Is Jeremiah 7:22 a Denial of Moses?

By some Skeptics’ thinking, Jeremiah 7:22 “stands in flagrant contradiction of what the last four books of the Pentateuch say” with their many commands of offerings and sacrifices. Presumably we are to think that Jeremiah represents some “anti-cultus” faction that denies the Mosaic heritage — some would say, that he is speaking against a recent forgery of Deuteronomy “discovered” in the Temple.

.. The simple answer to this notes that this is rather the use of hyperbole to effect a point. The purpose of this phrase is to show the relative importance of sacrifices, etc. in terms of inward attitudes. Indeed, were this not so, we would be constrained to ask how such an obvious “condemnation” of the sacrifices survived the so-called “cutting” since the very priests that Skeptics accuse of creating the sacrificial law for their own benefit were the ones who made the “cuttings” in the first place.

But history knows of no such opposition to the sacrificial system in Israel; while the temple machinery was often corrupt (as in the time of Annas), there is no indication at all that the actual sacrificial practice was disdained.

For some Skeptics, however, the text must be read “plainly” and to them, “plainly” this means Jeremiah was indisposed to the Pentateuch.

.. The people assumed that simply having the Temple around protected them – as though a modern person assumed that nothing bad could happen to them inside a church! In a sense the people attributed to the Temple and the sacrifices a sort of magical power to keep enemies at bay. Jeremiah’s message negates this idea: How can the people sin and think that they will still be protected

.. Finally, in our verse (22), a rhetorical negation is used to bring attention to the fact that internal posture is more important than external ritual.

.. As it is expressed in 1 Samuel 15:22 —

Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

This sort of outrageous, rhetorical teaching technique was quite common to Semitic and ANE culture. Hence, we have Jesus’ parables, with outrageous images of a beam in the eye and a Pharisee swallowing a came

.. “God’s essential demands did not concern ritual matters, but the keeping of the Covenant stipulations.”

.. Likewise, Laymon [Laym. IntB, 380]:

Hebrew idiom allows the denial of one thing in order to assert another, and the intention here is not wholly to deny but only to relegate to second place.

.. The Skeptical case for disharmony is based upon his inability and/or refusal to grasp the passage in its socio-linguistic context

.. This sort of rejection would have resulted in an enormous split in Judaism that would have left reverberations even unto this day

..  Furthermore, generally speaking, negation idioms have a rich history in oral cultures around the world. Socrates was known for a sarcastic type of irony that employed negation idioms. Even today, we use forms of negation idioms, generally in the same sarcastic manner as in the OT. (An example: Someone observing heavy rain and saying, “What nice weather we’re having!”)

.. We have only ourselves to blame if we find the message of the Bible “unclear”: It is we who made our language less colorful and less idiomatic than Hebrew.

Calvin Commentary: Jeremiah 7:22

Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible

Jeremiah seems to have condemned sacrifices too much; for we know they were designed for certain purposes: they were intended to promote penitence; for when an animal was killed at the altar, all were reminded that they were guilty of death, which the animals underwent instead of men. Hence God did thereby represent to the Jews, as in a mirror, the dreadful judgment they deserved; and the sacrifices were also living images of Christ; they were sure pledges of that expiation through which men are reconciled to God. Jeremiah then seems here to speak too contemptibly of sacrifices; for they were seals of God’s grace, and had been instituted to lead men to repentance. But he speaks according to the ideas of those who had strangely vitiated the worship of God; for the Jews were sedulously attentive to sacrifices, and yet neglected the main things — faith and repentance. Hence the Prophet here repudiates sacrifices, because these false worshippers of God had adulterated them; for they were only intent on external rites, and overlooked their design, and even despised it.

.. Absurdly then did the Jews offer their sacrifices, as though they could thereby appease God: and this is the reason why the prophets inveighed so pointedly against sacrifices. God says that he nauseated them, that he was wearied with them, that his name was thereby polluted, (Isaiah 1:14)

.. “What are your offerings and sacrifices to me.”

he says by Amos. Such declarations occur everywhere in the Prophets; we are told that sacrifices were not only of no account before God, but that they were filthy things which he abominated; that is, when the things signified were separated from the signs.


.. he says of God, that he gave no command respecting sacrifices: for before the law was published, God had ordered sacrifices to be offered to him; as, for instance, the passover; for the pascal lamb, as it is well known, was a sacrifice; and he had also spoken of sacrifices before the people were liberated. Moreover, after the law was given, a priesthood was established among the people, as Moses clearly shews.

.. He therefore makes a distinction between external signs and spiritual worship

Matthew Poole’s English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Some would argue from hence that sacrifices were at first an invention of men, as papists and Socinians; and because they should not be used to idols, God gave way for the introducing them into his worship; but it is evident in Scripture that they have been of Divine institution ever since Adam, Genesis 4:3,4. As to the meaning of the words, God doth not condemn them, or deny them, save only comparatively in respect of obedience, not so much these as obeying his commands, 1 Samuel 15:22 Hosea 6:6, i.e. mercy rather than sacrifice. Negatives are often put for comparatives, Genesis 45:8 Exodus 16:8 John 5:45. Hence the Hebrew is, the matter of burnt-offerings; for sacrifices were not instituted for themselves, but for other uses, and to be signs of faith in his promises, and obedience to his commands, as in the next verse, where the condition, promise, and end are all set down.


.. For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices – not contradicting the divine obligation of the legal sacrifices. But, “I did not require sacrifices, unless combined with moral obedience (Psalms 50:8; Psalms 51:16-17, “Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise”). The superior claim of the moral above the positive precepts of the law was marked by the ten commandments having been delivered first, and by the two tables of stone being deposited alone in the ark (Deuteronomy 5:6; Hebrews 9:4; Exodus 25:16). The negative in Hebrew often supplies the want of the comparative: not excluding the thing denied, but only implying the prior claim of the thing set in opposition to it (Hosea 6:6). “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22.) Love to God is the supreme end, external observances only means toward that end. ‘The mere sacrifice was not so much what I commanded, as the sincere submission to my, will, which gives to the sacrifice all its virtue’ (Magee, ‘Atonement,’ note 57).

Jeremiah 7:22: Commentary

The first promulgation of the Law, the basis of the covenant with Israel, contemplated a spiritual, ethical religion, of which the basis was found in the ten great Words, or commandments, of Exodus 20. The ritual in connection with sacrifice was prescribed partly as a concession to the feeling which showed itself, in its evil form, in the worship of the golden calf, partly as an education.


.. The negative in Hebrew often supplies the want of the comparative: not excluding the thing denied, but only implying the prior claim of the thing set in opposition to it (Ho 6:6). “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice” (1Sa 15:22). Love to God is the supreme end, external observances only means towards that end. “The mere sacrifice was not so much what I commanded, as the sincere submission to My will gives to the sacrifice all its virtue” [Magee, Atonement, Note 57].


.. concerning burnt offerings, or sacrifices; these are not in the decalogue or ten commands; these are no part of that law or covenant, but are an appendage or addition to it; and though they are of early institution and use, yet they never were appointed for the sake of themselves, but for another end; they were types of Christ, and were designed to lead the faith of the people of God to him; they never were intended as proper expiations of sin, and much less to cover and encourage immorality; whenever therefore they were offered up in a hypocritical manner, and without faith in Christ, and in order to atone for sinful actions, without any regard to the sacrifice of Christ, they were an abomination to the Lord. These were not the only things the Lord commanded the children of Israel; nor the chief and principal ones; and in comparison of others, of more consequence and moment, were as none at all; and which are next mentioned.


.. Careful examination has shewn that in Jeremiah’s day the “Priestly Code” (P) which emphasizes and elaborates the sacrificial ritual had not been added to the earlier constituents (J and E). It is true indeed that those earlier constituents are not devoid of reference to sacrifice (see Exodus 23:14-19), nor is Deut. either (e.g. Jeremiah 12:5 ff., Jeremiah 16:1 ff.), but (in Peake’s words) “there is a very marked difference between the attitude of the earlier Codes and the Priestly Legislation. In the latter the ritual system is of very high importance, and sacrifice fills a prominent place, in the former sacrifice holds a relatively insignificant position.” See further on Jeremiah 8:8 as to Jeremiah’s view.


.. In general it may be said that obedience to the moral law always ranked first (cp. Jeremiah 11:4), and sacrifices were, as is here taught, wholly worthless when offered by the immoral. Moreover, the “outward ceremonial of sacrifice is discounted, in view of the danger of dependence on it”


.. On one occasion he tells them that Jehovah cares not for sacrifices; he means, as the context shows, the sacrifices of men without spiritual sensibilities. On another, that Jehovah never commanded their fathers to sacrifice; he means (may we not presume?) the mere outward forms of the ritual, divorced from the sentiment and practice of piety, which, as Hosea tells us (Hosea 6:6), Jehovah “delights in and not [equivalent to ‘more than’] sacrifice.”


.. According to it, the prophet’s denial is not absolute, but relative – relative, that is, to the notion of sacrifices entertained by the Jews whom he addresses. Of course, Graf’s view, that the denial is absolute, will equally well suit the context. The people were surprised at Jeremiah’s objurgations, because they thought they had fulfilled the claims of the covenant. Jeremiah’s purpose is equally well fulfilled whether his denial is qualified or unqualified, absolute or relative.

1 Corinthians 7 Commentary

The six questions treated in this chapter are:

(1) Should married couples continue normal sexual relations after becoming Christians? Answer: Yes, it is their duty to do this (1 Corinthians 7:1-7).

(2) Should single persons get married? Answer: Yes, in all normal situations; but for the gifted, such as Paul, celibacy was advantageous, especially in unsettled times (1 Corinthians 7:8-9).

.. (6) May a Christian widow remarry? Answer: Yes, provided that she marry “only in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39-40).


Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. (1 Corinthians 7:1)

The development of this paragraph a little later indicates that the question regards the conduct of Christian couples toward each other, a question no doubt related to the broader question of celibacy as a way of life,

.. “He is teaching that because of the persecution of Christians, it is better not to get married and bring children into the world to be killed and suffer persecution.[4] It should be carefully observed, however, that Paul in no sense advocated celibacy, except in certain situations and circumstances, and that even in those cases it was merely “allowable,” and not commanded. There is no disparagement of marriage here, Paul’s writings in Ephesians 5:22,23, etc., making it abundantly clear that he held the institution of marriage in the very highest esteem

.. As Marsh said, “He is not writing a treatise on marriage, but answering their questions within the context of current attitudes and circumstances.”[5] Marsh translated this place, “It is WELL for a man not to touch a woman … meaning COMMENDABLE, but not morally or intrinsically better.”[6] It is true now, even as it was in the beginning, that “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). As Lipscomb noted, “Paul’s teaching here regards the persecution then raging against the Christians; and, on account of these, if a man could restrain his lusts, it was better not to marry.”[7]

.. Many of the Greek philosophers, such as Menander, held marriage to be “an evil, but a necessary evil”;[8] but the Jews, on the other hand, “absolutely required that every man should marry, and reputed those as murderers who did not.”[9]

.. But I would have you to be free from cares. He that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord.

This was the basis of Paul’s recommendation of the single status for those whose self-restraint made it possible, the unencumbered being able more wholeheartedly to serve the interests of true religion than those pressed down with cares and obligations.

Verse 33
But he that is married is careful for the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and is divided.

Paul did not condemn man’s efforts in the secular sphere, but was pointing out the preemption of time and efforts required in the support of a wife and family, such a division of the Christian’s energies being inherent in such a thing as marriage. All of this was said as persuasion to induce any who could to avoid marriage during that “present distress.”

.. Paul’s personal preference for celibacy on the part of persons who were capable of it, and in certain circumstances, for more complete dedication, has always appealed to some in every age; and it is not right to depreciate such behavior. Shore pointed out that England’s Queen Elizabeth I was one who made exactly the choice Paul recommended in these verses, although for a different purpose, and yet a high purpose.

Elizabeth I declared that England was her husband and all Englishmen her children, and that she desired no higher character or fairer remembrance of her to be transmitted to posterity than this inscription engraved upon her tombstone: “Here lies Elizabeth, who lived and died a maiden queen.[53]