Sunday, April 24, 2022

Mercy or Sacrifice?

“I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”

On at least two occasions the Lord applied these words first spoken by Hosea in 6:6. Both speakers expressed what was appropriate to circumstances that prevailed in their time.

Hosea was responding to his nation’s blindness regarding the Lord’s overriding purpose in delivering Israel from slavery, giving them the law through Moses along with instructions to guide them in offering sacrifices. They were to be a completely different people, their manner of life superior to what was going on in various nations around them. Those nations had their sacrifices and offered them to ward off punishment from the god or gods they offended.

Lightening the Load

Hosea saw the one true God as being displeased by Israel’s misuse of their sacrificial system. They were substituting many sacrifices for the sanctification the Lord looked for in the lives of those who worshiped him. Mercy (or chesed) was used to express both loyalty toward God and kindness towards others. Greater attention to temple ritual and Sabbath law was no substitute for the desired mercy. (See Micah 6:6-8 for an expanded interpretation of Hosea’s blunt rebuke.)

Several questions may arise:

  • Does the Lord’s use of Hosea’s words in Matthew support the idea that in some situations we need to be prepared to allow divinely established regulations to be superseded or modified in their application because the circumstances call for mercy to be shown?
  • What if there is a greater purpose of God that calls for rules to be deferred or not adhered to in the degree or way that some insist they must be carried out?
  • Or, to use another rationale used for not enforcing regulations to the limit, can it be that inflexible adherence to rules may result in unprofitable, undesirable discomfort and loss to those urged to strictly conform to them?

Who Must Decide?

These are issues that parents of a family and elders in a church have to consider when it is clear that some infraction of a well known regulation has occurred. Both are authorities that God holds responsible to provide leadership and promote orderly conduct in their respective spheres. Chaos results when a child’s disobedience or when a member of a religious group’s misbehavior is left to be fuel for gossip among his or her peers. Those in leadership need to be clear as to where they stand and let it be known.

But bearing or adopting children does not qualify you to be good at parenting; nor does being elected or hired to shepherd a spiritual flock mean that you will fulfill either role in an even-handed way. To act patiently yet firmly, without partiality or hypocrisy and for the honor of God’s name, and also having in mind what decision will be for the immediate and long-range benefit of any offender — these are issues that only very mature believers can handle. And those calling the shots must depend not so much upon wisdom granted or solutions found for similar situations in the past as on their need to recognize and take into account some different circumstances that presently prevail.

Principles in Conflict

Matthew tells how the Pharisees failed. The fact that one greater than the temple and who was the Lord of the Sabbath was present at the time when a supposed infraction occurred did not count with these men. Zeal for ‘mint and cumin’ issues (these tiniest and lightest of all seeds later served the Lord as metaphors for minor points of law) weighed more in their scales than the silence of the Son of Man, who knew what his followers were doing yet did nothing to correct them.

Grinding seed in your mill in defiance of the required Sabbath rest was clearly wrong. Rubbing seed in the palm of your hand and eating the exposed kernel amounted to the same thing in the eyes of the Pharisees. The Holy Spirit, who later replayed the whole scene for our instruction, carefully supplies more evidence. The disciples were not casually indulging in an in-between-meals snack; they had been without food for longer than usual and were genuinely hungry; they had become that way while following Christ. Sometimes they reminded him of the need to stop for food; this time they didn’t, but grabbed a bite as they passed through somebody’s farmland. The law permitted that, but the disloyal opposition used the Sabbath to negate the license; bringing two principles of scripture into conflict.

Nearest the Heart of God

When that kind of problem faces parents or elders, one esteemed servant of God said we ought (I know he meant in true dependence on the Lord) to opt for the solution which is nearest to the heart of God. That may sound dangerous to those who would wish all cases to be uniform and therefore all solutions tidy, but that is not possible, and different decisions for somewhat similar situations may sometimes have to be reached. Those appointed under divine authority to make such decisions need our prayerful support and submission.

I am aware of more than one congregation that has split over failure to apply Hosea’s words. Before Joseph’s brothers were sent home they were charged “See that you do not fall out on the way.”

Good advice for us all.

— Colin Anderson, “Interpret Accurately, Apply Appropriately”, January 2016

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