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10

Hear the word of the Lord,

you rulers of Sodom!

Listen to the teaching of our God,

you people of Gomorrah!

11

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?

says the Lord;

I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams

and the fat of fed beasts;

I do not delight in the blood of bulls,

or of lambs, or of goats.

 

12

When you come to appear before me,

who asked this from your hand?

Trample my courts no more;

13

bringing offerings is futile;

incense is an abomination to me.

New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—

I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.

14

Your new moons and your appointed festivals

my soul hates;

they have become a burden to me,

I am weary of bearing them.

15

When you stretch out your hands,

I will hide my eyes from you;

even though you make many prayers,

I will not listen;

your hands are full of blood.

16

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;

remove the evil of your doings

from before my eyes;

cease to do evil,

17

learn to do good;

seek justice,

rescue the oppressed,

defend the orphan,

plead for the widow.

 


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The Vanity of Mere Ritual Obedience. (b. c. 738.)

10 Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.   11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.   12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?   13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.   14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.   15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

Here, I. God calls to them (but calls in vain) to hear his word, v. 10. 1. The title he gives them is very strange; You rulers of Sodom, and people of Gomorrah. This intimates what a righteous thing it would have been with God to make them like Sodom and Gomorrah in respect of ruin (v. 9), because that had made themselves like Sodom and Gomorrah in respect of sin. The men of Sodom were wicked, and sinners before the Lord exceedingly (Gen. xiii. 13), and so were the men of Judah. When the rulers were bad, no wonder the people were so. Vice overpowered virtue, for it had the rulers, the men of figure, on its side; and it out-polled it, for it had the people, the men of number, on its side. The streams being thus strong, no less a power than that of the Lord of hosts could secure a remnant, v. 9. The rulers are boldly attacked here by the prophet as rulers of Sodom; for he knew not how to give flattering titles. The tradition of the Jews is that for this he was impeached long after, and put to death, as having cursed the gods and spoken evil of the ruler of his people. 2. His demand upon them is very reasonable: "Hear the word of the Lord, and give ear to the law of our God; attend to that which God has to say to you, and let his word be a law to you." The following declaration of dislike to their sacrifices would be a kind of new law to them, though really it was but an explication of the old law; but special regard is to be had to it, as is required to the like, Ps. l. 7, 8. "Hear this, and tremble; hear it, and take warning."

II. He justly refuses to hear their prayers and accept their services, their sacrifices and burnt-offerings, the fat and blood of them (v. 11), their attendance in his courts (v. 12), their oblations, their incense, and their solemn assemblies (v. 13), their new moons and their appointed feasts (v. 14), their devoutest addresses (v. 15); they are all rejected, because their hands were full of blood. Now observe,

1. There are many who are strangers, nay, enemies, to the power of religion, and yet seem very zealous for the show and shadow and form of it. This sinful nation, this seed of evil-doers, these rulers of Sodom and people of Gomorrah, brought, not to the altars of false gods (they are not here charged with that), but to the altar of the God of Israel, sacrifices, a multitude of them, as many as the law required and rather more—not only peace-offerings, which they themselves had their share of, but burnt-offerings, which were wholly consumed to the honour of God; nor did they bring the torn, and lame, and sick, but fed beasts, and the fat of them, the best of the kind. They did not send others to offer their sacrifices for them, but came themselves to appear before God. They observed the instituted places (not in high places or groves, but in God's own courts), and the instituted time, the new moons, and sabbaths, and appointed feasts, none of which they omitted. Nay, it should seem, they called extraordinary assemblies, and held solemn meetings for religious worship, besides those that God had appointed. Yet this was not all: they applied to God, not only with their ceremonial observances, but with the exercises of devotion. They prayed, prayed often, made many prayers, thinking they should be heard for their much speaking; nay, they were fervent and importunate in prayer, they spread forth their hands as men in earnest. Now we should have thought these, and, no doubt, they thought themselves, a pious religious people; and yet they were far from being so, for (1.) Their hearts were empty of true devotion. They came to appear before God (v. 12), to be seen before him (so the margin reads it); they rested in the outside of the duties; they looked no further than to be seen of men, and went no further than that which men see. (2.) Their hands were full of blood. They were guilty of murder, rapine, and oppression, under colour of law and justice. The people shed blood, and the rulers did not punish them for it; the rulers shed blood, and the people were aiding and abetting, as the elders of Jezreel were to Jezebel in shedding Naboth's blood. Malice is heart-murder in the account of God; he that hates his brother in his heart has, in effect, his hands full of blood.

2. When sinners are under the judgments of God they will more easily be brought to fly to their devotions than to forsake their sins and reform their lives. Their country was now desolate, and their cities were burnt (v. 7), which awakened them to bring their sacrifices and offerings to God more constantly than they had done, as if they would bribe God Almighty to remove the punishment and give them leave to go on in the sin. When he slew them, then they sought him, Ps. lxxviii. 34. Lord, in trouble have they visited thee, ch. xxvi. 16. Many that will readily part with their sacrifices will not be persuaded to part with their sins.

3. The most pompous and costly devotions of wicked people, without a thorough reformation of the heart and life, are so far from being acceptable to God that really they are an abomination to him. It is here shown in a great variety of expressions that to obey is better than sacrifice; nay, that sacrifice, without obedience, is a jest, an affront and provocation to God. The comparative neglect which God here expresses of ceremonial observance was a tacit intimation of what they would come to at last, when they would all be done away by the death of Christ. What was now made little of would in due time be made nothing of. "Sacrifice and offering, and prayer made in the virtue of them, thou wouldest not; then said I, Lo, I come." Their sacrifices are here represented,

(1.) As fruitless and insignificant; To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices? v. 11. They are vain oblations, v. 13. In vain do they worship me, Matt. xv. 9. Their attention to God's institutions was all lost labour, and served not to answer any good intention; for, [1.] It was not looked upon as any act of duty or obedience to God: Who has required these things at your hands? v. 12. Not that God disowns his institutions, or refuses to stand by his own warrants; but in what they did they had not an eye to him that required it, nor indeed did he require it of those whose hands were full of blood and who continued impenitent. [2.] It did not recommend them to God's favour. He delighted not in the blood of their sacrifices, for he did not look upon himself as honoured by it. [3.] It would not obtain any relief for them. They pray, but God will not hear, because they regard iniquity (Ps. lxvi. 18); he will not deliver them, for, though they make many prayers, none of them come from an upright heart. All their religious service turned to no account to them. Nay,

(2.) As odious and offensive. God did not only not accept them, but he did detest and abhor them. "They are your sacrifices, they are none of mine; I am full of them, even surfeited with them." He needed them not (Ps. l. 10), did not desire them, had had enough of them, and more than enough. Their coming into his courts he calls treading them, or trampling upon them; their very attendance on his ordinances was construed into a contempt of them. Their incense, though ever so fragrant, was an abomination to him, for it was burnt in hypocrisy and with an ill design. Their solemn assemblies he could not away with, could not see them with any patience, nor bear the affront they gave him. The solemn meeting is iniquity; though the thing itself was not, yet, as they managed it, it became so. It is a vexation (so some read it), a provocation, to God, to have ordinances thus prostituted, not only by wicked people, but to wicked purposes: "My soul hates them; they are a trouble to me, a burden, an incumbrance; I am perfectly sick of them, and weary of bearing them." God is never weary of hearing the prayers of the upright, but soon weary of the costly sacrifices of the wicked. He hides his eyes from their prayers, as that which he has an aversion to and is angry at. All this is to show, [1.] That sin is very hateful to God, so hateful that it makes even men's prayers and their religious services hateful to him. [2.] That dissembled piety is double iniquity. Hypocrisy in religion is of all things most abominable to the God of heaven. Jerome applies the passage to the Jews in Christ's time, who pretended a great zeal for the law and the temple, but made themselves and all their services abominable to God by filling their hands with the blood of Christ and his apostles, and so filling up the measure of their iniquities.

A Call to Repentance; Repentance and Reformation Urged. (b. c. 738.)

16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;   17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.   18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.   19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:   20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

Though God had rejected their services as insufficient to atone for their sins while they persisted in them, yet he does not reject them as in a hopeless condition, but here calls upon them to forsake their sins, which hindered the acceptance of their services, and then all would be well. Let them not say that God picked quarrels with them; no, he proposes a method of reconciliation. Observe here,

I. A call to repentance and reformation: "If you would have your sacrifices accepted, and your prayers answered, you must begin your work at the right end: Be converted to my law" (so the Chaldee begins this exhortation), "make conscience of second-table duties, else expect not to be accepted in the acts of your devotion." As justice and charity will never atone for atheism and profaneness, so prayers and sacrifices will never atone for fraud and oppression; for righteousness towards men is as much a branch of pure religion as religion towards God is a branch of universal righteousness.

1. They must cease to do evil, must do no more wrong, shed no more innocent blood. This is the meaning of washing themselves and making themselves clean, v. 16. It is not only sorrowing for the sin they had committed, but breaking off the practice of it for the future, and mortifying all those vicious affections and dispositions which inclined them to it. Sin is defiling to the soul. Our business is to wash ourselves from it by repenting of it and turning from it to God. We must put away not only that evil of our doings which is before the eye of the world, by refraining from the gross acts of sin, but that which is before God's eyes, the roots and habits of sin, that are in our hearts; these must be crushed and mortified.

2. They must learn to do well. This was necessary to the completing of their repentance. Note, It is not enough that we cease to do evil, but we must learn to do well. (1.) We must be doing, not cease to do evil and then stand idle. (2.) We must be doing good, the good which the Lord our God requires and which will turn to a good account. (3.) We must do it well, in a right manner and for a right end; and, (4.) We must learn to do well; we must take pains to get the knowledge of our duty, be inquisitive concerning it, in care about it, and accustom ourselves to it, that we may readily turn our hands to our work and become masters of this holy art of doing well. He urges them particularly to those instances of well-doing wherein they had been defective, to second-table duties: "Seek judgment; enquire what is right, that you may do it; be solicitous to be found in the way of your duty, and do not walk carelessly. Seek opportunities of doing good: Relieve the oppressed, those whom you yourselves have oppressed; ease them of their burdens, ch. lviii. 6. You, that have power in your hands, use it for the relief of those whom others do oppress, for that is your business. Avenge those that suffer wrong, in a special manner concerning yourselves for the fatherless and the widow, whom, because they are weak and helpless, proud men trample upon and abuse; do you appear for them at the bar, on the bench, as there is occasion. Speak for those that know not how to speak for themselves and that have not wherewithal to gratify you for your kindness." Note, We are truly honouring God when we are doing good in the world; and acts of justice and charity are more pleasing to him than all burnt-offerings and sacrifices.

II. A demonstration, at the bar of right reason, of the equity of God's proceedings with them: "Come now, and let us reason together (v. 18); while your hands are full of blood I will have nothing to do with you, though you bring me a multitude of sacrifices; but if you wash, and make yourselves clean, you are welcome to draw nigh to me; come now, and let us talk the matter over." Note, Those, and those only, that break off their league with sin, shall be welcome into covenant and communion with God; he says, Come now, who before forbade them his courts. See Jam. iv. 8. Or rather thus: There were those among them who looked upon themselves as affronted by the slights God put upon the multitude of their sacrifices, as ch. lviii. 3, Wherefore have we fasted (say they) and thou seest not? They represented God as a hard Master, whom it was impossible to please. "Come," says God, "let us debate the matter fairly, and I doubt not but to make it out that my ways are equal, but yours are unequal," Ezek. xviii. 25. Note, Religion has reason on its side; there is all the reason in the world why we should do as God would have us do. The God of heaven condescends to reason the case with those that contradict him and find fault with his proceedings; for he will be justified when he speaks, Ps. li. 4. The case needs only to be stated (as it is here very fairly) and it will determine itself. God shows here upon what terms they stood (as he does, Ezek. xviii. 21-24; xxxiii. 18, 19) and then leaves it to them to judge whether these terms are not fair and reasonable.

1. They could not in reason expect any more then, if they repented and reformed, they should be restored to God's favour, notwithstanding their former provocations. "This you may expect," says God, and it is very kind; who could have the face to desire it upon any other terms? (1.) It is very little that is required, "only that you be willing and obedient, that you consent to obey" (so some read it), "that you subject your wills to the will of God, acquiesce in that, and give up yourselves in all things to be ruled by him who is infinitely wise and good" Here is no penance imposed for their former stubbornness, nor the yoke made heavier or bound harder on their necks; only, "Whereas hitherto you have been perverse and refractory, and would not comply with that which was for your own good, now be tractable, be governable" He does not say, "If you be perfectly obedient," but, "If you be willingly so;" for, if there be a willing mind, it is accepted. (2.) That is very great which is promised hereupon. [1.] That all their sins should be pardoned to them, and should not be mentioned against them. "Though they be as red as scarlet and crimson, though you lie under the guilt of blood, yet, upon your repentance, even that shall be forgiven you, and you shall appear in the sight of God as white as snow." Note, The greatest sinners, if they truly repent, shall have their sins forgiven them, and so have their consciences pacified and purified. Though our sins have been as scarlet and crimson, as deep dye, a double dye, first in the wool of original corruption and afterwards in the many threads of actual transgression—though we have been often dipped, by our many backslidings, into sin, and though we have lain long soaking in it, as the cloth does in the scarlet dye, yet pardoning mercy will thoroughly discharge the stain, and, being by it purged as with hyssop, we shall be clean, Ps. li. 7. If we make ourselves clean by repentance and reformation (v. 16), God will make us white by a full remission. [2.] That they should have all the happiness and comfort they could desire. "Be but willing and obedient, and you shall eat the good of the land, the land of promise; you shall have all the blessings of the new covenant, of the heavenly Canaan, all the good of the land." Those that go on in sin, though they may dwell in a good land, cannot with any comfort eat the good of it; guilt embitters all; but, if sin be pardoned, creature-comforts become comforts indeed.

2. They could not in reason expect any other than that, if they continued obstinate in their disobedience, they should be abandoned to ruin, and the sentence of the law should be executed upon them; what can be more just? (v. 20); "If you refuse and rebel, if you continue to rebel against the divine government and refuse the offers of the divine grace, you shall be devoured with the sword, with the sword of your enemies, which shall be commissioned to destroy you—with the sword of God's justice, his wrath, and vengeance, which shall be drawn against you; for this is that which the mouth of the Lord has spoken, and which he will make good, for the maintaining of his own honour." Note, Those that will not be governed by God's sceptre will certainly and justly be devoured by his sword.

"And now life and death, good and evil, are thus set before you. Come, and let us reason together. What have you to object against the equity of this, or against complying with God's terms?"




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