“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)
Twice in the gospel of Matthew it’s recorded that our Lord Jesus Christ quoted this Old Testament passage from the book of Hosea.
Here in chapter twelve and back in chapter nine, verse thirteen. The passage in Hosea 6:6 reads “For I delight in mercy and not sacrifice” in the NIV, KJV and NKJV translations. However, it reads a little differently in the New American Standard Bible translation than it is quoted in Matthew’s account. Here’s the NASB translation of Hosea 6:6, “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” The words mercy and compassion seem synonymous to most; however loyalty and compassion, as we understand those, don’t seem so synonymous. So why such a difference in the NAS (and NAS updated translation) between Old Testament word usage and the New Testament? The answer lies in the meaning of the Hebrew word chesed (pronounced kheh’-sed). Here’s a basic definition: kindness; by implication (towards God) piety: rarely (by opposition) reproof, or (subject.) beauty. Notice the implied meaning in the definition of piety towards God? This was what the translators wanted to convey. In the context surrounding verse six of Hosea chapter six, this translation seems to make sense. “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? For your loyalty is like a morning cloud, and like the dew which goes away early. Therefore I have hewn them in pieces by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth; and the judgments on you are like the light that goes forth. For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant; there they have dealt treacherously against Me.” Hos. 6:4-7 (NAS) In the NASB translation, the Hebrew word chesed it is overwhelmingly translated (176 times out of 247 total) as “lovingkindness.” In the English word ‘lovingkindness’ we do see a sense of compassion and mercy communicated. Lovingkindness is a critical character attribute of the LORD. Early on in His dealings with the wayward Israelites in the wilderness, the Almighty communicated this to Moses: ‘Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin..” ’ Exodus 34:6-7a (NAS) Let’s turn our attention back to the citation of this passage by our Lord Jesus Christ. Who was Jesus addressing when He referenced this Old Testament quote? The Pharisees in both instances. Aren’t these the guys who supposedly knew the Law? Yes. What was the theme of the book of Hosea? The LORD’s enduring love for His often rebellious people, in this case the fading last historical moments of the northern kingdom Israel, through the example of Hosea and his harlot bride, Gomer. It was about rebellion, repercussions, and ultimately redemption through mercy. The LORD was attempting to call Israel back to faithfulness through the knowledge of His lovingkindness. “Listen to the word of the LORD, O sons of Israel, for the LORD has a case against the inhabitants of the land, because there is no faithfulness or kindness (chesed) or knowledge of God in the land.” Hos 4:1. True knowledge of God is based upon a proper understanding of His lovingkindness (mercy) which will produce true faithfulness or loyalty to Him. The Pharisees had knowledge and thought they were faithful but they missed a critical ingredient in producing true faithfulness among the people. There was no mercy or lovingkindness extended to the people in their view of the Law and the LORD. “Mercy triumphs over judgment,” the Holy Spirit reminds us through James. Jesus Christ came as an example of those who would fulfill the royal law (James 2:8), “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Something greater than the Law of Moses and the physical temple is here-love for your neighbor by extending of mercy and lovingkindness through the knowledge of the Lord which produces faith in Him! Let’s remember Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners. They need our compassion and Christ’s sacrifice. Amen?