Yesterday the discussion began regarding a verse I want to better understand (and better live) this year. Hosea 6:6 says “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” {You might want to read yesterday’s post before reading today’s.}


You’ll find the striking contrast between religious activity and what’s on God’s heart depicted well in Isaiah 58, when the Lord says that the way the people are fasting isn’t pleasing to Him. And why not?

They use fasting as an excuse to be grumpymuggins and meaniepants to their servants. And they use it as an excuse to look religious to everyone else, with sackcloth and ashes and bowed heads and loud prayers.

Jesus is trying to point out this type of behaviour, and is trying to spell out the truth for the Pharisees that keep questioning him: The heart of God is not for fervent religious activity, but for hearts that are set on the things that His heart is set on.

In the first instance, {in Matthew 9} Jesus is spending time with people who clearly and obviously need a saviour. The good news is that they aren’t as tough to convince as the religious people. If sin was a sickness, Jesus would be just what the doctor ordered. He is following God’s heart — the heart to call sinners to repentance.

In the second scenario, {Matthew 12} when the disciples are plucking grain, it’s because they’re hungry. And they are probably hungry because they are following Jesus. With “nowhere to lay his head,” they are following Him as He travels around to seek and to save the lost. The disciples aren’t at home where their mamas can cook for them on the Sabbath. They’ve left everything to follow Jesus, and their hearts are on the right track. If they’re hungry, let them eat, Jesus is saying. They have the true hunger that counts: they are hungry and thirsty for the things of God.

Then Jesus goes on to heal the man with the withered hand {the very next story in Matthew 12}. And as the Pharisees take offense again, we would do well to take the time to think about how all this comes together. There’s a stark contrast involved, and you don’t want to miss it.

The Pharisees are a dot and tittle kind of people. They want to follow the law to a T, because their ultra-religiousness sets them apart from everyone else. It makes them feel holy, and even if it’s not pleasing to God, it is pleasing to them.

Now don’t forget that Jesus mentioned David eating the showbread. David was known as a man after God’s own heart. When he didn’t cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’ — even before the time of Christ — we can see that there was grace because he was a man after God’s own heart.

So what’s on God’s heart? Well, look at the verse again: Mercy. And not sacrifice.

We’re continually reminded that God is near those who are brokenhearted. Going back to Isaiah 58, when the Lord expresses His displeasure with the type of fasting the people are carrying out, He says He would rather see them loosing the bonds of wickedness, undoing heavy burdens, letting the oppressed go free, and breaking every yoke. He wants to see His people sharing their bread with the hungry, bringing the poor who are cast out home with them, clothing the naked, and recognising their own need for a Saviour.

These things are close to the heart of God. And God is looking for ‘religious activity’ that will reflect His heart. The outward rituals of sacrifice and offering are meaningless to Him unless mercy and the knowledge of God form the inward reality.

When God’s people show mercy to a world in need, the world will take notice. They will see the good deeds of God’s people, and they will praise God.

This leads me to ask a very important question: Are we, as God’s people today, still offering sacrifices and burnt offerings while missing mercy? Let’s continue the discussion tomorrow to think this through.