Jeremiah 6:20
To what purpose cometh there to me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a far country? your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet unto me.
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(20) Incense from Sheba.—The land that had a proverbial fame both for gold and frankincense (Isaiah 60:6; Ezekiel 27:22), the thus Sabæum of Virg., Æn. i. 416, 417. So Milton, Par. Lost, 4—

“Sabæan odours from the spicy shores

Of Araby the blest.”

So the Queen of Sheba brought spices and gold (1Kings 10:10).

The sweet cane.—Literally, the good cane, or, as in Exodus 30:23, sweet calamus (comp. Isaiah 43:24; Song of Solomon 4:14), numbered among the ingredients of the Temple incense. The LXX. renders it by “cinnamon.” It came from the “far country” of India The whole passage is a reproduction of the thought of Isaiah 1:11-13.

Jeremiah 6:20. To what purpose — incense from Sheba? — Sheba was a part of Arabia Felix, and famous for its spices and perfumes, Isaiah 9:6. Here the prophet reproves the hypocrisy of the Jews, who sought to cover their inward corruption by the external shows of religion; which the prophets often declare to be of no value, when they do not proceed from a devout mind. See Jeremiah 7:21-22; Isaiah 1:11. And the sweet cane from a far country — Respecting which, see on Isaiah 43:24. A far country seems equivalent with Sheba before mentioned, whose queen is said, Matthew 12:42, to have come from the uttermost parts of the earth, namely, from the southern extremity of the peninsula of Arabia, which, with respect to Judea, was a far country, and at the extreme parts of the earth, or bordering upon the ocean on the south.

6:18-30 God rejects their outward services, as worthless to atone for their sins. Sacrifice and incense were to direct them to a Mediator; but when offered to purchase a license to go on in sin, they provoke God. The sins of God's professing people make them an easy prey to their enemies. They dare not show themselves. Saints may rejoice in hope of God's mercies, though they see them only in the promise: sinners must mourn for fear of God's judgments, though they see them only in the threatenings. They are the worst of revolters, and are all corrupters. Sinners soon become tempters. They are compared to ore supposed to have good metal in it, but which proves all dross. Nothing will prevail to part between them and their sins. Reprobate silver shall they be called, useless and worthless. When warnings, corrections, rebukes, and all means of grace, leave men unrenewed, they will be left, as rejected of God, to everlasting misery. Let us pray, then, that we may be refined by the Lord, as silver is refined.The sweet cane - The same as the scented cane of Exodus 30:23 (see the note).

Your burnt offerings - The rejection of ritual observances is proclaimed by the two prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, who chiefly assisted the two pious kings, Hezekiah and Josiah, in restoring the temple-service. God rejects not the ceremonial service, but the substitution of it for personal holiness and morality. Compare 1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 1:11; Micah 6:6-8.

20. Literally, "To what purpose is this to Me, that incense cometh to Me?"

incense … cane—(Isa 43:24; 60:6). No external services are accepted by God without obedience of the heart and life (Jer 7:21; Ps 50:7-9; Isa 1:11; Mic 6:6, &c.).

sweet … sweet—antithesis. Your sweet cane is not sweet to Me. The calamus.

To what purpose? an interrogation of expostulation and contempt, wherein God by the prophet meets with their hypocrisy, who pleased themselves with their outward oblations and sacrifices, and thought God would be pleased with them too; but he tells them plainly they are to no purpose; as he speaks particularly in the close of the verse, Jeremiah 7:21,22 Eze 20:39.

Incense from Sheba: that this was the product of Sheba, a country in Arabia Felix, to which country frankincense was peculiar, See Poole "Isaiah 60:6". The sweet cane, or, cane, i.e. good, or the best cane; the article h hath the force of a superlative, for cane that is good; the Hebrews have no degrees of comparison; the same that is mentioned as an ingredient in the holy oil, Exodus 30:23. See Isaiah 43:24.

From a far country; not that it was brought from the remotest parts of the world, as from India, as some; for it was known to the Jews in Moses’s time, Exodus 30:23; but because it grew not in their own land, but was fetched or brought to them from Sheba, Isaiah 60:6, where it did grow, as Diodorus testifies, lib. 3. p. 125, and Strabo, lib. 16; 1 Kings 10:2, compared with Joel 3:8; who is called the queen of the south, and to come from the uttermost parts of the earth, Matthew 12:42, because the South Sea did bound the country. To what purpose art thou at this trouble and charge to fetch these ingredients for thy incense?

Are not acceptable; not likely to atone me; they will not be for acceptance; I cannot take delight in them, Hosea 9:4, as the next expression: q.d. Away with these childish trifles, whereby you think to pacify me. By these species he understands the whole legal worship.

To what purpose cometh there to me incense from Sheba,.... In Persia or Arabia, from whence incense was brought, and perhaps the best; see Isaiah 60:6, and yet the offering of this was of no esteem with God, when the words of the prophet, and the law of his mouth, were despised; see Isaiah 1:13,

and the sweet cane from a far country? either from the same place, Sheba, which was a country afar off, Joel 3:8, or from India, as Jerom interprets it; this was one of the spices in the anointing oil, Exodus 30:23 and though this was of divine appointment, and an omission of it is complained of, Isaiah 43:24 yet when this was brought with a hypocritical heart, and to atone for neglects of the moral law, and sins committed against that, it was rejected by the Lord:

your burnt, offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet unto me: being offered up with a wicked mind, and without faith in Christ, and in order to expiate the guilt of black crimes unrepented of, and continued in; they were not grateful to God, nor could he smell a sweet savour in them, but loathed and abhorred them; see Isaiah 1:11.

To what purpose cometh there to me {r} incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a distant country? your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet to me.

(r) Read Isa 1:11, Am 5:21.

20. For the uselessness of ceremonial without obedience, cp. Isaiah 1:11; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21 ff.; Micah 6:6; Psalm 50:13 f.

frankincense from Sheba] Cp. Isaiah 60:6, and “Centumque Sabaeo Ture calent arae” (Aen. I. 416–7). The word occurs only in the later portions of O.T., viz. Jeremiah 17:26, Jeremiah 41:5 (in Jeremiah 7:9 and Jeremiah 44:21 the word is different); Exodus 30:34; Leviticus 2:1 and six times besides; Numbers 5:15 (all P), Isaiah 43:23; Isaiah 60:6; Isaiah 66:3; 1 Chronicles 9:29; Ca. Jeremiah 3:6, Jeremiah 4:6; Jeremiah 4:14.

cane] mg. calamus (Exodus 30:23; Ezekiel 27:19; Ca. Jeremiah 4:14). It was used as an ingredient in the making of incense, and probably the “far country” was India. Du. and Co. think that Jeremiah is not attacking the sacrificial system, but the new-fangled ritual fashions. But this involves the precarious assumption that the latter part of the v. is the work of a supplementer.

Verse 20. - To what purpose... incense from Sheba? This is the answer to an implied objection on the part of the Jews, that they have faithfully fulfilled their core-menial obligations. "To obey is better than sacrifice" (1 Samuel 15:22); "And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Micah 6:8; comp. Isaiah 1:11; Amos 5:21-24; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8). All these passages must be read in the light of the prophets' circumstances. A purely formal, petrified religion compelled them to attack the existing priesthood, and a holy indignation cannot stop to measure its language. Incense from Sheba; frankincense from south-west Arabia. This was required for the holy incense (Exodus 30:34), and as an addition to the minkhah, or "meal offering." Sweet cane. The "sweet calamus" of Exodus 30:23, which was imported from India. It was an ingredient in the holy anointing oil (Exodus, loc. cit.). Not to be confounded with the sugar-cane. Jeremiah 6:20The people had no shortcoming in the matter of sacrifice in the temple; but in this service, as being mere outward service of works, the Lord has no pleasure, if the heart is estranged from Him, rebels against His commandments. Here we have the doctrine, to obey is better than sacrifice, 1 Samuel 15:22. The Lord desires that men do justice, exercise love, and walk humbly with Him, Micah 6:8. Sacrifice, as opus operatum, is denounced by all the prophets: cf. Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21., Isaiah 1:11; Psalm 50:8. Incense from Sheba (see on Ezekiel 27:22) was required partly for the preparation of the holy incense (Exodus 30:34), partly as an addition to the meat-offerings, Leviticus 2:1, Leviticus 2:15, etc. Good, precious cane, is the aromatic reed, calamus odoratus (Exodus 30:23), calamus from a far country - namely, brought from India - and used in the preparation of the anointing oil; see on Exodus 30:23. לרצון is from the language of the Torah; cf. Leviticus 1:3., Jeremiah 22:19., Exodus 28:38; and with לא: not to well-pleasing, sc. before Jahveh, i.e., they cannot procure for the offerers the pleasure or favour of God. With לא ערבוּ לי cf. Hosea 9:4.
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