Study

a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

6. Israel Unrepentant

Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. 2After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. 3Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.

4O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away. 5Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth: and thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth. 6For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. 7But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me. 8Gilead is a city of them that work iniquity, and is polluted with blood. 9And as troops of robbers wait for a man, so the company of priests murder in the way by consent: for they commit lewdness. 10I have seen an horrible thing in the house of Israel: there is the whoredom of Ephraim, Israel is defiled. 11Also, O Judah, he hath set an harvest for thee, when I returned the captivity of my people.

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 3434     Matthew 9:13. — fj. ‘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, 3535     Matthew 12:7. — fj. 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 חסד, 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 מ, mem, when he says, מעולות, 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,

‘Have I commanded your fathers, when I brought them out of Egypt,
to offer sacrifices to me?’
[Jeremiah 7:22]

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.


VIEWNAME is study