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God Challenges Israel


Hear what the L ord says:

Rise, plead your case before the mountains,

and let the hills hear your voice.


Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the L ord,

and you enduring foundations of the earth;

for the L ord has a controversy with his people,

and he will contend with Israel.



“O my people, what have I done to you?

In what have I wearied you? Answer me!


For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,

and redeemed you from the house of slavery;

and I sent before you Moses,

Aaron, and Miriam.


O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,

what Balaam son of Beor answered him,

and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,

that you may know the saving acts of the L ord.”


What God Requires


“With what shall I come before the L ord,

and bow myself before God on high?

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,

with calves a year old?


Will the L ord be pleased with thousands of rams,

with ten thousands of rivers of oil?

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,

the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”


He has told you, O mortal, what is good;

and what does the L ord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?


Cheating and Violence to Be Punished


The voice of the L ord cries to the city

(it is sound wisdom to fear your name):

Hear, O tribe and assembly of the city!


Can I forget the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked,

and the scant measure that is accursed?


Can I tolerate wicked scales

and a bag of dishonest weights?


Your wealthy are full of violence;

your inhabitants speak lies,

with tongues of deceit in their mouths.


Therefore I have begun to strike you down,

making you desolate because of your sins.


You shall eat, but not be satisfied,

and there shall be a gnawing hunger within you;

you shall put away, but not save,

and what you save, I will hand over to the sword.


You shall sow, but not reap;

you shall tread olives, but not anoint yourselves with oil;

you shall tread grapes, but not drink wine.


For you have kept the statutes of Omri

and all the works of the house of Ahab,

and you have followed their counsels.

Therefore I will make you a desolation, and your inhabitants an object of hissing;

so you shall bear the scorn of my people.


God briefly records here what happened in the desert, — that the people had need of some extraordinary help in addition to the many benefits which he had conferred on them. For though the people lived safely in the desert as to the Egyptians, though they were fed by manna and water from the rock flowed for them, though the cloud by day protected them from the heat of the sun, and the pillar of fire shone on them during the night, yet the stream of God’s mercy seemed to have been stopped when Balaam came forth, who was a Prophet, and then, as one armed with celestial weapons, fought against the people and opposed their deliverance. Now, had God permitted Balaam to curse the people, what could have taken place, but that they must have been deprived of all their blessings? This is the reason why the Prophet specifically refers to this history, — that the cursing of Balaam was miraculously turned into a blessing, even through the secret purpose of God. Micah might indeed have referred to all those particulars by which God could have proved the ingratitude of the people; but he deemed it sufficient to touch on the fact of their redemption, and also to mention by the way this extraordinary instance of God’s kindness.

Remember, he says, what Balak devised, that is, how crafty was his counsel: for the verb יעף, iots, is to be taken here in a bad sense, and is very emphatical; as though the Prophet had said, that there was more danger in this fraud than in all the violence of enemies; for Balak could not have done so much harm, had he prepared a great army against the Israelites, as by hiring a Prophet to curse the people. For certain it is, that though Balaam was an impostor and full of deceits, as it is probable that he was a man given to profane superstitions, he was yet endued with the gift of prophecy. This was the case no doubt; and we know that God has often so distributed the gifts of his Spirit, that he has honored with the prophetic office even the ungodly and unbelieving: for it was a special gift, distinct from the grace of regeneration. Balaam then was a Prophet. Now when Balak saw that he was unequal in power to oppose the people, he thought of this expedient — to get some Prophet to interpose for the purpose of exciting the wrath of God against the people. This is the reason why it is here said, Remember what Balak consulted against thee; that is, “Thou were then in the greatest danger, when a Prophet came, hired for the purpose, that he might in God’s name pronounce on thee a curse.”

It may be asked, Whether Balaam could really curse the people of Israel? The answer is easy: the question here is not what might have been the effect, without God’s permission; but Micah here regards only the office with which Balaam was honored and endued. As then he was God’s Prophet, he could have cursed the people, had not God prevented him. And no doubt Balak was wise enough to know, that the Israelites could not be resisted by human power, and that, therefore, nothing remained for him but the interposition of God; and as he could not bring down God from heaven, he sent for a Prophet. God puts his own power in his word, — as God’s word resided in Balaam, and as he was, as it were, its depositary, it was no wonder that Balak thought that he would become the conqueror of the people of Israel, provided they were cursed by Balaam’s mouth; for this would have been as it were, the announcement of God’s wrath.

He now subjoins, And what Balaam, the son of Beor, answered him. There is here shown, on the one hand, a danger, because Balaam was craftier than all the other enemies of the people, for he could have done more by his artifice than if he had armed against them the whole world: here then was the danger. But, on the other hand, we know what he answered; and it is certain that the answer of Balaam did not proceed from himself, but, on the contrary, from the Spirit of God. As Balaam spoke by the secret influence of the Spirit, contrary to the wish of his own heart, God thus proved that he was present at that very time, when the safety of the people was endangered. Think, then, or remember, what Balaam answered; as though he said, — “Balaam was very nigh cursing thee, for his mouth was opened: for he had sold himself to an ungodly king, and nothing could have pleased him more than to have poured forth many anathemas and many curses: but he was constrained to bless your fathers. What did this mean? Did not the wonderful favor of God shine forth in this instance?” We now perceive the Prophet’s design, and what a large meaning there is in these words.

He afterwards adds generally, From Shittim even to Gilgal. This is not connected with the last clause; for Balaam did not follow the people from Shittim to Gilgal; but a verb is to be understood, 164164     Various have been the ways to complete this evidently defective sentence; and there is no assistance from any MSS., or from the Septuagint. Shittim was in the land of Moab, and Gilgal was beyond Jordan, in the land of Canaan. Grotius and many others repeat the word “Remember,” and supply, “what I have done,” or, “what happened.” This is a sort of omission, which we can hardly think a writer would have made. It is far more probable that a word or words have been somehow left out: and the Targum, though generally no safe guide, has so given the passage as to countenance this conjecture. “Were not great things done for you,” is the supplement of the Targum. “And what I did,” seems to be the most natural addition: such words as ומה עשיתי appear to have been left out by transcribers. I would then render the verse thus: —
   My people, remember, I pray,
What did Balak, the king of Moab, consult,
And what did Balaam, the son of Beor, answer him,
(And what I did) from Shittim even to Gilgal,
That ye may know the faithful dealings of Jehovah.

   — Ed.
as though he said, — “Thou knowest what things happened to thee from Shittim to Gilgal, from the beginning to the end; at the time when thou didst enter the wilderness, thou hadst begun to provoke the wrath of God.” And we know that even in Shittim the Israelites fell away into idolatry; and that defection, in a manner, alienated them from God. Hence God shows here that he, in his goodness and mercy, had contended with the ungodly ways of the people even to Gilgal; that is, “Thou hast never ceased to provoke me.” We indeed know that the people continually excited against themselves the displeasure of God, and that their defections were many and various. In short, then the Prophet shows that God had so mercifully dealt with the people, that he had, in a most astonishing manner, overcome their wickedness by his goodness.

He at length subjoins, That thou mayest know the righteousnesses of Jehovah. By righteousnesses he means acts of kindness, as the sense of the word is in many other passages: for the righteousness of God is often taken not only for uprightness, but also for the faithfulness and truth which he manifests towards his people. It betokens therefore the relation between God and his Church, whenever the word, righteousness, is to be understood in this sense. That thou mayest then know the righteousnesses of Jehovah; that is, that experience itself may prove to thee how faithful, how beneficent, how merciful has God ever been towards your race. 165165     “His justice in destroying the Canaanites, his goodness in giving rest to his people Israel, and his faithfulness to his promises made unto the Fathers.” — Henry. Since then the righteousness of God was conspicuous, the people must surely have been mute, and had nothing for which they could justly expostulate with God: what remained, but that their extreme impiety, fully detected before heaven and earth and all the elements, exposed them to his judgment? It now follows —

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