Centralization of Worship in Ancient Israel by Sereine

Dairly verse

Introduction

            According to Bruce K. Waltke: “A person’s religion is personal, his or her experiences and impulses are unseen und unfelt by others. However, the liturgy is practiced in community, within a group of people.” [1] Even today in the New Testament, God gives the salvation individually and people practice worships in groups. “Israel Detail about the worship center and priesthood derive from God dwells among his people.”[2] It does not mean that God is not omniscient. Everywhere you are worshiping him he may hear you but, in order to help, the community keep committed and help each other, God called people to build tabernacle (Exodus 25-31). He said to the Israelites that he would walk among them (Gen 3.8, Leviticus 26:12). This article will explore many reasons in the Bible about the centralization of worship in Ancient Israel.

According to the Bible, the Lord said to Moses about the building of altars for worship. In verse 24, God says, “You will make an altar of earth for me. And you will sacrifice your burnt offerings on it and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In all places where I record my name. I will come to you and I will bless you.”[3] This suggests we worship God at various locations, but also have an altar where Priests should practice offerings. It is important to note that this context concerns the building of altars, not to the idea of having multiple places of worship.

Some scholars suggest that this passage reflects an early stage in the development of Israelite worship, when they built altars in multiple locations throughout the land. This is in contrast to the later emphasis on centralizing worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. The emphasis on building altars with natural materials and avoiding human innovation or arrogance also reflects a concern for maintaining purity and avoiding idolatry. Worship and preaching are the main activities done in the House of the Lord in order to respect his Holiness and the Holiness of his people (Leviticus 11:45; 17-26).  God gave instructions for building his residence: the tabernacle (a royal tent of meeting) in the midst of his pilgrim people (Exodus 25: 1-40:38).  

Exegesis of Exodus 20:22-26

Overall, the exegesis of Exodus 20:22-26 provides insight into the early stages of Israelite worship and the importance of altars in that worship. It emphasizes the importance of humility, purity, and avoiding idolatry, as well as the centrality of burnt offerings and peace offerings in Israelite worship. Because of what had just transpired, the people asked Moses to mediate between them and God. (Exodus 20: 19). You will not make other gods: They were not to imagine other powers (gods) that would condemn their misguided religious behavior. Since God created man with a great imagination, He knew that their imagination would run wild if they gave up a knowledge of the true and living God. The idol would be a witness against them, showing that they had rebelled against God.

For Waltke, God instructed the Israelites to worship together in order to keep his holiness and offer sacrifice for sin and peace. “In connection with enabling the Holy God to be present with sinful people so that they might commune with one another, liturgy serves at least five other broad purposes: separating, symbolic, typical, sacramental, and artistic”.[4] The instructions for building altars in these passages also highlight the importance of sacrifice in Israelite worship. Sacrifice was a key part of ancient Near Eastern religion and was a way of establishing a relationship with the divine. Burnt offerings were a way of atoning for sin and expressing gratitude to God. Peace offerings were a way of expressing thanks and sharing in fellowship with God.

In addition, the emphasis on building altars in multiple locations in this passage is significant because it reflects a decentralized model of worship that was common in ancient Near Eastern religion. This decentralized model of worship may have allowed for greater flexibility and diversity in Israelite worship, but it also presented challenges in terms of maintaining purity and avoiding idolatry.

Exegesis of Deuteronomy 12:5-15:

In Deuteronomy 12:5-15, there is a clear call for centralization of worship in one location. In verse 5, it says, “But you shall seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there.” This passage emphasizes the importance of worshipping God at one central location, and it goes on to provide instructions for how to sacrifices and how to present offerings. The importance of centralizing Israelite worship at a single location is later identified as the Temple in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 12:5-15).   

The emphasis of God on choosing the location suggests that the Temple is a divine institution, rather than a human creation. The passage goes on to instruct the Israelites to bring their burnt offerings and other sacrifices to the Temple, rather than offering them at the altars that they had previously built in other locations. This represents a significant change in Israelite worship, as it centralized sacrifice and worship at a single location. In addition to emphasizing the importance of centralized worship, the passage also includes warnings against following the practices of other nations and engaging in idolatry. The emphasis on avoiding idolatry is consistent with other parts of Deuteronomy and reflects the ongoing challenge of maintaining purity and avoiding syncretism in Israelite religion.

Deuteronomy 12:5-15 highlights the importance of centralizing worship at the Temple in Jerusalem and avoiding the practices of other nations. It also reflects the ongoing challenge of maintaining purity and avoiding idolatry in Israelite religion. This section often refers to as the Deuteronomy Code and is significant theologically and legally within the Hebrew Bible. It emphasizes on a way of establishing a sense of national identity and unity among the Israelites. By having a single location for worship and sacrifice, the Israelites could come together as a community and affirm their shared religious beliefs and practices. It also reflects the ongoing tension between Israelite religion and the religious practices of neighboring cultures. By centralizing sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem, the priests were able to exert greater control over religious practices and establish a centralized authority for interpreting and enforcing religious law. 

Reference to other pertinent passages:

There are other passages in the Old Testament that deal with the issue of multiple altars of worship versus settling on one central location. For example, in Genesis 12:6-7, when Abram first enters the land of Canaan, he builds an altar and worships God. This is followed by other altars built by him at various locations (Genesis 13:4, 13:18). However, in Genesis 22:2, God commands Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice “on one of the mountains” in the land of Moriah. This passage is a foreshadowing of the centralization of worship at the Temple in Jerusalem.

Theological description of the evolution of worship as Israel moves from Egypt to Canaan – from limited worship to tabernacle to Temple.

For Waltke, “The Mosaic liturgy allows the human partner to worship God through and earthy version of what is reality in heaven.”[5]  As the Israelites journeyed from Egypt to Canaan, their worship evolved. Initially, they had limited worship, with altars built in various locations, as described in Exodus and Genesis. This evolved into the Tabernacle, a portable tent that served as a central location for worship during the Israelites’ wanderings in the wilderness. The Tabernacle had specific instructions for how it was to be constructed, and it housed the Ark of the Covenant, which represented God’s presence among his people. Finally, King Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, which became permanent central location for worship in Israel. The Temple was a grand structure, with multiple rooms and areas for sacrifices, and it was the focus of Jewish worship until its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.

The centralization of worship in Ancient Israel was not only a significant development in the evolution of Jewish worship, but it has also theological implications. It emphasize the importance of worshipping at one central location. Deuteronomy helped to reinforce the idea of a centralized priesthood and a strong sense of communal identity among the Israelites. It also helped to combat the worship of false gods and pagan practices that were prevalent in the surrounding nations.

The building of the Tabernacle and later the Temple also symbolized the idea of God’s presence among his people. The Ark of the Covenant, which was housed in the Tabernacle and later the Temple, was seen as the physical manifestation of God’s presence. This helped to reinforce the idea of God as a personal and relational God who was intimately involved in the lives of his people.

The centralization of worship also helped to establish a system of hierarchy within the Israelite community, with the Levites serving as the priests and mediators between God and the people. This helped to create a sense of order and structure within the community, and it also helped to reinforce the idea of a covenant relationship between God and his people.

Finally, the centralization of worship played an important role in the development of Jewish identity and the preservation of Jewish tradition. Even after the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and again by the Romans in 70 CE, the idea of worshipping at one central location remained central to Jewish worship. This helped to preserve a sense of continuity and connection with the past, even in the face of difficult circumstances and changing political realities.

Footnotes:

A. Graeme Auld, “Worship in Ancient Israel,” in The Oxford History of the Biblical World, ed. Michael D. Coogan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 149-175.

John Barton, “Altars and High Places,” in The Oxford Companion to the Bible, ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 24-26.

G. I. Davies, “Worship and Festivals in Ancient Israel,” in The Oxford Companion to the Bible, ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 794-799.

Bibliography:

Auld, A. Graeme. “Worship in Ancient Israel.” In The Oxford History of the Biblical World, edited by Michael D. Coogan, 149-175. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Barton, John. “Altars and High Places.” In The Oxford Companion to the Bible, edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, 24-26. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Davies, G. I. “Worship and Festivals in Ancient Israel.” In The Oxford Companion to the Bible, edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, 794-799. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Dever, William G. Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005.

 Bruce K. Waltke with Charles Yu: An Old Testament Theology: an exegetical, canonical, and thematic approach, Zondervan Academic, 2007, p. 453


[1] Bruce K. Waltke with Charles Yu: An Old Testament Theology: an exegetical, canonical, and thematic approach, Zondervan Academic, 2007, p. 450-478

[2] Paul R. House, Old Testament Theology (Down Grove III: Intervarsity Press, 1998), 118.

[3] Dickson Teacher’s Bible, The publishers 2011

[4] Bruce K. Waltke with Charles Yu: An Old Testament Theology: an exegetical, canonical, and thematic approach, Zondervan Academic, 2007, p. 453

[5] Idem, p.455

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *