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The Prophet does not here speak only against the Israelites, as some think, who have incorrectly confined this part of his teaching to the ten tribes; but he, on the contrary, (in discharging his office, addresses also the Jews. He refers not here to idolatry, as in the last chapter; but inveighs against sins condemned in the second table. As then the Jews had not only polluted the worship of God, but also gave loose reins to many iniquities, so that they dealt wrongfully with their neighbors, and there was among them no attention to justice and equity, so the prophet inveighs here as we shall see, against avarice, robberies, and cruelty: and his discourse is full of vehemence; for there was no doubt such licentiousness then prevailing among the people, that there was need of severe and sharp reproofs. It is at the same time easy to perceive that his discourse is mainly directed against the chief men, who exercised authority, and turned it to wrong purposes.
Woe, he says, to those who meditate on iniquity, and devise (78) evil on their beds, that, when the morning shines, they may execute it Here the Prophet describes to the life the character and manners of those who were given to gain, and were intent only on raising themselves. He says, that in their beds they were meditating on iniquity, and devising wickedness. Doubtless the time of night has been given to men entirely for rest; but they ought also to use this kindness of God for the purpose of restraining themselves from what is wicked: for he who refreshes his strength by nightly rest, ought to think within himself, that it is an unbecoming thing and even monstrous, that he should in the meantime devise frauds, and guiles, and iniquities. For why does the Lord intend that we should rest, except that all evil things should rest also? Hence the Prophet shows here, by implication, that those who are intent on devising frauds, while they ought to rest, subvert as it were the course of nature; for they have no regard for that rest, which has been granted to men for this end, — that they may not trouble and annoy one another.
He afterwards shows how great was their desire to do mischief, When it shines in the morning, he says, they execute it He might have said only, They do in the daytime what they contrive in the night: but he says, In the morning; as though he had said, that they were so heated by avarice, that they rested not a moment; as soon as it shone, they were immediately ready to perpetrate the frauds they had thought of in the night. We now then apprehend the import of the Prophet’s meaning.
He now subjoins, For according to their power is their hand As
“When the enemy shall take away thy spoils,
thy hand will not be for power;”
that is, “Thou wilt not dare to move a finger to restrain thy enemies; when they will plunder thee and rob thee of thy substance, thou wilt stand in dread, for thy hand will be as though it were dead.” I come now to the present passage, Their hand is for power: (79) the Prophet means, that they dared to try what they could, and that therefore their hand was always ready; whenever there was hope of lucre or gains the hand was immediately prepared. How so? Because they were restrained neither by the fear of God nor by any regard for justice; but their hand was for power, that is, what they could, they dared to do. We now then see what the Prophet means as far as I can judge. He afterwards adds —
(78) Literally, work; but
(79) The original is,
Micah confirms here what is contained in the former verse; for he sets forth the alacrity with which the avaricious were led to commit plunder; nay, how unbridled was their cupidity to do evil. As soon as they have coveted any thing, he says, they take it by force. And hence we gather, that the Prophet, in the last verse, connected wicked counsels with the attempt of effecting them; as though he had said, that they indeed carefully contrived their frauds, but that as they were skillful in their contrivances, so they were not less bold and daring in executing then.
The same thing he now repeats in other words for a further confirmation, As soon as they have coveted fields, they seize them by force; as soon as they have coveted houses they take them away; they oppress a man and his house together; (80) that is, nothing escaped them: for as their wickedness in frauds was great, so their disposition to attempt whatever they wished was furious. And well would it be were there no such cruel avarice at this day; but it exists every where, so that we may see, as in a mirror, an example of what is here said. But it behaves us carefully to consider how greatly displeasing to God are frauds and plunders, so that each of us may keep himself from doing any wrong, and be so ruled by a desire of what is right, that every one of us may act in good faith towards his neighbors, seek nothing that is unjust, and bridle his own desires: and whenever Satan attempts to allure us, let what is here taught be to us as a bridle to restrain us. It follows —
(80) This verse presents an instance of parallelism not uncommon, in which the first and the last line correspond, and the second and the third; as will be seen in the following version: —
And they covet fields and forcibly seize them,
And houses, and they take themaway;
Yea, they oppress the young man and his house,
And the old man and his inheritance.
There must be some distinction between
The Prophet shows now that the avaricious were in vain elevated by their frauds and rapacity, because their hope would be disappointed; for God in heaven was waiting his time to appear against them. Though they had anxiously heaped together much wealth, yet God would justly dissipate it altogether. This is what he now declares.
Behold, he says, thus saith Jehovah, I am meditating evil against this family (81) There is here a striking contrast between God and the Jews, between their wicked intentions and the intentions of God, which in themselves were not evil, and yet would bring evil on them. God, he says, thus speaks, Behold, I am purposing; as though he said, “While ye are thus busying yourselves on your beds, while ye are revolving many designs while ye are contriving many artifices, ye think me to be asleep, ye think that I am all the while meditating nothing; nay, I have my thoughts too, and those different from yours; for while ye are awake to devise wickedness I am awake to contrive judgment.” We now then perceive the import of these words: it is God that declares that he meditates evil, and it is not the Prophet that speaks to these avaricious and rapacious men; and the evil is that of punishment, inasmuch as it is the peculiar office of God to repay to all what they deserve, and to render to each the measure of evil they have brought on others.
Ye shall not, he says, remove your necks from under it. Since hypocrites always promise to themselves impunity, and lay hold on subterfuges, whenever God threatens them, the Prophet here affirms, that though they sought every escape, they would yet be held bound by God’s hand, so that they could not by any means shake off the burden designed for them. And this was a reward most fully deserved by those who had withdrawn their necks when God called them to obedience. They then who refuse to obey God, when he requires from them a voluntary service, will at length be drawn by force, not to undergo the yoke, but the burden which will altogether overwhelm them. Whosoever then will not willingly submit to God’s yoke, must at length undergo the great and dreadful burden prepared for the unnamable.
Ye will not then be able to withdraw your necks, and ye shall not walk in your height. He expresses still more clearly what I have referred to, — that they were so elated with pride, that they despised all threatening and all instruction: and this presumption became the cause of perverseness; for were it not that a notion of security deceived men, they would presently bend, when God threatens them. This then is the reason why the Prophet joins this sentence, ye shall no more walk in your height; that is, your haughtiness shall then surely be made to succumb; for it will be a time of evil He means, as I have said, that those who retain a stir and unbending neck towards God, when he would lay on them his yoke, shall at length be made by force to yield, however rebellious they may be. How so? For they shall be broken down, inasmuch as they will not be corrected. The Prophet then adds —
(81) The word
The verse is in broken sentences; and hence interpreters vary. But the meaning of the Prophet appears to me to be simply this, In that day they shall take up a proverb against you; that is, it will not be an ordinary calamity, but the report concerning it will go forth every where so that the Jews will become to all a common proverb. This is one thing. As to the word
They shall then mourn in this manner, Wasted, we have been wasted: the portion of my people has he changed — (it is the future instead of the past) — He has then changed the portion of my people This may be applied to God as well as to the Assyrians; for God was the principal author of this calamity; he it was who changed the portion of the people: for as by his blessing he had long cherished that people, so afterwards he changed their lot. But as the Assyrians were the ministers of God’s vengeance, the expression cannot be unsuitably applied to them. The Assyrian then has taken away the portion of my people And then he says, How has he made to depart, or has taken away, or removed from me, (literally, to me,) to restore, — though
Some conjecture from this verse, that the discourse belongs rather to the Israelites, who were banished without any hope of return; but no necessity constrains us to explain this of the Israelites; for the Prophet does not declare here what God would do, but what would be the calamity when considered in itself. We have indeed said already in many places, that the Prophets, while threatening, speak only of calamities, desolations, deaths, and destructions, but that they afterwards add promises for consolation. But their teaching is discriminative: when the Prophets intend to terrify hypocrites and perverse men, they set forth the wrath of God only, and leave no hope; but when they would inspire with hope those who are by this means humbled, they draw forth comfort to them even from the goodness of God. What is here said then may fitly and really be applied to the Jews. It follows —
(82) Very similar is the description of
(83) Most commentators agree as to the general meaning of this verse, which is clearly stated here: but their versions differ. Newcome, following the Septuagint, renders the verbs in the first and second lines in a passive sense, but Henderson gives them an active meaning, supplying “one” as the nominative case, i.e., the person, who utters the lamentation afterwards mentioned. The two last lines are the most difficult. Marckius has this version, —
Quomodo subtraxit mihi!
Avertenti agros nostros distribuit !
That of Junius and Tremelius is essentially the same, only the verbs are put in the present tense. Newcome’s rendering is this, —
How hath he withdrawn it form me!
To an apostate he hath divided our fields!
To call the king of Babylon an apostate, seems incongruous, as it cannot be applied to any one but who has turned away from true religion. The most obvious and literal rendering is that given by Marckius, with the exception of the tense. I offer the following version of the whole verse, with no alteration in the text, except the supplying of a
In that day shall be taken up concerning you a proverb,
And lament a lamentation will the oppressed,
And say will the desolate, —“We are destroyed,
The portion of my people he changes;
How he takes away from me!
To the alienator of my fields he divides them!
It is a proverb, a common saying, and a lament, that would be uttered, as the Prophet foretells, at the time of the expulsion of the people from the land, when it would be taken possession of by their enemies. — Ed.
Here the Prophet concludes his discourse respecting God’s design to cleanse Judea from its perverse and wicked inhabitants, that it might no longer be the inheritance of one people. For the land, we know, had been given to the posterity of Abraham, on the condition, that it was to be held by them as an heritage: and we also know, that a line was determined by lot whenever the year of Jubilee returned, that every one might regain his own possession. The Prophet now testifies that this advantage would be taken away from the Jews, and that they would hereafter possess the land by no hereditary right; for God, who had given it, would now take it away.
There shall not then be one to cast a line by lot in the assembly of Jehovah. And he seems here to touch the Jews, by calling them the assembly of Jehovah. He indeed adopted them, they were the people of God: but he intimates that they were repudiated, because they had rendered themselves unworthy of his favor. He therefore, by calling them ironically the assembly of Jehovah, denies that they rightly retained this name, inasmuch as they had deprived themselves of this honor and dignity. It now follows —
Here the conciseness of the expressions has made interpreters to differ in their views. Some read thus, Distill ye not, — they will distill; that is, the Jews speak against the prophets, and with threats forbid them, as with authority, to address them. The Hebrew word, distill, means the same as to speak; though at the same time it is applied more commonly to weighty addresses than to such as are common and ordinary. If any understands, they will distill, or speak, of the Jews, then the Prophet points out their arrogance in daring to contend with God’s prophets, and in trying to silence and force them to submission. We indeed find that ungodly men act thus, when they wish to take away the liberty of teaching from God’s prophets; for they resist as though they themselves were doubly and treble prophets. So also in this place, Distill ye not, that is, the Jews say, Let not the servants of God prophesy. But some think that a relative is understood, Distill ye not for them who distill; as though he had said, that ungodly men would not bear God’s prophets and thus would prevent and restrain them, as much as they could, from speaking. Others make this distinction, Distill ye not, — they shall distill; as though the Jews said the first, and God the second. Distill ye not, — this was the voice of the ungodly and rebellious people, who would cast away from them and reject every instruction: but God on the other side opposed them and said, Nay, they shall distill; ye forbid, but it is not in your power; I have sent them: though ye may rage and glamour a hundred times, it is my will that they should proceed in their course.
We hence see how various are the explanations: and even in the other part of the verse there is no more agreement between interpreters: They shall not distill; respecting this clause, it is sufficiently evident, that God here intimates that there would be now an end to all prophecies. How so? Because he would not render his servants a sport, and subject them to reproach. This is the true meaning: and yet some take another view, as though the Prophet continued his sentence, They shall not distill, lest the people should receive reproaches; for the ungodly think, that if they close the mouths of the prophets, all things would be lawful to them, and that their crimes would be hid, in short, that their vices would not be called to an account; as though their wickedness was not in itself sufficiently reproachful, were God to send no prophets, and no reproof given. No doubt, profane men are so stupid as to think themselves free from every reproach, when God is silent, and when they put away from themselves every instruction. Hence some think, that this passage is to be understood in this sense. But I consider the meaning to be that which I have stated; for he had before said, Distill ye not who distill; that is, Ye prophets, be no longer troublesome to us; why do you stem our ears? We can no longer bear your boldness; be then silent. Thus he expressly introduced the Jews as speaking with authority, as though it was in their power to restrain the prophets from doing their duty. Now follows, as I think, the answer of God, They shall not distill, that he may not get reproaches: Since I see that my doctrine is intolerable to you, since I find a loathing so great and so shameful, I will take away my prophets from you: I will therefore rest, and be hereafter silent. — Why? “Because I effect nothing; nay, I subject my prophets to reproaches; for they lose their labor in speaking, they pour forth words which produce no fruit; for ye are altogether irreclaimable. Nay, as they are reproachfully treated by you, their condition is worse than if they were covered with all the disgrace of having been criminal. Since then I subject my prophets to reproach I will not allow them to be thus mocked by you. They shall therefore give over, they shall prophesy no longer. (84) ”
But the Lord could not have threatened the Jews with any thing worse or more dreadful than with this immunity, — that they should no more hear anything which might disturb them: for it is an extreme curse, when God gives us loose reins, and suffers us, with unbridled liberty, to rush as it were headlong into evils, as though he had delivered us up to Satan to be his slaves. Since it is so, let us be assured that it is an awful threatening, when he says, They shall not distill, lest they should hereafter become objects of reproach.
(84) Newcome, apparently on the authority of the Septuagint, joins a part of the last verse to this, and gives this rendering,—
In the congregation of Jehovah prophesy not, O ye that prophesy:
They shall not prophesy to these:
For he shall remove from himselfreproaches.
The last line he applies to the true prophet, that he would not subject himself to disgrace by exercising his office. Henderson’s version is the following: —
Prophesy not; those shall prophesy
Who will not prophesy of these things:
Reproaches are incessant.
This is viewed as being altogether the language of the people, interdicting the true prophets, specifying those whom they approved, and deprecating the reproaches cast upon them by the true prophets. Another version, which is materially adopted by Calvin, is admitted by our Author as not unsuitable, but he prefers the one given above. The main objection is to the last line, which in the original is this, —
The last word is plural, and means reproaches; and the verb
The last clause is evidently viewed as an anomalous construction by Henderson; for he renders it as though the plural noun were the nominative case to the verb in the singular number, and this because the latter precedes the former. There may be instances of this in Hebrew, but it is by no means a common usage; though it be so in the Welsh language, which in so many of its peculiarities is very much like Hebrew. This sort of construction is the ordinary one in that language: a plural noun has commonly a verb in the singular number, when placed before it. This sentence in Welsh would be exactly the same as in Hebrew—
The Prophet now reproves the Israelites with greater severity, because they attempted to impose a law on God and on his prophets and would not endure the free course of instruction. He told us in the last verse, that the Israelites were inflated with so much presumption, that they wished to make terms with God: “Let him not prophesy” they said, as though it were in the power of man to rule God: and the Prophet now repeats, Is the Spirit of Jehovah straitened? as though he said, Ye see the intent of your presumption, and how far it proceeds; for ye wish to subject God’s Spirit to yourselves and to your own pleasure. The prophets doubtless did not speak of themselves, but by the bidding and command of God. Since then the prophets were the organs of the Holy Spirit, whosoever attempted to silence them, usurped to himself an authority over God himself, and in a manner tried to make captive his Spirit: for what power can belong to the Spirit, except he be at liberty to reprove the vices of men, and condemn whatever is opposed to God’s justice? When this is taken away, there is no more any jurisdiction left to the Holy Spirit. We now then see what the Prophet means in this place: he shows how mad a presumption it was in the Israelites to attempt to impose silence on the prophets, as though they had a right to rule the Spirit of God, and to force him to submission.
Is the Spirit of Jehovah straitened? And this mode of speaking ought to be noticed, for it possesses no ordinary emphasis; inasmuch as the Prophets by this reproof; recalls the attention of these perverse men to the author of his teaching; as though he had said, that the wrong was not done to men, that war was not carried on with them, when instruction is prohibited, but that God is robbed of his own rights and that his liberty is taken away, so that he is not allowed to execute his judgment in the world by the power of his Spirit.
And farther, the Prophet here ironically reproves the Israelites, when he says, O thou who art called the house of Jacob, is the Spirit of Jehovah reduced to straits? For if heathens, who have never known the teaching of religion, and to whom no heavenly mysteries have been revealed, had said, that they would have nothing to do with the prophets, it would have been much more endurable; for what wonder would it be for ignorant men to repudiate all instruction? But it was monstrous for the Israelites, who gloried in the name of God, to dare to rise up so rebelliously against the prophets: they always boasted of their own race, as though they surpassed all the rest of the world, and were a holy nations separated from all others. Hence the Prophet says, “Ye wish to be called the house of Jacob; what is your excellency and dignity, except that you have been chosen by God to be his peculiar people? If then you have been habituated to the teaching of God, what fury and madness it is, that you cannot bear his prophets, but wish to close their mouths?” We now then see the point of this irony, when the Prophet says that they were called the house of Jacob He seems at the same time to intimate, in an indirect way, that they were a spurious race. As they were called by other prophets, Amorites and Sodomites: even so in this place the Prophet says, “Ye are indeed the house of Jacob, but it is only as to the name.” They were in reality so degenerated, that they falsely pretended the name of the holy patriarch; yea, they falsely and mendaciously boasted of their descent from holy men, though they were nothing else but as it were rotten members. Inasmuch then as they had so departed from the religion of Abraham and of other fathers, the Prophet says, “Thou art indeed called what thou art not.”
He afterwards adds, Are these his works? Here he brings the Israelites to the proof, as though he said, How comes it, that the prophets are so troublesome and grievous to you, except that they sharply reprove you, and denounce on you the judgment of God? But God is in a manner forced, except he was to change his nature, to treat you thus sharply and severely. Ye boast that you are his people, but how do you live? Are these his works? that is, do you lead a life, and form your conduct according to the law laid down by him? But as your life does not in any degree correspond with what God requires, it is no wonder that the prophets handle you so roughly. For God remains the same, ever like himself; but ye are perfidious, and have wholly repudiated the covenant he has made with you. Then this asperity, of which ye are wont to complain, ought not to be deemed unjust to you.
He then subjoins, Are not my words good to him who walks uprightly? Here the Prophet more distinctly shows, why he had before asked, Whether their works were those of the Lord; for he compares their life with the doctrine, which on account of its severity displeased them; they said that the words of the prophets were too rigid. God here answers, that his words were gentle and kind, and therefore pleasant, that is, to the pious and good; and that hence the fault was in them, when he treated them less kindly than they wished. The import of the whole then is, that the word of God, as it brings life and salvation to man, is in its own nature gracious, and cannot be either bitter, or hard, or grievous to the pious and the good, for God unfolds in it the riches of his goodness.
We hence see that God here repudiates the impious calumny that was cast on his word; as though he had said, that the complaints which prevailed among the people were false; for they transferred the blame of their own wickedness to the word of God. They said that God was too severe: but God here declares that he was gentle and kind, and that the character of his word was the same, provided men were tractable, and did not, through their perverseness, extort from him anything else than what he of himself wished. And the same thing David means in Psalms 18:0, when he says that God is perverse with the perverse: for in that passage he intimates, that he had experienced the greatest goodness from God, inasmuch as he had rendered himself docile and obedient to him. On the contrary, he says, God is perverse with the perverse; that is, when he sees men obstinately resisting and hardening their necks, he then puts on as it were a new character, and deals perversely with them, that is, severely, as their stubbornness deserves; as for a hard knot, according to a common proverb, a hard wedge is necessary. We now then perceive the meaning of this passage, that God’s words are good to those who walk uprightly; that is they breathe the sweetest odour, and bring nothing else but true and real joy: for when can there be complete happiness, except when God embraces us in the bosom of his love? But the testimony respecting this love is brought to us by his word. The fault then is in us, and ought to be imputed to us, if the word of God is not delightful to us.
Some expound this whole passage differently, as though the Prophet relates here what was usually at that time the boast of the Israelites. They hence think that it is a narrative in which he represents their sentiments; (narrationem esse mimiticam;) as though the Prophet introduced here the ungodly and the rebellious animating one another in their contempt of God’s word, O thou who art called the house of Jacob, is the Spirit of Jehovah straitened? Hypocrites, we know, are so blind and intoxicated by a false confidence, that they hesitate not heedlessly to abuse all the favors of God. As then God had conferred a great excellency on his people, they thus emboldened one another, — “Are we not the children and posterity of Abraham? What will it avail us to be a holy and chosen race, and the peculiar people of God, and a royal priesthood, if we are to be thus unkindly treated? We find that these prophets shamefully reprove us: where is our dignity, except we show that we have more privileges than other nations?” These interpreters therefore think the meaning to be this, — that they make a show of their own privileges, that they might with more liberty reject every instruction, and shake off every yoke. And when it is said, Is the Spirit of God diminished? these interpreters regard this as meaning, that they were satisfied with the solemn promise of God, and that as they were a holy race, they now superciliously despised all the prophets, — “Is the Spirit of God dead, who was formerly the interpreter of the everlasting covenant, which God made with us? Has he not testified that we should be to him a holy and elect people? Why then do ye now attempt to reduce to nothing this sacred declaration of the Holy Spirit, which is inviolable?” It is then added, Are these his works? “Ye talk of nothing but of threats and destruction; ye denounce on us numberless calamities: but God is beneficent and kind in his nature, patient and merciful; and ye represent him to us as a tyrant; but this view is wholly inconsistent with the nature of God.” And, in the last place, God subjoins, as these interpreters think, an exception, — “All these are indeed true, if faithfulness exists among you, and the authority of my word continues; for my words are good, but not to all without any difference: be upright and sincere, and ye shall find me dealing kindly, gently, tenderly, and pleasantly with you: then my rigor will cease, which now through my word so much offends and exasperates you.”
This meaning may in some measure be admitted; but as it is hard to be understood, we ought to retain the former, it being more easy and flowing. There is nothing strained in the view, that the Prophet derides the foolish arrogance of the people, who thought that they were sheltered by this privilege, that they were the holy seed of Abraham. The Prophet answers that this titular superiority did not deprive God of his right, and prevent him to exercise his power by the Spirit. “O thou then who art called the house of Jacob; but only as far as the title goes: the Spirit of God is not reduced to straits. But if thou boastest thyself to be the peculiar people of God, are these thy works the works of God? Does thy life correspond with what he requires? There is no wonder then that God chastises you so severely by his word, for there is not in you the spirit of docility, which allows the exercise of his kindness.” (85)
But though the Prophet here upbraids the ancient people with ingratitude, yet this truth is especially useful to us, which God declares, when he says that his word is good and sweet to all the godly. Let us then learn to become submissive to God, and then he will convey to us by his word nothing but sweetness, nothing but delights; we shall then find nothing more desirable than to be fed by this spiritual food; and it will ever be a real joy to us, whenever the Lord will open his mouth to teach us. But when at any time the word of the Lord goads and wounds, and thus exasperates us, let us know that it is through our own fault. It follows —
(85) Newcome, adopting
Doth the house of Israel [Jacob] say,
“Is the Spirit of Jehovah straightened?
Are these his doings?”
“Straightened,” i.e., confined to a few, such as Micah. And by “doings,” he means the judgments before announced. Henderson regards the “doings,” or, as he renders them, “operations,” in the same light, though he views the words as spoken by the Prophet, and renders the first line thus, —
What language, O house of Jacob!
The first word,
As the words of the Prophet are concise, they contain some obscurity. Hence interpreters differ. First, as to the word
I will now refer to what I consider to be the real meaning. The Prophet, in the first place, says, that the people were formerly under the power and government of God, but that now they were become wholly alienated from him. Formerly, then, it was my people, as though God now renounced all friendship with them. “I have hitherto owned you as my people, but hereafter I shall have nothing to do with you, for the whole authority of my word is by you entirely abolished; ye have violated your faith: in short, as you have destroyed my covenant, ye have ceased to be my people; for whatever favor I have conferred on you, you have deprived yourselves of it by your wickedness; and though I have adopted you, yet your wickedness now strips you of this privilege.” This is one thing.
It then follows, They have risen up as against an enemy. I consider a note of likeness to be here understood. The Prophet says simply, Against an enemy have they risen up; but I regard the meaning to be, that they had risen up as against an enemy; that is that they had made God, their best father, their enemy, inasmuch as they had by their crimes provoked his displeasure. (86) He then confirms this truth by saying, that they practiced robberies among themselves. We indeed know that hypocrites ever hide themselves under their religious rites, and spread them forth as their shield whenever they are reproved. Hence the Prophet says, that they were not to be deemed the people of God for spending their labors on sacrifices, for they were at the same time robbers, and plundered innocent men.
The garment of comeliness, he says, or, the garment and the cloak, (about such words I do not labor much,) they take away from those who pass by securely; (87) that is from all who are peaceable. For when there is a suspicion of war, or when a traveler does any mischief, he rightly deserves to be punished. But the Prophet says here, that they were robbed, who passed by securely as though they were in a safe country. “When travelers fear nothing, ye strip them of their garments, as though they were returning from war: as they are wont, when war is over, to seize on spoils wherever found, and no one can keep his own; so now, during peace, ye take to yourselves the same liberty, as though all things were exposed to plunder, and ye were in a hostile country, lately the scene of warfare.”
We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet. He first intimates that the people were now rejected by God, for they had rendered themselves, by their most abandoned life, wholly unworthy of his benefits; and at the same time he reproves their ingratitude that having been the people of God, they choose to make war with him rather than to observe the covenant which he had made for their safety; for it was a most shameful wickedness in them, since they had been chosen from the whole world to be a peculiar people, to prefer going to war with God rather than to live quietly under his protection. And that they did rise up against God he proves, for they gave themselves up to robberies; they plundered, even during times of peace, which circumstance greatly aggravated their wickedness. It now follows —
(86) Newcome gives the same meaning to this part of the line, though another to the former part,—
But of old my people hath risen up as an enemy.
Henderson’s version is the same. The word rendered “of old” means “yesterday,” and expresses often past time indefinitely. It is once rendered “of old,” Isaiah 30:33; but in other places, “heretofore,” “in times past;” but “formerly,” or “of late,” would be the most suitable expression in this passage. — Ed.
(87) The literal rendering of these two lines may be given thus:—
From off the garment the mantle ye shall strip
From those who pass by securely, returning from war.
Or the last words,
He proceeds with the same subject, that they refrained from no acts of injustice. It was indeed a proof of extreme barbarity not to spare women and children, for they are both weak and helpless. Their sex exempts women from violence, and their age, children. (88) Even in wars, women, and also children, escape in safety. We hence see that the Prophet, by stating a part for the whole, proves here that the people had addicted themselves to cruelty really barbarous; they were not restrained from exercising it, no, not even on women and children. Since it was so, it follows, that their boast of being the chosen people was vain and fallacious.
House of delights he ascribes to the women who, being the weaker sex, prefer being at home and in the shade, rather than going abroad. The more necessary it was that their recesses should remain safe to them. Now, what was taken away from the children, God calls it his ornament; for his blessing, poured forth on children, is the mirror of his glory: he therefore condemns this plunder as a sacrilege. The word
(88) This verse presents several anomalies. We have “women” and the verbs in the plural, and then “house,” “her delights,” and “her children.” It may be thus rendered, —
The women of my people ye drive away,
Eachfrom the house of her delights;
From off her children ye take away my ornament forever.
The word rendered in our version “flory,” is
Here again the Prophet checks the foolish confidence of the people. The land of Canaan, we know, had been honored by God with the distinction of being a rest; yea God called it, not only the rest of the people, but also his own rest,
‘I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest,’
The land of Canaan then was a sort of rest, hidden under the wings of God; for the Lord had assigned it as an inheritance to his chosen people. As God then dwelt in that land, and had also given it to the children of Abraham, that they might rest there in safety, and as this was also one of the blessings contained in the Law, hypocrites said, pursuing their usual course of falsely and groundlessly claiming to themselves the favors of God, that they could not be thence expelled, and that those Prophets were falsifiers who dared to change any thing in God’s covenant. This is the reason why the Prophet now says,
Arise, depart; this is not your rest. “False confidence,” he says, “deceives you, as ye think that ye are inseparably fixed in your habitation. God indeed has made such a promise, but this condition was added, — If ye will stand faithful to his covenant. Now ye are become covenant-breakers: ye think that he is fast bound to you; all the cords are loosened; for as ye have perfidiously departed from the Law of God, there is now no reason for you to think that he is under any obligation to you. There is then no ground for you to boast of being a holy people; you have indeed the name, but the reality has ceased to be: therefore arise and depart: but to sit still securely and proudly will avail you nothing, for God will now drive you afar off: and I now declare to you that you must arise and depart, for ye cannot rest in this land against the will of God: and God will now thrust you out of it.” We now perceive the real meaning of the Prophet.
He afterwards adds, For it is polluted; he will scatter you with violent scattering (89) Here again he vindicates God from their calumny and ungodly murmurings. We indeed know how difficult it was to bring down that people, who were steeped in so great a perverseness. And we find that the Prophet had a hard contest with the hypocrites, for the multitude had ever this language in their mouths, — What! is it of no moment that God has favored us with so many and so remarkable promises? Is our adoption nothing but a mockery? Has he in vain given us this land by an hereditary right? Since then hypocrites thus brought forward their privileges in opposition to God, and yet abused them, it was necessary to convince them to the contrary, and this is what the Prophet does here, — “Ye call,” he says, “this land your rest, but how do you rest in it? God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath, for he dwells among you to sanctify you: but ye live disorderly, and carry on war with God himself: have not your pollutions obliterated that holy rest, which has been enjoined on you by God? Ye then see that this change has happened through your fault, that is, that God has ceased to call this land, as he was wont formerly to do, your and his own rest. It is not then your rest; he will therefore scatter you with violent or strong scattering: Ye in vain promise to yourselves rest in this land, since ye carry on war with God, and cease not to provoke his wrath against you.” It follows —
(89) The original is
But most others attach the idea of corruption and destruction to
“Because it is polluted, it shall be destroyed,
And the destruction shall be great.”
Some render the verb actively, “It,” i.e. the land, “shall destroy you,” a reference being made, as it is thought, to what is said in Leviticus 18:25. The version of Marckius is this, —
“ Quando quidem impuritas corrumpet,
Et corruptio acris .” —
Seeing that impurity will destroy it,
And a violent destruction.
The previous word
The Prophet points out here another vice by which the people were infected — that they wished to be soothed with flatteries: for all the ungodly think that they are in a manner exempt from God’s judgment, when they hear no reproof; yea they think themselves happy, when they get flatterers, who are indulgent to their vices. This is now the disease which the Prophet discovers as prevailing among the people. Jerome sought out a meaning quite different here, as in the former verses; but I will not stop to refute him, for it is enough to give the real meaning of the Prophet. But as before he rendered women, princes, and thus perverted entirely the meaning, so he says here, I would I were a vain Prophet, that is, walking in vanity, and mendacious; as though Micah said “I wish I were false in denouncing on you the calamities of which I speak; for I would rather announce to you something joyful and favorable: but I cannot do this, for the Lord commands what is different.” But there is nothing of this kind in the words of the Prophet. Let us then return to the text.
If a man walks in the spirit, and deceitfully lies, (90) etc. Almost all interpreters agree in this, — that to walk in the spirit, is to announce any thing proudly and presumptuously; and they take spirit for wind or for deceits. But I doubt not, but that to walk in the spirit was then a common mode of speaking, to set forth the exercise of the prophetic office. When therefore any one was a Prophet, or one who discharged that office, or sustained the character of a teacher, he professed himself to have been sent from above. The Prophets were indeed formerly called the men of the spirit, and for this reason, because they adduced nothing from themselves or from their own heads; but only delivered faithfully, as from hand to hand, what they had received from God. To walk in the spirit then means, in my view, the same thing as to profess the office of a teacher. When therefore any one professed the office of a teacher, what was he to do? “If I,” says Micah, “being endued with the Spirit, and called to teach, wished to ingratiate myself with you, and preached that there would be an abundant increase of wine and strong drink, all would applaud me; for if any one promises these things, he becomes the prophet of this people.”
In short, Micah intimates that the Israelites rejected all sound doctrine, for they sought nothing but flatteries, and wished to be cherished in their vices; yea, they desired to be deceived by false adulation to their own ruin. It hence appears that they were not the people they wished to be deemed, that is, the people of God: for the first condition in God’s covenant was, — that he should rule among his people. Inasmuch then as these men would not endure to be governed by Divine power, and wished to have full and unbridled liberty, it was the same as though they had banished God far from them. Hence, by this proof, the Prophet shows that they had wholly departed from God, and had no intercourse with him. If there be then any man walking in the spirit, let him, he says, keep far from the truth; for he will not otherwise be borne by this people. — How so? Because they will not have honest and faithful teachers. What is then to be done? Let flatterers come, and promise them plenty of wine and strong drink, and they will be their best teachers, and be received with great applause: in short, the suitable teachers of that people were the ungodly; the people could no longer bear the true Prophets; their desire was to have flatterers who were indulgent to all their corruptions.
(90) Perhaps a more literal rendering would be thus,—
If a man, the follower of the spirit and of deception,
Speaks falsely, “I will prophesy to thee of wine and of strong drink,”
He then becomes the prophet of this people.
To walk after, or to follow, “the wind,” as some render
If a man, walking in the spirit of falsehood and lies,
Prophesy unto thee for wine and for strong drink,
He shall be the prophet of this people.
He puts “for wine,” etc., and not “of wine:” but the latter rendering is much more suitable to the context. — Ed.
The exposition of this passage is twofold. The greater part of interpreters incline to this view, — that God here promises some alleviation to the Israelites, after having sharply reproved them, and threatened them with utter ruin. They therefore apply this passage to the kingdom of Christ, as though God gave hope of a future restoration. But when I narrowly weigh every thing, I am, on the contrary, forced to regard these two verses as a commination, that is, that the Prophet here denounces God’s future vengeance on the people. As, however, the former opinion is almost universally received, I will briefly mention what has been adduced in its favor, and then I shall return to state the other meaning, which I prefer.
It is suitable to the kingdom of Christ to say, that a people who had been dispersed should be gathered under one head. We indeed know how miserable a dispersion there is in the world without him, and that whenever the Prophets speak of the renovation of the Church, they commonly make use of this form of expression, that is, that the Lord will gather the dispersed and unite them together under one head. If then the passage be referred to the kingdom of Christ, it is altogether proper to say, that God by gathering will gather the whole of Jacob. But a restriction is afterwards added, that no one may extend this restoration to the whole race of Abraham, or to all those who, according to the flesh, derived their descent from Abraham as their father: hence the word
But I have already said that I more approve of another. exposition: for I see not how the Prophet could pass so suddenly into a different strain. He had said in the last verse that the people could endure no admonitions, for they only desired flatteries and adulation. He now joins what I have lately referred to respecting the near judgment of God, and proceeds, as we shall see, in the same strain to the end of the third chapter: but we know that the chapters were not divided by the Prophets themselves. We have therefore a discourse continued by the Prophet to the third chapter; not that he spoke all these things in one day; but he wished to collect together what he had said of the vices of the people; and this will be more evident as we proceed. I will now come to the words.
Gathering, I will gather thee, the whole of Jacob; collecting, I will collect the remnant of Israel. God has two modes of gathering; for he sometimes gathers his people from dispersion, which is a singular proof of his favor and love. But he is said also to gather, when he assembles them together to devote and give them up to destruction, as we say in French, Trousser; and this verb is taken elsewhere in the same sense, and we have already met with an instance in Hosea. So, in the present passage, God declares that there would be a gathering of the people, — for what purpose? Not that being united together they might enjoy the blessings of God, but that they might be destroyed. As then the people had united together in all kinds of wickedness, so God now declares, that they should be gathered together, that the one and the same destruction might be to them all. And he adds, the remnant of Israel; as though he said, “Whatever shall remain from slaughters in wars and from all other calamities, such as famine and pestilence, this I will collect, that it may be wholly destroyed.” He mentions the remnant, because the Israelites had been worn out by many evils, before the Lord stretched forth his hand at last to destroy them.
He afterwards subjoins, I will set them together as the sheep of Bozrah; that is, I will cast them into one heap. Bozrah was a city or a country of Idumea; and it was a very fruitful place, and had the richest pastures: hence Isaiah 34:0, in denouncing vengeance on the Idumeans, alludes at the same time to their pastures, and says, “God will choose for himself fat lambs and whatever is well fed, and will also collect fatness, for the Lord has a sacrifice in Bozrah.” So also, in this place, the Prophet says, that the Jews, when collected together as it were into a bundle, shall be like the sheep of Bozrah. And he further adds, as the sheep in the middle of the sheepfolds, though some render it, leading:
It follows, Ascend shall a breaker before them; that is, they shall be led in confusion; and the gate shall also be broken, that they may go forth together; for the passage would not be large enough, were they, as is usually done, to go forth in regular order; but the gates of cities shall be broken, that they may pass through in great numbers and in confusion. By these words the Prophet intimates, that all would be quickly taken away into exile. And they shall go forth, he says through the gate, and their king shall pass on before if them The Prophet means here, that the king would be made captive; and this was the saddest spectacle: for some hope remained, when the dregs of the people had been led into Chaldea; but when the king himself was led away a captive, and cast into prison, and his eyes pulled out, and his children slain, it was the greatest of misery. They were wont to take pride in their king, for they thought that their kingdom could not but continue perpetually, since God had so promised. But God might for a time overturn that kingdom, that he might afterwards raise it anew, according to what has been done by Christ, and according to what had been also predicted by the Prophets. “Crosswise, crosswise, crosswise, (transversa) let the crown be, until its lawful possessor comes.” We then see that this, which the Prophet mentions respecting their king, has been added for the sake of amplifying.
He afterwards adds, Jehovah shall be at the head of them; that is, He will be nigh them, to oppress and wholly to overwhelm them. Some consider something to be understood, and of this kind, that Jehovah was wont formerly to rule over them, but that now he would cease to do so: but this is too strained; and the meaning which I have stated seems sufficiently clear, and that is, — that God himself would be the doer, when they should be driven into exile, and that he would add courage to tyrants and their attendants, in pursuing the accursed people, in order to urge on more and more and aggravate their calamities and thus to show that their destruction vault happen through his righteous judgment. We now then understand the real meaning of the Prophet. (91) Now follows —
(91) Calvin is not singular in his view of this passage. Scott takes the same view, while Henry regards the passage as containing a promise, and so do Marckius, Newcome, and Henderson. But some have considered the words as those of the false prophets, referred to in the eleventh verse, and that Micah answers them in the next chapter. There is no sufficient ground for this opinion. Of those who regard the passage as including a promise, some apply it to the restoration from the Babylonian captivity, and others to spiritual restoration by the gospel. But the passage, viewed by itself, and in its connection with the next chapter, bears evidently the appearance of a commination: there are especially two words which manifestly favor this view, —
12. Gathering, I will gather Jacob, the whole of thee;
Assembling, I will assemble the residue of Israel;
Together will I set them as the sheep of Bozrah,
As a flock in the midst of its fold; —
Ye shall be more noisy than men.
13. Ascend shallthe breaker in the sight of them,
— they shall break through,
And pass the gate, yea, they shall go forth through it,
And pass shall their king before them,
And Jehovah shall be at their head,
or,for their leader.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Micah 2". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany