AFTER the question of personal salvation, which is of first importance to every soul, there are two great subjects in scripture by which God makes Himself known. In one, the Church is the centre of that sovereign grace where-in God reveals the highest blessing that He has purposed for man; the members of the Church share with Christ their Head, the unveiled glories of heaven, according to God's eternal counsels of grace. In the other great unfolding of His ways amongst men, Israel is made the centre of that vast system of God's government in this world, under which man is tried; and when he fails in responsibility, God, speaking by the prophets, reveals the full character of His government, and the Person on whose shoulders the government will rest, that men on earth may be truly blessed in grace and in righteousness.
The world has rejected Christ who came in grace to reveal what God was for man. The Church, while waiting in the day of her patience in the place of His rejection, should be as a faithful wife sharing the exile of her Husband. He will come for her and take her into His heavenly home above. The Church does not look forward to a day of earthly blessing in which she will be the centre of earthly glory, but rather, she will have her portion with Christ when He takes the inheritance; the members of Christ will take the inheritance along with Him, they have their blessed portion with Him in heaven where their faith has found Him, now that He is hidden from sight. The Son of God took the form of man and receives the inheritance as man that He may fill all things. When He had completed the work the Father gave Him to do, even unto death, God raised Him from the dead and set Him down in the glory at His own right hand. Now that a glorified Man is sitting down in heaven, set there in the glory of the Father, God makes known His purposes or grace in man, the Man of His delight. Believers receive the Holy Spirit as the seal of their faith in the blood of Christ and in the work He has accomplished for God on their behalf. By the Spirit they are united to Christ, they are His members, even part of Himself. It is marvellous grace which gives man, after what he has proved himself to be, a place in heavenly glory with Christ.
When we speak of God's government on earth, Israel is always in mind as the people around whom everything revolves. This world will not be for ever the playground of the devil, who working through the passions of men, drives them on to violence, as they vainly endeavour to gratify their insatiable lust for pleasure and for power. God will govern openly amongst men when He has subdued alt opposing powers of evil, and has restored Israel to be the centre of blessing for all peoples.
In the ways of His government in the world, God has used for the spiritual good of His people, the evils which He has allowed to arise. He made these evils the occasion to bring out from the depths of His wisdom and from the limitless resources of His grace, infinite blessing for man, by the revelation of Himself as a Saviour-God.
“ ‘Twas great to speak a world from nought,
‘Twas greater to redeem.’”
When man has failed through the weakness of the flesh, it is not enough for God, in the excellence of His ways, merely to mend matters; that would not be like Him. God always brings in something better than that from which man has fallen.
Grace is ever present in the ways of His government; if it were not so, who could stand? When the holy claims of God's presence are known, where would encouragement be found to go on in spite of failure if there were no grace in His government? Without grace it would not be the government of God. More wonderful things are disclosed in the exercise of His grace, in the midst of His government, than could be known were God to deal with men simply on judicial grounds.
The display of divine government in Israel was in connection with the responsibility of man. Israel, when faithful, was blessed according to the measure of their responsibility. The grace shown them was not the simple free gift of grace giving them part with Christ in the manifestation of the heavenly glory. But as all blessing for man, in Israel and in the Church, is centred in Christ, God's Anointed, Israel's future restoration and blessing hangs on Him and the manifestation of His glory. He is the Messiah, the King who will reign in righteousness. But because of His rejection when he first came in lowly grace, revealing what manner of Man He was, it is not only as the Messiah that He will come again, but He will come as the Son of man; though He is God and never ceased to be God even in his humiliation. Through His death and resurrection He has won the right in to being in the power of His life in resurrection.
Only the heavenly glory discloses the full story of the sovereign grace of God, for it is there man in Christ is manifested in the glory of God according to His eternal counsels fulfilled his righteousness.
As we begin to read the scriptures, we become aware from the earliest pages that we are not reading merely a history of the human race as the story of man is usually written, and that we are not occupied with a collection of unrelated events. What is unfolded is a complete record of the moral history and ways of man when tried under every form of government and privilege.
The man of responsibility always breaks down under trial. But we find that the Author of the Book has another Man in mind, the second Man (1 Corinthians 15:47), the Man of His eternal counsels. In the practical working out of the ways of God, the responsible man is first tried, and when his failure is conclusively proved by his rejection of God Himself, in the Person of the Son of God come into the world in perfect goodness, then the Man of God's counsels is revealed. But not until the second Man has taken His place in the glory at the right hand of God on high, is this truth taught. Before man began his life of responsibility outside the Garden of Eden, God let it be known that He had another Man in His purpose, and that all blessing for man was to be looked for in Him. Faith understood this from the beginning, even if it were but dimly.
In the ways of God man is first tried in responsibility, and when responsibility ends with man's total failure, God deals with man in grace. But when grace is rejected, the glory shines out in all fullness in the Person of the Son Himself.
He who created the world, and for whom the world was created, came into it as man, that He might redeem it from its lost estate and reconcile all things to God. He will inherit all things as man and share them with those who are called in grace to be “joint-heirs with Christ”.
God delights to unfold all His plans for the blessing of those whom He has brought completely to Himself through the work of Christ. His purposes of blessing for the Church are no longer hidden (Ephesians 3: 9-11). God has revealed them unto us by His Spirit, who searches the deep things of God, and the Spirit is given to believers that they may know the things "that are freely given to us of God" (1 Corinthians 2: 9-12). He takes His friends into His counsel and reveals to them His plans. Now that Christ has taken His place on high, the Head and Centre of all God's counsels, the light of His presence illuminates the pages of past history; in Him we read the secret of all God's ways, and He is the Key to all prophecy. By Him, who is Messiah-Jehovah, every prophecy for Israel's blessing will be established.
God had given an unconditional promise to Abraham that the land of Canaan in which he sojourned would be given to him and to his seed (Genesis 8: 15). This promise was confirmed to Jacob when his name was changed to Israel (Genesis 35: 10-12). But the children of Israel had to be proved, and not knowing their own shortcomings nor the power of grace, they took possession of the land under a condition of obedience to obey all the commandments of Jehovah. The inability of man in the flesh to please God had yet to be fully proved. Even when they did break down and brought themselves under the penalty of a broken law, God did not forget His promise nor could He forsake His people. When the way to blessing by law-keeping was demonstrated to be impossible through the weakness of the flesh, God sent prophets to testify before Israel, to voice His judgment of their moral state, and to bring hope into the hearts of the faithful through faith in the testimony of His grace and faithfulness to establish them in His immutable promise. How grateful their hearts will be in that day of peace and joy!
The Spirit of Christ, who was in the prophets, entered into the state of the people and spoke with the feelings of God, producing a true response in the heart of the prophet to the indifference of His people. He in faithfulness called Israel back to the law which was the measure of their responsibility; for the law and the prophets were until John. Anticipating the failure of Israel and knowing the hardness of their hearts, He disclosed His plans for the time when, warning being of no avail, He would set aside the old order pertaining to the law, and bring about His purposes of grace in kingly glory, under the hand of Christ, the Son of David.
Each of the prophets was given his own particular message to deliver. Some of those commonly called minor prophets, seem only to repeat the prophecies of the greater prophets who survey a broader field. But in the shorter prophecies, certain aspects of the fuller revelations are condensed, and the attention is thereby fixed to a point which God would emphasize particularly for the warning of His people. Sometimes when God's ways with all Israel or the world at large are in the mind of the Spirit, a good deal of detail concerning the future is given (see Isaiah and Jeremiah), and the outward course of events clearly stated. Another prophet, like Hosea, may traverse the same ground, but give more thought to the moral state of the people which caused God to intervene in their history. One prophet may emphasize the immediate judgment about to fall (Jeremiah), another its connection with the end of God's ways by which He will open the way for the setting up of His King in righteousness, as in our prophet, Micah.
The shorter prophecies concentrate our attention on certain portions of the vast scheme which will lead up to the full display of the government of God, when all evil will be judged, and Christ, as Son of man, will have dominion over all things. (See Psalm 8; Ephesians 1: 10.)
Micah summarizes the great principles found in the beginning of the prophecy of Isaiah, with whom he was contemporaneous. He shines the light of prophecy on the enemy of Israel in the last days, and particularly draws attention to the presence of the Messiah when the attack of the Assyrian, Israel's last foe, takes place.
The wickedness of Israel brings them into judgment, but when God chastens them by their enemies, He has then to turn and destroy these enemies who have no thought of God in what they are doing (4:12) so that His counsels of grace may be accomplished. He spares a remnant of His people, and they, by His grace, are brought to repentance and confess their sin. Their hearts are made willing in the day of The Messiah when He comes in power.
The Prophecy is divided into three parts. Chapters 1 – 2; 3 – 5; and 6 – 7 which form three distinct sections and each begin with a call to HEAR.
Like Hosea and Amos the prophet Micah exposes the moral condition of Israel. Samaria and Jerusalem, the capital cities of Israel and Judah, are before the mind of the prophet in his moral condemnation of the idolatry practised by the whole nation.
Israel and the whole earth are called to hear the Lord-Jehovah when He Witnesses against the transgressions of His people Israel; for the sins of Israel are the sins of the world, and He can speak of them in the Midst of His people because His mercy is known there. The LORD speaks from His holy temple, from the throne of His dwelling-place in His creation. The LORD is terrible out of His holy places, and here He is seen as coming down to tread upon the high places of the earth. He comes to judge among the gods (the judges), and to try the strength of the strongholds of their spiritual pretensions. The high and exalted places melt before the consuming fire of His presence.
Israel had followed the way of the nations; which did not know God, the sins of the heathen were the evils found in Israel, their gods were Israel's gods. All the earth must witness God's controversy with Israel. He endured with great patience the blasphemy of idolatry, that He might expose its fearful effects in those responsible to render a testimony to His name. It is amongst His own people where the evil has been permitted to ripen until God is wholly excluded, that He can raise His voice against it, show its falsity, and condemn it fully. At the same time He renders a true testimony to Himself by dealing with the evil in perfect righteousness, and in saving the elect in whom He shows His mercy.
All God's ways of government are developed in connection with Israel, and when Israel turned a deaf ear to His rebuke and refused to repent of their transgression, God gave them into the hands of their enemies. The heathen nations were His chastening rod. These nations were as guilty as Israel, and they exalted themselves in pride because of their success over the people of God; but they did not know His mind, and He put them down in their pride, humbling them to the dust. This is true of the past, and God will act again in the same way with the unrepentant people of Israel before they are brought into His promised blessing.
The language of the prophets leaves room for the future dealings of God when Israel returns to the land in unbelief. Once again He will bring down the scourge of the north, the Assyrian whose land will be in the sphere of Russian influence. Palestine will for a moment be overrun by the mighty hordes of Russia and her allies. But God will deliver the remnant of Israel that He loves, and will reign in their midst, the righteous Ruler of all the earth.
The graven images of Samaria and the strange altars of Jerusalem call out the indignation of the prophet. The instruments of God’s judgment would lay-waste the land, and the overflowing flood would reach even to the gates of Jerusalem; and this is what happened in the invasion of Sennacherib. The prophet writhes in spirit as he contemplates the incurable wickedness of Israel.
The sin of the past is the germ of the future evil, and unrighteousness is put away from Israel their old sins will recur. When the Jews are partially restored to the land, and are free to worship as they will, they become the victims of Satanic deception, and they will fall into an idolatry worse than was known in the past; man will be exalted in the place of God. (See Matthew 7: 44, 45; Revelation 8: 11-18; 2 Thessalonians 2: 3-12). As in the days or old when God brought down the Assyrian, the rod of His anger, to punish guilty- Israel, so it will be in the clays of Judah's apostasy; the power which stands in Assyrian's land will again be used as the rod of Jehovah's judgment (Isaiah 10: 5, 24, 25; 28: 15, 19). Ezekiel tells very plainly who will be-the last enemy of Israel; it will be Russia (Ezekiel 38, 39).
Micah speaks of the progress of the Assyrian through the land; but instead of simply tracing the advance of the armed forces as Isaiah does (Isaiah 10), he shows the devastating effect of the attack and the cause of it, by the use he makes of the names of places in the land. In Gath (i.e. weeping) weep not; he says. In Aphrah, which means “dust” he sees Israel as less than dust (verse 10), and the words may be translated, "in the house of dust, roll thyself in the dust." Saphir, the beautiful, is stripped of her beauty (verse 11), so the beauty of Israel would be taken away. Zaanan, "the country of flocks," is not come forth to Beth Ezel "a place near”, for the day of mourning. Another translation says, "He will take from you its shelter;" the inhabitants would be left alone in the judgment. Maroth, meaning "bitterness," waited for good but only evil came, and it came to the gate of Jerusalem, a chastisement from the LORD. Lachish, an Amorite city taken by Joshua, had bequeathed its iniquities to Israel, and Zion had inherited them. Israel had become characterized by lying; Achzib, which means a lie, gave it its character. The glory of Israel was to pass; that which was at the “summit"—Mareshah—would be brought to Adullam, a "retreat," and Israel would go into captivity, and the land be as bald as a vulture.
The moral causes of Jehovah's displeasure and judgment are clearly set out in the text. The people pursued their selfish ends with violence and oppression, without shame or pity (verse 2). The testimony of the prophets, who spoke the truth, was refused. Jehovah continued to warn them; for if the prophets did not prophesy to the unjust rich men, the shame would not depart (verse 6).
Is the LORD impatient? Is the Spirit of the LORD straitened? Is it right to attach His name to unjust behaviour? The righteous hear His word and receive the benefit. But Israel showed only enmity in their attitude toward Him; and in their heartless ways treated the women and children with the cruelty of covetousness. Jehovah raises the cry for the remnant to depart from iniquity; the people of God cannot find their rest in state that is evil in the eyes of God. Destruction, even "a sore destruction" would overtake the land (verse 10).
We are always responsible to walk in obedience to and in dependence on God however weak the day may be. God is for His people, but He cannot walk with evil, though He may act in providence to preserve us from the effect of our folly. His presence cannot be enjoyed when our hearts are not in communion with Him, and true communion is learned in the path of obedience. We find in tile New Testament, that when iniquity abounds, even in the house of God, the divine injunction is to depart from evil. Christian believers cannot leave the house of God without abandoning the profession of Christianity, and they are not told to do that, but they are not to encourage evil practices by keeping company with those who do such things. The evil we cannot remedy, but we are to be obedient and to seek grace for the path of dependence where we may know the Lord with us in the blessedness of communion; there alone we are safe.
False prophets who promise the excesses of nature are loved by the people, when that which men know of God is not holding the conscience in the light of truth (verse 11).
The settled purpose of God to bless His people cannot be changed by their sin, though He does not lightly pass by sin. Without going into the way in which He will bring into effect His counsels of wisdom, the two last verses simply say that Jehovah will gather the remnant of His people. He will gather them as a flock, and One who bears the character of a "breaker" will go before them to prepare the way and break clown every obstacle to blessing. They will have a King to lead them, and Jehovah Himself will be at their head.
The second section of the book opens with a call to the chief of the people and the princes to hear the word of judgment; the prophet denounces them for their cruelty. God would hide His face from them in the day when their enemies oppressed them. They had despised His goodness and rejected the testimony of His prophets; their cry in the day of their distress would not rise from repent-ant hearts, there was no change in them. The right to judge must always remain with God, or how could He put away the evil that despises grace, when in patience He withholds judgment and acts in kindness towards an erring people?
False prophets cry "Peace" (verse 5). (See also Jeremiah 23: 17; Ezekiel 13:10) How could they endure the thought of facing God's chastening judgments? Their hatred of the messengers of God showed their enmity to Him, and was a declaration of war against Him. God would put a cloud over their vision and total darkness would settle down on them; their seers would be made ashamed and their diviners be confounded. God would give them no answer; He would not even give a word to direct them as He did to Balaam. The false prophets would themselves be deceived.
But the prophet of Jehovah was not like the rulers of Israel or these false prophets. The Spirit of God was strong in him to rebuke the house of Jacob and the princes of Israel for their sins. The chiefs who judged the people for reward are condemned, the more severely because they claimed the privilege of the presence of the LORD as belonging entirely to Israel. The spiritual bondage, under which men are brought, when leaders attach the name of the LORD to their selfish acts, is worse than the suffering caused by the loss of material wealth under pressure of authority. Zion would be ploughed as a field, and the mountains where palaces were built would be made like a forest. This prophecy was literally fulfilled.
The Spirit of God repeats in verses 1-3 the words of Isaiah (chapter 2: 2-4); there was no change in the mind of Jehovah. The threatening’s of the previous chapter give way to promises of blessing; the house of the LORD will be re-established high above all that man has exalted. The house will be set on a mountain; but the figurative use of a mountain suggests the moral elevation of God's centre above everything man has honoured. The nations will appear before the house of the LORD, the God of Jacob, to seek Him there.
Then shall every man rest in peace and enjoy the fruit of his labours; none shall make him afraid. It is a delightful picture of the millennial day of peace. The language is plain, and read simply, the prophecy need not be misconstrued.
Other nations make their boast in the gods they honour, but Israel say of Jehovah, He is "our God." In Him they will glory when they are delivered from many strong nations. The poor and downcast scattered people, who halted in their affliction as Jacob was made to halt when he entered the land, will be regathered and Jehovah will reign over them (verse 7).
The first kingdom, as it was in the days of David and Solomon, will be returned to them, and Jerusalem will be the centre of all earthly blessing. Isaiah expands this prophecy much further; Micah connects it directly with the events of the last days, and in this way concentrates our attention on the immediate happenings which precede the deliverance of Israel.
The second division of the prophecy may be taken as ending with verse 8, and what follows to the end of chapter 5, as comprising two appendices, which lead up to the blessings of verses 1-8. The first sub-division, Zion would be without a king and find none to guide her. Her trials would come upon her even when in captivity to Babylon. But she would be delivered when found wandering in the world; then Jehovah would be her Redeemer, delivering Zion from all her enemies (verse 9, 10).
The abrupt change of thought and rapid transition from the present affliction to a yet further trial and ultimate deliverance, make the prophecy difficult to interpret, but with the aid of other more detailed descriptions of the last days, the order of the events may be clearly followed. Not only is Jewry to be freed from the oppression of Babylon, the name given to apostate Christendom, as a remnant was once partially freed under the second empire, but the godly remnant in a day to come will be entirely delivered from the domination of the Babylon of the future (see Revelation chapters 12 & 13); the spiritual Babylon of the last days has its seat in the last form of the revived Roman empire. The ecclesiastical apostasy of that day will prepare the way for the revival of the empire in diabolical character.
Verses 11-13 speak of another deliverance which Israel will experience after the expulsion of Roman influence and oppression of the godly Jew in Jerusalem during the reign of the beast of Daniel's prophecy and of the Revelation. Western Europe, bound in a Roman confederacy, will be at war with Russia, and the final meeting-place will be the Middle East.
Though the Jews will be freed from the Roman yoke, yet the apostate people will have to endure the attack of many nations from the north and east who look insultingly on her. But these nations do not know the thoughts of Jehovah. He it is who gathers the nations as sheaves to the threshing floor. They will surely do His work; but here the mind of the prophet is set on the deliverance of Zion, the city of Jehovah's mercy. Then the daughter of Zion, made strong as iron and as inflexible as brass, is called to rise and thresh her enemies and to beat them to pieces. The spoils will he consecrated to Jehovah, who will magnify His name as Lord in all the earth.
It is by no strength of their own that the Jews will be able to defeat their foes and to spoil all those who oppose their return to the land. Only when with repentant hearts, acknowledging all their sin, they cry to God (Psalm 83), who alone is able to deliver them, will they learn His power to save. Israel cannot fight the vast armies which will gather round Palestine, without the help of God. He will not join Himself to their iniquity; but He is able and willing to cleanse them from their sin, though only by chastening will they be brought to the end of themselves and to own Jehovah as their Deliverer.
The subjects of this chapter are most striking and contain the principal questions of the second sub-division of this section. The first thing mentioned is that "the daughter of troops," the Assyrian, will gather her armies to besiege Jerusalem (verses 1, 5). The cause of the attack is the great and final sin of Jerusalem—the rejection and smiting of the Messiah. This then introduces the Person who will be their Deliverer—the Messiah—the second important subject of this sub-division, and the keystone of the whole prophecy. But He had first to appear and to be smitten.
The full and ultimate blessings of God for Israel are connected with the Messiah. But when He came into the world and to Israel, He was rejected. No such thing had taken place when Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem. The Messiah had not yet come.
The true —“Judge of Israel" was to be smitten "with a rod upon the Cheek" (verse 1). This was exactly what took place when Christ was given into the hands of the Roman soldiers; they mocked Him and smote Him with a rod on the head (Matthew 27:30).
The birth-place of the Messiah of Israel could not have been, stated in plainer language than in verse 2. The scribes and chief priests quoted this verse when they told Herod where the Messiah should be born (Matthew 2:5). The Jews were well aware that Christ should come from Bethlehem, the city of David (John 7:42). But there is more than a mere indication of the birth-place of the Messiah in verse 2. The One who should be born there would be the true Ruler of Israel. Nor was this all; the eternal glory of His Person is revealed: "His goings forth are from of old, from the days of eternity." He is the eternally begotten of God the Father.
Verse 3 returns to the subject of verse 1, after the parenthesis of verse 2, and states the consequence of the rejection and smiting of the "Judge of Israel." Israel is given up and more especially Judah. Jewry refused Him when He first came and gave Him up to be scourged and crucified. But Israel and Judah are given up only for a time, "until the time that she who is in labour has given birth." The time of Israel's sorrow and affliction has been long, and it will go on until, under the chastening hand of God, they discover their need of His grace and mercy. Their hearts will have been prepared by trial and suffering, and they will have wearied themselves seeking help from the world; then they will look to God for His mercy and will learn His loving-kindness.
In that day Jehovah's King will be manifested in Israel, He will be known in their midst. The remnant, who wait for Him, will not then be separated from the nation of Israel to find blessing in another sphere outside Israel's earthly hopes. Believers now are separated from the world that they may partake of the heavenly portions of the Church outside the world. The remnant then will once again look for their blessing in Israel and in Israel's land; they will not be added one by one to form the body of Christ down here, as believers are now added by the Spirit to the Church. The remnant of that day will be blessed as 'Israel,' and they will receive national recognition for national restoration and blessing.
The rejected One will become the Shepherd of Israel, standing in the strength of Jehovah, and feeding His flock. The majesty of the name of Jehovah will be the strength and security of Israel, and no one in Israel will be afraid. Jehovah's King will reign and be great unto the ends of the earth. He will overthrow the Assyrian of the last days and subdue all the enemies of His people.
"And this (man) shall be Peace" (JND), when Israel is invaded at the close of our times. When the Assyrian comes into the land to destroy Israel and lay the land waste, he will find the Messiah at the head of His people. God will raise up His mighty ones (Joel 3:11) to over-throw the mighty host from the north, and the power of the Assyrian will be broken, and their land laid waste by those whom they sought to destroy.
The effect of Israel's deliverance will be twofold. The remnant of Jacob shall be a means of refreshing from Jehovah for all people (verse 7). The richness of the grace of God for the blessing of men on earth will be seen in Israel first, and from them grace will flow out to the nations without waiting for their slow awakening. The remnant of Israel will also be the testimony of the power of God to the Gentiles, who will see the strength of Jehovah exhibited in Israel when all their enemies are cut off. Not only will the enemies of Israel perish, but all that in which men boast, their weapons of war, and the use that they have made of the natural resources of energy, will be put to confusion, and prove of no avail to save them from the strength of Jehovah in Israel. Strong cities and fortresses will be overcome when His judgments are in the earth, for Jehovah will brook no rivals in the day of His Tower. Idolatry and false worship will be taken away, and all that exalts man to the place of God will be put down. Pride, and all that ministers to pride, will be met by the fury of Jehovah's anger, and upon the heathen He will execute vengeance and wrath such as they have not heard.
This chapter has given us the connection of the Messiah with the cause of judgement brought on Israel mentioned in chapter 4:11, 12 and also His connection with their deliverance, and definitely names Israel's principal enemy in the last days.
Although the prophet had already spoken of judgment and also of blessing to follow, he is sent to contend with the "mountains" of the earth. The figure of a mountain is often used for the great seats of government on earth, the places of authority. The prophet is to speak so that all may hear him. All the earth called to hear the controversy God has with His people Israel, for it is amongst His people His ways are learned. He pleads with Israel about their moral condition, going over their history, appealing to heart and conscience in such a way that only extreme hardness of heart could resist. What had Israel against Jehovah? Only the one who has been offended without cause is able to show such grace and plead with the offender, whose heart is clouded with evil.
It was God who redeemed them from Egypt, and those Moses, Aaron and Miriam to lead them. Surely they could see Jehovah's care and His unchangeable purpose to bless them in spite of all opposition, for when Balak the king of Moab hired Balaam to curse Israel, God made Balaam answer and bless Israel (verse 5). By these examples of His loving care, Jehovah sought to move their hearts.
God searches the hearts of men and brings into the light the motives which govern them. In verses 6-8 the prophet puts their inmost thoughts into words, and reveals in this way their ignorance of that which was required of them, at the same time bringing to their consciences that Jehovah required from them more than ceremonies. Of what value were their burnt-offerings to the High God? Offerings were demanded from Israel, but were their offerings pleasing Jehovah? Would He be pleased "with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands Of rivers of oil?” Even more might he suggest for an offering; "Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" Their offerings were inadequate; God would Himself provide the true offering in His appointed time. Meanwhile their true duty was to walk in practical righteousness "and to walk humbly with thy God" (verse 8).
The prophet does not spare them the recital of their wickedness in detail (verses 10-12). Judgment is pronounced for they followed the statutes of Omri, forsaking the precepts of the LORD. Omri bought the hill of Samaria (1 Kings 26: 24) and made it a city of idolatry: it became his capital in Israel, a rival to Jerusalem which was Jehovah's centre. The people walked in the evil ways of Ahab. Because they were guided by the evil counsels of these kings they would be made desolate.
The wise man would know that the severe chastisement inflicted upon them was Jehovah's discipline, and he would bear the reproach of His people. In all their affliction he was afflicted for he loved the people, answering to the heart of God in the understanding of His ways.
God loved the people and the Spirit becomes an intercessor for them through the prophet. The prophet identifies himself with the people and bears the burden of the reproach of the city (chapter 6:9). His heart sought in vain for some redeeming feature. He was deeply affected by the moral failure around him. He looked for, but failed to find a godly or merciful man; he saw only unrighteousness and treachery. He felt like a husbandman deprived of his cherished hopes of partaking of the first-fruits.
It was well for Israel that a prophet was present to pray for the people when their iniquities were so great, for though judgment was at their very door, the prophet knew the faithfulness of God, and that the judgment was only chastisement from His hand. While princes and judges were guilty of receiving bribes, and the chief men were causing pain to all, what was there in the behaviour of Israel to declare that they were God's people? Neither a friend nor a leader was to be trusted; a wife, a son, a daughter might prove to be an enemy. "A man's enemies are the men of his own household" (verse 6).
When Christ sent His twelve disciples to preach to the cities of Israel, He warned them in these very words. They carried a testimony to Israel that God was present. The testimony to Jesus in Israel was interrupted by the refusal of the Jews to receive it and later by the destruction of Jerusalem when the Jewish nation was dispersed. The testimony to Christ will again be preached in Palestine by the Jews themselves when the Church parenthesis is over, and just before the Son of man appears (Matthew 10: 21-23). Opposition to Christ was great when He came in lowly state; as the time of His appearing approaches, antagonism to Him and hatred for those who bear the testimony to His name and Kingly glory will grow in intensity. Men have resisted the Holy Spirit and despised the gospel of the grace of Cod, but the unconcealed hatred of the world for Christ will be unveiled as the time draws near to His coming. The opposition is worse the nearer Christ is to the scene of man's wilful activities; His presence arouses active opposition, but He will put it down with a mighty hand.
The poor heart of man may find in God that which it fails to discover in any human sympathy. The prophet is brought to the end of human confidence and says, "Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: but my God will hear me." When natural sources are all dried up, there is for faith, always GOD. Truly the Spirit of Christ was in the prophet.
Still speaking for Jerusalem, the Spirit of Christ enters into her sorrows and voices through the prophet the profound confidence of faith. Bowing to the chastening hand of God, the prophet sees only chastisement and what brought it, yet the light for his soul is Jehovah Himself. As in the case of Job, faith has light in God when darkness spreads its mantle over all in which nature trusts and rests. None need rejoice in the affliction of those whom God chastens, even when the trial is most just. Often God teaches through chastening. "I have sinned," is the confession of a conscience as the first ray of light pierces its darkness. The conviction that the judgment is just, but that God is the One, and the only One, who is able to plead the cause of the stricken heart, is true repentance and reveals a knowledge of God born of faith, which leads the soul on to know what He will do. God brings the soul into the light of His presence to behold His righteousness (verses 8, 9). Once Jerusalem's confession is made, she need only wait for Jehovah's salvation. Then shall her enemies be put to shame, confusion will cover them.
Unbelievers do not understand the ways of God, they are ever ready to ask the afflicted; "Where is the LORD thy God?" The natural mind always interprets the chastening of the Lord as unrelenting judgment, it knows nothing of grace; it does not allow for the intervention of God in mercy and power to accomplish His purpose. The enemies of God rejoice in the fall of His people. But Jerusalem shall be rebuilt, and judgment be executed on all her enemies (verse 11).
The returning people will be brought from Assyria and Egypt, and from the seas and the mountains to work in the restoration of the city of God. But before that time the land will be desolate because of the sins of the nation. Jehovah will lead His people as a Shepherd and bring them into the land as in the days of old (verse 14). Their return will he as wonderful as their coming up out of Egypt, and Jehovah will show them marvellous things, (verse 15). It will be a mighty movement of many people, but God will provide for them all. The nations will see in Israel the wonder of God's ways in the earth. Great and strong nations will be ashamed when they think of Israel's might, and they will fear before Jehovah, the God of Israel (verse 17).
In the last three verses, the heart of the prophet over-flows with gratitude and he speaks with unfeigned adoration as lie thinks of the goodness of God. God finds no pleasure in afflicting; He is a "God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness" (Nehemiah 9:17)." He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in mercy" (verse 18). God will have compassion on a desolate people and put away iniquity from the house of Jacob; He will "cast their sins into the depths of the sea," and will remember them no more. The promises made to Abraham, and all that was sworn to the fathers of old, will be performed in unfailing faithfulness.
The ways of God, perfect in wisdom, deep in under-standing, reveal a God rich in mercy, unwearied in patience. He could not forget His people, in spite of their rebellious ways, nor forsake the despised remnant who hoped in His word. He preserved them in faithfulness for the blessing He had sworn to give unto the seed of Abraham. Through faith they now receive the portion of the earth-rejected Messiah whom God has honoured in heaven, but the day is near when the remnant of Israel will be the channel of blessing for all peoples. Evil will be judged in Israel, and Jehovah's works in power will reach others through them.
Each of the divisions of the prophecy begins with a denunciation of some form of evil in Israel, and closes with a definite promise of blessing for the remnant of Israel in the day when Jehovah gathers the feeble scattered people of the land. In the first division Jehovah pronounces judgment against idolatry and oppression; but He assures the remnant that they will be assembled as a flock; He Himself will be at their head and will break down all that hinders their return.
The leaders and the false prophets are denounced in the second division, and judgment falls on Jerusalem because of their wickedness. But a promise is made that Zion will be established in its first glory and become the centre of blessing for all nations. The Lord-Jehovah will 'judge among many people from Zion. Jerusalem will be released from the bondage of Babylon (her alliance with Rome in that day), and she will be delivered from the oppression of the nations which come up against her to destroy the name of Israel from off the earth. The once rejected and smitten Messiah will be their defence in the day when the greatest and most terrible of their enemies at the end, comes arrogantly to destroy Jerusalem. The remnant of Israel will be a blessing to many people, and a terror to their enemies.
The third division opens with a call to all nations to hear what God has to say to Israel. Blinded by their sins, rendered totally ignorant of God's holy claims, the people behaved deceitfully, and followed the false principles of Omri and Ahab. Jehovah warned them of the coming day of reckoning, and the prophet makes intercession for Jerusalem. Salvation for Israel is in God alone, and He will answer the arrogance of the enemies of Zion by giving strength to the weak and might to those who are ready to faint. The heart of the prophet rejoices not only in. the return of the remnant in God's good time, nor simply in the hope of the glories of the restored kingdom, but in that Jehovah God is his "salvation" and that God Him sat is the consolation of Israel. He will put away all their iniquities, and perform in power all He has promised.
The mind of the prophet has risen from thoughts of the might of Jehovah, and the blessings He will bring, up to God Himself, the source of all good; and has discovered what is most precious for the needy soul, that God Him-self is the great Reconciler of His people. He takes up their cause and reveals Himself, not merely as a righteous Judge, but the faithful and loving Restorer of His people.
Israel will in that day be enriched by the revelation of God as the Saviour, Deliverer and Blesser of His people. In wisdom and in grace He will bring them through many trials, teaching them to wait on Him and find all their strength in Him. He makes their sin the occasion to magnify His grace, and to reveal His ways in love and mercy. They will know His loving-kindness in a manner such as could not be known by a people whose right to live was measured by an inflexible law.
The blessing God had in mind for man could not be made to rest on the responsibility of a child of Adam. His eternal counsels of blessing stand on firmer and more enduring ground than that of creature responsibility; they rest on what He is in Himself, and upon the perfect revelation of His own nature. Adam sought to be as God, knowing good and evil, by an independent act of his own will, without honouring, by obeying His word, the natural obligation due to his Maker. All then was lost to man under trial.
Adam was disobedient unto death and brought the sentence of death upon the whole race. Christ, the second Man, the last Adam, made Himself nothing that God might be perfectly known in all that He purposed to do for man. Christ emptied Himself, taking the place of a servant, and being found in appearance as a man, humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death that God might be glorified in all things. All God's counsels rest in Him whom God has glorified with Himself, after He had glorified God in His death. He first descended as man into death to destroy its power. He takes His place as man higher than the heavens that He may fill all things, not only in the glory of His Person as Creator, but also as Redeemer.
As Redeemer He shelters from every evil those who are brought within the sphere of His mighty work. He has purchased all things, and will appropriate them to Himself when He has gathered the co-heirs who will enjoy the inheritance with Him.
In the day when He manifests His right in power, He will fulfil the promises made to Israel, and Israel will know Him as the One whose right it is to reign. They will have experienced His saving power.
Everything now awaits the personal presence of the Son of Man. Evil will be allowed to rise in unrestrained activity to oppose the setting up of God's Kingdom. When the man of sin, who will be the development of Adam in unfettered will, appears on the scene of chaotic Western Europe, leading the kings of the earth to make war with the coming King of kings, he will be consumed with the Spirit of His month, and be destroyed with the brightness of His coming. The nations which fight against His people in that day will be completely overthrown by the power of His presence. He will be Israel's Redeemer in power, bringing in all the blessing of God to a people sheltered from the evils which have come in during His absence, or while they have been tried in the time of waiting until the promises should be fulfilled.
In the history of Israel we find the history of the human heart. All God's ways have but proved man a sinner. Israel's history closed with the declaration that there is not one righteous, "no not one." There is no hope for the first man and he is set aside: but there is another Man, in Him God's righteousness is declared. God is dealing now with all men in grace. He is not seeking righteousness but declaring His own righteousness, and it is "unto all, and upon all them that believe." "That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.”