Are we walking FORWARD or BACKWARD in our SPIRITUAL JOURNEY? “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 or sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you that it may be well with you.’ Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but followed the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.” (Jer. 7:22-24)
In the above verses, prophet Jeremiah is urging the people of Israel to get their priorities right. We know that God had instituted sacrifices as a precursor to the ultimate sacrifice of His only begotten Son Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary for the sins of humankind. These sacrifices that God wanted from the Israelites are detailed in the first seven chapters of the book of Leviticus. However, since the offerings of the Israelites had lost all their sacred significance, Jeremiah said they might as well eat the burnt offerings, which were wholly offered to God as well as the other offerings that they were accustomed to eating.
Here, Jeremiah is not denying the sacrifices because God had originally instituted them. Rather Jeremiah is arguing against substituting sacrifice for obedience. Sacrifices were not the major concern of God. The people thought they were pleasing God when they offered sacrifices, but they did not obey God in their general way of living. All their religious observances that was devoid of spiritual reality were worthless (see Ps. 40:6–8; Isa. 1:11; Hos. 6:6; Mic. 6:6–8). So, Jeremiah is opposing the empty ritualism the people had given to the sacrifices and contrasting it with the obedience that God demands (I Sam 15:22). What God desires is obedience, not rituals, and sacrifice without commitment is worthless!
When the prophet Jeremiah lashes out against sacrifices, it was not against the sacrificial system as God had established it, but against the corruption of that system as the people practiced it. All our sacrifices without the inner worship of the heart are of no interest to God! The same thing is found in the New Testament passages that seemingly speak against the Law and sacrifices. In reality, these verses are calling our attention to the necessity of the believer living a life of total obedience and devotion to God as only our obedience will bring blessing from God!
The history of the Israelites today is seen in terms of their disobedience rather than their faithfulness to the covenant, and they reflect their evil hearts (4:14). They did not even give a partial hearing to the words of Jehovah God (Ps. 81:11, 12) let alone obey the words of God given through Moses (see Exo. 15:26; 19:5-6). The result was a worsening or backward direction rather than an improving or forward walk. Thus, they stood under God’s judgment because they turned away from Him—they “went backward and not forward”. Rather than cultivate a growing relationship with God based on sustained, faithful obedience, they went on their own way and followed the “dictates of their evil hearts” (v. 24).
Let us understand that our faith journey is a dynamic, lifelong journey in the road of life. At any given moment, we are either moving towards God or turning away from Him. A good question to ask ourselves today is this: are we walking forward or backward in our spiritual journey? The only way to make progress in our journey of faith is to keep moving toward God as He talks to us daily through His Word (v. 13) and at times through His servants (v. 25). We may fail and fall at times, but we will never be cast down for God upholds us in His Hands (Ps. 37:23-24).