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Sin and Judgment
Micah 1:0 , Micah 2:0
Micah was a villager. There are advantages in village life which are not to be found under metropolitan circumstances. It was no dishonour to be a villager in Bible times. We read of One of whom it is said, "He shall be called a Nazarene." Little or nothing is known about Micah, but his prophecy stands out boldly, written in letters of fire, and surrounded by a very lurid and suggestive atmosphere. There is a great deal of gospel in Micah. How is it that flowers always look the lovelier because they are in unexpected places? When we go into a garden and find flowers we express no surprise; when we find them growing in rocky and stony and uncultivated places, we exclaim, we are filled with wonder, and sometimes our wonder touches the point of delight. We find the gospel of God in Micah; in Micah we find Bethlehem; in Micah we find the whole requirement of God.
Notice that these prophets seldom, if ever, address the poor, the outcast, and the neglected, as the criminals of society. We have nourished ourselves into the pedantry of supposing that if a man has a bad coat he has of necessity a bad character. The Bible never proceeds along these lines. Micah specifies the objects of his prophecy with great definiteness: "Hear, I pray you, O heads of Jacob, and ye princes of the house of Israel." This is in the tone of Jesus Christ. He did not gather around him the halt, the lame, the blind, the poor, the neglected, the homeless, and say, You are the curse of society; you are the criminal classes. I am not aware that any such incident or observation can be found in the whole narrative of the life of Jesus Christ upon the earth. But Jesus Christ never let the respectability of his age alone; he never gave it one moment's rest. He differs from all modern teachers in that he finds the wickedness of society in its high places. He would almost appear to proceed upon the doctrine that the poor cannot do wickedly as compared with the wickedness that can be done by the rich. What stone can a little child throw as compared with the power of a full-grown man? What wickedness can a little child do as compared with the deep-laid, subtly-elaborated villainy of a man who has had much schooling? It is worth while to dwell upon this point, because it strikes at many a sophism notably at the sophism which we have often endeavoured to expose that men are made by circumstances; that if men were wealthy they would pray; if men had an abundance they would be reverent; if men knew not the pangs of hunger they would be lost in a holy absorption, they would be lost in the praise of God. There can be no greater lie. You have done more evil in the world since you were rich than you ever did when you were poor. When you were poor you sometimes did almost nobly; since you have become encased in luxury you have thought it fashionable and seasonable to doubt, and almost polite to sneer.
All the judgments of the Bible are pronounced upon the educated classes. Nor does the judgment of God rest upon education only; it proceeds to cover the whole religiousness of the epoch. It is the religion that is irreligious; it is the wine of piety that has soured into the vinegar of impiousness. Yet we gather our holy skirts, and speak about "the criminal classes." They are only criminal in the sense in which we condemn them, in the degree in which they have been fools enough to be discovered. Vulgarity has been their ruin; they have come into notoriety, not because of their sin, but because of their clumsiness: if they had served the devil with greater craft they might have spoken of others as the criminal classes. If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! If education has been hired to do bad work, how much bad work it can do! If religion has been bribed into subservience to the black banner of the devil, with what loyalty it can serve that captain! This would give us quite a different estimate of society; this would destroy the whole respectability of the race. Jesus Christ found the throne occupied by the wrong people, and all the magistracies of his time distributed into wrong hands; the head of the house and the prince, the judge, the king, the magistrate, the ruler these were wrong. Never do we find Jesus surrounded by the East-enders of his day, receiving his condemnation because their poverty is the sign of wickedness. Education may have ruined society. Intelligence may be turned into an instrument of mischief. Is education then wrong? The question itself is frivolous, and ought not to be seriously answered. Is intelligence to be contemned? The same remark applies to that foolish inquiry. We are speaking of perverted education, misused intelligence; of education and intelligence without moral enthusiasm, and moral control, and spiritual purpose, and sanctified motive. Such education can do infinitely more mischief than can be done by blank ignorance. Education knows where the keys are; education knows where the grindstone is on which it can whet its weapons; intelligence means craft, cunning, duplicity, ingenuity in the art of concealment. Wealth can do greater mischief than poverty. This alters the whole complexion of missions and evangelistic agencies and Church arrangements; this reverses the whole picture as seen from the orthodox standpoint. Send your missionaries to the rich! Send your evangelists to pray at the doors of the wealthy, the pampered, the self-indulgent, and the self-damned! Do not make the poor man's poverty a plea for foisting your religion upon him. Lend your tracts to the magistrates, the judges, the princes of the land; they need them.
What, then, of the doctrine that men are made by circumstances? Let this be put down in plain letters, that amongst people who can hardly read and write there are some of the most upright, faithful, honourable souls that ever lived. Let this be said with loudest, most penetrating emphasis, that there are people who have no bank account who would scorn to tell a lie. Has poverty not its own genius, and its own record of heroism, and its own peculiar nobleness? Who shall speak for the dumb, and open his mouth for the afflicted, and plead the cause of those who are thought to be wicked, because they have had no social advantages? Where is there a rich man that is good? Jesus Christ could find none. He said, "How hardly" that is, with what infinite difficulty "can a rich man get into the kingdom of heaven." It is not like him, it is not the kind of thing he can appreciate; he has no tables of calculation by which he can add up its value; if he get in at all it will be by infinite squeezing, pressing, straining; he will barely get in because his wealth is an instrument which turns his soul away from the metaphysic which finds in godliness all riches, in high thought and pure honour the very element and alphabet of heaven. Still, let it be said with equal plainness, a man is not good simply because he is poor. There are villains even in poverty. A man is not excellent simply because he has not had a good education. We must be just in the whole compass of this thought. As a man is not necessarily bad because he is educated and intelligent and quick-minded, and of large and penetrating intellectual sagacity, so a man is not necessarily all that he ought to be simply on the ground that he has no monetary resources.
Ponder for a moment the excellence of the religion that dare talk like this. It asks no favours. It does not want to sit down in the pictured room; it wants to get its foot on the threshold, and through an open door to deliver its message. You cannot invite such evangelism to dinner it never dines. It is in haste it flies, it thunders, it smites in the face those who uplift themselves in a blasphemous supremacy; it eats its food with gladness, and in the fellowship of the good, but it will have nothing to do with the poisoned wine of bribery. Again we come upon our favourite doctrine that the Bible ought to be the favourite Book of the poor, the neglected, the outcast; the Bible ought to be the people's friend, the people's charter, the very revelation of man and to man, the revelation of man to himself, as well as a revelation of God to man.
Yet the prophet will not have all this evil and shame unduly proclaimed. He is not so far lost to patriotism and to tribal relations as to wish the evil news to be scattered broadcast, that the enemy may revel in it. So he says, "Declare ye it not at Gath." This has become a proverb "Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph." Do not foolishly trumpet forth all the evil that your friends have done. Yet men love to do this. Let a piece of good news be forthcoming, and it will have to make its own way in the world; it must needs crawl from door to door, and slowly impress itself upon the reluctant ears of those who would gladly turn away from the music of such messages. Let a scandal arise, and the world will know it ere one hour goes its little round. And Christians are errand-bearers in this evil agency. They do it as willingly as the worst men out of hell, only they do it in a different kind of tone; but they do it with ineffable energy, with sleepless industry, with patient detail. Give them a gospel, and it dies in the recesses of their own minds; give them a scandal, and they will not dine until they have told everybody they meet; and they will swallow their feast quickly, that they may get out into the highway to tell that the devil has scored another triumph. Not such was the spirit of this rough villager, yet this sanctified prophet of the Lord. He says, The case is bad; prince and priest and magistrate and ruler have gone wrong, but tell it not in Gath. In the days of Micah Gath was nothing, it had lost its Philistinian primacy; still there was the spirit of the proverb, which means, Tell it not to the enemy, let not the blasphemer hear of this; magnify excellence, but say nothing about defect A prophet actuated by such a spirit ought to be believed. Prophets have a variety of credentials; here is an indirect tribute to the man's own excellence. He knew all, but would not tell it to all the world. Do you know one evil thing you have never told, never whispered, never hinted at? By that sign judge yourselves. Is your heart a grave in which you bury all bad things; or is it a garden in which you cultivate them? By that sign, and not by your blatant orthodoxy, judge your relation to the Cross of Christ. Such was the scathing criticism of the prophet; such is the judgment of Christ upon his Church and upon his nominal followers. He will not allow men to be round about him who take any delight in evil things or in the publication of evil circumstances; he ignores them, he dispenses with their service, and he thrusts them out into the completest darkness the only atmosphere they are fit for. Let them tell their evil to the heedless darkness; let them emit their poison where no soul can be hurt by its virus. This would alter the Church altogether; this would take away the Church's occupation. There are men who acquire a reputation for themselves by condemning the vice of other people. We must all start again, or we shall make no progress in this divine life, nor shall we promote the best purpose, the holiest intent, of the divine kingdom. Search thyself; be cruel to thine own soul; torture thyself into a higher grade of goodness. The mere persecutor, the hired blocksman and fireman, may be said to be dead. Blessed be God there remains the age of self-martyrdom, there remains the crown due to him who smites himself in the eyes, and bruises himself, that by taking away his worst life he may truly gain his soul.
In the days of Micah there was a species of evil which is not yet extinct. All the evil was not done in public. The prophet therefore proceeds: "Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! When the morning is light they practise it, because it is in the power of their hand." The condemnation is upon deliberate evil. The evildoers are here in their beds; they are considering at leisure what can be done next. How can it be best attempted, how can it be elaborated to the greatest effect? They slumber over it; having nourished their brain into a higher degree of energy they revert to the subject: How can this policy be best carried out? This is deliberate sin, rolling it under the tongue as a sweet morsel, reverting to it, recalling it, asking for another vision of it. The soul, what a dungeon! The mind, what an abyss of darkness! Soliloquy, how silent! There is sudden evil, and that must always be carefully distinguished from deliberate wickedness. There are bursts of passion, gusts of vehement will, stress brought to bear without notice upon the citadel of the soul. "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye who are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness. Consider yourselves, lest ye also be tempted." Distinguish between those who are carried away with a whirlwind, and those who mount the whirlwind deliberately that they may ride forth in that glowing chariot. Hear the words of the fiery apostle: "On some have compassion." Micah is not dealing with this class of men, but with those who have made their bed the sanctuary of the devil; he is dealing with men who say, We will sleep upon this, we will turn it over; we will see what can be done; we will polish and be prepared against the day of assault; we will shut out the world and count our resources; we will settle the whole thing in the privacy of the chamber, and then when the morning light comes we will spring up as naturally as if nothing had been done by way of preparation, and then we will strike with our whole force.
Deliberate sin shall have deliberate judgment. This follows quickly in chapter Micah 2:3 : "Therefore thus saith the Lord; Behold, against this family do I devise an evil." What, are there two devisers? Read Micah 2:1 , "Woe to them that devise iniquity"; Micah 2:3 , "Thus saith the Lord... do I devise." That is the ghostly aspect of life. There is the tremendous danger. The foolish man locks himself up in the darkness of his own concealment, and lays his plot, and works out with elaborate patience his whole conspiracy against the kingdom of light and honour, truth and beauty; he says, None seeth me; I can do this, and none shall be the wiser for my doing it; I will spring forth in the fulness of my preparation when nobody is aware that I have been laying this train of powder. A man once talked thus: "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years: take thine ease, take life quietly, enjoy thyself." And one said to him, "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee." That was the uncalculated element; that was the detestable ghostliness that haunts us. Even when we are most rationalistic, when we are inebriated with our own philosophy, a sudden touch makes us white, and a whisper drives the blood thickly upon the heart. A man shall rise in all his self-consciousness of power and capacity and ability to do what he pleases, and the wise man shall say to him, Are you aware that you may drop down dead at any moment, such is the condition of your physical system? This factor the man had not taken into account. Always remember that whilst we are devising God also is devising. "He taketh the wise in their own craftiness." And let this reflection make life completer in its repose: "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper," if so be thy soul be wedded to honour, to duty, to reverence, and to the Cross of Christ. Though men conspire against thee, and have the pit already dug, and have examined it carefully by the concealed candle light, and though they should say, "Now it is in a state of readiness, now let the victim come," whilst they are stepping back to make way for the victim they will fall into the pit which they have dug for others. The Lord sitteth in the heavens. He watches all. He brings us into great extremities. He shows us over what a precipice we might have fallen. Then he says, Go home and pray!
Almighty God, we have waited for thee more than they that wait for the morning when shall the morning come and the night be passed for ever? When shall we dwell in light, and see no shadow of death? We bless thee that these questions are not left unanswered; thou hast written the reply in our hearts, thou hast set forth the answer before our eyes in thy Holy Book; thou hast promised that death shall be swallowed up of life, and that all things shall praise thee, and that all voices shall be in thy great choir. We rejoice in the anticipation of the time when the ransomed of the Lord shall return unto Zion, and when sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Thou knowest when the earth has had enough of them; thou wilt not send upon the earth one sorrow too many; thou wilt not tear thy handiwork to pieces, for thine is not wanton strength. Thou lovest to uphold and construct and preserve; thou art God the builder of all things, and to this end all thy providence is ordered. Surely thou wilt put an end to evil, thou wilt tear down the house of iniquity; yea, thou wilt plough up its foundations, and it shall be found no more for ever. Thy face is set against all evil; thou canst not tolerate it; it is the abominable thing which thou dost hate: we leave it with thee; thou wilt scorch it and burn it, and finally annihilate it. But to what good ends wilt thou bring all things that are of the nature of virtue; how thou wilt uplift every holy thought; how thou wilt ennoble every generous impulse. Thou wilt not break the bruised reed, thou wilt not quench the smoking flax; wherever there is a little that is good, a little that is of the true quality of fire, thou wilt preserve it, and defend it, and mightily and triumphantly bring it to completeness of expression. The Lord reigneth; the throne of the Most High is upon the circle of the universe, there is nothing that lies beyond the sceptre of the Almighty. We bless thee for this confidence in thy personality and in thy government, in the tenderness and minuteness of thy providence. We know all this, and believe it right heartily, because we have been at the school of the Cross; there we have seen into God's heart, there we see the sorrow that lies at the heart of all things as a root out of which alone true joy and true music can come. The Cross of Christ explains the throne of God; we tarry there, we wait in holy expectation; we have no fear of armed men, or of subtle enemies, or of mighty temptations whilst we are hidden within the sanctuary of the Cross. Mighty Saviour, mighty in thy weakness, thou wilt not suffer the least of thy children to be plucked out of thy hand. O dying Man, dying God, Saviour of the world, showing us the mystery of blood which is the mystery of life, lead us to see that where sin abounds grace doth much more abound; and in the overabounding of grace may we find our confidence, our pardon, our peace, our security. The Lord deliver us from all notions that are at variance with the purity of his own love; all conceptions that are unworthy of the mystery of sacrifice, and teach us, in all humbleness of mind and self-renunciation, how great is love, how wondrous is the death that is ennobled into sacrifice. Thus and thus, day by day, a little at a time, show us the noonday of thy glory, the full light of which we could not now endure. Amen.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Micah 1". Parker's The People's Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany