The Berean Expositor
Volume 17 - Page 79 of 144
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Studies in the Prophets.
"To obey is better than sacrifice"
May 1927
We have seen that departure from the covenant is at the bottom of Israel's dispersion and loss of
blessing. The first clause of that covenant which Israel broke is, 'Thou shalt have no other gods before
Me" (Exod. 20: 3). This command is comprehensive and includes all the moral law. Alas, Israel
imagined that God could be placated with sacrifices and soothed with incense, forgetting that the mere
externals of a divine religion are valueless and vain without heart obedience. It has ever been the same.
Saul the king was reminded of this vital truth by Samuel in the words of I Sam. 15: 22, 23:
"Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offering and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey
is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams, for rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as
iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king."
Here we have an epitome of Israel's failure, ending in rejection. The same spirit was manifested by
the Pharisees in the days of the Lord on earth, for He said to them:
"But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice" (Matt. 9: 13).
"Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted
the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other
undone. Ye blind guides, which strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel" (Matt. 23: 23, 24).
In these words the Lord teaches (I) A complete agreement with the testimony of the prophets, as
we are about to see; (2) A revelation of the spiritual character of the "weightier matters of the law,"
viz., judgment, mercy, and faith; (3) A full confirmation of the ceremonial law of Moses, by the
added words, "these ought ye to have done." Here the Lord's attitude is seen to be in opposition to the
critical theory that the prophets were opposed to a priestly caste who sought to impose a ceremonial
system upon Israel. This we must remember as we read the scathing words of the prophets. They do
not in any sense question the divine origin of the sacrificial law, they only tear off the hypocrite's
cloak of mere ritual observance that but hides disobedience and corruption within. Indeed, it is the
testimony of the selfsame prophets that when Israel are blessed under the new covenant, and obey
with the new heart, that instead of repudiating sacrifice and offering they shall then for the first time
offer them with true acceptance (see Jer. 17: 21-27; Psa. 2: 19; Mal. 3: 3).
The testimony of Isaiah.
The opening message of Isaiah reveals the condition of Israel. They had "rebelled," they did not
"know or consider," they had "forsaken" the Lord, and had "gone away backward" (Isa. 1: 2-4). The
result was that the blessings of the covenant were taken from them: "Your country is desolate, your
cities are burned with fire; your land, strangers devour it in your presence" (Isa. 1: 7). Had it not been
for a very small remnant, Israel would have been overthrown like Sodom and Gomorrah (Isa. 1: 8, 9).
This reference to the doomed cities of the plain is now taken up to characterize the moral condition of
Israel, and it is here that the great repudiation of sacrifice and offering comes:
"To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me? saith the Lord; I am full of the burnt
offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of
he goats" (Isa. 1: 11).
The "treading" of the Lord's courts (Isa. 1: 12) by such offerers is really a "trampling" (see the word
in 2 Kings 7: 17; 9: 33; Dan. 8: 7; Isa. 63: 6). Their oblations are called "vain," their incense instead
of ascending as a sweet smell is called "an abomination," their solemn assemblies were "unbearable" and
"a weariness." The reason for all this is not found in the offerings themselves, they remained as ever the
command of the Lord, and types of the great offering of Christ: the reason is found in the moral
condition of the offerers, "Your hands are full of blood" (Isa. 1: 15). Instead of making ceremonial
observances a refuge, Israel is urged to repentance:
"Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before Mine eyes; cease to do evil.; learn to do
well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow
though your sins be as
scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.
if ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land; but if ye
refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword" (Isa. 1: 16-20).
To the same effect, and with apparent reference to this passage, are the words of James 1:
26, 27:
"If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's
religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their
affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world."
No explanation is offered in Isa. 1: as to how Israel's sins which were as scarlet should ever be as
white as snow, but in the next reference to which we turn, a step nearer to its understanding is provided.
Before passing from the teaching of this first chapter we should notice the parallel testimony of the last
chapter, viz.: