Sabbath School Lesson for November 30-December 6, 2019
Different aspects of worship were examined in our study of Nehemiah 12, as they dedicated the wall around Jerusalem and re-established formal services in the temple.
- the type and quality of music that was included in their worship service (Sunday)
- the meaning and goal of their rites of purification, which were a requirement of worship exercises (Monday)
- the purpose of organizing such elaborate choirs and marching bands as part of the worship experience (Tuesday)
- the reason for sacrifices and offerings in our worship of God (Wednesday)
- the vital role the priests and Levites played in the execution of temple worship (Thursday)
Most of us have become accustomed to the form and order of a church worship service, as often outlined in our church bulletins from week to week. But, it’s helpful to understand what we do at church today and why we do it.
By studying worship in Nehemiah’s day, we can greatly increase our appreciation of why these customs are usually followed, as we worship God in such seemingly similar ways each Sabbath.
Many questions arise as we examine our own worship services. For example, why is it important to include music as part of the program, and what kind of music is appropriate? Why do we have an offering call each week? What part does sacrifice play when it comes to giving our offering and returning tithe and of what does it remind us? How does church prayer help purify our minds for the preaching of the word?
Memory Text: “And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: ‘For He is good, for His mercy endures forever toward Israel.’ “ Ezra 3:11 NKJV
As we can see from this verse, it was obvious that the whole congregation was expected to participate in worship. Praise and thanksgiving should be on the lips and hearts of all worshipers when they assemble together for the purpose of worship. After all, God’s presence is with each and every one of us there. Or at least that was the goal and purpose of their assembly back then.
Sunday: Singing the Songs of the Lord
Three things were noted about music in our story found in Nehemiah 12:27-29:
- It was loud.
- It was beautiful (professional musicians were employed)
- It included several kinds of instruments (harps, other stringed instruments, trumpets…and even cymbals!)
David had previously appointed Asaph as choir director (Nehemiah 11:22), and Asaph’s descendants were now the chosen musicians for these special dedication ceremonies.
It appears that this group of musicians included not just singers, but also instrumentalists, and even those who cared for their instruments and garments. They were all considered part of the priesthood and received their pay the same as other Levites serving in the temple.
The goal of such musical excellence was to elevate their praise expressions to God, uplifting the hearts of the people at the same time. All were to be blessed by the quality of their musical selections.
Read Nehemiah 12:43. In what way was joy a part of their loud expressions of praise? Is volume a bad thing in itself, when it comes to church music? What other considerations might there be when it comes to volume though, and how can all worshipers be accommodated in choosing what volume is best for your congregation?
Read Nehemiah 11:22 and 1 Chronicles 26:6-8. Why were “men of great ability” chosen for music ministry in the temple? How does this elevate the value of music in our worship services today?
Read Nehemiah 12:27, 41. How do various instruments enhance the quality of our musical praise in church?
In order to get a full blessing when we gather together in God’s house, it’s important for us to prepare ourselves for the experience by confessing our sins and allowing God’s forgiveness to make us pure.
This was signified in the many purification ceremonies that the Israelites were instructed to perform, prior to temple attendance. Most of these rites involved water or blood, symbols of the washing away of sin by the blood of the Messiah. Even the priests were to observe the prescribed purification processes, fully recognizing the state of sin in which all of us find ourselves.
The goal of attending the temple services was to encourage and maintain a saving, covenant relationship with their Creator. Having experienced the forgiveness and love of God to the highest extent possible heightened the joy and praise possible during their times of assembly.
Being purified and sanctified allowed the worshipers to more fully appreciate the sacrifice of God and receive greater insights into the character of God as they met together for worship. Today, both opening and closing prayers in our worship service are the means to purify and fortify our hearts, and to connect us closely with our Father God.
Read Nehemiah 12:30 and 13:30. Why was it important for the priests, the people, and even the physical structures (the gates and the wall) to be purified? What were they purified from? How might this impact the attention we give to the cleanliness of our own church structures and our reverence within them today?
Read 1 John 1:7-9. Why is it still necessary for God’s children to be cleansed, or purified, when we “have fellowship with one another”? How is this compared with walking in the light, and what does it actually involve?
Read 1 Corinthians 6:11. How is being “washed” an indication that we’ve been justified and sanctified?
Tuesday: Two Large Thanksgiving Choirs
The many animal sacrifices that were witnessed in these Old Testament services must have left some unpleasant feelings of sadness and remorse in the hearts of the worshipers. It couldn’t have been easy to see God’s innocent creatures die, especially when they were meant to remind us of our part in their death–the sin of all mankind.
Therefore, special effort was made to brighten the mood of the ceremonies by providing the finest quality of music possible. The goal was not to entertain them, but to provide them with a pleasurable experience that would help them enjoy their time with God.
Many times these massive thanksgiving musical concerts followed battles where they were freed from their enemies, making them a time of great rejoicing and appreciation for all God had done for them. We, too, must keep music what it was meant to be in our worship services–an expression of praise to God for all His acts of salvation.
Read Nehemiah 12:31, 38, 40. Why were they called thanksgiving choirs? What might have been the reason for having church leaders at the head and end of their procession?
Read Exodus 15:1, 2 and 2 Chronicles 20:21, 22. What was the theme of the singing represented in these two instances?
Read Psalm 136. Why is repetition typically used in singing? Is there a reason to be cautious about singing the same songs, or the same words, over and over though?
Wednesday: Sacrifices as Part of Worship
Many have concerns about the church being overly solicitous in asking for offerings and donations, and some might even question why we have to “ask for money” at all during the worship service.
But, when we consider the part that animal sacrifices had in the Old Testament, we can understand better why there is a place for sacrificial giving at church. The killing of an animal was undertaken with great solemnity as the worshiper was drawn in mind to the sacrifice the Lamb of God would make for him and his family. It was both a time of awe and reverence, but also one of joy and thanksgiving.
Sacrifice, the giving of tithes and offerings, should also contribute to our closeness to God, as we worship Him from week to week. We, too, should be reminded of the great sacrifice our Lord made for us on the cross. He wants to be our Partner, in every detail of our lives, including our finances and livelihoods.
Read Nehemiah 12:43. Why would people rejoice after the giving of these sacrifices? How did the animal sacrifices remind them of the Messiah?
Read John 1:29 and 1 Corinthians 5:7. How was John the Baptist able to recognize Jesus as the Lamb of God?
Read 2 Corinthians 9:7. Why does God want us to give cheerfully?
Thursday: Priests and Levites as Part of Worship
The tribe of Levi had been chosen during the time of Moses to serve as priests in the wilderness sanctuary. The sanctuary was a sacred edifice, housing the very presence of God in the Most Holy Place. It required the most devout, faithful servants to officiate there. The chosen priests were to stand between God and the worshipers. Not above them, but beside them–-they, too, were sinners in need of God’s grace.
As people began to hold back their tithes and offerings, the Levites were forced to find support for their families in other places, leaving them less or no time to perform their priestly duties. Thankfully, this situation began to change because of the returning exiles’ willingness to support the priests with one-tenth of their income, as God had prescribed.
Any church that has experienced the loss of a pastor, or through unfortunate circumstances have been denied a pastor, knows how valuable their services are. Understandably, at the dedication of the wall, the congregation was full of gratitude for the return of the Levites to serve as priests in the newly-rebuilt temple.
Read Nehemiah 12:44. How valuable are those in our churches today who attend to the finances of the church, both at the local and conference level?
Read Nehemiah 12:45. How valuable are the musicians, elders, and the deacons/deaconesses in the operation of our churches today? Who holds the physical keys to your church doors (our “gatekeepers”), and why is it important who we choose to do that?
Read Nehemiah 12:47. Why is it important to support our local and conference church officers, by giving to the local church and conference budgets? How do they perform the same function as the Levites did in Nehemiah’s day?
Many have looked at the New Testament church as a model for how we should conduct our Christian services today. But these early Christian church practices were highly influenced by worship held in the temple and synagogues for generations before Christ. It’s important to understand the significance of the Old Testament rites and ceremonies in order to have a full appreciation of what worship should include today.
Besides the preaching of the word, it’s important to include prayer, music, and an offering call as a part of our weekly gatherings.
- Prayer to purify and prepare us, (Nehemiah 12:30)
- musical praise to uplift us, and (Nehemiah 12:31)
- the giving of tithes and offerings to thank God and express our desire to be close to Him. (Nehemiah 12:43)
God’s presence can be anywhere two or three are gathered, and our worship structure, however small, should include these features as much as possible (Matthew 18:20).
In addition, we observed this week the important role the Levites played in the total operation of the temple services. Their contributions ranged widely from the offering of music, cleaning the facility, guarding the entrance (gatekeepers), counting and storing the offerings, and more.
This was a reminder of the value of each church leader in God’s church today. Their dedication and services are needed, both at the local church level, and the wider conference and union levels. Church organization exists for a purpose, and we must honor and respect the work done by these appointed servants of God.
This does not mean that church leaders are infallible and above reproach any more than the Levites were, because we are all sinners in need of a Savior. (All the Levites certainly weren’t perfectly behaved saints.)
But it does mean that we should appreciate their efforts and do all we can to support and pray for them, recognizing their important contribution to our church’s operation and its very existence.
Next Week’s Lesson: Backslidden People
To read the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly or see more resources for its study, go to https://www.absg.adventist.org/
Other Outlook blogposts by Teresa Thompson, are at http://outlookmag.org/author/teresathompson/