Thoughts from Doug Knox.
June - November 2022
The Meaning of Worship - Part 1
Joshua 4 & 5
Worship and Self-Awareness
The Character of History
History in the Bible is never a simple record of facts. It always passes through the lens of moral character. Particularly in the Old Testament, the faithfulness or unfaithfulness of a people becomes the criterion for their success or failure. Further, one generation’s faithfulness does not determine the next. More than once, large-scale character shifts occur rapidly in time. One of the most dramatic—and positive—character shifts in the Old Testament occurs between the books of Numbers and Joshua. At the beginning of Numbers, the first generation of freed Israelites has been camped in the desert for a year and two months (Numbers 1:1). The time that they have spent with their God has allowed them to rest after their captivity in Egypt as well as build the tabernacle and establish the priestly worship. At the beginning of the book, the focus turns to the anticipated conquest of Canaan. The first new order of business is for Moses to take a census of all the people twenty years old and older (Numbers 1:2-46). These will become Israel’s fighting force, and Moses needs to know how configure his troops. Unfortunately, the Israelites cave at the last minute. As a result, God sentences them to wander in the desert for forty years until that generation dies (Numbers 14:26-35). By the close of Numbers 25, everyone from the unbelieving generation is dead. A new generation has risen, and Moses calls for a second census to number the new fighting force. The new generation of free Israelites stands up to accept the call to claim the inheritance that the first generation forfeited. After Moses delivers his last set of sermons in the book of Deuteronomy, he passes the role of leadership to Joshua. The narrative resumes in the book of Joshua, a period that stands as one of the most triumphant in Scripture.
A Quality that Characterizes God’s People
So, how can one generation fail on such a grand scale while the children who follow grow into such stunning models of excellence? A common factor in every account of success or failure in the Scripture is self-awareness. It is a characteristic that becomes evident among individuals, families, groups, and nations. By itself, self-awareness is not a biblical concept. We will not find the command, “Thou shalt know thyself,” in the Bible. Self-knowledge alone is insufficient for moral excellence. After all, a man can be perfectly self-aware and still choose to be evil. The ranking biblical command for awareness begins with our knowledge of God. Moses declared, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:3). The greatest command leads us to the heart of worship.
The Worship Foundation
A worshiping people becomes a self-aware people. But how does this quality determine success? The book of Joshua paints a clear picture of the relationship between the two. Self-awareness grows out of worship because the effort to know God requires self-discipline. While we can slide into fear, complaining, blame-casting, and the whole host of bad habits that characterized Israel’s first free generation, we must think and work to worship. That generates self-awareness. When we make the worship God the focal point of our being, we gain a better understanding of ourselves. After all, God has created us for conscious relationship with him. Worship draws us into the knowledge of God. And when we know God, we understand ourselves as he knows us. This fact shines brightly in the book of Joshua. Three acts of worship from the early part of the book will demonstrate the way in which deliberate worship generates self-awareness in a man’s life.
The First Act of Worship: Remembrance
After Israel crossed the Jordan River to enter Canaan, the LORD instructed Joshua to command twelve tribal representatives to take stones from the river and construct an altar as a memorial. The reason was to call the future generations to remembrance. The LORD said,
“When Your children ask in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut before the ark of the covenant of the LORD”
A people who remembers their history is a people who will know how to preserve their relationship with their God. Without a history, they lose sight of who they are and who they must be.
The Second Act: Covenant
The covenant was an important concept in the Old Testament. It stood as an oath between the parties that made it. The more seriously they treated the oath, the more stable their relationship with each other became. When God set up the covenant in which he changed Abram’s name to Abraham (Father of Nations, see Genesis 17:1-5), he ratified it with the sign of circumcision (Genesis 17:9-11). All generations following Abraham were to keep the covenant. Unfortunately, by the time that the LORD liberated national Israel from Egyptian slavery, the people had abandoned the practice. They could not grow into maturity without that conscious mark of identity. Joshua 5:1-7 draws an absolute contrast between the first and second generations.
Though all the people who came out [of Egypt] had been circumcised, yet all the people who were born on the way in the wilderness after they had come out had not been circumcised…. So it was their children, whom [God] raised up in their place, that Joshua circumcised.
--Joshua 5:5, 7
When the first generation ignored the sign, they lost awareness of whose people they were. The second generation renewed it, and with it their conscious commitment to trust.
The Third Act: Celebration
As a self-aware generation, the people celebrated their history and the deeds that God had accomplished for them. For Joshua, this included a return to the Passover, an event that is never recorded after the first Passover in Egypt. Interestingly, God responds in an unexpected manner.
While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.
The connection between the Passover celebration and the cessation of the manna is deliberate. Contrary to the depictions in contemporary culture, manna never signified abundance. Rather, it was a test for faithfulness that came about when the people refused to trust God to provide for them (Exodus 16:1-4).
Manna was a testament to ignorance. Its very name means “What is it?” God fed the people with what they “did not know, nor did [their] fathers know” (Deuteronomy 8:3). The unknown staple ceases when Israel acts in a mature manner. When they celebrate God’s redemption, they grow into maturity, with the privilege to enjoy the abundance of the land.
The Meaning of Worship, Part 2
WORSHIP AND HUMILITY
The Overwhelming Joy of God’s Glory
The natural outcome of worship is humility. When joy for Gods’ glory occupies our focus, we cease to idolize ourselves. A short scene from the book of Joshua illustrates the point. The scene is remarkable, not only for the place where it appears, but also for its brevity. It develops and passes in a few moments.
And when Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No, but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
In the space of only three verses, the encounter reveals a world of truth.
Between the Passover and Jericho
The previous segment covered Joshua’s priorities as he led his nation across the Jordan River—the act of building an altar to commemorate the nation’s crossing the river, the reinstitution of circumcision to mark Israel’s identity as a covenant people, and the celebration of the Passover feast on the planes of Jericho. Now, the nation is ready to pursue the first major objective in their campaign, the siege of Jericho. Logically and chronologically, the transition between the Passover and campaign against Jericho could fit together seamlessly. Yet, the Bible chooses to interject this brief scene with Joshua following the Passover. The encounter involves only Joshua and the angel of the LORD, and it establishes a critical relationship between the man and his God. From our New Testament standpoint, we understand that the event is an Old Testament appearance of Jesus. He does not show himself to Joshua as Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild. He stands with sword in hand, warrior to warrior. Joshua confronts him, ready either to welcome him as an ally or destroy him as a foe. But the man with the sword introduces himself as the commander of the army of the LORD. He is the ruling Judge of nations, even in Old Testament times. His appearance at this moment in history is a reminder that the anticipated victory at Jericho belongs to God and no one else.
Joshua in Moses’ Footsteps
Joshua’s encounter with the LORD’s commander parallels Moses’ encounter with the LORD at the burning bush. The lessons are different, however. When Moses sees the burning bush, the event is his first direct contact with God. There, the LORD immediately reveals himself. “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex. 3:6). Out of this proceeds his calling to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage. Joshua, on the other hand, is well into his divinely appointed mission. He has served as Moses’ assistant throughout the forty years’ wandering in the wilderness, and he has faithfully taken on the duties of commander after Moses’ death. He does not need an introduction.
Neither Friend nor Foe, but Commander
Though he knows his God, he has yet to encounter him face to face. Until that meeting takes place, he will be leading by his personal abilities. As formidable as they are, they will be insufficient for task ahead. Therefore, the LORD’s encounter with performs two functions—one negative and one positive. Negatively, Joshua must reinterpret his relationship with the man who stands before him. His demand, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” covers the logical possibilities for what he sees in a human relationship. From Joshua’s standpoint, only these two sides exist. The LORD’s reply, “No, but I am the commander of the army of the LORD,” shows Joshua that he stands before an extraordinary being. His office places him over Joshua rather than one side or the other. Since he alone occupies his position, he possesses the right to command. His closing reply, “Now I have come,” shows his readiness to do just that. Joshua understands. His words, “What does my lord say to his servant?” show his submission.
The Path to Humility
The positive function of the LORD’s encounter follows. The separate, sovereign God orders Joshua to “Take your sandals off from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” The order is the same as the one that God gave Moses from the burning bush. However, during Moses’ encounter, God spoke these words at the beginning of the dialogue. Moses needed to know who his God was and to apply that knowledge to garner the courage to confront the Pharaoh of Egypt. Joshua knows courage already. His challenge when he encounters the man shows that. He must learn subjection, however, and that comes from a confrontation with God’s holiness. Joshua obeys and removes the sandals from his feet, a gesture that grounds him in subjection to his God. When he worships, his courage flows in humility. That truth is universal. Worship is more than an activity. It is the state of mind that cements our place in subjection to the majestic God of the universe.
The Meaning of Worship, Part 3
WORSHIP AND QUIETNESS
Loneliness and Solitude
The natural outcome of worship is humility. When joy for Gods’ glory occupies our focus, we cease to idolize ourselves. A short scene from the book of Joshua illustrates the point. The scene is remarkable, not only for the place where it appears, but also for its brevity. It develops and passes in a few moments. A couple years ago, WHLO Radio in Akron ran an evening program hosted by economist Gary Rathbun called “An Economy of One.” The program was a mix of investment advice, economic theory, political commentary. I am neither into economics, nor am I an investor. What I came to love about the program was Mr. Rathbun’s insights on life itself. He had an ability to examine ordinary issues beneath the surface and make very shrewd observations on then. One evening, I tuned in during a rant. When he came on the program, he said, “The cure for loneliness is not company. It is solitude.” Then he said it again. “The cure for loneliness is not company. It is solitude.
The natural outcome of worship is humility. When joy for Gods’ glory occupies our focus, we cease to idolize ourselves. A short scene from the book of Joshua illustrates the point. The scene is remarkable, not only for the place where it appears, but also for its brevity. It develops and passes in a few moments. He is right. The current generation is the most connected generation in the history of the world. We have the Internet. We have entertainment on our cell phones at the touch of a button. We can talk to people in real time anywhere in the world. We can speak, text, email, instant message, post, Zoom, and communicate in any of a dozen other ways. Yet, loneliness plagues us in epidemic proportions.
The natural outcome of worship is humility. When joy for Gods’ glory occupies our focus, we cease to idolize ourselves. A short scene from the book of Joshua illustrates the point. The scene is remarkable, not only for the place where it appears, but also for its brevity. It develops and passes in a few moments. The reasons are simple and complex at the same time. On the simple side, the quality of interactions has deteriorated to the point that they disallow meaningful dialogue. In 1985, Neil Postman published a book entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, in which he showed that where technological breakthroughs in communication make the spread of information easier, they also promote the trivialization of information. In other words, the easier information is to transmit, the less guarded we are about the content of what we transmit. Currently, no one thinks twice about reading about what someone across the continent had for supper last night. That fact does not address the deeper cause, however. Loneliness is a problem, but it is not the problem. The deeper problem lies within us. The average person does not know how to face himself, and he surrounds himself with company to mask the issue.
Shades of Loneliness
The loneliness that Gary Rathbun talked about goes to this superficiality. When we will not or cannot face ourselves, we fill the void with company. Have you ever noticed, for example, that some people surround themselves with noise? I am sure you have seen people who appear to be on a phone every waking hour of their day. Immersion in company is the drug that maintains our addiction. Company only numbs us to our loneliness. It cannot eliminate it because it is the very drug that feeds the addiction. Solitude, on the other hand, forces us to slow down, to think deliberately, and to become content in quietness. It is one of the chief ways we learn to listen. For this reason, it has taken its place among the spiritual disciplines.
What Solitude Does
Solitude brings us into context with ourselves and with our God. Psalm 131, a psalm of David, is a meditation during a period of solitude. It consists of only three verses, but they introduce us to a world of contentment. David begins,
O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
This verse mentions three negative points that testify about The first declares, “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up…” When the Old Testament uses the terminology about a heart being lifted up, it describes pride. For example, Moses warned Israel to remember God’s commandments because forgetfulness would come at a high cost. “[T]hen your heart will be lifted up, and you [will] forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt…” (Deut. 8:14). The antidote to pride for David lay in his presence with his God. When he comes before the Lord in solitude, pretense loses its foothold. Quietness lends itself to humility. A private audience with our God requires us to abandon our egos. David’s second point speaks to his personal expectations. “My eyes are not raised too high…”
This line parallels what David wrote in the first line, but it also speaks to presumption and expectation. Solitude causes us to recognize and accept our human limitations. We do not tell God what to do. We come to him to wait to hear what he wants from us. His third point deals with the scope of his imagination. “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.” As human beings, we tend to overthink at times, and that is not always good for us. We never will be able to obtain the answers to our biggest difficulties. Solitude invites us to trust God with the mystery that lies outside our understanding. These three points are not just prohibitions. They reflect the reality of our limitations. They become markers for self-awareness.
The Delight in Solitude
David also recognizes the blessing in solitude. When we learn to embrace it, the practice becomes a deeply satisfying delight:
But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.
This brings us back to Gary Rathbun’s observation, “The cure for loneliness is not company. It is solitude.” Constant company cannot make us content. Only solitude can do that. It is when we learn to be quiet that we become open to God’s whispers. Everyone here will have to face mortal spiritual combat sooner or later. Even if we share the battle with someone close to us, our personal struggles will be unique. We face our deepest foes alone. Drawing more company around us cannot prepare us for those battles. We need to learn to embrace solitude before we can fight in solitude. Look at any great leader in the Bible, and you will see a period of solitude occur before that person’s ministry begins. Solitude forces us to be quiet and offers God the chance to speak deliberately into our lives.
An Invitation to Solitude
In verse 3, David offers this invitation to his people:
O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.
David stands as the shepherd-king of Israel, hand-picked by God for the task of becoming forerunner of Jesus. He spent a lot of time alone with his God. Therefore, he knows the value of the hope to which he invites his people. Come to the quiet and delight in the Lord.
The Meaning of Worship, Part 4
WORSHIP AND PRESENCE
The Significance of Presence
How often have we had to endure times when someone was with us physically but not actually involved? The guy occupies the same room, he breathes the same air, and he consumes the same resources. But for any number of conceivable reasons, he just isn’t there. Oh, the frustration that accompanies such a man. To be able to carry on meaningful work with someone else, everyone must be present—consciously and purposefully there. As important as this reality is in human relationships, it is equally important to our relationship with God. Worship rests in presence.
When I began to gather potential titles for this series on worship, the titles began to focus on relationship. I realized that the ideas had begun to lead to deeper terms than simple activity. Granted, worship includes activity. The Psalms are full of calls like, “Oh come, let us sing to the LORD (Psalm 95:1), or “Praise the LORD, all nations” (Psalm 117:1). When we gather for praise, we acknowledge his place over us. That is not the only way that the Bible understands worship, however. In the fuller sense, worship is a manifestation of our lifetime relationship with our God. It involves the recognition and practice of God’s presence during every moment of our lives. Even the laments call for God’s presence.
Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy! Attend to me, and answer me...
In a lament, the worshiper cries, “God, I can’t find you, and I need you. Please come for me.”
The Irreplaceable Blessing of Presence / The Curse a Life Outside God’s Presence
One of the clearest declarations of God’s presence among his people is also one of the most ironic. In Exodus 32, the well-known incident of the golden calf rebellion takes place. Moses is on Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, and while he is there, his brother Aaron casts the golden calf for the people to worship. Of course, the golden calf is a replacement god, a symbol that the people have rejected their true God. When God frames his judgment, he casts it in terms of his presence. He tells Moses and the people,
“Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey, but I will not go with you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people…. You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you.”
--Exodus 33:3 and 5 emphasis added
In the context, God assures the people that he will give them the land that God had promised Abraham, all its fruit, and deliverance from the violent people who live there (Exodus33:1-2). All the blessings will follow them. They will lack only God’s presence. The weight of the proposition stops them in their tracks. When they come face to face with the choice between having it all or having their God among them, they suddenly realize how impoverished they would be without his presence.
Moses’ Prayer for God’s Presence
The same chapter records a dialogue between Moses and the LORD. In the opening, Moses pleads to God to lead them.
Moses said to the LORD, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by my name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”
Moses’ line of reasoning is interesting. First, he recites God’s command, “Bring up this people.” The command is not enough, however. He needs to know that God will be with him. If he is absent, Moses wonders who will go with him. His plea loops back on itself:
“Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight.”
He does not talk in circles. The first mention of favor refers to God’s initial notice, and it is an acknowledgment of what is already true. “Since I have found favor in your sight…” The two clauses that follow, “…please show me your ways, / that I may know you…” speak to God’s continuing fellowship with Moses. As God reveals himself, Moses comes to know him more deeply. The last clause in his prayer, “…in order to find favor in your sight,” refers to the rest that Moses anticipates in God’s abiding presence. God’s reply confirms this truth.
And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
It is interesting that God confirms his presence with Moses by using the term rest. Here is the Old Testament equivalent of Jesus words, “Come near to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). A man mines his deepest satisfaction when he can find rest in God’s presence. I cannot imagine a deeper blessing than that. Finally, Moses finishes the dialogue. His conclusion harkens back to the judgment that God had pronounced earlier in the chapter.
And [Moses] said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”
Moses’ personalization of his prayer, “If your presence will not go with me…,” is not a selfish demand. He is the divinely appointed leader. And where God’s blessing falls on Moses, it precipitates down to the people. Moses recognizes that God’s presence among them makes them unique on the face of the earth.
The Meaning of Worship, Part 5
WORSHIP AND UNIQUENESS
The Value of Distinction
If I were to indulge myself in flattering characteristic terms, I would describe myself as a late bloomer. To be truthful, that description only means that I am just slow on the uptake. More than once, I have achieved some great realization, only to see a whole crowd of early arrivals waiting for me. I have started to get that feeling from the truths that emerge from Exodus 33-34 after the golden calf rebellion. In this section of Israel’s exodus account, Moses is on Mount Sinai to receive the second set of tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Part of his dialogue with the LORD on Israel’s distinction from the other nations. This is where my slow-on-the-uptake observation enters. During the previous installment, we looked at the value of God’s presence among his people. One of the fundamental needs for God’s people is for him to be with them. Even the rebellious Israelites understood that reality when the LORD hit them with the alternatives in Exodus 33:1-3. There, he told Moses that he would send them into Canaan and fulfill all the promises that he had given to Abraham. The people could have their land, the riches that it produced, and protection from the enemies who lived there. The only caveat was that they would go alone. God would not go with them. Suddenly the people realized that without God’s presence, they would be groping in the dark. The segment concludes with Moses’ words, “Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:16).
Overshadowing the Self
Here is the part that just now came to me. In my mind, I brought the section to a close with Moses’ comment on the people’s distinction as their greatest asset. But that is the problem. The thought concludes with their distinction. Lucky them. As long as their focus remains on themselves, they stand to lose the very distinction that separates them from everyone else. It is not enough for them to recognize that they are different. They must understand why they are different.
The Foundation for Distinction
The fuller truth emerges from the next section, where the dialogue between God and Moses continues. Here is the remainder of the dialogue:
And the LORD said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Please, show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘the LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the LORD said, “behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
The LORD’s affirmation to Moses, “This very thing…I will do,” promises God’s abiding presence among his people. He will maintain his presence, and with it preserve their uniqueness among the nations. But God’s answer does not come to pass only because the end is good. The LORD adds the words, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do.” God honors Moses’ prayer because Moses is an honorable man. His prayers carry weight.
The Essence of Worship Versus the Essence of Possession
The moment that the LORD promises that he will maintain his presence among the people, Moses counters with what looks like an interjection. “Please, show me your glory.” Moses’ words appear to be interjected into the dialogue, but they are not. His request is not for VIP seating to witness a quality of God that no one else will see. He does not ask for special privilege normally reserved for the spiritually elite. Moses recognizes the unbreakable link between God’s presence and his glory. To be in God’s presence is to be immersed glory. Presence and glory are inseparable from each other. A people’s distinctness—their uniqueness—does not grow from within. Genuine uniqueness emerges from God, and it is something to be treasured. Moses recognizes that the source of Israel’s uniqueness is God’s glory, and that is why he wants to witness it. With these words, he has entered the heart of worship, because real worship is the passion to experience God’s glory.
Moses’ Introduction to Glory
Again, the LORD grants Moses’ request, which stands as witness to God’s approval of it. Notice, though, that he places boundaries on what he will reveal to Moses. “I will make my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘the LORD’…. But you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” God sets up a boundary between the auditory and the visual. On the one hand, God says that he will “proclaim before you my name ‘the LORD.” As we will see in the next installment, the LORD’s proclamation of his name carries a lot of weight. However, he tells Moses, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” Except for the rare occasions when God made physical appearances in the Old Testament or the 33 years that Jesus took on flesh, this distinction has stood firm. The Psalms declare, “He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water” (Psalm 18:11), and “Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne” (Psalm 97:2). The same is true for New Testament believers. Paul declares, “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). The Lord’s proclamation is sufficient for our faith. God’s complete revelation to us lies in the future. John writes, “We know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:12). For our time, we walk in the faith that comes from God’s word.
The Meaning of Worship, Part 6
WORSHIP AND THE EPIC
Created to Worship the Epic
A couple weeks ago, I found an Andrew Klavan vlog titled, “My ABSURD Struggle to Find a Non-Woke Church.” In it, he celebrated the successful completion to his long search for a biblical church. At the beginning, however, he quoted part of an op-ed by the Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren in the New York Times Opinion Magazine.
The column, “Why We Need to Start Talking About God,” is actually a rant. Klavan’s out-loud reading of it is priceless. In lieu of that, here is the part that he read:
Each Sunday in my Anglican church in Austin, Texas, the priest leading the service takes his or her place in front of the congregation and begins by saying the opening acclamation, usually, “Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” What has surprised me since I first attended an Anglican service just over a decade ago is that we begin not with welcoming anyone in the pews but with a direct announcement about God. It’s a little jarring, even now that I am a priest. We all made an effort to get to church. We woke up early on a weekend, brushed our teeth, wrestled kids into car seats, masked up and found a place to sit. But the service doesn’t start by acknowledging any of that. No thanking everyone for showing up. Not even a bland mention of the weather or how nice everyone looks this week. Instead, I stand up in front of everyone and proclaim the presence of an invisible God. 
This is a newspaper piece, and newspapers usually reserve the right determine the headlines for articles or opinion pieces. Therefore, I will not fault Tish Harrison Warren for the bizarre headline.
However, the disconnect between it and the article is downright ironic. Warren’s tirade over early wakeup, teeth brushing, car seats, masking, and seating shows us exactly “Why We Need to Start Talking About God.”
God is epic. We are not. I cannot imagine standing in front of a church and saying something like, “Good morning, everyone. You all look so nice, and you look so ‘here.’ To celebrate your achievement, the sermon title today will be ‘Doug Picks up his Pajamas.’”
There is a reason why we “proclaim the presence of an invisible God.” It is because he does epic things. Without God’s epic deeds, our ordinary lives would be meaningless.
The Tyranny of the Trivial
In this challenge, we pick up with Moses’ plea in Exodus for God to show him his glory. The reason why he is so passionate to experience his glory in the first place is because he understands his and his people’s need to be grounded there.
So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with hm there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.
For this passage, the context is as important as the content. In Exodus 31:19, Moses receives the original tablets of stone with the commandments written on them. While he is on the mountain, his brother Aaron leads the people in the golden calf rebellion, a direct violation of the commandment prohibiting idolatry.
Inevitably, the worship of lesser beings leads to trivialization. “And [Israel] rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings [to the calf]. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (Exodus 32:6).
When the people abandon the epic, their once meaningful burnt offerings and peace offerings fly loose from their intended purpose. Worship degenerates to an exercise in self-expression—eating, drinking, and playing.
The LORD tells Moses what is happening inside the camp, and Moses reacts violently. “And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain” (Exodus 32:19).
Many have said that the scene betrays Moses’ short temper, but this is not the case. The people have violated their most fundamental command and disgraced the covenant. The breaking of the tablets is a statement that the nation is no longer worthy of the God who has freed them and called them.
The following day (Exodus 32:30), Moses goes back up to the mountain to intercede for the people and ask the LORD to maintain his presence with the nation.
Moses’ Experience of the Epic
The day after that (Exodus 34:4), God descends to the mountain to declare his glory to Moses. In the first part of his declaration, grace cascades like a waterfall.
“The LORD, the LORD,
...a God merciful and gracious,
...slow to anger,
...and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
...keeping steadfast love for thousands,
...forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin….”
This is grace. In this passage, the God whom the Israelites have snubbed renews the relationship (Exodus 34:10). The joy is manifold. When Moses calls for contributions for the tabernacle (Exodus 35:1-29), the very people who previously gave up their gold to make an idol now contribute so heavily that the craftsmen must call for an end to the giving (Exodus 36:1-7).
This does not mean that God is frivolous with his grace, however. He is also just. He is a God,
“…who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
With these words, we enter the mystery of justice. How can a good God declare justice on some while he pardons others?
I do not know. What I do know is that we are free to seek his mercy. When the passage ends, Moses does just that:
And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us to your inheritance.”
Defined by the Epic
This kind of plea does not arise from meditations on early weekend rising and teeth brushing. Worship occurs when we subject ourselves before the epic.
Worship does not involve subjection. It is defined by subjection. When the second Commandment prohibits the production of idols, God adds the words, “You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God…” (Exodus 20:4).
Without subjection, worship is impossible. Worship thrives in subjection because our lives gain meaning there. So, to answer Tish Harrison Warren’s complaint piece, the call to “proclaim the presence of an invisible God” remains at the head of the services because no other alternative exists. God is our creator, redeemer, and sustainer. He is our only defense against complete triviality.
 Tish Harrison Warren, “Why We Need to Start Talking About God,” New York Times Opinion, August 22, 2021, quoted on YouTube, Andrew Klavan, “My ABSURD Struggle to Find a Non-Woke Church,” accessed April 7, 2022.
The Meaning of Worship, Part 7
1 Samuel 6:19 – 7:2
WORSHIP AND DREAD, 1
A Lesson in Scale
One of the episodes in the original Twilight Zone television series featured a graphic lesson in scale. In a mission gone wrong, a manned exploratory spaceship lands on an asteroid, leaving a sole survivor. At one point during his wanderings, he encounters a miniature city beneath his feet, with human-like creatures the size of ants. Their tiny screams barely register in his ears as they scurry in all directions. Just then, the ground begins to shake rhythmically underneath him, and he looks up to see a man as large to the astronaut as he is to the people he had just seen. The camera position puts us at the man’s feet, looking up at a character hundreds of feet tall. Had the giant passed a single step to the side, he could have crushed the astronaut without ever knowing or caring about what he had done. The three elements in Rod Serling’s scene brought us more than a message about scale. They also carried an emotional impact. When the insignificant encounters the epic, dread follows. And no matter how great human beings may be on one scale, they are tiny on another. In the previous challenge, we considered the epic nature of God. In the simplest terms, he is altogether great. All else pales in scale next to him. Remarkably, the one ultimately epic being in the cosmos seeks an audience among the people whom he redeems.
The Wandering Ark of Dread
In early Israel’s case, God manifests his presence through the ark of the covenant. The final portion of Exodus describes the ark of the covenant and its preparation. The Israelite craftsmen finish it a little over a year after leaving Egypt (Exodus 37:1-9). Once it is complete, it becomes the focal point for the God to reveal himself on the earth. The ark also becomes a barometer to measure the spiritual health of God’s people. When the people worship their God, they revere the ark. As they lose sight of him, they also minimize the ark’s importance. When this occurs, God returns with dread. We witnessed an example of this in the previous studies. Throughout the forty years of desert wandering, the ark accompanies the people. However, the relationship between the LORD and his people is not a stable one. The Bible pictures the relationship as hand-holding immature children (Jeremiah 31:31-32). During the Conquest of Canaan in the book of Joshua, the second generation of free Israelites reaches prominence as one of the great generations in history. The ark accompanies them on their mission to conquer the land of Canaan, and dread spreads before them. That reality changes during the period of the judges when the nation forgets its God again. Over the 250 years that the book covers, the ark appears only once, and then incidentally, at Bethel (Judges 20:24-28). Israel has become self-focused and out of control. In the book of 1 Samuel, the ark rises to prominence again accompanying Israel’s slow walk back to worship. When 1 Samuel opens, it is in Shiloh, under the guardianship of Eli the high priest and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas (1 Samuel 1:3). Unfortunately, they have disqualified themselves from their task and face inevitable judgment (1 Samuel 2:22-25). During their priesthood, someone comes up with the hair brained idea to take the ark into battle against the Philistines as a talisman (1 Samuel 4:1-4). The Philistines capture it and take it to their temple at Ashdod, where they place it before the fish god, Dagon. Their victory was short lived. They return to their temple to find their god face down and broken on the ground (1 Samuel 5:3-4). Further, “The hand of the LORD was heavy against the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory: (1 Samuel 5:6). Out of desperation, Philistia sends the ark back to Israel, where it lands at Beth-shemesh. We might expect God to be glad that he is back among his people, but we would be premature. The ark is not a puppy, wagging its tail when it is back home with its master. Some of the Israelites treat the ark flippantly and fall into judgment (1 Samuel 6:19-19). God’s own people come to know dread at his presence. “Who is able to stand before the LORD, this holy God? And to whom shall he go up away from us?” (1 Samuel 6:20, emphasis added). When the dread of God’s presence returns to Israel, the people are revulsed.
From Dread to Worship
Revulsion is not the only response available to the people. A far different reception to the ark occurs immediately after this incident.
So [Beth-shemesh] sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “The Philistines have returned the ark of the LORD. Come down and take it up to you.” And the men of Kiriath-jearim came and took up the ark of the LORD and brought it to the house of Aminadab on the hill. And they consecrated his son Eleazar to have charge of the ark of the LORD.
--1 Samuel 6:21 – 7:2
Why does Abinadab accept the ark when the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh cannot rid themselves of it fast enough? The text is silent on that question. What matters is that Abinadab receives it, and his household consecrates his son Eleazar to safeguard it. Their actions show that they do more than simply protect an object. They treasure their God’s presence. Abinadab and his clan demonstrate the other reality regarding dread. Channeled rightly, dread can lead to respect. And from there, yearning begins to grow. In one of the most profound summary statements in the Old Testament, the writer concludes,
From the day that the ark was lodged at Kiriath-jearim, a long time passed, some twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD.
--1 Samuel 7:2
Twenty years to yearn. Two decades is a long time, but the time allows the people to channel their dread productively. When dread toward God grows into reverence for God, it stands only a step away from yearning, and that is what we want. A pocket god may be convenient, but that god never rules and never earned our respect. Only the God who is worthy of our dread becomes the God whom we revere and worship.
A Stunning Epilogue
The remainder of 1 Samuel 7 brings the long episode to a close. At the end of the twenty years, the people gather before Samuel the prophet and confess their misplaced fascination with their Baals and Ashtaroth. While they worship, the Philistines attack, but this time the people know how to direct their fear. They beg Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the LORD for us, that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines” (1 Samuel 7:8). This time, God honors their plea. He not only routs the Philistine army, but also restores many of the cities that the Philistines had taken. The restoration is not a cause-and-effect formula. It is an act of God that shows that he honors the worship in dread that they have shown him.
The Meaning of Worship, Part 8
2 Samuel 6:1-15
WORSHIP AND DREAD, 2
The Tragedy of Featherweight Worship
In 1 Samuel 8, Israel moves from a nation under judges to a kingdom, only to watch Saul, the nation’s first king, turn out to be a tragic character. While no single cause leads to his downfall, one incident goes a long way to reflect his spiritual character. Significantly, it revolves around the ark of the covenant. The ark is especially important in early Israel’s history. It represents God’s presence among his people, and to respect it is to revere the LORD. The single time that Saul encounters the ark takes place early, in a battle against the Philistine army at Gilgal (1 Samuel 13 and 14). Israel lacks any kind of armament, the troops are demoralized, and Saul cowers (1 Samuel 13:5-8). Meanwhile, Saul’s son Jonathan secretly breaks rank to engage in an unauthorized attack on the Philistine army. When Saul’s army begins to desert (1 Samuel 14:6-16), he orders his men to bring the ark to him. The reason is unstated, but the implication is that Saul wishes to use it to leverage his authority. A priest brings it, only to be interrupted by the commotion from Jonathan’s rout. Saul abandons the ark to join his son in the battle (1 Samuel 14:16-19). Ironically, nothing more happens. The ark never appears in Saul’s presence again during his 80-year reign. He never draws close enough to it to worship.
A Man Sensitive enough to be Joyful
Enter David, Saul’s replacement, and God’s choice to be Israel’s king. David’s first recorded encounter with the ark mirrors Saul’s in a deeply ironic way. When we come to 2 Samuel 6, we are possibly 30 years down the road. Saul and Jonathan are dead. David has subjugated Philistia and secured his throne in Jerusalem. His first act as a settled king is to call for the ark. The opening verses of the chapter are triumphant.
David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale-Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim. And they carried the ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinidab, which was on the hill. And Uzzah and Ahio, he sons of Abinidab, were driving the new cart, with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark.
--2 Samuel 6:1-4
The contrasts between King Saul’s treatment of the ark in comparison to David’s reverence for it are significant. During the battle, Saul tells Ahijah the priest, “Bring the ark of God here” (1 Samuel 14:18), as if he exercises kingly authority over it. David, on the other hand, accompanies the people to bring the ark to Jerusalem. Further, the narrative in 1 Samuel 14 describes it simply as “the ark of God.” For Saul, it carries little more value than a disposable coffee cup. But when David goes to retrieve it, the narrator describes it as “the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim.” David knows who God is, and he celebrates in the ark’s presence.
Reverence and joy dominate the scene’s opening. A crowd of thirty thousand brings the ark on a new ox cart. Uzzah and Ahio bear the privilege of driving the cart. Uzzah, apparently alongside the cart, watches over the precious cargo. After all, if it were to become damaged or broken in a fall, the result would be tragic. With every contingency accounted for, the crowd welcomes the ark to its new home. Unfortunately, the dreaded event occurs, with unexpected results.
And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the LORD, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzza put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.
--2 Samuel 6:5-7
The clash between merriment and crisis in these verses appears to be deliberate. One moment, the people are immersed in praise, while in the next, the very man charged with the ark’s protection lies dead beside it. To add to the sense of dread, the narrator declares that God struck him down “because of his error.” The event is not unprecedented. Before the monarchy, whole communities of the Philistine people suffered when the ark was captured (1 Samuel 5:1-12). Following that incident, seventy Israelites died when they treated the ark lightly upon its return to Israel (1 Samuel 6:19).
Merriment before the LORD is good, but it is not the final thing. We must not presume that joy can replace the reverence that we are to observe before him.
A Man Intelligent enough to be Afraid
Following Uzzah’s death, the narrator shifts the point of view to David. Notice how quickly the story changes character.
And David was angry because the LORD had burst forth against Uzzah. And that place is called Parez-uzzah [“Slaughter of Uzzah”], to this day. And David was afraid of the LORD that day, and he said, “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” So David was not willing to take the ark of the LORD into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. And the ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the LORD blessed Obed-edom and all his household.
--2 Samuel 6:9-11
This paragraph records three reactions on David’s part, along with the results that arise from them:
· Reaction: He is angry because the LORD burst forth against Uaazh.
Result: The place is called Perez-uzzah.
· Reaction: He is afraid of the LORD.
Result: He grieves his alienation. “How can the ark come to me?”
· Reaction: He takes the ark to the house of Obed-edom.
Result: God blesses Obed-edom.
I love this section because it shows a man who is unafraid to show his emotions toward God. David demonstrates a level of honesty that is all but absent in modern worship. He is not just angry. He is angry at God and makes no attempt to minimize the fact. Further, the name “Slaughter of Uzzah” stays on the books. David does not minimize the event in order to whitewash his personal history.
Masculine, Honest Worship
The final paragraph in this transitional section draws his personal crisis to a close.
And it was told King David, “The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing. And when those who bore the ark of the LORD had gone six steps, he sacrificed and ox and a fattened animal. And David danced before the LORD with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting and with the sound of the horn.
--2 Samuel 6:12-15
The time that the ark stayed with Obed-edom allowed David to realize that God was holy in Uzzah’s death. Nor did the LORD remain angry. During the three months that the ark stayed with Obed-edom, David’s men reported the blessing that had accompanied the ark. Obviously, he yearned for that blessing as well, but it was not the blessing that called him back. His passion for God’s presence drove him. On the ark’s second journey to Jerusalem, account mentions “those who bore the ark of the LORD.” The scene is more reverent now. The ox cart is gone, presumably replaced by the Levities whose job it was to carry the ark.
Reverence and Yearning
Saul was blind to reverence. When he summoned the ark, he used it as a tool, and it passed through his life with barely a ripple. David’s encounter with it became a defining moment in his life, marking a range of emotions from joy to terror to anger to grief and back to joy. Thankfully, the passage never disparages David’s indignation. The history preserves each moment of his journey. Reverence is honest, even in anger. When we practice praise-at-all-cost worship, it forces us to bury both our passion and reverence. And passionless worship is doomed to fail. When David faces his God honestly, he worships “with all his might.” This is what God calls genuine men to do.
The Meaning of Worship, Part 9
1 Chronicles 21:28 – 22:1
WORSHIP AND DREAD, 3
Background: “The Place that the LORD God will Choose”
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses anticipates a future location where God will cause his name to dwell among the people. The place will be sacred. He tells the people who are about to engage in the Conquest,
“You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree…. You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way. But you shall seek the place that the LORD your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there.”
--Deuteronomy 12:2, 4-5
Through the following several chapters, Moses anticipates the offering of tithes, the Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths, all to take place in “the place that the LORD your God will choose.” Clearly, the anticipated place is important to God.
A Forgotten Mandate
In early Israelite history, the Ark of the Covenant acts as the focal point for Israel’s worship. During Joshua’s era, the people of Israel revere the ark. They understand its significance, and they treat it as the holy object that it is. Because of the nature of the Conquest, the ark accompanies the people during their mission. It is mobile. Following Joshua, “There arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). Their forgetfulness of their God extends to the ark. Over the entire 250 years or so of post-Joshua history, the sacred object surfaces only once, in Judges 20:26-27. There it appears only because of a crisis. Following the judges, Israel reconnects to the ark in fits and starts. As we saw in an earlier challenge, the people during Samuel’s ministry caught on to its importance only reluctantly. Later, King Saul appears to remain ignorant of its significance altogether.
Not until David comes on the scene do we see someone who is passionate about God’s presence. Yet even then, the ark does not come to the place that God spoke through Moses. For a period longer than the totality of United States history, Moses’ mandate regarding the exact place for settled worship remains undetermined.
A Final Crisis in David’s Life
Ironically, a moral crisis late in David’s life results in the discovery of the place that would fulfill Moses’ prophecy. In one of his final acts, David decides that a census of Israel is necessary. In Israelite history, the purpose for census is to prepare for war. For example, the book of Numbers records two during the time that Israel was in the desert after the Exodus. Numbers 1:1-3 introduces the census for the first generation, who was supposed to occupy Canaan. When they failed, Numbers 26:1-2 shows the census for the generation that fought under Joshua. The purpose was the same for each—to determine troop strength.
David’s peacetime order comes about as a matter of pride and incurs God’s wrath. He strikes Israel with a plague (1 Chronicles 21:7), and the nation reels. In the midst of the carnage, God offers three choices to David: three years of famine, three months of dominance by his foes, or “three days of the sword of the LORD, pestilence on the land, with the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the territory of Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:12). The detail in the third choice shows that the LORD’s direct punishment without a mediatory agent to soften his wrath far more severe than the other two. David chooses it anyway, reasoning, “Let me fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is very great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man” (1 Chronicles 21:13). Ultimately, 70,000 Israelites fall. We get a picture of the depth of God’s wrath toward the end of the ordeal.
And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, the LORD saw, and he relented from the calamity. And he said to the angel who was working the destruction, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.
--1 Chronicles 21:15
Where Wrath, Dread, and Grace Embrace
David sees the angel of the LORD there and buys Ornan’s property to offer sacrifices on it. Here, 1 Chronicles includes a scene that reaches all the way back to Moses’ prediction in Deuteronomy.
At that time, when David saw that the LORD had answered him at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, he sacrificed there. For the tabernacle of the LORD, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt offering were at that time in the high place at Gibeon, but David could not go before it to inquire of God, for he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the LORD. Then David said, “Here shall be the house of the LORD God and here the altar of burnt offerings for Israel.”
--1 Chronicles 21:28 – 22:1
Three streams meet in violent confluence in this passage. The first is God’s wrath, which begins as a carpet bombing over Israel and comes to focus on Jerusalem. “And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it…” (1 Chronicles 21:15).
The second stream involves David’s dread. His actions have called God to vent his wrath on the people, and the punishment breaks David. He dreads the altar at Gibeon, “for he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the LORD.” Once again, he lies terrified before his God. David’s place of dread turns out to be the best place he can be because the third stream that comes to him is grace. Ultimately, David’s choice, “Let me fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is very great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man” (1 Chronicles 21:13), turns out to be right. Against the backdrop of wrath and terror, God fulfills a generations-long prophetic utterance. David realizes in a flash, “Here shall be the house of the LORD.”
The Greatness of Grace against the Question of Disqualifying Sin
This passage has gripped me for years. The reversal that takes place when God sheathes his sword and reveals prophetic fulfillment to the very man who has caused his wrath in the first place is one of the most dramatic in Scripture. David leaps from dread to purpose. From this moment on, the Chronicles records David’s work to establish the organization for Israel’s worship.
Some Closing Thoughts on the Greatness of Grace
This narrative calls for serious moral thought. David has fallen in a way that few can fathom. His sin has brought 70,000 people to their deaths. Surely, this stands as a disqualifying sin. Yet God never calls David to carry that burden. Instead, he chooses this moment to reveal the place where wrath, dread, and grace embrace each other. David’s place of terror becomes the place where he finds hope. I cannot begin to understand this economy, but it is what grace does. This truth speaks to me because there have been times that I have caused damage so severe that I could not bring myself even to ask for forgiveness. The request was too self-serving. All I could do was bow before the Lord in dread. There, he showed me the grace that defies cost. Moral logic demands vengeance. Under moral logic, the offender must bear the cost of his sin. But grace is not logical. It calls him to place his burden before God. When he does, he comes away with a new purpose.
The Meaning of Worship, Part 10
WORSHIP AND YEARNING
How Doug’s Mind Works
Confession time. For better or worse, when an idea grabs my attention, I tend to jump into the middle before I realize, “Oh, there’s a lot going on with this. Maybe I should think about how we got here.” Then I must backtrack and think about how the ideas got where they are. This is what has occurred with the “Worship and…” series. For the past nine segments, I have been busy talking about what worship does. I need to step back and talk about what worship is, because there is a fundamental difference between worshiping as a verb and worship as a noun. When we talk about worshiping as a verb, we describe an act, a momentary expression of adoration. The deeper question explores what drives us there. The quality that drives us to a state of worship is yearning. Yearning recognizes an absence in our daily existence, a void that we are unable to fulfill. Yearning begins with the realization that we are incomplete in ourselves. Oddly enough, it finds fulfillment in desire.
An Unusual Opening to a Psalm
David expresses this sentiment in Psalm 62.
For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
The stanza sounds an incredible statement of faith. It shows both the source of yearning and its fulfillment. But it has an odd weight about it. David is here, waiting for God, but at this point, we remain unaware of where “here” is. That information appears in the next two verses.
How long will all of you attack a man to batter him,
like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
They only plan to thrust him down from his high position.
They take pleasure in falsehood.
They bless with their mouths,
but inwardly they curse. Selah
Verses 3-4 introduce a typical situation among the psalms of lament. Unnamed enemies “attack a man to batter him” to “thrust him down from his high position.” Their methods also are typical. “They take pleasure in falsehood. / They bless with their mouths, / but inwardly they curse.” In other words, the enemies pretend to show godliness while they practice deceit. The challenge to his enemies pins “here” to the map. Why, then, does it follow David’s affirmation? Wouldn’t they make more logical sense at the beginning of the psalm?
The Foundational Importance of Yearning
Logically, verses 3-4 orient the psalm. But the affirmation in verses 1-2 forms the thematic foundation of this psalm. Yes, David’s situation is dire. It is in his face. But amid his enemies’ attacks, David declares his desire to be embedded in his God’s care. Yearning drives him to trust in God, and in that sense, it is more important even than his circumstances. The opening of the psalm shows us what worship is as opposed to what it does. Worship as a noun is the settled state of mind that rejects any mental alignment other than one that trusts God. It is a commitment to seek no other source for our true moral north. We see David’s moral alignment in the language of the first two verses:
For God alone my soul waits in silence…
He only is my rock and my salvation….
He does not have to prepare an active defense to meet the threat. We do not see him trying to whip up praise phrases to hurl at the enemy. He does not seek a “worship experience.” He is content to wait in silence because that is where his foundation lies.
From Silence, a Call to Trust
Silence allows David to grow a sense of yearning, a desire to be able to lay hold on God’s presence with him. Interestingly, the silence of waiting does not render him mute. Rather, it gives him something to say. Verses 6-8 involves speech to two audiences. He addresses himself first.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
The first two couplets are more than a simple repetition of the opening. They affirm his faith and keep him focused on his eternal truth. The third couplet stands as a response to God’s detractors. He will not compromise his beliefs in the face of threats. Second, he addresses the people with an invitation to trust:
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us. Selah
The invitation calls for the people to take their rest in God the same way that David does.
From Silence, a Call to Worship
Now David moves to a call to worship. The language in the conclusion of the psalm is not just declarative, as the first part of the psalm is. It is God-directed affirmation. It is the language of active worship. As the case often is in the Psalms, worship language often moves freely between speaking to God and the congregation simultaneously. Verse 5 appears to be an insight that has come from God during David’s silence.
Those of low estate are but a breath;
those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
they are together lighter than a breath.
This verse carries a sense of wonder with it that takes it beyond simple factual affirmation. While it teaches, I believe that it acknowledges God. David’s eyes have become open to the reality behind what he only trusted to be true earlier, and he expresses his wonder out loud. The next verse takes the point to application. Here, he speaks to the people.
Put no trust in extortion;
set no vain hopes on robbery;
If riches increase, set not your heart on them.
These words clearly constitute applied teaching, a common exercise in the Psalms. The psalm ends with a note of doxology.
Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
and to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
For you will render to a man
according to his work.
Another property of doxological language is that the ease in which a worshiper shifts from talking about God to talking to him directly. Notice how easily he shifts between audiences. ““Once God has spoken…. power belongs to God (third person), / and to you (second person), O Lord belongs steadfast love.” The truth comes full circle in this psalm. David begins in heart worship that is best expressed by yearning. With that as a foundation, he finds his fulfillment in truth and concludes in praise.
The Meaning of Worship, Part 11
WORSHIP AND JUSTICE
O the sweetness of the days when the Lord breaks the back of institutionalized chaos and institutes a return to lawfulness. I speak of course to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. At least three reactions have emerged following the decision.
- Predictably, those who have fought and prayed for years to preserve the rights of the unborn rejoice at the re-recognition of justice for the unborn.
- Predictably, those who have enjoyed selfish benefits from the long war on the unborn rage.
- Less predictively, many point out that the pro-choice advocates have no one to blame but themselves for the reversal.
The Negative Reactions
Of course, many are angry. Rage travels the gamut from federal legislators who call for the Supreme Court judges to be impeached, to men and women who perform violence and destruction, to individuals who record themselves throwing tantrums like children and posting their recordings online. None of these should surprise us.
The one unexpected element for me is the admission by some in the pro-abortion camp that their own drive to have it all became their downfall. Bill Clinton’s glossy lie, “Safe, legal, and rare,” gave the practice a veneer of respectability. The current recent push for unrestricted abortion at any time during pregnancy has alerted people to the heinous craving that it is. In that regard, this challenge will be more of a meditation than an exposition. I want to look at Psalm 10, breaking it into thematic sections and commenting on some of the qualities that make justice so precious to those who wait for it.
Justice is Rare
Justice does not come automatically. When a society rejects God’s moral principles, it has no right to expect blessing from God to continue to come showering down.
Why, O LORD, do you stand afar off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
Justice is Incomprehensible to the Unjust
The reason for the rage—and the cries of injustice—emerges from the mistaken view that indulgence is a fundamental human right. It is not, of course, but when one group is allowed to exploit another for so long a time, the indulgent group blinds itself to anyone outside themselves.
In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor;
let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.
For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul,
and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD.
In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him:
all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
Justice Appears to be Impotent when Injustice Reigns
For those who have fought for the unborn, the fifty years following Roe v. Wade have been an often-hopeless confrontation against those who broker in power.
His ways prosper at all times;
your judgments are on high, out of his sight;
as for all his foes, he puffs at them,
He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved;
throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”
His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.
He sits in ambush in all the villages;
in hiding places he murders the innocent.
His eyes stealthily watch for he helpless;
He lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
he lurks that he may seize the poor;
he seizes the poor when he draws him in to his net.
The helpless are crushed, sink down,
and fall by his might.
He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”
Justice is Both Genuine and Priceless
Those who have fought for the rights of the unborn have maintained their position against unimaginable opposition and obstacles. They have stayed the course because they have understood the value of life and have trusted that God will remain faithful. Their victory both the truth and the value of the prize that they have sought for so long.
Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand;
forget not the afflicted.
Why does the wicked renounce God
and say in hie heart, “You will not call to account”?
But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
you have been the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
call his wickedness to account till you find none.
Justice Comes when God Acts
The Roe v. Wade decision emerged when pro-abortion advocates failed to codify abortion “rights” in the legislature. Ironically, now that the Supreme Court has ruled on Constitutional principles, the pro-abortionists have begun to call for legislative action against the court. No governmental body defines morality. God declares truth and honors those who act in justice.
The LORD is king forever and ever;
the nations perish from his land.
O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that the man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.
The glory in the overturning of Roe v. Wade lies in both the scope and the limitations of the decision. These two boundaries assure that the law will stand. On the one hand, the ruling recognizes that the Court overstepped its authority in 1972 when it declared a new universal moral imperative, the “right” to take human life as a matter of convenience. On the other hand, the court recognized the Constitutional limitations of its own authority. When it sent the issue back to the states, it acted only to the degree that it had the authority to act. The present court recognizes that our republic still lives under the sovereign King. The fight against abortion is far from over, but now it is far less monolithic.
The Meaning of Worship, Part 12
WORSHIP AND BROKENNESS
A Developing Crisis
Two months ago, our pastor announced his plan to resign from his position so that he could pursue evangelistic work. Both he and the church have recognized his calling for that ministry. He gave us ample notice and worked with the other elders on the transition. This Sunday, the church will honor him and his wife for 22 years of faithful service.
While we prepared to commend him to his new ministry, we wrestled over another issue, the direction that we wanted to take the church in its future ministry. Two choices presented themselves, each leading in opposite directions.
The tension between the choices led to apparently produced greater friction among the elders than anyone had anticipated. Midweek last week, two of our three elders sent a bulk email to the church members to announce that they had resigned, effective immediately.
No one received advance notice. Everyone got the message simultaneously, and no one had an opportunity to respond.
Both elders were convinced that the church lacked the moral strength to last.
Grief, Worship, and Solidarity
Obviously, the church was stunned. We were blindsided. A couple of us contacted our service volunteers, and we convened an organizational meeting on Saturday. The group prayed and agreed that the Lord wanted us to continue as a church.
The following day, we gathered as a church to present ourselves before our Lord. The sermon was on Psalm 109 and was entitled, “A Time to Mourn.” The conclusion appears below.
David’s Shift to Petition and Praise
Beginning in verse 21, David shifts to his own plight. His theme turns from cursing his enemy to finding favor from his God. His prayer is rooted in worship.
But you, O God my Lord,
deal on my behalf for your name’s sake;
because your steadfast love is good, deliver me!”
David expands the petition, turning his language toward himself. Here are the terms that David uses to describe himself as a petitioner in this section.
- V. 22--I am poor and needy; My heart is stricken
- V. 23--I am gone like a shadow; I am shaken off like a locust
- V. 24--My knees are weak through fasting; My body has become gaunt
- V. 25--I am an object of scorn to my accusers
These are not pictures of David feeling sorry for himself. They mark the language of subjection to his God while he resists the temptation to give in to despair. They expand David’s declaration in verse 4, “But I give myself to prayer” (ESV).
When David builds his personal character portrait, he does not paint himself as a good man who ought not to be suffering. He characterizes himself as humble, poor, and needy.
These characteristics stand in contrast to his accusers, who are self-important, arrogant, and proud. David places himself in subjection to God while his accusers flaunt themselves.
Biblical justice does not mean that God seeks to prevent bad things from happening to the good people in the world. It means that he comes to the aid of the helpless who suffer unjustly, the ones who call to the LORD in genuine faith.
A Plea for God to Vindicate Himself
When we approach the conclusion of the psalm, the issue shifts from David’s problem to his problem-solving God. As he makes a second plea for God to demonstrate his eternal kindness, his focus moves to the way he wishes the LORD to manifest himself in justice.
Help me, O LORD my God!
Save me according to your steadfast love!
Let them know that this is your hand;
you, O LORD have done it!
Let them curse, but you will bless!
They arise and are put to shame, but your servant will be glad!
May my accusers be clothed with dishonor;
may they be wrapped in their own shame as in a cloak!
These lines are confident rather than desperate. David begins to rest in the assurance that the LORD will vindicate his cause. The transformation from desperation to faith is as dramatic as any in the psalms of lament. We continue to see David’s pain, but we also witness God’s light breaking through his pain.
David begins to operate in the realm of certainty: “...but you will bless! They...are put to shame, but your servant will be glad!” (verse 28).
The Vow of Praise
The psalm ends with anticipation for joy. God will intercede on David’s behalf, and he will vindicate him.
With my mouth I will give great thanks to the LORD:
I will praise him in the midst of the throng.
For he stands at the right hand of the needy,
to save him from those who condemn his soul to death.
The transformative character of honest grief now becomes evident. David’s plea before the LORD is a full confession of his pain and his desire to see justice performed. But beyond that, it is a testimony to his freedom to mourn. If David matters to God, then his pain in betrayal also matters to God. And if his feelings toward betrayal matter, then he has the right to declare them out loud.
This is where transformation begins. When we are allowed to express our desperation by asking God to act in justice, grace rises out of our plea in a natural fashion. Samuel Terrien writes, “Invoking salvation and receiving it as a gift from heaven, the psalmist discerns that this will become the preaching of a ‘gospel’; the Good News or ‘God’s spell’: God loves man.”
Imprecation and Forgiveness
At first the connection between this psalm and forgiveness appears to be as distant as Hawaii is from Mainland United States. We might as well try to swim to the islands as to make the journey from cursing to forgiveness. When we understand what biblical forgiveness is, however, its connection to the psalm falls into place.
What is forgiveness, then? How do we describe it in Bible-honoring terms?
In broad brushstrokes, it is a conscious choice to refrain from counting people’s sins against them. It is a declaration that says to the wrongdoer, “I no longer hold you accountable for what you did, because I have given that issue to God.”
The operating phrase, “I no longer hold you accountable,” reflects our own choice to operate in grace rather than denial. It never means, “Aw, it doesn’t matter.” Instead, it “I give the accounts to God.”
Samuel Terrien, The Psalms : Stophic Structure and Theological Commentary, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 2003), 747.
The Meaning of Worship, Part 13
Exodus 2:23-25; 4:29-31
WORSHIP AND DESPERATION
The Loss of the Grand Narrative
One of the setbacks in contemporary Christian culture that I lament the most is our loss of appreciation for the grand narrative in Scripture. We have traded the cover-to-cover story in the Bible for a set of Bible stories that have become the spiritual equivalent of snack food. The God that far too many Christians meet on Sunday mornings works within minutes to provide small answers for small problems. He loves us and cares for us. He wants us to be fulfilled. Get in. Get served. Get on with business. A small god who performs only little deeds is incapable of making us stop in wonder. The God of the Bible is nothing like the idol that we have created for ourselves. The biblical God writes history. He works over centuries to make a name for himself. He raises up kingdoms and brings them down again. Great deeds like this do not spring up overnight. They require long periods of waiting. Over that time, waiting grows into desperation, and it is when desperation reaches its peak that God’s people can sense the greatness in his rescue.
Prelude to the Exodus
When it comes to historic examples of rescue, Israel’s exodus from Egyptian slavery stands the signature act of salvation in the Old Testament. God’s rescue of his people brought over three hundred years of captivity to a close. Why would God allow his people to suffer for so long? First, a historical event of that proportion simply takes a long time to complete. Second, from a practical standpoint, prolonged deprivation brings people to a place where they can recognize how deep their need is for God. And third, it makes their appreciation for God’s rescue worthy of the act. We see all three factors in play during God’s raising up and calling of Moses in the first four chapters of Exodus. In this challenge, I want to look at two excerpts from those chapters that speak to the issue of desperation in the narrative—one from Exodus 2 and one from chapter 4.
How Exodus Creates Hope
Moses is the central figure throughout the book Exodus. He is a marked man even before his birth. The opening two chapters build the narrative around five events that bring God’s determination to rescue his people into perspective:
- A transition from the patriarchs in Genesis to the numerous people in Exodus (Exodus 1:1-7)
- A summary of an oppressed people by a suspicious Egyptian dynasty, (Exodus 1:8-22)
- The birth of Moses to a woman who takes extreme measures to save her son from extermination, (Exodus 2:1-10)
- Moses’ early recognition of his calling, along with an unsuccessful attempt to liberate his people, (Exodus 2:11-15)
- Moses’ flight to Midian, where he marries, begins his family, and apparently gives up hope for doing anything extraordinary, (Exodus 2:16-21)
As the narrative unfolds, the readers see what Moses cannot. God uses every event to promote his purpose, even Pharaoh’s desperate attempts to interfere.
Exodus 2:23-25—A Worship-worthy God
Following Moses’ settlement in Midian—doubtless his final home in his own mind—the narrative switches to the bigger picture. The short paragraph switches from historical narrative to a scene that follows depicts the drama from God’s perspective:
During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.Help me, O LORD my God!
God’s act of hearing, remembering, seeing, and knowing is not incidental, as if this event happened to be the first time that he bothered to take notice. It marks his determination to act in the epoch-making manner that only he can accomplish. Moses’ call story, a five-part narrative that depicts God’s summoning of Moses as the man who will declare war against the Pharaoh and the Egyptian gods, follows this statement and runs over the course of Exodus 3:1 – 4:17.
Exodus 4:29-31—A Worship-appropriate Hope
A brief interlude follows in which God delivers his terms to the Pharaoh. Surrender is the only option. “Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me.’ If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son’” (Exodus4:22). Additionally, God gives Moses signs that prove his authority to make the demands that he does. But what about the people? What do they receive? The Scripture is clear that the descendants of Israel understand their heritage. They know the history regarding Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob’s twelve sons. They also are aware of God’s pronouncement that their bondage would take place (see Genesis 15:12-16). However, this is all they have had for the entire course of their lives. Now, for the first time, their God pronounces hope for them.
Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the people of Israel. Aaron spoke all the words that the LORD had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.
This passage is one of my most favorite in all of Scripture. It is simple, but it speaks on a profoundly deep level. The people’s reaction is far too serious for hip-hip-hooray praise. Here we see a breathtaking, awe-inspired realization that God has heard their cries all along. The Almighty is about to act on their behalf. Anything less than the silence with which they respond would be inappropriate. Worship at this level is too deep for mere words. When we forget this reality, we lose the whole value of waiting. Small expectations produce equally small rewards. Hope that grows in a barren landscape must plant deep roots to survive. Deep pain leads to deep satisfaction.
The Meaning of Worship, Part 14
2 Timothy 3:10-13
WORSHIP AND COURAGE
The Origins of Courage
Some time ago, I watched a YouTube interview with John McArthur. The interviewer asked him how he had managed to remain so courageous over the many years that he had endured negative criticism from Christians and non-Christians alike.
I cannot remember his exact words, but he said something like, “I just follow the truth in Scripture.”
He recognized a fundamental reality. Worship and authority walk hand in hand, and when we understand that relationship, we can stand in confidence. Dr. McArthur’s longstanding record of courage does not arise from a hidden internal source of strength, but from a simple understanding of where his authority lies. What we revere determines the way that we act.
This is a biblical principle. The first two Commandments, “You shall have no other gods before me,” and, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image…” (Exodus 20:2, 3a), close with the condition, “You shall not bow down to them or serve them…” (Exodus 20:5a, emphasis added). We serve what we worship. Some men stand on the principle consciously, while others grope from one thing to another.
Fear of outside influence drives us to compromise, while grounding in worship makes our boundaries clear. Courage is the act of standing within our boundaries when those in opposition demand our surrender.
A Portrait of the Apostle Paul’s Courage
In his final letter, Paul writes to his protégé Timothy, the young man with whom he shared the closest relationship in his life. He is about to be executed (2 Timothy 4:6), so he makes the most of his words.
In the middle of the book, he pens a brief personal history, a look back over his life. He summarizes his ministry in nine points. These fall into three groups. I will mark these by showing them line by line:
You, however, have followed…
…my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life…
…my faith, my patience, my love…
…my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings
…that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.
--2 Timothy 3:10-11
The first triad—Paul’s teaching, conduct, and aim in life—speaks to purpose. The three pursuits are the founding principles to which he dedicated himself. They form the boundaries for the rest of his life.
In the next triad, his faith, patience, and love reveal the character of his ministry. He refused to be braggadocios. He fulfilled his service to the Lord in humility.
The third triad begins with steadfastness, the quality of staying the course. After that, however, he mentions the persecutions, and sufferings that occurred in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. Here, he moves to the heart of courage.
Difficulty, the Foundation for Courage
Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra are locations that Paul visited during his first missionary journey. Luke records these in Acts 13-14. Here are some of the highlights (if we can use that word) from the endeavor:
- At Antioch in Greece, many Jewish people believe the gospel message, but the leading Jews become jealous. As a result, Paul and Barnabas tell the Jewish authorities, “Since you thrust [the word of God] aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold we are turning to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). In response, “The Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district” (Acts 13:50).
- From Antioch, the two go to Iconium, where both Jews and Greeks receive the word gladly (Acts 13:51 – 14:1). However, the unbelieving Jews stir up crowds again and attempt to stone Paul and Barnabas (14:2-7).
- Following Antioch, they go to Lystra, where Paul is stoned and left for dead outside the city (Acts 14:8-23).
After Iconium, they revisit the churches that they have planted and return to the sending church at Antioch on the Mediterranean, where they give a report to the church.
A Hint at Paul’s Moral Direction in 2 Timothy
The remainder of the book of Acts chronicles two more gospel expeditions, followed by Paul’s final arrest and journey to Rome. He endures persecution throughout. Further, Paul’s own testimony in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 catalogs a lifetime of suffering for the gospel.
Why, then, does he mention only the first journey that had occurred twenty-eight years before in 2 Timothy?
Whether we like it or not, traumatic events become signposts for the remainder of our lives. Some succumb to victimhood mentality and bitterness, while others find the ability to explore a higher moral purpose. Regardless of the direction we take afterward, trauma stays with us.
I believe that the events in his first journey became the defining incident in Paul’s life as well as his teaching model from that point on.
The Shape of Paul’s Discipleship
Here are my reasons. At the beginning of the passage, Paul writes, “You, however, have followed my teaching…” The word followed is a compound word in the original language. In literal terms, it means to reach with or follow with. Metaphorically, it means to be present at all times or attend someone wherever he goes.
In that regard, the exact things that Paul wanted Timothy to follow become important. It only stands to reason that he would model the disciplines that he taught.
His life-shaping experiences at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, however, describe events that took place during his first journey, before he met Timothy in Acts 16. Clearly, they are important enough for Paul to have impressed them on Timothy. His comment, “Yet from them all, the Lord rescued me” (2 Timothy3:11), shows that they stand as benchmarks in his life.
He moves on to a present truth as well. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:12-13).
This reality is nothing new. Jesus called all who wished to follow him to take up their cross (Luke 9:23-25).
The reality of evil in the world is undeniable. It only stands to reason that those who worship the good God will need to develop the courage to face a hostile world.
The Meaning of Worship, Part 15
Exodus 34:5-7 and 36:2-7
WORSHIP AND GRATITUDE
Introduction: The Severe God of Law
Nothing is as transformative as the gift of forgiveness. In this installment, I want to look at the way that forgiveness bears fruit in the one whom it touches. We will begin and end at the foot of Mount Sinai, the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments. The giving of the Law code known as the Ten Commandments in Exodus is a familiar stop in Christian Bible studies. Moses brings his newly liberated people to Sinai to the terms of their relationship with the God who has rescued them. Unfortunately, their God turns out to be more terrifying than what the people can handle.
On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled.
God’s glory on the mountain is not the only aspect of his being that is severe. The Lord summons Moses onto the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, the Law code for the people. The Law is inflexible. The first two commands, for example, form the foundation for the remainder of the code. The first forms God’s introduction to the people. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2). The meaning is clear. When God liberated the people that he had chosen as his own, he did so by confronting the Egyptian gods. Each of the ten plagues targeted an Egyptian deity, either directly or indirectly. Since he has defeated the Egyptian gods singlehandedly, he has every right to command singular devotion from his own people. The second command follows in the footsteps of the first. They are forbidden from making idols. Here God adds a commentary that states the reason for the prohibition.
“You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children for the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
The commentary contains two clauses. One begins, “…visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children….” The other contrasts with it— “…but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me….” Disobedience is condemned while obedience rewarded.
A Fateful Interlude
In Exodus 24, Moses comes down from the mountain to speak to the people and direct their worship. Then he makes a second trip to the peak, where God communicates the details of the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant that the people are to build. He also receives two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments engraved on them (Exodus 24:12-14 and 31:18). Meanwhile, the severity of God’s presence proves to be too much for Israel. When Moses tarries on the mountain, the people entice Aaron to make a golden calf. They bow down to it and worship it, a violation of the first two commands. When Moses returns to the camp, he sees the chaos and breaks the tablets that God has given him (Exodus 32:15-19). His action reflects the consequences of people’s sin. They have proven themselves unworthy of the relationship that God has created for them.
From the Law to Grace
Israel has chosen idols over their true God. Under the terms of the Law, they have destroyed their relationship with the LORD and deserve only condemnation. But Moses makes a third ascent to intercede for the people. During his time there, Moses asks, “Please, show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). God’s response to the request is significant because it leads us to the heart of grace. He places Moses in the cleft of the rock to shield him from the radiance that otherwise would be lethal the man, but he says, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and [I] will proclaim before you my name, the LORD” (Exodus 33:19 emphasis added). God’s name contains begins with grace, apart from the Law requirements:
The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”
The declaration of the law begins with a warning. “I the LORD your God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:5). It sets up the consequences and stands by them. Law leads to condemnation. Grace, on the other hand, announces a God who forgives. He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. His very name is an invitation to seek his grace. His call is open to everyone, regardless of his past.
Grace and Gratitude
We see the fruits of grace in Exodus 36, when Moses calls for contributions of gold and precious materials for the building of the Ark of the Covenant. There, the people who had given gold to Aaron to build an idol now supply materials for the God whom they had spurned. That is gratitude.
And they received from Moses all the contribution that the people of Israel had brought for doing the work of the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, so that all the craftsmen who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task that he was doing, and said to Moses, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the LORD had commanded us to do.”
The Law declaration focuses on men’s hearts. It reveals what they are (either dishonorable or honorable), but it says nothing about how to get from one side to the other. Grace begins with God and offers hope.
The Meaning of Worship, Part 16
1 Corinthians 15:20-28
WORSHIP AND VICTORY
The Connection between Truth and Conviction
This challenge will conclude the worship series. I hope that the meditations have been as rewarding to you as they have been to me. Last year, I wrote a piece on the opening portion of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s defense of the truth in the gospel message. In the first part of the chapter, Paul shows that the gospel rests on the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. This verifiable truth gives us the confidence to call people to call men and women to faith rather than hiding behind a bet-hedging proposal. For the first part of the chapter calls on history to provide a foundation for our present-day confidence.
The Importance of the Resurrection in Worship
The truth of the resurrection is more than a backward look into history to provide a defense of the faith. It carries deep meaning for the present and future as well. The gospel message “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) continues with positive truth that is altogether pertinent to worship.
From a forward-looking perspective, Christ’s resurrection accomplishes tasks on which we set our hope and guarantees our victory in the end. It provides an interpretation for our spiritual history, it gives us confidence in this present life, and it grants us assurance for a glorious end.
Interpretation for our Spiritual History
The opening words in this section move from their original place as a subject for defense to a foundation on which to build solid truth.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has also come the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ
--1 Corinthians 15:20-23
The established truth of the historical resurrection guarantees what is to follow. Paul uses the term firstfruits to describe this reality. In the Old Testament, God called Israel to dedicate the firstfruits of their harvests to the LORD, both as an act of honor to him for providing a productive growing season and as an act of faith that he would continue to provide. Our New Testament hope is the same. Jesus’ resurrection guarantees the resurrection of believers. Because he lives, we can rest in the promise of eternal life. Paul gives two principles to support this. The first involves the doctrine of representation. “For as by a man came death, by a man has also come the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.” The second emerges from Jesus’ position as a firstfruits guarantee. The Bible shows many examples of people who were raised from the dead, but none are still with us. Jesus is the first to rise in eternal resurrection. As certainly as we die in Adam, we will live again because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. All who are in Christ share in his resurrected life.
Confidence in This Present Life
So, if Jesus’ work on the cross has accomplished eternal victory, why does life continue to be so difficult? Even worse, why do some of the most despicable people pass through life without difficulty? This question is a serious one. Asaph, King David’s chief musician, confesses exactly these feelings toward the comfortable wicked in one of his psalms.
“They are not in trouble as others are; / they are not stricken like the rest of mankind” (Psalm 73:5).
Nothing can nullify that fact that injustice continues in the world. Jesus’ mission remains unfinished, but it continues to work toward God’s glorious conclusion.
Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For God has put all things in subjection under his feet.
--1 Corinthians 15:24-27a
Some people manage to sidestep the sorrows in the world for a time, but death still captures us all. No silver spoon is polished enough to fend off death. But for those whose hope lies in Christ, even that enemy will fall.
Assurance for a Glorious End
Following Jesus’ successful mission to overwhelm all his enemies, he will place himself in subjection to his Father.
But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Sn himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
--1 Corinthians 15:27b-28
Subjection is not an act of humiliation. It is the ultimate recognition of authority and order. Over the course of this section, Paul has moved from Adam’s disorder that results in death to Jesus’ rescue of his people from death to the destruction of death itself to the ultimate restoration of order when God the Father becomes all in all. The hymnwriter Charles Wesley captures the grandeur of these truths in his hymn, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” Part of the hymn reads:
Lives again our glorious king, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is not thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died, our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where’s thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!
Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted head, Alleluia.
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia.
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!”
Jesus’ victory through death does not make us immune to suffering and death. When we follow our Lord in worship, we join him both in his victory and in his suffering. We are made like him for a purpose, to experience “the cross, the grave, the skies.”