For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice
That is, the one rather than the other, as the next clause explains it. Sacrifices were of early use, even before the law of Moses; they were of divine appointment, and were approved and accepted of by the Lord; they were types of Christ, and led to him, and were continued unto his death; but in comparison of moral duties, which respect love to God, and to our neighbour, the Lord did not will them, desire them, and delight in them; or he had more regard for the former than the latter; see ( 1 Samuel 15:22 ) ( Mark 12:33 Mark 12:34 ) ; nor did he will or accept at all of the sacrifices ordered to the calves at Dan and Bethel; nor others, when they were not such as the law required, or were not offered up in the faith of Christ, attended with repentance for sin, and in sincerity, and were brought as real expiatory sacrifices for sin, and especially as now abrogated by the sacrifice of Christ. And as these words are twice quoted by our Lord, at one time to justify his mercy, pity, and compassion, to the souls of poor sinners, by conversing with them, ( Matthew 9:13 ) ; and at another time to justify the disciples in an act of mercy to their bodies when hungry, by plucking ears of corn on the sabbath day, ( Matthew 12:7 ) ; "mercy" may here respect both acts of mercy shown by the Lord, and acts of mercy done by men; both which the Lord wills, desires, and delights in: he takes pleasure in showing mercy himself, as appears by his free and open declarations of it; by the throne of grace and mercy he has set up; by the encouragement he gives to souls to hope in his mercy; by the objects of it, the chief of sinners; by the various ways he has taken to display it, in election, in the covenant of grace, in the mission of Christ, in the pardon of sin by him, and in regeneration; and by his opposing it to everything else, in the affair of salvation. And he likewise has a very great regard to mercy as exercised by men; as this is one of the weightier matters of the law, and may be put for the whole of it, or however the second table of it, which is love to our neighbours, and takes in all kind offices done to them; and especially designs acts of liberality to necessitous persons; which are sacrifices God is well pleased with, even more than with the ceremonious ones; these being such in which men resemble him the merciful God, who is kind to the unthankful, and to the evil; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings;
which were reckoned the greatest and most excellent sacrifices, the whole being the Lord's; but knowledge of God is preferred to them; by which is meant, not the knowledge of God, the light of nature, which men might have, and not him; nor by the law of Moses, as a lawgiver, judge, and consuming fire; but a knowledge of him in Christ, as the God and Father of Christ, as the God of all grace, gracious and merciful in him; as a covenant God and Father in him, which is through the Gospel by the Spirit, and is eternal life, ( John 17:3 ) ; this includes in it faith and hope in God, love to him, fear of him and his goodness, and the whole worship of him, both internal and external. These words seem designed to expose and remove the false ground of trust and confidence in sacrifices the people of Israel were prone unto; as we find they were in the times of Isaiah, who was contemporary with Hoses; see ( Isaiah 1:12-15 ) . The Targum interprets them of those that exercise mercy, and do the law of the Lord.