The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And I said, Hear, I pray you, O heads of Jacob, and ye princes of the house of Israel; Is it not for you to know judgment?Divine Accusations
Micah 2, Micah 3 "O thou that art named the house of Jacob, is the spirit of the Lord straitened? are these his doings? do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?" (
"O thou that art named the house of Jacob, is the spirit of the Lord straitened? are these his doings? do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?" (Micah 2:7).
This is a yearning expostulation. The Lord is disappointed; his heart is heavy and sore; the prophecy is not according to his own spirit and purpose, and all things are enfeebled, and he himself is humiliated in the presence of the people and of the nations. We should bethink ourselves that it is God we are representing. When the Church is doing nothing God is misrepresented. It is not the Church that takes and terminates all the origin and effect of this miserable failure; the matter does not rest within the four corners of the Church. The Church has undertaken to represent the supernatural, the eternal, the infinite, the very throne and majesty of God; by right therefore of that assumption God has a right to inquire into the spirit and the action of his Church. We have seen how in the ancient time one man said the sanctuary was the king's chapel. The false prophet made the temple of God into private property; he said, "It is the king's chapel," you have no business with it, you ought not to criticise it; you have nothing to do with it, it is private property. And man, in his best moods, with all his purest, noblest instincts, says, No: the temple of God is never private property, the truth of God is never an individual possession; the kingdom of God is God's kingdom, and what is God's kingdom is meant to be the house and the home, the refuge and the sanctuary of the world. So the Lord takes up our reports, and says, You are misrepresenting me; whenever you are reluctant, indifferent, inefficient, self-indulgent, the matter does not begin and end with yourselves. Are these my doings? A thought of this kind gives a new aspect to all Christian endeavour, prayer, enterprise, and sacrifice. The men who are leading the Church have a right to expect great things. The great things are not in the programme of all men; they are content to begin, continue, and close with some measure of propriety; they have lost the thunder because they have lost the lightning. Our business now is to get quietly done, and to assure ourselves that we can get quietly home. The roar of strength, the flash of glory, the curse of righteous denunciation, the fury of a divine enthusiasm, we have labelled sensational, and put away. Let a man examine his ministry by this test, and he will soon conclude his criticism; his face will burn with shame because his soul will be filled with a multitude of reproaches.
The Lord proceeds to inquire: "Do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?" You are trying to do the right thing in the wrong way; you are wasting the bread of the kingdom of heaven; you have mistaken the right beginning and the right continuance of all this ministry of revelation. My sun will never do good to a dead creed; every beam of that sun is a sword striking at that poor outcast dead thing. "Do not my words do good?"—to whom? To the man who wants them, longs for them, represents their purpose, walks uprightly. Literally, Do not my words do good to him that is upright? You must not only have right food, you must have the right appetite and the right digestion. God's revelation is lost upon the man who cares nothing for it. It is within the power of the eyelid to shut out the midday. If we had been upright we had been fat of soul, strong of mind, chivalrous and noble of heart, because we should have advanced according to our own quality; being godlike we should have become godlier, we should have been perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. The Bible has nothing to say to the froward soul. The revelation of God never talks to the critic. Intellect, unless a servant, has no business with things spiritual, supernatural, ineffable. Let every man then test himself by this one standard. The word of the Lord is meant to do good to the upright. Not necessarily to the personally perfect. There are no such people, except in their own estimation, and therefore there are none perfect at all. What is it to be upright then? To be sincere, to mean to be right. There is a middle line in every man's thought and life and purpose. Do not judge him by the higher line or by the lower level; you will find the average thought and tendency and pressure—judge by that. When a man says, I want to be right, though I am falling seven times a day,—he is right. Take heart; you are looking at your sins, and saying you are a bad man; possibly not: there may be a thousand sins in your hand, and yet you may be a good man. Not if you love them, delight in them, give them hearty welcome day by day; but if you accept them as for the time being incidental to the bold, noble, strenuous struggle after the right, you are right, and your prayers shall win their way through all that black cloud of iniquity, and strike the eternal throne, prevalently, triumphantly. The Lord loves prayers that are battle-worn. There must be something pathetic to that great gentle Priest of ours, eternal Intercessor, when he takes up our prayers like bruised birds that have struck their wings against a thousand obstacles, but still have gone on and up, and are seeking rest in his intercession. Your bruised prayers are better than your cold ones, without scratch or flaw upon their finery of eloquence. God be merciful to me a sinner! is a prayer that will work its way right up, though the whole firmament be darkened with diabolic spirits and ministration. "Do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?"—and to walk uprightly is not to walk pedantically, ostentatiously, and perfectly in the estimation of the world; but to walk uprightly is to have the stress of the soul in the right direction. O poor soul, thou art punctured and speared and bayoneted and bruised, but thou art still soul, fire, a flash eternal, unquenchable! Cheer thee; thy Saviour waits for thy latest prayer; it may be thy poorest in words, but thy strongest and best in intent and unction.
The entreaty proceeds to take upon itself the form of an accusation,—
"Even of late my people is risen up as an enemy" (Micah 2:8).
We might pass by that word as vague. In reality it is most definite. "Even of late": literally, Even yesterday, so late as yesterday, we fought the Lord. Do not let us suppose that the Lord is charging upon us some sin done in some withered Eden. The account is written with ink that is not yet dry. It is a new charge, it is the most recent of accusations; there need be no falling back upon failing memory, saying, Forty years ago, fifty years since, I am charged with having done a deed that is even now ripening into retribution; my memory fails me: half a century is a long time to hold in one's mind. Do not talk so: never mind the deeds of half a century; last night you struck at the eternal throne like a rebel—Even yesterday my people is risen up as an enemy. The Lord is not talking about some billows that rose a hundred years ago and foamed and swelled and roared and died; he is speaking about a great black wave that threw its iniquity on the shore yesternight. We cannot escape God. It is the last thought that was against him. We can dispute any charge that is half a century old, but when the accusation is new as yesterday, yea, recent as the morning, who can answer it? Nor let us think that God finds all his rebels somewhere else than within our own hearts, and souls, and houses, and businesses. What an interesting question this would be, though not to some minds, Is one man any better than another? We can imagine with what redundance of self-congratulation some men would answer an inquiry almost impertinent; but when the smile of such dying radiance has gone, we simply repeat the inquiry, Is one man better than another? Is John any better than Iscariot? We are better in so many different ways, and it as the peculiarity of the way that often determines our estimate. The drunkard has no friends, yet he may be a better man than the Pharisee. The thief caught by the constabulary hand is driven off into prison, and properly; but the bigger thief that puts his felonious hand into the souls of men goes to the sanctuary and repeats his worthless prayer. Who is it, then, that is really the upright man, the true man, and the good man? The man who earnestly wants to be good—even if he were found helplessly drunk in the public thoroughfare, he must not be condemned on that account alone; examine into the case, discover how it came to be, and, O thou dainty Pharisee, he may be a better man than thou art. What does his soul say? what does his heart want? what is the average line in the man's thought and purpose? Blessed be God, we are not to judge, but we cannot keep our clever ingenuity from the throne of judgment, and we delight to add some increment to our virtue by condemning the vice of better men. Jesus Christ never found any respectable people who were really good. He distrusted them. If he dined with them it was that he might have a larger opportunity for rebuking them. Yet there must be no licence given. When we are seeking to institute a proper standard and measure of consolation and encouragement, there must be no sanction given to wantonness in the interpretation of the divine law, or the uses of the divine liberty.
Now the Lord passes to retribution, and he utters words which have often been misquoted, and which have been turned into a proverb for the signification of anything but the original truth,—
"Arise ye, and depart: for this is not your rest" (Micah 2:10).
We have been taught that this world is not our resting-place, but rather a place of momentary halting, a place of probation, a school for the acquisition of elementary knowledge, the beginning of things, and that he is wrong who settles down here as if he had obtained a permanent refuge and an abiding home. All that is quite true; it is a lovely and a rational sentiment; that, however, is not the truth of this text. The Lord is punishing his people; he says, You have given no rest to others, you shall have no rest yourselves. We have seen that whilst men were lying in their beds devising iniquity, the Lord says, "I devise" (Micah 2:3). Bring that thought to bear upon the passage immediately before us, and the paraphrase would be this: You have given no rest to men, women, or children; what you have sown you shall reap. You have been unkind to others, and now you shall experience unkindness yourselves; you have been too pleased to drive men out into the wilderness, now you shall find your dwelling in sandy and stony places: "Be not deceived, God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap." "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." A man must reap the harvest of his own seedtime. You cannot pray yourselves out of it. Do not pray to Nature. She has no answers, she has a great deaf ear; she will listen to you as long as you care to talk with appearance of being deeply interested in your speech, but in reality she does not hear a word of it; she is ruthless, relentless, a Shylock that cannot be shaken off by subtlety or casuistry of interpretation of law. You killed, you shall be slain; you were pitiless, you shall be unpitied; you played the tyrant when you could, a foot shall be set on your own neck. Now talk to Nature; soothe her, pet her, coax her, bribe her, tell her all the nonsense that is in your heart, and still when you have ended she lifts her gleaming sword, and strikes for man and God. There may be temporary appearances to the contrary; the appearances, however, are but temporary. We do not take in field enough in judging God; it is not what he does to-day or tomorrow, in this decade or in that; he has no time. The river has no drops. You may have disturbed the river and broken it into drops, but the river is a unit; eternity rolls on, though now and again it has been shattered into the foam of so-called time. God will judge thee, thou whited sepulchre! It is delightful to the moral sense to find through the whole of the Old Testament the spirit of retribution going forward, saying, As I have done unto others, so the Lord hath done unto me; I cut off the thumbs and the great toes of seventy kings, and now my own must be cut off. God is just. Do not say he has forgotten yesterday; it is alway present to his mind.
Now the Lord passes from the people as a whole to the prophets:—
"Thus saith the Lord concerning the prophets that make my people err, that bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace; and he that putteth not into their mouths, they even prepare war against him. Therefore night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision; and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine; and the sun shall go down over the prophets, and the day shall be dark over them. Then shall the seers be ashamed, and the diviners confounded: yea, they shall all cover their lips; for there is no answer of God" (Micah 3:5-7).
The biting here in the original is the biting of a serpent. The deterioration here indicated is the fall from a prophet to a viper. Such falls are possible, such apostasies are indeed the miracles of human story; but there they are, real, simple, indisputable, too obvious and too humiliating facts. The biting of a perverted man is the worst kind of biting. We say there is no zealot so mad as a pervert. There is no religion so tremendous as irreligiousness. It is this sour wine that becomes poison. Keep away from men who have been good, and have lost their religious and spiritual savour. They will cry anything that you want them to cry. In this instance the prophets cried, "Peace," and if men did not praise them, they prepared war against the men who were hostile; if men did not give to them, men had to reckon for war. There is no man so bad as the fallen prophet. We are not speaking now of the temporary falls which seem to be incident to development of character honestly conducted, but to the men whose soul is turned away from love of truth and love of light. What is to be the consequence? The same law of retribution prevails:—
"Therefore night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision; and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine; and the sun shall go down over the prophets, and the day shall be dark over them" (Micah 3:6).
So outer darkness is not a discovery of the New Testament. The unprofitable servant is there doomed to outer darkness, where shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth; but here we have the same darkness—the darkness is of old; there is no new midnight. God will visit the prophet with darkness. When a genius is conscious that he has lost his inspiration there is no man so unhappy. The average ordinary man, whose life is a daily but not despicable commonplace, is not conscious of great losses, he never had great riches; but given a man once possessed with genius, and give him to feel that the angel is beyond him, outside of him, lifting glittering wings in eternal flight, and the moment of such consciousness is hell. The Lord sends night upon the prophets, and a prophet without light is in perdition; a prophet without his mantle is naked, not in body, but in soul.
What shall become of these prophets? "They shall cover their lips." The action is that of a leper. The leper was commanded to cover his lips and to cry, Unclean, unclean! The Lord's charge is: The lip has lied, cover it; the lip of the prophet has been prostituted to falsehood—cover it, conceal it. See, the prophets that ought to have led the age are like lepers with bent heads, calling, Unclean, unclean! God will not have any bad service. He will not allow men to come in with genius to assist in the interpretation of his kingdom if genius be not sustained by honest goodness; not by that perfection which is the worst kind of imperfection, but by that perfectness of wish which is the guarantee of attainment. A man in London said that he himself was so good, so full of the Holy Spirit, that he did not believe that even God himself could increase the blessing. I no sooner heard it than I said, That's a bad man, whoever he is. I did not know the man, but I said a man who can talk so is a bad man; and alas! that poor wretch was soon revealed. Do not let us aim at that kind of perfection. The more perfect we are the more modest we shall be, the more silent about ourselves. The more perfect a man is in the sight of God the more he feels any blemish or speck or flaw, and things he would not have seen aforetime now constitute his agony.
The Lord's accusation ends with this awful word, namely:—
"They build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity" (Micah 3:10).
The Lord will not have a Zion so built. The meaning is that these men have gone forth to war and to bloodshed and desolation and so-called conquest, and then have baptised all their iniquity with the name of God, and have brought their spoils, and laid them up in Zion, and the Lord will not have them. Or the meaning is that men have been extortionate—they have oppressed the poor; they have overreached the weak; and they have given a tenth of their profits to the building of the walls of Jerusalem. The Lord will not accept such offerings. Are there men who have served the devil with both hands earnestly, and have grown fat and bloated in his service, and do they atone for all by a cheque of a thousand pounds to God's temple! Burn it! Yet there is a vulgarity that feeds its piety by writing enormous cheques. The larger the cheque the better, if it be given with an honest hand; then every coin of gold is worth ten times its nominal amount, then every copper piece is gold, because of the touch of honesty and the pain of sacrifice; but if a man shall eat and drink, and fill his house with devils, and become tired, sated, and shall seek to pay off the Lord's sword, he will soon be made to feel what a fool he is. The Lord will have none of him. The walls of the sanctuary must be built with honest stone and laid with honest hands, then God will take care of it; but if even Zion be built with blood it shall be burned with fire. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God; yet the most joyous and glorious thing if our hearts be filled with a sincere desire to know his will and do it.
Unto thee, O Lord, is our prayer directed; hear thou in heaven thy dwelling-place, and when thou nearest, Lord, forgive. It is a prayer from the heart which thou thyself hast given us to pray. We pray to know thee more clearly, to follow thee more steadfastly, to serve thee more obediently. This is the Lord's prayer; this is no prayer of our own selfishness; this also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, bearing upon its every letter the sign that God did teach it to our hearts. We pray this prayer, as all others, that are true and honest, at the Cross, the great altar, the blessed mercy-seat; there prayer is its own answer, prayer is turned into praise; the intercession of Christ magnifies our requests, and assures their fulfilment, according to the wisdom and tenderness of God. If we ask aught amiss thou dost not call it prayer, and thou wilt not answer our ignorance; if we ask aught aright it is of thy teaching; if we ask it at the Cross we have it whilst we are yet pleading for it. This is the mystery of thy love; this is the wonder and the miracle of prayer. Lord, hear us when we ask to be forgiven: the load of yesterday is too heavy for our strength, the shadow of our iniquity plunges us into sevenfold night; but where sin abounds, doth not grace much more abound? Can any black billows of iniquity overtop the Cross? Doth it not rise high above all oceans of wickedness? Is it not a sign that the mercy of the Lord endureth for ever? Truly men have wandered far from thee, but thou canst find them in their lost estate, and bring them back with rejoicing. This is the purpose of the Gospel, this is the one object of the Son of God—he came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance; they that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. He came to seek and to save the lost; Lord, he came therefore to seek and to save us. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way; there is none righteous, no, not one. Thou hast come after us, thou Son of man, thou Son of God; seek us until thou dost find us, and restore us to the household we have left Be with us all the day; give insight, strength, wisdom, force of character; give us sensitiveness, that we may feel the life that is round about us. Create within us Christly sympathies, that we may answer all the need and distress that mark the days through which we pass, and give us the living, holy, eternal Spirit, that our bodies may become his temples, and our minds his dwelling-place. These are great requests, but they touch not the boundlessness of thy love; in so far as they are pure and wise thou wilt give us the answer ere we say Amen,