Understanding Worship (The way God intended)

By S.C. Shaw

When you hear the word “worship” what’s usually the first thing that comes to mind? Better yet, in what way do you hear the word worship used most?

Music right? “the worship was great, the worship wasn’t great, I think the worship went too long etc.” We are singing music to God, about God and to encourage and strengthen the saints (that’s you and I if you are in Christ). But it’s just music. In fact the term “Christian music doesn’t make any sense. But anyway… I’m going off topic. 

Even those who know better, still can’t help but think music first when we hear “worship” and then quickly move the mindset to whole life of worshiping God. Or the various aspects that can be incorporated into a “worship” service. I bring this up because worship in the bible looks very different than just music. And even more so, looked very different in the old covenant and more specifically to the Israelites. They were given the biggest form of worship ushered in by God since the garden. God again was going to dwell with His people. It’s going to look much different since the fall, but still, God making a way to be with His people is the point of our worship. 

Before we start let me define worship the way I want you to hear it in this blog. 

Worship:

A life fully dedicated, fully sacrificed, fully faithful, fully joyous and fully loving to the God who created you and sustains you. Not perfect, but striving by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Only an entire life of worship can be delighting to God. 

And of course we sing praises to Him because of all the goodness that He is. 

I’m not negating that music is a powerful way to “worship” the Lord. It’s one of the most powerful ways I’m willing to argue. But to see worship as God see’s it and the way the Israelites knew it, should help us with our daily and continuing worship in our lives. 

Worship is God’s idea, and if we can begin to understand it like God planned it, then we can begin to live out the life God has planned for us. 

Intro:

From the beginning God has always desired to be with His people. He doesn’t need us, but He loves us. We don’t fill a missing part of God. God is simply delighting in His creation from His overflowing love and glory. He wants to share Himself with people He has chosen, for His glory and our good. 

How do we know this?

God creates life, He creates the world, He creates Eden, all for man and God to dwell together. But man wanted more, and man rebelled against Gods commands. 

But God is merciful and continues His plans, rather than destroy them.

God ushers is a covenant! A promise to the people He’s chosen, a contract if you will. 

“You do this, I do that” says God. “If you obey me, then you will be kept”. Let’s do a quick overview after the fall. God creates a covenant with Noah, then with Abraham, then gives promises to Isaac, and He turns Joseph’s tragic story into a redemptive victory for all of Egypt. Then God’s people multiply greatly, then they are enslaved, and again, God turns a tragic story into a redemptive victory story. God is good and in control and is able to do anything He desires. And He desires His people. He fights for them and they win in Him.

Author Mike Cosper says:

The story of worship as told in the bible defines worship in a radically different and surprising way. It’s a story that surprises us because we discover that it doesn’t primarily feature us. The star of the story is God, who is at the center of all worship but is also at its origins in history and its origins in our hearts.

It’s all about God!

Worship is God’s idea, and if we can begin to understand it like God planned it, then we can begin to live out the life God has planned for us. 

The Israelites weren’t the first of God’s people to worship, but they were the biggest. 

The story of the Exodus is the premiere foreshadowing of Christ through the redemption of God’s people. In the wilderness, the people of God were shown how to worship, serve and atone for their sins. Just as the law was an example of God’s grace because it (instructed them how to live for God and it showed Gods heart for perfection, holiness and purity), now God gives specific instructions on how to live with God. He tells them how to create a temple, a dwelling place for God among His people, how to appoint priests for His glory and their good, how to sacrifice as to bring peace with God through His instruction.  

Little review: 

Up to this point we have had a lot of events take place since the Israelites were freed. To put it simply: God saves them out of slavery, then they start their complaining, then God’s grace, more complaining, more of God’s grace. They receive God’s law, and now know Gods standards of living a holy life. They now can attempt to live right. God has instructed them to build a dwelling place for Himself to be with His people. 

Exodus 25:1-9

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breast piece. And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.”

Let us pause for a sec. If you are like me then it is really easy to lose focus when talking about such foreign things to our day. I used to feel like this stuff didn’t really matter. Not that it didn’t matter in history or in theology, but just didn’t matter to me now. When we get into the Old Testament, the Passover, the temple, we tend to have a sense of disregard or distance from their story. 

It’s much too weird to relate to us now. But we need to see that the Israelites worship means much for us today. 

So let us not go blank or wipe away the context of what we are hearing right now. 

I pray I show you Christ in all of this, but if I fail, let the Holy Spirit guide your mind to pictures of Christ throughout this whole blog.

In Exodus 25 we get to see the God of details. God is all about the details. The tabernacle or temple, is God’s way to be with His people in their ordinary lives. God starts with an offering time. Notice it’s not out of obligation but out of “every man who’s hearts moves him” v.2. A beautiful picture of worship through offering.  

2 Cor 9:7 

Each must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 

God not only wants us to give but give with a heart of thanksgiving. 

Exodus 25:10-16 

“They shall make an ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make on it a molding of gold around it. You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it.And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.”

The Ark of the Covenant: Or Chest Inside the Most holy of holies

After all offerings are gathered, God first gives instruction on how to build the ark of the covenant. I thought it was weird that the ark is mentioned before the tabernacle. Especially because in the sequence of building, the tabernacle will be built first to house the ark.  I believe the writer is starting with the most holy piece of this whole structure known as the ark that the tabernacle will hold. 

Author Peter Enns says:

“The ark is the supreme post Sinai symbol of the Presence of Yahweh.”  

The ark is the only furnishing in the most holy place. In this most holy place the ark is the focus of God’s presence with His people. The point of contact between heaven and earth. The tabernacle is the earthy symbol of heaven. 

Exodus 25:17-22

“You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.”

Cherubim: On the ark

The Ark is covered with images of cherubim which is a symbol of God’s heavenly dwelling. The cherubim are believed to have human faces but winged bodies. 

They are a symbol of the function of guarding the temple. There can be no images of God so they are instructed to put the closest thing to God on the ark, which are these angels. 

Footstool:

God’s location, in the most holy place, is not in the ark, but above it. 

Some scholars regard the ark and it’s pieces as God’s throne and footstool. 

This is why we refer to this as the mercy seat. The lid of the box or a more literal translation is the covering. The metaphorical propitiation that separates the dangers of God’s law with the grace or covering of God’s mercy.  

God isn’t dwelling inside the ark, God’s law resides there. 

Peter Enns 

“God’s supreme self-revelation to his people, is kept inside the ark also indicates that the ark is the center of gravity of God’s presence with his people.” 

The Table: In the holy place. V.23-25

“You shall make a table of acacia wood. Two cubits shall be its length, a cubit its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. You shall overlay it with pure gold and make a molding of gold around it. And you shall make a rim around it a handbreadth[d] wide, and a molding of gold around the rim.”

The table’s one function was to hold the bread of presence. This section about the table is a little mysterious. Even the name, Bread of presence most likely means, Bread in the presence. Not to be confused with the bread having some kind of magical presence of God. We aren’t given much more info on what exactly takes place at this table. It could be as simple as the priests sharing in fellowship in eating together. 

The Golden Lampstand: Or Candlestick v.31

“You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand shall be made of hammered work: its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers shall be of one piece with it.” 

The lampstands are made of pure gold, unlike what we have heard so far, acacia wood covered in gold. There is no clear or symbolic meaning to these lampstands. 

It simply says in verse 25:37, “light the space in front of “. Are these lampstands simply to add a warm glow in the holy place? Although the matter of tending to the lamps is serious business. The priest would tend to them day and night. 

There are lots of theories about what all this symbolizes but the bible just is not clear on this. Some say it’s a symbol of Israel being a light to the gentiles or God’s light for His people or even later symbolizing Christ being the true light to the world. 

It could be as simple as the priest needing light to do their work, as the tabernacle would be pitch black inside the heavy curtains. 

Author Peter Enns says:

The fact that there is mystery may be precisely the point. What the lampstand represents is something God may or may not be pleased to reveal. And even if such significance is hidden from Israel, it has no bearing on how they are to behave. 

The lampstand is to be made as he said and the light is to be kept burning. 

Tabernacle: Temple, Tent Ch 26

The tabernacle is basically a series of curtains and frames.

In the tabernacle there are the outer tent and the inner tent, the holy place and ultimately the holy of holies where God would uniquely make is presence shown. Many religions at this time met in temples. But this was to be very different. 

This is where the God of all creation was going to meet with humans face to face. 

G.K. Beale speaks on the language of the bible and “how the temple echoes descriptions of life in the garden. The continuity is no accident. These two places serve the same purpose. God choosing to be with his people and allowing his people to enjoy Him.”  

Back to the tent:

The curtains were made of fine linen and colored yarn. The curtains, like the ark have Cherubim worked into them. Again, a reminder that the tabernacle on earth represents the heavenly tabernacle. It’s structured in a way of lesser to greater degrees of holiness. With all the precise details God lays out to make the tabernacle, we must not disregard them as just God being into details and commands. I believe this to be a symbolic re-creation of creation itself. Using Gods beautiful creations, fine fabrics, precious metals and stones just reiterate the goodness of God’s created world. You can see this as, in the fallen world, God is creating another Eden in a sense. “A building project that is nothing less than a return to pre-fall splendor.” 

God is creating a place free from sin and containing His holy presence. Again this is just one thought of what the “Tent” can mean.  

The Tabernacle was the place that God’s appointed priests would be able to come and make sacrifices for their people. They would sacrifice on their people’s behalf as well as on their own. After all, they were imperfect people as well. This form of sacrifice and worship was a continual process of atonement. Notice as we move on, there are no seats in the tabernacle. The priests work was never complete there.

The tabernacle was also an invitation to the broken world that needs to return to their Creator.  

Pause:

Do you ever get frustrated like me and think as I read this kind of stuff in the bible, “Why all the details? Why is God so choosy about every little detail? Can’t He just come and appear to whom He pleases however He wants? Just build a tent and let that be the place for God, after all, isn’t God glorious enough by Himself?” Then we have to stop and ask, “But what is this telling us about God?” And then actually ask, “why does He desire this stuff in this way?” I believe it to be a process first and foremost. It’s God using every means possible to ensure that we know He cares, that He deserves the best, at this time, the sacrifices needed to be made to appease Him, and to echo through the ages of how this all points to Jesus. And last but not least, God is giving His people the blessing of being able to worship! God is so glorious that He must have much preparation in order to be in His presence. Plus, it needs to be safe for man to come to Him. Remember, before Christ, no man can just come to God. This is another grace we get to glory in on this side of the cross. 

Worship: 

The Alter of Burnt Offerings: Ch 27

At this point I’d like to point out something. God seems to be giving His instruction from most important to less important, most complex to less complex. First comes the Ark which is the holiest part, lampstand in the main part of the tent, then God’s instructions go from parts of the tent and goes to the tent it self. Once outside the tent we get the alter in the courtyard. The symbolism is clear. The closer we get to Gods presence the more holy and perfect we see him. The alter is to make the physical sacrifices for God. 

The Courtyard: Ch27: 9

“You shall make the court of the tabernacle. On the south side the court shall have hangings of fine twined linen a hundred cubits long for one side.”

This was the biggest part of the tabernacle. The tent of tabernacle was much smaller than this outer area that sacrifices would happen and where the people could be.

Oil for the Lampstand: read v. 20-21

“You shall command the people of Israel that they bring to you pure beaten olive oil for the light, that a lamp may regularly be set up to burn. 21 In the tent of meeting, outside the veil that is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening to morning before the Lord. It shall be a statute forever to be observed throughout their generations by the people of Israel.”

Again, there is much thought about what the oil symbolizes here but there’s nothing explicitly explained in the bible. One thought I did like that would go along with the Lampstand was the oil representing the Holy Spirit. But more important than assuming meaning or placing meaning where it shouldn’t be, let’s ask this question then. What is the Tabernacle?

What is the tabernacle? 

What God is revealing about Himself through the tabernacle is God is at the center of all of it. God saying, “I am your God and you are My people. I will raise you up as an example to all the world, so that everyone knows you are loved, you are Mine, and you too can be My children.” God was never under any obligation to save them or even be with them. He has every right to leave them in their suffering and eventually death, but He doesn’t. He, out of His own good will, dwells with them, saves them and calls them home.

What does is represent for the people of Israel?

Israel’s worship was their sacrifice. And this wasn’t just one type of sacrifice for one type of sin. There were sacrifices for dedication of priests, dedication of the temple. 

There were the everyday sacrifices and the special once a year sacrifices. There were sacrifices for the priests and sacrifices for the poor, for the sick, for the healed, for the children and babies. Worship in Israel was bloody and costly. In this day wealth was measured by flocks and fields. What God demanded of them was a sacrifice of their hearts over and over. There was a clear, strong and bloody reminder of the high cost of their sin. 

Why did the Israelites need it?

Without this holy place there would be no way to atone for their sins. There would be no meeting with God. And their lives would spin wildly out of control without the hope that God is giving them.

Why did they build it?

Their first act of worship was following God’s instructions to a tee. Taking pride in every skillful work they did with the skill God had supplied in them.

Why should I care today? Hebrews 3:5-6

“Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. 

And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” 

We live today in the New Covenant of grace brought in by Christ work on the cross. 

God no longer lives in places made by hands. God dwells inside of His children. But just like the 10 commandments, being able to see God’s heart in what the tabernacle symbolizes making our response to God much more meaningful today.

What does worship mean both in the Old Covenant (OC) and New Covenant (NC)? 

Worship virtually means the same thing for both the OC believer and the NC believers. We have been called by God. We have been shown mercy and grace. We have been supplied with everything we need and now we live our lives dedicated to making Him known. For His glory and our good. 

As I was preparing for the end of this blog and was reading through some of Hebrews, I found myself getting caught up reading Heb 9-10. I couldn’t stop because it was so good. I’ve read it before and even spoke on it a couple years ago. But to be so enveloped by the OC ways of worship and then to be able to read, “But Christ”, literally brings tears to my eyes and breath to my lungs. I want to share that with you guys, so we are reading selections from both chapters right now. 

Heb 9-Heb 10:

All of Ch 9

Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come,  then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Hebrews 10:1-4

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Ch 10:9-18

then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
    and write them on their minds,” then he adds,

I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Ch 10:19-25

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

As Mike Cosper says:

“This is the song of Israel. It begins with starlit hope or patriarchs as they sing bleary-eyed songs of their promised future. It becomes a slave song, sung in chains of Egypt, and evolves into the road song of a tribe in the desert. Once they settle into the promise land, it becomes a declaration: “God lives in Israel! It’s a violent song, written with fire and bloodstains, and it’s a song of failure and reconciliation. The song of Israel is a broken one. The worship of us today is imperfect and looking forward to God’s return. Yet even with all our imperfections then and now, and rebellious habits, God still continues to call us to Himself. To invite us to worship Him.”

So what? How does this change how we approach worship?

First I pray you begin to think of worship as much more than just singing or various elements the church does on a Sunday. And move to see that God’s plan for your worship has been developing since the dawn of creation. God has always been at the center of His creation and has been working for our salvation from the fall. 

Technically the gospel starts in Chapter 1 verse 1 of the bible. 

In the beginning of verse 1.

Gen 1a

In the beginning, God…

Beginning of what? The story of His rebellious creation that He will love and bring back to himself through His own sacrifice. 

Derick Zeulner says:

“God cares passionately about his people being able to worship him properly, if you think a lot of detail and effort went into preparing the tabernacle, think about how much more went into sending of Jesus, his life, his death and his resurrection so that you may be ushered, not into the outer courts, not the holy place, or even the holy of holies with the footstool of God… but into the very presence of God… a life of worship lived unto him.”

We were made for worship. Our lives aren’t complete without worship. In this life there are many things you can worship, but all lead to an empty and unsatisfying life except worshiping the One we were made by, for and through, God. Only worshiping the One who created you for worship, has lasting joy and everlasting life. 

Worship is God’s idea, and if we can begin to understand it like God planned it, then we can begin to live out the life God has planned for us. 

Next blog will be on how these truths should affect our corporate worship. If you would like to read on musical worship now here are some previous blogs.

Worship Intensive

Humanistic Worship vs Biblical Worship

Why We Worship God

What is Congregational Worship?

Closing.

Please don’t let my word be the final word on this. Pick up the Bible, read Gospel-saturated books by good authors, read good commentaries on the Bible, pick up Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology”, read the 1689 London Baptist confession of faith and learn from a man’s lifetime of study and meditation on the Word of God. Most of all, trust in Jesus Christ and know what He has given us is whole, perfect and is for our good and His glory. Love you all!

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

Music StevenShaw.co

www.TheShawsMusic.com

Podcast www.MisfitMinistry.com

Instagram @stevenshaw.co @fitcore @theshaws

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