Has the Lord as great 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 Samuel 15:22).
Little Billy had been warned by his mother that if he pulled his sister’s hair one more time he’d be punished. Being a little boy, Billy did what all little boys with a sin nature do: he pulled his sister’s hair again.
Mother told Billy to sit with his nose in the corner for ten minutes as punishment. Billy walked to the corner, grumbling with each step, sat on his little chair and stuck his nose in the corner of the room.
After a few minutes, Mother called to Billy from the kitchen. “Billy, are you still sitting with your nose in the corner?”
With squinted eyes Billy defiantly growled, “I’m sitting on the outside, but on the inside I’m standing up!”
We have the same problem as little Billy. We think that the outward religion of ritual is pleasing to God; animal sacrifices, fasting from food, kneeling to pray, not wearing jewelry, or how long a man’s beard grows. In reality, God is after the heart.
In the book of Joel, Israel was in dire straits. God was judging His people for their sins and so they called for a fast and a sacred assembly (Joel 1:14). Sacred assemblies in the Law of Moses were for feasting – not fasting (Lev 23:1-37). Like the Jews, in our push to please God we’re way into the outward appearances. We wrongly jump to material and physical solutions, “Oh, fasting only means to avoid food. Let’s stop eating.”
Only a few verses later God exposits His desire from Israel, “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. So rend your heart and not your garments; return to the Lord your God.” (Joel 2:12, 13).
It’s much easier to put on an outward show of religion than to surrender your heart. God desires the changing of our hearts rather than outward compliance and ritual.