“Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces; now he will heal us. He has injured us; now he will bandage our wounds. In just a short time he will restore us, so that we may live in his presence.
Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him. He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.”
“O Israel and Judah, what should I do with you?” asks the Lord. “For your love vanishes like the morning mist and disappears like dew in the sunlight. I sent my prophets to cut you to pieces— to slaughter you with my words, with judgments as inescapable as light. I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings. But like Adam, you broke my covenant and betrayed my trust.”
The people of Israel did not understand the depth of their sins. They did not turn from idols, regret their sins, or pledge to make changes. They thought that God’s wrath would last only a few days; little did they know that their nation would soon be taken into exile. Israel was interested in God only for the material benefits he provided; they did not value the eternal benefits that come from worshiping him. They offered rituals like sacrifices without true repentance. God wasn’t fooled, however. He answered his people, pointing out that their profession of loyalty, like mist and dew, evaporated easily and had no substance.
Rituals can help people understand God and nourish their relationship with him. That is why God instituted circumcision and the sacrificial system in the Old Testament and baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament. But a ritual is helpful only if it is carried out with an attitude of love for and obedience to God. If a person’s heart is far from God, ritual will become empty mockery. God didn’t want the Israelites’ rituals; he wanted their hearts.
Why do you worship? What is the motive behind your “offerings” and “sacrifices”? Many find it easy and comfortable to maintain the appearance of being committed without deep and sincere loyalty. If you profess loyalty to God, back it up with your actions.