The Bible tells the story of the Israelites and how they traveled through the wilderness. This story has a significant impact on Christianity because it teaches us the earliest forms of worship. It also shows us how God used those periods to show faith and devotion and how the worship of God played a significant role in their daily lives.
The Hebrews worshipped God through music and singing, festivals, and sacrifices. All these practices were moderated by the Levites or Priests.
This article will look at how the Israelites worshipped God throughout their journey in the wilderness. By exploring these aspects of their religious practices, we will be able to get a deeper understanding of the rituals, traditions, and symbolism of Christianity.
The Offerings and Sacrifices
While traveling to the promised land, the Old Testament made mention of a number of offerings and sacrifices. These sacrifices were part of their religious practices within this period. Their primary purpose was to worship and please God. Here are some important sacrifices the Israelites made while in the wilderness;
Burnt Offering: God did not impose this practice on the Israelites. Rather, it was a voluntary act offered to God as an act of worship. It is done by burning an animal, usually a sheep, a bull, or a bird, on an altar. This practice represents total surrender and worship.
Grain Offering: This is also another form of offering the Israelites gave to God during their time in the wilderness. It usually consists of grains, frankincense, and oil. This sacrifice is usually presented as a form of gratitude to God, and it accompanies other sacrifices. It is usually prepared by baking or roasting it and then placing a portion on an altar. The rest is to be given to a priest.
Peace Offering: This is another documented type of offering that was documented within the period that the children of Israel spent in the wilderness. It was voluntary, and it signifies fellowship, thanksgiving, and vows fulfilled. It is done by offering an animal. This is usually a goat or a lamb which is then slaughtered on an altar. The individual that made the sacrifice will then share the meat with the priest and others.
Sin Offering: A sin offering is carried out as a way of showing repentance for unintentional sins. It is also a form of ritual purity. Specific animals are used, usually a bull, a goat, or a lamb. The choice of animal used is usually determined by the individual’s status. After killing the animal, its blood is sprinkled on the altar, and the meat is given to the priests.
Guilt Offering: This type of offering is also known as the trespass offering. It is usually offered to make amends when an individual sins against God or others. An animal is sacrificed, also the affected party will be appeased. The purpose of this sacrifice is to ask for forgiveness for wrongdoings.
The Levitical Priesthood
While in the wilderness, the Levitical priesthood played a central role in how the children of Israel worshipped God. These Levites are members of the tribe of Levi, they were chosen by God to be priests, and they helped with spiritual duties. Here are some significant roles played by the Levites:
Tabernacle Service: The priests took charge of the day-to-day operations of the Tabernacle–the mobile sanctuary that the Israelites carried for most of their journey. They also took charge of setting up and dismantling the Tabernacle, as well as carrying out rituals and offerings. This also includes taking care of sacred objects and performing other religious events.
Sacrificial System: They also served as an intermediary between the Israelites and God. They were responsible for all offerings made by the people. They both received and carried out the ritual. This includes all the sacrifices mentioned in the previous section. The priest conducts this by following specific procedures and guidelines laid by Moses.
Teaching and Judging: The Levites also taught the people God’s laws and commandments. They held the responsibility of preserving and passing down religious traditions and guiding the people with acceptable doctrines and practices. Also, they serve as judges and help resolve disputes and interpret the laws of Moses.
Sanctification and Purity: The Levites were held in high regard. They were expected to be transparent and to maintain a certain level of holiness and purity. They also had to follow some specific regulations, behaviors, and clothing.
How Did Israelites Worship God in the Wilderness?
As part of their worship practice, the children of Israel had music and singing integrated as a cultural practice. This practice continued even after they reached the promised land. Whether by an individual, a group of people, or during festivals, this practice had one aim–to please God. Here is how music influenced the Israelite journey;
Worship and Praise: Music and singing have always been a cultural practice among the Hebrews, even before their journey away from Egypt. This can be seen in Genesis after they crossed the Red Sea.
Exodus 15:19 When Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and horsemen[e] went into the sea, the Lord brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground. Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them:
“Sing to the Lord,
for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
he has hurled into the sea.”
These songs were composed to express gratitude, adoration, and reverence to God. Praise and worship are usually accompanied by instruments like lyres, harps, tambourines and trumpets.
Levitical Singers and Musicians: There is a spiritual musical culture among the Levites, to be specific, the children of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun. These Levites were appointed to serve as singers and musicians in the Tabernacle and later the Temple. They were in charge of musical worship and learned different instruments. They are like organized choirs, and they perform during religious ceremonies and festivals.
2 Chronicles 5:12-13 and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun, and their sons and kinsmen clothed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps and lyres, standing east of the altar, and with them one hundred and twenty priests blowing trumpets in unison when the trumpeters and the singers were to make themselves heard with one voice to praise and to glorify the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice accompanied by trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and when they praised the Lord saying, “He indeed is good for His lovingkindness is everlasting,” then the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud,
Festivals and Celebrations: The use of music and singing was very significant in most Hebrew festivals. This includes the festivals and celebrations during their exodus from Egypt.
Despite the number of years spent in the wilderness, the Israelites always devised a way to worship God. This shows that in anything we do, or any place we are, we should worship God.