Worship was one of the most fundamental aspects in the lives of those in Old Testament times, even as it is for those of us living in the New Testament dispensation. It has never been a question of whether people will worship. The correct question is: "Who or what will people worship?" In that same vein, other questions naturally follow, such as: "Why will people worship?" and "How will people worship?" and "When will people worship?" Man will worship because it is somehow inherit in his nature. That fact makes the above questions even more important because not all worship is acceptable to God.
To help us properly appreciate our worship to God today, we need to first look at worship from the things written aforetime. The only way man can learn and know about the worship which pleases his Creator is to go to the Book the Holy Spirit caused to be written -the Bible. In it, and only in it, can anyone learn the right answers to our questions (stated in the previous paragraph) about worship. The Bible teaches that God is the Creator of the universe and everything therein. It also teaches that not all worship pleases Him. In fact. God teaches us precisely and specifically that which is included in "the only worship" He will accept-which necessarily excludes all other worship. Again, man would be completely ignorant of the worship God will accept if God did not reveal it to him. God revealed this "for our learning" only in the pages of the Bible.
Early on God began teaching man about worship. The first recorded worship is found in Genesis 4. There we are told about Cain and Abel and the offerings they made unto the Lord. Evidently, God had revealed to them all they needed to know about the offering they were to make. However, we learn that while Abels' sacrifice was acceptable to God, Cain's offering was not. The record states: "And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell" (Genesis 4:4-5). The most important and basic lesson about worship can be learned from this account. In order to worship God acceptably, one must worship Him as He has directed (i.e., instructed by His word). This lesson is reemphasized and confirmed to us in the New Testament. Hebrews 11:4 states:
By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous. God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh (Hebrews 11:4).
Since "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God"(Romans 10:17), Abel offered as his offering exactly in accordance with God's wishes. Cain's worship was not acceptable to God because he had not made his offering in accordance with God's wishes.
Brethren, there are far too many "Cains" among us today. As did the Cain of old, so do the "Cains" today. They disdain following exactly God's wishes in offering worship to God. Why will not men learn this lesson? They are either ignorant of this lesson or they simply do not believe God. It is repeated in the New Testament, though in different words. Jesus said;
But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth (John. 4:23-24).
In His prayer to the Father, Jesus proclaimed: "Thy word is truth" (John. 17: 17). Thus, if one worships God "in truth," he must worship Him as he has been instructed in God's word. All worship acceptable to God is based on the truth. While there have been three dispensations (Patriarchal, Mosaical, and Christian), the principle God has taught from the very first has been: Hear God, Believe God, Obey God. There is not a single congregation using "praise teams" and allowing "hand clapping" during the singing which dares to listen to the things which were written aforetime for our learning and our admonition.
NADAB AND ABIHU
I dare not fail to mention the lesson taught by the account of two of God's priestsNadab and Abihu. No doubt, some will say," I grow so tired of hearing over and over about these two people. Give us something else." But, I say those who love the truth and the lessons taught therein do not grow tired of hearing all the truth.
And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord (Leviticus. 10:1-2).
Nadab and Abihu suffered terrible deaths for their failure to follow God's instructions. Let not their deaths go without profit to those who will heed the lesson God intends for all to learn from their example. The deaths of these two men teach us (and everyone who will read and learn) that God does not have to say: "Do not do this!" and/or "Do not do that!" Having not learned that lesson, when asked "by what authority" an unscriptural thing is being done, far too many today reply: "God did not say not to." Folks, to do other than what God has commanded is sin. And, it is still the case, "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). There must be authority (i.e. Book, Chapter, and Verse) for our religious activity. Brethren, learn the lesson taught by the deaths of these two menand live. Let the lesson learned from the tragic example of Nadab and Abihu ring from every pulpit in the land. Let us work to undo the sins already being practiced by those who have not heeded this lesson. Brethren, the "things written aforetime were written for our learning" that we might not make the mistakes made by those who lived in the past (1 Cor. 10:11-12).
The "feast days" of the Old Testament were of particular importance to the nation of Israel. These "feasts," sometimes referred to as a "holy convocations," were designed by God to keep before Israel, and to each those who were in attendance for the first time, lessons of supreme importance.
Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord
thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of
unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of
tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the Lord empty
Each of these three feasts were designed to heighten Israel's awareness of God in their lives, to learn to submit to Him, and to expect divine providence from His dominion over the soil.
And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you. What mean ye by this service? That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord's passover, who passed over the houses of the; children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses. And the people bowed the head and worshipped (Exodus 12:26-27).
Man forgets so rapidly and easily, and soon many important things needed be remembered rarely come to mind. Regarding Israel's memory, the wonderful deeds for which that nation was once so thankful would fade with the passage of time without some means of remembrance. The feast of the Passover enabled Israel to remember and to teach their children how the God they served kept the promise He made to Abramand how He delivered them from a situation from which they could find no escape. Egypt, the mightiest nation on earth at that time, had enslaved the Israelites. Israel neither had weapons nor training in the use of weapons. But, Jehovah single-handedly delivered Israel from slavery. Not only that, God caused the Egyptians to give them much wealth as they left the land of their bondage.
They would recite how God delivered Israel from the "destroyer" as He passed over" Egypthow all the houses where the blood of the lamb was properly applied escaped the death of their firstborn. All the people at that holy convocation knew of that event and shared their awe at the power of their great Jehovah.
THE FEAST OF WEEKS
The feast of Weeks" had another special reason for being observed.
And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto the Lord thy God with a tribute of a freewill offering of thine hand, which thou shalt give unto the Lord thy God, according as the Lord thy God hath blessed thee (Deuteronomy. 16:10).
This feast day was designed to heighten the people's awareness of God in their daily lives. It taught them, and helped them to remember, that God provided for them, that it was God's bounty which fed and nourished them. All present would see how each family believed God had provided for them as they observed their tribute of a free will offering. How did they feel about God's bounty? This was reflected in their offering and, by the offering, they demonstrated their reliance upon God's mercy.
THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES
Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths: That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt I am the Lord your God (Leviticus. 23:42-43).
For forty years God had fed them in the wilderness. They remembered that during those forty years their forefathers had died in the wilderness because of their sins. They also recalled that after the forty years in the wilderness. God brought them to the land He had promised and helped them subdue it. By observance of this feast, Israel was reminded that God had been (and was) active in their lives.
These three important feasts were observed once each year with all the males going to Jerusalem for their holy convocation. Each of these feasts finds a likeness in New Testament worship. The Lord's Supper commemorates our deliverance from sin by the death of God's first born. Laying by in store reflects our feeling as to how God has blessed us and it teaches us to rely upon His bounty. As the "Feast of Tabernacles" reminded Israel of the "wilderness wanderings" caused by their sin, in our worship we should remember our wandering, being lost in sin, until God's love brought us to the "spiritual promised land."
Their feasts took weeks to accomplish. Our worship services take but a few hours each week. How carefully must that time of our holy convocation be used as we, too, remember God.
Our worship should have like goals as those of the feast days. A Christian's worship should:
1) Heighten his awareness of God in our daily lives,
2) Teach him to submit to God's will in all things, and
3) Help him to understand that God has dominion over the universe and that He providentially works all things to the benefit of His saints.
In our worship, as in Israel's feasts, strength can be drawn from others of like faith who are participating in the worship of God.
by Gordon Brewer
from Written for our Learning
Edited by Tommy J. Hicks
A Historical survey of the Old Testament