The Scriptorium

Empty Worship

God looked on the worship of His people as an abomination.

To Worship and Glorify God: Isaiah 66 (2)

Pray Psalm 145.1-3.

I will extol You, my God, O King;
And I will bless Your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless You,
And I will praise Your name forever and ever.
Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
And His greatness is unsearchable.

Read Isaiah 66.3, 4.

1. How does God describe the worship of His people in these verses?

2. Though they “worshiped”, what was the nature of their true relationship with God?

As we see in Psalm 50, God is not pleased with worship that merely goes through the motions without engaging a heart of gratitude, and a renewing of our vows to the Lord in all areas of daily life. But this is precisely where the people of Isaiah’s day were – religious, but without God.

The book of Isaiah ends where it began, with God rebuking His people for their empty worship. They offered their sacrifices with no more heart and devotion than if they were slaughtering an animal to eat (v. 3). Their grain offerings were as contaminated with insincerity and unbelief as if they were offering the blood of a pig to the Lord (v. 3). When they came to burn incense, they made the burning of incense an end in itself, rather than a vehicle preparing the way for their prayers (cf. Ps. 141.1, 2). Thus, the burning of incense became an idol to them.

And they loved this vain and empty worship! What God looked upon with disgust, and as an abomination, they delighted in (v. 3). There was no heart in the worship of God’s people. He was calling to them, seeking them, that they might worship Him truly; but they were so happy about their “worship” that they kept on doing what they were doing, without hearing the Lord or following the pattern of sound worship that begins with loving Him with all our hearts (v. 3).

They worshiped with empty worship, all the while fearing the worst because of the menacing words of prophets like Isaiah. It they had really listened to the Lord, they would have accepted His judgment without fear, and gone into captivity, seeing this as part of God’s work of a new creation, eagerly looking forward to the unfolding of each stage of that great project, and devoting themselves to what God required specifically of them in Babylon.

But they did not. Their worship was empty and evil to the Lord, and He gave them over to the thing they feared. If worship is just an arena for us to delight ourselves, doing what makes us happy or gives us a little thrill, but it’s not the worship God requires, then God will not delight in it, because it’s only empty idolatry.

What captivity awaits us, as we pursue forms of worship that we enjoy, but which do not delight the Lord? 

1. How can we know if our worship, and that of our church, is pleasing to the Lord, or just something we like to do? 

2. If the Lord were to lead His Church into captivity in our day, what form might that take? 

3. God calls and speaks to us continually. What is our responsibility when it comes to hearing and answering Him?

For they did not act as was right, neither was their zeal according to law, but they rather sought their own pleasure in such days, as the prophet accuses them, beating down their bondsmen and gathering themselves together for strifes and quarrels, and they struck the lowly with the fist and did all things that tended to their own gratification. Athanasius (295-373AD), Festal Letters 19.2

Is my worship what it ought to be, Lord? Or am I just going through the motions, entertaining and deceiving myself? Help me today to…

Pray Psalm 145.

True worship begins in praise. Let this psalm lead you through the mighty acts and glorious works of God, and to praise Him for Who He is as well as what He does. Commit yourself afresh to this great and glorious God for the day ahead.

Sing to the Lord.
Psalm 145 (Brother James’ Air: The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll Not Want)
I will extol You, God, my King, and ever praise Your Name!
I bless You, Lord, for everything each day, and e’er the same!
Great are You, Lord, my praise I bring; unsearchable Your fame!

To ev’ry generation we Your wondrous works shall tell.
The splendor of Your majesty we contemplate full well.
We speak of all Your mighty deeds and all Your greatness tell!

Then shall we all the glorious fame of Your great goodness sing – 
Your righteousness, Your gracious Name, Your mercy: praise we bring!
Your steadfast love remains the same, mercy our covering.

Your works shall thank You; all Your saints shall bless and praise You, Lord.
Your reign we bless without restraint; Your power fills our words.
Our children we shall educate in all Your splendor, Lord.

Your Kingdom evermore shall be; You reign forever, Lord!
Your works You do so faithfully, according to Your Word.
The falling You uphold and the oppressed You rescue, Lord!

The eyes of all look up to You to meet our needs each day.
Open Your hand, provide the food we need, O Lord, we pray!
Kindness and righteousness You do, O Lord, in every way!

Be near to all who call on You; all those who fear You, bless.
Preserve all those whose love is true; save us in our distress.
Our mouths will speak with praise of You; Your holy Name we’ll bless!

T. M. Moore

How great is the salvation which is ours in Jesus Christ? Download the three installments of our free study, Such a Great Salvation, and learn for yourself (click here). Do you know that God has called you as a joy-bringer to your world? Our booklet, Joy to Your World!, can show you how to fulfill this calling (click here).

Forward today’s lesson to some friends, and challenge them to study with you through this series on Isaiah. Each week’s lessons will be available as a free PDF download at the end of the week. Get a copy for yourself and send the link for the download to your friends. Plan to meet weekly to study Isaiah’s important message.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All psalms for singing adapted from The Ailbe Psalter. All quotations from Church Fathers from Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006).All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.