragement lies in the thought that he who has revealed this perfect Law for human conduct, and who has the hearts of all men at his own disposal, will not rest until by the power of his grace and Spirit he has so touched and elevated the life of man as that the ideal shall become actual, and the race be delivered, fully and forever, from guilt and sin.
2. The obedience of Christ. In accordance with this Divine purpose, God gave his own Son, and the Christ appeared amongst men. Think of the life he lived, and how complete a transcript of the Divine Law it was And whilst he exemplified that Law in his life, in his voluntary surrender to the stroke of death as a sacrifice for human guilt he put lasting honour upon it. By that memorable death he declared silently the purity of the Divine Law, and attested the righteousness of the penalty attached to its violation. It has been truly said that "man convinced of sin is ready to sacrifice what is dearest to him rather than give up his own will and give himself to God" (W. Robertson Smith). It is easier to offer "to come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old," than to lay our proud wills at his feet and to yield to him our hearts. But as we contemplate the obedience of Christ and his yielding himself up for us, and see in him expressed the great Father's love, that which was difficult becomes light—we own ourselves subdued, we view sin now in the light of the cross, and see its loathsomeness, and desire to be more entirely delivered from its practice, whilst as we contemplate God's Law, under the influence of the feelings and emotions thus excited within us, we are impelled to cry in all the fulness of a consecrated heart, "I delight in the Law of God after the inward man!" (Romans 7:22); "O how I love thy Law!" (Psalms 119:97).
Micah 6:9, Micah 6:13-15
I. A SOLEMN DECLARATION OF COMING CHASTISEMENT. (Micah 6:13-15.) The form this chastisement would assume is suggestive of the thought of utter disappointment. Their gain should be turned into loss; their expectations should be completely frustrated; all that they hoped to realize as the result of their deceptions and extortions should fail them, even as the brook fails the parched traveller when coming to it to slake his burning thirst, lo! he finds it dried up. They should be made desolate because of their sins (Micah 6:13). Surrounded for a time, and through their ill-gotten gains, with all material comforts, they should no more be satisfied by these than he can be upon whom disease has fastened its deadly grasp (Micah 6:13). Nor should these material comforts abide. Internal conflicts and foreign invasion should result in their impoverishment. The toil of the sowing had been theirs, but they should not experience "the joy of harvest;" they had trodden the olives and had pressed the grapes, but they should not rejoice in the oil that makes the face to shine, or the wine that makes glad the heart of man (Micah 6:14, Micah 6:15). They had broken God's Law, and the judgment threatened in that Law they must now inevitably experience (Leviticus 26:16; Deuteronomy 28:30, Deuteronomy 28:38).
II. THIS CHASTISEMENT APPOINTED BY GOD. (Micah 6:9.) "The Lord's voice crieth unto the city," bidding men hear him who had "appointed" the judgment (Micah 6:9). "I will make thee sick," etc. (Micah 6:13). Their sin was allowed to work out its evil consequences upon them, that they might be led to see how evil a thing it was. God turns events into teachers, and sorrows into discipline. He allows the reeds upon which men were leaning to break, and the earthly pleasures upon which their hearts were set to yield only the bitterness of gall and wormwood, that thus they may be led to look to him, the unfailing Spring. It is not by chance that trials meet the children of men in the pathway of life. It is the Divine arrangement that men should be thus met, if perchance they may be impelled to turn away from an unsatisfying world, and be led to seek in him their chief good. Sometimes we are so wayward that we will not pause in our wandering until God reveals the peril that is in our path. The prodigal had to feel shame and hunger before "he came to himself." So we need at times to be startled and chastened into obedience. Even God's chastisements are love. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth," etc. (Hebrews 12:6-8); "As many as I love I rebuke and chasten" (Revelation 3:19).
III. THE WISDOM OF RECOGNIZING GOD IN THESE ADVERSE EXPERIENCES OF LIFE. "And the men of wisdom," etc. (Micah 6:9). We show the possession by us of this wisdom when we
(1) accept our life sorrows as coming to us with this wise and loving intent;
(2) when we calmly and trustingly bow to the Divine will in the seasons of grief;
(3) When we cherish solicitude that the gracious ends designed may be fulfilled in us; and
(4) when, our bonds "loosed," and the sorrow overpast, the grateful acknowledgment, springing from our inmost souls, breaks forth from our lips, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted" (Psalms 119:71); "Before I was afflicted I went astray," etc. (Psalms 119:67).
Weighed in the balances, and found wanting.
Having expounded the nature of true piety, the prophet, proceeds in these verses to apply the principles thus enunciated to the case of his people, endeavouring by means of searching inquiries to bring home to their hearts a sense of their guilt and depravity.
I. WE HAVE HERE AN ILLUSTRATIVE EXAMPLE OF HUMAN CONDUCT WHEN TESTED BY THE DIVINE REQUIREMENTS BEING FOUND WANTING. Notice in this case:
1. Dishonesty in trade as opposed to "doing justly." Rectitude in all the transactions of life was repeatedly insisted upon in the Law of God as given by Moses (Leviticus 19:35, Leviticus 19:36; Deuteronomy 25:14, Deuteronomy 25:15). Disregard of this requirement was an indictment constantly brought against the Jewish people by their faithful seers (Amos 8:4-6; Ezekiel 45:9, Ezekiel 45:10; Hosea 12:7, Hosea 12:8). To be engaged in trade has been regarded by some as a badge of social inferiority. No right-minded man could speak or even think thus. All honest trades are honourable. None need be ashamed of their callings because these belong to the shop and the mart. The dishonour lies in fraud, trickery, deceit, and sharp practice; but let all these be eschewed, and the principles of uprightness and honour prevail, and the humblest trade, conducted on these lines, is thereby ennobled. "Royalty in her robes of state is not so majestic as Commerce clothed in spotless integrity and commanding unlimited confidence. Victory, raising her trophies from the spoils of a conquered army, is not so glorious as Commerce, patiently and perseveringly, slowly but surely, gaining its end by scorning and disdaining the arts which promise a speedy but treacherous elevation" (Dr. Robert Halley).
2. Oppression and violence as opposed to "loving mercy" (Micah 6:12). Men, making haste to be rich, fall into many hurtful snares (1 Timothy 6:9), and one of these is that of oppressing those less favoured than themselves. They become hard, and are led to take undue advantage of those who are needy and who can in any way be made tributary to their interests. Provision against this was made in the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 24:10-22). This provision of that Divine law, which so marvellously met every circumstance and condition of life, the prophet charged his people with disregarding. "The rich men thereof are full of violence" (Micah 6:12; Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 5:7; Amos 5:11; Malachi 3:5). The love of mercy was sacrificed to the love of gain. Man, consumed by lust of wealth, used his fellow men as mere steppingstones, trampling them beneath his feet.
3. Degeneration in speech as altogether incompatible with "walking humbly with God?' (Micah 6:12.) Very glorious is the power of utterance, the ability to give audible expression, with clearness and perspicuity, to the thoughts which may be filling our minds and stirring our very souls.
"And when she spake
Sweet words, like dropping honey, she did shed:
And 'twixt the pearls and rubies softly brake
A silver sound that heavenly music seemed to make."
(Spenser's 'Faery Queene.')
Speech is a very sure index to character. "Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee" (Luke 19:22). "A bell may have a crack, and you may not see it, but take the cropper and strike it, and you'll soon perceive that it is flawed." Degradation is stamped, not only upon the physical form of savage tribes, but also upon the very language they employ. When, as the result of a long course of transgression or of prolonged banishment from civilization, noble thoughts and high spiritual conceptions have dropped away from them, there has attended this the loss even of the very words by which these thoughts and conceptions are expressed, so that the language of such people has become woefully impoverished. Clearly, then, would we have our speech right, we must get our hearts right. "The weights and wheels are in the heart, and the clock strikes according to their motion. Truth in the inward parts is the certain cure for all evil in the tongue." The prevailing degeneracy over which this seer so deeply mourned is indicated in his words, "The inhabitants thereof have spoken lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth" (Micah 6:12). And, this being the case, they were utterly unfitted for complying with the requirement that they should walk humbly "with their God;" for only "the pure in heart" can have fellowship with him. "Weighed" thus "in the balances" of the requirements of God's pure Law, they were "found wanting."
II. ALTHOUGH DIFFERING IN DEGREE, YET IT IS TRUE UNIVERSALLY THAT HUMAN CONDUCT, PROVED THUS, WILL NOT STAND THE TEST. God's Law is "holy, just, and true," and man is by nature and practice so sinful that, judged by that high standard, "every mouth must be stopped, and the whole world appear guilty before God" (Romans 3:19).
III. THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF THIS SHOULD LEAD US TO WELCOME THE CHRIST OF GOD, WHOSE ADVENT THIS PROPHET PREDICTED, AND TO REJOICE IN HIS WORK ON OUR BEHALF. We cannot meet God on the ground of obedience to his pure Law. If we take that stand, then he righteously and imperatively requires that the whole Law be kept; and this is impossible to us, since even if we were capable of perfect obedience in the future, this would not atone for the failures of the past. The true meeting place is not Sinai, but Calvary (2 Timothy 1:9; Romans 3:20-26).
The influence of evil men.
These are the last recorded words of Micah declarative of coming judgment; and they are deeply impressive as setting forth the influence exerted by evil men.
I. ITS PERPETUITY. "For the statutes of Omri are kept, and all the works of the house of Ahab, and ye walk in their counsels" (verse 16). God had separated this people from among the nations, and had specially favoured them with a revelation of his will. He had given unto them his pure Law. Their fathers had gathered in the olden time at Sinai, that
"Separate from the world, their breast
Might duly take and strongly keep
The print of heaven to be exprest
Ere long on Zion's steep."
God had conferred signal honour upon them in constituting them the depositaries of his truth, and his witnesses unto the ends of the earth. They were bound by the most sacred obligations, the most solemn vows repeatedly renewed, and by pains and penalties too, "to keep his statues" and "to obey his commandments." But they lamentably failed to fulfil their high mission, and the failure is in no small degree traced in these records to the influence of their kings. Jeroboam, Omri, and Ahab stand out conspicuously in the history of the kingdom of Israel as having sinned and caused Israel to sin, and the evil influence thus exerted spread to the kingdom of Judah, and descended from generation to generation. One hundred and seventy years had passed since the death of Ahab, nearly two hundred since the death of Omri, and about two hundred and thirty since the death of Jeroboam; yet their pernicious influence was still felt, and the people were keeping their statutes instead of God's, and walking in their ways instead of in "the way of holiness." It is clear, then, that, whilst we may by a true life be helpers, even to those who come after us, in all that is good, we may also, by the perversion of this power, prove hinderers to them, and keep them back from the highest bliss. Evil deeds as well as good actions have the stamp of permanence upon them. "Being dead," men "yet speak" for ill as for good. You cannot limit the influence of wrong doing to the men who commit it. Generations yet unborn will experience the dire effects of the sins men are committing now. "For the statutes of Omri" (verse 16).
II. ITS PERNICIOUSNESS. "That I should make thee," etc. (verse 16). The injurious effects thus wrought in a nation are here specially set forth.
1. It leads on to national decay. "That I should make thee a desolation" (verse 16).
2. It excites the contempt of the adversaries. "And the inhabitants thereof an hissing" (verse 16).
3. It lays spiritual honour in the very dust, and causes the foes of God and of his truth to blaspheme. "Therefore ye shall bear the reproach of my people" (verse 16; Ezekiel 36:20; Psalms 89:4; Psalms 44:13-16).
HOMILIES BY E.S. PROUT
A protest and a retrospect.
The serious state of the cue between Jehovah and his people is shown by this appeal to the hills and mountains. As though among all the nations none could be found impartial enough to be umpires, or even witnesses, inanimate nature must supply its testimony. (Illustrate from Job 12:7, Job 12:8; Isaiah 1:2, Isaiah 1:3; Luk 19:40; 2 Peter 2:16.) The mountains hays stability; not so the favoured nation. They have survived many generations of God's ungrateful beneficiaries, and have been witnesses of the blessings those thankless ones have received. The cliffs of Horeb have echoed back the precepts and promises of Jehovah, and the gentler tones of his "still small voice," but his people have remained deaf to his appeals. Hence—
I. A PROTEST. Before Jehovah passes judgment he permits himself to be regarded as the defendant if his people can venture to bring any charge against him. He knows that nothing but unrighteous treatment on his part could justify them in departing from him. Hence the appeal in Jeremiah 2:5, and the similar remonstrances of Christ in John 8:46 and John 10:32. Nothing but intolerable grievances can justify a national revolt or a desertion of the paternal home. Had God "wearied" Israel by unreasonable treatment? The whole history of the nation refutes the suggested libel. Or can we make any such charges against God? What can they be?
1. Undue severity? Can "my people" (what a sermon in that mere term!) say so (Job 11:6; Psalms 103:10; Daniel 9:7)?
2. A harsh and trying temper? The very opposite is the spirit of "the Father of mercies" (Psalms 145:8, Psalms 145:9).
3. Unreasonable exactions of service? No; he can make the appeal, "I have not caused thee to serve with an offering, nor wearied thee with incense" (Isaiah 43:23). His "yoke is easy;" "His commandments are not grievous."
4. Negligence in his training of us? Far from it; he can declare, "What could have been done more?" etc. (Isaiah 5:1-4). Forbearance, loving kindness, and thoughtful consideration have marked God's conduct throughout. The case against God utterly breaks down. Instead of desiring to remonstrate, or even "reason with God," u at one time Job did, every reasonable soul, hearing God's words and catching some vision of his glory, must acknowledge, as that patriarch did, "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (cf. Job 13:3; Job 42:5, Job 42:6). The way is cleared. O God, thou art justified when thou speakest, and clear when thou art judged. And now God's messenger may take up his parable, like Samuel (1 Samuel 12:7), and God himself may make the appeal in verses 4, 5.
II. A RETROSPECT. Jehovah selects specimens of his gracious dealings with them from their early history. He reminds them of:
1. A grand redemption. (Verse 4.) We, too, as a nation can speak of great deliverances from political and ecclesiastical bondage. See T.H. Gill's hymn—
"Lift thy song among the nations,
England of the Lord beloved." etc.
And for each of us has been provided a redemption from a worse than Egyptian bondage, through "Christ our Passover, sacrificed for us."
2. Illustrious leaders. Moses, their inspired lawgiver and the friend of God (Numbers 12:8); Aaron, their high priest and intercessor; Miriam, a singer, poet, prophetess. What memories of "the loving kindnesses of the Lord" these names would recall—the Paschal night, the morning of final deliverance and song of triumph by the Red Sea, the manna, the plague stayed, etc.! We, too, can look back on our illustrious leaders in English history. And in common with the whole of Christendom, "all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos, or Cephas"—the apostles, the martyrs, the preachers, the poets of the past—"all are yours" by right, if not by actual enjoyment.
3. Foes frustrated. (Verse 5.) "Remember now"—a word of tender appeal, as though God would say, "Oh, do remember." Balak was a representative foe, striving against Israel, first by policy (Numbers 22:1-41.), then by villainy (Numbers 25:1-18.), and finally by violence (Numbers 31:1-54.). Again the parallel may be traced in national and individual history.
4. Curses turned into blessings. (Deuteronomy 23:5.) So has it been with many of the trials of the past. "Remember from Shittim unto Gilgal" (cf. Numbers 25:1 and Joshua 4:19). What a contrast! Sins forgiven; reproach "rolled away" (Joshua 5:9); chastisements blessed; the long looked for land of promise entered. All these blessings show us "the righteous acts of the Lord." They remind us of the successive acts of God's righteous grace. They make sin against him shamefully ungrateful as well as grossly unjust. Oh, that the goodness of God may lead to repentance! that he may overcome our evil by his good! that "the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" may constrain us to live henceforth, not to ourselves, but to him!—E.S.P.
The essentials of godliness.
If the questions of Micah 6:6 and Micah 6:7 are those of Balak and the answers are Balaam's, they remind us of how a man may know and explain clearly the path of righteousness and peace, and yet neglect it. Balsam may prophesy; Demas may preach; Judas may cast out devils; but "I never knew you; depart from me ye that work iniquity!" Or if we regard the questions as proposed, either by the nation convicted of sin (Micah 6:1-5), or by any one sin-stricken soul, we learn the same truths. It is the old controversy, older than Balak, between God and man, as to the grounds of man's acceptance with God and the essential requirements from man by God. We see—
I. ANXIOUS QUESTIONS. (Micah 6:6, Micah 6:7.) These questions remind us of:
1. Man's sense of distance from God. He is not consciously walking "with God," like Enoch; "before God," like Abraham.
2. His conviction that he cannot come to God by any right or merit of his own. "Wherewith?" He cannot come just as he is, empty-handed. He has no right of entry to the court of the Divine King.
3. And that if he comes at all he must "bow," as an inferior, conscious of absolute dependence. This "consciousness of absolute dependence" (Schleiermacher's definition of religion), which is shared by all intelligent creatures, is intensified by the consciousness of sin. Sin has as its shadow guilt, and the brighter the light the clearer and darker the shadow. That shadow projects itself into the mysterious future. A sense of desert of punishment and "a certain tearful looking for of judgment" are the attendants of sin, though there may be no meltings of godly sorrow from a sense of its base ingratitude. Thus sin is the great separater; man feels it; God declares it (Isaiah 59:1, Isaiah 59:2). Hence there follow suggestive inquiries as to the means by which acceptance with God may be obtained. Shall they be "burnt offerings"? There was a germ of truth in this thought (cf. 2 Samuel 24:24). Burnt offerings were entirely devoted to God. They might be precious in quality, like "calves of a year old," or multiplied in quantity ("thousands of rams," etc.). These burnt offerings were designed to denote God's right to our entire surrender, but could be no substitute for that surrender. They might be signs of eager desire for acceptance, though at a high price. But in themselves they could bring no sense of access to God and of peace with him. Then comes the suggestion of a sacrifice infinitely more costly("my firstborn," etc.). To a parent a child's life is more precious than his own. If the sinner can be forgiven and accepted only at such a price, shall it be paid? Terror-stricken, deluded consciences have answered, "Yes;" but the peace has not come. While some of these proposals are detestable to God, all of them are worthless. Unless the man himself is right with God, no sacrifice can avail. Yet many would rather sacrifice health, life, wife, child, than give up sin which is the great separator. Sinful man can ask such anxious questions as these, but he cannot answer them. His suggestions land him in deeper guilt, or at the best leave him in blank despair.
II. REASSURING ANSWERS. (Micah 6:8.) These come from God himself. Every fragment of gospel—news of good, is news from God. It was given not now for the first time. God had spoken at sundry times and in divers manners by Moses and the earlier prophets. All previous revelations of Law and grace were means of showing men "what is good." In regard to man himself, God from the beginning has testified that his only real "good" is real godliness. This was the sum of his requirements (see Deuteronomy 10:12, Deuteronomy 10:13, etc.). He did not seek for something from themselves, but for themselves and for the fruit of his Spirit within them. There were false methods by which "that which is good" was sought, such as heathen sacrifices and austerities. There were inadequate methods, such as God's own appointed system of sacrifices and services, when emptied of the spirit of self-surrender they were designed to foster and of the teaching they contained of the need of "better sacrifices" (Hebrews 9:23). These symbolical educational sacrifices were but part of a process which was to issue in man's acceptance by God, that thus man might render to God what he required, and might know and "prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (cf. Hebrews 10:1-10, Hebrews 10:19-25). Looking closely at Micah 6:8, we see a summing up of both Law and gospel.
1. "To do justly." Elementary morality is here linked with all that is Divine. To do justly is not only to do what is just, but because it is just, and with an earnest desire to be right with God. The "righteousness" which "the righteous Lord loveth" (Psalms 11:7) is more than the outward act. And yet these most elementary acts of righteousness were neglected by many then (Micah 6:10-12 and Micah 7:3) as well as now, who proposed anxious questions about their acceptance with God or even professed to have found satisfactory answers to them.
2. "To love mercy." Mercy is more than justice, just as "a good man" is more than a merely "righteous" one (Romans 5:7). The lack of it may arise from hardness of character, or from never having passed through the temptations by which some have fallen. To cultivate the love of mercy will bring us nearer to God, and will make it easy for us to scatter blessings around our path, even to the unthankful and the evil (Proverbs 21:21; Matthew 5:7; Luke 6:32-36). Such a disposition is incompatible with spiritual pride. But lest a just and benevolent man should be tempted to pride himself and to rely on his outward conduct, we are reminded of God's last requirement.
3. "To walk humbly with thy God." Here the first table of the Decalogue and the law of the gospel are combined. "Walk with God." How can the sinner, except he be reconciled (Amos 3:3)? Hence the need of peace in God's appointed way. This way to us is not the way of self-righteousness or the way of ceremonies and sacraments, but it is the way of faith in God's own appointed and accepted atonement (Romans 4:4, Romans 4:5; 1 John 3:23). To "submit" to this righteousness of God requires a humbling of many a proud heart. And if we have welcomed reconciliation as God's free gift through Christ, we shall ever after walk humbly with our God as his grateful, happy children. Such a humble walk will make justice and mercy easier to us. When Luther was asked what was the first step in religion, he replied "Humility;" and when asked what was the second and the third, answered in the same way. Therefore walk humbly, as a learner; as a pensioner; as a pardoned and joyous child, "looking for the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life" (Titus 2:11-14).—E.S.P.
The voice of the rod.
God's voice has often called to Jerusalem in mercy and in warning; now it cries in judgment it is the voice of the rod. Notice—
I. THE SINS THAT CALL FOR IT. In the context many of the chief national sins are once more enumerated, such as ill-gotten gains (Micah 6:10), false weights and measures (Micah 6:10, Micah 6:11), oppression of the poor by the petty magnates of the city (Micah 6:12), habitual fraud and falsehood (Micah 6:12). Apply these illustrations to some of England's national sins. But as though these were not enough, there were added thereto the sins of the darkest period of the northern kingdom, viz. from Omri to Jehu. These sins included the establishment of idolatry and all the immoralities associated with Baal worship, the persecution of God's faithful servants (1 Kings 18:13; 1 Kings 19:10; 1 Kings 22:27), and oppression even by the highest (e.g. Naboth). In the days of Ahaz the kingdom of Judah sank to such a level as this. All these evils were concentrated at Jerusalem, so that it is to this city the rod appeals.
II. THE MESSAGES IT BRINGS. Some elements of distinct retributive justice are discernible.
1. Uneasiness, from consciousness of guilt, while pursuing and seeking to enjoy their nefarious courses. Conscience may be like an Elijah confronting Ahab in Naboth's vineyard. Illust.: Shakespeare's Richard III.
2. As they defrauded the poor, so should they be bitterly disappointed when seeking the fruit of their own labour (Micah 6:14; Ecclesiastes 6:1, Ecclesiastes 6:2).
3. Their labour would be for the benefit of others, and all their efforts to secure it for themselves would be as much frustrated as were the toilsome labours of those whom they had defrauded (Micah 6:14, Micah 6:15). For they can save nothing from the hand of God.
4. Thus their wounds would be incurable (Micah 6:13), and their ill-gotten gain a treasure of wrath (James 5:1-4).
5. These luxurious and delicate ones should become a scandal and a reproach to all around them (Micah 6:16).
III. THE SPIRIT THAT WILL SILENCE IT.
1. Recognizing God's hand as holding it. He "hath appointed it." (Illustrate from Isaiah 10:5; Jeremiah 47:6, Jeremiah 47:7; so now Amos 3:6.)
2. Listening to God's voice speaking through it. Their great sin in the past has been the disregard of God's voice (Isaiah 48:18; Jeremiah 13:15-17). The voices of entreaty and warning were not heard, so now the voice of chastisement speaks. Yet even in the time of such chastisement there might be hope (Proverbs 1:24-27, Proverbs 1:33; and see Leviticus 26:40-45).
3. Honouring God's Name. "The man of wisdom shall see thy Name." God's Name declares his character, and it is his character as a holy God that requires the punishment of the unrighteous (Exodus 34:7). So long as men persist in sin, they must remain under the wrath of God. Sinning and punishment are inseparable. Till sinners "see God's Name" by recognizing its meaning and learning that they can honour it by nothing but a renunciation of sin, the voice of the rod must be heard even through the ages of eternity.—E.S.P.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
Man's yearning for his Maker.
The prophet supposes that his earnest appeals have had some effect that the people are stirred from their senselessness, and are beginning to feel after God. Overwhelmed with a consciousness of sin, they dare not approach him as they are. Their hesitation and their self-communing are like those of the prodigal in the far country when he came to himself. The sense of distance between the finite and the infinite, between the sin-stained and the holy, is oppressive and painful, and it finds expression in the words of our text.
I. THE ANXIOUS INQUIRY. "Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God?" Whether men wish to do so or not, they are bound by the inexorable laws of God to appear before him. They may come as sinners, casting themselves upon his mercy, as David and the publican came; but they must come, on the last great day, as responsible creatures, to give an account of the deeds done in the body, whether they are good or bad. It is not as a race, or even as families, that judgment will be received by men, but by each in his individual capacity. Hence the wise man asks himself," Wherewith shall I come before the Lord?"
1. This implies belief in a personal God. There is no conception here or elsewhere in Scripture of the world being ruled by an impersonal Power, by a tendency which makes for righteousness. Such theories are in the long run destructive of the sense of personal accountability, and therefore fatal to the basis on which moral law rests.
2. This implies conviction of sin. Else why this nameless dread, and this notion of sin offering? It matters not how it is aroused, whether by tender touches of Divine love or by fervid appeals by inspired messengers; nor is it of consequence whether the sins were those of omission or of commission; but in some form, and by some means, a sense of sin is aroused in most men by the power of the Holy Spirit, whose office it is to "convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of a judgment to come."
3. This implies willingness to make some sacrifice. Even the heathen have had the innate consciousness that without the shedding of blood there is no remission. The Jews had a divinely ordained and most elaborate system of sacrifice, which kept this idea before their minds, in all the changeful conditions of life. But they were taught that it was not these outward and visible offerings which atoned for sin. "Thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it," etc. "Lebanon is not sufficient to burn" etc. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise".
II. THE SATISFACTORY ANSWER. With ever increasing fulness it came, until at last the voice of the Lord Jesus was heard saying, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."
1. Christ Jesus has offered an atonement for us. "Once, in the end of the world, he hath appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself," He has not repealed the morel law; he has not abolished the necessity for means of moral culture; he has not quenched the Divine wrath; but he has revealed (not created) the Divine purpose, and has commended (not purchased) the Divine love. "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
2. Christ Jesus has brought God near to us. In him God is manifest in the flesh. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father."
(1) By seeing him we can understand what God is. The unseen power which pulsates through this boundless universe is too vast for our appreciation; but revealed in the Lord Jesus, we know him to be a Person, speaking to us in wisdom and love.
(2) Through Jesus we know that God is love. He inspires hope and trust in those who are alienated and afraid. A display of Divine glory would terrify us; but we are encouraged to draw near by One who appeared as the Babe of Bethlehem, as the patient Teacher of the disciples, as the gracious Friend of the sinful and distressed.
3. Christ Jesus attracts us to God. Arousing gratitude and confidence, he is the great magnet of human hearts. "And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me."
III. THE DIVINE REQUIREMENT. "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." This is not required as a means of our Justification, but as an evidence of it. It does not exclude the work of Christ, but presupposes it. But, on the other hand, it effectually refutes the notion that the elect can live as they list. They are only "predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son."
1. "To do justly" involves the discharge of fairly demanded duties both towards God and towards man. We are unjust in our dealings with God when we withhold time and wealth and influence which we are able to devote to him. We are unjust as servants when we render mere eye service; unjust as employers when we look only "on our own things." Buyers and sellers, statesmen and diplomatists, need all hearken to this law.
2. "To love mercy" is to go beyond the strict rights which others may claim of us in the exercise of generosity and pity. "Blessed is he that considereth the poor," etc.; "If thine enemy hunger, feed him."
3. "To walk humbly with God" implies fellowship, constant and real. Reverence and seriousness in the treatment of the Divine revelation; consciousness of the infinitude of truth, and our incapacity to grasp it; lowly submission to our Father's will, when it is contrary to our own wishes; and steadfast progress in the Christian life, as we walk hand in hand with him; are all involved in walking humbly with our God.
"Walking in reverence
Humbly with thee,
Yet from all abject fear
E'en as a friend with friend,
Cheered to the journey's end,
Walking with thee."
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Man in the moral court of history.
"Hear ye now what the Lord saith; Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice. Hear ye, O mountains, the Lord's controversy and ye strong foundations of the earth: for the Lord hath a controversy with his people, and he will plead with Israel," etc. There are three things here very striking and deserving our solemn attention.
I. HERE IS A CALL ON MAN TO GIVE AUDIENCE TO ALMIGHTY GOD. "Hear ye now what the Lord saith." These are the words of the prophet who speaks in the name of Jehovah, and on his behalf. Such an audience as this is:
1. Natural. What is more natural than for the child to hang on the lips and attend to the words of his parent? How much more natural for the finite intelligence to open its ears to the words of the Infinite! It is more natural for the human soul to look up, listening, to the great Father-Spirit, and to receive communication from him, than for the earth to thirst for the sunbeam and the shower. The human soul is made for it.
2. Binding. Of all duties it is the meet primary and imperative. The great command of God to all is, "Hearken diligently to me; hear, and your soul shall live" (Isaiah 55:2, Isaiah 55:3). The conscience of every man tells him that his great duty is to heat God in all the operations of nature, in all the events of life, in all the teachings of the Bible, in all the monitions of the soul. God is always speaking to man. Would that the human ear was ever open to his voice!
3. Indispensible. It is only as men hear, interpret, digest, appropriate, and incarnate God's Word that they can rise to a true, a noble, and a happy life. Hear ye now, then, what the Lord saith." "Now. In the scenes of retribution whither you are hastening, you will be bound to hear his voice, whether you wish or not.
II. HERE IS A SUMMONS TO INANTIMATE NATURE TO HEAR THE CONTROVERSY BETWEEN GOD AND MAN. "Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice. Hear ye, O mountains, the Lord's controversy, and ye strong foundations of the earth: for the Lord hath a controversy with his people, and he will plead with Israel." "It is not unusual," says an eminent biblical scholar, "with the prophets to make appeals respecting the enormity of human guilt to the inanimate part of creation, as if it were impossible for it not to inspire them with life, mad call them as intelligent witnesses of what had taken place in their presence (see Deuteronomy 32:1; Isaiah 1:2; Jeremiah 2:12, Jeremiah 2:18). By a similar personification, the mountains and durable foundations of the earth are here summoned to appear in the court of heaven. Jehovah, however, instead of bringing forward the charge, abdicates, as it were, his right, and leaves it to the guilty party to state the case. In the appeal to lofty and ever during mountains, in which the puny affairs of man could excite no prejudice, and which might therefore be regarded as quite impartial judges, there is something inexpressibly sublime." The appeal to inanimate nature:
1. Indicates the earnestness of the prophet. He would seem to speak with such vehement earnestness as if he would wake the dead mountains and hills to hear his voice, and shake the very "foundations of the earth" with his thunders. He would cry aloud and spare not. Every minister should be earnest. "Passion is reason" here.
2. Suggests the stupidity of the people. Perhaps the prophet meant to compare them to the dead hills and mountains. As firmly settled in sin were they as the mountains, as hard in heart as the rocks.
3. Hints the universality of his theme. His mission had no limitation; his doctrine was no secret, it was as open and free as nature.
III. HERE IS A CHALLENGE TO MAN TO FIND FAULT WITH DIVINE DEALINGS. "O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against me." His challenge:
1. Implies that they could bring nothing against him. "What have I done unto thee?" which means, "I have done nothing. I have not treated you with injustice, I have laid on you no intolerable burdens, I dare you to charge me with any act unrighteous or unkind? What fault has the sinner to find with God?
2. Declares that he had done everything for them. He here reminds them of:
(1) His delivering them from Egyptian bondage. "I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants."
(2) What he did for them on the way to Canaan. "I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam." Moses the lawgiver, Aaron the priest, and Miriam the prophetess.
(3) What he did for them in Canaan. "O my people, remember now what Balak King of Moab consulted," etc. He not only furnished them with inspired teachers, but counteracted the designs of false ones, as in the ease of Balaam, who was engaged by Balak to curse them, but was inspired by Heaven to bless them. If the Israelites could find no fault with God, and if he did so much for them, how stand we here in this country and in this age under the full light of the gospel dispensation? What more could he have done for us than he has? etc.
CONCLUSION. Sinner, you are in the great moral court of the universe, you are arraigned before your Judge, you are commanded to listen to his voice. Inanimate nature around is a witness against you in this court; the very timbers of the wall will cry out against you. You are commanded to give a full explanation of your conduct. If you have any fault to find with the Almighty, bring it forth. If you have not, ponder until your heart breaks into penitence and gratitude at the memory of his wonderful mercies to you.—D.T.
Fellowship with God.
"Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?" etc. We raise from these words three general observations—
I. THAT A LOVING FELLOWSHIP WITH THE GREAT GOD IS THE ONE URGENT NEED OF HUMANITY. "Wherewith shall I come before the Lord?" The language is that of a soul convinced of its sin, and roused to a sense of the importance of friendship with the Almighty. "Wherewith shall I come?" Come I must; I feel that distance from him is my great sin and misery.
1. Loving fellowship with the great God is essential to the happiness of moral intelligences. Reason suggests this. All souls are the offspring of God; and where can children find happiness but in the friendship, the intercourse, and the presence of their loving Father? Conscience indicates this. Deep in the moral souls of all men is the yearning for intercourse with the Infinite. The hearts of all "cry out for the living God." The Bible teaches this. What means such utterances as these: "Come now, and let us reason together;" "Return to the Lord;" "Come unto me," etc.? Not more impossible is it for a planet to shine when cut off from the sun, a river to flow when cut off from the fountain, a branch to grow when severed from the root, than for a soul to be happy apart from God. "In thy presence is fulness of joy;
2. Man, in his unregenerate state, is estranged and far away from God. He is represented as a lost sheep wandering in the wilderness away from the fold, as the prodigal son remote from his father's house and in a far country. How far is the human soul, in its unregenerate state, from God? How far is selfishness from benevolence, error flora truth, pollution from holiness, wrong from right? The moral space or gulf that lies between is immeasurable.
II. THAT SACRIFICES THE MOST COSTLY ARE UTTERLY INSUFFICIENT TO SECURE THIS FELLOWSHIP. "Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?" Such offerings were presented under the Law (Leviticus 1:1-17; etc.). "Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?" This also was enjoined in Leviticus. Oil was to be poured on the meat offering. "Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" The Jews offered many human sacrifices in the valley of Hinnom. They caused their children to pass through the fire in honour of Moloch. The idea is—Are there any sacrifices I can make, however costly and however painful, in order to commend me to the favour and friendship of Almighty God? The interrogatory implies a negative—No. Offer the cattle upon a thousand hills: can they be a satisfaction for sin? Can they commend you to Infinite Love? All are his. How men came at first to suppose that human sacrifices could be acceptable to God is one of the greatest enigmas in history. "Though a man give his body to be burned, without charity he is nothing." Two things are here presented.
1. The great cry of a sin-convicted soul is for God. No sooner is conviction of sin struck into the human soul, than it turns itself away at once from the world to God: "I want God; I have lost him; God I must have; oh that I knew where I might find him!"
2. Worldly possessions, in the estimation of a sin-convicted soul, are comparatively worthless. He is prepared to make any sacrifices. Holocausts, thousands of rams, ten thousands of rivers of oil; what are they? Nothing in comparison with the interests of the soul "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world," etc.? It feels this when convicted of sin.
III. THAT MORAL EXCELLENCE IS THE ONE METHOD BY WHICH THIS FELLOWSHIP CAN BE OBTAINED. "He hath showed thee, O man [Hebrew, 'Adam,' the whole race, Jew and Gentile alike], what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" This moral excellence consists of two parts, social and religious.
1. That which refers to man.
(1) "Do justly;" "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them?" "Render to all men their due."
(2) "Love mercy." Mere justice is not enough, there must be tender commiseration for the suffering; the poor and the distressed must be remembered. Mercy must not only be shown, but loved. To help the needy must be delight.
2. That which refers to God. "Walk humbly with thy God." Walking with God implies consciousness of the Divine presence, harmony with the Divine will, progress in Divine excellence. This is moral excellence—the moral excellence that God has revealed to all men, Jew and Gentile, the entire race, and which he requires from all; and this is the condition of fellowship with him. How is this moral excellence to be attained? it may be asked. Philosophically, I know but of one way—faith in him who is the Revelation, the Incarnation, the Example of all moral excellence Jesus Christ.
CONCLUSION. Learn from this what religion is—how transcendent! It is the soul going away from sin and the world to God. Not merely to temples, theologies, ceremonies, but to God; and to him, not through intellectual systems or ceremonial observances, but through a true life, both in relation to man and God.—D.T.
God's voice to cities.
"The Lord's voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy Name: hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it." We raise three remarks from this verse.
I. THAT GOD HAS A "VOICE" TO CITIES. "The Lord's voice crieth unto the city." The city meant here is Jerusalem. He speaks to a city:
1. Through its commerce. The failures that follow fraud, indolence, chicanery.
2. Through its morality. The funeral processions that darken the streets, the cemeteries that lie within and around.
3. Through its churches. The sermons that are preached, the agents that are employed to enlighten the ignorant, to comfort the distressed, reclaim the lost. Heavenly Wisdom "standeth at the corner of the streets; she crieth aloud," etc.
II. THE WISE IN CITIES RECOGNIZE THE VOICE. "The man of wisdom shall see thy Name." "And wisdom has thy Name in its eye" (Delitzsch). "And he who is wise will regard thy Name" (Henderson). The idea seems to be this—that the wise man will recognize God's voice. Job says, "God speaks once, yea twice, and they perceive it not." The crowds that populate cities are deaf to the Divine "voice." The din of passion, the hum of commerce, the chimes of animal pleasures, drown the voice of God. But the wise man has his soul ever in a listening attitude. Like young Samuel, he says, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth." Abraham heard the voice of God concerning Sodom, Daniel concerning Babylon, Jonah concerning Nineveh, Jeremiah concerning Jerusalem. "I will hear what the Lord God will say"—this is the language of wise men.
III. THE JUDGMENT OF CITIES IS IN THAT VOICE. "Hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it." The rod is the symbol of judgment. "O Assyrian, the rod of my anger, the staff in their hand is my indignation "(Isaiah 10:5).
1. God warns cities.
(1) He warns them of ultimate temporal ruin. All cities must go—go with Nineveh, Greece, Babylon, Rome, Jerusalem. London, Paris, Petersburg, New York, etc; all must go as these have gone. It is only a question of time.
(2) He warns them of spiritual danger. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." This is his voice to every citizen. Here is the "rod"—the warning over all cities.
2. His warning should be attended to. "Hear ye the rod." The only way to escape is attention. Hear it, and flee for refuge; hear it, and thunder it abroad to alarm the careless; hear it before it is too late. "If thou hadst known the things that belong to thy peace in this day! but now are they hid from thine eyes" (Luke 19:42).
"Heaven gives the needful, but neglected, call.
What day, what hour, but knocks at human hearts,
To wake the soul to sense of future scenes?
Deaths stand, like Mercuries, in every way,
And kindly point us to our journey's end."
"Are there yet the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is abominable? Shall I count them pure with the wicked balances, and with the bag of deceitful weights? For the rich men thereof are full of violence," etc. In these verses we have specified a sample of the crimes which abounded in the city, and which would bring on the threatened judgment. The passage leads us to make two remarks concerning civic sins, or the sins of a city.
I. THEIR VARIETY.
1. Here is fraud. "Are there yet the treaures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is abominable?" "Are there still in the house of the wicked treasures of wickedness and the scanty ephah?" (Henderson). This sin is described in Amos 8:5, "When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?" Fraud is one of the most prevalent crimes in all cities. Perhaps in no city was it ever more prevalent than it is in London to-day. Our commercial immorality is that at which thoughtful men stand aghast.
2. Here is violence. "The rich men thereof are full of violence." Strong in every age has been the tendency of rich men to oppress the lower classes by unrighteous exactions of service, by oppressive enactments. Wealth has a tendency to make men arrogant, haughty, heartless, often inhuman. The tyrant in man, as a rule, grows with the increase of his wealth.
3. Here is falsehood. "The inhabitants thereof have spoken lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth." Unveracity is a crime, and a crime most prevalent in all cities. There is scarcely a trade or profession carded on without deception. Fortunes are made by lies. Men are everywhere deceiving each other. Such are samples of the crimes prevalent in Jerusalem.
II. THEIR RETRIBUTION. All these crimes are offensive to the Ruler of the universe, and by the law of retribution bring dire results upon the population. God says," Shall I count them pure with the wicked balances?" It is said in Psalms 18:26 that with the "pure Godwill show himself pure; but with the froward he will show himself froward," And what are the results? Several are here specified.
1. Disease. "Therefore also will I make thee sick in smiting thee." Crime is inimical to physical health and strength. The diseases that prevail in cities are, in most cases, traceable to their crimes. In every sin there is a germ of physical disease, a something which tends to disturb the nerves, taint the blood, and sap the constitution.
2. Desolation. "In making thee desolate because of thy sins." What is desolation? It is not the mere loss of property, friends, or the external means of physical enjoyment. A man may have all these and yet be desolate. It is the awful sense of lonesomeness desertion. A desolate man is one who neither loves nor is loved; and sin produces this state. Few states of mind are more awful or more crushing than the sense of aloneness.
3. Dissatisfaction. "Thou shalt eat, but not be satisfied." Of whatever a sinful man partakes, however delicious the viands, however choice and costly the provisions, he has no satisfaction of soul. He has in connection with, and in spite of, all a hunger deep, gnawing, unappeasable. Sin and satisfaction can never coexist.
4. Disappointment. "Thou shalt sow, but thou shalt not reap; thou shalt tread the olives, but thou shalt not anoint thee with oil; and sweet wine, but shalt not drink wine." A sinful soul can never get out of its labour that which it expects. He toils hard for enjoyment, but all the tolls are fruitless; enjoyment is not won. The autumn comes, and the fruits are gathered in—the wheat, the olives, the sweet wine; but they do not bring him what he has struggled for—true enjoyment. He has laboured for that which satisfieth not.
5. Destruction. "Thy casting down shall be in the midst of thee; and thou shalt take hold, but shalt not deliver; and that which thou dellverest will I give up to the sword." Henderson's translation of this seems to me good: "Thou shalt be inwardly depressed; thou mayest remove, but thou shalt not rescue, or what thou rescuest I will give to the sword."
CONCLUSION. Mark the law of retribution. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap;" "Be sure your sin will find you out." Not more certain is it that the rivers flow to the ocean, the planets follow the sun, than that suffering follows sin. Sins brings with it disease, desolation, dissatisfaction, disappointment, destruction.—D.T.
Omri and Ahab: lessons worth study.
"For the statutes of Omri are kept, and all the works of the house of Ahab, and ye walk in their counsels; that I should make thee a desolation, and the inhabitants thereof an hissing: therefore ye shall bear the reproach of my people." On the long dark roll of human infamy there are few darker names than those of Omri and Ahab. The former, who at first was an officer in the army of Israel (1 Kings 16:30), through blood and slaughter took possession of the throne of Israel, which he held polluted and disgraced for twelve long years. He built Samaria and made it the capital of the ten tribes. Ahab was his son and his successor, and rivalled even his father in immorality and impiety. He established the worship of Baal as the national religion. I draw three lessons from this passage.
I. THAT THE RELIGIOUS SENTIMENT IN MAN IS OFTEN TERRIBLY PERVERTED. Omri and Ahab were not only idolaters themselves, but established idolatry in their country. They worshipped Baal, the god that was worshipped by the Carthaginians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and others—the, god, it is supposed, who is sometimes called Moloch, to whom the Ammonites made their cruel and bloody sacrifices. For the service of this god Ahab established a numerous hierarchy of priests. The religious sentiment in man is perhaps the fundamental element of his nature. Man is made to worship, and to worship the one true and living God only. But so blinded is his intellect, so debased his nature, so utterly corrupt, that, instead of worshipping the infinitely Great, he falls down before the infinitely contemptible. The perversity of the religious sentiment:
1. Explains the errors, crimes, and miseries of the world. Man's strongest love is the spring of all his activities, the fontal source of all his influence. When this is directed to an idol, the whole of his life is corrupted.
2. Reveals man's absolute need of the gospel. There is nothing but the gospel of Christ that can give this sentiment a right direction.
II. THAT OBEDIENCE TO HUMAN SOVEREIGNS IS SOMETIMES A GREAT CRIME. The worship of Baal was enacted by the "statutes" of Omri and enforced by the practice of Ahab. If the establishment of a religion by law can make it right, it was right that the people should worship Baal. But it was not right; it was wrong. A human law, enacted by the greatest sovereign in the world with the sanction of the most illustrious statesmen, if it is not in accord with the eternal principles of justice and truth, as revealed in God's Word, should be repudiated, renounced, and transgressed. "Whether it is right to obey God rather than man, judge ye."
III. THAT THE CRIMES OF EVEN TWO MEN MAY EXERT A CORRUPTING INFLUENCE UPON MILLIONS IN FUTURE GENERATIONS. The reigns of Omri and Ahab were ages before the time when Micah lived. Notwithstanding, their enactments were still obeyed, their examples were still followed, and their practices were still pursued. The wickedness of these two men was now, ages after, perpetrated by a whole nation. How great the influence of man for good or evil! Verily one sinner destroyeth much good. From one corrupt source may flow a stream of polluting influence that shall roll down all future times, widen and deepen in its course, and bear thousands on its bosom to crime and ruin.
Our many deeds, the thoughts that we have thought,
They go out from us thronging every home;
And in them all is folded up a power
That on the earth doth move them to and fro:
And mighty are the marvels they have wrought
In hearts we know not and may never know."
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Micah 6". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany