For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. [Hosea 6:6 (NKJV)]
In ancient days, sacrifices were an essential part of the Israelites’ rituals. These sacrifices consisted of incense, grain and sacrificial animals. The Israelites made these offerings as a way of praising God, showing their dedication to him, and in thanksgiving for his many gifts. They also were made as a way of asking forgiveness and atoning for their sins. The book of Leviticus spends several chapters giving specific directions for making these sacrifices. More than 600 years later, the prophet Hosea told the Israelites that God did not want their sacrifices and burnt offerings. He explained that, without the Israelites’ faith in and love for God, their offerings were meaningless.
Since we no longer make burnt sacrifices at our altars, what does this verse mean to us? To me, it means that it is not enough to simply go to church, sing in the choir, usher, teach Sunday school, participate in a small group, or regularly take Holy Communion. It’s not enough for us to be diligent about our financial offerings to the church. It’s not enough to be able to recite Bible verses. God wants more from us than simply going through the motions of being a Christian.
As a girl, in confirmation class, I learned the following phrase regarding the sacraments: they are “an outward and visible sign of an inner and spiritual grace.” Hosea’s words tell us that without an “inner and spiritual grace” the “outward and visible sign” is meaningless. God doesn’t want us just to know His word; He wants us to live His word. He doesn’t want us to just know about Him, He wants us to actually know Him. He doesn’t want us going through the motions; He wants us! He must be an essential part of our lives. God wants us to serve Him not just with our bodies, but with our hearts and souls.