by Al Maxey

Issue #465 ------- November 19, 2010
Wilt thou draw near the nature of the gods?
Draw near them then in being merciful:
Sweet mercy is nobility's true badge.

William Shakespeare {1564-1616}

I Desire Mercy, Not Sacrifice
Determining the True Desire of Deity

In his work "The Merchant of Venice," the great English playwright William Shakespeare (1564-1616) observed that "the quality of mercy is not strain'd; it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath; it is twice bless'd: it blesseth him that gives and him that takes." Mercy is a trait of our Lord God, and thus a trait He expects His children to exhibit. "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36). Indeed, James, the brother of Jesus, warned, "judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy" (James 2:13), whereas those individuals who have exhibited mercy in their dealings with others will triumph on that final day! Thomas Paine (1737-1809), a famous intellectual, pamphleteer, and revolutionary, and also one of our country's Founding Fathers, stated, within the pages of his classic work "The Age of Reason," that he firmly believed "religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy." And why shouldn't our duty be to give expression here on earth to the divine quality of mercy? Or, to express it poetically, as did William Blake (1757-1827) in "The Divine Image," "Mercy has a human heart, pity a human face." If those around us can't see in our daily attitudes and actions the very image of deity, then we are failing to truly reflect the glorious qualities of our Sovereign.

Our Father desires all those in covenant with Him to show forth His own nature in their dealings with others. God is love: we are to be loving; God is merciful: we are to be merciful. Although on occasion our God has specified certain acts that display these qualities, He has always been far more interested in what motivated the act, than the act itself. Serving God with our lips and our hands may well result in great benefit to others, but if these words and acts are not the overflow of one's heart, then they do not truly benefit us! Quoting from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus Christ told the religious pretenders of His day (and by extension ours), "These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me" (Matt. 15:8). The apostle Paul wrote, "If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing" (1 Cor. 13:3). Although our acts of love and mercy have their place ... although our religious rites and rituals have their place ... if our hearts are not engaged, if we are not motivated by love, mercy, kindness, faith, etc., then they are of no benefit to ourselves, although these acts may very well better those about us. In short, God is not as interested in what we do, as in why we do it. Too often we miss this truth in our journey through life, and we are the poorer for it.

Part of the problem is that we have failed to fully grasp the significance of what it is our Father desires of His children. What is He really looking for? What does He expect of us? Those who see our covenant relationship with Him as religious in nature will suggest that God is pleased with the offering. If we offer up the perfect sacrifice, if we follow the pattern precisely, if we can just "get it right," then He is satisfied with our performance. Those who see our covenant relationship with Him as spiritual in nature will counter that although our various worshipful acts certainly do have a place, they themselves are not what truly interests God (they are given by Him more for our benefit than His). Rather, God is focused on our hearts. Thus, our various demonstrations of love, mercy, compassion, kindness, etc. may well fall short of perfection in practice, but if they come from a sincere heart intent upon glorifying the Father, then both our offerings and ourselves are accepted by Him. Such a thought, of course, infuriates the legalists, who, in turn, have often infuriated our Father by their failure to perceive His true desire for their lives.

There are a number of great qualities that our Lord God desires for His people to exhibit in their daily lives. Love. Kindness. Goodness. Compassion. The qualities we perceive in our Father, we, with the help of His indwelling Spirit, should be increasingly manifesting in our attitudes and actions. The one I would like to focus on in this particular Reflections, however, is MERCY. What exactly does this term really mean, and why does God consider it vital to the affirmation of our covenant relationship with Him? So vital, in point of fact, that He actually desires it above our sacrifices! "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings" (Hosea 6:6). Jesus told a group of Pharisees, "Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice'" (Matt. 9:13). Apparently, these religious legalists and separatists had no clue as to the true meaning of this statement. I fear many of that same mindset today are equally as ignorant of what it is our heavenly Father desires.

The reader is quite correct in stating that the Hebrew word used in the Hosea 6:6 passage is hesed, which is not the word commonly used for "mercy." That would be the Hebrew word raham, which had reference to the bowels, which was thought to be the seat of human compassion. "It was used for the deep, tender feeling of compassion that was awakened by the trouble, weakness, suffering, or vulnerability of someone in need of help" [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3, p. 322]. The significance of this word is conveyed quite well by the Greek word eleos, which is most commonly translated in the New Testament writings as "mercy." In the Septuagint (the Greek OT), the translators of Hosea 6:6 did indeed render the Hebrew hesed, the less common word, with the Greek eleos, which has troubled some scholars, since much more is signified by hesed than is typically conveyed in either the Hebrew raham or the Greek eleos. Nevertheless, Jesus appears to have quoted from the Greek version of Hosea 6:6 rather than the Hebrew text, thereby validating the word selection of the former!! Indeed, a number of the NT writers appear to have favored the use of the Greek text over that of the Hebrew text in their quotes (and there were at times clear differences between the wording of the two). In this case, whereas the word raham signified a strong feeling of compassion that exhibited itself in action, the word hesed more properly signified a continual, steadfast, faithful love. This deep, covenantal love would, of course, evidence itself in various actions that would reflect the qualities of mercy, kindness, goodness, and the like. The Expositor's Bible Commentary states that the Hebrew word hesed, which is actually the word that appears in the Hebrew text of Hosea 6:6, "is close in meaning to 'covenant love,' which, according to Hosea, is more important than sacrifice" [vol. 8, p. 225].

The idea of "covenant love" would certainly be quite relevant to the times that brought the prophetic message of Hosea! The people of Israel were performing their sacrifices religiously, but they were not doing so out of love for their God. They had forgotten their covenant; they had forgotten their God. They were going through the outward motions of their religion, but their hearts were far from Him. The aged apostle John warned the church in Ephesus that they were doing much the same. Jesus praised these disciples for their deeds and hard work (Rev. 2:2), but then He said, "Yet I hold this against you: you've forsaken your first love" (vs. 4). They had replaced loving relationship with legalistic religion. They were making sacrifices, but they had abandoned the love that should have been motivating a people of covenant. This was happening a lot in the time of Hosea, and it would cost God's people dearly!! They, like many today (and like those in Ephesus), believed if their deeds were "done right," then God was pleased. If we just do all the right things at all the right times in all the right ways, then God is happy. As they were checking off the items on their "right religion" list, they were checking out of their right relationship with the Lord God!! They were leaving love for law, yet it was the former that God desired ... and still desires.

When one abandons the love of one's covenant relationship, and then replaces it with a dutiful performance of deeds, one's life becomes an increasingly hollow and meaningless existence filled with empty and tiresome deeds! Yes, we might continue to regard ourselves as "religious" (after all, we're still going through the outward motions of "right ritual"), but that is a delusion that will prove deadly. It is not the "sacrifices" that God seeks from His people, no matter how "correctly" offered -- it is the heart of His people He desires. The former without the latter is worthless -- even worse: it is an abomination unto God. "I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring Me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them" (Amos 5:21-22). "Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps!" (vs. 23). Why? Because qualities such as justice, righteousness, mercy, love had been all but discarded by God's people. If your wife prepares you a fabulous supper, but she has no love for you in her heart, is that meal satisfying? If a husband buys you a beautiful necklace, but loathes you within his heart, will you wear that gift proudly? These acts only have worth when they are motivated by covenantal love. Apart from that abiding love, they are worse than meaningless -- they are offensive!

Although the ancient Hebrew text uses the word hesed in Hosea 6:6, nevertheless Jesus Christ apparently chose to follow the Greek text where the term eleos was used in the passage, a word that far more commonly represents the Hebrew word raham. Therefore, it is important not only to understand the term hesed, but also the terms raham and eleos. The idea of "covenant love" was certainly very, very significant in this passage, given the spiritual state of the people of Israel during the time of Hosea. But what significance might be conveyed in the word eleos to the religious during the time of Jesus? Yes, the message of hesed still applied, but was there an additional message that could be taught by eleos? I believe there was/is, and this is partly seen in the relationship of these two words/concepts. "The mercy of God is integrally related to His steadfast love," the former term being "the loving demonstration of God's covenant faithfulness to His chosen people! The Psalms frequently link God's mercy and steadfast love" [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3, p. 322]. In many ways the two are inseparable!!

It should be noted that the biblical concept of "mercy," as conveyed in both the Hebrew and Greek words, is not just an emotion, but rather an intense inner feeling that always motivates one to express this emotion in personal actions. "This disposition, although inwardly felt, manifests itself outwardly in some kind of action. It is very evident that mercy combines a strong emotional element with some practical demonstration of kindness in response to the condition or needs of the object of mercy" [Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 4, p. 188]. Dr. James Strong characterizes "mercy" as being "active compassion," and then goes on to state it is "the outward manifestation of pity; it assumes need on the part of him who receives it, and the resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it" [The New Strong's Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words, p. 1075]. "In the NT eleos is often used for the divinely required attitude of man to man, and in a few instances has the original OT sense of the kindness which we owe one another in mutual relationships" [Dr. Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 2, p. 482]. In Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, mercy is defined as "The compassionate disposition to forgive someone or to offer aid, assistance, or help to someone in need. Closely connected are such concepts as grace, goodness, love, loving-kindness, compassion, and patience" [p. 885]. In the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, mercy, from the biblical perspective, is said to be "the emotion experienced in the presence of an affliction that has come upon another and the action resulting from this emotion" [vol. 1, p. 430]. Therefore, if a person's feelings of mercy are genuine and godly, they will always be shown by one's merciful and benevolent acts.

This was something the Pharisees of our Lord's day had woefully failed to perceive, much less to implement in their daily lives. They may have known the letter of the law, but they had no concept of the true spirit of the law. Mercy was a theological concept; it was not a way of life!! Yes, they were scrupulous in their religious duty -- they would "tithe mint and dill and cummin," but with regard to "justice and mercy and faithfulness," they failed to perceive any practical value in them (Matt. 23:23). Such pretenders would offer long, pious-sounding prayers for show, and then foreclose on a widow's house (Matt. 23:14). They professed to be teachers of God's Law, but they were clueless as to what God actually desired of His people. Therefore, Jesus told them, "Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice'" (Matt. 9:13). These teachers were in need of being taught. "They were teachers; they knew very well the letter of the Scripture. They had missed its inner meaning! That meaning has been lost sight of again and again through the long range of history" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 15, p. 372]. "All of these Pharisees professed to be students of Scripture, but had not yet learned the principle taught in this passage" [ibid, p. 362]. Jesus shamed them by using their own terminology against them, since the phrase "go and learn" was actually a rather common "rabbinic formula used of those who needed to study the text further" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 225]. Therefore, the "use of the formula may be slightly sardonic: those who prided themselves in their knowledge of and conformity to Scripture needed to 'go and learn' what it means" [ibid]. Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 again to the Pharisees in Matt. 12:7 -- "But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent." It was a fitting rebuke; worthy of repetition ... and equally needed today, by the way. Jesus "is insultingly suggesting his interlocutors' ignorance of the point of Scripture; He implies that perhaps they have never even read Hosea" [Dr. Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 298]. "Because of their relentless legalism, Jesus instructed them to go and learn Hosea 6:6," and maybe discover what the passage really meant [ISBE, vol. 3, p. 323].

Basically, Jesus was seeking to convey to these ancient first century legalists that their focus and God's were not the same!! They had become so obsessed with the particulars of their party precepts and practices, and the precise performance of them, that they had lost sight of what the Lord God considered essential to a right relationship with Him. "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." The Lord used the term "sacrifice" to represent the external aspects of religious observance as opposed to the internal elements of one's spiritual nature (love, mercy, compassion, and the like ... all of which are qualities of deity, and thus must be reflected in His people). The outward forms of our religious experience are graciously given to us by God for our benefit, and really have nothing whatsoever to do with forming the basis of our covenant relationship with Him! They are instructive, and even commemorative, but they are not redemptive. In other words, Jesus was telling the legalists that it is who you are, rather than what you do, that is salvific -- a message the legalists today need just as desperately as they did then.

"'Sacrifice' was the chief part of the ceremonial law, and is here put for a religion of literal adherence to mere rules" [Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, via e-Sword]. Matthew Henry (1662-1714) wrote that the quality of mercy, and its evidentiary acts, "ought always to be preferred before the formalities of a religious profession ... just as much as substance is better than shows or shadows" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, via e-Sword]. Matthew Henry goes on to write that Jesus quoted this passage from Hosea "to show wherein true religion consists: not in external observances, not in meats and drinks and shows of sanctity, not in little particular opinions and doubtful disputations, but rather in doing all the good we can to the bodies and souls of others; in righteousness and peace; in visiting the fatherless and widows" [ibid]. The legalists will judge another person's spiritual worth, and make judgments about their salvation, based upon whether or not they comply with the particulars of their own party patterns, precepts and practices. The Lord indicates He has very little interest in such particulars, and far more interest in whether or not they are living lives reflective of His. On the day of judgment, He will not be asking about classes and cups, instruments and immersions, Bibles and buildings, treasuries and traditions. Rather, He will desire to know if you fed the hungry, clothed the naked, aided the afflicted. Did you show love, mercy, compassion, kindness? Did you let others see HIM in YOU?! Maybe we ought to be thinking more about this than feuding with one another over religious minutiae, the entirety of which will be infinitely irrelevant on that final day. "Mercy is much better than sacrifice; love is holier than external obedience; outward forms, intellectual orthodoxy, will not avail for our salvation" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 15, p. 372].

Our precious Redeemer's use of the quote from Hosea, as He confronts the legalism of the Pharisees, "reveals a contrast between the substantial demands of mercy and merely legal and ceremonial piety" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 226]. "God prefers an act of mercy, shown to the necessitous, to any act of religious worship to which a person might be called. True holiness has ever consisted in faith working through love" [Dr. Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, vol. 5, p. 110]. "All service of the lips and sacrifices of the hands, all mere outward worship, all dead orthodoxy, is an abomination before the Lord God. It is a merciful heart manifesting its sympathy in deeds of mercy that pleases Him" [Dr. Paul Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 1, p. 50]. "God is love, and divine love is never so gratified as by the exercise of human charity" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 15, p. 379]. Amen!! May we each "go and learn" what this means ... and then live it.

By the way, if you were troubled by my use of a
picture of Mother Teresa at the top of this article,
maybe it's time for you to "go and learn" what
this means: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."
"If you had known what these words mean,
you would not have condemned the innocent."

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

A 193 page book by Al Maxey

One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution and Extremism

A 230 page book by Al Maxey

Order both books from Publish America at: or (301) 695-1707

SIGNED COPIES may be ordered directly
from the author at a reduced price. Click on
the two book titles for details on how to order.

Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Ohio:

Brother Al, I finished your latest book --- One Bread, One Body --- and again I have come away impressed with not only your acute insight, but with the grace with which you write! My hat is off to you once again, brother; and a heartfelt "Thank You!" for providing such a great work for those who are thirsting for a better understanding of the will of our Father. I was called upon to be the coordinator for the Lord's Supper at our recent morning worship, and I have to confess that I lifted a quote from your book in my Communion comments. I used your quote to stress the unity of the Body that our Lord had in view with this memorial (one of the major lessons I learned from your book). Further, I gave you credit for the quote. Al, your last several Reflections have been just awesome!! I can only repeat the comments of your other readers. Thanks again, Al, for all that you do. You're absolutely amazing! I just had an overnight in Tulsa (note: this brother is a pilot for a major airline --- Al Maxey) and it made me think back on The Tulsa Workshop this past March (when we got to spend some time together), as well as making me look forward to the next Workshop. I can't wait!! I am also looking forward to another El Paso overnight, whenever that may be, so I can drive up and see you again! God bless you, sir, and happy belated Veterans Day!!

From a Leader at New Wineskins:

Dear Bro. Al, I just wanted to take a moment and express to you my deep and sincere appreciation for your recent article (Reflective or Regulative? -- Inquiry into Two Interpretive Principles and their Application to Instrumental Accompaniment in a Worship Assembly) in the current issue of New Wineskins magazine. I had a few thoughts that were inspired by your article that I have shared on my own blog site. I've titled it: Covenant-Appropriate Hermeneutic. I just wanted you to be aware of this. Thanks for your contribution to New Wineskins, and for all you do in partnership with the Lord for His glory.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Dear Brother Al, Your article in New Wineskins was FANTASTIC!!! Great work!!! Way to go!! After reading your article, I signed up for the Wineskins emails. I must say, though, that all the legalistic, poison-penned comments by some of the readers who left comments following your excellent, well-reasoned, logical article just made me want to throw up with disgust. Frankly, it is people like these that make me thank the Lord more and more that I am now away from the Church of Christ church. I hope this does not offend you, Al, but I just don't see how people like YOU can bear to remain with this group (and I mean that as a compliment to you, Al). What a waste of your time and talent.

From a Reader in Florida:

Brother Al, Thank you so much for sharing that paper by the young One Cup preacher. I can relate!! I really appreciate his desire to continue preaching within his group of the Churches of Christ to help them understand grace! That's me!!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Dear Brother Al, I have just finished reading "Theological Reflection Paper" (Reflections #464). What a wonderful article! Even though the writer is deeply rooted in his faith-family, I never detected a single hint of condemnation of those who do not share the same ideas!! Such is far removed from the approach of many who, when they differ with someone, feel the necessity to attack that person rather than attack the issue. This young man's journey closely parallels my own, and I felt a connection to him very quickly into the reading of his presentation.

From a Reader in Florida:

Dear Brother Al, Thank you for using that young preacher's testimony as your guest article in your last Reflections. It was inspirational to read. The spiritual growth of this young man was very moving. He has a great future for the Father. He has learned to exalt Christ in accordance with the Word of God. I shall keep him in my prayers as he continues to be used by God. You also are in my prayers as you share God's Word through your writings. I look forward to reading them every time. Keep on keeping on for Him.

From a Reader in Florida:

Brother Al, Praise God!! What a story! I pray that God will use him mightily to set the captives free.

From an Author in Texas:

Brother Al, Thank you for sharing that excellent testimony. May God bless the author as he continues his spiritual journey and allows God to use him to show others the way to freedom in Jesus.

From a Minister in California:

Dear Brother Al, Your last Reflections was a moving affirmation of the life-altering power of God's love and grace. Thanks for sharing this young man's testimony. I appreciate you, brother.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Brother Al, Thanks to the person who wrote that testimony, and thanks to you for sharing it with your readers. It was very positive and blessed my heart.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Brother Al, By sharing this young preacher's story, I believe you just encouraged him in a way that he won't often be encouraged. You are a good man, Bro. Al. It's extremely sad that God took a young man who was out there in the "far country, eating with pigs," and loved him and restored him and made him a preacher, only to have the "church" kick him in the teeth for preaching Truth! Thanks again for being the kind of a guy that would know of such a young preacher like this and then give him encouragement to endure!!

From an Elder in Oklahoma:

Dear Brother Al, I have been reading and studying the writings of both Edward Fudge and you on the final punishment of the lost being an eternal death, rather than eternal torment. After reading and studying what the Bible has to say, I have come to the same conclusion! Thank you for the great studies you provide to so many people through your weekly Reflections. I pray that the Lord will continue to bless you with the time, desire and capacity to study and write for the benefit of other seekers of Truth. Grace and Peace to you!

From a Reader in Michigan:

Brother Al, I appreciate your courage in standing up for the Truth. God bless you. It frightens me that I once believed "hook, line and sinker" the false teaching that God would "french fry" His creatures and never stop because He is "just" -- Wow! I hope more people will open their eyes and see His awesome love in allowing a path from death to life.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Dear Bro. Al, From what I have read, you have a lot of critics! I urge you NOT to let them intimidate you. You are only speaking what is Truth, and as long as you do, I would urge you not to change a thing. I enjoy your Reflections. You have helped me to better myself in Christ Jesus.

From a Minister in New Jersey:

The trouble for you, Al Maxey, is that you make me THINK! Notice I did not say "the trouble with you," but "the trouble for you." Making me think is not such a bad thing!! However, when I think, I usually look for a sounding board. The trouble for you is that YOU often become that sounding board for my thoughts!!

From a Reader in Mississippi:

Dear Bro. Al, I just wanted to tell you that I appreciate so much the fact that you give us HOPE --- things to think about, to search out for ourselves, and that you encourage us to really seek Truth, instead of what we've been spoon-fed for so long. Thank you.

From a New Reader in [Unknown]:

Bro. Maxey, While studying the stoning of Stephan in Acts 7, I did a Google search for more information and I came upon your article: Reflections #61 -- "Why Was Stephen Stoned? A Study of Seven Factors Leading to a Good Man's Death." Please include me in your email list. Thanks and may God bless you!

From a Reader in California:

Dear Brother Maxey, Thank you so much for your last Reflections article ("Theological Reflection Paper"). It was amazing how similar the writer's story was to my own. Though I never actually left "the church," I must have spent many a service "in vain." May God continually bless your ministry, brother!! By the way, I am sure you are familiar with a legalistic publication known as The Spiritual Sword. And I am also sure you are familiar with the concept of "drinking games." Well, I have (irreverently) come up with the following drinking game (this is only a joke, of course, but I think it makes the point). It is called -- The Spiritual Sword Drinking Game. Just do the following:

  1. Get a bottle of wine.
  2. Get a copy of The Spiritual Sword.
  3. Read The Spiritual Sword.
  4. Each time you find the words "gopher wood," "Nadab," "Abihu," "Ephesians 5:19," "Colossians 3:16," or "Uzzah," you must take a drink of wine.
  5. You may want to start with more than one bottle.
  6. Don't worry about getting drunk, because according to them the Scriptures teach that wine contains no alcohol.

If you would like to be removed from or added to this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may all
be purchased on CD. Check the ARCHIVES for
details and past issues of these weekly Reflections: