Worship in Ancient Israel by Walter Brueggemann

Posted: March 4, 2012 in Book and Article Reviews, Worship
Tags: , ,

Israel’s worship is the practice of covenant: “covenant-making, covenant-keeping, covenant-renewal.”  It is a “dialogic interaction,” whereby, God calls and the people respond.  It is a two-way interaction between partners.  “Worship is about a relationship… that relationship must be given concrete material articulation” (Brueggemann 23).  The festivals of Israel allowed them to relate to God and the community by acknowledging God as Creator and Redeemer in all of life.  Faith and worship are built by utterance and gesture, word and sacrament.  God gives both command and assurance, to which we respond through gesture.  It required attending the assembly and having faithful ministers to proclaim the word of God.  This ritual gave Israel confidence to enter a hostile world and be the people of God, which was embodied in material ways.

Brueggemann believes that worship is a remembrance of the creating, saving, redeeming acts of God.  From this stance, praise is the most common characteristic in the worship of Israel.  God is “glorified” for His action in the world.  However, praise is not the only characteristic of Israel’s worship.  Lament is a dominant and integral part of worship.  Therefore, worship is truth-telling.  It testifies about life and calls God to be faithful to the covenant while confessing Israel’s lack of faithfulness to the covenant.  The lament voices helplessness against the forces of evil while articulating rage against the abuse received by the Israelite community.  Therefore, Israel reminds God of His promises that now need to be honored.  This is not manipulation, but dependence upon God.  Act and word, utterance and gesture cannot be separated from worship.  Israel must dedicate itself in both word and deed to their Lord and Creator.  It is a trust and consecration to this God.

Israel also holds tensions within their life in seven primary areas, according to Brueggemann: obedience/freedom, holiness/justice, state cult/family and clan, Torah/king, presence/absence, praise/lament, and memory/hope.  Each of these areas must be held in tension with its counterpart or risk becoming misconstrued and legalistic or chaotic.  As such, worship is about holding these tensions in moderation, keeping us from becoming too comfortable in our walk with God.


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