THEME: Worship in the Old Testament, 14th in the series
Volume 7, No. 12 (December 2012)
1. Genesis 1–3 Worship in Creation and the Fall
Man was created with the unique ability to worship his Creator. Actually, all created things are called to give Him praise—i.e, testify to His greatness (see Psalm 148). But man is to lead the way:
“God made man in His own image to be the Priest of creation, to express for all creatures the praises of God, so that through the lips of man the heavens might declare the glory of God, that we who know we are God’s creatures might worship God and in our worship gather up the worship of all creation.” (James B. Torrance, “The Place of Jesus Christ in Worship,” in Theological Foundations for Ministry, 348)
“[Man’s] office it is to interpret the books of nature written by the finger of God, to unravel the universe in its marvelous patterns and symmetries, and to bring it all into orderly articulation in such a way that it fulfills its proper end as the vast theatre of glory in which the Creator is worshipped and hymned and praised by his creatures. Without man, nature is dumb, but it is man’s part to give it word: to be its mouth through which the whole universe gives voice to the glory and majesty of the living God.” (Thomas F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology, 5-6)
“But,” as James Torrance points out, “nature fails of this purpose because of the failure of man” (348). In Paul’s interpretive discourse on Genesis 3 found in Romans 1, Adam and Eve “even though they knew God, did not honor Him as God or give thanks” and “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:21-25). The main issue in the fall was a decision about worship (see Worship Notes 7.1 and my articles “The Gospel: A Call to Worldwide Worship” and “False and True Worship in Romans 1”)
James Torrance goes on to remind us that “the good news of the Gospel is that Jesus comes to be the Priest of Creation; to do for men what man fails to do, to offer to God the worship and the praise that we have failed to offer (348).
2. Genesis 4:20-21 Music’s First Mention in the Bible
“Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.”
3. Genesis 22 Abraham’s Test of Worship
While there are certainly acts (prayer, sacrifice, etc.) and attitudes (faith, praise, etc.) of worship mentioned and described previously, the first mention of the most important and prominent word for worship (histahavah) occurs here in this passage (verse 5). Significantly, this passage also contains the first use of the word “love” in the Bible (verse 2)—and speaks not of the love of a man and woman, but of a father for a son (patterned by the first love that ever existed, among Father, Son and Holy Spirit).
In a fascinating recent study (“The Aqedah (Genesis 22): What Is the Author Doing with What He Is Saying?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 55.3:489-508), Abraham Kuruvilla offers some penetrating insights into this pivotal passage. He senses a dramatic shift in Abraham’s ultimate loyalty, as he demonstrates his faith in and love for God as surpassing even that of his love for his son. Some of Kuruvilla’s points:
a. “The father-son relationship is emphasized in the account of Genesis 22: ‘father’ and/or ‘son’ is mentioned fifteen times in Gen 22:1-20 (in 22:2 [x2], 3, 6, 7 [x3], 8, 9, 10, 12 [x2], 13, 16 [x2]). The readers are never to forget the relationship. In the only conversation recorded in the Bible between Abraham and Isaac, the latter’s words begin with ‘my father’ and the former’s words end with ‘my son’ (22:7-8)—this is also Abraham’s last word before he prepares to slay Isaac (v. 3, ‘my son,’ is a single word in the Hebrew). The narrator is explicitly creating an emotional tension in the story; no matter what the typological lens with which this account is viewed, one thing is clear: a father is called to slay the son he loves.” (501)
b. “It is . . . highly significant that the first time the word ‘love’ occurs in the Bible is in this account, in 22:2. With the entry of this new word into Scripture came an implicit question: Was Abraham’s love for Isaac so strong that his allegiance to God had diminished? It appears, then, that this love of Abraham for Isaac was a crucial element in the test—it was this love that was being tested. Would Abraham be loyal to God, or would love for the human overpower love for the divine?” (501)
c. “Without even perusing the details of Abraham’s test, one can find the answer to that question of Abraham’s love when one compares the unique descriptors of Isaac. . . . There is a significant alteration, before and after the test, in how God/angel of Yahweh described Isaac.
22:2 ‘your son, your only son, the one you love’
22:12 ‘your son, your only son’ 22:16 ‘your son, your only son’
The narrative omission in 22:12 and 16 help clarify the reason for the test. The trifold description of Isaac in Gen 22:2 was to emphasize that this son, this particular one, was the one Abraham loved, with a love that potentially stood in the way of his allegiance to, and faith in, God. The subsequent deletion of the phrase, ‘the one you love,’ was clear indication that Abraham had passed the test . . . . [It was] a demonstration of love for God over and against anything that advanced a rival claim to that love.” (501-2)
d. “One element of the account that has perplexed interpreters throughout the ages is the apparent disappearance of Isaac from the Abraham stories after the mention of ‘son’ in Gen 22:16. Indeed, father and son are never shown speaking to each other again after this narrative; Isaac does not even show up in the account of Sarah’s death and burial (Genesis 23). The only mentioned ‘contact’ between father and son after the stunning incident of [Genesis 22] is at Abraham’s funeral (25:9). In fact, in the Genesis 22 account itself, it appears that Isaac, after the aborted sacrifice, has vanished. Abraham, we are told, returned from his test, apparently without Isaac: ‘So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba’ (22:19) . . . . After the test, it was as if Isaac had altogether vanished; the narrator apparently took an eraser and wiped out any mention of Isaac after the ‘sacrifice.’ But there was a purpose behind this: the author was doing something with what he was saying (in this case, with what he failed to say, creating a striking gap in the narrative, but that, too, is to ‘say’ something). No more would the account portray father and son speaking to each other or even being in one another’s presence until one of them dies (25:8-9). When one remembers that the test was actually an examination of Abraham’s loyalties—to God or to the son, ‘the one you love’— one understands what it was the author was doing in Gen 22:19: he was describing, in yet another way, Abraham’s success in this critical test. The author was depicting a line drawn; the relationship between father and son had been clarified, the tension between fear of God and love of son had been resolved. This test had shown that Abraham loved God more than anyone else. One might almost say: For Abraham so loved God that he gave his only begotten son . . . . And to bring that home to readers, father and son are separated for the rest of their days—literarily separated, that is, for the purpose of achieving the narrator’s theological agenda.” (503, 505)
So in a sense Abraham does sacrifice Isaac—in his affections, submitting them to a higher loyalty. And Moses the author skillfully reflects this orientation in literary terms, even as Abraham did in his real life in his response to this test of worship: he chose to worship God, rather than his son. Jesus’ words come to mind: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).