Why One Place of Devotion?
I posed this question this past week, as I did in my sermon yesterday? The need to answer the question was the impetus for my post on reading God’s Word in my previous post. If the Bible is God’s Word, it behooves us to slow down and consider such questions. We ought not simply move on without considering the why’s of Scripture. In fact, it is in the “Why?” that we begin to have fiber to our diet of reading God’s Word.
As promised, I had ten reasons I was able to think as to why God would have only one place of sacrifice (namely, the Temple in Jerusalem). I thought of another one this morning…so here's eleven. The first reason is the Main Reason (as I shared in my sermon), and all the other reasons are derivatives.
One God. One place corresponds to there being one God—supreme over all idols and so-called gods. Where there are many gods, there will be many places of worship. The God of Israel is one and marks himself as altogether different than the gods of the nations.
To Preserve God’s People. This was the sub-reason I gave in my sermon and has to do with graciously giving parameters for how God is to be worshiped. Our human tendency is to do whatever we see fit in worshiping God. We subtly and intentionally, begin to make God into our image—into ways that we think he should be.
To not Wonder if God might be somewhere else. That is, having one place that God chose kept people from vying for power struggles to have the bigger and greater place of worship that people would be inclined to synagogue hop.
Exclusivity. Tightly related to the Main Reason, this reason speaks to the fact that syncretism or universality (the claim that all roads lead to the same place) is mitigated.
Clarity. Having one place draws clear parameters for worship. The guidelines for the burnt offerings and such are clear because they are modeled each time the worshiper goes.
Anticipation & Preparation of the Heart. It’s very easy to treat the experience of worship as common. We can go to church without considering the humbling fact we are going to worship the Creator of the Universe with others who have been graciously redeemed. Consider the Songs of Ascent in the Psalms that attest to the preparation and anticipation of going to the Temple to meet with God.
Place of Rest. Israel could look at the Temple and see God’s faithfulness to keep his promises. They would be reminded of their wanderings and that he said he would provide a place of rest and worship. They could look to the top of the mountain and see the place of fruition to those promises.
No Syncretism. While there was the risk of God’s people blending their faith with other religions (see #4 above), there was also the danger of the king being equated with God. Other Ancient Near Eastern religions did this. Pharaoh was also god for the Egyptians. For Israel, the Temple where God chose to place it marked him as standing over the decisions of the king. This is why the king’s palace was built next to the Temple and was not the Temple.
Constancy. The faith of Israel was not a moving target. They were able to see and hear again and again the parameters for how God wanted to be worshiped. While they certainly gathered in synagogues to learn and hear God’s Word, it was at the Temple where burnt offerings and such were given.
Faith, Hope, and Love. While Israel was wondering in the wilderness, God promised a place of rest and could see his ability and faithfulness to bring it to pass (see #7 above). But even while they had felt like they were tossed on the waves of exile in Babylon, their faith was still anchored to that place. As we will see in Jeremiah (and throughout the exilic period of Israel’s history), they are looking forward to returning to the Land of Promise. To worship at the Temple (see the book of Ezra). And it was to this one place that their faith was strengthened and would not budge in the face of adversity and judgment.
Promote Holiness. The word “holy” means “to be set apart” or “to be wholly devoted” to something. Just like the one place helped God’s people anticipate and prepare their hearts, it also served as an opportunity to be marked out as God’s people. While God is to be worshiped in our places of work and homes and while eating at the table, having a place to go to clearly see God’s acts of redemption shown over and over again promotes a life of holiness and devotion to God.
This exercise of simply turning the question over and over in my mind nourished my faith. Do you see how sitting and thinking and considering can do that for you? I am sure you can come up with other reasons I didn’t. And that’s the beautiful thing about Scripture. As you think through such simply questions of “Why?” God, by his Spirit, takes his Word and brands in on our hearts. It is a slow (and sometime painful) process…but it changes us and convinces us more of our beliefs and leads us to worship God even deeper and wider.
Now the next question is, “How do these eleven reasons apply to your life with God?”
If you’d like to consider this again by listening to the sermon, you can do that as well.