For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices: But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you. But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.
The law that was given to Israel first were the Ten Commandments, the statutes that laid out what they were to do and not do, how they were to behave in regards to God and to other people. The main thrust of the law was not the system of sacrifices, the kind of ritual aspect of making offerings, but it was about obedience first and foremost. That is what God desires from His people. The sacrifices were instituted because they disobeyed and God graciously provided a way of forgiveness through them. But their focus was to be cultivating a relationship with God through obedience to Him.
But what was prominent in the idol worship of their day? It was about making sacrifices and giving offerings, appeasing the gods, seeking their favor. That system was not about a relationship or walking closely with that idol in a personal way. It wasn’t about obedience. It wasn’t following a righteous path. And it only led Israel away from knowing God and making Him known to others.
What God wants more than a burnt offering is for us to be a living sacrifice, giving ourselves to complete obedience to the commandments of God and leaving behind the dead works of disobedience. Our obedience leads to that personal relationship with God in the first place, and fellowship results, a relationship is built, and we are ultimately blessed. Christ is our ultimate example of denying ourselves for God’s sake, and the Father was so pleased with the Son because He was obedient to what God had given Him to do.
For Israel, the sacrifices were a safeguard for when they did sin, but they were not a practice that they were to use so they could just continue sinning. Their disobedience grieved God. They refused to listen to Him and went their own way, adopting worldly ways instead. But may we keep our focus on that most important aspect of our relationship with God. May we live in obedience to Him and walk in His ways. What He truly desires from us is a willingness to follow Him, to forsake sin and our selfish desires, and instead to desire most to just please Him and honor Him.