‘Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which Thou hast sworn to our fathers from the days of old.’
Listen! We shall not hear many more Old Testament words before Advent; this is almost the last sound of the Old Testament trumpet before Isaiah takes up the strain to proclaim an Incarnate Saviour. And the words are all the more remarkable because they come from Micah, the prophet of whom what we most readily remember is that he alone foretells Bethlehem as the Saviour’s birthplace. He has been sent from the land of Judah, to which he belonged, to bear a testimony to the kingdom of Israel. And his testimony, for the greater part of it, is one of stern reproof and warning. The nation was far gone in wickedness of every kind; their doom was near at hand. Yet before they fell the Lord gave them this solemn admonition, with here and there glimpses interspersed of a coming and brighter day. For so it has ever been: no nation falls unwarned, though warnings now are not spoken by a prophet’s voice, but are enshrined in the word once written for all men’s learning.
And now, at the very close, there is a complete change of strain, these closing verses contain a rich, full Gospel message, glad tidings of great joy to every stricken and mourning heart. It came too late for Israel as a nation; but doubtless there were souls among that godless people, like the seven thousand in Elijah’s day, to whom it would bring peace and joy. It bears peace and joy still to all who have learned to mourn for sin.
Let us hear what Micah tells us of the God with whom we have to do.
I. He is great, because rich in mercy.—(a) This is the special note of the one true God. Mark it well. Many in the present day, who think they are good Protestants, shrink from this attitude of God. They cannot deny it; it is too clearly revealed. But they put it in the background, and almost try to hide it, while they dwell on the renewing work of grace to train the soul to holy living. Quite true, and precious truth! Never forget it. Never cease to impress it on yourself, and on all whom you can influence, that an accepted and pardoned believer must needs have received from the Holy Spirit, as the seal of his acceptance, the new heart and the right mind, and be trained by the same Holy Spirit to earnest walking and fighting the good fight of faith. But still this is not the truth which lies at the foundation, not that which made the heart of the prophet glow within him as he exclaimed, ‘Who is a God like unto Thee?’ He knew full well, as Apostles knew in after-days, that we must first set forth the free mercy of God; and the more firmly we do so the more clearly do we establish His greatness as far above all so-called gods. (b) Mark the full and unqualified language. Words seem to fail him to bring out his thought. See how it struggles for expression. ‘Pardoneth,’ ‘passeth by,’ ‘retaineth not anger,’ ‘delighteth in mercy,’ ‘will turn again,’ ‘will have compassion,’ ‘will subdue our iniquities,’ ‘will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.’ Could you frame other or stronger language? He who rejects or shrinks from the truth of God’s unbounded mercy to sinners may be ever so wise as the modern world reckons wisdom; but he is not in the way of making men ‘wise unto salvation.’
II. This assurance is based on promise.—(a) To Israelites the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You see, Micah had no doubt of the old story of the call of Abram and the special dealing with Isaac and Jacob. To him these were no fancies, no vague traditions, passed from mouth to mouth from generation to generation. The story was true if ever history was true. The call was no dream of Moses, or of any one writing in his name: it was a real call, a real separating of one nation to be the Lord’s own; and they, with all their faults, had (almost in spite of themselves) kept alive in the world the knowledge of the one true God. Yes, and is that covenant now dead? Israel herself does not think so. Though dispersed and homeless, she still claims her fathers’ birthright, and looks onward to the day when she shall once more be settled in their Promised Land and sit enthroned on God’s holy hill. How this may be I know not; they have much to learn first of God’s dealings with them. Meanwhile, their existence and the living power of their traditions are a standing witness to the truth of the old record and the reality of the old covenant. (b) Then, secondly, to us it is a type of our spiritual inheritance. When the Holy Spirit, by the pen of Micah, speaks of ‘the truth’ assured to Jacob, ‘the mercy to Abraham,’ we cannot think that His words point to an earthly land of promise or an earthly kingdom as the beginning and ending of it all. Nay, surely, He bids us look to the reign of the true King, of Him Whose day Abraham saw afar off, and rejoiced to see. Brethren, cling to that belief. For here also the unbelieving spirit of the day comes in, and would fain persuade you to separate the promise of present happiness or future glory from all reference to the Cross of Jesus, or to the faith by which we are joined to Him. Not so speaks the Scripture. Even the Old Testament prophet can teach us deeper things. For even under the old covenant the Chosen People had ever to look to the undeserved mercy of their God. Far more must we, if we claim to be among His adopted ones now, be ever looking to the death of Jesus, and delighting to think how our Father has sealed to us all His promises by giving His Son to die for us and to rise again.