Listen to the Lord, you leaders of Sodom. Listen to the law of our God, people of Gomorrah. “What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?” says the Lord. “I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.” [Isaiah 1:10-11 (NLT)]
Although Hosea and Micah told Israel that God rejected their insincere sacrifices, when Isaiah addressed the people of Judah as the wicked Gentile cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the vehemence of God’s words was unmistakable. The prophets’ words did not mean that God was rejecting the sacrificial system but that He found their offerings and sacrifices meaningless because of the people’s depravity, hypocrisy, and superficial worship.
Sacrifices and offerings of incense, grain and animals were an essential part of the Israelites’ rituals at the time. They were made as a way of praising God, showing dedication to Him, in thanksgiving for His many gifts, as a way of asking forgiveness, and as atonement for sins. Most of Leviticus is dedicated to the conduct of sacrifices and Numbers includes additional requirements concerning offerings. Yet, some 600 years after being given those regulations, the prophets told the people that God did not want their sacrifices and burnt offerings because, without faith in and love for Him, their offerings were meaningless.
Since we no longer make burnt sacrifices at our altars, what do those prophets’ words mean to us? To me, it means that it is not enough to simply go to church, sing in the choir, usher, recite Bible verses, teach Sunday school, bring treats, participate in a small group, or be diligent about our financial offerings to the church. God wants more!
As a girl, in confirmation class, I learned that the sacraments were “an outward and visible sign of an inner and spiritual grace.” The prophets’ words tell us that, no matter what the “outward and visible sign” may be, without an “inner and spiritual grace” it is meaningless. Even being dunked in a baptismal tank or regularly taking Communion are nothing more than empty rituals if our hearts and souls are not committed to God. Just as God wanted changed lives rather than bulls, lambs, and goats from the Israelites, He wants more from us than simply going through the motions of being a Christian.
God doesn’t want us just to know His word; He wants us to live it. He doesn’t want us just to know about Him, He wants us to know Him. He doesn’t want us going through the motions; He wants us! Rather than lip service; He wants our hearts. 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. The prophets told the Israelites what God wanted; we should listen to them!