Worship, The False and The True

by George Spall


There is more than one way to write a history book. Back in the dawn of time it would seem that Adam began to write one on a clay tablet and so did the ten who followed him. Joseph and Moses used paper, made from papyrus reeds growing along the Nile. Today we use ball-point pens which are a far cry from the feather quills of a century ago. And of course some use typewriters and micro-dot photography to preserve what they write for posterity.

But history can also be read in the cities of the ancient world. They are like punctuation marks on the scroll of time. Some of them mark passing phases only and can be thought of as commas. Others, larger, and more important, ruined capitals of Empires, are scattered over ancient deserts, marking periods and paragraphs. The mounds of rubble and earth which now cover them have been broken open by the Archaeologists and now we can look at the ruins within. Some are pathetic and some are proud, but all of them seem now to us like commas or colons, periods or asterisks, breaking time into sentences or drawing our attention to some special section of it. And some are exclamation marks, as it were, like Rome, or question marks like the mystery cities of the Incas or the strange temples on the Plain of Jars. It is often the monumental buildings within the mounds of rubble that have made the cities and their civilizations memorable. The ancient structures are mementos of culture, and culture has generally had its roots in religion, or worship of some kind.

Today's world has more cities than ever before and it may be said that Temples and Cathedrals are less in evidence now than they used to be, and the variety of buildings that would capture the interest of future archaeologists, (assuming that this civilization will leave anything else but radio-active dust), will create great speculation. Will it ever be that our cities will be able to be identified by a restored ruin as Nineveh is known by its Palace of Sargon, Babylon by the Ziggurats, the Ishtar Gate and the Processional Way. We know Athens by its Acropolis and the Parthenon, Rome by its Colosseum and St Peters. New York has the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, London has its Westminster, Moscow has its Kremlin, Delhi The Taj Mahal. And Sydney? Well, of course, Sydney has the Opera House. We have not mentioned Jerusalem. It is difficult to think of Jerusalem without its Temple. That magnificent Shrine The Dome of the Rock somehow does not speak of worship as the Temple did, and will again in a future day. The "Dome" commemorates Mahomet and he does not seek worship for himself.

There was a time when the Kremlin in its strange Eastern and ritualistic way was meant to be a place of worship. Today its cluster of Onion shapes that crown the roof speak rather of tears wrung from millions of hearts that would worship if they could. Today, that architectural curiosity is not only a 'period', a full stop in the history of worship, it is also a question mark. Does its role as Communism's temple result because of its failure to properly represent God? Conceived as a place of worship in a bygone age, its priests and masters used to deny the right of worship to many thousands of Russia's subjects when they burned their synagogues and ruthlessly massacred or exiled their occupants. It must be realized that religion is not necessarily worship. Too often it is anything but that. Chants and chalices, perfumes and 'prayers' tend to vitiate the soul. Mitres and metered music can in fact dry up the spirit, divert the mind and pervert holy emotion so that the soul dies. When the holy passion of true worship is dissipated by the externals of dead formalism, the lower passions of humanity take over and, as happened in old Russia, persecutions of other systems of religion break out. When the love of God ceases to be fed by reading about and meditating on His love, and its proof in God's own Self-giving to us, religion quickly become bigotry, and bigotry becomes cruelty, and God hates cruelty.

For this reason He punished Assyria by Babylon, and Babylon by Persia and Persia by Greece, and so on down the ages till Nazi Germany learned the same lesson in a degrading and devastating defeat. All these nations and empires had religion and purported to worship gods of a kind. Some even claimed to be Christian, but no nation has ever been that. There may have been periods when men who in their private lives were truly Christian were in positions of leadership in these countries and have helped keep up the moral and spiritual standards – but being a Christian is a matter of a deep personal relationship with God. Being a Christian results from a life-changing experience in which one's very nature is renewed. It cannot be said that any nation is composed of a majority of such people, no matter what façade they use. Britain is not! Australia is not! Reciting the Lord's prayer at the opening of Parliament may sound good, but it does not make the Parliament or its citizens "Christian".

Worship and behaviour are related. What a man believes affects his behaviour. This is why proud nations of old came under the judgement of the Eternal, not just because He was displeased with their forms of worship merely, but that these forms of worship were productive of greed and violence, lust and rapacity.


The sole reason for worship surely ought to be that it pleases God. Small wonder then if the Eternal showed displeasure when on His Own Altars, in His Own Temple, in which He had placed His Name, His Own people, called by His Name, should offer worship in a way which was unacceptable. The whole history of Israel is proof of the truth of this thesis. Both the devastations of Jerusalem happened for this very reason. T'isha B'Av recalls this fact every year.

Israel in those days knew about God's judgements because they had been living for centuries in the geographic areas where the ruins of Nineveh and Babylon stood. Their own Jewish prophets foretold the doom of these Gentile powers because they were worshipping false gods and were behaving consistently with that false worship. These same Jewish prophets predicted that a similar result for the people of Israel would follow the same cause, even though it was God's own people who were the offenders.

What is worship? What does the word mean? It is the abbreviation, made some six centuries ago, of the word 'worthy-ship'. To say that you worship is to say that the one you worship is worthy of adulation, adoration acclamation. He is worthy of obeisance and obedience, especially obedience. When the Lord God has left clear instruction as to how He is to be worshipped, it is surely folly to try to worship in your own way. This is what makes the difference between true and false worship.


Worship is false if the right words are spoken and the right offerings made and the right obedience is rendered to the wrong gods. This is what the prophet Jeremiah complained about and for what Israel was dispersed, first to Assyria and then to Babylon.

Worship is false, doubly false, when the wrong gods are worshipped for good reasons, such as desiring to assure good seasons, fertility and so on. The wrong gods cannot grant such requests.

Worship is false when the true God is worshipped in the wrong manner. Cain tried this with dire consequences. God appointed a way by which Cain and Abel might approach Him. It was the way of sacrifice. Cain's refusal to offer a sacrifice involving the death of an innocent victim, and insisting on offering the results of his own hard work as a farmer surely tells the story truly. God has a way of approach, and there is no other. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob obviously understood God's command and obeyed, for they offered sacrifices involving the shedding of blood.

The whole system of worship carried on in Solomon's Temple was properly carried out as Moses and Aaron had first pursued it in the original Tent of the Congregation. While this worship was true, and truly directed to the God of Creation through properly-ordained priests, there was an obvious evidence of God's pleasure in their worship. A Pillar of Cloud suffused with light rose from above the Altar in the Holy of Holies. The shining Pillar of Cloud had also been in the Tent of Meeting in Moses' day. And when Solomon's Temple was completed and dedicated, this Shekinah glory as it is called was seen to transfer to the Holy of Holies (I Kings 8:11). It stayed there until Israel's worship became unacceptable. This was a time of false worship.

At times proper forms of worship were followed by God's people -- the right priests, and the right modes of sacrifices -- but when other gods were included it was false worship and the Lord declared: "This people draws near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me" . The greatest Jewish exponent of Jewish Law put it like this, "God is Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth". That is the kernel of it. The heart must be right. It is not good enough for the heart to be sincere. One can be sincerely wrong.

There can be no better way to understand the issue properly than to let another great Jewish writer show us the way. What he taught can be read and studied in the New Testament in the Letter to the Hebrews. Whilst this treatise was written especially to Jewish people it is of interest to Gentile Christians. There are an increasing number of Jews in the world who are coming to appreciate this book. It has led them on to true worship which has enabled them to render obeisance and obedience to the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob.

One of the sad accounts in Scripture is that of Ezekiel's when he describes the departure of the Shekinah glory in the days of Israel's spiritual decline. Much sorrow has followed Israel since then, but Ezekiel also assures us of a wonderful day to come. Let us read both passages. "And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain which is on the east side of the city (Mount of Olives)" (Ezekiel 11:23). "And behold the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east; and his voice like a noise of many waters; and the earth shined with his glory ... " (Ezekiel 43:2). This former verse quoted is now history. It happened when Babylon took the city of God. The second passage, even yet prophecy, will become history, almost certainly in the life time of this generation.


Ezekiel is not alone in his prediction about the worship of the Lord of Hosts on the earth in a future day. Zechariah says: "And the Lord shall be king over all the earth; IN THAT DAY shall there be one Lord and His name one." ... "And it shall come to pass that every one that is left of all the nations which came up against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles." (Zechariah 14:9,16) But it must be realized that this follows what Zechariah had written in chapter 12, verse 9. "And it shall come to pass IN THAT DAY (a phrase used more than 70 times of 'the latter days') that I will seek to destroy all nations that come up against Jerusalem, and I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications, and they shall look unto Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him as one is in bitterness for his firstborn."

It is interesting that the prophet goes on in chapter 13 to say, "IN THAT DAY there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and uncleanness." The thought is, not that a fountain unopened before will become a fountain 'in that day', but rather that as a window or door is opened because it is already there, and is opened to guests when necessary, so will this fountain be opened to the house of Israel 'in that day'.

In that day Israel will lead the nations of the world to worship the Lord of Hosts. Zechariah says: "IN THAT DAY it shall come to pass that ten men out of all languages of the nations shall take hold of the garment of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you." (Zechariah 8:23)