In their worship, the people of Israel were not honouring God. But how should we worship him? Here are four guidelines. First, we honour God by celebrating his great attributes, actions and aims. His attributes are his characteristics such as the omnis of God: omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience. There are also other attributes such as his love, justice, mercy and holiness. His actions are all found within his providence which is being worked out continually, and his aims are revealed to us in the Bible. Worship is not about us, and only involves us as we are the recipients of his attributes in action as well as his aims for us.
Second, there are three ways in which God can be worshipped: we can worship him for his exalted state as the Trinity of divine Persons; we can worship him as the Creator; and we can worship as the Saviour. Because the Israelites forgot what God had done for them, they failed to honour him, and so were bored in their times of worship. If that is where we are, what we need is a fresh glimpse of the greatness and the grace of God.
Third, as we think of this sad situation in a people who had known the Lord’s restoring grace in recent years, we realise that what matters is the state of the heart. Past recovery from a period of divine chastisement, which was what had happened to Israel, is no guarantee that our hearts will remain constant and warm towards the Lord, even although the restored rituals may be continuing. The fact is that, when we worship, the Lord looks on our hearts.
Fourth, we should remember that despite the failings of some, the Lord would not be without worship: ‘For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts’ (Mal. 1:11). It is possible that this refers to the groups of Jews who had not returned to Palestine but who continued their form of worship in synagogues where they lived throughout the world. Yet it is more likely that it refers to the ingathering of the Gentiles once the gospel of Jesus would be brought to them. I suppose the conversion between Jesus and the woman of Samaria is an application of or commentary on this verse. The day was yet to come when worship would not be connected to a particular place nor require certain rituals. Instead people all over the world would worship God from their hearts.
Since this prophecy in verse 11 concerns ourselves, and indeed we are a fulfilment of it, we should ask ourselves what our worship should be like. So we will look at some details of it tomorrow.