Worship in the Old Testament ​​​​​​​

Published 12 Sep 2017

From the first of the Mosaic Law on through the entire Old Testament, man is reminded time and again that he Lord God is the only deserving recipient of his worship (Ex. 20:2-3). It is also worth mentioning that God made it explicitly clear how He is to be worshipped including details on where to worship, how to worship, what to bring in worship and even what to do. God did not want the Israelites to take up foreign forms of worship. He ordered that all places of worshipping foreign gods be destroyed (Deut. 12:2 – 3). This section explores how worship was conducted in the Old Testament.

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God made it clear through the scripture that the people of Israel (who were the chosen people) were not to worship from just anywhere. Deut. 12:5 says, “But you are to seek the place of the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put His name there for His dwelling. To that place you must go”. God was not to be worshipped anyhow but very specific instructions were given. He only allowed them to worship in a haphazard manner before they settled in the Promised Land but after they had settled, a designated place would serve as the place for worship where all were to go (Deut. 12:8-12). Later in the lifetime of David, Jerusalem became the official place of worship. The Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem. It was Solomon however who built the designated temple for God (1 Kings 6ff). Even the temple dimensions were very specifically given by God. Later on in the New Testament we see people gathering together in Jerusalem as the place to worship especially during festivals (Acts Chapter 2). Elsewhere in John 4:20 the Samaritan woman questions Jesus about the designated place of worship according to the Jewish faith i.e. Jerusalem. Again in Acts 8:27 the Ethiopian Eunuch was said to have been coming from worshipping in Jerusalem.

God again made it clear that the children of Israel were not to worship Him in the way the heathens worshipped their gods (Deut. 12:4). Their worship was to be at a designated place. They were to bring burnt offerings and sacrifices, tithes and gifts and what they had vowed to give as well as the 1st born of their herds. Besides there were other sacrifices that were only offered by priests as sin offering for atonement of the people’s sins. Worship in the Old Testament was characterized by feasting. People were to eat and drink during worship as they rejoiced before the Lord 12:7. Blood was usually poured beside the altar and symbolized forgiveness of sins. Later in the New Testament Jesus’ blood confirmed the new covenant (Heb. 9:11-28). There were various feats that were to be marked by worship. These include the feast of weeks, feast of trumpets, first fruits, feast of tabernacles, the Passover, the Sabbath or day of rest and many others in the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus. These days were marked with different kinds of sacrifices and offerings as well as rituals

In the Old Testament worship was conducted by priests who were also permitted to enter the most Holy place or the altar and offer sacrifices of atonement. Priests were usually chosen form the tribe of Levi. They were mediators between God and man. People who were not priests were not allowed to offer sacrifices to God.

This is seen when Gaul the king of Israel got important and decided to go offer sacrifices to God ostensibly because Samuel the priest was late in coming. The consequence of this sin was so grave it marked the downfall of King Saul (I Samuel 13:8-14). The priests were meant to enter the most holy place only after consecrating themselves. They offered sacrifices of atonement on their one behalf and also on behalf of the people. Additionally they were special priestly robes that were worn during this time.

In the Old Testament God laid down many laws that ere to be followed to the better. These laws were very specific and were very much a part of worship. These laws were meant to show the Israelites how to live with their neighbours and also how to conduct their own lives. Some of the laws were to protest them from diseases while others were to help form their characters.God wanted them to live disciplined lives and considered obedience to these laws as paramount. Obedience was thus an important aspect of worship. The people were also to consecrate themselves in case of sins against God before their worship could be acceptable to God. God commanded the Israelites to offer sacrifice to Him. Animals, as well as farm harvest, were acceptable before God. The animals to be offered to God were to be the very best. Not old and without any kind of blemish. Additionally the animals were to be the firstborns and the harvest was to be the fist fruits of the land. Some of the sacrifices would of course go to taking care of the priest’s needs. But even this was to be done according to the specific rites laid by God.

Worship in the Old Testament time was an elaborate affair with strict guidelines to be followed from when to worship to how to go about it. The priests who were to conduct it were also to observe several rules and be in the right attire. Besides the place of worship was also very specifically designated. The worship was marked by people getting to hear what God willed with their lives. The priests mediated in this process and related God’s wish to the people and vice versa. Jesus contrasted the new way of worship with the Old Testament way.
When He asserted people would no longer have to go a certain place but were to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). In Hebrews we also see another contrast where the sacrifices were to stop because Jesus sacrificed himself once and for all. Today the worship in the New Testament emphasizes sincerity and self-denial but the rules and regulations that were being observed in the Old Testament are not key to worship in the New Testament.


  • The Holy Bible; Exodus, Deuteronomy, Leviticus, I Samuel, Hebrews, John and Acts.
  • Childs, B.S. Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture. Fortress, 1979. A canonical approach to the text and books.
  • Soggin, J. Alberto. Introduction to the Old Testament. OTL. Westminster, 1989. The current standard in place of Eissfeldt.
  • Sailhammer, John H. Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach. Zondervan, 1995. Evangelical. Structured study on how to do Old Testament theology.
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