Worshiping the Lord – Sabbath School Lesson 10, Q4, 2019

“Worshiping the Lord” We’re in chapter 12 in the book of Nehemiah, and we want to know how did the Israelites worship their God? What kind of groups participated in the worship and what part did they play? And probably, maybe, it all has some relevance to how we worship today. The lesson takes us back to the time when the rebuild of the wall was completed. An amazing achievement and a very high spiritual moment. Israel remembered their time and walk with God, they dedicated themselves to a relationship with God. And now, we’re witnessing another dedication ceremony, a dedication of the wall. Dedications to God had a special meaning for Israel, and ceremonies were the way they experienced many spiritual truths and their relationship with God. So here in chapter 12, we see a well-orchestrated and well thought through routine. And going to the temple, worshiping God, included an extensive part of praising God. And praising God is something that connects with our hearts, our emotions. There is no way we can genuinely express gratitude, and withhold our emotions, our facial expressions, our body language. So to provide a proper way of praise that is responsive and expresses a spiritual excitement, the dedication ceremonies were very professionally organized and thoughtfully structured. For example, only a certain group of Levites, the descendants of Asaph, were appointed to lead the worship, and to be the singers in charge of the service and the house of God. Their purpose in life was to excel in music performance and worship leadership. So singing is and was, very important, also, the quality of those leading was very important. The idea here is not to debate about the different styles of worship and music that we prefer, neither to just take things that they did, and copy them. As we often tend to do with certain things, like responsive reading, for example, for some reason it just doesn’t work for me. It’s not about just doing things for the sake of it, it has to make sense, it has to speak to the audience and the event; it has to be relevant. And the next element of worship that the lesson identifies out of the ceremony, is purification. Being in the presence of the most high, required purification. A ritual that was put in the minds and the hearts of the people, in the right state. What does that mean? There was a big gap between God and people. Between the most righteous and the sinner. Between the light and those who are walking in the darkness. Now, they were standing on the same ground and sin had to be washed away, had to be forgiven. This understanding of human nature, admitting to it, and making the decision, the choice to be clean, establishes the common ground where God and man can meet. And then, and only then, the worship becomes a true relationship with God. We can’t purify ourselves, but we can come to God, honest, and accept His forgiveness. Another element of worship, identified by the lesson, is the two large thanksgiving choirs. It was quite a performance when we read through the details, the way they were situated, the way they performed, it was planned to be impactful. But not to serve as spectacle, or to offer to the people a great experience of a concert, but rather to serve as atmosphere for prayer and interaction with God. Many were offering sacrifices during this time, which brings us to the next element, sacrifices as part of worship. And yes, probably this was the most essential part of the worship that the Israelites performed in the temple, the sacrifices. Everything was centered around the sacrifice and the killing, taking the life of an animal, for the purpose of recieving forgiveness and new life. It wasn’t the most pleasent experience. Because someone had to slaughter an animal with their own hand. However, this experience was accompanied by the quiet prayers in the temple, and the two choirs who were singing there, creating a perfect balance between reverence and joyful gratitude. We don’t do such sacrifices today, and thank God for that. I don’t think we’d have been able to handle it. But, I can imagine the feeling. Before you have to offer and perform a sacrifice. See an innocent life be taken because of you. And then experience forgiveness, feel this love that covers you, your insufficiency, and helps you to stand back up. I think that we experience something similar during and after communion. When we have the oppurtunity to meditate and remember the sacrifice of Jesus. It’s very deep and profound, and joyful. And yes, the author make a point about a balance between joy and reverence in this experience. And finally, how’s the whole worship ceremony possible without the dedication, the training, the organized commitment of the Levites? No, it wasn’t. What was even more amazing, was that it was by God’s design how the things were run in the temple. The people saw the special role that the Levites played in their personal, spiritual experience with God. Especially the high priest, and the priest who were directly executing every part of the ceremony of the sacrifices. They symbolize the intermediary role that Christ will play in our salvation. There was appreciation, recognition, and trust in the leadership of the high priest, the same way as we have to put our trust in Jesus Christ. Worshiping God hasn’t changed much for the past 3 milleniums, hasn’t it? Worship is a personal experience, but also something that we do as community. Hopefully, it can be a genuine part of our spiritual walk. And we will continue our study with the lesson next week, “Backslidden People”

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