God, having shown the people that the temple would not protect them while they polluted it with their wickedness, here shows them that their sacrifices would not atone for them, nor be accepted, while they went on in disobedience. See with what contempt he here speaks of their ceremonial service (Jer. 7:21). “Put your burnt-offerings to your sacrifices; go on in them as long as you please; add one sort of sacrifice to another; turn your burnt-offerings (which were to be wholly burnt to the honour of God) into peace-offerings” (which the offerer himself had a considerable share of), “that you may eat flesh, for that is all the good you are likely to have from your sacrifices, a good meal’s meat or two; but expect not any other benefit by them while you live at this loose rate. Keep your sacrifices to yourselves” (so some understand it); “let them be served up at your own table, for they are no way acceptable at God’s altars.” For the opening of this,
I. He shows them that obedience was the only thing he required of them, Jer. 7:22, 23. He appeals to the original contract, by which they were first formed into a people, when they were brought out of Egypt. God made them a kingdom of priests to himself, not that he might be regaled with their sacrifices, as the devils, whom the heathen worshipped, which are represented as eating with pleasure the fat of their sacrifices and drinking the wine of their drink-offerings, Deut. 32:38. No: Will God eat the flesh of bulls? Ps. 50:13. I spoke not to your fathers concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices, not of them at first. The precepts of the moral law were given before the ceremonial institutions; and those came afterwards, as trials of their obedience and assistances to their repentance and faith. The Levitical law begins thus: If any man of you will bring an offering, he must do so and so (Lev. 1:2; 2:1), as if it were intended rather to regulate sacrifice than to require it. But that which God commanded, which he bound them to by his supreme authority and which he insisted upon as the condition of the covenant, was, Obey my voice; see Exod. 15:26; where this was the statute and the ordinance by which God proved them: Hearken diligently to the voice of the Lord thy God. The condition of their being God’s peculiar people was this (Exod. 19:5), If you will obey my voice indeed. “Make conscience of the duties of natural religion, observe positive institutions from a principle of obedience, and then I will be your God and you shall be my people,” which is the greatest honour, happiness, and satisfaction, that any of the children of men are capable of. “Let your conversation be regular, and in every thing study to comply with the will and word of God; walk within the bounds that I have set you, and in all the ways that I have commanded you, and then you may assure yourselves that it shall be well with you.” The demand here is very reasonable, that we should be directed by Infinite Wisdom to that which is fit, that he that made us should command us, and that he should give us law who gives us our being and all the supports of it; and the promise is very encouraging: Let God’s will be your rule and his favour shall be your felicity.
II. He shows them that disobedience was the only thing for which he had a quarrel with them. He would not reprove them for their sacrifices, for the omission of them; they had been continually before him (Ps. 50:8); with them they hoped to bribe God, and purchase a license to go on in sin. That therefore which God had all along laid to their charge was breaking his commandments in the course of their conversation, while they observed them, in some instances, in the course of their devotion, Jer. 7:24, 25 1. They set up their own will in competition with the will of God: They hearkened not to God and to his law; they never heeded that; it was to them as if it had never been given or were of no force; they inclined not their ear to attend to it, much less their hearts to comply with it. But they would have their own way, would do as they chose, and not as they were bidden. Their own counsels were their guide, and not the dictates of divine wisdom; that shall be lawful and good with them which they think so, though the word of God says quite contrary. The imagination of their evil heart, the appetites and passions of it, shall be a law to them, and they will walk in the way of it, and in the sight of their eyes. 2. If they began well, yet they did not proceed, but soon flew off. They went backward, when they talked of making a captain, and returning to Egypt again, and would not go forward under God’s conduct. They promised fair: All that the Lord shall say unto us we well do; and, if they would but have kept in that good mind, all would have been well; but, instead of going on in the way of duty, they drew back into the way of sin, and were worse than ever. 3. When God sent to them by word of mouth to put them in mind of the written word, which was the business of the prophets, it was all one; still they were disobedient. God had servants of his among them in every age, since they came out of Egypt unto this day, some or other to tell them of their faults and put them in mind of their duty, whom he rose up early to send (as before, Jer. 7:13), as men rise up early to call servants to their work; but they were as deaf to the prophets as they were to the law (Jer. 7:26): Yet they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear. This had been their way and manner all along; they were of the same stubborn refractory disposition with those that went before them; it had all along been the genius of the nation, and an evil genius it was, that continually haunted them till it ruined them at last. 4. Their practice and character were still the same. They are worse, and not better, than their fathers. (1.) Jeremiah can himself witness against them that they were disobedient, or he shall soon find it so (Jer. 7:27): “Thou shalt speak all these words to them, shalt particularly charge them with disobedience and obstinacy. But even that will not work upon them: They will not hearken to thee, nor heed thee. Thou shalt go, and call to them with all the plainness and earnestness imaginable, butthey will not answer thee; they will either give thee no answer at all or not an obedient answer; they will not come at thy call.” (2.) He must therefore own that they deserved the character of a disobedient people, that were ripe for destruction, and must go to them and tell them so to their faces (Jer. 7:28): “Say unto them, This is a nation that obeys not the voice of the Lord their God. They are notorious for their obstinacy; they sacrifice to the Lord as their God, but they will not be ruled by him as their God; they will not receive either the instruction of his word or the correction of his rod; they will not be reclaimed or reformed by either. Truth has perished among them; they cannot receive it; they will not submit to it nor be governed by it. They will not speak truth; there is no believing a word they say, for it is cut off from their mouth, and lying comes in the room of it. They are false both to God and man.”
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