Sunday, February 12, 2012

Book Review: Engaging With God, by David Peterson, Ch 1

Out with the Old... in with the New?

Have you ever been sitting in a service when the pastor comes up to preach the sermon, and instructs the congregation to turn to some obscure passage in the Old Testament? You can just sense the entire audience groaning, as if to say, "How can this possibly apply to me?" Or maybe it's an extremely familiar passage, such as David and Goliath. As a student at Moody Bible Institute, I must have heard at least 100 sermons on David and Goliath over my five years of chapels! Unfortunately, when we think about the Old Testament, our mind automatically goes to a list of moral stories that we were told in Sunday School. "If you have the courage and faith of David, you can tackle any giants that hinder your life!" "Don't give in to peer pressure, but obey God, just like Noah did... if you don't, you just might get swallowed by a whale!" Sound familiar? The moment we take the Old Testament and trivialize it into a biblical version of Aesop's fables we completely miss the overarching themes that tie the entire Bible together, which reveal God and His ultimate purpose throughout all of history, and we undermine the importance of God's sovereign working in each of our lives. 

In this first chapter of Engaging with God, David Peterson defends a biblical theology of worship by examining the key themes that are established in the Old Testament, and continued through the New Testament: revelation, redemption, God's covenant with Israel, and the call for God's people to live as a distinct and separate nation (p.23). 

Worship and Revelation

We know that at the heart of every religion, man desires to know who God is, where He can be found, and how He can be approached. In the ancient world, this was no different, for these people identified specific places where they believed the gods lived, and erected shrines or temples in these places to serve as the "home" of that particular god. An example would be the Canaanites, who worshipped many gods, such as Baal,  El, and Anat, and believed that these gods dwelled on specific sacred mountaintops unreachable by man, that separated heaven and earth. 

This is the backdrop of the Old Testament, and helps us understand the cultural aspects that influenced the thinking of God's people throughout this period of time. Unlike the gods of the Canaanites, we see throughout the Old Testament that God directly revealed Himself to the Israelites in particular places and at specific times. God developed a relationship with the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, along with their descendants, promising to make them a great nation (Gen 12:1-3, 7; 13:14-17; 15:1-8, 12-16). This shows the importance of a relationship with the one true God that is only possible when He reveals Himself to mankind throughout history. Also, in contrast to other ancient religions, when God relates to mankind, He speaks directly to the patriarchs through covenant promises and demands, rather than simply using supernatural events or powerful displays through nature. God engages with His people directly, and has continual communication with them (e.g. Noah in Gen 6-9).

God's Covenant Promise

Whenever God revealed Himself to the patriarchs, they would build an altar at that spot to symbolize where God had manifested Himself to them (Gen 12:7-8; 13:14-18; 28:10-22). This showed how they received God's promises that the land of Canaan belonged to Him, and that He would one day give it over to them as He had promised. Also since the Israelites considered Heaven to be God's dwelling place, these holy places were merely symbols of God's presence, and in no way limited His power and dwelling among them (Gen 11:5; 18:21; 21:17; 22:11; 24:7; 28:12). The ultimate place of God's manifestation to the people of Israel occurred at Mount Sinai, after He had rescued them from their bondage in Egypt. By drawing His people to the mountain, God was drawing them to Himself, revealing to them that He was their rescuer and Lord (Ex 19:4; 3:1; 4:27; 18:5; 24:13). He then revealed to them the acceptable form of worship, and the way that a relationship could be formed with Him. We will find that this manifestation established the official start of a long standing relationship of God and His chosen people.

Worship and Redemption

The worship of God's people is separate from any other religion, in that His people offer the worship of a redeemed people, that in no way is a result of human action or determination, but is only possible by means of God's action toward His people. We can only approach God, because He has first approached us, and provided us a way of salvation. The book of Exodus clearly states how God approached Israel and redeemed His people so that they may worship Him, and bring Glory to His name. After being brought out of Egypt, and freed from slavery, Moses was led to the top of the mountaintop to meet God. Here, God told Moses what it meant to be God's chosen people:
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel. (Ex 19:5-6, ESV)

God's Call for Holiness

 In other words, God was initiating a relationship with Israel here at Mt. Sinai, that was based on a life of service and worship to Him alone. He was drawing them into a special relationship with Him, but had some rules of conduct. On the mountaintop He gave Moses the ten commandments by which God's people were supposed to live (Ex 20:1-18), in order to be devoted to God alone, and to glorify Him for His redemptive work. We then see in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy a list of moral, social, and ritual laws describing what it meant to live a life devoted to serving the Lord. The Lord also gave Moses specific instructions on how to build the tabernacle, which housed the Ark of the Covenant, which was supposed to be a sign of God's presence continuing with His people (Nu. 10:33-36; 1 Sam 4:3-9). Later on this tabernacle was replaced by the Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:10-11).

So apparently, the idea that acceptable worship is a life-long pursuit is not a new understanding found only in the New Testament!


The Old Testament is chock full of meaning and relevance to any generation, much less our current postmodern mindset. Regardless of what anyone claims to believe as their own morsel of truth, we all universally desire to  be loved, and to be accepted for who we are. We are all created for one specific purpose- to glorify God in everything that we do! We are hard-wired to worship! However, since we are also under the curse of sin and death, we are unable to worship anything other than ourselves. The only way that we know anything about God is what He has revealed to us about Himself. 

He took the initiative with the patriarchs of Israel, then to all the people of Israel through the exodus from slavery in Egypt, all culminating into the encounter at Mt. Sinai where God gives Moses the Ten Commandments. God used such symbols as the ark, the tabernacle, and the temple to represent God's presence among the people of Israel. Peterson says it best:
The sacrificial system was the means by which God made it possible for a sinful people to draw near to him, to receive his grace and blessing, without desecrating his holiness and so incurring his wrath against them.
This sacrificial system was then replaced by the ultimate sacrifice- Jesus Christ. It is only through Him that we are able to approach God and worship Him as we were originally created to do. So the next time you are reading the Old Testament, remember to read it in light of what Christ has revealed to us about the Father. We are all created to worship Him, and bring Him glory with our entire lives, not just on Sunday morning.

How about you? What has God been teaching you about worship? What passages does He speak to you through the Old Testament about who He truly is? Leave a comment... or three. til next time...