The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
but the prayer of the upright is his delight.
My translation: The sacrifice of the wicked/abomination to the Lord, prayer of the upright/his favor.
This sentiment is found throughout scripture:
1 Sam. 15:22 – And Samuel said, ‘Has the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obedience to the voice of the Lord? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.
Psalm 51:17 – The sacrifice acceptable to God* is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 141:2 – Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.
Isaiah 1:11 – What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.
Jeremiah 6:20 – Of what use to me is frankincense that comes from Sheba, or sweet cane from a distant land? Your burnt-offerings are not acceptable, nor are your sacrifices pleasing to me.
This proverb moves us from the dichotomy of the lips and heart down into the heart itself. It points our attention to the way one presents themselves before God. Both the wicked and the righteous present themselves before God in the prescribed ways in order to follow the letter of the law. However, it is the disposition of the person that determines the quality of their sacrifice. The wise and righteous have already sacrificed to God by sacrificing of themselves to others as God has done for all. The wicked only sacrifice to God in order to gain favor for themselves and do not show that favor to others. They seek eternal security while providing their own security at the expense of those around them. The sacrifice itself is from “ill-gotten” wealth if they are able to give in sacrifice but others are starving and suffering.
This proverb points my attention back to Cain and Abel, looking at the quality of their sacrifices. Nowhere in the Genesis story is any actual judgment passed on their sacrifices, nor on the quality or disposition of either of the brothers. It’s only that God accepted one sacrifice and denied another. And in this seemingly terse action, Cain’s disposition grew cruel against Abel (and maybe Abel’s grew proud, although, I believe he stayed within virtue). Alas, it is possible that it wasn’t the sacrifice that God judged, but the people. God know Cain’s disposition to wrath, and selfish pride. Cain needed to be validated by God for Cain’s sake. Cain did not seek God’s favor for God’s sake. At least that may be the clue the proverb provides us.
However, the story also tells of no judgments made on either of the brothers except when they judge themselves.