(This study is an expansion of the worship section in my book, “A History of Man’s Quest for Immortality,” Fifth Estate Publishing, 2007)
On June 9, 2010, we began a journey through the history of true worship. It was an expansion on a book published three years earlier that looked at a history of man’s quest for immortality. That book looks at the many ways the human race has used to search for the illusive immortality that escapes our reach in this life. This new journey into the history of worship looks specifically at the kind of relationship God wants to have with His created beings.
In our last study, A History of Worship – Pt 8, we looked at the amazing story of God’s meeting with the children of Israel on the “third day” (Exodus 19). It was on that day that God spoke to Israel and began to show them what it mean for them to worship Him. God quickly introduced His children to the Ten Commandments that would define the nation of Israel for generations.
The Ten Commandments were far more than just ten rules the people of Israel would memorize and attempt to obey. Those Commandments were at the very heart of the holy worship they would experience for their Creator.
“Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off.” Exodus 20:18
I would tremble, too! What an awesome sight. God came down from Heaven and settled on Mount Sinai in full view of the people of Israel. This was no secret ceremony where only selected initiates were allowed to attend. This was a full-on, public event to drive home the importance of what it meant to be a child of the Living God.
The people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the smoking mountain. Can you see that in your imagination? Can you hear it? You are standing with your family and tribe and all the other families and tribes of Israel at the foot of the great mountain Sinai, the same area where God first met with Moses in the burning bush (called Horeb in Exodus 3:1). The mountain (traditional location) is more than 7,000 feet high and made of solid granite, but the Fire of God’s Presence is so hot that the big mountain actually smokes from the intense heat. You feel that heat. You also close your eyes because of the bright flashes of lightning and cover your ears because of the loud thunderings and the sound of the trumpet. You find it difficult to stand because of the vibration that courses beneath your feet like an earthquake. What a way to meet your Father!
The children of Israel were afraid to hear from God at first, but Moses attempted to calm their fears.
“Then they said to Moses, ‘You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.’ And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.” Exodus 20:19-20
I find that very insightful for Israel and us today. God wants us to fear Him so we will not sin against Him, but He doesn’t want us to be afraid. That’s so close to the kind of relationship children should have with their earthly fathers. The kind of fear God wanted Israel to have was that of earthly children for their Heavenly Father. A vital aspect of true worship is fear, and they should have been afraid. Israel was a nation of sinful people, called out of sinful Egypt to serve the Holy God of Heaven.
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘You have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. You shall not make anything to be with Me—gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves. An altar of earth you shall make for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you. And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone; for if you use your tool on it, you have profaned it. Nor shall you go up by steps to My altar, that your nakedness may not be exposed on it.” Exodus 20:22-26
Israel was quite familiar with the making of gods of silver and gold from their days of slavery in Egypt. That’s the worship experience Israel had known for centuries. God, the True God not made by the hands of sinful men, would not stand for any gods of silver or gold to be “with” Him – to be placed by His side or on a par with Him. God was Heavenly and thus far above anything made by men. Israel was to build God an altar of earth or altar of stone that had not been hewn and did not have steps. If Israel used any tool to change the nature of the stone, they would profane (defile) the altar. They were also not allowed to go up by steps to God’s altar because their nakedness would be exposed on it – a reminder of the day when the sinfulness of sin was exposed by Adam and Eve’s nakedness (Genesis 3:7).
God also made it clear to Israel that He would determine where they would build an altar. “In every place where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you.” Israel would build the altar where God recorded His Name – where He established a memorial of His Name. God’s choice is what made the altar holy. He is the One Who sanctifies – another worship lesson.
The altar in the wilderness was not the first altar built to worship God (e.g. Noah’s altar, Genesis 8:20; Abraham’s altar, Genesis 12:7; Isaac’s altar, Genesis 26:25; Jacob’s altar, Genesis 33:20), but it was the first lesson in how to build one to God’s specifications. Whenever God tells people in the Bible how to make or do something, take special note. It may be a lesson in how He wants His children to worship Him.
[You can read more about God giving Israel His Law on pages 597 – 622 of A History of Man’s Quest for Immortality.]
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.”