Biblical Worship Encounters Pt. 2

By Ross Parsley
Contributing Writer
April 20, 2022

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: Abraham and Isaac

Have you ever gone an extended missions trip to a third world country? How long before you start to miss American food, the smell of a well-marinated hamburger on the grill, the taste of a creamy milkshake to wash it down? It's strange, but after awhile, even the lowest of all American culinary delights-fast food-starts to sound appealing. Or what if you were the next contestant on Survivor, forced to eat only coconut parts and whatever sea creature you could spear with a carefully whittled stick? How long would be too long? How much would be too much? Losing comforts and conveniences is one thing; losing a vital part of your life, purpose, or identity is quite another. But even that is still not quite the picture. Our subject isn't loss; it's the voluntary laying down of things that have become central to our existence.

Think about Abraham. Here is a man called out by God, promised to be the father of many nations. He leaves his hometown and embarks on a journey whose destination is unsure. After a creative but failed attempt to fulfill God's promise of a son, Abraham is old and discouraged. Then the miracle happens. His also aging wife, Sarah, gets pregnant with their first and only child. It is the promise child, Isaac. Imagine the joy that captures Abraham's heart. It is the moment he thought he would never see. Tears roll down his wrinkled face, creased with years of hardship and sorrow, as he holds his son in his arms. Isaac is tangible proof that the promises of God are true. Wrapped up in that little child is all of Abraham's God-given hopes and dreams, indeed, his very destiny.

And then God spoke. "Abraham." "Here I am," came the response. "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love.." (Feel Abraham trembling as he awaits the Divine command) ".and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about." (Feel Abraham's heart sink so low it feels as if he's buried in quicksand.)

No response. No question, no counterargument, no insightful comment. No response. The next morning came earlier than most. He gets Isaac, two servants, saddles a donkey and begins the fateful journey. A few days later, after enough wood had been cut (think about him cutting wood, knowing that each log is to fuel a fire that will burn his son!), Abraham makes an announcement. Seeing Mount Moriah ahead, he turns to his servants and says, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you."

We will worship. This is the first mention of the word "worship" in the Bible. It is the first time the Hebrew word "shachah", used only twice before and translated as "bowed low", is translated as "worship." The background for the introduction of this concept of worship is sacrifice. The setting, the place, is Mount Moriah. Many years later King David would find himself looking for a place to build an altar to the Lord to confess his sin and worship. Under Divine instruction he approaches the threshing floor of a man named Aruanah. Aruanah, upon seeing the king, offers to give him the land and any animal needed for an offering. Here David utters the now famous words, "I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing." The place of that threshing floor? Mount Moriah. A generation later, King Solomon, David's son, is about to commence the long-awaited building of the Lord's temple. Where will it be built? On the threshing floor of Aruanah that David purchased.on Mount Moriah. The first temple, the centerpiece of Jewish worship, is built on land famous for sacrifice. That is significant. You see, sacrifice is the foundation of Biblical worship. At its core, worship is about lordship; we give lordship to what we worship. When we make the choice to worship God, we are emptying ourselves of our own rights and will and surrendering to Him. Worship is the foremost act of sacrifice. It proclaims a death to our self.

There is one more element about worship that we can learn from the story of Abraham and Isaac. Worship is an act of sacrifice; it is also an expression of faith in God. When Isaac, probably a teenager or young man at the time, notices that he and his dad are up there with fire, wood, a knife, and no sacrifice, he nervously asks the question: "Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" Abraham's response is pivotal. "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." God himself will provide. The Hebrew phrase used there is "Jehovah Jireh"-the God who sees, the One who sees ahead, who watches over, the One who provides. In the moment of confusion and uncertainty, in the midst of the greatest emotional stress he has ever experienced, Abraham reaches out for the very nature of God. His response is one that affirms the character of God. When the day is over, Abraham names that place "The Lord Will Provide", Jehovah Jireh. The name and character of God has defined that moment in his life. Before he knew what would happen, he trusted in the nature of God; when all was said and done, he reaffirmed it. The object of Abraham's faith was not a specific outcome; the object of his faith was a Person-God himself. Our faith is tied up in the character and nature of God. When it is, our worship will reflect it. A true belief in who God is generates worship that is both authentic and powerful.

One more thing. A.W. Tozer writes in his legendary book The Pursuit of God of the blessedness of possessing nothing. By willingly laying down the most precious thing in the entire universe to him, by being willing to kill his son, the embodiment of his own dreams and purpose, Abraham demonstrated that he knew nothing belonged to him; everything was God's. God responded to this by saying, "I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendents as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendents will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me." Two chapters later, Abraham's servant says plainly, "The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, menservants and maidservants, and camels and donkeys" (Gen. 24:35). God's promise was simply this: because you have withheld nothing from Me, I will withhold nothing from you. This is the blessing that awaits every worshipper. When we surrender our hearts and lives to the Lord, our identity and purpose, our dreams and calling, we allow God to pour out more blessings on us than we can contain. Tozer writes that Abraham "had everything, but he possessed nothing." This is the secret found in Abraham's life. Biblical worship is both an act of sacrifice and an expression of faith; and it always leads to Divine blessing.

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