"To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin. The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty." Proverbs 21:3 - 5 (ESV)
Solomon says that righteousness is more acceptable than sacrifice. Why is that the case? Does God not desire sacrifice? It's hard to read this passage without immediately considering the life and message of Jesus, who did away with temple sacrifices and the need to offer animals for atonement. But this passage was penned long before Jesus came to earth and lived a perfect life; a sacrifice was a very real and important part of the life of someone who followed the Lord.
We’re back to the original question: why are righteousness and justice better than sacrifice? When we consider the context of the Bible, we can see a trajectory of God coming near to His people. God appears to Abraham, Moses, Israel, and then (through Jesus) to everyone and invites us to come and follow Him. It's an opportunity to love God and love others - loving God and loving people go hand-in-hand. Community is important to God (He has existed in community with Himself throughout time) and He cares about how we treat one another.
Consider Jesus' remarks in the New Testament that the greatest commandment is to love God and to love people. Justice and righteousness are ways to love others as God loved us. Therefore, the act of justice, living out the heart behind sacrifice, is better than any offering we can give. When we offer something to God, we are letting it go and trusting God to bless and use what we have given. Righteousness is giving of ourselves for the good of someone else. Verse 4 tells us “the plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance”. Even though we may not see an immediate return on our action, we can rest knowing God is taking care of the results.
Lend your ear
"Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered. A gift in secret averts anger, and a concealed bribe, strong wrath. When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers." Proverbs 21:13 - 15 (ESV)
Earlier in our Proverbs devotionals, we read that wisdom was crying from the crowded street. It was our choice to use our ears to listen and align our hearts to the call of wisdom. In verse 13, we see a person who has closed their ears to the cry of the poor; they are not listening to the world around them. Have you ever closed off the world around you? Our world can be overwhelming at times, many things vying for our attention; everyone wants a piece of you. It is important, however, not to lose sight of those who are in need.
Solomon says that if we do not listen to the cry of the poor (or those who are in need) that we will not be heard in our time of need. That is a strong warning! We should consider the ramifications of our actions toward those in need. I don't know about you, but I want God to hear me when I call to Him. These verses speak to the heart of God and His call on our lives. Restorative justice is the responsibility of those who seek to walk in righteousness.
Find Life (Reflect and Respond)
"Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor." Proverbs 21:21 (ESV)
Are you pursuing righteousness? Do you instill kindness in your daily conversations? Take a few moments and consider the small steps you can take to build a life of righteousness and honor. Listen to the cries of the poor and those who are in need. As opportunities arise, act in love and walk in justice. Walking in wisdom is not about traveling the path alone. We are all in this together; let’s work together to see the kingdom of God here "on earth as it is in heaven."