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Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Worship of David

So my quest through 1 Chronicles continues.  It's going slower because I'm engaged in another study right now and am only squeezing in about a chapter a week.  But the pace of the book itself generally picked up after moving out of the opening genealogies in chapters 1-11 and into the reign of David.  But then it ground into intricate and difficult territory again.

See, with a few notable exceptions, the Chronicler uses 1 Chronicles 12-21 to mirror the account of David's reign in 2 Samuel.  But while 2 Samuel ends with the sin of David's census and the punishment that followed it, the Chronicler uses that episode as a hinge into a long account (chs. 22-29) of how David made preparations for the temple that Solomon would build on the very spot where David's offering stopped the plague.  (Incidentally, this was also the spot where God provided Abraham with the sacrificial substitute for his son Isaac.)

The bulk of this third and final section of 1 Chronicles, specifically chapters 23-27, is back to the kind of material that we find in the genealogies—tedious and confusing (though less of the latter).  There is great detail about which families were engaged in temple service, who the contemporary heads of the families were, in what order they served, and what exactly they did.  But this section also portrays a different David than we see elsewhere—not the valiant warrior, the persecuted outlaw, the ardent lover (of women physically and of men emotionally), the revered monarch, or the passionate mystic.  This David is the consummate organizer, one of the roles we are used to seeing his son Solomon play.

But while Solomon applied his organizational talent to the civic life of the nation, we find that David invested it in Israel's religious life.  After the conquest and settlement of Canaan, some priests worked at various local "high places," but there was no organization and no central place of worship.  The Levites, who had been completely centered around transporting the mobile tabernacle, lost their jobs almost entirely when the tabernacle stopped moving.  In these chapters of 1 Chronicles David institutes a massive reform of the nation's religious life, assigning specific roles and responsibilities to priests and Levites, organizing their activity, and bringing the worship of Yahweh a long step closer to complete centralization.

Though this is a "different David" than the one we might be used to, we could learn a lesson by not pressing the difference too far.  David was a worshiper in his bones.  Both the emotion and individuality of his psalms and the nitty-gritty details of his Levitical reorganization are genuine expressions of his worshiping identity (though very different ones).

Many of us, either personally or just culturally, have emerged from an era in which worship was assumed to be a ritual produced by careful organization.  Significant resources (time, money, people, skill, and thought) of the worshiping community were bent toward making an event happen on Sunday morning with mostly inflexible and meticulously prescribed steps.  And if the worshiping community that gathered for that event successfully followed those steps—prelude? check; choral introit? check . . . —then everyone could go home satisfied that worship had taken place.

In the Jesus Movement of the 1970s a new concept of worship emerged that was radically different.  Even if the community was gathered, worship was believed to be deeply individual.  Ideal worship was spontaneous (even if over time what had once been spontaneous imperceptibly became routine).  And worship wasn't about the steps the group took but the intensity of emotion one experienced in the presence of God.

These starkly contrasting understandings of worship clashed for decades (in many places even now) in what came to be called "the worship wars."  All most people could see most of the time were two different styles of music and their respective corpuses of songs.  But the music was just the expression of a more basic clash between two different ideas of what worship is.  These two concepts of worship have appeared in many places and times throughout Christian history, not infrequently clashing as in America in the last few decades.  Each keeps arising not because one is of God and the other is the devil's repeated attack on the church.  They keep arising because they are both biblical.  One is the worship of the David of 1 Chronicles.  The other is of the David of the Psalms.

It is essential that we recognize that these two different concepts of worship came from the same David.  It was the same David who worshiped God by painstakingly organizing which clan of Levites sang on which week of the year and who also composed the embarrassingly personal songs that those Levites sang.  Despite how most people today are inclined to see these concepts of worship as an either-or, they are a both-and.

As I stated previously, many people today are emerging or have emerged from a culture of worship that seemed to be nothing more than a ritual checklist that a person could sleepwalk through and not know the difference (and unfortunately many still do).  These people believe they have been liberated from captivity and don't want to go back, so they are suspicious and defensive toward anything that smacks of ritual, considering it to be spiritually inferior.  Though their sentiment is understandable, they must remember the example of David.  The world has never seen a worshiper as Spirit-filled, wholehearted, and genuine as he, but he was keenly concerned with liturgy and structure.  He could even be called a traditionalist, because the purpose of his innovations was to sustain the tradition of the Exodus in the new setting of a settled nation.  It is also worth noting that the most avant-garde worship leaders today are those who were baptized into "contemporary" worship style and who have begun blending it with such ancient rituals as the Christian Year, the Stations of the Cross, and prayer candles, because they sensed that the worship they had been leading was missing something.

David is the quintessential worshiper both in the passionate intimacy of his psalms and in the liturgical exactitude of his reforms.  Would that each and all of us worshiped like David.

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