“Go and learn what this means, for I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Matthew 9:13
“But if only you had known what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Matthew 12:9
The Pharisees couldn’t get what Jesus was saying—first to “go and learn” and later “if only you had known.” With all their knowledge of scripture, with all their rules, with all their duty and obedience, and with—in their mind—their righteousness, they could not understand this truth. Jesus’ words did not compute with their tradition.
Sometimes, if we’re not careful, we can have the same tendency to desire sacrifice more than mercy. What does this mean? As I’ve said elsewhere, we are bent on works because it’s more natural. It’s more natural to do than to be.
As long as I’ve been saved, I’ve loved the Word of God. I’m highly analytical and can spend hours reading scripture and commentary and translations and the original Greek or Hebrew meanings. But, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 8:1, “knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.”
Knowledge without mercy is a dangerous state.
To know scripture is important, but before we can receive fully, before we can fall in love with God’s word, we have to first fall in love with its author. When we are so filled by the love of God, His love and grace becomes a lens through which we can read and receive His word.
Here Jesus is quoting Hosea 6:6. The full verse is this: “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”
The knowledge of God is not mutually exclusive to mercy. And while He desires mercy not sacrifice, He desires knowledge more than burnt offerings. Under the Old Testament covenant, God is not negating or replacing what must be done for atonement. We know from Romans 3 that in His forbearance, He passed over their sins, yes, but their account was not settled.
So why does Jesus not quote—in both places here—the full verse from Hosea? Is it because knowledge of God is no longer important? Of course not. The problem is the Pharisees had all the knowledge in the world.
But under the new covenant, we get to know God in a different way. Because of the finished work of the cross, we have a mediator, who is Jesus, and we have the Holy Spirit. And that revelation—when we believe in what the cross accomplished—that changes how we know God. We, with unveiled faces, get to behold Him. And it transforms us.
I’m doing the 40 day reading challenge, reading through the New Testament for 40 days of Lent, but my heart must be bent on loving God and discovering Him in His Word. When it becomes doing or duty or an item to be checked off, then I’ve lost sight of what it means to desire mercy and not sacrifice.