APPROACH TO GOD
In an ancient Oriental court any approach to the presence of the monarch by an individual could be made only in accord with established regulations and with the monarch’s permission. In most cases an intermediary acted for petitioners desiring an audience with the ruler, introducing them and vouching for the genuineness of their credentials. To enter the inner courtyard of Persian King Ahasuerus without being called meant death; but Queen Esther, when risking her life to gain access to the king’s presence, was favored with approval. (Es 4:11, 16; 5:1-3) The actions and words of Joseph’s brothers illustrate the care employed to avoid causing offense before a king, for Judah said to Joseph: “It is the same with you as with Pharaoh.” (Ge 42:6; 43:15-26; 44:14, 18) Thus, to gain access to the presence of an earthly ruler, though only an imperfect human, was often a very difficult matter and a rare privilege.
Sanctity of God’s Presence. Although Paul stated in Athens that God “is not far off from each one of us” (Ac 17:27), and his accessibility is presented throughout his Word the Bible, the one approaching Him must also meet definite requirements and have His divine permission or approval. Daniel’s vision of the majestic heavenly court of “the Ancient of Days” to whom the “son of man” “gained access” and was “brought . . . up close even before that One,” illustrates the dignity, respect, and order associated with the presence of the Sovereign Ruler of the universe. (Da 7:9, 10, 13, 14; compare Jer 30:21.) The record at Job 1:6 and 2:1 indicates that God’s angelic sons are also invited into his immediate presence at appointed times, and Satan’s appearance among them must reasonably have been only by Sovereign permission.
Man, having been made in his Creator’s image and likeness by being endowed with a measure of the divine attributes and having the responsibility of caring for the planet Earth and the animal creation on it, would need to be in communication with his God and Father. (Ge 1:26, 27) Such communication is described at Genesis 1:28-30; 2:16, 17.
As perfect creatures, and hence with no guilt complex or consciousness of sin, Adam and Eve could originally approach God in conversation without feeling the need for an intercessor between them and their Creator, doing so as children would approach their father. (Ge 1:31; 2:25) Their sin and rebellion lost for them this relationship, bringing condemnation of death. (Ge 3:16-24) Whether they made future attempts at approaching God is not stated.
Through Faith, Right Works, and Sacrifices. The account of the approach to God on the basis of offerings by Cain and by Abel shows that prerequisites for access to God were faith and right works. Hence, Cain was debarred from divine acceptance until he should “turn to doing good.” (Ge 4:5-9; 1Jo 3:12; Heb 11:4) The start that was later made of “calling on the name of Jehovah” in Enosh’s time does not appear to have been sincere (Ge 4:26), inasmuch as the next man of faith mentioned after Abel is not Enosh but Enoch, whose ‘walking with God’ shows his approach was approved. (Ge 5:24; Heb 11:5) Enoch’s prophecy, recorded at Jude 14, 15, however, indicates that rampant disrespect for God existed in his day.—See ENOSH, ENOS.
Noah’s righteous and faultless course among his contemporaries gained him access to God and preservation. (Ge 6:9-19) Following the Flood, he approached God on the basis of a sacrifice, as had Abel; he was blessed and was advised of added requirements for divine approval as well as of God’s covenant with all flesh guaranteeing that there would be no future global deluge. (Ge 8:20, 21; 9:1-11) The expression “Jehovah, Shem’s God,” apparently indicates that this son had gained a position of greater favor with God than had his two brothers.—Ge 9:26, 27.
Melchizedek’s priesthood. Although Noah officiated at the altar on behalf of his family, there is no specific mention of a “priest” as acting on behalf of men in their approach to God until Melchizedek’s time. Melchizedek’s priesthood was recognized by Abraham, who “gave him a tenth of everything.” (Ge 14:18-20) Melchizedek is presented as a prophetic type of Christ Jesus at Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-17, 25.
Approach by other patriarchs. Abraham’s relations with God qualified him to be called ‘God’s friend’ (Isa 41:8; 2Ch 20:7; Jas 2:23), and his faith and obedience, coupled with his respectful approach through altars and offerings, are emphasized as the basis for this. (Ge 18:18, 19; 26:3-6; Heb 11:8-10, 17-19) He was taken into covenant relationship with God. (Ge 12:1-3, 7; 15:1, 5-21; 17:1-8) Circumcision was given as a sign of this, for a time becoming a requirement for divine acceptance. (Ge 17:9-14; Ro 4:11) Abraham’s position qualified him to make supplication even on behalf of others (Ge 20:7), yet his deep respect is always manifest before Jehovah’s presence or his representative. (Ge 17:3; 18:23-33) Job, a distant relative of Abraham, acted as priest for his family, offering up burnt sacrifices for them (Job 1:5), and made supplication on behalf of his three “companions,” and “Jehovah accepted Job’s face.”—Job 42:7-9.
Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the promise to Abraham, approached God by calling on “the name of Jehovah” in faith, and by the construction of altars and the presentation of offerings.—Heb 11:9, 20, 21; Ge 26:25; 31:54; 33:20.
Moses was instructed by God’s angel not to approach the burning bush and was ordered to remove his sandals because of standing on “holy ground.” (Ex 3:5) As God’s appointed representative in the nation of Israel, Moses had unique access to Jehovah’s presence during his life, as Jehovah spoke “mouth to mouth” with him. (Nu 12:6-13; Ex 24:1, 2, 12-18; 34:30-35) Moses, like Melchizedek, served as a prophetic type of Christ Jesus.—De 18:15; Ac 3:20-23.
Importance of approved approach stressed. Prior to the giving of the Law covenant, Jehovah instructed the entire nation of Israel to sanctify themselves for three days, washing their clothes. Bounds for approach were set and no one, man or beast, was to touch the mountain of Sinai under penalty of death. (Ex 19:10-15) Moses then “brought the people out of the camp to meet the true God,” stationing them at the base of the mountain, and he ascended the mountain to receive the covenant’s terms amid the thunder and lightning, smoke and fire, and trumpet sounds. (Ex 19:16-20) Moses was ordered not to let “the priests and the people break through to come up to Jehovah, that he may not break out upon them.” (Ex 19:21-25) “The priests” here mentioned were perhaps a principal male of each family of Israel and as such would “regularly come near to Jehovah,” like Job, on behalf of the family.
Under the Law Covenant. Through the Law covenant an arrangement was set up that provided for individual and national approach to God through an appointed priesthood and with legally prescribed sacrifices, connected with a sacred tabernacle and later a temple. The sons of Aaron the Levite acted as priests on behalf of the people. For others, even the Levites not of Aaron’s line, to presume to draw near to the altar or the holy utensils to effect such service would result in death. (Le 2:8; Nu 3:10; 16:40; 17:12, 13; 18:2-4, 7) The priests had to meet strict requirements as to both physical and ceremonial cleanness, and they had to have on approved attire when approaching the altar or “the holy place.” (Ex 28:40-43; 30:18-21; 40:32; Le 22:2, 3) Any disrespect or violation of divine instructions in approaching the Sovereign God brought the death penalty, as in the case of two of Aaron’s own sons. (Le 10:1-3, 8-11; 16:1) Of the entire nation only Aaron, and those who succeeded him as high priest, could enter the Most Holy before the ark of the covenant, which was associated with Jehovah’s presence; but even he was allowed to enter on but one day in the year, on Atonement Day. (Le 16:2, 17) In this privileged position Aaron prefigured Christ Jesus as God’s High Priest.—Heb 8:1-6; 9:6, 7, 24.
At the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem, King Solomon approached Jehovah on behalf of the nation. His prayer was that Jehovah’s eyes would prove to be opened day and night toward that house where He had placed His name and that He would hear the entreaties made by the king, the nation, and also foreigners joining themselves to Israel, whoever would “pray toward this house.” Thereby, Jehovah was accessible to all, from the king to the least person in the nation.—2Ch 6:19-42.
In Israel, approach to God on matters affecting the entire nation was made by king, priest, and prophet. The Urim and Thummim of the high priest were employed on certain occasions to determine God’s direction. (1Sa 8:21, 22; 14:36-41; 1Ki 18:36-45; Jer 42:1-3) Violation of Jehovah’s law regarding proper approach brought punishment, as in the case of Uzziah (2Ch 26:16-20), and could result in a complete cutting off of communication with God, as in the case of Saul. (1Sa 28:6; 1Ch 10:13) That Jehovah would permit no trifling with regard to his Sovereign Presence and objects associated with it is illustrated in the case of Abinadab’s son Uzzah, who took hold of the ark of the covenant to steady it, with the result that “Jehovah’s anger blazed against Uzzah and the true God struck him down there for the irreverent act.”—2Sa 6:3-7.
Mere ritual and sacrifice insufficient. While it has been argued that the worship of Jehovah developed from one of ritual and sacrifice to one of moral requirement, the evidence is all to the contrary. Mere ritual and sacrifice in themselves never sufficed but provided only a token legal basis for approach to God. (Heb 9:9, 10) In the final analysis Jehovah himself decided whom to receive; thus Psalm 65:4 states: “Happy is the one you choose and cause to approach, that he may reside in your courtyards.” Faith, righteousness, justice, freedom from bloodguilt, truthfulness, and obedience to God’s expressed will were continually stressed as the credentials required for approach to God, so that not simply the one bearing gifts to the Universal Sovereign but the one “innocent in his hands and clean in heart” could ascend into the mountain of Jehovah. (Ps 15:1-4; 24:3-6; 50:7-23; 119:169-171; Pr 3:32; 21:3; Ho 6:6; Mic 6:6-8) Where these qualities were lacking, sacrifices, fasting, and even prayers became detestable and worthless in God’s eyes. (Isa 1:11-17; 58:1-9; 29:13; Pr 15:8) When wrongdoing had been committed, a broken spirit and a crushed heart had to be first manifested before approach was approved. (Ps 51:16, 17) Priestly office could not gain favorable reception by God if such priests despised his name and offered unacceptable sacrifices.—Mal 1:6-9.
Approach to God is also described as the presenting of oneself before a court and coming near before the judge for judgment. (Ex 22:8; Nu 5:16; Job 31:35-37; Isa 50:8) At Isaiah 41:1, 21, 22 Jehovah tells the national groups to approach, with their controversial case and arguments, for judgment by him.
Basis for Approach Under New Covenant. The Law covenant arrangement with its animal sacrifices, as a pictorial legal basis, pointed toward a superior basis for approach to God. (Heb 9:8-10; 10:1) This came by means of the new covenant through which all were to ‘know Jehovah, from the least one even to the greatest one.’ (Jer 31:31-34; Heb 7:19; 8:10-13) As the sole Mediator of that new covenant, Christ Jesus became “the way.” He said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Joh 14:6, 13, 14) The barrier separating the Jews from the uncircumcised Gentile nations outside God’s national covenant with Israel was removed by means of Christ’s death, so that “through him we, both peoples, have the approach to the Father by one spirit.” (Eph 2:11-19; Ac 10:35) Faith in God as “the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him” and in the ransom is the prerequisite for peaceful approach and a kindly reception by God through Jesus Christ. (Heb 11:6; 1Pe 3:18) Those approaching through Christ Jesus as their High Priest and Intercessor know that “he is always alive to plead for them” (Heb 7:25), and they can confidently “approach with freeness of speech to the throne of undeserved kindness.” (Heb 4:14-16; Eph 3:12) They do not approach in fear of condemnation. (Ro 8:33, 34) Yet they retain the godly fear and awe that such approach to God, “the Judge of all,” merits.—Heb 12:18-24, 28, 29.
The Christian’s approach to God involves sacrifices and offerings of a spiritual kind. (1Pe 2:4, 5; Heb 13:15; Ro 12:1) Material temples and gold, silver, and stone images are shown to be of no benefit in approaching the true God. (Ac 7:47-50; 17:24-29; compare Eph 2:20-22.) Friends of the world are God’s enemies; the haughty he opposes, but humble ones with ‘clean hands’ and a ‘pure heart’ can “draw close to God, and he will draw close to [them].”—Jas 4:4-8.
Anointed Christians called to a heavenly hope have a “way of entry into the holy place by the blood of Jesus,” and, knowing well the “great priest over the house of God,” they can “approach with true hearts in the full assurance of faith.”—Heb 10:19-22.
As to the importance of one’s trustfully approaching God, the psalmist aptly sums up the matter in saying: “For, look! the very ones keeping away from you will perish. You will certainly silence every one immorally leaving you. But as for me, the drawing near to God is good for me. In the Sovereign Lord Jehovah I have placed my refuge, to declare all your works.”—Ps 73:27, 28; see PRAYER.