If we want to learn about worship from Israel’s experience in Exile and Restoration, tidy one-to-one parallels between their day and ours are in short supply, especially if we want slippery-slope compromises leading to Laodicean lukewarmness. What we do find are multiple examples of spectacular collapses mixed with God’s daring efforts to adapt to the needs of his fallen people. What happened during Exile and Restoration is a kind of capstone to both processes. But first a quick survey of the history that points the way.
On February 2, 2006, at the National Prayer breakfast in Washington DC, some 3000 people packed a hotel ballroom. President George W. Bush, King Abdullah of Jordan, a host of ambassadors and senators, other foreign dignitaries and many nationally known church leaders were all in attendance. But the main speaker was not one of the famous church leaders or statesmen as is usually the custom at these kinds of gatherings. Instead, it was a famous entertainer, the Irish singer whose Christian faith is well known around the globe. Bono, of the band U2, spoke eloquently of justice.
Most every group of whatever kind has worshipped and is worshipping “God” in some fashion. Speaking to the Israelites, after describing the kind of worship that the nations of Palestine were known for, Moses admonishes the “chosen people”: “You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way!”
I am sure that God feels the same way today! No need to catalogue all the various forms of worship services, just in the United States. Or perhaps even compare the various forms of worship in Adventist churches every Sabbath, as some say!
When I was growing up there was never any doubt in my mind that the only mood appropriate for worship was happy. As the Creator, God was the natural object of our worship. As the created, it was natural to feel that a happy joyful spirit was the only way to approach God. Anything less would dishonor him.
Attending church on Sabbath reinforced the connection between acts of worship and a happy mood. Church services brought people together in shared beliefs and happy fellowship away from the world. Mission stories always concluded with happy endings.
This week’s lesson’s title is “Happy are you, O Israel!”; its theme is the centrality of worship in the experience of the ancient Children of Israel; and its chief point seems to be that worship ought to be God-focused, not self-focused. This last is a view that I wholeheartedly share, as readers of the print edition of Spectrum may remember.
Perhaps you remember the 1980s Del Taco commercial in which a group of office workers trudged off to lunch, chanting in monotone: “Same place, same thing.” There was no joy in their lunch, just boring routine.
Is this bland monotony your worship experience on Sabbath? Or do you identify with the psalmist?
I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the LORD” (122:1).
As a child, Sabbath seemed to be a day of “don’ts”, the focus almost entirely on what we were not allowed to do for that 24-hour period – no TV, no shopping, no swimming, reading was allowed but only “Sabbath” books. In fact, it often seemed that if something was fun it was automatically disqualified as a Sabbath activity.
The four consonants that constitute the name of the God of Israel remain unpronounced in Hebrew because they lack the vowels to permit vocalization. There is no physical representation of the Hebrew God and to fashion one is to directly contradict his instructions and incur his wrath. How was Israel to understand this God? How are we?
Our study begins in the desert with Moses standing before a burning bush that is not consumed by the fire. This unusual sight has caught his attention and it is from the burning bush that God calls to him by name.