Summary: The religion of sacrifice vs. the way of mercy. God made the sacrifice and shows the mercy!
Have you ever received an apology that wasn’t sincere? Somebody does something to hurt you, and in order to win you back, they say they’re sorry. In spite of their good-sounding words, you know they don’t mean it. You can tell by the tone of their voice and the look in their eyes that they aren’t really sorry, and they don’t really want to change their behavior. Sometimes, such apologies hurt just as bad as what they did to you in the first place. Can you imagine how God feels when we do that to him?
God’s charge against Israel was that “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgement of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery.” (4:1b-2a) They had become evil and corrupt, infected with the idolatrous ways of the world. Yet, through it all, they still maintained the outward appearance of worship. They observed the appointed religious festivals, and they brought the proper sacrifices that were required by the law. Obviously, this kind of charade didn’t fool God. So God said that he would hide himself from them until they admitted their guilt and earnestly sought his face.
Oh, they tried to tell God they were sorry, and on the surface, it sounded good. They said, “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” (6:1-3)
That’s what they wanted. When they talked to God they expected the soft, soothing rain of a springtime shower. Instead, they got a storm! God said to them, “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears. Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth; my judgments flashed like lightning upon you. (6:4-5)
Their understanding of God was seriously flawed. They treated him like a machine: put in your quarter (your offering, your sacrifice, or whatever) and out comes forgiveness. They wanted him to act according to their expectations, but they weren’t willing to act according to his. They brought God their pocket change, but God was looking for a change of heart. He wanted more than just “lip service”. He said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” (6:6)
THE WAY OF SACRIFICE
At this point, someone might say, “But didn’t God command them to offer sacrifices?” And the answer would be, “Yes.” In Leviticus, there are five types of offerings they had to give: burnt offerings, meal offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, and trespass offerings. There are also seven festivals they were required to observe: The Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles.