Calvin, Commentary on Micah, Part 13
(... continued from part 12)

Lecture Ninety-third 
Chapter 6 
Micah 6:1,2 
Hear ye now what the LORD saith; Arise, contend thou before the 
mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice. 
Hear ye, O 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. 
    Here the Prophet avowedly assumes that the people were 
sufficiently proved guilty; and yet they resisted through a 
hardiness the most obdurate, and rejected all admonitions without 
shame, and without any discretion. He is therefore commanded to 
direct his discourse to the mountains and to the hills; for his 
labour had now for a long time been useless as to men. The meaning 
then is that when the Prophet had spent much labour on the people 
and derived no fruit, he is at length bidden to call the mountains 
and the hills to bear their testimony to God; and thus before the 
elements is made known and proved the ungodliness and the obstinacy 
of the people. But before he relates what had been committed to him, 
he makes a preface, in order to gain attention. 
    "Hear ye what Jehovah says". The Prophets are wont, on very 
serious subjects, to make such a preface as is here made by Micah: 
and it is indeed sufficiently evident from the passage, that he has 
here no ordinary subject for his teaching, but that, on the 
contrary, he rebukes their monstrous stupidity; for he had been 
addressing the deaf without any advantage. As then the Prophet was 
about to declare no common thing, but to be a witness of a new 
judgment, - this is the reason why he bids them to be unusually 
attentive. Hear, he says, what Jehovah saith. What is it? He might 
have added, "Jehovah has very often spoken to you, he has tried all 
means to bring you to the right way; but as ye are past recovery, 
vengeance alone now remains for you: he will no more spend labour in 
vain on you; for he finds in you neither shame, nor meekness, nor 
docility." The Prophet might have thus spoken to them; but he says 
that another thing was committed to his charge by the Lord, and that 
is, to contend or to plead before the mountains. And this reproach 
ought to have most acutely touched the hearts of the people: for 
there is here an implied comparison between the mountains and the 
Jews; as though the Prophet said, - "The mountains are void of 
understanding and reason, and yet the Lord prefers to have them as 
witness of his cause rather than you, who exceed in stupidity all 
the mountains and rocks." We now then perceive the design of God. 
    Some take mountains and hills in a metaphorical sense for the 
chief men who then ruled: and this manner of speaking very 
frequently occurs in Scripture: but as to the present passage, I 
have no doubt but that the Prophet mentions mountains and hills 
without a figure; for, as I have already said, he sets the hardness 
of the people in opposition to rocks, and intimates, that there 
would be more attention and docility in the very mountains than what 
he had hitherto found in the chosen people. And the particle "'et" 
is often taken in the sense of before: it means also with; but in 
this place I take it for "lamed" before or near, as many instances 
might be cited. But that this is the meaning of the Prophet it is 
easy to gather from the next verse, when he says - 
    "Hear, ye mountains, the controversy of Jehovah", how? "and ye 
strong foundations of the earth", he says. He speaks here no more of 
hills, but summons the whole world; as though he said, "There is not 
one of the elements which is not to bear witness respecting the 
obstinacy of this people; for the voice of God will penetrate to the 
farthest roots of the earth, it will reach the lowest depths: these 
men will at the same time continue deaf." And he says not, the Lord 
threatens you, or denounces judgment on you; but Jehovah has a 
contention with his people. We now then see that there is no 
metaphor in these words; but that the Prophet merely shows how 
monstrous was the stupor of the people, who profited nothing by the 
celestial doctrine delivered to them, so that the very mountains and 
the whole machinery of earth and heaven, though destitute of reason, 
had more understanding than these men. And it is not unusual with 
the Prophets, we know, to turn their discourse to mute elements, 
when there remains no hope of success from men. But our Prophet does 
not abruptly address mountains and hills as Isaiah does, (Isa. 1: 
2,) and as also Moses had done, 'Hear, ye heavens, what I shall say, 
let the earth hear the words of my mouth,' (Deut. 32: 1,) but he 
prefaces his discourse by saying, that it had been specially 
commanded to him to summon the mountains and hills to God's 
judgment. By saying then, "Hear ye what Jehovah saith," he prepares 
as I have said, the Jews to hear, that they might know that 
something uncommon and altogether unusual was to be announced, - 
that the Lord, in order more fully to convict them of extreme 
impiety, intended to plead his cause before the mountains. 
    "Arise, then, and plead before the mountains, and let the hills 
hear thy voice". What sort of voice was this? They who think that 
the judges are here figuratively pointed out may be easily refuted; 
for Micah in the next verse mentions the substance of this pleading, 
namely that the Lord expostulated with his people. We hence see that 
God had no contention with the mountains, but that, on the contrary, 
the mountains were summoned, that they might understand God's 
pleading, not against them, but against the people. Hear then, ye 
mountains, Jehovah's controversy, and ye strong foundations of the 
earth, that is, the very rocks. There is nothing so hard in the 
world, he says, that shall not be inane to hear; for this pleading 
shall reach the lowest depths. Jehovah then has a controversy with 
his people, and he will pleads or contend, with Israel. It follows - 
Micah 6:3 
O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied 
thee? testify against me. 
    Here God, in the first place, offers to give a reason, if he 
was accused of any thing. It seems indeed unbecoming the character 
of God, that he should be thus ready as one guilty to clear himself: 
but this is said by way of concession; for the Prophet could not 
otherwise express, that nothing that deserved blame could be found 
in God. It is a personification, by which a character; not his own, 
is ascribed to God. It ought not therefore to appear inconsistent, 
that the Lord stands forth here, and is prepared to hear any 
accusation the people might have, that he might give an answer, "My 
people! what have I done?" By using this kind expression, my people, 
he renders double their wickedness; for God here descends from his 
own elevation, and not only addresses his people, in a paternal 
manner, but stands as it were on the opposite side, and is prepared, 
if the people had anything to say, to give answer to it, so that 
they might mutually discuss the question, as it is usually done by 
friends. Now the more kindly and indulgently the Lord deals with his 
people, the more enhanced, as I have said, is their sin. 
    He says first, What have I done to thee? that is, what hast 
thou to accuse me with? He adds In what have I caused trouble to 
thee? or, In what have I been troublesome to thee? Testify, he says, 
against me. This testifying was to be made to the mountains and 
hills; as though he said, "I am ready to plead my cause before 
heaven and earth; in a word, before all my creatures." Some render 
the passage, "Answer me:" and "'anah" is also to answer; but the 
context requires the former meaning; for God conceded so much 
liberty to the Jews, that they might bring forward against him any 
fault they had to allege. Testify, he says, against me; that is, 
there are witnesses present; make public now thy case by stating 
particulars, I am ready for the defense. We hence see the truth of 
what I have before stated, - that a character, not his own is 
ascribed to God: but this is done by way of concession. He 
afterwards adds - 
Micah 6:4 
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. 
    God, having testified that he had in nothing been troublesome 
to the people, now states with how great and with how many benefits 
he had bound them to himself. But we may prefer taking the words as 
explanatory and somewhat ironical that he records his benefits in 
the place of trouble or vexation; though, in my judgment, it is 
better to read the two clauses apart. "I have brought thee, he says, 
from the land of Egypt", from that miserable bondage; and then he 
says, "I have redeemed thee." By the word, redeem, he expresses more 
clearly and more fully illustrates his kindness. Then he adds, "I 
have set over thee as leaders Moses, and Aaron, and Miriam", the 
sister of them both. Benefits, we know, are often accompanied with 
injuries; and he who obliges another destroys all his favour, when 
he turns kindness as it often happens, into reproach. It is hence 
frequently the case, that he who has been kind to another brings so 
serious an injury, that the memory of his kindness ought not to 
continue. God mentions here these two things, - that he had 
conferred vast benefits on the people, - and yet that he had in 
nothing been burdensome to them; as though he said "Many are those 
things which I can, if necessary, on my part bring forward, by which 
I have more than a hundred times made thee indebted to me; now thou 
canst not in thy turn bring anything against me; thou canst not say 
that I have accompanied my benefits with wrongs, or that thou hast 
been despised, because thou were under obligations to me, as it is 
often the case with men who proudly domineer, when they think that 
they have made others bound to them. I have not then thought proper 
to accompany my great favors with anything troublesome or grievous 
to thee." We now understand why the Prophet expressly mentions these 
two things, - that God had in nothing been vexatious to his people, 
- and that he had brought them up from the land of Egypt. 
    That redemption was so great, that the people ought not to have 
complained, had it been the will of God to lay on their shoulders 
some very heavy burdens: for this answer might have been ever 
readily given, - "Ye have been delivered by me; ye owe to me your 
life and your safety. There is therefore no reason why any thing 
should be now burdensome to you; for the bondage of Egypt must have 
been bitterer to you than hundred deaths; and I redeemed you from 
that bondage." But, as the Lord had treated his redeemed people so 
kindly and so humanely, yea, with so much indulgence, how great and 
how intolerable was their ingratitude in not responding to his great 
kindness? We now more fully understand the Prophet's meaning in 
these words. 
    I have made thee to ascend, he says, from Egypt; and then, I 
have redeemed thee. He goes on, as we have said, by degrees. He 
afterwards adds, I have sent before thy face Moses, Aaron, and 
Miriam. God means here that it had not been a momentary kindness; 
for he continued his favor towards the Jews when he set over them 
Moses and Aaron, and Miriam, which was an evidence of his constant 
care, until he had completed his work of delivering them. For Moses 
was a minister of their deliverance in upholding civil order, and 
Aaron as to the priesthood and spiritual discipline. With regard to 
Miriam, she also performed her part towards the women; and as we 
find in the fifteenth chapter of Exodus, she composed a song of 
thanksgiving after passing through the Red Sea: and hence arose her 
base envy with regard to Moses; for being highly praised, she 
thought herself equal to him in dignity. It is at the same time 
right to mention, that it was an extraordinary thing, when God gave 
authority to a women, as was the case with Deborah that no one may 
consider this singular precedent as a common rule. It now follows - 
Micah 6:5 
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. 
    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 "ya'atz" 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, 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. 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 - 
Micah 6:6-8 
6 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? 
7 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? 
8 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? 
    The Prophet now inquires, as in the name of the people, what 
was necessary to be done: and he takes these two principles as 
granted, - that the people were without any excuse, and were forced 
to confess their sin, - and that God had hitherto contended with 
them for no other end and with no other design, but to restore the 
people to the right way; for if his purpose had only been to condemn 
the people for their wickedness, there would have been no need of 
these questions. But the Prophet shows what has been often stated 
before, - that whenever God chides his people, he opens to them the 
door of hope as to their salvation, provided those who have sinned 
repent. As this then must have been well known to all the Jews, the 
Prophet here asks, as with their mouth, what was to be done. 
    He thus introduces them as inquiring, "With what shall I 
approach Jehovah, and bow down before the high God? Shall I approach 
him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old?" But at the 
same time there is no doubt, but that he indirectly refers to that 
foolish notion, by which men for the most part deceive themselves; 
for when they are proved guilty, they indeed know that there is no 
remedy for them, except they reconcile themselves to God: but yet 
they pretend by circuitous courses to approach God, while they 
desire to be ever far away from him. This dissimulation has always 
prevailed in the world, and it now prevails: they see that they whom 
God convicts and their own conscience condemns, cannot rest in 
safety. Hence they wish to discharge their duty towards God as a 
matter of necessity; but at the same time they seek some fictitious 
modes of reconciliation, as though it were enough to flatter God, as 
though he could be pacified like a child with some frivolous 
trifles. The Prophet therefore detects this wickedness, which had 
ever been too prevalent among them; as though he said, - "I see what 
ye are about to say; for there is no need of contending longer; as 
ye have nothing to object to God, and he has things innumerable to 
allege against you: ye are then more than condemned; but yet ye will 
perhaps say what has been usually alleged by you and always by 
hypocrites, even this, - 'We wish to be reconciled to God, and we 
confess our faults and seek pardon; let God in the meantime show 
himself ready to be reconciled to us, while we offer to him 
sacrifices.'" There is then no doubt, but that the Prophet derided 
this folly, which has ever prevailed in the hearts of men: they ever 
think that God can be pacified by outward rites and frivolous 
    He afterwards adds, "He has proclaimed to thee what is good". 
The Prophet reproves the hypocrisy by which the Jews willfully 
deceived themselves, as though he said, - "Ye indeed pretend some 
concern for religion when ye approach God in prayer; but this your 
religion is nothing; it is nothing else than shamelessly to 
dissemble; for ye sin not either through ignorance or misconception, 
but ye treat God with mockery." - How so? "Because the Law teaches 
you with sufficient clearness what God requires from you; does it 
not plainly enough show you what is true reconciliation? But ye 
close your eyes to the teaching of the Law, and in the meantime 
pretend ignorance. This is extremely childish. God has already 
proclaimed what is good, even to do judgment, to love kindness and 
to walk humbly with God." We now perceive the design of the Prophet. 
    As then he says here, "With what shall I appear before God?" we 
must bear in mind, that as soon as God condescends to enter into 
trial with men, the cause is decided; for it is no doubtful 
contention. When men litigate one with another, there is no cause so 
good but what an opposite party can darken by sophistries. But the 
Prophet intimates that men lose all their labour by evasions, when 
God summons them to a trial. This is one thing. He also shows what 
deep roots hypocrisy has in the hearts of all, for they ever deceive 
themselves and try to deceive God. How comes it that men, proved 
guilty, do not immediately and in the right way retake themselves to 
God, but that they ever seek windings? How is this? It is not 
because they have any doubt about what is right except they 
willfully deceive themselves, but because they dissemble and 
willfully seek the subterfuges of error. It hence appears that men 
perversely go astray when ever they repent not as they ought, and 
bring not to God a real integrity of heart. And hence it also 
appears that the whole world which continues in its superstitions is 
without excuse. For if we scrutinize the intentions of men, it will 
at length come to this, - that men carefully and anxiously seek 
various superstitions, because they are unwilling to come before God 
and to devote themselves to him, without some dissembling and 
hypocrisy. Since it is so, certain it is, that all who desire to 
pacify God with their own ceremonies and other trifles cannot by any 
pretext escape. What is said here is at the same time strictly 
addressed to the Jews, who had been instructed in the teaching of 
the Law: and such are the Papists of this day; though they spread 
forth specious pretenses to excuse their ignorance, they may yet be 
refuted by this one fact, - that God has prescribed clearly and 
distinctly enough what he requires: but they wish to be ignorant of 
this; hence their error is at all times wilful. We ought especially 
to notice this in the words of the Prophet; but I cannot proceed 
farther now. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast made known to us thy Law, and 
hast also added thy Gospel, in which thou callest us to thy service, 
and also invites us with all kindness to partake of thy grace, - O 
grant, that we may not be deaf, either to thy command or to the 
promises of thy mercy, but render ourselves in both instances 
submissive to thee and so learn to devote all our faculties to thee, 
that we may in truth avow that a rule of a holy and religious life 
has been delivered to us in thy law, and that we may also firmly 
adhere to thy promises, lest through any of the allurements of the 
world, or through the flatteries and crafts of Satan thou shouldest 
suffer our minds to be drawn away from that love which thou hast 
once manifested to us in thine only-begotten Son and in which thou 
daily confirmest us by the teaching of the Gospel, until we at 
length shall come to the full enjoyment of this love in that 
celestial inheritance, which has been purchased for us by the blood 
of thy only Son. Amen. 

Calvin, Commentary on Micah, Part 13
(continued in part 14...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-05: cvmic-13.txt