“Yet you have not called upon me, O Jacob,
you have not wearied yourselves for me, O Israel.
You have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings,
nor honored me with your sacrifices.
I have not burdened you with grain offerings
nor wearied you with demands for incense.
You have not bought any fragrant calamus for me,
or lavished on me the fat of your sacrifices.
But you have burdened me with your sins
and wearied me with your offenses.
“I, even I, am he who blots out
your transgressions, for my own sake,
and remembers your sins no more.
Review the past for me,
let us argue the matter together;
state the case for your innocence.
Your first father sinned;
your spokesmen rebelled against me.
So I will disgrace the dignitaries of your temple,
and I will consign Jacob to destruction
and Israel to scorn. (Isaiah 43:22-28)
Israel had ignored God. His people had worshipped other gods instead. There were no sacrifices being offered to Yahweh—or certainly no real sacrifices. What they claimed as sacrifices were meaningless because their hearts were not in it. They didn’t genuinely care about God. They did not care to know him or to learn what he wanted.
From the beginning of God’s relationship with them, they had sinned. It wasn’t even new behavior for them. God pointed out to his people that they had been piling up sins instead of piling up sacrifices. Nevertheless, he had forgiven them. He forgave them, not because of what they did—or didn’t do—but because that’s what he wanted to do. Their behavior, their sacrifices, were not what granted them forgiveness. They gained forgiveness because that’s just what God liked to do.
The mistake we make is to imagine that our behavior has anything to do with our relationship with God. It doesn’t. God has forgiven us and we remain his people regardless. In fact, it is because we are his people now that he disciplines us, just as he disciplined the ancient Israelites.