What does it mean to worship God? The word “worship” is used almost 200 times in the Bible. Let’s go to the Hebrew and Greek to see what words God chose to use when He inspired the writing of His Word.
- shahah — depress, bow down, prostrate
- hawah — bow down, pay adoration
- abhadh — serve, work, labor
- proskuneo — kiss forward, make obeisance, do reverence to
- sebomai — to revere with devotion
- sebazomai — honor religiously
- latreuo — to serve, render homage
- eusebeo — act piously toward
- sebasma — an object of worship
- ethelothrekseia — to will worship
- threskeia — external religion, religious worship, ceremonial worship
The ancients would demonstrate devotion by bowing their heads to the ground while kissing and pushing their hands forward above their heads. It was the idea of “kissing forward” and was a demonstration of devotion and obedience. Here are some examples of the use of “worship” of God in the Old Testament.
“And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.” Genesis 22:5
“Then the man bowed down his head and worshiped the LORD.” Genesis 24:26
“And I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD, and blessed the LORD God of my master Abraham, who had led me in the way of truth to take the daughter of my master’s brother for his son.” Genesis 24:48
“So the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the children of Israel and that He had looked on their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshiped.” Exodus 4:31
“And it shall be, when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ that you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice of the LORD, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.’ So the people bowed their heads and worshiped. Then the children of Israel went away and did so; just as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.” Exodus 12:26-28
“All the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the tabernacle door, and all the people rose and worshiped, each man in his tent door.” Exodus 33:10
“But you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God).” Exodus 24:13-15
“Then they rose early in the morning and worshiped before the LORD, and returned and came to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her.” 1 Samuel 1:19
“Now therefore, please pardon my sin, and return with me, that I may worship the LORD.” 1 Samuel 15:25
“So David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he went to his own house; and when he requested, they set food before him, and he ate.” 2 Samuel 12:20
“And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem bowed before the LORD, worshiping the LORD.” 2 Chronicles 20:18
“Moreover King Hezekiah and the leaders commanded the Levites to sing praise to the LORD with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshiped.” 2 Chronicles 29:30
“And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.” Nehemiah 8:6
“And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for one-fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God.” Nehemiah 9:3
“You alone are the LORD; You have made heaven, The heaven of heavens, with all their host, The earth and everything on it, The seas and all that is in them, And You preserve them all. The host of heaven worships You.” Nehemiah 9:6
“Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped.” Job 1:20
“But as for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy; In fear of You I will worship toward Your holy temple.” Psalm 5:7
“Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.” Psalm 29:2
“All the earth shall worship You And sing praises to You; They shall sing praises to Your name.’ Selah” Psalm 66:4
“Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.” Psalm 95:6
“Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth.” Psalm 96:9
“Exalt the LORD our God, And worship at His footstool— He is holy.” Psalm 99:5
“Thus says the LORD, The Redeemer of Israel, their Holy One, To Him whom man despises, To Him whom the nation abhors, To the Servant of rulers: Kings shall see and arise, Princes also shall worship, Because of the LORD who is faithful, The Holy One of Israel; And He has chosen You.” Isaiah 49:7
What do we learn about worship from these and other verses in the Old Testament? Worship is the correct and proper response to God’s commands and provision. The Lord God created the heavens and the earth. He deserves our worship. The Lord God is above all gods. He demands our worship. The Lord God is holy. He is worthy of our worship.
Worship became even more personal in the New Testament when the Son of God stepped from Heaven to earth and became as one of us. Notice in the early part of Matthew’s Gospel that Gentiles from the East knew that the Child they searched for deserved their worship. Also notice how Satan desired worship from the Son of God and how Jesus used Old Testament truth to teach Satan about the priorities of worship.
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2
“And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:11
“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.” Matthew 4:10
Other people who met Jesus also had the spiritual sense to know that He was worthy of worship and adoration. Knowing Jesus should have that effect on us. Here’s insight into worship from the Synoptic Gospels.
“And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Matthew 8:2
“While He spoke these things to them, behold, a ruler came and worshiped Him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her and she will live.” Matthew 9:18
“Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” Matthew 14:33
“Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” Matthew 15:25
“And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.” Matthew 28:9
“When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him.” Mark 5:6
“Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen.” Luke 24:51-53
John’s Gospel gives us unique insights into the meaning of worship.
“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 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.” John 4:21-23
The people living during the time of Christ, even as the present time, are confused and misled about the meaning of worship. True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, “for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.” That’s a clue. God is looking for people who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. That is a unique combination: in spirit and in truth.
God created us for the purpose of personal fellowship. That relationship is based on God loving us and our loving, adoring and worshiping Him in return. God provides the fertile soil for our worship. He made us spiritual beings so we could have a deep relationship with Him. He gave us the Holy Spirit to convict us of the sin that separates us from God, comfort us with His compassion when we repent of our sins and receive Christ as our Savior and Lord, and connect us to our Heavenly Father so we can commune with Him. That’s worshiping God in spirit and in truth. God provides both. We respond thankfully and emotionally with our worship.
Worship is personal and emotional. Study the word “worship” throughout Scripture and you’ll find people who felt deep emotions as they worshiped. They may have experienced great joy, deep sadness or great fear, but God’s Love and Grace met their every need and their heart-felt and emotional response was to worship God. They often fell down and worshiped God. They bowed their heads toward the earth. They cried, they sang, they lifted their hands to Heaven, they danced before the Lord. So many emotions. Such a deep, personal thing it is to worship the Living God.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”