ESV - 6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
In typical prophetic hyperbole (overstatements), even though at face value the verse seems to be saying that God wants mercy INSTEAD OF sacrifices, God is actually telling his people that does NOT want mercy INSTEAD OF sacrifices… and he does NOT want sacrifices INSTEAD OF mercy… he actually wants mercy PLUS sacrifices. As long as a functioning Temple was standing, God will always desire mercy PLUS sacrifices, because sacrifices often accompanied making physical restitution between you and your fellow man. See this quote from gotquestions.org: Leviticus 6:2-5 covers other situations in which the stolen property is restored, plus one fifth of the value. Also of note in this passage, the restitution was made to the owner of the property (not to the government or any other third party), and the compensation was to be accompanied by a guilt offering to the Lord. The Mosaic Law, then, protected victims of theft, extortion, fraud, and negligence by requiring the offending parties to make restitution. The amount of remuneration varied anywhere from 100 to 500 percent of the loss. The restitution was to be made on the same day that the guilty one brought his sacrifice before the Lord, which implies that making amends with one’s neighbor is just as important as making peace with God. Allow me to substantiate my answer using King David: Ps. 51:14-19 is David’s prayer to have mercy on him and to restore him after his gross sin with Bathsheba. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar. Notice firstly that David recognizes that mere mechanical sacrifice participation is not what God desires: Ps. 51:16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. Is David saying that God’s prescribed system of sacrifices is worthless in regards to repentance and restoration? Not really. Indeed, David recognizes that what God truly wants is a heart poured out in genuine repentance: Ps. 51: 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. The reason we KNOW that God desires mercy AND sacrifices is because David goes on to assure us that God wants them both: Ps. 51:18, 19 then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar. Conclusions: So, next time you see a prophet rebuking Isra'el for bringing sacrifices (like Hos. 6:6 or Isaiah 1:11-15), just know that there is nothing wrong with WHAT they are doing by bringing sacrifices per se; rather, it is what is in the heart that God is looking at. God hates hypocrisy. Why bring sacrifices if you are going to continue sinning against your fellow man? I essentially see the same principle demonstrated in Matt. 5:23, 24. Here Yeshua tells the crowd to reconcile to your brother PLUS bring your offering to the altar. God isn't asking for reconciliation INSTEAD OF your offering… he delights in reconciliation PLUS your offering. Mercy PLUS sacrifices is what God desires, and this accords with God’s gracious Torah (Law) that places value on both. It is important to note that the qualification of a proper heart attitude is clearly implied in Leviticus 16:29, 31 where the people are asked to “afflict (Hebrew=‘anah) their souls” (KJV). Accordingly, only those who had inwardly prepared their hearts were eligible to receive the gracious gift of God’s forgiveness.