The Worship of God in History
5 Dec 2009, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
THE WORSHIP OF GOD IN HISTORY
Worship is believed to be one of the great overarching themes of the Scriptures and is spoken about in every book from Genesis to Revelation.
It was to be one of the major issues in the great controversy between good and evil. It was to be the basis of the first table of the law. It became central to the life-style of both the Old and New Testaments. It was the subject of much of the poetry of the Bible. It became a prominent theme of the prophets. It was one of the concerns of Jesus and it became part of the experience of the early Christian church right through to the end of time.
The conflict of the ages, in a sense, is really all about worship and we see this very clearly when the apostle John wrote the following words in Revelation 14: 6, 7, 9, 10. This is what he says:
'And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred and tongue and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.'
'And the third angel followed the previous two messengers, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God…'
On the one hand we see God calling upon man again in this latter day to worship his Creator and on the other, Satan, the accuser of the brethren, urges man to worship him in the various manifestations he has had throughout human history. We need to recognise that in the person of Lucifer God has had a powerful adversary and one who is continually seeking out those who will worship him. We know he was successful in bringing myriads of angels to his side. We know he even tried to enrol Jesus as one of his devotees and that he has continued to recruit from mankind all throughout human history.
From the very beginning false Gods have been a temptation and many times these false objects of worship have been recognised as corrupted forms of the Christian faith. At other times we see where material wealth and personal achievement have become the Gods that have successfully seduced men and women to their devotion.
The urgency of God's call to worship in Rev 14 needs to be seen in reference to the time factor that '…the hour of His judgment is come. This call to worship God is the same as that which inspired Jesus where He says to Satan in Matt 4: 10 'Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve'. This dramatic appeal inevitably leads to obedience and this outcome is made clear in the book 'Acts of the Apostles' p. 506. Here we are told that '…obedience is still the highest form of worship, the highest dictate of reason as well as of conscience.'
In view of the impending judgment God commands the worship of the Creator and he forbids the worship of competing entities described as the 'beast and his image.' The basic issue of God's church today is 'whom shall we worship?'
To understand these issues more fully it may be helpful to look at the record of worship beginning right back at the dawn of history.
The book of Genesis makes it clear that the relationship between God and man in the beginning was very personal. The most striking phenomena of this period of man's history was the fact that God appeared to him in the garden building an intimate relationship that somehow needs to be recaptured by those who love and worship God today.
The basic reason for worship as outlined in the first chapters of this book of beginnings revolves around the simple fact that God is the Creator and we are His creatures. As noted by pioneer author J. N. Andrews, 'This great fact can never become obsolete and must never be forgotten' (White, 1950: 437, 438).
God is the Creator and we are His creatures.
To help us never forget, God was to memorialise this relationship by instituting the Sabbath as a weekly reminder. In blessing and sanctifying this day God was to recognise time as a basic symbol of worship. This was a symbol that could not be changed by geography, by culture or by the passing of the years. The fact that this symbol was not a tree, a building or an animal but a twenty-four hour block of time, made it possible for man to have the opportunity and the leisure to worship Him.
The Sabbath therefore, lies at the very foundation of divine worship, for it teaches us this great truth as no other institution could ever do.
After sin enters the world we read the story of two brothers and an altar. Gen 4: 3-5 tells us that ' In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favour. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.'
The sacrificial offerings ordained by God were intended to impress upon fallen mankind the solemn truth that it was sin that caused death. They were to be a constant reminder of his sin and a confession of his faith in the promised redeemer. As such, they became an integral part of man's worship after his expulsion from Eden (White, 1958: 68).
It would seem that there are always theological reasons for the manner in which God is worshipped and these reasons must not be ignored. Man is not free to worship in any way he feels best. Worship is acceptable only when it is carried out according to God's direction.
Cain chose the course of self-dependence making it clear that he would come on his own merits. He would not bring the lamb, but would present his fruits that were the products of his labour (White, 1958: 72).
Sadly, those worshippers who follow the line of Cain far outweigh those who are faithful to God. Ingrained in every false religion is the idea that man can depend upon his own efforts for salvation (Ibid: 73). We need to be careful not to fall into that trap.
As time went on a more pronounced distinction arose between those who worshipped the Lord and those who defied Him. We read in Gen 4: 26 that to Seth was born a son by the name of Enos and it was during his lifetime that men began '…to call on the name of the Lord.' This was to see the beginnings of a more formal worship practice. It was because of the increasing divisions between believers and unbelievers that God's faithful people bore witness of their allegiance to Him in a more public way. As men increased in number upon the earth the distinction between the two groups was to become even more marked.
We need to recognise today that the witness of group worship is essential in order to keep alive the worship of God in this sinful world.
In the subsequent years, group worship and the building of altars to the God of heaven continued throughout the time of Noah and the time of the patriarchs.
After his release from the ark Noah was to enter a desolate earth. However, before setting about to build a shelter for himself and his family, he built an altar to God. This was to be a lesson for all succeeding generations. Noah's worship was an expression of gratitude and thanks to God. It was also an expression of his faith and his willingness to sacrifice his meagre possessions giving us an example of liberality for all time. God's response to Noah was seen in his gracious covenant that sees these promises fulfilled today in the lives of all those who worship Him.
Abraham, from Ur of the Chaldees, knowing that God had not forgotten him, continually built altars no matter where he set up his tent. His life was a life of prayer and all within his encampment were called to the morning and evening sacrifice. Family worship was to become an important aspect of the worship of God and if ever there was a time when every house needs to be a house of prayer, it is now.
Later in the history of God's professed people we find them living in appalling conditions as slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt. This brings us to the time of Moses. During this period of history the Israelite nation found they could not worship God the way He intended nor could they function effectively as His chosen people. It is interesting to note that the psalmist in Ps 105: 43-45 gives the basic reason for the Exodus from Egypt when he says that God '…brought forth His people with joy, and His chosen with gladness: and gave them the lands of the heathen: and they inherited the labour of the people; that they might observe His statutes, and keep His laws.'
God now removes His people from slavery so that they might worship Him. If the Hebrew people had merely received their freedom from the Egyptians without taking the opportunity to relearn the true worship of God, the Exodus project would have had no lasting significance. We now see in their wilderness journey the restoration of the Sabbath and a reaffirmation of the first four commandments of the Decalogue. It also saw the erecting of the tabernacle where the visible manifestation of God's presence could be seen. Further, it was the daily and yearly worship services that taught the people the great truths relative to Calvary and the closing events of the great controversy between Christ and Satan.
In the generations to come the major problem of Israel was always found to be in reference to worship. Once in the land of promise, they were to find the Canaanite Gods more appealing than the worship of Jehovah. With its demands for personal purity of life the Hebrew worship seemed more rigid and uninteresting in comparison with the ribald celebrations of the worshippers of Baal and Ashtaroth. This saw the widespread practice of Baal worship become progressively incorporated and absorbed into their worship practices.
As the years went by the Hebrew worship forms were to become more and more corrupt until we see God being worshipped in the form of a metal bull and sacred prostitutes in attendance at the sanctuaries. The practice of magic, necromancy and other superstitious rites also became more common.
In order to combat this situation God later used the prophet Samuel to set up an educational institution called the 'Schools of the Prophets'. This school was not only to serve as a barrier against the widespread corruption of the day, but was to provide for the moral and spiritual welfare of the youth. It was also to promote the future prosperity of the nation by providing men who would be qualified to act in the fear of God as leaders and counsellors to the people. As such, Samuel gathered young men who were pious, intelligent and studious and as they came to understand the object of their creation they were to become a blessing to those around them (White, 1958: 593). We need to learn from their experiences and understand the significant part that continues to be played by those Christian schools and Colleges today that faithfully promote the true worship of the Creator.
The worship of Baal was to be eventually challenged on the top of Mount Carmel. Here on this desolate mountaintop, we find one lone prophet by the name of Elijah standing against the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal. This was the height of spiritual warfare in the context of the great controversy. Elijah's words ring out across the ages as he goes before the people and says in 1 Kings 18: 21 'How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God follow him.'
We know that the confrontation on Mount Carmel made clear that the Prophets of Baal were helpless and the worship system they represented was shown to be false. The prophets of Baal were slain and the way was opened for a new era in the history of Israel. However, we always need to remember that apostasy while widespread in any age is usually not universal. Not all are lawless and sinful. Not all have taken sides with the enemy. There are many who have never bowed the knee to Baal and this is the same situation found in every period of this earth's history. 'If the Lord be God, follow Him: but if Baal, then follow him'. This challenge is especially relevant to all who are now living in this modern world.
Coming to the time of Solomon and the building of the temple we learn much about the worship of God. Solomon understood very well the reason for this house of worship. We read his words in 2 Chron 2: 4-6 where he says: 'Behold, I build an house to the name of the Lord my God, to dedicate it to him, and to burn incense, and for the continual shewbread, and for the burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths, and on the new moons, and on the solemn feasts of the Lord our God. This is an ordinance forever to Israel. And the house which I build is great: for great is our God above all gods. But who is able to build him an house, seeing the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain him? Who am I then, that I should build him an house, save only to burn sacrifice before him?'
This house of worship was not to glorify its builder or to nourish the pride of the worshippers. It was to be a place where sacrifices were to be made, Sabbaths to be observed, and feasts to be celebrated.
The purpose of the structure was to glorify God, not man. As such, God's house was to be worthy of the very best that could be provided. God was always to be greater than his temple.
Sadly, the days ahead for Israel were not what God had in mind for His people. Prophets were successively called to direct the hearts and minds of those inhabiting this great nation to the true worship of God, but there was much to discourage them in their work. For sixty years Isaiah, who was known as a prophet of hope, continually called Israel back to the worship of God. However, he lived in perilous times with the invasion of Judah by northern Israel and Syria and, along with this, the Assyrian armies were '…encamped before the chief cities of the kingdom.' While these events were seen to be almost overwhelming, the greatest problems were to come from within. Justice was perverted and no pity was shown to the poor. With oppression and wealth came pride, love of display, drunkenness, a spirit of revelry, and idolatry no longer provoked surprise. It was not a pretty picture and it seemed that those who remained true to God were tempted to lose heart and give way to discouragement and despair.
External forms and customs had replaced true Godliness.
When we come down to the time of Jesus we see Him speaking against the futility of the formal worship of His day. In talking with the Samaritan woman at the well Jesus answered her question about whether Jerusalem or Samaria was the proper place to worship God. He responded by describing the nature of true worship and we read this in John 4: 23, 24 (NIV). He says that '…a time is coming, and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.'
The religion that comes from God is the only religion that will lead to Him. Wherever a soul reaches out, there the Spirit's working is manifest, and God will reveal himself to that soul' (White, 1940: 189).
Worship is a redeemed man's response to his Redeemer. It is what happens when a person really senses the grace of God. It is the sense of awe and gratitude that takes possession of us when we come to realize what God has done for us. Worship, therefore, is closely related to Jesus and His gospel.
Jesus had much to say about worship during His earthly ministry.
In John 2: 13-16 we find Him teaching about reverence. In Matt 5: 23, 24 he relates worship to life by making it clear that the worshiping of God is a mockery if we lack kindness, compassion, and forgiveness for our fellowman. In Matt 15: 8, 9 he relates worship to obedience when he says: 'These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' He then teaches them how not to pray in Matt 6: 5, 7, 8 and then how to pray by giving them the model prayer found in Matt 6: 9-13. Finally in Mark 2: 27, 28 he teaches the people about worship on the Sabbath by making clear that '…The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath: therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath.'
No other institution [given] to the Jews tended so fully to distinguish them from the surrounding nations as did the Sabbath. God designed that its observance should designate them as His worshipers. It was to be a token of their separation from idolatry, and their connection with the true God…' (White, 1940: 283).
These experiences were later passed on to the early church as it continued to grow throughout the then known world during the first 100 years that became known as the apostolic era. The church during this period had no church buildings, so far as we know. The people met in homes, often in secret to avoid persecution. Regardless of circumstances, the working, worshiping congregation was to form the basic unit of the early Christian church.
We read in the epistle to the Hebrews in Heb 10: 23-24 (NIV) where the author urges his congregation in verse 23 to be firm and unswerving in the confession of their faith. They were not only to share their faith, but their experience and their hope. He continues in verse 24 by asking them to consider how they could spur one another on towards love and good deeds. This verse outlined the necessity of Christians helping each other find fulfilment in their Christian walk. Finally, he concludes by telling them not to '…give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but [he says] lets encourage one other - and all the more as you see the Day [of the Lord] approaching.'
One of the means of building a church of active, sharing Christians was the experience of meeting together and it was this part of the life of the church that was to become more and more important as the church approaches the second coming of its Lord.
As we near the close of earth's history we discover that Satan is still making desperate attempts to place himself in the position of God and we know from the Scriptures that this will ultimately result in a crisis over who is to be worshiped. In Revelation 14 we have already noted that men and women are called upon to worship the Creator. We are to worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters (Rev 14: 7).
As the result of the three fold message of the angels there will be a class of people who are keeping the commandments of God (Rev 19: 10). One of these commandments points directly to God as the Creator and we read this in the fourth precept which declares that '…The Seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God…for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day, wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.' It would seem that a crisis over the day of worship would be an integral part of the crisis over whom we are to worship. We need to know in whom we believe and have our very being.
The angel flying in the midst of heaven with the everlasting gospel that calls upon mankind to 'fear God', 'give glory to him' and to 'worship him' is intended to inspire in us the very spirit of worship. The noted fact that worship is a redeemed person's response to his redeemer should be true, regardless of whether it is brought by men or by angels. When there is a real acceptance of the saving gospel of the crucified, risen, and soon coming Christ, there will be a revival of true worship such as never been seen before and it cannot be otherwise.
To know Him is to love Him and to worship Him, and to worship Him is man's greatest privilege.
When Jesus comes it will be an occasion of worship such as the world has never known. Words will not be able to express the adoration and praise as hopes are fulfilled and joy is set to overflowing.
Following this special event we are told that the worship of God will continue throughout eternity. In memorable words the prophet Isaiah in Is 66: 22, 23 says that 'As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me, declares the Lord, so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me.'
May it be our privilege to be part of that group of people in that earth made new as we continue to show our gratitude through the worship and praise of our Creator throughout eternity.
White, E. G. (1940) Desire of Ages. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
White, E. G. (1950) The Great Controversy. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
White, E. G. (1958) Patriarchs and Prophets. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
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