Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 28: Jonah, Micah, Nahum, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Now gather thyself in troops, O daughter of troops: he hath laid siege against us: they shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek.
1. 140 Nunc colligas te (vel, obsidione cingeris, ut alii vertunt) filia congregationis (hoc est, turmae;) obsidionem posuit contra nos; in virga percutient ad maxillam judicem Israel.
2. But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
2. Et tu Beth-lehem Ephrata, parva ad essendum (ut ita loquar) inter millia Jehudah; ex te mihi egredietur ad essendum dominatorem (sic transfero durius, ut sit dominator) in Israel: et egressus ejus ab initio, a diebus seculi.
To encourage the faithful to patience, the Prophet again reminds them that hard and severe time was nigh; for it was needful to put them in mind often of the approaching calamity, lest terror should wholly discourage them. As then there was danger from despair, the Prophet often repeats what he has already said of God’s judgment, which was then suspending over the people of Israel. And this mode and order of teaching ought to be observed. When the Prophets threaten us, or denounce the punishment we have deserved, we either become torpid, or grow angry with God, and murmur: but when they set forth any thing of comfort, we then indulge ourselves and become too secure. It is therefore necessary to connect threatening with promises, so that we may be always ready to endure temporal evils, and that our minds, sustained by hope, may, at the same time, depend on the Lord, and recomb on him. It was for this reason that the Prophet again mentions what he had already several times stated, — that the Jews would be surrounded by a siege. How do these two things agree, — that the enemies, assembled together, would be like sheaves which are taken to the floor to be trodden by the feet of animals, — and that the Jews would be besieged? I answer, that these things harmonize, because the temporary punishment, which God would inflict on his Church, would not prevent him to restore it again whenever it pleased him. Lest, therefore, security should creep over the minds of the godly, the Prophet designed often to remind them of that dreadful calamity which might have entirely upset them, had no support been afforded them, that is, had not God sustained them by his word.
Now then thou shalt assemble thyself, he says, O daughter of a troop The verb התגדדי, etgaddi, and the noun גדוד, gadud, sound alike; as though he said, Thou shalt he collected, O daughter of collection. The Prophet addresses Jerusalem: but we must see why he calls her the daughter of collection. Some think that by this word is designated the splendid and wealthy state of Jerusalem; as though the Prophet said, — “This city has been hitherto populous, but now it shall be reduced to such straits that none shall dare to go forth beyond its gates, for they shall on every side be surrounded.” But the Prophet calls Jerusalem the daughter of a troop in another sense, — because they were wont to occasion great troubles: as thieves agree together, and meet in troops for the purpose of committing plunder; so also the Prophet calls Jerusalem the daughter of a troop, for its citizens were wont willfully to do great evils, and like robbers to use violence. Thou then, he says, shalt now be collected; that is, thou shalt not send forth thy troops, but enemies shall assemble thee together by a severe siege, so that thou shalt contract thyself like a bundle.
There are, then, two clauses in this verse, — that though the Lord resolved to help his Church, he would yet straiten her for a time, — and then the Prophet shows the reason, lest they complained that they were too severely treated: “You have been hitherto,” he says, “without a cause oppressive to others: the time then is come when the Lord will return to you your recompense.” As Isaiah says
‘Woe to thee, plunderer!
Shalt thou not also be exposed to plunder?’
so also in this place, — “Ye have assembled in troops, that ye might pillage innocent men; therefore other troops shall now encircle you; nay, ye shall be beset by your own fear.” The verb is in Hithpael: he says not, “Thou daughter of a troop shalt be now encircled;” but he says “Thou shalt gather thyself.”
He then adds, A siege has he set against thee. This may refer to God; but it must be understood only of enemies: for the Prophet immediately adds, They shall strive with the rod, etc. in the pleural number, — They shall then strike with the rod the cheek of the judge of Israel. He means that the Jews would be subdued by their enemies that their judges and governors would be exposed to every kind of contumely and dishonor, for to strike on the cheek is to offer the greatest indignity; as indeed it is the greatest contempt, as Demosthenes says, and is so mentioned by the lawyers. We now then perceive, that the Prophet’s object was to show, — that the Jews in vain boasted of their kingdom and civil constitution, for the Lord would expose the governors of that kingdom to extreme contempt. The enemies then shall strike their judges even on the cheek. 141
But there follows immediately a consolation: we hence see that the Prophet, at one time, humbles the children of God: and prepares them for enduring the cross; and then he mitigates all sorrow; yea, and makes them to rejoice in the midst of their evils. For this purpose he adds what follows —
Thou Bethlehem Ephratah, art small, that thou shouldest be among the thousands of Judah As Matthew quotes this passage differently, some think that it ought to be read as a question, And thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, art thou the least among the provinces of Judah? Matthew says “Thou art by no means the least, thou excellest. 142 ” But what need there is of distorting the words of the Prophet, as it was not the design of the Evangelist to relate the expressions of the Prophet, but only to point out the passage. As to the words, Matthew had regards to the condition of the town Bethlehem, such as it was at the coming of Christ. It then indeed began to be eminent: but the Prophet represents here how ignoble and mean a place Bethlehem then was, Thou, he says, art the least among the thousands of Judah. Some, not very wisely, give this explanation, “Thou art the least among the thousands of Judah”; that is, “Though there might be a thousand towns in the tribe of Judah, yet thou couldest hardly have a place among so great a number.” But this has been said through ignorance of a prevailing custom: for the Jews, we know, were wont to divide their districts into thousands or chiliads. As in the army there are centurions, so also in the divisions of every nation there are hundreds; there are also in an army tribunes, who preside over a thousand men. Thus the Prophet calls them thousands, that is, tribunes; for the districts are so arranged, that the town, which, with its villages, could bring forth three thousand men, had three prefectures; and it had three tribunes, or four or five, if it was larger. The Prophet then, in order to show that this town was small and hardly of any account, says, Thou, Bethlehem, art hardly sufficient to be one province. And it was a proof of its smallness that hardly a thousand men could be made up from Bethlehem and its neighboring villages. There were not, we know, many towns in the tribe of Judah; and yet a large army could be there collected. Since then the town of Bethlehem was so small, that it could hardly attain the rank of a province, it is hence no doubt evident that it was but a mean town. We now perceive what the Prophet had in view.
Thou, Bethlehem, he says, art small among the cities of Judah; yet arise, or go forth, for me shall one from thee, who is to be a Ruler in Israel. He calls it Bethlehem Ephratah; for they say that there was another Bethlehem in the tribe of Zebulon, and we know that Ephratah in meaning is nearly the same with Bethlehem; for both designate an abundance of fruit or provisions: and there David was born.
I will now proceed to the second clause, From thee shall go forth for me one who is to be a Ruler Here the Prophet introduces God as the speaker, go forth, he says, shall one for me. God declares in this passage that it was not his purpose so to destroy his people, but that he intended, after a season, to restore them again. He therefore recalls the attention of the faithful to himself and to his eternal counsel; as though he said, — “I have thus for a time cast you away, that I may yet manifest my care for you.” For me then shall go forth one who is to be a Ruler in Israel. Now there is no doubt but that the Prophet at the sable time recalls the attention of the faithful to the promise which had been given to David. For whence arises the hope of salvation to the chosen people, except from the perpetuity of that kingdom? The Prophet now says, — “There is indeed a reason, according to the perception of the flesh, why the faithful should despond; for whence does their confidence arise, except from the kingdom of David? and from what place is David to arise? Even from Bethlehem; for Bethlehem has been called the city of David; and yet it is an obscure and a small town, and can hardly be considered a common province. Since it is so, the minds of the faithful may be depressed; but this smallness shall be no hindrance to the Lord, that he should not bring forth from thence a new king.”
Even before the time of David Bethlehem was a small town, and one of the most common provinces. Who could have expected that a king would have been chosen from such a hamlet, and then, that he should come from a hut? for David belonged to a pastoral family; his father was a shepherd, and he was the least among his brethren. Who then could have thought that light would have arisen from such a corner, yea, from so mean a cottage? This was done contrary to the expectations of men. Hence the Prophet sets here before the faithful a similar expectation for their comfort; as though he said, — “Has not God once formed a most perfect state of things by making David a king, so that the people became in every respect happy and blessed? And whence did David come? It was from Bethlehem. There is then no reason why your present miseries should over-much distress you; for God can again from the same place bring forth a king to you, and he will do so.”
Thou then Bethlehem, small art thou, etc. The prophet doubtless intended here that the faithful should consider of what kind was the beginning of that most perfect state, when David was chosen king. David was a shepherd, a man in humble life, without reputation, without influence, and even the humblest among his brethren. Since then God had drawn light out of darkness there was no cause for the faithful to despair of a future restoration, considering what had been the beginning of the previous happy condition of the people. We now understand the Prophet’s meaning. But the rest I cannot finish today; I must therefore defer it till tomorrow.
Greet, Almighty God, that as we cease not to provoke thy wrath against us, and as it is needful for us to be often chastised by thy hand, that we may be humbled and learn to submit ourselves to thee in true and willing obedience, — O grant, that we faint not under thy scourges, but ever raise up our minds to the hope of deliverance, which thou givest to us through our Mediator; whom thou hast once for all sent into the world, that thou mightest through him reconcile us to thyself, and through whom also thou bringest help whenever we need it and may we at the same time learn to rely on thy only-begotten Son, so that with courageous minds we may pass through all the miseries of this world, and never at any time grow weary, until having at length obtained the victory, we come to that blessed rest and enjoy the fruit of our victory, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
We began yesterday to explain the promise by which our Prophet designed to sustain the minds of the faithful, lest they should despair in their heavy trial. He reminds them, as it has been stated, of the commencement of the kingdom: as David had been raised as it were from nothing, and God has given in him an example of his wonderful grace, the Prophet reminds the godly, that the same is now to be expected, that God will again raise up the fallen kingdom. “Go forth then from Bethlehem, he says, shall one who is to be a Ruler in Israel, though it was but a mean town. He calls him a Ruler in Israel; for he had before declared that there would be such a dreadful judgment, that the enemy would strike with the hand the face of the judge; and this was the same as though the Prophet had said, that no honor would be shown to the people, for the chief himself would be beaten. He therefore now promises a new Ruler, he promises that there would be again some civil order to be found among the people; for a governor could not have been struck on the check, except all authority and honor had departed. We then see what the Prophet intended by mentioning the word, Ruler; it was to show, that God would again cause that a new Prince would arise to govern the people. It was therefore a remedy to their devastation.
But the Prophet subjoins, His going forth is from the beginning, or from far antiquity and from the days of ages, that is from the days of eternity. He intimates here that it would not be a sudden thing, that a prince should arise to govern the people; for it had been already long ago determined by God. This is the plain meaning. Some, I know, pertinaciously maintain, that the Prophet speaks here of the eternal existence of Christ; and as for myself I willingly own that the divinity of Christ is here proved to us; but as this will never be allowed by the Jews, I prefer taking the words simply as they are, — that Christ will not come forth unexpectedly from Bethlehem, as though God had previously determined nothing respecting him. His goings forth, then, are from the beginning. But others bring a new refinement, — that the Prophet uses the plural number, his goings forth, to designate the twofold nature of Christ: but there is in this an absurdity; for the Prophet could not properly nor wisely mention the human nature of Christ with the divine, with reference to eternity. The Word of God, we know, was eternal; and we know, that when the fullness of time came, as Paul says, Christ put on our nature, (Ga 4:4.) Hence the beginning of Christ as to the flesh was not so old, if his existence be spoken of: to set them together then would have been absurd. It is a common thing in Hebrew to use the plural for the singular number. He says then, that the going forth of Christ is from eternity; for he will not go forth suddenly from Bethlehem, as one who rises unexpectedly to bring help, when things are in a hopeless state, and so rises, when nothing had been foreseen. But the Prophet declares that the going forth of Christ would be different, — that God had from the beginning determined to give his people an eternal king.
At the same time, we must repudiate that gloss with which the Rabbis are pleased; for they say that the Messiah was created before the creation of the world, and also the throne of eternity, and the Law, and other things; but these are insipid fables. The Prophet shows simply, that even before the world was made Christ was chief, no he is also called the Firstborn of every creature, for by him all things were created, (Col 1:15) and the same Word of God, by whom the world was created, is to be the Head of the Church and by him what has been lost is to be recovered. We now then comprehend what the Prophet meant by saying, the goings forth of Christ are from eternity But I would not concede to the Jews, that only by the perpetual appointment of God the going forth of Christ has been from the beginning, or from all ages: but two things must be noticed by us, — that Christ, who was manifested in the flesh that he might redeem the Church of God, was the eternal Word, by whom the world was created, — and then, that he ass destined by the eternal counsel of God to be the first-born of every creature, and especially to be the Head of the Church, that he might restore a fallen world by his grace and power.
We now then see the reason why the Prophet connects together these two things, — that there would go forth one from Bethlehem who would rule among Israel, — and yet that his goings forth have been from eternity: for if he had only said what I explained yesterday, an objection might easily have been made, and this might have come into the mind of some, — “Why dost thou say that one will come from Bethlehem who will govern the chosen people, as though God were to contrive a new remedy on seeing that it is all over with respect to the deliverance of his Church?” The Prophet here anticipates this objection, and reminds us, that his goings forth have been from eternity, that they have been already decreed, even from the beginning; for with God there is nothing new, so that he should stand in need of holding any unlooked for consultation; as is the case with us when any thing happens which we in no degree apprehended; we then find it necessary to devise some new measures. The Prophet shows that nothing of this kind can happen to God: but all this, — that people are reduced to nothing, — and that they are again restored by Christ, — all this is overruled by his secret and incomprehensible providence. His goings forth then are from the beginning, and from the days of eternity. Let us proceed —
3. Therefore will he give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel.
3. Propterea 143 dabit eos (hoc est, ponet eos, vel, relinquet) usque ad tempus quo parturiens pariet; et revertentur ad filios Israel residuum fratrum ejus.
The Prophet here again so moderates his words, that the Jews might understand, that they were to endure many evils before God relieved their miseries. He wished then here to prepare the minds of the godly to bear evils, that they might not despair in great troubles, nor be depressed by extreme fear. He then states these two things, — that the people, as they deserved, would be heavily afflicted, — and then that God, notwithstanding such severe punishment, would be mindful of his covenant, so as to gather at length some remnants and not to suffer his people to be wholly destroyed. He therefore promises a middle course between a prosperous state and destruction. The people, says the Prophet, shall not continue entire. — How so? For God will cut off the kingdom and the city; and yet he will afford relief to the miserable: When they shall think that they are given up to entire ruin, he will stretch forth his hand to them. This is the sum of the whole.
He then says that they shall be delivered up, that is, forsaken by God, until she who is in travail bringeth forth 144 There are those who apply this to the blessed virgin; as though Micah had said that the Jews were to look forward to the time when the Virgin would bring forth Christ: but all may easily see that this is a forced interpretation. The Prophet, I have no doubt, in using this similitude, compares the body of the people to a woman with child. The similitude of a woman in travail is variously applied. The wicked, when they promise to themselves impunity, are suddenly and violently laid hold on: thus their destruction is like the travail of a woman with child. But the meaning of this passage is different; for the Prophet says that the Jews would be like pregnant women, for this reason, — that though they would have to endure the greatest sorrows, there yet would follow a joyful and happy issue. And Christ himself employs this example for the same purpose,
‘A woman,’ he says, ‘has sorrow when she brings forth, but immediately rejoices when she sees a man born into the world,’ (Joh 16:21.)
So Micah says in this place, that the chosen people would have a happy deliverance from their miseries, for they would bring forth. There shall indeed be the most grievous sorrows, but their issue will be joy, that is, when they shall know that they and their salvation had been the objects of God’s care, when they shall understand that their chastisements had been useful to them. Until then she who is in travail bringeth forth, God, he says, will forsake them
There are then two clauses in this verse; — the first is, that the Jews were for a time to be forsaken, as though they were no longer under the power and protection of God; — the other is that God would be always their guardian, for a bringing forth would follow their sorrows. The following passage in Isaiah is of an opposite character;
‘We have been in sorrow, we have been in travail,
and we brought forth wind,’ (Isa 26:18.)
The faithful complain there that they had been oppressed with the severest troubles, and had come to the birth, but that they brought forth nothing but wind, that is, that they had been deceived by vain expectation, for the issue did not prove to be what they had hoped. But the Lord promises here by Micah something better, and that is, that the end of all their evils would be the happy restoration of the people, as when a woman receives a compensation for all her sorrows when she sees that a child is born.
And he confirms this sentence by another, when he says, To the children of Israel shall return, or be converted, the residue of his brethren 145 The Prophet then intimates that it could not be otherwise but that God would not only scatter, but tread under foot his people, so that their calamity would threaten an unavoidable destruction. This is one thing; but in the meantime he promises that there would be some saved. But he speaks of a remnant, as we have observed elsewhere, lest hypocrites should think that they could escape unpunished, while they trifled with God. The Prophet then shows that there would come such a calamity as would nearly extinguish the people, but that some would be preserved through God’s mercy and that beyond ordinary expectation. 146 We now perceive the intention of the Prophet. It now follows —
4. And he shall stand and feed in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God; and they shall abide: for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth.
4. Et stabit et pascet in virtute Jehovae, in magnificentia nominis Jehovae Dei sui; et habitabunt, quia nunc magnificabitur usque ad fines terrae.
There is no doubt but that the Prophet continues here to speak of Christ; and though the Jews shamelessly pervert the whole Scripture, they yet cannot deny that Micah calls here the attention of all the godly to the coming of Christ, yea, of all who hope or desire to obtain salvation. This is certain. Let us now see what the Prophet ascribes to Christ.
He shall stand, he says, and feed in the power of Jehovah The word, stand, designates perseverance, as though he had said, that it would not be for a short time that God would gather by Christ the remnant of the people; that it would not be, as it often happens, when some rays of joy shine, and then immediately vanish. The Prophet shows here that the kingdom of Christ would be durable and permanent. It will then proceed; for Christ will not only rule his Church for a few days, but his kingdom will continue to stand through unbroken series of years and of ages. We nor then understand the Prophet’s object.
He adds in the second place, He shall feed in the strength of Jehovah, in the greatness of the name of Jehovah his God; by which words he means, that there would be sufficient power in Christ to defend his Church. The Church, we know, is in this world subject to various troubles, for it is never without enemies; for Satan always finds those whom he induces, and whose fury he employs to harass the children of God. As then the Church of God is tossed by many tempests, it has need of a strong and invincible defender. Hence this distinction is now ascribed by our Prophet to Christ, — that he shall feed in the strength of Jehovah, and in the majesty of his God. As to the word feed, it no doubt expresses what Christ is to his people, to the flock committed to him and to his care. Christ then rules not in his Church as a dreaded tyrant, who distresses his subjects with fear; but he is a Shepherd who gently deals with his flock. Nothing therefore can exceed the kindness and gentleness of Christ towards the faithful, as he performs the office of a Shepherd: and he prefers to be adorned with this, title, rather than to be called and deemed a kings, or to assume authority to himself. But the Prophet, on the other hand, shows, that the power of Christ would be dreadful to the ungodly and wicked. He shall feed, he says, — with regard to his flock, Christ will put on a character full of gentleness; for nothing, as I have said can imply more kindness than the word shepherd: but as we are on every side surrounded by enemies, the Prophet adds, —
He shall feed in the power of Jehovah and in the majesty of the name of Jehovah; that is as much power as there is in God, so much protection will there be in Christ, whenever it will be necessary to defend and protect the Church against her enemies. Let us hence learn that no less safety is to be expected from Christ, than there is of power in God. Now, since the power of God, as we confess, is immeasurable, and since his omnipotence far surpasses and swallows up all our conceptions, let us hence learn to extend both high and low all our hopes. — Why so? Because we have a King sufficiently powerful, who has undertaken to defend us, and to whose protection the Father has committed us. Since then we have been delivered up to Christ’s care and defense, there is no cause why we should doubt respecting our safety. He is indeed a Shepherd, and for our sake he thus condescended and refused not so mean a name; for in a shepherd there is no pomp nor grandeur. But though Christ, for our sake, put on the character of a Shepherd, and disowns not the office, he is yet endued with infinite power. — How so? Because he governs not the Church after a human manner, but in the majesty of the name of his God 147
Now, that he subjects Christ to God, he refers to his human nature. Though Christ is God manifested in the flesh, he is yet made subject to God the Father, as our Mediator and the Head of the Church in human nature: he is indeed the middle Person between God and us. This then is the reason why the Prophet now says, that Christ has power, as it were, at the will of another; not that Christ is only man, but as he appears to us in the person of man, he is said to receive power from his Father; and this, as it has been said, with respect to his human nature. There is yet another reason why the Prophet has expressly added this, — that we may know that Christ, as the protector of the Church, cannot be separated from his Father: as then God is God, so Christ is his minister to preserve the Church. In a word, the Prophet means that God is not to be viewed by the faithful, except through the intervening Mediator; and he means also that the Mediator is not to be viewed, except as one who receives supreme power from God himself and who is armed with omnipotence to preserve his people.
He afterwards adds, They shall dwell; for he shall now be magnified to the extremities of the earth He promises a secure habitation to the faithful; for Christ shall be extolled to the utmost regions of the world. We here see that he is promised to foreign nations: for it would have been enough for Christ to exercise his supreme power within the borders of Judea, had only one nation been committed to his safe keeping. But as God the Father intended that he should be the author of salvation to all nations, we hence learn that it was necessary that he should be extolled to the utmost borders of the earth. But with regard to the word dwell, it is explained more fully in the next verse, when the Prophet says—
5. And this man shall be the peace, when the Assyrian shall come into our land: and when he shall tread in our palaces, then shall we raise against him seven shepherds, and eight principal men.
5. Et erit hic pax: Assur quum venerit in terram nostram, et quum calcaverit in palatiis nostris, tunc constituemus super eum septem pastores et octo principes hominum.
Micah, as I have said, confirms his former statement. By the word dwell, he no doubt meant a quiet and peaceable inhabitation; as though he had said, that the children of God would, under Christ, be safe and secure. Now he adds, And he shall be our peace. It might have been asked, “Whence will come this secure dwelling? For the land has been very often wasted, and the people have been at length driven to exile. How then can we now venture to hope for what thou promises, that we shall be quiet and secure?” Because, he says, He shall be our peace; and we ought to be satisfied with the protection of the King whom God the Father has given us. Let his shadow, then, suffice us, and we shall be safe enough from all troubles. We now see in what sense the Prophet calls Christ the Peace of his people or of his Church; he so calls him because he will drive far away all hurtful things, and will be armed with strength and invincible power to check all the ungodly, that they may not make war on the children of God, or to prevent them in their course, should they excite any disturbances.
We further know, that Christ is in another way our peace; for he has reconciled us to the Father. And what would it avail us to be safe from earthly annoyances, if we were not certain that God is reconciled to us? Except then our minds acquiesce in the paternal benevolence of God, we must necessarily tremble at all times, though no one were to cause us any trouble: nay, were all men our friends, and were all to applaud us, miserable still would be our condition, and we should toil with disquietude, except our consciences were pacified with the sure confidence that God is our Father. Christ then can be our peace in no other way than by reconciling God to us. But at the same time the Prophet speaks generally, — that we shall lie safely under the shadow of Christ, and that no evil ought to be feared, — that though Satan should furiously assail us, and the whole worth become mad against us, we ought yet to fear nothing, if Christ keeps and protects us under his wings. This then is the meaning, when it is said here that Christ is our peace.
He afterwards subjoins, When the Assyrian shall come into our land, and when he shall tread in our palaces then we shall raise up against him or on him, seven shepherds and eighty princes of the people 148 The Prophet intimates that the Church of God would not be free from troubles, even after the coming of Christ: for I am disposed to refer this to the intervening time, though interpreters put another construction on the words of the Prophet. But this meaning, is far more suitable, — that while the help which God promised was expected and yet suspended, the Assyrians would come, who would pass far and wide through the land of Israel. Hence he says, that though Assur should come to our land, and break through, with such force and violence that we could not drive him out, we shall yet set up for ourselves shepherds and princes against him. It must at the same time be observed, that this prophecy is not to be confined to that short time; for the Prophet speaks generally of the preservation of the Church before as well as after the coming of Christ; as though he said, — “I have said that the king, who shall be born to you, and shall go forth from Bethlehem, shall be your peace; but before he shall be revealed to the world, God will gather his Church, and there shall emerge as from a dead body Princes as well as Shepherds, who will repel unjust violence, nay, who will subdue the Assyrians.”
We now see what the prophet had in view: After having honored Christ with this remarkable commendation — that he alone is sufficient to give us a quiet life, he adds that God would be the preserver of his Church, so as to deliver it from its enemies. But there is a circumstance here expressed which ought to be noticed: Micah says, that when the Assyrians shall pass through the land and tread down all the palaces, God would then become the deliverer of his people. It might have been objected, and said, “Why not sooner? Would it have been better to prevent this? Why! God now looks as it were indifferently on the force of the enemies, and loosens the reins to them, that they plunder the whole land, and break through to the very middle of it. Why then does not God give earlier relief?” But we see the manner in which God intends to preserve his Church: for as the faithful often need some chastisement, God humbles them when it is expedient, and then delivers them. This is the reason why God allowed such liberty to the Assyrians before he supplied assistance. And we also see that this discourse is so moderated by the Prophet, that he shows, on the one hand, that the Church would not always be free from evils, — the Assyrians shall come, they shall tread down our palaces, — this must be endured by God’s children, and ought in time to prepare their minds to bear troubles; but, on the other hand, a consolation follows; for when the Assyrians shall thus penetrate into our land, and nothing shall be concealed or hidden from them, then the Lord will cause new shepherds to arise.
The Prophet means that the body of the people would be for some time mutilated and, as it were, mangled; and so it was, until they returned from Exile. For he would have said this to no purpose, We shall set up for ourselves, if there had been an unbroken succession of regular government; he could not have said in that case, After Assur shall come into our land, we shall set up princes; but, There shall be princes when Assur shall come. The word set up denotes then what I have stated, — that the Church would be for a time without any visible head. Christ indeed has always been the Head of the Church; but as he designed himself to be then seen in the family of David as in an image or picture, so the Prophet shows here, that though the faithful would have to see the head cut off and the Church dead, and like a dead body cast aside, when torn from its head; yea, that though the Church would be in this state dreadfully desolated, there is yet a promise of a new resurrection. We shall then set up, or choose for ourselves shepherds.
If any one raises an objection and says that it was God’s office to make shepherds for his people, — this indeed I allow to be true: but this point has not been unwisely mentioned by the Prophet; for he extols here the favor of God, in granting again their liberty to his people. In this especially consists the best condition of the people, when they can choose, by common consent, their own shepherds: for when any one by force usurps the supreme power, it is tyranny; and when men become kings by hereditary right, it seems not consistent with liberty. 149 We shall then set up for ourselves princes, says the Prophet; that is, the Lord will not only give breathing time to his Church, and will also cause that she may set up a fixed and a well-ordered government, and that by the common consent of all.
By seven and eight, the Prophet no doubt meant a great number. When he speaks of the calamities of the Church, it is aid, ‘There shall not be found any to govern, but children shall rule over you.’ But the Prophet says here that there would be many leaders to undertake the care of ruling and defending the people. The governors of the people shall therefore be seven shepherds and eight princes; that is, the Lord will endure many by his Spirit, that they shall be suddenly wise men: though before they were in no repute, though they possessed nothing worthy of great men, yet the Lord will enrich them with the spirit of power, that they shall become fit to rule. The Prophet now adds —
6. And they shall waste the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod in the entrances thereof: thus shall he deliver us from the Assyrian, when he cometh into our land, and when he treadeth within our borders.
6. Et pascent terram Assur (hoc est, vastabunt; nam metaphorice hic pascere accipitur pro perdere quemadmodum dicuntur pecora pascere agrum, hoc est quum denudant herba sua; atque ita pastorum ingluviem notat in vorando populo; et alludit ad nomen illud quo usus fuerat: dixerat enim רועים septem pastores; nunc dicit רעה; Videmus ergo Prophetam alludere ad nomen illud quod posuerat: pascent ergo terram Assur) gladio, et terram Nimrod in gladiis suis: et liberabit ab Assur, ubi venerit in terram nostram, et ubi calcaverit in finibus nostris.
In this verse the Prophet says, that the shepherds, chosen by the Church, after it had been miserably oppressed by the tyranny of its enemies, would have a twofold office. They shall first feed; that is, nourish the Church of God; — and, secondly, they shall feed; that is, destroy the land of Asshur, so that nothing may remain there whole and entire. God will then arm these shepherds with warlike courage; for they must fight boldly and courageously against their enemies: he says, They shall feed on the land of Nimrod with their swords Nimrod, we know, reigned in Chaldea; and we know also that the ten tribes were led away by Shalmanezer, and that the kingdom of Israel was thus demolished: when the Chaldeans obtained the empire, the kingdom of Judah was also laid waste by them. Now the import of the words is, that these shepherds would be sufficiently strong to oppose all the enemies of the Church, whether they were the Babylonians or the Assyrians. And he names the Assyrians and Babylonians, because they had then a contest with the people of God; and this continued to the coming of Christ, though it is certain that they suffered more troubles from Antiochus than from others: but as he was one of the successors of Alexander, the Prophet here, taking a part for the whole, means, by the Assyrians and Chaldeans, all the enemies of the Church, whoever they might be. Waste, he says, shall these shepherds the land of Asshur by the sword, and the land of Nimrod, and that by their swords 150
But this shall not be until the Chaldeans and the Assyrians shall penetrate into our land, and tread in our borders The Prophet again reminds the faithful, that they stood in need of patience, and that they were to know that God had not made a vain promise. The import of the whole is, that no deliverance was to be expected from God’s hand until the faithful yielded their necks to his yoke, and patiently sustained the evils which were then approaching. The Prophet then mentions the intervening time between that state in which the Jews gloried and their deliverance. Why so? Because they were soon after to be smitten heavily by God’s hand; but this, as we have seen, they did not think would take place. Hence he says, — “Since you cannot yet be made to believe that merited punishment is nigh you, experience shall be your teacher. In the meantime, let the faithful provide themselves with courage and, with a meek heart, patiently to submit to God, the righteous Judge: but, at the same time, let them expect a sure deliverance, when they shall have gone through all their evils; for when the ripened time shall come, the Lord will look on his Church; but she must be first afflicted.”
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast from the beginning so defended thy Church, that thou hast never wholly forsaken her, and though it had nearly rejected thee by its defections, yet it has been thy pleasure to stand firm to thy covenant, and to show to it thy favor through all ages, until at length the everlasting Redeemer of the whole world appeared, — O grant, that we may experience the same favor at this day, and though we have in various ways provoked thy wrath against us, yet do thou so humble us, that thou mayest sustain us by thy hand; and may we so recumb on those promises which we find in Scripture, that we may at length by our patience overcome our enemies, and in patience possess our souls, until thou raisest up thine hand, and slowest that invincible power which thou hast given to thy only-begotten Son, that he might repress the devil and all the wicked, and preserve us safe and secure from all injuries. Amen.
7. And the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people as a dew from the Lord, as the showers upon the grass, that tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men.
7. Et erit residuum Jacobin gentibus, in medio populorum multorum (vel, magnorum,) sicut ros a Jehova, sicut stillae super herbam, quae non expectat hominem, neque sperat in filiis hominum.
8. And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles in the midst of many people as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep: who, if he go through, both treadeth down, and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver.
8. Et erit residuum Jacob in gentibus, in medio populorum multorum (vel, magnorum, ut diximus,) sicut leo inter animalia sylvae, sicut leunculus inter greges ovium, qui si transierit et discerpserit et repuerit, nemo eripiet.
Micah promises here two things as to the future state of the Church, — that God shall defend it without the help and aid of men, — and that he will supply it with strength, so that it will become superior to all enemies. In the first place, to show that the preservation of the Church depends on the mere favor of God, and that there is no need of any earthly aids, he makes use of a most suitable similitude; he says, that the people of God are like a dewy meadow. The Prophet speaks not what is strictly correct; for what he says of the rain and dew is to be applied to the grass or the meadow. 151 The residue of Jacob, he says, shall be as dew from Jehovah, and drops of rain on the grass. This cannot be applied according to the design of the Prophet, except you take the dew, as I have already said, for the dewy meadows or for the grass, which draws moisture and vigor from the rains. The sense indeed is by no means obscure, which is, — that God will make his people to grow like the grass, which is fed only by celestial dew, without any culture or labor on the part of men: and this is also what the Prophet expressly mentions; for he says, that the grass of which he speaks waits not for men, nor grows through men’s care, but grows through the dew of heaven.
But that we may better understand the Prophet’s intention, I shall briefly notice the words. There shall be, he says, the residue of Jacob He shows here that the whole people would not he preserved; for he had before spoken of their destruction. We hence see that this promise is to be confined to the seed, which God had wonderfully preserved in the calamitous state of the Church, yea, even in its almost total destruction. Then this promise belongs not to the whole body of the people, but to a small number; and hence he uses as before, the word שארית, sharit, a remnant or residue. There shall then be the residue of Jacob; 152 that is, though the people shall nearly all perish, yet there shall be some residue.
He then adds, Among great or many nations There is here a contrast between the remnants and great nations: and the Prophet has not unnecessarily added the expression בקרב, bekoreb, in the midst. There are then three things to be observed here, — that God does not promise deliverance to the whole people, but to a residue only, — and then, that he promises this deliverance among powerful or many nations, as though he said, — “Though the Church of God shall not excel in number, nay, so great may be the number of its enemies, as to be sufficient to overwhelm it, yet God will cause it to grow and to propagate: in a word, its enemies, though many in number, and strong in force and power, shall not yet hinder the Lord, that he should not increase his Church more and more;” — and the third particular is what the expression, in the midst, intimates, and that is, that the people of God shall be besieged on every side. When enemies come upon us only from one part, it is not so very distressing, but when they surround us, being in front, and behind, and on both sides, then our condition seems miserable indeed; for when they thus press on us on all sides, they hardly allow us time to draw our breath. But the Prophet declares, that though surrounded on all sides by enemies, yet the Church would be safe.
He now adds, כטל מאת יהוה, cathel meat Ieve, As a dew from Jehovah; that is, it shall be, as I have said, as the grass, which is nourished and grows by means of dew from heaven, and as grass, which flourishes, not through the culture or labor of men, but which God himself makes to grow. He might have merely said, as the dew, but he adds, from Jehovah, that he might make a distinction between God and man, and show that the power of God is alone sufficient to support and sustain the Church, though men brought no assistance. And this is expressed more clearly in the next clause, when he says, As drops of rain on the grass, which waits not for man, nor tarries for the sons of men. We now then see that the faithful have their attention called to God alone, that they may understand that they are to be safe through his favor, that if all helps on earth failed, they ought not to fear, since they can be effectually sustained by the power of God alone: for God makes grass to grow on mountains and in meadows without the help and labor of man; and thus he can defend his Church without any foreign aid, but by his own hidden, and, so to speak, his own intrinsic power.
Then follows this promise, — that God will arm his people with invincible and irresistible power, that they may be superior to all their enemies. Hence he says, that the residue of Israel shall be like a lion among the beasts of the forests and like a young lion among a flock of sheep As a strong lion then is superior to other beasts, and as a young lion dares ferociously to attack a flock of sheep; so he says, the people of Israel shall be; they shall be like lions, filling their enemies with terror, yea, and plundering and scattering them, so that no one will dare to resist them. The Prophet, by speaking thus, does not mean, that the people of God would be cruel and sanguinary: for we know that when the Prophets use similes of this kind, they express something not strictly suitable; for who would be so foolish as to select every thing that belongs to a lion, and apply it to the Church of God. Then the reason for this similitude must be observed; it was to show, that the faithful shall be endued with a power so superior to that of their enemies, that they shall be a terror to them. It does not hence follow that they shall be cruel.
But we must, at the same time, see what the Lord promises to his Church. Though God then recommends to his children the spirit of meekness, yet the faithful may still be a thread to their enemies; they ought, however, to observe what is just towards them, and to keep themselves within proper bounds. And yet Micah says, that they shall be endued with such power that they shall drive their enemies afar off; yea, that they shall plunder and tear them in pieces, while no one will be able to resist them. 153 But these two things are necessary as to the preservation of the Church, that God may make it grow; for except it be miraculously increased, it can never grow; and then it has need of a strong and powerful defense against her enemies; for we know that there are always wicked men who oppose the Church, yea, who apply all their powers to destroy it: it is therefore necessary that it should be supplied by the Lord with invincible strength, as our Prophet declares here. Let us proceed —
9. Thine hand shall be lifted up upon thine adversaries, and all thine enemies shall be cut off.
9. Exaltabitur manus tua super hostes tuis, et cuncti, adversarii tui excidentur.
He confirms what is said in the last verse, and expresses in other words what he meant, and what we have explained, — that though the Church must contend with many strong and violent enemies, it will not yet fail, for the Lord will supply it with strength from heaven. Exalted, he says, shall be thy hand, that all thine enemies may be cut off He promises not that the Church shall be in a quiet state, but victorious, and declares also that there will never be wanting enemies. This promise, then, ought to arm us for enduring patiently, as we cannot conquer except by fighting. As then there will be always enemies to oppose the Church of God; yea, to attempt its ruin, the Prophet says here, Exalted shall be thy hand above thine enemies.
But it may be asked, When has this promise been fulfilled? For we know that since the people had been led away into the Babylonian exile, they had always been either tributaries, or kept under cruel tyranny, or at least had been unequal to their enemies. But this principle ought ever to be remembered, — that the faithful ought to be satisfied with victory, — that however hard they may be pressed, and however constant may be the contests which they have to carry on, and however wearisome, this one thing ought still to be sufficient for them — that they shall not wholly perish. And it appears evident, that God’s people have always been preserved by his invincible hand, however numerous have been their opposing enemies. We must also keep in mind what we have just heard, — that the promise here is not made to the whole people, but to a residue only. And it surpasses the expectation of the whole world, that even a small member could have survived so many slaughters, by which they might have been swallowed up a hundred times. Now then we see that it had not been without reason promised to the faithful, that they should be made conquerors over all their enemies. But this has not been really fulfilled, except under the conflict of the cross. It now follows —
10. And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord, that I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee, and I will destroy thy chariots:
10. Et accidet in die illo, dicit Jehova, excidam equos tuos e medio tui, et perdam quadrigas tuas;
11. And I will cut off the cities of thy land, and throw down all thy strong holds:
11. Et excidam urbes terrae tuae, et evertam cunctas munitiones tuas;
12. And I will cut off witchcrafts out of thine hand; and thou shalt have no more soothsayers:
12. Et excidam angures (vel, divinos) e manu tua; et praestigiatores non erunt tibi (haec lengenda sunt in uno contextu;)
13. Thy graven images also will I cut off, and thy standing images out of the midst of thee; and thou shalt no more worship the work of thine hands.
13. Et excidam scuptilia tua et statuas tuas e medio tui; et non adorabis amplius opus manuum tuarum;
14. And I will pluck up thy groves out of the midst of thee: so will I destroy thy cities.
14. Et delebo lucos tuos e mediotui, et detraham hostes tuos (vel, urbes tuas; utroque enim verti potest;)
15. And I will execute vengeance in anger and fury upon the heathen, such as they have not heard.
15. Et faciam in ira et furore vindictam in gentibus quae non audierunt (vel, quam non audierunt; dicam de utroque.)
There is introduced here a most necessary admonition, in order that the faithful may know, how they are to be preserved by the hand and favor of God, even when they shall be stripped of all their helps, yea, even when God shall take away all those impediments, which would otherwise close up the way against his favor. The sum of the whole then is, — that the Church shall not otherwise be saved by God’s kindness than by being deprived of all her strength and defenses, and also by having her obstacles removed by God, even those which in a manner prevented his hand from being put forth to save his people. For the Prophet mentions here cities, then fortified places, he mentions horses and chariots. These, we know, are not in themselves to be condemned: but he means, that as the people foolishly placed confidence in earthly things, the salvation of God could not otherwise come to them than by stripping them of all vain and false confidence. This is one thing. Then, on the other hand, he mentions groves, he mentions carved images and statues, he mentions augurs and diviners: these were corruptions, which closed the door against the favor of God; for a people, given to idolatry, could not call upon God nor hope in him as the author of salvation. We now then perceive the Prophet’s design. It now remains for me to run over the words.
He says first, It shall be in that day, saith Jehovah, that I will cut off thine horses 154 Here the Prophet enumerates those things which could not in themselves be ascribed to any thing wrong: for as God has created horses for the use of men, so also he allows them to be for our service. Why then does the Prophet say, that the Church could not be delivered, except horses were taken away? It was owing to an accidental fault; for when men abound in forces, they instantly fix their hope on them. As then such an abuse of God’s gifts had prevailed among the people of Israel, it was necessary that horses should be taken away. God indeed could have humbled their minds or withdrawn their confidence from their horses and chariots: but it hence appears how deep are the roots of presumption in the hearts of men, that they cannot be otherwise torn up, than by having the things themselves cut off. To have horses and to have chariots is the bounty of God: for how can we have chariots and horses and other things, except through God’s kindness? And yet God cannot find a way by which he can do us good, except by taking away his former gifts. Here then Micah touches the hearts of the people much more sharply than before, when he says, that salvation cannot proceed from the Lord, except their horses were destroyed; as though he said, — “Ye see how great is your wickedness; God has hitherto dealt bountifully with you, since he has enriched you, and has also given you horses. Now as he sees that you abuse these gifts, he complains that all ways of access to you are closed up, as ye do not receive his kindness. Inasmuch as your horses and your chariots engross your attention, ye in a manner drive God far away from you. That he may therefore come to you, he will open a way for himself by removing all the obstacles and hindrances.”
We hence learn, that though all God’s benefits ought to raise us up to heaven, serving as kinds of vehicles, they are yet turned, through our wickedness, to another purpose, and are made intervening obstacles between us and God. Hereby then is our ingratitude proved; and hence it comes, that God, when he intends to make his salvation known to us is in a manner constrained to take away and remove from us his benefits. We now then understand what the Prophet had in view when he mentioned horses and chariots. For he does not threaten here, as some think, that the people would be merely deprived of all God’s gifts that they might see in their destitution and want only signs of a curse; by no means, but it is rather a promise, that is, that God will turn aside all impediments by which he was for a time prevented from bringing help to his people. This doctrine ought at the same time to avail for bringing no ordinary comfort. It is hard and bitter to the flesh to be brought down. Hence the people of Israel were little able at first to bear their lot with submission, when they saw themselves stripped of God’s benefits: but the Prophet sets before them a compensations which was capable of soothing all their grief, — “This,” he says, “shall be for your chief good — that God will deprive you of horses and chariots; for the way which your horses and chariots now occupy shall be cleared. While ye are replenished with abundant forces, ye drive away God far from you, and there is no way open for him. He will therefore prepare a way for himself; and this will be the case when your land shall be made naked, when nothing will intervene to prevent him from coming to you.”
He afterwards subjoins, I will cut off the cities of thy land, and I will destroy all thy fortresses This verse is to be taken in the same sense. That the people dwelt in fortified cities, and had defenses and fortified places, was not of itself displeasing to God. But as the people habituated themselves to a false confidence, and as it were hardened themselves in it, so that this evil could not be remedied without taking away those things to which it is attached, the Prophet says here, I will cut off the cities of your land, and then, I will cut off your defenses and fortified places. Is it that they may be plundered with impunity by their enemies? By no means, but that the favor of God may be made glorious in their deliverance. For they could not ascribe it to their cities that they kept off enemies, but were constrained to acknowledge the hand of God, and to confess him to have been their only deliverer; for they were exposed to enemies, and there was no aid for them in the land. God then will thus render more evident his favor, when their cities and fortified places shall be cut off. We hence learn that the faithful at this day have no cause to murmur if they are without great riches, and if they are not formidable for the multitude of their horses, nor for the number and strength of their men. Why so? Because it is the Lord’s will that we should be like sheep, that we might depend wholly on his power, and know that we cannot be otherwise safe than under his protection. This reason then ought to comfort us, that it may not be grievous to us, when we find that we are in the midst of wolves, and that we have no equal strength to contend with them; for even this destitution hardly extorts from us a real confession that our safety is in the hand of God. We are always proud. How would it be, were the Church at this day in a flourishing state and all enemies subdued, were there no danger, no fear? Surely earth and heaven could not bear the foolish self-confidence of men. There is therefore no wonder that God thus holds us in, and that while he supports us by his grace, he deprives us of all earthly helps and aids, that we may learn that he alone is the author of our salvation.
This truth ought to be carefully contemplated by us. Whenever we see that the Church of God, though not possessing any great power, is yet diminished daily, yea, and becomes, so to speak, like a naked land, without any defenses, it so happens, in order that the protection of God may be alone sufficient for us, and that he may wholly tear away from our hearts all haughtiness and pride, and dissipate all those vain confidences by which we not only obscure the glory of God, but, as far as we can, entirely cover it over. In short, as there is nothing better for us than to be preserved by the hand of God, we ought to bear patiently the removal of all those impediments which close up the way against God, and, in a manner, keep off his hand from us, when he is ready to extend it for the purpose of delivering us. For when our minds are inflated with foolish self-confidence, we neglect God; and thus a wall intervenes, which prevents him to help us. Who would not wish, seeing himself in extreme danger and help not far distant, that an intercepting wall should immediately fall down? Thus God is near at hand, as he has promised; but there are many walls and many obstacles, from the ruin of which, if we would be safe, we must desire and seek, that God may find an open and free way, in order that he may be able to afford us aid.
The Prophet comes now to the second kind of impediments. We have already said that some things become impediments, as it were, accidentally, when, through our wickedness and misapplication, we turn God’s benefits to an end contrary to what he has designed. If, for instance, horses and chariots are given us, to possess them is not in itself an evil, but becomes so through our blindness, that is, when we, blinded by earthly possessions, think ourselves safe, and thus neglect God. But there are other impediments, which are, in their nature, and in themselves, vicious. To these the Prophet now leads us.
I will cut off, he says, the sorcerers, כשפים, cashephim 155 Some render the word jugglers, and others, augurs or diviners. We cannot know of a certainty what kind of superstition it was, nor the other which immediately follows: 156 for the Prophet mentions here two words which mean nearly the same thing. There is no doubt but that some, in that age, were called augurs or diviners, and others called jugglers or astrologers who are now called fortune-tellers. But on this subject there is no necessity of much labor; for the Prophet simply shows here that the people could not be preserved by Gods unless they were cleansed from these defilements. These superstitions, we know, were forbidden and condemned by God’s Law: but the Law was not able to restrain the wickedness of that people; for they continually turned aside to these evils. God then here shows, that until they had purged the Church, it could not continue safe. Now, in these words, the Prophet reminds the Jews, and also the Israelites, for their benefit, that it was, and had been, through their own fault, that they labored under constant miseries and were not helped by the hand of God. — How so? Because there was no room, as God shows here, for the exercise of his favor; for they were full of auguries and divinations, and of other diabolical arts. “How,” he says, “can I help you, for I have no agreement with Satan? As you are wholly given to wicked superstitions, my favor is rejected by you.” 157
One thing is, that the Prophet intended to humble the people, so that every one might know that it had been through their fault, that God had not brought them help as they wished: but there is another thing, — God promises a cleansing, which would open a way for his favor, — I will take away, he says, all the diviners Let us then know, that it ought to be deemed the greatest benefit when God takes away from us our superstitions and other vices. For since a diminution, however hard and grievous it may be at first, is useful to us, as we see, when we willfully and openly drive away God from us; is it not a singular favor in God when he suffers us not to be thus separated from him, but prepares a way for himself to be connected with us, and has ever his hand extended to bring us help? Thus much as to these two kinds of impediments.
He now adds, I will cut off thy graven images and thy statues from the midst of thee; and thou shalt not hereafter bend down before the works of thine hands This verse is plain and contains nothing new: for the Prophet teaches that God cannot become propitious to his Church, to keep and make her safe, until he purges her from her filth, even from idolatry and other vices, by which the worship of God was corrupted, or even entirely subverted. I will, therefore, cut off thy graven images and statues 158 from the midst of thee We see that God anticipates us by his gratuitous goodness, not only by forgiving us, but also by calling us back, when wandering, into the right way. Since then we have deviated from the right way, and God thus withdraws his hand that it might appear that he has cast us away it is certain that we ought not only to pray him to have mercy on us, but also to ascribe to him a higher favor, inasmuch as he takes away the very impediments which separate us from him, and suffer him not to come nigh us. We hence see that God is not only inclined to pardon when men repent, but that it is his peculiar office to remove the obstacles.
This ought to be carefully noticed, that we may know that our salvation, from the first beginning, proceeds from the mere favor of God, — and that we may also learn, that all those things, of which the Papists vainly talk respecting preparations, are mere figments.
He then adds, thou shalt not bend hereafter before the work of thine hands. God expresses here the cause why he so much abominates idols, even because he sees that his honor is transferred to them: this is one thing. He further arraigns the Jews as guilty, while he makes evident their defection: for surely nothing could have been more shameful, than to take away from God his honor and worship, and to transfer them to dead things; and he says here by way of reproach, that they were the work of their hands. What can be more insane, than for men to ascribe divinity to their own inventions, or to believe that it is in the power of men to make a god from wood or stone? This is surely monstrous in the extreme. Then the Prophet by this form of speaking aggravates the sin of the people of Israel, that is, when he says that they bowed the head before the work of their oven hands.
He afterwards subjoins, I will take away thy groves. The groves, we know, formed a part of their idolatry: they are therefore mentioned here as an addition by the Prophet. For he speaks not simply of trees, but refers to the wicked practices of the people: for wherever there were high and lofty trees, they thought that something divine was hid under their shade; hence their superstition. When therefore the Prophet mentions groves, it must be understood of vicious and false modes of worship; for they thought that those places acquired a sort of sanctity from the trees; as they also thought that they were nearer to God when they were on a hill. We hence see that this verse is to be connected with the last; as though the Prophet had said, that the Church could not be in safety and recover her pristine vigor, without being well cleansed from all the filth of idolatry. For we indeed know that some pious kings when they took away idols did not cut down the groves; and this exception to their praise is added, that they worshipped God, but that the high places were suffered to stand. We see that the Holy Spirit does not fully commend those kings who did not destroy the groves. — Why? Because they were the materials of corruption. And further, had the Jews been really penitent, they would have exterminated those groves by which they had so shamefully abused and profaned the worship of God. The sum of the whole then is, that when God shall have well cleansed his Church and wiped away all its stains, he will then become the unfailing preserver of its safety. 159
He afterwards subjoins, And I will destroy thy enemies עריך, orik, may be rendered, enemies, and many so render it: but others translate it, cities; and the word, cities, would be the most suitable, were it not that the Prophet had previously mentioned cities. I do not therefore see that it would be proper to render it here by this term. The word עריך, orik, then, ought doubtless to be rendered, thy enemies. Let us inquire why the prophet says, that the enemies of the Church were to be destroyed. This sentence ought to be thus explained, (I leave the former ones, and take only this the last,) And I will demolish thy groves from the midst of thee, that I may destroy thine enemies: 160 the copulative is then to be considered as a final particle; and this meaning is the most suitable; as though the Prophet had said, as I have already often stated, that the door was closed against God, so that he could bring no aid to his Church, and deliver it from enemies, as long as it held to false confidence, and was attached to the filth of idolatry, which was still worse. “That I may then destroy thine enemies, it is necessary first that every thing in thee that prevents or hinders my favor should be taken away and removed.”
At last he adds, And I will execute vengeance in wrath and in fury He goes on with what I have just said of enemies; “I will then execute vengeance in wrath and in fury on the nations”. Here God mentions his wrath and his fury, that the faithful might feel greater confidence, that though now their enemies poured forth grievous threatening, yet this could not prevent God from aiding his people. — How so? Because if we compare the wrath and fury of God with all the terrors of men, doubtless the threats of men would appear as nothing but smoke. We now perceive the Prophet’s meaning in these words. And he says in the last place, I will execute vengeance on the nations who have not heard. Almost all interpreters join the relative, אשר, asher with the preceding word, גוים, guim, — I will then take vengeance on the nations who have not heard, that is, who have been rebellious against God: not to hear, as they explain, is obstinately to despise the power of God, and not to be moved by his promises or by his threatenings. But a fitter sense may perhaps be elicited, if we refer אשר, asher, to vengeance, — I will then execute vengeance on the nations which they have not heard, that is, I will take vengeance on all the nations in a manner unheard of and incredible: and by nations, he understands indiscriminately all the enemies of the Church, as we have elsewhere seen.
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou so kindly invites us to thy self, and promises that thy aid should never be wanting to us, provided we do not close the door against thee, — O grant, that though many earthly benefits may be granted to us, we may not yet trust in them and depart from thee, but, on the contrary, recomb on thy grace only: and then should it happen to us to be deprived of all helps, that our minds may be awakened, and that we may thus learn to hasten to thee, may nothing impede our course, that we may not, with the greatest haste and ardent desire, long to deliver up and devote ourselves wholly to thee, that we may be made safe under the care and protection of thy only-begotten Son, whom thou hast appointed to be the guardian of our safety. Amen.
Calvin has, in this division, followed the Septuagint, and so have the translators of our version. This verse, in Hebrew, belongs to the last chapter. Marckius, Dathius, and Henderson, follow the Hebrew division; Junius, and Tremelius, and Newcome, that of our version.
This verse has been variously interpreted. It is considered by most as connected with the last chapter. Some, as Marckius, consider it as an address to the Roman power; some, to the Babylonian; and others, to Jerusalem. The construction of it is the main point. The first verb, תתגדדי, is found in six other places, and rendered in all, except in Jer 5:7, to cut one’s self; but its other meaning, as in Jer 5:7, and evidently here is to troop or band together; and the noun גדוד, which follows, commonly means a band or a troop. The participle שם, in the next clause, can refer to nothing in the text but to “the daughter of a troop.” The obvious and natural rendering of the verse would be the following, —
Band thyself together, thou daughter of a band,
Laying against us a siege: —
With the rod shall they strike on the cheek
The judge of Israel.
The daughter of a band or a troop means a military power, which collects bands or troops for warlike purposes. It is certainly more obvious to apply this to the Babylonian power than to Jerusalem, especially as the next line, “Laying against us a siege,” necessarily refers to the latter.
“The judge” is, as Calvin seems to take it, a poetical singular for the plural. No particular person is meant, as Newcome and others seem to think, but judges in general. — Ed.
This does not follow; for to say that it was “not the least,” is not to deny that it was “small.” There is, in fact, no contradiction in the expressions. Matthew quotes literally neither the Hebrew nor the Septuagint version. The latter, in this case, agrees with the former. He gives the sense, but not the words, even in two instances besides this. Instead of “Ephratah,” he has, “in the land of Judah;” and instead of “Ruler,” he has, “Governor that shall rule,” or feed. The meaning in these three instances is the same, though the words are different. The place was, in former times, called Bethlehem-Judah, and also Ephratah. See Ge 35:19; Jud 17:7; and Ru 4:11.
The attempt by a question to produce similarity of expressions in the second line, according to what is done by Marckius and Newcome, is by no means to be approved. The literal rendering is the following: —
And thou, Bethlehem Ephratah!
Small to be among the thousands of Judah, —
From thee shall one to me come forth,
To be a Ruler in Israel:
And his going forth has been
From of old, from the days of ages.
The word for “going forth” is plural, which, as Calvin says, is sometimes used for the singular; but two MSS. Have it in the singular number, מצאתו. The last line in the Septuagint is as follows, — απ αρχης, εξ ημερων αιωνος
“In every age, from the foundation of the world, there has been some manifestation of the Messiah. He was the hope, as he was the salvation, of the world, from the promise to Adam in paradise, to his manifestation in the flesh four thousand years after.” — Adam Clarke. — Ed.
לכן, Grotius renders it certè — surely: but nevertheless, as proposed by Scott, is the most suitable particle here. Dathius gives this paraphrase — Verum quidem est — True indeed it is. — Ed.
Until the time the begetting shall beget, (יולדה ילדה)
And the remnant of his brethren shall be converted
Together with the children of Israel.
Newcome gives this explanation of the verse, — “The sense is: God will not fully vindicate and exalt his people, till the Virgin-mother shall have brought forth her Son; and till Judah and Israel, and all the true sons of Abraham among their brethren, the Gentiles, be converted to Christianity.” — Ed.
By this arrangement of the sentence, Calvin evidently meant, that “his,” before “brethren,” refers to “Israel.” In the original, the latter clause is before the former, but in Hebrew, as well as in other languages, the antecedent sometimes comes after its pronoun. — Ed.
Most commentators differ from Calvin in their view of this verse, regarding it as a distinct prophecy of the Savior’s birth. There are difficulties on both sides: but taking the whole context, especially the following verse, we can hardly resist the conclusion, that Christ, born of a Virgin, is the subject. Indeed, the whole of this chapter, notwithstanding the reference to the Assyrian, is not capable of a satisfactory explanation, without applying what is said to Christ and his Church. Some things, no doubt, in the history of the Jews, may be alluded to, or incidentally mentioned; but the full accomplishment must be looked for in the new dispensation. And it is a splendid prophecy, in words often derived from customs and incidents among the Jews, of the birth of the Savior, and the character and extent, and blessedness of his kingdom, and the destruction of his enemies.
Newcome and Adam Clarke propose to divide the chapter after the first line in verse 5, thinking that a new subject is there introduced: but evidently the same subject, the Gospel dispensation, is continued to the end of the chapter. The Assyrian, the especial enemy of the ancient Church, designates the enemies of the Christian Church in all ages.
“As Sennacherib’s invasion,” says Scott, “was not repelled by the ruler or chieftains of Israel: nor did the Jews ever invade or waste the Assyrian dominions; it seems evident, that these expressions must be understood as mystically intending other enemies and persecutors of the Church, who should be of the same spirit with Sennacherib and the Assyrians.” Henry, who is much more learned critic and much profounder divine than what is commonly thought, agrees with Scott, and many others, in the interpretation of this chapter. — Ed.
“The Prophets prefaced their messages with, Thus saith the Lord; but Christ spoke not as a servant, but as a Son, Verily, verily, I say unto you: this was feeding in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God; all power was given him in heaven and earth, a power over all flesh, by the virtue of which he still rules in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.” — Henry.
The order of the words in Hebrew is not strictly observed in this instance. There is here an example, not infrequent in the prophets, of the nominative case absolute, —
And he shall be our peace:
The Assyrian—when he shall come into our land,
And when he shall tread in our palaces,
The raise shall we against him
Seven shepherds and eight anointed men.
נסיכי אדם, literally anointed of men; but it is a phrase signifying men in authority, princes or sovereigns. נסיכים is rendered dukes in Jos 13:21, and princes in Ps 83:11, and Eze 32:30. It is not necessary to say “eight princes of men,” but, “eight princes,” or “eight anointed men.” — Ed.
It is by no means a safe rule, to draw a conclusion from the spiritual government as to what a temporal government should be. The subjects are guided by very different principles; and the same sort of government will not suit countries under different degrees of civilization. To theorize on this subject, as on many others, leads often to wrong conclusions. An hereditary sovereignty may seem to trench on liberty; but our own country exhibits an example where both exist to an extent unknown in the present or in any former age. Under no democracy has liberty ever been so freely and so fully enjoyed as in this land, which has been so wonderfully favored by a kind and gracious Providence. We owe, perhaps, far more than we are aware to an hereditary sovereignty. — Ed.
כפתחיה, in its openings or entrances: so most render the word. Εντος πολων αυτης — within its gates. — Symmachus. Marckius, Newcome, and Henderson, agree with our version. Calvin has, in this instance, followed Kimchi and Aben-Ezra: but the affix ה prevents us from adopting this meaning; besides, the word itself is nowhere found in this sense.
This verse is connected with the preceding, and ought to be separated from it only be a semicolon, and may be thus rendered: —
And they shall waste the land of the Assyrian by the sword,
And the land of Nimrod at its entrances:
Thus shall he cause a deliverance from the Assyrian,
When he shall come into our land,
And when he shall tread on our borders.
There seems to be no necessity for this supposed inaccuracy in this comparison; it indeed changes the obvious meaning of the passage. The Jews are compared to the dew and rain, through which the grass grows; and then it is said, that the growth of the grass, not the dew or the rain, is not dependent on man, but on the dew or rain. The comparison is thus in every way suitable. — Ed.
We have the residue or remnant of Joseph in Am 5:15,—the remnant of Israel in Mic 2:12, — and here in the following verse, the remnant of Jacob. — Ed.
“They shall be bold as a lion in witnessing against the corruptions of the times and places they live in, and strong as a lion in the strength of the Lord, to resist and overcome their spiritual enemies. The weapons of their warfare are mighty through God, to the pulling down of strongholds, 2 Cor. 10:4, 5. They shall have courage which all their adversaries shall not be able to resist, Lu 21:15.” — Henry.
As a curious instance of ingenuity and extravagance in allegorizing, practiced by some of the Fathers, Jerome’s interpretation of this verse may be mentioned: the horses were lascivious lusts; the chariots, sins joined together in which the wicked, as it were, ride and triumph; the cities, such as that built by Cain, not like the heavenly Jerusalem; and the strongholds, were riches and the pomps of the world, the eloquence of orators and the tenterhooks of dialecticians! — Ed.
From כשף. “In Arabic,” says Parkhurst, “the verb signifies to discover, disclose, reveal, and is always in the Hebrew Bible applied to some species of conjuring.” The Septuagint render the word here φαρμακα, drugs or charms. They were enchanters or sorcerers, who applied drugs to magical purposes. See 2Ch 33:6. — Ed.
The word here is מעוננים, from ענן, a cloud. Parkhurst renders it cloudmongers, who looked upwards to the clouds either on the flight of birds, or on the stars, or on meteors, and thereby pretended to foretell future things. Αποφθεγγομενους — oraclers — Sept. Theodoret renders it μαντεις — soothsayers; and Cyril ψευδομαντεις — false prophets. Some derive it from ענה, to answer; and others from עין, the eye; and hence, eyers or observers, either of times, or dreams, or of stars, or of birds. — Ed.
“Many of them depended much upon the conduct and advice of their conjurors, diviners, and fortune-tellers, and these God will cut off, not only as weak things, and insufficient to relieve them, but as wicked things, and sufficient to ruin them.” — Henry.
מצבות, rather pillars or columns than statues: τας στηλας in the Sept. The pillar of stone which Jacob set up is called by this name, Ge 28:18. They were commemorative pillars at which the Canaanites, and afterwards the Jews, offered idolatrous worship. There was a pillar of this kind in the house of Baal, 2 Kings 10:26, 27. They were not altars, though altars might have been reared by them, for both are mentioned together in De 12:3. The word is derived from יצב, to set, to fix firmly. The noun is rendered by Parkhurst, a standing pillar. — Ed.
Scott, speaking of the latter part of this chapter, says, “The reformation of the Jews after their return from Babylon might be alluded to; but the purification of the Christian Church from all antichristian corruptions of faith and worship, and all idolatry and superstition, seems more immediately to be predicted.” — Ed.
Newcome renders the word עריך, thine enemies, and not, thy cities, though he connects the verse differently, — more with the last than with the former portion of this, —
I will also destroy thine enemies:
15. And I will execute vengeance, in anger and in fury,
Upon the nations which have not hearkened unto me.