The Prophet shows here first, how gross and supine was the hypocrisy of princes as well as of the priests and prophets: and then he declares that they were greatly deceived in thus soothing themselves with vain flatteries; for the Lord would punish them for their sins since he had in his forbearance spared them, and found that they did not repent. But he does not address here the common people or the multitude, but he attacks the chief men: for he has previously told us, that he was endued with the spirit of courage. It was indeed necessary for the Prophet to be prepared with invincible firmness that he might freely and boldly declare the judgment of God, especially as he had to do with the great and the powerful, who, as it is well known, will not easily, or with unruffled minds, bear their crimes to be exposed; for they wish to be privileged above the ordinary class of men. But the Prophet not only does not spare them, but he even arraigns them alone, as though the blame of all evils lodged only with them, as indeed the contagion had proceeded from them; for though all orders were then corrupt, yet the cause and the beginning of all the evils could not have been ascribed to any but to the chief men themselves.
And he says, Princes for reward judge, priests teach for reward, (111) the prophets divine for money: as though he had said, that the ecclesiastical as well as the civil government was subject to all kinds of corruptions, for all things were made matters of sale. We know that what the Holy Spirit declares elsewhere is ever true, — that by gifts or rewards the eyes of the wise are blinded and the hearts of the just are corrupted, (Sirach 20:29,) for as soon erg judges open a way for rewards, they cannot preserve integrity, however much they may wish to do so. And the same is the case with the priests: for if any one is given to avarice, he will adulterate the pure truth: it cannot be, that a complete liberty in teaching should exist, except when the pastor is exempt from all desire of gain. It is not therefore without reason that Micah complains here, that the princes as well as the priests were hirelings in his day; and by this he means, that no integrity remained among them, for the one, as I have said, follows from the other. He does not say, that the princes were either cruel or perfidious, though he had before mentioned these crimes; but in this place he simply calls them mercenaries. But, as I have just said, the one vice cannot be separated from the other; for every one who is hired will pervert judgment, whether he be a teacher or a judge. Nothing then remains pure where avarice bears rule. It was therefore quite sufficient for the Prophet to condemn the judges and the prophets and the priests for avarice; for it is easy hence to conclude, that teaching was exposed to sale, and that judgments were bought, so that he who offered most money easily gained his cause. Princes then judge for reward, and priests also teach for reward
We can learn from this place the difference between prophets and priests. Micah ascribes here the office or the duty of teaching to the priests and leaves divination alone to the prophets. We have said elsewhere, that it happened through the idleness of the priests, that prophets were added to them; for prophesying belonged to them, until being content with the altar, they neglected the office of teaching: and the same thing, as we find, has taken place under the Papacy. For though it be quite evident for what reason pastors were appointed to preside over the Church, we yet see that all, who proudly call themselves pastors, are dumb dogs. Whence is this? Because they think that they discharge their duties, by being only attentive to ceremonies; and they have more than enough to occupy them: for the priestly office under the Papacy is laborious enough as to trifles and scenic performances: (ritus histrionicos — stage-playing rites) but at the same time they neglect the principal thing — to feed the Lord’s flock with the doctrine of salvation. Thus degenerated had the priests become under the Law. What is said by Malachi ought to have been perpetuated, — that the law should be in the mouth of the priest, that he should be the messenger and interpreter of the God of hosts, (Malachi 2:7;) but the priests cast from them this office: it became therefore necessary that prophets should be raised up, and as it were beyond the usual course of things while yet the regular course formally remained. But the priests taught in a cold manner; and the prophets divined, that is professed that oracles respecting future things were revealed to them.
This distinction is now observed by the Prophet, when he says, The priests teach for reward, that is, they were mercenaries, and hirelings in their office: and the prophets divined for money It then follows, that they yet leaned on Jehovah, and said, Is not Jehovah in the midst of us? Come then shall not evil upon us. The Prophet shows here, as I have said at the beginning, that these profane men trifled with God: for though they knew that they were extremely wicked, nay, their crimes were openly known to all; yet they were not ashamed to lay claim to the authority of God. And it has, we know, been a common wickedness almost in all ages, and it greatly prevails at this day, — that men are satisfied with having only the outward evidences of being the people of God. There was then indeed an altar erected by the command of God; there were sacrifices made according to the rule of the Law; and there were also great and illustrious promises respecting that kingdom. Since then the sacrifices were daily performed, and since the kingdom still retained its outward form, they thought that God was, in a manner, bound to them. The same is the case at this day with the great part of men; they presumptuously and absurdly boast of the external forms of religion. The Papists possess the name of a Church, with which they are extremely inflated; and then there is a great show and pomp in their ceremonies. The hypocrites also among us boast of Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, and the name of Reformation; while, at the same time, these are nothing but mockeries, by which the name of God and the whole of religion are profaned, when no real piety flourishes in the heart. This was the reason why Micah now expostulated with the prophets and the priests, and the king’s counselors; it was, because they falsely pretended that they were the people of God. (112)
But by saying; that they relied on Jehovah, he did not condemn that confidence which really reposes on God; for, in this respect, we cannot exceed the bounds: as God’s goodness is infinite, so we cannot trust in his word too much, if we embrace it in true faith. But the Prophet says, that hypocrites leaned on Jehovah, because they flattered themselves with that naked and empty distinction, that God had adopted them as his people. Hence the word,leaning or recumbing, is not to be applied to the real trust of the heart, but, on the contrary, to the presumption of men, who pretend the name of God, and so give way to their own will, that they shake off not only all fear of God, but also thought and reason. When, therefore, so great and so supine thoughtlessness occupies the minds of men, stupidity presently follows: and yet it is not without reason that Micah employs this expression, for hypocrites persuade themselves that all things will be well with them, as they think that they have God propitious to them. As then they feel no anxiety while they have the idea that God is altogether at peace with them, the Prophet declares, by way of irony, that they relied on Jehovah; as though he had said, that they made the name of God their support: but yet the Prophet speaks in words contrary to their obvious meaning, ( καταχρηστικῶς loquitur — speaks catachrestically;) for it is certain that no one relies on Jehovah except he is humbled in himself. It is penitence that leads us to God; for it is when we are cast down that we recumb on him; but he who is inflated with self-confidence flies in the air, and has nothing solid in him. And our Prophet, as I have said, intended indirectly to condemn the false security in which hypocrites sleep, while they think it enough that the Lord had once testified that they would be his people; but the condition is by them disregarded.
He now recites their words, Is not Jehovah in the midst of us? Come will not evil upon us This question is a proof of a haughty self-confidence; for they ask as of a thing indubitable, and it is an emphatic mode of speaking, by which they meant to say, that Jehovah was among them. He who simply affirms a thing, does not show so much pride as these hypocrites when they set forth this question, “Who shall deny that Jehovah dwells in the midst of us?” God had indeed chosen an habitation among them for himself; but a condition was interposed, and yet they wished that he should be, as it were, tied to the temple, though they considered not what God required from them. They hence declared that Jehovah was in the midst of them; nay, they treated with disdain any one who dared to say a word to the contrary: nor is there a doubt but that they poured forth blasts of contempt on the Prophets. For whenever any one threatened what our Prophet immediately subjoins, such an answer as this was ever ready on their lips, — “What! will God then desert us and deny himself? Has he in vain commanded the temple to be built among us? Has he falsely promised that we should be a priestly kingdom? Dost thou not make God a covenant-breaker, by representing him as approving of the terrors of thy discourse? But he cannot deny himself:” We hence see why the Prophet had thus spoken; it was to show that hypocrites boasted so to speaks of their proud confidence, because they thought that God could not be separated from them.
Now this passage teaches us how preposterous it is thus to abuse the name of God. There is indeed a reason why the Lord calls us to himself, for without him we are miserable; he also promises to be propitious to us, though, in many respects, we are guilty before him: he yet, at the same time, calls us to repentance. Whosoever, then, indulges himself and continues sunk in his vices, he is greatly deceived, if he applies to himself the promises of God; for, as it has been said, the one cannot be separated from the other. (113) But when God is propitious to them, they rightly conclude, that all things will be well with them, for we know that the paternal favor of God is a fountain of all felicity. But in this there was a vicious reasoning, — that they promised to themselves the favor of God through a false imagination of the flesh, and not through his word. Thus we see that there is ever in hypocrisy some imitation of piety: but there is a sophistry (paralogismus) either in the principle itself or in the argument.
Cocceius enumerated six things as chargeable on the persons mentioned in this verse: 1. Avarice—the seeking of wealth instead of doing God’s will; 2. A mercenary disposition, influenced by gain and not by sense of duty; 3. The exacting of unlawful reward; 4. The doing, even for reward, of what was evil and wicked; 5. A false pretense of trust in God; and, 6. The tying of God’s favor to external privileges. — Ed.