Not only are we told in Hosea that the people have a lack of love, they also do not know God. This has been a consistent theme. They think they know Him. They know about Him. But they do not have a relationship with Him, they do not know Him. The key here is that the prophet is saying that if the people really knew God then they would know how to worship Him.

Knowing Him is what the gospel is all about. This in fact is how Jesus defines eternal life. In John 17:3 as He prays, He says, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” To not know God then is to not be His. 1 John 1:6 reiterates the point, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”

So the people are suffering from a lack of love, a lack of knowing God, and a lack of faithfulness. Verse 7 continues “But like men they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt treacherously with Me.” They are not abiding by the Law, they are not striving to keep the covenant, they are not abiding by God’s Word. In the midst of their treachery, and that word means, “faithlessly.” They have acted without faith, and Romans 14:23 reminds us, “whatever is not from faith is sin.”

Here in the midst of this accusation, in the middle of these charges of a lack of love, lack of knowledge, and lack of faithfulness, God goes on to say to them (looking back at verse 6 here), “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” The people have the ceremony. They have the worship rituals. They do not consecrate themselves to the Lord or walk in holiness. They believe that the form of worship matters while the content does not. They are going through the motions without even knowing the meaning.

To the outside observer, things look right (ignoring the idols, of course). For those who do not know better the people seem to be sincere in their worship. They are sincere, make no mistake here, they are sincerely worshipping themselves! And when they go to offer sacrifices it looks ok. They look religious. The ritual seems right. But wait, remember the history here. Jeroboam anointed priests that were not qualified to be priests, he set up golden calves and told the people they need not to all the way to the Temple on Jerusalem to worship. His actions were still causing confusion in Jesus’ day. When He spoke with the woman at the well, the woman from Samaria, where Jeroboam had instituted all these places of worship that were not according to God’s Word, what did she ask Jesus? She asked about worship! Where should we worship God?

“The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship. 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:19-24).

The people believe that they are being faithful, going through all of the motions, doing the right things the right way in the right order with the right words and it is all based on the traditions of men who have twisted and abused God’s Word. The prophet Amos tells them that they are offering sacrifices every day continuously, yet God hates and abhors their offerings. Why? Because the outward ceremony was not governed by the inward reality of obedience to God’s commands. The heart and lips were singing two different songs, so to speak. The lips worshipped God while the heart worshipped self. The ritual was not based in reality, but unrighteousness. Listen to Amos 5:21-24: “I hate, I despise your feast days,

And I do not savor your sacred assemblies. 22 Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. 23 Take away from Me the noise of your songs, For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. 24 But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Did you spot the theme here? In Hosea, “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” And in Amos, “But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream.” Mercy, knowledge, justice, righteousness – these things flow from walking with God, from knowing and loving Him. These things are evidenced in obedience. The term mercy used here means continued faithfulness and lovingkindness.

In Isaiah 1:11-17 the prophet asks, “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?” Says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs or goats. 12 “When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts? 13 Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies— I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. 14 Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. 16 “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, 17 Learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”

At the heart of this indictment we see in Isaiah 1:13, “I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.” Remember, iniquity refers to sins of the self will. Iniquity starts with “I.” Now think about this, what happens if you do the right thing with the wrong motive? In that case you have actually done the wrong thing, because it is the motive of the heart that Jesus says demonstrates our will. To do the right thing for the wrong reason is the definition of self-righteousness. That is iniquity. And God says, “I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting”, when you gather to worship Me, you are actually worshipping yourself, He says.

In Psalm 51:16-17, in this great Psalm of repentance, David writes, “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart— these, O God, You will not despise.” Do we respond to sin this way? With brokenness and contrition?

The people here have the outward form, they have the ceremony but they are not consecrated to God, their worship does not please Him. They have a ritual with no relationship. They come to God full of iniquity, to do what they want so that they can get what they want from God instead of coming to give Him what He wants. God does not want us to go through the motions. He desires mercy, faithfulness, lovingkindness, gentleness, goodness, righteousness, justice – these are the virtues that should be flowing in and through us in our daily lives as followers of Jesus. If they are not, our outward form for worship and living does not matter as it is a self-serving lie!