18 Jul 2012

Reverence and Reservation, Part 1

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. Heb. 12:28-29

From the earliest chapters of Genesis we learn that worship can be acceptable or unacceptable (Gen. 4:4-5). Nadab and Abihu learned this lesson the hard way, offering "unauthorized fire before the Lord" and the Lord became to them, quite literally, a consuming fire (Lev. 10:1-2). Throughout Scripture, acceptable worship is always defined by God, not man, and irreverent worship is subject to God's judgment. While this verse in Hebrews doesn't necessarily give a full accounting of what constitutes "acceptable worship," it does highlight two of its important attributes: reverence and awe.

What comes to mind when you think of worship that is reverent? What should it look like when we respond to God in awe of who He is and what He has done? We might consider the Israelites' response to God at Mount Sinai (Ex. 20:18-19), or even the external displays of worship given to Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 3:7). We might think of the confession of Isaiah (Isa. 6:4-5), the pleas of demons before Jesus (Mk. 5:7), or the physical collapse of John (Rev. 1:17). All these examples demonstrate reverence and awe.

In a modern context, we might associate soft music and quiet prayer with reverent worship, but we should be careful not to equate reverent worship and reserved worship. It is quite possible that reverent worship is also lively and energetic.

David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale-judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim. And they carried the ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. And Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart, with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark.

And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.2 Sam. 6:1-5

That's 30,000 men gathered in celebration. The ark of God had been captured (1 Sam. 4) and sent from town to town among the Philistines until they sent it to Beth-shemesh (1 Sam. 5-6). Saul later called for the ark (1 Sam. 14:18) and apparently left it in Baale-judah. Now David decides to bring the ark back to Jerusalem. It's an exciting time for David and all the house of Israel as they transport the ark of God's presence. Imagine the celebrating crowds we see when a soccer team wins the World Cup or a baseball team wins the World Series and you might have a picture of what was happening in Israel that day (though without the drunkenness and rioting). However...

And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. And David was angry because the Lord had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day. And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and he said, "How can the ark of the Lord come to me?" So David was not willing to take the ark of the Lord into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. And the ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household. 2 Sam 6:6-11

Now imagine that in the midst of that soccer or baseball celebration, a star player collapses and dies. As word spreads among the huge crowd, the celebration quiets and the whole tone of the day changes from celebration to mourning.

For David, this death was not coincidence, but consequence. In the midst of their excitement, the Israelites had neglected God's instruction concerning the transport of the ark (Ex. 25:14-15) and their negligence cost Uzzah his life. When we read that God's anger was "kindled" against Uzzah, it is proper to associate this anger with fire - "a consuming fire" that deserves full reverence and awe. Israel demonstrated a lapse in reverence and awe by neglecting God's instruction.

In awe of God's judgment, David put Israel's celebration on hold and left the ark nearby. Reverence and awe had quieted the celebration and gave David reservation about continuing.

However, though our God is a consuming fire, He is also gracious and merciful.

And it was told King David, "The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God." So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing. And when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal. And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn. 2 Sam. 6:12-15

When David realizes God's anger has subsided, he determines to finish moving the ark to Jerusalem, but now he is careful to carry the ark as God had instructed rather than transport it on a cart. We might expect the whole procession to proceed slowly, carefully, and quietly out of respect for "the Lord of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim" that cover the ark. However, we see David proceeds with the same celebration and enthusiasm he demonstrated during his first attempt to relocate the ark.

The Creation
Joseph Haydn (1796-1798)
"I spent much time over it because I expect it to last
for a long time." In fact, [Haydn] worked on the
project to the point of exhaustion, and collapsed
into a period of illness after conducting its premiere

It is helpful to notice that David improved upon his reverence for God by increasing his obedience, but his increase in reverence did not necessitate continued reservation. Rather, "David danced before the Lord with all his might." There was nothing in David's enthusiastic presentation that offended the Lord. Reverence did not equal reservation. Instead, reverence was accompanied by rejoicing, dancing, and even shouting. On this day, David revered the Lord his God and loved Him with all his strength (Mk. 12:30).

What should reverence look like for us? At times quiet reservation may be entirely appropriate, but at other times our reverence may reveal excitement and enthusiasm. Even if it's expressed through dancing, clapping, raising hands, or lively, vigorous singing, our worship can embody both reverence and awe.