The Worship Trajectory and Goal of the Entire Bible (Part 1: Old Testament)

Volume 16, No. 7 (August 2021)

Scott W. Hahn, in his excellent article “Canon, Cult and Covenant:
The Promise of Liturgical Hermeneutics” (in Canon and
Biblical Interpretation
, ed. Craig G. Bartholomew, Scott Hahn,
Robin Parry, Christopher Seitz, Al Wolters [Zondervan, 2006]),
has given a fascinating overview of the entire spectrum of biblical
revelation as centered in and heading towards worship. In fact,
he shows how each major movement in the scriptural record
culminates in worship. The treatment below draws heavily on Hahn’s insights.

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There is a liturgical reason and purpose for the creation of the world and the human person, and there is a liturgical ‘destiny’ toward which creation and the human person journey in the pages of the canonical text. At each decisive stage in God’s covenant relations with humanity, the divine-human relationship is expressed liturgically and sacrificially. . . . The human person is homo liturgicus, created to glorify God through service, expressed as a sacrifice of praise. (Hahn 213)

1. Creation

The Garden is described as a sort of Temple (where God meets with man), with Adam as Priest:

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.  (Genesis 2:15)

The author’s intent [ is] to depict creation as a fashioning of a cosmic temple, which, like the later tabernacle and Temple, would be a meeting place for God and the human person made in his image and likeness. . . . The biblical authors’ intent [is] to describe creation as a royal temple building by a heavenly king. The human person in these pages is intentionally portrayed as a royal firstborn and high-priestly figure, a kind of priest-king set to rule as vice-regent over the temple-kingdom of creation. (Hahn 213)

See also the similar treatments by Gregory Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission; Allen Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation; Gordon J. Wenham, “Sanctuary Symbolism in the Garden of Eden Story,” Proceedings of the World Congress of Jewish Studies 9 [1986]: 19-25)

The first of God’s mighty works then, the creation of the world, has a liturgical climax—the divine and human ‘rest’ of the seventh day. (Hahn 215)

“The first of God’s mighty works then, the creation of the world, has a liturgical climax—the divine and human ‘rest’ of the seventh day.” (Hahn 215)

2. Fall

The issue in the fall was an issue of worship: the choice before Adam and Eve was: “Whom are you going to worship? Who is going to be in the center of your lives, on the throne of your hearts?” Paul describes their choice:

Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him. . . . They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator. (Romans 1:21,25)

See also Worship Notes 14.10; Ron Man, “False and True Worship in Romans 1,” Bibliotheca Sacra 157 [Jan.-March 2000]:26-34)

Adam’s disobedience was understood inner-biblically as having something to do with a failure to offer himself—what we might call a failure of worship.” (Hahn 221)

3. Flood

In the flood, God preserves Noah and his family. Upon disembarking from the altar, Noah builds an altar, offers sacrifices and worships:

So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by families from the ark. 

Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. (Genesis 8:18-20)

3. Exodus

“As Adam was made to worship, God’s chosen people are liberated expressly for worship” (Hahn 215):

“Let my people go, that they might worship Me.” (Exodus 7:16; 8:1,20; 9:1,13; 10:3)

“ . . . My chosen people, the people whom I formed for Myself that they might declare My praise.” (Isaiah 43:20-21)

When Israel went out from Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah became His sanctuary,
Israel His dominion. (Psalm 114:1-2

The exodus was begun with a liturgical act—the celebration of the Passover—and it ‘concludes’ with the construction of the tabernacle. (Hahn 216)

4. The Law and the Nation of Israel

“Much of the Law, in fact, consists of regulations how God is to be rightly worshipped.” (Hahn 216)

“You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6)

In fact, the reigns of both Judah’s and Israel’s kings in Kings and Chronicles are evaluated by the writer in each case as “___did right in the sight of the Lord” OR “____ did evil in the sight of the Lord”—and this always spoke to whether they worshipped Yahweh truly, or turned to idolatry (and, as their worship went, so went the nation’s).

5. David

David greatly developed the worship life of the nation, culminating in his preparations for the building of the Temple (which his son Solomon would ultimately build).

See the extensive development of this theme at Worship Notes 4.10, 5.7, and 7.7; as well as Peter Leithart, From Silence to Song: The Davidic Liturgical Revolution.

David’s own thanksgiving hymn (1 Chr. 16:7-36) is presented as a kind of paradigm for Israel’s prayer.  It is, in essence, a celebration of God’s covenant in liturgical form.  This hymn sets the tone and provides the content for the acts of worship and the theology of worship we find in the Psalter.  God is praised and thanked in remembrance of his mighty works in creation and for his saving words and deeds in the life of Israel – the defining experience being that of the exodus and the covenant. (Hahn 219) 

In the Temple worship, the precise sacrificial system of the Mosaic cult continues, but there are new elements and accents.  The kingdom’s corporate worship takes the form of praise and thanksgiving.  Many commentators have identified the centrality of songs of praise and songs of thanksgiving in the Temple liturgy. (Hahn 218-19)

“The Davidic kingdom marks the fullest expression of the Bible’s liturgical anthropology [man created to worship] and teleology [worship goal/purpose] of the biblical revelation].” (Hahn 218)

6. Psalms and Prophets

We see in these psalms and in the prophetic literature a new and deepening understanding of the liturgical vocation of biblical man. In the prophets, this recognition of the inner truth of sacrifice often takes the form of denouncing the corruption of Israel’s cult and worship (e.g. Is. 1:10-13; 66:2-4; Jer. 7:21-24; Amos 4:4-5, 6b; Mic. 6:6-8; Hos. 6:6; Mal. 1:10, 13-14). Positively, worship comes to be seen as a sacrificial offering in thanksgiving for redemption, for deliverance from death.  Praise is revealed as the sacrifice by which men and women are to glorify God (Ps. 50:14, 33; 141:2).  God is portrayed as desiring that Israel serve him – not with the blood of animals but with their whole hearts, aligning their will with his, making their whole lives a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving (Ps. 40:6-8; 51:16-17). With this profound understanding that they are called to a pure worship of the heart comes the recognition that no amount of ethical striving or moral reform can make them holy enough to serve their God. A new covenant is promised as a new exodus and a new creation in which there will be a forgiveness of sins and a divine transformation of the heart (Jer. 31:31-34; 32:40; Ezek. 36:24-28). (Hahn 219-220)

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And so we see the significant worship trajectory of the Old Testament account. NEXT MONTH we will see the culmination and fulfillment of this trajectory in the New Testament.

The human person has been shown from the first pages of Genesis to the last of Revelation to be liturgical by nature, created and destined to live in the spiritual house of creation, as children of a royal and priestly family that offers sacrifices of praise to their Father-Creator with whom they dwell in a covenant of peace and love. . . . The story of the Bible is the story of humankind’s journey to true worship in spirit and truth in the presence of God. That is the trajectory, the direction towards which narrative leads. This true worship is revealed to be the very purpose of God’s creation in the beginning. (Hahn 225-6)

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