Over the past two weeks, we’ve discovered two truths about the tabernacle: (1) the presence of God dwelt in the tabernacle and (2) God was worshipped in the tabernacle. As a part of that worship, we also briefly discussed how God allowed his people to participate in worship. Building upon the idea of participatory worship, we’re going to delve deeper into how the Israelites participated in worship and what their experience means for us today.
While the Israelites were able to worship the Lord by offering sacrifices to him, they were ultimately limited in their worship. According to his word, only the priests and Levites were allowed to directly offer sacrifices to the Lord. So, the people were left with the option of only bringing their sacrifices to the priests and Levites and not God himself. The priesthood flowed directly from the lineage of Aaron, who was the first high priest of Israel. Originally, God had selected the first-born of Israel to serve in a secondary priestly function; however, the Levites (i.e. those from the tribe of Levi) were chosen by God to replace the first-born when the Levites executed those who turned to idolatry in Exodus 32. Therefore those who were actively and directly involved in the worship of God were the priests and Levites.
In worshipping the Lord, the primary role of the priests and Levites was to serve as mediators between God and the people of Israel. “To be a priest was to operate in the danger zone of encroaching upon the divine realm for the purposes of representing the divine will to the community and representing the community before God.” The priests represented the Lord amongst the people in several ways, including serving as overseers of the tabernacle and sacrificial system as well maintaining and restoring holiness and purification.
When You Have Purpose
The people of Israel, however, were not without purpose. While a group of priests and Levites existed, God called all the people of Israel to the priesthood. In Exodus 19:6, God describes the people of Israel as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” If the priests and Levites already existed, why did the people of Israel need to be a “kingdom of priests?” Ultimately God was calling and challenging the people of Israel to be more than just a nation. As the priests were mediators for the people of Israel, so the people of Israel were to be mediators for the neighboring nations. When the pagan nations surrounding Israel saw Israel, they were to see the God of the universe. It was the role of Israel to lead the nations to the one, true God.
Offering Sacrifices in the Twenty-First Century
While the world has drastically changed, and we no longer offer physical sacrifices to God, you and I are still called to serve as priests offering sacrifices. 1 Peter 2:5 says, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” When Christ saves us, we become God’s priesthood and therefore become mediators for the rest of our world. Like the priests and Israel of the Old Testament, our responsibility lies in pointing other people to God. Our sacrifices are no longer animals but, rather, are spiritual. Paul clarifies what “spiritual worship” is in Romans 12:1, when he writes, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual act of worship.” Rather than kill animals, we now live our lives for God, fully devoted to him and his mission. Today, more than in the tabernacle, you and I have the opportunity to worship God through the way we live our lives for God and for others. Will you worship God?