Vain Worship

by David Lasseter


We've learned much about God and worship to Him by considering a few of His characteristics.  Let's consider some examples of unacceptable worship recorded in the Bible and look for the characteristics of God we've examined as we continue our study of the church.

  1. Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-7):  We see in the earliest writings of the scriptures how God has always demanded obedience to His commands in our worship to Him.  Cain and Abel were two brothers, the sons of Adam and Eve.  They had different occupations:  Abel was a shepherd and Cain a farmer ("tiller of the ground").  Both were worshipers of God.  However, the manner in which they worshipped God differed.  Abel brought the firstlings of his flock to sacrifice to God but Cain brought fruits of the ground.  Was God pleased with both sacrifices?  No!  We see how God "had respect unto" Abel and his offering but unto Cain and his offering He "had not respect."  Cain was angry with God's acceptance of Abel's offering but rejection of his own.  Did Cain know what God expected?  Yes!  He must have known.  We know that God is not a respecter of persons but he had respect for Abel's offering.  Why?  Because Abel obeyed His commands.  If God had respect for Abel's offering but hadn't told either what He expected then His respect would have been for Abel rather than the offering.  At some point in time God had told both Cain and Abel what He expected of them in worship.  Abel was obedient and Cain disobedient.  As a result, Abel was accepted and Cain rejected.  God asks Cain, "If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?"  Cain knew what he had to do to "do well", but refused to do so.  As a result he was rendered a "false worshiper" of God.
  2. Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1,2):  Nadab and Abihu were sons of Aaron, the High Priest of God.  As such they were members of the tribe of Levi, which was given responsibility for the tabernacle and to carry out the various acts of worship to God for the people of Israel.  One day Nadab and Abihu decided to change their worship to God.  They took their censers and offered "strange fire" unto God.  As a result, God consumed them by fire sent from heaven and they "died before the Lord."  To our modern way of thinking it might seem harsh, might it not?  After all, they only used different fire in their worship to God.  They were still carrying their censers, they still offered incense upon them, and they were still continuing to worship God.  The people witnessing their acts of worship may well have known nothing of the "insignificant" change they had made.  However, God had given them specific instructions as to where to obtain fire for their worship to Him and any variation from this source was disobedience!  God demonstrated His rejection of their worship in a dramatic fashion!  Why do you think our loving God would be so full of wrath over something so seemingly insignificant?  Because any variation in worship to Him is not insignificant!  If He tells us what He wants us to do He is pleased with nothing other than obedience "to the letter"!  We have been blessed with having the example of Nadab and Abihu recorded for us so we can consider the seriousness of the manner in which we approach Him in worship.  Since we know God is unchanging, do you believe He is any less serious about our worship to Him?  Absolutely not!  How we worship Him has changed since the time of Nadab and Abihu, but God hasn't.  He has given us specific instructions on how we are to worship Him today.  We must follow those instructions to the letter or face being rejected by God in the judgment.
  3. King Saul (1 Samuel 13:1-14):  When Saul had been king of Israel for 2 years he attacked a garrison of Philistines with 3,000 men.  He instructed a trumpet be blown throughout the land of Israel so the people might hear of his battle.  However, the Philistines weren't going to ignore this attack.  They gathered an army of 30,000 chariots, 6,000 horsemen, and "people as the sand which is on the seashore in multitude" and pitched for battle.  The Israelite soldiers saw they were in a bind and hid in caves, thickets, rocks, high places, and pits.  Samuel had instructed Saul to wait for him in Gilgal for 7 days.  When Samuel was late and Saul saw the people scattering from him he instructed a burnt offering and peace offering be brought to him.  As he finished offering the burnt offering Samuel came.  Saul shortly learned of the Lord's displeasure with his sacrifice of the burnt offering.  Samuel asked him, "What has thou done."  Saul proceeds to explain the reasons he offered the burnt offering:  "I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash; therefore said I, 'The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the Lord':  I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering."  From our point of view it sounds reasonable, doesn't it?  "I'm in trouble so I'll do what I can to please the Lord."  But the Lord wasn't interested in sacrifice.  He demands obedience.  Samuel responds to Saul's defense, "Thou hast done foolishly:  thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which He commanded thee."  Samuel goes on to tell Saul that the Lord would take the kingdom from him and give it to a man "after His own heart."  Again we see the importance of the heart in our worship to God.  Saul thought the Lord was interested only in sacrifice but learned His real interest lies in obedience.
  4. King Saul again (1 Samuel 15:1-31):  In the 15th chapter of 1 Samuel the Lord gives a command to Saul:  "Go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass."  We read in verse 2 why this order was given:  The Amalekites had laid in wait for Israel as they left Egypt (Exodus 17:8-16).  God had promised, "The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation."  In 1 Samuel we see Saul going forth to destroy the Amalekites with 200,000 footmen and 10,000 men of Judah.  Saul with his army smote the Amalekites.  However, one person escaped the slaughter alive:  Agag, the king of the Amalekites.  Saul also permitted the best of the livestock of the Amalekites to survive.  Now recall God's marching orders to Saul: "Go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass."  The Lord told Samuel that, "It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king:  for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments."  Saul returned from the slaughter and told Samuel, "I have performed the commandment of the Lord."  Samuel tells Saul how wrong he was.  Saul brought back the livestock for a seemingly good purpose:  to sacrifice to the Lord.  However, Samuel sums up God's displeasure with Saul in verses 22 and 23:  "Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.  For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry."  Please consider again how God doesn't change.  Has God all the sudden become more interested in sacrifice than obedience?  No!  Saul thought the Lord would be pleased with his offering of the best of the flocks of the Amalekites for sacrifice.  They would still die but on the altars of the Israelites rather than the battlefield.  In the end they would be dead.  But we see God's displeasure in good motives that go against His will.  Samuel equates Saul's actions with rebellion and tells him that rebellion is no different than the sin of witchcraft!
  5. Korah (Numbers 16:1-50):  In Saul we saw how disobedience to the commands of God is rebellion.  In Korah we have an example of rebellion we would all recognize.  Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, along with 250 princes of the Israelites, rose up against the authority of Moses and Aaron.  After the rebellion God demonstrated to the entire congregation of Israel that He had given Moses and Aaron the authority they claimed.  In punishment for their rebellion Korah, Dathan and Abiram along with their families suffered an unusual death:  The earth swallowed them up.  The 250 princes of Israel didn't escape punishment:  They were consumed by fire from the Lord.  But what do we see the nation of Israel doing the very next day:  They murmured against Moses and Aaron for the deaths of these men and their families!  Did the Lord overlook their grumbling?  No!  He caused a plague to run through the congregation, which eventually led to the deaths of an additional 14,700 people!  Only when Moses and Aaron intervened for the people did the plague stop.  The Lord instructed Moses to have Eleazar the son of Aaron make a covering for the altar from the brazen censers carried by the 250 princes of Israel.  This covering would serve as a reminder to the people that, "no stranger, which is not of the seed of Aaron, come near to offer incense before the Lord; that he be not as Korah, and as his company."  In this account we see the Lord giving religious authority to a certain group of men and anyone who would try to usurp that authority is rebelling against God.  Has God changed?  No!  Today, if we see religious authority given to a specific group of people by God, anyone attempting to usurp that authority is rebelling against God as surely as Korah and his confederates in Numbers 16.

In these examples we've seen God's displeasure with man's disobedience to His commandments regarding worship.  We've seen how He rejects the worship of one who chooses to devise his own worship style (Cain), how He is displeased with one who changes the way he is instructed to worship (Nadab and Abihu), how God looks at obedience and sacrifice (Saul), and how God rejects those who attempt to usurp the religious authority of those to whom He has given it (Korah).  Now let's move from a consideration of worship practices in the Old Testament to worship as authorized in the New Testament.  Before we do so let's consider the relationship between the old covenant and the new covenant today.


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