“But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:23-24).
We are living in a disturbing day when a host of souls, instead of having God as the “audience” in worship, have decided to make man the audience. Instead of going to worship to be scripturally edified and to give glory and praise to the Almighty, they come to be entertained, to be spectators, and to see performances. Is this kind of worship man-centered or God-centered?
To help us better understand what worship is, let us look at the English word “worship,” and then notice some of the Hebrew and Greek words used with reference to worship.
The English word “worship” comes to us from worschip (Middle English) and from weorthscipe (Anglo-Saxon). The root meaning of the word is worthy or honorable, plus the suffix ship which refers to a state or quality. Thus, the word “worship” originally referred to a state of honor, dignity or worth. Later it came to be used as a title of honor, applied especially to British magistrates as “your worship.” Americans, in our present day, mean the same thing when they say “your honor.” The word worship, it is important to note, is applied to God in the absolute sense. Realize, though, that the real help in understanding what worship is will come to us as we understand the Hebrew and Greek definitions.
In the Old Testament, the primary term used in describing “worship” is hishahawah, which is from the root word shahah. It occurs 172 times in the Old Testament and in the King James Version it is translates 99 times as “worship,” 31 times as “bow,” 18 times as “bow down,” 9 times as “obeisance,” 5 times as “reverence,” 3 times as “fall down,” and in a very few various other terms. Notice how inspiration uses this Hebrew word hishahawah, “And it came to pass, that, when Abraham’s servant heard their words, he worshipped the Lord, bowing himself to the earth” (Gen. 24:52). “And when all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the Lord upon the house, they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshipped, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever” (2 Chr. 7:3). “And when they had made an end of offering, the king and all that were present with him bowed themselves, and worshipped” (2 Chr. 29:29). The idea, then, in hishahawah is to bow down, to prostrate one’s person in homage to a superior.
The corresponding Greek word is proskuneo (proskuneo). Proskeneo, except for two instances, is used in the Septuagint to translate hishahawah. Proskeneo occurs 60 times in the New Testament, and is always translated as “worship.” Strongs Greek Concordance defines proskuneo as “to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence; among the Orientals, especially the Persians, to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence; in the New Testament by kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication.”
Another Greek word that would be of interest in understanding the meaning of worship is sebomai (sebomai) which occurs ten times, and is translated six of those times as “worship,” three times as “devout,” and once as “religious.” The meaning of sebomai is to hold in reverence, to fear, or to be in awe. It seems that while proskuneo emphasizes the outward show of reverence, sebomai emphasizes the inward feeling of reverence and awe. But let it be stressed that for one to truly be in awe of God, to reverently fear Him, there must be more than just inner feelings, we must worship Him in specified acts that the Almighty has authorized as is clearly pointed out in Matthew 15:9 where sebomai is used, “But in vain they do worship [sebomai] me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”
As one reflects on the various Hebrew and Greek words used to describe worship, one thing is very apparent – pleasing worship to God is composed of certain specified, definite, prescribed activities in which the people of God draw near to Jehovah. Thus, our worship must be directed to God – God is our audience, and our worship involves the proper heart and the proper action if it is to be pleasing in the sight of God. Worship is a very vital, central, and essential part of man’s relationship God. Thus, we must realize that “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:24).
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