The Summons To Hearken
Micah’s prophecy, while simple in structure and clear in the main, yet contains a number of seemingly involved and obscure passages. In taking up its study, one feels more than ever the need of divine illumination to understand aright the dark sayings so frequently occurring. But the theme of the book is plain. It is the wretched estate of all Israel because of their sin, and the wonderful deliverance to be brought in by Him “whose goings-forth have been of old, from everlasting,” yet who was to come out of Bethlehem-Ephratah to effect salvation for His people. Hence, though this first chapter begins with their solemn arraignment for “the transgression of Jacob” and “for the sins of the house of Israel,” the book concludes with the precious assurance that He whom they have offended will cast all their sins into the depth of the sea. In all this we are on familiar ground, often trodden heretofore, and cast up as a highway by “Moses and all the prophets.” It is only as to details there is difficulty, and then nothing of a fundamental character.
Micah is called “the Morasthite,” that is, a man of Moreshah; or, as he himself calls it in verse 14, Moresheth-gath; or, again, Mareshah, in the following verse, a town lying to the south-west of Jerusalem, and therefore in the land of Judah.
Micah is cited by the elders of Jerusalem in the days of Jeremiah, a hundred years later, as an example of one who had prophesied ever against Israel, but who was not apprehended therefor by the godly king Hezekiah (Jer. 26:16-19).
His prophecy might have been all delivered at one time, as there are no clear breaks in its continuity; but it seems more likely that it consists of three discourses and a prayer—each of the former commencing with a summons to hear. In that case the first division would embrace chaps. 1 and 2; the second, chaps. 3 to 5; and the third, chap. 6; while chap. 7 would be the fourth and last.
Coming to the front a little later than Isaiah, Micah is his contemporary for the greater part of his ministry. In verse 1 we find, as also on examination of the book before us, that it embraces all Israel, not merely Judah, where the seer himself dwelt.
“Hear, all ye people; hearken, O earth (or land), and all that therein is: and let the Lord God be witness against you, the Lord from His holy temple” (ver. 2). In spirit the people are called back to the days of Lev. 1:1, when the voice of Jehovah was heard from the sanctuary, setting forth the holiness that was comely in those among whom He dwelt. Now, He speaks again from the sanctuary; but, this time, to convict them of having violated His Word in every particular, and thus forfeited all title to blessing under the covenant of works entered into at Sinai and confirmed in the plains of Moab. They are summoned to let Adonai Jehovah21 be witness against them. To do so will be to justify God and to condemn themselves; and for a failed people this is the path of blessing.
It is a great thing to bow to the whole Word of God, even when it judges me and condemns my ways. To do so is the precursor to something better; but to excuse myself at the expense of God’s truth is a process most hardening to the conscience.
In verses 3 and 4 the Lord is represented as coming out of His place to inquire into Israel’s state. The language used is highly figurative, the sublimity of which must be conceded by all. Like volcanic fires bursting forth and rending the earth is the awakening of Jehovah to judge His people.
The transgression of Jacob and the sins of the house of Israel furnish the occasion for this display of power and wrath. Samaria, with her mixture of idolatrous rites and Israelitish worship, is the transgression of Jacob. Jerusalem, in its treachery and apostasy, is the sin of Judah. Therefore Samaria was to become a desolation, as a vineyard given over to destruction. All the graven images and idols of every kind were to be beaten to pieces, and her “hires” (Lesser translates, “her wages of sin”) burned in the fire. Nothing shall abide the day of Jehovah’s fury (vers. 5-7).
Ver. 8 seems to be language put into the mouth of the despoiled nation; or it may be the prophet’s own picture of his bitter sorrow at the fate about to befall Samaria. It is an instance of the peculiar character of this book.
Nothing now could stay the avenging hand, for “her wound is incurable!” It is solemn indeed when God thus has to pronounce upon the malady affecting those who bear His name. Like a spreading pestilence, “it is come unto Judah, [and] hath reached unto the gate of My people, even to Jerusalem” (ver. 9). The whole body was affected, and the whole head sick. See Isa. 1:5, 6.
Alas, that the Philistine enemes of Israel should hear of so wretched a condition prevailing among those who were called “The redeemed of the Lord!” “Tell it not in Gath, weep ye not loudly [there].” But “in Beth-le’-aphrah (‘the house of the dust’ ) roll thyself in the dust!” (ver. 10). The prophet plays on the word Aphrah, signifying “the dust.” There, might fallen Israel well resort, and roll themselves in the dust because of their sins.
To city after city desolation and woe are assured. Saphir, “the fair,” shall be given up to shame. Zaanan, “the place of flocks,” was to be without any to come forth of her portals. “The mourning of Beth-ezel (or, Beth-haezel, ‘the house at hand’) taketh from you its halting-place.” Here, again, the prophet is playing on the name. Beth-ezel was evidently what we would call a half-way house. It shall no longer be a halting-place for travelers on their way to the city of the great King (ver. 11).
The dweller in Maroth (“bitterness”) finds only the bitter, and bewails the good that comes not. To Jerusalem’s gate, evil sweeps down like a flood; and what is so solemn is, that it is “from the Lord.” He it is who is judging His people because of their sin (ver. 12).
The 13th verse is difficult of interpretation. For some reason Lachish is declared to be the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion. Hence her people shall flee before the advancing enemy.
Neither are the two following verses sufficiently clear to dogmatize as to their explanation. They seem to imply an unsuccessful effort to form a Philistine alliance for protection from the common foe; but Achzib (“the lie”) shall become indeed that to the kings of Israel. Typically the passage may well point us to the coming day when the lie of Antichrist will be believed, and when he will be confided in to deliver the apostate nation from the onslaught of the last Assyrian; but all in vain. For the Assyrian shall prove to be in very deed the rod of Jehovah’s anger.
Unhappy Israel, fallen so low that conscience no longer troubled, may well make herself bald and mourn in anguish for her delicate children, destroyed by the sins of the fathers. “They are gone into captivity from thee” (ver. 16).
The whole chapter is a dirge of unappeasable sorrow because the nation has forsaken Him who would have blessed them so richly had they but walked in His ways. May there be in us a different spirit! Otherwise we too must learn in bitterness of soul the folly of departure from the living God.
Is The Spirit Op The Lord Straitened?
It is the will of God that those whom He has taken into covenant relationship with Himself should ever be overcomers. If it is otherwise, the fault is in them—not in Him. He has abundant resources for the believer to draw upon. But where unbelief and disobedience hold sway, spiritual paralysis must necessarily ensue.
Often had this been proven in Israel’s case, and never more so than when Micah was sent to them with Jehovah’s message upon his lips. Their state of soul at this time was wretchedly low; consequently their apprehension of divine things was so dulled that they had lost the power to distinguish what was of God, and what was of man. It is ever thus when people do not walk in obedience to revealed truth. They lose the power to distinguish truth from error, and may, under the deadening influence of the deceitfulness of sin, do the most outrageous things, and calmly announce that they were for the glory of God: yea, and be deeply grieved if their high pretensions are not recognized and bowed to.
In this second chapter the unrighteousness prevailing (as detailed in vers. 1 and 2) is given by God as the reason why He devised evil against the whole family of Israel. As they had ignored His righteous claims in their dealings with each other, He could but measure out to them what they had measured to their fellows. So He told them He would bring evil upon them which no haughtiness could preserve them from. They would fall upon difficult days (ver. 3). Lamentations and mourning were to succeed their careless songs. Their fields were to be divided among strangers, and none of themselves should “cast a cord by lot in the assembly of the Lord” (vers. 4, 5)—that is, none would be left of Israel with authority to divide the land and measure it off, placing the landmarks accordingly.
Unpalatable was this, and so they cry, “Prophesy thou not!” Like many today, they would silence the messenger and forget the message. But God says, “They shall prophesy.” His servants were not to be thus refused with impunity. On the other hand, the Word given and rejected, the Lord says, “They shall not prophesy to these, that reproach may not overtake them” (ver. 6).22
For the judgment was now decreed, and must surely fall. Nevertheless, He asks the questions, “Shall it be said in the house of Jacob, Is the Spirit of the Lord straitened? are these His doings? do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?” Surely He would have recognized repentance if manifested in any, and shown Himself strong in their behalf, whatever the impending ruin.
This is full of comfort and encouragement for any who in these last days of the Church’s history on earth have an ear to hear what God has said in His Word. Nothing can now avert the soon-coming doom of haughty Christendom, nor raise up the fallen assembly of God. But wherever there is individual faithfulness, or wherever a few in weakness seek to heed the Word of God, there will be blessing, and the Lord will own all He can own as of Himself.
God’s words will ever “do good to him that walketh uprightly.” Spiritual things “are spiritually discerned,” and therefore only the upright and godly soul will find real profit and blessing in the Scriptures. But where there is exercise as to this, that Word will be found sufficient for all the needs of the pilgrim-path. There will never be a circumstance so trying, a crisis so serious, that the man of God will be left without furnishing unto all good works, if he be found feeding upon the truth. Scripture, with the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment, is all that is required in every emergency.
But if the professed people of God “rise up as an enemy,” and refuse to heed His Word (as in vers. 8 and 9), then comes the call for separation from what is unclean and unholy, “Arise ye, and depart; for this is not your rest: because it is polluted” (ver. 10). To continue in fellowship with what is opposed to God’s mind will result in desolation. We are called to “buy the truth, and sell it not.”
With Israel, any false prophet was more acceptable than a God-sent messenger (ver. 11). An evil man “speaking lies in hypocrisy,” and “turning the grace of God into lasciviousness,” would have been a suited prophet for them in their fallen condition.
Thus they set at naught the Shepherd of Israel, and would not follow His ways. Hence their casting off. Nevertheless His anger shall not burn forever; for the message closes with a precious promise of restoration and blessing to be fulfilled in a day yet future (vers. 12, 13). God will Himself assemble the lost sheep of Jacob, gathering the remnant of Israel, and placing them together as flocks in His fold. If walls rise before them to bar their return to the land of their rest, He will send His breaker23 to open a way for His redeemed, thus leading them in triumph back to Immanuel’s land, as it is written, “Their king shall pass before them, and the Lord at the head of them.”
Happy ending when all their discipline is accomplished, and they ask the way to Zion!
Princes And Priests Apostate
The second division of the book begins with a summons to the heads and princes of Israel to hear the prophet’s rebuke. It is no longer the common people who are addressed, but the princes, or judges, in vers. 1 to 4, and the prophets in vers. 5 to 8. Then both are grouped together, the priests also being included, as “heads of the house of Jacob,” in vers. 9 to 12.
It is a solemn thing when the leaders of God’s people cause them to err; when those who should have been a bulwark for the truth turn away therefrom, “speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”
They who should have known judgment, and who were raised up of God to rule the nation in righteousness, were the very ones who were leading the mass astray. Often has it been so in the history of the Church, as well as of Israel. Therefore the need to test all that is taught or practised, by the only infallible rule, the unerring Word of God. If Christians are content to be styled “the laity,” and leave their spiritual interests in the hands of their guides, they have themselves to blame if they are led in wrong paths. Each is responsible to exercise himself unto godliness, and to try the things that differ.
It too frequently happens that leaders become pretentious and haughty, regarding themselves as “the clergy,” whose special province it is to find sustenance in “the ministry,” forgetting that to minister is to serve, not to lord it over possessions. No pride is worse than spiritual pride. No pretension is more to be abhorred than ecclesiastical pretension. But there are never wanting vain, self-confident men, who are ever ready to arrogate to themselves high-sounding titles and powers if the people love to have it so. And it is solemn indeed to realize that it generally is the people themselves who are responsible for this kind of thing, because of the readiness with which they accept the ipse dixit of some gifted uninspired man, rather than to search the Word for themselves, that they may find therein set forth the path for their feet.
Here, the people were indifferent, and the princes lived recklessly, despising the “lower classes,” and flourishing in their presumption and avarice. In place of caring for the flock of God, as those who must give an account, they looked upon them as their lawful prey, “flaying the skin from off them” (vers. 2, 3).
One is reminded of the grim jest of Pope Leo X, who, it is said, made the remark to his companion princes of the church, “What a profitable thing this myth about Jesus Christ has been to us!” And all because the Bible had been kept from the people, and they were willing it should be so.
But the hour of judgment is coming, when all such must answer to the great Shepherd of the sheep for their unholy ways. “Then shall they cry unto the Lord, but He will not hear them: He will even hide His face from them at that time, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings” (ver. 4).
In the second section it is “the prophets that make the people err,” who are summoned to hear the Word of the Lord. The princes ruled by sheer power, because of the awe in which they were held. The prophets perverted the very words of the Lord, and gave false burdens, in order to hinder any from inquiring concerning the path of life. Prince and prophet have been blended into one splendid hierarchy in Christendom for centuries, but in our day have been largely divorced, so that we can readily distinguish between those whose power rests on assumption of ecclesiastical character, and those who lead astray because of professed spiritual insight, entitling them to be heard as exponents of the truth, while perverting, or setting aside, the Word of God.
But all alike, however their systems may differ, have one characteristic mark: “They serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Rom. 16:18). This was what marked the false prophets in Micah’s day— and in all days before and since. “Who, when they have something to bite with their teeth, cry, Peace; but who prepare war against him who putteth nothing in their mouths” (ver. 5)— such is Leeser’s graphic translation of a verse that in the Authorized Version is a little ambiguous.
The true prophet of the Lord is not concerned about financial or other recompense. He goes! forth in dependence on Him who has sent him, and is thus free to speak His Word, “not as pleasing men, but God, who trieth the hearts.” Every false religious system is marked by greed for filthy lucre, and its advocates act on the thought that so readily found lodgment in Simon’s heart, “that the gift of God might be purchased for money.” It is the error of Balaam, and is especially characteristic of the last days.
Thus perverting the truth for personal profit, they darken counsel by words without knowledge. But as they have hidden the light from others, they shall go into the night at last The sixth and seventh verses are intensely solemn, and may well cause teachers of error to tremble. “Therefore the 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. Then shall the seers be ashamed, and the diviners confounded: yea, they shall all cover their lips; for there is no answer of God.” Unspeakably awful will be the awakening when those who have posed as the very oracles of divine truth before their fellows shall have their eyes opened to see that they are lost and ruined forever; and though they cry out in the anguish of their despair, there will be no answer of God!
How different was the case of Jehovah’s true servant! In simple confidence he could say, “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” (ver. 8). Undismayed by the fear of man that bringeth a snare, he could faithfully proclaim the mind of God, as revealed to him by the Holy Spirit. He was the servant not of men, but of Jehovah of hosts; and his ministry was in the energy of faith, hence in the mighty power of God.
The last section is a summing up, ere the glad tidings of future blessing are told, of which chap. 4 treats.
Abhorring judgment, and perverting all equity, the rulers built up Zion with blood; yet, with most barefaced effrontery, they declared the Lord was in their midst and ratified their doings. “The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the Lord, and say, Is not the Lord among us? none evil can come upon us” (ver. 11). Thus they made Him the minister of unrighteousness, and made His holy name their answer to any who sought to reach their consciences.
Saints of God are called to “follow righteousness.” If this be overlooked, it is the veriest assumption to talk of having the Lord’s presence, and declaring themselves in the line of His testimony. This 11th verse may profitably be weighed in connection with Jer. 6:13, where the condition a few years later is found not to have improved, but deteriorated, as is ever the case when evil is left unjudged.
Because of this hardened condition, Zion was to be plowed as a field and Jerusalem destroyed; the mountain of Jehovah’s house being treated as the idolatrous high places of the groves. If righteousness be not maintained by His saints, God will remove their candlestick and annul their pretensions. He who is the Holy and the True will not go on with iniquity.
The First Dominion
It is refreshing indeed, ere the sad story of failure and sin is resumed, to turn our eyes for a little time to the glad scenes depicted in the first half of this chapter.
The three opening verses are an almost exact duplicate of Isa. 2:2-4. We need not inquire whether the charge of plagiarism should be brought against the elder or the younger prophet. We have not here to do with the literature of men, but with the inspired Word of God. He says, “The testimony of two men is true;” and He has given the same promise of millennial blessing through both Micah and Isaiah, that all may know that neither wrote from himself, but as he was moved by the Holy Ghost. It need be no matter of surprise that He chose to use the same language on each occasion.
In the last days, the time to which all prophecy points, “the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains.” The future millennial temple will not stand on mount Moriah, but on a magnificent table-land, lifted up above all the surrounding hills, after the land has gone through some remarkable topographical changes, caused by a great earthquake, which will occur when the feet of the Lord Jesus stand again on the mount of Olives. See Ezek. 40:2 and 48:8-12; Zech. 14:4.
There, in commanding position, shall the house of the God of the whole earth be located, and thither shall the nations come up regularly to worship and to inquire the ways of Jehovah. From this sanctuary the law will go forth, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem, the metropolis of the world in the age to come.
At last all delegated rule shall have ceased in the closing up of the times of the Gentiles. Henceforth our once-rejected Lord Jesus shall “show who is that blessed and only Potentate, King of kings, and Lord of lords.” He shall minister unerring justice, and bring in everlasting righteousness. No more will nation lift up sword against nation; but all warlike instruments shall be destroyed, and the implements of peaceful agricultural pursuits take their place.
In that day of universal blessing there will be no curse of poverty to contend with, no vexatious property questions to settle, no struggle to acquire or conflicts to hold what can never be properly administered; but in contentment and comfort “every man shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid.” What men have vainly striven to attain through socialist propaganda, or other equally impracticable economic systems, will then have been reached, and will be maintained for a thousand years by the personal presence of Him whose right it is to reign (vers. 1-4). The statement of the fourth verse is not found in Isaiah, but the call to walk in the ways of the Lord occurs immediately after what is here found in ver. 3. Micah presents the more nearly complete picture, and then gives the remnant’s answer to the exhortation of Isa. 2:5 in the lovely words, “For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and [or, but] we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.” It is faith laying hold of the promise, and the believer walking now by the glory that is coming.
But the nation to whom “the first dominion” is yet to be given must, ere that day of triumph, be scattered among all nations because of their sins. Therefore the Lord Himself will regather them ere the kingdom is set up in power. So the prophet goes on to tell how Jehovah will assemble the halting and afflicted remnant, and bring them back by omnipotent power to the land of their fathers. The nation, as such (continuing in unbelief, and accepting the false Christ when he arrives), will never be restored; but a repentant remnant will be found in the last days who will become the nucleus of a new nation in the land. Over them “the Lord shall reign in mount Zion from henceforth, even forever.” Then shall the first dominion indeed have come for Israel, when Jerusalem shall be the joy of the whole earth (vers. 6-8).
But much had to elapse ere the glorious vision should be fulfilled. The daughter of Zion, as a travailing woman, should first pass through her hours of bitter anguish. She was to be carried to Babylon, and there made the sport of unfeeling Gentiles who were blind to her beauty and ignorant of her wondrous destiny. Her enemies are to magnify themselves against her till the hour when the set time to favor her has come, and the Lord Himself shall appear, to act the part of her Kinsman-Redeemer, delivering her from her bondage and bringing her into everlasting blessing. In that day their wealth shall be devoted to Him through whom all their joys shall come, and their substance will gladly be held at His bidding (vers. 9-13).
The Smitten Judge
The promises we have been considering are all to be made good by Messiah, of whose rejection at His first coming we are now to read. In the Hebrew arrangement of the text, at the present, the first verse is taken from chap. 5, and made ver. 14 of chap. 4—thus divorcing the testimony as to the smitten Judge of Israel from the One born in Bethlehem, whose goings forth have been from the ages of eternity. It is easy to detect rabbinical opposition to the New Testament narratives in this, slight as the difference might seem to the careless reader.
Accepting the Hebrew arrangement, it would seem as though the Judge in question was simply one of the many rulers of Israel who would be treated shamefully by the northern foe. But the light of the New Testament makes it plain that the smitten One is none other than He who could say, “I gave My back to the smiters, and My cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not My face from shame and spitting” (Isa. 50:6). He it was who came to His own, but His own people received Him not. In the high priest’s house “did they spit in His face, and buffeted Him; and others smote Him with the palms of their hands, saying, Prophesy unto us, Thou Christ, Who is he that smote Thee?” In the Roman pretorium likewise the rough soldiers “spit upon Him, and took the reed, and smote Him on the head” (Matt. 26:67, 68, and 27:30).
But of Him it had been declared by the prophet, “Thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting [or, the days of eternity]” (ver. 2). Thus, in plain language, seven centuries before God incarnate appeared on earth, the place of His birth was distinctly indicated. To David’s city should this honor be given. This, as is well known, is the passage to which the scribes turned when they explained to Herod where Christ was to be born. They held prophetic truth, and searched the Scriptures: but the truth held not them, nor did they permit the Scriptures to search them.
The lesson is important for us all. Mere familiarity with the written Word of God will only make us the guiltier if it be not that which controls all our ways. To read the Book; to study its various lines of truth; to be able to speak intelligently of the great doctrinal principles of Scripture—and yet not to have received that Word in an honest heart, to be controlled and guided by it, is dreadful indeed!
One has said, referring to the not uncommon, nor unhelpful, practice of Bible-marking, “It is a small thing how you mark your Bible, but it is of all importance that it mark you.”
To Bethlehem, then, came the Eternal One, “God manifest in flesh.” Over His manger-bed angels hung, adoring their God and ours. A few shepherds and, later, some wise men from distant lands, came to worship likewise; but, for the rest, Israel and the nations around went on in their indifferent, careless way. God the Son had become the Son of Man; but man, in the main, was unconcerned. “He was despised and rejected of men,” and the Judge of Israel was smitten on the cheek! Thus was Messiah cut off, and He had nothing. For this, judgment fell on the city that wickedly judged Him, and Jerusalem has for centuries been trodden down of the Gentiles, and shall be, “until the times of the nations are completed”—”until the time that she which travail-eth hath brought forth: then the remnant of His brethren shall return unto the children of Israel” (ver. 3). Dispersed among all peoples, scattered into every country, suffering under every sky, Israel endures the awful curse invoked by her own elders, “His blood be upon us and our children.”
Unto her a Son was born and a Child given ere she travailed for His birth. But her pains are yet to come. In the great tribulation, under the personal Antichrist, she shall be in anguish to be delivered. Then shall she truly bring forth, apprehending in the Crucified her own Son and her Saviour! Compare Rev. 12:1-5 and Isa. 66:7-9, “Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child.” Therefore her pains are yet future, and she shall be in sore travail ere she recognizes and owns her Messiah.
Then a multitude of sons shall also be hers when “the remnant of His brethren shall return unto the children of Israel.” The residue, called “His brethren” here, He owns Himself as “My brethren” in Matt. 25:40. Thus shall be fulfilled the word of the elder prophet, “As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children” (Isa. 66:8). He will be revealed as the long-waited-for Shepherd of Israel, who “shall stand and feed [or, shepherd] in the strength of the Lord,” and who shall give abiding rest to His regathered flock. His majesty and glory shall be made known throughout the habitable world, “for now shall He be great unto the ends of the earth” (ver. 4). It is a connected prophecy of the rejection of Christ when He came in lowly grace, to be succeeded by His acceptance and world-wide acknowledgment when He comes the second time, in power and dignity becoming His exalted Person.
But the hour of His appearance will be the hour of Israel’s deepest sorrow. Jerusalem shall be compassed with armies. The Antichrist will be reigning, with blasphemous pretensions, in the city. The legions of the revived Roman empire will have entered into a league with him both offensive and defensive. From the south a fierce horde will be pouring into the land. From the north the dreaded power denominated “the Assyrian,” of whom Sennacherib was but as a type, will be marching down in exultant triumph, spreading desolation on every hand. “Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when He fought in the day of battle” (Zech. 14:3), and “this [Man] shall be the peace.” He who has now made peace with God for guilty men by the blood of His cross; He who, seated as Man on Jehovah’s throne, is our peace; He shall be the Peace in that day; and in Him weary, distracted Israel shall find their rest.
The haughty Assyrian will be overthrown, and God’s chosen people delivered from his cruel power (vers. 5 and 6). Then, freed from all their enemies, “the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people as a dew from the Lord, as the showers upon the grass,” bringing refreshment and blessing to all nations at the Lord’s bidding, and tarrying for none (ver. 7).
The lion of Judah’s tribe shall arise in His might, subjecting all enemies to His sway. Thus shall Israel have become the head, and nevermore be the tail (vers. 8, 9). Everything that has exalted itself against the Lord shall be put down. Evil of every kind shall be rooted out of the scene, and righteousness will be triumphant to the ends of the earth (vers. 10-15). It is the end to which all the prophets looked forward; so it becomes a fitting end to the second section of our book.
The Lord’s Controversy
We now enter upon the third division of the book. It is no longer the future that the prophet is especially looking forward to, either of joy or of sorrow; but he directs the attention of the people to their ways, and presses home upon the conscience moral truth of great moment. In other words, this final message is the practical application of what has gone before, and is, in large measure, of the same character as the major part of the prophecy of Jeremiah and much of Hosea.
The mountains and the hills (an oft-used simile for chief cities and their tributary villages) are called upon to give ear to the searching words of “the Lord’s controversy.” We are told, “The Lord hath a controversy with His people, and He will plead with Israel” (vers. 1, 2).
God always has a controversy with those who walk in disobedience. There can be no fellowship or communion while His Word is not bowed to. He desires truth in the inward parts: nothing else will satisfy “Him that is holy, Him that is true.” The moment the conscience is reached, and the heart bows before Him in true self-judgment, controversy ceases, and communion is reestablished.
Let the reader note: it is not of union we write, but of something which flows from it, and which should ever be maintained with it—communion.
Union implies being partakers of the common life of all God’s children. “He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one” (Heb. 2:11). All such are eternally united to Him from whom they derived that new life. This is a link that can never be broken. Otherwise the life communicated would be forfeitable, and not eternal.
But communion is the normal state of one who has thus been made a child of God. It is the practical manifestation of that life in abiding fellowship with the Father and the Son. For the saints of Micah’s day it was, according to the revelation then made, enjoyment of Jehovah’s favor. This Israel had forfeited by disobedience; and it could only be regained by self-judgment. The principle abides. Only when that which is known to be contrary to the Word of the Lord is unsparingly condemned in my own life and walk, will I enjoy communion with God.
That Israel might be stirred up to desire this, He takes them back over their early days, reminding them of His patient grace with them from the day when He first brought them out of the house of bondage (vers. 3-5). He had led them like a flock through the wilderness, permitting none to curse them, but, in His holy discipline, dealing with them Himself when they sinned, that they “might know the righteousness of the Lord.”
All His chastening was with a view to their blessing. Therefore the humbled soul might well ask, “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God?” Did He demand sacrifices and offerings? Was it these that were lacking? Would He be pleased with thousands of rams and myriads of rivers of oil? Even though one gave upon the altar his dearest and best, his first-born, would that avail for the sin of the soul? Was it by means such as these the interrupted communion was to be restored? (vers. 6, 7).
No! It was righteousness that was lacking. Righteousness, then, must be maintained. “He hath showed thee, 0 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?” (ver. 8). Only when they bowed before Him, to own the sin of the past, and sought strength to walk as here outlined, could there be that happy sense of the Lord’s favor which lifts the soul above all circumstances, and enables it to joy in God Himself.
But that this might indeed be, “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!” (ver. 9). This is the beginning of blessing. When the soul bows before God and owns the righteousness of His disciplinary dealings, then he is in the place where restoring grace can meet him. As long as he kicks against the goads, so long must he go on under chastisement. But when he “hears the rod,” confessing his need of it, he has reached the point where restoration begins.
The next three verses itemize the sins to which general reference had been made; that the people may the more readily pass judgment upon them selves and all that is unholy in their ways. Covetousness, extortion, unrighteousness in business dealings, violence, deceit—all these evil things are the evidence of their wrong state of soul (vers. 10-12). Therefore governmental wrath must fall if there be no sign of repentance: they would be made desolate because of their sins. In vain should they seek satisfaction while the will was insubject and the walk opposed to holiness. They might sow, but they should not reap; in fact, all their labor should be for naught. The work of their hands would fail to meet the needs of the body till they came to themselves, like the prodigal, and owned their guilt (vers. 14, 15; see also Deut. 28:38-40 and Haggai 1:6).
The chapter closes with the record of the melancholy fact that Jehovah’s law was despised; but “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 a hissing; therefore ye shall bear the reproach of My people” (ver. 16). Solemnly and tenderly had the Lord pleaded, and set forth the grounds of His controversy with them; but the words fell on deaf ears and calloused consciences. They seemed bent upon their own destruction—and these things are written for our admonition. May we have ears to hear and hearts to understand!
Future Repentance And Blessing
This last chapter, which forms the fourth division, is closely allied to the book of the Lamentations. It is the prayer of the repentant remnant in the days of the great tribulation, the time of Jacob’s trouble. That is, the prophet sets forth the suited utterance of those who no longer walk in pride, but, humbled because of their sin, own the justice of the Hand that smote them. Excuses there are none, nor do they look at second causes, but they accept all as the due reward of their deeds, and yet look up in faith to the God of their fathers, upon whose unfailing grace they count for restoration. The three discourses, or divisions, that have gone before, were all designed to lead to this desired end: so that this chapter sets forth the future result of the ministry which at the time seemed to fall to the ground. It was the Word of the living God, and could not return unto Him void, but must accomplish that for which it was sent.
In the six opening verses we have a most graphic portrayal of conditions in the fearful days of the Antichrist. To the remnant it seems as though the good have been destroyed out of the earth, and “there is none upright among men.” Treachery and deceit shall so abound that one dare not put confidence in his most intimate friend. Even the wife of his bosom may betray him to the unholy inquisition of that fearful time. For those be the days of vengeance described by our Lord in Matt. 24:9-31, when the abomination of desolation shall stand in the holy place; as also in Matt. 10:21-36, where He quotes this very passage when referring to the final testimony ere the appearing of the Son of Man.
Such times have been known already in many places, as in the dark days of Roman Catholicism’s power; but for Israel, in a special sense, darker days are yet to come.
The confidence of the remnant and their submission to the will of God are beautifully delineated in vers. 7 to 10. Owning the righteousness of His dealings, they yet look up to Him in faith, crying, “I will wait for the God of my salvation;” and they are assured that He will hear. The enemy may seem to triumph; but though fallen, they shall arise, and the Lord shall be their light when the darkness has become the deepest. In lowliness and humility they say, “I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against Him.” This is remarkably fine, and shows how truly their exercises have resulted in the peaceable fruits of righteousness. Thus they can count on God for deliverance, and wait in patience till He shall plead their cause and execute judgment for them, that they may glorify Him for His righteousness. Then shall Israel’s enemies, who taunted her in her forsaken condition, own that she is indeed the chosen of the Lord.
“In that day” temporal prosperity will return to Jerusalem, and her walls shall be rebuilt. Her children shall be brought back from Assyria and all the places whither they have been carried captive. Though the land shall first be desolated by the armies of the nations, because of the fruit of Israel’s doings, yet the old wastes shall be rebuilt, and the flock of Jehovah’s heritage shall be brought from their hiding-places and shepherded in the choice pastures of Bashan and Gilead, “as in the days of old” (vers. 11-14).
As once the Lord had brought them up in triumph out of the land of Egypt, He will show marvelous things when He arises for the salvation of His chosen in the last days. The Gentiles, who have despised and hated the Jew, will be filled with astonishment when the remnant are reestablished in the land of their fathers, and the first dominion has returned to Jacob (vers. 15-17). It will be a marvelous exhibition of grace, and of the loving-kindness of the Lord.
No wonder the book closes with so precious an ascription of adoring gratitude. “Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retaineth not His anger forever, because He delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, He will have compassion upon us; He will subdue our iniquities; and Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which Thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old” (vers. 18-20).
This will be the happy ending of all God’s ways with Israel. Established in the kingdom of the Son of Man, they will be brought into the blessedness of the knowledge of transgressions forgiven and sin covered. And they will trace all that blessing back to the smitten Judge, who came in grace to save, but who was despised and rejected by the very people who held in their hands the Scripture of truth, foretelling the actual things which they in their unbelief fulfilled.
In the hour of their deepest anguish they will turn back to the same sacred books, and learn therefrom that the Nazarene was the long-expected One whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting. At last convinced of their fearful sin, the remnant will bow in bitterness of soul before God, owning the guilt of their fathers, and judging their own past unbelief. Then grace will act on their behalf, and restoration to their land and their God will follow.
From every renewed heart will burst the cry of worshipful praise, “Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity?”
Into the sea of His forgetfulness He will cast all their sins, justifying them freely by His grace through the same wondrous redemption which is now the ground of blessing for every Jew and Gentile who trusts in the name of Jesus.
Thus Micah’s prophecy reaches the end to which all the prophets pointed; when the oath of Jehovah to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will be performed, and their seed will be established in their ancient patrimony, never again to be uprooted, and enjoying all the blessings of the new covenant, confirmed by the precious blood of Christ.
21 Such is the divine title rendered here “the Lord God.”
22 The A. V. is very confusing here. Verse 6, according to eminent scholars, should read, “Prophesy not! [say they; but] they shall prophesy: they shall not prophesy [indeed] to these, that reproach may not overtake them.”
23 It is really “wall-breaker.”