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Wicked Rulers and Prophets


And I said:

Listen, you heads of Jacob

and rulers of the house of Israel!

Should you not know justice?—


you who hate the good and love the evil,

who tear the skin off my people,

and the flesh off their bones;


who eat the flesh of my people,

flay their skin off them,

break their bones in pieces,

and chop them up like meat in a kettle,

like flesh in a caldron.



Then they will cry to the L ord,

but he will not answer them;

he will hide his face from them at that time,

because they have acted wickedly.



Thus says the L ord concerning the prophets

who lead my people astray,

who cry “Peace”

when they have something to eat,

but declare war against those

who put nothing into their mouths.


Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,

and darkness to you, without revelation.

The sun shall go down upon the prophets,

and the day shall be black over them;


the seers shall be disgraced,

and the diviners put to shame;

they shall all cover their lips,

for there is no answer from God.


But as for me, I am filled with power,

with the spirit of the L ord,

and with justice and might,

to declare to Jacob his transgression

and to Israel his sin.



Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob

and chiefs of the house of Israel,

who abhor justice

and pervert all equity,


who build Zion with blood

and Jerusalem with wrong!


Its rulers give judgment for a bribe,

its priests teach for a price,

its prophets give oracles for money;

yet they lean upon the L ord and say,

“Surely the L ord is with us!

No harm shall come upon us.”


Therefore because of you

Zion shall be plowed as a field;

Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,

and the mountain of the house a wooded height.


The Prophet begins really to prove what he had stated, — that he was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit: and it was, as they say, an actual proof, when the Prophet dreaded no worldly power, but boldly addressed the princes and provoked their rage against him, Hear, he says, ye heads, ye rulers of the house of Jacob, ye men who are cruel, bloody, and iniquitous. We then see that the Prophet had not boasted of what he did not without delay really confirm. But he began with saying, that he was filled with the Spirit of God, that he might more freely address them, and that he might check their insolence. We indeed know that the ungodly are so led on headlong by Satan, that they hesitate not to resist God himself: but yet the name of God is often to them a sort of a hidden chain. However much then the wicked may rage, they yet become less ferocious when the name of God is introduced. This is the reason why the Prophet had mentioned the Spirit of God; it was, that there might be a freer course to his doctrine.

When he now says, Ye heads of the house of Jacob, ye rulers of the house of Israel, it is by way of concession, as though he had said, that these were indeed splendid titles, and that he was not so absurd as not to acknowledge what had been given them by God, even that they were eminent, a chosen race, being the children of Abraham. The Prophet then concedes to the princes what belonged to them, as though he had said, that he was not a seditious man, who had no care nor consideration for civil order. And this defense was very necessary, for nothing is more common than for the ungodly to charge God’s servants with sedition, whenever they use a freedom of speech as it becomes them. Hence all who govern the state, when they hear their corruptions reproved, or their avarice, or their cruelty, or any of their other crimes, immediately cry out, — “What! if we suffer these things, every thing will be upset: for when all respect is gone, what will follow but brutal outrage? for every one of the common people will rise up against the magistrates and the judges.” Thus then the wicked ever say, that God’s servants are seditious whenever they boldly reprove them. This is the reason why the Prophet concedes to the princes and judges of the people their honor; but a qualifying clause immediately follows, — Ye are indeed the heads, ye are rulers; but yet they hate judgment:” he does not think them worthy of being any longer addressed. He had indeed bidden them to hear as with authority; but having ordered them to hear, he now uncovers their wickedness, They hate, he says, judgments and all rectitude pervert: 108108     It often happens, as in the present case, that the relative ה, in Hebrew, prefixed to a participle, has after it a verb in the future connected by ו, and in person different from that to which the relative refers. The relative here refers to a noun in the second, and the verb connected with the participle is in the third person. It is an idiom, of which there are frequent instances. We find the same to be the case with the relative אשר, in the third verse. It refers to the chiefs, who are addressed, and must therefore be viewed as in the second person, and all the verbs which follow it are in the third. Some render the participle, “who hate,” which is in Hiphil, in a causative sense. See Amos 5:7; 6:12. The distich may then be rendered thus, —
   Who render judgment hateful, (or, abominable,)
And distort everything that is right,
or more literally,
And make crooked everything that is straight.

    — Ed.
each of them builds Zion by blood, and Jerusalem by iniquity; that is, they turn their pillages into buildings: “This, forsooth, is the splendor of my holy city even of Zion! where I designed the ark of my covenant to be placed, as in my only habitation, even there buildings are seen constructed by blood and by plunder! See, he says, how wickedly these princes conduct themselves under the cover of their dignity!” 109109     “They pretend,” says Henry, “in justification of their extortion and oppressions, that they build up Zion and Jerusalem; they add new streets and squares to the holy cities and adorn them; they establish and advance the public interests both in church and state, and think therein they do God and Israel good service; but it is with blood and with iniquity, and therefore it cannot prosper; nor will their intentions of good to the city of God justify their contradictions to the law of God.” A flaming zeal for a good cause can never consecrate extortion, injustice, and murder.
   It may be asked, What is the difference between Zion and Jerusalem? Zion was the church, Jerusalem was the state; or it may be, that, according to the usual style of the Prophets, the more limited idea is given first, and the more extensive one is added to it. — Ed.

We now see that the word of God is not bound, but that it puts forth its power against the highest as well as the lowest; for it is the Spirit’s office to arraign the whole world, and not a part only.

‘When the Spirit shall come,’ says Christ,
‘it will convince the world,’ (John 16:8.)

He speaks not there of the common people only, but of the whole world, of which princes and magistrates form a prominent part. Let us then know, that though we ought to show respect to judges, (as the Lord has honored them with dignified titles, calling them his vicegerents and also gods,) yet the mouths of Prophets ought not to be closed; but they ought, without making any difference, to correct whatever is deserving of reproof, and not to spare even the chief men themselves. This is what ought in the first place to be observed.

Then when he says, that Zion was built by blood, and Jerusalem by iniquity, it is the same as though the Prophet had said, that whatever the great men expended on their palaces had been procured, and, as it were, scraped together from blood and plunder. The judges could not have possibly seized on spoils on every side, without being bloody, that is, without pillaging the poor: for the judges were for the most part corrupted by the rich and the great; and then they destroyed the miserable and the innocent. He then who is corrupted by money will become at the same time a thief; and he will not only extort money, but will also shed blood. There is then no wonder that Micah says, that Zion was built by blood He afterwards extends wider his meaning and mentions iniquity, as he wished to cast off every excuse from hypocrites. The expression is indeed somewhat strong, when he says, that Zion was built by blood. They might have objected and said, that they were not so cruel, though they could not wholly clear themselves from the charge of avarice. “When I speak of blood,” says the Prophet, “there is no reason that we should contend about a name; for all iniquity is blood before God: if then your houses have been built by plunder, your cruelty is sufficiently proved; it is as though miserable and innocent men had been slain by your own hands.” The words, Zion and Jerusalem, enhance their sin; for they polluted the holy city and the mount on which the temple was built by the order and command of God.

The Prophet shows here first, how gross and supine was the hypocrisy of princes as well as of the priests and prophets: and then he declares that they were greatly deceived in thus soothing themselves with vain flatteries; for the Lord would punish them for their sins since he had in his forbearance spared them, and found that they did not repent. But he does not address here the common people or the multitude, but he attacks the chief men: for he has previously told us, that he was endued with the spirit of courage. It was indeed necessary for the Prophet to be prepared with invincible firmness that he might freely and boldly declare the judgment of God, especially as he had to do with the great and the powerful, who, as it is well known, will not easily, or with unruffled minds, bear their crimes to be exposed; for they wish to be privileged above the ordinary class of men. But the Prophet not only does not spare them, but he even arraigns them alone, as though the blame of all evils lodged only with them, as indeed the contagion had proceeded from them; for though all orders were then corrupt, yet the cause and the beginning of all the evils could not have been ascribed to any but to the chief men themselves.

And he says, Princes for reward judge, priests teach for reward, 111111     Calvin has mercede in both instances. The first in Hebrew is שחד, a gift, a bribe; this was given to the princes: and the second is מחיר, a commutation, barter, price, something in exchange; this was given to the priests: and then what was given to the prophets is literally silver, כסף; but it often means money in general. The Septuagint renders the first, μετα δωρων — for gifts; the second, μετα μισθου — for reward; and the last, μετα αργυριου — for money. The princes decided matters according to the bribes given them, the priests, not satisfied with the regular allowance given them according to the law, did not teach except they were paid, had something in exchange, a reward for their trouble. And while the true prophets, who were extraordinary teachers sent by God, delivered their messages freely, without any pay, as they received them; the false prophets, who pretended that they came from God, required money for performing their office; see Jeremiah 6:13. And notwithstanding all their gains, all things were done badly. Money was extracted for doing wrong. The princes determined cases unjustly, the priests taught erroneous doctrine, and the prophets prophesied falsely: and yet for all these evils, money was required! How ignorant and infatuated the people must have been!
   Cocceius enumerated six things as chargeable on the persons mentioned in this verse: 1. Avarice—the seeking of wealth instead of doing God’s will; 2. A mercenary disposition, influenced by gain and not by sense of duty; 3. The exacting of unlawful reward; 4. The doing, even for reward, of what was evil and wicked; 5. A false pretense of trust in God; and, 6. The tying of God’s favor to external privileges. — Ed.
the prophets divine for money: as though he had said, that the ecclesiastical as well as the civil government was subject to all kinds of corruptions, for all things were made matters of sale. We know that what the Holy Spirit declares elsewhere is ever true, — that by gifts or rewards the eyes of the wise are blinded and the hearts of the just are corrupted, (Ecclus. 20:29,) for as soon erg judges open a way for rewards, they cannot preserve integrity, however much they may wish to do so. And the same is the case with the priests: for if any one is given to avarice, he will adulterate the pure truth: it cannot be, that a complete liberty in teaching should exist, except when the pastor is exempt from all desire of gain. It is not therefore without reason that Micah complains here, that the princes as well as the priests were hirelings in his day; and by this he means, that no integrity remained among them, for the one, as I have said, follows from the other. He does not say, that the princes were either cruel or perfidious, though he had before mentioned these crimes; but in this place he simply calls them mercenaries. But, as I have just said, the one vice cannot be separated from the other; for every one who is hired will pervert judgment, whether he be a teacher or a judge. Nothing then remains pure where avarice bears rule. It was therefore quite sufficient for the Prophet to condemn the judges and the prophets and the priests for avarice; for it is easy hence to conclude, that teaching was exposed to sale, and that judgments were bought, so that he who offered most money easily gained his cause. Princes then judge for reward, and priests also teach for reward

We can learn from this place the difference between prophets and priests. Micah ascribes here the office or the duty of teaching to the priests and leaves divination alone to the prophets. We have said elsewhere, that it happened through the idleness of the priests, that prophets were added to them; for prophesying belonged to them, until being content with the altar, they neglected the office of teaching: and the same thing, as we find, has taken place under the Papacy. For though it be quite evident for what reason pastors were appointed to preside over the Church, we yet see that all, who proudly call themselves pastors, are dumb dogs. Whence is this? Because they think that they discharge their duties, by being only attentive to ceremonies; and they have more than enough to occupy them: for the priestly office under the Papacy is laborious enough as to trifles and scenic performances: (ritus histrionicos — stage-playing rites) but at the same time they neglect the principal thing — to feed the Lord’s flock with the doctrine of salvation. Thus degenerated had the priests become under the Law. What is said by Malachi ought to have been perpetuated, — that the law should be in the mouth of the priest, that he should be the messenger and interpreter of the God of hosts, (Malachi 2:7;) but the priests cast from them this office: it became therefore necessary that prophets should be raised up, and as it were beyond the usual course of things while yet the regular course formally remained. But the priests taught in a cold manner; and the prophets divined, that is professed that oracles respecting future things were revealed to them.

This distinction is now observed by the Prophet, when he says, The priests teach for reward, that is, they were mercenaries, and hirelings in their office: and the prophets divined for money It then follows, that they yet leaned on Jehovah, and said, Is not Jehovah in the midst of us? Come then shall not evil upon us. The Prophet shows here, as I have said at the beginning, that these profane men trifled with God: for though they knew that they were extremely wicked, nay, their crimes were openly known to all; yet they were not ashamed to lay claim to the authority of God. And it has, we know, been a common wickedness almost in all ages, and it greatly prevails at this day, — that men are satisfied with having only the outward evidences of being the people of God. There was then indeed an altar erected by the command of God; there were sacrifices made according to the rule of the Law; and there were also great and illustrious promises respecting that kingdom. Since then the sacrifices were daily performed, and since the kingdom still retained its outward form, they thought that God was, in a manner, bound to them. The same is the case at this day with the great part of men; they presumptuously and absurdly boast of the external forms of religion. The Papists possess the name of a Church, with which they are extremely inflated; and then there is a great show and pomp in their ceremonies. The hypocrites also among us boast of Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, and the name of Reformation; while, at the same time, these are nothing but mockeries, by which the name of God and the whole of religion are profaned, when no real piety flourishes in the heart. This was the reason why Micah now expostulated with the prophets and the priests, and the king’s counselors; it was, because they falsely pretended that they were the people of God. 112112     In unison with the foregoing are these striking remarks of Henry,—”Many are rocked sleep in a fatal security by their church privileges, as if these would protect them in sin and shelter them from punishment, which are really, and will be, the greatest aggravations both of their sin and of their punishment. If men’s having the Lord among them will not restrain them from doing evil, it can never secure them from suffering evil for so doing; and it is very absurd for sinners to think that their impudence will be their impunity.” — Ed.

But by saying; that they relied on Jehovah, he did not condemn that confidence which really reposes on God; for, in this respect, we cannot exceed the bounds: as God’s goodness is infinite, so we cannot trust in his word too much, if we embrace it in true faith. But the Prophet says, that hypocrites leaned on Jehovah, because they flattered themselves with that naked and empty distinction, that God had adopted them as his people. Hence the word, leaning or recumbing, is not to be applied to the real trust of the heart, but, on the contrary, to the presumption of men, who pretend the name of God, and so give way to their own will, that they shake off not only all fear of God, but also thought and reason. When, therefore, so great and so supine thoughtlessness occupies the minds of men, stupidity presently follows: and yet it is not without reason that Micah employs this expression, for hypocrites persuade themselves that all things will be well with them, as they think that they have God propitious to them. As then they feel no anxiety while they have the idea that God is altogether at peace with them, the Prophet declares, by way of irony, that they relied on Jehovah; as though he had said, that they made the name of God their support: but yet the Prophet speaks in words contrary to their obvious meaning, (καταχρηστικῶς loquitur — speaks catachrestically;) for it is certain that no one relies on Jehovah except he is humbled in himself. It is penitence that leads us to God; for it is when we are cast down that we recumb on him; but he who is inflated with self-confidence flies in the air, and has nothing solid in him. And our Prophet, as I have said, intended indirectly to condemn the false security in which hypocrites sleep, while they think it enough that the Lord had once testified that they would be his people; but the condition is by them disregarded.

He now recites their words, Is not Jehovah in the midst of us? Come will not evil upon us This question is a proof of a haughty self-confidence; for they ask as of a thing indubitable, and it is an emphatic mode of speaking, by which they meant to say, that Jehovah was among them. He who simply affirms a thing, does not show so much pride as these hypocrites when they set forth this question, “Who shall deny that Jehovah dwells in the midst of us?” God had indeed chosen an habitation among them for himself; but a condition was interposed, and yet they wished that he should be, as it were, tied to the temple, though they considered not what God required from them. They hence declared that Jehovah was in the midst of them; nay, they treated with disdain any one who dared to say a word to the contrary: nor is there a doubt but that they poured forth blasts of contempt on the Prophets. For whenever any one threatened what our Prophet immediately subjoins, such an answer as this was ever ready on their lips, — “What! will God then desert us and deny himself? Has he in vain commanded the temple to be built among us? Has he falsely promised that we should be a priestly kingdom? Dost thou not make God a covenant-breaker, by representing him as approving of the terrors of thy discourse? But he cannot deny himself:” We hence see why the Prophet had thus spoken; it was to show that hypocrites boasted so to speaks of their proud confidence, because they thought that God could not be separated from them.

Now this passage teaches us how preposterous it is thus to abuse the name of God. There is indeed a reason why the Lord calls us to himself, for without him we are miserable; he also promises to be propitious to us, though, in many respects, we are guilty before him: he yet, at the same time, calls us to repentance. Whosoever, then, indulges himself and continues sunk in his vices, he is greatly deceived, if he applies to himself the promises of God; for, as it has been said, the one cannot be separated from the other. 113113     That is, the promise from repentance. — Ed. But when God is propitious to them, they rightly conclude, that all things will be well with them, for we know that the paternal favor of God is a fountain of all felicity. But in this there was a vicious reasoning, — that they promised to themselves the favor of God through a false imagination of the flesh, and not through his word. Thus we see that there is ever in hypocrisy some imitation of piety: but there is a sophistry (paralogismus) either in the principle itself or in the argument.

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