§ 3. Recapitulation of the sins of the three classes—rulers, priests, and prophets, with an announcement of the destruction of Zion and the temple.
Judge for reward. The very judges take bribes ( Isaiah 1:23 ; Ezekiel 22:12 ), which the Law so stringently forbade (see Exodus 23:8 ; Deuteronomy 16:19 , etc.). The priests thereof teach for hire. The priests were bound to teach and explain the Law, and decide questions of religion and ritual (Le 10:11; Deuteronomy 17:11 ; Deuteronomy 33:10 ; comp. Haggai 2:11 , etc.). This they ought to have done gratuitously, but they corruptly made it a source of gain. Divine for money. The accusation in Micah 3:5 is repeated. These false prophets sold their oracles, pretending to have a suitable revelation when paid for it ( Ezekiel 22:28 ; Zephaniah 3:3 , Zephaniah 3:4 ). Yet will they lean upon the Lord. These priests and prophets were worshippers of Jehovah and trusted in him, as though he could not fosake his people. They had faith without love, divorced religion from morality, made a certain outward conformity serve for righteousness and truth. Is not the Lord among us? ( Exodus 17:7 ). As though the very fact that they had in their midst the temple, wherein Jehovah's presence was assured, would protect them from all harm, whatever their conduct might he. Such presumptuous confidence is reproved by Jeremiah ( Jeremiah 7:4 , Jeremiah 7:8 , etc.; comp. Amos 5:14 , and note there).
The abuse of influence.
God has imparted to all men the power of influencing others. We daily exert an influence either for good or for evil. They who know us, and who come into contact with us, are the better or the worse as the result of such knowledge and association. The nature of our influence depends upon our own character. Whether this subtle power we all possess is to result in good or ill depends altogether upon what we are ourselves. Let the life be pure and holy, fed and sustained by those hidden springs which take their rise in the throne of God, and then a healthy and helpful influence will assuredly follow, as effect follows cause. The extent of the range of a man's influence depends very much upon the social position he occupies. The more prominent a man is among his fellows, the wider will be the circle of his influence. In every community there will be, of necessity, positions of special prominence to be occupied. To desire to occupy these for the sake of being prominent, and accounted great, is indeed a very poor ambition; but to desire to reach these in the hope of gaining and using for good the additional influence thus acquired; whilst "rising in the world," to be also ascending the heights of holiness an,t goodness, and in ascending thus to reach out the hand of help to others and to assist them to climb above the mists of error and sin, is an aspiration that is truly noble; and happy is it for communities when such men rise. When good men are exalted "the city rejoiceth." These verses present to us a painful example of the opposite of all this. Note we have here
I. GREAT INFLUENCE GROSSLY ABUSED . Three influential classes in the kingdom of Judah are specially referred to.
1 . The princes; i.e. the ruling class, the judges and magistrates, these functions being exercised by members of the royal family ( Jeremiah 21:11 , Jeremiah 21:12 ).
2 . The priests; i.e. members of the Jewish priesthood, taking part in the services of the temple, and also in teaching the people.
3 . The prophets; i.e. not the men who were specially inspired of God, like Micah, but men who claimed to possess a desire to work for God, who were trained in "the schools of the prophets," and who became a very numerous class in the land, and took an important part in the education of the community. In these three classes we have comprehended the most influential men in the land; men who, by virtue of their position, ought to have exerted the wisest and most salutary influence upon the people. But instead of this the very opposite was actually the case. They who should have been "the salt of the earth" were "as salt which had lost its savour." The princes, instead of righteously administering the Law, sought their own enrichment. They accepted bribes ("The heads thereof judge for reward," verse 11), and they utterly sacrificed the rights and interests of the people. "They built up Zion with blood" (verse 10), i.e. they reared their luxurious palaces and increased their own store of wealth by perverting equity, and by unrighteous decisions. Their unjust judgments, their extortions and oppressions, so pressed upon the people that the very life blood of the nation was drained. Under the expressive figure of cannibalism, the seer describes the effect of their rapacity (verses 2, 3). The prophets also were utterly mercenary. If the bribe was only given, they prophesied as desired. "They caused the people to err, biting with their teeth [ i.e. feeding upon the bribe] and crying, Peace" (verse 5); but only let the bribe be withheld, and they altered their tone and became the heralds of evil tidings (verse 5). Nor were the priests behind in cherishing the same spirit. "The priests teach for hire" (verse 11). The support of the Jewish priesthood was provided for by special Divine arrangement. The tenth in Israel was apportioned to the sons of Levi as their inheritance ( Numbers 18:20 ; Deuteronomy 18:2 ). But though thus provided for, such was their greed that, "producing the answer of God upon the receipt of money, they sold the grace of the Lord for a covetous price" (Jerome). And so did these prominent and distinguished classes in the kingdom of Judah abuse the great influence which had been bestowed upon them. History repeats itself; and there have been times in the development of other nations which have presented the counterpart to that which is here recorded respecting the kingdom of Judah (see, for example, the state of Europe during the age preceding "the Reformation," as described by D'Aubigne, 'History of the Reformation,' bk. 1. Micah 3:1-12 .).
II. THE ABUSE OF INFLUENCE RESULTING IN CALAMITY .
1 . To the abusers themselves . The prophet declared that the day of retribution would duly come, and that in that day of Divine manifestation in judgment
2 . To the nation . The land they were seeking to "build up" by unrighteous deeds should be brought to nought, and the responsibility of its overthrow would rest upon them. "Therefore shall Zion for your sake be ploughed as a field," etc. (verse 12).
1 . The blessing of influence well directed.
2 . The boon those who in high places exert such an influence confer upon a community.
3 . The need of constant intercession with God on behalf of the leaders of a nation, in order that peace and prosperity may rein. "I exhort," etc. ( 1 Timothy 2:1 , 1 Timothy 2:2 ).
There is nothing wrong in a man's seeking to acquire fiches. Money is good. Its possession is to be desired, since it carries with it the means of surrounding its possessor with the comforts of life, and at the same time gives him the ability to impart good to those who are less favoured and in circumstances of need. The very endeavour also to secure this calls into exercise such qualities as industry and thrift, which are truly commendable. It is rather the love of money, and the inordinate desire for it for its own sake, that merits condemnation. Worldly treasure becomes the greatest possible curse when it is accounted by men the chief good. It will buy up everything else. Time, intellect, justice, truth, conscience, the most sacred rights of humanity, will be bartered for this; and every true well wisher of the race will endeavour to stem the ever-swelling torrent, and to present motives to turn the energies and enterprises of the world into another and higher direction. This chapter may be viewed as illustrative of the deplorable evils and the fatal results of this spirit of avarice.
I. THE DEPLORABLE EVILS CONNECTED WITH AVARICE .
1 . It saps the foundations of equity. ( Micah 3:1 .) These rulers understood the Law, but being so thoroughly possessed by the mercenary spirit, they failed to administer it righteously—were partial in their decisions, favouring those who offered the most tempting bribe, and thus caused the legal administration in the land to become rotten and corrupt.
2 . It leads to oppression and cruelty. ( Micah 3:2 , Micah 3:3 , Micah 3:10 .) The one concern of the princes was to enrich themselves and to find themselves surrounded with all luxuries and splendours; and hence they cared not to what lengths of extortion and fraud and oppression they went, or what suffering might be involved, if only they could compass this end.
3 . It renders its subject unfaithful in the discharge of the most sacred trusts. No trust can be more sacred than that committed to the man who is constituted a teacher of spiritual truth, and upon whom it devolves to direct men in the ways of righteousness and God; but here ( Micah 3:5 ) we have such catching the spirit of covetousness, and, as the result, proving altogether faithless to God and to the consciences of men, prophesying, "peace" to those who bribed them, and "war" to those who withheld the mercenary gift.
4 . It excites the spirit of self-confidence and self-sufficiency. These leaders of the people, whilst acting thus at variance with the true and the right, yet finding their ill-gotten gains increasing in their hands, boasted that evil could not reach them ( Micah 3:11 ).
II. THE FATAL RESULTS OF AVARICE .
1 . Loss of the Divine favour. For "covetousness is idolatry," and God will not give his glory to another ( Micah 3:4 ).
2 . Non-apprehension of spiritual realities. ( Micah 3:7 .)
3 . Complete frustration of their designs. The palaces they had built up with blood, and the city they had defiled by their iniquity, should come to nought, and in its overthrow all that they had unrighteously sought to secure for themselves should perish ( Micah 3:12 ). They who boast that they are "full and increased in riches, and have need of nothing," are in reality the most needy and desolate. Spenser, in 'The Faery Queene,' has described their true condition -
"Most wretched wight whom nothing might suffice,
Whose greedy lust did lack in greatest store,
Whose need had end, but no end covetize,
Whose wealth was want, whose plenty made him poor,
Who had enough, yet wished evermore."
Gifts for Divine service.
I. THEIR NATURE . ( Micah 3:8 .)
1 . " Power ." ( Micah 3:8 .) Weak as the prophet felt himself to be, he was conscious of a Divine influence resting upon him and inspiring him, clothing him with holy energy and irresistible might. His mind and heart had been brought into an enjoyment of the highest and holiest fellowship with the Invisible and Eternal. His soul was animated by the inward witness of the Father's love. His whole nature was quickened so that the spirit, instead of being ruled by the body, had the body as its willing instrument, and all acting in concert with the will of God. God dwelt in him and he in God. His spiritual life was healthy and vigorous. His was the strength of a man who felt that he had been called to engage in a work demanding peculiar gifts and endowments in order to its successful discharge, but that all he thus wanted God would bestow, so as to render him efficient; and hence he was ready for service—full of inward strength, "full of power. "
2 . " Judgment ." ( Micah 3:8 .) The reference is not to judgment in the sense of being able to discriminate character (although this is very desirable), but judgment in the sense of enlightenment to understand the message to be delivered. Here was a messenger who knew what to say; who did not go forth with a sense of uncertainty, but as one who had received his message and was prepared without hesitation to deliver it.
3 . " Might ." The idea is that of courage. He not only knew what to say, but was ready to say it fearlessly. Humble in origin, born and trained up in obscurity, he cowered not even before princes and nobles, but rather caused them to tremble by the holy boldness with which he declared unto them "all the counsel of God."
II. THEIR SOURCE . ( Micah 3:8 .) "But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord. " These words betray no egotism on the part of the prophet. Had he simply affirmed himself to be a man of power, he had doubtless laid himself open to the charge of manifesting that "self-praise" which is "no recommendation;" but the qualifying sentence entirely frees him from the charge—"by the Spirit of the Lord. " He was inwardly strong; he was enlightened to know what he ought to utter in God's name, and he was prepared to go forth and to say it with unflinching courage, because there rested upon him "an unction from the Holy One," and he was inspired by God's own Spirit.
III. THEIR EXERCISE . "He declared unto Jacob his transgression," etc. ( Micah 3:8 ). With an inspiring consciousness of the presence with him el the Lord he served; with a clear perception of the character of the age and of the announcements he was to make in God's name, and with a boldness no adverse force could intimidate, because divinely sustained, he went forth to his appointed service, reproved the rulers for their unrighteous judgments and their acceptance of bribes, and their acts of cruelty and oppression ( Micah 3:9 , Micah 3:10 ), chastised the priests and prophets for degrading, by their mercenary conduct, the high functions they were called upon to discharge ( Micah 3:11 ), and predicted the coming overthrow of the nation, fastening upon these guilty leaders the responsibility of occasioning the impending doom ( Micah 3:12 ). The history of the Church of God through all ages tells of men thus inspired by God's Spirit with "power" and "judgment" and "might;" and hence who nobly fulfilled their commission. Peter on the Day of Pentecost, Paul before kings and governors, Luther before the Diet of Worms, Knox carrying on the work of Reformation in Scotland, Whitefield and the Wesleys in the work of revival—there rested upon the heads of these true servants of the living God the tongues of heavenly fire; their arms were nerved by the might of omnipotence, and there dwelt in them the wondrous spiritual force that shall yet regenerate the world. There are difficulties connected with service to God in the present as in all past times; yet these should not dishearten or daunt us, but in the Divine strength we should courageously meet these and contend against them until they are all overcome. It betrays the possession of a weak faith, and seems to indicate that he does not realize what Divine resources are available to him, if a man in his work for God sits down before the difficulties of his position as a worker, dispirited and fretful shall we manifest less courage in reference to spiritual service than men exhibit in the ordinary pursuits of life? Shall we acknowledge ourselves baffled and beaten when the mighty energy of God's own Spirit is available, and may be ours if we will? There was exhibited on one occasion at the Royal Academy a striking picture of a gallant knight mounted on his charger and approaching a dark cavern. His steed was represented as drawing back through fear, and the dogs following as shrinking through terror; but lo! the knight wears a countenance untouched by alarm. There may be perils ahead, but he recks not, for his hand grasps the cross and his trust is in the living, loving Lord. Let our trust be thus centred, and no difficulty lying before us, or no antagonism against which we may have to contend in holy service, shall be able to daunt us, but we shall say," Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shall become a plain." We should "covet earnestly the best gifts," and above all seek to be "endued with power from on high."
The ministry viewed in relation to hire.
The Jewish priests and prophets were the teachers of the people in matters of religion and morals. They exercised "the teaching faculty;" and this must form a prominent feature in those who devote themselves to the work of the ministry in every age ( 1 Timothy 3:2 ; Colossians 1:28 ; 2 Timothy 2:15 ; 2 Corinthians 4:2 ). The power of the pulpit in these modern times depends very largely upon the maintenance of its teaching efficiency. The men the Church requires as its ministers are such as will come forth week by week not to utter a number of weary platitudes, but to enforce living truths, and to present these in forms fresh and new. Note
I. SUCH " LABOURERS " ARE " WORTHY OF THEIR HIRE ." The support of the Jewish priesthood was arranged under the Law ( Deuteronomy 18:2 ); the prophets also received temporal gifts in recognition of their services ( 1 Samuel 9:7 , 1 Samuel 9:8 ). In the New Testament this principle of pecuniary acknowledgment being made for spiritual service is distinctly enunciated ( Luke 10:7 ; 1 Corinthians 9:7 , 1 Corinthians 9:14 ).
II. TO RENDER THIS SERVICE FOR THE SAKE OF THE " HIRE " IS SELF - DEGRADING , AND IS AN OFFENCE TO GOD AND THE GOOD .
1 . It leads to mere officialism.
2 . It results in the perversion of truth, the character of the message being made to depend upon the nature of the bribe and the desire to gratify those who offer it.
3 . It gives rise to sheer hypocrisy . "Yet will they" ( i.e. hypocritically) "lean upon the Lord and say, Is not the Lord among us?" ( Micah 3:11 ).
4 . It awakens vain self-confidence. "None evil can come upon us" ( Micah 3:11 ).
5 . It incurs fearful responsibility. "The blood of souls" will be required of such. The ruin of Zion and Jerusalem was here fastened upon such, "Therefore shall Zion for your sake ," etc. ( Micah 3:12 ). How honourable is the work of the faithful minister of truth! How essential it is that they who engage in it should experience the Divine call, and should guard well their hearts so that they may be true to themselves and may render acceptable service to others! Whatever their "hire" here may be, how glorious is the reward awaiting all who are found true in this calling; for "when the chief Shepherd appears they shall receive the crown of life" ( 1 Peter 5:4 ).
The prophet at once vindicates the claim he has just made ( Micah 3:8 ). We have here—
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 verses 14. Meanwhile they are building fine mansions or laying out estates, but at the price of blood, like Ahab ( 1 Kings 19:1-21 .) 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 (Le Isaiah 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 (verse 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 , Deuteronomy 29:20 ). 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."
The true prophet.
"But 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. Hear this, I pray you," etc. It is supposed that this chapter belongs to the reign of Hezekiah; if so, the mournful state of matters which it depicts belongs to the time preceding the reformation. These words lead us to consider 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."
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.