20. To what purpose cometh there to me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a far country? your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet unto me.
20. Ad quid hoc mihi thus e Sabeis venit, et calamus bonus e terra longinqua? holocausta vestra non sunt ad beneplacitum (hoc est, non placent, neqne grata sunt,) et sacrificia vestra non sunt suavia (aut, jucunda) mihi.
The Prophet here replies to those hypocrites, who thought that they made an expiation when they had offered incense and sacrifices, as though that was all that was necessary in serving God: and hence we shall hereafter see, that the Temple had become the den of thieves; for when they sedulously offered incense every day and performed other ceremonies, they thought that God was pacified. Thus hypocrites ever mock God with their fopperies and regard God as extremely cruel, when not satisfied with external display. This was a perpetual evil, with which the prophets had to contend: and hence the notion is often found referred to by our Prophet,
"I desired not sacrifices; I commanded not your fathers, when I stretched forth my hand to bring them out of Egypt, to offer burnt -- offerings to me, but only to obey my voice,"
(Jeremiah 7:21, 22)
So we find in other prophets: the Psalmist says,
"If I hunger, I will not tell thee," (Psalm 50:12)
It is said also by Micah,
"What does God require of thee, but to humble thyself before him? He seeks not thousands of rams nor thousands of oxen from thy herds," (Micah 6:7)
And we see at this day, that men cannot be rightly taught, except we carry on war against that external splendor with which they will have God to be satisfied. As then men deceive themselves with such trifles, it is necessary to shew that all those things which hypocrites obtrude on God, without sincerity of heart, are frivolous trumperies. This is the import of what is here taught.
There is, then, no doubt but that the Jews punctually offered their sacrifices, and observed the legal rites. All this might have appeared very commendable; but God gives this answer,
He afterwards adds,
Now there ought to have been in sacrifices the exercise of the duty of repentance: but when they became more and more hardened, and thought that by their ceremonies they obtained a greater license to sin, and that God required no more from them, as though they had settled matters with him, they completely neutralized the design of God: for sacrifices, as it has been already said, had been enjoined for this end, -- that they might exercise penitence.
We now then see that this answer given by Jeremiah was not in vain, -- that their sacrifices did not please God. There is a severer language used elsewhere, -- that God nauseated them, that he was wearied in bearing them, that he was constrained to be troubled with them, while they thus profaned his name. (Isaiah 1:14.) The meaning here is the same, -- that God never required sacrifices for their own sake, but for another end; and also, that all external rites are of themselves mere trumperies and mockeries, nay, a profanation of God's name; so that they could not pacify him, but, on the contrary, provoke his wrath. It follows --
1 It is rendered "cinnamon" by the Septuagint and Arabic, "a sweet smelling reed" by the Vulgate, and "an aromatic reed" or cane by the Syriac and Targum. The literal rendering of the verse is as follows,-
20. For what purpose is this done to me? Incense, from Sheba it comes, And the precious reed, from a distant land: Your burnt-offerings, they are not acceptable, And your sacrifices, they are not pleasing to me.
The reed or cane was dried and powdered, and formed a part of the incense. The latter is mentioned first, and then one of its ingredients. Sheba and the distant land are the same. The same order is to be observed in the burnt-offerings and sacrifices; the finished act first, and then the previous act of presenting a sacrifice.-Ed.
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