woensdag 15 juni 2016

An Old Testament Theology of Worship

Already several years ago Timothy M. Pierce wrote a very fine study of Old Testament worship and made in this way a substantial contribution for a better understanding of the message and theo-logy of the Old Testament. In his treatment of the material Pierce follows the way in which the synagogue has divided the Old Testament. He begins with the Pentateuch followed by the Former and Later Prophets and ending with the Writings.
After having reviewed in each chapter the relevant Old Testament material he ends with its fulfillment in the New Testament. Therefore this study is not only academic but also unashamed confessional. It makes clear that Christ, who is fully revealed in the New Testament is already¸ although in a veiled way, present in the Old Testament. Pierce rightly states that we must be careful to recognize both the continuity and discontinuity between the Old and the New Testament.
Pierce highlights that the Old Testament teaches us that real worship is not about us but about God. That remains true under the New Testament dispensation. The point of the Old Testament narratives is not so much the activities of men but the activity of God.
The way in which the Old Testament starts is very significant. It starts with God. Genesis 1, the chapter that tells us about the origin of our world, certainly has not in the last place a liturgical purpose. The Bible starts with a text designed to incite, inform and increase worship of the living God as the only Creator.
In Enthroned on Our Praise the biblical record of the fall of man is taken seriously. The fall introduced the basic struggles of humanity that impact our capacity of worship. The conversation between the woman and the snake is a conversation about God that leaves Him out of the discourse. This attitude is antithetic towards all real worship of God.
Real worship grows out of the relationship between God and man as our essential purpose. The Old Testament teaches already in Genesis 4 that since the fall no communion with God is possible without sacrifice.
The system of sacrifice must be regarded as the centre of the Pentateuch. The centre of the sacrificial system itself is the Day of Atonement. Leviticus 16, the chapter which describes the ritual of the Day of Atonement is the centre not only of the book Leviticus but also of the Pentateuch as a whole.
I fond Pierce’s treatment of the Hebrew verb kippēr (atone) highly persuasive. Pierce argues that its basic meaning is ‘to purify’. But he also shows that appeasement or propitiation of God’s anger is certainly involved in a couple of texts where the verb kippēr is used. This is  always the case when not immaterial things but persons are the object of kippēr. Although penal substitution is not the complete explanation of kippēr, it can certainly not be abandoned.
Pierce makes clear that the critic of the prophets of the cult is based on its corruption and abuses and does not imply a rejection of the cult itself. No devout worshipper of YHWH could conceive a religion void of sacrifice. The prophets proclaimed that the sacrificial system must be integrated in a righteous life.
The call of Isaiah is very important to form a right view on worship of God. Our God is a holy God. Not only the prophet Isaiah but for all of us it is necessary we personally learn that our guilt is taken away and our sin atoned for (Isa 6:7).
The Writings represent the part of the Old Testament that can most easily and directly assimilated into Christian worship. That is especially true of the Psalms. Pierce rightly says that in many forms of contemporary worship lament and sorrow is ignored. We need the Psalms to restore this aspect of biblical worship. Lament and sorrow will accompany believers till the reach the New Jerusalem. Only there only praise will remain.
The importance of the study of Pierce on worship in the Old Testament lays not the last place in the fact that it shows us the way that a proper hermeneutical method must drive theology. Against postmodern leanings Pierce demonstrates the importance of history and language to arrive at sound conclusions.
However his key presuppositions hearken back to pre-modernity, namely the complete trustworthiness of the biblical text and the divine nature of its expressions. The Scripture and divine revelation can and must be fully equated with each other. Listening to the Scripture we listen to God himself. Such listening to the Bible is possible because there is a unified message that encompasses both the Old and the New Testament.
I cannot enough express my total agreement with this stance of Pierce. When we read the Bible in this way, we also can read the Bible with the church of all ages. All endeavors to understand the Scriptures are than related to our desire to worship and glorify God with all his saints.

Timothy M. Pierce, Enthroned on Our Praise: An Old Testament Theology of Worship, NAC Studies in Bible & Theology (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2008), 319 p., price $19,99 (ISBN 9780805443844)