The book of Exodus provides a familiar and exciting narrative that has spawned epic movies and amusement park attractions. We see a beautiful story of redemption, the display of God’s awesome power, the transformation of a leader, and the unfathomable hardness of the human heart. From a worship perspective, we also see, for the first time in scripture, an invitation extended to God’s people to enter into a deeper worship experience with Him than any previous generation had ever known.
Isolated snapshots of worship comprised of Abel’s righteous offering, Noah’s post-flood sacrifice, Abraham’s obedience on Mount Moriah, and Jacob’s oil-kissed altar at Bethel show us the faithful responses of men who had a limited understanding of God’s character, attributes, and values. In Exodus, we see God pulling back the veil to reveal His power, His character, His laws, and His ordinances for corporate worship. As God rolls this out, something else is also exposed: our tendency to worship with our eyes and our flesh for the purpose of self-gratification rather than in spirit and truth for God’s magnification.
Here is an outline of how God works in the life of the people of Israel to bring them to the threshold of authentic worship:
- God reveals that He is more worthy of worship than anything or anyone else (Ex 7 – 12:30).
- God redeems and delivers from bondage (Ex 12:31 – 14).
- God takes slaves who owned nothing and blesses them with abundant material things (Ex 11:1-2, 12: 35-36).
- God proves that He is capable of meeting their needs, even in dire circumstances (Ex 15:22-17:7).
- God explains what it means to worship Him (Ex 19-20).
- God presents an opportunity to worship Him by offering back to Him a portion of what He gave to the former slaves (Ex 25:1-9).
- God institutes a plan that will allow for the possibility of intimacy with Him (Ex 25:10 – 31).
- God gifts former slaves, whose previous work experience included making mud bricks, with the ability to fashion exquisite items to facilitate their worship of Him (Ex 31:1-11, 36:1-2).
It is at this juncture that the student body at God’s Academy of Worship becomes tragically conflicted. As the scope of the Tabernacle and its components are revealed, it becomes clear that the capital-intensive elements of the project (Ark of the Covenant, table for showbread, lampstands, etc.) would rarely, if ever, be seen by the average worshipper. Only the more pedestrian elements of the tabernacle (tent, gates, bronze altar and wash basin) would be accessible to them. The Tabernacle was being constructed to facilitate the worship of a Spirit, not a thing.
From a human perspective, this was nothing short of a Building Committee fiasco. Everyone knows that if you want people to open up their wallets, the grand vision needs to be about them and what they get out of it. But a lamb grooming area, engraved goatskin memorials, and a manna bar weren’t in the blueprints. The children of Israel would have to resign themselves to the reality that their worship was going to be for and about God rather than about them.
This approach to worship did not sit well with a number of the people. Before the contributions toward God’s plan could be received, they presented an alternate plan that included a very visible, familiar, and accessible object of worship accompanied by a self-gratifying orgy.
As this worship war played out, the people (in particular the Levites, or Worship Leaders) had to make some agonizing decisions between worshipping God His way and following the flesh-gratifying modes of worship they witnessed in Egypt (Ex 32: 25-29). For those in whose hearts God moved, worship became a blessed and joyous experience of contagious generosity and selflessness that radiated God’s presence and glory for generations (Ex 35:4-9, 36:3-7).
For others, the fruit of their self-centered worship was spiritual and physical death and a wilderness dotted with gold-flecked dung (Ex 32:20-28).
To His church, God has revealed many more details about how He is to be worshipped. Through the millennia, however, much has remained the same. God continues to reveal that Jesus is better and worthy of our worship. Through Jesus, He continues to release slaves from bondage and blesses them with life, sustenance, and material things. He still affords us the opportunity of intimacy with Him, and reminds us that the pathway of true worship is marked by offering back to Him gifts and service He provided for the purpose of magnifying His great name.