Here we once again have the upright and the wicked contrasted with one another. The scope of this comparison and contrast is in the realm of their religious activities. Thus the focus of the wisdom that God wants to offer to us today is in relation to how we approach Him. Let's take a look and see what we can learn.
First thing we read about is the sacrifice of the wicked. There are a couple of things we need to see to understand wisdom in approaching God. First, we see that this man is wicked. Now before you begin to think that I believe we can approach God without sin and wickedness being and issue, know that I believe that man is ruined due to sin. When we approach God to be saved - one of the things we have to know is that we are wicked. We have sinned against God. His commandments should make that clear to us. And it is not just "little slips" of which we are guilty - the 10 commandments alone will convict us of things like adultery, blasphemy, murder, and perjury. That is why we need a Savior! But the wicked in this passage is a wicked man who does not intend to turn from his wickedness. His sacrifice is an abomination to God because it is offered without repentance and a desire to change. It is offered as a religious plattitude - and something to placate God - to have God be satisfied with his little pittance of religion.
God considers such religious obligations (without true repentance) to be an abomination. That is why we read in Isaiah chapter one God saying,
"What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?" Says the LORD. "I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. "When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courts? "Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies. I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. "I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. (Isaiah 1:11-14, NASB)
If you think that you are tired of dead religious activities, think about how God feels about them. Israel had become a group of people all about their religious observances - and nothing about God. Isaiah later tells them that God wants repentance and a desire to live godly. The sacrifice of the wicked is hated by God because it assumes that our sin means very little. Considering that sin required the death on the cross of the Son of God - the shedding of His blood - the crushing of His body - God does not like it at all when we think lightly about our sin. When we get so religious that we feel that our religious practices done without any heart or repentance whatsoever are sufficient to placate the wrath of God - God is angry. He sees such things as an absolute abomination to Him.
Wisdom therefore is seeing the emptiness of mere religious observance. As God taught Samuel, we are not to look at the outward appearance of things. Man judges like that, but God judges by what is in the heart.
There is another who approaches God in this proverb. He is the upright man - and he offers the prayer of the upright to God. The Lord God delights in such prayers. But what is the prayer of the upright? In order to understand this we might want to look at a New Testament passage. In the gospels Jesus relayed a story of a Pharisee and a Publican. The Pharisee was of the spirit of the first part of this proverb. His was the prayer of the wicked. He stood before God and prayed to himself. Actually, he was praying to his god - because as a thoroughly wicked man who thought only of himself and loved himself dearly - he was his own god. As he prayed to himself, he mentioned all the great things he had done - religious things. He thanked God in the midst of his long list of righteous acts that he was nothing like the Publican who was near him. He spoke with great disdain of him - and how his own works made him so much better than the poor man who was bowed before God next to him. We learn from Jesus that this Pharisee went home unrighteous - unjustified. He was lost and His prayer was an abomination to God.
The Publican had a far different prayer. He had the prayer of the upright. He bowed before God, not even desiring to lift his head. As he tried to formulate words - he could only do so as he beat his own chest. He cried out for God to have mercy upon him - a sinner. Jesus instructs us that this man is the one who had the prayer of the upright in his mouth and heart.
Jews in that day would have been horrified by this description. They would cry foul at the thought of a publican being called upright . . . ever. The Pharisee was the religious man of the hour! He was the equivalent to an evangelist or a pastor in our day. The publican . . . well the publican was nothing more than scum - a traitor - a turncoat and a thief! Surely Jesus was mistaken. But it was the Jews who were so mistaken. God is not calling this person upright who is praying. He is calling the prayer of this person upright. It was not the person who prayed being called upright because something in him made the prayer upright. It was the nature of the prayer that made the person upright. There was a brokenness about this prayer - a turning from sin - a coming to God empty and hopeless in self. He was not playing religion. He was crying out to God for help and for hope. He was not faking a prayer as he complimented himself on how many good things he had done. He was praying that someone would make him good!
The Lord hates mere religion. If our hearts are not engaged in our singing and praying, and preaching - He wants no part of it. The Lord delights in the prayer of the man who desires to be upright. He desires this upright standing due to what God does in answer to his cry. He knows he cannot be upright except for God's wonderful mercy and grace. The Lord is always listening for that kind of prayer, that kind of call. When He hears it He answers - and He delights in doing so every time. That is why the truly wise will be careful that their religious observances are always done with a heart to know and to love God. They know that anything short of this will receive God's disdain.