“out of concern for.” Jeremiah 7:22 has caused much controversy in the theological world, including the thought that the Torah might have been written much later than the Exodus. However, there is a very important and quite simple explanation for Jeremiah 7:22. The Hebrew phrase usually translated “concerning,” (“I did not speak to your fathers…concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices,” ESV; NASB) is the Hebrew al dibri (עַל־דִּבְרֵ֥י). The text note in the Holman Christian Study Bible reads that al dibri “is best rendered ‘for the sake of,’ ‘in the interest of,’ or ‘out of concern for’ (Deut. 4:21; 2 Sam. 18:5; 2 Kings 22:13).”
A study of the Hebrew vocabulary in Jeremiah 7:22-23 as well as the scope of Scripture shows that when God refers to “the day I brought your fathers out of Egypt,” He is referring to the time when Israel entered the “Old Covenant” with God, and had the “scroll of the covenant” read to them (Exod. 24:3-8). The scroll of the covenant contained the Ten Commandments and God’s commands that are recorded in Exodus 21-23. Although it has a few basic statements about the Feasts and sacrifices, it certainly has nothing as elaborate as the descriptions of the sacrifices in Leviticus. What God was clearly concerned about when He made the Old Covenant with Israel was that the people obey Him. The idea of obeying God is woven throughout the whole record of the making of the Old Covenant (Exod. 19:5, 8; 20:6; 23:21, 22; 24:3, 7).
C. F. Keil sums up the meaning of Jeremiah 7:22 very well in his commentary: “When the Lord entered in to covenant with Israel at Sinai, He insisted on their hearkening to His voice and walking in all His commandments, as conditions necessary for bringing about the covenant relationship, in which He was to be God to Israel, and Israel a people to Him; but He did not at that time give all the various commandments as to the presenting of sacrifices. Such an intimation neither denies the divine origin of the Torah of sacrifice in Leviticus, nor discredits its character as part of the Sinaitic legislation. All it implies is, that the giving of sacrifices is not the thing of primary importance in the law, is not the central point of covenant laws, and that so long as the cardinal precepts of the Decalogue are freely transgressed, sacrifices neither are desired by God, nor secure covenant blessings for those who present them” (Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament).
There are a number of verses in the Bible that show that God is much more interested in obedience and a humble heart than in a person’s making sacrifices. The sacrifices were designed to be an outward show of an obedient and humble heart, not to acquire God’s favor if one’s heart was not right with God, as if God would overlook evil as long as one offered sacrifices (cp. 1 Sam. 15:22; Ps. 40:6-8; 51:16-17; Hos. 6:6 [quoted in Matt. 9:13 and 12:7]; Micah 6:6-8; Matt. 5:23-24).
[For more on the scroll of the covenant, see commentary on Exod. 24:7. For more on God not being as concerned with sacrifices and offerings as He is in the posture of a person’s heart, see commentary on Matt. 5:24].