I read this verse the other day and felt a bit of a painful punch in the gut. I don’t think these moments happen often enough for me when I read my Bible really. But I was struck with it’s poignancy. Imagine, for a second, that God directed these very words at you and your church:
I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
Ouch! I looked at several different translations, and they all seem to say “I hate, I despise…” which in and of itself caught my eye. As you have probably noticed, translations often differ widely on the specific wording. Apparently there isn’t much confusion on how to translate that part.
I’m starting to write about this theme of “missing God” quite a bit, and thinking even more about it. I am realizing that I have a tendency to read negative passages like this by putting myself on God’s side as he lambastes the Israelites. Since I of course read my Bible, go to church, and live a good Christian life, this doesn’t apply…right? Plus the context of this verse, as I’ll share in a minute, is very strongly for justice. I’m passionate about justice, so I don’t need to hear this lecture from God, right?
If I believe that I understand God, Christ, and the Christian faith simply because I read the Bible and go to church, I have made a grave error.
If I believe that, I have made the same error the Pharisees of Jesus’ day made. And I think I’m making the same error the Israelites are making here. Their faith was a mere religious checklist and as long as they did all the religious feasts and solemn assmblies, they were pleasing in God’s sight, right? God says not. Because as soon as I look for a checklist to complete, the minute I lean on my own understanding of the Bible and my own religious fervor as my hope, I have quit leaning on Christ. Our human intellect is a marvelous gift, and I don’t think we use it often enough. But we must recognize our limitations, and we must not be luled into a false sense of security that we “know” God and Christ because of what we do.
So, back to the verse, what does God tell the Israelites?
“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Now I think we have to be careful here not to look at this as some new item on the same checklist. It isn’t. I think what we should learn here is precisely the opposite. God isn’t interested in us completing a list of religious todos. He is interested in our heart. Just as religious feasts and solemn assemblies can be mere todos for us to check off our religious checklist so too can the pursuit of justice. I think a desire for justice, for the Christian, should come out of a thriving and abundant personal relationship with God. I hope that my own ambitions are skewed to reflect the desires of God’s heart
I leave you with the “unabridged” scripture. May you and I seek to know God, and worship in a way that is pleasing to Him.
I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.