How can we expect things to get better?
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
13 Jun, 2024

With election season ongoing in the UK and the USA, it provides opportunity to analyse the state of the nation and decide whose vision for the future we prefer. An honest evaluation from the perspective of God’s law can only conclude that over the past few decades, society and leaders have conspired together to encourage each other to abandon God’s ways. The result has not been greater human flourishing but more disregard for the vulnerable and the resurgence of various forms of oppression through for example the cost of living crisis, widening access to abortion, carelessness about predatory men gaining access to children and women, and failures in social care disadvantaging the elderly and those with disabilities. Can anything much be salvaged from the wreckage, though, if we are not on God’s side and while God withholds His approval? The prophet Micah brought urgent warnings from the Lord for rulers in particular. George Hutcheson discusses Micah’s words in the following updated extract from his commentary. Although God certainly holds each individual responsible for their own sins, Micah also insists that the ruling classes are themselves accountable to God for how they (mis)use their power in the nation. This holds equally true for those seeking to remain in power and those seeking to win the election. When rulers become oppressors and turn a blind eye to the miseries of the poor, there is something fitting about God refusing to help them in their own time of need.

In the opening two chapters of his prophecy, Micah has faithfully exposed the sins of the body of this people, and denounced God’s judgments because of sin. Now in chapter 3 he comes more particularly to reprove the rulers of both church and state, especially in Judah, and to threaten them with the consequences of their sins.

He does this firstly by distinct groupings, in relation to their own particular punishments. The princes, who ought to know right and wrong, and walk accordingly, were yet the most perverse and inhumane in oppression (Micah 3:1–3). Micah warns them that in their time of difficulty they shall not be acknowledged by God (v. 4). The false prophets, who deluded the people, and preached in whatever way would be most subservient to their base ends (v.5), are threatened with such confusion as would make them ashamed of their trade (v.6–7), whereas Micah, a faithful man, would faithfully persist in his duty (v.8).

He also deals with the rulers conjointly, in relation to the judgement which by their sin they had procured to come on the church of God. The rulers perverted justice (v.9), and built the holy city with goods taken by oppression (v.10). Generally, both rulers in the state and teachers in the church were corrupted with bribes, and love for gain, and yet would presumptuously rely on God (v.11). He therefore warns that for their sake Sion would be laid desolate (v.12).

The ruling class should know the law

“Hear, I pray you, O heads of Jacob, and ye princes of the house of Israel, is it not for you to know judgement?” (v.1) Micah challenges the rulers in peace and war, for affected ignorance of the law of God. He lays the basis for showing how aggravated their wickedness was, in that they should be concerned to be even better acquainted than others with the will of God in the matter of justice and equity. Although they ought to be exemplary in their knowledge and obedience, (knowledge including consequent affection and practice), in their practice they proved that they either were ignorant of the law, or else they despised it.

When a land in general is culpable of defecting from God’s ways, rulers in church and state have their own eminent guilt in it. This is implied in the general theme of what Micah says, as, having reproved the whole body of the people, he now comes to challenge the rulers in an especial manner. “Hear, O heads of Jacob.”

Micah’s practice shows us that faithful ministers ought not only to inveigh against sin in general, or the sin of the common people only, but they ought in particular to reprehend the sins of every rank, even of rulers. Those of greatest eminency are bound to hear God speaking by His messengers, and to receive what messages are sent to them, as being under the law just as others are.

As rulers especially are unwilling to be brought to an account for their ways by the ministry of the Word, so ministers are bound to omit no point of discretion, and tender persuasiveness, which would be consistent with their fidelity and zeal against sin, and which may be instrumental to make the word take, and not be stumbled at. We can see this from Micah’s way of entreaty, “Hear, I pray you,” which indicates both that the rulers were averse to hearing, and that Micah tenderly reached out in order that they would hear.

Beside the general obligation lying on all (especially within the visible church) to know and obey the will of God, it is especially incumbent on rulers and great ones among the Lord’s people to do so. By reason of their education, means, encouragements, leisure, offices, etc., they are enabled with advantages, and bound to know more than others, and to put their knowledge into practice, in order that they may be examples to others.

However opposed people may be to the challenges of ministers in the matter of affected ignorance, or wilful neglect of known duties, yet these excuses will not satisfy their own consciences, when they are seriously put to it. That’s why Micah confronts them with a question which they could not deny. “Is it not for you to know judgement?”

Their knowledge should be put into practice

The Lord does not reckon that people know anything, when the truth they know has no place in their heart, and they make no endeavours to put it into practice. That’s how Micah explains that they “do not know judgment” — it was that they “hated the good” (v.2), and oppressed the people (v.2–3).

The Lord notices chiefly the disposition and affection of people’s hearts towards good or evil. It is a desperate condition, when not only your practice is out of course, but your affections also are alienated from God and inclined to evil. “You hate the good, and love the evil.”

Whatever oppressors may claim to be the cause of their cruelty toward those they oppress (e.g., they stood in need, and needed to live of their own, etc.), yet the Lord sees it to flow from their perverse and corrupt affections. That’s why He says of oppressors, “Ye hate the good, and love the evil.”

God sees it when they oppress the people

In opposition to what the rulers ought to be, Micah sets forth their disposition and practice. They abhorred what was good, and loved what was evil. They oppressed and undid the Lord’s people so cruelly, by taking away the very means of their subsistence and livelihood, that it was as if they had flayed their skin from off them, eaten their flesh, and broken their bones to boil them for meat, the way butchers and cooks do with animals for food (v.2–3).

The greatest perversity is usually found in those who ought, and may, and will not, or neglect to make use of such means as might promote piety and justice. All this perversity is in “the heads of Jacob,” who had means and opportunity to set them doing otherwise.

Oppression is, in God’s account, inhumane butchery, and murder, in a degree far above simple slaughter, while the oppressed pine away for want, and the oppressors (like barbarians, or wild beasts) eat that which is the very life and flesh of the poor.

However, although magistrates and great ones think themselves to be above all law, yet they have no right to oppress a people (especially if they are God’s people) and deal with them simply as they wish. Rather, they are accountable for how they have treated them. Here they are challenged by God for how they are oppressing His people. The oppressed — or others — perhaps do not dare to challenge them for their injurious dealings, yet there is a God who will lay it to their charge.

God will disown them in their time of crisis

The sentence which will be particularly passed on them is by way of retaliation. As they had oppressed the poor and turned a deaf ear to their cries, so they will meet with judgment without mercy or compassion. God will not pay attention to them, even if (out of a sense of their trouble) they seek Him.

For it says, “Then shall they cry unto the Lord” (v.4). They will be forced to seek God, whom they otherwise disregarded. Even the greatest, and those who most wickedly forget God, shall at one time or other be conscious of God’s reverence, and will send their errand His way. Natural (unspiritual) people may make some show of seeking God in trouble — not in faith, or out of love, but out of sense of trouble. The general calamities which were previously threatened, or their own particular corrections for their sin, press down on them, and “then shall they cry.”However, it is righteous with God not to heed this crying of the wicked in their trouble, because of their previous wickedness and ongoing unsoundness, and in particularly, so that He may recompense them for not hearkening to the cry of the poor who they had oppressed. “They shall cry unto the Lord, but he will not hear them.”

“He will hide his face from them at that time” of trouble. It is extreme misery to be deserted totally by God in trouble, and to lack His favour and sense of reconciliation, which would support them in any extremity.

“He will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings.” Although God sometimes in a sense hides His face from His own children, in order to test their faith, His intention, when He disregards the wicked in trouble, is so that wickedness would be seen and lamented as the cause of it.

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