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21

I hate, I despise your festivals,

and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

22

Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,

I will not accept them;

and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals

I will not look upon.

23

Take away from me the noise of your songs;

I will not listen to the melody of your harps.

24

But let justice roll down like waters,

and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

 


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Here the Prophet, anticipating an objection, shows that the Israelites deceived themselves, for they believed that God was pacified by their sacrifices: he declares all these to be useless; not only, as I think, because they themselves were impure; but because all their sacrifices were mere profanations. We have said elsewhere that sacrifices are often reprehended by the Prophets, when not accompanied by godliness and sincerity: for why did God command sacrifices to be offered to him under the law, except as religious exercises? It was hence necessary that they should be accompanied with penitence and faith. But hypocrites thought, as we have seen, that they thereby discharged their whole duty: it was then a profanation of divine worship. Though the Jews, as to the external form, had not departed from the rule of the law, yet their sacrifices were vicious, and repudiated by God: “I cannot bear them — they are a weariness to me — I repudiate them — I loathe them,” — these are expressions we meet with every where in Isaiah. And yet hypocrites regarded their worship as conformable to the law; but impurity of heart vitiated all their works, and this was the reason that God rejected every thing which the Jews thought available for holiness. But different, as I think, was the design of our Prophet: for it was not only for this reason that he blamed the Israelites, — because they falsely pretended God’s name in their sacrifices, but because they were apostates; for they had departed from the teaching of the law, and built for themselves a spurious temple.

It is yet true that they were deluded with this false notion, that their sins were expiated by sacrifices: but God reproved the Israelites, not only for this gross error, with which the Jews were also infected but for having renounced his true and lawful worship. Hence the external form of their worship deserved to be condemned; for it was not right to offer sacrifices except on mount Zion: but they, without having the ark of the covenant, devised a worship else-where, and even there worshipped the calves. We now understand the design of the Prophet: and this ought to be carefully observed, for interpreters think that the Prophet had nothing else in view, but to condemn a false presumption in the Israelites, because they sought to satisfy God with external sacrifices, while they were yet continuing obstinately in their sins. But the other evil ought to be added, which was, that they had corrupted the true worship of God even in its outward form.

Having now pointed out the prophet’s object, I come to consider his words, I have hated, I have rejected, etc. The word חגג, chegig, means to leap and to dance: hence חג, cheg, signifies a sacrifice as well as a festal day. Some then render the words, “I have rejected your sacrifices,” and those which follow, thus, “I will not smell at your solemnities.” Others render the last word, “assemblies.” עצר, otser, means to restrain, and sometimes to gather: hence עצרה, ostare, means an assembly or a congregation. But עצרת, osteret, means a festal day, because the people, as it is well known, were then restrained from work, and also, because they were detained in the sanctuary. But with respect to the subject itself, it makes but little difference, whether we read assembly or a festal day: we see that what the Prophet meant was this, — that God rejected all the rites, by which the Israelites thought that he was pacified, as though they were the most effectual expiations. He does not simply declare that they were of no account before God; but he speaks much stronger and says, that God despised and abhorred them. I regard, he says, with hatred your festal days. He speaks also of burnt offerings,

When ye offer me sacrifices and your gift, etc. מנחה, meneche, properly means a gift of flour, which was an addition to the sacrifice; but it is often taken generally for any kind of offering. It is indeed certain that the Prophet meant, that however much the Israelites accumulated their ritual observances, they did nothing towards appeasing God, inasmuch as they observed not the law that was given them; and they turned also to a wrong purpose their sacrifices; for they did not exercise themselves in piety and in the spiritual worship of God, but, on the contrary, spread veils before God, that by presenting a fictitious form of worship, they might cover all their sins; for they thought themselves to be hidden from God.

This is the reason why the Prophet declares that these offerings would not be received by God, לא ארצה, la areste, I will not accept them. The Prophet no doubt alludes here to those promises, which are to be found everywhere in the law, as he did when he said in the last verse, לא אריח, la arich, I will not smell רוחה, ruch, means to smell; and Moses often uses the expression, that God is delighted with the odour of sacrifices, or with the smell of incense. But when the Lord declares that odour is pleasant to him, he means that it is so, provided the people sacrificed rightly, that is, when they brought not sacrifices as false veils to cover their sins, but as true and real evidences of their faith and repentance; God promised in that case that sacrifices would be a sweet odour to him. Now, on the contrary, he declares that the perfume would not be acceptable to him, nor sacrifices appeasing. But sacrifices not only were acceptable to God, but also pacified him. Since then the Lord had so often said, that he would be propitious to his people, when sacrifices were offered, it was necessary expressly to cut off this confidence from the Israelites, when they dealt not faithfully with God. God never disappointed his true worshipers, but ever received them into favor, provided they approached him in sincerity. But as these hypocrites dealt falsely with him, they were necessarily disappointed of their hope, as the Prophet here declares.

The peace-offerings of your fat things, he says, I will not regard God indeed promised in the law that he would regard their sacrifices provided they were lawful; but as the Israelites had in two ways departed from pure worship, God now justly says, I will not look on your sacrifices, nor on the peace-offerings of your fat things He calls them the peace-offerings of fat things, intimating, that though the beasts were the choicest, they would not yet be acceptable to him; for the Lord regards not fatness, as he needs neither meat nor drink. Then, in a word, the Prophet here sets this fatness in opposition to true godliness and obedience too. In both respects there was, as we have seen, a defect among the Israelites; for they obeyed not the law as to its outward requirements, and their hearts were impure and perverse: hence all their sacrifices were necessarily polluted and corrupt.

It follows, Take away from me the multitude of thy songs By speaking of multitude, he aims at hypocrites, who toil much in their devices without measure or end, as we see done at this day by those under the Papacy; for they accumulate endless forms of worship, and greatly weary themselves, morning and evening; in short, they spend days and nights in performing their ceremonies, and every one devises some new thing, and all these they heap together. Inasmuch, then, as men, when they have begun to turn aside from the pure word of God, continually invent various kinds of trifles, the Prophet here touches indirectly on this foolish laboriousness (stultan sedulitatem — foolish sedulity) when he says, Take away from me the multitude of thy songs. He might have simply said, “Thy songs please me not;” but he mentions their multitude, because hypocrites, as I have said, fix no limits to their outward ceremonies: and a vast heap especially follows, when once they take to themselves the liberty of devising this or that form of worship. Hence God testifies here, that they spend labor in vain, for he rejects what he does not command, and whatever is not rightly offered to him.

And the harmony of lyres, or of musical instruments. But נבל, nabel, was an instrument, which, as to its kind, is unknown to us now. Take away, then, from me the harmony of lyres; for the verb, take away, may refer to both clauses; though some join them to the last the verb “lo לא אשמע, la ashimo, I will not hear. The difference really is very little: but their view is the most probable, who join together the two clauses, ‘Take away from me the multitude of thy songs and the harmony of lyres;’ with which thou thinkest me to be delighted. They afterwards take לא אשמע “I will not hear,” by itself. But I contend not about such minute things: it is enough to know the design of the Prophet. It now follows —

Interpreters variously expound this verse. To some it seems an exhortation, as though the Prophet said, “Ye thrust on me victims of beasts and various ceremonies; but I regard not these things; for the interior purity of heart alone pleases me: take away then all these things, which are of no moment with me, and bring what I especially require and demands even a pure and sincere heart.”

Some also think that newness of life is here described by its fruits or its evidences: for the Prophet mentions not purity, speaks not of faith and repentance, but by the fruits sets forth that renovation, which God always chiefly regards, and for the sake of which he had required sacrifices under the law. The meaning then is, that hypocrites are here recalled to true worship, because they vainly and absurdly tormented themselves with their own fictions: and by requiring from them righteousness and judgment, he required a holy and pure life, or, in a word, uprightness.

Others think that the Prophet turns aside here to celebrate the grace of Christ, which was to be made known in the gospel: and the verb יגל, igel, is rendered by many “shall be revealed;” but others more correctly derive it from the root גל, igel, to roll. Let justice then as it were, roll. But I will return to the second exposition. Most think that there is here a prediction of that righteousness which God was to make known by the coming of Christ; and some retain also the proper meaning of the verb גל, gal, to roll. They then say that the gospel is here compared to an impetuous river and a violent stream, because the Lord would rush on and penetrate through all hindrances, how many soever Satan might attempt to throw in his way. But this meaning seems not to harmonize with the Prophet’s words and is in my judgment, too refined.

Some again regard the verse as a threatening, and think that God here reproves the Israelites, as though he had said, that since they were trifling with and mocking him, he would at length show what was true righteousness and what was true judgment: for hypocrites think that they come not short of a perfect state, when they are veiled by their ceremonies, inasmuch as they flee to these lurking holes, when they would cover all their flagitous deeds. Hence they think not that they are guilty, for they hide their sins under their ceremonies as under Ajax’s shield. Seeing then that they thus trifle with God, some interpreters think that God here sharply reproves them and says, that they were greatly deceived, for he would himself at length make known what was true righteousness. Righteousness then shall run down or be rolled; and by this verb he expresses impetuosity; but he sets it forth afterwards more clearly by איתן, aitan, “Judgment shall be a violent stream.” But hypocrites amuse themselves as children do with their puppets. Inasmuch then as they do nothing seriously, and yet desire to pacify God as with baubles, the Prophet here shakes off such delusions, as though he said, “Do you think that God is like a child? Why do you set up these trifles? Do you think that righteousness is a fictitious thing, or that judgment is a vain figment? The Lord will certainly show to you how precious righteousness is. It shall therefore run down as violent waters, as an impetuous stream. “Judgment,” he says “shall rush upon you and overwhelm you.” This is the third meaning.

But the verse may be again explained in a different way, as though God obviated an objection; for hypocrites, we know, always raise a clamor, and make no end of contending; “What! Have we then lost all our labor, while endeavoring to worship God? Is all this to go for nothing? And further, we have not only offered sacrifices, but sought also to testify that the glory of God is to us an object of concern. Since then we have had a care for religion, why should God now reject us?” The Prophet here shortly answers, — that if only they brought forth true righteousness, their course would be free; as though he said, “God will not put a check to your righteousness and rectitude:” and this must be referred to the fruit or remuneration; as though the Prophet said, “Only worship God in sincerity, and he will not disappoint you; for a reward will be laid up for you; your righteousness shall run down as a river.” As it is said in another place, ‘Your righteousness shall shine as the dawn,’ so it is also in this, ‘Your righteousness shall run down as violent waters.’ There was therefore no reason for hypocrites to expostulate and say that wrong was done them by God, or that their performances were lightly esteemed, since God openly testified, that he would provide for righteousness, that it might have a free course, like an impetuous river: and this seems to be the genuine meaning of the Prophet. While I do not wholly reject the other expositions, I do not yet follow them; but show what I mostly approve. 3737     There appears here a great candor in our Author: but the first view of the passage seems the most natural and obvious, as presented in our version, with which that of Newcome and Henderson agrees. Having before exhorted them to “take away” what they thought much of, the Prophet now exhorts them to attend to judgment and justice. The two verses, 23 and 24, may be thus rendered: —
   23. Remove from me the multitude of thy songs,
And the music of thy harps; I will not hear
them.

   24. And let judgment roll down like waters,
And righteousness like a mighty stream.

   I prefer rendering המון, “multitude,” with Calvin, rather than “noise,” with our version and Newcome, or “sound” with Henderson. It forms a variety as to the next clause. In idiomatic English the expressions would be—”thy many songs and thy harmonious harps.” The two verses ought to be read as connected; and the 24th should begin with “And,” ו, and not “But.” — Ed.

Then the Prophet, after having bidden them to throw aside all their fictitious and spurious forms of worship, does not now simply exhort the Israelites, as some think, to exhibit righteousness and rectitude, but expresses this in the form of a promise, “Run down shall your righteousness as impetuous waters, provided it be true, and not an empty name. Whenever God shall see in you sincere rectitude, there will certainly be prepared an ample reward for you.” It follows —




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