Relevant Verses: Nehemiah 12
Leading question: In an age when music is a very divisive issue in the church, how can the worship music described in Scripture help us unify our church worship today?
Since Nehemiah 12:44-47 is central to this lesson on worship, it is printed below for ease of reference:
44 On that day men were appointed over the chambers for the stores, the contributions, the first fruits, and the tithes, to gather into them the portions required by the law for the priests and for the Levites from the fields belonging to the towns; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and the Levites who ministered. 45 They performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did the singers and the gatekeepers, according to the command of David and his son Solomon. 46 For in the days of David and Asaph long ago there was a leader of the singers, and there were songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. 47 In the days of Zerubbabel and in the days of Nehemiah all Israel gave the daily portions for the singers and the gatekeepers. They set apart that which was for the Levites; and the Levites set apart that which was for the descendants of Aaron. (NRSV)
After the cross, these are the major “worship” elements that are no longer relevant to us and all of them shaped by the events recorded in the New Testament:
- No sanctuary/temple
- No animal sacrifices
- No priests or Levites
- No purification rites
Question: Historically, how did these changes play out?
- No degrees of holiness in approaching God. All have access through Jesus.
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 1 John 1:1-4, NRSV
- Jesus’ sacrifice brought all animal sacrifice to an end.
- Jesus declared all things to be clean (Mark 7; Romans 14)
- No hierarchical worship leaders (priests and Levites)
25 “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25 – 28, NRSV)
Question: What’s left of Nehemiah 12 that we can apply to our day? Salaried musicians!
Question: What issues are not addressed? The style of music.
Question: Could we go so far as to say that the “fruit” of the music is the final test: Does it bring me to God? Does it make me more faithful in my relationships with others?
Comment on animal sacrifice. While Jesus seems to have supported the Jewish sacrificial system, these Old Testament passages suggest that animal sacrifice was not God’s original plan:
Jeremiah 6:20 (ESV): “What do I care about incense from Sheba or sweet calamus from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable; your sacrifices do not please me.”
Jeremiah 7:22 (ESV): “For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Psalm 50:9-13 (NIV): “I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?”
Isaiah 1:11-13 (NIV): “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations – I cannot bear your evil assemblies.”
Micah 6:6-8 (GNT): “What shall I bring to the Lord, the God of heaven, when I come to worship him? Shall I bring the best calves to burn as offerings to him? 7 Will the Lord be pleased if I bring him thousands of sheep or endless streams of olive oil? Shall I offer him my first-born child to pay for my sins? 8 No, the Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.”
A Key Turning Point? When God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22), the fact that Abraham complied immediately without objection, implies that not just sacrifice, but child sacrifice was universally accepted as the ultimate gift to the “gods.” But the principle of God supplying the sacrifice may also have taken its starting point in this narrative when God pointed to the ram caught in the thicket as the “substitute” for Isaac.
The ultimate fulfillment of that principle can be seen when Christ died on the cross – thus providing the sacrifice for all of us, but at the same time bringing all sacrifice forever to an end.