Worship Lessons from Abraham
1 Chronicles 15:1–16; Genesis 14
Samuel Lesson #144
August 28, 2018
“Father, tonight as we come together we are reminded that You are a holy God. You are the God Who created all things. As a holy God You are unique. You are distinct. You are one-of-a-kind, and You are perfect in Your righteousness and Your justice.
“As we come together to worship You this is not some common experience. We come to reflect our submission to You, our desire to learn Your Word, to think about who You are more profoundly, and that will impact our thinking and our lives.
“Father, we pray as we study Your Word tonight and continue our study of worship, that You will help us understand these trends, as different things are introduced as we go through Genesis, that become central to worship down through the Old Testament and on into the New Testament.
“Though the forms may change a little, the basic ideas are present and continue down in the worship of the Church Age. Help us to understand these things in their application for us in Christ’s name. Amen.”
As we are studying worship we’re going to get into Abraham and Jacob. If the pastor’s not too long-winded on some aspects of this, then we might make it through to the end of Genesis today. But I wouldn’t hold your breath. You never know what is going to come up.
We have been studying in the last few lessons about worship in the perfect state of paradise, before there’s any sin, what happens when sin is introduced, and how that breaks fellowship with God. And then how God introduces what is necessary in order to restore that fellowship.
What we see in these rather terse chapters, and as I pointed out many times, there’s a lot more that was going on in these chapters than what we’re told about. We could probably fill a whole book of fifty or sixty chapters just talking about what happens in Genesis 1, 2, and 3 that we’re not told about.
But what we do see is that certain things start to be introduced in Genesis 3 and 4. We are not told why, we are not told how they learned about some things, and it continues that way through Genesis.
We will see the introduction of sacrifice with the burnt offering with Noah and that it involves clean animals. But we never learn how Noah came to understand which animals were clean and which were unclean.
There are other things that happen along the way, and we’re not told how these things came into practice. So, we must assume that there was divine revelation that introduced these things into practice.
We make this assumption because as we go forward out of Genesis and into Exodus, in the Mosaic Law, we see that many of these practices become legislated and are integral to the worship of the tabernacle and the temple in the Age of Israel during the dispensation of the Law.
Many of them become part of the worship of the church. They change their form and structure a little bit because we’re not worshiping at a tabernacle or a temple anymore.
We are the temple of the Holy Spirit and there are changes, but there are certain principles that proceed and endure throughout all the dispensations.
One thing we learned in Genesis 3 is that failure to know the Word leads to a breakdown in worship. That’s really important because when we talk about failure to know the Word, one of the things that we ended with last time was the idea of calling on the name of the Lord. And that begins with the descendants of Seth at the end of Genesis 4.
We talked about that, that calling on the name of the Lord is really a proclamation about who God is and what He has done. It is teaching about the character and the attributes of God, talking about His essence, praising Him for His essence.
That proclamation is integral to the reception of revelation from God, so that we can talk and proclaim about His essence.
In fact, in many cases as we look at instances of worship as we go through Genesis, there is a preceding appearance, a theophany, a revelation of God through dreams or visions prior to the response of the worship.
Worship is always related to revelation, to content, to the details of what God has revealed. It’s not people just generating their own.
There is another path that I’m not going to spend a lot of time tracing. I will mention it here and there as we go along, and that’s the development of false worship.
Worship that has its history through the period before the flood of Noah, and also afterword, that takes many of the ideas that we see present in the Scripture and then distorts and perverts them.
The first thing we learn is that Eve doesn’t know exactly what God has said, as her reiteration regarding His prohibition demonstrates. She is duped, deceived, by the serpent because of her ignorance. That causes the breakdown of worship in the Garden.
Second, that sin must be dealt with before worship can take place. After that sin, before man can have rapport with God restored, God had to cover Adam and Eve with animal skins.
I pointed out that the word used means a complete covering. I think that’s a picture of the imputation of righteousness based on a substitutionary sacrifice. It foreshadows what ultimately will take place at the Cross.
The idea of sacrifice is necessary in order to deal with the sin problem so that the relationship, rapport with God, can be restored.
The third thing that we have learned is that worship is defined by God and not by man. It is not based on how we feel.
Again and again we see so many examples throughout history, as well as in our own culture, where worship is defined by how somebody feels about God.
“It lifts me up. It makes me feel closer to God.” That doesn’t have anything to do with it. There are a lot of people who feel very close to whatever divine thing they worship—in Buddhism, Hinduism, or New Age mysticism.
Whatever it is, it makes people feel better. But that isn’t the biblical criterion. The biblical criterion is that it has to be in line with what God has revealed.
We see that worship is based on sacrifice because of sin. There is definitely the indication that develops that sacrifice has something to do with the payment of sin. We don’t see that really developed until later.
We see the implication of a sacrifice at the end of Genesis 3. We see Cain and Abel bringing an offering to God at the beginning of Genesis 4. We see a sacrifice by Noah when they get off of the ark. We’ll talk a bit more about that.
We see Abraham moving through the land and building altars. There’s a sacrifice and he makes proclamation in the name of the Lord all through Genesis. There is progressive revelation that takes place as we learn more and more about worship.
But remember, when Israel receives the Pentateuch, when Moses is writing this, when they receive it, they already have a much more sophisticated, informed knowledge of sacrifice by 1446 BC. It isn’t news to them.
When he’s writing there’s an assumption that they know what he’s talking about long before the narrative, or the story, defines and fully explains it.
Last, we saw that worship leads to the proclamation of God’s character. It explains who God is, that it is not just the ritual.
That’s what a lot of people do. They put the significance in the ritual. I’ll explain this a little more tonight.
One of the things that we see happening in a lot of churches today is that they have these forms that developed in Judaism and in Christianity, and they do those. But they don’t believe or understand the foundational reasons for those forms anymore.
They don’t believe in prayer, so they go through various mystical exercises. There is incense and there are candles. There’s nothing wrong with incense and candles, but they aren’t explained. They don’t have any idea where that came from.
They don’t have any idea why they do that. They just do it because the ritual, in and of itself, has significance. What we see in Scripture is that ritual had to be explained.
It’s like general revelation, Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” But you have to have special revelation to truly interpret general revelation. Nonverbal pictures can only go so far in communicating something. There has to be specificity in revelation to understand what it truly means. Ritual without explanation, without understanding, is empty.
We talked about sacrifice. We talked a little bit about the significance of sacrifice and what is important about sacrifice. That sacrifice is inherent to having a relationship with God.
A couple of things come out of this. Fundamentally, sacrifice is something we bring to God, something we offer to God.
It’s not to be done to be observed by other people. It is private. It is done as a sign of submission and for the purpose of exalting God.
It’s not done for the purpose of exalting ourselves. In the time of Jesus, the Pharisees got things out of kilter because it was all about them and their show of their sacrifice, the show of giving, the show of how many times a day they prayed.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus rebukes them for that. He said that prayer and giving should be done in private, because the only person that needs to see that is God and not man. We are not doing it for human approval.
The second thing we learn about sacrifice is that it is viewed as a gift. We are giving something to God. It’s a token of gratitude to God.
As we see the sacrifices in Genesis 4, where Cain and Abel bring these minchah, sacrifices to God, that is at the end of a specific period of time. Apparently at the end of the harvest, because Cain is bringing in of the fruits of the harvest, thinking that that will impress God.
It’s designed to give thanks to God, to express thanks to God for what He has done, what He has provided.
The third thing we learned is that we see that sacrifice is the basis for fellowship with God. That is when it begins to relate to the payment for sin.
There is the sin payment. There are sacrifices later for cleansing of sin. And there are sacrifices that are gifts of gratitude, tokens of appreciation, or the payment of tribute to God, because He’s blessed us in a certain way.
We see the next sacrifice brought in Genesis 8. At the end of the Flood Noah sacrifices. As I pointed out earlier, how did Noah know what was clean and what was unclean? We can infer, I think legitimately, that it’s because God had revealed this to man long before and so they knew it.
We don’t know what that was, when that occurred, or the details of it. But when God told him to take unclean animals in pairs, and clean animals by seven onto the ark, Noah didn’t say, “Well, exactly what does that mean Lord? Please define clean and unclean for me.”
He already knew what that was. We see that the reason he had the odd number of clean animals was because he took from the clean animals.
They were the animals that were appropriate for sacrifice, and he took of the extra clean animals, the seventh of each one, and those were the animals that he offered to God in sacrifice.
This is described in Genesis 8:20, “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.”
Now think about that for a minute. There were a lot of clean animals, not as many as there were unclean, but there were a number of different clean animals, not just sheep, goats, and cattle.
There were a number of clean animals and he “took of every clean animal and every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.”
This is the first time we’ve had the idea of a burnt offering, or that vocabulary, introduced in Genesis. Obviously, this was something that had been practiced before he went onto the ark.
He knew what a burnt offering was. He knew what its significance was, and he’s offering burnt offerings. This is a sign of gratitude to God for preserving them through the cataclysm of the Flood.
Genesis 8:21, “And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma. Then the LORD said in His heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.’ ” As a divine response to Noah’s sacrifice God is going to enter into a covenant and bless Noah. That is at the beginning of Genesis 9.
One of the things I want to go back to is what takes place as a result of this judgment, what happens. The cause of this judgment isn’t just that human beings were sinful—they were that.
They were sinful in a particular way that’s described in Genesis 6:1–3. If you want to see an expansion of this into the New Testament you can look at passages such as 1 Peter 3:19.
There are passages in 2 Peter as well as in Jude 6–9, which are talking about these angels who left their first estate and went after strange flesh.
In Genesis 6 they are described in terms of their angelic nature. There are the sons of God in Genesis 6:2. This is the terminology that is used in Job 2 to describe all of the angels.
Job 38:7, “… and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” The fact that this judgment at the time of the Flood is repeated and described in 2 Peter, and in Jude, informs us that something bizarre occurred among the angels
Sons of God: that describes angels. They are all called sons of God in the Old Testament. The term bene Elohim in the Hebrew, the sons of Elohim, is a term that is always used to describe these angelic beings.
Angels don’t marry and make babies. Every angel is created individually by God. Therefore, since each one is created by God, they are called the sons of God—God is the One Who directly created them.
These are fallen angels. Genesis 6:2, “that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.”
We studied this several times in different ways, in different passages. But I want to put a dimension to this that I’ve never taught this before, though I thought it many times. I’m going to teach it tonight.
Keep your place there and let’s go to the New Testament, the Epistle to Jude. The Epistle to Jude is right before Revelation. It’s very short and it’s easy to skip right past it. In Jude there is the description of the problem of rebellious believers. That’s what Jude is dealing with— those who were saved. But there are also unbelievers who are apostate.
He’s dealing with that, but he’s using illustrations from the Old Testament to illustrate the certainty of God’s judgment on those, believer or unbeliever, who have gone into idolatry or believers who are apostate. But that is all beside the point.
In Jude 5 he says, “But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.”
That is not talking about belief in God for salvation. It’s talking about the instances when God told the Exodus generation not to do certain things, or to do certain things, and they didn’t believe Him, and they disobeyed Him.
For example, Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron who were priests, were to offer only authorized incense in the tabernacle. Instead they got on Amazon.com and found some better deals on Amazon Prime Day. They thought they had some really good incense. They brought that in because they were defining worship on their own terms.
They thought this incense smelled better than the incense God said to use. They offered this unauthorized incense, and God took their lives instantly. They died because they were blaspheming God in the tabernacle. At the beginning of this age of worship in the tabernacle, and at different ages, God seems to really strike hard those who disobey.
We see that that is probably why God struck Uzzah dead when the ark was jostled as David was bringing it to Jerusalem. There were a bunch of errors that were made.
When that happens there is something new that’s happening. With the ark coming to Jerusalem, that is going to lead to the establishment of the temple on Mount Moriah. And God strikes him dead. The point is you have to do everything the way God says to do it.
In the New Testament, Acts 6, Ananias and Sapphira sell some land and then lie about it. God strikes them dead because they lied against the Holy Spirit.
If God had continued doing this in either the Age of the Law, or in the Church Age, we wouldn’t have too many Christians because a lot of Christians still lie about what they give to the Lord.
There were a lot of apostatized priests who put idols in the temple in the Old Testament. At the beginning of these ages God strikes very hard. That’s what happened in the beginning of the Age of the Law as Israelites disobeyed God.
For example, as they are going into the land, and the spies are going out in Numbers 13, God says to, “Go out and spy out the land and see what I’m going to give to you.”
He doesn’t tell them to see if they can get it because it was God’s prerogative to give it to them. Ten of them disobeyed God, they didn’t believe Him. What happened was that the whole generation had to die.
That’s what’s being talked about in Jude 5.
In Jude 6, “And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode ...”
That’s a really interesting statement. What was their proper domain? That was in the sphere of Heaven obeying God. But as angels, in their angelic makeup
“… but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day.”
That is also going to be paralleled in 2 Peter 3, that this is a terrible problem of this angelic rebellion and infiltration of the human race. They are imprisoned during this day.
And then their sin is compared to Sodom and Gomorrah, and that’s the third example of God’s judgment, Jude 7, “as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these …”
To whom does that pronoun refer? To these angels who left their abode. The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is compared to the sin of these, these fallen angels.
“… in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”
What that is saying is that Sodom and Gomorrah imitated a sexual perversion, and a sexual sin on the part of these angels, that are described in Jude 6. What happens is that back in Genesis 6 there are marriages involved with something demonic, because they are the sons of God who are doing this. It involves sexual perversion.
And when we are back in Genesis 6:2 we are told something else of importance. We are told that “that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were beautiful and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose.”
They are having marriages aren’t they? What kind of marriages are those? They are demonic. They are sexually perverted.
They’re going after strange flesh. There are all kinds of perversion indicated there but is not described in detail.
What we see in terms of God’s description is in Genesis 6:5 it says, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that …” Notice the language here, “every intent,” not a lot, but “… every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
Every and continually—a good translation from the Hebrew. It’s a very strong statement that everything they did was perverted.
So here’s our picture. You have perverted marriages, you have weddings going on, and marriages going on that are sexually deviant and perverted. It involves humans and angels, but probably a lot more than that.
I want you to turn to Matthew 24. This is the Olivet Discourse, as most of you know. We spent a good deal of time when we went through Matthew talking about this.
I presented a paper on this last year to the Pre-Trib Conference. There is a disagreement among dispensationalists as to whether the Rapture is mentioned in Matthew 24, especially after Matthew 24:30. There is disagreement because in Matthew 24:36 there is the statement, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”
I believe that means that at the time Jesus said this we don’t know when the Tribulation will take place, or any specific thing within the Tribulation, because it’s going to come after the Rapture.
The Rapture is imminent. We don’t know when any of that’s going to take place.
Then He makes a comparison, Matthew 24:37, “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.”
If we stop right there, how would you describe the days of Noah?
“The thoughts of man’s heart were evil continually.”
They were involved in a lot of marriages that were demonic and sexually perverted. If you stopped right there and you didn’t know what was coming, your thought would be, “That’s not a good thing, to compare it to the days of Noah, because that was horrible.”
In the next verse, Matthew 24:38, Jesus says, “For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark.”
A lot of people have taken that out of context, ignoring Genesis 6, Jude, and 2 Peter. They think this has to be the Rapture because they’re just going through life as per normal. But on the basis of Genesis 6 they’re not going through life as normal.
On the basis of Jude the marriages are between humans and angels and are sexually perverted. It’s demonic activity.
The statement that Jesus is making here, His listeners knew what kind of marriages were going on in Genesis 6. So when He says they are marrying and giving in marriage, they know that that wasn’t a good thing in Genesis 6.
I think that once we thoroughly understand Genesis 6, Jude, and 2 Peter, we have to come to the conclusion that Jesus’ statement there indicates that in the time prior to the Second Coming of Christ, there will be tremendous sexual perversion and, perhaps, demonic intermarriage all over again.
Those of you who hung in there with me through our three years or so in Revelation—what happens at the midpoint of the Tribulation? Revelation 12–13.
Satan and all the fallen angels, one third of the angels, are thrown out of Heaven to the earth. The picture in the subsequent chapters describes the fact that these demons become visible on the earth during the last half the Tribulation.
As I pointed out when we went through that—this is really bizarre. This is like science fiction stuff. God is bringing all of the evil of the fallen angels and Satan, and all of the evil of mankind, together at one time. The whole judgment that comes in the campaign of Armageddon is a campaign that involves demons, angels, and human beings. God judges all of the fallen creatures, man and angel, at that same time. So that makes perfect sense.
What comes out of this demonic union in Genesis 6 is seen in the history of religions. It is seen in the history of various mythologies—whether Hittite mythology or Roman mythology, going back to ancient Sumerian mythology or Canaanite mythology.
We have these stories, these legends, that came out about these gods and goddesses that came down and had sexual relations with human beings.
In the Canaanite religions El is the chief god, and he’s somewhat old and not very virile. He is being overthrown by his son Baal.
The same thing occurs in Greek and Roman mythology. In Greek mythology the great god is Uranus and his son is Zeus.
Zeus and Jupiter (Roman) are doing the same thing. They are coming in and overthrowing the great god Saturnus or Uranus, or El, it’s all the same person, just different names. And then you have this upstart god getting involved in a lot of different sexual relations with human beings.
Zeus gets involved with Naiobi and as a result she gives birth to Argus who is the King of Argos.
Zeus and Europa, the human daughter of the king of Tyre or Sidon— notice that’s probably brought over into Greek first, and then over into Rome afterwards, but it’s borrowed from the Phoenicians, and that’s where you get the Baal religion and all of those things— and she gives birth to the half-human, half-god Minos, the king of Crete.
Zeus and Alamene—she’s human, he’s the god—she gives birth to Heracles or Hercules who is a demigod. He’s the product of this god/human union.
There are a number of examples of those in literature. To placate these gods, what do they do? They offered sacrifices, built temples, and they put images in those temples.
All those practices go back to a common origin if you understand the Bible. They go back to a common background, but they are perverted and distorted. They all have a germ of truth in them, a measure of truth in them, but they have been twisted and perverted.
For example, when Noah’s sacrifice is told in the Babylonian flood epic, the Gilgamesh epic, Utnapishtim, the Babylonian Noah, builds a sacrifice. All of the Babylonian gods, in the form of flies, come to look at it.
You can read about it in the Ugarit narratives. The flies come down and they swarm all around the sacrifice.
Of course, their chief god is who? Baal, and he is called Baal-zebul. When you get into the New Testament he is called Beelzebub and what does that mean? It means the lord of the flies.
That’s where that comes from. It goes right back to Genesis 6 and the perversion of that story in the Babylonian mythology. There are other things that are also kind of twisted and perverted.
I’ve always joked about this, it’s true. Most people, in our post-distillery world, when they read about strong drink offerings in the old King James Version think of something like vodka, scotch, bourbon, rye whiskey, or something of that nature.
But they didn’t have distilleries like that in the ancient world that we know of. In fact, the Hebrew word that is translated strong drink actually means barley beer.
Beer was very common in the ancient world. It has a lot of nutrients in it. A lot of times when the slaves were going off all they carried with them was their little canteen filled with beer. That was their lunch. It wasn’t as alcoholic as what we have today, but that’s what they had.
We have archeological evidence of these containers taken into Canaanite worship centers and altars where they would leave beer there for the gods. So, you have similarity. What happens now, as we go forward through Genesis, is you have something distinctive taking place with Abraham.
Last time we talked about what’s in a name, and what is talked about in the Old Testament in terms of calling on the name of the Lord.
We saw this in Genesis 4:26, that at the time of Seth’s son Enosh, who is going to be the third generation, “Then men began to call on the name of the LORD.”
And I asked the question, what does that mean?
We traced it through in an overview last time, and I want to talk a little bit more about it now as we get to Abraham in Genesis 12:8, which is a crucial passage.
Genesis 12 is important for a lot of different reasons. It’s where you have the initial promise of God to Abraham in Genesis 12:1–3 where He tells him to leave his home and go to the land that He will show him. He doesn’t tell him where is taking him.
He’s taking him, Genesis 12:1, “… to a land I will show you.”
And He promises him, Genesis 12:2, “I will make you a great nation, I will bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.”
In other words, he will become famous, prosperous, and wealthy. And he says, “You shall be a blessing.” That’s a command. God is saying, “I’m going to take you to a place, and you will be a blessing there.”
And God makes the well-known promise, Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless you and I will curse him who curses you. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
So Abraham departs. He goes to Haran where his family is. He’s not originally a Sumerian; he’d been living in Ur of the Chaldees, which is down in the Persian Gulf. He goes back to northern Syria, which is where his family was from. He’s there for a while until his father dies, and then he continues the journey to the land of Canaan.
In Genesis 12:7 we read, “Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ ”
That’s the first specific land promise that is given.
Then we are told, “And there he built an altar to the LORD, Who has appeared to him.”
What’s interesting there is that in contrast with all these polytheistic religions, they didn’t have gods who appeared to them. This is something different.
We are told in Joshua that Abraham’s family, as they had gone through their movements, had adopted other gods and goddesses in these other cultures, but that they still held onto this God they knew as Yahweh.
And now this God Yahweh Elohim appears to Abraham. None of these other gods ever appeared to anybody. He’s learning something new about this God.
He builds an altar to Him and that’s described in Genesis 12:8, “And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD.”
He’s building an altar there and he is offering a sacrifice on that altar. That’s the only reason you build an altar like that. He is going to offer a sacrifice and he’s going to do something different, but if we look at the text that’s at the beginning of the story of Abraham.
Some fifty years later, just before he’s going to be asked to offer his son Isaac to God, we’re told in Genesis 21:33 that he is south, in Beersheba, and he “planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there called on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God.”
He learned something new about God, that He is eternal. He is life without end. There is a shift that takes place; he’s expanding his understanding and his knowledge of God.
It is important to understand what happens in terms of the expansion of worship under Abraham and under the patriarchs.
Just to remind you, if we go forward to Exodus to understand the concept of what it meant to proclaim the name of the Lord, we are told in Exodus 34:5, that the LORD [YAHWEH] is descending in the cloud to speak to Moses, “and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD [YAHWEH].”
Exodus 34 follows the golden calf incident. This is when Moses had been up on the mountain with God for forty days and forty nights, receiving the Ten Commandments. When Moses comes down, he discovers that the people have convinced Aaron to melt down all their gold and silver jewelry and he’s built this magnificent golden calf and said this is the god who rescued you from slavery in Egypt, bow down and worship him.
The people have given themselves over to idolatry while Moses is receiving the Law, and as a result they have to be judged. He calls on the Levites and they rally to his side. They kill the host of Israelites as divine discipline on the nation for their idolatry.
What is God going to do now? Is He going to wipe everybody out? We have a revelation of Who God is following that sin in Exodus 33–34. Moses is back up on the mountain with God, and next in Exodus 34:5 God is proclaiming His own name. This tells us and informs us about what it means for God to proclaim His name.
Exodus 34:6–7, “And the LORD passed before him [Moses] and proclaimed …”
This is where we learn when the LORD calls on His own name, what does He do? He proclaims this, “YAHWEH, YAHWEH Elohim …”
What is He doing? He is describing His own essence. But notice, in this passage He is describing His essence in terms of the characteristics that relate to the forgiveness of Israel’s sin. He doesn’t go through His omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, and immutability. He is revealing those aspects of His essence that relate to this horrible sin that they committed, and He is talking about His own mercy and forgiveness.
“And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, YAHWEH, YAHWEH Elohim, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth.”
Now that’s good news if you’ve just really blown it in idolatry with the Lord, with the golden calf incident. And now God is proclaiming that He is a God of mercy and grace, and He abounds in goodness and truth.
“… keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin [all the three big words for sin are there so it covers everything], by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children …”
He is not going to do that. He is a God of forgiveness.
In Exodus 33:19, just before this, God is doing the same thing with Moses. Moses has asked to have a closer understanding and revelation of God. God says, “Well, you can’t look directly at Me. You are going to hide back in the corner and I’m going to pass before you.”
Then He describes His essence. He says, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you.”
This tells us again that proclaiming the name of the Lord has to do with revealing His essence and His attributes and describes them.
“I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”
We learn in this episode that God’s character includes mercy, forgiving sin, grace, patience, goodness, and truth. These are God’s attributes, and in fact what happens is that this is such a foundational statement by God that it’s alluded to, referred to, and quoted from again and again through Deuteronomy, through the rest of the Pentateuch, all the way through the psalms, and through the prophets.
It becomes, as it were, a creed. The reason I bring that in is most of us come out of a background where, if you didn’t grow up in some sort of High Church worship where you recited the creeds, then you’re a lot like me. I didn’t grow up with that.
In my first church they recited the Apostles Creed every single Sunday morning. I thought well, that seems like it’s just rote. And it can be rote and routine. You aren’t even engaging your brain.
I was talking to a pastor friend of mine not long ago and he said that it is interesting, as people grow up in High Church, more formal worship, more liturgical, where they are reciting the creeds, that they don’t know what they mean.
This is just what they go over every Sunday morning. They just say it and their minds aren’t engaged. They just kind of go through the motions. It is just ritual without explanation, because they don’t understand what it means. That’s not true in every case, but it is true in a lot of cases.
What we see is this whole idea of reciting what the congregation believes. That didn’t begin with High Church Roman Catholicism or High Church Presbyterianism.
It begins with the Mosaic Law. It begins with Israel. The last couple of Sunday mornings we’ve read the Scriptures responsively.
I remember when I was six, seven, eight, nine years old at Berachah Church that we always read responsively. I think almost every church did, that was common. That was before all these different translations came in. Everybody had the King James Bible so everybody could stand up and read the Scripture responsively when we did that.
I was talking with a couple different people about that and one person said that was so medieval. Well if you have a certain perspective, they did that in the Middle Ages, but they didn’t originate it.
Somebody else said that just seems Roman Catholic. Well, you know it’s the same thing. But they didn’t originate it.
When did responsive reading start? I think it started after Sinai. At least the earliest indication in Scripture would be where? Mount Gerazim and Mount Ebal.
When the Israelites went into the land and conquered Jericho, Ai, and Bethel, they went to Shechem, in the area of Mount Ebal and Mount Gerazim.
With half the tribes on Mount Ebal and half on Mount Gerazim they do antiphonal—that means means one side then the other—recitation of the blessings of the Law and the cursings of the Law.
You know as well as I do that when I’m reading Scripture it’s easy for your brain to tune out. But when you have to read it engages more of your senses than it does if somebody is reading it to you. You pay a little more attention to it.
That’s what was going on in Israel. They didn’t have their own little prayer books so that they could read the blessings and the cursings in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 29. They had to know it by heart, they would recite the blessings and cursings.
Now we come to the psalms. They were sung antiphonally by the way they are laid out. We come to some that have a refrain that is like a chorus that is recited by the congregation.
The priest would say the first line and the congregation would say the second line. This is not legalism. It’s not mandated in Scripture anywhere.
It is where God gives us that freedom within certain strict boundaries to develop, on the basis of our understanding of Scripture, creative ways to worship God.
As soon as I use the word creative, you can think of all kinds of weird stuff that goes on today. That’s because they’re philosophically ignorant, theologically impoverished, and culturally juvenile.
I had a conversation with my dad many, many, years ago. He would ask me these kinds of questions, he would say, “Why do you think people are creative?” “Well, I don’t know.”
He’d say it’s because they think outside the box. They reject boundaries. They don’t accept boundaries. They don’t even accept them as there and they do something different.
But as a Christian you know there is an area out there where there are boundaries. But within those boundaries there is freedom to think, and that’s creativity.
Some of us like those tight little boundaries, and we stay within those boundaries. But the biblical boundaries mean you have to really think about what the Bible says, and what kind of parameters are there.
In our society today we are—here is one of my favorite words—we are epistemologically licentious. We are metaphysically licentious. That means we are idolaters!
In terms of our understanding of ultimate reality we just want to make it up as we go along. In the realm of knowledge, epistemology, we just want to make it up as we go along. We ignore the fact that there are boundaries and that leads to lots of problems.
What we see is that when David is developing worship under the guidance of God, he is developing orchestras and choirs. And it is always in a certain structure.
It’s not just free-flowing creativity. It is creative within that kind of a structure. The same thing happens in churches where you can develop within a certain structure.
I started off talking about how this became a creed and I wanted to put an example of a creed up on the board. Most of you didn’t grow up in Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, High Church Presbyterian or Episcopal churches. Some of you may have.
But if you come out of a more informal church background and you’ve been well taught biblically, then when you recite the creeds, they mean more to you than they do to people in these other churches.
I remember the first time I went to a Presbyterian Church. It was down off the Beltway here, Grace Presbyterian, probably around 1984. I went in and they cited two or three different creeds.
I thought, wow, that’s incredible! Of course, I had spent many years studying church history, and I knew the history behind those creeds, and the bloodshed, and the fighting that occurred to build these fabulous doctrinal statements that are foundational.
These are the foundation for the doctrinal statements we have as churches. They would recite these and I’m thinking this has such meaning, it’s profound.
But most people are just reciting rote, and they are not entering into what it says it all. But listen to this.
THE APOSTLES’ CREED
“I believe in GOD THE FATHER Almighty.”
Great statement, you are starting off with God the Father, He is God Almighty.
“And in JESUS CHRIST, his only Son, our Lord;”
Immediately we are introduced to the Second Person of the Trinity as the Son of God Who is our Lord.
“Who was born by the HOLY SPIRIT of the Virgin Mary;”
We have the acceptance of the virgin conception and birth.
“Was crucified under Pontius Pilate and was buried; The third day He rose from the dead;
He ascended into heaven; and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. And in the HOLY SPIRIT;”
It’s Trinitarian. It’s simple, but it’s a reaffirmation of the basics of what we believe. Whoever wrote this and fine-tuned it—if you’ve ever written anything you know takes a long time to really condense it and get it just right—whoever did this wrote it sometime in the probably mid to late second century.
I’ve heard some people say we should never cite these creeds blah, blah, blah. Well, this is still being recited two thousand years after it was written. That’s how profound this really is. It’s a great condensed version of what we believe.
We look at Exodus 34 and calling on the name of the Lord. It’s a teaching opportunity to remind people of Who God is, His attributes, His sovereignty.
This is what we learn from Abraham. We look at His attributes on this slide and I have inserted holiness. I’ve heard many theologians say, and it influenced me, that holiness is the combination of His righteousness and justice. It is not.
Holiness governs every attribute. It means He is uniquely this way. Nothing else in the universe is like God in His sovereignty. Nothing is like God in His righteousness. Nothing is like God in His justice. Nothing is like God in His love.
That’s what holiness means, it is something unique and distinct. Nothing is like God in His eternality, His knowledge, His omniscience, His omnipresence, His omnipotence, power, His veracity, His immutability.
We go to Genesis 12, looking at this first mention of Abraham building an altar and calling on the name of the Lord. What precedes that is really interesting.
Genesis 12:5, “Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan.”
What does that mean when it says “the people whom they had acquired …”? What is the first thing that comes to your mind? Slaves, right?
That is not what it says. Different language is used when talking about the acquisition of slaves, different verbs.
The verb use here is asah, to make. Literally it is saying, “those whom they had made in Haran.”
How do you make a soul? That’s the literal word there. It says, “the people.” It’s “the souls whom they had made in Haran.”
How do you make a soul? Well, we know that Abram and Sarai didn’t make any souls because they were childless.
They made a lot of souls there. How did they make them? They proclaimed the name of the Lord. These were converts to their worship of Yahweh.
When we look at the passage that comes up in Genesis 14 where Abram raised an army to go rescue his nephew Lot, he takes with him three hundred and eighteen young men, soldiers in his own household.
He’s not taking the old men who have been with him for thirty or forty years. He’s taking three hundred and eighteen young men who are battle ready to go against the four kings who invaded the land.
The point that I am making is that he’s got a retinue of maybe a thousand or more people that are traveling with him. This is like a huge Bedouin tribe travelling with him.
And of those he has three hundred and eighteen young men who were ready to go into battle. There were others that were with them, the sons of the Hittites that were living there in the Hebron area, and they go with him.
So he has more than just the three hundred and eighteen, but those were born in his household.
These aren’t slaves. These are those who have been converted with him. They are going into battle.
What we learn from looking at this initial example is that worship is proclamation, talking about Who God is. Abraham, when he builds his altar, is telling people about God.
The final thing I want to talk about tonight is that when we are engaged in ritual it can be interpreted all kinds of ways.
If you were to walk into Shechem in 2100 BC, and you look on one side of the road, there’s this Canaanite who has a rock altar. He’s burning an animal on the altar.
You look on the other side of the road and there’s Abraham and he’s got a rock altar. He is burning an animal on that altar. How are you going to know what the difference is? By what they are saying.
You listen to the Canaanite, he is saying one thing. You listen to Abraham, and he is proclaiming the God that he worships, the singular solitary Almighty God of the universe.
He is talking about His essence. His worship is a proclamation, talking about who God is, how to have a relationship with Him, and how to live and glorify Him. It is evangelistic at that time.
This is what Abraham does as he goes through the entire land.
We will stop there. I didn’t make it out of Genesis. I knew it wouldn’t happen. We will come back and start with the Genesis 14 next time.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things, and to think through the development of worship in the early centuries of the Age of Israel.
“For building our own understanding of what it means to worship You, to proclaim who You are. To tell others who You are, what You have done, and how to have a relationship with You. And how to grow and mature in that relationship.
“Help us to understand these things. And may we contemplate them in such a way that it changes the way we think about what we are doing when we come together as a body of believers to worship You. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”