Hosea 6:6-7

6. For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

6. Quia misericordiam volo (vel, quia humanitas placet mihi) et non sacrificuim; et cognitio Dei (placet mihi, subaudiendum est) prae holocaustis.

7. But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me.

7. Et ipsi tanquam homines ransgressi sunt pactum; 1 illic perfide egerunt in me (vel, Tanquam hominis pactum transgressi sunt, ut postea videbimus.)


God in this place declares that he desires mercy, and not sacrifices; and he does so to prevent an objections and to anticipate all frivolous pretenses. There is never wanting to hypocrites, we well know, a cover for themselves; and so great is their assurance, that they hesitate not sometimes to contend with God. It is indeed their common practice to maintain that they worship God, provided they offer sacrifices to him, provided they toil in ceremonies, and accumulate many rites. They think then that God is made bound to them, and that they have fully performed their duty. This evil has been common in all ages. The Prophet therefore anticipates this evasion, and says, Mercy I desire, and not sacrifice; as though he said, "I know what you are ready to allege, and that you will say, that you offer sacrifices to me, that you perform all the ceremonies; but this excuse is deemed by me frivolous and of no moment." Why? "Because I desire not sacrifices, but mercy and faith." We now understand the main object of this verse.

It is a remarkable passage; the Son of God has twice quoted it. The Pharisees reproached him for his intercourse with men of bad and abandoned life, and he said to them in Matthew 'Mercy I desire, and not sacrifice:' he shows, by this defense, that God is not worshipped by external ceremonies, but when men forgive and bear with one another, and are not above measure rigid. Again, in the Matthew 12, when the Pharisees blamed the disciples for gathering ears of corn, he said 'But rather go and learn what this is, Mercy I desire, and not sacrifice.' Inasmuch as they were so severe against his disciples, Christ shows that those who make holiness to consist in ceremonies are foolish worshipers of God; and that they also blamed their brethren without a cause, and made a crime of what was not in itself sinful, and what could be easily defended by any wise and calm expounder.

But that we may more fully understand this sentence of the Prophet, it must be observed, firsts that the outward worship of God, and all legal ceremonies, are included under the name of sacrifice and burnt-offerings. These words then comprise a part for the whole. The same may be said of the word dox, chesad, which means, mercy or kindness; for the Prophet here, no doubt, sets faith or piety towards God, and love towards neighbors, in opposition to all external ceremonies. "I desire," he says, "mercy;" or, "mercy pleases me more than sacrifice, and the knowledge of God pleases me more than burnt-offerings." The knowledge of God here is doubtless to be taken for faith or piety, because hypocrites suppose that God is rightly worshipped when they use many ceremonies. The Prophet derides all such pomp and empty show, and says, that the worshipping of God is far different; it being only done when he is known. The chief point is, that God desires to be worshipped otherwise than sensual men dream; for they only display their rites, and neglect the spiritual worship of God, which stands in faith and love.

These two clauses ought then to be read conjointly -- that kindness pleases God -- and that faith pleases God. Faith by itself cannot please God, since it cannot even exist without love to our neighbor; and then, human kindness is not sufficient; for were any one to abstain from doing any injury, and from hurting his brethren in any thing, he might be still a profane man, and a despiser of God; and certainly his kindness would be then of no avail to him. We hence see that these two sentences cannot be separated, and that what the Prophet says is equally the same as if he had connected piety with love. The meaning is, that God values faith and kindness much more than sacrifices and all ceremonies. But when the Prophet says that sacrifice does not please God, he speaks, no doubt, comparatively; for God does not positively repudiate sacrifices enjoined in his own law; but he prefers faith and love to them; as we more clearly learn from the particle m, mem, when he says, twlwem, meoulut, than burnt-offerings." It then appears that God is not inconsistent with himself, as though he rejected sacrifices which he himself had appointed; but that he condemns the preposterous abuse of them, in which hypocrites gloried.

And here two things are to be noticed: God requires not external ceremonies, as if they availed any thing of themselves, but for a different end. Faith of itself pleases God, as also does love; for they are, as they say, of the class of good works: but sacrifices are to be regarded differently; for to kill an ox, or a calf, or a lamb, what is it but to do what the butcher does in his shambles? God then cannot be delighted with the slaughter of beasts; hence sacrifices, as we have said, are of themselves of no account. Faith and love are different. Hence the Lord says, in Jeremiah 7,

'Have I commanded your fathers, when I brought them out of Egypt, to offer sacrifices to me?'

no such thing; 'I never commanded them,' he says, 'but only to hear my voice.' But what does the law in great measure contain except commands about ceremonies? The answer to this is easy, and that is, that sacrifices never pleased God through their own or intrinsic value, as if they had any worth in them. What then? Even this, that faith and piety are approved, and have ever been the legitimate spiritual worship of God. This is one thing. It is further to be noticed, that when the Prophets reprove hypocrites, they regard what is suitable to them, and do not specifically explain the matters which they handle. Isaiah says in one place, 'He who kills an ox does the same as if he had killed a dog,' and a dog was the highest abomination;

'nay, they who offer sacrifices do the same
as if they had killed men,' (Isaiah 66:3.)

What! to compare sacrifices with murders! This seems very strange; but the Prophet directed his discourse to the ungodly, who then abused the whole outward worship prescribed by the law: no wonder then that he thus spake of sacrifices. In the same manner also ought many other passages to be explained, which frequently occur in the Prophets. We now then see that God does not simply reject sacrifices, as far as he has enjoined them, but only condemns the abuse of them. And hence what I have already said ought to be remembered, that the Prophet here sets external rites in opposition to piety and faith, because hypocrites tear asunder things which are, as it were, inseparable: it is an impious divorce, when any one only obtrudes ceremonies on God, while he himself is void of piety. But as this disease commonly prevails among men, the Prophet adds a contrast between this fictitious worship and true religion. It is also worthy of being observed, that he calls faith the knowledge of God. We then see that faith is not some cold and empty imagination, but that it extends much farther; for it is then that we have faith, when the will of God is made known to us, and we embrace it, so that we worship him as our Father. Hence the knowledge of God is required as necessary to faith. The Papists then talk very childishly about implicit faith: when a man understands nothing, and has not even the least acquaintance with God, they yet say that he is endued with implicit faith. This is a romance more than foolish; for where there is no knowledge of God, there is no religion, piety is extinct and faith is destroyed, as it appears evident from this passage.

God then subjoins a complaint, -- But they like men have transgressed the covenant; there have they dealt treacherously against me. Here God shows that the Israelites boasted in vain of their sacrifices and of all the pomps of their external worship, for God did not regard these external things, but only wished to exercise the faithful in spiritual worship. Then the import of the whole is this, "My design was, when I appointed the sacrifices and the whole legal worship, to lead you so to myself, that there might be nothing carnal or earthly in your sacrificing; but ye have corrupted the whole law; you have been perverse interpreters; for sacrifices have been nothing else among you but mockery as if it were a satisfaction to me to have an ox or a ram killed. You have then transgressed my covenant; and it is nothing that the people say to me, that they have diligently performed the outward ceremonies, for such a worship is not in the least valued by me."

And he proceeds still farther and says, There have they dealt treacherously against me. He had said before, 'They have transgressed the covenant;' as though he said, "If they wished to keep my covenant, this was the first thing, -- to worship me spiritually, even in faith and love; but they, having despised true worship, laid hold only on what was frivolous: they have therefore violated my covenant." But now he adds, that "there" appeared their perfidy; yea, that they were convicted of violating their faith, and shown to be covenant-breakers, by this, -- that they abused the sacred marks by which God had sanctioned his covenant, to cover their own perfidy. There is then great importance in the adverb Ms, shim, as if he had said, "In that particular you have acted perfidiously:" for the Prophet means, that when hypocrites especially raise their crests, they are convicted of falsehood and perjury. But how? Because they set forth their own ceremonies, as we see them introduced as speaking thus in Isaiah 58, 'Wherefore have we fasted, and thou hast not regarded?' In this passage they accuse God of too much rigor, because they lost all their toil when they worshipped so laboriously, "We have then in vain spent labour and so diligently worshipped him." God answers: 'Who has required this at your hands?' So also in this place the Prophet says, and more sharply, There have they dealt treacherously against me: that is, "They think that my mouth would be stopped by this defense only, when they brought forward their sacrifices, and, after their manner, made a great display, as if they were the best observers of religion; but I will show that in this very thing they are covenant-breakers." How? "Because there is no falsehood worse than to turn the truth of God into a lie, and to adulterate his pure doctrine." And this is what all hypocrites do, when they thus turn sacraments into gross abuses and false worship, when they build temples, when they imagine that God is rightly worshipped whenever an ox or a ram is offered. Since then hypocrites so grossly mock God and turn away sacrifices from Christ, they turn away from the doctrine of repentance and faith; in a word, they regard God only as a dead idol. When then they thus deprave the whole worship of God and adulterate it, when they so impiously corrupt the word of God and pervert his institutions, are they not covenant-breakers? There then they perfidiously acted against me. This ought to be carefully observed, because it has not been noticed by interpreters.

Some thus render the word Mda, adam, -- "As the covenant of man have they transgressed it," transferring it to the genitive case, "And they have transgressed the covenants as if it was that of man;" that is, as if they had to do with a mortal man, so have they despised and violated my holy covenant; and this exposition is not very unsuitable, except that it somewhat changes the construction; for in this case the Prophet ought to have said, "They have transgressed the covenant as that of a man;" but he says, 'They as a man,' etc. 2 But this rendering is far from being that of the words as they are, 'They as men have transgressed the covenant.' I therefore interpret the words more simply, as meaning, that they showed themselves to be men in violating the covenant.

And there is here an implied contrast or comparison between God and the Israelites; as though he said, "I have in good faith made a covenant with them, when I instituted a fixed worship; but they have been men towards me; there has been in them nothing but levity and inconstancy." God then shows that there had not been a mutual concord between him and the Israelites, as men never respond to God; for he sincerely calls them to himself, but they act unfaithfully, or when they have given some proof of obedience, they soon turn back again, or despise and openly reject the offered instruction. We then see in what sense the Prophet says that they had transgressed the covenant of God as men.

Others explain the words thus, "They have transgressed as Adam the covenant." But the word, Adam, we know, is taken indefinitely for men. This exposition is frigid and diluted, "They have transgressed as Adam the covenant;" that is, they have followed or imitated the example of their father Adam, who had immediately at the beginning transgressed God's commandment. I do not stop to refute this comment; for we see that it is in itself vapid. Let us now proceed --

1 "But they, like Adam, have transgressed the covenant." -- Newcome. So Horsley renders it, and also Grotius; but the Septuagint, Pagninus, and others, favor our version, and that of Calvin. --Ed.

2 The words of the original are these, -- tyrb wrbe Mdak hmhw. The transposition as proposed above is wholly impossible; no such meaning can be made of the words. The translation preferred by Calvin is the only one that can be admitted. The word Mda is commonly taken for men or mankind: the literal rendering is, -- "But they like men have transgressed the covenant." --Ed.