The Liturgical World 01
A Biblical Theology of Worship
There are two truths about worship which we need to grasp; worship is an ascent/drawing near into God’s presence, and worship is a covenant renewal.1 The many examples of worship in the Bible from Eden to Revelation all highlight these two points. Both of these points lay the foundation for understanding not simply the death of Christ, but also his resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Spirit. They even inform our understanding of baptism and communion. Today we are going to connect the dots from Eden to Leviticus. We will see that the tabernacle/temple is set up as a new garden, and that the sacrifical system follows the imagery of a reentrance into the garden.
First let’s think of the Garden of Eden and its structure. It will be helpful to read the account of the garden’s creation in Genesis 2. You will notice that God himself made the garden after the creation of Adam. It was in the land of Eden and (according to Ezekiel) on the Mountain of the Lord2 (Ez 28:13-14). A river watered the garden and flowed out of it to water the earth. I wonder what it must have been like for Adam to see God make the garden, causing trees to spring up from the ground …etc. If we put the descriptions together we get an image like this.
What is not exactly clear from the descriptions in Genesis is where the river comes from. Does it come up out of Eden rising through the Garden (picture above), or does it begin higher than the garden and flow down to it and out of it (picture below). The later seems preferrable but it could be either.
The hebrews word for ‘garden’ connotes a fenced/walled off area. It was the first ‘holy’ place, separated by God himself. Once it was finished God took Adam and placed him in the garden with the task of ‘working and keeping’ it. The words ‘working’ and ‘keeping’ are only brought together again in the Bible only in connection with the duties of the levites in the sanctuary (Num 3:7–8; 8:26; 18:5–6). After this God created Eve and brought her to the man. In a good lesson to every man notice that Adam had been given a job and was being responsible before God brought Eve. Notice as well the difference in location; Adam was made outside the garden, Eve was made within it. She is part of the garden, a holy place, not to be defiled. In the Song of Solomon, the garden imagery is extended to the wife (Song 4:12-5:1). Adam’s responsibility to work and keep the garden includes his wife, she is his garden to protect and take care of. All of this highlights the sin of Adam in silently, passively, not protecting his wife when she was being tempted by the devil, watching her die reaching for the fruit… The sin of every man is passivity in leadership when evil enters the door. He failed in his task and it was given to another. From now on an angel (cherubim) with a flamely sword guards the entrance to the garden ready to cut and burn all who try to enter.
Here is a picture of the layout of the garden itself after Adam and Eve’s departure. It is taken from Rose’s Guide to the Temple. Though it doesn’t show a wall/separated area it gets the main idea across. We are told that the tree of knowledge was in the center of the garden with the tree of life. There were other trees for food around them. To access them one had to pass through the angels with flaming swords. This is the liturgical road so to speak. We will see the same road appear in the sacrifical system. Before we get there remember the story of Cain and Abel. Where could they go to draw near to God? It is thought most likely they came to the entrance of the garden. Cain’s gift was rejected while Abel’s was accepted.
After the flood there is no longer a garden/holy place to go to in order to draw near to God until God gives Israel the Tabernacle and sacrificial system. Instead we see Noah and other patriarchs offer a burnt offering. They kill an animal and burn it on an altar. The word for ‘burnt offering’ in hebrew means ‘ascension’. The focus of the offering is not the killing and burning, but rather the animal’s ‘ascension’ to God in smoke. In Noah’s situation there is no ‘holy place’ to draw near to God with an offering but he sends his offering up to God in smoke rising to the heavens. As the animal burns and ascends we read that it comes to God as a sweet swelling aroma (Genesis 8:20-21). God accepts it and makes a covenant with Noah.3 Until the time of Moses this is how people draw near to God.
All of this changes when God sends Moses to deliver Israel from the Egypt. In the exodus they are taken through the waters of the Red Sea to worship God at mt Sinai.4 Bringing the people out of Egypt to worship God at the mountain was a main goal of the exodus. In Exodus 19 God descends upon the mountain and speaks to Moses the words of the 10 commandments. In chapter 24 we see Israel worship God.
The structure of worship at Sinai follows the pattern of Eden and of the tabernacle. There is a progression of holiness. There is an altar for offerings to be killed and burned at the foot of the moutain (knife and fire). The people can not touch the mountain lest they die. The levites guarded it. The elders are able to ‘ascend’ half way up the mountain where they see God and ‘eat a meal’ in his presence. Only Moses is allowed to ascend to the peak where God’s glory cloud was. Visually, the sacrifices burned at the bottom of the mountain ascend up in smoke into God’s glory cloud. The people cannot survive the journey up the mountain, the burnt offerings ascend in their place. Through all of this God brought the people of Israel into a covenant with Him under Moses.
The structuce of Sinai is brought into a moveable form with the gift of the tabernacle. It has been described as a portable mt Sinai. Like the garden the entrance of the tabernacle is to face the east. The joint verbs of ‘work’ and ‘keep’ describing Adam’s job in the garden appear again together this time describing the levites role of guarding the tabernacle. Outside the tent is the altar and basin where animals would be killed with the knife, washed in the basin and turned to smoke on the fiery altar. The inside of the tabernacle (and later also the temple) is decorated with garden imagery.5 The holy place had food and a tree of light. The most holy place held the ark of the covenant with the tablets of the Ten Commandments within it. Each of the curtains before the holy place and most holy place were decorated with cherubim guards.6
If we look at the layout of the tabernacle and of the garden together we can see that the way into the most holy place represents the way back into the presence of God in the garden. In the gift of the tabernacle, God has given Israel and the world7 a place where they may go to meet Him. It is not the open way of the New Covenant, but it is a real way indeed for worshippers to draw near to God.
This article is the first part of a summary of what I have learnt from the work of Peter Leithart, Michael Morales and Jeff Meyers. As I don’t have every point footnoted I recommend reading more on this subject through their books and sermons, especially ‘The Lord’s Service’ (Meyers), ‘Theopolitan Liturgy’ (Leithart) and ‘Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord’ (Morales).
Each holy place is connected to a mountain. The tabernacle was constructed at mt Sinai and is a kind of portable mt Sinai, the tent of David was pitched on mt Zion, the temple was built on mt Moriah. Ezekiel’s vision of the rebuilt temple began with him being taken to a high mountain where the temple was located (Ez 40:2). Lastly when John had his vision of the New Jerusalem (Eden fulfilled) he was taken to a very high mountain to see it coming down out of heaven (Rev 21:10, like the garden the New Jerusalem is built by God).
Or renews the Adamic covenant with Noah.
Like animal sacrifices they are washed to draw near to God and taken to the fiery mountain.
1 Kings 6:18, 29, 32, 35; 7:18-20
Daniel Ragusa has given a good summary of the arguments. https://reformedforum.org/summarizing-biblical-theological-case-eden-temple-garden/
Israel was called to be a kingdom of priests, Ex 19:6. They were blessed above all nations with the presence of God in their midst. Implied in this role is the task of bringing the nations to the Lord.