Hosea 6:6, "For I desired
mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings."
This morning, extremism is as rampant as it has ever been. While the subjects
may vary somewhat and the players change, most fallible arguments stem from
carrying some thought (which may not be bad of itself) to the incorrect
conclusion or point. For example, matters of Christian liberty should be looked
at gently and charitably. Paul addresses two topics in Romans 14 (diet and
sabbath keeping) as points of liberty, rather than points of contention with
"line drawing in the sand." What if someone wants to be a vegetarian? That is
fine. What if they want to impose that lifestyle on everyone else? That is not
fine. What if someone today wants to live in such a way that they physically
rest and do nothing laborious one day a week (like the Jews did on Saturday)?
That is fine. What if they want to impose that lifestyle on everyone else?
Again, that is not fine. These matters are not harmful of themselves, but the
harm enters when an extreme application (in these examples a "too broad
application") exacerbates the subject.
Verses like the one above are sometimes imposed in conversation to teach some
individual's own extreme way of thinking. Individuals (sometimes including me)
will find a handful of Scriptures that - perhaps on the surface - seem to
indicate some pet teaching that they have. These cases are not hard to spot, for
quite often, they will ignore other teachings that flatly contradict their
teaching. Our verse above is in the midst of some of the most woeful Scripture
reading that our eyes could peruse. This book is one that should stir
thanksgiving within our souls for what God has so richly done in our lives.
Consider that Hosea was commanded by God to take a wife of whoredoms to show the
people of Israel that God's relationship with them was much like His servant's
relationship with his whorish wife. (Chapter 1) Would any preacher today like
the job assignment that Hosea was given by God?
Further still, God pronounces severe woe upon the people (through the mouth of
His servant) that shows countless times when the land revolted against God, even
after His continued mercy and kindness toward them. The Lord speaking in our
verse shows that He desires things above that which they may have been
performing. Since mercy is preferred by God above sacrifice and knowledge of Him
more than burnt offerings, we might surmise that some/most of them had engaged
in sacrifices and burnt offerings in one form or another. Perhaps some of them
were slavishly keeping oracles and principles of the law out of a grudging
heart. Regardless, the Lord shows them something that He prefers above those
things they may have been doing.
Now, verses like this will sometimes be employed today to teach the inferiority
of public worship in the assembly of the saints. Our ears may hear words like,
"Well, I know God, and that is more important than going to church." Or we may
hear, "Since I try to treat my neighbors kindly and with love, that means more
than actually going to church or choosing some 'label' for my life." Our world
today has a self-justified sense of heightened spirituality. People believe that
they have attained some higher place in individual living that the "old way"
could not give. One lady even told me, "I am trying to be too spiritual to have
time being religious." My quick and (hopefully) charitable reply was, "Be
careful what kind of spiritual you become."
Religion is necessarily enjoined to heightened spirituality, and the Scriptures
are full of exhortations to that very activity. (John 4:22-24, Hebrews 10:25) As
a matter of fact, the highest spiritual points are attained when in congregation
with other like-minds than when quietly worshipping God in private. Therefore,
this verse cannot reference the foolish notion that religious exercise is
extinct in its benefit. However, verses like this can also be used to "the other
ditch" of extreme thinking.
From time to time, we see the ugly head of "comparative pride" rear up in God's
house. What happens is that those that have much knowledge about different
things look upon others with less knowledge with an air of superiority. When it
comes to natural endeavors, I expect those above me to look down upon me, for
they are my superiors. At the office, my bosses view me as subordinate to them,
as they have more time, experience, and knowledge about the company I work for.
When in school, my teachers/professors looked upon me as subordinate to them,
for I was the student and they the teachers. However, in God's house (while
there are students and teachers), we have no plane of superiority/inferiority.
We are all on the same plane, for we are all brethren in God's house with Him
being the Supreme Ruler alone.
Yet, the more knowledgeable might employ the second phrase of this verse to show
that more knowledge is better than just being at church. Just presenting your
body a living sacrifice is not preferred by God to knowing more about Him. It is
undoubtedly true that God delights in our furthered knowledge of Him and His
work, and this verse shows that. But, that is not the only thing, for having
knowledge without the mercy is like having the puffed up pride of knowledge
without charity (making it of no use in service to God). We become unfit, by our
own pride in knowledge, to bear the infirmities of the weak and help those that
have not arrived at as knowledgeable a position. (Romans 15:1)
So, if both extreme positions are incorrect, what are we to make of the Lord's
thought? Instead of condemning religious exercise or worshipping a knowledge
level that we may have, we should see that the Lord is pulling back some of the
tapestry of His work to show us the heart of the matter. In other words, He was
talking to people who knew the letter of His commandments (burnt offerings and
sacrifices), but He was showing a measure of the spirit of them. They knew the
letter of law, but He revealed some of the spirit of the law. Just as Saul
sought justification for keeping animals to sacrifice (I Samuel 15), the Jews
sought justification in keeping all the ordinances of the old covenant. Yet,
just as Samuel tells Saul that obedience is better than sacrifice, so the Lord
shows that mercy and knowledge of God should excel the physical movements of
What if a Jew offered up burnt offerings and sacrifices in the old covenant but
harbored malice, envy, hatred, and strife for his brother in something that he
had done in the past to him? According to the law, he has kept what the law
required even though his heart was filled with the blackness of sin. What if he
did everything the priest commanded, but did not stop to consider what it
represented or even worse who the offering was to and why? According to the
precepts of the law, he has fulfilled his ceremonial duty, but his mind was
completely unknowledgeable of God as its the recipient.
What if we today come to God's house and perform all the rituals of worship
(half-way sing, bow our heads at the appropriate times, and do not fall asleep
during the sermon) but are thinking about other things in life or condemning
those other members there present? We have performed the keeping of assembling
with the saints in body, but our minds and hearts are filled with the opposite
of mercy. What if we keep those same things but have no idea why we do them?
Physically, we are assembling, but the knowledge of the why is absent from us.
The point of the verse is not to cease religious exercise nor make a knowledge
spectrum in the church and show who is where on the curve. Rather, the point is
that we need to know what we are doing and why we are doing it (therein lies the
knowledge of God), and it needs to show in our behaviour with one another
(therein lies the mercy). While it is acceptable and pleasing unto Him when we
go to church, present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto
God, study to show ourselves approved unto God, give attendance to reading,
exhortation, and doctrine and perform prayers (both publicly and privately)
throughout our lives, it is a greater delight to Him when these things show in
conduct with one another and we realize while doing them what has been done for
Friends, God delights in our knowledge of Him, centered upon what His Son has
done in our room and stead. That pleases Him far above those that give Him lip
service but know little about Him. God further delights in our merciful conduct
when we love our neighbours as ourselves. That pleases Him far above those that
are religious but pass the half-dead man on the other side of the road. (Luke
10) Therefore, may we exercise mercy and increase in the knowledge of Him, for
in doing these things, our service/religious activity will have meaning and our
lives will show forth those things in all seasons. Finally, may we never use any
verse as an occasion for stumbling by imposing more on it than it teaches in
some extreme fashion.