21 “‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go ahead, add your burnt offerings to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves! 22 For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, 23 but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you. 24 But they did not listen or pay attention;instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward. 25 From the time your ancestors left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets. 26 But they did not listen to me or pay attention. They were stiff-necked and did more evil than their ancestors.’
27 “When you tell them all this, they will not listen to you; when you call to them, they will not answer. 28 Therefore say to them, ‘This is the nation that has not obeyed the Lord its God or responded to correction. Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips.
(Jeremiah 7:21-28 NIV)
In our journey through chapter 7, we have seen the Lord call out His peoples’ false religious practices. The nation’s deliberate and obstinant rebellion against the Lord resulted in their misplaced faith:
- in the Temple building, rather than the God of the Temple (vv. 1-15)
- in family idol worship, rather than worship of the One True God (vv. 16-20)
- in sacrifices, rather than obedience (vv. 21-28)
In today’s passage, we see the Lord addressing the sacrifices the people offered. To comprehend verse 21, we need to understand the difference between burnt offerings and sacrifices. Burnt offerings were completely consumed on the altar. The entire offering was burned up – nothing was held back from the Lord. Sacrifices, on the other hand, were shared. Part of a sacrifice was given to the Lord, and the rest was consumed by the worshipper.
In verse 21, the Lord says that the people might as well eat the burnt offerings in addition to the sacrifices they were offering, as He equally rejected both. Was there something wrong with the sacrifice itself, or was there another issue? Verses 22 – 23 answer the question. The Lord gave His people the command to love and obey Him. God’s command was based on the covenant relationship He established between Himself and His people. Yes, the Lord delighted in sacrifices from His people, but only when they were combined with their love and obedience to follow His commands.
Hosea, another prophet, expresses the Lord’s same heart and priorities:
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
(Hosea 6:6 NIV)
In verses 24 – 26, the Lord points out Judah’s history of disobedience, tracing their willful behavior all the way back to their exodus from Egypt. In fact, the Lord says, their disobedience has not lessened, nor has it stayed the same – it has gotten worse each generation. The Lord has sent His prophets to warn the people of their sins, but it has not had any effect. The people have strayed far from Him.
In verses 27 – 28, the Lord shifts His focus from the people of Judah to Jeremiah. The Lord tells Jeremiah that when he tells the people of Judah these things, they will not listen nor will they heed the Lord’s warnings. The Lord gives Jeremiah a tagline to tell the people of Judah: “Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips.”
As we study today’s passage, it may seem like the Lord was rejecting the sacrificial system He established. That was not the case at all – in fact, the complete opposite. The problem was not the sacrificial system, nor the sacrifices being offered. The issue the Lord was driving home was the heart intent behind the action, the “why” underlying the “what” and “how”.
If you recall the chronology of the nation of Israel in Moses’ day, remember that the Lord established the Ten Commandments first, and they had no mention of sacrifice. The Ten Commandments were based on relationships – between God and His people, and between His people and other people. Sacrifices came after the covenant relationship, in heart response to God’s faithfulness, goodness, and mercy toward His own. But God’s people had abandoned their relationship with Him and were treating Him the same way they worshipped the other pagan gods. They believed they satisfied God’s commands by offering their sacrifices. They were “checking the box”, and expecting God to approve. Their misplaced faith was in their actions, not their relationship with the Almighty.
While we are no longer under the Old Testament law because of Christ’s once-and-for-all sacrifice for our sins, the principle of the “why” beneath the “what” and “how” still applies. May Paul’s admonition be our way of life:
13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:1-13 NIV)