To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.
– Proverbs 21:3
The word for justice means rightness, or doing what is right by a standard of righteousness. The word for judgment means a verdict, and so refers to our dealings with others being just dealings. The word for sacrifice means slaughter, as in a ritual sacrifice for offering. The proverb says righteous conduct is better to Yahweh than religious acts. The proverb does not disparage religious acts, but rather wisely observes that religious acts without accompanying righteous life are hollow and hypocritical. Another way to see it is that no amount of religious piety can make up for unrighteousness in life (1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 58:1-14; Micah 6:6-8). This proverb is a thematic summary of what all proverbs are saying. People often approach Proverbs topically because it is easier to study the whole book that way. If you think about the various topics, i.e., marriage, children, wealth, parents, work, poverty, business, anger, speech, etc., you get a picture of wisdom that is righteousness in all of life. Men often make the mistake that pious observance of ritual without living in the way of the fear of the Lord is righteousness.