Friday, June 2nd, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
The Expositor's Bible Commentary The Expositor's Bible Commentary
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Micah 4". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ teb/ micah-4.html.
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Micah 4". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/
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ON TIME’S HORIZON
THE immediate prospect of Zion’s desolation which closes chapter 3 is followed in the opening of chapter 4 by an ideal picture of her exaltation and supremacy "in the issue of the days." We can hardly doubt that this arrangement has been made of purpose, nor can we deny that it is natural and artistic. Whether it be due to Micah himself, or Whether he wrote the second passage, are questions we have already discussed. Like so many others of their kind, they cannot be answered with certainty, far less with dogmatism. But I repeat, I see no conclusive reason for denying either to the circumstances of Micah’s times or to the principles of their prophecy the possibility of such a hope as inspires Micah 4:1-4. Remember how the prophets of the eighth century identified Jehovah with supreme and universal righteousness; remember how Amos explicitly condemned the aggravations of war and slavery among the heathen as sins against Him, and how Isaiah claimed the future gains of Tyrian commerce as gifts for His sanctuary; remember how Amos heard His voice come forth from Jerusalem, and Isaiah counted upon the eternal inviolateness of His shrine and city, -and you will not think it impossible for a third Judean prophet of that age, whether he was Micah or another, to have drawn the prospect of Jerusalem which now opens before us.
It is the far-off horizon of time, which, like the spatial horizon, always seems a fixed and eternal line, but as constantly shifts with the shifting of our standpoint or elevation. Every prophet has his own vision of "the latter days"; seldom is that prospect the same. Determined by the circumstances of the seer, by the desires these prompt or only partially fulfill, it changes from age to age. The ideal is always shaped by the real, and in this vision of the eighth century there is no exception. This is not any of the ideals of later ages, when the evil was the oppression of the Lord’s people by foreign armies or their scattering in exile; it is not, in contrast to these, the spectacle of the armies of the Lord of Hosts imbrued in the blood of the heathen, or of the columns of returning captives filling all the narrow roads to Jerusalem, "like streams in the south"; nor, again, is it a nation of priests gathering about a rebuilt temple and a restored ritual. But because the pain of the greatest minds of the eighth century was the contradiction between faith in the God of Zion as Universal Righteousness and the experience that, nevertheless, Zion had absolutely no influence upon surrounding nations, this vision shows a day when Zion’s influence will be as great as her right, and from far and wide the nations whom Amos has condemned for their transgressions against Jehovah will acknowledge His law, and be drawn to Jerusalem to learn of Him. Observe that nothing is said of Israel going forth to teach the nations the law of the Lord. That is the ideal of a later age, when Jews were scattered across the world. Here, in conformity with the experience of a still unraveled people, we see the Gentiles drawing in upon the Mountain of the House of the Lord. With the same lofty impartiality which distinguishes the oracles of Amos on the heathen, the prophet takes no account of their enmity to Israel; nor is there any talk-such as later generations were almost forced by the hostility of neighboring tribes to indulge in-of politically subduing them to the king in Zion. Jehovah will arbitrate between them, and the result shall be the institution of a great peace, with no special political privilege to Israel, unless this be understood in Micah 4:5, which speaks of such security to life as was impossible, at that time at least, in all borderlands of Israel. But among the heathen themselves there will be a resting from war: the factions and ferocities of that wild Semitic world, which Amos so vividly characterised, shall cease. In all this there is nothing beyond the possibility of suggestion by the circumstances of the eighth century or by the spirit of its prophecy.
A prophet speaks:-
"And it shall come to pass in the issue of the days, That the Mount of the House of Jehovah shall be established on the tops of the mountains, And lifted shall it be above the hills, And peoples shall flow to it,"
"And many nations shall go and say: "Come, and let us up to the Mount of Jehovah, And to the House of the God of Jacob, That He may teach us of His ways, And we will walk in His paths.’ For from Zion goeth forth the law, And the word of Jehovah from out of Jerusalem! And He shall judge between many peoples,"
"And decide for strong nations far and wide; And they shall hammer their swords into plough shares, And their spears into pruning-hooks: They shall not lift up, nation against nation, a sword, And they shall not any more learn war. Every man shall dwell under his vine And under his fig-tree, And none shall make afraid; For the mouth of Jehovah of Hosts has spoken."
What connection this last verse is intended to have with the preceding is not quite obvious. It may mean that every family among the Gentiles shall dwell in peace; or, as suggested above, that with the voluntary disarming of the surrounding heathendom, Israel herself shall dwell secure, in no fear of border raids and slave-hunting expeditions, with which especially Micah’s Shephelah and other borderlands were familiar. The verse does not occur in Isaiah’s quotation of the three which precede it. We can scarcely suppose, fain though we may be to do so, that Micah added the verse in order to exhibit the future correction of the evils he has been deploring in chapter 3: the insecurity of the householder in Israel before the unscrupulous land-grabbing of the wealthy. Such are not the evils from which this passage prophesies redemption. It deals only, like the first oracles of Amos, with the relentlessness and ferocity of the heathen under Jehovah’s arbitrament these shall be at peace, and whether among themselves or in Israel, hitherto so exposed to their raids, men shall dwell in unalarmed possession of their houses and fields. Security from war, not from social tyranny, is what is promised.
The following verse (Micah 4:5) gives in a curious way the contrast of the present to that future in which all men will own the sway of one God. "For" at the present time "all the nations are walking each in the name of his God, but we go in the name of Jehovah forever and aye."
To which vision, complete in itself, there has been added by another hand, of what date we cannot tell, a further effect of God’s blessed influence. To peace among men shall be added healing and redemption, the ingathering of the outcast and the care of the crippled.
"In that day-‘tis the oracle of Jehovah-I will gather the halt, And the cast-off I will bring in, and all that I have afflicted; And I will make the halt for a Remnant, And her that was weakened into a strong people, And Jehovah shall reign over them In the Mount of Zion from now and forever."
Whatever be the origin of the separate oracles which compose this passage Micah 4:1-7, they form as they now stand a beautiful whole, rising from Peace through Freedom to Love. They begin with obedience to God and they culminate in the most glorious service which God or man may undertake, the service of saving the lost. See how the Divine spiral ascends. We have, first, Religion the center and origin of all, compelling the attention of men by its historical evidence of justice and righteousness. We have the world’s willingness to learn of it. We have the results in the widening brotherhood of nations, in universal Peace, in Labor freed from War, and with none of her resources absorbed by the conscriptions and armaments which in our times are deemed necessary for enforcing peace. We have the universal diffusion and security of Property, the prosperity and safety of the humblest home. And, finally, we have this free strength and wealth inspired by the example of God Himself to nourish the broken and to gather in the forwandered.
Such is the ideal world, seen and promised two thousand five hundred years ago, out of as real an experience of human sin and failure as ever mankind awoke to. Are we nearer the Vision today, or does it still hang upon time’s horizon, that line which seems so stable from every seer’s point of view, but which moves from the generations as fast as they travel to it?
So far from this being so, there is much in the Vision that is not only nearer us than it was to the Hebrew prophets, and not only abreast of us, but actually achieved and behind us, as we live and strive still onward. Yes, brothers, actually behind us! History has in part fulfilled the promised influence of religion upon the nations. The Unity of God has been owned, and the civilized peoples bow to the standards of justice and of mercy first revealed from Mount Zion. "Many nations" and "powerful nations" acknowledge the arbitrament of the God of the Bible. We have had revealed that High Fatherhood of which every family in heaven and earth is named; and wherever that is believed the brotherhood of men is confessed. We have seen Sin, that profound discord in man and estrangement from God, of which all human hatreds and malices are the fruit, atoned for and reconciled by a Sacrifice in face of which human pride and passion stand abashed. The first part of the Vision is fulfilled. "The nations stream to the God of Jerusalem and His Christ." And though today our Peace be but a paradox, and the "Christian" nations stand still from war not in love, but in fear of one another, there are in every nation an increasing number of men and women, with growing influence, who, without being fanatics for peace, or blind to the fact that war may be a people’s duty in fulfillment of its own destiny or in relief of the enslaved, do yet keep themselves from foolish forms of patriotism, and by their recognition of each other across all national differences make sudden and unconsidered war more and more of an impossibility. I write this in the sound of that call to stand upon arms which broke like thunder upon our Christmas peace; but, amid all the ignoble jealousies and hot rashness which prevail, how the air, burned clean by that first electric discharge, has filled with the determination that war shall not happen in the interests of mere wealth or at the caprice of a tyrant! God help us to use this peace for the last ideals of His prophet! May we see, not that of which our modern peace has been far too full, mere freedom for the wealth of the few to increase at the expense of the mass of mankind. May our Peace mean the gradual disarmament of the nations, the increase of labor, the diffusion of property, and, above all, the redemption of the waste of the people and the recovery of our outcasts. Without this, peace is no peace; and better were war to burn out by its fierce fires those evil humors of our secure comfort, which render us insensible to the needy and the fallen at our side. Without the redemptive forces at work which Christ brought to earth, peace is no peace; and the cruelties of war, that slay and mutilate so many, are as nothing to the cruelties of a peace which leaves us insensible to the outcasts and the perishing, of whom there are so many even in our civilization.
One application of the prophecy may be made at this moment. We are told by those who know best and have most responsibility in the matter that an ancient Church and people of Christ are being left a prey to the wrath of an infidel tyrant, not because Christendom is without strength to compel him to deliver, but because to use the strength, would be to imperil the peace, of Christendom. It is an ignoble peace which cannot use the forces of redemption, and with the cry of Armenia in our ears the Unity of Europe is but a mockery.
THE KING TO COME
WHEN a people has to be purged of long injustice, when some high aim of liberty or of order has to be won, it is remarkable how often the drama of revolution passes through three acts. There is first the period of criticism and of vision, in which men feel discontent, dream of new things, and put their hopes into systems: it seems then as if-the future were to come of itself. But often a catastrophe, relevant or irrelevant, ensues: the visions pale before a vast conflagration, and poet, philosopher, and prophet disappear under the feet of a mad mob of wreckers. Yet this is often the greatest period of all, for somewhere in the midst of it a strong character is forming, and men, by the very anarchy, are being taught, in preparation for him, the indispensableness of obedience and loyalty. With their chastened minds he achieves the third act, and fulfills all of the early vision that God’s ordeal by fire has proved worthy to survive. Thus history, when distraught, rallies again upon the Man.
To this law the prophets of Israel only gradually gave expression. We find no trace of it among the earliest of them; and in the essential faith of all there was much which predisposed them against the conviction of its necessity. For, on the one hand, the seers were so filled with the inherent truth and inevitableness of their visions, that they described these as if already realised; there was no room for a great figure to rise before the future, for with a rush the future was upon them. On the other hand, it was ever a principle of prophecy that God is able to dispense with human aid. "In presence of the Divine omnipotence all secondary causes, all interposition on the part of the creature, fall away." The more striking is it that before long the prophets should have begun, not only to look for a Man, but to paint him as the central figure of their hopes. In Hosea, who has no such promise, we already see the instinct at work. The age of revolution which he describes is cursed by its want of men: there is no great leader of the people sent from God; those who come to the front are the creatures of faction and party; there is no king from God. How different it had been in the great days of old, when God had ever worked for Israel through some man-a Moses, a Gideon, a Samuel, but especially a David. Thus memory, equally with the present dearth of personalities, prompted to a great desire, and with passion Israel waited for a Man. The hope of the mother for her firstborn, the pride of the father in his son, the eagerness of the woman for her lover, the devotion of the slave to his liberator, the enthusiasm of soldiers for their captain-unite these noblest affections of the human heart, and you shall yet fail to reach the passion and the glory with which prophecy looked for the King to Come. Each age, of course, expected him in the qualities of power and character needed for its own troubles, and the ideal changed from glory unto glory. From valor and victory in war, it became peace and good government, care for the poor and the oppressed, sympathy with the sufferings of the whole people, but especially of the righteous among them, with fidelity to the truth delivered unto the fathers, and, finally, a conscience for the people’s sin, a bearing of their punishment and a travail, for their spiritual redemption. But all these qualities and functions were gathered upon an individual-a Victor, a King, a Prophet, a Martyr, a Servant of the Lord.
Micah stands among the first, if he is not the very first, who thus focused the hopes of Israel upon a great Redeemer; and his promise of Him shares all the characteristics just described. In his book it lies next a number of brief oracles with which we are unable to trace its immediate connection. They differ from it in style and rhythm: they are in verse, while it seems to be in prose. They do not appear to have been uttered along with it. But they reflect the troubles out of which the Hero is expected to emerge, and the deliverance which He shall accomplish, though at first they picture the latter without any hint of Himself. They apparently describe an invasion which is actually in course, rather than one which is near and inevitable; and if so they can only date from Sennacherib’s campaign against Judah in 701 B.C. Jerusalem is in siege, standing alone in the land, like one of those solitary towers with folds round them which were built here and there upon the border pastures of Israel for defense of the flock against the raiders of the desert. The prophet sees the possibility of Zion’s capitulation, but the people shall leave her only for their deliverance elsewhere. Many are gathered against her, but he sees them as sheaves upon the floor for Zion to thresh. This oracle (Micah 4:11-13) cannot, of course, have been uttered at the same time as the previous one, but there is no reason why the same prophet should not have uttered both at different periods. Isaiah had prospects of the fate of Jerusalem which differ quite as much. Once more (Micah 5:1) the blockade is established. Israel’s ruler is helpless, "smitten on the cheek by the foe." It is to this last picture that the promise of the Deliverer is attached.
The prophet speaks:-
"But thou, O Tower of the Flock, Hill of the daughter of Zion, To thee shall arrive the former rule, And the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Zion. Now wherefore criest thou so loud? Is there no king in thee, or is thy counselor perished, That throes have seized thee like a woman in childbirth? Quiver and writhe, daughter of Zion, like one in childbirth: For now must thou forth from the city, And encamp on the field (and come unto Babel); There shalt thou be rescued, There shall Jehovah redeem thee from the hand of thy foes"!
"And now gather against thee many nations, that say, ‘Let her be violate, that our eyes may fasten on Zion! But they know not the plans of Jehovah, Nor understand they His counsel, For He hath gathered them in like sheaves to the floor. Up and thresh, O daughter of Zion For thy horns will I turn into iron, And thy hoofs will I turn into brass; And thou will beat down many nations, And devote to Jehovah their spoil, And their wealth to the Lord of all earth".
"Now press thyself together, thou daughter of pressure: The foe hath set a wall around us, With a rod they smite on the cheek Israel’s regent! But thou, Beth-Ephrath, smallest among the thousands of Judah, From thee unto Me shall come forth the Ruler to be in Israel! Yea, of old are His goings forth, from the days of long ago! Therefore shall He suffer them till the time that one bearing shall have born. (Then the rest of His brethren shall return with the children of Israel.) And He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of Jehovah, In the pride of the name of His God. And they shall abide! For now is He great to the ends of the earth. And Such a One shall be our Peace."
Bethlehem was the birthplace of David, but when Micah says that the Deliverer shall emerge from her he does not only mean what Isaiah affirms by his promise of a rod from the stock of Jesse, that the King to Come shall spring from the one great dynasty in Judah. Micah means rather to emphasize the rustic and popular origin of the Messiah, "too small to be among the thousands of Judah." David, the son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, was a dearer figure than Solomon son of David the King. He impressed the people’s imagination, because he had sprung from themselves, and in his lifetime had been the popular rival of an unlovable despot. Micah himself was the prophet of the country as distinct from the capital, of the peasants as against the rich who oppressed them. When, therefore, he fixed upon Bethlehem as the Messiah’s birthplace, he doubtless desired, without departing from the orthodox hope in the Davidic dynasty, to throw round its new representative those associations which had so endeared to the people their father-monarch. The shepherds of Judah, that strong source of undefiled life from which the fortunes of the state and prophecy itself had ever been recuperated, should again send forth salvation. Had not Micah already declared that, after the overthrow of the capital and the rulers, the glory of Israel should come to Adullam, where of old David had gathered its soiled and scattered fragments?
We may conceive how such a promise would affect the crushed peasants for whom Micah wrote. A Savior, who was one of themselves, not born up there in the capital, foster-brother of the very nobles who oppressed them, but born among the people, sharer of their toils and of their wrongs!-it would bring hope to every broken heart among the disinherited poor of Israel. Yet meantime, be it observed, this was a promise, not for the peasants only, but for the whole people. In the present danger of the nation the class disputes are forgotten, and the hopes of Israel gather upon their Hero for a common deliverance from the foreign foe. "Such a One shall be our peace." But in the peace He is "to stand and shepherd His flock," conspicuous and watchful. The country folk knew what such a figure meant to themselves for security and weal on the land of their fathers. Heretofore their rulers had not been shepherds, but thieves and robbers.
We can imagine the contrast which such a vision must have offered to the fancies of the false prophets. What were they beside this? Deity descending in fire and thunder, with all the other features of the ancient Theophanies that had now become much cant in the mouths of mercenary traditionalists. Besides those, how sane was this how footed upon the earth, how practical, how popular in the best sense!
We see, then, the value of Micah’s prophecy for his own day. Has it also any value for ours-especially in that aspect of it which must have appealed to the hearts of those for whom chiefly Micah arose? Is it wise to paint the Messiah, to paint Christ, so much a workingman? Is it not much more to our purpose to remember the general fact of His humanity, by which He is able to be Priest and Brother to all classes, high and low, rich and poor, the noble and the peasant alike? Is not the Man of Sorrows a much wider name than the Man of Labor? Let us answer these questions.
The value of such a prophecy of Christ lies in the correctives which it supplies to the Christian apocalypse and theology. Both of these have raised Christ to a throne too far above the actual circumstance of His earthly ministry and the theatre of His eternal sympathies. Whether enthroned in the praises of Heaven, or by scholasticism relegated to an ideal and abstract humanity, Christ is lifted away from touch with the common people. But His lowly origin was a fact. He sprang from the most democratic of peoples. His ancestor was a shepherd, and His mother a peasant girl. He Himself was a carpenter: at home, as His parables show, in the fields and the folds and the barns of His country; with the servants of the great houses, with the unemployed in the market; with the woman in the hovel seeking one piece of silver, with the shepherd on the moors seeking the lost sheep. "The poor had the gospel preached to them; and the common people heard Him gladly." As the peasants of Judea must have listened to Micah’s promise of His origin among themselves with new hope and patience, so in the Roman empire the religion of Jesus Christ was welcomed chiefly, as the Apostles and the Fathers bear witness, by the lowly and the laboring of every nation. In the great persecution which bears His name, the Emperor Domitian heard that there were two relatives alive of this Jesus whom so many acknowledged as their King, and he sent for them that he might put them to death. But when they came, he asked them to hold up their hands, and seeing these brown and chapped with toil, he dismissed the men, saying, "From such slaves we have nothing to fear." Ah but, Emperor! it is just the horny hands of this religion that thou and thy gods have to fear! Any cynic or satirist of thy literature, from Celsus onwards, could have told thee that it was by men who worked with their hands for their daily bread, by domestics, artisans, and all manner of slaves, that the power of this King should spread, which meant destruction to [flee and thine empire] "From little Bethlehem came forth the Ruler," and "now He is great to the ends of the earth."
There follows upon this prophecy of the Shepherd a curious fragment which divides His office among a number of His order, though the grammar returns towards the end to One. The mention of Assyria stamps this oracle also as of the eighth century. Mark the refrain which opens and closes it.
"When Asshur cometh into our land, And when he marcheth on our borders, Then shall we raise against him seven shepherds And eight princes of men. And they shall shepherd Asshur with a sword, And Nimrod’s land with her own bare blades. And He shall deliver from Asshur, When he cometh into our land, And marcheth upon our borders."
There follows an oracle in which there is no evidence of Micah’s hand or of his times; but if it carries any proof of a date, it seems a late one.
"And the remnant of Jacob shall be among many peoples Like the dew from Jehovah, Like showers upon grass, Which wait not for a man. Nor tarry for the children of men. And the remnant of Jacob (among nations,) among many peoples, Shall be like the lion among the beasts of the jungle, Like a young lion among the sheepfolds, Who, when he cometh by, treadeth and teareth, And none may deliver. Let thine hand be high on thine adversaries, And all thine enemies be cut off!"
Finally in this section we have an oracle full of the notes we had from Micah in The first two chapters. It explains itself. Compare Micah 2:1-13 and Isaiah 2:1-22.
"And it shall be in that day-‘tis the oracle of Jehovah-That I will cut off thy horses from the midst of thee, And I will destroy thy chariots; That I will cut off the cities of thy land, And tear down all thy fortresses, And I will cut off thine enchantments from thy hand, And thou shalt have no more soothsayers; And I will cut off thine images and thy pillars from the midst of thee, And thou shalt not bow down any more to the work of thy hands; And I will uproot thine Asheras from the midst of thee, And will destroy thine idols. So shall I do, in My wrath and Mine anger, Vengeance to the nations, who have not known Me."