They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons. The prophet here mentions one species of superstition which demonstrates the awful blindness of the people; their not hesitating to sacrifice their sons and daughters to devils. In applying such an abominable designation to the sin of the people, he means to exhibit it in more hateful colours. From this we learn that inconsiderate zeal is a flimsy pretext in favour of any act of devotion. For by how much the Jews were under the influence of burning zeal, by so much does the prophet convict them with being guilty of greater wickedness; because their madness carried them away to such a pitch of enthusiasm, that they did not spare even their own offspring. Were good intentions meritorious, as idolaters suppose, then indeed the laying aside of all natural affection in sacrificing their own children was a deed deserving of the highest praise. But when men act under the impulse of their own capricious humour, the more they occupy themselves with acts of external worship, the more do they increase their guilt.
They shed innocent blood. Should anyone object that Abraham is praised, because he did not withhold his only son, the answer is plain, that he did it in obedience to God’s command, so that every vestige of inhumanity was effaced by means of the purity of faith. For if obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22), it is the best rule both for morality and religion. It is an awful manifestation of God’s vindictive wrath, when the superstitious heathens, left to their own inventions, become hardened in deeds of horrid cruelty. As often as the martyrs put their life in jeopardy in defence of the truth, the incense of such a sacrifice is pleasing to God. But when the two Romans, by name Decii, in an execrable manner devoted themselves unto death, that was an act of atrocious impiety. It is not without just cause, therefore, that the prophet enhances the guilt of the people by this consideration, that to the perverse mode of worshipping God, they had added excessive cruelty.
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