The Worship of God

More articles in this collection from past issues of the Presbyterian Standard are available online here.

Worship in the Old Testament (2): Election

by Rev. Moshe Radcliffe

In the first article of this series we saw among other things that true worship of God is not possible except that we are chosen by the Lord and so "accepted in the Beloved." This theme of election is now further developed.

This article was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 5, July-September 1997.

T HE proud heart of man in His fallen state presumes that he can worship God when, how and where he pleases. He thinks that because God is everywhere, God is there at his beck and call. He also presumes that so long as he is sincere, it does not matter how he worships God; God will hear him. But God is holy and those who presume that He is everybody's Father will be dismayed one day to discover that He is their greatest enemy, or worse, that they are His enemy. The truth is that God is not everyone's Father. The Word of God tells us that we are fallen sinners. The Shorter Catechism tells us bluntly: "All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse..." ( Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. & A.19). Boston describes the consequences of the Fall by declaring that Adam and Eve lost their knowledge of God, the righteousness of their will, and the holiness of their affections (Ecc. 7:29). Thomas Watson says: "When we lost God's image, we lost his acquaintance..." ( Body of Divinity, p.148). In all this it is made abundantly clear that a fallen sinner just cannot worship God of himself. His prayer goes no further than the roof of his house. It is all in vain. The whole of the Bible is the revelation given to us by God of what He has done to rectify this position and to draw out from all the children of Adam that shall be born, a people that He will make holy (Gen. 3:15). His choice will be completely undeserved and unmerited by them. He will choose them because He delights in them. Their character will be holy because He will make them holy. They will worship Him because He pours out His Holy Spirit on them and reveals Christ dying for them (Zech. 12:10).

That fallen man has lost communion with God is proved by Adam's reaction immediately he and Eve had eaten of the forbidden fruit. They made themselves aprons of fig leaves and when they heard God approaching them they hid themselves from His presence (Gen. 3:8). They could not worship Him till He made them a covering of skins from a beast that He, the Lord Jehovah, had Himself slain and He threw about them to cover their nakedness (Gen. 3:21). In this He signified that we as sinners can only come to Him when we are covered with the Righteous Christ, that is we must come to Him in Christ [Greek: εν Χριστω]. The Apostle Paul by the Holy Spirit frequently uses this phrase to describe the blessings that the believer enjoys from God (Eph. 1:3ff.).

That the beast which was slain for their covering was slain by Jehovah Himself and then thrown about our first parents was a further revelation that sin had so completely incapacitated Adam - and us - that everything that was needed to worship God must come from Him alone. Here is a contrast between Adam's vain attempt to cover his and Eve's nakedness and what Jehovah did Himself. In Genesis 3:7 we read of what Adam and Eve did: "...they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons." In verse 21 the Holy Spirit records what Jehovah did: "Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them." It is clear that our first parents were not commanded to slay the beast and flay it in order to cover themselves. The LORD did everything for them. This is very important because it intimated that when the Lord Jesus came to die for sinners on the cross it was all the work of God. He decreed it from before the foundation of the world. When the blessed Lord was born He came by His own free will according to the eternal decree: "Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me." (Psa. 40:7). When our Lord Christ finally died on the cross he did not die of the crucifixion, even though He died on the cross, but because He voluntarily gave up His ghost (Matt. 27:50). He died at the Father's own hand (Zech. 13:7).

By redeeming our first parents by clothing them with the skins of a beast that He had slain, God revealed that we are brought out of the pit wherein there is no water by the blood of the (everlasting) covenant (Zech. 9:11, Heb. 13:20). This blood was a promise and seal of all future promises. The Lord's people have nothing if it is not purchased by the blood of Christ. In shedding blood in order to redeem our first parents the LORD revealed that there can be no worship if there is no shedding of blood; there is no worship if we do not come to God by Christ and in Christ. He revealed that only those whom the Lord has chosen are included in this Covenant of Grace.

This was true of Abel and Cain. In revealing to us that the LORD had respect to Abel and his offering (Gen. 4:4), God revealed that first He has respect unto the person. Why? Because He was pleased to choose his elect from all eternity. Having chosen them, he revealed His way of worship by the blood of the covenant, the blood of the firstling of the flock. Was Cain completely ignorant? No, not completely, because the LORD also appeared to him and told him of the sacrifice lying at the door (Gen. 4:7). The phrase "sin lieth at the door" can be taken in three different ways, and all are correct. First, there was a warning of the power of sin. By nature as Adam's child, he was under the power of sin. To yield to it would be to confirm his death. Secondly, it referred to the sin-offering. This phrase was an O.T. shorthand, telling Cain of God's answer to the power of sin. God was telling Him that He has provided an answer to the power of sin by providing a sin offering and telling him that he only needed to open the door. Thirdly the LORD revealed the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Saviour and Deliverer.

This was also true of the Patriarchs, they all offered a bloody sacrifice. When the LORD chose them it was by the blood of the (everlasting) covenant and they responded by the shedding of blood. The sacrifices that they offered were always in response to the LORD appearing to them. He always made Himself known to them by the Lord Jesus Christ and the blood of the everlasting covenant.

In the elaborate system of Tabernacle Worship instituted by Jehovah Himself, the shedding of the sacrificial blood was the central and most important feature. Here lies the reason for the importance of the whole burnt offering (Lev. 1). All the sacrifices revealed one or other aspect of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ and the blood of the everlasting covenant. The whole burnt offering, however, was the only sacrifice that always had to be offered in conjunction with the other ones. The reason was that the death of Christ, totally consumed by the wrath of God the Father, was central to all the worship of God. The Lord's People were given no choice. They were strictly forbidden either to add or subtract from this worship. It was the sin of future generations that they added to it, particularly the Baal worship as we read in the Bible from Judges onward. This was a supreme provocation of the Most High and was the sin that finally brought about the destruction of the Temple and their captivity in Babylon. The sin of worshipping Baal and the other deities of the surrounding nations was a denial that fallen man was a sinner and that he could worship Jehovah in any other way than having the righteousness of Christ about him. It was will-worship, the proud attempt of proud man to worship God in his own way. Our holy God, however, would have none of it. Those, however, who believed in Him, worshipped God in His revealed way. This was the significance of Elijah's confrontation with the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18) and later on of the life of the godly Kings of Judah (2 Kings 18-20; 22, 23).

A further revelation concerning true worship is found in Nathan's reply to David when he wanted to build the Temple. God through the prophet refused him permission but David went on to pray and to give thanks to God for His faithfulness in appointing Solomon to do it. He concludes his prayer with the words; "The LORD of hosts is the God of Israel, even a God to Israel" (1 Chron. 17:24). This phrase opens up a completely new relationship between God and His elect. God had made the same promise to Abraham when He gave him the sign and seal of circumcision (Gen. 17:7). In this the LORD showed that He would not only reveal His eternal Covenant to them but that He would undertake to perform His elect's part in keeping the Covenant. This was their security. It is still ours.

Solomon also was one of the elect and at the commandment of God he built the Temple according to the pattern given to David. In 2 Chron. 6 we read of his prayer at the dedication of the Lord's House, and He was clearly looking at Him Who dwelt between the cherubim, and he prays that the Lord would keep a watch over them "day and night" (v. 20). He repeated the truth that David had in Psalm 121:3, 4 where he knew that the LORD neither slumbers, nor sleeps. Clearly he was addressing Him, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who ever lives to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25).

A remarkable thing happened when Moses first reared up the Tabernacle. Fire came down to consume the sacrifice (Lev. 9:24). God repeated this gift of grace when David offered up his sacrifice at the altar he built at the threshing floor of Ornan (1 Chron. 21:25, 26). Later on when Solomon had dedicated the Temple at Jerusalem God answered him by fire from heaven (2 Chron. 7:1). These are significant incidents because they reveal to us the absolute necessity of the Holy Spirit in order to the worship of God. The only ones that receive Him are the elect. This is why when the Holy Spirit fell on the first disciples he came in the form of cloven tongues like as of fire (Acts 2:3).

The Lord's People always considered that being cut off from the public ordinances was a solemn judgment of God and therefore they cried out after these ordinances. In Psalm 42, we read of David's panting after the tabernacle worship, and while Jonah was in the fish's belly he directed his prayer toward His holy temple (Jon. 2:4). This was their faith. They knew that the only way to worship their God was by the blood of the everlasting covenant and this was their faith in the coming Messiah. If they could not worship God with actual sacrifices they had to do so by faith looking to the holy temple; "Looking unto Jesus" (Heb. 12:2).

The destruction of the first temple proved a great problem to the godly, because God had made no alternative provision to worship Him when the temple was destroyed. Hence the jubilations recorded by Ezra when the second temple was rebuilt (Ezra 6:16-22). At last they were free to worship God as He had ordained. Artaxerxes was only fulfilling, albeit unwittingly, the eternal purpose of Jehovah.

It is the great tragedy of the Truth that when our blessed Lord came into the world, His own People did not receive Him. This was their great sin, and it provoked the apostle Paul to great heaviness and continual sorrow of heart that his people had rejected the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 9:1,2). Our blessed Lord had told them that their great sin was that they did not believe on Him (John 16:9). He was the fulfilment of all the worship and therefore when He died the Temple was finally destroyed.

Worshipping God is not something that we can take into our heads to do when and how we like. Proud man likes to think that God is at his beck and call and so invents his own worship. But his cries and prayers go no further than the ceiling. He may cut himself like Baal's priests did - but no answer came (1 Kings 18:25-29). It is otherwise with the Lord's people, God's elect. They cry unto Him and He hears them. The answer is not always exactly what they ask but the Lord gives them something better (Rom. 8:26). What is their secret? They come because they have been chosen from eternity; they come because they have been called; they come because they come in Christ; they come because they are taught by the Holy Spirit.