I’ve titled this blog series “Praise and Worship,” but so far we’ve only talked about praise and prayer. I think it’s typical to think of praise and worship going together, and perhaps you’re like me and the first thing you think of is praise and worship music. While praise is typically done aloud and often includes music and singing, worship in the Bible is actually quite different.
In the Old Testament, most mentions of “worship” are translated from the Hebrew word shachah (H7812). It is a “verb meaning to bow down, to prostrate one self, to crouch, to fall down, to humbly beseech, to do reverence, to worship” (Baker and Carpenter). It was the accepted way of showing respect to powerful people, such as Boaz (Ruth 2:10) or David (1 Sam. 25:41).
While it was acceptable to bow before other people sometimes, when their position and character called for such a gesture of respect, it was never acceptable to do this before any deity other than the one True God (Josh. 23:7). When using shacha in the sense of worship, it may only be used toward God if you intend to worship properly.
Give to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come before Him. Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! (1 Chr. 16:29)
In the New Testament, there are several words translated “worship,” but we’ll only look at two of them right now. One, latreuo (G3000) is associated with the act of serving God, and involves the voluntary service of a hired servant rather than the compulsory service of a slave. We’ll get back to this word near the end of the post.
The Greek word most often translated “worship” has a meaning very similar to the Hebrew shachah. Proskuneo (G4352) means “to worship, do obeisance, show respect, fall or prostrate before. Literally, to kiss toward someone, to throw a kiss in token of respect of homage” (Zodhiates). I’ve written about this word before, in a post called “Blowing Kisses to God.” In the New Testament, the usual meaning is to bow or kneel before someone in reverence.
But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you. (1 Cor. 14:24-25)
We no longer use this form of salutation to show respect, at least in Western cultures. Bowing to someone seems very foreign, unless we are kneeling in prayer, and even then most of us aren’t crouching on the ground.
While the physical act of bowing before God does endure — for “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Phil 2:10) — that is no longer the main definition of worship. Jesus pointed this out when talking with a Samaritan woman about whether God should be worshiped in a specific location.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. … But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21, 23-24)
So, it is not enough to model the physical act of bowing down in worship. We have to find the “spirit and truth” at the heart of worship that pleases God, and then model that.
People in the Bible who rightly worship God do so when they are asking Him for something (Ex. 34:8-9), as part of their praise (Ps. 138:2), and with godly fear (Ps. 5:7). Reverence for God is at the core of true worship. We worship Him because we believe He is worthy of worship.
All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name. For You are great, and do wondrous things; You alone are God. (Ps. 86:9-10)
Worship seems to be the natural response to an encounter with God or one of His messengers. Abraham “bowed himself toward the ground” when the “Lord appeared to Him” (Gen. 18:1-2). Manoah and his wife “fell on their faces to the ground” after the angel of the Lord prophesied Samson’s birth (Judg. 13:20). Exekiel says, “I fell upon my face” when he saw his first vision (Ezk. 1:28), and Daniel describes the same reaction (Dan 8:17). John fell at the feet of two angels intending to worship them when he received the Revelation of Jesus Christ, though they corrected him since they were servants of God and not God Himself (Rev. 19:10; 22:8).
When we see a glimpse of who and what God the Father and Jesus the Son are and understand it at all, it’s impossible not to worship. The disciples worshiped Jesus when He demonstrated power over a storm (Matt 14:32-33), and when He ascended to heaven (Luke 24:51-52). Peter, James, and John fell on their faces when they heard a Voice from heaven while witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration (Matt. 17:5-6), and a blind man who was healed worshiped Jesus when he understood who He was (John 9:38). We were created to recognize our Creator and pay Him the honor He is due.
Sacrifice and Service
I mentioned earlier that one of the Greek words translated “worship” is connected with serving God. This is also the case in the Old Testament, where we often see worship and sacrifice paired (2 Chr. 29:27-30). Jesus also connected worship and service when rejecting Satan’s temptation, saying, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Matt. 4:10).
In the Old Testament, service to God involved animal sacrifices and a physical priesthood, but that was simply “a shadow of the good things to come,” and now a different sort of service is expected from God’s people (Heb. 10:1-4). Now, personally being “a living sacrifice” is described as our “reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). This will likely involve a physical aspect, but that’s as a result of our spiritual worship (Phil. 3:3).
God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. (Acts 17:24-25)
To repeat Christ’s words to the woman at the well, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4;24). In the New Testament church, God wants to be closer to His people than ever before. He’s not putting physical sacrifices and forms of service between us any more — those are done away with and we are brought near Him by the sacrifice of His Son (Eph. 2:13). His Spirit is communicating directly with our spirits, and He wants us to serve Him from the center of our being.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. (Heb. 12:28)