What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes early away.
 Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light.
 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (ESV)
It is so easy to get caught in the prison of legalism if we are not careful. The line between obedience out of true love and strictly following the rules to be the best rule follower can look blurred from the outside. The difference is internal. The difference is love.
What does GOD desire most?
For I desire __________________ ________ and not sacrifice,
the __________________ ____. ______ rather than burnt offerings.
 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples.  And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (ESV)
 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.  But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.”  He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him:  how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?  Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?  I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.  And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.  For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” (ESV)
The Pharisees gladly resided in the prison of legalism. It appears that they were desperately trying to put everyone else in their prison, with the surety they would be in control. JESUS reinforced, at least twice, that love is greater than sacrifice. Love is an internal sacrifice for someone else, even to your own detriment, while sacrificing a thing is external.
 “Come to Bethel, and transgress;
to Gilgal, and multiply transgression;
bring your sacrifices every morning,
your tithes every three days;
 offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened,
and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them;
for so you love to do, O people of Israel!”
declares the Lord GOD. (ESV)
Can you feel the sarcasm dripping from GOD’s words? GOD desires love more than outward sacrifice that is a mask to cover the love of self and the love of one’s very own sin.
 “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.
 “When you come to appear before me,
who has required of you
this trampling of my courts?
 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.
 Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
 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.
 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
 learn to do good;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause. (ESV)
Israel does not want to confront their sin, but they want to love and nurture their sin, covering it up with their false worship of sacrifices and feasts. The Pharisees loved and nurtured their sin of legalism, appearing somewhat outwardly that they loved the LORD the most, while their hearts were actually closed off to the LORD and in fact loved themselves the most. Are we like Israel and the Pharisees? Do we have sins that we make excuses for? Do we have sins that we call something else or even call our sins worship of GOD? Yikes! Don't put sin that is not yours on yourself. Don't put that extra burden on yourself. That is not from the LORD but from satan. If you do have sins that you have camouflaged to yourself and others, put the correct label on them and repent and love the LORD your GOD the most!
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.
“Dictionary by Merriam-Webster: America's Most-Trusted Online Dictionary.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/.
Green, Jay P. “Hosea.” The Interlinear Hebrew-Aramaic Old Testament: With Strong's Concordance Numbers above Each Word, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, MA, 1985, pp. 2075–2092.
Publishing, Rose. Rose Book of Bible Charts, Maps, and Time Lines. Rose Publishing, 2015.
Strong, James. The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Showing Every Word of the Text of the Common English Version of the Canonical Books, and Every Occurrence of Each Word in Regular Order, Together with Dictionaries of the Hebrew and Greek Words of Th. Hendrickson Publishers, 1990.