Lecture 03: Key Terms and Features
Lecture: Key Terms and Features
I. Key Terms
We are going forward into some other features of the Old Testament. We will not be doing the Old Testament justice as such. We have seen some of the key terms regarding worship from the Old Testament: Shachah, to prostrate oneself or bow down; then there is ‘avad which mean to serve. Next, we have Yir’ah, which is to show respect; it could also mean fear or awe. Lastly, we have Yadah, to give thanks. These are all key Hebrew words that are used in worship from the Old Testament. All of these would put the emphasis on our response and yet the concept of revelation and response with God being the initiator of worship isn’t a New Testament concept alone. It is an Old Testament concept. God is always the initiator of worship through revealing himself through his words and actions, etc. Another key feature that dominates in terms of our response to God is the emphasis on worship as life. The ultimate response is holistic even when it takes on intentional features which are intended to be a reflection of a life of worship.
II. Key Features
A. Holistic Worship
So, worship is to be holistic and, in that sense, some of the key verses are in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 which says to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. There are countless similar passages in the Old Testament. We have also noted Micah 6:6-8. God wants worship that is habitual and holistic. Integrity is another word that would stand out as we try to understand the Old Testament idea of worship. Integrity is worshiping with your whole being, not just acts of worship.
B. Worship is Costly
In the Old Testament, there isn’t much emphasis on theological abstraction. There is much more emphasis on worship in terms of a lifestyle of worship. Everything falls under the terms of worship; in rabbinic humor that says a wonderful way for a couple to enjoy themselves on the Sabbath is to enjoy themselves intimately. So, everything is worship; a lifestyle of reverence marked by integrity; this is more important than theological abstraction. Worship is costly in the Old Testament; our response to God is costly, but God’s initiation is also costly. So, worship is costly. God is worthy of our worship and the costliness of worship is clear throughout the Scriptures. The concept of the first truth in the Old Testament magnifies the worth of God and so we give God the best that we have. The first group, the choice of the flock; the whole issue of the shedding of blood magnifies the costliness of worship. The elaborate tabernacle furnishings and the elaborate nature of the temple of Solomon. All of these things magnify the worth of God; the costliness of worship. Let’s imagine a situation where a church is wondering how much money to invest in their own building, but say someone suggested that they use that money to feed the poor. So, this brings on a debate within the church. So, who should win and why? The ideal, one could make a strong argument for both/and. In the real world, this isn’t as easily done.
So, the whole idea of architecture is worship and its meaning within the history of worship in the churches. If you get into the whole discussion of spending money on church building; we have the rebuilding of the temple under Ezra and Nehemiah. One of the things that is magnified in that account is how individuals and family brought the resources to build the temple. People brought forth their gifts and gave them for the building of these places. If you wanted to argue for the building of churches and structures, you could make an argument that God is worthy of our very best. This could be based on the building of the tabernacle and temple. You could make the argument based on the feet of Jesus. With the argument for feeding the poor, perhaps the person suggesting this was insincere, at least in the case of Judas. Other apostles seemed to have joined him in his thinking, but Jesus said that it was a beautiful thing. This was in regard to the perfume which the woman anointed the feet of Jesus with. But at the end of the day, God is more ultimately concerned with what is going on in our hearts.
C. Holiness of God in Worship
This is magnified throughout the Old Testament. The holiness, the otherness and the inapproachability and awe of God is magnified in countless ways throughout the Old Testament; this can be seen in the design of the temple and tabernacle. The entrance into the Holy of Holies, for example, is barred; any approach to God must first experience cleansing and sacrifice and then that veil that separates everybody from the Holy of Holies except for the high priest. It was then only once a year with the great fear and precision of approach. All of this magnifies the holiness of God. Whenever God appears or in any way reveals himself; it’s holy ground with people fearing for their lives. The whole priestly system and the sacrificial system and the whole Levitical Law magnify the holiness of God. There are requirements for those who serve God; God as a consuming fire.
D. Mercy and Grace of God is Celebrated in Worship
Along with this fear, mercy and grace of God are all evidently Old Testament features, not just New Testament features. We shouldn’t think that the God of the Old Testament is a God of anger while the God of the New Testament is a God of love. All of my favorite passages about the love and mercy of God comes from the Old Testament. For example, Micah 7; who is a God like you who forgives our sins. There is also Psalm 103, as far as the east is from the west, you have removed our sins from us. These are all celebrated in worship with the Psalms being full of these. A key theme of the Psalmist; God has graciously forgiven us and have shown us mercy. Psalm 103 says that you do not repay us for our sin but as a Father that has mercy on his children, the Lord has mercy on those who fear him.
E. God is both Transcendent and Immanent
This is a similar theme in the Old Testament. He is transcendent, high and lifted up and yet immanent, personally engaged with us, making himself accessible and available. 1st Kings 8:27-30 and Isaiah 66:1-2 are two Scriptures that highlight this. It is the dedication of the temple with a beautiful prayer of Solomon regarding a house built by man. I know that you are a God who fills the universe and inhabits eternity; you can’t be nailed down to a place like this, but in mercy, God, meet us here; put your name here and when we come, hear us. Isaiah 66:1-2 has a similar idea saying that God can’t be confined to a building. But he graciously comes to the heart that is humble and contrite. The balance between holiness and mercy, between transcendence and immanence, these are key terms in both the New and Old Testament.
F. Focus of worship is on the gracious acts of God on behalf of his people
The focus of worship in terms of its content is on the gracious acts of God on behalf of his people. The clearest example in the Old Testament is the Exodus. These acts are recorded through the festivals with a telling and retelling of the story of God’s redemptive work on behalf of Israel. This puts ourselves in the place within the story. There is a whole year built around the retelling of the history of what God has done for Israel.
G. Worship Takes on Different Forms and Requires Different Kinds of Responses
Worship takes on different forms and requires different kinds of responses. The responses that are an acceptable range of trembling and fear, falling on one’s face and being silent before God. There is also liturgical responses and exuberant praise with shouts and musical instruments by everything that has breath where the whole person joins in. Worship involves praise and declaring God’s worth and God’s goodness and his actions. A declaration of our speech and songs.
H. Worship Involves Declaring the Truth About God and His Reign in the World
Walter Bugarmin says worship is about world-making. This little nation of Israel that looked so small and insignificant and yet through their worship, they declared that there was one God who was enthroned on high. Through worship when Israel was doing well, this sustained them in this world view and with the understanding what reality was in the face of conflicting testimonies. In the contemporary world and church, there may be times when the church is downtrodden but worship reminds us of the reality and fills our hearts with encouragement. In Sri Lanka there is a small percentage of evangelical Christians and when you are with them in praise and worship and prayer, it certainly seems like God is still on the throne. So, worship is a declaration of reality. Psalm 73 reminds me of this principle; worship orients our thinking and clarifies reality for us. It asks the question; God, why are things the way they are? It’s all unfair; the wicked prosper and they are wealthy with no problems and no grief. I have been trying to be righteous all my life and yet I struggle; surly in vain I have kept my hands clean. If I had opened my mouth, I would have betrayed your people. But in going into the sanctuary of God, it all became clear. Things aren’t what they seem to be; worship clarifies perspective and it reminds us of reality.
I. We Become Like the Object of Our Worship
In Psalm 115:3, our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. But the idols of the nations are silver and gold which are made by the hands of men. They have mouths but they cannot speak and they have eyes that cannot see. They have ears but they cannot hear with noses of which they cannot smell. They have hands that cannot feel and feet that cannot walk. Those who make them will be like them and so will all who trust in them. Those who worship the Lord will truly become like him. Isaiah 44 continues with the same theme about the foolishness of idolatry. Greg Beal was playing with this idea of how Israel was doomed because they forsook the Living God to follow false Gods. They were doomed because they would become like those idols. They would have ears but they would no longer be able to hear. They had eyes but they were no longer able to perceive. So, one of the marks of real worship is that we see and hear and understand. One of the greatest marks of a true worshiper is learning to listen because our God is a God who hears. Our God is a God who sees and feels and hears and if we worship him, we also will see and hear and feel more clearly. We become like the object of our worship.
J. The Maturing Worshiper Moves from Seeking God’s Hand to Seeking God’s Face
The heart of the worshiper matures and moves from seeking God’s hand to seeking God’s face. We see this in Psalm 27:4. One thing that I ask of the Lord; this is what I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life and to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.
Verse 7 says, hear my voice oh Lord, hear me when I call; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, seek his face; your face oh Lord, I will seek. It is natural for us in seeking God, to seek his hand. We seek him for what he can do for us and what he has for us. We move from seeking the gifts to seeking the giver. We become like the Psalmist in saying that all we want and need is to see your face and that will be enough. This is the heart of the worshipper as they mature. There is a depth that goes on as we progress in our relationship with the Lord. My heart and my flesh may fail but you are my strength and my portion forever and ever.