Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Hear ye now what the LORD saith; Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice.The Divine Requirements
Such is the question which the Prophet urges upon the people of Israel. He answers it for them in words which we can hardly ever forget, 'He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?' Of these words it is sometimes said that they are the greatest words in the Old Testament They are, indeed, golden words, and should be carried about by every one who desires to be well inspired and rightly guided in his journey through life. And yet it may be doubted whether they hold anything like the place they deserve to hold in the life and thought of most of us; for, as a rule, we give far too little attention to these writings and appeals of the Hebrew Prophets. Yet it is certain that he who neglects these inspired and inspiring utterances of the Lord's Prophets thereby impoverishes both his moral and spiritual life. This inquiry, for instance, which Micah puts before us with such emphasis—'Wherewith shall I come before the Lord?'—has within it whole departments of life which men scarcely profess to bring before God for inspiration and for guidance in regard to them, and yet it is an inquiry which should surely be repeated continually concerning all our lives by every soul that looks upward. The Divine answer is always the same, unchanging, pointing the way of the true life: 'What doth the Lord require of thee, O man, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly'. He puts it before us, you see, as embracing the whole duty of man, and this neglect of the prophetic portion of our Bible, of its searching criticism of life and conduct, involves a great loss both to individuals and nations. Some results of it are plainly obvious in the common life.
I. The Prophets and National Life.—What gives special value to the life and work of these inspired Prophets of Israel and eternal power to their words is that they rise before us as the Divinely illuminated words to a God-fearing people, and they apply—as it should be remembered in every congregation, for it is a supremely important part of the matter—to every quarter and to every grade of the national life. These Prophets represent no class particularly—they represent the outpouring of the Spirit of God upon the heart of the people. One day it is the voice of Amos, the obscure and humble shepherd of the hill country of Judea, hearing the call of God amidst the silence of the hills. Another day it is Isaiah who speaks to us, a man at home in the presence of the royal court. Or it is Jeremiah or Ezekiel, from the heart of the priesthood, or Micah the Prophet of the poor. From every point of the compass in the field of the nation's life they come before us, awakening, assisting, arousing, questioning, appealing, and denouncing, in the name of Jehovah. They are preachers of right conduct. We should live all our life in the presence of the Lord, the righteous judge, in all public affairs as in every private relationship. These preachers of righteousness come as guides, searching national and individual conscience; they voice the will of Jehovah as of a father with his children, and their searching appeal runs through every individual and every national omission or neglect. To these men, the makers of Israel, the only true and faithful precept was that man should strive to put all his life and the life of his country into obedience to the mighty Jehovah, Who loveth righteousness. The result of their teaching, the infection of their spirit, and the power of their message is seen in the uplifting of the national life on the wings of national education, while the rest of the world was morally stagnant
II. Teaching for Our Own Age—Surely such teachers are our teachers through all time, and we should do well to uphold their teaching in our day as much as we can, and love this portion of our Bible wherein they are enshrined, which has, as a rule, so little influence over our common life. And in the light of such consideration we take up the grateful words of this Prophet Micah. He flung them out into the life of his countrymen 2600 years ago as the medicine then needed for their souls' good, and we, brethren, have to confess that the medicine is still needed, and the words are never dead—he still speaks as a living contemporary to every one of us in this direct and searching appeal: 'What doth the Lord require of thee? To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly.' As we look over our lives, over our own hearts or our present habits, over our usual ways and customs, our political servitude to parties rather than to principles—a servitude which seems sometimes to endanger public morals—as we think of the vice with which a great deal of our modern life is filled, as we think of the gospel of pride and appearance which rules in so many of the departments of our life, or the gospel of amusement and self-indulgence which prevails in so many others, we can hardly deny, I think, that we need to be called back to the direct simplicity of ancient and honest faith. It is in these simplicities and sincerities that the moral power of the Hebrew Prophet is especially found. He comes to us straight from communion with God—he is simply the mouthpiece. He has no ambition in his heart but to speak as a preacher of right conduct, and he has no fear of the consequences.
III. Our Duty is Simple.—But many of us, unlike this Hebrew Prophet, are in the habit of talking much about the complexity of moral life or society, and we do not always bear sufficiently in mind that life may be very complex all round, and yet your own duty in the midst of it plain and simple. In matters of conduct or opinion, of custom or of fashion, we feel, very likely, the diversity of the manifold influences playing upon us—the force of many currents that direct us this way or that; or—to change the metaphor—we feel what a tangled web of divers threads it is in which our life is but a part, and so we make our excuses. If our life is, in the main, a purposeless thing, following no clear call of God, moved by no persistent enthusiasm or devotion, doing little or nothing for any of the greater calls that are always appealing to us—as it is all too often—is it not futile to urge as our apology that life is so very complex? This ancient man of God, with his Prophet's mission, tears off all the web of sophistry with this plain question—'What doth the Lord require of thee?' And his answer solves for us, if we are sincere, the riddle of our hesitation and uncertainty and ambiguities. The whole character of your life depends on what you seek first of all. I have said that this word of the Prophet has been called the greatest word in the Old Testament, and we feel its greatness much more when wo listen to the voice of the Saviour Himself in the New Testament: 'Blessed are they which do hunger and. thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. And whoever among you carries about in his heart these inspiring words as the guide of his purpose and his conduct, by whatever name he may be called, has learned the secret of the true life in Christ, and the secret we learn from these voices of the Prophets and these words of Jesus is that the motive power of our lives and conduct, the character of it for good or ill, is in the things we think, and not merely in the things we do.
Worship and Conduct
It is not right to say that this inspired summary of wherein true worship, true ritual, true religion consists, was a wholly new thing when Micah spoke. 'Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold to obey is better than sacrifice.' The notes of this trumpet-call had never died away since Samuel uttered them to the ashamed Saul. It was, however, given to a man of the soil, a simple vinedresser, to whom 'life was real, life was earnest,' to put into words that bum and shine for ever the noblest views as to the reality of religion ever delivered by a Prophet of Old Testament times to the world.
I. It was the crofter trouble of these old times which in part caused Micah to speak burning words. It was a time of splendid luxury up at the Capital, and the worst of it all was that the rich tyrant class felt itself so respectable that it could not think the judgment was possible. Meanwhile the great palaces at Jerusalem were rising upon the ruin of the people.
II. The patriot Micah perceives that the sin of Jerusalem is not want of zeal in worship, nor rebellion against God, but the real lack of understanding that religion to be anything must mean conduct and character, and that Jehovah, if He is God, is a God who demands that men should give Him their reason and thought as well as their emotions and desire to fulfil the minutest regulations of ritual or religious ceremonial. He urges them to believe that like as a father pitieth his children, so will God reason with their reasonable minds.
III. As one gazes back upon the Old Testament heroes, one sees that with all their faults their righteousness lay in conduct Righteousness was for them not holiness so much as right dealing and kindly dealing between man and man as members of a nation. Not purity of heart so much as right doing—this was what the Prophets demanded. They lifted up their voices in protest against the mistaken importance given to outward forms of religion. They did not denounce sacrifice, for the idea of sacrifice was as much a matter of course as our idea of going to church on Sunday. But they did denounce the hypocrisy of all this outside show of worship when the heart refused to humble itself upon the altar by deeds of mercy and justice.
IV. Micah's voice has never been silenced. It may sound paradoxical, but the very fact that men are forsaking the ordinances of religion in all the churches in this money-seeking age of commerce and competition and unreality in religion is a sign that they feel that till our ways are more just and kind, and full of reverence in our dealings between man and man, it is mockery to attend church services, and for a pretence make long prayers.
—H.D. Rawnsley, Church Family Newspaper, 1907, vol. lxxii. p. 912.
References.—VI. 6, 7.—R. Winterbotham, Sermons on Holy Communion, p. 34. J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes (2nd Series), p. 50. VI. 6-8.—C. Kingsley, Sermons for the Times, p. 93.
Three Marks of a True Man
1. A Rebuke of the Religion of Mere Outward Ceremony and Ritual.—Very few people indeed now go to a church because they have to; it is a far more healthy condition that religion is being regarded less as a ceremony and more as a life.
II. A Rebuke of the Religion of Ostentation.—Are there not gifts made to religion whose main purpose is, How will it impress the public? Can I buy God's favour with my gifts? Also, there is an ostentation in the religion of our churches. The lavish expenditure is too often not an effort to do honour to God, but an effort to advertise the particular church which can afford it.
III. A Rebuke of the Religion of Fanaticism.— The fanatic of religion is the man or woman who is carried away with a fad, who runs to extremes in some ism, who, yielding to some emotion, devotes his or her life to the propagation of some little idea in religion which, according to their view, is going to transfigure the world.
IV. A Rebuke of Exclusiveness.—The tendency is to build fences of privilege. The dominant note of false religion is railed spaces. But these ideas form the antithesis of a world-wide religion.
—D. S. Mackay, The Religion of the Threshold, p. 272.
Leviticus Old and New
If we could know that, we need not desire to know any more. Our life is best spent when spent in asking, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? We are not to consult ourselves, but to consult God; the law is written; it is not a conjecture, it is a statutory declaration, and it is to be found in the law-book: to the law and to the testimony, therefore, and to no supposition, fancy, or conjecture of mortal man.
I. Where can we begin? God has given us a thousand points at any one of which we can begin. We might, first of all, think it impossible to know the will of God, because it would be so stupendous, that is to say, so comprehensive, so vast, and so overwhelming, that it would be utterly impossible for the finite imagination to conceive what God intends us to do. The Lord delivers us from that difficulty; He has written down His will in little words, He has come right into our daily life and told us how to manage ourselves, and how to conduct the economy of life. He does not always talk theology to us, He talks about daily things in our mother tongue, and says in effect, You may begin there. And wherever we can begin God begins along with us, hears us spell a little lesson, tells us just the quantity of the syllable, the measure of the rhythmic foot, and repronounces the music to us in order to make us sure of its accent and its balance. He comes down from all the mountains of eternity and meets us at the base of the hill, and says, Little children, I will speak your language until you are able to speak Mine.
II. What doth the Lord thy God require of thee? If I could know that I should know all philosophy. You may know it, you may know it at least in parts, and you may proceed from one part to another. Revelation is progressive; moral education adds to itself increment by increment until the final topstone is put on with the acclaim of the universe. I could tell you where you could begin: 'Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling-block before the blind'. Is that religion? Yes; you thought religion was talking an unknown language, but the mistake is yours, not the Bible's; you thought that religion was an act of clasping hands and turning up eyes into the immeasurable heavens and speaking into an infinite void in the hope of getting some blessing out of it. Nothing of the kind: 'Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling-block in the way of the blind'. The further and implied Hebrew meaning of the word is, Thou shalt not curse the absent, and therefore by so much the deaf—that is to say, by so much deaf, because the absent cannot hear you; you shall not be slanderers, you shall not be critics of those who cannot speak to you for themselves; you shall not make anonymous attacks upon the absent and the deaf or those who are known by reputation; you shall not hide yourselves behind a hedge and sling stones at those who are walking in the open highway.
III. But this was all said by Moses, there is nothing of the kind said by Jesus Christ, some persons may insinuate. But they are utterly wrong in their sophistical if not their ignorant and criminal suggestion. Jesus Christ said every one of these things in His own way; He did not destroy the law, He fulfilled it; the law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, and grace and truth are law at its best, law in blossom and in autumnal fruition. The Sermon on the Mount is the new Leviticus; the Sermon on the Mount is the nineteenth chapter of Leviticus written or spoken in Christian language. No man can fulfil the moral obligation imposed upon him by the Sermon on the Mount without repeating in solid visible conduct the whole Decalogue as written by Moses. We must, therefore, again and again insist upon the moral quality of the Gospel; that is to say, upon the moral meaning of the most abstract doctrines.
—Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. vii. p. 50.
The Message of Micah
I. The simplification of religion has always been the Prophet's vocation. These were the men of brains, the men of conscience, the men of power. They were the thinkers of their age. True, they differed in social position. Isaiah was a courtier, Micah a yeoman farmer voicing the grievances of his class. The one thing common to the man of the court and the man of the field was the faculty to see that the salvation of their times was not to come from princes but from God. Micah is a grand example of the way these heroes faced the community. At the opening of this chapter the Prophet pleads for man to use his reason. The priest seeks to suppress reason and fall back on authority, but Micah asserts God challenges us to use our reason.
II. Religion is not in the treadmill of duties, nor in the bewilderment of ritual, costly though it may be. If not in these things it is natural they should ask in what does it consist. The Prophet appeals to two things for his reply. The first is history, the second is reason. He turns their thought to the incidents of their great national history (vv. 4, 5). It told of the God who delivered them from Egypt, whom they had forgotten; then he directed them to the prophecy of Balaam.
III. Micah does not turn their thought to philosophy for relief of the people's problems. Neither does he go to Samuel or some other outstanding Prophet of the past. He went to an outsider. He went to one who even did not belong to the Church at all. Very often God gives some great truth to a messenger outside the Church rather than within. From that strange utterance against Israel they might gather the Lord had shown them what was good, not the round of their ritual, but the justice, mercy, and humble walk with God.
IV. The thing God wants before all else is not form, but qualities of the heart. These are set forth in this programme, which is good both in itself and in its results. These qualities of life are given in their right order. It is first justice It is the fundamental principle of all great lives. The first word in heaven and earth is justice. But justice is not enough; you must also have mercy. These two qualities are things which make men Godlike. But there is one step farther. I can imagine a man saying, why bring the religious element in it at all? If a man does justice, loves mercy, what need is there for the humble walk with God? This is necessary as the inspiration and power for the two.
V. The solution of our modern problems, as those of Micah's day, will not be found in legislation or machinery, but in realizing the sufficiency of God. No great and permanent solution of social problems has ever been reached without religious influence. The only way is to get back to God, to go to the house of the Lord and there find the power to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Then will be found the true bond of brotherhood.
—S. Chadwick, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxvii. 1905, p. 317.
The Perfect Ideal of Religion
I. Social Justice.—Consider the three requirements of the text; and first of all, God requires us to 'do justly'. The highest welfare of society depends upon its observance. The laws, for example, which are framed for the peace of the nation and the prosperity of the community, must be just—such as are equal and reasonable, useful and beneficial; and it was to this latter—or to social justice—that the Prophet specially referred. The immense majority of our people consider themselves the victims of social wrong—believe that their lot is much harder than it need be, than it ought to be, and are finding ways and means whereby they may be released from the galling fetters which bind them and the depressing conditions in which they are compelled to live and work. There is much to be said in favour of the social movement; but it must be remembered that in order to help the toiling millions there must be no injustice done to those who are privileged. What is wanted is not legislation, although that would help considerably, but true Christian justice, not the justice of Shylock, who pertinaciously insisted upon his pound of flesh, not the justice of Rob Roy, who maintained that 'They should take who have the power, and they should keep who can'; but the eternal justice of the Lord Jesus Christ who said, 'As ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them'.
II. Compassion.—God requires us to 'love mercy'. This is a far higher quality than mere justice. It postulates greater goodness, for while justice implies a debt, this means favour and kindness. It means pity and compassion towards the poor and needy, the fallen and oppressed. The mercy which God requires is not necessarily confined to mere charity in the commonest acceptance of the term, to mere giving of alms. It is not so much your money that is wanted, your doles of charity, though these are needful and will come in due course as God prospers you, as your mercy, your love, and sympathy; not so much, in short, yours as you.
III. Walking with God.—This third requirement of the text—the 'walking humbly with God'—alone enables us 'to do justly and to love mercy'. But how are ordinary mortals 'to do justly and to love mercy' unless and until we walk humbly with God. The Prophet Micah realizes this, as his language clearly and manifestly shows; and we realize it even more fully than he, for the sun of the Saviour's revelation which he only dimly foresaw strikes full and free upon us, and we know—for we have often tried it and failed—that it is not in human power alone and unaided to be just and merciful and all that the moral law of the New Testament requires. The best of men are but men at the best But 'walk humbly with thy God'. Surrender your heart—therein lies the secret of power—and your all to Him, and He will work in you both to will and to do of His own good pleasure.
—J. Cameron, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxii. 1907, p. 22.
Micah 6:8; Proverbs 3:34; Proverbs 16:19; Psalm 138:6
The absolute freedom of the Christian man is absolute allegiance to God: his independence rests in utter dependence. His freedom is from the tyranny of partial claims, individual desires and objects, from the halfnesses and weaknesses of our nature: and it is won by identification with the universal. It is, in short, here that there comes in what is called humility. To define it exactly is difficult, if not impossible; for, like all goodness, it has the defect of its quality, and to be precious it must never part with its correlative independence. Humility is the sense of solidarity and community: the controlling and regulating power of the consciousness that we are not our own, that we are God's and our neighbour's. Humility is the attitude of an individual who recognizes his individuality, his partiality, his dependence, his immanence in the whole, and his conformity with all the parts, and yet of an individual who knows himself his own, and not another's, a free man of God, a son and heir. To be genuine, it must go hand in hand with the good conscience and the faith unfeigned.
—Prof. W. Wallace, Gifford Lectures, pp. 50-57.
References.—VI. 8.—F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. v. p. 279. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1557. H. C. Beeching, Seven Sermons to Schoolboys, p. 13. J. Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. vii. p. 50. F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 214. H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No.' 2125. R. Balgarnie, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiii. p. 322. VI. 8, 9.—G. W. Brameld, Practical Sermons (2nd Series), p. 34. VII. 1.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi. No. 945. VII. 7.—Ibid. vol. xxxi. No. 1819. VII. 8.—J. Keble, Sermons for Easter to Ascension Day, p. 220.
Hear ye, O mountains, the LORD'S controversy, and ye strong foundations of the earth: for the LORD hath a controversy with his people, and he will plead with Israel.
O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me.
For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
O my people, remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him from Shittim unto Gilgal; that ye may know the righteousness of the LORD.
Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
The LORD'S voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name: hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it.
Are there yet the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is abominable?
Shall I count them pure with the wicked balances, and with the bag of deceitful weights?
For the rich men thereof are full of violence, and the inhabitants thereof have spoken lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.
Therefore also will I make thee sick in smiting thee, in making thee desolate because of thy sins.
Thou shalt eat, but not be satisfied; and thy casting down shall be in the midst of thee; and thou shalt take hold, but shalt not deliver; and that which thou deliverest will I give up to the sword.
Thou shalt sow, but thou shalt not reap; thou shalt tread the olives, but thou shalt not anoint thee with oil; and sweet wine, but shalt not drink wine.
For the statutes of Omri are kept, and all the works of the house of Ahab, and ye walk in their counsels; that I should make thee a desolation, and the inhabitants thereof an hissing: therefore ye shall bear the reproach of my people.