Meditations in the life of Abraham : 10. Worship
Gen 12:7 The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him.
Something we did not cover in the previous meditation is the mystery that is within this verse. Previously we commented that God usually spoke into Abram’s spirit or mind but here we find the text specifically says that the Lord “appeared” to Abram and indeed it repeats it at the end of the verse. Now later on to Moses the Lord said, “No one may see me and live” (Ex 34:20) and the apostle John was later to testify, “No one has ever seen God.” (Jn 1:18) Occasionally in the Old Testament God does seem to manifest |His presence in a human form that we refer to as a theophany, but it is merely a representation of a human being, in the same way that angels (who are spirits – Heb 1:14) take human form when communicating with human beings. How they do this is a mystery and how God takes a temporary human form is also a mystery. However the times when God takes a human form are very clear but that is not so here. Thus we would suggest that when it says God ‘appeared’ here, it simply means He made His presence known to Abram and spoke to him.
But there is something else here. Note that the word ‘Lord’ is in capital letters meaning, ‘the I Am’ (see Ex3:14 and footnote) but this wasn’t revealed until Moses heard it from God. The answer is simply that we believe that Moses compiled or wrote the first five books of the Bible and, in this case, recorded what had been carefully passed down through the generations. He knew the Lord as ‘the I Am’, the Eternal One, which is why we find God so described here.
So the Lord spoke to Abram and, as we noted previously, reassured Abram that this was the Land that his descendants would inherit. Nothing else follows from the Lord for the moment; that is it! Yet that evokes in Abram a response, and that response is to build an altar. Now this is only the second altar mentioned in the Bible, the first being one built by Noah after the Flood (Gen8:20). Yet it is certain that altars existed in pagan worship. An altar is simply a table on which something is presented to the deity, to the Lord in this case. We aren’t told what Abram presented on this altar but the inference would be that he presented something on it, having built it. It signifies the recognition of a spiritual experience which requires a human response. In the awareness of the presence of the Lord, we might find ourselves bowing down but, for these early worshippers, that wasn’t enough, they wanted to establish the place with a reminder of what had happened here.
What this does signify is that Abram had no doubts about this experience, which is interesting because the Lord apparently only spoke eight words, yet that was sufficient for Abram to have the sense of the holy, and that required a response. I am frequently aware of the goodness of the Lord when studying His word or when receiving prophetic words, but I have only had the awareness of the holy presence of the Lord a few times in my life after prolonged times of waiting on Him. Having had those experiences it makes me feel that rarely, in what we call ‘worship’ when the church is gathered, do we really know the holy presence of God. When it came, for me it came with a sense of awe and wonder and awareness of His incredible beauty and I found myself tip toing around for several hours afterwards.
There have been other times in my experience when the Lord has clearly spoken to me with little or no warning but I have known it was Him. That same sense of holiness did not accompany the words, yet a sense of the goodness and love of God which provoked thankfulness and praise and worship.
The point I would make is that I believe there are differing degrees of experiencing the Lord and depending on the depth of the experience, comes the response. It just needed eight words from the Lord – who Abram recognized as the Lord – for him to have a sense of worship. Worship is, in its simplest form, the recognition and acknowledgment by a lessor being of a greater being, and that form of expression tends to be either a bowing down, or a prostrating before God or, as in Abram’s case, the building of an altar for an offering or sacrifice.
The personal questions that may arise out of these reflections may include, what sort of experience of the Lord have I had? Have I heard the Lord speak directly to me, and if so what response did it evoke in me? Have I ever spent time waiting on the Lord (possibly in prayer and fasting) so I have become aware of His holy presence? Am I satisfied with the level of experience that I have had of the Lord? If not, what am I going to do about it?