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Davidic Worship: A Model for Renewal
This study was reproduced in EthnoDoxology, Volume 4, No. 1, 2008 (no longer published).
When King David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Mount Zion, he established a form of worship to be conducted at the tent in which the Ark had been placed. This study describes that worship, and suggests ways in which the "Tabernacle of David" may serve as a model in the renewal of worship today. Topics covered are these:
The Ark of the Covenant, also called the Ark of God, was the symbol of Yahweh's presence with the people of Israel. The figures of the winged cherubim on the lid of the Ark were similar to figures found in other cultures of the ancient world, symbolic guardians for the thrones of powerful rulers. In Israel's case, the throne of Yahweh, like Yahweh himself, was held to be invisible. The Ark was considered his "footstool" (1 Chronicles 28:2) and he was said to be "enthroned above the cherubim" (1 Chronicles 13:6).
The Ark had a special role in the movement of the people of God from one place to another as a "host," a multitude or army. It could be carried only by priests of the tribe of Levi (Deuteronomy 10:8). The historical narratives of Scripture tell how the Ark of the Covenant led the people in their journeys through the wilderness from Sinai to the entrance into the land of promise, and how in the land of Canaan it led the armies of Israel into battle. The phrase "Lord of hosts" or "Yahweh of armies" (yahveh tzeva'ot) is a biblical name for God that relates specifically to his presence as symbolized by the Ark.
When not being carried at the head of the people "on the move," the Ark was kept in a tent that served as the sanctuary of the Israelite tribes. The books of Samuel relate how the Philistines, Israel's powerful enemies, captured the Ark and held it for a time. When they released it, however, it did not return to the sanctuary but stayed at other locations. [ Return to index of topics ]
After David became king over all the tribes of Israel, he determined to bring the Ark to Jerusalem, on Mount Zion, a Jebusite fortress he had captured and made his capital. The books of Kings and Chronicles tell the story of the Ark's journey toward Zion. When it was finally brought up from the house of Obededom (Ornan), great rejoicing marked the event: music, procession, dance, offerings and sacrifices, and the distribution of food. Even the king danced wearing the ephod, a priestly garment, to the disgust of his wife Michal who did not understand the appropriateness of joy and abandon before the Lord.
When the Ark of God was brought to Mount Zion, it was placed inside the tent, or tabernacle, that had been erected for it according to David's instructions. David then appointed Asaph to direct a skilled corps of priestly musicians and singers "as ministers before the Ark of the Lord, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the Lord, the God of Israel" (1 Chronicles 16:4). Their music was considered a form of prophecy (1 Chronicles 25:1). Worship was to be offered to the Lord continuously, morning and evening, with hymns such as:
O give thanks to Yahweh, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever!
When the musicians had completed their singing, the congregation responded with "Amen!" and continued to praise the Lord. [ Return to index of topics ]
The worship of the Tabernacle of David has been called "New Covenant worship in the Old Covenant era." It focused on the presence of the Lord in the midst of his people, symbolized by the Ark. Originally it did not include the Mosaic sacrifices, since during the early part of David's rule in Jerusalem the altar of sacrifice remained at Gibeon. Instead, the Davidic worshiper offered "a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name" (Hebrews 13:15). Music, mentioned little in connection with earlier descriptions of Israelite worship, played a major role in the Tabernacle of David. Davidic worship was festive in character, bringing the people together in pilgrimage to the sanctuary.
The worship of Zion was a blend of prescribed structure and improvised expression. It was conducted by priests who were skilled singers and instrumentalists. They performed according to certain prescribed musical patterns, some of which may be reflected in the superscriptions of the Psalms. At the same time there was room for spontaneity. Some interpreters believe that the "new song" (Psalms 33:3, 96:1, 149:1), and the selah often mentioned in the Psalms, refer to outbreaks of improvised praise.
Thus many of the Psalms seem to have originated in the worship of the Tabernacle of David. Their wording reflects doubt about whether the Lord really requires the animal sacrifices and burnt offerings of the rites of Moses (e.g., Psalm 40:6; Psalm 51:16-17). Instead, there is a stress on heartfelt devotion to Yahweh, as expressed in musical and vocal praise, and the fulfillment of vows through this praise. In the continuing development and use of the Psalms in the sanctuary, the Tabernacle of David flavored the worship of Israel and Judah even after the Mosaic sacrifices were instituted in Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon was erected.
From the Psalms, and from historical narrative such as the account in 1 Chronicles of David's establishment of worship on Mount Zion, we can summarize these salient features of Davidic worship:
Davidic worship, centering around the Ark, was a celebration of the Lord's abiding presence in the midst of his people. In this respect it was a "shadow Christology," prefiguring the indwelling presence of Christ with his church that informs the life and worship of the New Testament community. Aspects of the worship of Zion have always been evident in Christian tradition, beginning with the New Testament writers' vision for worship that would eventually extend beyond the confines of small gatherings in private homes.
Two New Testament writings with a particular concern for worship are the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Revelation to John. The author of Hebrews reminds his readers, "But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering" (Hebrews 12:22). The Revelation draws extensively from the imagery of Old Testament worship in its portrayal of the universal homage paid to the Lord God and to the Lamb (e.g., chapters 4 and 5). At a critical point the link between this worship and the Tabernacle of David tradition is suggested: "Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple" (Revelation 11:19). This worship on an exalted scale is not the "worship of heaven," but that of "the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God" (21:2). The Revelation's final chapters picture the church of Jesus Christ renewing its covenant with the Lord, celebrating his presence in worship.
This image of the church as the renewed Zion, the city of God (see also Galatians 4:26) has been a driving force for the incorporation into Christian worship of themes and practices from the worship of Israel. Thus, features of Davidic worship may be seen in historic expressions of Christian celebration through the centuries. The Psalm singing of the Reformed churches, the festive processions of the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, and the training of competent musicians for worship leadership are examples of elements from the Tabernacle of David that have been present in Christian worship.
But a specific stress on the recovery of Davidic worship occurred in the mid-twentieth century, when it was adopted as a model for the worship of certain charismatic churches in a "revival" or "restorationist" mode.1 In these congregations, worship centers on experiencing the "manifest presence" of the Lord. The sense of his present reality with his people is expressed through music and the exercise of the charismata or spiritual gifts, especially the "vocal gifts" of prophecy, tongues and interpretation. Worship services may include a time of singing that builds into extended praise and reaches a point of climax when the "Word of the Lord" comes forth. This moment of the manifestation of God's presence has been compared to the doctrine of the "real presence" of Christ in the Eucharist, in the worship of the liturgical churches.2 [ Return to index of topics ]
This "real presence" is the missing element in the worship of many Protestant bodies. Biblically informed worship is a meeting with the Lord, an expression of homage and devotion to him and an experience of his life in the midst of his own people. The response of a visitor to such a worship service, hearing the Word of God come forth, could be that of the Corinthian unbeliever described by the apostle Paul: "Falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you" (1 Corinthians 14:25). But our worship gatherings tend to be "programs" where attendees watch or listen to a presentation by leaders or groups within their faith community. Tabernacle of David worship offers a model for recovering a sense of the Lord's presence with his people.
Contemporary worship renewal in many Protestant communities has recognized the centrality of the Lord's Supper (Eucharist or Holy Communion), resulting in its more frequent observance in response to Jesus' word to "do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19). While this is all to the good, most Protestants hold a "low" eucharistic theology. That is, they do not consider Christ present in the elements of the Lord's Supper in the same way that Catholics, for example, understand him to be present through transubstantiation — the transformation of the wafer and wine of the Mass into the actual body and blood of the Lord while they retain their outward form. In evangelical communities, the focus in the Lord's Supper tends to be on the individual worshiper's solemn self-examination as a response to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. At worst, the Supper is reduced to a perfunctory rite with all the ceremonial impact of passing the offering plate.
The Davidic worship model transforms the context of the Lord's Supper into the celebration of his "manifest presence," as the Lord is "enthroned on the praises of Israel" (Psalm 22:3). The service of the Lord's Table is experienced as a re-presentation of the triumph of the cross, to which Jesus nailed those guilt-inducing "decrees against us" mounted by dominant world cultures and the powers of evil (Colossians 2:13-15). In such a context, the ceremony becomes what Jesus intended, the meal that seals the "new covenant in his blood" (1 Corinthians 11:25). Worshipers share in the experience of the elders of Israel on Mount Sinai, of whom it is said "they beheld God, and they ate and drank" (Exod. 24:11). There is a biblical solemnity to such celebration — that festive solemnity associated with the procession of the Ark of the Covenant, as reflected in the Psalms (Psalms 24:7-10, 68:24-26).
Liturgical worship, following historic Christian practice, moves through a sequence of entering into the Lord's presence, proclaiming the Word of God, gathering at the Lord's Table, and being dismissed for service in community and world. There is a corresponding sequence in Davidic worship, a progression of praise leading to the moment in which the Lord "comes" or "appears." The ambiance of Tabernacle of David worship is one of rejoicing together in the presence of the Lord, confessing covenant loyalty to him through acts of praise and homage — "giving thanks," as the Bible calls it, the root meaning of the Christian term Eucharist. The combination of the "manifest presence" of Davidic-style worship with the observance of the Eucharist is being realized today in those congregations that practice "convergence worship," the blending of the liturgical and charismatic styles. Here is found that biblical mix of structure and improvisation, formality and spontaneity, so characteristic of the type of worship David established in the tent on Mount Zion.
But the festive and colorful ambiance of the worship of Zion has dropped out of most Protestant practice, along with the full traditional sequence of worship. Worship may be entertaining but not participatory. The attendee is more a spectator than a worshiper. Or the worship hour may be static, tedious, and wordy. Drawing a picture of it would take the form of people sitting on hard seats listening to somebody talk to them. In the worst case it can be a negative presentation, haranguing attendees for their lack of commitment or — in the case of more "liberal" denominations — laying a guilt trip on them for their lack of inclusiveness or concern for the environment.3 Worship at the Tabernacle of David was directed toward the Lord, acknowledging his authority and celebrating the wonder of his being with his people and his covenant love for them: "O give thanks to Yahweh, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever!" The emphasis on human sin and its expiation associated with the Mosaic sacrifices at Gibeon was not a major aspect of the worship of Zion. Adopting the Davidic model transforms worshipers from mere recipients of entertainment, exhortation or condemnation into "a royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9) offering the sacrifice of praise to the Lord. It also helps to restore the corporate dimension to worship, the sense of a community celebrating as "the great congregation" (Psalms 26:12, 68:26, for example).
How the Davidic model may be applied in any local setting may depend on which direction a congregation is coming from. Charismatics, for example, might want to develop a greater appreciation for form and ceremony, and for the structuring of worship so that all historic movements of Christian worship are there in a sequence that leads a high point as the congregation gathers at the Table. For most evangelicals, the need will be to appreciate both liturgy and spontaneity, to become open to "prophetic" expression, and to understand that the worship hour is not a time for instruction only. It is a time when something happens, when the Lord meets with his people and makes covenant with them. For Protestants in "main line" denominations, the challenge may be to develop greater appreciation for the scriptural foundations for worship, to refocus worship on a biblical rather than cultural agenda, and to overcome the reluctance to make a real and "liturgically visible" commitment to a living God. Christians in liturgical or other traditional communions may need to allow the liturgy to be infused with a greater sense of continuity with biblical models. "Our tradition" of worship must be a secondary, not primary, focus. All groups may need to emphasize the dedication of the fine arts to the worship of God: dance and choreography, musical expression, banners, and other forms.
The worship that David established in Zion has much to offer us today in our quest for a revitalized expression of Christian worship. Christian celebration centers in Jesus Christ and what God has done in him to rescue us from evil, alienation and death. And our celebration is greatly enriched through application of the features of David's "New Covenant worship in the Old Covenant era." It is not without reason that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is called "the son of David."4 [ Return to index of topics ]
1 Some twentieth-century interpreters saw a New Testament reference to Davidic worship in the words of the apostle James in Acts 15:15-18, responding to Peter's report of the Gentile acceptance of the gospel. In the King James version the passage reads, "And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up, that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things." However, James is quoting Amos 9:11-12, where the Hebrew word is sukkah ("booth" or "shelter"), not 'ohel ("tent" or "tabernacle") as in the narrative of the Ark's installation in Zion (2 Samuel 6:17; 2 Chronicles 16:1). Amos' (and James') reference is to the renewal of the dynasty of David, in Jesus the Messiah ("Anointed"), not specifically to the restoration of Tabernacle of David worship.
2 Of course, all churches have a "liturgy," a conventional structure for worship in which certain things are done by particular groups of worshipers at predictable times. What distinguishes a "liturgical" from a "free" church is simply that the order of service purports to have been derived from historic models and is governed by an officially sanctioned source such as a manual, missal or book of worship.
3 The gospel, or "good news," proclaimed by Jesus Christ was the announcement of the emergence of the rule, or kingdom, of God and the restoration of his people Israel. The gospel of Paul was the proclamation of the life of the risen Christ and its availability to all peoples. But the gospel in many "main line" churches of North America is simply multiculturalism, the exhortation to include everybody of whatever origin, belief, culture, sex or life style in one's community and associations. (Alternatively, it is environmentalism, the condemnation of lifestyle that squanders the earth's resources or leaves a "carbon footprint.") It is not good news to be told repeatedly that we are missing the mark, especially if the goal is impossible to attain short of divine intervention. The Bible also has a vision for the coming together of peoples of all types, but this inclusivism is always the byproduct of an exclusive recognition, on everyone's part, of the one God as King and Savior.
4 For further reading and Scripture references, see the entries "The Tabernacle of David" and "Features of Davidic Worship" in The Biblical Foundations of Christian Worship, Volume I of The Complete Library of Christian Worship.