I’ve invited people to write “guest blog posts” for this blog. There are several reasons for this: 1) To offer different perspectives. 2) To generate even more discussion and conversation between blogs. 3) To introduce other bloggers to my readers.
(If you are interested in writing a guest blog post, please contact me at aknox[at]sebts[dot]com.)
Today’s post was written by Norm Mitchell. You can connect with Norm via his email at norman.mitchell.iii [at] gmail [dot] com.
Mercy vs. Sacrifice (part 1)
God has indicated multiple times in both the old and new testaments that He would rather His people forego the mandated sacrifices (and other duties) that He instituted and instead, love Him, obey Him, and show compassion to others.
I used to think that God was about the FORM of religion in the old testament, and that it was really cool how Jesus came and emphasized the paramount importance of the relationship that we have with God over the keeping of the letter of the law. I now believe that God, who does not change, has intended this from the beginning of time. The old testament is full of examples of God’s attempt to strengthen His relationship with those who love Him and to begin relationships with those who did not know Him.
Some Scriptural examples:
And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. (I Samuel 15:22)
Saul was commanded to destroy the Amalekites–animals and all. After the battle, however, he kept the king alive and kept the best of the animals. When Samuel questioned him about it, Saul’s excuse was that he only kept the animals to sacrifice to the Lord. And what was Samuel’s response? “Do you think that God cares about sacrifices nearly as much as He cares about obedience? It is better to obey God and listen to Him than to sacrifice to Him.”
Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (Micah 6:6-8)
The first part of the book of Micah details the evil that the Israelites had come to embrace, emphasizing the wickedness of the rulers and priests that exploited and oppressed the people. God talks about the judgment that he would bring on Israel because of this wickedness.
The second part of the book talks about the salvation that He would bring from their foreign oppressors. This salvation was not merely a political freedom, but was anchored in the coming of the Messiah.
Chapter 6 appears to be a bottom line of sorts. God concludes his grievance against the Israelites: “Have I done anything to hurt you? Haven’t I helped and protected you?”
The response from the people appears to typify the prevalent attitude: “What do You want? Do You want sacrifices and offerings? How about thousands of sacrifices? Would You be satisfied if I gave You my first-born child?” I don’t know if this attitude is born of annoyance, desperation, or something else. “Leave me alone, God. Here’s a sacrifice, now get off my back.” Or maybe it’s “How can I regain my relationship with God? What will it take? Thousands of sacrifices? My first-born child?”
But Micah says of God: “He has shown you what He requires of you: Execute righteous judgments, be compassionate, and humbly pursue a relationship with God.”
O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away. Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth: and thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth. For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me. Gilead is a city of them that work iniquity, and is polluted with blood. And as troops of robbers wait for a man, so the company of priests murder in the way by consent: for they commit lewdness. (Hosea 6:4-9)
God laments how His people had forsaken Him. He says, “I wanted you to show mercy and to know Me more than I wanted you to sacrifice to me!”
But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. (Matthew 15:5-8)
Jesus quoted Isaiah when chastising the Pharisees whose excuse for neglecting to care for their parents was that they were using their money for sacrificial giving to God. Their focus on keeping the law came at the expense of a relationship with God and with their family.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. (Matthew 23:23)
But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. (Luke 11:42)
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for scrupulously paying tithes on the herbs–the tiniest quantities of crops they had, and neglecting judgment, mercy, and the love of God. I equate this in my mind to finding a dime on the sidewalk, and ensuring that I give a penny back to God. They so entwined themselves in the details of their religion (some out of a desire to increase their prestige and following, and some, probably, out of an incorrect picture of what God required) that their religious ceremony completely eclipsed their relationship with God.
God clearly desires a close relationship with people.