Worship in Old Testament History (Part 7)

THEME: Worship in the Old Testament, 10th in the series 

Volume 7, No. 7 (July 2012)

This month we look at developments during the reigns of King David and King Solomon.


c. The Significance of King David for Israel’s Worship (and Ours)

David was an immensely significant figure in the history of worship in at least three areas:

1)   He greatly developed Israel as a worshiping community.

David brought a time of peace to Israel, and ended the wanderings of the Ark of the Covenant and of the government by establishing Jerusalem as the political and religious capital of the nation. This stability enabled him to bring important changes to Israel’s worship practices.

Peter Leithart, in his book From Silence to Song: The Davidic Liturgical Revolution, makes a startling observation: even though we often strongly associate Old Testament worship with singing and other forms of music, the biblical witness records no music at all in corporate worship until the reign of David. With him, that situation is radically transformed, with far-reaching implications for Jewish and Christian worship ever since.

David, a musician himself, gave music a central role in the corporate praise of God’s people and provided for its leadership by appointing full-time Levitical musicians (both singers and instrumentalists) to serve in the tabernacle in Jerusalem (along with diversifying the Levites into other specialized functions as well). (See especially 1 Chronicles 6:31-48; 9:33-34; 15:16-22; 16:4-7,42; 25:1-7.)

As Leithart points out, 1 Chronicles 28:13,19 and 2 Chronicles 29:25 indicate that David received revelatory instructions from God for these changes.

For more on this important subject, please see “King David’s Lasting Musical Legacy” in Worship Notes 4.10; and “More on ‘The Davidic Liturgical Revolution’ in Chronicles” in Worship Notes 5.7.

2)   He was an example par excellence of a true worshiper.

Whether he was going through good times (cf. Psalm 23) or hard times (cf. Psalm 63), David knew the answer was always God. Perhaps this was one reason the Lord referred to him as “a man after My own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14)—because he would turn to Him, no matter what the circumstance.

It’s been said that a crisis shows what a man is really made of. If that’s true, David’s situation when he wrote Psalm 63 certainly qualifies. Our Bibles call this a “Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah,” and most likely this refers to the time later in his life when his son Absalom rebelled against him, and David had to flee for his life to the desert. There he sees his bare and parched surroundings as an illustration to him of a life without God; and his heart cries out with longing for God and for the joy of His presence. That’s what David is made of; that’s what this crisis brings out in him.

In worldly terms, David has lost it all: his family, his throne, his reputation, his security. He’s on the run, far from the tabernacle and the palace; in the dry, barren, dusty desert where he can take no creature comforts for granted. Yet, as Spurgeon put it, “There was no desert in his heart, though there was a desert around him.” Perowne writes about Psalm 63: “It is remarkable that in this Psalm . . . there is no petition. There is gladness, there is praise, there is the most exalted communion with God, there is longing for His presence as the highest of all blessings; but there is not one word of asking for temporal, or even for spiritual good.” David gives us this beautiful expression of a man thoroughly saturated with love and longing for God. He says in effect: it’s not water I need, not the comfort of my palace, not even the refuge of the tabernacle. I need God!!

It is striking that, far from Jerusalem and hence removed from any possibility of fulfilling any of the Mosaic instructions for worship, yet David intuitively understood that he had a personal relationship with God (v. 1, “You are my God”; Kidner says that “the simplicity and boldness of ‘You are my God’ is the secret of all that follows.”) and could hence approach Him in worship, even in the wilderness. David looks back on how he had experienced God in the worship of the tabernacle (v. 2), and turns to this One whom he had come to know in this context. Under threat of death, he joyfully acknowledges that “Your lovingkindness (hesed) is better than life” (v. 3).

And so we see the flower of David’s worship bloom and flourish in the desert. He comes to God, as Eric Alexander has put it, “not to fulfill a duty, but to satisfy an appetite.” He exclaims, “My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Soul and flesh: the entirety of David’s being cries out for God. That’s the way David was about God: He wanted God, and nothing else would do. He longs and thirsts and yearns for God and for the joy of fellowship with Him.

Though David was of course far from perfect, he had a tremendous heart for God, and is a model for us of a true worshiper.

3)  He was the composer of many songs for corporate worship.

David, a musician himself, wrote many songs for use in private and public worship (including at least 73 of the Psalms). Many of these texts we still set to music and use in worship.

Reggie Kidd insightfully comments:

““We know that one of David’s greatest desires had been to build a structure more worthy than a mere tent to house the Ark of the Presence, but that God tells him, ‘No,’ by virtue of all the blood that it has taken to establish his kingdom. We know that God allows him instead to create the climate and provide the resources so his son Solomon, whose very name means “Peaceful,” can build the house.

“What the discerning reader comes to see is that God’s ‘No”’ is a qualified ‘No.’ David becomes, so to speak, the Temple’s acoustical engineer. He designs its ‘aural architecture’: he writes his songs, plays them for the Lord, offers them in service of God’s people, and shapes the corporate singing of God’s praise. The Psalms themselves are as much a part of the building of God’s house as anything else is. David understood that what was to fill God’s house was not the smoke from the animal sacrifices, nor the smell of the incense, nor the ark of the covenant, all of which were mere pointers to things beyond themselves. The Temple was the meeting place of God and his people because it was to be filled with the realities of the self-offerings and the prayers and the praises of the people, on the one hand, and with the Shekinah glory of God’s very presence, on the other. In Psalm 22:3, David imagines God being enthroned upon praise, not upon individuals’ solitary praises but upon the praises of people gathered together in God’s house. Because they create ‘musical space’ for the meeting between God and his people, the Psalms  as God’s people sing them together  are as vital to the construction of the temple as are the pillars and beams. The Psalms David initiated are the aural architecture of the House of God”  (Kidd, With One Voice: Finding Christ’s Song in Our Worship, 50-51).


1)  Its purpose

“But you shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come” (Deuteronomy 12:5).

“God wanted to do two things in this special place. First, He wanted to reveal Himself by ‘His name.’ It would be a place of revelation as worshipers continually exalt His character and voice the stories and songs about His working. Second, God desired a place of encounter, of relationship, of dwelling. . . . To ‘dwell’ is a relational affair. It is consummated worship. God coming near His people as they come near to Him.” (Steven Hawthorne, “The Story of His Glory,” 41)

2)  Its magnificence  

The vestibule in front of the nave of the house was twenty cubits long, equal to the width of the house, and its height was 120 cubits. He overlaid it on the inside with pure gold. The nave he lined with cypress and covered it with fine gold and made palms and chains on it. He adorned the house with settings of precious stones. The gold was gold of Parvaim. So he lined the house with gold—its beams, its thresholds, its walls, and its doors—and he carved cherubim on the walls (2 Chronicles 3:5-7).

See the rest of the description of the Temple and its furnishings in 2 Chronicles 3–4

3)   Its worship

a)  Dedication service (1Kings 8; 2 Chronicles 5–7)

As was the case with the completed Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35), the glory of God is seen to fill the Temple as a sign of God’s special presence among His people (2 Chronicles 5:13-14).

And when the priests came out of the Holy Place (for all the priests who were present had consecrated themselves, without regard to their divisions, and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kinsmen, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with 120 priests who were trumpeters; and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the LORD), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the LORD,

“For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever,”

the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God (2 Chronicles 5:13-14).

 b)   Highly developed ritual, ceremony, music

“It was only in the splendor of the ceremony that the worship of the temple was different from that of the tabernacle. The same sacrifices, offerings, and feasts were observed. The emphasis upon worship through music, both instrumental and vocal, seems to be the only added element. God introduced this emphasis largely through the poetic and musical gifts which He had given to His servant King David” (Robert Rayburn, O Come, Let Us Worship, 76).

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