11. Is there iniquity in Gilead? surely they are vanity: they sacrifice bullocks in Gilgal; yea, their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the fields.
11. An in Gilead iniquitas? (vel, an Gilead coepit peccare?) certe vanitas (vel, mendacium) fuerunt in Gilgal (alii disjungunt istud lglgb, ut contexant cum sequentibus) boves sacrificarunt, etiam altaria eorum sicut acervi super sulcos agrorum.
It is an ironical question, when the Prophet says, Is there iniquity in Gilead? and he laughs to scorn their madness who delighted themselves in vices so gross, when their worship was wholly spurious and degenerated. When they knew that they were perfidious towards God, and followed a worship alienated from his law, they yet were so perverse, that they proudly refused all admonitions. Since then they were blinded in their vices, the Prophet asks them ironically, Is there iniquity in Gilead? They are as yet doubtful, forsooth, whether they are guilty before God, whether they bear any blame. Surely, he says, they are vanity; that is, "How much soever they may seek specious pretences for themselves, and deny that they are conscious of doing wrong, and also introduce many reasons for doubt, that they may not be forced to own their sin, they yet, he says, are guilty of falsehood; all their glosses contain nothing solid, but they are mere disguises, which avail nothing before God." We now then apprehend the meaning of the Prophet.
But there is no doubt but that he also condemns here their perverted worship, by which the Israelites at the same time thought that they rendered the best service to God. But obedience, we know, is better than all sacrifices. The Prophet then inveighs here against all fictitious modes of worship, devised without God against the authority of God's law. But at the same time, as we have just hinted, he indirectly exposes their thoughtlessness for imagining themselves excusable, provided they set up their own good intention, as it is commonly done, and say, that they built altars with no other design than to make known everywhere the name of God, to preserve among themselves some tokens of religion. Since, then, they thus raised up a cloud of smoke to cover their impiety, the Prophet says, "They indeed still inquire, as of a doubtful thing, whether there is iniquity in Gilead; let them inquire and dispute; surely," he says, "they are vain;" literally, surely they have been falsehood: but he means that they foolishly brought forward those frivolous excuses, by which they tried to escape the crime and its punishment. How was it that they were vain? Because God values his own law more than all the glosses of men, and he will have all men to obey, without dispute, his own word: but when they thus licentiously depart from his commandments, it is what he cannot endure. They are then false and deceive themselves, who think that their own inventions are of any value before God. He then lays down their crimes
In Gilgal, he says, have they sacrificed oxen. Jerome translates, "They sacrifice to oxen," and thinks that the Israelites are reprehended here for sacrificing to the calves: but this seems too remote from the words of the Prophet. The Prophet then mentions their sin -- that they sacrificed oxen and multiplied altars. And yet it seemed to be a diligence worthy of praise, that they increased many altars, that they worshipped God everywhere, that they spared neither expense nor labour, that they were not content with few sacrifices, but added a great number; -- all this seemed to deserve no common praise: but the Lord, as it has been already said, valued not these corrupt practices; for he would have himself to be alone worshipped by his people, and would have their piety to be attested by this single evidence -- their obedience to his word. When we then turn aside from God's word, nay, when we with loose reins abandon ourselves to new inventions, though we may plausibly profess that our object is to worship God, yet all this is a vain and fallacious pretence, as the Prophet here declares.
Jerome is mistaken in thinking that Gilgal was a town in the tribe of Judah; and the supposition cannot suit this place: for Judah, we know, was then free from those gross pollutions; Judah was not as yet polluted with the defilements which the Prophet here condemns in the kingdom of Israel. It is then certain, that Gilgal was a town of Israel; and we know that a celebrated temple and altar were there: hence he especially points out this place.
But he afterwards adds, Their altars are as heaps on the furrows of the field. There was then we know, only one legitimate altar; and God would not have sacrifices offered to him, except in one place. Hence the more active the Israelites were in multiplying altars, the more they provoked the vengeance of God: how much soever it was their purpose to worship God, yet God spurned that foolish affectedness. We then see why the Prophet here compares the altars then erected in the kingdom of Israel to heaps of stones; as though he said "As one gathers stones into a heap, when the land is stony, that he may drive his plough more easily, so every one forms an altar for himself, as though he were raising up a hillock in his own field: thus it comes, that they perversely corrupt the pure and lawful worship which I have appointed." We now then understand the meaning of the Prophet to be, that superstitious men gain nothing, when they boldly and openly boast that they worship God; for whatever disguise they may invent for themselves and others, the Lord yet abominates every thing that is contrary to his word: and our mode Of worshipping God is alone true and lawful, when we only follow what he prescribes, and allow to ourselves nothing but what is according to his command and appointment. This is the meaning. Let us proceed --