6. They shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek the Lord; but they shall not find him; he hath withdrawn himself from them.
6. Cum ovibus suis et cum armentis suis ibunt ad quaerendum Jehovam, et non invenient: subduxit se ab illis.
The Prophet here laughs to scorn the hypocrisy of the people, because they thought they had ready at hand a way of dealing with God, which was, to pacify him with their sacrifices. He therefore shows that neither the Israelites nor the Jews would gain any thing by accumulating burnt-offerings, for they could not in this way return into favor with God. He thereby intimates that God requires true repentance, and that he will not be reconciled to men, except from the heart they seek him and consecrate themselves to his service; and not because they offer brute beasts. The faithful, no doubt, expiated their sins at that time by sacrifices, but only typically: for they knew for what end and purpose God had made the law concerning sacrifices, and that was, that the sinner, being reminded by the sight of the victim, might confess himself to be worthy of eternal death, and thus flee to God's mercy and look to Christ and his sacrifice; for in him, and nowhere else, is to be found true and effectual expiation. For this end then had God instituted sacrifices: so the faithful, while offering sacrifices, did not suppose any satisfaction to be done by the external work, nor even imagined it to be the price of redemption; but they exercised themselves in these rites in faith and repentance.
The Prophet now, by implication, sets oxen, and rams, and lambs, in opposition to spiritual sacrifices; for a contrast is to be understood in the words, They shall come with their sheep, etc. What bring they to God's presence? They bring, he says, only their rams, they bring oxen; but God commands what is far different: he commands men to consecrate themselves to him, and that in a spiritual manner, and as to external rites, to refer them to Christ, and to the true expiation, which was yet hid in hope. Since then the Israelites brought only their oxen and lambs to God, they in vain expected him to be propitious to them; for he is not pacified by such trifles; inasmuch as every one who separates the outward sacrifice from its design, brings nothing but what is profane. Indeed, the true and lawful consecration is by the word; and by the word we are guided to faith in Christ, we are guided to repentance: when these are neglected and disregarded, and men securely trust in their sacrifices, they do nothing but mock God. We hence see that the Prophet exposes not here without reason this folly of the Israelites, that they sought God with their flocks and their herds
And he says, They shall come, or shall go, to seek God By this sentence he intimates that hypocrites sedulously labour to reconcile God to themselves; and we even see with what zeal they weary themselves; and of this there is a remarkable instance at this day in the Papists; for they spare no diligence, when they seek to pacify God. But the Prophet says that this labour is vain and foolish. |Let them go,| he says, that is, |Let them weary themselves; but they shall do so without profit, for they shall not find God.| But when he says, that they would come to seek Jehovah, he is not to be understood as saying, that they would really do so; for hypocrites turn aside from God by circuitous courses and windings, rather than seek access to him. But yet they propose it as their final intention, as they speak, to seek God: they do not indeed come afterwards to him; nay, they dread his face, and shun it as much as they can; and yet when one asks them what they intend by sacrificing and by performing other rites, the answer is ready on their lips, |We worship God,| that is, |We desire to worship him.| Since then hypocrites are wont to boast of this, the Prophet speaks by way of concession, and says, They shall come to seek God, but shall not find him
The Papists of this day pursue a similar course, when they go round their altars, when they gad away to perform vowed pilgrimages, when they whisper their prayers, when they hear and buy masses; for to what purpose are all these things, but by interposing these veils to escape God's judgment? They know themselves to be exposed to his judgment; their conscience forces them to pacify God: but what do they in the meantime? |I will find out a way in which God will not pursue me: let this then be the price of redemption, let this be a compensation.| In a word, we see that the Papists mock God with their ceremonies, that they have nothing else in view but to seek hiding-places: and hence the Lord by his Prophet complains, that his temple was like a den of robbers, (Jeremiah 7:11:) for men securely sin, when they publicly offer such expiations. Nay, the Papists, when they mutter their prayers, say that the final intention is pleasing to God, though they may wander in their thoughts: for if, when they begin to pray, it should come to their minds, that God is prayed to, though they may not attend to their prayers, though they may pollute themselves with many depraved lusts yet, if with the mouth they utter prayers, they maintain that the final intention pleases God. -- Why? Because their design is to seek God. This is, indeed, extremely sottish and puerile: but, as I have already said, the Prophet does not press this point, but concedes to the Israelites what they pretended, |Ye seek God; but yet ye run not in the right way; and these circuitous courses will not lead you to God.| How so? |For ye recede farther from him.| So Isaiah says, She will greatly weary herself in her ways:' but in the meantime she followed not the right way, but, on the contrary, turned aside after various errors, and thus receded from the Lord, and came not to him.
By saying, that God had removed or separated himself from them, he intimates that he is not propitious but to the faithful, who think not so grossly of him, as to seek to feed him with the flesh of oxen or other sacrifices, or to pacify him with disagreeable odour; but who seek him spiritually and from the heart, who bring true repentance. It now follows --