Here, I. The prefaces to the message are very solemn and such as may engage our most serious attention. 1. The people are commanded to give audience: Hear you now what the Lord says. What the prophet speaks he speaks from God, and in his name; they are therefore bound to hear it, not as the word of a sinful dying man, but of the holy living God. Hear now what he saith, for, first or last, he will be heard. 2. The prophet is commanded to speak in earnest, and to put an emphasis upon what he said: Arise, contend thou before the mountains, or with the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice, if it were possible; contend with the mountains and hills of Judea, that is, with the inhabitants of those mountains and hills; and, some think, reference is had to those mountains and hills on which they worshipped idols and which were thus polluted. But it is rather to be taken more generally, as appears by his call, not only to the mountains, but to the strong foundations of the earth, pursuant to the instructions given him. This is designed, (1.) To excite the earnestness of the prophet; he must speak as vehemently as if he designed to make even the hills and mountains hear him, must cry aloud, and not spare; what he had to say in God’s name he must proclaim publicly before the mountains, as one that was neither ashamed nor afraid to own his message; he must speak as one concerned, as one that desired to speak to the heart, and therefore appeared to speak from the heart. (2.) To expose the stupidity of the people; “Let the hills hear thy voice, for this senseless careless people will not hear it, will not heed it. Let the rocks, the foundations of the earth, that have no ears, hear, since Israel, that has ears, will not hear.” It is an appeal to the mountains and hills; let them bear witness that Israel has fair warning given them, and good counsel, if they would but take it. Thus Isaiah begins with, Hear, O heavens! and give ear, O earth! Let them judge between God and his vineyard.
II. The message itself is very affecting. He is to let all the world know that God has a quarrel with his people, good ground for an action against them. Their offences are public, and therefore so are the articles of impeachment exhibited against them. Take notice the Lord has a controversy with his people and he will plead with Israel, will plead by his prophets, plead by his providences, to make good his charge. Note, 1. Sin begets a controversy between God and man. The righteous God has an action against every sinner, an action of debt, an action of trespass, an action of slander. 2. If Israel, God’s own professing people, provoke him by sin, he will let them know that he has a controversy with them; he sees sin in them, and is displeased with it, nay, their sins are more displeasing to him than the sins of others, as they are a greater grief to his Spirit and dishonour to his name. 3. God will plead with those whom he has a controversy with, will plead with his people Israel, that they may be convinced and that he may be justified. In the close of the foregoing chapter he pleaded with the heathen in anger and fury, to bring them to ruin; but here he pleads with Israel in compassion and tenderness, to bring them to repentance, Come now, and let us reason together. God reasons with us, to teach us to reason with ourselves. See the equity of God’s cause, it will bear to be pleaded, and sinners themselves will be forced to confess judgment, and to own that God’s ways are equal, but their ways are unequal, Ezek. 18:25. Now, (1.) God here challenges them to show what he had done against them which might give them occasion to desert him. They had revolted from God and rebelled against him; but had they any cause to do so? (Mic. 6:3): “O my people! what have I done unto thee? Wherein have I wearied thee?” If subjects quit their allegiance to their prince, they will pretend (as the ten tribes did when they revolted from Rehoboam), that his yoke is too heavy for them; but can you pretend any such thing? What have I done to you that is unjust or unkind? Wherein have I wearied you with the impositions of service or the exactions of tribute? Have I made you to serve with an offering? Isa. 43:23. What iniquity have your fathers found in me? Jer. 2:5. He never deceived us, nor disappointed our expectations from him, never did us wrong, nor put disgrace upon us; why then do we wrong and dishonour him, and frustrate his expectations from us? Here is a challenge to all that ever were in God’s service to testify against him if they have found him, in any thing, a hard Master, or if they have found his demands unreasonable. (2.) Since they could not show any thing that he had done against them, he will show them a great deal that he has done for them, which should have engaged them for ever to his service, Mic. 6:4, 5. They are here directed, and we in them, to look a great way back in their reviews of the divine favour; let them remember their former days, their first days, when they were formed into a people, and the great things God did for them, [1.] When he brought them out of Egypt, the land of their bondage, Mic. 6:4. They were content with their slavery, and almost in love with their chains, for the sake of the garlic and onions they had plenty of; but God brought them up, inspired them with an ambition of liberty and animated them with a resolution by a bold effort to shake off their fetters. The Egyptians held them fast, and would not let the people go; but God redeemed them, not by price, but by force, out of the house of servants, or, rather, the house of bondage, for it is the same word that is used in the preface to the ten commandments, which insinuates that the considerations which are arguments for duty, if they be not improved by us, will be improved against us as aggravations of sin. When he brought them out of Egypt into a vast howling wilderness, as he left not himself without witness, so he left not them without guides, for he sent before them Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, three prophets (says the Chaldee paraphrase), Moses the great prophet of the Old Testament, Aaron his prophet (Exod. 7:1), and Miriam a prophetess, Exod. 15:20. Note, When we are calling to mind God’s former mercies to us we must not forget the mercy of good teachers and governors when we were young; let those be made mention of, to the glory of God, who went before us, saying, This is the way, walk in it; it was God that sent them before us, to prepare the way of the Lord and to prepare a people for him. [2.] When he brought them into Canaan. God no less glorified himself, and honoured them, in what he did for them when he brought them into the land of their rest than in what he did for them when he brought them out of the land of their servitude. When Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, were dead, yet they found God the same. Let them remember now what God did for them, First, In baffling and defeating the designs of Balak and Balaam against them, which he did by the power he has over the hearts and tongues of men, Mic. 6:5. Let them remember what Balak the king of Moab consulted, what mischief he devised and designed to do to Israel, when they encamped in the plains of Moab; that which he consulted was to curse Israel, to divide between them and their God, and to disengage him from the protection of them. Among the heathen, when they made war upon any people, they endeavoured by magic charms or otherwise to get from them their tutelar gods, as to rob Troy of its Palladium. Macrobius has a chapter de ritu evocandi Deos—concerning the solemnity of calling out the gods. Balak would try this against Israel; but remember what Balaam the son of Beor answered him, how contrary to his own intention and inclination; instead of cursing Israel, he blessed them, to the extreme confusion and vexation of Balak. Let them remember the malice of the heathen against them, and for that reason never learn the way of the heathen, nor associate with them. Let them remember the kindness of their God to them, how he turned the curse into a blessing (because the Lord thy God loved thee, as it is, Deut. 23:5), and for that reason never forsake him. Note, The disappointing of the devices of the church’s enemies ought always to be remembered to the glory of the church’s protector, who can make the answer of the tongue directly to contradict the preparation and consultation of the heart, Prov. 16:1. Secondly, In bringing them from Shittim, their last lodgment out of Canaan, unto Gilgal, their first lodgment in Canaan. There it was, between Shittim and Gilgal, that, upon the death of Moses, Joshua, a type of Christ, was raised up to put Israel in possession of the land of promise and to fight their battles; there it was that they passed over Jordan through the divided waters, and renewed the covenant of circumcision; these mercies of God to their fathers they must now remember, that they may know the righteousness of the Lord, his righteousness (so the word is), his justice in destroying the Canaanites, his goodness in giving rest to his people Israel, and his faithfulness to his promise made unto the fathers. The remembrance of what God had done to them might convince them of all this, and engage them for ever to his service. Or they may refer to the controversy now pleaded between God and Israel; let them remember God’s many favours to them and their fathers, and compare with them their unworthy ungrateful conduct towards him, that they may know the righteousness of the Lord in contending with them, and it may appear that in this controversy he has right on his side; his ways are equal, for he will be justified when he speaks, and clear when he judges.