Christianity 201

March 18, 2014

Things That Hinder Worship and Service

Genesis 35: 1-15

Genesis 35 4Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”

So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem. Then they set out, and the terror of God fell on the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.

The word Bethel means house of God, and verse 15 of this same passage tells us,

Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel.

Bethel is the place where God meets us, and hopefully the modern application of house of God is also a place where God meets with you each time you are there.

Many times however we see Genesis 35 in this context, and miss what’s going on in the first five verses, especially verse two. Today’s title is taken from the Reformation Study Bible which comments on this passage:

Repentance involves renouncing whatever hinders or tarnishes the worship and service of God. The covenant’s primary requirement is exclusive allegiance to the Lord.

What the Jewish people call The Ten Statements in Exodus 20 reminds us

“You shall have no other gods before me.

Matthew Henry — available in the Show Resources tab on — is particularly helpful on this passage:

Before solemn ordinances, there must be solemn preparation. Wash you, make you clean, and then come, and let us reason together, Isa. 1:16-18.   Masters of families should use their authority for the promoting of religion in their families. Not only we, but our houses also, should serve the Lord, Josh. 24:15.

He then asks what you might be asking: What strange Gods were present within his family?

They must put away the strange gods. Strange gods in Jacob’s family! Strange things indeed! Could such a family, that was taught the good knowledge of the Lord, admit them? … In those families where there is a face of religion, and an altar to God, yet many times there is much amiss, and more strange gods than one would suspect. In Jacob’s family, Rachel had her teraphim, which, it is to be feared, she secretly made some superstitious use of. The captives of Shechem brought their gods along with them, and perhaps Jacob’s sons took some with the plunder. However they came by them, now they must put them away.  (emphasis added)(link to Wikipedia added)

And then he gets to the second verse, our key verse:

They must be clean, and change their garments; they must observe a due decorum, and make the best appearance they could. Simeon and Levi had their hands full of blood, it concerned them particularly to wash, and to put off their garments that were so stained. These were but ceremonies, signifying the purification and change of the heart. What are clean clothes, and new clothes, without a clean heart, and a new heart?

Verse three foreshadows the rest of the passage, and then in verse four the act of repentance takes place:

His family surrendered all they had that was idolatrous or superstitious, Gen. 35:4. Perhaps, if Jacob had called for them sooner, they would sooner have parted with them, being convicted by their own consciences of the vanity of them. Note, Sometimes attempts for reformation succeed better than one could have expected, and people are not so obstinate against them as we feared. Jacob’s servants, and even the retainers of his family, gave him all the strange gods, and the ear-rings they wore, either as charms or to the honour of their gods; they parted with all. Note, Reformation is not sincere if it be not universal. We hope they parted with them cheerfully, and without reluctance, as Ephraim did, when he said, What have I to do any more with idols? (Hos. 14:8), or that people that said to their idols, Get you hence, Isa. 30:22.

And those things which hinder their pursuit of God are buried:

Jacob took care to bury their images, we may suppose in some place unknown to them, that they might not afterwards find them and return to them. Note, We must be wholly separated from our sins, as we are from those that are dead and buried out of our sight, cast them to the moles and the bats, Isa. 2:20.

I loved that final verse he references. There are places in your attic perhaps only known to bats, and places deep in your basement only known to moles. That’s how far we are to remove these attachments from ourselves. Here is the verse in full:

20 In that day people will throw away
to the moles and bats
their idols of silver and idols of gold,
which they made to worship.

Do you have anything you need to get rid of? It may not be something you wear, it might be something as simple as a bookmark in your computer, or indulging in a weekly trip to the cinema or a Netflix movie. It could just be a very small thing that is somehow reminiscent of something God would like you to be free of.

Verse 4 (NKJV) indicates earrings. Could something that small be a hindrance to worship in your life?

August 19, 2011

Cleansing from Impurity Necessary to Relationship with God

My wife has been reading the book Enthroned On Our Praise (An Old Testament Theology of Worship), by Timothy M. Pierce and a few times I’ve peeked inside myself.  I asked her if there was a particular section she’d like to share with Christianity 201 readers and she chose this one:


“The literary ordering of the book of Leviticus seems strange at first.  After chapter 10 recounts the story of Nadab and Abihu, the book lists a number of things related to impurity.  Instructions about the Day of Atonement follow, beginning with the story of Aaron’s sons.  Subsequently, the laws concerning holiness are outlined.  This structure serves a twofold purpose, revealing the importance of the cleanliness of the priest in making offerings and the necessity of atonement before holiness as a way of life can be achieved.

For the Christian, the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer (1 Peter 2:5-9) adds an important element of comparison to the priestly requirements of the OT.  That is, the greater message from the Leviticus passage is that the requirements of purity for the high priest also serve as requirements for each priest in the kingdom of God.  If there were no other theological relevance to this passage, it would be worth exegeting.

The fact that every part of the sanctuary had to be atoned for – both the mercy seat inside and the altar outside – reveals the need for purity before God.  So do the multiple washings that the different individuals had to endure in meeting God’s requirements for purity.  Likewise, the shedding of the blood of four innocent animals, the sending away of the live goat, and the strictures against doing any labour are all part of the recognition of the seriousness with which Yahweh takes sin and the necessity that His holiness creates for His people to separate themselves from sin’s presence.

To underestimate the influence sin has on God’s relationship with His people is to live in direct conflict with the concerns He revealed through the institution of this important day (the Day of Atonement).  Sin corrupts everything and requires a serious appraisal of its impact on worship.  It is striking how quickly individuals and congregations today enter into a worship event without first considering the effect their sinful lives have on their ability to worship.  Indeed, in many evangelical churches it seems that along with the invitation at the end, there should also be an invitation to prepare oneself for worship at the beginning (see Matt 5:23,24; 1 John 1:5-10).

… Indeed, it would be interesting to see the effect on the lives of Christians if they started viewing their salvation as a cleansing from impurity instead of only focusing on an escape from punishment.”

Timothy M. Pierce

February 10, 2011

Don’t Let My Love Grow Cold

Sometimes the fire in our heart seems to die down to nothing more than glowing embers.  Sin has done its work, guilt has doused the flame, fear has driven us away, love has grown cold.  We want to light the fire again, but we are guilt-ridden and afraid.

It happened to King David.  He had sinned with Bathsheba.  He tried to cover it up, justify it, forget about it. But finally he found himself cornered by unconfessed sin.  A kind of claustrophobia made peace of mind impossible.  The inner fire of spiritual passion no longer burned.  Lacking the fresh wind of God’s breath, the fire in his heart was no more than a glowing coal. Only when confronted by Nathan the prophet did David come to terms with his sin. The king confessed his sin and pled with the Lord to rekindle his heart. The Lord heard him and lit his fire again.  And the dying embers that had been doused by sin were reignited.

Are you wretched, poor, and naked?  Has sin doused the flame of God’s love in your heart? Do as King David did, for the remedy is the same. Confess your sin to God and ask Him to breathe new passion for Him into your heart.  Ask him to light the fire again.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. ~Psalm 51:10-12 NIV

from My Heart for His Glory; Thomas Nelson 2002; devotion for July 2nd