Now therefore why tempt ye God - A God, by giving the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles, evidently shows he does not design them to be circumcised, in order to become debtors to the law, to fulfill all its precepts, etc., why will ye provoke him to displeasure by doing what he evidently designs shall not be done?
A yoke - which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? - This does not refer to the moral law - that was of eternal obligation - but to the ritual law, which, through the multitude of its sacrifices, ordinances, etc., was exceedingly burthensome to the Jewish people. And had not God, by an especial providence, rendered both their fields and their flocks very fruitful, they could not possibly have borne so painful a ritual.
There is a curious story in Midrash Shochar, told in Yalkut Simeoni, part i. fol. 229, where Korah is represented as showing the oppressive nature of the law, and avarice of its priests, in justification of his rebellion. "There was," said he, "a widow in our neighbourbood who had two orphan children: she had one field; and, when she began to plough it, one came and said, Thou shalt not plough with an ox and an ass together. When she went to sow it, he said, Thou shalt not sow thy field with divers seeds. When she began to reap, and to gather the sheaves together, he said, Leave a handful and the corners of the field for the poor. When she prepared to thresh it, he said, Give me the wave-offering, and the first and second tithes. She did as she was commanded, and then went and sold her field, and bought two ewes, that she might clothe herself and family with the wool, and get profit by the lambs. When they brought forth their lambs, Aaron came and said, Give me the firstlings, for the holy blessed God hath said, All the first born, whatsoever openeth the womb, shall be thine. She yielded to his demands, and gave him two lambs. When shearing time came, he said, Give me the first fruits of the wool. When the widow had done this, she said, I cannot stand before this man; I will kill my sheep and eat them. When she had killed the sheep, Aaron came and said, Give me the shoulder, and the jaws, and the ventricle. The widow said, Though I have killed my sheep, I am not delivered from this man; I therefore consecrate the whole to God. Then Aaron said, All belongs to me, for the holy blessed God hath said, Every thing that is consecrated in Israel shall be his, i.e. the priest's. He therefore took the whole carcasses, and marched off, leaving the widow and her orphan daughters overwhelmed with affliction." This is a terrible picture of the requisitions of the Mosaic ritual; and, though exaggerated, it contains so many true features that it may well be said, This is a yoke which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear. See Schoettgen. In the same vexatious way may the tithes of the national Church in this country be exacted, and in this very way is the exaction frequently exercised. It is high time that these abuses should be corrected.