Sometimes a biblical proverb seems to deserve the ‘Well, duuhh …!’ response.
Usually this signals that we are missing something. We should figure out what it is, if only because we do not look our best in the light of historical ignorance.
Proverbs 21.3 illustrates the point:
To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. (Proverbs 21:3 ESV)
Because we have long since lost our appreciation for the weight of cultic regularity, this proverb seems to declare a truism. Who needs a verse that simply tells us what everybody already knows?
Yet in other places and at other times, peoples have treasured the relevance of honoring their Creator with regularity, specificity, and care. The Bible’s own Levitical prescriptions are an example, for there one is helped to understand that not every spontaneous thought honors God. It is not just that some things are important enough to be thought about long and carefully. That is true enough. It is also that some actions are weighty enough to be prescribed.
If this seems odd and ponderous to us, we should at least pause long enough to acknowledge that such things have seemed quite obvious to others.
Perhaps we can agree that the way we honor God with the rhythms of our life—or the way we do not—has mattered very much to the biblical tradition and presumably matters to God himself.
When the point has been established, the truth of Proverbs 21.3 makes its stand.
Briefly, it is this: some things matter even more.
Righteousness and justice, for example.
For didactic purposes, the proverb constructs an unrealistic choice: if you have to choose between presenting YHWH with his required sacrifice or doing righteousness and justice, pick the second of these.
Leave your lamb by the altar. Postpone the purchase. Delay the worship.
Do the justice thing instead.
YHWH will be understand. Smile, even.
Justice is his thing, after all, his main thing. We should not be surprised.