Mercy and Not Sacrifice


The first seven chapters of Leviticus give, in intricate detail, the instructions for how Israel was to offer sacrifices. Moses wrote that God commanded these sacrifices. And, throughout the Old Testament, we read of Israel offering thousands upon thousands of animal sacrifices in seeming obedience to God’s commands.

Yet, Jeremiah 7:22-24 says, “For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.”

Well, which is it? Did God command Israel to offer burnt offerings and peace offerings and sin offerings and guilt offerings and wave offerings as Leviticus says? Or, is Jeremiah correct in saying that God did not speak to the fathers or command them regarding burnt offerings and sacrifices?

Leviticus 1-7 and Jeremiah 7:22-24 are diametrically opposed.

How do we resolve this?

The only possible way to resolve contradictory statements in the Old Testament about God is Jesus.

John 1:18 says, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”

John 5:37 says, “And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, and his form you have never seen.”

John 6:46 says, “Not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.”

John 14:9 says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

Jesus is the only one to have clearly seen the Father. Therefore, Jesus is the only one to know exactly who God is. Jesus is the only one to know exactly what God wills and desires.

So, what does Jesus say about sacrifice?

Amazingly, given all the detailed rules regarding Israel’s sacrifices and all the sacrifices Israel offered for more than 1,000 years, Jesus utters the word sacrifice just two times in all four gospels. (Interestingly, in the gospel of John, where Jesus as pictured as the son of God, the word sacrifice is never used.)

In Matthew 9:13, Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came to not call the righteous, but sinners.”

In Matthew 12:7, Jesus said, “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”

In both cases, Jesus is quoting the same Old Testament passage of scripture. ¬†Hosea 6:6 says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” This is the Hebrew scripture version of Hosea 6:6. Jesus actually quoted from the Septuagint version, which says, “Because I want mercy rather than sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than whole burnt offerings.”

The Hebrew and Greek version of Hosea 6:6 reveal that mercy and steadfast love are synonymous. You cannot have one without the other. And, Jesus said that God wants steadfast love, mercy, not sacrifice.

Jesus agreed with Jeremiah.

Jeremiah said God did not command Israel to offer sacrifices, but God did command Israel to “obey my voice.”

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record the Jesus’ transfiguration before PEter, James, and John. And, in each account, God speaks from heaven, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35) Therefore, Jesus is the voice of God, the voice we are to obey.

So, if we are to obey Jesus, God’s voice, then what are the commandments we are to obey?

Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was. In Mark 12:30-31, he answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Interestingly, the scribe that asked Jesus which was the most important commandment responded to Jesus that these two commands were “much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And, Jesus told the scribe, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Now, regarding these two commandments of love that Christians are so familiar, Jesus did not just make them up. They weren’t something knew. God had spoken these commandments to Israel.

For the first commandment, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:4-5, which says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

For the second commandment, Jesus quoted Leviticus 19:18, which says, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

So, Jesus is God’s voice. Jesus says we are to obey two commandments: love God and love neighbor. And, Jesus showed us just where God spoke these two commandments to Israel.

So, Jesus reveals through his statement that God desires mercy, steadfast love, and not sacrifice, and that these two commandments of love¬†are the summation, the entirety, of all God’s commandments. Jesus said in John 5:19, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”

Therefore, when Jeremiah says that God told Israel to “Obey my voice” this is what he meant. God wanted Israel to show mercy and not offer sacrifices. God wanted Israel love him and love their neighbor. However, God said, “But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.”

What’s the lesson?

If we make the Bible our authority over Jesus, then we will be stuck with these contradictions, these irreconcilable depictions of God. However, God is not the author of confusion.

Jesus always clears away any contradictions we read in the Old Testament. Jesus alone is our authority. Jesus alone removes the veil so that we can see God clearly.

God desires mercy, steadfast love, and not sacrifice. He always has. And, he always will.

(Keep that in my mind when you read about a new temple being built in Jerusalem to reinstitute the old Israelite sacrifices.)

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