Here is the proposal for accommodation between God and Israel, the parties that were at variance in the beginning of the chapter. Upon the trial, judgment is given against Israel; they are convicted of injustice and ingratitude towards God, the crimes with which they stood charged. Their guilt is too plain to be denied, too great to be excused, and therefore,
I. They express their desires to be at peace with God upon any terms (Mic. 6:6, 7): Wherewith shall I come before the Lord? Being made sensible of the justice of God’s controversy with them, and dreading the consequences of it, they were inquisitive what they might do to be reconciled to God and to make him their friend. They apply to a proper person, with this enquiry, to the prophet, the Lord’s messenger, by whose ministry they had been convinced. Who so fit to show them their way as he that had made them sensible of their having missed it? And it is observable that each one speaks for himself: Wherewith shall I come? Knowing every one the plague of his own heart, they ask, not, What shall this man do? But, What shall I do? Note, Deep convictions of guilt and wrath will put men upon careful enquiries after peace and pardon, and then, and not till then, there begins to be some hope of them. They enquire wherewith they may come before the Lord, and bow themselves before the high God. They believe there is a God, that he is Jehovah, and that he is the high God, the Most High. Those whose consciences are convinced learn to speak very honourably of God, whom before they spoke slightly of. Now, 1. We know we must come before God; he is the God with whom we have to do; we must come as subjects, to pay our homage to him, as beggars, to ask alms from him, nay, we must come before him, as criminals, to receive our doom from him, must come before him as our Judge. 2. When we come before him we must bow before him; it is our duty to be very humble and reverent in our approaches to him; and, when we come before him, there is no remedy but we must submit; it is to no purpose to contend with him. 3. When we come and bow before him it is our great concern to find favour with him, and to be accepted of him; their enquiry is, What will the Lord be pleased with? Note, All that rightly understand their own interest cannot but be solicitous what they must do to please God, to avoid his displeasure and to obtain his good-will. 4. In order to God’s being pleased with us, our care must be that the sin by which we have displeased him may be taken away, and an atonement made for it. The enquiry here is, What shall I give for my transgression, for the sin of my soul? Note, The transgression we are guilty of is the sin of our soul, for the soul acts it (without the soul’s act it is not sin) and the soul suffers by it; it is the disorder, disease, and defilement of the soul, and threatens to be the death of it: What shall I give for my transgressions? What will be accepted as a satisfaction to his justice, a reparation of his honour? And what will avail to shelter me from his wrath? 5. We must therefore ask, Wherewith may we come before him? We must not appear before the Lord empty. What shall we bring with us? In what manner must we come? In whose name must we come? We have not that in ourselves which will recommend us to him, but must have it from another. What righteousness then shall we appear before him in?
II. They make proposals, such as they are, in order to it. Their enquiry was very good and right, and what we are all concerned to make, but their proposals betray their ignorance, though they show their zeal; let us examine them:—
1. They bid high. They offer, (1.) That which is very rich and costly—thousands of rams. God required one ram for a sin-offering; they proffer flocks of them, their whole stock, will be content to make themselves beggars, so that they may but be at peace with God. They will bring the best they have, the rams, and the most of them, till it comes to thousands. (2.) That which is very dear to them, and which they would be most loth to part with. They could be content to part with their first-born for their transgressions, if that would be accepted as an atonement, and the fruit of their body for the sin of their soul. To those that had become vain in their imaginations this seemed a probable expedient of making satisfaction for sin, because our children are pieces of ourselves; and therefore the heathen sacrificed their children, to appease their offended deities. Note, Those that are thoroughly convinced of sin, of the malignity of it, and of their misery and danger by reason of it, would give all the world, if they had it, for peace and pardon.
2. Yet they do not bid right. It is true some of these things were instituted by the ceremonial law, as the bringing of burnt-offerings to God’s altar, and calves of a year old, rams for sin-offerings, and oil for the meat-offerings; but these alone would not recommend them to God. God had often declared that to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams, that sacrifice and offering he would not; the legal sacrifices had their virtue and value from the institution, and the reference they had to Christ the great propitiation; but otherwise, of themselves, it was impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sin. And as to the other things here mentioned, (1.) Some of them are impracticable things, as rivers of oil, which nature has not provided to feed men’s luxury, but rivers of water to supply men’s necessity. All the proposals of peace but those that are according to the gospel are absurd. One stream of the blood of Christ is worth ten thousand rivers of oil. (2.) Some of them are wicked things, as to give our first-born and the fruit of our body to death, which would but add to the transgression and the sin of the soul. He that hates robbery for burnt-offerings much more hates murder, such murder. What right have we to our first born and the fruit of our body? Do they not belong to God? Are they not his already, and born to him? Are they not sinners by nature, and their lives forfeited upon their own account? How then can they be a ransom for ours? (3.) They are all external things, parts of that bodily exercise which profiteth little, and which could not make the comers thereunto perfect. (4.) They are all insignificant, and insufficient to attain the end proposed; they could not answer the demands of divine justice, nor satisfy the wrong done to God in his honour by sin, nor would they serve in lieu of the sanctification of the heart and the reformation of the life. Men will part with any thing rather than their sins, but they part with nothing to God’s acceptance unless they part with them.
III. God tells them plainly what he demands, and insists upon, from those that would be accepted of him, Mic. 6:8. Let their money perish with them that think the pardon of sin and the favour of God may be so purchased; no, God has shown thee, O man! what is good. Here we are told,
1. That God has made a discovery of his mind and will to us, for the rectifying of our mistakes and the direction of our practice. (1.) It is God himself that has shown us what we must do. We need not trouble ourselves to make proposals, the terms are already settled and laid down. He whom we have offended, and to whom we are accountable, has told us upon what conditions he will be reconciled to us. (2.) It is to man that he has shown it, not only to thee, O Israel! but to thee, O man! Gentiles as well as Jews—to men, who are rational creatures, and capable of receiving the discovery, and not to brutes,—to men, for whom a remedy is provided, not to devils, whose case is desperate. What is spoken to all men every where in general, must by faith be applied to ourselves in particular, as if it were spoken to thee, O man! by name, and to no other. (3.) It is a discovery of that which is good, and which the Lord requires of us. He has shown us our end, which we should aim at, in showing us what is good, wherein our true happiness does consist; he has shown us our way in which we must walk towards that end in showing us what he requires of us. There is something which God requires we should do for him and devote to him; and it is good. It is good in itself; there is an innate goodness in moral duties, antecedent to the command; they are not, as ceremonial observances, good because they are commanded, but commanded because they are good, consonant to the eternal rule and reason of good and evil, which are unalterable. It has likewise a direct tendency to our good; our conformity to it is not only the condition of our future happiness, but is a great expedient of our present happiness; in keeping God’s commandments there is great reward, as well as after keeping them. (4.) It is shown us. God has not only made it known, but made it plain; he has discovered it to us with such convincing evidence as amounts to a demonstration. Lo this, we have searched it, so it is.
2. What that discovery is. The good which God requires of us is not the paying of a price for the pardon of sin and acceptance with God, but doing the duty which is the condition of our interest in the pardon purchased. (1.) We must do justly, must render to all their due, according as our relation and obligation to them are; we must do wrong to none, but do right to all, in their bodies, goods, and good name. (2.) We must love mercy; we must delight in it, as our God does, must be glad of an opportunity to do good, and do it cheerfully. Justice is put before mercy, for we must not give that in alms which is wrongfully got, or with which our debts should be paid. God hates robbery for a burnt-offering. (3.) We must walk humbly with our God. This includes all the duties of the first table, as the two former include all the duties of the second table. We must take the Lord for our God in covenant, must attend on him and adhere to him as ours, and must make it our constant care and business to please him. Enoch’s walking with God is interpreted (Heb. 11:5) his pleasing God. We must, in the whole course of our conversation, conform ourselves to the will of God, keep up our communion with God, and study to approve ourselves to him in our integrity; and this we must do humbly (submitting our understandings to the truths of God and our will to his precepts and providences); we must humble ourselves to walk with God (so the margin reads it); every thought within us must be brought down, to be brought into obedience to God, if we would walk comfortably with him. This is that which God requires, and without which the most costly services are vain oblations; this is more than all burnt-offerings and sacrifices.