Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it.The Golden Age
The Prophet lifts his eyes away to the latter days to gain refreshment in his present toil. Without the anticipation of a golden age he would lose his buoyancy, and the spirit of endeavour would go out of his work. What are the characteristics of the golden age to which the Prophet was looking with hungry and aspiring spirit?
I. In the golden age emphasis is to be given to the spiritual. In the latter days the spiritual is to have emphasis above pleasure, money, armaments. In whatever prominence these may be seen they are all to be subordinate to the reverence and worship of God. Military prowess and money making and pleasure seeking are to be put in their own place, and not to be permitted to leave it. First things first! 'In the beginning, God.' This is the first characteristic of the golden age.
II. People are to find their confluence and unity in common worship. The brotherhood is to be discovered in spiritual communion. We are not to find profound community upon the river of pleasure or in the ways of business or in the armaments of the castle. These are never permanently cohesive. Pleasure is more frequently divisive than cohesive. It is in the common worship of the one Lord. It is in united adoration of the God revealed in Christ that our brotherhood will be unburied, and we shall realize how rich is our oneness in Him.
III. The conversion of merely destructive force in to positive and constructive ministries. 'And they shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruninghooks.' That is the suggestion we seek in the golden age; all destructive forces are to be changed into helpful ministries. Tongues that speak nothing but malice are to be turned into instructors of wisdom. All men's gifts and powers and all material forces are to be used in the employment of the kingdom of God.
IV. There is to be a distribution of comforts. 'They shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree.' To every mortal man there is to be given a little treasure, a little leisure, a little pleasure. In the golden age peace is to be the attendant of comfort, and both are to be the guests in every man's dwelling.
V. The beautiful final touches in this Prophet's dream; 'I will assemble her that halteth, and I will gather her that is driven out and her that is afflicted '. They are all to be found in God's family. The day of grief is to be ended, mourning shall be the thing of the preparatory day which is over; 'He shall wipe away all tears from the eyes, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away'.
—J. H. Jowett, Homiletic Review, 1904, vol. xlviii. p. 309.
The Reign of Peace
The Holy Ghost, we say, as we repeat our Creed, spake by the Prophets; and when we read verses like these we feel that we have here one of the great utterances thus inspired and spoken long ago. This vision of the Prophet Micah is recognized as one of the great visions of history, one of those flashes from the Divine life that remains with us as a great possession for all succeeding generations of men, illuminating, enriching, inspiring with a new spirit. But the strange and the melancholy thing is that this vision of the reign among men of the spirit of peace, a vision so noble and so beautiful, and universally recognized as expressing some of the highest and bent aspirations of the human heart, still remains unrealized, even in the most advanced and the most Christian communities.
I. These facts of life may well perplex thoughtful men. Does the goddess of warfare and strife still rule the nations, even the most civilized and the most enlightened among them? Is the issue of the days still practically as far off as it was when Micah saw it in his vision? We acknowledge that, indeed, it is not so. The issue of the days is nearer to us. We see striking phenomena on the other side—great armies of peace, and self-sacrifice, and personal devotion, and charity marching to their lifelong warfare under the banner of Jesus of Nazareth; or, again, we contrast the ways of Turk and Christian, and we see that there is a great gulf separating them in all their moral and spiritual attributes, and that gulf is the witness of what you and I owe to the revelation of Jesus. That revelation has given to men a new sense of the value of each human soul. As under its influence and possessed by its spirit you look in the eyes of man, woman, or child, you are moved to a new feeling of the sacredness of human life. It has given you a new pity for human suffering—in one word, a new sense of humanity.
II. The rule of the Spirit in men's hearts, the history of moral enlightenment and progress, has been strangely partial. It has laid its redeeming hand on one nation, or race, or continent, and left another hardly touched, unmoved. It has changed one half of a man's life and not the other half; changed, for instance, our standards of private conduct but hardly those of political conduct, bringing half of our life into, at any rate, a nominal allegiance to Christ, but leaving the other half practically pagan. How marvellously inconsistent and contradictory are the phenomena of our complex Christian society! And amidst all this there comes to us day by day, little noticed it may be in the excitement of the daily life, the soothing voice of the pleading Saviour as He stands at our side, invisible, but really present with us, calling us one by one to give Him an unstinting and not a conventional or halfhearted allegiance, to make our Christianity a real power, actual and dominant, in the practical affairs of both public and private life.
III. Among the lessons of Christ we have to learn more fully is this one—that war is a weapon of barbarism, a dreadful scourge, and full of misery, and all the more because the miseries fall not on the men who make the war, but on the victims who suffer. Thus a selfish war, a war of greed, a war to satisfy the pride or the personal ambition or temper of a politician, or a really unnecessary or ill-ordered war, is a great crime. Our plain duty is to put goodwill above jealousy and enmity, and to enthrone law in the place of brute force. 'Even in thy warfare thou must be of the peace-making spirit,' said the great Augustine to the soldier of his day. It is a great and a good word for you and for me. Let us carry it with us into all the opinions and the conduct of our common life.
IV. It is because through all the clouds and the dust of politics and of war we see unmistakable signs of the growth and the spread of this love of peace among men, among men of goodwill, that we do not despair. The growing signs of brotherhood among nations, the growing conviction that war is a method of barbarism, the growing feeling that it is a crime, a national crime, to sacrifice the humble multitudes to the ambitions of the comparatively few, the growing recognition that, if the Spirit of Christ is to rule amongst us, and not to be a mere shadow of a name, our conduct must be regulated by law, and justice, and goodwill, and not by force or greed—all this makes for growing peace and extending happiness in the years that lie before us. A great orator declared that what is morally wrong cannot be politically right. It is an obvious truth as we listen to it Well, then, let us translate it into the language of bur practical politics, for it simply means that what would be indefensible or wrong for us, as individuals, to do, cannot be right for the conduct of nations or empires. And it is because of the growing hold of great truths like this upon the consciences and the lives of men that we feel ourselves to be nearer to the ultimate fulfilment of the Prophet's vision, even while what he saw be far off on the distant horizon.
References.—IV. 1.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 249. H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1704. IV. 7, 8, 9.—J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Prophets, vol. ii. p. 129. IV. 8, 9.—Ibid. p. 129. V. 2.—Bishop E. H. Browne, The Messiah as Foretold and Expected, p. 56. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ii. No. 57. F. D. Maurice, Prophets and Kings, p. 324. V. 4.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 560. V. 4, 5.—Archbishop Benson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiv. p. 225. VI. 2.—R. W. Evans, Parochial Sermons, vol. iii. p. 112. VI. 3.—G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 167. R. W. Evans, Parochial Sermons, p. 103.
And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it.
For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever.
In that day, saith the LORD, will I assemble her that halteth, and I will gather her that is driven out, and her that I have afflicted;
And I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off a strong nation: and the LORD shall reign over them in mount Zion from henceforth, even for ever.
And thou, O tower of the flock, the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem.
Now why dost thou cry out aloud? is there no king in thee? is thy counseller perished? for pangs have taken thee as a woman in travail.
Be in pain, and labour to bring forth, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in travail: for now shalt thou go forth out of the city, and thou shalt dwell in the field, and thou shalt go even to Babylon; there shalt thou be delivered; there the LORD shall redeem thee from the hand of thine enemies.
Now also many nations are gathered against thee, that say, Let her be defiled, and let our eye look upon Zion.
But they know not the thoughts of the LORD, neither understand they his counsel: for he shall gather them as the sheaves into the floor.
Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion: for I will make thine horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass: and thou shalt beat in pieces many people: and I will consecrate their gain unto the LORD, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth.