God desires that His people submit to Him and obey Him.
So Peter reminds his readers, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (1 Pet 5:6). Because God is the sovereign King, His people are to submit to His authority and follow His dictates in all things.
Thus, the nation of Israel was repeatedly reminded to be obedient to the Lord (Ex. 19:5-6; Lev. 26:14ff; Dt. 27:10; 28:1ff; 30:1-2ff). And the story of Judges recounts the repeated cycles of disobedience, discipline, and restoration of the nation. And the kings of Israel were called to obedience (1 Sam. 15:19-20; 1 Kings 3:10-15).
But God doesn’t want just obedience. We are prone to think that all that matters is what we do. But God is interested in more than our mere rote, formal compliance to standards without really caring about those commands.
God does desire our obedience, but He desires obedience that comes from a heart that desires Him. He wants us to want obedience and Him. He wants us to care why He has made His commands and why we are coming to Him. And that is why at least 20 times in the Old Testament God reminds His people that the sacrifices they offer are of no significance if they do not want Him. Yes, He desires obedience (and in the OT, that meant He desired their sacrifices); but He longs for our obedience to flow out of a heart that desires obedience and loves that obedience and wants Him as a result of that obedience.
- Samuel said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.” (1 Sam. 15:22)
- “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats.” (Is. 1:11)
- “You have not brought to Me the sheep of your burnt offerings, Nor have you honored Me with your sacrifices. I have not burdened you with offerings, Nor wearied you with incense. You have bought Me not sweet cane with money, Nor have you filled Me with the fat of your sacrifices; Rather you have burdened Me with your sins, You have wearied Me with your iniquities.” (Is. 43:23-24)
- “I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’ To a nation which did not call on My name. I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts, A people who continually provoke Me to My face, Offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on bricks; Who sit among graves and spend the night in secret places; Who eat swine’s flesh, And the broth of unclean meat is in their pots. Who say, ‘Keep to yourself, do not come near me, For I am holier than you!’ These are smoke in My nostrils, A fire that burns all the day.” (Is. 65:1-5)
- “But he who kills an ox is like one who slays a man; He who sacrifices a lamb is like the one who breaks a dog’s neck; He who offers a grain offering is like one who offers swine’s blood; He who burns incense is like the one who blesses an idol. As they have chosen their own ways, And their soul delights in their abominations, So I will choose their punishments And will bring on them what they dread. Because I called, but no one answered; I spoke, but they did not listen. And they did evil in My sight And chose that in which I did not delight.” (Is. 66:3-4)
- “Hear, O earth: behold, I am bringing disaster on this people, The fruit of their plans, Because they have not listened to My words, And as for My law, they have rejected it also. For what purpose does frankincense come to Me from Sheba And the sweet cane from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable And your sacrifices are not pleasing to Me.” (Jer. 6:19-20)
- Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat flesh. For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you.’ Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward. Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have sent you all My servants the prophets, daily rising early and sending them. Yet they did not listen to Me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck; they did more evil than their fathers.” (Jer. 7:21-26)
- So the LORD said to me, “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. When they fast, I am not going to listen to their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I am not going to accept them. Rather I am going to make an end of them by the sword, famine and pestilence.” (Jer. 14:11-12)
- “They will come in from the cities of Judah and from the environs of Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin, from the lowland, from the hill country and from the Negev, bringing burnt offerings, sacrifices, grain offerings and incense, and bringing sacrifices of thanksgiving to the house of the LORD.” (Jer. 17:26)
- “So the LORD was no longer able to endure it, because of the evil of your deeds, because of the abominations which you have committed; thus your land has become a ruin, an object of horror and a curse, without an inhabitant, as it is this day. Because you have burned sacrifices and have sinned against the LORD and not obeyed the voice of the LORD or walked in His law, His statutes or His testimonies, therefore this calamity has befallen you, as it has this day.” (Jer. 44:22-23)
- “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hos. 6:6)
- “As for My sacrificial gifts, They sacrifice the flesh and eat it, But the LORD has taken no delight in them. Now He will remember their iniquity, And punish them for their sins; They will return to Egypt. For Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces; And Judah has multiplied fortified cities, But I will send a fire on its cities that it may consume its palatial dwellings.” (Hos. 8:13-14)
- “They will not pour out drink offerings of wine to the LORD, Their sacrifices will not please Him. Their bread will be like mourners’ bread; All who eat of it will be defiled, For their bread will be for themselves alone; It will not enter the house of the LORD. (Hos. 9:4)
- “Is there iniquity in Gilead? Surely they are worthless. In Gilgal they sacrifice bulls, Yes, their altars are like the stone heaps Beside the furrows of the field. (Hos. 12:11)
- “And rend your heart and not your garments. Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness And relenting of evil.” (Joel 2:13)
- “Enter Bethel and transgress; In Gilgal multiply transgression! Bring your sacrifices every morning, Your tithes every three days. Offer a thank offering also from that which is leavened, And proclaim freewill offerings, make them known. For so you love to do, you sons of Israel,” Declares the Lord GOD. “But I gave you also cleanness of teeth in all your cities And lack of bread in all your places, Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD. (Amos 4:4-6)
- “I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings.” (Amos 5:21-22; also vv. 23-27)
- With what shall I come to the LORD And bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, With yearling calves? Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? (Mic. 6:6-8)
- “But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?” says the LORD of hosts. But now will you not entreat God’s favor, that He may be gracious to us? With such an offering on your part, will He receive any of you kindly?” says the LORD of hosts. Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD of hosts, “nor will I accept an offering from you.” (Mal. 1:8-10; cf. also vv. 11-14)
- “Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD which He loves and has married the daughter of a foreign god. As for the man who does this, may the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob everyone who awakes and answers, or who presents an offering to the LORD of hosts. This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.” (Mal 2:11-13)
What does God desire? He certainly yearns for His people to obey Him. There is much joy and blessing to be found in obedience (Psa. 119:16, 24, 35, 47-48, 70, 77, 92, 97, 113, 119, 127, 132, 143, 159, 163, 165, 167, 174). But even more, the Lord desires our obedience to be out of love for Him and a desire to be in fellowship with Him.