The word “worship” creates so many different thoughts and images with people. It is one of those words that are used very often, but very seldom do those who use it mean the exact same thing. We all agree that we should worship YHVH our Elohim. Yet, we all have different ideas of exactly what this means and also why we need to do this. People also quite often use the word “worship” when they actually mean something else, like praise. In a number of circles, the phrase “praise and worship” have locked these two words together for always. Yet, we believe that it is important to understand exactly what the word means and how we should make this part of our set apart lives.
What is worship?
The first thing we need to do, is to ensure we have a clear definition of the term “worship.” Let us begin by finding out the origin of the word. The word ‘worship’ comes from the old English (Saxon) word “weorthscipe.”1 Normally, the word was used to indicate actions that are motivated by an attitude of reverence and/or honor.2
A broad definition is provided by the Merriam-Webster dictionary1:
worship \ˈwər-shəp also ˈwȯr-\ noun[Middle English worshipe worthiness, respect, reverence paid to a divine being, from Old English weorthscipe worthiness, respect, from weorth worthy, worth + -scipe -ship] before 12th century
1 chiefly British: a person of importance—used as a title for various officials (as magistrates and some mayors)
2: reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power also: an act of expressing such reverence
3: a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual
4: extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem 〈worship of the dollar〉
-shipped also -shiped; -ship•ping also -ship•ing verb transitive 13th century
1: to honor or reverence as a divine being or supernatural power
2: to regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion 〈a celebrity worshipped by her fans〉 verb intransitive: to perform or take part in worship or an act of worship
A more specific Biblical definition is:
A good synonym for ‘worship‘ is ‘adoration.’
In Biblical Hebrew, there exists no single word that can be directly translated as ‘worship.’ However, in the English translation of the Tanakh, we find the word ‘worship‘ being used 110 times. In 83 occurrences, the Hebrew word in the source is חוה “how” that means “to bow down.” The second most used Hebrew word (13 times) is עבד that means “to serve or to honor.” This is followed closely (11 times) by the word סגד that means “to pay homage.” Thus we see that the word always points toward an action that shows honor and reverence towards the other party.4
In the Greek Scriptures we find the English word being used 70 times. In the majority of these cases (52 times) the Greek word being translated is προσκυνέω (proskyneo). According to Louw-Nida5 this word means:
The word is used most often in the Book of Revelation (23 times), followed by the Gospel of John (12 times.)
Why do we worship?
From Scripture we find that one of the most common reasons for worship was as a sign of submission and blessing towards YHVH.
24 She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” 25 Again she said to him, “We have plenty of both straw and feed, and room to lodge in.” 26 Then the man bowed low and worshiped YHVH. 27 He said, “Blessed be YHVH, the Elohim of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His lovingkindness and His truth toward my master; as for me, YHVH has guided me in the way to the house of my master’s brothers.”
“And I bowed low and worshiped YHVH, and blessed YHVH, the Elohim of my master Abraham, who had guided me in the right way to take the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son.
29 Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the sons of Israel; 30 and Aaron spoke all the words which YHVH had spoken to Moses. He then performed the signs in the sight of the people. 31 So the people believed; and when they heard that YHVH was concerned about the sons of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed low and worshiped.
In some cases we also find that the people bow low or even fall down as a sign of respect (reverence.)
6 Then YHVH passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “YHVH, YHVH Elohim, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” 8 Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship.
11Worship YHVH with reverence And rejoice with trembling.
9 And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 “Worthy are You, our Master and our Elohim, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”
And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped.
In the book of Psalms, we also find that worship is done to exalt YHVH. We see that in these verses, the worship is still done in a context of reverence and respect towards YHVH. The exaltation happens either while still bowing down or at the footstool. It is a joyful act done in complete reverence towards YHVH.
1 Shout joyfully to Elohim, all the earth; 2 Sing the glory of His name; Make His praise glorious. 3 Say to Elohim, “How awesome are Your works! Because of the greatness of Your power Your enemies will give feigned obedience to You. 4 “All the earth will worship You, And will sing praises to You; They will sing praises to Your name.” Selah.
4 In whose hand are the depths of the earth, The peaks of the mountains are His also. 5 The sea is His, for it was He who made it, And His hands formed the dry land. 6 Come, let us worship and bow down, Let us kneel before YHVH our Maker. 7 For He is our Elohim, And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. Today, if you would hear His voice,
5 Exalt YHVH our Elohim And worship at His footstool; Holy is He.
Thus, we see that in most cases there is specific reference to worship happening in an atmosphere of reverence, respect and submission.
In these verses we only looked at the worship of YHVH our Elohim. We need to ask the question: “Who may we worship?”
Who may we worship?
The Scriptures are very clear on this topic. We are told that we are only allowed to worship the one true Elohim.
“You shall fear only YHVH your Elohim; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.
32 When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. 33 And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly YHVH’s Son!”
50 And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. 51 While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple praising YHVH.
6 And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; 7 and he said with a loud voice, “Fear YHVH, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.”
Who we worship is a significant point. This is clear if we look at the temptation of Y’Shua. One of the ways that haSatan wanted to tempt Y’Shua is by giving Him power and authority if Y’Shua would worship before him. Y’Shua was very adamant that Scripture makes it clear that we are only to worship and serve YHVH.
6 And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. 7 “Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” 8 Y’Shua answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship YHVH your Elohim and serve Him only.’ ”
There are several objects that we are specifically told not to worship. Even though the instruction was clear that we are only to worship Elohim, it seems that the nation still ended up worshipping others.
In the Apostolic Scriptures, we find cases where people are specifically told not to worship other people.
25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am just a man.”
22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible Elohim for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. 24 Therefore YHVH gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of Elohim for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
In the context of the Greek and Roman cultures, it becomes clear why this became such a sensitive subject. A number of the Greek and Roman rulers, saw themselves as gods and forced people to worship them by bowing down to statutes. This is also similar to the issue that Daniel had to deal with while being in exile. He refused to worship the king, and did not bow down to the statue.
Paul was very specific about the worship of the creation rather than the Creator. I personally believe that Paul was here referring to the Greeks and Romans, that professed to be the wise and educated nations. We know that the Greeks and Romans pursued all forms of wisdom and intellect. Yet, Paul claims that although they sought this knowledge, they became fools because they started worshipping man and nature. They exchange the truth, YHVH, for a lie, the power of man. The result of all of this is that YHVH allowed them to be given over to their lusts. In the next few verses Paul states the result. Romans 1:26–27
As a part of the ten commandments, we are specifically told that we may not worship other gods.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, YHVH your Elohim, am a jealous Elohim, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
YHVH is a jealous Elohim that wants our true devotion to Him. He instructs His people to overthrow and destroy all other objects of worship.
24 “You shall not worship their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their deeds; but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their sacred pillars in pieces.
We are also told not to do as the other nations d. If we do what the other nations do, including their worship practices, we will be drawn to their gods. Thus, the serious instruction not to do what they do.
When the prophets called the nation back to YHVH, they often had to call on a nation that had turned to the gods of the nations around them. How often did the people of YHVH not walk after the other gods?
15 “Also I have sent to you all My servants the prophets, sending them again and again, saying: ‘Turn now every man from his evil way and amend your deeds, and do not go after other gods to worship them. Then you will dwell in the land which I have given to you and to your forefathers; but you have not inclined your ear or listened to Me.
When we talk about worship of objects, the instructions are not only limited to the mankind, animals or objects mean created. We are also told that we should not worship the luminaries that YHVH had created.
19 “And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which YHVH your Elohim has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.
We know that sun worship was a common practice amongst the pagan nations. We still have the results of that in the naming of our weekdays and in the dates of specific feasts, including the weekly feast of Sabbath. Constantine specifically chose the first day of the week because Sunday is the day that the sun was worshipped. The first day of the week was not a random choice or the next best thing. We are never given any instruction to worship on the day that Y’Shua was resurrected or on the first day of the week. This is the excuse that the modern day church uses to justify worshipping on the day of the sun.
Our Acts of Worship
Now that we have established what worship is and who we should worship, let us turn our attention to the acts of worship. How are we to display our reverence and how do we exalt. Once again the Scriptures show us many techniques that were used to worship YHVH.
One of the techniques that was used is the bringing of offerings. We see that Abraham already saw the “offering” of his son to YHVH as a form of worship.
5 Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.
Y’Shua also referred to the activities in the Temple as acts of worship. He clearly saw the offerings being brought on Mount Zion in Jerusalem as a act of worship.
19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Y’Shua said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 “YHVH is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Paul also described his going to Jerusalem as an act of worship. Please note that in both these cases, the reference is specific to Jerusalem, not the Temple.
10 When the governor had nodded for him to speak, Paul responded: “Knowing that for many years you have been a judge to this nation, I cheerfully make my defense, 11 since you can take note of the fact that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship.
This is the reason why we feel it still important to go up to Jerusalem for the three feasts as often as we can.
The next method of worship is prayer. We see in Scripture that this is a habit that Y’Shua also had. We have written articles before on the topic of prayer. It is one of the habits we need to establish in our lives. Paul is also very clear on this topic in his letter to the community at Colossae.
The author of Hebrews also tells us that all of this must be preceded by faith in YHVH. If we do not have this, how can we worship Him?
6And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to YHVH must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
When we think of worship, we also think of other activities like singing and dancing. If you study the Scriptures, you will see that these activities are actually related to praise. These activities of worship and praise are often mentioned together, but they are separate. They each have a different purpose.
When to Worship
Now the next question would be: in which situation should be worship. From the Scriptures we can see that there are three levels or layers of worship: personal, family and community. We also see enough proof in the Scriptures that these three build on top of one another. We need to start with personal worship. This means that we need to spend time on our own before YHVH. From the Apostolic Scriptures we see a number of examples where Y’Shua spent time on His own in prayer.
16But Y’Shua Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.
23After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.
12It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to YHVH.
28 Some eight days after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming.
We would be wise to consider that if Y’Shua often had need for private time spent in prayer, we are to follow His example. It was one of the instructions He gave His disciples when He discussed this topic with them.
5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
We also have the example of Daniel, who had established the habit for himself to pray three times a day in his room to YHVH.
10Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his Elohim, as he had been doing previously.
The next layer of worship happens within the context of the family or household. We see a number of the great men in the Scriptures leading their families in the acts of worship.
18 So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. 19 Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by their families from the ark. 20 Then Noah built an altar to YHVH, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.
19“For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of YHVH by doing righteousness and justice, so that YHVH may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”
15“If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve YHVH, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve YHVH.”
o Elkanah – father of Samuel
1 Samuel 1:2
2Then the man Elkanah went up with all his household to offer to YHVH the yearly sacrifice and pay his vow.
1 Samuel 20:6
6“If your father misses me at all, then say, ‘David earnestly asked leave of me to run to Bethlehem his city, because it is the yearly sacrifice there for the whole family.’
In the Psalms we also find the prophecy that all families and nations will worship YHVH in the future.
27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to YHVH, And all the families of the nations will worship before You. 28 For the kingdom is YHVH’s And He rules over the nations. 29 All the prosperous of the earth will eat and worship, All those who go down to the dust will bow before Him, Even he who cannot keep his soul alive.
Thus, we see that worshiping of YHVH in the context of our households is an activity that we should establish. It is really important that the man of the house ensures that his household prays together. We should not only teach our children to make time for individual prayer, we also need to lead them in family prayer on a regular basis. I am sure that you have also heard the saying “the family that prays together stays together.” I am sure that there is a lot of hard earned experience behind this piece of wisdom.
This habit of family prayer and unity also leads to the next level of worship. We find that Paul makes it clear in his letter to Timothy, that it is fundamental for a man to manage his own household well. A man may only be in a position of leadership if the family things are in place. If a man wants to be in a position of leadership, he must first learn to lead his own family. This would include leading them in worshiping their Elohim.
1 Timothy 3:2–6
2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. 4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the assembly of YHVH?), 6 and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.
We also find several examples in the Scriptures of people getting together to worship YHVH. In these cases, it is the whole nation of Israel that assembles to worship YHVH.
2 Chronicles 29:27–29
27 Then Hezekiah gave the order to offer the burnt offering on the altar. When the burnt offering began, the song to YHVH also began with the trumpets, accompanied by the instruments of David, king of Israel. 28 While the whole assembly worshiped, the singers also sang and the trumpets sounded; all this continued until the burnt offering was finished. 29 Now at the completion of the burnt offerings, the king and all who were present with him bowed down and worshiped.
6 Then Ezra blessed YHVH the great Elohim. And all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped YHVH with their faces to the ground.
14These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Y’Shua, and with His brothers.
We find that the act of worship through prayer is an act that we need to engage in as an individual, family member and as a member of the body of Messiah. We need to start with our personal prayer as an act of worship. We need to ensure that we make a habit of bowing before our Creator in reverence. We must ensure that we do not bow before others as it is something that YHVH does not tolerate.
As husbands and fathers we have the task to ensure that we lead our households in regular worship. As it is not possible for us to bring physical sacrifices before YHVH in His Temple, we need to lead our families in prayer. This also needs to be done in honor and reverence to bless His name.
1. Mish, F. C. (2003). Preface. Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
2. Martin, R. P. (1979–1988). Worship. In G. W. Bromiley (Ed.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Vol. 4, pp. 1117–1118). Wm. B. Eerdmans.
3. Nelson, D. P. (2003). Worship. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 1686). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
4. Koehler, L., Baumgartner, W., Richardson, M. E. ., & Stamm, J. J. (1999). The Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament (electronic ed.). Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill.
5. Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 539). New York: United Bible Societies.
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