I have seen many people buying gift cards for people just because they felt that they had to do it. They didn’t want to buy the gift cards. Some were very blunt about it. They were doing it because “it’s what you do” or because “the other person was getting them something” which meant to them that they had the “obligation” to do the same in return.
This verse speaks about meaningless gifts. The people were not giving gifts from the heart. The people were simply doing what was part of the ritual. When you think of it, the people were actually worshiping the ritual. It was all about the ritual, all about getting it accomplished. They were that far from God that this ritual was a routine to get done and nothing more.
God doesn’t want meaningless gifts. In fact, God doesn’t need your gifts. He doesn’t need your weekly tithe. He doesn’t need you to help your neighbor shovel. He doesn’t need anything from you. But He wants your heart. He loves you. He doesn’t want you to feel obligated to do something for Him, but if you love Him, you will want to do things for Him. You’ll want to serve, to help, to live your life with open hands. The gifts you present won’t be meaningless—they will be out of love. It will be a sweet aroma to God and He will be pleased. Not because you’re following a routine but because you’re pouring out love.
“Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting–they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings.” – Isaiah 1:13 [NLT]