Leviticus should properly be viewed as history that became law rather than as law that became history. This is the history of God dwelling with His people. It is the history of what God prescribed in order for His people to enjoy His presence. It is a history that is filled with details more than with dates (though chronology is not unimportant).
Until now, we have seen the history of what God prescribed (in terms sacrifices) and what He provided (in terms of the priesthood). In chapter 9 we have the historical record of God appearing and entering His earthly house. It is the account of God, quite literally, dwelling among His people. John Currid explains that “this text teaches us that the presence of Yahweh is the goal of worship.” He goes on to cite Wenham: “All the ritual in the OT would have been pointless if God had not deigned to reveal himself to the people. The clothing and the sacrifices merely helped to put the worshippers in a state of mind that was prepared for God’s coming.”1
If Leviticus 8 is the record of how one became a priest, then Leviticus 9 is the account of what happened when the priesthood paid close attention to matter of worship—i.e. God appeared. Such is generally the result when the rituals of worship are coupled with hearts that are set on worship. A new covenant parallel might be 1 Corinthians 14:23-25:
Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.
(1 Corinthians 14:23-25)
Philip Eveson asks, “Do we expect to meet with God and to have God meet with us? The high point of worship is to experience something of the presence of God among his people.”2 Is this our expectation when we gather?
One of our missionaries recently preached a message at our church and made the observation that the way that we will change the world is by our worship. He said that the world will only be changed as the local church worships God. His reasoning, from 2 Samuel 12, was that, as the church comes to embrace and to submit to the sovereign Lord, our lives will be changed, and as we are changed we will impact those with whom we live, work and worship. And in this way, the leaven of the kingdom will penetrate and change an otherwise lost and dying world.
Many years ago the London Times asked its readers, “What is wrong with the world?” A very wise reader wrote, “I am,” and signed his name, “G. K. Chesterton.” If South African believers were asked this same question today, how would we respond? I would suggest that the correct answer would be “We, the church, are the problem with the world.” For, you see, as goes the church, so goes the world.
The Lord chose Israel through whom all the nations would be blessed. But the nation’s influence was inseparable from its worship. If Israel worshipped the true God in the way which He prescribed then it would enjoy His presence. And His presence was attached to a whole range of blessed promises (see Leviticus 26:1-13).
In other words, if the Israelites would meet the covenantal conditions then God would fulfil His motivating covenantal promise—namely, His gloriously powerful presence. And the world would feel that presence too. The new covenant people of God, the new covenant church, is called to the same expectation. Listen to the words of Jesus in this regard:
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
It is through the church that the world will one day experience the knowledge of the glory of the Lord covering the earth as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).
Jesus was the fulfilment of the new covenant promises and He came to make a people who will worship the one true God in spirit and in truth. And it is through this people that He will change the world. If the world today is a mess then we have no one to blame but ourselves—and I mean the church. If we want the nations to worship the glorious, triune God of the Bible then we, His church, must properly worship Him.
You see, worship matters. And because worship matters, it matters how we worship, and therefore we need to pay attention to matters of worship. This, in a nutshell, is the theme of Leviticus. It served as a manual for the old covenant church in which matters of worship were prescribed and regulated. The principles that we find here are still relevant for the new covenant church.
That rather lengthy introduction is necessary as we open to the text of Leviticus 9. This chapter is a wonderfully instructive one with reference to the glorious results when the people of God worship Him according to all that the Lord commands. Note the promise attached to obedience to God’s command: “and the glory of the Lord will appear to you’” (v. 6). Don’t miss that. Moses, under inspiration, was telling the people of God (the church) that, if they would obey God’s commandments (concerning worship), they would experience the glorious appearance of the Lord. If they would worship Him in His prescribed manner (v. 16) then they could expect to enjoy His presence. And such a glorious presence would have profound results.
Church, do we want such an experience? Do we desire God’s glorious presence? We can have it, but only if we do as the Lord has commanded us. Let’s delve more deeply into this matter as we study these 24 verses.
The Expectation of Worship
As our text opens, we find God extending a sovereign call to worship:
It came to pass on the eighth day that Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel. And he said to Aaron, “Take for yourself a young bull as a sin offering and a ram as a burnt offering, without blemish, and offer them before the LORD. And to the children of Israel you shall speak, saying, ‘Take a kid of the goats as a sin offering, and a calf and a lamb, both of the first year, without blemish, as a burnt offering, also a bull and a ram as peace offerings, to sacrifice before the LORD, and a grain offering mixed with oil; for today the LORD will appear to you.’”
So they brought what Moses commanded before the tabernacle of meeting. And all the congregation drew near and stood before the LORD. Then Moses said, “This is the thing which the LORD commanded you to do, and the glory of the LORD will appear to you.”
Keep in mind the historical context of the scene before us. The tabernacle had been constructed in accordance with all that the Lord had commanded. As Leviticus opens we find Moses outside the tabernacle because atonement had yet to be made for him and for the nation. But in Leviticus 8, Moses, along with Aaron and his sons, gained access to the tabernacle, while the representatives of the people (the elders) stood outside observing at the doorway.
The priesthood had been ordained and the priests had spent days inside God’s house. Everyone was there, with one notable exception: God! All was in order, but the one for whom the tabernacle was made was not yet present. That would change with events in this chapter.
Moses announced that God would soon appear. God would dwell among them. They would be able to experience the blessed reality of Emmanuel: God with us. How do you suppose the people would have responded to this promise? “For those who had experienced the shaking of Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:18), this would be at once an exhilarating and fearsome prospect.”3
Their expectation would have been exhilarating, but first things first: Certain conditions had to be met. Note some important truths in the context of God mandating the conditions for His presence.
A New Beginning
I find it significant that the call to Moses came “on the eighth day” (v. 1). Put another way, it came on the first day after the ordained priesthood had spent seven days in communion preparing for the commencement of their ministry. “On the first day of the week, the tabernacle worship . . . finally commenced. It was a day when the people were blessed and experienced the overwhelming presence of God.”4
These men had been transformed from being “ordinary” to the extraordinary task of mediating between God and man. This was their first day on the job and there was much to anticipate.
It is interesting that the eighth day in Scripture is often used metaphorically to speak of a new life, of resurrection. These men were indeed about to experience something very new. Believer, by the new birth, you and I are privileged each week to experience God corporately as we assemble at God’s appointed place, with His temple—the local church. But like these priests of old, we need to deal with our sinfulness.
The Sinfulness of Saints
Without going into too much detail (though details are important) these verses prescribe more offerings that must be sacrificed to God. Aaron was to offer the sin and burnt offerings for himself and for his sons and then to offer four offerings on behalf of the people. Wenham helpfully notes “The sinfulness of man is certainly underlined by this command. For seven days sacrifices have been offered to purge Aaron’s sins in the ordination service. Yet in the first services that he conducts Aaron offers sacrifice both on his own and the people’s behalf.”5
It is worth observing the irony that Aaron was commanded to offer a calf in the light of his infamous golden calf episode. God was not rubbing it in but, rather, “with this offering ‘the last stains of that grave sin’ were being removed.”6
In vv. 3-4 the people were to bring sacrifices for four different offerings: sin, burnt, grain and peace offerings. The reason is given: “for today the LORD will appear to you.” When the God of the universe announces that He is going to appear, I would think that His people would do whatever is necessary for this to occur!
I assume, therefore, that the Israelites would be careful to meet the mandated conditions in order to experience this wonderful promise. And apparently they were zealous for this because we read, in v. 5, that “they brought what Moses commanded before the tabernacle of meeting.” Evidently they were keen for the presence of God and so they obeyed the mandate from God.
In fact, the rest of v. 5 indicates that they were not merely going through the motions, for they arrived at the door of the tabernacle with seeming great anticipation. In other words, they really expected God to keep His promise—and they did not want to miss out. No doubt Moses’ words in v. 6 served to further encourage them (and I am sure that he was encouraged by their apparent zeal).
Don’t miss the significance of v. 6: “Then Moses said, ‘This is the thing which the LORD commanded you to do, and the glory of the LORD will appear to you.’” Moses was reiterating the promise of God’s experiential presence to those who take the commandments of the Lord seriously. This is a wonderful promise that remains for us.
And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.” Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
(2 Corinthians 6:16—7:1)
The Expectations of Worship
Having revealed to the people the expectation of worship—that He would meet with them—the Lord proceeds to enumerate the expectations of worship: sacrificial offerings.
And Moses said to Aaron, “Go to the altar, offer your sin offering and your burnt offering, and make atonement for yourself and for the people. Offer the offering of the people, and make atonement for them, as the LORD commanded.”
Aaron therefore went to the altar and killed the calf of the sin offering, which was for himself. Then the sons of Aaron brought the blood to him. And he dipped his finger in the blood, put it on the horns of the altar, and poured the blood at the base of the altar. But the fat, the kidneys, and the fatty lobe from the liver of the sin offering he burned on the altar, as the LORD had commanded Moses. The flesh and the hide he burned with fire outside the camp.
And he killed the burnt offering; and Aaron’s sons presented to him the blood, which he sprinkled all around on the altar. Then they presented the burnt offering to him, with its pieces and head, and he burned them on the altar. And he washed the entrails and the legs, and burned them with the burnt offering on the altar.
Then he brought the people’s offering, and took the goat, which was the sin offering for the people, and killed it and offered it for sin, like the first one. And he brought the burnt offering and offered it according to the prescribed manner. Then he brought the grain offering, took a handful of it, and burned it on the altar, besides the burnt sacrifice of the morning.
He also killed the bull and the ram as sacrifices of peace offerings, which were for the people. And Aaron’s sons presented to him the blood, which he sprinkled all around on the altar, and the fat from the bull and the ram—the fatty tail, what covers the entrails and the kidneys, and the fatty lobe attached to the liver; and they put the fat on the breasts. Then he burned the fat on the altar; but the breasts and the right thigh Aaron waved as a wave offering before the LORD, as Moses had commanded.
I recently read football player Cristiano Ronaldo lost a £500,000 annual contract this week from Coca Cola because he was seen at a press conference drinking Pepsi. Coke said that they had no choice but to terminate his contract since this was a direct violation of that contract. He violated what he had been instructed and suffered loss because of it.
As costly as that was (or perhaps he was immediately offered a counter contract by Pepsi!) it is nothing compared to the cost of losing out on the presence of God if we don’t meet His conditions.
These verses record what God expected to be offered on this glorious day of worship. And the priests were to follow the directions down to the last drop of blood. There is a distinct order here. Tidball insightfully notes, “The order of the sacrifices are carefully planned, not haphazard. It attests the only order that is truly acceptable in our approach to God. Sin is confessed first; consecration is renewed next; gifts are offered only after that, and then, finally, fellowship is enjoyed as a result.”7
We should strive for this in our order of worship. We must be this deliberate as we gather. And, in fact, the way in which we “do church” on Sundays follows this pattern.
As noted above, there are a lot of details in these verses. We must learn from this that when it comes to worshipping God, details are important. It would seem that, in our day, there is an infatuation with the idea of spontaneity in worship. For some reason, the idea abounds that we are being really “spiritual” if we don’t plan but merely worship “as the Spirit leads.”
I understand people’s desire to experience the Lord; in fact, I commend this. But the Spirit has led us with regard to how we are to worship. He has inscribed this in His Word. It is therefore essential that we pay attention to the details as we find them in Scripture. As Tidball comments, God “is worthy, and so not to be thought of lightly, dismissed easily or dealt with casually.” Therefore, “Israel rightly approaches this God of glory with caution, listens to his words with care, and responds to them with submissive minds and diligent obedience.”8
God holds the same expectations for us under the new covenant. Sadly the church of our day all too often does approach God lightly and casually. David Wells noted long ago that in the modern church “God has been drained of glory, divested of majesty, and denuded of authority.” Wells argues that the fundamental problem of the evangelical church is not inadequate technique, poor organization or irrelevant music, but that “God rests too inconsequentially upon his church.” And until we restore weight to God, nothing we do will “staunch the flow of blood from [the church’s] wounds.””9
Let me apply this matter of observing God’s detailed expectations to us.
God reveals that the Word is to be central in all that we do. It is by God’s Word that we are gathered, it is by God’s Word that we grow, and it is by God’s Word that He is glorified. Therefore, the Word is to be central in corporate worship.
We read God’s Word; we sing God’s Word; we preach God’s Word; we pray God’s Word; we “do” God’s Word in the ordinances. Further, we obey God’s Word when it comes to those who preach and teach the Word. We further obey God’s Word when it comes to considering innovations that are suggested in our worship. We obey God’s Word as we seek to be orderly. We obey God’s Word when it comes to instructions regarding our gathering (e.g. 1 Corinthians 14; 1 Timothy 2). And we obey God’s Word when it comes to those leading the church in worship (see the Pastoral Epistles).
It is a sad reality that much of the church at large has lost sight of the continuity between old covenant worship and new covenant worship, with the devastating result that we miss out on experiencing the glory of God. I am not saying that merely paying attention to external detail is sufficient for such an experience. It is vitally important that we also pay attention to internal details of worship, such as a contrite heart and broken spirit, a humble attitude and a commitment to holy living (1 Timothy 2:8). But we do need to realise at the same time that externals are important and we dare not ignore them. In fact, whatever God’s Word commands us with reference to His church, and therefore to worship, must be obeyed.
What I love about this chapter is how everyone seemed to take seriously the promise of God that He would show—and that He would do so gloriously—and therefore they did what He commanded. Oh that we would have the same heart commitment! Oh that we would take seriously, not only God’s promised end, but also His provided means toward that end.
We say that we want to experience the glory of God, but will we meet the conditions for this? Will we take seriously God’s Word and behave ourselves in the house of God in accordance with God’s Word (1 Timothy 3:15)?
Let me apply this to the matter of our financial stewardship. As we have come to appreciate in our studies of the sacrifices, acceptable worship was costly. It was expensive to get right with God. It was expensive to glorify Him. And that has not changed one bit under the new covenant, though sadly some behave as though it has.
To follow Christ will cost us everything. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “When Christ calls a man He bids him come and die.” It will cost us everything. That is at the heart of biblical Christianity and is why today we need to embrace the word “radical.” Death to sin, to self and to our stockpiles is at the root of Christianity. And so we should not be surprised that, if we desire to see the glory of God and to experience His presence and power, we will be called upon to pay a price. And that includes—though it is not limited to—our money. Listen to Malachi as he exhorts the people:
“Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, so that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field,” says the LORD of hosts; “and all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a delightful land,” says the LORD of hosts.
But this also applies to obedience to the fourth commandment. We cannot ignore this commandment and experience God’s presence at the same time. After all, just practically speaking, we must gather together if we will worship together! But importantly we need to have the proper heart attitude about the Lord’s Day (Isaiah 58:13-14) if we will experience His glorious presence. God never promised to bless mere external actions but also looks on the heart.
One final application of this is with reference to the home. We can take away from this chapter the truth that, to have the blessing of God’s presence in our homes, we must meet certain conditions. I trust that we are coming to appreciate that God has given to His people promises with reference to their families. But these promises are related to conditions. We need to meet certain conditions if we will experience His unique presence in our homes. One overriding condition is that of fearing the Lord (Psalm 128). Other conditions will be the sacrifice of praise, the sacrifice of service to the body, etc. Let us live before the Lord as He has commanded (v. 21). The point is that God has ordained the end as well as the means to that end. So just do it!
The Experience of Worship
Having met the ordained expectations of worship, the Israelites experienced God’s glorious presence.
Then Aaron lifted his hand toward the people, blessed them, and came down from offering the sin offering, the burnt offering, and peace offerings. And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of meeting, and came out and blessed the people. Then the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people, and fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.
The Commendation of Worship
Verses 22-23a paint a beautiful scene in which the high priest(s), after observing the people’s obedience, lift hands in the gesture of blessing the people. You will note that this scene is repeated.
First, Aaron lifted his hand in blessing the people (after he had offered their gifts) and, second, Moses (along with Aaron) blessed the people after they returned from entering the tabernacle.
The text throws a veil over what transpired between Moses and Aaron inside the tabernacle but at the least we can conclude it had something to do with the passing of the mantle from Moses (as acting high priest) to Aaron, who would now assume this role. Further, I would surmise that not only was this action important for the transferring the high priesthood, but also, in accordance with the regulations for the sin offering, they probably anointed the veil and the altar of incense with the sacrificial blood (see 4:6-7).
As indicative of this ordination, “Aaron now exercises his priestly prerogative by invoking God’s blessing upon the people.”10 But why was the blessing given twice, and what exactly is a blessing?
The first blessing came from Aaron after the people brought their prescribed sacrifices, which Aaron offered in accordance with God’s commands. This blessing was from a spiritual leader who viewed the obedience of God’s people and commended them for it.
To give a “blessing” is, literally, “to speak well of” a person or thing. It is a verbal eulogy of another. Aaron was blessed—he was encouraged, his soul “made well”—by the apparent obedience of the people to God’s commandments, and so he made that known to them. This was important for several reasons, not the least of which was that the people were encouraged that they had pleased God. In the spirit of Hebrews 13:17, Aaron was able to give a joyful account of the people’s obedience.
Surely it is a wonderful thing when others commend our obedience, especially when such a commendation acknowledges that we have pleased God.
The local church is to be a place of encouragement. The church is a place where people are taught and convinced and convicted and rebuked, but this must always be in the context of seeking to exhort (see 2 Timothy 4:1-2). To exhort is largely to encourage. After all, the divine Exhorter, the Holy Spirit, not only convicts His people of their sins but also encourages them towards and in their obedience. That is why the Scriptures speak of “the communion of the Holy Spirit” (2 Corinthians 13:14). The Holy Spirit corrects us when we depart from God’s commands and commends and encourages us when we obey God’s Word. We should learn to do the same.
All too often believers can be quick to criticise but slow to commend. Brothers and sisters, this ought not to be! When was the last time you expressed an encouraging word to another believer for what you perceived to be obedience and faithfulness in their life? When was the last time you sent an SMS or an email to a fellow church member commending them for their growth in grace? When was the last time that you blessed someone for their kindness to you (perhaps for a gift, or for their expression of hospitality, etc.)? Let us learn from Aaron to express appreciation for the evidence of grace in the life of our fellow worshippers. Such affirmations may be a means of aiding a brother or sister to experience something of the presence of God.
The second blessing came from the hands and lips of both Moses and Aaron after they had returned from the tabernacle. “Their conviction that God intended to bless his people was strengthened by their time of communion, and emerging they jointly blessed the people.”11
This blessing no doubt was even more of an encouragement to the people. It would have communicated to them that not only was their obedience apparent to their leaders, but more importantly, was accepted by God. After all, having entered the tabernacle, their priestly representatives now came out saying, “All is well!”
This is precisely what Moses and Aaron were proclaiming: “Good news! God has accepted the sacrifices! The tabernacle has been purified. Get ready: God is about to come down and presence Himself among you!” That, my friend, is gospel!
The hopes and fears of the children of Israel (concerning their relationship with God) rested solely on the priesthood—with particular reference to the high priest. And the same was true of the entire world.
If Israel was not accepted by God then there was no hope for any other nation. Therefore, when Aaron (and Moses) came out from the tabernacle, their blessing indicated that God had accepted His appointed high priest! For this reason, the people could rejoice. In other words, if the high priest was accepted—if he who was viewed as prophet, priest and king was accepted—then so were those whom he represented.
As I trust we will never tire of hearing, Leviticus points us to the Lord Jesus Christ. And this is clearly seen in this chapter.
Aaron and Moses entered the tabernacle and returned to bless the worshippers. The mantle of the high priesthood, as it were, had been transferred to Aaron, but Aaron was no less a sinner than was Moses. He still needed to offer sacrifices for his own sins before he could ever hope to help others.
Of course, the Lord Jesus Christ had no need to do so for He was without sin. He knew no sin, and was holy, harmless, and undefiled. He was the Lamb without blemish or spot. He was both the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world and the High Priest who offered up that sacrifice. The good news is that “Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12).
In other words, because the sacrifice of Christ Himself was accepted by the Father on our behalf, the Lord Jesus was able to raise His hands and bless us with eternal salvation (See Matthew 11:6; 16:17; 25:34; Luke 1:45; 24:50-52; John 20:29). This is the heart of our worship. This is the crux of the matter.
If you want your worship to matter, then get to the cross. And the good news is, there is room there for you!
It was for this very reason that Paul could encourage the Roman church—as well as every believer since—that “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Because Jesus was commended so are those whom He represents (Romans 7:24-25).
It is the wonderful, dutiful privilege of the minister of God to proclaim this gospel constantly to His people. It is our privilege to proclaim, in the words of Michael Horton, a Gospel-driven life. As those who have been justified by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—the High Priest—we are to be good news people in a bad news world. “God with us” was not the exclusive privilege of Israel but, through Christ, can be every nation’s today.
May God enable us to constantly live under this gospel blessing. May He graciously enable us with the experiential knowledge that our High Priest is always blessing us with this gospel reality: No condemnation, but rather continual commendation—“they shall never perish!”
The Consequences of Worship
In vv. 23b-24 we read something of the consequences of worship. Because their obedience was in accordance with God’s Word, the Israelites were profoundly blessed a powerful manifestation of God’s presence: “Then the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people, and fire came out from before the LORD [i.e. from the bronze altar] and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar.”
John Currid notes, “Earlier, when the tabernacle had been completed, the glory cloud descended upon it—that appearance demonstrated God’s tacit approval of the construction of the tabernacle (see Exod. 40:34-38). The descent of the glory cloud in the present circumstances shows his approval of the ordination of the priesthood and the inauguration of the sacrificial system for his people.”12 In other words, they could rejoice that God was with them, just as He said He would be.
The word “consumed” means “to eat” or “to devour,” which pictures the total removal of the offering. In fact, there were probably not even any ashes left behind. The picture here is probably that of fire coming down from above and consuming what was perhaps already being burnt on the altar. The text throughout the chapter indicates that the fire was burning and thus the sacrifices were being burnt (vv. 10, 13, 14, 17, 20).
This was a momentous occasion in which the true God appeared. It will be noted that pagan religions to this day offer sacrifices to their gods, and yet what they offer remains on the altar—at least until officiating priests take it for themselves. But here the people of Israel witnessed God accepting to the point of consuming what they had offered. He is the true God.
Further, the text tells us that the glory of God appeared to them. What form this took we are not told, but we can assume that it was related to the consuming of the sacrifice and that it had something to do with light (see 1 John 1:5).
The connection between fire and the appearance of the glory of the Lord is a repeated picture in Scripture (see the call of Moses in Exodus 3; the call of Gideon in Judges 6—7; the promise of the birth of Samson to Manoah; Elijah on Mount Carmel; Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6; John the Baptist’s pronouncement of Jesus coming in fulfilment of Malachi 4; and the events on the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2; note also that new covenant believers are reminded in Hebrews 12:28-29 that God is a consuming fire).
The significance of this scene is that, when God shows, He makes a powerful impression. At the very least, He reminds us that He is holy and will purge the dross from those who desire to know and serve Him. Worship matters and so it matters how we worship if we will experience God in worship.
This manifestation of God’s presence is not something that must be relegated to the records of history, but can also be ours. Paul tells us so in 1 Corinthians 14:23-25. But, as in Leviticus 9, there are requirements for such an experience: We must obey God’s mandate and utilise His means if we will experience such a miraculous manifestation. God desires to presence Himself among His people, but He will only do so as we meet the prescribed conditions.
We cannot live according to our own dictates all week long and then expect His blessed presence on the Lord’s Day. We cannot expect God’s blessings in worship if we do not gather to worship! We cannot ignore His Word on the Lord’s Day and expect His power. We cannot disregard His orders as we order our lives daily and expect to engage in true worship on Sunday. And if we do not experience His presence on the Lord’s Day then we have little hope of experiencing it the rest of the week. And neither will those with whom we have contact. In other words, worship matters today and it very much is to matter the rest of the week. It matters in the larger culture.
God was pleased, God was present and the people praised: “When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces” (v. 24). The word translated “shouted” is predominately used shouting for joy (see Job 38:7; Psalm 35:27; Isaiah 24:14; 54:1; etc.). I have no doubt that there was a corresponding fear as they experienced this divine manifestation, but their fear was attended by joy. “The congregation has the right response: they give ‘a ringing cry.’ The Hebrew verb is usually used of a vocal response that is joyful. It is a joy that then leads to worship.”13 And the reason for such joy was that the people knew that they “have a priesthood that would stand before them and God and who would represent them on their behalf.”14
Such is the experience of those whom God saves under the new covenant. Spontaneous and heartfelt praise is a feature of true worship common to both testaments (see Matthew 28:8; cf. Philippians 2:12). Their response was one of humble submission and of a joyful disposition. Is that not the longing of your heart?
As we come to a close I want to restate the truth that worship matters. It matters to God, it matters to the church, and it matters to the nations of this world. In fact, it matters to all of creation. Biblical worship is the hope for the world.
The world has a form of hope that I would characterise as “hype.” Politicians, sociologist and other cultural leaders entertain the idea of a Utopian future that will come about via some vague sense of human rights. This is hype and is in no way legitimately hopeful.
However, the church has biblical hope that, one day, the lion will lie down with the Lamb, the earth will no longer groan in travail, and the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14). That is, our hope is that one day the world will be filled with true worshippers. There is coming a day in which the crowds will be in worship rather than out in the world. As stated by our aforementioned missionary, the world will be changed by the church worshipping.
Consider that Adam and Eve were not only the first couple and family on earth, but were also the first church. But they failed as worshippers and the world followed suit. After the birth of Seth, and then the birth of his son, Enos, people began to call upon the name of the Lord (Genesis 4:25-26). But it was not long after this church began to grow that compromise arose and the world fell once again into chaos and so God destroyed it with a flood.
With the salvation of the household of Noah we once again see a church emerge and it was given the task of worldwide dominion. But shortly thereafter that family of faith fell into sin and the world followed suit.
With the call and conversion of Abraham there was once again hope for an otherwise hopeless world. We see the church in microcosm for centuries, but eventually the church (the children of Israel) was “fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7). And they began to make a difference—a threatening one as far as the Egyptians were concerned. Despite Pharaoh’s murderous onslaught, the people continued to multiply and grow very mighty. The Egyptians sought to put a murderous end to it all, but by God’s grace and power, it continued to grow and abound (Exodus 1:20).
The impact that the church had on Egypt was to be felt worldwide. But for this to happen a lot more was required than crossing the Red Sea, the destruction of the Egyptian army, and the inheriting of the Promised Land. You see, if God’s church was going to make a difference in Canaan (and in the ultimate global context) she would need to be acceptable worshippers of the Lord. And it is for this reason that we have the book of Leviticus.
As noted, Leviticus is a history book before it is a law book. It is the history of God giving His laws of worship; His laws that would shape the nation into worshippers who would then bring the glory of the sovereign Lord to bear upon an otherwise inglorious world.
Sadly, as with Adam and Eve, as with Enos and the church under his care, as with Noah and the church emanating from him, Israel also failed. And so by the time that the Lord Jesus came to earth, the world was under the bondage of Satan. The world was filled with worshippers, but false worshippers. The world was a mess because the church was a mess.
But Jesus Christ, the true Israel, was a perfect worshipper. He came to turn sinners into worshippers (John 4:22-24). And He is still doing so today. The old covenant church, failed but the new covenant church will not ultimately fail. The gates of hell will not prevail, but Jesus through His church will fully bring in His kingdom, and for eternity the world will be inhabited by those who know the experience that worship matters.
God has saved us for His glory and this glory is to be made known among the nations. But that begins with Him being known and therefore being worshipped by His people as we corporately gather. May we be convinced that worship matters. And may our worship be seen to matter as we face a world that needs to worship the one and only God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- John D. Currid, Study Commentary on Leviticus (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2004), 121. ↩
- Philip H. Eveson, The Beauty of Holiness: The Book of Leviticus Simply Explained (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2007), 130. ↩
- R. K. Harrison, Leviticus: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), 104. ↩
- Eveson, The Beauty of Holiness, 123. ↩
- Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus: The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 148. ↩
- Derek Tidball, The Message of Leviticus: Free to Be Holy (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2005), 122. ↩
- Tidball, The Message of Leviticus, 126. ↩
- Tidball, The Message of Leviticus, 123-24. ↩
- Tidball, The Message of Leviticus, 124. ↩
- Harrison, Leviticus, 107. ↩
- Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, 149. ↩
- Currid, Study Commentary on Leviticus, 114. ↩
- Currid, Study Commentary on Leviticus, 121. ↩
- Robert I. Vasholz, Leviticus: A Mentor Commentary (Ross-shire: Mentor, 2007), 115-16. ↩