The forms of worship may change with time and location, but the unchanging principles that govern our worship are set forth in the Bible. This is the value of studying the worship God instituted in Leviticus and the regulations regarding those who led the nation in worship.
Several years ago, a best-selling novelist and intellectual surprised everyone by taking his life at the height of his fame. Sometime before his death he delivered a commencement address in which he said:
There is no such thing as atheism. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what we worship. If you worship money—you will never have enough; [if you] worship your own body and beauty . . . when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally [bury] you.
Be careful what you worship. The tragedy is, as far as I know, this intellectual never came to worship the true and living God.
It should not be any surprise for us to discover that early on in the Bible we are given principles of true worship—who and how we are to worship. It has everything to do with leading us to true meaning and purpose and joy in life.
The worship of God in ancient Israel might seem strange to us today with its sacrifices, offerings, rituals, and priesthood. But the principles that guided the Israelites’ worship give us some timeless truths for today.
Now we’ve already covered chapter 7 in the book of Leviticus, where we combined it with chapter 3 in our discussion on the peace offering. So now we’re in chapter 8, where we find Aaron and his sons officially becoming the ordained priestly family to Israel. Here in verses 7 to 13, they put on their priestly garments. Moses takes anointing oil and sprinkles some of it on the tabernacle furniture and pours some on Aaron’s head as an act of consecration.
Down here in verses 23 and 24, Moses dabs some sacrificial blood on their right ears, signifying they are to listen to the word of God. Moses also dabs some blood on their right thumbs and right toes, signifying they are to do the right thing and walk in the right path.
This is a serious calling—they are serving as mediators between mankind and God. And they’re illustrating the ministry of the final Mediator, Christ Jesus our High Priest (1 Timothy 2:5).
In Leviticus chapter 9, we have the pattern of true worship, which provides some timeless principles for us today. Let me give you three of them.
The first principle is this: True worship always has the right focus. Chapter 9 records this special day in the life of the nation of Israel, as the worship of God at the tabernacle is introduced. And make no mistake about it, God is the focus of it all.
Moses says in verse 4, “Today the Lord will appear to you,” and in verse 6, “that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.” And then what happens? Down here at verse 23 we read: “The glory of the Lord appeared to all the people.”
The Old Testament tabernacle is not the New Testament church. I don’t want any of you waiting to see your church lit up with the visible glory of God; however, our focus should be the same: we gather to worship God. Our problem is we focus on the soloist and whether or not we liked the music; we’re distracted by who’s sitting around us and maybe even who’s sitting in our usual seat!
Listen, the question after the worship service shouldn’t be, “Did I like it?” The question should be, “Did God like it?”
Israel—like you and me—is going to get into trouble when they start focusing on the ritual rather than their Redeemer.
A second timeless principle here is that true worship always includes forgiveness. Here in Leviticus 9, Moses gives some more details in verses 2 through 4 on the sin offering, then a burnt offering for sin and then a peace offering of restored fellowship, followed by the grain offering of joy; and beloved, to this day, that approach to God always follows in the same order. You begin with confession of sin; then you experience forgiveness from God and peace with God; and then you experience joy.
A final principle we see here is that true worship always includes reverence.
In verses 23-24 we read:
And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting . . . and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering . . . and when all the people saw it, they . . . fell on their faces.
If God walked into a church service today, you wouldn’t run up and give Him a high-five or ask Him a tough question; listen, you would fall down and worship Him in reverence.
Now this, here in chapter 9, is a demonstration of true worship. In chapter 10, we’re shown how true worship can be disrupted. Two ways are described here. The first is through disobedience.
In chapter 10 and verse 1, we learn that the two oldest sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, decide to bring God an offering that’s different from what God ordered. The Bible says that they offered “unauthorized [or ‘strange’] fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them.” In other words, they’re going to approach God their own way.
Verse 2 says, “And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.”
Maybe you’re thinking, “That wasn’t very nice.” Beloved, the Bible tells us that one day, all of humanity who worshiped their own way—creating their own idols and rejecting their creator God—will be judged the same way in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).
You don’t come to a god you have created; you come to the God of this Book. And you come to Him through God the Son, who gives you access into the presence of God the Father (Ephesians 2:18).
A second way true worship is disrupted is through drunkenness. The Lord speaks directly to Aaron here in verses 9-10:
“Drink no wine, or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting . . . You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean.”
In other words, you cannot be inebriated while serving in the tabernacle. When these priests went on duty, they needed to have clear minds.
This seems to be addressing what happened to Nadab and Abihu. The reason they made such a terrible decision to approach God with unauthorized sacrifices was because they had been drinking and had lost their sense of discernment.
Let’s be honest. A little alcohol can impair your thinking and lead to unwise decisions and actions. The apostle Paul will tell the Ephesians not to be under the influence of wine but under the influence of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). And that’s the reason, I don’t touch it; I’m not about to drink something that could hinder my judgment and hurt my testimony.
And by the way, you happen to be a New Testament priest today, effectively representing God to the people around you. The apostle Peter wrote, “You are . . . a royal priesthood . . . that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
As a Christian, you are on duty, every day. So, let me encourage you—especially in a world that goes from one hangover to the next—serve Christ under the influence of the Holy Spirit as you worship the true and living God.