Faithlife Sermons

Worship in the Old Testament

Awaken to Worship  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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What was worship like in the Old Testament and how does that relate to us now as we worship today?



We come to a place in our study of worship that we must move into the Old Testament if we’re going to understand the New Testament and our proper stance in worship today. You cannot fully understand why we worship without first understanding the origins of worship. It would take months of sermons to exhaustively study worship in the Old Testament. For the purpose of our study, we don’t have that kind of time. So we are going to talk about it this morning and examine Old Testament worship practices from the perspective of the Tabernacle. It is here we find our blueprint to what should be our pattern of worship today.
The New Testament cannot exist without the Old Testament. Everything in the Old Testament pointed to the coming of Christ and the establishment of his Kingdom. The Old Testament contains over three hundred prophetic passages that refer to the first coming of Jesus the Messiah. Forty-eight of these prophecies refer specifically to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. All of them published during and eleven-hundred year period that ended four centuries before Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
I want you to have a clear picture of what worship would have been like in Old Testament times. If we only approach worship based on our feelings or preference, we will be off course in our approach to worship. This is why the modern church today is so far off base in our worship. We’ve largely abandoned Scripture as our guide. When we return to the pattern of worship revealed in Scripture, we begin to understand what pleases God in worship, rather than basing worship on our own preferences.
So in order understand the Old Testament and the tabernacle, we’ll go to the New, and we’ll be looking at Hebrews Chapter 9 in its entirety this morning

The Holy Place of Worship

9 Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. 2 For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. 3 Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, 4 having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. 5 Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

6 These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, 7 but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. 8 By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing 9 (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.

Hebrews Chapter 28: The Earthly Sanctuary (Hebrews 9:1–10)

In C. S. Lewis’s classic fantasy The Chronicles of Narnia, four children discover an attic wardrobe that seems normal enough from the outside. But creeping inside, they discover an entire world that was hidden from their view, the world of Narnia with the White Witch and Aslan the lion-lord. What seemed mundane on the outside turned out to be filled with mystery.

The ancient people of Israel also had a normal-looking structure that contained things of great significance. It was the tabernacle God commanded them to build in the time of Moses. This tent structure did not seem like much from the outside. But once inside, one was confronted with holy things—indeed, with the holy God himself.

If we were to rebuild the Tabernacle today, according to God’s construction plans in , it would cost over 13 million dollars. Israel’s Tabernacle was a portable tent that was the center of their worship prior to the Temple. It was build with specific instructions and all the tribes of Israel were camped around it in a designated and orderly formation. Compared to structures like the Temple, the Taj Mahol, or other shrines the Tabernacle was modest and appeared insignificant, but it’s purpose can not be understated.
Approaching the Tabernacle, you would first notice the brilliant white walls that formed the courtyard. The white linens proclaimed the holiness of its function. The enclosure was 150 feet long by 75 feet wide. When a worshiper entered the courtyard, he was immediately in front of the Alter of Burnt Offering. This is where the sacrifices were done and it was as far as the layman could go . The worshipper would enter the courtyard with the sacrifice, and place his hands on the heave of the offering ().
Behind the altar was the bronze laver, an enormous washbasin for the cleansing of the priests (). Directly behind the Laver was the actual Tabernacle that housed the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The Tabernacle was 15X45 built with gorgeous tapestries of blue, purple, and scarlet yarns and overlaid with layers of animal skins.
Inside the Tabernacle were the two rooms with walls of gold. The outer room was the Holy Place.Inside the Holy Place were the lampstand, the table of the show bread, and the golden altar of incense. All of the furnishings were covered in pure gold.
The inner room was the Holy of Holies, which held the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the stone tablets of the Law (), Aaron’s staff that budded (), and the jar of manna (). The Ark was covered with a lid that contained two cherubim of glory who kneeled before the Mercy Seat. It was here that once a year a priest would go inside the Holy of Holies and the blood of atonement was sprinkled, that the sins of Israel were propitiated.

The Holy Manner of Worship

Now that we have a layout of the Tabernacle, the worship that was conducted there will make more sense. Worshippers brought their sacrifices continually to the bronze altar. The job of the priests were to continually slaughter the animals in the proper manner. The animal’s blood was drained and splatter on the altar. The burnt offering would be given and the entire animal must be consumed. It was gruesome and it was designed to be that way. Worship in the Old Testament was designed to remind the worshipper that forgiveness was not cheap. Worship is costly. In some sacrifices, a portion was set aside for the priests or the giver, but when a sacrifice was used for atonement, the entire animal must be consumed. Also, the animal offered could not have any blemish, sickness or defect.
The place of honor to serve as priest was in the outer room of the Tabernacle. There they must tend to the show bread or the Bread of Presence. These two loafs were always to be fresh and set out every sabbath (). They sat upon a special table made of acacia wood and pure gold. The bread was not to “feed God,” but was there as a reminder that the Israelites were dependent upon God for their very essence of life.
Also in the Holy Place was the gold lampstand. This was the only light provided in the tabernacle. It was made of pure gold and stood opposite of the bread of Presence (). The lampstand was formed into the fashion of almond branches and buds. The priests would be charged to maintain its light continually. They would ensure it was full of oil, the wicks were trimmed, and everything was done according to God’s pattern of holiness. The purpose of the lamp was to remind the priests of God’s light. There is no darkness with God and He alone is the giver of life and light.
In the Middle of the room was the Altar of Incense (). There were specific instructions on how to build the altar (), and also specific instructions for the recipe for the incense to be burned on the altar (). What is important to see here that the priests were not a liberty to choose the flavor of incense according to their own tastes. They must use the exact recipe God provided for them. When Nadab and Abihu tried to offer a strange fire of incense , they were consumed by God (). Even more, no one was permitted to use the incense for their personal use. This was reserved as holy for God and it represented the prayers of God’s people reaching toward the heavens.
The purpose of the lamp was to remind the priests of God’s light. There is no darkness with God and He alone is the giver of life and light. Likewise Jesus is our light and life. (, , ).
Now between the outer room and the inner room of the Tabernacle was a thick veil. The Mishnah describes the veil as being as thick as a man’s hand. Only once a year on the Day of Atonement (also known as Yom Kippur) ). This was the place where sins were forgiven.
The high priest would sacrifice the bull and fill a censer with the burning coals from altar of burnt offering. He entered the Holy of Holies and poured two handfuls of incense onto the coals so a cloud covered the Mercy Seat. As he left, sprinkled the blood of the bull onto the Mercy Seat. He would then do the same ritual with the goat.
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