Rude, rustic and unadorned...

Does anyone remember what God commands immediately after delivering the Decalogue to Israel?

The context is this: Moses is in front of the people before the Lord. God speaks the Ten Commandments. When the people see the lightning, fire and smoke and hear the thunder and blare of trumpets, they stand far off and ask Moses to speak for them. Moses enters the thick darkness where God is; there in the darkness God demands three additional things concerning worship:

1) Do not make gods of silver or gods of gold to be with Me.

2) Make My altar of earth. Perform your sacrifices on that altar. If you make Me an altar of stone, do not make it of dressed stone, for by wielding your tool on it you profane it.

3) Do not go up to my altar on steps, for by so doing you expose your nakedness.

Is it possible to mistake these commands as anything but a Divine demand for humility and plainness at the heart of true worship? I'm reminded of a Spurgeon sermon I recently read in which he suggested that church-goers seek pastors who will validate their own intelligence. Knowing this, ministers strive to appear witty and sophisticated. The end result is a vicious circle of preening.

Again, is there any mistaking God's relentless disdain for human pretension in worship? Plain altars, undressed stone, no going up on steps....

Man must be small and God great for worship to be true. The giving of the Law reaches its stupendous climax when Moses comes down from the mountain to confirm God's covenant with Israel. Moses begins by speaking to the people the words of God, the young men of Israel then offer burnt offerings on the altar and the covenant is finally confirmed when Moses takes the blood of the sacrifices and throws it on the people assembled before him.

Moses throwing blood on the assembly of Israel is a type of all Biblical preaching and worship: accusation of guilt and promise of deliverance.

Moses casts their sinfulness against them to drive them to God, a form of preaching echoed by all God's servants throughout the ages who have preached "repentance for forgiveness of sins."

Why the relentlessly unadorned acts of worship commanded by God? Because whenever we start adorning acts of worship with human pretension and earthly glory, man's sinfulness is disguised.

No matter how grand the building, the altar is simple and unadorned. The acts of worship are bloodstained, as far from human sophistication as humanly conceivable.

Heaven help those people whose worship never descends to the elemental level of dirt and blood, sin and judgment, accusation and repentance.

Comments

What about Exodus 17:1-2? The tabernacle and Solomon's temple, while not perhaps outlandish by some religions' standards, were certainly not so rustic. I would, in light of that, tend to think this passage is getting at something different.

Ben,

Perhaps the distinction is too fine and needed to be spelled out further, but the focus in this passage is on the implements and acts at the heart of worship rather than the temple or tabernacle as a whole.

The tabernacle was elaborate. But the altar, the visible center of worship, was rude. And the acts committed at the altar were even less pretty--the blood of the altar is thrown on the people at the outset of the covenant and again when the tabernacle and implements of the temple are complete. The second time around, Aaron's just-completed precious vestments have oil and blood flung on them by Moses to consecrate them, and the stains evidently remain on those fine pieces of clothing for generations.

In Christ,

David Bayly

Oops, I just noticed I typed the wrong reference. I clearly meant Exodus 27:1-2. Exodus 17 has absolutely nothing to do with it. :)

I think there are still some problematic points with this exegesis (today is big word day, I guess), but I take your point about what happens at the altar, so I'll pass on trying to make too fine a point of the whole thing.

I had never connected the blood-sprinkling with the sprinkling of holy water that often precedes a Mass. You learn something new every day. :)

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