Grasping God's Purpose: "Coming Back to the Heart of Worship"- Exodus 25

Her old organ was dusty, but that didn’t hurt the sound at all. She loved playing those old hymns, and singing to the Lord as she played that old thing brought her a unique joy. The memories of the days when her husband was alive filled the room. How she could recall his arm around her and his poor tune quality as he would chime in on the chorus…no matter, it was a warm and soothing memory of days gone by. Now she sat in the room with just her organ and her Savior. How she hoped it would please Him to hear her broken voice and suspiciously mistuned old organ. She just wanted to worship… Sometimes she would even put on her old church hat, the one her friends all envied long ago. Can you see her? She is celebrating her Savior and loving the feel of His gentle arm around her now. She always feels it when she sits on the organ bench. That may be one of the things that draws her back to that place…

Let me ask you a question: “Just what does it mean to worship?” Many people are asking the question in a new way these days, as we have seen so many changes in church services. In church circles, there has even been division over what some have coined to be “worship wars” in the church. Truly some have made SINGING the same as WORSHIP, but that isn’t right, and we know it. So, what exactly is worship that pleases God? Does it take preparation? How can we know if GOD is happy with our worship service? If you are asking this, our study today will help offer direction and clarity.

Before I go further, let me remind you that we aren’t talking about a church thing here. We were made to worship God. It is our calling, and for the believer it is our future. It is essential to the experience of Heaven. Let the word be plain: “I was not made for myself. I was made to worship God and to bring Him honor and glory.” I know that thought is contrary to how we spend much of our time – but it is nevertheless very true. If that is true, I must know something of the preparation and of the process of worship that pleases God. Enter the passages on God’s sponsored and designed worship construction recorded in Exodus.

When we were last together we looked at the beginning of the narrative of the longest passage in the Bible to describe a building program- and for that matter it was a moveable structure that had no foundation. The Tabernacle (or “Mishkan”) was a tent structure that was to be assembled in each place Israel placed their camp as they traveled through the wilderness for nearly forty years. When we examined the first nine verses of the chapter, we noted that God had specific requirements for those who would worship Him in Spirit and Truth. Jesus later told the Samaritan woman that His Father always sought that kind of worship. In our study, we concluded that God still WANTS to be at home in the believer and He desires to journey through life with us, just as He did in the wilderness so long ago. We also noted an enduring problem. As a Holy God, He cannot condescend to the level of sinful man. He has therefore provided a way for us to walk with Him in holiness while recognizing that we still dwell in a fallen world. We can walk daily with a Perfect God, even while we are yet imperfect people.

For anyone who would walk with God today, we have the promise that God is inviting us to do this. With that promise comes also the stark revelation from His Word that we need to both prepare ourselves properly, as well as perform our worship in a way that meets His standard. We don’t make the rules for worship any more than we can give directions to an airline pilot on our commercial flight as there where we would like to go. We get on board recognizing that HE or SHE is in charge, and we are not. That is part of worship… Recognizing that since it is FOR God, and TO God – He instructs what He desires.

Key Principle: God left us a graphic picture of the pattern of worship in the Tabernacle, with each part showing something about both Him and us – leading us into His arms.

 First, let’s refresh ourselves in the study without regressing to the past messages too far. Exodus 25 opens with a shot of God speaking to Moses on behalf of His people. God said to Moses essentially three things in verses one through nine:

  • First, raise a contribution to build the things I will instruct. (25:2-7). It must be voluntary, from the heart, and it must be comprised of the specific list God provided. God wants worship to be something that we sense the need to offer, and every part of our giving is to be because we WANT to give it. In addition, we don’t give God what He didn’t ask for. I am amazed at how often I find someone that is desperately trying to earn God’s love by giving of themselves in an inordinate way – but not giving what God wants to have.

If you came to God today with a pile of money and a sincere desire to delight Him with it, while you are in an illicit relationship and dishonoring God in your heart, mind and body – your sacrifice will be in vain. It is not vain because you weren’t sincere, but because you gave God gifts that weren’t what He asked you to give. He wants purity in your walk to prepare you for time with Him. That is why Psalm 15 opened with the idea of attending to our blemishes before we approached God. We cannot forgive sin, only He can. Yet, we dare not ask Him to forgive sin we are planning to continue tomorrow. God has a specific set of things He wants as we prepare to worship Him today.

  • Second, let them build the worship center the way I tell them, for the expressed purpose of giving me a visual place to dwell among them. (25:8). The purpose of the construction of a worship place, and designation of a worship time is simple: God wants to dwell among His people. He is not aloof, nor does He desire to be pushed to the margin of our lives. Some of us are doing that – pushing God out of any decision arena, and treating Him like a distant relative that has no right to claim anything in our lives. God desires to dwell with us, cooperate with us, and participate with us. He proved it over and over. He chose a young woman to bear Messiah, rather than simply dropping in as a grown man.
  • Third, construction must be according to exacting plans that God provided, with no change orders coming from the people. (25:9). God knows how the structure of worship is to look. Every element that goes into worship is according to a pattern. In the passage, God is referring to the specifics of the building to be sure, but the same can easily be said of every part of the preparation and process of worship.

With that brief refresher on the PREPARATION for worship, let’s pick up our reading and see what God said about the PROCESS of worship. We see beginning in verse ten four truths about WHAT IS CONTAINED IN TRUE WORSHIP:

1: True worship has the Word of God at its heart.

Exodus 25:10 “ They shall construct an ark of acacia wood two and a half cubits long , and one and a half cubits wide , and one and a half cubits high . 11 You shall overlay it with pure gold , inside and out you shall overlay it, and you shall make a gold molding around it. 12 You shall cast four gold rings for it and fasten them on its four feet , and two rings shall be on one side of it and two rings on the other side of it. 13 You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold . 14 You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark , to carry the ark with them. 15 The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark ; they shall not be removed from it. 16 You shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you.

The heart of the Tabernacle was not the building, but the transportable container that was built to contain the Words of the Living God. The very center of the worship was to be God’s own Word – not an emotional expression of powerful music, or ecstatic utterance. The heart of the dwelling of God is in His Holy Word, and that was to be at the center of all they built. God mentioned it first, and added three important truths:

  • The box was to be built to specific specs to carry His Word among them. God wanted them to carefully construct, at great personal cost, the place for His Word. Let me pose a question you may want to consider carefully: How do YOU handle the Word in your life? Are you casual with the revealed truth of God? Do you take time to really construct at personal cost, a careful vessel for God’s truth? I don’t mean for you to build a great gold box for your Bible…but I do wonder if we aren’t so immersed in a culture of the written Word that we have forgotten what we have. God’s Word has been ever so carefully preserved and passed to us – and many of us barely see its value – LET ALONE MAKE ITS TRUTHS OUR HIGHEST CAUSE. We are offered places to learn it, but we are too busy doing other things with our time. I wonder aloud if we understand the preciousness of what we hold in our hands.
  • The box was to be built with poles to transport the Word, keeping it with them where they went. The Word of God was not to be a static memory, but travel with them in their lives. Hiding God’s Word is your heart is excellent, as long as you don’t hide it from your life’s decisions and companions. The Word should go WITH you as you work this week. Does it inform all your weekday choices, or it is just a Sunday memory?
  • The box was to keep the specific record of God’s self-revealed testimony of Himself. God leads us in the way God’s character works. He isn’t an erratic God. We can judge the way before us based on the principles of the path He has led us in behind us. The Word isn’t just a record of old laws and dead followers. It is a pattern, and it is given to us as an example. That pattern doesn’t just lead us to DO RIGHT, but it leads us to walk intimately with HIM. HE is the point, not simply “doing life” properly.

True worship, then, has the Word of God carefully handled, and daily impacting our life’s decisions at its core. It recalls what God has done to help us know what He is doing and will do.

2: True worship has God’s mercy in the center (Exodus 25: 17-22).

Exodus 25:17 “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold , two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide . 18 You shall make two cherubim of gold , make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat . 19 Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end ; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends . 20   The cherubim shall have their wings spread upward , covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another ; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the mercy seat . 21   You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark , and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you. 22   There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat , from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony , I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel .

God wants to meet me, dwell with me, and share life with me. At the same time, my sinful, stubborn pattern of life makes time with me a problem. We must not take lightly that meeting with God is no small thing – and worshipping Him is not either. Angels prepare to stand in His Holy presence, and I should do no less. He is the author or my life and my universe. Time with Him and a life walked together is life on the highest plane. If we look at the details of the passage, God exposed much more than a simple building plan in the narrative. God set in the Tabernacle a plan of where we can and must meet Him:

  • The top of the ark was to be fashioned from a single mass of gold called the MERCY SEAT. This was not a place for anything to SIT, but was rather a place designed for a specific and essential purpose that will become clear. It was to have two cherubim extending from the surface of the solid lid of the ark. It was a covering over the place of the Word, and it was a place where the blood of a sacrificial animal was poured out atop the box. The whole act was symbolic, and prescribed by God to allow men to approach Him, walk with Him, and take Him on their journey of life. I can only meet with God, and have a relationship with Him, because one died on my behalf, shedding the blood that was necessary to cover my sin with God’s mercy.
  • Note the two angels were to FACE each other, with the area below their winged expanse to be the area for the blood. Why was this essential? Remember one primary purpose for the creation of the physical realm we call our universe was to be a demonstration to the angelic world of WHO God is– what His character is like. THEY were to symbolically and literally behold the mercy of their Creator. The picture of His mercy was, in part, for their benefit! Believers need to remember that more are watching them then just people – there is an angelic world that is susceptible to rebellion, and they watch us. We have a responsibility to be an example to them as well. Paul warned women to be respectful “because of the angels”!
  •  If you look closely at the end of the portion above, verse 22 exposes two very significant things about the space between the angels – that God would meet with them there, and that God would speak with them there. The term to MEET was not the normal form of “m’pagesh”, but rather the word “yaad” – as in a summoning place or appointed place to rendezvous. The term for SPEAK is the customary “davar” – to have a word with them. God said the place of the mercy seat was NOT just a place for man to present blood from a sacrifice to abate the wrath of God, but a place where God would communicate with them. Worship is not just about us pouring out our hearts, our sorrows, our disappointments and our pain. It is about listening to God at the point where the blood meets His mercy. It is about confronting our sinfulness, but also about hearing His gentle voice of forgiveness.

True worship, then is something I prepare for because it is of unparalleled value, but can only be accessed through God’s mercy. I must take it seriously, for my sake, my family’s sake, my church’s sake – and even for unseen angels that are watching. It is about careful obedience, but also about discerning ears.

3: True worship takes constant renewed effort (Exodus 25:23-30)

Exodus 25:23 “ You shall make a table of acacia wood , two cubits long and one cubit wide and one and a half cubits high . 24 You shall overlay it with pure gold and make a gold border around it. 25 You shall make for it a rim of a handbreadth around it; and you shall make a gold border for the rim around it. 26 You shall make four gold rings for it and put rings on the four corners which are on its four feet . 27 The rings shall be close to the rim as holders for the poles to carry the table . 28 You shall make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold , so that with them the table may be carried . 29 You shall make its   dishes and its pans and its jars and its bowls with which to pour drink offerings ; you shall make them of pure gold . 30 You shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before Me at all times.

The table of the bread of God’s presence was a third piece of furniture that God ordered to specifications that suited Him. Its height, length and width were all commanded. Matching the other furnishings, the whole table was overlaid with gold. God wanted a table of bread, made by human hands, so that people would recall that HE IS PRESENT WITH THEM.  It is only a basic description that God offered details that help us see His purposes:

  • First, the whole table top was bordered with a hand breath rim, that allowed the bread to be placed inside the inner rim – but not to slide or touch the outer rim. The symbol of God’s presence demanded protection. The rim was a gold border, a space between those moving around in the room as they passed the edge of the table, and the bread that was carefully prepared and placed inside the inner rim. The rim had a second purpose. The table was not to be empty… Even when they moved the table. The bread had to be “ever present” – and the rim meant it needed to be ever protected. Without stretching the point, it may be worth asking a question right about now….Are you carefully protecting your walk with God? Do you value His presence enough, and live in the conscious presence of God so as to be carefully protecting your walk with Him? If the bread was to recall His presence, the clear picture here is that it was to be protected.
  • Second, four rings were mounted on the table because it was to be carried, something that would move when the camp and the Tabernacle moved. God’s people were not to go where He they did not acknowledge His accompaniment – and this bread represented their conscious knowledge of His presence. Though we all live in the presence of God’s face continually, many of us don’t live like we realize it.
  • Third, every bowl, pan or utensil associated with the table and the other furnishings was to be fashioned of pure gold. Walking in the conscious presence of God was, and is, to be the highest value of our lives. How we treat God is reflected in every attitude of our lives, every relationship with other people, and even our reflective relationship within our own hearts. Our values are shaped by our desire to please a very present God, and walk through life with Him. Our biggest failure is not to do or say something that displeases Him – it is to live life without caring about His presence. As Dietrich Bonheoffer brilliantly said: “When we son, we don’t hate God, we forget God.”
  • Finally, the command was made that the table was never to be empty– but full at all times. It was to be kept supplied even during a journey, because it represented the people’s knowledge of the unfailing presence of the Holy One with them. Bread took work to make, and so it takes work to constantly recall God is very present with man. it is easy to forget God. It is easy to live life with God on the periphery of important decisions. He is always there, but many of us only think about Him at times of pain, trouble or distress.  After the Fall of man, the default position of fallen man is independence from God – living in the deception of self-reliance. Walking with God takes work, and it takes practice.

True worship, then, was that which required constant effort, and was always guarded. It was to be treasured, but had to be forcibly recalled in a life that defaults to self-reliance.

4: True worship exposes truth (Exodus 25:31-40)

Exodus 25:31 Then you shall make a lampstand of pure gold . The lampstand and its base and its shaft are to be made of hammered work ; its cups , its bulbs and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. 32   Six branches shall go out from its sides ; three branches of the lampstand from its one side and three branches of the lampstand from its other side . 33   Three cups shall be shaped like almond blossoms in the one branch , a bulb and a flower , and three cups shaped like almond blossoms in the other branch , a bulb and a flower —so for six branches going out from the lampstand ; 34 and in the lampstand four cups shaped like almond blossoms, its bulbs and its flowers . 35   A bulb shall be under the first pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the second pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the third pair of branches coming out of it, for the six branches coming out of the lampstand . 36   Their bulbs and their branches shall be of one piece with it; all of it shall be one piece of hammered work of pure gold . 37 Then you shall make its lamps seven in number; and they shall mount its lamps so as to shed light on the space in front of it. 38 Its snuffers and their trays shall be of pure gold . 39 It shall be made from a talent of pure gold , with all these utensils . 40   See that you make them after the pattern for them, which was shown to you on the mountain .

The last of the furnishings in this chapter was the lamp stand, or menorah. The description of this carefully fashioned lamp indicated that it was also to be a symbol. The seven branches were hammered and fashioned out of gold:

First, there were to be three branches on either side of a center branch – making seven in all. From the account of creation with the completion in seven days, to the 54 times the word seven shows up in the closing book of the Bible – Revelation – the number seven has been synonymous with completion. The number occurs 700 times in the Bible, and often in the sense of completion. The word translated “finished” in Koine Greek (teléo) generally means to bring to a close or to fulfill. Take, for example, Revelation 15:1 which reveals the reason for seven angels with seven plagues: “And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; because in them is filled up (teléo) the wrath of God.” In other words, the lamp brought seven lights, or COMPLETE light to the place of worship. You can’t hide in God’s presence – He knows what you aren’t saying. He sees inside. The last place to try to hide sin is in the presence of a Holy and all seeing God.

Second, the branches were to be shaped as the flowering almond branch – something that God repeated several times. The name of the almond is shaqed in Hebrew. It comes from the word “shaqad”, the word for “to watch over, to keep watch or lie awake.” In the Bible, the almond is like our “ground hog”. It is the first to appear in the early Spring – in February usually. It blossoms, but take half a year to produce its fruit – six months of hard labor. Jeremiah 31:37 speaks of the coming New Covenant to the Jewish people, and says that as God “watched over them to break them down” so He will one day “watch over them to build and plant”. The One who watches His people is recalled in the play on words with the Almond. The light not only helped the priests see, it reminded them WHO ELSE WAS WATCHING OVER THEM.

Third, the point of the lampstands was to bring light into the dark room of the holy place, but it was to bring TRUTH there as well. When Jesus said in the Gospel of John “I am the Light of the World” (John 5:12), the context was a lie that was being perpetrated in His midst. He wouldn’t stand for it. He is the light, and that light shines in every hidden corner.

True worship, then, is about placing one’s self in the inspection of the truth. It shows our flaws, and exposes our deceptions. It reminds us that God really does know the truth, and that He isn’t faked out by our presence, while we hide what is going on inside.

True worship is HONEST. True worship takes constant renewal. True worship is centered in God’s Word… and true worship is dependent upon God’s mercy expressed in the blood that covered us when Jesus gave of Himself. The rest is just singing. The rest is just a show… and God isn’t interested in the productions we can put on in His name.