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0.2 Early Old Testament Places of Worship

As we have seen in a previous articles, O.1 Overview of Worship in Old Testament Times, it was common in the early centuries to worship outdoors.  A determining factor in where an altar or might be created would be the presence of God. If someone experienced the presence of God in a place it was common to put an altar there to commemorate. Here are a number of examples:

Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Gen 8:20-22 ESV)

What a wonderful blessing that is stated here!  God vows to never flood the earth again because Noah built an altar, and the sacrifice he gave on that altar touched God’s heart.

The next record is just one that documents the appearance of the Lord to a man, and the man’s response in building the altar, and making a sacrifice on it.

Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD. (Gen 12:7-8 ESV)

In Genesis 13:4, we see Abram going back to a place where he had made an altar, and he worshipped there, calling upon the name of the Lord.

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the LORD.
(Gen 13:2-4 ESV)

So by now we are seeing the pattern, a believer experiences God in a certain place, and builds an altar at that place, and then it becomes a place of worship. Here are some more examples:

Isaac:

And the LORD appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the LORD and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well. (Gen 26:24-25 ESV)

Jacob:

And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram, and he camped before the city. And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel. (Gen 33:18-20 ESV)

God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem. And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. And Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him, and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother. (Gen 35:1-7 ESV)

Jacob again:

And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram, and he camped before the city. And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel. (Gen 33:18-20 ESV)

Look at this incredible example of Moses, Joshua, and the battle with the Amalakites with the construction of an altar afterwards:

Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD Is My Banner, saying, “A hand upon the throne of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”  (Exo 17:8-16 ESV)

From these records we see the pattern of the earliest believers which was to recognize those places where the Lord God had made contact with man as places of worship. Altars were constructed in those places, and they were visited when someone sought the Lord. Sacrifices were made there to the Lord God.

From a liturgical point of view then we see that the form of worship in those times was to construct altars in places where man made contact with God. Then the man would go to those places, probably prostrating themselves while asking the Lord for guidance in prayer. Part of the process would be to offer a sacrifice.  There is no mention of a designated priesthood before the Law so the head of household probably offered the sacrifice. Of course, the sacrifice would be a sacrifice of first fruits that is the best of the crop, or the best of the herd, perhaps a firstborn lamb.

May 17th, 2019 Posted by | Liturgy | no comments

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