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Winter Quarter: Honoring God
Sunday school lesson for the week of December 1, 2019
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Lesson Scripture: I Chronicles 15:1-3, 14-16, 25-29a
Key Verse: I Chronicles 15:28
“And all Israel brought up the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, with shouts and the sounding of rams’ horns, and trumpets and of cymbals and the playing of lyres and harps.”
Aim and Goal of the Lesson
To learn the importance of the sacred in life, and the value of worship in our personal life and the life of a culture.
Historical, Geographical, Theological, and Experiential Background for I Chronicles 15
Many biblical historians believe the books of the Chronicles were the last written documents in the Old Testament. Most likely they were started by the scribe Ezra and completed by an unknown author. Ezra is remembered for the reforms he brought to the returning exiles from Babylon as Israel sought to restore its spiritual life and keep covenant with God. Scholars refer to the author of Chronicles most simply as “The Chronicler.” Why was Chronicles written when the material covers events also found in I and II Samuel and the Kings? The title of Chronicles in the Greek translation, The Septuagint, offers an enlightening hint. The title can be translated “Things that were passed over.” Chronicles is written in a different age than I and II Samuel and the Kings. There were events and circumstances that were omitted from earlier writings that now have become important to the returning exiles. The years between the closing of the Old Testament and the opening of the New Testament era are often called, “The 400 years of silence.” It is almost as if the Chronicler intends to remind Israel as they leave exile to carry into their new future a willingness to keep covenant and a desire to recognize and embrace the sacred in life.
Another title for the Chronicles is “The Chronicles of the Kings.” Thus, our first lesson in this unit begins in the reign of King David. This lesson covers the period of David’s reign from approximately 1010 to 970 B.C. David had captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites. This beautiful mount was not only aesthetically beautiful, it possessed underwater streams and allowed Israel to spy approaching enemies for miles around. Read Psalm 48 to gain a rich sense of how precious this mount was to Israel. The temple mount, which will be used by Solomon to construct the first temple, will prove sacred for another special reason. It was believed this was the site where Abraham offered Isaac to God. It will also become sacred to Islam as the place where Mohammed is believed to have ascended into heaven. Thus, ownership of the Temple Mount is a major issue in Israel. Today an Islamic mosque stands atop the mount, and the Wailing Wall is at its foundation. David’s vision recognized this was indeed a spiritually significant place for Israel’s worship of God, and a beneficial military site. Here he would build Israel’s capital city, Jerusalem, atop Mt. Zion.
An article of furniture from the day of Moses, and one that occupied a special place in the tabernacle, is central to our lesson. But it is not just any article; it is the sacred Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was claimed in Exodus to contain the tablets of the Ten Commandments, and in other texts in the Hebrew Bible it also contained Aaron’s rod and a pot of manna.
David has now prepared Jerusalem as his capital and is now preparing to bring the Ark of the Covenant into the city. The Ark ties the city to Israel’s sacred history dating back to the Exodus and Moses. It also establishes Jerusalem as a spiritual capital as much as a political capital. In I Samuel 7 we read that David had previously attempted to move the ark from the house of Abinidab into Jerusalem. The Ark was placed on an ox-drawn cart. One of the oxen stumbled and the Ark began to slide from the cart. A man named Uzzah attempted to steady the Ark with his hand and immediately fell dead. This event added an even greater sense of the sacred and mysterious to the Ark and created a problem for David. He had to ask himself, “How can I move the Ark safely into the city without violating its sacred significance?”
Historical, Theological and Experiential Reflection on I Chronicles 15
I Chronicles 15:1-3, 14-16
In order to handle the Ark with holy hands and ensure its sacred meaning to Israel, David prepared a place. The Ark would sit upon the site and be covered with a protective tent. Though the tabernacle is not in Jerusalem, the site of the Ark would maintain the same spiritual stature as the “Holy Place” in the tabernacle. Places are important to spirituality in biblical history and in our own spiritual lives. The Old Testament describes a multitude of holy sites and sacred places that endured even into the New Testament era and beyond. Even Jesus chose holy sites where God would commune with humanity, and humanity would remember God was in our midst. The Mount of Transfiguration is one such holy site to Christians. Atop this mount, Jesus, Elijah, and Moses appeared transfigured to Peter, James, and John. (Mark 9: 2) We no longer know the exact site of this mount though some believe it was Mt. Hermon. When I visited Mt. Hermon I noticed that this was also the spot where the waters of the Jordon River began their descent through all of Israel into the Dead Sea. The water gushes from near the base of Mt. Hermon. Though we are unsure if this is the holy site of the transfiguration, it still served as a beautiful metaphor. The Jordon is the life-source of Israel, flowing through its heart, feeding the Sea of Galilee. Without the Jordon, Israel could not have existed. If the transfiguration occurred on Mt. Hermon, the spiritual life Jesus gave to the world rushes forth in power, feeding the world with the knowledge of God’s redemptive love.
Jesus also chose Gethsemane as his sacred place of prayer. Gethsemane is an olive orchard. The olive tree could be hewn down and would regrow. Sprouts of life would spring from its stump. As Jesus prayerfully contemplated his approaching suffering and death, he chose this olive orchard. Perhaps he did so because it helped assure him of the resurrection and eternal life. We can only imagine or guess. However, all of us need sacred places that speak to us of God’s presence and promises. It is for this reason that we have historically peppered the American landscape with churches and other Christian symbols. They serve as reminders of the sacred. David was going to rule from Jerusalem with a holy, sacred symbol in the heart of the city. The Ark would remind David that ultimately God was king, and as king, God loved his people and his creation. Images of the New Creation envisioned by Isaiah in the Old Testament and John in the New Testament offer a picture of all streaming into the New Jerusalem, with God’s ultimate justice and love ruling the world. (Isa. 9:7, Isa. 11, Rev. 21: 1-4)
What places are spiritually significant to you, and why? Why do you think we need such places and other symbols in our relationship with God?
David also made sacred preparation for the handling of the Ark. Only the Levites would carry the Ark. No other hand was to touch it after what happened to Uzzah. The Levites were to handle the Ark as specified in Exodus 25. Though the love and redemption of God is offered to all, historically certain people have been consecrated to handle the sacred. The priest and Levites would minister before the Lord on behalf of the people in Israel. From the beginning, consecration had little to do with anyone meriting the status. After all, who is holy enough to handle the things of God? God chose according to the divine will and we were to honor it. Though a person could not earn such a holy position in life, they were expected to live as one befitting such a responsibility. In the story of Samuel we read of Eli’s sons ministering as wicked priests of God. They were still priest by consecration. However, they bore the consequences of their behavior and the suffering they brought upon others. Churches historically possess a consecrated or ordained group of individuals to perform sacred responsibilities. For example, in most churches, an ordained clergy prepares, prays over, and distributes the bread and cup of Holy Communion. These chosen orders were not intended to create a group of individuals more important than others. The orders were created to ensure the sacred in life would always be handled with the holiness and sacredness due them. Consecrated or ordained individuals like those chosen by God in scripture do not earn the position. They are chosen or “called.” Again, accompanying such callings is the responsibility to live a life that values and embraces the sacred. The Levites consecrated themselves in preparation to bring the Ark to Jerusalem according to Exodus 19 and 29 and Numbers 8. This holy act of consecration was not done on the failed attempt to transport the Ark in which Uzzah died. However, they have now followed the ritual of purification and have set themselves apart. In verse 15 the Levites have followed the sacred requirements to transport the Ark. The poles slide through the rings, allowing the Levites to hoist the Ark without touching it with their hands. In the Old Testament era, Israel believed in the distinction between the eternal and the temporal, the divine and human. One did not touch the holy without invitation to do so. Violating this sacred division resulted in disastrous consequences, as they did with Uzzah.
Do you notice the distinction between the ordained, or consecrated, and laity? How do their responsibilities differ, and why are they different? What responsibilities in worship belong solely to the ordained and consecrated? What is required in the church to become ordained? Is a sense of “being called” important in your church? What do you think it means to be called?
Prior to the consecration, David assembled all of Israel in Jerusalem to receive the Ark into the capital. It was not just their king who would recognize the presence of God in their midst. All of Israel would recognize God was present in the city through the presence of the Ark of the Covenant. There is always spiritual power in gathering together to worship the living Lord, to acknowledge his presence. When King Josiah rediscovered a copy of the Law in the temple treasury he called for a solemn assembly. The nation heard the Law read aloud and according to the narrative “pledged themselves” to live in covenant and obey the Lord. (II Kings 23) There is spiritual power in a community gathered! Jesus said, “Where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am with them.” (Mat. 18: 20) As David sets up the Kingdom of Israel he understands their spiritual power is in their togetherness, and their obedience to God. A great dynamic in obeying God was the worship of God. In Israel the two went together. Though Psalm 95 does not mention its author, many attribute it to David. We can hear him in this Psalm and others emphasize the importance of worship. In Psalm 95:6 he writes, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our maker.” Notice the use of the plural “us.” It isn’t just David who is going to worship the Lord, it is the entire nation!
What do you think it is about corporate worship that is empowering? What is it you most miss when unable to attend public worship?
The place, priests, and people have all been prepared to worship the Lord. Preparation does not remove spontaneity from worship, but a lack of preparation can result in a neglect of meaning and purpose.
Being unprepared can also result in “disjointed” worship. Meaningful worship possesses a powerful flow and continuity. David made certain there was preparation for every facet of worship. After all, they were worshipping the God of creation, the Exodus, the Promised Land, and the Covenant! It is easy to quickly read of David’s preparation without considering the amount of time and energy he invested. There had to be hours of thought, there had to be meetings in which David consulted with all involved, and there had to be great attention given to detail.
Have you personally considered the planning and preparation in which your church engages to make worship possible? How does your church bulletin or program reflect order, flow, and purpose? Do you pray regularly for those involved in this all-important task?
For centuries, music has proved to be a vital facet of our worship experience. Few dynamics can move us as deeply as music. David wants the worship of the Lord to be festive and joyful. The Levites are given the responsibility of appointing musicians. God has blessed certain individuals with the gifts related to music. In our narrative there is particular attention paid to the instrumental facet of worship. Jerusalem will be filled with the sound of music declaring praise unto God! Every Sunday, churches are filled with gifted individuals who enhance our worship experience. From the festive playing to the more meditational and contemplative music, we are spiritually enlivened as we participate through listening, playing or singing. One of my favorite quotes about music is from Sidney Lanier, “Music is love looking for a word.” Music has found its “word” in the eternal Logos in John 1. Christ can be experienced in music. The narrative mentions others appointed to various tasks in providing and conducting worship. In the worship experience so many gifts and graces come together: the musical gifts, the spoken word, and silence. These are not an end in themselves, but rather serve as the instruments that allow us to experience God’s presence physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Can you recall an experience in which you were deeply, spiritually moved through music in worship? Can you recall what emotions you often feel in relation to music in worship? How does music empower your church and its worship?
I Chronicles 15: 25-26
Now the preparation is complete and it is time to transport the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. This is such an important moment that David uses people in important positions to ensure the journey is sacred and successful. Elders of Israel, army commanders, and the Levites form a large host accompanying the Ark from the home of Obed-Edom to Jerusalem. The Ark has been housed there for three months following Uzzah’s death. Now it is being moved to its permanent home in Jerusalem. As the Ark is placed in its sacred site there is now an opportunity to express thanksgiving and joy. Sacrifices are offered of seven bulls and seven rams. Many often speak of worship on Sundays as “a time to become refreshed.” It is certainly that! However, we bring something every Sunday into worship. There have certainly been trials during the week, but there has also been life and blessing. We bring thankful hearts. “I will enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!” (Psalm 100) Before entering worship, try making a list of all God’s blessings that have been especially noticed over the last weeks and days. Then, enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise!
Do you believe people perceive worship more as a time to receive something and rarely as a time to give of themselves? Why? In what ways is sacrifice a part of your corporate worship experience?
I Chronicles 15:27
The author wants Israel to remember the dress of those leading worship. The garments are priestly garments and garments worn for worship. However, particular attention should be paid to David’s choice of dress. He is not dressing as a political king or military ruler. He is dressing in the garments of a priest. Thus, he is proclaiming to all of Israel that God is king and David is his chosen instrument to lead the people in obedience to and love of God! In the Old Testament era, dress was a statement about one’s role, status, and calling in life. Dress set certain individuals apart. Today that custom continues in segments of the Israeli population. When I visited the Wailing Wall to pray, I was required to cover my head. I could quickly identify the Hassidic Jews by their dress. Even when I visited Scotland I learned the clergy had their own plaid to identify them. For many years, and even today, many pastors wear robes with liturgical stoles. Our choirs also often dress in robes. Today dress for worship is in transition. Still, we can appreciate the significance of dress in the biblical era. Dress for bringing the Ark to Jerusalem was godly, priestly, and festive! Music touched the sense of hearing for Israel, now dress is touching the sense of sight. The fragrance of sacrifice will also fill the air. Worship would involve the whole person, and touch them in every manner possible.
Does your church use liturgical robes and stoles for worship? Is it helpful for you to witness the color and style of liturgical vestments and stoles? In what manner? What is it you like about liturgical dressing for worship?
I Chronicles 15: 28-29
The author uses these verses to remind us that all of Jerusalem was receiving the Ark. The sounds of praise filled the air to the extent that everyone heard them and gave them their attention. This is a memorable moment, and a high moment of worship. Saul’s daughter, Michal, also hears the sacred parade. She is David’s wife but has chosen to be a spectator rather than a joyful participant. Her father, King Saul, treated the Ark with apathy, and his daughter does the same. She gazes out her window and sees David dancing. What a stark contrast to her apathetic behavior! Worship services always contain participants and observers. The participant always leaves with greater spiritual vitality. They anticipate what God is going to say to them
, and do in them
during worship. The observer usually anticipates only the end of the service. People attend worship in an apathetic spirit for different reasons and we should refrain from judging. However, we should always prepare and do all in power to make worship a captivating experience that draws the attendee into the service. Prepare, prepare, prepare!
But, participation is also the responsibility of the one attending. Use the sights and sounds of worship to leave the world outside. Use the silence for contemplation and prayer. Use the ritual and singing to participate as fully as possible. Most of all, use your ears to listen for God’s message for the world, the church, and for you.
What helps you most to participate in worship? What temptations can make it difficult to participate and simply become an observer? What are the facets of worship in which you participate that most enliven you?
Advent season is upon us. This is always one of the most embraced seasons for worship, along with Lent and Easter. People do return to worship during this season because on some spiritual level for them it is important. Most churches and leaders invest great energy preparing to worship God, and to sacrifice in gratitude for the gift of Jesus. Advent offers its own fragrances of evergreen and festive aromas, the sounds of carols and hymns, and even the taste of special cookies and cakes. Worship allows us to focus all of these senses on God and his goodness. If we do not focus on God, the secular will steal the beauty and meaning of Advent. Seek to employ all of the senses in worship that people can participate fully. This is a sacred moment in a secularized world and culture. This moment can be both memorable and transformative.
Almighty God, we worship you as Lord and King. We seek to experience your presence in worship and all of life. Help us to commit our energy and focus to you in worship, that we might be empowered and enlightened. May our participation in worship lead to our participation in spreading the gospel to the world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.