Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Worship History and Styles – Part 3

This is the third in a series of posts on historical forms of worship, the background of Israelite worship, and modern forms of worship.

IV. Ancient Israelite Worship Practices

In addition to the worship laid down by God, there were other ancient Israelite worship practices. The reason I want to discuss them is so we can see the biblical origins of some of the practices in Christian worship in this post.

1. Proclamation of the Word

A number of times in the Old Testament the people were gathered to hear the Scriptures read[1] to them. For example, King Josiah gathered the people together (2 Kings 23:2):

The king went up to the house of the LORD, and with him went all the people of Judah, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests, the prophets, and all the people, both small and great; he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found in the house of the LORD. NRSV

As synagogue worship developed, reading the Scriptures became a major component of that form of worship. Today in the Protestant service, the high point is the proclamation of the Word, which consists of the Bible readings and sermon.

2. Music

Music in worship goes back to ancient times – the Psalms are ancient hymns, which were set to music. Psalm 149:3-4 refers to both music and dancing in praise of God:

Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre. For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory. NRSV

3. Other Practices

When people prayed, they lifted hands, knelt, bowed, or prostrated themselves. Regarding lifting hands in worship, the psalmist writes in Psalm 63:4:

So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name. NRSV

Regarding prostrating yourself, we read that when Moses prayed to the Lord, he did what Muslims do today at their call to prayer (Numbers 20:6):

Then Moses and Aaron went away from the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting; they fell on their faces, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. NRSV

Regarding bowing, it says in Exodus 34:8: And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped.

We occasionally read about dancing before the Lord, as King David did in 2 Samuel 6:13-19. His wife didn’t approve – she didn’t think it was dignified for the king to do such a thing. (2 Samuel 6:14, 16b):

David danced before the LORD with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod… Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. NRSV

We read in the Bible about cheering and shouting on occasion. For example, notice that 2 Samuel 6:15 says:

So David and all the people of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and the blowing of rams’ horns. NLT

Psalm 81:1-3a, 9-10 refers to the various ways of praising God:

Sing aloud to God, our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob.
Raise a song, sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp.
Blow the trumpet at the new moon…

There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god. I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt

More on this topic of worship in a future post.
[1] Deut 31:11, Josh 8:33-35, 2 Ki 23:2, 2 Chron 17:7, Neh 8

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