Worship is Response to God
1 Chronicles 15:1–16; Isaiah 6:1–4
Samuel Lesson #134
May 29, 2018
“Father, it’s a wonderful time we have that we can enjoy fellowship, communion with You around Your Word, learning to think as You think, learning to worship You, learning who You are and learning who we are. And Father, that You have made it possible for us fallen, sinful creatures to worship You, to be adopted into Your family, to have eternal life, Father, is just beyond anything that we can imagine. And Father, we are so grateful for our eternal salvation, and all the grace blessings that you have given to us in this Church Age.
“Father, we pray that you would help us to understand the things that the Scripture teaches and that they might change, transform, and deepen our understanding of who You are so that our relationship, our walk with You, would be even more robust. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
In terms of review as we’re studying worship coming out of our study of 2 Samuel 7 with the movement of the Ark into Jerusalem and going to the background that’s given in more detail in 1 Chronicles 15 and 16, we’re studying about worship, and so we’re focusing right now, and what we find in Isaiah 6 and looking at additional passages that will open up our eyes and expand our understanding of what is taking place in Isaiah 6, and especially, how that should impact our understanding of worship.
Last time, the focus was on understanding the fear of God, and so we looked at a number of passages walking our way through the Old Testament, observing how when creatures, humans, fallen human beings come into contact with God, the dominant mental attitude is one of fear. But it’s not fear in the sense of terror; it’s fear in the sense of the corrupt coming into contact with God, Who is absolutely pure and holy and righteous. The exposure of our sin, and in one sense, we want to draw back and pull away because we know how those who have been in God’s presence, some have died because of the way they have profaned the holy things of God as Uzzah did in transferring the Ark to Jerusalem, but yet at the same time, we’re drawn to Him. So, we started off in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve after they had eaten of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, when God walked in the garden, they hid from Him, and when God asked them why, they replied “because we were afraid.” [Genesis 3:10]
We looked at Job and how Job wanted to question God. As God appeared to him and began to ask him this series of rhetorical questions to expose his lack of knowledge, his lack of understanding of the universe, how God in His omniscience understands all things and can order all things, yet Job was able to comprehend even the least little bit of God’s planning for the universe as a whole. Job pulled back and recognized that he should just shut his mouth. [Job 38-42]
We looked at episodes with Abraham and Jacob in Genesis 28:16-17 when Jacob was having a dream and seeing a stairway that went from the ground to Heaven with angels ascending and descending. Then when he woke up, he realized he was in the presence of the angels and had had this vision of Heaven, and he was terrified. We looked at passages with the Israelites, skipped over a couple, I’ll begin with one of them tonight.
We then went to the New Testament and looked at Peter, James, and John in Matthew 17:1-8 and especially verse 6 where they were also terrified. When the Apostle John on Patmos, the Apostle John who’s referred to as the beloved disciple closest one to Jesus, and he just falls down on his face as if dead before the Lord Jesus Christ in Revelation 1:17. All of this is to give us background and understanding of what is going on here in Isaiah 6.
We see in Isaiah 6, there is a vision that occurs for Isaiah where he is in the temple and God miraculously opens up some sort of portal between the earthly temple and the heavenly temple. And as Isaiah sees the heavenly temple, he sees seraphim with six wings over the throne of God, remembering that God is enthroned among the cherubim who are over the Ark of the Covenant, and the seraphim seem to be a similar order of angels. And they are crying to one another, Isaiah 6:3, “Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh Sabaoth, the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!”
When we think about the word “holy” we need to think about the word “distinct” or “unique” and how that applies to all of God’s attributes. We’ll talk a little bit more about that later on this evening. That Isaiah 6:3, “the whole earth is full of His glory,” and that has to do with His importance, His significance, that God is the Person, the Being without whom there is nothing. Everything is dependent upon Him.
We can go to Colossians 1:17 talking about how the Lord Jesus Christ holds all things together, so that without God’s constant care in holding everything together and giving existence to all things at every nanosecond, if He were to withdraw that, then everything that’s created would disappear and be gone.
God is central and the most important Being to all things. So, when we give glory to God, what we’re doing is expressing how central, how important, how significant God is in our lives and why He should be that way for everyone. And I pointed out that the word “holy” is a word that means distinct and unique.
God says in Isaiah 55:8 that His ways are not our ways, neither are His thoughts our thoughts. And so, He is only analogous to that which we see in creation. He is not the same. There is nothing, there is no one that is comparable to God. So, He is unique in His sovereignty, righteousness, justice, love, and eternal life. There is none like Him. You’ve seen a lot of people try to develop analogies to portray God, especially the Trinity. None of them do it because they are all finite, they are part of creation, and God is unique and distinct and totally apart.
There hasn’t yet been an analogy that anyone uses that comes close to truly representing the Trinity. There are flaws in every single one of them because there is nothing that is three-in-one. There is nothing that has one essence, yet three Persons, so that they are spoken of as an absolute, indivisible unity, but also three distinct Persons. There’s nothing that fits that. So, that’s part of His holiness.
We looked at Isaiah 6:3 and learned that as the angels are worshipping, singing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.” Then the temple was filled with smoke, the doorposts are shaken, it is as if there is an earthquake. [Isaiah 6:4] And then we see this response of Isaiah, which is what we’re going to focus on more tonight. He says, in Isaiah 6:5, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” The response that this exhibits is a response of fear. And that is why we studied what we looked at last time. Before we go forward, I want to look at a couple of other passages that I have skirted but are related to this, and one is in Psalm 139.
Psalm 139 is a tremendous psalm on the attributes of God. A meditation on the attributes of God by David, and it has a lot of implications as well as application.
When I was a young man in college, and I was a counselor up at Camp Peniel, at night, as a cabin counselor, we were to have a time of devotion with the campers. One of the first things I remember studying because I thought that that was something to learn about was, “Who is God?” And I would work my way through Psalm 139.
So, this is a tremendous psalm. When we look at Psalm 139, it is broken down at the very beginning—I’m not going to do a detailed study of this—but it begins with a meditation on God’s omniscience, and that’s covered in the first 6 verses. Then in verses 7–12, we have a meditation on God’s omnipresence. I’m merely using this as an illustration of God’s holiness in His omniscience and His omnipresence. God is unique; He is distinct in His knowledge, and He is distinct in His omnipresence.
David begins by saying in Psalm 139:1, “O Lord, You have searched me and known me.” What he means by this that he is going to develop is that there is nothing about him that God doesn’t know.
See, what happens with Isaiah is when Isaiah comes into the presence of God, there is this brilliant light. “God is light,” John says in the New Testament. There’s this brilliant light that exposes everything that there is to expose in Isaiah. That’s the same thing that Adam and Eve realized when God came to the Garden. There were no secrets; nothing is hidden. That is what David points out in his poetic fashion, he is expressing the fact that there are no parameters for God’s knowledge, Psalm 139:1, “You have searched me and known me.” He then uses what are called merisms.
Merisms are when you use opposites to describe the totality. If you say, “I’ve been working day and night,” what you mean is that you’ve been working all the time. “God created the heavens and the earth,” that means God created everything. That means there isn’t anything that doesn’t belong to the category “heavens” or the category of the “earth.” These are merisms, and it means expressing two things in terms of their opposites to talk about the totality of something.
So, David says in Psalm 139:2a, “You know my sitting down and my rising up.” That pretty much covers everything: we’re either sitting down or we’re rising up. That covers every aspect. God knows everything about where we are and what we are thinking. Psalm 139:2b, “You understand my thought afar off.” No matter how far You may be in the distant heavens, You know everything that goes on between my ears. You know every thought, the clean and the unclean, the righteous and the unrighteous, that which is desirous of serving You and that which isn’t.
Psalm 139:2b–3a, “You understand my thought afar off. You understand my path and my lying down.” So as we come to the end of the third verse there, Psalm 139:3, “and are acquainted with all my ways,” we see sitting down, we see rising up, “You comprehend my path and my lying down”; so we have sitting down, lying down, rising up. That pretty much cover’s everything.
Psalm 139:3, “You understand my path … You [are acquainted with] know all my ways.” Everything I do, everywhere I go, You understand all of it.” Psalm 139:4, “[T]here’s not a Word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.” He knows every single word that comes out of our mouths.
How does Isaiah respond to that? Isaiah 6:5, “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips.” The words, the conversation that comes out of my mouth is unclean. I am guilty of sin to the worst degree. David says, in Psalm 139: 4, “[T]here’s not a word on my tongue but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.”
Then he says, in Psalm 139:5, “You have hedged me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me.” That talks about how God protects us. Always. He has put this hedge around us, and this laying His hand upon us isn’t a negative, it’s a positive. It’s as Jesus said, You hold us in Your hand. [See John 10:28-29] He is the One who protects us. So his conclusion is, Psalm 139:6, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it.” That is the holiness of God.
God is so distinct from anything in our frame of reference that we cannot imagine it. As we explore what all of these attributes mean when we think about God, we reach the limit of our finite understanding. And we have barely begun to scratch the surface in understanding anything about God. We can understand, in His Word, what He has revealed to us about Himself, but we can’t understand Him comprehensively. We can understand Him in part, but we can’t comprehend Him in the whole. And that’s just His knowledge.
Then in terms of His presence we use the Word omnipresent, which means God is present everywhere. He is present to every molecule of His creation in as full a way as He is to every other molecule in His creation. He is as fully present with me all day long and all night long as He is with you all day long and all night long. And with millions of other people—the planet has six billion people—whether they’re believers or unbelievers, God is as present to everyone of them, whether in North Korea, or South Korea, or Brazil, or the United States or Fiji, God is as fully present to them as He is to anyone else. We just can’t even touch what that means. It’s infinity applied to His presence.
So, David says, in Psalm 139:7, “Where can I go from Your Spirit?” Where can I go? Is there any place in the universe that I can go where You’re not there? Psalm 139:7, he says, “Where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol— the place of the dead— behold You are there.”; It’s not “hell.” That’s how the King James and New King James translate it; that’s [hell] a Nordic word that doesn’t have anything to do with what is being expressed in the Hebrew. Psalm 139:8b–9], “If I make my bed in Sheol, behold You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.”
Notice how he moves, in both of these sections, from contemplating the abstract attribute of God to where it relates to his security and his protection and God’s provision. Remember in Psalm 139:5, in the first part, he says “You hedge me behind and before, and laid Your hand on me.” That’s God’s security and protection. His knowledge leads to my security and my protection. His presence then does the same thing. “Your hand,” and hand and arm, when it refers to God, is often a metaphor for His power and His protection.
Psalm 139:10–12, “Even there, Your right hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall fall on me,’ even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide me from You, but the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You.”
That’s the summary. What he says in verses 11 and 12 are that darkness can’t hide me from You; it’s the same as the light. You see through everything; therefore, You always are watching me; You are always protecting me. And then he goes on to talk about his personal creation and relationship to God in the next verses, but that goes beyond what we’re looking at here in terms of worship.
You see what David is doing in his own way of worshiping God; he is writing out a meditation, a reflection of his thoughts. And that is part of what it means to worship God, to contemplate Who He is and His provision, His protection, and His security for us.
When we come to Isaiah 6 [see Slides 5 and 6], we see an interesting scene here. It is a scene that relates to the heavens. We see the throne room of God, we see the throne of God high and lifted up in verse 1, we see it surrounded by these six-winged creatures called seraphim, who cover their faces with two (wings), their feet with two, and with two they fly, and then they sing this refrain in Isaiah 6:3, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!”
This produces this response in Isaiah, but before I go there, I want us to look at a parallel scene, just talking about a couple of verses first, just thinking about this concept. As Isaiah is confronted with the presence of God and says, [Isaiah 6:5a] “Woe is me, for I am undone,” he is expressing this awe that is there. I want to talk about this for just a second.
You are familiar with the fact that if you read in older literature, you will hear a phrase that sounds terribly antiquated and obsolete today, referring to someone who is a devoted Christian as a “God-fearer,” one who fears God. That is an appropriate term, but it one that has fallen into disfavor today because it emphasizes this distinctiveness about God, that His holiness strikes fear in us. Now that’s not something modern man wants to think about.
We want to think about how God is a loving God; we want to think about how God is a God who has forgiven us, a God who has reconciled us, and all of that is true. But not at the expense of the fact that God is a holy and righteous God. He was just as loving in the Old Testament as He is in the New Testament, and this aspect of God and the importance of fearing God is brought out many times in the New Testament. So, let me just go through a couple of passages that emphasize this.
In Matthew 10:28, Jesus is talking to the disciples We’re going to be doing a study later in the summer (2018) on discipleship—what it means to be a disciple—and one of these things has to do with our total orientation to God’s Person and serving Him and not being afraid of what man can do to us. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus tells His disciples, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in GEHENNA.”
I’m, not going to do an in-depth study of GEHENNA; this is often misunderstood in the Gospels. We have this word hell, and as soon as we use the word “hell,” people immediately think of the “Lake of Fire” and that this is talking about eternal condemnation. If you do a study of the Word GEHENNA, and there are detailed studies that I’ve done in Matthew that you can take a look at on the Internet, but GEHENNA is the Greek form of the Valley of Hinnom in the Old Testament.
There are three valleys; you can hold up your three fingers (demonstrates with his hand) and lay them over a map of Jerusalem (like this), and you have three valleys. You have the Valley of Hinnom on the left, the middle one was called the Valley of the Cheesemakers or the Tyropoeon Valley—it’s pretty much been filled in today, so you don’t notice it so much when you’re there—then the one on the right is the Kidron Valley, your fingers are pointing north. They all come together south of Jerusalem. The Valley of Hinnom is called in the Hebrew, Ge’ Hinnom. “Ge” is the Hebrew word for Valley, and “Hinnom” is the name of the person for whom it was named. So it comes over into Greek as GEHENNA, the Valley of Hinnom.
What happened in the Valley of Hinnom, if you go back and do a word study and look this up in Isaiah and Jeremiah, this was where the Israelites—later in their history especially under Ahab in the north, but you get into especially Manasseh in the south and others—this is where they committed child sacrifice. Now this was horrific! This was incredibly horrific; they had borrowed this from these Canaanite cultures that had surrounded them and in the ancient world, the Canaanites were among the most abominable people. Their sins were centered around the highly sexualized worship of Baal and of Ishtar Astarte, and the various fertility aspects of their religious system. They were syncretistic.
Remember when we read in the Old Testament, we read about the Hivites, and Girgashites, and then there are the people of Jezreel and all of these different groups. They had all amalgamated into a group that was just generally called the Canaanites not unlike the melting pot of the United States of America—we’re made up of people of all kinds of ethnicities and that’s what the Canaanites were. They were a fairly wealthy culture because they dominated the trade routes going through the Middle East. They developed this religion that was just horrific. There was all this emphasis on sexuality and sexual activity in order to promote prosperity.They were very materialistic.
One of the things they did in order to placate the gods was to literally burn their infants alive in the arms of—depending on who you’re reading, whether it’s the Moabites or Chemosh or Molech—these idols. These idols were large statues that had arms that had an open furnace area underneath the arms of the god, and they would fill it with wood and build an enormous fire, and then they would put their living infant into the arms of Molech, and he would be burned alive. They did this in the Valley of Hinnom. And God announced judgment on them through Jeremiah that where they burned these infants alive, that was where God would mete out the judgment on them when the Babylonians came and destroyed Jerusalem.
That was not an eternal judgment; it was a judgment on Israel in history. It was a discipline of God, it was not an eternal judgment of God. So, the fires of Gehenna were originally the fires that burned their children alive and then secondly, it was the fires of the Babylonians that cremated their bodies and destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC. The imagery was not of eternal punishment but of temporal punishment, historical punishment in the life of Israel. The warning you get in the New Testament is that the Valley of Hinnom or Gehenna represents God’s punishment on Israel in time, not in eternity. It’s not a punishment for them as unbelievers; it’s a punishment on them as His people and because of their disobedience to God.
So, what Jesus is telling His disciples here is, don’t be afraid of humans who can kill your body, torture you, persecute you, put you into the lion’s den like Daniel, or put you in with the lions and the wild beasts in the coliseum of Rome. Don’t be afraid of them because they can’t kill the soul. What you need to fear is God. See, He’s talking to them as believers; He’s not threatening them with a loss of salvation. He’s saying, “If you are disobedient to God and go back to paganism and pagan values, then God can destroy the soul and body in GEHENNA, in discipline, right now.” It’s a warning to fear God and fear the consequences of sin.
Ephesians 5:21, we are to submit to one another in the fear of God. Remember the context here in Ephesians 5:18? We’re told we are to walk by means of the Spirit and then the result of that is the participles in the next verse that talk about singing hymns and spiritual songs to God giving thanks to the Lord always for all things. And then by Ephesians 5:21 we get another participle, “submitting to one another in the fear of God.” And that controls the whole next section, which deals with the family.
We are to submit to one another in the fear of God; we are to be God-fearers in our home. We are to be God-fearers about how we rear our children and our grandchildren. We are to be God-fearers in how we conduct our lives as employers and employees. We are to be God-fearers in our marriages and how we relate to our husbands and our wives. This sets the tone for all of those different passages that are coming up. So, Ephesians 5:21 says we’re to submit to one another “in the fear of God.” This is a form of our worship, our individual worship.
Hebrews 12:28, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom,” that is, when Jesus returns, and we’ll be with Him at the Second Coming, and He establishes His kingdom, “which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” This seems like such an old-fashioned idea today; we are to have the fear of God that motivates us to serve Him with reverence and godly fear.
Then we have 1 Peter 2:17 where we’re told, “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God, Honor the king.” Once again, bringing our focus back, we are to fear God who is the One who will judge us, not in terms of our eternal salvation at the Judgment Seat of Christ, but we do have accountability there and we are to fear Him. And that should motivate us in everything that we do every day.
And then Revelation 14:7, “saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.’ ” These are the angels who are singing praise to God in Heaven. So, they don’t just sing, “Holy, holy, holy”; there are a few other things they sing, and this is one of them: to fear God. So, the fear of God is very much a part of that individual worship that we have for Him that goes on day in and day out.
I want you to turn with me to Revelation 4, and we see a parallel picture of the Throne of God. I often think that you can’t study one without looking at the other. Revelation 1 is an introduction. Revelation 2 and 3 talk about the seven postcards of evaluation. They’re evaluation, critical reports, to each of these seven churches. And then Revelation 4 talks about the future. The reason for this is because when Jesus is talking to John in Revelation 1:19, He tells him, “Write the things which you have seen.” [emphasis added] That’s what John is seeing at that point; he has seen it and spoken of it in the past tense when he sees this vision of the resurrected, glorified Lord Jesus Christ.
Revelation 1:19, “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, “[emphasis added] present tense—that’s the letters to the seven churches of Revelation—“and the things which will take place after this.” [emphasis added] That comes into effect in Revelation 4, and so I want to look there. Revelation 4:1. John sees a door in Heaven, and he hears a command to come up here, and so he goes up there to see the things that will take place after this. That connects right back to Revelation 1:19.
When he comes into the Throne of God, he sees a throne set in Heaven and on the throne is [Revelation 4:2] “One sitting.” It’s reminiscent of the statement in Exodus 24:10 when Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the 70 elders go up into the presence of God on Mt. Sinai. And it says in Exodus 24:10, “and they saw the God of Israel and there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity.” So there’s a similarity there.
In Revelation 4:4, we read, “Around the throne twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their head.”
Who are these 24 elders? We studied this in detail when we went through Revelation, and the 24 elders need to be identified first by understanding what these crowns of gold are. There are two different words in Greek for crowns. The first word is DIADEMAS. We’ve sung the hymn, All Hail the Power to the tune of “The Diadem,” so you’re familiar with that word. A DIADEMA crown is a crown of royalty, the crown of a ruler, the crown of a king. It’s not the word that’s used here.
In the ancient Greek world when they developed the athletic competitions of the Olympics, they would give various awards in wreaths. These wreaths would be made out of laurel branches or oak branches or ivy branches, and they would eventually deteriorate. They were not made out of something that had permanence because their winning was not something that was permanent. They had won this contest, but it was not some permanent thing. But those crowns were referred to as STEPHANOS crowns. So, a STEPHANOS crown was an award for an accomplishment. It was a reward for having achieved something. These are 24 elders who have been rewarded for something.
Why 24? If you go back to Chronicles, David divided the Levites into 24 orders, or 24 teams—you might think about it that way. As the feast days came, he would pick a certain number from each team, so that every one of those 24 orders would come, and they would represent not only the rest of the Levites, but they would represent the people. It’s like we have in Congress, we have our House of Representatives, and those Representatives are chosen by the electoral process and they are sent to Washington D.C. to represent us. And we change them. Maybe every four, eight, twelve years, we change to someone else who represents us.
In the Old Testament, they would periodically change who the Levites were who were going to serve in the temple, so you would have some in one year, others another year; they would be chosen by lot. This is what’s going on in Luke 1 when Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, is chosen by lot to serve in the temple. He is part of his order representing and serving. Not all of them could serve at the same time because there were thousands of Levites. So certain ones were chosen for different days for that purpose. That gives us a framework in the Old Testament that all of those serving as Levites couldn’t serve at the same time, so just one or two or three, or whatever it was, ten to fifteen from each order would go to represent the rest. That’s the background for understanding these 24 elders; they’re representing the church—the raptured, resurrected, and rewarded church.
They’re clothed in white robes, which are what is described in the seven letters to the seven churches as part of the awards to the church—white robes, and they had crowns of gold on their heads. So, they are representing the church.
Revelation 4:5, “And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices.” This is the same thing you have in other theophanies. For example, this is God on Mt. Sinai; you have thunderings and lightnings and voices. Then the Holy Spirit is represented as seven lamps. Seven represents fullness; fire represents illumination. And it’s defined as the Seven Spirits of God. All of this is talking about the fullness of God the Holy Spirit in illumination at this time.
In Revelation 4:7, we read that it [the Throne] is surrounded by these four living creatures. These four living creatures have features that are like cherubs, and they have features like seraphs. I think they must be a distinct order. The seraphim had six wings, and the cherubs had four wings. So what we see here are these four living creatures. The term “living creature,” is also applied to cherubim in Ezekiel, but here they have six wings like seraphim, yet they have these different faces. With the cherubs, each cherub had these four faces. Here you have four distinct creatures with four distinct—each one having its own image. So, in Revelation 4:7, “The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature, like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle.” So, they represent these various animals. But remember, one of the interesting things, these angelic beings were created long before God created lions and calves and eagles and human beings. These were there among the angels before there were any human beings created.
These four living creatures, similar to the seraphim in Isaiah 6, surround the throne of God, “and they do not rest day or night.” There is a merism again; in other words, they never stop. This is ongoing. Singing something very similar to what we have in Isaiah 6. Revelation 4:8, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!” Very, very similar to what John was supposed to write. He was supposed to write, Revelation 1:19, “what you have seen,” what is, and what is to come, emphasizing the eternality of God.
I just broke this down on the cherubs and the seraphs. Cherubim are the highest class of angels. They attend the glory, holiness, and majesty of God. They’re described in Ezekiel 1:5–14. They have four wings. God is enthroned upon the two cherubs that are on the Ark of the Covenant. So they have a very high position. The term “seraphs” means the burning ones, so that can be associated with the fire of God’s purity, His holiness, His righteousness. Seraphim are burning ones or angelic incendiaries who are ablaze with the glory of God and continually announce His triune holiness according to Isaiah 6:3. They have six wings.
Then the “living beings,” is a general designation of the angels who both direct the worship of God and express His judgments as in Revelation 4 and 14. They have six wings, in Revelation 4, like seraphim, but faces like the description of cherubim in Ezekiel.
In Revelation 4:9, we read: “Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever,” so whenever they do this, it’s not like they do this all the time, but whenever they do this at these specific times, there are three words which are emphasized. They give God glory. “Glory” means the importance of the centrality of God. So to give God “glory” means to ascribe or talk about or describe why God is so important, why He is central to everything, what He has done that is at the core of all creation. That’s why you find what is usually stated in these passages that say God created the heavens, the earth, and the seas and all that is in them. See e.g., Revelation 10:6. That is one statement.
Another statement is that He has redeemed us, and He has provided salvation for us. It’s on those two things, His creation and His redemption, that all of His glory relates. Then “honor” is the respect, the obeisance that His creatures should give Him because of who He is and what He has done, and “thanks” relates to the gratitude to the One who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever.
Then it talks about the expression of this worship by the 24 elders who cast their crowns before the throne. Look at what they say, Revelation 4:11, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power.” Above, we saw “glory, and honor and thanks [gratitude]”; here’ it’s “power.” The word there is DUNAMIS, which is usually translated “power.” But it also has that idea of power in relation to authority over His creatures.
So, He receives glory, that is an expression of His centrality and His importance, His weightiness in everything in life. Honor is the respect due Him and the respect for His authority. Why? Revelation 4:11, because “You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.” So, this passage gives us another expression many, many years, centuries—however time is measured—later in Heaven than what Isaiah sees. And yet, they are continuing to sing and focus on the same things.
The reason I point that out is because in contemporary Christian worship, the philosophy is that you don’t keep saying the same things or singing the same hymns because that gets boring. The reason it gets boring is because we are fallen creatures, and we have to keep fresh stimuli in a post-modern, existential culture.
If you go back into the Middle Ages and on through the Reformation, for hundreds of years, they sang the same hymns that connected all the members of the Body of Christ from one generation to another. They didn’t have to have new stimuli every 15 minutes because their attention span has been destroyed by watching television and movies and living in an entertainment-based culture. The angels haven’t had their concentration, which is essential to worship, destroyed by an entertainment culture, which is as bad as the Canaanite culture.
Isaiah 6:3, “And one cried to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!’ ” See how it echoes the same ideas that are sung in Revelation 4.
But what is the response? What is Isaiah’s response? Well, like those we studied last time, it’s marked by fear, by awe, by a self-realization. He’s overwhelmed by what he sees. And just like all of these other examples we’ve looked at, whether it’s Adam, or whether it was Abraham, or Jacob, or Moses, or the Israelites, they knew Who they saw, and the brilliance of His light exposes who they are.
They understood God was holy and they were not. They understood that when righteousness is present, their unrighteousness is exposed and they shrink back. Isaiah recognizes his own corruption. He immediately recognizes—He’s awe-struck with the presence of God—but He recognizes his own danger in being in the presence of God. He recognizes that his sin is completely exposed.
He says, Isaiah 6:5, “Woe is me … a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” He realizes how unworthy they all are to be in the presence of God. He has heard the statements of the seraphim saying God is holy, and he realizes he is unholy. So, he cries out, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips; and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” He realizes his own corruption and the corruption of his people because he has seen who God truly is, the King, the Lord of Hosts. This is balanced; it’s not just pure terror. It’s balanced by his understanding of who God is.
As expressed later in Isaiah 57:15, “For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity,”—notice the high view of God here. God is speaking; He is the “High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy.” Again, there’s that emphasis on distinctiveness. He says in Isaiah 57:15, “I dwell in the high and holy place,” a distinct place, it’s a unique place, “with him who has a contrite and humble spirit.” The “him who has a contrite and humble spirit” is talking about creatures, and what’s required to be in right relationship with God. They should have a contrite and humble spirit. He says in Isaiah 57:15–16, “to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; For the spirit would fail before Me, and the souls which I have made.”
What we see here is there’s a recognition on the part of Isaiah, this is foundational to worship, a recognition of the need for cleansing because we’re in the presence of a holy God. And he says in Isaiah 6:5, “Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” So first of all there’s the realization of the holiness of God, and simultaneously, the realization and exposure of his own corruption.
But then God provides cleansing; that’s what the Isaiah 57 passage is all about; God cleanses those who have a humble and contrite spirit. So there’s the depiction of ritual cleansing as the seraph flies to him with the live coal and touches it to his lips for purification.
These two terms “contrite” and “humble” are interesting. The first word, “contrite,” means dust, something that has been crushed, or something that has been broken.
For example, in Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.”
The second word, “humble,” is from the word shapel, which means to be low or to sink. In logical order, the first thing that happens with Isaiah is there’s a humble response, “woe is me”; he expresses his humility. He’s not expressing arrogance. Then second in logical order is that he’s a sinner, although together they happen simultaneously in his experience. And he is fully aware of his fallen nature.
This word for “humble” shows up in Proverbs 3:34: “Surely He scorns the scornful, but gives grace to the humble.” The Septuagint translation of that verse is what is picked up in 1 Peter 5:5–7, a passage we’ll be getting to shortly in our study of 1 Peter where Peter challenges the young people to be oriented to the authority of the mature believers in the congregation and the leaders in the congregation.
He says in 1 Peter 5:5, “[S]ubmit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another.” So, specifically, he singles out the young people because they tend to have a problem with authority orientation, but then he addresses the rest of this to everyone. It’s like Paul, in Ephesians 5:21 where he says, “submit to one another.” Then he goes on to talk about, [Ephesians 5:25a] “Husbands love your wives just as Christ also loved the church.” What he’s saying there is husbands love your wives because you’re submitted to Christ, Who is the Head of the church.
Then he says to the wives: submit to your husbands. In our rebellious culture today, where we’ve rejected various organizations of authority, whether it’s government, whether it’s family, whether it’s parents or children, we forget that we are to submit to one another. If we are submitting to one another, if we are loving one another, then it’s absolutely no problem whatsoever for “husbands to love your wives” and “wives to submit to your husbands.”
But if you can’t follow these basic commands of “submit to one another, to love one another,” then you’re never going to understand how it works in a marriage. And your marriage will never function because it’s fundamental to just being a believer; we are to be characterized by loving one another and by being submitted to one another.
Peter says in 1 Peter 5:5, “all of you be submissive to one another and be clothed with humility for ‘God resists …’ ”—and there it is: God is hostile; He makes war; He fights— “ ‘… the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ ” So, the humble person, when confronted with the revelation of God says, “woe is me!” The proud, arrogant person says, “Well God, Who in the world do You think You are to tell me that I’m doing wrong?” That’s the contrast.
Don’t tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about; we all do that every time we sin. Verse 6 of 1 Peter 5:6–7, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, [by] casting … ,”—this is how we humble ourselves “by castingall our [your] care upon Him, for He cares for you.” =
This goes back to what is written in Leviticus 19:32, “You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the Lord.” It all goes back to fearing God for “I am the Lord.” I’m going to stop here because the next section takes us into understanding a number of key words that are used in relation to worship. So, we’ll wait and get into that section when I come back from Israel in three weeks.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things tonight and be reminded that we are to submit to Your authority, that we are to love one another as Christ loved the church—not just husbands to wives, but each believer is to love one another as Christ loved the church—that we are to fear You and we are to let that sober fear dominate our thinking and control our decision-making about every area of life—what we say, what we do, and how we order our time, and our priorities in everything in life.
“Father we pray that You’d challenge what we’ve studied to expand our understanding of what it means to worship. And we pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”