What’s the big deal about going to church to worship God? We can worship Him in private – right?
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that from people, but it’s a lot. Here’s the most used line people have given me about why they don’t go to church: “I don’t have to go to church to worship God. I can worship Him in the woods.” My response – “Do you? Do you go into the woods to worship God?” Their response is usually that it’s none of my business. In other words – “no.” People who don’t go to church usually don’t worship God anywhere else. Not that they can’t worship God outside of a church environment – they just don’t.
People can worship God in private – in the woods or on a beach or a mountain top – and they should. I wrote about that last week (The Strength To Go On). Private worship is vital to the Christian life, but that’s not where God says we should stop in our worship of Him. He also wants us to gather with other believers and join in corporate worship. How do I know that? In the words of a children’s song – “The Bible tells me so.”
The worship of God began in Heaven – long before God created the earth and people. Who were those first worshipers of God? Angels! I love to read about angelic worship of God because it’s a beautiful thing to see – and hear. I’ve often said that Heaven is very “noisy place.” Thousands, possibly millions, of angels singing at the top of their lungs, playing trumpets, shouting out the great news about the Holiness of God.
“Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights! Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts! Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all you stars of light!” Psalm 148:1-3
So, what about when God created the earth and people to inhabit it? Was worship on His Mind? Absolutely! God created human beings to worship Him on earth in a similar way to how angels worship God in Heaven. Remember that God made humans “just a little lower than the angels” and “crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:5) Even though Satan sinned against God in Heaven and Adam sinned against God on earth, worship is still foremost in God’s Mind and Heart today and it’s been that way for thousands of years.
Corporate worship on earth had its beginning with the family of man. Adam and Eve led Cain, Abel, Seth and their other sons and daughters to worship God. Fathers and mothers through history have told their children about God and what He has said and would lead them to worship God. This family worship of the True God developed alongside the worship of false gods in ancient temples around the world. People would make wooden and stone images of their gods, place them in elaborately decorated shrines and temples and pray to them. Ancient people even dressed their wooden and stone gods in clothing, left food and water for them, and gave them baths. (You can read more about how ancient civilizations worshiped their gods in my book, “A History of Man’s Quest for Immortality.”) The True God continued to meet with His people privately and in the family structure. That’s what you’ll find in the lineage of Seth, Noah and Abraham: individuals and families worshiping the True God.
God led Jacob and his family from the land of Canaan to Egypt to provide for them during a great famine that plagued that part of the world for seven years. The Lord did all of that through the obedience of one man – Joseph – one of Jacob’s 12 sons. The Book of Genesis tells us that the number of people in Jacob’s family at that time were 70. Jacob, also known as Israel, died in Egypt. So did Joseph and all of his brothers and their wives and children. In fact, the people of Israel lived in Egypt for about 400 years. Those years were good at the beginning, but bad at the end. The children of Israel had the promises God had given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and they worshiped God, but they also lived in a civilization that worshiped hundreds of gods and many of the Israelites participated in that worship as well.
When life in Egypt became unbearable, the people of Israel cried out to God to deliver them and He heard them. God called to Moses from a burning bush and told him what He was going to do for His people:
“Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” Exodus 3:9-10
What was God’s Purpose in bringing His people out of Egypt? Service and worship – “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” (Exodus 3:12) What did God tell Moses to say to pharaoh about letting the Israelites leave Egypt? – “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD: ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me.” (Exodus 4:22-23). Moses and his brother Aaron met with the people of Israel in Egypt and told them that God was going to deliver them out of the wicked hand of pharaoh. What did they do when they heard that? “So the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the children of Israel and that He had looked on their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshiped.” (Exodus 4:31)
God called Israel out of Egypt for the purpose of serving and worshiping Him. The children of Israel were familiar with their family worship and the temple and tomb (pyramid) worship of the Egyptians, but they had never experienced the kind of worship God was going to teach them in the desert. I highly recommend that you read through the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Make a note of every verse of Scripture that deals with Israel’s worship and service to God. It is stunning! Most of what God taught and commanded the children of Israel in the desert dealt with two primary principles: love God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength and love their neighbor as themselves. God told them to fear Him and obey all His commandments – “that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:29)
What kind of corporate worship did God design for the children of Israel? It was quite elaborate and surrounded the concepts of covenants, sacrifices and offerings along with the amazing Presence of God with His people. God provided for the people’s needs and protected them from their enemies. That was God’s part of His Covenant with them. The people’s part was to obey God’s Law and be faithful to Him.
“And God spoke all these words, saying: ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Exodus 20:1-6
God is Jealous (Hebrew – El Kanno) and demands faithfulness from His people. That is an important aspect of worship that has not changed in the 3,500 years since God gave His Law to Israel. The Lord God will not share the worship of His people with any other god.
Holiness – being set apart for sacred service – is a key element in Exodus. Moses ascended Mount Sinai to hear from God about how the people of Israel would worship the Lord. God spoke to Moses for 40 days and 40 nights as the Lord laid out in great detail how the people would make sacrifices and offerings to Him and how they would build a sacred place (tabernacle sanctuary) where God would dwell among them. This special place would contain insights for the people of Israel about Heaven.
The offerings began with the materials for the tabernacle: gold, silver, bronze, blue, purple, scarlet thread, fine linen, goats’ hair, fam skins, dyed red, badger skins, acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and sweet incense, onyx stones, stones to be set in the ephod and in the priest’s breastplate.
Next was the building of the Ark of the Covenant from acacia wood – 2 1/2 cubits long, 1 1/2 cubits wide, 1 1/2 cubits high – overlaid with pure gold inside and out with a molding of gold all around, cast with four rings of gold for the four corners, holes in the rings on the sides of the ark so the ark could be carried by poles that were not to be taken out. The Ark would hold the Covenant that God would give Moses.
Next was the Mercy Seat made of pure gold – 2 1/2 cubits long and 1 1/2 cubits wide – and two cherubim made of gold that would be at two ends of the Mercy Seat. The wings of the cherubim would stretch out and cover the Mercy Seat. The faces of the cherubim would face each other, toward the Mercy Seat. The Mercy Seat would be placed on top of the Ark of the Covenant.
“And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel.” Exodus 25:22
The Lord continued to give Moses details for the building of the Table of Showbread – along with it dishes, pans, pitchers and bowls, all to be made with pure gold – the Golden Lampstand – also made of pure gold – along with branches, bowls, knobs, lamps, wick-trimmers, and trays – all made of pure gold – the Curtains of Linen, the Curtains of Goat’s Hair (“to be a tent over the tabernacle”) – Boards and Sockets for the Tabernacle, overlaid with gold – the Veil hung on four pillars of acacia wood overlaid with gold, with hooks made of gold and sockets of silver.
“And you shall hang the veil from the clasps. Then you shall bring the ark of the Testimony in there, behind the veil. The veil shall be a divider for you between the holy place and the Most Holy.” Exodus 26:33
There’s more – a lot more – about a screen for the door of the Tabernacle, a Bronze Altar, the Courts of the Tabernacle, the Gate of the Court and Oil for the Lamp.
Then comes details about the Priesthood of Israel with their special garments. Why? For their sacred service to the Almighty God.
“Now take Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister to Me as priest, Aaron and Aaron’s sons: Nadab, Abihu, Elemazar, and Ithamar. And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. So you shall speak to all who are gifted artisans, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments, to consecrate him, that he may minister to Me as priest. And these are the garments which they shall make: a breastplate, an ephod, a robe, a skillfully woven tunic, a turban, and a sash. So they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons, that he may minister to Me as priest.” Exodus 28:1-4
What’s this all about? Holiness to the Lord God of Israel! Everything about worship is about God. The high priest of Israel had to be clothed appropriately to go into the Presence of God to present Him with the offerings of His people.
“You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. There shall be an opening for his head in the middle of it; it shall have a woven binding all around its opening, like the opening in a coat of mail, so that it does not tear. And upon its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet, all around its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe all around. And it shall be upon Aaron when he ministers, and its sound will be heard when he goes into the holy place before the LORD and when he comes out, that he may not die. ‘You shall also make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet: HOLINESS TO THE LORD. And you shall put it on a blue cord, that it may be on the turban; it shall be on the front of the turban. So it shall be on Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall always be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.” Exodus 28:31-38
The pattern God gave Moses for the Tabernacle was a foreshadowing of the Person and Ministry of Jesus Christ.
“Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer. For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, ‘See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.’ But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.” Hebrews 8:1-6
The Book of Hebrews is amazing in its insight into why God did what He did the way He did. I highly recommend every Christian take 6 months to a year and study Hebrews alongside of Exodus. You will see God’s Plan for the ages in a new light. The Tabernacle comes alive with phenomenal meaning to every believer. Here are some thoughts from Hebrews 9 –
” … the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience— concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.” vss 8-10
The Tabernacle with its blood sacrifices, washings and ordinances could not cleanse the conscience – could not save the soul. It was a type, a figure, of Christ Who would come to cleanse and save.
“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” vss 11-14
The earthly Tabernacle was a figure of what Christ would do on earth and in Heaven.
“For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives. Therefore not even the first covenantwas dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.’ Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission. Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another— He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” vss 16-28
Jesus entered Heaven to appear in the Presence of God for us! He is the great Mediator through His own Blood. Keep these verses, along with what Moses wrote in Exodus, in mind as we look at the Tabernacle, what was in it, and how all of it pointed to the coming of the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world!
Jesus told His disciples that He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one could come to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). This pattern – Way, Truth, Life – is found in the Tabernacle.
The Tabernacle area was divided into three parts: 1) Outer Court 2) Holy Place 3) Most Holy Place
1) The Outer Court contained the Brazen Altar for the blood sacrifice of an unblemished offering. Surrounding the Outer Court was a great Fence that no one could enter – unless they came through the one opening God provided. The Gate to the Outer Court was only 30 feet wide – “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) The Gate that led to the Tabernacle was narrow- and it was the only way in – Jesus is God’s only Way to salvation – “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
The Brazen Altar was open to all of the people, but only the priests of Aaron’s lineage could make the offerings. The Hebrew root for “altar” means “to slay, slaughter.” The Latin word “alta” means “high.” The Brazen Altar was placed on a mound higher than the surrounding area – a pre-figure of Jesus being “lifted up” – “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.’ This He said, signifying by what death He would die.” (John 12:31-33)
The priests used the Laver for cleansing after the death of the sacrifice – a cleansing that set apart for holy service what was cleaned. They washed before entering the Holy Place. Jesus does the same for Christians – “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27) Jesus shed His Blood for us on the Altar of the Cross, then sanctified and cleansed us with the washing of water by the Word. Because of Jesus, we appear holy and without blemish to the Father. The Laver was located half way between the Brazen Altar and the Holy Place.
Entrance —–> Brazen Altar —–> Laver ——> Holy Place
2) The Holy Place contained the Table of Showbread, Candlestick, and Altar of Incense. The Holy Place was where the priests communed with God through these three types of Christ.
The Table of Showbread was food for the priests – even as Jesus was the Bread of Life – “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ Then they said to Him, ‘Lord, give us this bread always.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:32-35) The Table of Showbread was placed on the right side of the Holy Place and held 12 loaves of Bread – one for each of the 12 tribes of Israel. The priests baked the Bread with fine flour and placed it on the Table for a week. The priests removed the Bread from the Table every Sabbath Day and ate it in the Holy Place, because the Bread was holy. The priests then baked new Bread and placed the 12 fresh loaves on the Table of Showbread for another week. The Showbread was also known as the “Bread of the Presence” because it was always to be in the presence of the Lord. “Breaking bread” has long been a vital part of fellowship and communion in the human experience – and so it is with God. We fellowship with Him through His Son – the Bread of Life.
The Golden Lampstand (also known as Golden Candlestick and Menorah) stood at the left side of the Holy Place. Artisans hammered it from one piece of pure gold – one central branch with three branches extending from each side for a total of seven branches. The branches looked the branch of an almond tree with buds, blossoms and flowers. There were seven lamps with wicks and olive oil on top of the branches. The priests were to keep the lamps burning continuously. The Golden Lampstand was the only light for the priests in the Holy Place – prefiguring Jesus Christ – “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12) The Prophet John said this of Jesus – “That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.” (John 1:9) The Apostle Paul wrote this about those who believe in Jesus Christ – “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:8)
The Altar of Incense sat in front of the Curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. Four Horns came out of the four corners of the Altar. The priests burned Incense on the Altar at the same time of the daily burnt offerings – morning and evening – as they interceded with God on behalf of the people of Israel. Fire was brought from the Brazen Altar to burn incense on the Altar of Incense. The Incense was to burn continually as a pleasing aroma to God – “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16) The priests placed blood on each of the four Horns once a year on the Day of Atonement.
Altar of Incense
Lampstand of Showbread
3) The Most Holy Place was where God lived with His people – the Life of God shared with His people. God appeared to Israel as a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night – above the Most Holy Place. Only one human being was allowed to enter into the Most Holy Place and live – and that just once a year. It was the Place where God accepted the offering the high priest brought to God on the Day of Atonement. The thick curtain separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place was known as the Veil. It was thick and made of fine linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn. Figures of Cherubim Angels were embroidered on the Veil. The word “veil” in Hebrew means a “divider that hides.” The veil hid the people of Israel from the Presence of God. It was a barrier, a divider, for hundreds of years – until Jesus came as the Lamb of God. The death of Jesus Christ tore down the barrier Veil and opened the way to the Life of God – “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.” (Matthew 27:50-52) The Veil was torn in two from top to bottom – God tore down the barrier from Heaven to earth. In Christ we have access to God – “And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:17-19)
Inside the Most Holy Place were the Ark of the Covenant, the Mercy Seat, and the Golden Cherubim.
The Ark contained the Golden Pot of Manna, Aaron’s Staff that had budded, and the Stone Commandment Tablets God gave Moses. These three items were representative of the Grace of God in the life of Israel. The Ark of the Covenant was where sin met Justice and Mercy. The people of Israel complained about not having enough to eat in the desert, so God fed them Manna from Heaven. The people complained about having to eat the Manna. God had mercy on His people, but they complained. Aaron’s Staff was a reminder of the rebellion of the people of Israel against their high priest, Aaron. God again had mercy on the people and demonstrated that His choice of Aaron as high priest was right. God then directed Moses to place Aaron’s staff inside the Ark – “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Bring Aaron’s rod back before the Testimony, to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put their complaints away from Me, lest they die.” (Numbers 17:10) The Stone Commandment Tablets were a reminder to the people of Israel that they were sinners in need of God’s forgiveness because they continually failed to obey God’s Word – even though they had all promised they would.
The Mercy Seat was made of pure gold and covered the Ark of the Covenant and the holy items in it. It was the most valuable of all the vessels in the Tabernacle. It represented God’s Mercy that covered the sin of His people, Israel. It prefigured Jesus Christ – Who is the Mercy Seat for His people. “For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:22-26
The Golden Cherubim sat on top of the Mercy Seat and Ark. They were “guardian” angels who supported the Throne of God in Heaven. The images of the Cherubim represented the Holiness and Righteousness of God. They also represented the Guardian Angels God placed at the entrance to the Garden of Eden to keep Adam and Eve and their family of humans from eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and living forever in their sin.
Chapter after chapter after chapter in the Old Testament – hundreds of verses – thousands of words – all about the explicit details of how Israel was to worship their God. Amazing! What God was doing with the children of Israel was bringing a glimpse of Heaven down to earth. For the next 500 years, Israel would carry the Tabernacle from one place to another as God moved His people closer to His permanent home on earth – the Temple of God. We’ll see how Israel worshiped God there in our next study.
Blessings! I pray you enjoy your worship of the One True God.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”