Calvin, Commentary on Micah, Part 5
(... continued from part 4)

Lecture Eighty-fifth. 
Micah 2:12,13 
I will surely assemble, O Jacob, all of thee; I will surely gather 
the remnant of Israel; I will put them together as the sheep of 
Bozrah, as the flock in the midst of their fold: they shall make 
great noise by reason of [the multitude of] men. 
The breaker is come up before them: they have broken up, and have 
passed through the gate, and are gone out by it: and their king 
shall pass before them, and the LORD on the head of them. 
    The exposition of this passage is twofold. The greater part of 
interpreters incline to this view, - that God here promises some 
alleviation to the Israelites, after having sharply reproved them, 
and threatened them with utter ruin. They therefore apply this 
passage to the kingdom of Christ, as though God gave hope of a 
future restoration. But when I narrowly weigh every thing, I am, on 
the contrary, forced to regard these two verses as a commination, 
that is, that the Prophet here denounces God's future vengeance on 
the people. As, however, the former opinion is almost universally 
received, I will briefly mention what has been adduced in its favor, 
and then I shall return to state the other meaning, which I prefer. 
    It is suitable to the kingdom of Christ to say, that a people 
who had been dispersed should be gathered under one head. We indeed 
know how miserable a dispersion there is in the world without him, 
and that whenever the Prophets speak of the renovation of the 
Church, they commonly make use of this form of expression, that is, 
that the Lord will gather the dispersed and unite them together 
under one head. If then the passage be referred to the kingdom of 
Christ, it is altogether proper to say, that God by gathering will 
gather the whole of Jacob. But a restriction is afterwards added, 
that no one may extend this restoration to the whole race of 
Abraham, or to all those who, according to the flesh, derived their 
descent from Abraham as their father: hence the word "sh'erit" is 
laid down. Then the whole of Jacob is not that multitude, which, 
according to the flesh, traced their origin from the holy 
Patriarchs, but only their residue. It then follows, "I will set 
them together as the sheep of Bozrah", that is, I will make them to 
increase into a large, yea, into an immense number; for they shall 
make a tumult, that is, a great noise will be made by them, as 
though the place could not contain so large a number. And they 
explain the next verse thus, - "A breaker shall go before them", 
that is, there shall be those who, with a hand, strong and armed, 
will make a way open for them; inasmuch as Christ says that the 
kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, (Matth. 11: 12:) they then 
mean that the people will have courageous leaders, whom nothing will 
stop from breaking through, and that they will also lead the whole 
people with them. They shall therefore go forth through the gate, 
and their king shall pass through. This also well agrees with the 
kingdom of Christ. For whenever God declares that he will be 
propitious to his Church, he at the same time adds, that he will 
give a king to his people; for their safety had been placed in that 
kingdom, which had been erected by the authority and command of God 
himself. It is therefore a common thing, and what occurs everywhere 
in the Prophets, that God would give a king from the seed of David 
to his people, when it would be his will to favor them with complete 
happiness. Thus they understand that a king shall pass on before 
them, which is the office of a leader, to show them the way. "And 
Jehovah shall be at their head"; that is, God himself will show 
himself to be the chief king of his people, and will ever defend by 
his help and grace those whom he adopts as his people. 
    But I have already said that I more approve of another. 
exposition: for I see not how the Prophet could pass so suddenly 
into a different strain. He had said in the last verse that the 
people could endure no admonitions, for they only desired flatteries 
and adulation. He now joins what I have lately referred to 
respecting the near judgment of God, and proceeds, as we shall see, 
in the same strain to the end of the third chapter: but we know that 
the chapters were not divided by the Prophets themselves. We have 
therefore a discourse continued by the Prophet to the third chapter; 
not that he spoke all these things in one day; but he wished to 
collect together what he had said of the vices of the people; and 
this will be more evident as we proceed. I will now come to the 
    "Gathering, I will gather thee, the whole of Jacob; collecting, 
I will collect the remnant of Israel". God has two modes of 
gathering; for he sometimes gathers his people from dispersion, 
which is a singular proof of his favor and love. But he is said also 
to gather, when he assembles them together to devote and give them 
up to destruction, as we say in French, Trousser; and this verb is 
taken elsewhere in the same sense, and we have already met with an 
instance in Hosea. So, in the present passage, God declares that 
there would be a gathering of the people, - for what purpose? Not 
that being united together they might enjoy the blessings of God, 
but that they might be destroyed. As then the people had united 
together in all kinds of wickedness, so God now declares, that they 
should be gathered together, that the one and the same destruction 
might be to them all. And he adds, the remnant of Israel; as though 
he said, "Whatever shall remain from slaughters in wars and from all 
other calamities, such as famine and pestilence, this I will 
collect, that it may be wholly destroyed." He mentions the remnant, 
because the Israelites had been worn out by many evils, before the 
Lord stretched forth his hand at last to destroy them. 
    He afterwards subjoins, "I will set them together as the sheep 
of Bozrah"; that is, I will cast them into one heap. Bozrah was a 
city or a country of Idumea; and it was a very fruitful place, and 
had the richest pastures: hence Isaiah, chap. 34, in denouncing 
vengeance on the Idumeans, alludes at the same time to their 
pastures, and says, "God will choose for himself fat lambs and 
whatever is well fed, and will also collect fatness, for the Lord 
has a sacrifice in Bozrah." So also, in this place, the Prophet 
says, that the Jews, when collected together as it were into a 
bundle, shall be like the sheep of Bozrah. And he further adds, "as 
the sheep in the middle of the sheepfolds", though some render it, 
leading: "davar" sometimes means to lead; but I see no reason why it 
should be drawn so far from its meaning in this connection. I take 
it as signifying a sheepfold, because sheep are there collected 
together. Some interpreters consider that a siege is referred to 
here, that is, that God would confine the whole people within 
cities, that they might not be open to the incursions of enemies; 
but I extend the meaning much wider, namely, that God would gather 
the people, in order at last to disperse them. I will then gather 
them, as I have already said, Je vous trousserai; as the sheep of 
Bozrah in the middle of the sheep fold; and there shall be a noise 
on account of their number; that is, "Though ye now glory in your 
number, this will avail you nothing; for I shall be able to reduce 
you all to strait, so that you may, as ye deserve, perish together." 
    It follows, "Ascend shall a breaker before them"; that is, they 
shall be led in confusion; and the gate shall also be broken, that 
they may go forth together; for the passage would not be large 
enough, were they, as is usually done, to go forth in regular order; 
but the gates of cities shall be broken, that they may pass through 
in great numbers and in confusion. By these words the Prophet 
intimates, that all would be quickly taken away into exile. "And 
they shall go forth, he says through the gate, and their king shall 
pass on before if them". The Prophet means here, that the king would 
be made captive; and this was the saddest spectacle: for some hope 
remained, when the dregs of the people had been led into Chaldea; 
but when the king himself was led away a captive, and cast into 
prison, and his eyes pulled out, and his children slain, it was the 
greatest of misery. They were wont to take pride in their king, for 
they thought that their kingdom could not but continue perpetually, 
since God had so promised. But God might for a time overturn that 
kingdom, that he might afterwards raise it anew, according to what 
has been done by Christ, and according to what had been also 
predicted by the Prophets. "Crosswise, crosswise, crosswise, let the 
crown be, until its lawful possessor comes." We then see that this, 
which the Prophet mentions respecting their king, has been added for 
the sake of amplifying. 
    He afterwards adds, "Jehovah shall be at the head of them"; 
that is, He will be nigh them, to oppress and wholly to overwhelm 
them. Some consider something to be understood, and of this kind, 
that Jehovah was wont formerly to rule over them, but that now he 
would cease to do so: but this is too strained; and the meaning 
which I have stated seems sufficiently clear, and that is, - that 
God himself would be the doer, when they should be driven into 
exile, and that he would add courage to tyrants and their 
attendants, in pursuing the accursed people, in order to urge on 
more and more and aggravate their calamities and thus to show that 
their destruction vault happen through his righteous judgment. We 
now then understand the real meaning of the Prophet. Now follows - 
Chapter 3. 
Micah 3:1-3 
1 And I said, Hear, I pray you, O heads of Jacob, and ye princes of 
the house of Israel; [Is it] not for you to know judgment? 
2 Who hate the good, and love the evil; who pluck off their skin 
from off them, and their flesh from off their bones; 
3 Who also eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off 
them; and they break their bones, and chop them in pieces, as for 
the pot, and as flesh within the caldron. 
    The Prophet in this chapter assails and severely reproves the 
chief men as well as the teachers; for both were given to avarice 
and cruelty, to plunder, and, in short, to all other vices. And he 
begins with the magistrates, who exercised authority among the 
people; and briefly relates the words in which he inveighed against 
them. We have said elsewhere, that the Prophets did not record all 
that they had spoken, but only touched shortly on the heads or chief 
points: and this was done by Micah, that we might know what he did 
for forty or more years, in which he executed his office. He could 
have related, no doubt, in half-an-hour, all that exists of his 
writings: but from this small book, however small it is, we may 
learn what was the Prophet's manner of teaching, and on what things 
he chiefly dwelt. I will now return to his words. 
    He says that the chief men of the kingdom had been reproved by 
him. It is probable, that these words were addressed to the Jews; 
for though at the beginning he includes the Israelites, we yet know 
that he was given as a teacher to the Jews, and not to the kingdom 
of Israel. It was as it were accidental, that he sometimes 
introduces the ten tribes together with the Jews. This address then 
was made, as I think, to the king as well as to his counselors and 
other judges, who then ruled over the people of Judah. 
    "Hear this, I pray", he says. Such a preface betokens 
carelessness in the judges; for why does he demand a hearing from 
them, except that they had become so torpid in their vices, that 
they would attend to nothing? Inasmuch then as so brutal a stupor 
had seized on them, he says, "Hear now ye chiefs, or heads, of 
Jacob, and ye rulers of the house of Israel". But why does he still 
speak of the house of Israel? Because that name was especially known 
and celebrated, whenever a mention was made of the posterity of 
Abraham: and the other Prophets, even while speaking of the kingdom 
of Judah, often make use of this title, "ye who are called by the 
name of Israel;" and they did this, on account of the dignity of the 
holy Patriarch; and the meaning of the word itself was no ordinary 
testimonial of excellency as to his whole race. And this is what is 
frequently done by Isaiah. But the name of Israel is not put here, 
as elsewhere, as a title of distinction: on the contrary, the 
Prophet here amplifies their sin, because they were so corrupt, 
though they were the chief men among the chosen race, being those 
whom God had honored with so much dignity, as to set them over his 
Church and elect people. It was then an ingratitude, not to be 
endured to abuse that high and sacred authority, which had been 
conferred on them by God. 
    "Does it not belong to you, he says, to know judgment?" Here he 
intimates that rectitude ought to have a place among the chief men, 
in a manner more especial than among the common people; for it 
behaves them to excel others in the knowledge of what is just and 
right: for though the difference between good and evil be engraven 
on the hearts of all, yet they, who hold supremacy among the people, 
and excel in power, are as it were the eyes of the community; as the 
eyes direct the whole body, so also they, who are placed in any 
situation of honor, are thus made eminent, that they may show the 
right way to others. Hence by the word, to "know", the Prophet 
intimates that they wickedly subverted the whole order of nature, 
for they were blind, while they ought to have been the luminaries of 
the whole people. Is "it not for you, he says, to know judgment" and 
equity? But why was this said, especially to the chief men? Because 
they, though they of themselves knew what was right, having the law 
engraven within ought yet as leaders to have possessed superior 
knowledge, so as to outshine others. It is therefore your duty to 
know judgment. We hence learn that it is not enough for princes and 
magistrates to be well disposed and upright; but it is required of 
them to know judgment and wisdom that they may discern matters above 
the common people. But if they are not thus endued with the gift of 
understanding and wisdom let them ask of the Lord. We indeed know, 
that without the Spirit of God, the acutest men are wholly unfit to 
rule; nor is it in vain, that the free Spirit of God is set forth, 
as holding the supreme power in the world; for we are thus reminded, 
that even they who are endued with the chief gifts are wholly 
incapable of governing except the Spirit of God be with them. This 
passage then shows that an upright mind is not a sufficient 
qualification in princes; they must also excel in wisdom, that they 
may be, as we have already said, as the eyes are to the body. In 
this sense it is that Micah now says that it belonged to the leaders 
of the people to know judgment and justice. 
    He afterwards subjoins, "But they hate good, and love evil, and 
pull off the skin from my people, the flesh from their bones"; that 
is, they leave nothing, he says, sound and safe, their rapacity 
being so furious. The Prophet conveys first a general reproof, - 
that they not only perverted justice, but were also given to 
wickedness and hated good. He means then that they were openly 
wicked and ungodly, and also that they with a fixed purpose carried 
on war against every thing just and right. We hence learn how great 
and how abominable was the corruption of the people, when they were 
still the peculiar possession and heritage of God. Inasmuch then as 
the state of this ancient people had become so degenerated, let us 
learn to walk in solicitude and fear, while the Lord governs us by 
pious magistrates and faithful pastors: for what happened to the 
Jews might soon happen to us, so that wolves might bear rule over 
us, as indeed experience has proved even in this our city. The 
Prophet afterwards adds the kinds of cruelty which prevailed; of 
which he speaks in hyperbolical terms, though no doubt he sets 
before our eyes the state of things as it was. He compares the 
judges to wolves or to lions, or to other savage beasts. He says not 
that they sought the property of the people, or pillaged their 
houses; but he says that they devoured their flesh even to the very 
bones; he says that they pulled off their skin: and this he confirms 
in the next verse. 
    "They devour, he says, the flesh of my people, and their skin 
they strip off from them, and their bones they break in pieces and 
make small, as that which into the pot is thrown, and which is in 
the midst of the caldron". For when any one throws meat into the 
pot, he does not take the whole ox, but cuts it into pieces, and 
having broken it, he then fills with these pieces his pot or his 
caldron. The Prophet then enhances the cruelty of the princes; they 
were not content with one kind of oppression, but exercised every 
species of barbarous cruelty towards the people, and were in every 
respect like bears, or wolves, or lions, or some other savage 
beasts, and that they were also like gluttons. We now then perceive 
the Prophet's meaning. 
    Now this passage teaches us what God requires mainly from those 
in power, - that they abstain from doing injustice: for as they are 
armed with power, so they ought to be a law to themselves. They 
assume authority over others; let them then begin with themselves, 
and restrain themselves from doing evil. For when a private man is 
disposed to do harm, he is restrained at least by fear of the laws, 
and dares not to do any thing at his pleasure; but in princes there 
is a greater boldness; and they are able to do greater injustice: 
and this is the reason why they ought to observe more forbearance 
and humanity. Hence levity and paternal kindness especially become 
princes and those in power. But the Prophet here condemns the 
princes of his age for what deserved the highest reprehension; and 
their chief crime was cruelty or inhumanity, inasmuch as they spared 
not their own subjects. 
    We now see that the Prophet in no degree flattered the great, 
though they took great pride in their own dignity. But when he saw 
that they wickedly and basely abused the power committed to them, he 
boldly resisted them, and exercised the full boldness of the Spirit. 
He therefore not only calls them robbers or plunderers of the 
people; but he says, that they were cruel wild beasts; he says, that 
they devoured the flesh, tore and pulled it in pieces, and made it 
small; and he says all this, that he might convey an idea of the 
various kinds of cruelty which they practiced. Now follow 
threatenings - 
Micah 3:4 
Then shall they cry unto the LORD, but he will not hear them: he 
will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have behaved 
themselves ill in their doings. 
    Micah now denounces judgment on the chief men, such as they 
deserved. He says, "They shall cry then to Jehovah". The adverb 
"'az" is often put indefinitely in Hebrew, and has the force of a 
demonstrative, and may be taken as pointing out a thing, 
("deiktomos" - demonstratively,) then, or there, as though the 
Prophet pointed out by his finger things which could be seen, though 
they were far away from the sight of men. But in this place, the 
Prophet seems rather to pursue the subject to which I have already 
referred: for he had before stated that God would take vengeance on 
that people. This adverb of time then is connected with the other 
combinations, which have been already explained. If, however, any 
one prefer a different meaning, namely that the Prophet meant here 
to hold them in suspense, as to the nearness of God's vengeance, I 
do not oppose him, for this sense is not unsuitable. However this 
may be, the Prophet here testifies that the crimes of the chief men 
would not go unpunished, though they did not think themselves to be 
subject either to laws or to punishment. As then the princes and 
magistrates regarded themselves as exempt, by some imaginary 
privilege, from the lot of other people, the Prophet declares here 
expressly, that a distress was nigh at hand, which would extort a 
cry from them: for by the word, cry, he means the miseries which 
were nigh at hand. They shall then cry in their distress. I have now 
explained the design of the Prophet. 
    We indeed see how at this day those who are in high stations 
swell with arrogance; for as they abound in wealth, and as honor is 
as it were an elevated degree, so that being propped up by the 
shoulders of others they seem eminent, and as they are also feared 
by the rest of the people, they are on these accounts led to think 
that no adversity can happen to them. But the Prophet says, that 
such would be their distress, that it would draw a cry from them. 
    They shall then cry, but Jehovah will not hear; that is, they 
shall be miserable and without any remedy. Jehovah will not answer 
them, but will hide from them his face, as they have done 
perversely; that is, God will not hear their complaints; for he will 
return on their own heads all the injuries with which he now sees 
his own people to be afflicted. And thus God will show that he was 
not asleep, while they were with so much effrontery practicing all 
kinds of wrong. 
    It may however be asked here, how it is that God rejects the 
prayers and entreaties of those who cry to him? It must first be 
observed, that the reprobate, though they rend the air with their 
cries, do not yet direct their prayers to God; but if they address 
God himself, they do this clamorously; for they expostulate with 
him, and contend with him, yea, they vomit out their blasphemies, or 
at least they murmur and complain of their evils. The ungodly then 
cry, but not to the Lord; or if they address their cries to God, 
they are, as it has been said, full of glamour. Hence, except one is 
guided by the Spirit of God, he cannot pray from the heart. And we 
know that it is the peculiar office of the Spirit to raise up our 
hearts to heaven: for in vain we pray, except we bring faith and 
repentance: and who is the author of these but the Holy Spirit? It 
appears then that the ungodly so cry, that they only violently 
contend with God: but this is not the right way of praying. It is 
therefore no wonder that God rejects their clamors. The ungodly do 
indeed at times pour forth a flood of prayers and call on God's name 
with the mouth; but at the same time they are, as we have said, full 
of perverseness, and they never really humble themselves before God. 
Since then they pour forth their prayers from a bitter and a proud 
heart, this is the reason why the Prophet says now, that the Lord 
would not then hear, but hide his face from them at that time, 
inasmuch as they acted perversely. 
    He shows here that God would not be reconciled to men wholly 
irreclaimable, who could not be restored by any means to the right 
way. But when any one falls [and repents] he will ever find God 
propitious to him, as soon as he cries to him; but when with 
obstinate minds we pursue our own course, and give no place to 
repentance, we close up the door of mercy against ourselves; and so 
what the Prophet teaches here necessarily takes place, - the Lord 
hides his face in the day of distress. And we also hear what the 
Scripture says, - that judgment will be without mercy to those who 
are not merciful, (James 2: 11.) Hence if any one be inexorable to 
his brethren, (as we see at this day many tyrants to be, and we also 
see many in the middle class to be of the same tyrannical and wholly 
sanguinary disposition,) he will at length ,whoever he may be, meet 
with that judgment which Micah here denounces. The sentence then is 
not to be taken in a general sense, as though he had said, that the 
Lord would not be reconciled to the wicked; but he points out 
especially those irreclaimable men, who had wholly hardened 
themselves, so that they had become, as we have already seen, 
altogether inflexible. The Prophet now comes to his second reproof. 
Micah 3:5 
Thus saith the LORD concerning the prophets that make my people err, 
that bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace; and he that putteth not 
into their mouths, they even prepare war against him. 
    Micah accuses here the Prophets, in the first place, of avarice 
and of a desire for filthy lucre. But he begins by saying that he 
spoke by God's command, and as it were from his mouth, in order that 
his combination might have more weight and power. "Thus then saith 
Jehovah against the Prophets": and he calls them the deceivers of 
the people: but at the same time he points out the source of the 
evil, that is, why or by what passion they were instigated to 
deceive, and that was, because the desire of gain had wholly 
possessed them, so that they made no difference between what was 
true and what was false, but only sought to please for the sake of 
gain. And he shows also, on the other hand, that they were so 
covetous of gain, that they declared war, if any one did not feed 
them. And God repeats again the name of his people: this had escaped 
my notice lately in observing on the words of Micah, that the 
princes devoured the flesh of God's people; for the indignity was 
increased when this wrong, was done to the people of God. Had the 
Assyrians, or the Ethiopians, or the Egyptians, been pillaged by 
their princes, it would have been more tolerable; but when the very 
people of God were thus devoured, it was, as I have said, less to be 
borne. So when the people of God were deceived, and the truth was 
turned to a lie, it was a sacrilege the more hateful. 
    This then was the reason why he said, "Who deceive my people". 
"This people is sacred to me, for I have chosen them for myself; as 
then they are destroyed by frauds and deceptions, is not my majesty 
in a manner dishonored - is not my authority lessened?" We now then 
see the reason why the Prophet says, They deceive my people. It is 
indeed certain, that the Jews were worthy of such deceptions; and 
God elsewhere declares, that whenever he permitted false prophets to 
come among them, it was to try them to see what sort of people they 
were, (Deut. 13.) It was then their just reward, when liberty was 
given to Satan to prevent sound doctrine among the people. And no 
one is ever deceived, except through his own will. Though their own 
simplicity seems to draw many to destruction, yet there is ever in 
them some hypocrisy. But it does not extenuate the sin of false 
teachers, that the people deserve such a punishment: and hence the 
Prophet still goes on with his reproof and says, that they were the 
people of God, - in what respect? By adoption. Though then the Jews 
had rendered themselves unworthy of such an honor, yet God counts 
them his people, that he might punish the wickedness of the false 
teachers, of which he now accuses them. It now follows, that they 
did bite with their teeth. But I cannot finish today. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou wouldest have the image of thy 
justice to shine in princes, and whom thou arrest with the sword, 
that they might rule in thy name, and be really thy ministers, - O 
grant, that this thy blessing may openly appear among us, and that 
by this evidence thou mayest testify that thou art not only 
propitious to us, but hadst also a care for our safety, and watches 
over our welfare and well-being: and do thou so shine by thy word, 
that it may never be obscured or clouded among us through any 
depraved cupidity, but ever retain its own clear purity, so that we 
may proceed in the right path of salvation, which thou hast 
discovered and prescribed, until we be at length gathered into thy 
celestial kingdom, to enjoy that eternal inheritance, which has been 
procured for us by the blood of thy only-begotten Son. Amen. 

Calvin, Commentary on Micah, Part 5
(continued in part 6...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-05: cvmic-05.txt