Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Institution of Daily Worship: A Brief Look at Israel’s Worship and Implications for Christ’s Church (Ex. 29:38-46)

The context of this pericope is particularly significant for it frames not only divine worship but deals with the consecration of the priesthood and the dwelling place of God.  It seems to me this pericope may be seen as a summation of God’s will to dwell with His special people in an intimate and mysterious way.  This particular text, which deals in specifics of worship and the very nature of God Himself, must be seen along with the events surrounding it.  Countless Old Testament themes converge in this pericope which ultimately points toward the Incarnation – the coming of God Himself into the flesh.  This text therefore is not some remnant of a primitive religion, but is rather descriptive of the very nature of Christian worship – the preaching of the Word and the service of the sacrament.  In order see this, we must know that God has led his people out of the bondage of Egyptian slavery, crossed the Red Sea, into the wilderness, and finally to Mount Sinai.  The theophany at Mount Sinai provides a climax for the journey in which the 10 commandments are given to Moses.  That we might understand this pericope on worship (29:38-46), it must seen that these commandments were not simply rules about right conduct or civic virtue.  The commandments begin with a declarative word and promise that is the center of the Decalogue, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”  The first three commandments describe right worship with God – they are primarily cultic in nature.  The commandments therefore begin with a declarative word of promise that establishes God as not “a god” but “your God” or “my God.”

The reception of the Commandments and the laws about worship that follow are not simply rules that God arbitrarily sets forth.  The Commandments and the institution of the Tabernacle is also about proper worship and being brought back into a relationship with God.  The institution of the tabernacle and divine worship in Exodus 29:38-46, must be seen in light of Exodus 24.  Moses builds an altar at the base of the mountain and has men offer burnt offerings and sacrifice peace offerings of oxen.  Half the blood is thrown on the altar and half is thrown upon the people.  Moses does this in the context of a preaching service, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with these words” (24:8).  Therefore, true worship of God must involve these two means: the preaching and proclamation of God’s Word, along with sacrifice and blood.  We might even say these two things are inextricably bound up with each other; for the Book of the Covenant has as its entire sum and substance in Christ crucified and the blood which pours forth into the chalice - ultimately placed upon the people, through eating and drinking.  I hold that we can only understand Exodus 24 and surrounding texts on proper worship through these Words: “For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:28).  The climax on the mountain for Moses is precisely this: to receive the gift of the tabernacle and the laws of worship.  Only through sacrifice, ultimately of Christ Himself, can Israel truly be the spotless Bride of the Lord.  Blood and this preaching of the Book of the Covenant (the promise of Christ) consecrates the people to make them a holy people.          

Regulations concerning proper worship begin with the altar, “Now this is what you will offer on the altar: two lambs a year old day by day regularly.”  It is essential to note that the activity of sacrifice in Israel’s worship is not some punctiliar event for an occasional service.  It is a continual and on-going sacrifice (תָּמִיד.).  Worship is therefore a normative activity for Israel, a day by day service and devotion, in which God is already establishing or foreshadowing His means of grace.  This day by day worship and sacrifice should be considered when looking at Christian worship.  We must wonder whether daily worship is essential to Israel’s life and therefore the church of Christ as well.  At the very establishment of the church following Peter’s sermon and Pentecost, we find that for these early disciples: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).  The common translation of being “devoted” to the Lord’s Supper, preaching, and works of mercy in Christian fellowship, does not capture the full weight of their activity.  They were rather adhering constantly and steadfastly (προσκαρτεροῦντες) to the breaking of bread and the divine service – both Word and Sacrament.  It was not a periodic event for these worshipers but this breaking of the bread informed and shaped their daily lives.  Likewise, Israel’s worship is not an occasional happening in the community but normative, dictating all other activities.  It is not speculation to insist that these early disciples were daily having Gottesdienst (Divine Service) - continually, just as Israel was continuously worshiping in the Temple. 

These regular (תָּמִיד.), daily sacrifices would be offered by the priest twice daily, “One lamb you will offer in the morning and the other lamb you will offer at twilight” (Ex. 29:39).  Here we have grain offerings and burnt offerings as the daily order of worship.  Worship as the first and last order of the day is no doubt important in the life of the church.  The most essential service to accompany the Divine Service of Word and Sacrament are the orders of Matins and Vespers.  A theology of sacrifice is essential to both Matins and Vespers, prayed at daybreak and twilight (times of sacrifice and atonement).  These orders support and point toward the Divine Service, framing the day around Christ crucified and raised for the justification of the ungodly. 

The point of all this sacrificing is not for itself, but is necessary for meeting God Himself – “It will be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there” (אִוָּעֵד לָכֶם שָׁמָּה, לְדַבֵּר אֵלֶיךָ שָׁם. 29:42).  Entrance to the tent, and therefore access to God is bound up with sacrifice.  The altar guards the entrance to the Tabernacle, and therefore blood and sacrifice (atonement) must take place between God and sinful man.  This sacrificing, again, is continuous (תָּמִיד) - a word repeatedly emphasized in this pericope.  Most importantly, this is the way in which the Lord wants to meet (לָכֶם) His people, in order that He might speak to them.  And this speaking establishes relationship, blesses, and sanctifies.  The Lord’s desire to meet with “you” is in the plural, which can hardly be overemphasized, particularly in our own rigidly individualized culture.  The significance is that the Lord desires to meet, dwell, and speak with His congregation, His holy priesthood and nation – He desires to meet in an intimate way with his church, a corporate body of people (אִוָּעֵד לָכֶם שָׁמָּה, לְדַבֵּר אֵלֶיךָ שָׁם.).            

The consecration of Aaron and his sons as priests is central to God’s institution of Divine worship.  This consecration is probably best understood with Leviticus 1-7 in mind, in which God lays out His revelations related to the sacrifices, in which they become partakers of His grace.  The installation of Aaron and his sons is very much bound up also in sacrifice (Ex. 29:1-9).  Prior to this pericope on Divine Service, we find that Moses must bring to the door of the tent a bullock and two rams, unleavened bread, oil, and wafers.  Moses washes them and robes Aaron, anointing him by pouring oil upon his head, and dressing his sons.  Ordination occurs via the robes and through sacrifice, as the blood of the bullock is offered on behalf of Aaron and his sons.  The blood is smeared on the altar and poured at the base of the altar.  The second ram completes the installation (vv. 19-34), in a cultic meal.  There is a clearly a call for holiness and a linking together of preists, clothing, and altar.  The linkage is all about blood – all atonement!  The Venerable Bede writes, “For who does not know what the sacrifice of those animals and the sprinkling of their blood designate the death of our Lord and the sprinkling of his blood, through which we are set free from sins and strengthened for good works?”[1]

The consecration is all about the glory of the presence of God.  Israel was brought out of the land of Egypt precisely so that God might dwell (tabernacle) with them.  The tabernacling presence of God is what makes Israel His people.  The tabernacle ( וְשָׁכַנְתִּי,) must be seen in light of John 1:14, in which “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  Therefore, the tabernacle, with its order of worship, and later the temple find their fulfillment in God Himself who becomes Immanual (God with us).  Therefore, although it is common to speak of the tabernacle as prefiguring or a mere shadow of Christ, we ought not think He is withholding Himself here.  For the sum and content of the Tabernacle is Christ, amidst the sacrifice, the blood, and the worship.  Heaven meets earth and God meets His holy people here.  St. Methodosius can therefore  writes:

The Jews were commanded to adorn their tabernacle as a proleptic imitation of the church, that through the things of sense they might be able to prefigure the image of things divine.  For the exemplar which was shown forth on the mountain and on which Moses gazed when he constructed the tabernacle was in a way an accurate picture of the dwelling in heaven, to which indeed we pay homage insofar  as it far surpasses the types of clarity and is far fainter than the reality.  The fact is that the unmingled truth has not yet come to humanity as it is in itself, for her we would be unable to contemplate its pure incorruptibility, just as we cannot endure the rays of the sun with unshielded eyes.  The Jews announced what was a shadow of an image, at a third remove from reality, wheras we ourselves clearly behold the image of the heavenly dispensation…But the reality itself will be accurately revealed after the resurrection when we shall see the holy tabernacle, the heavenly city, “whose builder and maker is God,”[2]  face to face, and not in “in a dark manner” and “only in part.”[3] [4]
The Lord also says, “Then I will dwell among the Israelites and will be their God” (29:45).  Only through this worship of sacrifice, speaking, and hearing can God truly be God for His people.  This is where and how He wants to meet and dwell with them and how He Himself desires to be known.  When we rightly see that this pericope is about worship and the Divine Service of the congregation we see also that worship is primarily relational.  The atonement stands as the portal and way for God to truly dwell with His people, free from corruption and the sin; the devastating cause of the broken relationship.  The great gift of God is His presence and all that He brings – namely His very Son, and therefore the divine life of the Holy Trinity as well.  This relational aspect informs how we think of ourselves and our God - that indeed we dwell with God and are brought into the community of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The presence of God brings with it blessing and mercy, love and kindness.  It informs how I think of my life in relation to the world and in relation to others. The presence of God for the forgiveness of sins is the point of the Exodus.  The sum and substance is the person of Christ and the institution of divine worship.  God can only be God when he is “for me.”  That is to say, the Gospel is not truly the Gospel until it is for me.  In this institutional text (29:38-46) the Lord is truly “for me,” for Christ the lamb has been sacrificed.

[1] Oden, Thomas C., and Joseph T. Lienhard. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament III. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001. 132.
[2] Heb. 11:10
[3] 1 Cor. 13:12
[4] Oden., 126.

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