Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. WHAT CIVIL RULERS OUGHT ALWAYS TO BE, They ought always to "know judgment," that is, always practically to know the right. The ruler who has not a practical knowledge and love of the right is out of his place; he is a usurper. There is such a thing as right in the universe. What is the standard of right? Not public sentiment, not human law, but the Divine will. God's being is the foundation of right; God's will is the standard of right; God's Christ is the completest revelation of that standard. The man who is not Christly in character is more or less despicable everywhere, but nowhere so much as on a throne. Are we not commanded to honour the king? Yes, but the command implies that the king is honourworthy. Reason, conscience, and the Bible call upon us to loathe and despise moral corruption on a throne.
"He, a king,
II. WHAT CIVIL RULERS OFTEN ARE. What were these rulers?
1. They were morally corrupt. These rulers were of those who "hate the good and love the evil." They were in heart radically wrong, corrupt to the very core, hating good.
2. They were socially cruel. They treated the people as the butchers and the cooks treat beasts - kill them, boil them for their own use. How often, even in the history of England, have rulers treated the people as mere cattle for food!
3. They were divinely abandoned. "Then shall they cry unto the Lord, but he will not hear them: he wilt even hide his face from them at that time." The Monarch of the universe is no "respecter of persons." Princes are no more in his eyes than paupers; and he will treat both according to their character, their responsibility, and their merits. He has often roused nations to send their rulers howling into infamy and ruin. After all, the existence of corrupt kings is to be ascribed to the ignorance, the cowardice, and servility of the people. Let the peoples of the earth advance in intelligence, moral discernment, and independency, and such rulers will disappear. Corrupt rulers are like glowworms, that in the night seem brilliant, but in the day contemptible grubs. Weak, ignorant, and tyrannic kings appear glorious in the night of popular ignorance, but abhorrent as the day of mental intelligence advances. - D.T.
i.e. who, so long as they are supplied with food, promise peace and prosperity in their prophecies. 'And he that putteth not into their mouths, they even prepare war against him.' Whenever they are not supplied with food, they foretell war and calamity: they sanctify war, i.e. proclaim it as a holy judgment of God, because they are not fed. 'Therefore night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision; and it shall be dark.' Calamities press on you so overwhelmingly as to compel you to cease pretending to divine (Zechariah 13:4). Darkness is often the image of calamity (Isaiah 8:22; Amos 5:18; Amos 8:9). 'Then shall the seers be ashamed, and the diviners confounded: yea, they shall all cover their lips.' The Orientals prided themselves on the moustache and beard. To cover the upper lip, therefore, was a token of shame, mourning, and sorrow (Leviticus 13:45; Ezekiel 24:17). 'Cover not thy lips,' i.e. assume not the usual token of one mourning (Ezekiel 24:22). They shall be so ashamed of themselves as not to dare to open their mouths, or boast of the name of prophet. 'For there is no answer of God.' They shall no more profess to have responses from God, being struck dumb with calamities (Fausset). False prophets are here brought under our attention again, and three things are suggested concerning them.
I. THEY ARE DECEIVING. God says, they "make my people err." Preachers often make their hearers err.
1. In theology. They propound ideas, crude and ill digested, concerning God, Christ, moral conditions and relations, utterly inconsistent with truth.
2. In worship. The forms they propose to use in worship, the rules they enjoin for it, are often such as to give the people wrong ideas as to what worship really is.
3. In morality. Their standard of duty is often wrong; hence wars are sanctioned, priestly exactions and assumptions encouraged and maintained. Ah me! how the preachers make men err on these great subjects!
II. THEY ARE AVARICIOUS. They "bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace." Greed governs them in all their ministries. They are ever hungering after gain; pelf with them is a passion. Their eyes are ever on pew rents, offerings, tithes, etc. If their greed is offended, they "prepare war against" the offender; they raise an opposition strong and deadly against him. They are "greedy of filthy lucre."
III. THEY ARE CONFOUNDED. Confounded in darkness. "Night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision; and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine; and the sun shall go down over the prophets, and the day shall be dark over them." They were blind leaders of the blind, and they themselves fall into the ditch. Confounded in shame. "Then shall the seers be ashamed, and the diviners be confounded." Jehovah ignores them. "There is no answer of God." "Those," says Matthew Henry, "who deceive others are but preparing confusion for their own faces." - D.T.
אוּלָם)," implies a contrast to what precedes. The false prophets were in alliance with the tyrannical princes, and were destined to humiliation and to the utter loss of whatever power they once possessed. But Micah, conscious of a Divine calling and of fidelity to it, can point to himself as an illustration of God's precious gift of a faithful ministry. Note -
I. ITS QUALIFICATIONS. The fundamental one is:
1. The indwelling of the Spirit of God. The true prophet or minister magnifies his office, but does not exalt himself. He traces all he has to God, as does St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:10; 1 Timothy 1:12-16). Pretenders to the prophetic or pastoral office were "sensual (ψυχικοί), not having the Spirit," inspired only by the spirit of t h e world, or of self; but true ministers can use St. Paul's words (1 Corinthians 2:12), for they are relying on their Divine Master's promise of the Holy Spirit.
2. Hence spiritual power. It may be special and superhuman, such as prophets and apostles enjoyed. But the more valuable power is that which enables us to witness for Christ (Acts 1:8), to exert a holy influence (2 Corinthians 3:2, 3), and to preach "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." Power is a general term; the Divine Spirit manifests his presence by a diversity of gifts appropriate to special necessities. Two of these are mentioned here as needed by the prophet and, in truth, by every faithful minister.
3. Judgment, including such thoughts as these - a clear sense of God's equity in his dealings (Ezekiel 18.), an impartial utterance of God's sentences (Jeremiah 1:16-19), and therefore discrimination in all his messages and in his treatment of his hearers, "doing nothing by partiality," "rightly dividing the Word of truth," "warning every man and teaching every man." Such a ministry will emit light as well as heat, will show discretion as well as zeal.
4. Moral courage. "Might," such as the apostles sought and received (Acts 4:29-31; cf. Ephesians 6:19, 20; Colossians 4:4; 2 Timothy 1:7). All these gifts are needed in a high degree - "full," etc. "However the Lord may bless the meanest gifts of such as be honest, yet neither are ministers to be empty vessels nor swelled with ostentation, but a large measure of real furniture is to be sought after." All these qualifications were more or less fully manifested in the true prophets of God; e.g. Elijah (Ecclus. 48:1), Isaiah (Isaiah 58:1), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 6:11, 27), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3:8-11), and many others.
II. ITS DIFFICULTIES. The main difficulty here suggested arises from its relation to the sins of men.
1. The burden of the Lord laid on ministers requires them to be willing to be used in the disagreeable task of convicting communities and individuals of sin. This may be traced in the long prophetical and apostolical succession of God's true ministers, including such illustrious names as Moses, Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Daniel, John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul. We too must be prepared to show to the Church and to individuals their sins in trade, their transgressions of the royal law in their conduct, whether towards servants or masters. Thus we may seem to many "men of strife," or even enemies (Galatians 4:16).
2. But we do not successfully "show" to men their transgressions unless they are induced to abandon their sin and accept God's method of deliverance. We seek to take men alive out of the snare of the devil (see 2 Timothy 2:24 26, Revised Version). It is a terrible thing to convict a man of sin, and yet fail to save him, thus increasing his condemnation.
III. ITS ENCOURAGEMENTS.
1. Frequent successes. We learn from Jeremiah 26:17-19 that Micah's message on this occasion led to the conversion of Hezekiah, or to the reawakening of his zeal as a reformer. The Christian minister's song of victory is often heard (2 Corinthians 2:14).
2. Constant Divine approval. Sometimes a sense of failure causes a feeling of isolation and of heart sickness, such as Jeremiah often felt. But even then we can fall back on the sense of the abiding presence of God (John 16:32), and of his approving smile (Isaiah 49:4, 5). - E.S.P.
the true prophet.
I. THE WORK OF A TRUE PROPHET. "To declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin." It is a characteristic of all true prophets, that they have a keen moral sense to discern wrong, to loathe it, and to burn at it. No man is a true prophet who is not roused to thunder by the wrong. It has been charged against the preachers of England that it is not wrong that rouses them, but little dogmas that agree not with their theology, sects that unite not with their Church, policies that interfere with their income and position. We fear this is too true. The crimes of the people of England are not denounced by the pulpit as they should be - the vice in high places, the injustices perpetrated under the name and sanction of law, the cupidity of traders, the swindlings of joint stock company men, by which they become millionaires and win a seat in the Parhament of the nation. These things are not held up as they should be for public execration, in the broad sunlight of eternal truth, Where have we men now to "declare unto Jacob his transgression, and unto Israel his sin"?
1. This is a painful work. It will incur the disfavour of some, and rouse the antagonism of the delinquents. Still, it must be done - done as John the Baptist did it, who denounced his countrymen as a "generation of vipers;" done as Christ did it, who levelled his terrible "woes" at the heads of the great criminals of his age.
2. This is an urgent work. No work is more needed in England today. To expose wrong goes a great way towards its extinction. Honeyed words in the pulpit we have enough, tawdry disquisitions, and sensational inanities. God multiply men of the stamp of John the Baptist and of the Apostle Peter, who on the Day of Pentecost charged home the terrible crime of the crucifixion to the men he addressed!
II. THE POWER OF A TRUE PROPHET. "Truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of might." There is no egotism in this. A powerful man knows his power, and will ascribe it to the right Source - the "Spirit of the Lord." Micah's power was moral; it was the might of conscience, moral conviction, of invincible sympathy with eternal right and truth. This is a very different power to that of mere intellect, imagination, or what is called genius. It is higher, more creditable, more influential, more God-like. What does the man who has it care for the smiles or frowns of his audiences? He sets his face like a flint. The praises of his fellow men affect him no more than the twitterings of a sparrow would an eagle; their frowns, no more than the yelpings of a cur affect the monarch of the forest.
III. THE FIDELITY OF A TRUE PROPHET. This is seen here in three things.
1. In the class he denounces. "Hear this, I pray you, ye heads of the house of Jacob, and princes of the house of Israel." He struck at the higher classes of life. "Heads of the house of Jacob, and princes of the house of Israel." Ah me! how little we pulpiteering cowards here in England address ourselves to the crimes of the upper classes! The low, the helpless, the destitute, we are always lecturing. Do your ecclesiastical lords lecture royalty, think you? I read their fulsome flatteries often, but their denunciations never. The prophet's fidelity is seen:
2. In the charges he makes. "They build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity."
(1) He charges them with extortionate cruelty. "The civic rulers only are addressed in ver. 9, viz. those who were charged with the administration of justice and of the affairs of the state, but who did the very opposite - who abhorred justice and made the straight crooked because they passed sentence for bribes. They thereby build Zion with blood, etc., i.e. obtain the means of erecting splendid buildings by cruel extortions, partly also by actual judicial murder, as Ahab, and after him Jehoiakim, had done" (Delitzsch). Building up Jerusalem by blood is something like building up churches by beer. It is not uncommon now for large brewers, from the enormous profits of their pernicious craft, to build up magnificent temples for God. What an outrage on decency! What an insult to omniscient Purity!
(2) He charges them with base mercenariness. "The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money." He saw mercenariness on the bench, inspiring the judge; mercenariness at the altar, inspiring the priests; mercenariness in the pulpit, inspiring the preachers. Money was the motive power of all. With all this mercenariness, still they "leaned upon the Lord," that is, professed to worship the one true and living God, and ignorantly and presumptuously concluded that he would be ever amongst them, and that consequently no great evil would overtake them. The prophet's faithfulness is seen:
3. In the doom he proclaims. "Therefore shall Zion for your sake Be ploughed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest." The prophecy was never literally fulfilled till the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, when the ground on which the city stood was ploughed up, in token of its utter demolition, and no city was to be built there without the emperor's leave. "It is," says an old writer, "the wickedness of those who preside in them that brings the ruin. It is for your sake that Zion shall be ploughed as a field; you pretend to build up Zion, but, doing it by blood and iniquity, you pull it down. The sin of priests and princes is often the ruin of states and Churches. Delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi the kings act foolishly, and the people suffer by it."
CONCLUSION. Such is the true prophet. - D.T.
I. AS UNSPARING EXPOSURE OF SINS IN HIGH QUARTERS. All classes are involved, and to each class the most scandalous characteristic offences are imputed.
1. Civil rulers. They are open to bribes, in direct violation of Exodus 23:8, and therefore pervert judgment. These sophists on the judgment seat make "the worse appear the better reason;" and at length reach such a stage of iniquity that they "abhor judgment," and "call evil good" etc. (Isaiah 5:20; cf. 2 Peter 2:14). In the striking figure of Isaiah (Isaiah 59:14), "truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter." Their crimes are set out in detail in vers. 14. Meanwhile they are building fine mansions or laying out estates, but at the price of blood, like Ahab (1 Kings 19.) or Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 22:13-19); or they are wronging the poor, though the consequences may be fatal; as in modern society some of the "heads thereof" connive at social systems in government or in business, by which the poor are defrauded of their claim to a livelihood. "The bread of the needy is their life; he that defraudeth him thereof is a man of blood. He that taketh away his neighbour's living slayeth him: and he that defraudeth the labourer of his hire is a bloodshedder" (Ecclus. 35:21, 22).
2. Ecclesiastical leaders. The priests' duty was to teach the Law (Leviticus 10:11; Deuteronomy 17:11; Deuteronomy 33:10), but they too needed douceurs, or fees or bribes. They probably misinterpreted the Law from the same motive as did Eli's sons (1 Samuel 2:12-17). "So Arian bishops, themselves hirelings, by false expositions of Scripture countenanced Arian emperors in their persecution of the faithful" (Pusey). So, too, persecuting priests and prelates in more recent days.
3. Prophets. These religious teachers were raised up to promote a reformation; but they too had been dragged down to the level of other teachers. Divine prophecy had been corrupted into divination, as in the case of Balaam, and covetousness was universal (ver. 5; and cf. Ezekiel 13:1-6). An instructive parallel may be found in the case of the regular clergy of the medieval Church, who were gradually degraded to the low moral level of the secular clergy. We are reminded of the odiousness of a mercenary ministry. Thus all classes were combined in a conspiracy of unrighteousness (as in Ezekiel 22:23-31), and the love of money was the root of all this evil.
II. AN INDIGNANT PROTEST AGAINST UNWARRANTED FAITH IN GOD. They flatter themselves:
1. That they may lean upon the lord. Deaf to all past teachings, blind to the danger signals which history has erected, they insult God by leaning upon him, and expecting him to support their vile souls and pampered bodies (cf. Deuteronomy 29:19, 20). They further take for granted:
2. That the lord is among them. Though invisible to sense, and sending repeated protests, they assume his favourable presence. They trust in lying words, saying. "The temple of the Lord are these," as though the temple of the Lord and the Lord of the temple were identical. In a church at Innsbruck, on the tabernacle containing the consecrated wafer are the words, "Ecce tabernaculum Dei." If this daring perversion of Scripture had proclaimed a truth, what a false confidence for an unworthy communicant; as though "Corpus Christi" and "Christ in you" were the same! "There standeth One among you whom ye know not" may be true, but in a new sense; if not to sanctify, to condemn.
3. That no evil will be fall them. As though God's protests and a guilty conscience were not in themselves evils and the forecast shadows of coming doom. So deceitful and desperately wicked is the heart of man. These truths may be applied to many "nominal Christians."
(1) Ambitious monarchs or statesmen, "building up" their country by huge standing armies, or navies, or palaces, at the cost of grinding taxation, leading to semi-starvation and loathsome disease as among the Italian peasantry, or of tyrannical extortions from Egyptian felaheen, or of a merciless conscription as in Germany, driving some of her best sons from her shores.
(2) Landlords amassing fortunes from rack renting the fever slums of London, or confiscating the fruits of the tenants' industry in Ireland.
(3) Drink sellers fattening on the pauperism of their wretched customers, or carrying liquid poisons to tribes just emerging from barbarism.
(4) Hireling preachers or priests, prophesying smooth things to unrighteous aristocrats or plutocrats, or lulling guilty consciences by the opiate of the sacrament. Such men of expediency crucified even the Son of God that Zion might be "built up" (John 11:48; see Jeremiah 5:80, 31). To that final question an answer is found in ver. 12. - E.S.P.