The church is the “worshiping assembly,” and her mission is to call the nations to worship God. But worship is not only our goal; it is also one of the chief means for achieving that goal. Worship is not a retreat from the church’s work of conquest. Worship is a fundamental “strategy” of the church militant.
During this time of the coronavirus scare, we are being told that our worship services are somehow “non-essential.” In actual fact, it is the most essential activity of our lives. As we assemble before God now, we want to be pleading with Him to rise up and vindicate His name. Without Him, we are all of us nothing.
“It came to pass after this also, that the children of Moab, and the children of Ammon, and with them other beside the Ammonites, came against Jehoshaphat to battle. Then there came some that told Jehoshaphat, saying, There cometh a great multitude against thee from beyond the sea on this side Syria; and, behold, they be in Hazazon-tamar, which is En-gedi. And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah . . . Then upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, came the Spirit of the Lord in the midst of the congregation; And he said, Hearken ye, all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and thou king Jehoshaphat, Thus saith the Lord unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s . . . And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground: and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell before the Lord, worshipping the Lord . . . And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the Lord, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the Lord; for his mercy endureth for ever . . . And when Jehoshaphat and his people came to take away the spoil of them, they found among them in abundance both riches with the dead bodies, and precious jewels, which they stripped off for themselves, more than they could carry away: and they were three days in gathering of the spoil, it was so much . . . Then they returned, every man of Judah and Jerusalem, and Jehoshaphat in the forefront of them, to go again to Jerusalem with joy; for the Lord had made them to rejoice over their enemies.” (2 Chron. 20:1-3, 14-15, 18, 21, 25, 27).
Summary of the Text
Though he had sinned by giving support to Ahab in the Northern Kingdom (2 Chronicles 19:1-3), Jehoshaphat (whose name means “Yahweh judges”) was generally a faithful and reforming king of Judah. He removed the idols from the land (17:6; 19:3), and appointed judges throughout the land (19:5-11).
Jehoshaphat’s response here was consistent with his faithfulness:
He assembled the people at the house of the Lord and proclaimed a fast (20:2-5). Even the infants and children were included (20:13; and see Joel 2:15-16). In the assembly (20:5), Jehoshaphat prayed to the Lord. He confessed that the Lord is “ruler” of all nations and that “no one can stand against Thee” (20:6). He called on God to remember His covenant with Abraham (20:7; see Genesis 15:18), and specifically that He had driven the Canaanites from the land and given it to His people (20:7). He reminded the Lord about the promise that He would deliver His people when they turned to Him at His temple (20:8-9; see also 2 Chronicles 6:24-25,34-35). His prayer was also a confession of helplessness before the invaders (20:12).
He trusted the word of God through Jahaziel, that the “battle is not yours but God’s” (20:15-17). Jahaziel’s instructions to “stand and see the salvation of the Lord” is reminiscent of Moses’ words at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:13). The Lord here is promising a new “exodus,” a miraculous escape from a new Egypt.
Jehoshaphat led the people in humble worship (20:18), and appointed the Levites to praise God (20:19, 21).
In short, he responded with an assembly for prayer, preaching, and praise. He responded with worship. While the army of Judah went out with the singers in the lead, the Lord “set ambushes” for the Ammonites and Moabites, turning them to fight among themselves (20:22-23). When Judah went to find out what had happened, they found a valley full of corpses, which they plundered for three days (20:24-26; see Exodus 12:35-36). The Moabites and Ammonites came to plunder Judah; but the plunderers ended up plundered. When Judah worshiped, Yahweh became a terror to the surrounding nations (20:29).
So Worship Really is Warfare
Worship and prayer are frequently a means of warfare in Scripture: Israel “cried out” during their oppression in Egypt, and the Lord remembered His covenant and came near to deliver them (Exodus 2:23-25; 3:6-9). Throughout the period of the judges, Israel was oppressed and defeated whenever they worshiped idols. When they repented and “cried out to the Lord,” He would raise up a judge to deliver them (Judges 2:11-23; 3:8-11; 3:12-15; 3:1-3; 6:7-10). And when Samuel assembled the people at Mizpah, the Philistines attacked them. While Samuel offered sacrifice and cried out to the Lord, God thundered at the Philistines and confused them, allowing Israel to win a great victory (1 Sam. 7:3- 11).
Battle in the Heavens
Though the power of worship is evident in the Old Covenant, it is even more so in the New. In Christ, we are positioned in the heavenly places, that is, in places of rule and authority (Eph. 2:6; see 1:21-23). When we assemble for worship, we join with the heavenly hosts (Heb. 12:22-24), and our heavenly worship affects the course of earthly history. Our prayers and praises ascend before God, and coals are thrown from the heavenly altar. And the Lord thunders from the heavens, shakes the earth, and scatters our enemies before us (Rev. 8:1-5).
“Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered: Let them also that hate him flee before him. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away: As wax melteth before the fire, So let the wicked perish at the presence of God” (Psalm 68:1–2).
God shall arise and by His might put all His enemies to flight;
In conquest shall He quell them.
Let those who hate Him, scattered, flee before His glorious majesty
For God Himself shall fell them.
(Ps. 68, Huguenot Battle Hymn, Cantus Christi)
“I make this covenant and this oath, not with you alone, 15 but with him who stands here with us today before the Lord our God, as well as with him who is not here with us today 16 (for you know that we dwelt in the land of Egypt and that we came through the nations which you passed by, 17 and you saw their abominations and their idols which were among them—wood and stone and silver and gold); 18 so that there may not be among you man or woman or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations, and that there may not be among you a root bearing bitterness or wormwood; 19 and so it may not happen, when he hears the words of this curse, that he blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall have peace, even though I follow the dictates of my heart’—as though the drunkard could be included with the sober.” Deuteronomy 29:14-19
As we dig into this passage on the renewing of the covenant of the children of Israel with God, I want you to remind you that we don’t want to miss important parallels with our own experience. Why? Because what we are doing his this morning is also a form of covenant renewal. These folks are preparing for the invasion of Canaan, we are preparing for the expansion of the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
What is a Covenant?
It is a contract or agreement between two parties, sealed by vowing or with an oath, with with attendant blessings and curses based on completion of the oath. When God covenants with His creation, it is unilateral. We are recipients, not contributors; we are called to accept it as offered, to keep it as demanded, and to receive the results that God, by oath, assures will not be withheld. To believe God and respond in faith.
What are the Options?
“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil” Deuteronomy 30:15 Life vs. Death, Good vs. Evil. I think you get the idea about the contrast. And this is the conclusion that Moses draws in verse 9:“Therefore keep the words of this covenant, and do them, that you may prosper in all that you do.”
Eyes to See and Ears to Hear
“Yet the Lord has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day.” The secret things of God includes opening eyes and calling people to Himself. With this in mind, it is natural for someone to question whether God has or is working sovereignly in their heart and mind. But this should not result in despair because we have all that God has ‘revealed’ as a gift to us and our children.
How do we Renew the Covenant?
“Instead of asking yourself whether you believe or not, ask yourself whether you have, this day, done one thing because He said, Do it! or once abstained because He said, Do not do it! It is simply absurd to say you believe, or even want to believe, in Him, if you do not do anything He tells you.” George MacDonald
God has called you today to renew you covenant, your trust in His salvation. He has called you into relationship through your koinonia in Christ. Let this truth, this reality draw worship and obedience out of your heart in gratitude.
When we sing the psalms back to God, one of the things we are learning how to do is how to address Him as He would like to be addressed. Instead of cooking up our idea of pious noises and a liturgical shuffling around, we can read the script, commune with the librettist, and follow the stage directions.
“O sing unto the Lord a new song; for he hath done marvellous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory. The Lord hath made known his salvation: his righteousness hath he openly shewed in the sight of the heathen. He hath remembered his mercy and his truth toward the house of Israel: all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Sing unto the Lord with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the Lord, the King. Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together before the Lord; for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity” (Ps. 98:1-9).
Summary of the Text
This psalm can basically be divided into three stanzas. The first concerns why we are invited to praise Jehovah (vv. 1-3). The second addresses how (vv. 4-6). And the third has to do with the matter of who (vv. 7-9).
We are to praise God because His strong right arm has obtained the victory (v. 1). We are to praise Him because He does not keep the fact of His salvation a secret (v. 2). He has remembered His mercy and truth with regard to Israel, and the whole world can see that (v. 3).
So, make a joyful noise, make a loud noise, and do it with song (v. 4). Sing to the Lord with a harp, and also with a psalm (v. 5). Add to all the jubilation with some brass (v. 6). Act like this is the coronation of the king.
Let the fullness of the oceans join in on the chorus, not excluding all the inhabitants of these oceans (v. 7). Waves crashing together on the offbeat are glorious, and because the hills refuse to be left out, they also rejoice (v. 8). We all sing together in joy because of the coming judgment. This judgment will be sheer relief for the planet, not to mention all the nations (v. 9).
Our Lord’s mother was very likely a teenage girl when Gabriel appeared to her. Not only was she of such a character to be chosen by God at such a tender age, she was also a young woman who was steeped in the Old Testament Scriptures. The heading of this psalm says simply “a psalm,” and the Magnificatwas also very much a psalm—filled with echoes of thispsalm, as Adam Clarke notes:
Sing a new song to the Lord, and Mary answers, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” He has done marvelous things, and Mary answers, “He that is mighty hath done great things.” His arm has gotten Him the victory, and Mary answers, “He hath showed strength with his arm.” The Lord has made known His salvation, and Mary answers, “His mercy is from generation to generation.” He has remembered the house of Israel, and Mary answers “He hath holpen his servant Israel.”
Criminal and Civil Cases
In Scripture, we are invited to think about our relationship to God under different images. If we think biblically, we can use them all profitably, not allowing one of them to dominate, or applying them woodenly. For example, when we think of the coming judgment, we are invited to think it as a criminal trial, in a capital case, and with ourselves as the accused. For example, consider Ps. 67:4 and Ps. 96:12-13 and Ps. 35:24.
But we are also invited to think of that judgment, as here, as a civil case, with ourselves as the plaintiffs. In the former illustration, we want to get out of the courtroom as rapidly as possible, and with minimal fines. In the latter illustration, the difficulty is getting intothe courtroom. Your case is ironclad, and your problem is that no one will listen. The good news is that Jehovah Himself is coming, and He will listen. He will hearyou. This is the case with the widow in the Lord’s parable (Luke 18:3).
The judge is at the door. He will dry every tear (Rev. 21:4). He will bind up every wound (Ps. 147:3). He will set every bone. He will untie every treachery. He will reverse the effect of every desertion. Every disease will be sponged away. Every cruelty will be dissolved into nothingness. No unrepentant sinner will be given the power to blackmail the redeemed cosmos out of her joy. The fatherless will be brought to their everlasting Father, and all the pieces of this glorious story will be fitted together, and there will be no remainder.
Undertake or Overtake?
So what do you make of Jesus? He was crucified, buried, raised, raised again, and then enthroned. He is now seated at the right hand of the Ancient of Days, and every creature is summoned to face Him. Every one of us either does so or refuses to do so. The Latin word converteremeans to turn around, and it is where we get the word conversion.
Our solemn responsibility is to turn and face Christ. If we do, then we will look upon the one who was pierced. We will see Him, and that means we will see the judge who undertakes on our behalf. We can know this because we have been looking at the judge who undertook (past tense) on our behalf.
So that is the foundational issue. Christ either undertakesfor you, and does so as one kind of judge, or He overtakesyou, doing so as the other kind of judge. Do you want to look on the kind face of a merciful judge? Then you must repent. You must turn around. You must look upon His face.
Or do you want the other kind of judge? You intend to continue running away from Him, running pell mell through all your slippery sins? You who are stuck in the miry clay, you think you can make your escape? Do you really think you have the competence to successfully run from absolute Justice? You think you can make a run for the border? There is no border. The place you are running to is called the outer darkness for a reason.
The rebellious option is to flee and to feel, necessarily, the iron clasp of an avenging judge grip your shoulder. Or you might turn around, as the gospel commands, and see both of His hands outstretched, palms up, and pierced clean through.
Many of the problems confronting modern Christians is that they diligently try to do the right thing . . . in the wrong categories. They try guitar fingering on a mandolin; they try chess rules on a backgammon board; they apply the rules of French grammar to English. And for us to draw attention to such mistakes is not to object to any of these things in particular—chess, guitar, backgammon, whatever. But this is the mistake we make whenever we try to “make a difference” and our activity does not proceed directly from a vision of the Almighty Lord, high and lifted up.
“The LORD reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof. Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne. A fire goeth before him, and burneth up his enemies round about. His lightnings enlightened the world: the earth saw, and trembled. The hills melted like wax at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. The heavens declare his righteousness, and all the people see his glory. Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols: worship him, all ye gods. Zion heard, and was glad; and the daughters of Judah rejoiced because of thy judgments, O LORD. For thou, LORD, art high above all the earth: thou art exalted far above all gods. Ye that love the LORD, hate evil: he preserveth the souls of his saints; he delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked. Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart. Rejoice in the LORD, ye righteous; and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness” (Ps. 97:1-12).
God reigns, and the whole earth is called to rejoice (v. 1). His holiness is not what we might assume—His righteousness and judgment are like clouds and darkness (v. 2). A fire precedes Him, and burns up His enemies (v. 3). Lightning flashes, and the whole created order sees it, and trembles (v. 4). In the presence of God, hills and mountains melt like wax in a fire (v. 5). The heavens preach, and everyone sees His glory (v. 6). A curse is pronounced—confounded be all false worshippers, and all gods are summoned to worship the one God (v. 7). When this is proclaimed Zion hears and is glad. The daughters of Judah rejoice (v. 8). Why do we rejoice? Because the Lord is exalted high above all the earth (v. 9). This transcendent sense of true worship has potent ethical ramifications—you that love the Lord, hate evil (v. 10). In this setting, God delivers His people from those who return the hatred (v. 10). Light is sown for the righteous; gladness for the upright (v. 11). We are summoned by Him to therefore rejoice, and to give thanks as we remember His holiness (v. 12).
Clouds and Darkness
Holiness is not manageable (v. 2). Holiness does not come in a shrink-wrapped box. Holiness is not marketable. Holiness is not tame. Holiness is not sweetsy-nice. Holiness is not represented by kitschy figurines. Holiness is not smarmy. Holiness is not unctuous. Holiness is not domesticated. But worship a god who is housebroken to all your specifications, and what is the result? Depression, and a regular need for sedatives—better living through chemistry.
Holiness is wild. Holiness is three tornadoes in a row. Holiness is a series of black thunderheads coming in off the bay. Holiness is impolite. Holiness is darkness to make a sinful man tremble. Holiness beckons us to that darkness, where we do not meet ghouls and ghosts, but rather the righteousness of God. Holiness is a consuming fire. Holiness melts the world. And when we fear and worship a God like this, what is the result? Gladness of heart.
Gladness for the Upright in Heart
Worship the god who does nothing but kittens and pussy willows, and you will end in despair. Worship the God of the jagged edge, the God whose holiness cannot be made palatable for the middle class American consumer, and the result is deep gladness. Do you hear that? Gladness, not pomposity. And, thank God, such gladness does not make us parade about with cheeks puffed slighted out, or speak with lots of rotund vowels, or strut with sanctimonious air. Gladness, laughter, joy—set these before you. This is deep Christian faith, and not what so many are marketing today in the name of Jesus. The tragedy is that in the name of relevance the current expression of the faith in America today is superficial all the way down.
Ye That Love the Lord . . .
Hate evil. So this is why an ethical application of the vision of the holy is most necessary. If we bypass this vision of who God actually is, the necessary result will be a prissy moralism, and not the robust morality of the Christian faith. The distance between moralism and true morality is vast, and the thing that creates this distance is knowledge of the holy. Those who content themselves with petty rules spend all their time fussing about with hemlines, curfews, and scruples about alcohol. But those who see this folly and go off in their own little libertine direction are no better. The former act as though their moralism is grounded on the dictates of a gremlin-like god who lives in their attic, but his word is law. The latter say that this is stupid, and aspire to become the gremlin themselves. There are two parts: love the Lord. Hate evil.
The Potency of Right Worship
In this psalm, how should we define right worship? The answer is that right worship occurs when the congregation of God approaches Him, sees Him as He is, and responds rightly, as He has commanded—in joy and glad submission. Such worship necessitates turning away from all idols (v. 7), and turning to the holy God who cannot be manipulated. And in this psalm alone, what does right worship do? What effect does it have? What are the results? The earth rejoices (v. 1). All the islands are glad (v. 1). His enemies are consumed with the fire that goes before Him (v. 3). The earth is illuminated by His lightning, and trembles (v. 4). In the presence of the Lord (and in worship we are in the presence of the Lord), the hills melt (v. 5). The heavens preach, and the people see His glory (v. 6). Idolaters are flummoxed, confounded (v. 7). The universal call to worship is even issued to the idols (v. 7). Zion hears and is glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice (v. 8). The name of God is exalted above every name (v. 9). The saints of God learn to hate evil, and God preserves them from those who persecute them (v. 10). Light and gladness are sown in our hearts (v. 11). His righteous people rejoice, and are grateful when they remember His holiness (v. 12).
A Call to Worship
Those who serve graven images are confounded (v. 7). Those who worship false gods cannot be anything but confounded. Those who worship the true God falsely are missing the scriptural call as well. But those who worship rightly will inherit the earth.