Reflections on Evening Worship – A Biblical Pattern from the Old and New Testaments

Last week, we focused on how the fourth commandment itself commends—but not commands—the framing of the Lord’s Day with morning and evening worship. This week, we will look more broadly at how the witness of Scripture bears on the topic of evening worship. We begin by considering how the morning and evening sacrifices in the Old Testament suggest this rhythm of opening and closing the Lord’s Day with worship.
In Exodus 29:38-43, God instructs Moses on the offerings that were to be made on the altar in the Tabernacle. This offering was to be done “day by day regularly.” As for timing, it was to be done “in the morning” and “at twilight.” These instructions are repeated in Numbers 28 as a confirmation for the second generation of Israel. So, the rhythm that God set was a morning and evening sacrifice day by day. Admittedly, this was a daily, not a weekly, rhythm, and so on the surface it has no special bearing on Israel’s Sabbath—additional offerings were made to mark the Sabbath (Num 28:9-10). So, what this rhythm mainly points to is a daily rhythm of morning and evening private or family worship. (But, that is a topic for another time.) Nevertheless, this rhythm should have a special significance on the Sabbath, for as I mentioned in my sermon last week the Sabbath is a time of God’s special presence with his people.
When Israel entered the Promised Land and established a monarchy, the importance of maintaining a morning and evening rhythm to worship continued. These offerings are mentioned positively in 1 Chronicles 16:40; 23:30; 2 Chronicles 2:4; 13:11; and 31:3 as integral to the religious life of Israel. Surprisingly, even during a dark time in Israel, when Ahaz, king of Judah, corrupted the whole system of worship in Jerusalem, the morning and evening offerings were maintained (2 Kings 16:15). It is also during the time of the kings of Israel that the Psalms capture the importance of the evening sacrifice. Psalm 134, a song of ascents, is an invitation to the faithful worshipers of God “who stand by night in the house of the LORD” to bless the LORD and in doing so also to receive a blessing from the LORD. In Psalm 141, David prays to God that his prayer would “be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!”
When Israel exited the Promised Land on account of their covenant infidelity, the importance of the pattern of morning and evening remained. Most notably, Daniel, who was a representative of the faithful remnant of Israel in exile, seems to have regulated his prayer life on a morning and evening pattern. In Daniel 9, he remarks that the angel Gabriel appeared to him “at the time of the evening sacrifice” (Dan 9:21). It was during one of those times of God’s special presence that God sent a message to Daniel.
Finally, when Israel re-entered the Promised Land on account of God’s covenant faithfulness, the remnant of Israel maintained the morning and evening pattern. In Ezra 3:3, the description of the rebuilding of the altar includes explicit mention of the re-establishment of the morning and evening offerings. Moreover, Ezra himself marked the importance of the evening offering. It was “at the evening sacrifice” that he made intercession for the faltering faith of the returned exiles (Ezra 9:1-5).
This look at the Old Testament points to the importance in the life of Israel of a morning and evening pattern, whether that be of offering sacrifices in the Tabernacle and the Temple or of offering prayers at those same times because access to the Temple was no longer possible. While the week-to-week pulse of the life of Israel was measured by the Sabbath, it seems that the day-to-day pulse was measured by morning and evening offerings or prayer.
While there is no explicit establishment of morning and evening worship in the New Testament, there is a hint that may commend it as the practice of the early church. Besides the fact that the disciples, as Jewish converts, would have grown up with this pattern, the first appearances of our risen Lord to the disciples occurred morning and evening on the Lord’s Day. In John’s Gospel, we are told that “on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark” (John 20:1). While by the tomb on the Lord’s Day, she asked “the gardener” where the body of Jesus lay (20:15). “The gardener” of course was our risen Lord, and so Mary met God in a special way on the morning of the Lord’s Day. John continues his account of the Resurrection Day with a scene change to “the evening of that day, the first day of the week” (20:19). There in a locked room full of frightened disciples Jesus appeared. And so, the disciples like Mary also met with God in a special way, but this time in the evening. Thus, on the first Christian Sabbath, God met with his people in a special way both morning and evening.
This one piece of evidence certainly does not a New Testament pattern make. But taken as a whole, the pattern of morning and evening worship on the Sabbath does seem to be something commended by the witness of Scripture. That the church after the time of the Apostles quickly began to adopt this pattern of morning and evening worship is good corroborating evidence, but that is the topic of next week’s reflection.