Know What This Means
“But if you had known what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” Matthew 12:7 (NAS)
Superficial service to God in outward formalism seeking to justify oneself, and conversely, seek to judge another, has been the bane of man since the earliest of times. It’s been around and it will continue to be around. It was no different in Jesus’ day. The record of a righteous, just God includes the demonstrated attribute of a compassionate and merciful God. This is part of what Jesus’ “coming in the world” (in the flesh) was designed to illustrate and illumine in all men.
The charge of fleshly men
Jesus in the preceding context of our verse is charged by the Pharisees with breaking the Sabbath (their favorite charge to attempt to defame and disarm His growing ministry and His demonstrations of compassion to the downtrodden). As His disciples went through the fields picking heads of grain to eat, the Pharisees saw it and said to Him, “Look, your disciples do what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” (Matt. 12:2)
Jesus responds with two examples which we will address shortly, but technically what Jesus’ disciples were doing was provided for within the Law. Here’s what Deut. 23:25 says: “When you enter your neighbor’s standing grain, then you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not wield a sickle in your neighbor’s standing grain. ” The problem, in their mind, was doing it on a Sabbath.
The first example is a brief history lesson concerning King David and his men eating the consecrated bread which belonged to the priests alone according to the Law. David and his young men were on the run from Saul and needed sustenance. David asked for bread and the Priest Ahimelech gave him the bread of Presence, the only bread available. Notice that the LORD didn’t strike down David for this breaking of the Law. (1 Sam. 21:1-6)
The second example He employed in hopes of the Pharisees gaining some insight concerned the work of the priests in the Temple on the Sabbath according to the Law. The commandment was clear. The Sabbath was a holy day. “You shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant…” (Ex. 20:10)No work was to be done. Yet Jesus pointed out that once the LORD instituted the priesthood (which was not in place at the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai, that came later after the golden calf caper), the priests at work in the temple offering the sacrifices on the Sabbath were in technical violation of the commandment as well.
The counter charge from the heavenly Man
Jesus, after demonstrating the innocence of the priests in particular under the law and implying such to David and his companions, attempts to open the eyes and ears of the hardhearted Pharisees by telling them “something greater than the temple is here.” He then quotes from the prophet Hosea, in chapter six verse six, in making the countercharge to their lack of mercy. “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (NAS). The Hebrew word translated as loyalty is Hesed (or chesed). Its inherit meaning is similar to the Greek word for love, agape. It means love for fellow man, a choice to do good, what’s right, to demonstrate God’s love and mercy towards another as He has always done towards rebellious man.
Why had God instituted sacrifices from the very beginning? Was it not so He could demonstrate His mercy and compassion upon wayward men by implementing the sacrificial system? What had man done with this demonstration of God’s compassion? They had turned it into a ritual where their heart was no longer in it, and they lacked the understanding of its communicated purpose. That is what the book of Hosea is all about. The people lacked the knowledge of God, they lacked the mercy of God, and they lacked in faithfulness to God.
God, through Hosea, said He had sent His prophets (of which the people considered Jesus as such) “to hew them in pieces…by the words of My mouth” (Hos. 6:5) In context, the prophet was conveying the LORD’s hope that the people would return to the LORD, that He could heal them if they would just press on to know Him. (Hos. 6:1-3) Hosea said the Lord would come to them “like the rain, like the spring rain watering the earth.” This is language, brethren, similar to that of the prophet Joel concerning the coming of the “Teacher for righteousness” (Joel 2:23), a prophecy of the Christ.
The Pharisees had the same dread malady as the people of Hosea’s day. They lacked true knowledge of the character of God, which was manifested in their lack of mercy, which was borne out in their unfaithfulness to God in seeking to condemn and kill the prophesied Christ.
Notice the context that follows Matthew 12:7. It was on another Sabbath, that Jesus healed a man (it’s lawful to do good on the Sabbath according to the Son of Man who is Lord of the Sabbath). Mercy and compassion, a faithful demonstration of God’s character and desire. What was the response to this by the Pharisees? They “went out and conspired against Him as to how they might destroy Him.” (Matt 12:14) An innocent man they sought to condemn. Now, who really broke the Law-and on the Sabbath, nonetheless? Brethren, know what God means by a proper sacrifice. In it is demonstrated compassion. Christ Jesus was the perfect example. Amen?