Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2002 James Melough
“Hear ye now what the Lord saith; Arise, contend thou before the mountains,
and let the hills hear thy voice.”
God had a controversy with
rebel Israel and Judah because of their multiplied sins, and through Micah He
called upon them to stand up before the mountains and hills and present their
side of the case. Obviously the mountains and hills are not to be taken
literally here, and since they represent great and small nations or
governments, the Lord’s command is for Israel to state her case before the
nations, they having been witnesses both of God’s dealings with Israel, and of
her response to Jehovah.
“Hear ye, O mountain (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.”
Having commanded Israel
(Israel and Judah) to state her side of the controversy, God here turns to the
mountains (nations), and states His case against His rebellious people,
declaring His intention to prosecute them and execute judgment according to
His describing the mountains
(governments/nations) as “ye strong foundations of the earth,” is the reminder
that government is ordained by God for the preservation of order in the world,
as Paul has written, “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers, For
there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God,” Ro
13:1. See also verses 2-7 of that same chapter relative to our responsibility
to government without which there would be anarchy, and the resultant collapse
“O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee?
testify against me.”
Turning next to Israel He
asked her to state what she believed Him to have done wrong so as to have
exhausted her patience, and justify her rebellion against Him. It was amazing
grace on God’s part that He still called such rebels “My people.”
“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.”
He continued by referring to
His having delivered her from Egyptian bondage, and having given her Moses as
her human leader through whom He could communicate with her, and she with Him,
it having been her own request that Moses be that representative, see Dt
5:27. In addition He had given her Aaron to be her high priest to instruct
her relative to her worship and everything else pertaining to her spiritual
life. And He had given her Miriam to be her prophetess, see Ex 15:20.
We are reading this with
clouded eyes, however, if we fail to realize that we who have been redeemed
with Christ’s precious blood, have often been guilty of the same ingratitude
as the Israel addressed by the prophet. Our indebtedness to His love and
kindness is even greater than theirs, and so also has been our ingratitude.
“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.”
The reference here is to the
events recorded in Nu 22-25, i.e., Balak’s evil scheme to destroy Israel;
Balaam’s futile attempt to curse them, and his being made to pronounce instead
a blessing, and to foretell their future greatness; Israel’s whoredom and
idolatry with the Moabites, which resulted in God’s slaying twenty-four
thousand of the Israelites. All of these things were incontrovertible proof,
not only of God’s goodness to Israel, and of His desire to bless them, but
also of His absolute righteousness, which required Him to punish sin, even
though the sinners were His people Israel. His chastisement was that of a
Father Who loved Israel too much not to administer correction, see Heb
12:6, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he
The connection between Shittim,
which was on the east or wilderness side of Jordan (the biblical direction
that speaks of sin and departure from God), and of Gilgal on the west (the
direction that speaks of approach to God), the Canaan side, is of deep
significance relative to the attempt of Balak to have Balaam curse Israel. It
seems that Balaam, having failed in his attempt to curse God’s people, had
advised Balak of another ploy by which his evil desire might be accomplished:
entice them into whoredom with the Moabite women. The plan worked, with the
result that God slew twenty-four thousand of the Israelites. And all of this
occurred while they abode at Shittim, which incidentally means acacias
or thorns, the biblical symbol of sin.
But from Shittim they moved
westward (the biblical direction of approach to God) across the Jordan, God
having miraculously dried up the river until their crossing had been
completed, their first camping place in Canaan being Gilgal, meaning
rolling: a wheel, where the rite of circumcision was renewed, signifying
the cutting off or rolling away of the sinful activity of the flesh. Thus the
people would associate Shittim with their sin and God’s judgment upon it, but
every remembrance of their first coming to Gilgal would surely recall His
pardoning grace, and His loving kindness in bringing them into Canaan with its
milk and honey.
The miraculous character of
God’s provision, e.g., the guiding pillars of cloud and fire, the manna, the
preservation of their clothes and shoes for forty years, see Dt 8:4; 29:5,
ought to have taught them that the One against Whom they rebelled was the
omnipotent, omniscient God, the Creator, against Whom rebellion was madness.
“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?
This was not Israel’s inquiry,
but it is the question they should have asked. What possible sacrifice could
they have brought to expiate such sin as theirs? None! God in pure grace
must pardon it, or they must die, and that is the only basis upon which any
man’s sin can be forgiven. But God can’t impugn His Own holy character by
extending pardon on any basis other than one of absolute righteousness, for
then He would cease to be God - a thing impossible. But it is on just such a
basis that He does forgive sin.
Israel’s hypothetical question
voiced by the prophet was whether the sacrifice of her firstborn would be an
adequate sacrifice, and the answer is, No! It is only on the basis of the
death of God’s only Son the Lord Jesus Christ that sin can be atoned for,
because He alone was sinless and therefore not subject to death. All others
were sinful, and in dying would simply yield up the life upon which death had
a claim. In submitting to death Christ, as man’s Representative, gave death
its due, and in doing so established a basis of perfect justice upon which God
could come out to man in grace, and in response to repentant faith in Christ,
pardon every sin. Israel doomed herself by refusing to repent, thus making it
impossible for God to pardon her many sins.
But Israel’s foolish thought,
that God’s pardon could be bought, is inherent. Until the light of the Gospel
shines into a man’s heart and dispels the darkness of nature, he is convinced
that God’s pardon can be bought, and the evidence of that wrong
thinking is manifest everywhere. The heathen with their idolatrous
sacrifices, Christendom with their reliance on church membership, morality,
baptism, prayers, Bible study, giving, good deeds, etc., are the living
testimony to man’s wrong concept of God. Men fail to comprehend either the
righteousness of God or the extent of their own sinfulness. God’s pardon
can’t be bought. It is available as His priceless gift only to those who
confess their utter sinfulness, and trust in the Lord Jesus as Savior.
Relative to sacrifice God has
declared, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to hearken than the fat of rams,” 1 Sa 15:22. Man’s first act of
obedience is to accept God’s priceless gift of pardon and eternal life by
accepting Christ as Savior.
“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?
Through Moses God had already
explained to Israel what was required of man, and it was unbelievably simple:
he had only to do what was right, and what was right in God’s sight had been
spelled out for him in the law. To do justly is simply to do to others what
you would wish them to do to you.
To love mercy is to love
others as we love ourselves, as expressed in Dt 19:18, “... thou shalt love
thy neighbor as thyself.”
“... to walk humbly with thy
God,” is to walk without pride.
These things, however, Israel
had failed to do, as has every man, for no man can keep God’s holy law. It is
our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. Her wrongdoings were more than could
be counted. She had violated every one of the ten commandments given at
Sinai, see Ex 20:1-17, her wickedness having made her an execration, not only
in God’s sight, but in the sight of the surrounding nations also.
“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.”
The first half of the verse
means that God cries out to the city in warning, and he is a wise man who
obeys God’s voice. The second half might be paraphrased, “Heed the warning of
coming judgment, and obey the voice of Him Who has appointed that destruction
for the punishment of those who are rebellious.”
This is the essence of the
Gospel, and the warning was never more applicable than to this present
rebellious world, for as the destruction of rebel Israel was certain, so also
is that of today’s world, that devastation coming in the form of the imminent
terrible Tribulation judgments.
“Are there yet the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the
scant measure that is abominable?”
God’s omniscient eye looked
within the walls of the houses of the rich, and beheld with righteous anger
the treasures accumulated by crooked business dealings such as false weights
and measures; perversion of justice through bribery of corrupt judges; and
That same evil gathering of
riches inflames God’s anger today.
“Shall I count them pure with the wicked balances, and with the bag of
The clear answer to this
rhetorical question is No! Crooked business methods must always incur the
judgment of the God of absolute righteousness, Whose scrupulous balancing of
the scales was demonstrated at Calvary when He gave His only Son to die, so
that He could pardon sin on a perfectly just basis.
“For the rich men thereof are full of violence, and the inhabitants thereof
have spoken lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.”
Israel’s rich men were
unscrupulous and cruel, having no compunction even about committing murder;
and rich and poor alike were deceitful liars.
It is hard to believe that a
people who had been redeemed from slavery, and who had been witnesses and
beneficiaries of God’s miraculous power, could have sunk to such depths of
sin; but they had, and it serves to remind us that disobedient believers are
capable of sinking just as low.
Our spiritual vision is
impaired if we fail to see that the same charges apply to our present world,
and that it too has made itself heir of God’s judgment.
“Therefore also will I make thee sick in smiting thee, in making thee desolate
because of thy sins.”
As they had afflicted and
wounded others, so would God afflict and wound them, and the severity of His
chastisement is indicated in His making them desolate, for the word means
to stun: numb: devastate: stupefy: make destitute: destroy: lay waste.
Severe as the punishment was to be, it was no more than what they had done to
their helpless victims. They would reap what they had sowed. And so will
“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.”
In captivity they would eat,
but only as much as would be needed to keep them alive and do the work
assigned by their taskmasters. There would be no more feasting and drinking.
“... thy casting down shall be
in the midst of thee” is also translated “thy emptiness will be in the midst
of thee,” and “it shall be gloomy in thy midst.” They would be enveloped in a
pall of gloom, caused no doubt by a comparison of their captive state with
what they had enjoyed before.
“... thou shalt take hold, but
shalt not deliver” is also translated, “thou wilt remove, but wilt not carry
anything away,” that is, they would carry with them into captivity none of
their ill-gotten wealth. Their captors would seize all of it.
The last clause means that the
few who might succeed in slipping out with some of their riches, would not
escape. They would be hunted down and slain.
This somber description of
their ultimate fate is itself a picture of the awful end of the man who dies
unrepentant. He will take with him into eternity nothing of the things that
had made his life pleasant on earth. Impenetrable gloom will envelop him as
he suffers eternal torment in the unquenchable flame of the lake of fire.
“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
The sowing, the treading of
olives and grapes, may describe their activities in the little time that would
elapse between the warning and the falling of the judgment; but it is more
likely that it describes their lot as slaves in the service of their captors.
They would do the work, but their masters would enjoy the fruits of their
labor. As they had done to others, so would God do to them.
“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
Omri was one of Israel’s most
wicked kings, as it is written, “But Omri wrought evil in the eyes of the
Lord, and did worse than all that were before him,” 1 Ki 16:25. And Ahab his
son who succeeded him was equally evil, “And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in
the sight of the Lord above all that were before him .... and Ahab did more to
provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were
before him.” 1 Ki 16:30-33. In Ahab’s murder of Naboth so as to seize his
vineyard, we see demonstrated the evil character of Israel in those days, for
such wickedness appears to have been the norm rather than the exception, for
Israel, delighting also in wickedness, cast aside the pure statutes of
Jehovah, choosing instead to emulate the sins of these two wicked kings.
God, however, will not be
mocked. His patience is great, but not infinite, and woe betide the nation or
man who exhausts it, and makes himself the object of the Divine anger. Then
nothing can save him. By her continued rebellion, and refusal to repent,
Israel had committed just that folly, and had thereby doomed herself to
destruction, for while a future generation of that same sinful nation will
repent and inherit blessing, the generation addressed by Micah was about to be
destroyed. Their final days in captivity would be ones in which they would be
the objects of the derision of the nations they themselves in the days of
their prosperity had derided.
God has a unique ability to
fit the punishment to the crime.