A Call to True Worship

By :Elder Enoch Ofori Jnr

(Sabbath, 8th October, 2011)

One Thing God Never Compromises on

As he watched his rich and adventurous life expire, David had many things to say to his son Solomon who would succeed him, but none as important as what he says to him in 1 Chron. 28:9: "And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve Him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek Him, He will be found of thee; but if thou forsake Him, He will cast thee off for ever". 

God demands true worship. Nothing more, nothing less.  In Jer. 7 God finds it offensive that people are more interested in the appearance they put in at His temple than in the doing of righteousness. The people pride themselves  in being regular temple attendees–and that’s enough. The content of their character is of no importance to them. To God, however, this is what extremely matters. He thunders at them through the prophet Jeremiah:

"Stand in the gate of the LORD’S house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all ye of Judah, that enter in at these gates to worship the LORD.

"Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place.

"Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these.

"For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour;

"If ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt:

"Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever.

"Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit.

"Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not;

"And come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?

"Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the LORD.

"But go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel.

"And now, because ye have done all these works, saith the LORD, and I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not; and I called you, but ye answered not;

"Therefore will I do unto this house, which is called by my name, wherein ye trust, and unto the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh.

"And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim.

"Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for I will not hear thee" (Jer. 7:2-16).

Apostates who Love God’s Temple

The Judah of Jeremiah’s time was then in the grip of a simmering apostasy–just below the explosive level of full-blown apostasy, thanks to the reformation work of righteous King Josiah which had somehow put a check on a wholesale departure from the true and living  God.  Although King Josiah had  apparently done a thorough job of riding the kingdom of pagan worship places  (2 Kings 23; 2 Chron. 34), the truth of the matter is that many remained apostates at heart.  They would  acknowledge God with a dutiful appearance at  His temple, but nothing beyond that.  They would be masters of their own lives–or at least concede the  greater  part to the devil. They would steal, cheat, fornicate, oppress the vulnerable, give priority to pleasure and objects of desire (modern idolatry), and commit murder through unremitting hatred (1 John 3:15; Matt. 5:21-22; Lev. 19:16-17; Ez. 22:9). But why should God be bothered–as Jeremiah wrongly insists–so long as they graced His temple? Why would God destroy them and deprive Himself of such a band of faithful temple attendees as they? The LORD surely needs them to keep His temple filled with flamboyant worshippers who never fail in their religious appointments with Him!

True, the LORD commands that we worship and give honour to His holy Name in a formal assembly (Lev. 23:3, 19:30; Ps  100:4; Heb. 10:25). But do you attend church services as a perfunctory duty?  Or is your attendance at  the Sabbath service the climax of a week of godly living? Unless the latter is true of you, you have’ committed’ yourself to a futile religious routine!

This was the fallacy the contemporaries of Jeremiah trusted in. After all, they reasoned, isn’t  the temple  God’s prized possession where has vowed to dwell perpetually?  (2 Chron.7:12-16).  Surely, this was the temple God Himself designed and revealed its blueprint to David in the spirit (1 Chron. 28:11-12). Barred by God from building it himself because he had  spilled much blood as a warrior (1 Chron. 22:7-9; 28:2-3), dying King David charged his son Solomon to build the temple to befit God’s status (1 Chron. 22:6, 28:10)  And he amply resourced him for the great work. King David spent  all the years he had sought to build the temple buying in building materials for the great temple project (1 Chron. 22:2-5, 14-16, 26:26-27), and he handed them over to his son for the ready execution of the project. 

Wealthy in his own right, Solomon added to the fine materials his father had acquired for the temple (1 Kings 5:5-18) and commenced the building in earnest (1 Kings 6).   At the dedication of  the temple, the LORD gave His continuing approval in a grand dramatic style:  "fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the LORD filled the house" (2 Chron. 7:1).

Surely, the Jerusalem Temple was an edifice to be associated with, with pride.  Thus the people chanted, "the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD".  But God replied, "amend your ways (lifestyle) and your doings", and you would live in My Presence in My temple forever.

A Deadly Game!

Sad to observe, God and the people were on different wavelengths.  While God looked for virtue, the people expected their behaviour to be excused however vile in the sight of God, because they were regular attendees at His temple where He has promised to live forever!  It was a deadly game to play with God. The people deluded themselves that  as long as God was present with them in His temple, no evil would befall them, just as the corrupt civil and religious leaders of prophet Micah’s time also deluded themselves: "The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the LORD, and say, Is not the LORD among us? none evil can come upon us" (Mic. 3:11; cp Jer. 23:17).

But notice what God decrees as punishment for their hypocrisy and false sense of divine security: "Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest" (v. 12).

True to Jeremiah’s word, God sent the Babylonians to destroy the temple and the city because the people would not amend their ways (Jer. 52:5-19; 2 Chron. 36:10-21). Instead they trusted in the "lying words" of the false prophets that God could not possibly destroy His holy temple (Jer. 26:1-15).  In response to that, God had pointed out that He had actually destroyed a place once consecrated to Him because the people who manned and frequented there were not worthy of a place called by His Name: "But go ye now unto MY PLACE which was in Shiloh, where I set My name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of My people Israel" (Jer. 7:12).

Shiloh was the place Joshua and the children of Israel pitched the Tabernacle after the conquest of Canaan (Josh. 18:1, 10, 19:51), relocating the tabernacle from Gilgal where they had initially set it up upon entering the land (Josh. 4:3, 19-20). Later, in the immediate post-Joshua era of Israel, Eli, the high priest, and his sons managed Shiloh (1 Sam. 1:3, 9), and it was not a pretty business. The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were "sons of Belial"–godless men who took for themselves portions of the sacrifices the people offered to the LORD, though unauthorized to do so and also slept with the women attendants at the tabernacle (1 Sam. 2:12-17, 22-25; cp Ex. 38:8).  In the LORD’s first direct  revelation to Samuel, then under Eli’s ‘ministerial training’, He said to him:

"Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle.

"In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end.

"For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.

"And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever" (1 Sam. 3:11-14).

The die was cast! Soon war broke out between Israel and her frenetic hostile neighbours, the Philistines. On the battlefield, Israel suffered some early heavy losses that chilled them to the bones . They were aghast! How could this have happened? (1 Sam. 4:1-3a). Into this chilling tension-filled atmosphere  the elders of Israel  interjected a cry of hope:

"Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies.

"So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from thence the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubims: and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.

"And when the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again.

"And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, What meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews? And they understood that the ark of the LORD was come into the camp.

"And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore.

"Woe unto us! who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty Gods? these are the Gods that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness" (vv. 3b-8).

With a shout of triumph the weary warriors of Israel welcomed the Ark of God into their camp, and the earth reverberated with it, striking instant terror  into the Philistines.  However, instead of victory for Israel, a terrible anticlimax followed. The sudden fear that seized the Philistines gave way to an equally sudden surge of courage which resulted in another resounding defeat of Israel at the hands of their enemies: 

"Be strong, and quit yourselves like men, O ye Philistines, that ye be not servants unto the Hebrews, as they have been to you: quit yourselves like men, and fight.

"And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen

"And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain.

"And there ran a man of Benjamin out of the army, and came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes rent, and with earth upon his head.

"And when he came, lo, Eli sat upon a seat by the wayside watching: for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city, and told it, all the city cried out.

"And when Eli heard the noise of the crying, he said, What meaneth the noise of this tumult? And the man came in hastily, and told Eli.

"Now Eli was ninety and eight years old; and his eyes were dim, that he could not see.

"And the man said unto Eli, I am he that came out of the army, and I fled to day out of the army. And he said, What is there done, my son?

"And the messenger answered and said, Israel is fled before the Philistines, and there hath been also a great slaughter among the people, and thy two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God is taken.

"And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died: for he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years.

"And his daughter in law, Phinehas’ wife, was with child, near to be delivered: and when she heard the tidings that the ark of God was taken, and that her father in law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and travailed; for her pains came upon her.

"And about the time of her death the women that stood by her said unto her, Fear not; for thou hast born a son. But she answered not, neither did she regard it.

"And she named the child I-chabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband.

"And she said, The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken" (vv. 9-22)

Israel suffered an incalculable loss: 30 000 men perished and the hope of Israel, the Ark, was taken–the very saving Ark of Israel that had dried up the waters of Jordan and brought down the walls of Jericho (Josh. 3:15-17 & 5:1; 6). And it was not because the Ark was now powerless to save; it was because its bearers were unworthy as was the nation generally. We read in Ps 78:

"And he brought them to the border of His sanctuary, even to this mountain, which His right hand had purchased.

"He cast out the heathen also before them, and divided them an inheritance by line, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents.

"Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not His testimonies:

"But turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers: they were turned aside like a deceitful bow.

"For they provoked Him to anger with their high places, and moved Him to jealousy with their graven images.

"When God heard this, He was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel:

"So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men;

"And delivered His strength into captivity, and His glory [the Ark] into the enemy’s hand.

"He gave his people over also unto the sword; and was wroth with His inheritance" (vv.54-62).

The Ark of the covenant was the symbol of Yahweh’s presence among His people, but it appeared the people valued the symbol more than they valued the One it represented. We notice that granddad  Eli sat by the wayside waiting for news of the war because "his heart trembled for the ark of God".   But earlier God complained that he honored his evil sons above Him because he failed to forbid  their evil ways in the house of the LORD (1 Sam. 2:27-29). On hearing that the Ark had been captured, the old man couldn’t take it any more; he keeled over backwards, broke his neck and died on the spot. The same misplaced reverence for the Ark was in Phinehas’ pregnant wife. When she also heard that the Ark had been captured, along with the news of her husband’s and father-in-law’s death, she went into instant labour and gave birth at the point of death to a baby boy whom she named Ichabod,  because "The glory is departed from Israel, for the ark of God is taken".

The truth of the matter, however, was that the LORD had long departed from Israel because of the disobedience of the Israelites.  But that was of less concern to priest and people alike. The Ark had attained a cultic status in Israel, and the people venerated it as if their very survival depended on it as a sacred object and not the unseen God of Israel it represented.  That day, God hammered home to the Israelites the futility of putting faith in a sacred object instead of in Him.

Nevertheless, even up to the time of Jesus, the obsession of the Jews with the  sacred Temple as a virtue in itself persisted. When He remarked, after driving out the traders and money changers  from the temple under the  crack of a whip, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" , the Jews  responded in alarm: "Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?" (John 2:19-20).

The Jews reverenced the temple but not to the same extent as they reverenced the Word of Yahweh in whose honour the temple had been built. They loved the temple, swore by it and never departed from it, but not out of a sense of sincere devotion to God; they had reduced the temple to "a den of thieves" as back in Jeremiah’s day which brought out the fury of Christ in whipping them out (Matt. 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17).   

Destruction followed 40 years after, in the infamous destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, in which the Temple was burnt.

Do you tend to revere so-called holy objects rather than the God it purportedly represent? It’s vain worship!  You are the temple in whom God seeks truth and holiness (1 Cor. 3:16-17). Unless you live as such, be assured that God thoroughly abhors your hypocritical attitude of frequenting His worship place as if you were a faithful follower of His!

Ugly Sights before God!

In Isaiah  chapter 1, the LORD recoils at the sordid spiritual state of His people: "From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil" (Isa. 1:6 ESV). Yet they are all dutiful religious people. But with their rebellion against His ways of righteousness  (v. 4),  God finds them as detestable as He found the people of  Sodom and Gomorrah along with their religious sacrifices , their solemn assemblies and their prayers made purportedly to Him (vv. 10-15).

Let not your worship disgust God like this. The LORD cannot look on evil even if cloaked in religion (Hab. 1:13). He demands true worship, not lip-service (Isa. 29:13; Matt. 15:8-9). No outward religious ritual can substitute for true worship stemming from heartfelt obedience to Him (see Matt. 23:23, 28). God is more interested in you than in your place of worship. Unless you please Him by your way of life, you cannot possibly please Him by your perfunctory once -a-week worship. He seeks not just any ritual that passes for worship but "worship in Spirit and in truth" (John 4:23-24).  

"Stand at the Gate and Proclaim the Word"

The Lord’s charge to today’s preachers is as it was in the days of Jeremiah: "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:2). But why the urgency? Apostates will abound in the end-time church: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (vv. 3-4).

In Isaiah 58:1 God instructs the prophet: "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins".  Pulpits need to be aflame with righteousness as in former times, but it’s quite clear that many of today’s preachers rather entertain congregations  with "fables". They are blind, ignorant watchmen and "dumb dogs that cannot bark", being "greedy dogs that can never have enough" (Isa. 56:10-11-12).

And they have their match in the churchgoing public who find the sound doctrine insufferable and "will not hear the law of the LORD”. Instead, they “say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:  Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the [right] path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us" (Isa. 30:9-11).

Sad to say, but many a church is now a “den of thieves” where so-called prophets and ministers fleece churchgoers by means of false prophecies and a watered-down gospel of cheap grace—and the “people love to have it so” (2 Pet. 2:1-3; Jer. 5:30-31)!

At the final judgment, however, no one will get away with religious hypocrisy or lawlessness (Matt. 7:21-23). “The sinners in Zion [the church]” shall be devoured by the ever-burning fire (Isa. 33:14).  On that day, what God will seek to reward you for will not be the number of times you attended church nor your outward religious practice, but the holy obedient life you lived for Him as a true worshipper of His. On that day, no secret will be secret any more. The righteous judgment of God (Rom. 2:2) will strip away every veneer of false religion and expose you for what you are (Rom. 2:16), since "all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:13).

Beloved, do not deceive yourself; obey God from a sincere heart, for as David impressed on his son Solomon, "the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever".  Seek Him in truth, and you will live in His sight forever. Amen!