133 - Fear of the Lord [c]
Fear of the Lord
1 Chronicles 15:1–16; Isaiah 6:1–4
Samuel Lesson #133
May 22, 2018
“Our Father, it is a great privilege we have to come together to reflect upon who You are, to think about how we worship, why we worship, and to come to a tremendous understanding of Your nature, Your person, and just who You are as the foundation of our focus not just on Sunday morning, but throughout our week, throughout our lives.
“Father, we pray for us as we study Your Word, that God the Holy Spirit will open our eyes, illuminate our understanding of what is revealed in Scripture, that we may come to a more clear understanding of who You are. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
We are studying in 2 Samuel, as well as in 1 Chronicles 15 and 16, building an understanding of a topic—the topic of worship—off the foundation of what happened in 2 Samuel, but more fully in 1 Chronicles 15 and 16, as David has taken the initiative to move the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem. He’s moving the throne of God.
Scripture teaches that God is enthroned between the cherubs on the ark of the covenant. So, as they’re moving the covenant, they don’t do it according to Scripture. As a result, one of the priests that is walking along with it, reaches out to stabilize it when the cart hits a pothole and jostles the ark. As a result—it’s more than just touching it. There is an attitude that is there, because it is viewed as significant disrespect to God, and God takes the life of Uzzah. This truly strikes fear into the hearts of those who are there and of David.
So this is one aspect, or one facet, to the phrase that we read about a lot in Scripture, which is the fear of the Lord. Normally, there’s this approach to that phrase that it’s talking about awe. That’s certainly a major part of it. There are different facets to fear, as we’re going to see in our study this evening. But what I want to look at initially are just some of the questions that came up last week.
First, just a reminder—I really like this quote from Ross’ book: “Our attention to the Lord must not be an ordinary part of life. …” Ordinary life is referred to by the word “profane”—not in the sense we use it often, with profanity. But profane has as its core meaning as just common, the everyday use of something. So, we have everyday language. We have everyday forms of art, forms of music.
But what happens in worship is distinct, because God is distinct. The biblical word for that is—as I’ve emphasized—the word “holy.” God is unique, He is distinct, He is one-of-a-kind. So, what we do in worship, as we see the foundation in the Old Testament, should not be like everything else.
It should not necessarily be something that makes us comfortable, and yet that idea has pervaded the church growth movement—that church is for attracting the un-churched, the seekers, which is theologically flawed. The purpose of church is for the body of Christ to come together to be edified. The purpose of church is not evangelism; it is edification.
Back decades ago, there was always the caricature that if you were in—going to—a Baptist church, then you never got out of the Gospels, because every Sunday, it was just a repetition. You were—it was an evangelistic sermon, basically. If you went to a Pentecostal church, you never got out of Acts 2. And if you went to a Bible church, you never got out of the Epistles.
Sadly, that caricature had a measure of truth to it. But the purpose for the meeting of the church is the edification of the body. So, what we do on Sunday morning, what we do in worship, is not an ordinary part of life. “… our worship of Him should be the most momentous, urgent, and glorious activity in our lives.” So, we’re understanding that by looking at the Scriptures.
Now a question came up last week, because I was talking about the two key words that we find in Isaiah 6—that is, glory and holy. Holy, of course, as I just indicated, means that which is unique or distinct. It’s one of those many words in Scripture that we’re so used to that we lose its meaning.
Same thing with glory. The idea of glory is that which is weighty. I mean if you look the word up in a Hebrew dictionary, the Hebrew word is kavod, and it has the idea of that which is heavy or weighty.
Sometimes it’s applied literally to an object as being heavy. But also heaviness, metaphorically, refers to something that is significant. It is weighty. It is something that is—maybe a thought that is—overwhelming. It borders on the idiomatic use of that term from back in the 70s or 80s, when you would see something impressive, and might say, “Wow, that’s really heavy.”
But that’s the biblical concept of heavy. You’re saying it’s really important, it’s overwhelming, it’s an awesome idea—something like that. And so, that’s the idea of glory. From there I look through various passages in Scripture, and one of the things we ended up with was in John 1.
I want to go back and look at a couple of things in John 1, and tie that to where we are in Isaiah 6. In John 1:14, we’re told that Jesus came to reveal the glory of God. And we read about the Incarnation in John 1:14. “And the Word… ”—that is, the Greek term is LOGOS. That is a reference to Jesus. He is the Second Person of the Trinity, and the term LOGOS has to do with language, and communication, and expressing something, or informing us about something.
In His role as the Second Person of the Trinity, that’s what Jesus is doing. He’s revealing God to us, and that’s what this verse is talking about. “And the Word became flesh …,” the Second Person of the Trinity—John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And now “… the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
I pointed out that we often think of the glory of God in terms of this bright light, this effulgence. We talk about the Shekinah glory, and we think of the pillar of fire in the Old Testament that guided the Israelites through the wilderness, that settled over the tabernacle. But that was sort of a manifestation of God’s presence. That’s what Shekinah means, from the Hebrew word “shakan,” meaning the presence, or the dwelling presence, of God.
So glory refers, though, to His weightiness, His importance, His significance, His centrality. He is the “without which nothing.” The Latin phrase is important to understand there in the sense that without God, without something, then there’s nothing. So that comes across in English as “without which nothing.” This is the idea here—is that without God, there’s nothing. He is central. He’s the focal point.
So, John says, “… we beheld His glory …” And so we think about that. But the first time we have a statement made about Him manifesting His glory is in John 2:11, at the end of this first miracle, when He turns the water into wine. And John says, “… and manifested His glory …” He manifested His glory, and yet there were no flashing lights. There’s no burst of light. No one knew what had happened.
If you recall the story, He and a couple of His disciples went to this wedding in Cana of Galilee, and they ran out of wine. His mother found out, and came to Jesus and said, “Do something.” In the middle of that episode, she comes to Him and expects Him to fix the problem. And He says to her in John 2:4, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”
That’s interesting. That phrase “My hour is not yet come …” is mostly used to refer to His death on the Cross. But here it’s at the beginning of His ministry. I made the comment last time that what this has to do with is that He’s not ready for a public presentation of His ministry. I had a question after class about this, and so I wanted to talk about it a minute. Prior to this, Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptist. Even though that’s public, in one sense, that’s not a public presentation of Him in terms of His Messianic credentials. This has all happened before Cana of Galilee.
What happened was, there’s the baptism, then He is led by the Spirit into the wilderness. And there is the testing of Jesus’ character to prove His impeccability while He is in the wilderness, and the testing, or the temptations, of Satan. Then after that is when He comes to Cana of Galilee.
So I had pointed out, and got the question, “What does it mean that ‘[His] hour has not yet come?’ ” What happens in the next episode that John tells us about, starting in John 2:13, is the Passover. So, what has happened prior to this is He goes to John to be baptized, which probably happened sometime in January, because he’s got 40 days in the wilderness when He is tested by Satan. So that’s going to take Him about six weeks, and then it’s Passover.
Passover that year occurred roughly—Passover usually occurs in early April, something like that, then six weeks before that would have put the temptation at the end of January/early February, depending on when it fell that year.
That’s when He would have made His public presentation. That’s when He began to heal, and that’s when He began to perform miracles, and all of that is described—and when He cleanses the Temple. That is really when His public ministry began—not with John the Baptist’s statement, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” not with His testing in the wilderness, but when He comes to the temple, He cleanses the temple, all of those things. That starts His public ministry. So that’s what that meant.
The next time we have the term “glory” used in reference to Jesus is a really interesting passage, and it relates directly to Isaiah 6.Turn over to John 12. Now I got into this, and I had to make a decision because, as I looked at John 12, I could just focus on John 12:41, which says, “These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.”
There’s an interesting phrase. John says that Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory. When did that happen? Well, that had to have happened in Isaiah 6. But in Isaiah 6, it looks like it’s God the Father. So, we have to talk about that a minute. But I wanted to get the context here, because the context is important. I try not to grab verses out of context, and especially when it’s something like this, without explaining a little bit about what’s going on.
This, of course, in John 12, is just prior to the Crucifixion. He has—although John doesn’t talk—well, he does talk about it in John 12:12 and following. He has the Triumphal Entry. This is taking place just after the Triumphal Entry. So if that is on Palm Sunday, that Sunday morning, this is probably sometime later that day. John isn’t as precise in his chronology. It could be even the next day.
But John comments on this, starting in John 12:37. He said, “But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe Him …,” talking about primarily the Jews, but many of the crowds that are in Jerusalem.
“Although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe Him …” Again we see this emphasis in John that the issue is believing in Him, that He is the Messiah, who would die on the Cross or die for their sins. They didn’t believe Him. Now I want to point something out. This is an interesting passage, and people often distort what’s going on here.
The focal point of the verse—actually my slide starts with John 12:35. Jesus said to them, “A little while longer the light is with you.” That’s your major theme, all through John, is that Jesus is the light. He is telling the crowd after the entry into Jerusalem, “ ‘A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light [referring to Himself)], believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.’ These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.” Then He just goes off the scene.
Then it says in the next verse, “But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe Him.” The emphasis there is on their volition. They are choosing not to believe that the signs indicate that He is the Messiah. I pointed this out Sunday morning when we were talking about this, in terms of John 20:30–31, that John organizes the Gospel around eight signs. The last sign, the seventh sign, before the Resurrection, is the resurrection of Lazarus, which takes place in John 11. But here in this verse, he says, “But although He had done so many signs …,” which gave evidence of His claim to be the Messiah, “… they did not believe in Him.”
What that is saying is that they have a choice. It is not God’s choice. God is not determining who will believe and who will not believe. That is squarely putting the responsibility on each one as to whether or not they will believe. I’m emphasizing that because of what happens in the next verse. “... that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke ….” So this is immediately taking us into Isaiah, and the first quote is from Isaiah 53:1, which is a literal prophecy and a literal fulfillment.
It says, “Lord, who has believed our report and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” The point of Isaiah 53:1 is that there are those—many—who will not believe that the Messiah, when He comes as the Servant—that’s the context of Isaiah 53, referring to the Messiah as the Servant—that they would not believe the report of those who gave testimony as to who He was.
So this is fulfillment that as Jesus is there in Jerusalem, there are many who don’t believe Him. And this is fulfillment of Isaiah 53:1. Then it says in John 12:39, “Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said …,” and here we have a quote from Isaiah 6:10. Now that’s the very passage we’re studying.
That’s why I’m going here because this provides some illustration—we’ll talk about it some more when we get there—and it’s a quote from Isaiah 6:10, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts, and turn, so that I should heal them.” Now that sounds like God has arbitrarily shut down their ability to understand and to respond positively, doesn’t it?
This is a passage that Calvinists will go to to prove that, because man is totally depraved, he can’t really understand or see or believe the gospel because God has shut him down. But what preceded this, in context, was a statement that they didn’t believe Him. That puts the responsibility on them that they could believe Him, but they had chosen not to. Because they had made a decision in negative volition to reject the gospel, the result of that is that God further hardens their hearts, blinds their eyes, so that Jesus’ presence confirms them in their unbelief and intensifies that unbelief.
What we’ll see in Isaiah is that is exactly what Isaiah is being commissioned to do in Isaiah 6, when the Lord commissions him to send him to His people. It’s not so they’ll respond to his gospel and turn and believe, but that his message will confirm them in their rejection. They have already rejected the truth, and so now God is going to give evidence of the fact that they are negative, and He is going to confirm that by their response to Isaiah.
Let’s look at another passage. I’ve talked about this, or used it, a couple times recently on Sunday morning. 1 Chronicles 28:9. This is a really important passage for understanding the relationship between human volition and God’s sovereignty. 1 Chronicles 28:9. David is talking. These are David’s last words, and he talks about the temple. He gives a commission to Solomon, who is going to reign after him, and he says to Solomon in 1 Chronicles 28:9, “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and a willing mind for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands all the intent of the thoughts.”
Look at the last line. “If you seek Him ….” Positive volition. “If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake Him …,” if you turn negative, and you don’t respond to the light that God has given you—and that’s what Jesus is talking about here, back in John 12:35–36. He’s the light, but they’ve rejected the light and turned to darkness. They’ve forsaken Him, and David says to Solomon. “… if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever.”
This is putting the onus on the individual’s decision, on the individual’s volition. If you reject or forsake God, then God will cast you off, and He will confirm you in your unbelief. This is what happened with Pharaoh and Moses. Pharaoh rejects Moses, and then what God does is He hardens Pharaoh’s heart—only after he’s already rejected Moses. First, he rejects grace, and he rejects the opportunity to respond to God, and then God is going to—through the miracles and through the plagues—He’s going to confirm Pharaoh in his unbelief.
That’s what happens with the Jews—the more light He gives, it doesn’t cause the Jews to respond to Jesus, it hardens them in their unbelief. That’s the same thing that happens in Isaiah.
When we’re looking at John 12, what we’re looking at is this connection, where John is connecting this back to what Isaiah is talking about in Isaiah 6, that the people don’t believe; therefore, God hardens them in their unbelief.
That’s John 12:39, “Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts ….”
1 Chronicles 28 says that if you reject Him, He will reject you. Then he concludes in John 12:41, “These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.” So he saw the glory of God in Isaiah 6, but when we look at the throne of God and the Person who is on the throne of God, it is the triune God that is present there. It is not—when it says here “he saw His glory”, the glory of the Father is the same as the glory of the Son, and the glory of the Father and the Son is the same as the glory of the Holy Spirit.
Remember in understanding the Trinity that They have one essence. They are one in essence, but three in persons. But the glory refers to the centrality, the significance, and importance of who God is—that is, His essence, and that essence is shared by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
So in some of these appearances of God in the Old Testament, we try to distinguish that this is the Son, or this is the Father. But in some places, I believe, it is the triune God who is present. This is reflected in a term that was developed by theologians early in the church called PERICHORESIS. I’ve used that term before. It’s [he spells] P-E-R-I-C-H-O-R-E-S-I-S. PERICHORESIS. Jesus refers to this in John 14. He says, “if you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father.” That’s what He says to Philip in John 14:9. “He who has seen Me has seen the Father ....”
That’s the same thing that we’re saying about Isaiah in Isaiah 6 is if you’ve seen—as he looks at the Lord God on the throne, he’s seeing the glory of the triune God. He is seeing the Father—the glory of the Father, which is the same as the glory of the Son, which is the same as the glory of the Holy Spirit. So that is what is going on here.
Now, what happens when Isaiah sees the glory of the Father—the glory of the appearance of the Lord God there in Isaiah 6, is that he is going to fall down, and he screams out, “Woe is me … a man of unclean lips ….” This expresses the fear of the Lord. We see this not only with Isaiah, but I’m going to go through some other examples in the Scriptures that when people in the Bible come face-to-face with God, the result is this fear of the Lord.
This is an idea everybody struggles with expressing, because there are different types of fear. There is the kind of fear that is just pure terror, which we may experience if you watch a film such as The Exorcist, or Poltergeist, or some other film like that that Hollywood churns out. It’s just designed to produce this fear in the audience. But there’s another element of fear that goes beyond that.
C. S. Lewis, in his book The Problem of Pain, calls it “being aware of the numinous.” In that, he cites a passage from a children’s book called The Wind in the Willows. In The Wind in the Willows, I think there’s an allegorical aspect to it, but what you have in this book are some animal characters—Mole, Rat, Toad, Badger, and Otter—and there in chapter 7, the mole and rat are looking for Otter’s missing son, Portly. They find him in the care of the god Pan. So, as you read through this—and I’m going to read part of this because I think it’s a great illustration of the concept of the fear of the Lord. We read:
“This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played to me,” whispered the Rat, as if in a trance. “Here in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him!” Then suddenly the Mole felt a great awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror—indeed, he felt wonderfully at peace and happy—but it was an awe that smote and held him. And without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near. With difficulty, he turned to look for his friend, and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling violently. And still there was utter silence in the populous bird-haunted branches around them. And still the light grew and grew.
Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes, but that, though the piping was now hushed, the call and the summons seemed still dominant and imperious. He might not refuse, were Death himself waiting to strike him instantly, once he had looked with mortal eye on things rightly kept hidden. Trembling he obeyed, and raised his humble head; and then, in the utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fullness of incredible color, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the glowing daylight; saw the stern hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humorously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners. … All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still as he lived, he wondered.
“Rat!” he found breath to whisper, shaking. “Are you afraid?”
“Afraid?” murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. “Afraid! Of Him? Oh, never, never! And yet—and yet—oh Mole, I am afraid.”
See, though the context is a little waffley there, dealing with these allegories that these writers use, they’re communicating the idea of what the Bible represents as fear. We stand in awe. We see these individuals in the Scripture trembling before the presence of God. Yet it’s not of terror, but there is a sense bordering on terror. But it is an awe of the being of God, and who He is, and standing in His presence.
C. S. Lewis clarifies the difference between fear and awe with this example. He says,
“Suppose you were told that there was a tiger in the next room. You would know that you are in danger and would probably feel fear”—you’d feel terror—“but if you were told there is a ghost in the next room and believed it, you feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger. It is uncanny rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites might be called dread. Now suppose that you were told simply, there is a mighty spirit in the room and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger. But the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and certain shrinking, a sense of inadequacy to cope with such a visitant, and of prostration before it. That feeling may be described as awe.”
So that gives us an idea of what’s going on.
When we look at Isaiah 6:3, there’s this confrontation between the creature Isaiah—who is a fallen, corrupt, sinful creature—and the unique, holy, set-apart God. This contrast is brought out as the seraphs cry out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts; the whole earth is filled with His glory!” or His importance.
I talked about holiness last time as referring to that which is unique and set apart, which applies to every one of the essence characteristics of God. That is what gives God His importance, His “sine qua non,” the Latin phrase “without which nothing.” He is—without God, there is nothing. He holds everything together all the time. And this is His weightiness.
We looked at how holiness applies to every characteristic, because God is unique and distinct in each of those attributes.
As Isaiah sees the holiness of God—and that’s emphasized in Isaiah 6:3.
The impact of that in Isaiah 6:4 is that the posts of the temple—so he’s in the temple—the columns, the posts, the walls, everything shakes. There’s an earthquake, and as the voice of him cries out, the house is filled with smoke, and Isaiah—confronted with the holiness of God—says, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people with unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh Sabaoth, the LORD of hosts.”
So at that point, he collapses.
The seraph flies to him, having in his hand a live coal—of course he’s not physically burning him, but it is depicting his cleansing of sin, which is what we’ll get to here is that there has to be this cleansing for worship to take place.
He has in his hand a live coal, which he’d taken with tongs from the altar. So there is this depiction that stresses the importance of cleansing.
But before we get into that, what I want to do is take the rest of the time in class to look at this history of what happens when human beings, who are fallen, come into the presence of a holy God.
Of course, it starts with Genesis 3. So, we turn back to Genesis 3. We’re just going to walk our way through a number of these appearances. The idea that I want you to keep in mind is that we’re talking about what happens when a fallen creature is confronted with the character, the true essence, of the being of God, and what that engenders in the human soul.
Genesis 3 is a story we know real well, and it’s a story about the fall of man as the serpent tempts Eve. She eats from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And then she offers that to Adam, and he eats. The result is described in Genesis 3:7, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked ….”
They’re exposed. They are no longer walking with the Lord. They have complete exposure, and they know it. They know there’s a problem. The reason we know that is because they immediately try to fix it on their own by sewing fig leaves together. And they make for themselves coverings.
Now what happens after that is our focal point. “They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day ….” The picture here is of something that happened regularly. God is coming. He’s talking to them. God was not only teaching them about Himself, but He’s teaching them about the creation. He’s teaching them all kinds of things related to this physical world that God has placed them in.
When they hear God walking in the garden, “… Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” They know they can’t come into His presence. They know there is a radical shift that’s occurred, and there’s a barrier now between them and God.
Then in Genesis 3:9 we read, “Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ ” As I’ve pointed out many times, it’s not that God doesn’t know where they are. He’s wanting them to think about where they are, and why they’re not with Him.
Adam responds by saying, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” There is an existential fear at this point because they are confronted with the holiness of God and His righteousness and justice. They’re sinners; God is not. They’re in darkness; He’s in light. And they can’t approach it. They are terrorized at this point. This is that fear, because there’s no grace resolution at this point. That will come in later in Isaiah 3.
Now we’re going to walk our way through this temporally. Now we’re going to jump forward to Job. I believe Job happened very early. Job’s life is roughly the same time of Abraham or Isaac. There’s no mention of Israel, the Jews, or Abraham, or anything like that. The whole thrust of Job is dealing with this issue of undeserved suffering.
As the story unfolds, Job loses all of his children. He loses all of his possessions—all of this because Satan has asked God for permission to test him. Then in the second chapter, because he hasn’t taken Job’s health, Satan gets permission to do that. And everything just goes from bad to worse.
Then Job’s three friends come along with their false understanding of suffering, and they basically all have the view that you’re getting what you deserve. Job knows that he’s a righteous man. In fact, in the first few chapters, God has emphasized the fact that Job is righteous. None of this is because of anything Job has done. It all has to do with the angelic conflict. But that’s other issues that we’ve talked about and studied.
So you have these dialogues going on throughout the Book of Job, where each of his friends make these subtle accusations that you wouldn’t really have had all this happen if you’d been good. Job responds, and he defends himself. But he eventually gets to the point where he realizes that he hasn’t done anything wrong. He wants to talk to God about this. So, arrogance begins to slip into his thinking, and he says he just wants to talk face-to-face with God to understand why God has done this to him.
Then God shows up on the scene, and the Lord answers Job. That’s in Job 38. “Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind ….” There’s a series of rhetorical questions from God to Job that are designed to teach Job that he really can’t understand the answer even if God gave it to him. What we see here is the same thing we’re seeing in these other situations is a face-to-face confrontation between the fallen, corrupt sinner and a holy, righteous God.
And after the first round of questions, this is Job’s response in Job 40:3–5.
“Then Job answered the LORD and said: ‘Behold, I am vile. What shall I answer You?’ ”When Job says, “Behold, I am vile …,” did God say, “Now wait a minute, you don’t need to have such a bad self-image.” Is that what God said? God doesn’t correct him. You’re a fallen, corrupt sinner. You are vile. But that is what happens as [a result of] the Fall—and he’s a believer. And because he is in confrontation, he sees God just as Isaiah sees God. He knows what a fallen, unworthy creature he is.
He says, “Behold, I am vile; What shall I answer you? I lay my hand over my mouth.” He realizes, who was I to say anything? Who am I to challenge God, to question God’s motives? He says, “Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; Yes, twice, but I will proceed no further.” In other words, I’m going to keep my mouth shut. Then what we see is that there are more questions from God, going through the rest of Job 40:6 on through Job 41.
Then we get to Job 42, and Job is going to answer the Lord again. I want you to notice what he says. “Then Job answered the LORD and said: ‘I know that You can do everything and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.’ ” So he is focusing on His omnipotence and God’s immutable will.
He goes on to say, “You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’ I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore …” What? “… I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
See this is the same thing that we see with Adam and Eve in the Garden. It’s the same thing we see with Isaiah. There is a realization and an exposure of who we really are when we take the time to truly confront what the Scripture says about us. This should leave us with this sense of awe in the presence of God. This is at the core of worship.
This isn’t what you commonly think of as worship when we come to church on Sunday morning, and especially with the whole idea of contemporary worship. It never gets to this point because it’s all about you. in fact somebody here was telling me that they went by one of these contemporary churches not long ago, and they were welcoming people to come to the church and hear about the “Youniverse,” [he spells] Y-O-U-N-I-V-E-R-S-E. You know, it’s all self-absorbed.
So anyway, that’s Job. But we see this pattern developing. I want you to turn back to Genesis, and we’re going to go to Genesis 28. Genesis 28 is a critical event that occurs in the life of Jacob. The context is that Jacob is returning to the land after he fled from Esau, and he’s lived in the north up in Syria with his uncle Laban. He ends up marrying two of his cousins, Rachel and Leah, and now they are coming back into the land.
This is described in Genesis 28. So we read that, at the beginning of the chapter. He’s blessed, we go through this, and we have this event that occurs at Bethel.
There are some interesting things going on here in the background. This is at Bethel. Bethel is located about, maybe 10 miles south of Shechem.
Let me remind you of the scenario here. When Abraham is first led into the land by God, he enters the land from the north. He comes down the central ridge of the mountains, the hill country of Samaria and Judea. The first place he stops is Shechem. There he builds an altar, and he calls on the name of the Lord, which means that he is making a proclamation in the name of the Lord, and he’s teaching about Yahweh.
Then he left there, and he went a day’s journey south, which is about, maybe 10 miles, and he stops at Bethel. You can go there today. I’ve been there, and it just sort of sends chills up your spine as you’re on that highway near where Abraham stopped. You’re between Bethel and Ai. There’s even an old Byzantine church that was there, that was built on the site of an earlier marker to mark this location.
What we hear is, now Jacob goes to that same location, which was where Abraham had stopped after he left Shechem, and he built an altar, and proclaimed the name of the Lord there at Bethel. Bethel means “the house of God.” Think about that. The house of God. This is a place where you go to meet God. This is what Abraham had called it. The Canaanite name was Luz.
So, Jacob comes there. In Genesis 28:11 we’re told, “So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep.” (I guess he hadn’t heard of MyPillow yet.) It’s just a rock. I’ve done that before. It is not comfortable.
“Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth …,” and it really isn’t a ladder. It’s more of a staircase. It’s the stairway to Heaven. “Then he dreamed and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending upon it.”
One of the interesting things here is you’ve got to understand the ancient near-eastern background. Think about what’s happened in Genesis. Genesis 6 through Genesis 9. You have what? You have the flood of Noah. They come out of the flood of Noah. God has flooded everything. Then you have the Noahic covenant. Then you have Genesis 10 and Genesis 11 that give the genealogy.
Genesis 11 talks about what happens to the Hamitic descendants who come together. You have Nimrod, as one of Ham’s grandsons, and he’s a mighty hunter, he builds an empire, it’s centered in Iraq at Babylon—what becomes Babylon. And they build these towers. They’re ziggurats; they’re stepped temples. The idea is that—paganism has twisted this idea—is they’re building these high places. It’s the plain of Shinar, so it’s flat. It’s like the Gulf Coast. You want to get up high enough to avoid the flood—that’s part of their twisted thinking.
They built these ziggurats—it’s a staircase. We know what happens is everybody comes together, they don’t spread out, as God says, so God comes down, and He is going to judge them, and scatter them and confound their languages. In Hebrew it is called Ba bel’, Babel, which references confusion in Hebrew. But the Akkadian or Babylonian word doesn’t mean confusion; it means “the gate of God.” Bab El.
Now Bethel is going to be that same meaning. We see this juxtaposition that’s going on here between Babylon and their false view of the gate of God and what is happening with Abraham’s decision, and God giving him a true entry into the gate of God.
That’s what is pictured here. Jacob sees this staircase, like what you would have on a ziggurat, and the angels of God are ascending and descending upon it. Then there is a reiteration and a reconfirmation of the Abrahamic Covenant to Jacob. Genesis 28:13, “I am the LORD God of Abraham, your father, and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants.” Genesis 28:14, “Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall be spread abroad to the west and to the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”
So it’s a reiteration the Abrahamic Covenant. But what is Jacob’s response?
Genesis 28:16, “Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.’ ” And what? “And he was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!’ Then Jacob rose early in the morning….” Genesis 28:19, “And he called the name of that place Bethel, the house of God.” And he makes a vow there, and this was where, of course, there was an altar to the Lord. So, it is an act of worship. But there is fear because, again, a sinner, though a believer, has come into a face-to-face confrontation with God.
Then let’s go to the next episode. Turn over one Book to Exodus. Exodus 19. This is a very interesting passage and situation. The Israelites have been freed from slavery in Egypt, and then they are led by the Lord through the wilderness, after they crossed the Red Sea. They continue south on the Sinai Peninsula to wherever Mount Sinai is located. There’s a lot of discussion and disagreement over that. And they come down to Mount Sinai, and God is going to meet with them.
In Exodus 19:10—no, let’s look right before that—Moses calls the elders to come out and gives them the instructions from the Lord. Genesis 19:8, “Then all the people answered together and said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do.’ ” Notice how willing they are to do everything. We’ll do it all. We’ll do everything God wants us to do. They haven’t been confronted with God yet.
“And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever.’ ” They’re going to have such a face-to-face meeting with God on Sinai. So the LORD says, the first thing is that the people need to consecrate themselves today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. There has to be cleansing, ritual cleansing, before they can come into the presence of God. “And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.”
You’re going to set bounds for the people all around, so that none of the people will break through to the presence of God. “Not a hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow …” If any of them break through, then there are going to be some serious consequences.
We read in Exodus 19:16, “Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud …” What’s the response of the people? “… so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.”
There is fear because they’re being confronted with a holy, righteous God, and they are an unclean people, as we all are. “And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.” They hear God speak, and He gives the Ten Commandments. That’s Exodus 20.
Then look at what happens at the conclusion of God giving them the Decalogue. “Now all the people …” Exodus 20:18. “Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it ….” What? “… they trembled.” Twice this is emphasized. When they see God, they trembled. There is fear.
“Then they said to Moses, ‘You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.’ ” We don’t want to hear His voice again. “And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.’ ” There is a recognition of who God is, and who they are, and that will result in their obedience.
You have other examples that come through in Exodus, and I’m not going to go through all of them. There are examples in Exodus 24:9–11.
Let’s skip over to Exodus 33:10. This is the LORD coming to Moses again, and directing him to leave from Sinai. In Exodus 33:10 we read, “All the people saw the pillar of the cloud standing at the tabernacle door, and all the people rose and worshiped, each man in his tent door.”
So, they are awestruck again, and their response is to worship God. We don’t know how that was manifested, whether that was prayer, or just exactly what happened. In Exodus 33:11, “So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun … did not depart from the tabernacle.”
So this is what we see going on in Exodus as the people fear God, but they worship God. It’s not a terror that drives them away.
Turn in the New Testament now to Matthew 17. I’ve got two more quick examples. Matthew 17. This is the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with Him up onto this mountain. There He is transfigured before them, and His divine nature is manifest as this brilliant light. “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.”
Now Peter, who always talks before he thinks, says, “Well, we’ll make three tabernacles here—that is, we’re going to worship You and Moses and Elijah.” While he was speaking, God spoke. Basically Peter shut up and listened for a change. He says, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”
So, they hear the voice of God. If they had an MP3 recorder, they could have recorded it. When the disciples heard it, what happens? Now these are believers. “… they fell on their faces and they were greatly afraid.”
But you see when grace enters in, as it did in the New Testament, it is, “Arise and do not be afraid,” because God has solved the problem. But we have to understand that there is this distinction with God.
I want to look at our last example. Turn to Revelation 1. In Revelation 1, this is now fully into the Church Age. What happens is Jesus appears to John the apostle, some 60 years after the Crucifixion. And we look at Revelation 1:17, and what does John say? “When I saw Him …” This is the beloved disciple. This is the disciple who puts his head on Jesus’ shoulder during the Last Supper. This is the disciple that is closest to Jesus.
He sees Jesus in His glory appear to him in Revelation 1, “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.” Do you see a pattern? I mean this confrontation with God is—He’s not our buddy. Even with John the apostle, who sees the resurrected Lord—he’s the beloved disciple. He falls down as dead. But there’s grace. “But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.’ ” That’s the distinction. There’s not—it’s not fear that’s hopeless. It’s an awe because you see who God is. And that’s at the core—that’s the attitude we should bring when we come to worship.
“Father, thank You for this time we’ve had to look at Your Word, to be reminded of who You are, the reality of Your character, Your essence, Your holiness, the distinctiveness, Your glory, and to realize that too often when we think of worship, there’s too much of a sense of familiarity and a sense of things as being casual and informal. What we see in the Scripture is that that doesn’t—those attitudes and that mentality don’t reflect what we see when people come face-to-face with You in the Scriptures, and that this should have an impact on how we come together. The distinction that we should make on a Sunday morning, making this a distinct time where we’re taking it as a much more serious time, a time dedicated to focus upon You, and to learn about You, and that not to have this casual, informal attitude that too often characterizes our thinking.
“And we pray that as we study this way that You will bring to our attention our own failings and flaws in the way we think about worship and expose them to Scripture. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”