Hear the word of Yahweh,
chiefs of Sodom!
Listen to the instruction of our God,
people of Gomorrah!
What use to me is the abundance of your sacrifices?
Yahweh keeps saying,
I am sated with burnt offerings of rams,
and the fat of well-fed beasts.
And in the blood of bulls, and lambs, and he-goats
I find no pleasure.
When you come to appear before me
who sought this from your hand -
a trampling of my courts!
Stop bringing empty gifts;
it is an abhorrent incense to me.
New moon festival, and Sabbath,
calling conventions -
wickedness coupled with religious duty is too much for me!
Your new moon festivals, and your special occasions
my soul hates.
I am tired of bearing them.
And when you spread out your palms, I hide my eyes
Even though, indeed, you multiply prayer I am not
Your hands - they are full of bloodshed!
Wash! Make yourselves clean!
Remove your evil practice from before my eyes!
Give up wrong-doing!
Reform the oppressor!
Deal justly with the orphan!
Take up the case of the widow!
Come, then, let us argue the point with each other,
Yahweh keeps saying.
Though your sins be like scarlet,
Like snow they will be white!
Though they be red as crimson,
Like wool they will be.
If you are willing and listen,
the goodness of the land you will eat;
and if you refuse and prove contentious,
by the sword you will be eaten!
For Yahweh's mouth itself has spoken.
It is so easy for the rites to become ritual to become religious duty devoid of their purpose, emptied of their true meaning and significance. It is easy to believe that the end is the duty itself, the goal the ritual itself, and so miss that they are symbols and fruits of a tree deeply rooted in the heart of God, and it is the heart of God to which we must make our way. As if the singing were the end, instead of the means to loving Him. As if the Communion cup was the end instead of the means to remembering Him. As if the reading of the Scripture were the end which we can smile upon at the conclusion of the chapter each morning, feeling full in the fact that we finished the words rather than mediating upon them, being corrected by them in spirit and truth, and turning through them to worship and adore and praise the Living One who communicates His heart and will to us through them.
You see, that it was what happening in Israel, and we know the methodology well, for it is the habit of the human heart to turn the reminders into the ritual into the empty religion. We do our deed, sing our songs, hear the preaching, and walk off without reflection, without resonance in our hearts, without worshipping the Lord.
As Alec Motyer wrote, "The precious habit can take over and the bread and wine pass from hand to hand without any feasting in mind and heart on the Christ of Calvary. Over everything the Bible would inscribe the words, 'I write these things to you so that you may not sin' (1 John 2:1)."
Christ died to set us free from sin, so we do not use our freedom as an opportunity to boast in the flesh, but as an opportunity to love one another. We were redeemed for holiness, to be holy as He is holy, as beloved children of the Father. We take sin seriously, and holiness seriously, because our Father hates it so much that He sent His only-fathered Son to die to redeem us from its curse, so that we might walk in the newness of life, in righteousness, in all which is consistent with Him. Like Father, like sons.
As Paul wrote the Roman church, "If you have died to sin, how can we remain living in it?" Let us lay every encumbrance aside and run for the pleasure of God, with every ritual feasting upon the holiness of God in all humility, so that God may be imaged rightly, as we were created to do.