Worship Under the Old Testament Monarchy

By Nate Wilson For Old Testament Survey II Class at Sangre de Cristo Seminary, Professor Jim Johnson

Bible quotes are from the 1901 American Standard Bible

 

 

Due to the nature of this paper as a class assignment for O.T. Survey II, I limited my observations to the time period covered in class--Solomon to Nehemiah. It is further limited to corporate (as opposed to individual) worship and even further by what struck my fancy as I read through this section of the Bible over the last couple of months. Therefore, keep in mind that it is not the object of this paper to give a comprehensive treatment of worship in the Bible. It is, however, my objective to draw some principles from this section of Holy Scripture which can be applied directly to the church today.

 

The Temple

I Kings 8:38 & 62 what prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, who shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house: then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling-place, and forgive, and do, and render unto every man according to all his ways ... And the king, and all Israel with him, offered sacrifice before Jehovah. And Solomon offered for the sacrifice of peace-offerings, which he offered unto Jehovah, two and twenty thousand oxen, and a hundred and twenty thousand sheep. So the king and all the children of Israel dedicated the house of Jehovah.

 

II Chron. 6:40-7:1 Now, O my God, let, I beseech thee, thine eyes be open, and let thine ears be attent, unto the prayer that is made in this place. Now therefore arise, O Jehovah God, into thy resting-place, thou, and the ark of thy strength: let thy priests, O Jehovah God, be clothed with salvation, and let thy saints rejoice in goodness. O Jehovah God, turn not away the face of thine anointed: remember thy lovingkindnesses to David thy servant. Now when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt-offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of Jehovah filled the house.

 

One of the First passages regarding corporate worship in this time period was the dedication of the temple by Solomon in I Kings 8/II Chron 6. Two distinctives of the temple worship come out here; the first being prayer, and the second being animal sacrifice. Each one of Solomon's requests in his dedication prayer has to do with asking God to hear, in the future, the prayers of people who pray toward the temple. To be honest I'd be surprised if prayer was one of the main activities in a given American church today, but this was obviously a primary concern for Solomon. Perhaps we should make an adjustment?

 

Sacrifices

II Chron 13:10-11 But as for us, Jehovah is our God, and we have not forsaken him; and we have priests ministering unto Jehovah, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites in their work: and they burn unto Jehovah every morning and every evening burnt-offerings and sweet incense: the showbread also set they in order upon the pure table; and the candlestick of gold with the lamps thereof, to burn every evening: for we keep the charge of Jehovah our God; but ye have forsaken him.

 

Isa 1:11-16 What unto me is the multitude of your sacrifices? saith Jehovah: I have had enough of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to trample my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; new moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies, ó I cannot away with iniquity and the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth; they are a trouble unto me; I am weary of bearing them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil.

 

Ezra 3:1-3 And when the seventh month was come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem. Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt-offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. And they set the altar upon its base; for fear was upon them because of the peoples of the countries: and they offered burnt-offerings thereon unto Jehovah, even burnt-offerings morning and evening.

 

Animal sacrifices were central to temple worship. They were a picture of God's forgiveness of sin through substitionary atonement. Because God is just and must punish sin, the people of Israel would bring an animal to the temple, lay their hand on the animal's head and confess their sins, then slaughter the animal. The death of the animal itself did not atone for the sin of the Israelite, for even then men were saved by the work which Christ would yet do on the cross. The slaughter of the animal was a reminder of the need for this atonement. In addition to the specific sacrifices (sin offering, burnt offering, fellowship offering, etc.), the temple priests in Judah offered sacrifices every morning and every evening. It was carried on in outward practice through the tumultuous years of the latter monarchs of Israel and was halted when the temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. However, the reinstitution of the daily sacrifices was one of the first actions of the Jews who returned from Exhile.

 

In our day, we recognize the death of Christ as being the fulfillment of the sacrificial system and so we no longer perform animal sacrifices, but we can apply this in two ways today. Just as the O.T. Jews offered sacrifices every morning and every evening, so we too should remember Christ's atonement for our sins on the cross at least every morning and every evening and offer a sacrifice of praise to Him! Secondly, we are instructed in Rom. 12:1 to offer our own bodies as a "living sacrifice" to God. Are we offering our bodies to God every day?

 

This practice of animal sacrifice and temple worship in the Old Testament, however, fell prey to a human weakness that still plagues us today: the outward ritual was preserved, but people's hearts ceased to be in it. The prophets, such as Isaiah and Amos (4:4) before the Exhile, and Malachi (1:13) after the Exhile called attention to this problem. We would do well to heed their warnings! Worship must never be the outward performance of rituals, but should come from the heart. How often to we let our minds slip out of gear when we are singing in church--just singing the words without meaning them? How often do we repeat the Creeds or the Lord's Prayer mechanically, without contemplating their meaning? How often are we like the Pharisee in Luke 18 who disdained the uncouth, yet sincere worship of the publican? We must love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, and strength in worship--actively!

 

Women

Nowhere in the Bible is any example stated of a woman leading a mixed assembly in public worship. This includes singing, prayer, reading of Scripture, and preaching. All the priests mentioned throughout the historical and prophetic books are men; not a single woman can be found among them. Women obviously participated in the assembly (see references in the "Children" section), but we should be very cautious about giving women leadership roles in public worship because doing so violates the regulative principle of worship.

 

Children

2 Chronicles 20:4,13: Judah gathered themselves together, to ask help of the Lord And all Judah stood before the Lord with their little ones, their wives and their children.

 

Ezra 10 Now when Ezra had prayed and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there assembled unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children: for the people wept very sore.

 

Joel 2:15-17 Blow a trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly. Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck at the breasts

 

When there was an important prayer meeting, when the Word of God was to be read, or when God wanted to speak to His people, it wasn't only the adults who gathered - the children came too, even the little ones! I'm told the Hebrew word for "little ones" in II Chron could actually be translated "toddlers." Ezra mentions "children," and Joel mentions nursing infants--that's pretty much the whole age range of children included in public worship. This is in keeping with injunctions concerning children in the earlier Pentateuch (Deuteronomy 31:11-13) as well as in the New Testament (Matt. 21:15). It is a reasonable conclusion that we in the modern church not exclude children from worship by sending them out of our Sunday morning (adults-only) services!

 

Singing

I Chron 9: 33-34 And these are the singers, heads of fathersí houses of the Levites, who dwelt in the chambers and were free from other service; for they were employed in their work day and night. These were heads of fathersí houses of the Levites, throughout their generations, chief men: these dwelt at Jerusalem.

 

II Chron 5: 12-13 the Levites who were the singers, all of them, even Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun, and their sons and their brethren, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals and psalteries and harps, stood at the east end of the altar, and with them a hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets; it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking Jehovah; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised Jehovah, saying, For he is good; for his lovingkindness endureth for ever

 

II Chron 30:21 And the children of Israel that were present at Jerusalem kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with great gladness; and the Levites and the priests praised Jehovah day by day, singing with loud instruments unto Jehovah.

 

Nehemiah 12: 27 And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites out of all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem, to keep the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings, and with singing, with cymbals, psalteries, and with harps.

 

Singing was a significant part of the temple worship. A whole company of priests were dedicated to the specific purpose of singing praise to God. Singers also led before the army on occasion. Although other people are recorded as singing in other circumstances, it appears that the Levites were the only ones who sang in temple worship. There are many Psalms which make it clear that King David (who was not one of the appointed Levitical singers) sang praise to God and that he calls all the people--and even the trees!--to sing praise to God, so there is a place for public singing, but it may not have been in the temple. Only male priests led in the singing until after the exhile. Women are first mentioned as being part of the choir in Ezra 2:65 (although the temple hadn't been rebuilt yet when they are mentioned). There are passages where it speaks of the priests singing and then the people responding with worship. Because there are two different verbs here (singing and worshipping) it's possible that the Bible is making a distinction between the two acts, one done by the ordained Levites, and one done by the larger group of people.

 

I'm not sure where to go with this in present-day application. Our traditions of choirs probably come from this, yet it could be argued that now all believers are priests (II Pet. 2:5) and therefore, whereas only a certain tribe could sing before the Lord in worship in the Old Testament, now all believers are qualified. Besides that, the temple is now our own body and not a building in Jerusalem (I Cor. 6:19). The possibility of a distinction between singing inside and outside the temple could be applied to encourage us to sing praise to God not only in church worship, but also everywhere else!

 

Calendar

Isa 66:23 And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith Jehovah.

 

Ez 45: 17 And it shall be the princeís part to give the burnt-offerings, and the meal-offerings, and the drink-offerings, in the feasts, and on the new moons, and on the sabbaths, in all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel

 

Amos 8: 5 When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell grain? and the sabbath

 

It is interesting to note that part of the Old Testament worship included the keeping of a calendar. Although a calendar as such is not a specific injunction in the Mosaic law, the designation of certain religious events is clearly given for certain months, weeks, and days, so keeping track of the months, weeks, and years was actually part of their system of worship! They went by lunar months, so the observance of the full moon was important to mark the months. No command to have New Moon observances can be found in the Penteteuch, but the prophets mention it regularly. There is a rhythm to the daily sacrifices, the weekly Sabbaths, the monthly lunar feasts, and the annual festivals of Passover/Booths. Such a system of calendar-keeping is apparently pleasing to God. Perhaps the Anglicans are on to something!

 

Idolatry & Prophets

Isaiah 2:5-8 O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of Jehovah. For thou hast forsaken thy people the house of Jacob, because they are filled with customs from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they strike hands with the children of foreigners. And their land is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land also is full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots. Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made.

 

Hosea 13:2 And now they sin more and more, and have made them molten images of their silver, even idols according to their own understanding, all of them the work of the craftsmen: they say of them, Let the men that sacrifice kiss the calves.

 

Ezekiel 6:6-7 In all your dwelling-places the cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be desolate; that your altars may be laid waste and made desolate, and your idols may be broken and cease, and your sun-images may be hewn down, and your works may be abolished. And the slain shall fall in the midst of you, and ye shall know that I am Jehovah.

 

No description of worship under Israel's monarchy would be complete without treating the false worship that existed during that time. The people of Israel had worshipped idols all along--even from the time of the Exodus (Amos 5:25-26) and they persisted in picking up pagan worship from the nations that surrounded them. Solomon's marriages to royal women from the surrounding nations and the accommodation of their pagan worship (I Kings 11) only increased apostacy in the nation. They sacrificed their children to Molech/Chemosh, worshipped Baal, and conducted heinous fertility rites to Ashtoreth. The whole history of the Divided Kingdom following Solomon traces the ebb and flow of idolatry in Israel, with some kings getting rid of idolatrous practices and trying to follow God's law, and others making idols and wallowing in pagan practices. The first king of the Northern Kingdom, Jeroboam, actually built golden calves at the upper and lower borders of his country and encouraged the people to worship them rather than going over to Judah to worship properly at the temple (See Hosea passage above.). Some of the priests and kings of Judah even allowed idols to be set up in God's temple (Ezekiel 8)! For these reasons, the prophetic books were written.

 

There are many eloquent passages in the Prophetic books, ridiculing the impotence of hand-fashioned idols and extolling the greatness of the living God (for instance, Hab. 2:18ff). The prophets also called people to turn from pagan social practices, such as oppressing the poor, to follow the Mosaic law in all its civil, ceremonial, and moral ramifications (for instance, Isa.58). And finally, the prophets warned of the judgement of God against sin. Prophets like Ezekiel warned Israel that they would be destroyed and taken into captivity--just as the Mosaic law (Lev. 26:14ff) warned they would, and just as Solomon knew they would (I Chron.6:36ff). The famous story of Jonah, as well as the many prophecies made to other nations by almost every one of the Biblical prophets show that God held every nation accountable to His standards, not just Israel. The work of the prophets was not specifically a part of corporate worship services, but it was exercised more privately with civil and ecclesiastical leaders to call people back to worship God as He should be worshipped. This prophetic ministry carried on throughout the Babylonian captivity -- Daniel demonstrated to Chaldean and Persian kings that God should be worshipped; Ezekiel pointed the exiles toward the future restoration; and Jeremiah admonished the few who were left by the Babylonians in Israel to walk in the path of obedience. Even after the Jews returned to Palestine, they needed prophets like Haggai, Zecheriah, and Malachi to keep them on track in rebuilding the temple and worshipping God rather than going after their own gain.

 

This principle of the need for prophets to check the infiltration of pagan influence on God's people is of continuing importance today. We may not feel the temptation anymore to offer a child as a sacrifice to Molech, but other forms of pagan worship abound within the church--humanism, love of money, relativism, and immorality. People and organizations who call the church away from the things of the world back to obedience to God's Word are still an important part of the picture. Although it is not necessarily a part of corporate worship, this sort of prophetic work is an important influence on what actually happens in corporate worship today even as it was in the Old Testament.

 

Private Worship

Hosea 2:11 I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feasts, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn assemblies.

 

PSALM 137:1-5 By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down, yea, we wept, When we remembered Zion. Upon the willows in the midst thereof We hanged up our harps. For there they that led us captive required of us songs, And they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing Jehovahís song In a foreign land?

 

Daniel 6:10 And when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house (now his windows were open in his chamber toward Jerusalem) and he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.

 

It appears that regular worship ceased when the temple was destroyed and the Israelites were taken captive to Babylon. During this time, we have record mostly of people's private worship. Daniel's habit of praying three times a day is a famous example of this. Private worship was not a new thing; it has plenty of precedent in the Psalms and elsewhere (note all the "I's" and "me's" in Psalm 16, for instance). The devout exhiles were merely carrying on a tradition of private worship without the accompanying form of corporate worship. Often their prayers look forward to the restoration of the Jews to their land, addressing God as "the God who keeps His covenant..." and confessing the sins that brought about the Babylonian captivity. (Neh. 1, Ezra 10, Daniel 9)

 

If calamity were to come to our nation and our churches were destroyed, would we continue to worship God as Daniel did? Yet, while we are free, we must recognize the importance both of corporate worship (church meetings) and of private worship (devotional life, "quiet times"). We must be diligent in maintaining both aspects of worship; we cannot neglect gathering together with other believers and we cannot neglect private prayer and Bible study. We must also remember God as a God who keeps His covenants, understanding a sense of the history of His dealings with His people.

 

The Reconstruction

Ezekiel 43:18-19 And he said unto me, Son of man, thus saith the Lord Jehovah: These are the ordinances of the altar in the day when they shall make it, to offer burnt-offerings thereon, and to sprinkle blood thereon. Thou shalt give to the priests the Levites that are of the seed of Zadok, who are near unto me, to minister unto me, saith the Lord Jehovah, a young bullock for a sin-offering.

 

Ezra 6: 14-16 And the elders of the Jews builded and prospered, through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the decree of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king. And the children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy.

 

Nehemiah 8: 18 Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according unto the ordinance.

 

Neh. 12: 47 And all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel, and in the days of Nehemiah, gave the portions of the singers and the porters, as every day required: and they set apart that which was for the Levites; and the Levites set apart that which was for the sons of Aaron.

 

In the latter chapters of Ezekiel, God summarized the forms of worship of the Mosaic law for the benefit of the exiled Jews, and when Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah led the remnant in the return to the Jewish homeland, they no doubt carried Ezekiel's prophecies with them as templates for the reconstruction. They needed a bit of encouragement from the post-exilic prophets to follow through with the building of the temple, but when they finally finished it, they had a big celebration which was a focal point of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. (This is probably where we get our tradition of special services for the dedication of buldings--esp. church buildings.)

 

The Jews of the reconstruction were careful to re-establish all the forms of worship from the Mosaic law, including the temple with its altar, the priesthood, the tithing system, the calendar with its holidays, the reading of the law, and the sacrificial system. They realized the social value in the Mosaic law system, and Christians today are remiss in forsaking the value of a Biblical foundation for society in favor of more modern, humanistic systems. However, Christ's advent has done much to reconstruct worship for us. No longer do we have a priesthood--all Christians are priests. No longer do we offer sacrifices; Christ is our ultimate sacrifice. No longer do we need a building to be the focal point of worship; our bodies are the temple of God. The lesson we can draw from this period of Biblical history is that, just as the Jews of the reconstruction built their system of worship by carefully following the patterns written down in scripture, so we too should design our church worship after the pattern of the Bible rather than after our fancies and traditions. For instance, the moment of silent confession of sin in worship services today is enshrined in tradition, but I have yet to find a Biblical basis for it. And, if our body is the temple of the living god, we must also recognize that our preoccupation with church buildings has no solid biblical basis. (There's nothing wrong with having a large meeting place for a church, but buildings are no longer important for worshipping God.) On the other hand, there are many principles laid out in I Corinthians to govern worship services which are totally ignored by many churches. Let us be diligent in following the principles God lays out for us in the New Testament, just as the faithful remnant of the Old Testament did.

 

Confession

II Chron. 6: 37-39 yet if they shall bethink themselves in the land whither they are carried captive, and turn again, and make supplication unto thee in the land of their captivity, saying, We have sinned, we have done perversely, and have dealt wickedly; if they return unto thee with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their captivity, whither they have carried them captive, and pray toward their land, which thou gavest unto their fathers, and the city which thou hast chosen, and toward the house which I have built for thy name: then hear thou from heaven, even from thy dwelling-place, their prayer and their supplications, and maintain their cause, and forgive thy people who have sinned against thee.

 

Daniel 9:4-6 & 20 And I prayed unto Jehovah my God, and made confession, and said, Oh, Lord, the great and dreadful God, who keepeth covenant and lovingkindness with them that love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned, and have dealt perversely, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even turning aside from thy precepts and from thine ordinances; neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, that spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. ... I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before Jehovah my God

 

Nehemiah 9:1-2 Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackcloth, and earth upon them. And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.

 

Solomon's prayer in II Chronicles makes it clear that confession of sin was a significant aspect of prayer and worship. We find Nehemiah and Ezra both privately confessing sin at the beginning of their books, and we have a beautiful prayer of confession recorded in Daniel. Later on, when Ezra and Nehemiah are dealing with a particular problem of the Jews marrying pagan wives, there is a time of public confession of sin (cf Ezra 9-10) where the people get right with God again. In gatherings such as this, the confession of sin wasn't private, it was embarrassingly public! The names of all the people who sinned in taking foreign wives are recorded right there in Ezra for all the world to see throughout the rest of history! This was very humiliating, but God loves it when His people humble themselves before Him and publicly confess their sin.

 

Public confession of sin is one of the things that has happened in revivals throughout history up to this day. It takes a lot of humility and courage to do it, and a lot of maturity on the part of other believers to respond appropriately when a brother confesses sin, but it is right and good. It is the way God's attitude toward His people is turned from wrath to favor. Notice also that the prayers of confession in the Bible are not merely for the sins of the individual but also for the sins of the fathers and even the nation as a whole. If we are to follow this Biblical pattern, we must confess the sins of our people. The prayer of Daniel chapter 9 would be a good one to pray regularly in church!

 

Reading of the Law

II Kings 23:1-3 And the king sent, and they gathered unto him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem. And the king went up to the house of Jehovah, and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests, and the prophets, and all the people, both small and great: and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of Jehovah. And the king stood by the pillar, and made a covenant before Jehovah, to walk after Jehovah, and to keep his commandments, and his testimonies, and his statutes, with all his heart, and all his soul, to confirm the words of this covenant that were written in this book: and all the people stood to the covenant.

 

Nehemiah 8: 5-8 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up: and Ezra blessed Jehovah, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with the lifting up of their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped Jehovah with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. And they read in the book, in the law of God, distinctly; and they gave the sense, so that they understood the reading.

 

In an age when books required the skins of several animals and the painstaking handwriting of a scribe, not many people had their own copy of God's Word. Yet every man needed to know God's Word because it was the very foundation of worship and life. Therefore, the reading of the Scriptures was a very important part of corporate worship. Moses commanded that the entirety of the law be read to every man woman and child in Israel every 7 years (Deut. 31:9-12) and the reading of the Scriptures was a regular part of synagogue worship in New Testament times (Luke 4:16ff). Through these readings, the people were familiarized with what God's Word said. There were times when this element of worship was neglected, as in the days of Manasseh and Amon (kings of Judah). The book of the law had been lost and forgotten even by the priests when Josiah ascended the throne. II Kings 23 describes how the Scriptures were rediscovered and read to all the people under Josiah's reformation.

 

Tradition has it that the Targums were developed later on as the reading the scriptures was carried on during the exhile. The Targums were loose translations of the Hebrew Scriptures into Aramaic, the language of the common people in Semitic regions of the world from the time of the Babylonian empire to the time of the Roman Empire. It is believed that this is what Nehemiah meant when he describes the worship service held by the returned exhiles in which they read the Scriptures. "And they read in the book, in the law of God, distinctly; and they gave the sense, so that they understood the reading."

 

This raises three interesting points in modern application: The first is the whole question of accessibility of books today. In areas of the world where everybody owns their own Bible, do we still need to have public Scripture readings or should we expect the people to read the Bible on their own? . . . or is there some middle ground? In countries where books are not readily accessible or where the Bible has not been translated into the people's language, missionaries (and those who support them) must understand the importance of the public reading of the Scriptures and the way it impacts an orally-based culture. Secondly, we should learn from the tradition of Scripture reading that God's Word is quite able to speak for itself without us concocting long sermons about it. Certainly there is a place for sermons--that's basically what the Prophetic books are--but we must be careful to value God's words over our own and not muddle our church worship services with too many of our own words. And thirdly, there's the issue of modern translations of the Bible. I've heard all the arguments from those who advocate the use of the King James versions of the Bible and I believe that they have some good points, but the value of translating the Bible into language that common people can understand is fully justified by Nehemiah 5.

 

Prostration

Isa. 44:14 he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto.

 

II Chron. 20:18 And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground; and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before Jehovah, worshipping Jehovah.

 

Nehemiah 8:6 And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with the lifting up of their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped Jehovah with their faces to the ground.

 

Whenever the Bible describes what people are doing when they worship, three things are consistent: 1) They are near the thing they are worshipping--"before God," "in God's holy mountain," or in front of an idol. 2) They are offering sacrifices of some sort, and 3) They are bowing. In the church today, we have a pretty good understanding of the first two principles, but prostration in worship--bowing down to the ground out of respect--is not in common practice in the West. Perhaps it SHOULD be!

 

Christ & Holy Spirit

Malachi 3:1-3 Behold, I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant, whom ye desire, behold, he cometh, saith Jehovah of hosts. But who can abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refinerís fire, and like fullerís soap: and he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, and refine them as gold and silver; and they shall offer unto Jehovah offerings in righteousness.

 

Isaiah 53: 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

 

Joel 2: 28-29 And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit.

 

Ezekiel 11: 19-20 And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh; that they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

 

I cannot finish this paper without making at least some reference to the way Old Testament worship looked forward to the coming realities of Christ and the Holy Spirit among God's people. Almost every prophetic book ended with a forward look toward a renewed relationship between God and His people. (The Greek word translated "new" in "New Testament" actually connotes something refurbished; there is a different word in Greek that means "totally new.") In Old Testament times, prophecies of Christ were not only acted out every time an animal was sacrificed as a sin offering, but were also written down all throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. The work of Christ would bring about a time when God would establish a spiritual kingdom which would explode out of the confines of the Jewish nation and reach all the peoples of the world (Zech. 2:10-11). There would be a new relationship between God and His people where His Spirit would live in them permanently to guide them in faithfulness to God.

 

In our modern church services, we look both forward and backward to Christ, remembering Him in His death "often" during our observance of the Lord's Supper (I Cor. 11:25) and anticipating His glorious return and the creation of a new heavens and a new earth. This looking forward and backward to Christ must always be a part of our worship today. Not only is Christ a reality in our worship, but the Holy Spirit of God is also a present and continuing reality in the church ever since the famous Pentecost event in Acts 2. Peter specifically states that what happened at that Pentecost was the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy. Now, how a church congregation should deal with the presence of the Spirit would require a whole book to treat adequately, so I'm not going to go into it here, but the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church is a reality we must not ignore--we must deal with it!

 

Conclusion

It is now evident that there is much to be learned about worship in the Old Testament. There are also many principles to be applied in the church today. I hope that my study can be used to sharpen the church to track ever more closely with the way God wants to be worshipped!

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