18 Oct 2010

The Worship of God: Insight from the Apocrypha

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Apocrypha, Bible, Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds, Worship

Here is a short study I shared with local preachers here in Tucson by request. May it bless you …

Tucson Preacher’s Meeting
September 8, 2009
The Worship of God:
Insight from the Apocrypha

When the subject of worship comes up I see basically two extremes that form. 1) There are those who out of fear of “Pattern Theology” reject any notion of “corporate” worship and something called an “act” of worship. This view is also rooted in a sharp (ironically an extreme form of Campbell’s dispensational hermeneutic) disjunction between the Testaments.

This is a view that I believe is wrong headed. This view is also rooted in a caricature of Jewish worship in Jesus’ own day. The “assembly” in this view is not about worship at all but edification. Worship can only take place through daily life. 2) The other extreme is that of Pattern Theology itself with its assumption that worship is limited only five prescribed “acts” of worship. If one of these “acts” are not named it cannot be worship. Edification plays only a small role in the assembly of this point of view. I think both views fall short of the biblical, historical and theological mark. (See my book with John Mark Hicks and Johnny Melton A Gathered People for more on my views on the assembly)

What I propose to do is share some attitudes pertaining to worship by the Jews during the Second Temple period — that is basically the time of the Christ or just prior to him. Both groups mentioned above usually approach the subject of worship and the teaching of Scripture in an unhistorical manner — thus coming up with some demonstrably wrong conclusions about Jewish attitudes of the day.

The Apocrypha provides extremely valuable information and background for understanding many subjects in the NT and even specific passages. Worship happens to be a subject that is enriched by the Apocrypha. Scattered throughout this literature are references to both corporate and “life-style” worship.

On several occasions the Apocrypha contains detailed accounts of entire “worship services” or “worship gatherings.” For example Josiah’s Passover celebration in 1 Esdras 1 and Nehemiah’s sacrifice of dedication in 2 Maccabees 1; the Temple rededication account in 1 Maccabees 4 and the Temple dedication in 1 Esdras 5-7. These accounts show us the role of the priesthood in Hebrew worship, the role of the “congregation” in participating in worship also.

More specifically the Apocrypha mentions a wide array of worship responses from God’s People during the time of Jesus and the early church. These would include:

1) Raising hands and prostration in worship (1 Esdras 9.47; Sirach 50.17; 1 Maccabees 4.55; Judith 6.18; 13.17; etc)

2) Pilgrimages to Jerusalem and festival worship (Tobit 1.6; 5.13; etc)

3) Prayer including certain postures of prayer (Tobit 12.8; 13.1; Sirach 7.14; etc)

4) Repentance and confession including fasting (1 Esdras 8.91; Tobit 12.8; etc)

5) Temple worship including daily sacrifice (Judith 4.14; 16.16-18; etc)

What comes as a surprise, perhaps, to those unfamiliar with Jewish literature of the period is the heavy emphasis on personal piety as the foundation of any corporate worship and upon “works of righteousness” as an outgrowth of worship. Personal devotion is rooted in obedience to God’s gracious Torah and is essential for proper worship (4 Maccabees 5.24). In addition the “fear of the Lord” (Judith 16.15; Sirach 1.11-20; 7.29-31) and a right heart are accorded prominence in the worship of God in Jewish writings of the time of Jesus (among other places see 2 Maccabees 1.3-4; 15.27; Sirach 1.12; 21.6; etc). Listen to the words of 2 Maccabees

May he {the Lord} give you all a heart of worship and a willing spirit. May he open your heart to his law and commandments, and my he bring peace” (1.3-4).

Likewise, worship as service to others, that is as in a lifestyle of good deeds, is regarded as a natural complement to the worship of God (3 Maccabees 3.4). This Third Maccabees text sounds reminiscent of Luke’s description of the early believers in Jerusalem where they did good deeds and yet were also outcasts …

The Jews, however, continued to maintain goodwill and unswerving loyalty to the dynasty; but because they worshiped God and conducted themselves by his law, they kept their separateness with respect to foods … but since they adorned their style of life with the good deeds of upright people they were established in good repute with everyone.” (3 Macc 3.3-5)

For Jews of Jesus’ day charity and almsgiving to the poor and the socially disadvantaged are essential works of mercy of God’s People (Tobit 4.11; 12.9; Sirach 17.22; 29.12; 40.17, 24; etc).

The Book of Tobit brings most of these themes together in one delightful, and very edifying, story. Sometimes called the Pilgrim’s Progress of the Apocrypha, Tobit is a tale of faith in adversity. Tobit recognizes the spiritual warfare surrounding this life and the importance of personal piety in the sea of human trials. Significant for my purposes is the nexus in Tobit between corporate worship (1.6-9), private devotion (13.3-6, see the whole chapter), and the worship response of a life-style of service to others (12.6-10).

The key ingredient for inspiring this participation in corporate worship and the lifestyle of praise and service to God is personal piety before God. Here the Book of Tobit mirrors quite closely the Hebrew Bible’s demand of personal piety for coming into the Holy Presence of God. In Tobit piety is focused upon the “fear of the Lord” (4.21; 14.2, 6) and is demonstrated by three practices: prayer, fasting and almsgiving to the poor (4.5-11; 12.8-15). These three acts of piety would later become known as the “Three Pillars of Judaism” (See G. F. Moore’s classic, Judaism in the first Three Centuries of the Christian Era, vol. 1, p. 35ff).

What I think we see in Tobit is a balance that is not seen in many contemporary discussions of “worship.” To say that there is in fact a time when God’s People gather together in his Presence in “corporate” worship in no way negates the truth that we are to have a “lifestyle” of worship responses (a lifestyle of sacrifice). Tobit knows this truth very well — and I am convinced that Paul did as well.

Tobit sees that corporate worship, a lifestyle of praise and devotion and works of mercy are not “either/or” propositions; rather all three are like strings in a rope that depend upon each other. What the Apocrypha, and especially Tobit, show us is that the Jews never believed that worship was reduced to legalistic RITUAL and certain prescribed “acts” done in the Temple. Rather worship was the essence of life itself and service to God (this should not surprise us for every word Paul uses for worship he pulls out of the Jewish Bible and “lectionary” when he mentions worship — this is particularly true of the Hebrew Writer). The Apocrypha exposes our assumptions about Jewish worship in the time of Christ — that it was essentially legalistic or . . . as unfounded. The Apocrypha shows that Jews in Jesus’ day saw a meaningful connection between corporate worship, private worship and works of mercy as responses to worship.

Maybe I am wrong (but I do not think so) but I believe this same dynamic underlies the New Testament’s teaching regarding worship — especially as it is seen in 1 Corinthians, Hebrews and even Revelation. When we get Christians to understand this relationship of the grace of coming into his Presence in corporate worship and how that then empowers us for a holy lifestyle (and how that lifestyle also prepares us for corporate worship) of devotion and service — we just might see a major revival among our churches. Perhaps we would also see fewer “worship wars!”

6 Responses to “The Worship of God: Insight from the Apocrypha”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Good thoughts – GW

  2. John Says:

    Would the brother Melton be the same that I knew at Freed-Hardeman and played tennis with in the early 70’s?

    How would the ‘three pillars of Judaism’ differ from ‘pattern theology’?

    “To say that there is in fact a time when God’s People gather together in his Presence in “corporate” worship in no way negates the truth that we are to have a “lifestyle” of worship responses (a lifestyle of sacrifice).” I reckon this is what everybody believes.

    “When we get Christians to understand this relationship of the grace of coming into his Presence in corporate worship and how that then empowers us for a holy lifestyle (and how that lifestyle also prepares us for corporate worship) of devotion and service — we just might see a major revival among our churches.” Again, I don’t know anyone that I feel would disagree with that.

    Elaborate on the Jewish “lectionary.” I am familiar with the parsha and haftarah.

  3. preacherman Says:

    Great…Wish I could have heard it.

  4. nick gill Says:

    Patrick Mead is doing a series on how we received Scripture, that is getting more and more exciting with every installment! I highly recommend it.

    http://patrickmead.net/2010/10/12/the-book-a-new-hidden-history-series/

  5. Marie T. Dozier Says:

    What a great blog here! There seems to be a church on every corner and yet so many of them resemble that of either a funeral service or a pep rally- It’s one extreme or another. What a great, balanced perspective you have! Thanks for the great read. I need to get your book.

  6. kingdomseeking Says:

    Thanks for sharing your study. I really enjoy these posts that teach me something new.

    Grace and Peace,

    K. Rex Butts

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