Hear the word of the LORD,
You children of Israel,
For the LORD brings a charge against the inhabitants of the land:
“There is no truth or mercy
Or knowledge of God in the land. (Hosea 4:1)
For I desire mercy and not sacrifice,
And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)
“This eternal will of Yahweh is revealed in v. 6.
‘For I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’
Note that ‘mercy’ is followed by ‘knowledge of God’ as in 4:1. Both virtues reflect the will or the delight of God in promoting a profound relationship with Israel. Yahweh is the Lord, and in this quality, he sets the moral standards and principles pertaining to the covenantal relationship with Israel. Yahweh does not reject worship as a whole but he criticizes the way Israel perceives it. Instead of a means to enter the relationship with God and to foster community ties, the worship becomes gradually a goal in itself (cf. Am 5:21ff.; Mic 6:6ff.).
A similar explanation may be found in Theodoret of Cyrus:
‘For I do not require sacrifices, I accept these sacrifices, condescending to the weakness of your mind. But I demand these two things: good will toward me, and love for your neighbor.’
Instead of cultivating the ‘knowledge of God’ and ‘mercy,’ Israel is more interested in bringing sacrifices (or sacrificial meals) and burnt offerings.” (Long-Suffering Love: A Commentary on Hosea with Patristic Annotations, p 99)
Every generation of Orthodox Christians has to also consider the words of the Lord. We place emphasis on exacting and proper liturgy and rules of fasting, yet they are never to become ends in themselves. Right worship and exacting piety, which we believe are important to the spiritual life, can never displace or preempt mercy and the knowledge of God in our spiritual lives. Piety, asceticism and liturgy are to form our hearts so that we can have a proper relationship with God and neighbor. If we come to see them as the goal of the spiritual life, we can lose the right relationship we are to have in loving God and loving neighbor.