|Series Theme: Meditations in Lessons from the Law of Moses|
Meditation No. 13
Meditation Title: Appropriate Worship
Ex 20:24 -26 “Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. And do not go up to my altar on steps, lest your nakedness be exposed on it.'
As we have come to the end of the Ten Commandments, before we move on to consider our verses today, I want to ask a very simple but obvious question: Do we need the Ten Commandments today? The simple answer to this question is, “Consider the opposite to these commands. Is that the sort of life you want?” Consider the following suggestions.
Number 1: No other God. The alternative? Many gods – like Romans & Greeks – unreal, there is only One. Number 2: No idols. The alternative? Worship wood or stone - that is meaningless ritual. Number 3: Honour God's name. The alternative? Abuse God's name – why? Either He doesn't exist or He is a Holy God. Number 4: Have a day's remembrance. The alternative? Work every day – exhaustion! Number 5: Honour parents. The alternative? Dishonour & abuse parents = family breakdown and family break up. Number 6: Don't murder. The alternative?. Murder is OK – it is patently obvious it is not. Number 7: Don't commit adultery. The alternative? Stealing another's partner is OK – breeds hurt, pain, anger etc. etc. Number 8: Don't steal. The alternative? Stealing is fine – life becomes completely insecure. Number 9: Don't perjure your neighbour. The alternative? It's OK to lie about others' activities – injustice prevails. Number 10: Don't desire what others have. The alternative? Work to take others' goods – discontentment and insecurity. No, simply by considering the alternatives, we can see that each of these ten commands is still applicable today. Reverse the first four and you have pagan superstition. Reverse the latter six and you upheaval of society.
How we view these commandments will be an indicator of how we view God. Our feelings for these commandments will follow what we already feel about the Lord. There are, I suggest, three main ways we view ‘religion'. The first is the way of the atheist who writes religion off as an out dated superstitious belief that has no place in the twenty first century. The second way is the ways of ‘useful religion', religion that we see recognises that God exists, but He exists for our benefit and religion sooths our feelings about an unstable world. In other words we use ‘religion' for our own benefit and in fact (and this always happens) we adjust it in our minds to be what we want it to be and we use it almost in a superstitious way. This is what Jeroboam did when he became king of the northern part of Israel and essentially set up a substitute religion (see 1 Kings 12:26 -33). In like ways we create a substitute religion that has elements of real faith built into it – but for our benefit.
The third way is a simple acknowledgment of the Lord who is revealed in Scripture and this is expressed in simple obedience and simple worship. Real worship is an acknowledgement of God's greatness and wonder, and our weakness, smallness and frailty. Real worship comes out of a right relationship and a right attitude towards God. When we start like that we will see the Tem Commandments as God's essential design laws to comply with the way He has designed us and the world, and we will accept them as they as, still as relevant today as they have always been.
Now this takes us on to our verses today which come in a passage between the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law that soon follows. In one sense they are not part of ‘the Law' but as an instruction to Israel they are highly significant. Essentially they say, in order to worship, build a simple altar – but keep it simple. There is going to come a series of laws about sacrifice which is all about expressing love to God or contrition for sin. For them worship was expressed very tangibly by a giving up of their livestock, the very heart of their life as acts of love or contrition. That is how they are going to show their love, so the altar is going to become a focal point of their worship, so how they build it is going to be important. It is to be an altar of earth; you can't get more simple than that! If you want it to become more permanent once you are in the land (implied) then make it simply of stones that have not been worked upon.
What does all this say? It says don't give any room for the pride of man to creep in – “Look what a good job we've made of making it,” and even “My altar is better than yours!” It is to be purely a vehicle for expressing your worship – the worship itself is the all-important thing. How many times, I wonder, have we spent a lot of time, energy and money on creating great buildings for worship but they have ended up glorifying man, and what goes on in them is far from the simplicity that worship is supposed to be. I even wonder, for those of us who have been involved in Bible Weeks, if we have put so much effort into ‘the worship' that eventually it becomes a show that glorifies the worship leaders – who really should just be humble servants. Our obedience to the Law and the operation of it are supposed to be outworkings of our love for God. Fancy buildings and fancy services are no substitute for simple Spirit-led worship. Let's make sure we truly worship in Spirit and in truth. (Jn 4:23) There are no substitutes in God's eyes.