God’s Dwelling Place and Yahweh Worship

Recently I was privileged to preach on Deuteronomy 12:1-14. In Deuteronomy 12, God provided his people with prescriptions for the expression of worship as well as the location of worship. My objectives for writing this post are:

  1. To note the connection between the dwelling of Yahweh in the Old Testament with the dwelling of Jesus in the New Testament,
  2. To remind Christians of the beauty of God’s dwelling among sinners
  3. To challenge readers to make space for God in their own lives and communities

These objectives might seem rather daunting for this platform yet through God’s help and the reader’s patience I believe these objectives can be met. So let’s begin with an overview of the Deuteronomy passage that has captivated my attention.

An Overview of Deuteronomy 12:1-14

Deuteronomy is the fifth and final book of the Pentateuch. The Pentateuch is the collection of writings attributed to Moses and comprises the first five books of the Bible. David S. Dockery invites contemporary readers to refer to these books of the Bible as Torah or teaching rather than Pentateuch. The insight provided by the author helps us understand the literary background of Deuteronomy. Dockery states,

Pentateuch is a satisfactory way of identifying these books. By virtue of nearly two thousand years of usage, it is deeply ingrained in the Christian tradition. However, a more accurate and informative term is Torah (Hebrew Torah). This name is based upon the verb yarah, to teach. Torah is, therefore, teaching. Careful attention to this will lead to an appreciation both of the contents of the Pentateuch and of its fundamental purpose: the instruction of God’s people concerning Himself, themselves, and His purposes for them.”[1]

Did you process that last sentence? Deuteronomy, as part of the Torah, contains God’s instructions to his people concerning himself, themselves and His purposes for them. In this post, I am concerned about God’s instructions about his dwelling and worship.

One writer has said that the influence of domestic and personal religion in Deuteronomy, “has not been surpassed by any other book in the Bible.”[2] Truly the fifth book of Moses has deeply impacted individual believers as well as God’s people corporately in history and continues to have a lasting impact today.

In the narrative of redemption, God graciously delivered his people from oppression and slavery in Egypt. Read Exodus to learn more about God’s intentional rescue mission. By the time the reader encounters Deuteronomy the people of God have entered the Promised Land and God has already begun establishing prescriptions for worship. These instructions occur in the area of the eastern plains of Moab, an area referred to as Jordan today. The book of Deuteronomy reads like a sermon which enables the contemporary audience to reflect and respond in meaningful ways.  One meaningful response to a careful reading of Deuteronomy 12 is to worship God in the place he chooses so His dwelling might be made known among people.

Now that I have given you a brief overview of the passage we can look more intently at the issue of worship. God taught his people how to express worship as well as where to worship. I particularly want you to consider these verses 1-7.

12 “Be careful to follow these statutes and ordinances in the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess all the days you live on the earth. 2 Destroy completely all the places where the nations that you are driving out worship their gods—on the high mountains, on the hills, and under every green tree. 3 Tear down their altars, smash their sacred pillars, burn their Asherah poles, cut down the carved images of their gods, and wipe out their names from every place. 4 Don’t worship the Lord your God this way. 5 Instead, turn to the place the Lord your God chooses from all your tribes to put his name for his dwelling and go there. 6 You are to bring there your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tenths and personal contributions, your vow offerings and freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. 7 You will eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice with your household in everything you do, because the Lord your God has blessed you. (Deut.12:1-7, CSB [emphasis mine])

The Sovereign Lord communicates that he must be worshiped in a particular manner. We are not free to choose the way in which we worship him. He has laid out his expectations in his Word. Worship is a response to who God is and what he has done in redemptive history. One key concern of Yahweh is that he alone is worshiped.(Ex.20:3-4, Deut. 6:4-6) All idols must be destroyed because they are merely God imitators. They are not God and should not be worshiped as such. Yahweh clearly wanted the worship of his people to be distinct from the worship of the pagan nations around them as clearly indicate throughout the Old Testament.

I don’t think we as contemporary believers should destroy the places of worship of other religions. We must, however, present a clear picture of genuine and transformative worship so others will be invited to worship the one true and Triune God. We must worship in such a way to present Yahweh as the maximally greatest conceivable and personal being.

So how must we respond to God’s instructions about a particular location for worship? After all, the passage tells God’s people to “turn to the place He chooses”. Is this only an Old Testament command or does the New Testament also speak to the proper location for worship? Let’s consider this excerpt from John 4: 19-24.

“Sir, the woman replied, ‘I see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus told her, ‘Believe me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know, because salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship him.” (CSB)

You will recall that Jesus was engaging this Samaritan woman with the Gospel. He had just pointed to the problem of her lust and illegitimate relationship with a man who was not her husband. She asked Jesus about the proper location of worship in order to divert his attention to another theological matter besides her heart. Jesus lovingly answered her question rather than calling her out for the diversion. He affirmed that under God’s New Covenant worship would not necessarily happen in the Jewish temple but in the hearts and minds of a submissive people. Jesus said that the hour was coming (future) and is already those true worshipers would worship in Spirit and truth. This passage reflects the now and not yet nature of Jesus’ kingdom. The promise of God’s law is written on the human heart begins to find fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus. See Jeremiah 31:31-34 for more background on the theological implications of the New Covenant. The point Jesus makes is that he is concerned with the object and motive of worship rather than a specific geographic location.

Even so, we 21st-century disciples must look where God is already working and join him there. When we engage in church planting, evangelism, and disciple-making we must prayerfully seek ways to know and join God where he is already working. We know that he is graciously looking for a place for his name to dwell. Jesus is referred to as our Immanuel or God dwelling among us. God has chosen to make his dwelling among sinners. That should compel us to live lives of worship. (Romans 12:1-2)

So What’s the big deal about worship?

  • We all worship someone or something. Even those who claim to be agnostic or atheistic have something or someone they worship.
  • God alone, by nature of his ontology and character, merits worship. He has delivered us through his gracious sacrifice and resurrection.
  • The Christian worldview affirms that there is one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Triune God is one Christian distinctive.
  • John Piper has famously said, “Missions exists because worship does not.” (Desiring God)
  • God actively compels ordinary people like you and me to bow in adoration and submission to his kingship.
    • We will bow in worship now or we will fall flat at the Great Judgment. Every eye will see the Lord Jesus even those who pierced him.
      • Failure to submit your whole being to God now is a dangerous choice. Those who have not been born again will not inherit the kingdom of God. (John 3:36)

Final Implications of Yahweh Worship

  • We must realize that when we gather together for corporate worship we are joining believers across the centuries who created a space for God to dwell among them.
  • Our aim in missions and evangelism is to make the name of Jesus famous. We proclaim the Good News so others will know and experience the goodness of God. We are inviting Jesus to dwell in our churches, communities, and cities when we worship him.
  • We should allow Scripture-Old and New Testaments- to inform our understanding and practice of worship. Perhaps in a later post, I will write about whether corporate worship should follow the regulative principle or the normative principle.
  • We should evaluate the expression of our corporate gatherings. Are we allowing God to dwell among us? Are we making his name famous or our own?

Conclusion

God relentlessly pursues worshipers who allow him to set up his dwelling and prioritize his name alone. God is satisfied only with the worship prescribed in his word. We must remove strongholds of idols in our time like entertainment, pleasure, sex, work, and the god of self and make his dwelling among us our first priority. Just as Yahweh alone was worshiped under the Old Covenant, Jesus, our Immanuel, must be worshiped. Jesus and Yahweh are one. The true, Triune and personal God alone is worthy of worship and adoration. All competitors for the thrones of our hearts must be removed from power through the agency of the Holy Spirit and the Word. Let us worship and kneel before the Lord our maker in the way he prescribes!

[1] David S. Dockery, ed., Holman Bible Handbook (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1992), 110.

 [2] J. A. Thompson, Deuteronomy: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1974), 16.

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