Jeremiah 6:20

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, To what purpose does frankincense come to me from the Sabeans, and a sweet cane.1 (that is, odoriferous) from a far country? Thus the Prophet here anticipates hypocrites, that he might not leave them -- what they might have objected: for while they spent a large sum of money on their forms of worship, they thought that God was as it were bound to them: and where they also bestowed much labor, they supposed that their' toil could not be superfluous or useless. And under the Papacy we observe the same thing: when any one builds a splendid church, and adorns it with gold and silver and supplies it with rich furniture, and then provides a revenue for saying masses, he thinks that lie holds in his hands all the keys of the kingdom of heaven, so that he can push in even against the will of God. Similar is the madness of the Papists, when they undertake pilgrimages: when they labor and toil, they think that every step they take must be numbered before God, and that God would be unjust, were he not to approve of what is offered to him with so much trouble. Such was also the conceit of the Jews. As their incense, brought from the Sa-beans, that is, from the east, even from Persia, , was precious, and cost a considerable sum of money, they wished that this should be deemed a satisfaction for all their sins; and they looked for the same benefit from the cane: as the most odoriferous cane was bought at, a high price, they expected that it would be of account before God, and that it would avail to compensate for their punishment. This is the folly which God here treats with contempt. "What are they to me, "he says, "your expenses? I indeed count as nothing all that ye spend in buying incense and sweet cane." And then he speaks of the Sabeans and of a far country.

He afterwards adds, Please me do not your burnt -- offerings, and your sacrifices are not acceptable. Under one kind Jeremiah includes the whole worship according to the law; and yet it had been divinely appointed: this is indeed true, but for another purpose. Fasting does not of itself displease God; but it becomes an abomination to him, when it is thought to be a meritorious work, or when some holiness is connected with it. The same is true as to sacrifices; for they who sought to pacify God by victims robbed Christ of his honor: it was to transfer the favor, which comes from Christ, to a calf or to a goat: and what a sacrilege was this, and how abominable? When, therefore, the Jews set such a high value on their sacrifices, they sought first childishly to trifle with God, as though these were expiations to pacify him; and then to offer burnt -- offerings, to slay an animal, for pacifying God, was to change his nature; and lastly, it was, as I have said, to rob Christ of his honor: for expiation is to be sought by no other means than through his blood, by which we are cleansed from every stain through the Holy Spirit, who sprinkles it on our hearts. But when this was attributed to sacrifices, they substituted the victim, or the ram, for Christ, according to what has been stated.

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.