Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Old Testament Worship

Here are some notes for a talk I gave tonight ... underlying these notes is the argument that the main features of worship in the Anglican Church today reflect the main features of worship in the Old Testament.

Cathedral Lenten Series 2008: Worship in the Old Testament,
Wed 27th February

Readings: Genesis 28:10-22, Isaiah 2:1-5

(Imagine a diagram in which "Formal" is in a box down one side of the following themes and "Informal" is down the other side of the themes.


Covenant and Commandment


Charismatic and Ceremonial


Confessional and Commemorative




Formal side of OT worship consists of ordered worship, with rules laid down for rituals and prescriptions for who performs these and descriptions of the location for worship.

Informal side of OT worship consists of the insistence that true worship comes from the heart and involves both the attitude (or ‘spirit’) of the worshipper and actions consistent with the justice and mercy of God. Classic texts are:

‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise’ (Psalm 51:17).

‘He has told you, O man, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 6:8).

Covenant and commandment refers to the binding character of OT worship. Bound to God by covenant, the people of God are commanded to worship.

Charismatic and ceremonial refers on the one hand to the influence of the Holy Spirit on lively and spontaneous worship (e.g. Saul prophesying, 1 Samuel 10:6; David dancing before the Lord, 2 Samuel 6:12-23) and on the other hand to formal and prescribed actions such as the bringing and making of sacrifices according to laws laid down especially in Exodus and Leviticus.

Confessional and commemorative refers to the importance of what Israel understands about itself in relation to the God of Israel. Its great confession is the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41), which begins ‘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 6:4-5). Its great commemoration is the Passover celebration (Exodus 12) but there are other commemorative celebrations and generally remembrance of God’s deeds in the past lies at the core of Israel’s worship of God (a superb example is Deuteronomy 8), and God, who is often ‘the God of’, is associated with Israel’s past, for example, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Adaptation: we can think under this heading of the changes which take place in OT worship. Enoch walks with God – seemingly without building an altar or sacrificing a pigeon (Genesis 5:22). Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob know of sacrifices, altars, and memorial stones, but very little of priests (see exception Melchizedek) generally being both priests and patriarchs. In the dispensation of Moses worship involves a Tabernacle which is a precursor for the Temple, the former better suited to pilgrimage through the desert, the latter to settled conditions in the Promised Land. The exile leads to another adaptation: without a temple there is new interest in study of the Law.

Anticipation: as readers of the Old Testament we often find ourselves anticipating what we know is to come. Our reading from Genesis 28, for example, anticipates the later worship of Israel in special places. (A notable example is the so-called Binding of Isaac, Genesis 22, which occurs on the place which is later known as Zion). Our reading from Isaiah 2 anticipates a future time when a freer form of worship will be experienced on Zion, presumably because in a time when justice reigns sin will be no more and thus the sacrificial system will be redundant.

Apocalyptic: The Old Testament also knows of mystical experience in which heaven itself opens up to the prophet or priest and the presence of God is revealed (apocalypse means revelation or disclosure). We often associate this with Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Zechariah but in fact an early reference is Exodus 24:9-11: ‘Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.’


1. What speaks most to you from this description of Old Testament worship?

2. Try to find as many parallels with worship in the New Testament and in the church today ...

3. What is the importance of Prayer and Praise in Old Testament worship?

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