Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men.
The first part of this verse is quite familiar, but the other morning when I was reading this, it was the last phrase that really jumped out at me. Their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men. This phrase explains why these people's hearts were removed far from God even though they spoke about Him and gave Him honour through their words. They were being taught the fear of God through men's rules instead of by God. A precept is defined as a "general rule intended to regulate behavior or thought." These people were more interested in what men had to say about God, than what God had to say about Himself!
It's sad because I see this very thing so much today. People are constantly making up their own ideas about God. Even Christians are doing it. It seems Christians are more quick to recommend a book when studying a certain subject than to recommend looking in the Bible for answers. How often have I heard of Christians reading books on how to have a successful marriage, or on raising children, or on living for God? Too often. A book is fine if it's based on Scripture and points people to Christ, or if it is studied in light of what God has already said in His Word. However, a book (even one by a prominent Christian pastor) is NOT a replacement for God's Word. That's allowing yourself to be taught by the precept of men.
Being taught by men leads to shallow, empty Christianity. On the outside everything looks good, but inside the words and teachings of men have been given first place. God's teaching has been thrown aside. A man-based religion is not God's plan. He wants us to follow HIM!
Psalm 119:99 is interesting. It refutes the idea that we need to follow the teachings of men in order to become better Christians, and shows us where true knowledge and understanding comes from. When we are gaining our knowledge from the right source, our heart will not be far from God, but instead will be drawing closer and closer to Him.
I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation.