The Crimes of the Princes and Prophets. B. C. 726.
1And I said, Hear, I pray you, O heads of Jacob, and ye princes of the house of Israel Is it not for you to know judgment? 2Who hate the good, and love the evil who pluck off their skin from off them, and their flesh from off their bones 3Who also eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them and they break their bones, and chop them in pieces, as for the pot, and as flesh within the caldron. 4Then shall they cry unto the LORD, but he will not hear them: he will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings. 5 Thus saith the LORD concerning the prophets that make my people err, that bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace and he that putteth not into their mouths, they even prepare war against him. 6 Therefore night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine and the sun shall go down over the prophets, and the day shall be dark over them. 7 Then shall the seers be ashamed, and the diviners confounded: yea, they shall all cover their lips for there is no answer of God.
Princes and prophets, when they faithfully discharge the duty of their office, are to be highly honoured above other men but when they betray their trust, and act contrary to it, they should hear of their faults as well as others, and shall be made to know that there is a God above them, to whom they are accountable at his bar the prophet here, in his name, arraigns them.
I. Let the princes hear their charge and their doom. The heads of Jacob, and the princes of the house of Israel, are called upon to hear what the prophet has to say to them, Micah 3:1. The word of God has reproofs for the greatest of men, which the ministers of that word ought to apply as there is occasion. The prophet here has comfort in the reflection upon it, that, whatever the success was, he had faithfully discharged his trust: And I said, Hear, O princes! He had the testimony of his conscience for him that he had not shrunk from his duty for fear of the face of men. He tells them,
1. What was expected from them: Is it not for you to know judgment? He means to do judgment, for otherwise the knowledge of it is of no avail. "Is it not your business to administer justice impartially, and not to know faces" (as the Hebrew phrase for partiality and respect of persons is), "but to know judgment, and the merits of every cause?" Or it may be taken for granted that the heads and rulers are well acquainted with the rules of justice, whatever others are for they have those means of knowledge, and have not those excuses for ignorance, which some others have, that are poor and foolish (Jeremiah 5:4) and, if so, their transgression of the laws of justice is the more provoking to God, for they sin against knowledge. "Is it not for you to know judgment? Yes, it is therefore stand still, and hear your own judgment, and judge if it be not right, whether any thing can be objected against it."
2. How wretchedly they had transgressed the rules of judgment, though they knew what they were. Their principle and disposition are bad: They hate the good and love the evil they hate good in others, and hate it should have any influence on themselves they hate to do good, hate to have any good done, and hate those that are good and do good and they love the evil, delight in mischief. This being their principle, their practice is according to it they are very cruel and severe towards those that are under their power, and whoever lies at their mercy will find that they have none. They barbarously devour those whom they should protect, and, as unfaithful shepherds, fleece the flock they should feed nay, instead of feeding it, they feed upon it, Ezekiel 34:2. It is fit indeed that he who feeds a flock should eat of the milk of the flock (1 Corinthians 9:7), but that will not content them: They eat the flesh of my people. It is fit that they should be clothed with the wool, but that will not serve: They flay the skin from off them, Micah 3:3. By imposing heavier taxes upon them than they can bear, and exacting them with rigour, by mulcts, and fines, and corporal punishments, for pretended crimes, they ruined the estates and families of their subjects, took away from some their lives, from others their livelihoods, and were to their subjects as beasts of prey, rather than shepherds. "They break their bones to come at the marrow, and chop the flesh in pieces as for the pot." This intimates that they were, (1.) Very ravenous and greedy for themselves, indulging themselves in luxury and sensuality. (2.) Very barbarous and cruel to those that were under them, not caring whom they beggared, so they could but enrich themselves such evil is the love of money the root of.
3. How they might expect that God should deal with them, since they had been thus cruel to his subjects. The rule is fixed, Those shall have judgment without mercy that have shown no mercy (Micah 3:4): "They shall cry to the Lord, but he will not hear them, in the day of their distress, as the poor cried to them in the day of their prosperity and they would not hear them." There will come a time when the most proud and scornful sinners will cry to the Lord, and sue for that mercy which they once neither valued nor copied out. But it will then be in vain God will even hide his face from them at that time, that time when they need his favour, and see themselves undone without it. At another time they would have turned their back upon him but at that time he will turn his back upon them, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings. Note, Men cannot expect to do ill and fare well, but may expect to find, as Adoni-bezek did, that done to them which they did to others for he is righteous who takes vengeance. With the froward God will show himself froward, and he often gives up cruel and unmerciful men into the hands of those who are cruel and unmerciful to them, as they themselves have formerly been to others. This agrees with Proverbs 21:13, Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he shall cry himself and shall not be heard but the merciful have reason to hope that they shall obtain mercy.
II. Let the prophets hear their charge too, and their doom they were such as prophesied falsely, and the princes bore rule by their means. Observe,
1. What was their sin. (1.) They made it their business to flatter and deceive the people: They make my people err, lead them into mistakes, both concerning what they should do and concerning what God would do with them. It is ill with a people when their leaders cause them to err, and those draw them out of the way that should guide them and go before them in it. "They make them to err by crying peace, by telling them that they do well, and that all shall be well with them whereas they are in the paths of sin, and within a step of ruin. They cry peace, but they bite with their teeth," which perhaps is meant of their biting their own lips, as we are apt to do when we would suppress something which we are ready to speak. When they cried peace their own hearts gave them the lie, and they were just ready to eat their own words and to contradict themselves, but they bit with their teeth, and kept it in. They were not blind leaders of the blind, for they saw the ditch before them, and yet led their followers into it. (2.) They made it all their aim to glut themselves, and serve their own belly, as the seducers in St. Paul's time (Romans 16:18), for their god is their belly, Philippians 3:19. They bite with their teeth, and cry peace that is, they will flatter and compliment those that will feed them with good bits, will give them something to eat but as for those that put not into their mouths, that are not continually cramming them, they look upon them as their enemies to them they do not cry peace, as they do to those whom they look upon as their benefactors, but they even prepare war against them against them they denounce the judgments of God, but as they are to them, as the crafty priests of the church of Rome, in some places, make their image either to smile or frown upon the offerer according as his offering is. Justly is it insisted on as a necessary qualification of a minister (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7) that he be not greedy of filthy lucre.
2. What is the sentence passed upon them for this sin, Micah 3:6,7. It is threatened, (1.) That they shall be involved in troubles and miseries with those to whom they had cried peace: Night shall be upon them, a dark cold night of calamity, such as they, in their flattery, led the people to hope would never come. It shall be dark unto you, darker to you than to others the sun shall go down over the prophets, shall go down at noon all comfort shall depart from them, and they shall be deprived of all hope of it. The day shall be dark over them, in which they promised themselves light. Nor shall they be surrounded with outward troubles only, but their mind shall be full of confusion, and they shall be brought to their wits' end their heads shall be clouded, and their own thoughts shall trouble them and that is trouble enough. They kept others in the dark, and now God will bring them into the dark. (2.) That thereby they shall be silenced, and all their pretensions to prophecy for ever shamed. They never had any true vision and now, the event disproving their predictions of peace, it shall be made to appear that they never had any, that there never was an answer of God to them, but it was all a sham, and they were cheats and impostors. Their reputation being thus quite sunk, their confidence would of course fail them. And, their spirits being ruffled and confused, their invention would fail them too and by reason of this darkness, both without and within too, they shall not divine, they shall not have so much as a counterfeit vision to produce, they shall be ashamed, and confounded, and cover their lips, as men that are quite baffled and have nothing to say for themselves. Note, Those who deceive others are but preparing confusion for their own faces.