Again, when discussing this topic with the teachers, it occurred to me that there are many passages in the Old Testament that contradict the old saw that the Law was about an external, superficial worship, and New Testament Christians worship better because we worship with the heart.
(Isa 1:10-18) Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah!
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices– what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations — I cannot bear your evil assemblies. 14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; 16 wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, 17 learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
18 “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
Notice that Isaiah compares failure to encourage the oppressed and care for widows and orphans to the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah.
(Isa 66:2-3) Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the LORD. “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word. 3 But whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a man, and whoever offers a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; whoever makes a grain offering is like one who presents pig’s blood, and whoever burns memorial incense, like one who worships an idol. They have chosen their own ways, and their souls delight in their abominations;
Giving due allowance for prophetic hyperbole, God plainly says he esteems “he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word,” rather than those who offer the required sacrifices but with the wrong heart.
(Amos 5:21-24) “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
God loves justice more than worship — and he’s speaking of the use of power, governmental or private. All who have power over others must treat them as God wishes or their worship is truly in vain.
(Micah 6:7-12) Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. 9 Listen! The LORD is calling to the city — and to fear your name is wisdom — “Heed the rod and the One who appointed it. 10 Am I still to forget, O wicked house, your ill-gotten treasures and the short ephah, which is accursed? 11 Shall I acquit a man with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights? 12 Her rich men are violent; her people are liars and their tongues speak deceitfully.
Acting justly and loving mercy is very much what Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount — turning the other cheek, doing unto others, treating people better than they deserve. And it means treating customers honestly.
Now, a very superficial reading would be to conclude that the Jews got it wrong and so missed God’s salvation, but it’s more complicated. Yes, before Nebuchadnezzer destroyed Jerusalem and carried the Judeaens into captivity, the Jews most certainly failed to heed the prophets. But when they returned under Ezra and Nehemiah, most tried to honor these very commands. The rabbis taught that the heart of the worshipper mattered.
The mistake some Jews made was to impose on each other rules that God didn’t impose, and to elevate the keeping of ritual — at times — over the practice of love. Thus, Jesus insisted on healing on the Sabbath and on allowing his disciples to eat without washing their hands and on eating with sinners. But he wasn’t changing the rules — he was honoring God’s will as long ago announced by Moses and the prophets. And while some Pharisees objected, he also had followers and defenders.
The radical change that Jesus made in worship wasn’t to add the requirement of a right heart to the previous requirement of just right ritual. It was to very nearly eliminate all ritual. But that lesson is for another day.