WORSHIP OF GOD AND CELEBRATION OF THE WEEKLY SABBATH AND ANNUAL FESTIVALS
The rituals and sacrifices through which the ancient Israelites worshiped the Creator God were intended to be vehicles through which the knowledge and understanding of the Creator God's ways would be transmitted to the worshiper. Moreover the rituals and sacrifices were methods through which communication between God and his chosen people could be established and maintained.
To many of the elect today, the observance of the weekly Sabbath, the Passover, and the annual festivals is a meaningless ritual that provides little or no physical or spiritual benefit. And to many, the study of the Bible, prayer to the Father, and the attendance of formal assemblies of his elect children is done without truly understanding that these present them with the awesome opportunity to come into the very presence of the Sovereign God and his Son, the Savior of humanity.
While speaking to a woman of Samaria, Jesus explained that there would come a time when the existing worship system of ritual and sacrifice would be set aside and those who worshiped God would do so in spirit and truth.
John 4:19-24 Paraphrased
"The woman said to him, Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where it is necessary to worship. Jesus said to her, Woman believe me that an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. For the Father seeks such ones who worship him. God is a spirit, and the ones who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (Jn.4:19-24 Para.).
Many view what Jesus said as a philosophical statement and believe that Jesus was only trying to convey that people would eventually worship God with a different attitude. However, Jesus says something completely different; Jesus is speaking of the ability to communicate with God the Father in a way that is very personal and meaningful.
Today, during the gospel age of salvation, God the Father wants his children to worship him in spirit and truth with a clear understanding of whom they are worshiping and the reasons for this worship. Moreover, the Father intends that, through physical and spiritual rituals of worship and praise during the weekly Sabbath, the Passover, and the annual festivals, his children will internalize spiritual knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors that will be a part of their character for all eternity.
This study shows why the practice of worship, praise, gratitude, and supplication to the Father and his Son during the weekly Sabbath, the Passover, and the annual festivals is important to one's spiritual growth. Moreover, this study reveals many aspects of worship and praise of the Father and his Son that have been forgotten since the demise and disappearance of the early church and it shows that, how one practices worship and praise is a reflection of one's attitude and desire to please the Father and his Son and enter into the divine Family and Kingdom of God. Additionally, this study shows that it is through the vehicles of worship and praise that one can acknowledge and honor the Father and his Son's greatness and express one's love, submission, commitment, needs, and desires to them.
WHY WORSHIP GOD?
It is clear from many scriptures that God requires his people to worship and praise him. But, why does he require this?
It is impossible to understand why the Father requires his people to worship and praise him without first understanding the reason for the human creation. Once one understands that the Father's goal is to create spirit-sons (1.Jn.3:2) who will have the same character traits and quality of life that he possesses and that he intends to share all that he has created or will create throughout eternity with them, the worship and praise that he requires can be understood in the context of a father-son relationship:
"But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God," (Jn.1:12 KJV).
"Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knows us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (1.Jn.3:1-2 KJV). See also 2.Cor.6:18; Heb.2:10; Rom.8: 14,19.
When one understands the effort, planning, and sacrifice that was made in order to make a person a part of the Family of God, it is plain to see that the Father loves us. However, it is difficult for us to love the Father and his Son in the same way that they love us. In order to help us develop a strong loving relationship with him and his son, the Father requires worship and praise by his children. When we do this with the proper attitude and the understanding of what the Father wants to give us and the kind of love that he has for us, our love for him and his son will grow deeper and stronger. Moreover, the bond between a son and father will become harmonious and unbreakable.
Worship and praise of the Father is part of the process of spiritual growth in the Family of God. It is the building of a close, loving, father-son relationship in much the same way as the child-parent relationship grows in love and to maturity in a physical family under the loving care of a parent and the reciprocal love of a respectful and obedient child.
According to Jesus the most important law of God is the law of love:
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your life, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like the first, You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt.22:36-39 Para.). See also Deut.6:4-5.
Because the law concerning one's basic attitude toward the Father is the most important of all his laws and is the foundation on which a harmonious relationship with him and his Son is built, it is vitally important to understand what the love of God is. Through this understanding comes the understanding of why true worship and praise of God is important to God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the elect of God.
God is Love
"We are of God; the one who knows God hears us. Whoever is not of God does not hear us. Because of this understanding we can know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Beloved, let us love each other: for love is of God; and every one that loves is of God: and everyone that loves is born of God, and knows God" (1.Jn.4: 6-7 Para.).
The kind of love John speaks about is not the same kind of love that people without the spirit of God have for each other. God's love has its foundation in a knowledge of the true God which can only come from him. With this understanding comes a certain discernment between truth and error. John says that everyone who has love that is based in the knowledge of God is one of God's children. This is because one cannot have godly love unless it is given to them by God the Father; therefore, only those with this kind of love are God's children.
Although faith is one of the most powerful of God's spiritual gifts, godly love is the most important attribute, because, a person must have and grow in love to remain a child of God (1.Cor.13:13):
"One that does not love, does not know God; for God is love" (1.Jn.4:8 Para.).
All the things the Father is, his infinite energy, his power, and his presence are centered around and defined by the words, God is love.
It is because God is love and will not change (Mal.3:6) that his children have the assurance that he will fulfill his awesome plan for humanity.
The Father and Jesus' Love
"In this was the love of God the Father manifested toward us, because he sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins" (1.Jn. 4:9-10 Para.).
The Father's great love for humanity can be seen through his act of allowing his only Son to give his life for us. Neither the Father nor his Son had ever been human. The risk was enormous, and there was no guarantee of success. If his Son had failed to keep the law perfectly, he would have died forever. The Father would have lost his only Son and companion who is the only other immortal being to ever exist. Moreover, the Father would have been alone for eternity:
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved" (Jn.3:16-17 KJV).
Jesus, Before He Was Human
Before becoming human, Jesus was an immortal spirit-being (the Creator God) who possessed the highest form of existence: life that springs forth from itself, never dying or decaying. This immortal being who was not subject to death emptied himself of his glory, power, and immortality to become a mortal man in order to attempt to live a sinless life in the flesh and sacrifice his life as payment for the sins of all humanity (See 1.Cor.6:20; 7:23).
John 4:11-21 Paraphrased
"Beloved, if God the Father so loved us, we ought to love each other. No one has seen God the Father at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and his love having been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him, and he in us, because of his spirit he has given to us" (vs.11-13). See also Lk.24:46-49; Acts 5:32.
It was God the Father who sent the Creator God to earth to become his physical son and the Savior of humanity. Only those who truly understand and acknowledge this fact will have the Father's spirit and love residing within them and they will show godly love toward the Father.
The examples of God the Father's willingness to send his only Son to earth in an attempt to save humanity and the Creator God's willingness to risk his immortal life to save humanity shows that godly love is an outward expression of divine and righteous character:
"And we have known and have believed the love which God has in us. God is love, and the one abiding in love abides in God, and God in him. Our love is perfected when we have confidence in the day of judgment, that as he is, we also are in this world" (vs.16-17).
"There is no fear in love; because perfect love removes all fear: because fear has torment. He that is fearful, does not have perfected love. We love the Father, because he first loved us [Rom.5:8]. If a man says I love God and hates his brother, he is a liar: how can one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, love God who he has not seen? And we have a commandment from him that one who loves God must also love his brother" (vs.18-21).
When John said that we love the Father because he loved us first, he was not speaking of the concept of worldly love, he spoke of godly love which is spiritual in nature. We could not have a godly love for the Father if he had not loved us first and placed his spiritual love within us. Godly love is expressed as true love for all that God is and cares for.
"Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loves him that begat [i.e., the Father], loves him also that is begotten of him [Jesus Christ]. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his law. For this is the love of God, that we keep his law: and his law is not burdensome" (1.Jn.5:1-3 Para.).
In John's summation of the Father's love toward us, he said that it is because of our belief in Christ that we are born of the Father into his family. Moreover, he said that, when we show love to the Father, it is evident that we also love his Son. Having godly love toward the Father and obeying his law allows us to understand the reason we love other people who are called to salvation. John also says that true spiritual love (the love of God) is expressed through the practice of the Father's holy law.
Expressing One's Love During the Festivals
It is clear from many scriptures that, in order to prove one truly loves the Father and his Son, a person must express true spiritual love toward them through a righteous attitude and diligence in practicing the letter and spirit of God's law.
The law of God encompasses all of the instructions in the Bible pertaining to one's attitude and behavior toward God and man. Moreover, these instructions contain information about how to properly observe each of God's festivals and how to properly worship him on these special days. If we follow these instructions, we can express our love, praise, and gratitude to the Father in a manner that is acceptable and pleasing to him. Thereby, it is possible to maintain a harmonious relationship with him and his Son and receive the benefits that come through this relationship.
Today, much of the joy, excitement, and meaning of God's festivals does not exist in the personal and formal worship of God. Although God's people observe his annual festival days and the weekly Sabbath and many attend formal worship assemblies, the way in which the formal worship of God was intended to be practiced during the annual festivals and the weekly Sabbath has not been practiced on a continual basis, since the destruction of national Israel and the disappearance of the early church.
The Father clearly honors the sincere efforts of his children to worship and honor him on these sacred days; however, the prophecies reveal that, just before the return of Jesus Christ, God will restore much of the faith that was once delivered to his people. A part of this faith that will be restored is the knowledge and understanding of how to worship and please God during his weekly Sabbath and the annual festivals.
The prophet Daniel was told that the understanding of the things that were revealed to him were for the elect who would live during the end of human rule on earth:
"And the angel said to Daniel, Go your way Daniel: for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. Many shall be purified, and made white and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand" (Dan.12:9-10 Para.). See also Rev.1:1-8; 17:8.
This prophecy shows that, during the end of the age, many will be called to salvation, purified (have their sin removed) and made white (become righteous). It is to the ones who are being purified and made white that an understanding of God's ways will be revealed. This understanding not only pertains to prophetic events, but also to growing in grace and knowledge and how to practice the things that are revealed.
A MAJOR KEY TO WORSHIPING GOD
One of the major keys to worshiping God more effectively during this age is understanding that all worship and praise of God is to be projected toward him; it is to be God-centered and not self-centered.
When the Father's elect children gather to formally worship him, all activities should be designed to communicate and fellowship with God the Father and his Son. If proper worship toward the Father can be accomplished through a collective effort (e.g., singing, music, prayer, study, and teaching), the blessings that the Father promises to those who please him in worship and praise of him can be obtained.
Although the Bible records little that shows how the early church structured their formal worship of God, the record of how Israel was instructed to worship the Creator God shows that worship of God is to be for his glory, his honor, and his pleasure. Moreover, the Bible shows that the worship of God is done for him, not for our entertainment or personal gratification. However, when one comes to truly understand the reasons that the Father requires his children to worship him and performs this worship with this understanding, one cannot help but have a great sense of personal fulfillment, well-being, and satisfaction in knowing that one has pleased the Father and is in good standing with him.
Another major key to worshiping the Father more effectively during this age is to realize that, when the Father's elect children initiate private worship of the Father or participate in formal worship of him, they are drawn into the presence of the Father and his Son.
THE FIRST COVENANT WITH ISRAEL
Under the first covenant with national Israel, the Creator God established a formal worship system that contained festival days on which the nation of Israel had to cease their regular work activities and present themselves before the Creator God to worship and praise him.
These special days were great celebrations in which the people enjoyed fine food and drink1, and fellowship. These were days in which special offerings were given to God and special sacrifices and rituals were performed.
1 The only exception to eating and drinking on a festival day under the first covenant with national Israel was the Day of Atonement. On this festival both Israelites and non-Israelites who were considered a part of the nation were commanded to fast. However, today the children of God are not required to fast because they are under a different covenant and have no need to fast on this day. See chapter 18, Should Christians Fast on the Day of Atonement.
These were days in which there was an outpouring of praise to God through formal public prayer. During the festivities on these days, the organized activities included the reading from the Book of the Law, poetry, singing songs, blowing trumpets, and playing music. All of these activities were dedicated to God and meant to acknowledge and proclaim his personal attributes and great works. These festival days were also to be days for reflecting on one's personal relationship with God and giving gratitude to him for the blessings he had bestowed.
CREATED FOR HIS PURPOSE AND PLEASURE
"You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for you have created all things, and for your pleasure [i.e., purpose] they were and are created" (Rev.4:11 KJV).
Many scriptures clearly show that God the Father created all things through Jesus Christ for his purpose and pleasure. With the creation of Adam and Eve, he began the process of creating children who will become spirit-beings as he is with the same philosophy of life that he has. See Phil.3:21; Jn.1:12; 1.Jn.3:1-2; 2.Cor.6:18; Heb.2:10; Rom.8:14,19.
"But as it is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him" (1.Cor.2:9 KJV).
God the Father and Jesus Christ are spirit-beings who derive great pleasure out of life; they are not somber individuals who live a dull uninteresting existence. One of the primary reasons for the Father's expansion of his family is to increase his pleasure and enjoyment by sharing all that he has and all that he will create throughout eternity with his children.
"You will show me the path of life: in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Psa.16: 11 KJV). See also Psa.36:7-9.
"The Lord takes pleasure in them that have deep feelings of reverence and awe for him, and in those that have hope in his mercy. Praise the Lord O Jerusalem; praise your God O Zion" (Psa.147: 11-12 Para.).
Jesus says that it gives the Father great pleasure to give to his children and share in their lives as they grow toward spiritual maturity (Matt.7: 7-11; Lk.12:32). From many scriptures, it is clear that the more we seek to please God the Father with our life the more he will bless us and the more real and fulfilling our spiritual lives will become.
THE RESTORATION OF TRUTH
One of the major prophecies for the end of the age concerns the restoration of truth through the ministry of Elijah:
"Behold I am sending you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the sons, and the heart of the sons to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction" (Mal.4:5-6 Para.). See also Mal.3:1.
The reference to fathers and sons by Malachi is a reference to the fathers who taught the truth of God, such as the Patriarchs, Moses, the Aaronic priesthood, and the Apostles. The sons are a reference to those who are taught the righteous ways of God through these teachers of righteousness.
The Things to be Restored
"And Jesus replied, Elijah truly will come first and restore all things" (Matt.17:11 Para.).
The reference to Elijah's restoration of all things by Jesus is a reference to the restoration of God's worship system, which includes the sacrificial system and Jesus' teachings concerning the salvation of humanity and the spiritual relationship between God the Father and his elect children.
The message of the third Elijah is centered around the restoration of the truth of God. Therefore, we should expect the third Elijah to restore an understanding of how the worship system that God instituted at Mount Sinai and the worship system that Jesus Christ instituted at Jerusalem work together in the salvation of those who believe and worship God the Father in truth.
When the Father's worship system is understood in connection with his plan for the salvation of humanity and is believed by those whom he calls to salvation, it can truly be said that the hearts of the fathers have been turned to the sons and the sons' to the fathers. Indeed, belief in and adherence to God's true worship system will result in harmony between the fathers who taught righteousness (i.e., the Patriarchs, Moses, Aaron, the Apostles, and others) and those who are taught righteousness and believe.
The Third Elijah's Message
A review of the ministries of the first Elijah and the second Elijah (John the Baptist), reveals that both of them had one major thing in common; they both preached a powerful warning message to God's covenant people. This warning was for God's people to repent and return to the true, uncorrupted worship of God so they would not have to face God's wrath.
The primary emphasis of the first and second Elijah's ministries concerned the restoration of a spiritual relationship between God and his chosen people. It is also evident by what is said of the third Elijah's ministry that this will also be one of his messages.
In order to establish the kind of spiritual relationship that the Father and Jesus Christ want between them and the elect of God, the formal worship of God the Father on the weekly Sabbath and the annual festivals must be restored and practiced as originally intended. When this is done, one will be able to please the Father and Jesus Christ in a more dynamic way on the Sabbath and festival observances. Additionally, one will be able to reap more of the physical and spiritual benefits that are promised as a part of these special days.
It is when these days are observed as God the Father and Jesus Christ originally intended that fellowship and communion with them and the elect children of God will become the kind of joyful, exciting, and fulfilling experience that it is intended to be.
TWO IMPORTANT QUESTIONS
- If one is fulfilling one's responsibility to fellowship with God's people and learn about God and his ways during the weekly Sabbath and the annual festivals, what can be done to enhance this experience and make it more pleasing to the Father and Jesus Christ and more beneficial to one's spiritual life?
- If one is unable to meet with other children of God during the weekly Sabbath and the annual festivals, how does one make their communion with the Father and his Son an increasingly meaningful experience on these special days?
The information needed to answer these two questions can only be found through a study of the various concepts and instructions in the Bible that explain how to worship and praise God. This knowledge is almost totally missing from the teachings within most of the congregations of God today, because most of the knowledge of how to properly worship and praise God was lost when the dynamic and powerful church that Jesus established on the Feast of Pentecost in 30 A.D. ceased to exist after the death of the apostle John.
Although the true spiritual Body of Christ never completely lost the understanding of the most basic truths that are necessary for salvation, it did accept much false teaching and made many departures from the truth of God. Some of the knowledge and understanding that was allowed to be lost pertains to how one is to worship and please God the Father during the weekly Sabbath and the annual festivals. This lost knowledge has resulted in the majority of God's people structuring their personal and collective worship of the true God after that of false Christianity.
An Honest Analysis
An honest analysis of the worship structure of false Christianity shows that the singing, the music, and the messages are primarily intended for the entertainment of the worshipers and does not reflect the kind of worship and praise of God that is recorded in the Bible.
The scriptures clearly show that the worship and praise of the true God is not to be done for the entertainment and pleasure of the worshiper. Nevertheless, by its very nature, the proper worship and praise of God will result in a pleasurable experience for the worshiper. However, proper worship and praise of the true God is done to establish and maintain a harmonious relationship with him and please him.
The historical and scriptural records show that the formal worship of the God of Israel on the Sabbath, the annual festival observances and other special events, such as the bringing of the ark to the City of David, the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem, and the daily sacrifices, were carefully planned and executed in order to properly worship and praise God.
The elect who worship and praise God the Father today should seek to please him like the ancient Israelites and the early church did with their praise, songs, music, and dance for his pleasure.
Because we are about 4,000 years removed from the giving of the law at Mount Sinai and about 1,900 years removed from the early church, it is difficult to understand how the Father wants his elect children to worship and praise him in an individual or formal collective way during this age of the church. In order to discover how to worship and please God on his weekly Sabbath and annual festival days, this study will make a detailed analysis of the following subjects:
- The example of the early church concerning the worship and praise of God
- The meanings of the Hebrew and Greek words in the Bible that pertain to the worship and praise of God
- The worship system that God gave ancient Israel
- What the prophets and psalmists have said about the worship and praise of God
- What will be required of humanity after the return of Jesus Christ concerning the worship and praise of God
- The examples of worship and praise in the Book of Revelation
BLESSINGS FOR OBEDIENCE
God promised the Israelites that, if they were faithful in their observance of the annual festivals and in bringing the required tithes and offerings to him at the place where he placed his name and presence, he would give them unimaginable physical blessings (See Mal.3:10-11). Today, if we obey God's instructions to truly rejoice during his festivals, we will also receive great spiritual blessings now and in the future:
"And you shall eat before the Lord your God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks; that you may learn to fear [to have deep feelings of reverence and awe] the Lord your God always" (Deut.14:23 KJV).
In order to be at peace with God and to perform his will in their lives, the Israelites had to learn to love him, have deep feelings of reverence and respect for him, and stand in awe of him. A major part of this learning process concerned contact with God through the formal worship system at the location he chose to place his name and presence. There, they had to remember, speak of, and meditate on the great things that God had done and was doing for them individually and nationally.
Through the repetition of the weekly Sabbath and the annual festivals and through practicing God's law and way of life, the Israelites were constantly reminded of God's greatness and his love and concern for them. Today, these same basic concepts apply to the elect of God.
Isaiah 56:1-7 Paraphrased
"The Lord says this, Keep justice and do righteously, for my salvation is coming near, and my righteousness [Christ] will be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man that grabs hold, and keeps my Sabbath without defiling it; and does not practice all kinds of evil" (vs.1-2).
In this prophetic promise, Isaiah records God the Father's thoughts, which are given to him by the Creator God. Those to whom salvation is offered and who have seized this opportunity are encouraged to continue to live righteously, because they will be blessed for their proper observance of the Sabbath while maintaining a righteous lifestyle.
"Neither let the son of the foreigner that has joined himself to the Lord say, The Lord has cut me off from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Look, I am a dry tree. For this says the Lord to the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and grab hold of my covenant; Within my walls and within my house I will give them a place and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall never cease" (vs.3-5).
Under the first covenant with national Israel, there were certain people who were excluded from participating with the congregation in the formal worship of God (See Deut. chap.23). However, God says that these people should not worry about their physical circumstances, because he will not cut them off from the promises he has made to bless them for their obedience to him. These individuals are special to God because they love him, believe in the promises that are in his agreement with them, and have made an effort to keep the Sabbath holy and to do the things that please him on this special day.
"And the sons of aliens who join themselves to the Lord to serve him, and to love his name, and become his servants and everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath and grabs hold of my covenant. These I will bring to my holy mount and make them joyful in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted on my altar . . ." (vs.6-7).
Because God is pleased with those who seek to please him, he will bring them into his most holy place and make them happy there. It is important to understand that it is because these people do things that please God on his Sabbath that he is especially pleased with them and will accept their offerings and sacrifices (atonement for sin and gratitude to him).
Clearly the weekly Sabbath is not to be observed and celebrated for exactly the same reasons as each of the annual festivals. Nonetheless, the weekly Sabbath is a day on which the Father's children should celebrate and rejoice.
Since the disappearance of the early church, many have taught that Isaiah 58:13-14 says that no personal pleasure, entertainment, or strenuous physical activity is allowed on the Sabbath; however, this is not true. Just because we are commanded to cease from our labor on this day, it does not mean that we must be totally inactive on the Sabbath. God intended just the opposite. The Sabbath is holy time, which God has specifically set aside for humanity's benefit and enjoyment:
"If you will turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your own pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable; and shall honor him, not doing your own ways, not finding your own pleasure [will], nor speaking your own words: Then shall you delight yourself in the Lord; and I will cause you to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it" (Isa.58:13-14 KJV).
If the King James translation of verses 13-14 is correct, the logic of this text is flawed, because it is impossible to call the Sabbath a 'delight' if one is forbidden to do anything pleasurable or delightful on it. However, the Bible is a logical book without contradiction; therefore, there must be an error in the King James translation.
The first verse of Isaiah 58 shows that the context of the whole chapter is a condemnation of Israel for their rebellion against God and their violation of his law, including the breaking of the Sabbath:
"Cry aloud, spare not, lift up your voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins" (Isa.58:1 Para.).
The problem in understanding what Isaiah recorded in verse 13 comes from a mistranslation of the Hebrew word 'hepes', which has been translated as 'pleasure' in the King James Translation. The Hebrew word 'hepes' actually means 'will' or 'purpose'; it has nothing to do with a celebration, entertainment, or recreation. The reprimand in verse 13 is an instruction to refrain from doing one's own will or purpose on the weekly Sabbath.
The Jewish translation of Isaiah 58:13 reads, "If you turn away your foot because of the Sabbath, from pursuing your business on my holy day. . . nor pursuing your business, nor speaking thereof."
The New English Bible reads, "If you cease to tread the Sabbath underfoot, and keep my holy day free from your own affairs, if you call the Sabbath a day of joy. . .. If you honor it by not plying your trade, not seeking your own interest or attending to your own affairs."
The instruction in verse 14 is to make the Sabbath a delight and a pleasurable experience by turning one's attention toward God and his wonderful and awesome purpose for humanity.
Isaiah 58:13-14 has nothing to do with prohibiting pleasure, entertainment, or recreation on the Sabbath. The admonition is to refrain from violating the Sabbath by working or having one's thoughts focused on one's occupation, trade, profession, or whatever one does to earn a living or increase one's wealth. When a person observes the Sabbath the way God intended, one will reap tremendous blessings.
The Sabbath, the Festivals, and Pleasure
God says to rejoice on the Sabbath and the annual festivals, but he does not intend that we should totally fill these days with the pleasures of this life. God's instruction to rejoice does not cancel one's responsibility to keep these days holy and to commune with him.
In addition to the worship and praise of God on the festivals, there are many other things that one can do on these days that will help make them delightful. For example, there is no prohibition against swimming, playing tennis, fishing, gardening, sewing, doing artwork, picnicking, playing ball, and fellow-shipping with friends and neighbors. However, these activities should not be one's total focus on the Sabbath, but if engaged in, should enhance the Sabbath and its meaning.
The Sabbath and the annual festivals should be a delight for ourselves, our family, and our friends with no more restrictions than we would have on any other day other than those things specifically prohibited by God's law.
Christ came to teach us the spiritual aspect of the law. A converted mind seeks the wisdom (Jms.1:5) of the spirit of the law, as well as the letter of the law. Moreover, a truly converted person should not need a long list of things which are and are not permitted on these days.
David summarizes the attitude that one should have toward God and the joy that one should have in keeping the festivals with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Father's children:
"As the deer pants after the stream of water, so my life pants after you, O God. My life thirsts for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say to me, Where is your God? When I remember these things, I pour out my very being: for I went with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of rejoicing and praise, with the multitude that were keeping the festival" (Psa.42:1-4 Para.).
WORSHIP WITHIN THE CONGREGATIONS OF GOD
The writer to the Hebrews urged those who are called to salvation during the end of the age to gather together for the following purposes:
"And let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another: and so much the more as you see the day approaching" (Heb.10:24-25 KJV).
Whether or not we are living just before the return of Jesus Christ, we still need to understand and practice the things that please God the Father in our worship and praise of him, so that we can grow in grace and knowledge and have a closer and more harmonious relationship with him and his Son. One of the great opportunities to do this is during the weekly festival of the Sabbath and the annual festivals when we can fellowship with others of like mind.
Paul's instruction to assemble together is followed by many of God's elect today, but most of them use the worship format of the churches of this world as a guide for their formal worship of the true God. The problem the elect have today in structuring a formal worship assembly after the format of the early church is that we do not know how their worship assemblies were structured. Moreover we live in different times and under different circumstances from the early church. Therefore, we cannot do many of the things in the same way that were done in the past to worship and praise God. However, it is obvious that more is expected than has been practiced since the demise of the early church.
But, how does one practice the things that obviously please God the Father and Jesus Christ in a formal worship assembly today, in order to make the Sabbath and the annual festivals more meaningful in our personal and collective relationship with the Father and his Son?
ORDER WITHIN THE CONGREGATIONS
When the elect of God assemble together, they must conduct themselves in an orderly, harmonious manner. Within the reprimand to the church at Corinth for their unacceptable behavior when they met to fellowship and worship God, the apostle Paul says:
"For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints Let all things be done decently and in
order" (1.Cor.14:33, 40 KJV).
In the biblical record, all of the instructions and examples pertaining to the formal worship of God dictate order and harmony. Clearly, any formal meeting of the elect of God should not be conducted with uncontrolled emotionalism, which is done in the charismatic religions of today. For details about inappropriate behavior and disorderly conduct, read the apostle Paul's reprimands to the elect at Corinth noted his two letters to them.
"Nobody must imagine that he is religious while he still goes on deceiving himself and not keeping control over his tongue; anyone who does this has the wrong idea of religion" (Jms.1:26, The Jerusalem Bible).
Although the apostle James was instructing the elect in how to conduct their daily lives, what he says about controlling what comes out of one's mouth also applies to one's behavior during a congregational meeting of the elect.
Order within a congregation should not restrict one's worship of God in any way, but it should enhance one's opportunity to grow in grace and knowledge and give praise, glory, honor, and gratitude to the Father.
Chaos Versus Order
"If the whole church assembles together in one place, and all speak in different languages, and people come that are not skilled in these languages, or unbelievers come to your assemblies, will they not say that you are insane?" (1.Cor,14:23 Para.).
Paul says for the church as a whole to speak in different languages at the same time would give the impression that those who spoke were insane. The Corinthians did not correctly understand or practice the spiritual gift of languages.
"But if all prophesy [if all speak divine counsels], and there come in one that believes not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all [shown his sinful state], he is judged of all" (1.Cor,14:24 KJV).
The Taylor translation renders the phrase "he is judged of all" as "and his conscience will be pricked by everything he hears." This translation seems to be more logical; in that, it would serve no purpose for the congregation to pass judgment on an unbeliever unless the unbeliever began to understand what was being taught.
Verses 23-24 clearly show that Paul instructed the Corinthians how to correctly conduct themselves in a formal worship assembly and how to teach things that would benefit those who don't have very much understanding of God's truth:
"The proper kind of teaching will result in people understanding their inner-being and then be convinced they need to change and worship the true God. Because of this kind of proper conduct and teaching, they will also know that the spirit of God dwells in you . . ..Let all things be done to edifying" (1.Cor,14:25-26 Para.).
THE EIGHT FESTIVALS
"And the Lord spoke to Moses saying, Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, Concerning the feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts" (Lev.23:1-2 KJV).
The following eight festival days are noted in Leviticus, chapter 23, as specific days on which there are to be holy convocations:
- The Weekly Sabbath
- The First Day of Unleavened Bread
- The Last Day of Unleavened Bread
- Pentecost (Feast of Weeks)
- The Day of Atonement
- The First Day of the Feast of Shelters/Ingathering
- The Eighth Day
Through these eight festival days, God the Father reveals his plan of salvation to those he calls to become a part of his family and kingdom.
The Passover Begins the Annual Festivals
Although the Passover is called a feast in Luke 2:41 and John 13:1, it is not a festive occasion; the Passover that occurs on the first day of the first festival of the sacred year begins the festival days of the sacred year and is extremely important because it pictures the beginning of God's plan for the salvation of humanity.
It is during the beginning of the evening portion of the first festival day of unleavened bread that the elect partake of the Passover rituals, through which they acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Savior and renew their covenant with God the Father. Through this, they show their willingness to serve him, his son, his elect children, and humanity.
It is also during this first festival of the sacred year that the lift offering was presented to God that symbolized our Savior being offered to the Father as the firstborn of the New Creation and the sacrifice for the sins of humanity.
During the festivals the Father's children are to meet with him on an individual and collective basis for the following reasons:
- To fellowship with him and his Son (1.Jn.1:3)
- To fellowship with others who are also called to salvation (Heb.10:24-25)
- To learn his law and way of life (Psa.119:66, 71-72)
- To learn why we should love, revere, and respect him (Deut.14: 23)
- To worship and praise him (Psa.148:1-14)
- To honor him (Isa.58:13)
- To remember things about him and his ways (Zech.10:9; Deut.8: 18; Ex.12:1-27)
- To remember what he has done for his people (1.Chron.16:11-12; Ex.12:1-27)
- To remember his promises (Jms.1:12; 2.Pet.1:1-4)
- To rejoice before him (Deut.14:14-23,27)
Clearly, some of the things that can be done during these special days can also be done at other times; therefore, if we are to understand what makes one's worship of the Father more pleasing to him on these days than at other times, we must first understand what the love of God is and why God the Father and Jesus Christ love us. When one understands this awesome truth, one can begin to understand why the Father requires certain acts of worship and praise of him to be performed in an intensified manner during his festivals and holy convocations.
THE WORSHIP OF GOD
Satan has deceived the world for centuries through false Christianity and most of the elect of God have been called out of Satan's religious system; however, true Christians have been greatly influenced by various forms of false Christianity in the way that they personally and collectively worship God the Father. Therefore, it is no great surprise that congregations of God throughout the world differ greatly in the way that they conduct and behave in their formal assemblies.
At one extreme, there are those who practice uncontrolled emotionalism like the charismatic churches of this world. And at the other extreme, there are those who are structured and solemn to the point of being antiseptic and ritualized in their worship of God. What is abundantly clear from the biblical record is that neither of these two extremes are pleasing to God.
In order to gain any true understanding of what type of formal worship is acceptable and pleasing to God during this gospel age of salvation, one must first understand the concept of worship as set forth in the Bible.
The Word Worship
The word that is often translated as 'worship' in various English versions of the Bible comes from the following Hebrew and Greek words 'shaha', 'shahah', 'proskuneo' and 'sebomai.'
The Hebrew words 'shaha' and 'shahah' basically mean 'to bow down', 'to lie down', or 'to be brought low'. And the commonly occurring term 'hishtahawa' means 'to prostrate oneself.'
The Greek word 'proskuneo' means to 'prostrate oneself in homage', 'to reverence', and 'to adore.' And the Greek word 'sebomai' means 'to adore' and it connotes 'devote religious worship.'
Both the Hebrew and Greek words infer bringing oneself into submission to something that is superior to oneself. When these words are used in relation to God, they denote bringing oneself into submission to God and giving him the honor, respect, praise, and gratitude that is rightfully his to receive.
Both the Hebrew and the Greek words that have been translated in various English versions of the Bible as 'worship' are verbs that connote a person doing something positive toward God. Therefore, it is the thing that one does that defines one's worship of God. The Bible clearly reveals two categories of worship toward God the Father and Jesus Christ. The first constitutes one's personal and private worship. The second constitutes a formal collective worship of God by his people. The Bible also clearly reveals that both of these categories of worship must be performed in accordance to how God wants to be worshiped.
Although the physical conditions that dictate the place where one can personally and collectively worship God have changed from the initial creation of humanity and will continue to change until the Kingdom of God rules the earth, the basic requirements of true worship toward God will never change. The kind of worship that gave the Sovereign God and the Creator God pleasure during the times of Adam and Eve, the Patriarchs, national Israel, and the early church, remain the same today. It is only our concept of what is required to please God that has changed throughout the ages.
Ancient Israel observed the weekly Sabbath, as well as the annual festivals. Under the New Covenant, the early church also observed these festivals. Moreover, these festivals will be observed after Christ returns to rule the earth. For those who want to worship God the Father and follow the example of Jesus Christ, the question of how to worship and praise the Father and observe his weekly and annual festivals today in a way that is pleasing to him and his Son must be answered.
In order to find an accurate, logical, and helpful answer to the above question, we need to first explore the following four themes of Sabbath observance, because almost everything that is said about the weekly Sabbath also applies to the annual festivals:
- Ceasing from the work by which you earn a living or increases your wealth
- Remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy
- Celebrating the Sabbath day by rejoicing before God
- Coming before God to worship, praise, and fellowship with him
WORK AND THE SABBATH
"You shall keep the Sabbath therefore; for it is holy to you: every one that defiles it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever does any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever does any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death" (Ex.31:14-15 KJV).
God instructs that the first six days of the week may be devoted to one's personal work; however, the Sabbath day is holy time, which belongs to God. On the Sabbath day one's personal work is prohibited. Notice that this pollution of the holy Sabbath is a capital crime that is punishable by death.
The prophet Jeremiah records that to violate the prohibition against working on the Sabbath pollutes the sacredness of this holy time. Other scriptures show that this same instruction concerning the cessation of work also applies to the annual festivals.
Jeremiah 17:19-24, 27 Good News Bible:
"The Lord said to me, Jeremiah, go and announce my message at the People's Gate, through which the kings of Judah enter and leave the city; then go to all the other gates of Jerusalem. Tell the kings and all the people of Judah and everyone who lives in Jerusalem and enters these gates, to listen to what I say" (vs.19-20).
"Tell them that if they love their lives, they must not carry any load on the Sabbath: they must not carry anything in through the gates of Jerusalem, or carry anything out of their houses on the Sabbath. They must not work on the Sabbath; they must observe it as a sacred day, as I commanded their ancestors. Their ancestors did not listen to me or pay any attention. Instead, they became stubborn; they would not obey me or learn from me" (vs.21-23).
"Tell these people that they must obey all my commands. They must not carry any load in through the gates of this city on the Sabbath. They must observe the Sabbath as a sacred day and must not do any work at all" (v24).
"They must obey me and observe the Sabbath as a sacred day. They must not carry any load through the gates of Jerusalem on that day; for if they do, I will set the gates of Jerusalem on fire. Fire will burn down the palaces of Jerusalem, and no one will be able to put it out" (v27).
What is Work?
Because ceasing one's work is a major aspect of keeping the Sabbath holy (Ex.20:9-10; 31:14-15), it is important to understand exactly what kind of work God prohibits on his Sabbath day.
In the purest sense, physical work is defined as expending physical energy in order to cause an action to take place in this physical dimension of existence.
What you do to earn a living, including your occupation, trade or profession, or what you do to increase your wealth is defined as work in scripture, and is prohibited on the Sabbath. However, as we will see, under certain circumstances physical work may be considered spiritual work if it is done for a righteous reason.
In the purest sense, spiritual work is work that is done using spirit energy for spiritual reasons. There is no prohibition against the performance of spiritual work on the Sabbath or the annual observances. As we will see, spiritual work is not only allowed on the Sabbath, it may be required under some circumstances in order to keep the Sabbath holy.
HARVESTING ON THE SABBATH
"One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, 'Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?" (Mk.2:23-24 NIV).
It is important to note that there is no law that prohibits a person from eating on the Sabbath. The law that the Pharisees referred to is their law, not God's law. What the Pharisees accused Jesus and his disciples of was harvesting on the Sabbath (i.e., working on the Sabbath), and harvesting on the Sabbath does violate the Sabbath.
Christ answered the Pharisees with the example of David going into the house of God and eating the consecrated bread that was only lawful for priests to eat (Mk.2:25-26). Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath" (Mk.2:27-28 NIV).
There are at least four things that can be learned from this account in Mark 2:23-27:
- Human rules can never alter, replace, or supersede the law of God.
- Christ and the disciples were not harvesting; they were not working in order to earn a living or increase their wealth. They merely picked the grain because they wanted something to eat. Eating on the Sabbath is permissible and is not considered work.
- It is permissible to set aside certain rules in order to take care of human needs. David and the High Priest both understood this principle; therefore, David and his men were given bread from the tabernacle. See 1.Sam.21:1-6.
- Jesus who is the Creator of the Sabbath knew how to keep the Sabbath holy and he has the authority to say what can and cannot be done on this day.
Emergencies and Humanitarian Work
The religious leaders of Christ's day were constantly criticizing Jesus for healing people on the Sabbath. In reply to this criticism, he often admonished them for their hard-heartedness, and he sometimes said that they were kinder to animals than they were to their fellow men:
"You hypocrite, does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?" (Lk.13:15-16 KJV).
"And behold , there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. And Jesus spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day? . . . And he took him, and healed him. . . Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straight-away pull him out on the Sabbath day?" (Lk.14: 2-5 KJV).
There are a number of basic principles that can be learned from these two accounts:
- It is permissible to perform work when there is an emergency that threatens life, limb, or property on the Sabbath.
- It is permissible to perform acts of compassion to remove sickness and pain on the Sabbath.
- Doing good works (Spiritual and Physical), which fall into the two broad categories of emergencies and acts of compassion, both are permissible on the Sabbath.
Was Jesus working on the Sabbath when he healed people? Yes, Jesus was working on the Sabbath when he performed these acts of compassion (Jn.5:17; 10:32). However, he was not performing the kind of work that was prohibited (i.e., earning a living or gaining physical wealth). Jesus was doing spiritual work which is lawful to do on the Sabbath.
Physical or Spiritual Work?
When does physical work become spiritual work? Physical work becomes spiritual work when it is done for a righteous reason. The basis for these righteous reasons can be found in the two great commands of the law:
"Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked . . . Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like to it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matt.22:35-40 KJV).
The law to love God includes the way one should conduct their entire life in relationship to God and man. If we love God, we will also love our neighbors. Therefore, performing work in order to help a fellow human in the event of a real emergency or an extreme need is a part of spiritual work and worship on the Sabbath.
For further details concerning types of work, professions, and occupations that are legal to pursue on the Sabbath see The Commanded Observances and Holy Convocations Past, Present, and Future, Volume #1 chapter 4 entitled Questions, Answers, And Comments About The Sabbath.
REMEMBRANCE AND SACREDNESS
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Ex.20:8 KJV).
Our minds were made with a tremendous ability to store and recall information. This mental process is structured so that some information is automatically prioritized and used for our physical survival, while other information is dependent upon a conscious effort on our part to keep it current and accessible. The latter case is the way we deal with information that pertains to our spiritual walk with God.
The English word remember in verse 20 is the Hebrew word zakar, and means to think (about), meditate (upon), pay attention (to), remember, recollect, mention, declare, recite, proclaim, and invoke. The very nature of the Hebrew word zakar demands that action be taken and effort be expended toward being aware of the Sabbath and its importance.
King David, who diligently sought after the way of God (Acts 13:22) reveals to us an easy and effective way to keep the important things of God in the forefront of the mind:
"Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law does he meditate day and night" (Psa.1:1-2 KJV).
"O how love I your law! it is my meditation all the day" (Psa.119: 97 KJV).
Keep the Sabbath Holy
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Ex.20:8 KJV).
The English word translated holy in Exodus 20:8 is from the Hebrew qadash, which connotes the state that belongs to the sphere of the sacred.
Remember that only God can make a thing holy, and because the Sabbath is holy time, it belongs to God. No thought, action, or desire of any individual can make the Sabbath any holier than it already is. The instruction is to keep the Sabbath holy, but how does one keep something holy?
In the books of the law and the prophets there are many examples of how the priesthood were to keep themselves and the things of God holy. One of these instructions had to do with their personal behavior and mental alertness while they officiated in the tabernacle:
"Do not drink wine nor strong drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest you die: it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations: And that you may put a difference between holy and unholy, and between clean and unclean" (Lev.10:9-10). See also Lev.11:43-47; 20: 25-26.
Alcoholic beverages alone are not evil; however, even a small amount can affect one's judgment and physical performance. The performance of the priesthood's duties required that they be mentally alert, as well as physically fit. It was a gross error in judgment concerning holy and unholy things that led to the pollution of the tabernacle and the death of Nadab and Abihu (Lev.10:1-12).
Nadab and Abihu polluted the holy things of God with their lack of respect for his law; they did not keep holy things holy, and they did not make a difference between the holy and the unholy. See also Lev.6: 14-23; 21:6-23; Mal.1:6-7.
ANCIENT ISRAEL'S WORSHIP OF GOD
Although ancient Israel often observed and practiced all of God's festivals, and worshiped him with great zeal, he continually sent prophets to them to urge them to return to the worship system that they had originally been given.
After the death of King Solomon and the division of Israel into two separate nations, and with the passage of time, the northern ten tribes of Israel (House of Israel) totally departed from the worship system that God had originally given them. Only the House of Judah continued a worship system that closely resembled the original system given to them by God. However, the prophet Isaiah shows that the House of Judah's attempt to worship God in a way that they thought would please him was totally inadequate.
Pollution of the Sabbath
The prophet Ezekiel records the process by which one is able to keep the Sabbath holy and the process by which it can be polluted:
"And I gave them my statutes, and showed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall live in them. Moreover I also gave them my Sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctifies them. But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my Sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I will pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, and consume them" (Ezk.20:11-13 KJV).
It is rebellion against God and a refusal to do what he has instructed that constitutes the pollution of his sacred festivals.
"There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof, like a roaring lion ravening the prey; they have devoured souls; they have taken the treasure and precious things; they have made her many widows in the midst thereof. Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned my holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they showed the difference between the clean and unclean, and have hid their eyes from my Sabbaths, and I am profaned among them!" (Ezk.22:25-26 KJV).
Because the violation of God's law is the root cause of polluting things that are holy, in order to keep the Sabbath and the annual festivals holy, one must observe them with a proper attitude, and obedience to God's instructions pertaining to their observance.
Remembering the Sabbath is not only being conscious of the day of the week on which the Sabbath occurs but also bringing to mind all that the Sabbath is. This includes understanding its creation, its purpose for humanity, and its symbolic, contemporary, and prophetic meanings.
Pollution of the Sabbath and Other Commanded Observances Isaiah 1:10-19 Paraphrased
"Hear the word of the Lord you rulers of Sodom (House of Judah); listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah (Jerusalem). To what purpose are your many sacrifices to me? I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of young bulls, lambs, or male goats. When you come before me, who has required you to tread my courts? Do not bring anymore vain oblations; your incense is an abomination to me; the observance of new moons and the sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot bear them, they are lawlessness to me, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts, I hate: they trouble me, I am weary of them" (vs.10-14). See also Isa.5: 11-12; Mal.2:1-10.
Although these people were worshiping the Creator God through observing his commanded assemblies and festivals and performing the sacrifices along with the many rituals that were a part of the original worship system that he had given to national Israel, their worship was in vain, because God was not pleased with what they did.
"And when you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; yes when you make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, clean yourselves, put away your evil practices from before my eves; stop practicing evil. Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow" (vs.15-17).
God did not accept their worship of him, because their hearts were evil. God requires certain physical acts to be performed as one worships and praises him; however, if these physical acts are not accompanied by a righteous attitude and righteous behavior, the worship and praise of him is done in vain and will not be accepted by him.
"Come let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be as white wool. If you are willingly obedient, you shall eat the good of the land" (vs.18-19).
The key to having one's worship accepted by God, is understanding what God expects and performing what he expects in a willing and obedient attitude.
Worship During Jesus' Lifetime
During Jesus' lifetime the sacrificial worship system was being practiced and administered from Jerusalem through the Levitical priesthood and the teaching of God's law by the scholarly orders of Scribes and Pharisees. However, Jesus says that their teachings and practice of worship toward God were unacceptable:
"Hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying, This people draws near to me with their mouth, and with their lips honor me; but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the ordinances of men" (Matt.15:7-9 Para.). See also Isa.29:13; Ezk.33:31-32.
Jesus clearly says that doctrines and ordinances of worship that are not in conformity to God's word are useless. The point is this: God the Father is only pleased with worship that is directed to him and sanctioned by him; all other worship directed to him does not please him and is done in vain.
Just Before Jesus Returns
There are many prophecies that reveal God's great displeasure with the way that his chosen people often practiced the worship system that he gave them when he formed them into a nation in the wilderness of Sinai. Moreover, there are many prophecies that show this same displeasure with the false worship systems that they have adopted and practiced throughout the ages. The prophecy of Amos reveals God's disapproval of the Jewish (the Israelis) festivals and sacrifices, which they will observe and perform shortly before the return of Jesus Christ to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.
Amos 5:20-23 KJV
"Shall not the day of the Lord be dark, and not light? Even extremely dark, having no brightness in it? I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell your solemn gatherings. Although you offer me burnt-offerings and your food-offerings, I will not accept them neither will I regard the peace-offerings of your fat beasts. Take away from me the noise of your songs; for I will not hear the melody of your viols."
Amos 8:9-11 KJV
"And it shall come to pass in that day, says the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in a clear day: And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring up sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the mourning of an only son, and the end thereof as a bitter day. Behold, the days come, says the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord."
These two prophecies clearly show that God expects any worship of him to be performed correctly and in a righteous attitude. These warnings to the Jews should not be taken lightly by anyone who is serious about pleasing God the Father and Jesus Christ in their observance of the weekly festival of the Sabbath or the annual festivals. Although the elect of God are not required to offer animal sacrifice, they are required to worship God in a manner that is pleasing to him.
While speaking to a woman of Samaria, Jesus explains that there would come a time when the existing worship system would be changed, and that those who worshiped God would do so in spirit and truth:
"But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. For the Father seeks such ones that worship him. God is a spirit, and the ones that worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (Jn.4:23-24 Para.). See also Phil.3:3.
Many people believe that, when Jesus spoke of worshiping in spirit and truth, he was only speaking philosophically and that he was only trying to convey that people would eventually worship God with a different attitude. However, Jesus was saying something completely different. He was speaking of the time when the Father would move his place of worship from the temple in Jerusalem to a temple of flesh, where his spirit would reside. Moreover, he was also speaking of the time just before his return when the Father's true worshipers would worship him correctly (i.e., in truth), in the way that he wants to be worshiped by them.
WORSHIP THROUGH PRAISE
There are hundreds of scriptures that clearly show that God's people are required to praise him, and that he gets great pleasure from praise given to him by his people. Moreover, several prophecies show that, before Christ returns, the elect of God will again understand how to worship and praise God the Father in a way that is pleasing to him. However, the kind of praise that God requires is almost totally missing from the formal assemblies of his people today. In order to understand how to praise him, we must first understand the original concept of praise as it was practiced by ancient Israel and the early church.
The Word 'Praise'
The English word praise conceptually means, an expression of approval, favorable judgment, to glorify, to worship, or to give thanks. However, the words that are often translated as praise in various English versions of the Bible have conceptually different meanings in Hebrew and Greek.
The Hebrew Word 'Yada'
The primary meaning of 'yada' is 'to acknowledge or confess sin, God's character and works, or man's character'. The basic difference between the verb 'yada' and its synonym 'halal' is that 'halal' connotes 'acclaim of', 'boasting of ', or 'glorying in' an object, but 'yada' emphasizes 'recognition' and 'declaration' of a fact. The word 'yada' is used in three basic ways to express the concept of praise toward God:
First, 'yada' is used to convey the acknowledgment of individual and national sin.
Second, 'yada' is used to express one's public proclamation or declaration (confession) of the attributes of God and his works. This concept is at the heart of the meaning of praising God. The clear intent of praise to God has to do with what God is, what he has done, what he is doing, and what will do.
In the English versions of the Bible, 'yada' is usually translated as 'to thank.' In the Old Testament scriptures there is no verb that has the singular meaning of 'to thank.' Most of the time when the English word 'thank' is used in the translation of the Old Testament, it is translated from Hebrew words that do not mean 'to thank God'; it is translated from Hebrew words that are meant to convey the concept of 'yada' (praise) to God.
Because there is no independent concept of thanks set forth in the Old Testament like there is in the English language, it is clear that the concept of thanks to God is included in praise ('yada') to and of God.
Third, 'yada' (praise) also connotes 'confession', because when a person confesses or declares God's attributes, truth, or works, God is praised; in that, his greatness is acknowledged and honored.
The word 'yada' is found in Hebrew poetry as a synonym for such words as 'hala' ('to praise'), 'zamar' ('to praise with musical instruments'), 'rum' ('to exalt)', 'zakar' ('to remember'), 'kabad' ('to glorify'), and 'nagad' ('to declare').
Praise, Thanksgiving, and Gratitude
Clearly, 'yada' (i.e., praise), thanksgiving, and gratitude to God are inseparable, because when one acknowledges and declares God's attributes, his truth, and his works, one cannot avoid being thankful and grateful to him. Therefore, praise to God leads to gratitude and thanksgiving to him.
The Hebrew word 'Toda'
The cognitive noun 'toda' is derived from 'yada', and it basically means 'confession' of sin or of God's character or works. 'Toda' is often translated into English versions of the scriptures as 'praise', 'sacrifice of praise', 'thanks', 'thanksgiving', or 'thank-offering.'
'Toda' is used extensively in reference to the sacrificial system. One could bring a 'thank-offering' (peace-offering) in which a declaration of sin and/or a confession of sin was made to God as the sacrifice was being offered. When the offering was accompanied by a confession of sin, the offering was called a peace-offering, and it was offered to make peace with God, so that the offerer could be accepted by God into his fellowship.
The Greek Words Aineo, Ainos, and Epaineo
The three Greek words 'aineo' ('to extol'), 'ainos' ('to relate a story'), and 'epaineo' ('to applaud', 'commend', and 'laud)' are words that convey the same basic concepts of the Hebrew words 'yada' and 'toda' in relation to praising God in that the giving of praise to God is a confession or declaration of God's attributes, truth, or works; his greatness is acknowledged, declared, and honored.
The Biblical Definition of Praise
The biblical definition of praising God both privately and publicly encompasses the expression of an acknowledgment and a declaration of his many attributes and great works to him.
In the biblical record, praising God is expressed through offerings, prayer, poetry, song, music, dancing, and the clapping and raising of hands.
Expression of praise to God is always directed to him, and its central theme is the desire to honor and please God through expressing an acknowledgment and declaration of his many attributes and great works in an attitude of love, submission, and gratitude toward him.
Commanded to Praise God
In light of Paul's instruction to Timothy concerning all the scriptures being written and recorded for instruction in righteousness (2.Tim. 3:15-17), Psalm 100 can be taken as a command from God to perform certain acts of worship when one enters into his presence:
"Shout joyfully to the Lord with gladness; come before his face with joyful singing. Know that the Lord, he is God; he has made us, we did not make ourselves his people and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with praise, and his courts praising him; bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting, and his faithfulness from generation to generation" (Psa.100:1-5 Para.). See also Psa.107:32; 111:1-10; Eph.5:19-20.
King David and Praise to God
King David is mentioned in the Bible more than any of God's other servants: "I have found David the son of Jesse, to be a man after my own heart, who shall fulfill my will" (Acts 13:22 Para.).
One of the reasons that David found such great favor with God was that he understood that God loved him as a son. Because David understood this, he communed with God often through prayer and meditation, and he expressed his love and respect to his Creator through acknowledging and declaring God's greatness often:"Seven times a day I praise you because of your righteous judgments" (Psa.119:164 KJV).
David wrote many things about God's character, love, mercy, power, and works; however, the things he wrote about most were the praises that should be given to God, and the necessity for those who serve God to acknowledge and declare his many attributes and great works in many different ways. Below are a few of the things David says about praising God:
"I will praise you, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will show forth all your marvelous works. I will be glad and rejoice in you: I will sing praise to your name, O you the Most High" (Psa.9:1-2 KJV). See also Psa.13:6; 18:49.
"Praise you the Lord. Praise you the name of the Lord; praise him, O you servants of the Lord" (Psa.135:1 KJV). See also Psa.113:1.
"Praise you the Lord. I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation" (Psa.111:1 KJV). See also Psa.149:1.
"Praise the Lord with harp: sing to him with the psaltery and the instrument of ten strings. Sing to the Lord a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise" (Psa.33:2-3 Para.). See also Psa.47:6-7; 66:1-4; 100:1-5.
"Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs" (Psa.150:4 KJV).
David shows that the acknowledgment and declaration of God's great attributes and works should be done by people and spirit-beings. He also says that even the creation itself acknowledges and declares God's magnificence. See also Rev. 5:11-12; 19:5-6:
"Acknowledge and declare the Lord. Acknowledge and declare the Lord from the heavens: acknowledge and declare him in the heights. Acknowledge and declare him, all his angels: acknowledge and declare him all his hosts. Acknowledge and declare him, sun and moon: acknowledge and declare him all you stars of light. Acknowledge and declare him you heaven of heavens, and you waters above the heavens. Let them all acknowledge and declare the name of the Lord: for he commanded and they were created" (Psa.148:1-5 Para.).
In the psalms David speaks of praising God with one's whole heart, mind, and being through one's daily life. And he shows that the assemblies of God's people should praise him through song, music, poetry, dancing, the clapping and raising of hands, the spoken word, the making of a joyful noise, and various other expressions of praise to God.
The clear picture of praise to God presented by David is one of careful consideration of the thoughts and acts of praise that one expresses to God, and is an enthusiastic, heartfelt, and joyful presentation of these thoughts and acts.
The overwhelming impression that one gets from reading the Psalms of David is that praise to God must be done with great enthusiasm and with the purpose of glorifying and extolling his greatness and his works. This should be declared, not only in private worship of him but also as a public witness, acknowledgment, and declaration of his many attributes and great works and love and concern for his people.
The biblical instructions to praise God and David's examples of how to praise God are just as valid today as they were under the first covenant with national Israel and during the days of the early church.
A Prophecy of Jesus' Praise to God
The following two prophecies show that a major aspect of Jesus' ministry was to proclaim God the Father's attributes, works, name, love, and concern for his people through the spoken word and the singing of hymns and praises to him in the midst of those who were being called by the Father to salvation.
"I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the covenant people for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs: So that the Gentiles might glorify [Greek, 'dorozo': to 'esteem','honor', 'magnify'] God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess [acknowledge] to you among the Gentiles, and give praise [sing praises or to praise with music] to your name. And again he says, Rejoice you Gentiles, with his people. And again, praise [extol] the Lord, all you Gentiles: and laud him all you people" (Rom.15:8-11 Para.).
"For both he that sanctifies [the Father] and they who are sanctified [the elect] are all one: for this cause he [Jesus] is not ashamed to call them brothers, Saying, I will declare your name [the Father's name] to my brothers, in the middle of the church will I sing praise to you" (Heb.2:11-12 Para.). See also Psa.22:22.
Jesus Enters Jerusalem
The example of Jesus entering Jerusalem riding on a colt (Lk.19: 29-40) reveals that rejoicing and praising God through the shouting of God's attributes and great works was still practiced during Jesus' lifetime. When some of the Pharisees asked Jesus to stop his disciples from shouting their praises to God, Jesus informed them that, if his disciples did not praise God, the stones would cry out in praise to him.
Although Jesus did not fulfill the expectations of his disciples to assume rule as king and restore Israel as a sovereign nation at that time, this event seems to have some prophetic significance. Perhaps, this is a warning to the elect of God who live during the end of the age that they should not fail to praise him in the way that he wants to be praised and proclaim his Son's coming with great enthusiasm and loud acknowledgments of the Father's awesome attributes and great works.
The Early Church
Although we know that the elect of the early church assembled together on the weekly Sabbath, the Passover, and the annual festivals, there is very little recorded about the way they conducted their formal worship assemblies, except that they assembled to learn God's word and his ways and to fellowship together. However, what is recorded reveals some information that is important for us today if we want to worship and praise God in a way that is pleasing to him.
The report of Peter and John to some of the brethren after the Jewish religious leaders questioned them about their teaching of a resurrection and the healing of a lame man in the name of Jesus is an example of proper worship and praise of God.
Acts 4:23-31 KJV
"And being let go, they went to their own people, and reported all that the chief priests and elders said to them. And when they heard what had been said, in agreement they raised their voices, and said, Lord, you are God, that has made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all that is therein. Who by the mouth of your servant David have said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ (vs.23-26).
After hearing the apostle's report, the elect who were assembled began to speak as if they were of one voice and praised God the Father and quoted 2.Chronicles 2:12 and Psalms 2:1-2. During their praise of God they acknowledged to the Father that the prophecies about the Messiah had been fulfilled:
For of a truth against your holy child Jesus, whom you have anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were gathered together, for to do whatever your hand and counsel determined before to be done" (vs.27-28).
A Collective Prayer
At this time in the history of the early church, the practice of audible unified praise and prayer was sanctioned when the elect of God were gathered together for the purpose of doing his will.
"And now, Lord, behold their threats: and grant to your servants, that with all boldness they may speak your word. By stretching forth your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of your holy child Jesus" (vs.29-30).
It is unclear from verses 24-26 whether these people were led in their collective praise of God by a person in the assembly or were all inspired and moved by the holy spirit to speak the same thing at the same time. And it is equally unclear if anyone led the prayer in verses 29-30. What is clear is that, after the group had finished their praise and prayer to the Father, there was a physical manifestation of the Father's approval through the shaking of the place where they were assembled and the giving of power through the holy spirit to those who were proclaiming God's truth:
"And when they had prayed the place was shaken where they were assembled together: and they were all filled with the holy spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness" ( v31).
The Sacrifice of Praise
While speaking of Jesus Christ as the supreme atoning sacrifice for the sins of humanity, the writer to the Hebrews says that the children of God should offer their praise to the Father through Jesus Christ (our high Priest) as a sacrificial offering:
"Through him [Jesus Christ] let us offer the sacrifice of praise to the Father continually, that is, the fruit of the lips acknowledging and confessing his name. But do not forget to do good and share, for the father is pleased with such sacrifices" (Heb.13:15-16 Para.). See Num. chp.15.
The point that the writer to the Hebrews makes is that the Father views praise to him from his children in the same light as the animal sacrifices, which were offered to the Creator God to honor and please him.
The Inhabitants of the Rock
"Let the wilderness and the cities thereof raise their voice, the villages that kedar does inhabit: let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory to the Lord, and declare his praise in the islands, The Lord shall go forth as a mighty man, he shall stir up jealousy like a man of war: he shall cry, yes roar; he shall prevail against his enemies. For a long time I have held my peace; I have been still and refrained myself: now I will cry like a travailing woman: I will destroy and devour at once" (Isa.42:11-14 KJV Para.). See also Psa.57:8-9; 96:1-4.
This prophecy foretells a time just before Christ's return when some of the Father's elect children will have the knowledge of how to properly worship and praise him. At that time, these elect will be acknowledging and declaring God the Father's many attributes and great works as acts of worship and praise to him. In addition, this acknowledgment and declaration of the Father's many attributes and great works will probably be used to announce his Son's return.
WORSHIP GOD THROUGH SONG AND MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
From the very beginning of the nation of Israel, the singing of praises to God that speak of his glory, honor, power, and great works was a major part of the private and formal worship of him. After their exodus from Egypt through the Red Sea, the Israelites sang the following song in praise accompanied with music and dance to the Creator God:
"Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the Lord. I will sing to the Lord for he has triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and song, he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him a habitation; my father's God and I will exalt him. The Lord is a man of war: the Lord is his name And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand and all the women went after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam said to them, Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea" (Ex.15:1-3, 21 KJV Para.). See also Rev.15:3.
When David brought the ark to his city he presented his first psalm to be sung in praise to God.
"Then on that day [the day the ark was set in the city of David] David delivered his first psalm to praise [Hebrew: 'yada']the Lord into the hand of Asaph and his brothers. Give praise to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among his people. Sing to him, talk of his wonderful works, glory in his holy name: let the heart of them that seek the Lord rejoice" (1.Chron.16:7-10 Para.).
When Solomon finished the construction of the temple, it was dedicated with song and music in praise to God:
"The Levites which were singers, clothed in white linen, and having cymbals, psalteries, and harps stood at the east end of the altar, with 120 priests sounding trumpets, and when the singers and trumpeters became as one sound praising the Lord; and when they raised their voice with the trumpets, and cymbals and instruments of music and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; his mercy endures forever: then the house of the Lord filled with a cloud; so that the priests could not minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God" (2.Chron.5:12-14 Para.). See also 2.Chron.29:25-30; 30:21.
There are many scriptures that speak of the singing of songs accompanied with musical instruments in praise to God during the sacrifices, and many of the psalms were set to music and meant to be sung as praise to God. The following are just a few examples of the psalms of praise that were set to music:
"I will sing praise to you O Lord with my whole heart. I will show forth all your marvelous works, I will be glad and rejoice in you: I will sing praise to your name, O you most High" (Psa.9:1-2 KJV).
"Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous: for praise is appropriate for the upright. Praise the Lord with harp: sing to him with the psaltery and the instrument of ten strings. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise" (Psa.33:1-3 Para.).
"Sing to the Lord, you who are separated for his purpose and belong to him, and acknowledge and declare his greatness when you remember his holiness" (Psa.30:4 Para.).
"I will praise the name of God with song, and will magnify him with praise. This shall please the Lord more than sacrificial offerings of animals. The humble shall see this and be happy: and your heart shall be alive and seek the Lord Let heaven and earth praise him, and the seas and everything that moves therein" (Psa.69: 30-32, 34 Para.).
When the preparation of the sacrifice was complete, the priests who stood on the right and left of the table on which the fat of the offering was laid, blew their silver trumpets (Num.10:10), cymbals were struck, and the singers of the Levites began to sing praises to God accompanied by musical instruments. It is said that, during the time of the first temple, the people joined in singing praise to God while the sacrifices were being offered. David says that this praise to God was more pleasing than the offering of the sacrifices.
Paul understood that meditating on the things of God and the praise to and of God were an important part of Christian life; therefore, he encouraged the Ephesians to be wise, understand the will of God, and meditate on psalms and songs that speak of God:
"See that you do not behave as fools, but be circumspect and wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be unwise, but understand the will of God. Do not become drunk with wine; but be filled with the spirit; speaking to yourselves with psalms and songs and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Eph.5:15-19 Para.).
The apostle John describes a scene that is set before the throne of God the Father in heaven after the return of Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords. Notice that these sons of God who will have become spirit-beings are singing the song of Moses accompanied with music in praise to the Father:
"And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and those that had gained victory over the beast, his image, his mark, and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. And they sang the song of Moses the servant of God [Ex.15:1-20], and the song of the Lamb, saying Great and marvelous are your works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are your ways you king of holy and sacred ones" (Rev.15:2-3 Para). See also Acts 16:25; Rev.14:13.
It is clear from the scriptures that the singing of songs and the playing of music has and always will be an important part of praise to God. However, in today's world it is extremely difficult to find songs and music that are appropriate to sing and play in praise to God.
The Father's elect children should be very careful when they attempt to use or adapt lyrics and music that are used by false Christianity for the purpose of worshiping and praising the true God. Although some of the lyrics from the songs of false Christianity may sound nice when accompanied by music, much of what is sung has perverted concepts and false teachings about God's truth.
It is safe to say that one of the reasons the psalms of praise were recorded in the Bible is so that the elect of God would have a guide as to the lyrics and music that please the Father and his Son. The psalms can be used as a guide to lyrics and musical praise to the Father and his Son, but they are not the only lyrics and praises that please God in song and music.
CHOOSE YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY
The Creator God inspired the writers of the Bible to use words that would convey the exact intent and meaning of what he wanted to say. None of the words in the Bible were put there just to fill space or because of the way they sound; they are all intended to convey meaning. Therefore, it seems that the elect of God should exercise great care when choosing words for the purpose of acknowledging and declaring the attributes, truth, and works, of the Father and Jesus Christ in prayer, praise, or songs in private or in public.
The apostle Paul said the following about the use of different languages within the formal assemblies of God's elect:
"I suppose there are hundreds of different languages in the world, and all are excellent for those who understand them, but to me they mean nothing. A person talking to me in one of those languages will be a stranger to me and I a stranger to him. For if I pray in a language that I don't understand , my spirit is praying but I don't know what I am saying . . .. I thank God that I speak more languages than the rest of you. But in public worship I would much rather speak five words that people can understand and be helped by, than ten thousand words while speaking in a foreign language" (1.Cor.14:10, 14, 18-19).
The point Paul makes in his reprimand to the Corinthians concerning their use of different languages in their formal assemblies is that language is meant to transmit a person's thoughts to God or to people; therefore, one should know what one is saying in order to do this effectively.
Many people use spiritual sounding words, such as 'hallelujah', 'hosanna', 'praise', bless', and 'glory' in teaching, prayer, or song without truly knowing what these words mean and without the intent to convey some clear meaning. Although these words do have meaning, unless such words are used with the intent to convey meaning, it seems that Paul's reprimand also applies to those using such words.
Because the elect of God must strive to make their walk with the Father, Jesus Christ, and their brothers and sisters in the faith a meaningful and mutually beneficial experience, one should carefully choose the words that one speaks or sings to please the Father and Jesus Christ and edify the Body of Christ.
By B.L. Cocherell b5w72