For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
Lots of families these days have video cameras to record important family moments and key events, especially in the lives of children. My family was no exception. There’s some classic footage of my brother unwrapping his presents one Christmas morning. He’s excitedly opening up a parcel, then holds the gift up to the camera and simply says, “I told Granny I didn’t want the Beano annual!” Luckily, when we played the video to my gran, she was out of the room making a cup of tea when that particular piece of footage came on!
Sometimes we give gifts to people without really thinking about it – we give them what we think they would like, when actually we don’t really know, or understand, exactly what it is they want. Sometimes, if we’re honest, we don’t even stop to give a gift much thought; I know that I have been guilty of simply buying someone something like Amazon vouchers, because I don’t really want to have to stop and think about what the recipient would really like.
Jesus is recorded quoting this passage twice in Matthew’s Gospel (in 9:13 and 12:7). On each occasion he uses it to challenge the religiosity of the Pharisees, who are carefully striving to adhere to the rules of their faith without genuinely seeking the heart of God. Jesus turns the view of the Pharisees on their head. They have misunderstood what God actually wants from them. Jesus told them that he did not come for the healthy but the sick; he has come to save sinners, not the righteous. Sometimes we fall into the same trap the Pharisees fell into, and misunderstand what it is that God wants from us.
It is clear from this verse in Hosea and from the contexts in which Jesus quoted it that God is not interested in ritual, traditions and heritage. Instead he wants us to get to know him, and to love him. He wants us to study his word and develop a better understanding of who he is. He wants us to love him as our heavenly father. Challenging, but considering how inadequate we are compared to him, quite reassuring too!
Originally published 19/9/2009; redrafted and slightly expanded 29/1/2015.