To what purpose comes there to me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a far country? your burnt offerings are not acceptable…
I. OBSERVE THE TROUBLE WHICH MEN WHO ARE REALLY UNGODLY MAY TAKE IN CONNECTION WITH RELIGION. Real religion means, of course, a great deal of trouble and self-denial, watchfulness and prayer. But when there is only the appearance of religion, there may also be much trouble, considerable time may be appropriated, and there may be considerable expenditure of money. So it was here. Materials for holy service were brought from a far country, and, being probably expensive in themselves, they would become more expensive still by the distance they had to be brought. The expense would also look greater because it was on articles which were not manifestly a necessity of life. Men must spend money for food and raiment and a roof to shelter them, and out of the money so spent they plainly get something; but here, in return for all the trouble and cost of getting the incense, etc., to Jerusalem, there is a very plain intimation that the offering of it does not effect the slightest good, does not in the least improve the position of those who offer. And this very rejection by Jehovah makes us see more clearly the trouble these people took. For we may be sure that the word through Jeremiah would not stop them in their offerings, useless as they were. The less there is of intelligent and pure devotion in religion, the more there is of superstitious, terrified clinging to habitual outward forms; and the same kind of action continues still, in many ways and in all communions. People without any real love to God in their hearts, or real submission to him, go through a great deal in the way of forms and ceremonies, and delude themselves with the notion that somehow they will be the better for it all.
II. OBSERVE THE CERTAINTY THAT THIS TROUBLE IS ALL IN VAIN. Those who bring the offerings are not left in even the slightest doubt. They have not the excuse of being able to say that in some way or other, which they do not understand, there will come a benefit out of their offerings. There is a refusal in the most decided and solemn way. Although these gifts may find their way into the house of God, and the altar itself be used in connection with them, they are not therefore accepted. They are just as much refused as a gift would be if the bringer of it had the door of the house where he brought it slammed in his face.
III. THE REASON OF THE REFUSAL. Though not here expressed, the reason, from what is said elsewhere, is perfectly plain. These gifts, sweet and fragrant as they are in themselves, become an insult because of the men who bring them Growing in their natural place, they play their part in adding to the beauty and perfume of God's world; but now the fragrant has become as it were stinking, because of the defiled hands through which it has passed. What men bring to God they must bring with clean hands and a pure heart. The great use of these gifts with their pleasant qualities was to signify what was sweet and fragrant and devoted in the hearts of the people. But when God knew that the gifts were bestowed through superstition or formality, or through the fear lest neglect might bring disaster on some cherished scheme, how could he accept these gifts? Consider further how, in many instances at least, the money was got that procured these gifts. They were the fruits of robbery, fraud, and oppression. When we read how some of the spoils of conquest in ancient times not infrequently went to enrich an idol temple, how thankful we should be that in God's Word there is such plain dealing with those who think that some great gift to religious uses can condone their wickedness. Then, of course, in such cases the greater the expense of a man's religion the greater also was the amount that had to be gotten in wrongful ways. The Pharisee extortioner had to give several extra turns to the screw in order that he might get just that special sum which was needed to keep up his reputation as a religious man. - Y.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.