THE MESSIAH TO BE BORN AT BETHLEHEM
Micah 5:2. Thou, Bethlehem, Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Jutdah, 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.
IN estimating the degree of credit due to prophecy, we naturally ask, Of what kind the prophecies were? Were they numerous? Were the persons who delivered them unconnected with each other? Were the things which were foretold unlikely of themselves to be accomplished? or were they such as might easily, by the united efforts of interested persons, be brought to pass? If they were such only as might be the subjects of reasonable conjecture, or such as might by a confederacy of persons be easily devised and easily fulfilled, they would have but little weight; but if they were inconceivably varied, and absolutely incapable of being either feigned by impostors or fulfilled by friends, they will then carry proportionable evidence along with them. Such then were the prophecies relating to our blessed Lord: they were such as no deceivers could invent, and such as no confederacy whatever could cause to be fulfilled. Many of the most important of them were fulfilled by persons who sought to disprove the pretensions of Jesus to the Messiahship, and who unwittingly established what they laboured to overthrow. Others were accomplished through the instrumentality of persons who could have no conception whatever of the ultimate consequences which their actions would produce. Of this kind was the prediction before us; it declared that the Messiah should be born at Bethlehem; not at the Bethlehem in the land of Zabulon, but at that which was in the land of Judah. This, as will be seen presently, was so generally known, that the parents of our Lord might have known it, if they had been at all anxious to make the inquiry. But so little did they advert to it, that they never thought of going up to Bethlehem, till they were compelled to it by a decree of Augustus Caesar. They were living at Nazareth, and would, if no such unforeseen edict had been issued, have continued there till the birth of Jesus. But the Scripture could not be broken; and God was at no loss to provide means for its accomplishment. He wrought therefore on the ambition of the Roman emperor, and prompted him to exercise his authority over the Jewish people, and to order that all of them should go and be enrolled in the different cities to which they belonged. This constrained Joseph (who was of the house and lineage of David) to go up to his own city, Bethlehem, to be enrolled there: and during his stay there (some unforeseen occurrences probably having necessitated him to continue there longer than he had originally expected), the time for Mary’s delivery arrived, and, contrary to all human expectation, Jesus was born in the city which had been specified by the Prophet Micah seven hundred years before. Thus, whilst the decree of Caesar shewed that “the sceptre was now just departing from Judah,” and, consequently, that the time for the advent of the heavenly “Shiloh was come,” it unwittingly on his part caused the Messiah to be born in the very city which Micah had foretold.
The prophecy itself gives us such a glorious view of Christ, that we shall do well to enter more fully into it. It declares to us,
I. His advent in time—
Two things the prophet mentions respecting him;
1. The place of his birth—
[Bethlehem was of itself but a small city, and of little importance when compared with many other cities in the land of Judah; but it was the place of David’s nativity [Note: 1 Samuel 16:1; 1 Samuel 16:11-13.], and the place therefore which God ordained for the birth of David’s Son, the Lord Jesus. The prophecy respecting it, we have before said, was generally known, especially among those who were at all conversant with the prophetic writings; so that when Herod sent to the chief-priests and scribes to inquire where the Messiah was to be born, they all with one consent declared that Bethlehem was the destined place, and, in confirmation of their opinion, they cited this very passage which we are now considering [Note: Matthew 2:3-6.]. And it is curious enough, that many years afterwards, when the enemies of Jesus insisted that, notwithstanding all his miracles, he could not possibly be the Messiah, they adduced this very passage [Note: John 7:41-42.]; which, if their premises had been correct, would have fully supported their conclusion; they knew that Jesus had been brought up at Nazareth; and they supposed he had been born there: and, if they had been right in this conjecture, he certainly could not be the Messiah; since it was ordained of God, that the Messiah should be born at Bethlehem.
This will account for the remarkable care which God in his providence took, that the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem should be placed beyond a possibility of doubt. Perhaps no other event, scarcely excepting either his death or resurrection, was marked with such a variety of evidence as this. First, it was enrolled in the public records of Bethlehem, in consequence of Caesar’s edict. Next, it was attested by an angel announcing it to the shepherds as they were guarding their flocks by night. Next, this testimony was confirmed by a host of angels, who celebrated it aloud in the hearing of the shepherds. Next, it was marked by a star in the east, which conducted the Magi from a distant country to the very spot, and caused those wise men to carry the report of it back to their own land. Next, it was ascertained by the inquiries of Herod, and the united testimony of all the chief priests and scribes, that Bethlehem was of necessity to be the place. And lastly, it was marked by that most extraordinary act of cruelty, the slaughter of all the infants in and around Bethlehem, “from two years old and under;” which measure king Herod adopted, in order to ensure the destruction of Jesus, whom he dreaded as a future rival.
What a confirmation all this is of the Messiahship of Jesus, it is needless to observe.]
2. The character in which he should appear—
[He was to be “Ruler in Israel.” If we look only at the external circumstances of his birth, we confess, he had not much the appearance of a “Ruler,” seeing that his parents were in so low circumstances as to be able to get no better place for their accommodation than a stable, (though one would have thought that a person in Mary’s situation would have found a thousand females ready to receive her into their houses;) nor any better receptacle for the new-born infant than a manger. Nor in his subsequent life did there appear what we should have expected in a “Ruler.” To the age of thirty he wrought at the trade of a carpenter: and during the three years of his ministry, he went about as a poor man who “had not where to lay his head.” Least of all, in his last hours, did he look like a “Ruler;” since he was treated with nothing but scorn, and put to death as the vilest of malefactors.
Yet even at all these periods, if we look more narrowly, we shall find circumstances that sufficiently declared his dignity. The songs of the heavenly choir at his birth, the miracles he wrought in his life, and the testimony borne to him by universal nature at his death, all proclaimed, that, under the veil of his humiliation, there was a character more than human, and that he was not only a “Ruler,” but “King of kings, and Lord of lords.”
The Jews, fixing their eyes only on his external appearance, deny that this prophecy was fulfilled in him. But we answer, that “his kingdom was never intended to be of this world:” it is a spiritual dominion that he was sent to exercise; and such a dominion as no mere creature ever can exercise. He came to establish his throne in the hearts of men, and to bring their very thoughts into captivity to his holy will. And this empire he has established over millions of the human race, even over the whole Israel of God, in every age, and every place. To all of them without exception his will is both the rule and reason of their conduct. If only a thing be declared to be his will, that is a sufficient reason for their doing it, though they should see no other reason: and, rather than not do it, they would all without exception lay down their lives. This dominion he is now exercising over a willing and obedient people: and though Satan’s vassals are infinitely the more numerous at the present day, the time is coming, when “all the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdom” of this great Ruler, when “all kings shall fall down before him,” and “all nations shall serve him,” and “his name shall be great unto the ends of the earth.”]
For submission to this great “Ruler” the prophet prepares us, by declaring,
His existence from eternity—
The terms in which this is declared are as strong as the prophet could well use: they are equivalent to what the Psalmist says of Jehovah; “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting thou art God [Note: Psalms 90:2.].” That Jesus did exist from all eternity is abundantly declared,
1. In the Old Testament—
[There is a remarkable passage to this effect in the book of Proverbs, where, under the name of Wisdom, Jesus is represented as having been, by the “Father, as one brought up with him, as being daily his delight, and rejoicing always before him [Note: Proverbs 8:22-31.]” — — — This passage is generally considered by the best commentators as relating to Jesus Christ; and its exact correspondence with the passage just quoted in reference to Jehovah, and with other passages in the New Testament, leaves no room to doubt, but that Jesus is the person there described. In the book of Psalms, we know infallibly that Jesus is the person spoken of, as “of old laying the foundations of the earth,” and as continuing immutably the same to all eternity [Note: Psalms 102:25-27.]. We know this, I say, infallibly, because St. Paul, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, assures us that it was spoken of, and to, the Son; whom the Father addresses also in these decisive terms; “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom [Note: Hebrews 1:8; Hebrews 1:10-12.].”]
2. In the New Testament—
[Our blessed Lord himself frequently speaks of his pre-existent state. To Nicodemus he speaks of himself as having come down from heaven, and as actually existing in heaven even whilst in his bodily substance he was on earth [Note: John 3:13.]. To the Jews who thought of him as a mere man like themselves, he says, “Before Abraham was, I am [Note: John 8:58.].” And, in addressing his heavenly Father, he prays, “Glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was [Note: John 17:5.].” His Apostles uniformly maintain the same language: “In the beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God; and the Word was God: the same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was nothing made that was made. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us [Note: John 1:1-3; John 1:14.].” This is the testimony of St. John: and that of Paul accords with it, that, whilst “according to the flesh Jesus was of the seed of David, according to the spirit of holiness he was by his resurrection declared to be the Son of God,” even “God over all, blessed for ever [Note: Romans 1:3-4; Romans 11:5.].” In the book of Revelations there is a remarkable passage, where, speaking of our blessed Lord, the beloved Disciple attests his character in these expressive words; “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty:” and then he introduces that same Jesus speaking personally to him, and saying, “Fear not; I am the first and the last; I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore; Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death [Note: Revelation 1:8; Revelation 1:17-18.].”
From all these testimonies then, we are prepared to welcome the advent of this august Ruler, in the language of the Prophet Isaiah; “To us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders; and his name shall be called the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace: and of the increase of his government arid peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth even for ever [Note: Isaiah 9:6-7.].”]
That we may suitably improve this subject,
Let us adore this divine Saviour for his condescension and love—
[How wonderful is it that such love should ever be shewn to the children of men! that the Son of God, “Jehovah’s fellow [Note: Zechariah 13:7.],” who was “one with the Father,” “the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person [Note: Hebrews 1:3.],” who “was in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God, should yet make himself of no reputation, and take upon him the form of a servant, and be made in the likeness of men, and being found in fashion as a man, should humble himself and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross [Note: Philippians 2:6-8.]!” How wonderful, I say, is this! and scarcely less wonderful, that we, towards whom this stupendous effort of love and mercy has been exercised, should feel so little, even whilst we profess to believe it, and to make it the foundation of all our hopes. But let us muse upon it; let us muse, till the fire kindle, and we speak with our tongues the wonderful works of God. Nothing but this is heard in heaven: and nothing but this should he heard on earth. Methinks there should be but one song heard amongst us day or night; “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing [Note: Revelation 5:12.].”]
2. Let us submit to his government—
[Do we look for salvation through our adorable Emmanuel? Let us not forget that he came to be “a Prince as well as a Saviour,” a “Ruler” as well as an Instructor. Let us willingly receive him in this character, and cheerfully dedicate ourselves to his service. Let us be his subjects, not in name, but in truth; not by an external profession only, but an internal surrender of our souls to him: let us do this, not by constraint, but willingly; not partially, but wholly, and without reserve. This is our first duty; this is our truest happiness; this is the way in which he expects us to requite him for all his condescension and love; and it is the only way wherein we can manifest our sense of the obligations he has conferred upon us. “He gave himself for us, to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works:” let him find in us such a people; and he will then “see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied.”]
STABILITY AND EXTENT OF CHRIST’S KINGDOM
Micah 5:4. 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.
OF whom the prophet speaks, there can be no doubt. The preceding context indisputably refers to the Lord Jesus Christ [Note: ver. 2. with Matthew 2:6 and John 7:42.] — — — Till he should come into the world, the kingdoms of Israel and of Judah should never be re-united [Note: ver. 3.]: but after he should have come, and finished his course on earth, he should establish his empire over the whole earth; and unite all, both Jews and Gentiles, in one body, as one fold under one Shepherd. Of this the prophet speaks in our text, even of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ: and he declares,
I. Its first establishment—
[Christ is “the Shepherd of Israel.” As such, he feeds and rules his people [Note: Matthew 2:6. The Greek.]. In his appearance, indeed, he was mean; but he established his kingdom with power. It was announced as at hand by his forerunner, John [Note: Matthew 3:2.]: and was declared by himself as already come [Note: Matthew 12:28.]. By all his words and actions he shewed himself entitled to establish it [Note: John 5:22-29; Matthew 25:31-32.]. And at the judgment-seat of Pilate he confessed himself a King [Note: John 18:37.]. For this, indeed, he was put to death [Note: John 19:3; John 19:12-15.]: as the superscription on his cross proclaimed [Note: John 19:19.]. On the very cross he acknowledged himself a King, and promised to the dying suppliant a participation of his throne [Note: Luke 23:42.]. Indeed, it was upon the cross that he triumphed over his enemies, and established his kingdom [Note: Colossians 2:14-15.]. After his resurrection, he gave commission to his disciples to go forth in his name [Note: Matthew 28:18-19.]: on the day of Pentecost he subdued multitudes to himself; and from that day he has been enlarging his kingdom in every quarter of the globe. Through the whole of his ministry on earth, he acted with authority, as here foretold; “standing and feeding in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.”]
From its first establishment, the prophet goes on to speak of,
Its subsequent preservation—
[From the first instant that the establishment of Christ’s kingdom was announced, it was assailed from every quarter. The question asked by the eastern Magi was, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” And instantly was Herod’s jealousy moved to such a degree, that, to ensure the death of Jesus, “he sent forth and slew all the children in Bethlehem and the surrounding country, from two years old and under [Note: Matthew 2:2; Matthew 2:16.].” From the time that he entered on his ministry, his life was sought; till at last his enemies accomplished their cruel purpose, unwittingly accomplishing, at the same time, the very end for which he came into the world. The same opposition has been made to his kingdom in every age and every place. The history of the Acts of the Apostles is one continued illustration of this fact. But greater was He that was in them, than he that actuated his malignant foes. In different places, indeed, his interests have been subverted, as in the Seven Churches of Asia; but if the candlestick have been taken from one place, it has been sent to another. The Church itself has stood, as a rock in the midst of the ocean, and has defied all the waves that beat upon it. Our blessed Lord said, that “it was founded on a rock, and that the gates of hell should never prevail against it [Note: Matthew 16:18.]:” and this saying of his has been fulfilled: for though, like the burning bush, it has been continually immersed in flames, it never has been, nor ever shall be, consumed by them. “It shall abide,” as the prophet has said [Note: The Text.]: “it shall break in pieces, and consume all other kingdoms; but itself shall stand for ever and ever [Note: Daniel 2:44.].”]
My text yet further declares,
Its ultimate extension—
[Its limits hitherto have been narrow and contracted; but the time is coming when they shall extend “to the very ends of the earth.” Yes, indeed, “He shall be exalted, and extolled, and be very high [Note: Isaiah 52:13.].” “All kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall serve him [Note: Psalms 72:11.].” All the kingdoms of the world shall be his [Note: Revelation 11:15.];; and under the whole heavens “there shall be but one Lord, and his name one [Note: Zechariah 14:9. See, to the same effect, Psalms 2:8; Psalms 22:27.]” — — —]
Let the kingdom of our Lord be welcomed by you—
[Verily his subjects are happy; for “his yoke is easy, and his burthen light.” Not so the subjects of sin and Satan. No: “they are in sore bondage: for the way of transgressors is hard.” Submit ye then, Brethren, to his sceptre: “obey his voice; for God’s name is in him [Note: Exodus 23:21.]:” and know assuredly, that if you still continue to rebel against him, the time is coming when he will say, “Bring hither those that were mine enemies, who would not that I should reign over them, and slay them before me.”]
Let his name be dear unto you—
[“To them that believe, he is precious [Note: 1 Peter 2:7.].” And he deserves to be so: for he “delivers his subjects from the powers of darkness,” and makes them kings like unto himself [Note: Luke 22:29; Revelation 1:6; Revelation 3:21.]. He will be dear, and his name will be great amongst all nations [Note: Psalms 72:17-19.]. O let him be so to you! Receive him into your hearts as your Saviour and Redeemer, yea, and as your Lord and Governor.]
CHRIST OUR PEACE IN TROUBLE [Note: Preached in July, 1803.]
Micah 5:5. This man shall be the Peace, when the Assyrian shall come into our land.
IT is of the very nature of prophecy to be dark and intricate: for, if it were perfectly plain, men would either labour to defeat the counsels of heaven. or ascribe the accomplishment of them to second causes. Among the various things which tend to obscure the predictions of the prophets, we notice more especially their complicated allusions to things temporal and spiritual, present and remote. In the prophecy before us, considerable difficulties occur, because it is so expressed as to comprehend several distinct events, and to be accomplished in a variety of ways: nevertheless the general scope of it is sufficiently plain; and the truth which we shall deduce from it, is obvious and indubitable; it is none other than this, that Jesus Christ is the one source of peace to his people, under all their calamities, temporal or spiritual [Note: The meaning of the context seems to be this: the prophet foretells that the enemies of Judah should “besiege” them, and treat their governor with contempt and cruelty; which may be considered as relating to the times of Hezekiah, and Zedekiah. He then foretells, that in the little city of Bethlehem the Messiah shall be born: but that, notwithstanding that event, the Jews, as a nation, shall be given up, till the time when Zion shall travail in birth (Isaiah 66:7-8. with Galatians 4:27.) and all, both Jews and Gentiles, be converted to the Lord. In the mean time, however, the Messiah shall govern and protect his people, and be a source of “peace” and comfort to them under their heaviest calamities.].
Christ then will be the peace of his Church,
I. Under all temporal calamities—
God may, for wise and gracious reasons, suffer his people to be reduced to the greatest straits and necessities; just as he did in the days of Hezekiah, when all Judζa was subdued by Sennacherib, and the capital itself was besieged by the Assyrian army. We must not therefore conclude that God has given us up, even though we should see our land invaded, and many strong places taken, and the capital itself in the most imminent danger of being plundered and destroyed. God may suffer it, in order to wean us from confiding in our fleets and armies, and to glorify himself in our deliverance. Supposing such a calamity to come upon this land, Christ will be our peace,
1. Through the instrumentality of others—
[In the words following the text, he promises to raise up for his people “seven shepherds and eight principal men,” that is, an indefinite number [Note: Ecclesiastes 11:2.] of eminent and useful men in all the departments of state, whom he would endue with wisdom and courage; and through whose instrumentality he would effect their deliverance. And is it not in this way that he has most marvellously interposed for us? Was there ever a period within our remembrance, when all ranks and orders of men were so unanimous as at the present? In the last war, some doubted whether we might not have avoided war; and others, whether we might not have terminated it long before. But is there a man in this whole kingdom who doubts whether our inveterate enemy would suffer us to be at peace; or whether if we were to make all the sacrifices that his ambition could dictate, he would not speedily find some fresh pretext for insult and exaction? No; we are unanimous in our conviction of the unavoidableness of war; unanimous too in our determination to maintain it with vigour, and to die rather than become the vassals of France: and this is a source of much peace and comfort to us in the midst of our impending dangers. And to whom can we ascribe this astonishing unanimity, but to Him who “has all hearts in his hand, and turneth them whithersoever he will?”]
2. Through his own immediate agency upon our minds—
[The Lord Jesus Christ is the Governor of the Universe; and he makes his people to know, that their enemies derive all their power from his commission, the limits of which commission they cannot exceed, and the effects of which power shall be overruled for good. These are sources of unspeakable peace to their souls. Suppose “the Assyrian to be come into our land,” and to be bearing down all before him, our murmurs will be silenced by that reflection, “Is there evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it [Note: Amos 3:6.]?” The enemy is no more than “the axe with which he hews, or the saw with which he saws [Note: Isaiah 10:15.];” “It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good [Note: 1 Samuel 3:18.].” Suppose the enemy to be vaunting like the blaspheming Rabshakeh, and to be regarding the riches of the capital as a nest of eggs on which he is just going to lay his hands [Note: Isaiah 10:14.]; even then, if the plunder of the capital be not within his commission, “God will put a hook in his nose, and a bridle in his jaws, and will cause him to return to his own land” ashamed and confounded [Note: Isaiah 37:33-35.]. Suppose he be suffered entirely to prevail, yet if it be over-ruled for the good of immortal souls, and the glory of our God, no temporal trials, however great, can counterbalance the benefit derived from them. It was by sending his people to Babylon that he cured them of idolatry; and if he may but cure this nation of its manifold impieties, all will be well. In these views then Christ will surely be the peace of his people, yea, he “will keep them in perfect peace, whose minds are stayed on him [Note: Isaiah 26:3.].”]
But these observations apply to us yet more forcibly,
Under all spiritual troubles—
There is not in all the sacred volume one single prophecy that more clearly speaks of Christ than that before us. It is repeatedly applied to Christ in the New Testament, as marking out with precision the very place where he should be born [Note: ver. 2. with Matthew 2:6 and John 7:42.]. In explaining it therefore as referring to his spiritual kingdom, we cannot err.
The enemies of God’s people of old were typical of those spiritual enemies with which his people have to contend in every age. And it is certain that the enemies of our souls may prevail for a season in a very alarming degree. But when sin and Satan make their fiercest assaults, even then will Christ maintain our peace,
1. By the merit of his blood—
[This it is which enables us to behold all our guilt without terror or despondency: this it is which enables us to answer the accuser of the brethren, “Who is he that shall condemn, since Christ has died [Note: Romans 8:34.]?” In this view especially is Christ called “our peace,” since “he made peace for us by the blood of his cross;” and every one of us by believing in Him shall have peace with God [Note: Romans 5:1.]
2. By the prevalence of his intercession—
[The prayers of Hezekiah and Isaiah were effectual for the peace of Jerusalem, even while the besiegers encompassed it [Note: Isaiah 37:22.]: and in answer to them, one hundred and eighty-five thousand of the Assyrian army were slain by an angel in one night [Note: Isaiah 37:36.]. What then may not be expected from the prayers of our adorable Redeemer? Shall not he prevail, seeing that “He ever liveth on purpose to make intercession for us [Note: Hebrews 7:25.]?” To this, as to an inexhaustible source of consolation, we are taught to look, under the conflicts which we are called to sustain; “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who is also the propitiation for our sins [Note: 1 John 2:1.].”
3. By the sufficiency of his grace—
[We may be reduced to a more perilous condition than even Jerusalem itself, and yet find peace in the consideration, that Christ is all-sufficient, and that “through him we shall be more than conquerors.” We can scarcely conceive a more distressing experience than that of Paul under the buffetings of Satan: yet this word, “My grace is sufficient for thee,” was able to turn his desponding sorrows into joy and triumph [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.]. In like manner we also may go forth with confidence against all our enemies, saying with him, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me [Note: Philippians 4:13.].”]
4. By the inviolableness of his promise—
[To all his people is that word addressed, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee [Note: Joshua 1:5.]?” And can we find one instance wherein he has ever violated that blessed promise? May we not then adopt that inspired inference, and say, “I will not fear what flesh can do unto me [Note: Hebrews 13:5-6.]?” If the Apostles, when almost overwhelmed in a storm, were blameworthy for entertaining fears while Christ was with them in the vessel [Note: Mark 4:38-40.], much more must we be faulty, if we give way to discouraging apprehensions of ruin, when the word of Christ is pledged for our security. Relying on his word, we have an anchor which will keep us steadfast in the midst of all the storms and tempests that can assault our souls [Note: Hebrews 6:19.]
[Let every one then seek to know this “Prince of Peace.” To “acquaint ourselves with him is the way to be at peace [Note: Job 22:21.].” If we know him not, we cannot flee to him for refuge: but if we “trust in him, he will keep us in perfect peace.”]
THE JEWS A BLESSING TO THE WORLD
Micah 5:7. 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.
IN this chapter we have as explicit a prophecy respecting Christ, as any that is to be found in all the sacred volume. His person is described in terms that can belong to none but Jehovah himself: “His goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting [Note: ver. 2.].” The place of his nativity is expressly foretold, and so plainly mentioned, that all the Scribes and Pharisees at the time of our Saviour’s birth considered it as an indisputable point, that their Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem; and not in the Bethlehem that was in the land of Zabulon [Note: Joshua 19:10; Joshua 19:15.], but in Bethlehem Ephratah, which was in the land of Judah [Note: Matthew 2:4-6.]. The establishment of his kingdom over the face of the whole earth was farther predicted [Note: ver. 4.]; and not only is the final restoration of the Jews to a participation of it declared [Note: ver. 3, 6.], but their agency in the conversion of the Gentile world is distinctly asserted [Note: The text.]. Whatever accomplishment the words of our text received in the apostolic age by the preaching of the Apostles and their immediate converts, they have respect to a period far remote from that age, a period yet future: they refer to a time, when Jehovah will gather his people from the four winds, and reign over them in their own land [Note: Micah 4:6-7.]; a time, when they shall vanquish all their enemies, as easily as a young lion prevails over a flock of sheep [Note: ver. 8.]; but shall be as rich blessings to others, as the dew or rain is to the thirsty earth.
To place this subject in a proper point of view, it will be necessary to shew,
I. The original design of God in their dispersion—
Once they were numerous as the stars of heaven: but now they are reduced to a small “remnant;” and are scattered over the face of the whole earth. This judgment is designed of God,
1. To punish their iniquities—
[Great and manifold were their transgressions, which caused them to be carried captive to Assyria and Babylon: but greater far has been their guilt in rejecting their Messiah, and “crucifying the Lord of glory:” and for that they have now been carried captive amongst all nations, and been reduced to the lowest state of degradation for the space of more than seventeen hundred years. The punishment inflicted for this crime is such as was foretold by Moses himself [Note: Leviticus 26:27; Leviticus 26:33.Deuteronomy 28:62-64.], and such as our blessed Lord also warned them to expect [Note: Matthew 21:39-41.]. The Jews themselves see and acknowledge, that the hand of God is upon them on account of their sins: and it is God’s intention that his dispensations towards them should be viewed in this light by every nation under heaven [Note: Deuteronomy 29:24-28.]
2. To bring them to repentance—
[In this present world the judgments which God inflicts are all intended for good. It was “for their good” that God sent his people into captivity in Babylon [Note: Jeremiah 24:5 and Micah 4:10.]: and for their good he has now scattered them over the face of the earth. The punishment inflicted on Levi for his cruelty to the Shechemites, was, that he and his family should have no lot among the tribes of Israel, but be scattered amongst them all [Note: Genesis 49:5-7.]: yet was that overruled for their greater honour; they being appointed to minister in the sanctuary before the Lord; and pre-eminently honoured, as having the Lord himself for their portion [Note: Numbers 18:2-24.]. In like manner, though the present dispersion of the Jews is a heavy judgment, God inflicts it, not as the sentence of an inexorable Judge, but as the correction of a loving Parent: and the very circumstance of his transferring his regards from them to the Gentile world, is a yet farther expression of his parental love, it being designed to provoke his deserted people to jealousy, and thus to bring them to a renewed enjoyment of their forfeited inheritance [Note: Romans 11:11.]. “They are cast off only for a season [Note: Romans 11:25-26.];” and, “if they abide not in unbelief, they shall yet again be grafted on their own stem,” from which they have been broken off [Note: Romans 11:23-24.]
But in the prophecy before us, our attention is particularly called to,
The ulterior purposes which they are destined to accomplish—
The dew and rain are sent by God to fertilize the earth [Note: Isaiah 55:10.]: and in like manner are the Jews dispersed throughout the world,
1. As witnesses for him—
[Whoever beholds a Jew, beholds a witness of the proper Deity of Jehovah. The whole of his history attests, that the Lord Jehovah is Lord of lords, and God of gods. Who amongst the gods of the heathen could ever have done for their votaries what Jehovah has done for his chosen people? Who amongst them could have predicted every thing that should befall them during the space of many thousand years? Who could have preserved their worshippers, as Jehovah has preserved his, unmixed with the people amongst whom they are scattered, and as distinct from all other people as they were when embodied in the land of Canaan? Other nations, that have been subdued and carried captive, have been blended at last with the inhabitants of the countries where they sojourned; but the Jews still, as formerly, “dwell alone” in the midst of the earth, as it was foretold they should do [Note: Numbers 23:9.]. Hence they, above all people, are witnesses of his godhead. And in this view God himself appeals to them, yea, and appeals to the whole universe on the authority of their testimony [Note: Isaiah 43:9-12; Isaiah 44:6-9.]. We may say then of the Jews in every place throughout the world, that they are living epistles from God to man, yea, are “epistles known and read of all men;” so that, whatever be the language of the country where they live, they do unwittingly, yet most intelligibly and unquestionably, proclaim, “The Lord, He is the God; the Lord, He is the God [Note: 1 Kings 18:39.].”
They are witnesses also of all his glorious perfections. Who that sees a Jew can help seeing in him the power and love, which God manifested to his fathers in all the wonders of his grace; in their very origin from parents, who, according to the course of nature, could have had no children; in bringing them forth also out of the land of Egypt, and carrying them in safety to the promised land, and, in short, in all his other dealings with them to the present moment? Who can but see also the purity and holiness of Jehovah, as marked in the judgments inflicted on them? Is it not evident, that they are monuments of God’s wrath; and that, though God may spare long, he will at last visit the offences of his rebellious people? Above all, Who that sees a Jew, does not see in him the truth and faithfulness of Jehovah? God promised, that for Abraham’s sake he would not utterly cast them off: and, notwithstanding all their provocations, he still preserves them, in order to their future restoration to their own land, and their renewed enjoyment of his special favour. David, expatiating on all the glorious perfections of God, interrupts, as it were, his song by what appears, at first sight, to be an unsuitable and irrelevant observation; “He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel [Note: Psalms 103:7.].” But this one observation speaks more than the whole psalm besides; for it embodies all that is more particularly expressed, and gives, what we may call, a graphical exhibition, or picture, of the Divine character; and in the fewest possible words shews us, what will be God’s conduct towards his people to the end of time. Precisely thus the sight of a Jew gives us a compendious view of all the Divine perfections, and sets God himself, as it were, almost visibly before our eyes.]
2. As instruments in his hands to dispense his blessings to the world—
[The dew that floats in the air, and the clouds that are carried over the surface of the globe, are unconscious of the end for which they are sent; but they perform the most invaluable offices for the sons of men. In like manner the Jews are scattered through the world, unconscious of any particular good which they are destined to perform: but God designs to use them as his instruments, and by them to communicate the blessings of salvation to the whole world. This is plainly intimated in our text, and expressly declared by the Prophet Isaiah; “They shall declare my glory among the Gentiles, and shall bring them for an offering unto the Lord out of all nations [Note: Isaiah 66:19-20.].” Then shall be fulfilled, in its utmost extent, that prophecy of Zechariah, “It shall come to pass, that as ye were a curse among the Heathen, O house of Judah, and house of Israel, so will I save you, and ye shall be a blessing [Note: Zechariah 8:13.].”
For this office they are fitted, having their own Scriptures in their hands, and understanding the language of the different countries where they sojourn: so that nothing is wanting but to have the veil removed from their hearts, and they are ready at this moment, each in his place, to proclaim the glad tidings of salvation through a crucified Redeemer. And with what energy will they proclaim the Gospel, the very first moment that their eyes are opened! How deeply will they themselves be affected; and how much therefore will they affect others! How will they, when they “look on Him whom they have pierced, mourn, and be in bitterness, even as one that is in bitterness for his first-born [Note: Zechariah 12:10.]!” And how ardently will they love, when they see how much has been forgiven them [Note: Luke 7:47.]! How will they emulate the example of their fathers, the Apostles, in their zeal to spread the knowledge of their Messiah! and, when they hear that their brethren in every country under heaven are engaged in the same blessed work, how will they vie with each other in their endeavours to serve the Lord! With what effect too will they deliver their message! They are known every where to be the bitterest enemies to Christianity. They will not therefore be regarded, (as Christian preachers would be,) as a people endeavouring to propagate their own religion, but as people renouncing their own religion from conviction, and calling upon all other people to follow their example. This will create an interest which no other people could hope to excite: and the simultaneous efforts of their brethren in every quarter of the globe, accompanied as they will be by the operations of the Holy Spirit on the hearts of men, will bear down all before them, like another Pentecost, and produce, as it were, a resurrection from the dead [Note: Ezekiel 37:10. with Romans 11:15.]. “Then shall the heathen fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth his glory [Note: Psalms 102:13-15. Mark the word “So.”]:” and then shall be literally fulfilled those words of the prophet, “A nation shall be born in a day [Note: Isaiah 66:8.].’
Now in all this they will be, not as the canals which were made by man, to water the earth [Note: Deuteronomy 11:10-11.], but as the dew or rain, “that tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men.” As the clouds are not formed by man’s device, or sent by the command of men, but owe both their original and their operations to God alone; so the Jews have gone to the ends of the earth, unsolicited, unsent, unconscious of their destiny; and in due time will exert such a genial influence on the souls of men, that “the wilderness shall be glad for them, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose [Note: Isaiah 35:1.].”]
From hence we may see,
In what light we should regard the Jews—
[It cannot be but that God, in dispersing the Jews over the face of the whole earth, has designed, that we should gather instruction from his dispensations towards them, and subserve in some secret way his purposes towards them.
Wherever we see a Jew, we should regard him as an object from whom we are to derive good, and to whom we are to do good. There is no creature under heaven from the sight of whom we may derive greater good than from the sight of a Jew. We have before said, that, whether intentionally or not, he proclaims to all, in the most convincing way, both the nature and the perfections of God. But there is one lesson in particular which we may learn from him, namely, the guilt and danger of neglecting the Lord Jesus Christ. It was for rejecting and crucifying their Messiah that God’s wrath fell upon that whole nation; and that it has now abode upon them for the space of almost eighteen hundred years. They knew him not; for “had they known him, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory:” yet, notwithstanding their crime admits of this extenuation, it has been visited with a punishment unprecedented in the annals of the world. What guilt then must we contract, and of what punishment shall we be thought worthy, if we “crucify the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame,” by continuing in our sins! We profess to know him, and to honour him, and to expect salvation from him: our conduct therefore in pouring contempt upon him is aggravated in a ten-fold degree. O! how shall we escape? If such things were done in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry? If such judgments have been executed on them, what must be the end of us, if we obey not the Gospel of Christ? — — — Brethren, I entreat you never to look upon a Jew, without recalling to your minds this salutary and important lesson — — —
Yet be not content with deriving good from him, but put forth all your powers to do good to him. He, notwithstanding all the chastisements that are upon him, is still “beloved of God for his fathers’ sakes. And, if he is beloved of God, should he not be beloved of you? If God have designs of love towards him, should not you seek to be an instrument in God’s hands to accomplish towards him those gracious purposes? Can you think of the obligations which you are under to the Jews of former days, and not labour to requite them in their posterity? Or can you reflect on the purposes which are to be accomplished by the Jews in the present and future generations, and not endeavour to fit them for the work to which they are destined? If you have any love to the Gentile world, you should bestow all possible care on the instruction of the Jews, since it is by the Jews chiefly that the Gentiles will be brought into the fold of Christ. O! delay no longer to make this improvement of the circumstances before your eyes; but awake to all the calls of duty, of gratitude, and of love — — —]
2. What ends we ourselves should endeavour to answer in our respective spheres—
[Doubtless we should not live for ourselves, any more than they: we should all be inquiring, What can I do for God? or, what can I do for man? This is truly Christian; or, rather I should say, it is god-like. God himself is represented as resembling the rain [Note: Hosea 6:3.], and being like the dew [Note: Hosea 14:5.]: and O! what glorious effects does his descent upon the soul produce [Note: Hosea 14:6.]! Would to God that we might live for the same ends, and produce, according to our measure, the same effects! Let every one know, that all his faculties, and all his powers, are the Lord’s. Let all regard their time, their property, their influence, as talents committed to them by their God, to be improved by Him who has entrusted them to their care. If it be thought by any, that their talent is only as a single drop or two upon the barren ground, and too small to be of any use, let them remember, that a cloud is but an assemblage of drops; and that, if we only contribute according to our power, we may hope soon to see this “wilderness of ourszbecome as Eden, and this desert as the garden of the Lord [Note: Isaiah 51:3.]” We look for such a season both among Jews and Gentiles: and may we not expect it also amongst ourselves? Yes surely: if we were all, ministers and people, to unite our efforts for this end, God would be with us; our labour should not be in vain [Note: Isaiah 55:11.]: children should be born to God in this our Jerusalem, which is the mother of us all [Note: Galatians 4:26-27.];” her children should be numerous as the piles of grass [Note: Psalms 72:16.];” yea, “the birth of her womb should be as the dew of the morning [Note: Psalms 110:3.].” May God give us to see such a season of revival in the midst of us, and throughout our whole land, for Christ’s sake!]