Worship Wars – Part 4

In our current series on worship, we arrive now at the first of our two difficult questions in order to better understand the transition of worship from Old Covenant to New Covenant. Remember that we’re looking at this transition through the lens of continuity and discontinuity, or those things which continue from Old to New vs. those things which have been discontinued.

Having said that, we turn to the first of our controversial points of transition in worship – again from a continuity and discontinuity perspective, namely the When of Worship. As we have seen through our prior posts, God regulated His worship under the Old Covenant, according to His Word, and we saw how there is still regulation under the New Covenant. Here, however, we must ask if He has regulated a specific day or days on which He requires worship. Historically, this question has been the source of debate and schism. It has been a defining characteristic of various positions in covenant theology as well as a culturally significant question, particularly in the West. So it’s with humility and trepidation that we approach this question, yet it’s relationship God’s prescription of His worship necessitates that we attempt to answer it, by the Book.

To begin with, we again need to do a brief survey from the Old Testament, prior to the institution of the Old Covenant, which we’ll be the subject of this post. Then, we’ll survey that which took place under the Old Covenant, and finally we’ll address the transition question from Old to New Covenant. Prior to Moses, going all the way back to Creation, we need to note the significance of the Creation Sabbath. This is where the debate and controversy originates, or at least should. We find this reference in Genesis 2:1-3

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

Genesis 2:1-3

Here, we need simply to note the set apart nature of the Seventh Day, recalling that man was made on Day 6. There’s no command given here, no Old or New Covenant in view. We have no indication that it is a Saturday or Sunday or even a Wednesday. We have no direction concerning worship or even towards a particular religious observance. It is simply a statement that on this day, God made it holy – He set it apart – because on it He rested from His creative work. Of note is that the original word for God’s rest is shabath, simply meaning to cease, in this case from work or labors.

The second passage we need to note is found a few verses later in the chapter where we read

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

Genesis 2:15

On the surface, this verse seems unrelated to the previous passage we cited, until we look at the meaning behind God “putting” Adam in the garden and again recall that the creation of the Sabbath Day was subsequent to the creation of man. While not the same word for rest seen in Genesis 2:2,3, nevertheless the word used here would be better translated, rest, a synonym for shabath. It conveys the idea of finality or permanence that may be associated with victory or salvation.1 In other words, God “rested” Adam in the Garden. We might even say that by design, this was meant to be Adam’s final resting place. God created man, rested him in the Garden, then rested from His creative work, sanctifying the 7th Day.

Briefly, we may also note the meaning and use of the phrase, “to work it and keep it.” True the concept of work could be in view here, however this word could also be translated as “to serve” while the “to keep” could also be translated as “to guard”. When held together in a phrase, “to serve and to guard,” is often used in context of a priest (Num. 3:7-8)

Moving quickly now to a survey of the significance for the When of Worship from the Garden to Noah and the evidence for a day or days dedicated to worship is scant. One point for us to notice however, is that the name Noah, sounds like the Hebrew word for rest (see Gen. 2:15 above) Additionally, Noah’s father, Lamech, offers this comment at his son’s birth, “Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” The word for relief used here is literally, rest, the same word used above in Genesis 2:15 in relation to Adam. Lamech had the expectation that his son would bring a reversal to the curse (Genesis 3:17) and rest for the people. Note that his hope was for a return to rest and we might even argue a return to the original condition and significance that it held with Adam.

Though we find Noah worshiping God (Genesis 8:20-22), the remainder of the book of Genesis is remarkably free of any command, example, description, or otherwise pattern of regulation concerning a particular day or days of worship. What we do see, however, are men functioning as priests from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to Melchizedek, and we may even want to include Job here (Job 1:5). Clearly, worship is present and on-going, even central as with Abraham’s servant (Gen. 24). Worship, and more specifically sacrifices, seems to be consistent with the pattern defined by God in the garden (Gen. 3:21; 4:1-7).

In the next post, we will focus our attention upon the Old Covenant, specifically as the stipulations of the covenant are outlined to Moses, the mediator of the covenant. In that overview, there will be three principle passages which we will examine – Exodus 16, Exodus 20:8, Deuteronomy 5:12-15, and several other supporting passages that will help us see the significance, or lack thereof, for a prescribed day of worship.

  1. See TWOT 1323

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