Foundation of Worship
In my article “Supplement to Responding to an Atheist” I made a point that the foundation of our worship is the fact that we are created by God and that He is our Creator.
I have since been asked to provide the source for this teaching. How do I know that this truth is the root of our worship? I will allow Annelise to put her question into words:
“… you put a lot of emphasis on the idea that all things in creation owe worship to our Creator, because He made us and therefore we’re His subjects. Do you think that is the main reason why we worship God? Don’t the scriptures show that we worship Him also because of His goodness and holiness and beauty? And that Israel owes Him worship because He saved you and you entered into a covenant with Him only? I think you’re right, but I would value hearing more clearly from Tanach what it is about being created that makes us owe both love and submission, and what makes this the single definitional concept of humility and worship.
Also, apart from the revelation to Judaism, can a person know these things?”
The implication here is that if the basis for our worship of God would be some other quality aside from the definition of God as Creator then perhaps that quality could be shared with a created being. For example: if the basis for our worship of God is His holiness or His beauty then perhaps God could impute these qualities to one of His creations to the degree that they would then be deserving of worship.
In response I would say that even if it were true that the foundation of our worship of God is His holiness and beauty it would still be impossible for God to impute so much holiness and beauty to one of His creations so as to render them worthy of worship. Because no matter how much holiness and beauty this creation will receive the creation can never be the author of the holiness and the beauty. A created being is always a recipient and is never a true originator. The Creator remains the only originator of all holiness, goodness, righteousness and beauty.
Still and all, the Scriptures make it abundantly clear that our worship of God is rooted in the fact that He created us and that He is the One who is constantly sustaining our existence. The Scriptures also make it clear that a Gentile could and should know this truth independent of the testimony of Israel.
I will provide a list of Scriptural references that bear directly on this discussion. Some of these verses simply describe God as the Creator of heaven and earth clearly implying that everything within heaven and earth are but His creations. Some of these passages teach that the purpose of the exodus was to teach Israel that God is the only power, thus when Israel is encouraged to worship the God who took them out of slavery, they are to understand that this is the One who is above and beyond all of nature (Deuteronomy 4:35). Other verses are more explicit; they contrast worship of idols against worship of God, emphasizing that God is the One Creator.
Before we get to the list of Scriptural references let us focus on two passages; Jeremiah 10:11 and Daniel 5:23. Both of these passages address Gentiles and both of these passages speak of God as the Master. In Jeremiah the idols are described as “gods who did not create heaven and earth”, while in Daniel, God is described as the One who holds your (Belshazzar’s) breath in His hand. These two passages present God’s mastery of the world and/or of man as the reason that worship ought to be directed to Him and not elsewhere. From these passages we can conclude that the Author of Scripture saw this concept as something that all men are expected to realize.
The basis for this knowledge is rooted in the elemental concept of justice that is shared by all mankind. Justice dictates that we should not give to one that which belongs to another. Worship is giving; the giving of oneself to the object of devotion. The first question that justice demands that we ask ourselves is: who do we owe the pleasure of existence to? Who do we belong to? Before trying to find something beautiful and holy so that we can give ourselves over to that entity we need to ask ourselves: who is it that possesses our heart to begin with?
The following Scriptural passages provide guidance for our worship. The study of these passages is well worth the effort – it is what life is all about.
Genesis 1:1, 2:1-3, 14:19,20,22, 18:14, 21:33, 24:3, Exodus 4:11, 7:17, 8:6,18, 9:14,15,16,29, 10:2, 14:4,18, 15:11,18, 18:11, 20:2,11,19, 23:13, 29:46, 34:14, Leviticus 11:45, 19:36, 25:23,38, 26:13,45, Numbers 15:41, Deuteronomy 4:9-24, 31-39, 5:6,7,15, 6:4,12,13,14,21, 7:9,18,19,21, 8:2,3,4,14-18, 9:3, 10:14,17,18,21,22, 11:2-7, 13:3,6,7,11,14, 17:3, 20:1, 26:8, 29:1,2,4,5, 32:6,39,40, 33:26,27, Joshua 2:11, 3:11, 4:24, 24:17,18, 1Samuel 2:2,3,6,10, 10:18, 12:6, 2Samuel 7:22, 22:32, 1Kings 8:23,27,60, 2Kings 19:15, Jeremiah 2:6, 5:22,24, 10:6-16, 14:22, 23:24, 27:5, 31:34, 32:17-21,27, 51:15-19, Isaiah 40:12-26,28, 41:4, 42:5, 43:10-13, 44:6-8,24, 45:5-7,12,18-23, 46:5,9,10, 48:13, 51:15, 66:1, Hosea 13:4, Amos 4:13, 5:8, 9:5,6, Jonah 1:9, Nahum 1:2-4, Zechariah 12:1, Psalm 8:4, 10:16, 11:4, 18:32, 19:1-7, 24:1,2, 29:10, 33:6-11, 65:7-14, 66:6-9, 68:8,9, 71:19, 74:12-17, 78:12-16,42-55, 81:11, 83:19, 86:8-10, 89:6-14, 95:1-7, 96:4,5, 100:3, 102:26, 104:1-35, 113:4,5, 114:7,8, 115:3-11, 119:73,89-91, 121:2, 124:8, 134:3, 135:5-21, 136:1-26, 139:5-16, 145:9,14-16, 146:1-10, 147:1-20, 148:1-14, 149:2, Job 4:17, 5:9,10, 9:2-12, 10:8-12, 12:9,10,13-25, 25:1-6, 26:6-14, 28:23-28, 34:13, 35:10, 36:22,23,26-37:24, 38:1-42:6, Proverbs 3:19,20, Ecclesiastes 3:11,14, Daniel 2:20-22, 3:33, 4:31,32,34, 5:23, 6:27,28, 9:15, Ezra 1:2, 5:11, Nehemiah 9:6, 1Chronicles 16:25,26, 17:20, 29:10-12,14-16, 2Chronicles 2:5, 6:14,18, 20:6, 36:23,
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal
I really look forward to reading through all of these verses, making the time to really hear them. You gave such an important thought: that nothing that is dependent on God could deserve our love, trust, worship in the way that God deserves, even if He gives a person holiness and beauty that reflects His own. Those things are still from God, and the praise belongs to Him.
But there’s a second implication of my question that you didn’t touch on. Christians who believe that Jesus is God can’t and don’t believe he (in his personhood) was created. Although he was human, they don’t believe he was just a man. He had a relationship with the Father, but Christians believe that even when ‘veiled in flesh’, his very person was one with- and was- our creator, in a way that is revealed and is beyond our speculation. So when Christians see Jesus’ humility and dependence, they see something that he takes onto himself voluntarily. When they see his prayers and his worship of God in the gospels, these are seen as a relationship *within* God. Christians do believe that only our creator deserves our worship.
So a big implication of my question is this. If worship towards God is partially because of our complete dependence on Him, and partially a true recognition of His holiness and glory… isn’t it possible that God could have a relationship within Himself in which this second kind of worship exists, even without the first? Since God is the source of selfless love, and He isn’t bound to our human sense of personhood, many Christians believe that there is an eternal love relationship within the unity of God… which could only be known by revelation… but which allows the relationship of adoration that Jesus is recorded as having with the Father to be quite possible even without it being the worship of someone created. His humility in joining humanity could truly be reflecting the kindness of God.
Again, to accept that a human in our midst deserves to be seen in such a way is beyond the ability of a truly Torah-honouring Jew to expect, to test, or to accept. But you said that the idea of trinitarian incarnation blus the lines of what worship is. I feel that a creator who was malicious or unjust would deserve our subservience, but not the love that we know as worship… but wouldn’t that mean that our worship is bound by the knowledge that God is the true source of all that we’re appreciating, and yet not merely bound to the fact of our dependence?
*blurs the lines
We can speculate and we can imagine all types of possibilities that are inconsistent with, contradict, or are outside of scripture that was given us, but then what was given becomes a lie, a sham only to justify our own beliefs or our desires and to promote our own version of reality. This is a type of “rebellion” of Eve when she saw that the fruit that was not given was good (despite all the abundance of good fruit, including that from the “Tree of Life”, that was given). This is the pride and arrogance of Satan, who in Job, thought that he knew better than God what humans were really like if they stopped “acting”. Is God a trickster god then, since these speculations suggest that Jesus (or “God” and at the same time separate and “with God” as if he were not God) was only acting like a man (not God) for 30 years to prove some point about God needing to be “in the flesh” to TRULY know Man? Or to show that God can also “die” and “arise”, like all good “dying-and-rising” pagan or false gods did, if only temporarily, like Man and therefore Man can also expect to be resurrected because we know God has the power to “arise”? IF there is any purpose for a god to become a man on earth, that purpose is negated if that man is seen as a god. For those who see that the man is really a god, the trick, the lie, is revealed and trust and faith is lost. For those who can’t see, they have been conned but they rejoice in their ignorance of “the beautiful lie”; they have eyes but cannot see. And if you attempt to show them the light, they refuse to see.
Do we need that sort of “proof” that God has powers greater than Man, before we believe, as a popular song goes, that “worthy is the lord” of our praise? Can we not love God, unless we first delude ourself into thinking, that Spiritual God has to playact as if he has shed physical blood (in a veil of apparently human flesh) before God can truly offer Grace and Salvation? Does God have to become more like Man (or we drag Him down to our level) before we consider Him worthy of our love, praise, and worship? Or should we attempt to show our true love by becoming more like God? God in our image Do we need a man-god to be our priest to God? Or should we be priests, a nation of priests, to those who know not God, as God says in the Torah?
When one speaks of a relationship of “God within God” or “worship of Jesus-God inside or within God-God”, this is a type of narcissism, which is fine in Greek myth but not a part of Jewish scripture.
We were created in God’s “image”. Should we reject that for the god created in our image?
But when most trinitarian Christians believe that there’s a relationship within God or that God chose to take on humanity around Himself, they aren’t doing so out of selfish pride or a desire to speculate. They know that mathematically it doesn’t make sense, but of course it doesn’t: God can’t be understood, and this is seen as a mystery. It is accepted not proudly as speculation, but humbly as revelation, in the way that a Christian thinks God has revealed Himself to them in their relationship with Him, and to the world.
They don’t think God did this to try and trick people, nor to they think ‘the game is up’ when people recognise Jesus as God. While they believe that this is beyond our understanding, they also believe that God gave a huge gift of humility, love, and sacrifice in coming to take on Himself the punishment that humans deserve when He forgives us. Nor do they see Jesus as ‘a god’ taking attention away from God. Because of the New Testament they do see him as having a relationship with God, but many people recognise that no one can be worthy of worship without being personally God. Christians differ in how they ‘explain’ how this can be possible, and many people don’t grasp the idea that if they’re wrong it is actually idolatry. But to the best of their ability, they are being faithful to what they believe God has revealed about loyalty to Himself, and they would literally die for those beliefs because they know Him so closely and care about what they think He has commanded.
I don’t believe that Christianity is acceptable from a Torah perspective, for reasons I won’t reiterate here. Even if it’s sincere, wholehearted, towards God alone, worshipping someone/something falsely is always going to add things to your relationship with God that are just not who He is. But I’m just trying to give a more accurate picture of how many Christians actually think, because there’s no point in refuting things that they don’t believe… and doing so can make the Jewish answers seem to ignore the challenge of Christianity.
I’m curious to hear more about why you think belief in a relationship ‘within God’ comes from (or taps into) narcissism.
What I am saying is that revelation cannot also be “mystery”. And we cannot root our faith in mysteries and the unknown. Using the word “mystery” is a tool used to justify one’s own ideas and beliefs. That is speculation and a surrender to our imaginations and our own will. We are supposed to be wise and not foolish builders (Matthew 7:25-27). What we need is right in “front of us” and within our reach. No one needs to go to Heaven or to “brokers of faith” and retrieve it. I am trying to show how absurd some of our popular religious theories and beliefs are. How foolish and how contradictory those beliefs, which often have no strong basis or foundation either in scripture or in logic (theological or secular). I don’t think God is trying “to trick us”, it is we who are tricking ourselves (or our preachers, us). I am not questioning the sincerity of people’s belief, but only why so many think so absolutely in ideas that are “on very shaky ground”; where plain, simple truths, or “common sense” are rejected and where ideas “beyond our understanding” are accepted as reality. The simple ideas, they just “can’t grasp”, but they will die for mysteries that they can’t explain (absurd might be a better word) and ideas they just can’t grasp, but the take it on “faith”. Faith is another term people often used when people don’t really know what they believe, but they are going to believe it anyhow no matter what is more scriptural and no matter what makes more sense. They accept this mystery and this confusion, although hey have often heard a common phrase, “confusion is of the devil”. Why seek Truth in mysteries (ie., darkness”) and shun Light?
To add a little more clarity, I am not a Jew and for some decades I have accepted and also struggled with several (or most) of those various Christian “theories” and “speculations”. What that revealed to me is that there was little revelation of God in those various beliefs. I heard many of those arguments between Christians of one faith or belief or church and those of other Christian beliefs or faith. I’ve heard various atheist arguments against those Christian beliefs or teachings and I’ve usually heard weak and inadequate Christian counter-arguments & apologetics. But the “rationalists” were often not rational and those with “revelation from God” revealed little other than that some few of them are good at Sophistry (good at making contradictory arguments seem not so contradictory). From Jews, I’ve learned more about God, the Father, in an hour than months of listening to good Christian preachers. Rabbis are good teachers and Rabbi B is one of the best. Their focus is on God. And seldom, if ever, have I heard any good reason from Christian thinkers & philosophers (or common preachers) why God alone is not enough and why a man on earth 2000 years ago was somehow needed then or is still needed now. The more you seek the “historical Jesus”, the more you study the documented (& not the popular theories or inventions) history of early Christianity, and the more you truly learn about the text of the NT and non-canonical early Christian writers, it is not hard for you to believe that Christian Seminaries produce quite a few atheists.
One more before I go. You write “there’s no point in refuting things that they don’t believe… and doing so can make the Jewish answers seem to ignore the challenge of Christianity” is only partially true. Christian belief is quite diverse and so then, any refutation may reach some in the audience. And the intended audience, I believe, is the Jew who either may want to explore Christianity and just might convert or one who has already converted to Christianity. Quite a few Christians who might comment on a blog like this are usually non-typical Christians or ones who may feel Rabbi B is just another Jewish “Christian basher”. It is highly likely, that these people do feel a very strong challenge to their Christian beliefs, when what they read is only teaching about Judaism and defending the Jewish faith from attack on multiple fronts. Christianity, in it’s numerous forms, and Judaism are 2 very different religions. The more we see how the NT came about, the more we see the NT itself was designed or at least used as an attack on Jews and their unique view of God. Although texts and certain ideas about God by Jews was accepted by non-Jews, not all of those ideas were accepted by non-Jews. In the US, we have quite a few churches involved in “returning to their Hebrew roots”. What few of them do not know is that they are also very much rooted in the religion of ancient
Rome, in Hellenism, in middle eastern “mystery religions”, etc. No bashing from me, because those non-Jews roots were my roots as well.
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I am not claiming that Jesus was any sort of divine being, so ask the majority of Jesus-Yeshua followers?