Word Study: Ordinances

Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; and over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly.   Hebrews 9:1-5

Our text today comes from one of the most doctrinally filled and soul-uplifting books in the New Testament. The anonymous author has labored for chapter after chapter to prove one thing: Jesus is better than anything the covenant of Moses could offer the Jewish people. He has dived deep into the Old Testament and drawn verse after verse to show this concept. The author now begins to show his readers how Jesus is greater than the Old Testament priesthood, a topic that deserves no small focus. He begins this by listing several things used by the Israelites in their worship of God. A word, however, that demands our attention is the word “ordinances,” found in verse one of our text. What does this word mean, and what impact does it have on our worship today?

This word, diakoemata in Greek, is normally used among Baptists to refer to the two ‘ordinances’ given by Christ in His church: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This tells us that, at least today, the word “ordinance’ is sometimes used to refer to what we do in worship, to some extent. The Greek dictionary BDAG defines this word as “a regulation relating to just or right action.” In the context of Hebrews 9, this word is reference to things used and done by the Israelites in their corporate worship of God. It means, then, that what the Israelites did with the temple and the sacrifice was an ordinance, or just and right. Why, however, were they just and right? Why could the Israelites only offer certain animals? The answer, simply put, is because God has ordained that as His way to be worshipped by the Israelites, and He has the right to determine this.

This is extremely relevant to our culture today, in which ‘worship styles’ are as varied as people and personalities. There is everything good about allowing people to express themselves in their own cultural way; there is everything wrong about thinking God has not ordained a particular way to worship Him in His Word. When we come to church on the Lord’s Day each week, is this our thought? Are we desiring to worship the God of Heaven the way He has said He wants to be worshipped? If not, we must asked ourselves: who has the right to determine the proper way to worship the Lord?

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