8. They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity.
8. Peccatum populi mei comedent et ad iniquitatem eorum tollent animam ejus, (ad verbum, levabunt animam ejus.)
This verse has given occasion to many interpreters to think that all the particulars we have noticed ought to be restricted to the priests alone: but there is no sufficient reason for this. We have already said, that the Prophet is wont frequently to pass from the people to the priests: but as a heavier guilt belonged to the priests, he very often inveighs against them, as he does in this place, They eat, he says, the sin of my people, and lift up to their iniquity his soul, that is, every one lifts up his own soul,' or, they lift up the soul of the sinner by iniquity;' for the pronoun applies to the priests as well as to the people. The number is changed: for he says,y'klv, iacalu and ys'v ishau, in the plural number, They will eat the sin, and will lift up, etc., in the third person; and then his soul it may be, their own; it is, however, a pronoun in the singular number: hence a change of number is necessary. We are then at liberty to choose , whether the Prophet says this of the people or of the priests: and as we have said, it may apply to both, but in a different sense.
We may understand him as saying, that the priests lifted up their souls to the iniquity of the people, because they anxiously wished the people to be given to many vices, for they hoped thereby to gain much prey, as the case is, when any one expects a reward from robbers: he is glad to hear that they become rich, for he considers their riches to be for his gain. So it was with the priests, who gaped for lucre; they thought that they were going on well, when the people brought many sacrifices. And this is usually the case, when the doctrine of the law is adulterated, and when the ungodly think that this alone remains for them, -- to satisfy God with sacrifices, and similar expiations. Then, if we apply the passage to the priests, the lifting up of the soul is the lust for gain. But if we prefer to apply the words to sinners themselves, the sense is, Upon their iniquity they lift up their soul,' that is, the guilty raise up themselves by false comforts, and extenuate their vices; or, by their own flatteries, bury and entirely smother every remnant of God's fear. Then, according to this second sense, to lift up the soul is to deceive, and to take away all doubts by vain comforts, or to remove every sorrow, and to erase every guilt by a false notion.
I come now to the meaning of the whole. Though the Prophet here accuses the priests, yet he involves, no doubt, the whole people, and deservedly, in the same guilt: for how was it that the priests expected gain from sacrifices? Even because the doctrine of the law was subverted. God had instituted sacrifices for this end, that whosoever sinned, being reminded of his guilt, might mourn for his sin, and further, that by witnessing that sad spectacle, his conscience might be more wounded: when he saw the innocent animal slain at the altar, he ought to have dreaded God's judgment. Besides, God also intended to exercise the faith of all, in order that they might flee to the expiation which was to be made by the promised Mediator. And at the same time, the penalty which God then laid on sinners, ought to have been as a bridle to restrain them. In a word, the sacrifices had, in every way, this as their object, -- to keep the people from being so ready or so prone to sin. But what did the ungodly do? They even mocked God, and thought that they had fully done their duty, when they offered an ox or a lamb; and afterwards they freely indulged themselves in their sins.
So gross a folly has been even laughed to scorn by heathen writers. Even Plato has so spoken of such sacrifices, as to show that those who would by such trifles make a bargain with God, are altogether ungodly: and certainly he so speaks in his second book on the Commonwealth, as though he meant to describe the Papacy. For he speaks of purgatory, he speaks of satisfactions; and every thing the Papists of this day bring forward, Plato in that book distinctly sets forth as being altogether sottish and absurd. But yet in all ages this assurance has prevailed, that men have thought themselves delivered from God's hand, when they offered some sacrifice: it is, as they imagine, a compensation.
Hence the Prophet now complains of this perversion, They eat, he says, (for he speaks of a continued act,) the sins of my people, and to iniquity they lift up the heart of each; that is, When all sin, one after the other, each one is readily absolved, because he brings a gift to the priests. It is the same thing as though the Prophet said, |There is a collusion between them, between the priests and the people.| How so? Because the priests were the associates of robbers, and gladly seized on what was brought: and so they carried on no war, as they ought to have done, with vices, but on the contrary urged only the necessity of sacrifices: and it was enough, if men brought things plentifully to the temple. The people also themselves showed their contempt of God; for they imagined, that provided they made satisfaction by their ceremonial performances, they would be exempt from punishment. Thus then there was an ungodly compact between the priests and the people: the Lord was mocked in the midst of them. We now then understand the real meaning of the Prophet: and thus I prefer the latter exposition as to the lifting up of the soul,' which is, that the priests lifted up the soul of each, by relieving their consciences, by soothing words of flattery, and by promising life, as Ezekiel says, to souls doomed to die, (Ezekiel 13:19.) It now follows --