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.
16 wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds
out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,
Your hands are full of blood;
The What of Rebuke, Part I
So after quickly but effectively establishing the context for what is about to be said, Isaiah launches into the actual content of what is displeasing God. But as before, it is important not to rush through this too quickly, for the rebuke actually consists of different, but intertwined parts.
The first element of the rebuke that Isaiah gives is a command to stop doing wrong, as stated in verse 16. This seems ordinary enough, and most of us could quickly bring to mind behaviors or mentalities that we know we should put an end to – you know, the prototypical “sins”.
But this is not exactly what Isaiah is referencing here – these “wrongs” that displease God are not marital unfaithfulness or the like (which still of course displease God)…but the New Moon festivals, and Sabbath events. This reference is hard for us to relate to in our time, but there were important reasons why these festivals did produce such a strong rebuke from God.
For today, let’s just focus on one of those reasons: that they completely missed the true heart of God. The people of Israel thought THIS is what the Lord wanted: religious gatherings, sacrifices, observances. It represents a particular kind of mentality, one where we want to get by in our walk by the skin of our teeth: “To be faithful, all I have to do is X, Y, and Z, because that’s all that God wants.”
But this totally misses the mark. God doesn’t want religion, a series of observances and rules that must be followed in order to please him – he wants our hearts, and he wants us to know HIS heart. In other words…he wants a true relationship. And so we can’t imagine that we’re okay with God just because we’ve satisfied his religiosity quotas, or a spirituality checklist. Rather, his checklist looks something like this:
O Do I have his whole heart?
O Do I have his whole mind?
O Do I have his whole soul?
These are the things that God desires from us, and which will be preached by Christ himself…BUT, two important clarifications, lest we get confused and run too far with this idea:
1. These religious actions that we try to pursue, attending church, reading the Bible, serving, etc., may not be what God is satiated by…but they may be very helpful in positioning us to really hear from God. You see, there is a difference in pursuing these practices because we think the placate God, and pursuing these practices because we get to know God more through them. So DON’T STOP ATTENDING CHURCH – just don’t attend church because you think that’s all you need to do to get God off your back. Attend church because you can meet your Father there.
2. When we do get closer to fulfilling God’s checklist (the one listed above), we naturally will begin to do things that seem religious – we naturally will get to church. We will instinctively and often open our bibles. We naturally will tithe, and serve our brothers and sisters. But we sometimes get confused and put the cart before the horse, thinking that God can be satiated just by good actions alone – no, he is satiatied by devoted hearts, hearts that naturally lead to devoted actions.
Whew, that was more of a homily than a devotional – and I haven’t even gotten to the second reason why these festivals were detestable to God! A few things to reflect upon:
1. What is your “New Moon Festival”, a practice or action that you think, in itself, is what God wants from you?
2. If that practice in itself is not what God is looking for…what is he looking for instead?
3. How can you practically transition from a mentality that does religious things because it pleases God, to a better mentality where we do religious things because it sets us up to meet God?