Wednesday, August 12, 2015

THE ESSENCE OF WORSHIP (Part 8) - The Essence of Worship: Joshua - True Worship Centers on God's Word

When Joshua began to settle God’s people in the Promised Land, one of the first things he did was to draw the people together in worship of God. Since this worship centered on sacrifices and offerings, the surrounding pagans might observe the Israelite's  worship and conclude that they were all doing the same kind of thing. But there was at least one major difference between the Israelite’s worship and that of their pagan neighbors.  After Joshua had built an altar, gathered the people and made offerings, their worship included the reading of God’s law.
“[Joshua] read all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursing  according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded, which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel.” (Joshua 8:34-35)
Declaration of God’s Word was the focus of the Israelite’s worship. The ESSENCE OF TRUE WORSHIP must draw people into God’s presence where they can hear, read, and study what God says about Himself, His people, and mankind in general. 

Secondly, Joshua led the people to a specific place, Mount Ebal, as God had commanded through Moses in the law (Joshua 8:30). There they built an altar according to specifications:“an altar of whole stones, over which no man has wielded an iron tool. And they offered on it burnt offerings to the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings” (Joshua 8:31).
Why a plain structure of undressed stone altar? During this time in history, the pagans built beautiful, ornate altars for the worship of their gods. How could the Israelite impress their enemies with only a plain altar of stones? In requiring that the altar be made of natural stones, God was making an important distinction. The principle of simplicity in worship is still in effect. “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise things which are mighty” (1 Corinthians 1:27). God does not need human glitz or gimmicks in worship. He will be glorified and magnified when we honor Him with our worship that is from the depth of our heart.
After Joshua built the proper altar, the people worshiped with offerings and sacrifices. Their burnt offerings illustrated thankfulness and dedication to God, while the peace offerings indicated a right relationship with God. They were thankful for the privilege of knowing God, of being His people, and dedicating themselves to His service. They gave their freewill offerings to the LORD, beautifully picturing the picture of our offerings in worship today – our offerings must express obedience to God’s WORD and a genuine love for God. We cannot engage in THE ESSENCE OF TRUE WORSHIP when we give offerings under compulsion; we must give to the LORD because we love Him.

While the people watched, Joshua "wrote on the [altar] stones a copy of the law of Moses" (Joshua 8:32). He did not personally chisel the words into the stone; that method would have taken too long and limited what he could write. The Hebrew words here indicate instead that the stones were covered with plaster. So Joshua copied exactly what God has given, which was the same law that Moses gave to the people. By copying the exact law in the presence of all the people, he revealed to them that he had great respect for the law. Why did Joshua have this respect for the law? He knew that it came from God. Christians today must likewise respect God's WORD simply because it is from God.
By writing God's WORD in stone Joshua also pictured the importance of preserving God's principles. Similarly, when we gather for worship today, there should be no question of the people that God's WORD is important. That regard for God's WORD is what we need for TRUE WORSHIP. When the excitement of the meeting is done and the "mountain top experience" is over, what do we have left? Emotions change and fade with time, but the principles of God's WORD endure forever.

After the people saw Joshua write a copy of God's law, something very significant occurred. The Bible records that "all Israel, with their elders and judges, stood on either side of the ark before the priests, the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord" (Joshua 8:33).
Here we see a picture of the people gathered together, and in the very center of the crowd is the ark symbolizing God's presence. There were reminders of God's power in that ark. These included a sample of the manna that had fed the people in the wilderness, along with Aaron's rod of power and the original (second) set of stones upon which God wrote His law. On the ark was also the mercy seat where God accepted the blood atonement for sin. And at special times, God's "shekinah glory" would come upon the ark. All of these realities reminded the people that God's presence could be found at the ark.

When the people were gathered around the ark, spreading out for many hundreds of miles between the two mountains, it appears that the leaders dispersed so "that they should bless the people of Israel" (Joshua 8:33). The passage then records that Joshua "read all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursing  according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses commands, which Joshua did not read before the assembly of Israel."(Joshua 8:34-35).  Presumably, the leaders were also involved in the reading, for it would have been impossible for millions of people to hear one man speaking. This procedure was used, for example, in the time of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 8:1-8; see also chapter 13).
In our day, too, declaring the whole counsel of God must be the focus of our worship. God promises that His WORD is sufficient to make His people what they should be: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17). 
Christians in the early church met for the purpose of "continuing steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). They practiced THE ESSENCE OF TRUE WORSHIP, making God's WORD the center of their gathering.