Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom!
Give ear to the teaching of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
11 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.
12 “When you come to appear before me,
who has required of you
this trampling of my courts?
13 Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
14 Your new moons 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,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17 learn to do good;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.
*Disclaimer: This post is basically a 85-90% transcription of a sermon by Pastor Henry Tam at San Francisco Bible Church entitled “What Are Your Multiple Sacrifices to Me?” Certain sentences have been rephrased or left for reading purposes and to address the general public.
” Every religion has its necessary outward forms, and every religion is susceptible to the same danger of defining the reality in the terms of this form.” – J Alec Motyer
This is an insightful and true observation of not only our religion, but of all religions. The most visible forms of our faith include the weekly attendance of Sunday services. It is here we pray, we sing songs, we greet one another, we give offering, and we serve in a particular ministry on Sunday services. Motyer warns us against defining our faith by what we see here on Sundays. Our tendency is to define our faith by what we do. Even the rest of the world defines us by what we do outwardly!
It is a dangerous thing to think that a Christian who attends weekly worship services to pray, sing, greet, give, listen, and serve is automatically right with God. That if you do those things, then you must be right with God. That would be a dangerous mistake to assume. Perhaps you are right with God! But those outward forms of attending church don’t make that so. One can do all these things and still not be right with God. And what is even more frightening is that he or she might not be a Christian at all. Observance to outward forms without the inward reality of a right relationship with God is what we call hypocritical worship.
Continuing with his introduction, Isaiah writes the Word of God where the Lord reproves Judah for her hypocritical worship. A worship that is outwardly observant but inwardly far from a relationship with God. This passage challenges us as worshippers of God to examine whether we have, or have been practicing a form of hypocritical worship. Do we think that because we go to church and do all those things on Sunday morning, that we are right with God? Outward forms do not define the reality. They are merely the manifestations of the reality.
But the outward forms can be faked as well.
So God in his word, as he reproves Judah, gives them two overall instructions to hypocritical worshippers. It is my hope that we are not hypocritical worshippers, but we could be. And if we are, this word is for us – that it would waken us, that shake us, but also that it would warn us to not fall into hypocritical worship, because that is not where want to be.
I. The Rebuke of Hypocritical Worship
God states in these 6 verses that he rejects Israel’s worship because their lives are characterized by rebellion and sin. Outwardly they’ve done all the right things, but inwardly they practice daily rebellion against God. Their hearts are far away from them. They are in involved in sin. As he rebukes them, we learn six sobering truths about hypocritical worship.
1. Hypocritical Worship is disobedient to the Word of God.
(v.10) Sodom and Gomorrah – Isaiah associates Judah with these divinely desolated cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. By doing so, it reminds Judah of how close they are to destruction, because Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. This is a reminder that their own destruction is coming soon. He gives them two similar parallel commands: “Hear the word of the Lord” and “Give ear to the instruction of our God.” The judgement that has come upon the people of Judah is because they have not heard the Word of the lord. They have not given ear to God’s instruction. So God calls them to obey. Instead of obedience, they rebelled (v.2, 4) And so he calls them back to obey the law that He has given them.
The lesson for us is that we can’t worship God here on Sundays and then go out and live lives that disobeys God the rest of the week. That is hypocritical worship.
To put it mildly, God is not pleased with such worship. “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.” We understand that a significant part of Israel’s worship was the sacrificial system: the offering of bulls, lambs, goats, fattened cattle. They would offer them on various occasions and different events in their daily lives. They offered not only the animals that are mentioned here, but also doves, produce, flower, oil, frankincense and more. There was a variety of different elements to the sacrificial system to Israel. These laws were not wrong, for they were all commanded in the law of Moses. But notice that God says to them, “What are your multiplied sacrifices for me?” It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the actual system. God commanded it and that law is good. But tough the people plenty of sacrifice and an abundance animal sacrifices, because Judah was hypocritical in their worship, they mean nothing to Him. Not only that, they add nothing. He says, “I’ve had enough of your offerings. I don’t want any more. They add nothing to your worship.” And lastly, they do nothing. God takes no pleasure He says, “in their blood sacrifice.”
When we offer worship to God, it is as an act of worship. We want to please Him. We want to glorify Him. God says, I’m not pleased I’m not glorified when you offer these sacrifices that you’ve bringing. The Israelites had deluded themselves into thinking that their abundance of sacrifices to God would please Him no matter how they lived their life. But it does matter.
2. Hypocritical Worship is an affront to God.
“When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts” (V12) God’s Word reminds Judah that their worship is first and foremost an appearance before Him. He says, “You come [to appear] before me…” He talks about MY courts. You’re entering the temple to worship me. It’s not about you when you come to worship; It’s about God. It’s about Him. It’s about standing before Him. And when we stand before Him, we want to make sure we appear right. The temple was where God’s glory was made manifest, in the Holy of Holies. Every time they went to the temple, they were remembered that only their high priest could go there once a year and only after he’s made sure that he’s right with God by offering the right sacrifices. Anybody else dies. Because the holiness of God is there in the presence of God.
When Isaiah in Chapter 6 saw God’s holiness, he immediately recognized his sin. But when the Israelites came before God’s Holy temple, they came with rebellious and unrepentant hearts. And God calls this a trampling of His courts. When we come in with sin, we trample God’s courts. Okay, although we’re not called to worship in the temple. This building is no more holy than the apartment building next door, but God calls the new testament temples, our bodies. The church is really the temple of God. The people are the temple of God. And if our bodies are temples of God and we live in obedience to Him, we trample His Courts.
3. Hypocritical Worship is an Abomination to God
(v.14) God intensifies his rejection of hypocritical worship. He says “Don’t even bring your offerings any longer.” We treat God like we treat human beings. When you offend someone, we think: “If I give them enough money, gifts, or stuff, then they’re gonna like me.” That’s how the world operates. But no, not with God. You cannot give him enough to have your sins forgiven. It does not pardon our sins. It is an abomination to God when we bring our offerings and sacrifices to Him, yet we continue in a life of sin. God says they’re worthless. They do nothing for our lives. What’s more, he says our incense is an abomination to him. This word abomination is later used in Isaiah 44:19 of idolatry, where incense is as loathsome to god as idolatry is. God hates the worship of idols. And he hates it when we offer incense to him without a right heart. Outwardly they worship God with offerings and incense, but to God they were a worthless abomination. And what has been implied all long has been explicitly said here in the end of verse 13, it says “I cannot endure iniquity in the solemn assembly.” “Don’t come to me and act all solemn and holy, while having sin in your life!” is what God says. They do not belong together. Worship and wickedness don’t fit. Together, incense and iniquity is an abomination. When we worship the Lord, we must always examine our hearts for sin. When we come to God’s church and worship Him, we must confess our sins. That’s why we often start our services with prayer. It’s a time to examine our hearts. Because none of us have lived this past week without any sin right? No, we’ve all had thoughts of sin and acts of sin. And we need to confess those to the Lord in order to be right with Him so that we can approach Him as followers of Christ.
4. Hypocritical Worship is abhorred by God.
“Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. Similar to v.13, God carries his description a bit further. The NASB translates this verse as “I hate,” but the Hebrew literally reads “My soul hates” God says “My soul hates your new moon festivals.” The new moon was the time sacrifices would be offered And this hatred then, is at the very center of his being. One commentator writes of this phrase, “It is thus a hatred that is found in the inmost depth and to the utmost bounds of God’s being.” That is how much God hates and abhors hypocritical worship. To the extent that, it has become a burden to Him. He has been bearing them for so long. God say later in Isaiah 43:24, “You have burdened me with your sins. You have wearied me with your iniquities” (NASB). God’s tired as they continue in sin. And these are the people of God! God hates hypocritical worship and so should the people of God.
5. Hypocritical Worship is abandoned by God
“When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.” God refuses here, to hear the prayers of hypocritical worshippers. And even if you multiply your prayers, God will not listen. And the reason? He says, “Your hands are covered with blood.” Judah and Jerusalem, as you continue rebelling, your hands are covered with blood! At this point, we know that the people of Judah were guilty of rebellion, of idolatry, sins against God himself. But here for the first time, God charges them with sin against other people: their neighbors. The phrase, “their hands covered with blood.” is a picture of violence against another. Later in the same chapter, Verse 21, God condemns Jerusalem: “Righteousness once lodged in her, but now murderers.” And in light of the verses that follow that verse, as well as here, God is talking not murders of general, but the murders of the helpless. The ones that really have no defense. He talks about the treatment of orphans, the widows, through the abuse and neglect of the people. There is an intentional irony here against hypocritical worshippers. He says, Just as they have abandoned their fellow people, by not helping the orphans and widows, allowing them to die in their hunger and poverty. God says I will abandon you. I won’t hear you. I don’t see you. Hopefully these words help to impress a glimpse of how much God truly hates hypocritical worship. For us as Christians, this is not just an Old Testament trust but a New Testament trust as well. Jesus’ harshest words were not reserved necessarily for unbelievers, but for his people, particularly the leaders of his people. The pharisees and scribes. In Matthew 23, Jesus repeatedly pronounces to the Scribes and Pharisees “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees… hypocrites!” He says that 8 times! He calls them white-washed tombs. He calls the out by saying “Outwardly you appear righteous to man, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. That’s so true. Maybe if our neighbors watched our lives, they would see us walking out of our homes dressed all nicely and looking put together, and think: There goes a nice looking family! A good looking couple. Oh, that must be an upright standing man or woman. And look at how they go to church and the things that they are devoted to! They must be outstandingly righteous people. Yes!” But that is nothing compared to how we live. What is inwardly in our hearts. Are our hearts full of hypocrisy and lawlessness? Let us not confuse our righteousness with how we look on Sunday mornings. Yes, it is a righteous thing to come and worship God , but we ask ourselves, what do our lives look like out there? In our homes? In our workplace? At school? What does our Christian life look like? Is it even a visibly Christian life? Are you guided by the same principles you would practice readily at church? I know it’s sometimes hard, especially as a new believer. We are so used to the sinful ways that we acted, that we are afraid to talk about Christ in these environments. But if we don’t live what we speak here, out there, God calls that hypocritical worship. It’s full of hypocrisy and lawlessness, and if so, these warnings for us to change.
II. The Remedy for Hypocritical Worship
The opposite of hypocritical worship is Sincere Worship. And we learn two truths: First off all, sincere worship begins with cleansing and repentance. Verse 16 God says, “Your hands are covered with blood What’s the solution? Wash yourselves. Make yourselves clean. Remove the evil of your deeds from my sight. Cease to do evil. Sin had corrupted Judah’s worship and so the remedy requires a cleansing and a repentance from sin. In the first half of this verse describes cleansing, the second half, repentance. This cleansing repentance must come not from ourselves, but it requires to turn to God because all forgiveness of sins is by the power of God. Once we turn to the Lord for repentance and cleansing, there will be a manifestation of a ceasing of evil. As we think about this idea of ceasing of evil, we are reminded that sincere worship is worship that is characterized by holiness. That’s the point. Our lives should be characterized by holiness, not by sin. In the new testaments, Christians are called saints, holy ones. It’s not only because we are set apart for God, but also in the fact that we have the power in Christ to live lives in holiness, lives that are Christ-like. Not in perfection but as a pattern of our lives. Holiness is more than just an absence of sin. It’s not I don’t lie, cheat, steal or do bad things. but also includes the presence of righteousness. Ceasing to do evil must also coincide with the doing of good. And that leads to the second point:
III. Sincere worship manifests in defending the helpless
God gives us particular application because of Judah’s practices. He says with five quick commands
- Learn to do good
- Seek justice
- Reprove the ruthless
- Defend the orphan
- Plead for the widow
These five actions display the heart of a true worshipper who loves God and others. In obedience to God’s Word, the worshipper of God will do good instead of evil. He will seek justice where there is injustice. They will reprove the oppressors. They will defend and speak up for the most helpless of society. According to Verse 23, the rulers and people of Judah did not do this, but we know in the law that God calls his people to defend the helpless. Now this isn’t just the social gospel when we talk about these things. IN 19th century America, the rise of the social gospel. As some christians who sought to seek out social justice and good for the world, ended up neglecting the true gospel. They forgot the Gospel. They left it out. And all they had was social justice.
But that is no excuse for us to avoid social justice. Whether it means defending orphans, widows, homeless, disabled, immigrants or the unborn, is our responsibility as Christians. James 1:27 talks about pure and undefiled religion. What is it? To visit orphans and widows in their distress. God calls us to defend the helpless because that’s what He does. God is one who defends the helpless. And what’s more is that when we do so, it’s a picture of the gospel. Because who are the helpless? We are the helpless. All of us are helpless. All of us are dead in our sin. We can’t do anything about it. We can cry out in our sin. We could try to do things. We can even buy help, but we are helpless against it. But God in his rich mercy and compassion, reaches out to help the helpless. And that’s why we help the helpless. It’s a picture of the Gospel.
As worshippers of God we are salt and light to the world. Our lives are to make a difference in the world. It’s to show the truth. To cause you to think “Aww man, there’s another way to live instead of the way we live.” Our lives are a display of the gospel. Yes, attending church is part of that. Showing that we fear God, that he deserves our praise, worship and adoration just as God is seeking true worshippers. And that we would invite all to come and worship with us. But when we go into the world loving our neighbors, we illustrate the compassionate and sacrificial love of God as we share the Gospel with our words. That’s why we must have sincere worship. Our lives must match up with our words.
As we conclude then, hopefully we’ve been impressed how much God despises and hates hypocritical worship that we would not do the same. The people of Judah had fallen into the mistake of defining the religion by simply their outward forms of worship. Because they showed up at church, they gave, they sung, they prayed, they heard, they greeted one another, they served. Therefore they thought they were good. The rest of the week they worshipped idols, they ignored the helpless, they did not show love, they did not show compassion. Let us not fall in the same danger.
Let us then also ensure that our faith is defined by what it ought to be defined by. What is true religion? It ultimately begins with our cleansing and repentance in Christ. That we are Christians because of relationship with Christ through faith in Him. And only through repentance and casting ourselves at the feet of God can we receive Christ’s infinite righteousness on our behalf, and our forgiveness of sins.
Let us ensure that our faith goes beyond outward forms on Sundays, but it goes to a life of holiness, compassion and love, seen the rest of the week. All 7 days, including Sundays.
May God cause His church to be a church of true worshippers, who worship Him in spirit and in truth.