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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : Jeremiah 7:21-24

Commentary On Jeremiah And Lamentations Volume 1 by Jean Calvin

Jeremiah 7:21-24

21. Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Put your burnt offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat flesh.

21. Sic dicit Jehova exercituum, Deus Israel, Holocausta vestra addite super victimas vestras et comedite carnem.

22. For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices:

22. Quia non loquutus sum cum patribus vestris, et non praecepi illis quo die eduxi eos e terra Egypti super verbis (hoc est, rationibus, nam rvd proprie significat rationem Latine; Hebraei enim ita passim usurpant hanc vocem, sicuti Latini rationem, super rationibus ergo) holocaustorum et victimae:

23. But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.

23. Quin potius (sed ky 'm est adversativa particula, hoc est, hae duae voces ponuntur loco adversativae, sed) verbum hoc praecepi illis, dicendo, Audite vocem meam, et ero vobis in Deum, et vos eritis mihi in populum, et ambulabitis in omni via (hoc est, in tota via) quam mandavero vobis, ut bene sit vobis.

24. But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.

24. Et non audierunt, et non inclinarunt aurem suam, et ambulaverunt in perplexis consiliis (proprie accipitur in malam partem) et in pravitate (vel, duritia) cordis sui mali, et fuerunt retro, et non ad faciem.

The Prophet here taunts the Jews for being so sedulous in their attention to sacrifices, while they had no care for piety. Hence he says by way of ridicule, |Offer your sacrifices, and accumulate burnt-offerings and victims, and eat flesh.| The last clause proves that God regarded as nothing their sacrifices, and that nothing was acceptable to him, though the Jews spent much money and spared no labors. God then shews that all these things were nothing to him; eat flesh, he says, which means, |Ye sacrifice to yourselves, not to me.| There is here a contrast implied; for when they did eat flesh, there was the legitimate service of God, provided sacrifices were duly offered; but God here excludes himself, as though he had said, |These things belong not at all to me; for when ye bring sacrifices, your object is to feast: eat, then, and stuff your stomachs; nothing of this belongs to me.|

The import of the whole is, -- that the feasts which the Jews celebrated were profane, though they pretended the name of God, and wished them to be deemed sacred. Eat then flesh; that is, |I repudiate your sacrifices; it is to no purpose that ye cover your iniquities by the shadow of the Temple; for your pollutions restrain me from accepting what ye pretend to offer to me.| By saying, Add sacrifices to victims, he means, that though they sacrificed every animal in the land, it would be all to no purpose; for, as I have said, in offering sacrifices to God their object was to get a feast, inasmuch as they did not regard the right end.

The Prophet therefore adds, I spoke not to your fathers, nor commanded them, in the day I brought them forth from the land of Egypt, concerning sacrifices or burnt -- offerings: but this only I commanded them, to hear my voice, and to walk in all the way which I commanded them. Jeremiah seems to have condemned sacrifices too much; for we know they were designed for certain purposes: they were intended to promote penitence; for when an animal was killed at the altar, all were reminded that they were guilty of death, which the animals underwent instead of men. Hence God did thereby represent to the Jews, as in a mirror, the dreadful judgment they deserved; and the sacrifices were also living images of Christ; they were sure pledges of that expiation through which men are reconciled to God. Jeremiah then seems here to speak too contemptibly of sacrifices; for they were seals of God's grace, and had been instituted to lead men to repentance. But he speaks according to the ideas of those who had strangely vitiated the worship of God; for the Jews were sedulously attentive to sacrifices, and yet neglected the main things -- faith and repentance. Hence the Prophet here repudiates sacrifices, because these false worshippers of God had adulterated them; for they were only intent on external rites, and overlooked their design, and even despised it.

We know that it was God's will from the beginning to be worshipped in a spiritual manner; and he has not changed his nature in our day. As then at this day he approves of no other than a spiritual worship, as He is a Spirit, (John 4:24) so also under the Law he was to be worshipped with a sincere heart. Absurdly then did the Jews offer their sacrifices, as though they could thereby appease God: and this is the reason why the prophets inveighed so pointedly against sacrifices. God says that he nauseated them, that he was wearied with them, that his name was thereby polluted, (Isaiah 1:14) he says also, that to sacrifice was the same as though one killed a dog, an unclean animal, and as though one killed a man. (Isaiah 66:3.)

|What are your offerings and sacrifices to me.|

he says by Amos. Such declarations occur everywhere in the Prophets; we are told that sacrifices were not only of no account before God, but that they were filthy things which he abominated; that is, when the things signified were separated from the signs. This then is the reason why Jeremiah here wholly rejects sacrifices: he complains that God's worship was violated and profaned; and it was so, because the Jews presented to God mere shadows instead of realities.

But still he seems to have exceeded due limits; as he says of God, that he gave no command respecting sacrifices: for before the law was published, God had ordered sacrifices to be offered to him; as, for instance, the passover; for the pascal lamb, as it is well known, was a sacrifice; and he had also spoken of sacrifices before the people were liberated. Moreover, after the law was given, a priesthood was established among the people, as Moses clearly shews. Further still, we see with what care regulations have been given as to sacrifices. Why then is it here said, that he spoke nothing respecting sacrifices? Even because God regards not sacrifices in themselves. He therefore makes a distinction between external signs and spiritual worship; for the Jews, as it has been already said, had by their corruptions so subverted what God had instituted, that he would not acknowledge what they did as having been commanded by him. And if we take the words as they are, they are wholly true, -- that God had commanded nothing respecting mere sacrifices, or sacrifices for their own sake. This distinction solves every difficulty; that is, that God never delighted in sacrifices themselves, that it was never his will to be served with mere external rites, that burnt -- offerings, victims, incense, and things of this kind, were of themselves regarded by him of no value. Since, then, sacrifices did not please God, except on account of the end designed, it remains a clear truth, that God commanded nothing respecting sacrifices: for his design only was to remind the Jews of their sin, and also to shew to them the way of reconciliation. We hence see that God had not from the beginning required mere sacrifices, for he required them for a certain end. It is the same as though we should say at this day, that God regards not fasting. We yet know that fasting is commended to us, but not on account of itself. We now understand the meaning of the Prophet.

Now, this passage contains a very useful doctrine, and which ought the more to be observed by us, as the neglect of it introduces dreadful darkness. They under the Papacy think that God is duly and in the best manner worshipped, when they accumulate many pompous exhibitions of ceremonies; nor can they be persuaded that all this is altogether frivolous. How so? Because they think of God according to their own fancies and disposition. And yet all the Papal ceremonies are the inventions of men: for they derive no authority either from the Law or from the Gospel. And since God has so severely reprobated ceremonies, which yet he had appointed for a purpose which was overlooked, what can be thought at this day of the foolish inventions of men, when there is the some impiety in the people as was formerly in the Jews? For when the Papists perform their trumperies, when the monks and the sacrificing priests fill the churches with their noises, when they practice their childish mummeries, and when they delight themselves with music and incense, they think that God is satisfied, however full of obscenities and filthiness their whole life may be: they are hardened in that false confidence, by which the Jews were inebriated. We ought, therefore, with special care, to notice this doctrine, -- that God so approves of spiritual worship, that he esteems all other things as nothing; that is, when unconnected with sincerity of heart.

I spoke not then to your fathers, nor commanded them in the day I brought them forth from the land of Egypt, etc. The Prophet calls the attention of the Jews to the first condition of the Church; for though God had made his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, yet he then only formed or framed for himself a Church when the Law was promulgated. Hence God at that time showed what pleased him, and prescribed certain things, which were in future to be inviolably observed: and as the Jews violated the rule given them, the Prophet concludes that God was corruptly and absurdly worshipped by them. This is the reason why he expressly speaks here of the deliverance granted to the fathers. There follows afterwards a clearer explanation, which removes all ambiguity: for God subordinates sacrifices to obedience. Yet sacrifices are a part of obedience: very true; but as the people were to be subject to the whole law, it hence follows, that the worship of God was mutilated by them, when there was no care for true piety. We now then, no doubt, understand the meaning of the Prophet, and see at the same time the reason why God so expressly rejected sacrifices: for what God has connected, it is not in the power of man to separate. (Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9.) This rending of things is impious. As the Jews had separated sacrifices from their right and legitimate end, whatever they did was a sacrilege and a profanation.

That we may now more fully comprehend this doctrine, we must remember this principle -- that the basis of true religion is obedience. For unless God shines on us with his word, there is no religion, but only hypocrisy and superstition; as the case is with heathens, who, though they busy themselves much and with great diligence, yet loose all their labor, and uselessly weary themselves, for God has not shewn to them the right way. In short, true religion may always be distinguished from superstition by this mark -- If the truth of God guides us, then our religion is true; but if any one follows his own reason, or is led by the opinion and consent of men, he forms for himself superstition; and nothing that he does will please God. This is one thing.

Now, in the second place, let us see what God chiefly requires from those who are his servants. Being fully convinced of this truth -- that God cannot be truly served, except we obey his voice, we must consider, as I have said, what God commands us to do. Now, as he is a Spirit, so he demands sincerity of heart. (John 4:24.) We also know that God so comes to us, that he would have us to trust wholly in his gratuitous goodness, that he would have us to depend altogether on his paternal kindness, that he would have us to call on him, and to offer him the sacrifice of praise. Since, then, God has expressly required these things in his word, it is certain, that all other modes of worship are rejected by him as vitious; that is, when there is no faith, when there is no prayer and praise: for these hold the first place in true and legitimate worship.

This one passage is sufficient to put an end to all the contentions which are now in the world. For if the Papists admitted that obedience is of more account with God than all sacrifices, (1 Samuel 15:22,) we might easily agree. They might afterwards debate every article of faith; but there would be in the main an agreement between us, were they to submit simply and unreservedly to the word of God. But we see how pertinaciously they insist on this point -- that we are not to stand on God's word, nor acquiesce in it, because there is in it nothing certain. Hence they regard the doctrine of the Fathers, and what they call the perpetual consent of the Catholic Church, as of more value than the Law and the Prophets and the Gospel. They dare not indeed to contend on this ground; and so far they act wisely: for if the disputes between us are capable of being removed, as I have said, by God's word, we could easily overcome them. But while they, fostering their own blindness, strive to extinguish the light, and willfully envelop themselves in darkness, let us follow what God's Spirit shews to us here, -- that the main part of true and right worship and service is to hear God speaking, and to regard obedience of more account than all offerings and sacrifices, according to the passage we have quoted from 1 Samuel 15:22.

He afterwards adds, I will be to you a God, and ye shall be to me a people; and ye shall walk in all the way which I shall shew to you, that it may be well with you. The Prophet confirms what I have already said, that if we would obey God, we must consider what he commands. Now God omits no part of true worship: we shall then never go astray from true religion, if only we render ourselves teachable. Whence then is it, that men diligently labor and profit nothing, except that they are deaf to God's voice? for as it has been already often said, God has not only spoken generally, and in various ways, of obedience, but has clearly and distinctly taught what he approves. Our obedience then will please him, if only we learn what he would have us to do.

And at the same time he adds, that this condition was mentioned to the Jews, that it would be well with them, if they only obeyed God. Hence their perverseness is more fully detected; for they willfully sought to be miserable, and procured for themselves their own destruction: for a happy life was offered to them, provided only they submitted to God. Since they refused this, who does not see that they willfully gave themselves up to misery, as though they wished to provoke God's anger, and did so designedly? for it immediately follows --

They hearkened not nor inclined their ear Here the Prophet shews, that the Jews did not then begin to be rebellious against God and his word; for they imitated the impious contumacy of their fathers: and he dwells on this more at large. He now says, |I gave no command about sacrifices, but only this one thing I required of your fathers, to obey me.| They hearkened not, he says. What could have been a juster demand than that they should obey God? How great, then, and how base an indignity it was, to reject his authority? Nay, still more, they inclined not the ear: for by this phrase the Prophet means not only a contempt of his word and indifference, but their obstinacy and willfulness, inasmuch as they had hardened themselves against God. Hypocrites do, indeed, sometimes incline the ear, and wish to know what is said, and in some measure consider it: but the Prophet here sets forth as it were the insane contumacy of the Jews, for they inclined not, no, not even the ear to God speaking to them.

He afterwards adds, that they walked in their tortuous counsels, and also, in the wickedness of their evil heart This comparison aggravates their sin, -- the Jews preferred to follow their own humor rather than to obey God and his commands. Had anything been set before them, which might have deceived them and obscured the authority of the law, there would have been some excuse: but when there was nothing to prevent them from obeying the command of God, except that they followed their own foolish imaginations, they were wholly inexcusable. For what excuse could they have made? That they wished to be wiser than God! How great a madness was this, and how diabolical? But the Prophet leaves them nothing but this vain excuse, which doubled their guilt. They thought, no doubt, that their heart was well fitted for the purpose: but he does not here allow them to judge, but distinctly condemns them as they deserved.

We ought to take particular notice of this passage; for the majority of men at this day set up their own fictions against God's word. The Papists indeed pretend antiquity; they say that they have been taught by their ancestors; and at the same time they plead councils and the ordinances of the fathers: but yet there is not one of them, who is not addicted to his own figments, and who does not take the liberty, nay, an unbridled license, to reject whatever he pleases. Moreover, if the origin of the whole Papal worship be considered, it will appear, that those who first devised so many strange superstitions, were only impelled by audacity and presumption, in order that they might trample under foot the word of God. Hence it is, that all things are become corrupt; for they brought in all the strange figments of their own brains. And we see that the Papists at this day are so perversely fixed in their own errors, that they prefer themselves and their own trumperies to God. And the same is the case also with all heretics. What then is to be done? Obedience, as I have said, is to be held as the basis of all true religion. If, then, on the other hand, we wish to render our worship approved by God, let us learn to cast aside whatever is our own, so that his authority may prevail over all our reasons.

Let us further notice how detestable a sacrilege it is, to follow the wickedness of our heart rather than to obey God, when he shews to us, as by the finger, the way of salvation. Let us also observe, that nothing will then do us good, though we may seem to ourselves to be very wise, and praise ourselves in our folly; for God declares here that our heart is evil whenever we turn aside from his pure word.

He says, that they were behind and not before By this phrase he intimates that the Jews turned the back, that they might not look at him or go forward. For when one promises to be our leader to conduct us in the way, we immediately turn our eyes to him; but when we turn our back, it is a proof of our contempt. And thus God complains of his people, that he was despised by them; for they had not only been deaf to the prophetic teaching and admonitions, but had also turned their faces another way, as a proof of a contumacy still worse, so that they forsook him, and as it were bade him to be gone. This is the import of the last sentence. We shall proceed to-morrow.

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