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,
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,
1 These verbs are in the future tense; but the future in Hebrew is often used, as Calvin says in another place, to express a continued act, or an habitual practice.
2 This choice can hardly be conceded. 'People,' in Hebrew, is in the singular number, and the pronouns referring to people are commonly put in the same number; but not so in our language. 'His' here evidently belongs to the people, and not to the priests, and ought to be rendered 'their,' as in our version. The verse literally translated is as follows, only the future is taken for the present tense: --
'The sin of my people they eat,
And to their (own) iniquity they raise up their heart.'
To render 'sin,' as Newcome and Horsley do, 'sin-offerings,' is to destroy the whole force of the passage, that through the superstition of the people they gained their living. And 'iniquity' means, no doubt, idolatry, to which the priests raised up the people's heart, or attached them. --Ed.