“For I desire faithful love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
What does God want? Do you ever find yourself asking that question? Sometimes it’s a question. Sometimes it can be more of an accusation. We feel like we’re constantly running around trying to please Him and never quite managing to hit that mark. It can be pretty discouraging to feel that way for long. Fortunately, God tells us what He wants in the Scriptures. Frequently. We’ve only got to listen to what He says.
Before we engage with what Hosea actually says here, think for a minute about the ways we often try and please God. Throughout history humans have always made attempts to please God or, more often, the gods. Religion is the way these attempts have usually worked themselves out. And religion for most of human history looked about the same.
It has involved making sacrifices—usually of animals, sometimes of people. It has involved complicated rituals. If we could do the right things in the right order, surely that would please the gods. And that’s about it. All religion has always involved variations on those themes.
The thing is, for most of human history, most of our efforts haven’t seemed to do the trick. Instead of living with the quiet confidence that we have hit the mark and made the gods happy, we have lived in fear that we haven’t done it and they might get us. You would think we would have given up eventually and just gotten over it, but that sense of a need to please some sort of divine, higher being has been irresistible. Thus we’ve stuck with it. And it’s all been basically the same. But with the God of the Bible, the one true God, things are different.
The challenge is that we don’t handle different very well. We want conformity. It is God who brings variety and beauty to the world. When we take over we bring uniformity and boring ugliness. Consider Soviet architecture. It is utilitarian. It is stark. It is boring. God began introducing the difference between pleasing Him and the ways we had always tried to please the gods before through Israel, but it was a slow process.
God laid out the path to pleasing Him and they followed it for a time, but quickly turned back from it to pursue the same methods that everyone else had pursued. The pagan gods didn’t really care about us. They didn’t care about what we did or how we lived our lives. All that mattered was that we brought the right sacrifices and did the right rituals. Beyond that, we were on our own. We appealed for their help, to be sure, but that was never a guarantee.
When Israel stuck to the path God gave them to follow, their lives went remarkably smoothly. It wasn’t always easy, but even when there were challenges, He carried them through whatever was before them. When they strayed off that path back to what was normal, their lives went like the lives of everyone else around them—hard, confusing, unjust, and violent.
But God wanted them—and us—to Himself and so He just kept reminding them. Unlike all the other gods people worshiped, He actually wanted a relationship with them. He didn’t want their rituals, He wanted them. He wanted for them to know Him. He wanted them to love Him. That’s it. Any processes and rituals He gave them were merely vehicles to achieve that end. Relationship was always the goal.
It still is His goal. The ironic fact is, for all our advancements and modernizations that our ancient ancestors couldn’t possibly have imagined, when left to our own devices, we still pursue the same basic methods to please the gods. We may not even call them “the gods” anymore, but our language and our actions point to a belief in something bigger than ourselves and we still offer sacrifices and rituals to make this bigger thing happy.
But God still wants relationship. He sent His Son who was revived after two days, raised up on the third day, to demonstrate His love for us so we would pursue Him in a relationship even as He is still pursuing us.
The question is: Do we want to keep doing the same religious exercises we have always done and getting the same results—a life of dreary meaninglessness and fear—or do we want to enjoy a relationship with someone who is committed to us and loves us perfectly? It seems an easy choice to put it like that, but breaking from the conformity that we have always pursued isn’t so easy as it sounds. Only with the help and power of the Holy Spirit is it possible. But, oh, is it worth it. I hope you’ll consider it if you haven’t already gotten there.