The Words of Worship (Psalm 96)

Is there anything much more elusive than worship? We sort of know it when we experience it at times, be it in the corporate setting of the church gathering, or perhaps alone beneath the celestial majesty of the evening sky.

I am literally typing these words at 39,000 feet while flying over the Mississippi River valley. The sights of the evidence of God’s creation are abundant.

But how do we define worship? Our English word comes from an old Anglo-Saxon term weorthscipe, that later evolved into worthship and then worship. It means to attribute or assign worth and value to something. We even use the word in this way when we say that someone “worships his sports car” or “worships the Dallas Cowboys” (which makes sense, of course).

A variety of Old Testament passages connote this idea, notably these from Psalm 96 …

1 Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.

2 Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.

3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

4 For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.

5 For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.

6 Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

7 Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

8 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts.

Looking at original language words in the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Scriptures is far more than an academic exercise and can really help us get a good mental picture of meanings and concepts. And there are two primary Hebrew words that speak of worship.

The first is hishasawah which has the meaning of “bowing down.” Throughout many cultures of antiquity right though our modern era, bowing has the meaning of honoring another above oneself. It seems strange to us as Americans, but we’re in the minority on this one.

If you have ever watched a broadcast of the Little League World Series, the finals often involve a team from the Far East, often Japan. And as each batter approaches the plate, he bows to the umpire, giving him honor as the authority on the field. That might be a good idea for Jose Bautista or David Ortiz or one of a list of arrogant professional baseball players to emulate! And it is not a bad idea to probably see God as the umpire on the baseball field of life, calling the balls and strikes, etc.

Oh boy, now I’m getting myself convicted (as I have a long history of umpire skirmishes). Let’s go to another term…

The second Hebrew word is ‘abodah, which carries the idea of “service.”  It comes from the same root word as does the term for “servant” or “slave.”  In the Greek culture and usage, this concept takes on a more negative tone as being servile or in confinement (though even there, not as severe as we would see in slavery as with American history). But the Hebrew usage is a rather positive term, carrying the idea of the privilege and honor of serving in association with a kindly master. And it is with this background in mind that Paul spoke of being a bondservant of Jesus Christ. The idea of a person in this servitude is something like this: “I’m not just some ordinary person out on the streets, I’m a servant in the household of the great master, inside the walls, welcomed into his presence in his great mansion. It doesn’t get any better than that!”

And so, our question of the week is “Why Worship?”  Let’s start with this: because of who God is and what God has done.

First – who He is. When we come into the presence of an important person, the entire crowd has a focus upon him. We would understand this more if we lived in a monarchy. I am yet to meet a king or queen, but I’ve been around presidential candidates (though not the Donald yesterday, and all you should take from that is that he showed up at the same time the Orioles were playing. I do have a values system, you know!).  Before you even get close to the candidate, you have to go through security systems and lines. And when the moment of his arrival comes, everyone jockeys for position to see the public personage. I think God is worthy of our attention and worship simply for who He is, above and beyond anything we could imagine on earth.

Second – for what He has done.  Imagine someone saved your life in the midst of some calamity. It you could not thank them at the moment because you were immediately incapable by some circumstance, you would certainly seek out that person later to thank them and would be forever grateful.

It would not be like this story: A boy was playing with a coin, tossing it in the air and catching it between his teeth. But on one throw, another child bumped him and the coin went past his teeth and lodged in his throat. Various people tried maneuvers to dislodge the coin, all unsuccessfully. A nearby gentleman was calmly reading his newspaper, and only when all others were frantic as the young fellow was turning blue did he set down his paper. He calmly walked over to the boy, gently squeezed him once — popping out the coin — and then returned to his seat and newspaper. The grateful father, after seeing the boy was recovering and going to be fine, went to the man to thank him and asked how he knew exactly what to do. The man said, “It was simple. I’m an IRS agent and have been squeezing money out of people my whole life!”

No, that is not what worship is like. It is not obligatory and ritualistic performance. It is rather the expression of sincere gratitude for what God has done in Christ to redeem us from our lost condition, adopting us into His family, and guaranteeing for us an eternal inheritance with Him. The reality is that we were on death row, spiritually speaking … totally doomed with no way out. But our ransom was paid and our circumstances completely reversed in every way imaginable.

Now don’t you want to be a worshipper?

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This entry was posted in Why Church and tagged by Randy Buchman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed 3-4 hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and am the editor of a Baltimore/Maryland sports blog called "The Baltimore Wire." My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with a Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

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