Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! when the morning is light, they practise it, because it is in the power of their hand.The Pollution of the World
We might perhaps suppose that this is an address of Micah to righteous people, and a warning to them that the world is inherently polluted. But the words are not addressed to righteous persons; they are not warnings to righteous persons to arise and depart, in the spirit at least, from the pollutions of the world; they are addressed to those who have caused the world to be polluted, those who are responsible for the pollution of the world. It is a prophetic statement that it is man that has polluted the world, not the world that has polluted man. The verses immediately preceding this are eloquent in that direction; they tell us that those persons who are thus addressed are those who have committed all sorts of crimes; they have stripped the poor man of his raiment by day, of his clothing by night, they have driven out the widows from their quiet habitation; they have gone further and have cut off the young children from the glory of the Lord for ever. These are they to whom this verse is addressed, and they are told to arise and get out, if they can—get out from the world they have polluted.
There is nothing in all this which suggests that view that in the early ages of Christianity many held, to the effect that because the world seemed so wicked, and was so wicked, it could not have been created by an absolutely pure and beneficent Being, but that it must have been created by a being in whom there is blended a great deal of good and evil. There is nothing in this which justifies that philosophic idea developed by early Christian philosophers, that there must have been something inherently bad in the world as created by God.
I. Modern Truth in Ancient Garb.—In this prophecy of Micah there is a wonderful amount of modern work, only of course in ancient dress. He tells, for instance, of great catastrophes that shall come; and this comes home to us when we hear of terrible volcanic eruptions in one part of the world and another; great railway catastrophes—Micah might have foreseen these; he speaks of great catastrophes, chariots and horses—he knew nothing of express railway trains, but he did know of horses and chariots. Cities and strong towers shall be rooted up; they seem to speak to us out of our own experience in quite recent times.
More than that, he tells that there has been a great loss of confidence as between man and man—that you can trust nobody. 'Trust ye not in a friend,' etc.
Again he says that those were times when false teaching was popular; he calls it false prophecy. As you know, prophecy has two meanings, the speaking forth, and the speaking beforehand; here he is speaking of speaking forth—what we call preaching. True, earnest, honest teaching was unpopular, and the people loved to have it so; they desired smooth things. They desired also—they had itching ears—desired new things, things invented by man, not things revealed by God. It was popular to disbelieve all that was revealed to them, to discard all earnest, honest, searching preaching.
Again they were—and this was universal in this time—they were going after idols, false gods. And it is remarkable how time after time the words silver and gold came in; idols of silver and gold. Well, we make ourselves idols of silver and gold. We do not waste the silver and gold making them into molten and graven images, but I put it to you, is it not true that on the face of things there is a great waste of silver and gold now? That as in those days they desired those images and bowed down before them, so there is now a great desire to obtain, at any cost, any sacrifice of what is right, to obtain more and more idols of silver and gold.
And there was the general dislocation of society, the breaking and bursting of social ties as though an earthquake had happened and burst up society; and that especially, Micah says, especially in the capital of the kingdom.
II. These are very Grave Warnings indeed to us.—Not that the world is inherently polluted, but that man has so polluted the world that unless somehow or other he can get himself free from these pollutions, him it will destroy. Now there is a passage very familiar to all of you, and very comforting to us who have to stand on one side and have closely brought home to us a terrible sudden destruction. That passage is where our dear Lord makes a tender revelation on this subject 'Think you,' He said, 'that those Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices were sinners above all others? Or think ye that those thirteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell were sinners? I tell you nay; but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.' These great catastrophes, our Lord Himself said, are warnings to those that survive, not punishment on those that are destroyed. That is the clear outcome, without any straining or stretching at all—that is the clear outcome of our Lord's own teaching on this which to us now is so tremendously personal a point A warning to those who survive; not in itself a punishment on those who are destroyed. And that warning we carry about with us in the world. These dangers are always under our feet, these warnings are always ready to burst upon us.
The most recent theory formed by the physicists of the constitution of the earth and the causes of earthquakes is that the solid crust of the earth is but thin; thirty miles is the largest that I have heard it put by eminent physicists, and some put it as low as twenty miles; that inside that, is a packing of some kind, not, as we have been accustomed to believe, of molten stuff, of infinite heat, but a packing of some kind; and that an earthquake is caused by some dislocation of that packing. But I am told that whenever an earthquake is carefully examined into, it always takes the form of a subsidence of the surface, and when a dislocation has taken place in one part of the crust of the earth it is translated also to other parts, and that as time goes on there is a cycle of these until the packing of the earth has got once more into a quiescent state. So that we have always under our feet this possibility, not so very far from us, perhaps thirty miles at the outside, this possibility of displacement of the packing that causes a subsidence in the surface of the earth.
So these warnings are always with us, and we are to take them as warnings and not, surely not, that that dreadful destruction which comes upon a place in an earthquake is because the people are wicked—that it is a judgment on them. Our Lord has warned us of any such idea as that by telling us that it is a warning for us, and that unless we repent we shall all likewise perish.
References.—II. 10.—J. Baines, Sermons to Country Congregations, p. 37. II. 13.—J. N. Norton, Every Sunday, p. 11. III. 8.—D. W. Simon, Twice Born and Other Sermons, p. 46.
And they covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage.
Therefore thus saith the LORD; Behold, against this family do I devise an evil, from which ye shall not remove your necks; neither shall ye go haughtily: for this time is evil.
In that day shall one take up a parable against you, and lament with a doleful lamentation, and say, We be utterly spoiled: he hath changed the portion of my people: how hath he removed it from me! turning away he hath divided our fields.
Therefore thou shalt have none that shall cast a cord by lot in the congregation of the LORD.
Prophesy ye not, say they to them that prophesy: they shall not prophesy to them, that they shall not take shame.
O thou that art named the house of Jacob, is the spirit of the LORD straitened? are these his doings? do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?
Even of late my people is risen up as an enemy: ye pull off the robe with the garment from them that pass by securely as men averse from war.
The women of my people have ye cast out from their pleasant houses; from their children have ye taken away my glory for ever.
Arise ye, and depart; for this is not your rest: because it is polluted, it shall destroy you, even with a sore destruction.
If a man walking in the spirit and falsehood do lie, saying, I will prophesy unto thee of wine and of strong drink; he shall even be the prophet of this people.
I will surely assemble, O Jacob, all of thee; I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together as the sheep of Bozrah, as the flock in the midst of their fold: they shall make great noise by reason of the multitude of men.
The breaker is come up before them: they have broken up, and have passed through the gate, and are gone out by it: and their king shall pass before them, and the LORD on the head of them.