PRAISE AND WORSHIP
Praise in the OT
1. Ways of praising and attitudes in praise
a. The use of the hands
i. To gain Divine favour
ii. Reaching out to God
iii. Joy of victory and derision over the enemy
b. The use of the legs and feet
1. Organised dance
2. Individual twirls
3. Springing about wildly
4. Moving in a circle
c. The use of instruments
1. Mizmor or Psalm
5. Sir or Song
ii. Musical breaks
d. The use of the voice
i. Sing a new song
ii. Loudly with shouting
2. Things that happened during praise
a. The glory of YHWH descended
b. Victory brought forward
3. Praise structure in David’s day
a. When the Ark was moved to Jerusalem
b. The ark in Jerusalem
c. David’s appointment for the Temple under Solomon
Praise in the NT
Worship in the OT
1. Concepts behind worship
a. Acknowledging God’s sovereignty
i. Man-man relationships
ii. God-man relationships
2. The importance of receiving fresh revelation
Worship in the NT
1. Jesus receives worship
2. Some additional points
a. Today’s ‘worship’
b. In spirit and truth
c. The future
References and Sources
It’s good to make a differentiation between the two words ‘praise’ and ‘worship’ as much confusion existed in this area when I first attempted to put these notes together some 17 years ago - and which, no doubt, still exists even today. In those days, it was generally accepted that ‘praise’ was represented by the faster and louder choruses and hymns which were sung whereas ‘worship’ was that time when things quietened down and the believer began to feel that words weren’t necessary, sometimes standing with their arms raised singing slower songs, singing with the spirit or not doing very much at all as they ‘felt’ God’s presence.
There was even teaching around that spoke of ‘praise’ as being a believer in the Holy Place while ‘worship’ was when they entered through the veil and into the Holy of Holies where only God existed. This is a nice concept, too, and one which seemed to have been borne out by experience - but the believer should be living their entire life in God’s presence and I always got confused if, when we’d gained access to God, we then felt it necessary to walk out at the end of the meeting only to repeat the entire process again when we next met together. I have, however, thrown some light upon this ‘experience’ below in the notes on ‘praise’.
So I began studying these two subjects for the times of praise and worship that were a part of most of the fellowships I’d ever been to so that I could better understand what the Biblical concepts were all about and so that each believer could be made aware of what exactly it was that God required from them.
This was never meant to be an exhaustive study of the subjects and it may even be rightly levelled at it that it’s slightly limited in its interpretation and application of certain Scriptures - but it was meant to show from Scripture what the concepts were which lay behind both ‘praise’ and ‘worship’ and God’s requirement for involvement in both.
Praise carries with it the idea of recounting a specific deed as being worthy of praise - there are many Scriptures in the OT where a specific reason for praising God is either directly given or can be inferred from the passage. I haven’t taken time to go through these places on this web page (but Is 25:1 should suffice to demonstrate that such a concept does exist) and am presenting to the reader this definition at the start so that you can turn to a concordance and confirm what I’ve here stated - a ‘proof’ would have been even more tedious than some of the sections I’ve decided to retain on this web page.
But there’s also the idea that a man or woman can praise God for who He is in several other places. For example, Ps 69:30 notes that
‘I will praise the name of God with a song...’
where the idea of ‘the name’ carries with it the sum total of all that that person is. Not only can an individual praise God for what He’s done, therefore, but He can also respond in praise because of who God is.
Praise, then, to define it, is our reaction to what God has done or to who God is.
Other words carry with them some sort of action that accompanied the one who’s praising. In my endeavour to show many actions and their meanings, I’ve digressed into attitudes which are also integral parts of prayer - but, as praise parallels prayer, it’s not irrelevant to include them.
Worship, on the other hand, is a bit more difficult to understand, primarily because our word ‘worship’ doesn’t carry with it the same ideas that are inherent in the Hebrew and Greek words. Worship must always begin with a revelation of who God is - and not simply a head knowledge of what He’s done or who He is - for without that revelation of Himself, we would wander around in circles unable to know Him.
Praise, then, can easily be offered by men and women so long as they know something about Him or are able to recognise something that He’s done - whether it was they who experienced it personally or not.
Our labelling of certain meetings of the week as ‘worship services’ clearly pulls us away from arriving at a better definition of what it is that God considers to be worship and even the way we talk about it as if it’s simply the other edge to ‘praise’ which is a weapon in the believer’s armoury.
Worship, rather, is our reaction to a revelation of who God is or of what He’s done.
And even the thought of what our reaction should be is seldom evident in the life of the Church. I’ve taken a fair amount of space to show the reader what components must be present for ‘worship’ to be a possibility - and none of these contain the presence of musicians, singing or gatherings of congregations together.
It would be good to keep these two definitions in mind as the study is read. In the section dealing with ‘praise’ especially, the statement isn’t clear as I’ve had to deal with the actions which are an intrinsic part of it. Besides, as I noted above, the definition is plain and unambiguous in many of Scriptures where the translation ‘praise’ takes place and there’s only the need for the reader to satisfy themselves that such a statement is correct before they move on.
Finally, it should be noted that there are many areas where the two concepts overlap but the basic concept behind each term still seems to be the most evident in the Scriptures.
Praise in the OT
Praise isn’t as simple a subject as is often believed - the vast array of Scriptures make the task of studying the subject an extremely tedious one at times (there are around 250 places in the AV where a Hebrew word occurs that’s translated with the word group ‘praise’ and these are split between seven different words).
Today, we seem to have mixed up the meanings of both ‘praise’ and ‘worship’ so that this brief study must attempt to point out the Biblical definitions of each word and to show, in some ways, how God desires to be both worshipped and praised.
For us, ‘praise’ can be something that we do when we feel like it or when we feel anointed - but this isn’t the case in Scripture. There doesn’t need to be any feeling within to open up to God in praise. God is God, the ever-living One and, as such, He’s always worthy to be praised, no matter our present situation and because of all the marvellous things that He’s already done.
That’s not meant to belittle the importance of the anointing of the Holy Spirit, however, for this is extremely important in leading believers into the knowledge of how God requires us to praise Himself. But, even if the anointing doesn’t appear to be present, that’s not an excuse to shut the church building and go home to watch ‘Songs of Praise’ on the box.
Praise, on the whole, is a person’s positive reaction to what God has done or who He is, expressed in various attitudes that reflect what’s inside them. As He’s done so many things (the Bible being a record of His work, our own lives a testimony also), there will never be a time when an individual believer will be unable to praise Him for at least one of His previous deeds.
Praise isn’t dependent upon our feelings but upon our reactions to God’s actions and to His nature. As this study is read, it may not always be apparent that this is the case but, in broad general terms, this is praise.
1. Ways of praising and attitudes in praise
The book of Psalms represents a good handbook for anyone requiring to learn how to praise God. If another title ever needed to be given it then ‘The ABC of praise and worship’ would be seen to be applicable for a great amount of its contents. This section will deal mainly with that book, which gives a wide variety of physical attitudes that are expressed in praise.
I make no assertion that this list is exhaustive - or that it was ever meant to be. But some of the main attitudes of praise have been brought together here as examples of how the believers chose to demonstrate the contents of their heart to God.
And that’s the bottom line - the actions being here described are meant to be expressions of what’s going on within. Just as religious ceremony can be carried on regardless of inner conviction (Is 1:12-17), so too can praise and what goes on in present day churches can look very Scriptural until it’s realised that it’s only the harmony of the internal with the external that gives these outward demonstrations any meaning at all.
It’s important for the believer to know what can be done - yet to wait for the Holy Spirit to show what should be done. All believers are called upon to live by the Spirit and that doesn’t mean to think that actions are the be-all-and-end-all, that, somehow, we might choose to express joy externally when, inside, we’re in desperate need of an answer from God.
Neither should we sing only hymns, only choruses or only psalms as a matter of course or as the result of the decision of those in authority within particular denominations - again, it’s the leading of the Holy Spirit that’s important in everything.
a. The use of the hands
I only intend looking at the use of the hands in praise in this section and not the role that they play in spiritual warfare. Ex 17:8-12 has often been used as a reason for the use of hands in praise, teaching that extended arms can overcome the enemy. However, neither prayer nor praise is linked with the victory of the armies of Israel over Amalek and it’s best to think about the rod that was in Moses’ hand as being a symbol of Divine authority than to force an interpretation upon the passage that it doesn’t warrant. Ps 10:12 also asks YHWH to
‘...lift up Thy hand; forget not the afflicted’
where an action is being urged upon God to do something to help the oppressed of Israelite society (see also II Sam 20:21 for a more human attribution of this action and Micah 5:9 where the nation is urged to raise their hands over the nations to defeat them). Craigie comments here that
‘The lifting of the Divine hand symbolises not only the strength of God but also a declaration of God’s hostility against His enemies’
and it will be much of this which is being symbolised in Moses’ action on the mountain, the rod being the symbol of the authority of God being brought to bear on the battle which is raging in the valley below.
i. To gain Divine favour
In one of his psalms, David prayed and asked God (Ps 141:2)
‘Let my prayer be counted as incense before Thee, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice’
where his mind was cast back to the Mosaic Laws governing the sacrificial system. The evening sacrifice (Ex 29:31,41-42) was part the daily burnt offering in which one lamb was presented in both the morning and evening as a sacrifice. As the offering was burnt, the smoke rose up to God (where the translation of the phrase ‘burnt offering’ means, literally, ‘ascent’ - S5930, M1624c and M1624d) and was accepted as a ‘pleasing odour’, gaining Divine favour for the nation (Lev 1:9).
Therefore, the lifting up of the hands is used to symbolise the offering rising to God and it being accepted by Him as pleasing, gaining Divine favour for the individual but dependent upon the attitude of the heart of the individual concerned. All actions aren’t mechanical ways to obtain favour before God but expressions and extensions of what’s in the heart.
This action has often been understood to mean that the modern day praiser simply sticks their hands in the air while they sing the choruses being played in the congregation, but it’s important to note that it’s in the lifting of the hands towards God that the evening sacrifice is being paralleled and not simply by lifted hands. That is, it’s the action of bringing lowered hands into the position of raised hands that David’s writing about.
This, of course, very rarely happens in the churches that I’ve attended. Motion is certainly not something that’s always either encouraged or expected but movement seems to be the bottom line.
In praise, then, hands rising upwards towards God are a symbol of the individual offering up their praise to God by an action, the contents being the words of the mouth which reflect the contents of the heart.
Notice also that, in Ex 30:8, the incense was burnt at about the same time where incense is used as a symbol of prayer in the NT in Rev 5:8, 8:3-4 and in the opening phrase of Ps 141:2. We should, perhaps, take care to note that prayer is linked with praise in this verse and that, according to David, the two were meant to be integral parts of the one expression towards God.
I mention this because the present day Church has often tried to make a clear division between both prayer and praise which may not always be correct. Prayer and praise seem here to go hand in hand and the believer shouldn’t be limited by thinking the time of praise is not also the time to petition God - what must be safeguarded against, however, is the injection of prayer into praise when it pulls away from the natural outworking of the expression of devotion.
After all, a prayer shopping list tends to destroy praise rather than to be its companion.
ii. Reaching out to God
David observes his own actions in Ps 143:6 (my italics) and comments that
‘I stretch out my hands to Thee; my soul thirsts for Thee like a parched land’
where it’s the italicised words which are the important ones. It’s the stretching out of the hands towards God that says that we earnestly desire what seems to be just out of reach but which we realise must be stretched for and grasped.
The second phrase of this verse emphasises the intensity of meaning where there’s a thirst for God in a place where He seems not to exist. We would, perhaps, do best to attribute this sort of desire also to the first part of the verse and this heart felt desire appears to be contained in another place where a stretching out towards God is also being expressed. Ps 28:2 says
‘...I cry to Thee for help as I lift up my hands toward Thy most holy sanctuary’
where the need for an answer to prayer is coupled with the action of symbolically ‘laying hold’ of God by reaching out towards the place where God dwells.
These first two verses have more to do with prayer than praise (see also Lam 2:19, I Tim 2:8) but it’s the same concept which lies behind Ps 134:2 which is describing primarily an attitude in praise. The author urges the congregation of Israel to
‘Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless YHWH’
These last two verses may give an understanding of the direction in which the hands and arms were reached out in the OT and, perhaps, even in the New. As God was seen to dwell first in the Tabernacle and then, subsequently, in the Temple, the believer’s arms may have been more likely to have been extended in front of him towards the place where he knew His presence was, rather than upwards to His throne in Heaven and may be the best way to interpret other such statements in the psalms (Ps 44:20, 63:4, 88:8-9).
However, God isn’t bounded by geographical limitations as He chose to be in the OT and the present day believer’s hands which are raised vertically towards God in Heaven are just as relevant as the more horizontal reaching out of the OT. But the idea behind outstretched arms is one of reaching out to touch and to lay hold of rather than a rather loose extension of the hand and arm into the air.
It should also be noted that hands which reach out to God can also be accompanied by eyes that look towards Him (Ps 121:1-2, 123:1-2, 141:8, John 11:41, 17:1, Acts 7:55), an indication that closed eyes weren’t the norm for times of Biblical praise.
In today’s Church, we seem to have mixed together aspects of both points i and ii without grasping either meaning. The person who is desperate for an answer from or action by God can express that longing by stretching themselves towards Him, while the one who seeks to please Him through praise can symbolically offer the praise of his lips and heart through the motion of hands as they ascend to God.
Eyes looking to God can also be used as an attitude in prayer by looking to the One from whom an answer is expected while, in praise, we look at the One to whom we are both talking and singing to.
iii. Joy of victory and derision over the enemy
It’s difficult to divide these two expressions up so I’ve included them as one and the same expression here. Firstly, there’s the expression of sheer delight as in Ps 47:1 (Cp v.2-4. See also Ps 98:8, Is 55:12) where the psalmist exhorts his listeners to
‘Clap your hands...’
because of the victory which God has outworked for His people. The word translated ‘clap’ isn’t the one that could be used for exaltation and praise when, in today’s Church, applause might be used as a corporate expression towards God (the rather twee ‘let’s give God a clap offering’ command) - rather, it’s a demonstration of joy over a victory which has now been experienced.
The clapping of one’s hands is also used as an expression of delight but more as an act of ridicule over a defeated enemy in Nahum 3:19 (see also Job 27:23, Lam 2:15, Ezek 25:6) where the prophet speaks about the overthrow of Nineveh (perhaps as a quote from YHWH - the text isn’t too clear) and announces
‘There is no assuaging your hurt, your wound is grievous. All who hear the news of you clap their hands over you. For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?’
Both joy and derision seem to go hand in hand though, where no enemy is defeated, the clapping of the hands would only be expressive of joy. But, where both are intrinsic parts of the one victory, clapping can be seen to express both joy with the result and derision over those who were opposed to one’s own or God’s will.
b. The use of the legs and feet
The word translated either ‘kneel’ or ‘bless’ (Strongs Hebrew number 1288) is really an attitude expressed in worship to God and not in praise and both Ps 95:6 and Is 45:23 associate the action with worshipping YHWH.
If this attitude is used in praise, however, it’s an acknowledgement by an individual of God’s sovereignty - the submission of one’s life to God’s will is demonstrated by the bending of the knee where obedience is expected (see also Phil 2:10 and the sections below which deal with the concept of ‘worship’).
The subject of dancing isn’t a very widely written about subject in Scripture (there are twenty occurrences in the AV and a wide variety of different words are employed) even though it forms an integral part of many of the more charismatic times of ‘praise’. As will be seen below, however, the concepts which are present in the different words tend to make one realise that what we have in the present day Church is actually not very full in scope and is a minority interpretation of some of those Scriptures.
We should begin by noting a number of places (Ps 30:11, Eccles 3:4, Jer 31:13, Lam 5:15) where two opposites are contrasted and which we wouldn’t necessarily put together - they’re ‘mourning’ and ‘dancing’ which many of us would find unusual if we looked at our own experience. After all, we might demonstrate crying and a generally cast down appearance when circumstances don’t go our own way but it’s very unusual for an individual to burst spontaneously into dance when something pleases them.
But dancing is an expression of joy throughout its occurrences in Scripture and, like the previous section where we dealt with the use of the hands and arms, we need to emphasise that it’s meant to convey what’s going on on the inside of a person and not merely a way that finds acceptance before God when it’s not allied with an appropriate one within.
I don’t intend looking at each and every occurrence of the different words where they occur but the following places should give us a general overview of the depth of expression that was expected to be a part of the believer’s actions in praise.
1. Organised dance
This type of expression occurs approximately twelve times in the OT and one word in particular occurs six times (Strongs Greek number 4234, M623g) most notably in Ps 149:3 and 150:4 where the use of such dancing as a means of praising God is observed.
I’ve described this word as denoting ‘organised dance’ chiefly because of Jer 31:4 and 31:13 where something pre-planned seems to be described which is both learnt, rehearsed and performed corporately.
Other words used seem to denote just such a dance ‘routine’ to be necessary (such as Judges 21:21,23, I Sam 21:11, 29:5) and Ps 87:7 seems to denote people who are noted as belonging to a particular group labelled as ‘dancers’ something which, presumably, would have needed to have been worked at.
Secular and corporate dancing is more often associated with women than with men in the OT but it would be wrong for us to think that it was never expected to have been a part of men’s expression before YHWH.
2. Individual twirls
This sort of dance is only mentioned in two places and each of these are describing the same event (II Sam 6:14,16 - Strongs Hebrew number 3769, M1046). Zondervan defines this type of dance as a
‘...whirling type of dance...’
along with a similar literal translation of the word by TWOTOT - the observation that king David did this
‘...with all his might...’
should indicate to us the unrehearsed and rather violent nature of the sight. The word itself doesn’t give us the impression that David danced in a form resembling our own modern day ballet, gently moving about the place in expressive gestures. The fact that David’s wife, Michal, observes (II Sam 6:20) that he was
‘...uncovering himself...before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself’
seems to indicate that there was nothing remotely ‘subtle’ in the way that David danced.
3. Springing about wildly
Still in connection with David’s expression of joy as the Ark of the Covenant was brought in to Jerusalem is another word which describes David as ‘leaping’ (II Sam 6:16 - Strongs Hebrew number 6339, M1754) which means ‘to leap, to show agility’ or, as TWOTOT observes briefly, ‘to be supple or agile’. The description of David’s expression of joy, then, is meant to be taken as something which exerted all of David’s ability and strength.
Coupled with this word is another used in the Pp in I Chr 15:29 (Strongs Hebrew number 7540, M2214) and which is translated simply as ‘dancing’ by the RSV. TWOTOT gives the root meaning as ‘to skip about’ but the intensity of the expression is best understood from some of the other places in the OT where the word’s used. For example, Ps 29:6 (see also Ps 114:4,6) describes Lebanon or the cedars of Lebanon (depending on which translation one uses) to
‘...skip like a calf...’
something that has one picturing nothing too organised or repetitive but exuberant with rather uncontrolled movements. While it would be nice to think that times of praise in the modern day Church should define each person’s individual piece of ground upon which they can ‘jig around a bit’, the use of such a word seems to warrant against such legislation!
There’s certainly nothing too ‘organised’ about these concepts and certainly nothing which would make us think that the expression of joy should be expected to be in time with the music being played.
In Judges 21:21-23, it’s recorded that the women came out to ‘dance in the dances’ where the root meaning of the word used here (Strongs Hebrew number 2342, M623) is noted by TWOTOT as conveying two different concepts when it’s used in the OT. Either
‘...whirling around in circular movements...’
‘...writhing in labour pains...’
and we should expect the intensity of the expression to be contained within both meanings.
4. Moving in a circle
In I Samuel 30:16 we read of the Amalekites who’d made a raid on Ziklag and had carried away much treasure and possessions of David and his men that they were
‘...spread abroad over all the land, eating and drinking and dancing...’
where the word translated ‘dancing’ (Strongs Hebrew number 2287 M602) is more literally interpreted as movement in a circle. This has been disputed, however, and Zondervan prefers the interpretation
‘reeling on the sea as drunkards’
and which is certainly backed up by its use in Ps 107:27. It might be more expected that this is the intention of the meaning of the word - but it’s used elsewhere in the OT to speak of a festival which was to be celebrated in honour of YHWH (Ex 5:1, 12:14, 23:14, Lev 23:41, Deut 16:15, Ps 42:4) and it seems that the word was used to denote religious festivals because of the dancing that was associated with them. After describing its application and relevancy to the festivals of YHWH, TWOTOT notes that
‘...the actions of one feasting or dancing at a feast might be descriptive of the sailors [on a storm-tossed ship, staggering like drunken men], hence the translation “reel (to and fro)”’
It would seem, therefore, that the communal dancing could be denoted in this word and that it was expected to have been an integral part of religious life in Israel.
In conclusion, one should note that ‘anything goes’, so to speak, when it comes to the expression of joy in praise to God. We have many sensitivities and cultural boundaries across which we expect no one to cross but the sincerity of a heart which is serving God shouldn’t be criticised as David was when what we see contravenes our own expectations.
While it’s certainly true that all things should be done ‘decently and in order’ (I Cor 14:40), the Bible makes a wide open door for expressions of praise to God in dance that few churches or cultures have ever allowed for.
c. The use of instruments
It almost seems superfluous to mention the use of instruments in praise to God but, to keep these study notes as full as possible, I’d best make mention at least in passing. That music is used as an accompaniment to vocal pronouncements is acceptable to everyone I’ve met and talked to (as far as I’m aware) though there will probably be believers out there somewhere who might even deny that such a thing is acceptable (I’ve encountered that many different ‘beliefs’ in the Church that, to be honest, nothing really shocks me anymore - if there’s something that’s cut and dried in Scripture there always seems to be some group of people in the world who’ve interpreted it in a totally different way and, if they’re radical enough about their belief, they’ll probably tie their interpretation in with direct obedience to God while all the other of us poor, deluded souls are wallowing in disobedience - in need of being delivered from such false doctrine lest we go to hell upon death. Am I being too cynical? Anyway, I digress).
What I need to mention here, though, is that when I speak about the use of instruments in praise, I’m not necessarily meaning the reader to understand that I’m saying that they have to be accompanied by words which individuals or congregations sing. That is, it seems plain from some Scriptures that it’s just the instruments themselves which were sometimes employed as praise to God.
Perhaps the most conclusive is Psalm 150 which, having opened by commanding praise be directed towards God (Ps 150:1) then goes on to note the necessity of vocalising that praise with the mouth (Ps 150:2). But it’s verses 3-5 which seem to point towards the instruments themselves as being ways of praising Him, for the psalmist orders
‘Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with timbrel and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!’
In other words, it isn’t that the musical accompaniment helped the believer to vocalise their praise to God but that the instruments themselves became objects upon which praise could be offered to Him. Allen is no doubt right in commenting that
‘The role of music in Temple worship was to aid the efforts of praising voices’
but his further observation that
‘...their players’ skill may promote and amplify the praise of voice and heart’
is an indication that, stripped of words, the music can also be adjudged by God as an offering of praise. After all, one wonders how the trumpet might be used as an accompaniment - and the ‘dance’ mentioned here surely isn’t meant to accompany a song or verbal proclamation (notice that Psalm 150 doesn’t mention a song anywhere - something that we should take note of. Sometimes, we allow ourselves to be too restricted by the words written down for us to mouth at the places where we fit in with the music, whereas the sincere expression of the heart to God is much to be preferred - even if it is out of tune and out of time).
God certainly expects that musical instruments should be played before Him ‘with skill’ (Ps 33:3) but, to prevent men and women from thinking that they have to attain a certain level of expertise before they should ever dare play anything, it should be pointed out that a better interpretation could be that a musician is one who should play to the limitations of their own ability - that is, they should play their best for God and not think that a half-hearted ‘performance’ is good enough.
After all, the same verse which demands skilful playing, also expects it to be accompanied with ‘loud shouts’, something which means an exertion of one’s voice to the limits of its ability. We shouldn’t think that to play skilfully means that the strings of the guitar should be bashed into submission or that the amplifiers should be set to maximum (though it appears from my own experience that this interpretation has been the pitfall of many a congregation), we should note that an offering of praise that’s second best to what could have been offered is unacceptable - not that we should all be expected to be able to play like Graham Kendrick.
One final point should be noted here - playing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has the power to release men and women from the oppression of an evil spirit. I Sam 16:23 records the event of David’s playing before Saul by noting that
‘...whenever the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand; so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him’
We should notice that it doesn’t say that David sang to the accompaniment of the lyre but that it was his playing alone which had the effect of dispelling the spirit and of bringing peace back to the king. This is certainly in keeping with what we’ve also seen above and is harmony with another passage in II Kings 3:15 where Elisha calls for a minstrel, the Scriptures recording that
‘...when the minstrel played, the power of YHWH came upon him’
Notice again that it was when the minstrel played and not when he sang. The power and anointing of a musician who’s in tune with God shouldn’t be underestimated and there needs to come a time in each and every congregation when the musicians can feel free to express their praise in musical form without the need for lyrics, bringing the anointing of God upon the congregation to dispel those things that are troubling them.
So, having noted by way of introduction that the use of instruments in praise to God don’t have to be thought of solely as accompaniments to the tuneful vocalisation of the people who were praising YHWH - that they could stand on their own as ‘praise’ or be accompanied with loud untuneful shouts or simply expressive words - we need to move on to think about the use of songs in praise.
It’s plain from the Book of Psalms that ‘songs’ were used in praise to God (Ps 27:6, 47:7, 57:7, 68:4, 71:22, 98:5, 108:1, 144:9, 147:7 - Strongs Hebrew number 2167 is used throughout) and the passages cited are places where it seems fairly obvious that what’s meant is that a song is being sung with an instrument as an accompaniment which recounts one of God’s marvellous deeds, either in the life of the nation or more personally, in the life of an individual or family or tribal group.
This is about the extent of our own experience in the Church, however, and we rarely progress beyond the latest books of songs, adhering to the lyrics strictly or to those written out for us on the acetates displayed on the overhead projectors. Perhaps we’re able to tell the difference between ‘hymns’ and ‘choruses’ (the former sometimes having the definition of being something that’s unintelligible only to the older people or the latter being something that says very little about doctrine - I’m being polite in those things that I’ve heard said about both of these ‘styles’, by the way) and might even note that ‘songs’ sung by groups or individuals fall into another category altogether.
But the Hebrew words employed to distinguish between some of the psalms are quite illuminative and we should note that they point towards us not throwing away any musical form in order that we might have made available to us every structure which can be employed as and when required.
When we think of what ‘praise’ is, we will probably be quite shocked to see some of the concepts that lie behind these types of ‘hymns of praise’ because we would normally relegate them outside the Church ‘worship service’.
We should also note that some of the psalms bear musical direction, either in the form of tunes which were expected to be played to accompany their ‘performance’ or observations as to which instruments were best suited to reflect the piece’s mood. As all the musical arrangements have now been lost (if they were ever written down, that is), we can do no more than note that while some tunes appear fixed, others could be employed as the believer saw fit so that there was a greater freedom in musical interpretation than there is today.
1. Mizmor or Psalm
Strongs Hebrew number 4210, M558c
This word occurs as the title to a great many of the works in the Book of Psalms (TWOTOT counts them as fifty-seven) and probably means something akin to ‘a poem set to notes’ though Hebrew poetry is so far removed from our own that we shouldn’t think that what’s meant is a rhyming verse with repeated chorus. Zondervan prefers the interpretation ‘song with musical accompaniment’ but there’s little to be chosen between the definitions.
The variety of works in which they appear as a descriptor should point us to the most vague of definitions, however, and either of the two suggested are preferable to ‘hymn’ which is a more modern musical form than existed in ancient Israel.
Strongs Hebrew number 7692
The ‘shiggaion’ appears only once according to both the AV and RSV as a type of song in the title of Psalm 7 but its occurrence in Habakkuk 3:1 (albeit in a different form), although often attributed to an arranger of the prayer there recorded may, according to Smith
‘...indicate the tune or mood for the presentation of the prayer as music suitable for a lament...’
The normal interpretation of the word sees it as being a dirge or lament but, if one takes a look at Psalm 7’s contents, it’s far from obvious just why such a psalm could have been labelled as such when there are other passages which seem to be more classic laments than this one which ends with a response of praise.
Craigie suggests that the word may be indicative of a wandering or rambling type of poem but the structure of the psalm seems fairly cohesive. Kidner has a few options but cites Eerdmans’ suggestion that it might be associated with
‘...Arabic and Assyrian verbs denoting a stirring of the emotions’
and, although I can’t comment on whether this is possible etymologically, it fits the context of both Psalm 7 and Habakkuk chapter 3 well. Both have content that are expressions of the depth of feeling of the author and are founded upon their own experience, but each end with their eyes looking towards God as deliverer and worthy to be praised.
It’s difficult to be definitive in one’s interpretation of the term but the form of Psalm 7 is unlike the majority of songs I know and which are sung in the Church.
Perhaps the best example I know of what a Shiggaion is is the chorus written by Phil Rogers, based on the opening four verses of Psalm 61. It runs
‘Hear my cry, O Lord.
Listen to my prayer.
Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I,
Lead me to Jesus’ throne
For you are my refuge, You are my strength,
A strong tower against the enemy.
So let me forever dwell in Your house
And take refuge in the shadow of Your wings’
I guess the reason why it’s been omitted from most of the more ‘modern’ compilations of songs is that we tend to run away from a confession of such a ‘negative’ feeling of inadequacy and impotency which the chorus opens with. But, nevertheless, in very simple form, it echoes the feeling of David as he considers his own position, ending in the triumph of looking to God for an answer and deliverance.
If we were to interpret the Shiggaion solely in terms of a ‘lament’ however, we would be doing the term a great disfavour for, facing up to the reality of one’s situation should be the springboard to a realisation that God’s in control of circumstances - hence the necessity of songs such as this to lead the believer from the state of being downcast to the point of exultation in God.
Strongs Hebrew number 4905, M2263b
The description of a psalm being a ‘maskil’ occurs in thirteen of the titles of the psalms (Psalm 32, 42, 44, 45, 52, 53, 54, 55, 74, 78, 88, 89, 142) but its meaning is disputed. TWOTOT notes that it could be a description of a poem which gives insight and causes the reader or listener to consider carefully the words which are being presented to them or it could be indicative of an artistic or skilful song which brings instruction.
Their conclusion, however, is to combine both concepts together and to define the word as meaning
‘...a contemplative poem...’
Many of the other commentators define the word by what they consider are the defining contents of the psalms in which it’s used, Craigie being similar to most when he sees how Psalm 32 and 78 could be considered as teaching the listener or reader but that the term
‘...is not entirely appropriate for the other eleven psalm titles in which it is used...’
However, this isn’t too accurate for Psalm 53 is foundational to a clear perception of the nature of man and the need for the deliverance of the nation of Israel by God’s direct intervention. Also, one man’s experience is another man’s warning so that the contents of Psalm 52 which are coloured by the situation in which David found himself will impart wisdom to those who find themselves in a similar position.
It seems best, therefore, to think of the maskil as a psalm which imparted instruction and which had been composed out of the considerations of the author upon a specific subject, theme or personal experience.
Most of what we call ‘hymns’ in today’s Church would fall into this category, therefore, just as most of what we now call ‘choruses’ wouldn’t.
Strongs Hebrew number 4387, M1056a
The definition of a psalm being a ‘miktam’ occurs in the titles of just six (Psalm 16, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60), all of which are attributed to David. The definition of what form of song or poem a miktam is is again hard to be definitive about.
It may mean ‘an engraving’ which would indicate that it was thought of as being an inscription on a stone slab, perhaps with gold lettering (as TWOTOT), and from which it has been retrieved and recorded. However, the idea of the psalm as being a ‘silent prayer’ is perhaps better for on some of the occasions to which the psalms refer, an audible petition would have been impossible and, perhaps, the ability to be able to write the words down would also have been impossible, the prayer being committed to writing at a later time to mark the experience.
TWOTOT defines all six maskils as being ‘laments’ but, although there may be certain characteristics of laments in them, they’re not universally recounting trouble without framing it in the perspective of YHWH and His response. Psalm 54 is a case in point - although David begins by pleading for deliverance, he very quickly turns to envisage a future time when all that he now is experiencing will be past, so much so that he can talk about the victory brought to him as being in the past as if it has already taken place.
Others have thought that ‘miktam’ is to be defined as a ‘song of expiation’ or ‘song of atonement’ (linked from an assumed root of the Hebrew word meaning ‘to cover’), presumably because it develops the theme of forgiveness for the individual concerned. However, in the text of Psalm 54 previously cited, there’s no thought of the need for the forgiveness of sins and David simply calls upon YHWH to go out to battle on his behalf, oblivious to the need for any personal forgiveness before He will be able to act. As Kidner comments
‘...these psalms are concerned with insecurity rather than sin’
It seems best, when all things are considered, to think of these as silent prayers when an open petition to God would have been impossible or, by extension, psalms which were composed by David to reflect the inner workings of his own heart when it wasn’t possible for him to commit to a more permanent record his feelings at that specific time.
As such, they would have originally been personal compositions which have been accepted into the compilation of psalms as having benefit to other believers. In today’s Church, a miktam would be those choruses and hymns which are written by personal experience rather than from the need of having something new to sing in the congregation - that is, without trying to sound critical, the christian artist who releases songs every year as a resource for believers is less likely to write a miktam than one who writes just the one and who has drawn the instruction from a personal experience.
5. Sir or Song
Strongs Hebrew number 7892, M2378a, M2378b
The ‘sir’ occurs in the title of 31 psalms (Psalm 18, 30, 45, 46, 48, 65, 66, 67, 68, 75, 76, 83, 87, 88, 92, 108, 120-134), sixteen of which find it standing alone as a descriptor (Psalm 18, 120-134), once alongside the term ‘maskil’ (Psalm 45) and all the other 14 times alongside the definition of the piece as being a ‘psalm’.
Kidner attempts a differentiation of the ‘psalm’ and the ‘song’ by noting that the former might have been written specifically for an occasion whereas the latter was a more general piece which was commonly known and sung. He further defines the former as having a musical accompaniment while the latter generally went unaccompanied.
That ‘psalm’ and ‘song’ are used to describe the same work in many cases and would then indicate that, although the song was originally written for a specific event, it became a common or popular piece which was used on a great many different occasions even when the context in which it was being sung didn’t match the original circumstances.
This seems to be too rigid a definition, however. TWOTOT notes that later Rabbinic interpretation defined the psalm as something which was accompanied by musical instruments whereas a song was one which was purely choral. However, this understanding is too late to be able to be applied to the Biblical use of the words.
Perhaps the only thing we can say that sheds any light on the matter is that ‘psalm’ is only ever used as a title of a composition, never in the body of a psalm and never outside the Book of Psalms whereas the ‘song’ could equally well be applied to secular songs as religious. Therefore, a ‘psalm’ is specifically religious whereas a ‘song’ is a more general word which could be employed to just about any musical work.
ii. Musical breaks
Perhaps these ‘breaks’ should have been included in the introduction to this entire section where we discussed the importance of ‘music without song’ as a type of praise which was acceptable to God. After all, breaks from singing specified in the Scriptures must, by inference, be music. However, the difference here is that the breaks aren’t necessarily meant to be praise of themselves - by implication, they should be, though, otherwise there seems little point in picking up the instruments in the first place!
There are just two main indications in the psalms that breaks in the singing were intended. The first is the Higgaion (Strongs Hebrew number 1902, M467c) which occurs as such only in Ps 9:16 where it’s coupled with the direction ‘selah’ which we’ll discuss below.
Its meaning might be best understood to come from one other place where it’s employed, its literal translation being something like ‘a murmuring’. In Ps 19:14 (my italics), the psalmist directs his words to God and sings
‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight...’
If this is the correct interpretation of the word which should be taken as a bleed over into the musical direction, the function of a Higgaion interlude would be to provide an opportunity for either the singer or the listener to meditate upon those subjects which had preceded it.
It’s also been suggested that the word means a ‘sombre’ musical interlude but, from the context where it occurs, it’s perhaps best to stay only with the idea that the singer is being allowed to reflect upon what he’s sung, rather than to imply that a certain mood is attempting to be conveyed by the instruments themselves.
Zondervan offers two interpretations which are against both of the previous definitions, suggesting ‘loud, resounding music’ and ‘music of strings’ while Craigie sees it more of a direction as to the way the following words are to be sung - that is, quietly because of the solemn theme that’s being dealt with.
Secondly, there’s the ‘selah’ which raises its head in numerous places (Strongs Hebrew number 5542, M1506a), the AV bearing it 74 times where it’s translated as such, but only appearing in the Book of Psalms and Habakkuk.
Craigie sees the most likely meaning to be a direction for the musicians to insert a musical interlude in the proceedings before the rest of the psalm was to be sung (and this is substantiated by the Greek translation of the word in the LXX). He points out, however, that in Psalm 9 it appears at the very end of the work so that a musical arrangement would have to have been considered to continue on after the words had been completed with no return to anything being sung before the musicians completed their playing.
Whatever the precise meanings of both higgaion and selah, we can be fairly certain that they represented directions for the musicians rather than to be solely for the benefit of the reader or singer. We already know from above that music of itself was acceptable as praise by God so directions to allow the musicians to launch into an instrumental can’t be considered to be unusual.
d. The use of the voice
It seems almost superfluous to this study to note that the voice can be employed to praise God as the lyrics of the psalms are satisfactory to point us towards that conclusion and the instructions in the Book (for example, Ps 7:17, 9:2,11, 13:6, 18:49) seem to continue forever. We’ve already looked at some of the styles of ‘songs’ which are noted as having been used under the previous section ‘The use of instruments’ and seen how there was a variety of formats which may not have been limited by the types there described.
There may even have been ‘songs’ used in praise to God which were similar to our own but which represented more personal praise that went unrecorded as part of the ‘liturgical’ Book of Psalms. This seems to be unlikely, however, simply because Hebrew poetry seems to have had its own distinctive style that would have forbidden the easier verse-chorus-verse structure.
Some of the psalms could have been originally intended for just the one person to sing - as the titles indicate that they were uttered by individuals at times of difficulty and trial - and which later came to be used corporately in praise. Other psalms might have been specifically written in a ‘sing and respond’ format where a leader would have sung the first line while the congregation responded with a phrase that replied (Ps 118:1-4 is, perhaps, the best example).
Having said all this, there are also indications in the text of Scripture that point towards the way the voice could be used or the content of the praise that was being offered and it’s to these that we’ll briefly turn as a conclusion to our discussion of ways of and attitudes in praise.
i. Sing a new song
The command to sing a new song occurs a few times (Ps 33:3, 40:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144:9, Is 42:10) and it’s noteworthy - as David Pawson observed numerous years ago - that God is never recorded as ever asking His children to sing Him one of His old favourites!
That’s not to say that men and women should never repeat the songs which are used in praise, for the compilation of the psalms are a sure indication that such a thing was done - but the nature of God’s people should reflect that of their God and, as He’s one who creates new things, so should His people be creative themselves.
A new song needn’t originate with the individual but could even be a new discovery from the latest chorus book that’s been published but it means, far more importantly, that the follower is inspired by God to select the song which is an echo of that which comes from the inside and not a mere mouthing of words that have no relevancy.
We might even be right to think that a song which is made up as one goes along is what’s being intended here - it doesn’t have to fall into the verse-chorus-verse structure but could be the believer using music to return praise to God rather than to simply speak it. These sorts of ‘songs’ will probably never be repeated or remembered - they may even be untuneful and break every musical rule in the book - but if they are genuine responses to God’s works and come from the heart, then they’re in no way distasteful to God.
Indeed, it’s better to have an untuneful, sincere new song than the repetition of one from the latest chorus book which doesn’t reflect the inner feelings and convictions of the person who’s singing it.
ii. Loudly with shouting
There are two ideas here which I’ve run together in the title to make it appear if there’s just the one concept that’s being urged upon those who would praise YHWH. Firstly, there’s just the one verse that I could find which seems to refer to loud singing, though other translations render it in various other ways. The RSV translates Ps 47:1 as
‘Shout to God with loud songs of joy!’
where the exertion of the voice isn’t meant to be thought of as something which is to be subdued but given over to the loudest extent possible (where the voice still stays in tune!). This may not be the correct interpretation of this verse but we’ll go on to look at shouting in a moment which expands the volume by several decibels! We should also note Ps 81:1 which commands the children of God to
‘Sing [not ‘shout’ which appears in the next phrase] aloud to God our strength...’
and the indication is not that one should sing audibly rather than silently (singing silently is a contradiction in terms, of course) but that one should give the voice a decent airing as praise is returned to God.
Accompanying loud singing is loud playing - and this before the advent of the amplifier meant that you could effectively drown out the singers if you had a converted heavy metal fan on the mixing desk. I Chr 15:16 (my italics) notes that
‘David...commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brethren as the singers who should play loudly on musical instruments, on harps and lyres and cymbals, to raise sounds of joy’
and even the least introverted amongst us would probably flinch at the command contained in Ps 150:5 that Israel should
‘Praise Him with sounding cymbals; praise Him with loud clashing cymbals!’
There’s certainly no thought of holding back here, even though one should point out the need for at least some sort of order on most occasions that the Church comes together. However, in a very real sense, the expectation that there should be ‘shouts of joy’ (Ps 33:3, 81:1, Ezra 3:11-12) and, even more frightening to those of a nervous disposition, ‘joyful noise’ (Ps 66:1, 95:1, 98:4,6, 100:1) should make us realise that, very often, the crescendo of praise which could have been witnessed by one standing on the edge would have been deafening.
In the NT, Jesus commended the children who ‘shrieked’ in the Temple (Mtw 21:15), calling upon Him to save them as Son of David. Being more reserved as British believers, we tend to miss out on the full extent of what it must have meant in OT times to praise God with a ‘joyful noise’ but we shouldn’t think that others will be so timid.
So long as the expression is a fair reflection of what’s going on within, God finds such praise acceptable to Him. Many people hold with the view that things can get too noisy in praise but, actually, that belief is the antithesis of what appears in Scripture. There’s a very real danger in praise that it can become too quiet.
Have you ever stopped to think about what will happen when Jesus returns, for instance? There’ll be a loud trumpet call (Mtw 24:31), the archangel’s call (I Thess 4:16), the mountains and hills will sing (Is 55:12), the trees shall clap their hands (Is 55:12) and there’ll be mighty earth- and heaven-quakes (Rev 6:12-14, Mtw 24:39). It’s all enough to wake the dead...oh - and that happens, too.
So, loud sound is an important aspect in praise - both from the instruments (though, with the advent of amplifiers, one has to sound out a warning) and from believers’ voices. Silence is a sign that there’s something wrong - especially if God is silent to a believer’s requests (Ps 28:1, 35:22, 50:3, 83:1) - and that’s also reflected in the response of the believer in giving praise to the One he or she professes to serve.
Loud praise, then, is a demonstration that one is giving God the best.
There are a few definitions of what praise can contain or be that we should note before concluding our brief discussion on ways of praising. One only has to consider the psalms as a whole to realise that the believer isn’t limited by a set format or words, by having to have praise accompanied by musical instruments, sung unaccompanied or spoken - or by only being able to respond with praise if they find themselves in one specific situation. There are a multitude of possibilities which give reasons for returning praise to Him and the pages of Scripture are full of them.
However, what the believer sometimes forgets is that it’s how God has dealt with them personally that should be reflected in the way that they respond in praise. There’s a need for the believer both to respond individually because of those things which he or she alone has seen and corporately in the Church when believers come together to celebrate YHWH in ways that might often resemble scenes from a football match (but without the pitch invasions and streakers).
There’s nothing that God can’t be praised for, even though we tend to look only to those things which bring us a sense of well-being. Even the situations in which we’ve felt deserted by God can be places where His presence will be eventually found so that His deliverance can be remembered and responded to.
We shouldn’t, therefore, place limits around praise.
2. Things that happened during praise
or ‘What we might expect to happen in our midst’
a. The glory of YHWH descended
II Chr 5:2-6:11
At the inauguration of the Temple in the days of king Solomon, the cloud which descended upon those present was the symbol of God’s glory and it filled the house which was being dedicated for the first time for the service of YHWH (II Chr 5:11-14).
This took place partly because the Ark of the Covenant was being brought in to the Holy of Holies but this shouldn’t lessen the importance of the praise which was taking place. I’ll discuss the structure of the musicians below but, for now, we should note that the Biblical record notes (my italics) that
‘...when the priests came out of the holy place...and when the song was raised with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments in praise to YHWH...the house, the house of YHWH, was filled with a cloud so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of YHWH filled the house of God’
and which links the raising of the song of praise as being the moment that God chose to make His presence tangibly known. Worthy of note also is the phrase in II Chr 5:13 that it was the musicians’ and singers’ duty to be heard ‘in unison’ - even though we’ve looked at a ‘joyful noise’ above, what happened here wasn’t just a wall of noise or out of time and chaotic, but each instrument and singer was in unity with one another so that, although they were individuals, they were of the same mind (and not just in the same key and time signature!).
It would have been extremely loud praise at first (before the presence of God prevented them from playing) - if the full quota of musicians appointed were playing, there would have been 291. And we should also notice the types of instruments being represented there - trumpets and cymbals are not the quietest of instruments and, if anyone reading this has ever tried to lead praise in a meeting where there are numerous tambourines in the congregation but whose players aren’t that gifted in how to play them, they’ll understand it when I say that they tend to lead the congregation, rather than the person who’s stood at the front.
Ps 22:3 gives an interpretation of what happened by informing the reader that
‘...[God is] holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel’
As His people begin to praise and magnify Him in their midst, God begins to take His rightful place amongst them. He becomes ‘enthroned’ as His name is exalted. This seems to be exactly what happened in the Temple that day for it was ‘when the song was raised in praise to YHWH’ that the Temple was filled with the cloud of God’s presence, God taking His place in the midst of His people.
From what I understand of the Scriptures, there’s no reason not to expect this sort of thing happening even in the present day but we must notice that God dispensed with taking up His residence in limiting geographical locations with the advent of the New Covenant - now He comes to dwell within the believer himself so that each follower is a reflection of the old Tabernacle and Temples which were built to house Him in the OT.
In that sense, praise in which God delights should have the effect of causing God to make Himself known more fully or intimately to the individual concerned. I must admit that this last conclusion isn’t directly supported by any Scriptures that I know of but I can see no reason to think that what happened in the OT shouldn’t happen once more in the New, so long as a correct understanding of the cross and the way Jesus’ death changed the believer’s relationship with God is applied to it.
At the beginning of this web page, I noted the old belief that worship was the time in a period of praise when slower choruses or hymns were sung or that it was what happened when the believer found themselves quieted before God, even being more tangibly aware of His presence than they normally are.
The experience of what took place in the Temple, however, when viewed with the cross as an interpretation of how it could happen in the new covenant, gives us an explanation of what is often experienced.
God, who’s enthroned upon His people’s praises, makes Himself known more fully to men and women as they give themselves over to praise Him so that, what the singers and musicians experienced becomes paralleled in what modern day believers sense.
It’s rare, though, that a congregation ever comes to the point of total impotency as occurred in the OT but there have been occasions when such phenomena have occurred, especially in the records of revivals where God’s tangible presence not only had believers fall over and lie prostrate - the only action associated with worship, incidentally, and fully in keeping with the concept of worship being a response to a new revelation of God (see the sections on ‘worship’ below) - but it also convicted unbelievers of their sin and of their need for repentance.
While we shouldn’t think of praise as a means towards an end, the fact remains that a more tangible experience of God's presence should certainly not be an unusual part of today's times of praise.
b. Victory brought forward
II Chron 20:1-30
Excerpt and development from here
As I noted on the above web page where I dealt with II Chr 20:1-30 more extensively, the real crux of the passage for a lot of believers is whether praise won the victory for Jehoshaphat and the children of Israel or whether it was something different from what has often been taught from the pulpit.
It’s plain from the passage that Jehoshaphat received the Word which came from God through one of His servants and acted upon it - that is, he demonstrated faith in God - so that, instead of sending his military men out in the front line (which would have been an act more of unbelief than anything) he sent out the singers to give praise to God for what He had already promised to do. It was his faith that had turned the promise of God’s deliverance into the reality of a victory, but his belief in the Word of God had secured the inevitability of deliverance.
So, where does praise reckon in this story? Is it only as the final outworking of his faith?
Actually, the passage makes it plain that the praise of the nation actually achieved something - it had a bearing on the final outworking of the promise of God that it’s lack wouldn’t have achieved.
In II Chr 20:16-17, God had told Jehoshaphat and Judah that the multitude would
‘...come up by the ascent of Ziz...’
and that they would (my italics)
‘...see the victory of YHWH’
He told them, then, that they were to watch Him fight for them against their enemy - or, rather, that they would see God fight against His own enemy and deliver them in the process. But, in II Chr 20:24, it’s recorded that this isn’t what actually happened - by the time they arrived at the watchtower of the wilderness, God had already fought and defeated them.
The reason is recorded in II Chr 20:22. It reads that
‘When they began to sing and praise, YHWH set an ambush...’
It was when they began to sing and praise, then, that God brought the victory forward before the appointed time. It’s His people’s reactions to the Word of God, then, that determine the time at which what He has said will come to pass.
The victory was won when the promise of God’s spoken Word was met with faith in the hearers the day before in the Temple - but the victory was received at an earlier point in time than it might otherwise have been when the faith of the hearers translated itself into the response of praise.
So, too, in the Church. It’s only as we respond to God’s anointed Word in our own lives that we’ll know the victory that He’s promised us - and the time of receipt can be significantly altered as we allow our faith to be outworked in praise and by the negation of those things (such as the demoting of the military men in the face of an advancing, hostile army) that one might have expected would have been important.
Again, although we shouldn’t see praise as a means towards an end, when it’s the outworking of faith in the living Word of God, it has the effect of bringing forward the time when the promises of God are realised.
A spiritualisation may be in order here and, because it occurred in the NT, it may have particular relevance to the NT believer. When Silas and Paul found themselves in the prison cell in Philippi, they didn’t decide that they’d had their lot and might as well shrink back into some sort of depression - rather, they decided to exert themselves by singing praises to God (Acts 16:25), the very fact that the prisoners were listening to them seems to bear witness to the fact that they weren’t holding back with their praise but were very audible.
It was at this time, while they were praising God in song (Acts 16:26), that
‘...there was a great earthquake so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and every one’s fetters were unfastened’
The followers of Jesus who’d been shackled through no fault of their own (the charge against them had to do with the preaching of the Gospel and the release of an owner’s slave girl from a divining spirit) found release from the things which bound them. The same is also true today when believers draw close to God in praise for God’s power is released within their lives and they find themselves shaken free from any bondage that restricts them (Heb 12:26-29) - with Paul and Silas, the effect was external but, with believers in the present day, there can often be an inner breaking away of restrictions that liberates the believer to be freer in their service for God.
We should also note I Sam 16:23 which we’ve previously looked at above. The writer notes that the playing of David upon the lyre had the effect of dispelling the evil spirit which was known to come upon king Saul. It would be going too far to say with any certainty that David was praising God in song but a musician who’s been anointed by God can bring a radical transformation into the life of a man or woman who finds that they’re living in a place where there’s spiritual bondage.
The deliverance David brought was only temporary for the spirit returned to oppress him - but there should be no reason why a temporary release from the bondage of an oppressing spirit could be brought to bear on a situation so that the message of the Gospel might have its full effect, bringing a permanent release to those who hear the message and respond positively to it.
3. Praise structure in David’s day
This section looks at any indication from the Scriptures about the role of musicians in praise. The first two are offered by way of introduction to the most important point c which was written with my own personal situation as a background.
I was always getting annoyed as a young christian about the ‘set up’ of praise in our local fellowship. Being part of the musical ‘group’ who attempted to lead the congregation in praise, we were almost continually being interrupted by the leader who would interject just about anywhere he chose when we were feeling that we needed to lead the congregation further on.
The whole affair was like walking up to a friend, staring a half-sentence and then being dragged away before you had the chance to finish what you were saying.
So, anyway, when I decided to begin a study of praise and worship in the Bible, it had to be a must to determine what sort of structure - if any - God had recorded as being implemented (or having allowed to be implemented) at any time during the Scriptural accounts.
I Chronicles chapter 25 was the passage par excellence where the structure of the musicians, their function and relationship to those in authority over them was clearly defined. I’m still of the opinion that this isn’t meant to be a hard and fast format that can’t be adapted to situations in our modern day churches but, what it did show, was that it was the musicians who had the overall responsibility for leading the congregation and that the king over them only directed them as to when they should begin.
Where the praise went, how long it lasted and what types of songs were sung seem to have been the full responsibility of the appointed singers and musicians.
And this is even more important for us to grasp when it was David who implemented such an arrangement (even though it didn’t come about until the reign of Solomon) who, if anybody should be given the credit, must have been the one with the most insight as to what would have worked knowing, as he did, how to write and perform musical compositions (II Sam 23:1) and who was in a unique position with God as the type of the King who was to come (for example, Ezek 37:24).
These three examples from the life of David, then, and not just the structure of praise which was to be implemented in the new Temple, should give us a good understanding of the various ways in which both the singers and musicians could be arranged to bring praise to God which was acceptable and pleasing to Him.
a. When the Ark was moved to Jerusalem
I Chr 15:15-28
The moving of the Ark of the covenant into Jerusalem was a time of great joy for David and all involved, even though they had one false start after which David had to think long and hard over what his response should be.
The advance of the Ark into the city represented God coming to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem and, even though there had been a previous event in which dependence upon the Ark to deliver them had been turned back on the Israelites’ head (I Sam 4:1-11), David’s faith resided in YHWH rather than in material objects so that his desire was honoured.
It’s not indicated whereabouts in the procession that the musicians travelled but either behind or in front of the Ark are both possible. If Psalm 68 was written for the procession as many feel that it was (others look towards the psalm as one written for dedication of the Temple under Solomon even though the general ‘feel’ of the piece doesn’t seem to fit in with the events that we know from the Scriptural account), then Ps 68:24-27 gives us the order of the singers and musicians, even though it fails to definitively place them in the order of the procession. David notes that there were
‘...the singers in front, the minstrels last, between them maidens playing timbrels’
The attitudes mentioned here are worth noting for the musicians are commanded to (I Chr 15:16)
‘...play loudly on musical instruments...’
‘...to raise sounds of joy’
In other words, it wasn’t a particularly quiet time, and was seen to be a time of great rejoicing which expressed itself with loud sounds and dancing, the passage concluding by noting that the Ark was brought to the city (I Chr 15:28)
‘...with shouting...and...loud music on harps and lyres’
David’s exuberance is also noted (I Chr 15:29) and it’s difficult to imagine that he was the only one who was expressing his joy and delight in this manner.
This structure of the musicians tells us very little about the way modern day singers and musicians should be organised except that the outward display of emotion and joy was the most distinguishing characteristic and one which, if displayed in a lot of the fellowships up and down the UK, would certainly raise more than a few eyebrows.
b. The ark in Jerusalem
I Chr 16:4-6
Ultimately, the Ark of the Covenant was brought in to the city but its presence there represented only a temporary arrangement until the time when the Temple was to be built and dedicated. A tent was pitched for it (II Sam 6:17, I Chr 16:1) and there appears to have been no restricted access to it like existed in the Tabernacle. David is recorded as simply going in to sit in front of the Ark to talk with YHWH (II Sam 7:18) and the description of the musicians and their ministry (I Chr 16:37) might have better spoken about them ministering ‘before the veil’ if one had existed rather than ‘before the Ark’ which seems to imply that none had been hung.
The Ark was probably still wrapped in the curtain which doubled for the veil of separation (Num 4:5) but we have no definitive statement which tells us that it had been removed and hung. The High Priest had been left behind in Gibeon with the empty Tabernacle of Moses (I Chr 16:39) so that service as described in the Mosaic Law wouldn’t have been possible in the city where the Ark rested.
In theory, then, all who desired could come before YHWH and sit in His presence, even though this probably didn’t happen in practice and was reserved for David and those like him who were integral to his kingdom, along with all those who were charged with the service of the current set up.
Asaph was in charge of the musicians as they ministered before God in praise and thanksgiving (I Chr 16:4-6,37-38) and there were eight under him (I Chr 16:5). With trumpets being blown continually (I Chr 16:6), it was no quiet ministry and one wonders how the inhabitants of Jerusalem ever got more than a few handfuls of sleep most nights! Once the Temple had been built, the stone walls would have had the effect of keeping the sound within its precincts but, at the time of David’s tent, it’s not easy to see how the noise of the musicians wouldn’t have dissipated throughout the city of Jerusalem.
Even though the sounds of praise were continual, I Chr 16:37 notes that Asaph ministered in God’s presence
‘...as each day required’
showing that there must have been some degree of freedom in the style and content of the ministry of praise offered to God. Heman and Jeduthun - who figure prominently once the Temple is built and dedicated - were in charge of giving thanks in the empty shell of the Tabernacle in Gibeon (I Chr 16:41).
It’s important to repeat that it was a continual ministry to sing and make melody in praise and thanksgiving to God. Each chosen musician had a particular ministry on a certain instrument (I Chr 16:5-6) so that, as they recognised each other’s ministries, they could play to each other’s strengths, the sound of praise which was being offered to God being enhanced by individual skills.
This observation is important for us to understand how it was that they were able to play ‘in unison’ when the Temple was dedicated (II Chr 5:13). The idea appears not to be simply that they all picked up their instruments at the same time but that there was a fair degree of harmony between those playing, something which had been learnt and developed both before the Ark in Jerusalem by Asaph and those under him and, in Gibeon, by Heman and Jeduthun.
What they experienced at the Dedication, then, seems not to have ‘magically’ happened but was the result of a great many months and years of getting to know one another’s musical aptitudes and styles. We might surmise, therefore, that, although the anointing of the Holy Spirit is an important part of praise in the modern day Church, much also depends upon the way the musicians blend together as a group of players.
c. David’s appointment for the Temple under Solomon
I Chronicles chapter 25
Of all the structures in which God dwelt in the OT, Solomon’s Temple was probably the most glorious in Israel. David had been forbidden by God to build it because his hands had shed much blood (I Chr 22:8) but, even so, David provided for his son from his own resources and charged him with the undertaking.
In I Chronicles chapter 25, David appointed the Temple musicians. The three leaders who’d been used in his own reign in both the city of Jerusalem and Gibeon were employed (Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun) and a structure formed that would be adequate for the ministry to God.
Although the king was head over all and commanded when the music and praise was ministered (I Chr 25:2,6), he didn’t take part in their ministry. Solomon (David wasn’t to be a part of the structure which he inaugurated) appears to have been charged with ordering the musicians to begin but it was the musicians themselves who had the responsibility to minister. The king, therefore, only said ‘when’ whereas the musicians determined ‘how’.
Braun notes that the Hebrew from which the interpretation is gathered that the musicians were under the direction of the king could also be understood to mean that they stood beside the king. I think, however, that the likelihood is that ‘under the direction of’ or ‘under the order of’ is the more likely to be described.
Notice that both the sons of Asaph and of Jeduthun were instructed to ‘prophesy’ on their musical instruments (I Chr 15:2,3) which urges the reader to expect some sort of anointing to come upon them and that they would, therefore, be led by God Himself to both pronounce the Word of God through both their playing and singing. It seems also possible that the command was that the musicians were to play and sing as they felt moved by the Spirit, rather than to feel constrained by particular formats which might be imposed upon them to keep order.
Today, the same is true - it’s as the musicians are inspired by the Holy Spirit that they will be able to adequately lead the congregation in praise (if the congregation want to follow, that is).
Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun were three specific leaders who each had different ministries (I Chr 25:3,6,7). They were individuals and yet dependent upon one another - not all played cymbals or harps, for example, but together they played everything and were ‘balanced’.
It’s also the case that their duties were recognised by Divine appointment in the casting of lots. This method was more than a chance action which men and women then attributed to the working of God for it was known to be guided by the hand of God (Joshua 7:16-21, I Sam 14:36-42) so that God was often called upon before the event to make His choice known (I Sam 14:41, Acts 1:24-26), Prov 16:33 affirming that
‘The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is wholly from YHWH’
Lots, then, were used to determine the will of God in OT times so that what transpired in I Chr 25:8-31 was expected to have been an appointment by God Himself. Likewise, it’s only by Divine appointment that musicians can ever minister to God on behalf of the people.
A man chosen by God to play is a man anointed by God to play. Today, the question should never be
‘How well can you play?’
‘Has God called you to play for Him in praise?’
but, as is often the case, natural ability is often substituted for the anointing of God so that congregations experience the faintest trickle of the presence of God in their midst. Note also, as I’ve previously written above, II Kings 3:15 where a minstrel was the instrument through whom the power of YHWH descended on God’s prophet and I Sam 16:23 where a musician was the one who was used by God to dispel the power of an evil spirit.
The musicians were divided into 24 divisions according to the number of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun’s sons (I Chr 25:9-31) but not because there were twenty-four hours in one day. Rather, it appears from the background to the practice in the NT that the divisions were to correspond with the approximately 48 week year (12 divisions of lunar cycles) so that each group were to minister in the Temple for two weeks annually - whether this was to be two consecutive weeks or two single weeks separated by the single weeks of the other 23 divisions is far from certain. What would have happened in leap years is impossible to be certain about.
Notice also that the lot which fell determined the leader of the musicians who would play so that the leaders of praise who exist in the Church should be careful to minister only as and when they are chosen by God - a divine appointment doesn’t necessarily mean a continual time in which to be used but, rather, times and seasons still hold sway as God makes the choice.
In certain aspects of the praise ministry in the Temple, we can see the ordained structure for praise in individual fellowships today. Though the Temple of God is now the sum total of believers, it’s necessary that anointed musicians minister before God on behalf of the people.
The first time that they played together in public was quite some meeting (II Chr 5:13)! They made themselves heard ‘in unison’, having no specific leader to whom each of them played, but they came together to make one, unified sound of praise - balanced in sound, in praise and united by the Spirit.
This unity amongst the musicians was a vital necessity and it wasn’t something that had been ‘caught’ overnight - as I noted above, it’s something that would have been worked on with time. When they came together as one, it was then that YHWH descended and took His rightful place in the midst of His people, enthroned within the nation, so that the priests were unable to stand to minister.
Praise in the NT
In the NT, the concept of ‘praise’ is spoken of in more general terms and there are only three specific places out of a total of 21 in the RSV where praise is linked as a response to something that’s been accomplished (Luke 17:18, 18:43, 19:37) but there are a few places where the praise being mentioned seems to be linked in with a response to the work of Christ on the cross.
It appears as if the OT gave such a wide definition and explanation of praise that the NT writers felt no need to have to expound and define it, so that the mere mention of the concept seems to be enough to direct the reader’s mind back to what has already been written - perhaps, even, the experience or example of praise amongst both the Jews and the nations to whom the Gospel had come was sufficient to direct them the correct way without there having to be hard and fast rules for its expression.
Even though there aren’t many attitudes mentioned which accompany the mention of praise, there are a few recorded in the NT and these echo what we’ve previously seen from the OT. So, for example, the loudness of praise is noted (Mtw 21:15-16, Luke 19:37) and, more especially, in the first of these two Scriptures, it’s the children who not only are doing it but who are upheld by Jesus as declaring a great truth about Himself.
Also significant here is that the same word used for ‘crying out’ (Strongs Greek number 2896) is the one employed in Mtw 27:23 and 27:50 where the former gives a description of the crowds clamouring for Jesus’ crucifixion and the latter of shouting at Jesus as He hung on the cross. The volume of the latter two events must necessarily be expected to have been carried over into the use of the word by the author of the Gospel when he’s describing the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ entry into the Temple.
Leaping is associated with praise (Acts 3:8) and, quite expectedly, singing is, too, in various places (Acts 16:25, Eph 5:19, Col 3:16, Heb 2:12). Eph 5:19 (my italics) speaks about
‘...making melody to the Lord with all your hearts...’
and it’s difficult to think that what is being encouraged by Paul is something which wouldn’t have overflowed into an external display of exuberance.
All these tie in very well with the revelation of praise contained for us in the OT. Nowhere in the NT does it state that God has ordained any change of praise to Him - neither did the cross alter any aspect of praise that was wrong or deficient in OT times. If anything, the cross has given believers all the more reason to praise - now the eternal covenant is revealed whereas then it was only promised.
True, more emphasis is put on inner attitudes throughout the entire NT (not just in praise but in the majority of subjects), but the inner attitudes of praise are not lacking in the OT and are very plainly observable as we noted above.
There are some additional points in the NT, however, which need noting before we move on to a discussion of the concept of ‘worship’ in both the Old and New Testaments.
In many places in Scripture, the believer’s life before God is likened to a sacrifice where the will and intentions are laid down that the will and purpose of God may be done in their place. In OT times, a sacrifice was offered to God to gain Divine acceptance - so, too, with praise today. Believers offer up praise to God as David observed (Ps 141:2).
But a sacrifice was also something that represented a cost to the donor. Heb 13:15 records the author as writing that
‘Through [Jesus] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name’
It has been suggested that a ‘sacrifice of praise’ may indicate ‘praising God even when you don’t feel like it’ because praise isn’t dependent upon feeling but upon willing and, consequently, upon willing action (others would interpret it in a much more reserved way and see not so much a forceful application of oneself but an observation only that the sacrifices of the OT are now substituted by praise).
Even when a believer feels ‘down’, God still requires men and women to praise Him for what He’s done - and for who He is - and the praiser needs to reflect upon the great truths they already know and stir themselves up to respond to it. The ‘sacrifice’ is further explained as being
‘...the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name’
where it might also be insisted that to acknowledge Jesus Christ in the first century world have meant much more hardship than it does to most westerners in the twenty-first century.
The author’s comment that this sacrifice should also be ‘continual’ is significant for we normally think of ‘praise’ as something which happens either in church meetings, a personal quiet time or when one’s singing along to a chorus CD. It seems out of place to think of praise able to be offered to God when one’s on the toilet, in the shower or on the bus - but ‘continual’ means just that.
Today, we find ourselves in a different culture, a different way of living from those who lived in Biblical times. By understanding the meaning of expressions used then, we get a glimpse of how God requires His people to praise Him now. That’s not to say that a believer is to be limited by the expressions that are contained in the Scriptures for different civilisations have different expressions in normal, everyday life that could be used in honour of God to praise Him.
So the believer should be inspired by the Holy Spirit to express themselves in ways which he directs yet, even more than this, if the expressions of praise in the OT were simply outworkings of expressions which were already within that society - for example, joy expressed in dancing was part of the culture of Israelite society that was also employed in a believer’s delight in God - we should expect believers in the present day to express themselves with the actions that they use in day to day living.
To give one instance, applause today is an expression of our appreciation of something or someone great. When we applaud, we’re saying ‘well done’ or ‘marvellous’ to the object of our applause. As an expression of praise, therefore, and at the right time, it should never be summed up as ‘unScriptural’ but as ‘something new’, a new method which can be employed in a congregation’s praise of God.
Certainly, it’s better that a believer expresses themselves outwardly in accordance with the contents of what’s within than to use mechanical examples from the OT and think that God is pleased with their repetition and mimicry. God is into reality.
Expression is a vital part of praise. Our actions in different choruses should always be a reflection of what that chorus is saying through the words so long as the words on our lips are being sincerely reflected in our hearts.
An important differentiation
The subject of speaking in tongues is certainly a controversial subject but I shall try and side-step the issue and deal with the main point that needs making. If you don’t believe that speaking in tongues is relevant for today’s Church then you’re more likely than not either to ignore this part of the notes or to read it and disagree. The section is provided solely for those who, like me, accept that the pages of the Bible are equally relevant for today’s believer as they were for them ‘way back then’.
Speaking in tongues is a way by which a believer addresses themselves to God directly through the utterance of an unknown language inspired by the Holy Spirit (I Cor 14:2) and it can have the effect of building up the believer (I Cor 14:4) though it’s not too certain how that can be in and of itself unless one parallels it with the second clause of the Scripture cited and understands it to mean that the person who speaks in tongues will also understand the tongue in which he’s speaking (something which isn’t stated anywhere else in Scripture).
In today’s Church - and amongst those who still believe it relevant - it’s used to praise God in both speech and song. But, singing ‘with’ and ‘in’ the spirit are two terms that have a lot of misunderstanding attached to them and it’s important that we try and define both.
Firstly, singing with the spirit. I Cor 14:13-19 is a good explanation of what this means. This is when the believer’s own spirit speaks or sings to God in an unknown language in praise and thanksgiving. It’s one of the ‘new ways’ that was given to the Church because of the cross and it’s a gift that comes with the advent of the Holy Spirit into a believer’s life.
On the other hand, singing in the Spirit is different, even though it’s used today to signify singing in tongues - but the expression occurs nowhere in Scripture. The idea, though, is not absent from it (see Gal 5:16,25 and Pps).
A believer’s life must be lived as the Holy Spirit directs - therefore, a believer is exhorted to live life ‘in the Spirit’. To ‘sing in the Spirit’ is to allow the Holy Spirit to speak through the believer - whether with understanding or in an unknown language - in praise to God. It’s singing what God wants us to sing at any particular time and being led by God to sing praises to Him as He directs.
The idea certainly isn’t absent from the OT where it’s recorded that the musicians ‘prophesied’ - that is, they sang and played under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (I Chr 25:2-3).
Worship in the OT
At the beginning of the notes on ‘praise’, I commented that the AV understands seven different words as meaning ‘praise’, ‘praising’ and so on. When we approach the concept of worship, however, we find that there are just 115 verses in which the word occurs in the English and almost always one Hebrew word occurs (Strongs Greek number 7812, M2360) which we’ll consider in a moment.
The other words are few and far between. In one place, the word ‘worship’ is used even though there’s no direct translation of a Hebrew word and it’s been added to give the verse sense (I Kings 12:30) while in another it appears as if the translation is somewhat amiss, the RSV preferring the phrase ‘bearing her image’ (Jer 44:19).
There are twelve occasions where a Chaldean word is employed in the middle of Daniel (Strongs Hebrew number 5457, M2884) but this is a borrowed word from Babylonia which is generally understood to reflect the same underlying concept behind the normal Hebrew word (Dan 2:46, 3:5,6,7,10,11,12,14,15[x2],18,28). Finally, there are four uses of another Hebrew word (Strongs Hebrew number 5647, M1553) in one place in the OT where the translation is ‘worshippers’ (II Kings 10:21,22,23[x2]) where the underlying meaning seems to be the service of another.
However, as I’ve previously written, there’s one main word identified in the OT text that’s the one rendered ‘worship’ and it’s to this which we must now turn our attention. The word occurs a total of 172 times in the AV text of the OT, being rendered 99 times by ‘worship’ and 68 times as an action which has to do with bending over or making oneself appear to be smaller than one really is where man-man relationships are in mind (the full listing according to the On Line Bible Hebrew Lexicon is worship 99, bow 31, bow down 18, obeisance 9, reverence 5, fall down 3, themselves 2, stoop 1, crouch 1, misc 3). Where a man’s attitude before God is concerned, the word is more normally rendered ‘worship’ as a technical term for the action which, I must admit, tends to obscure the underlying meaning.
After all, we might speak of a ‘worship service’ and allow a fair degree of freedom for men and women to imagine it to be whatever they want, but call it a ‘falling down on our faces meeting’ and there may not be as many attend as did the previous week. Actually, the English word ‘worship’ comes, according to Zondervan, from the old English word ‘weordhscipe’ and means ‘worth-ship’ which it interprets as
‘worthiness, dignity or merit...’
While these words aren’t out of place when we come to consider God and His character, they tend to obscure the underlying meaning of the word.
1. Concepts behind worship
Before we begin to consider ‘worship’ from a Biblical perspective and attempt a more detailed definition of it than we’ve just recorded above, let’s remind ourselves of how we defined the concept of ‘worship’ at the very beginning of these notes.
There we stated that worship is our reaction to a revelation of who God is or of what He’s done and it will be apparent that such a definition is fully in keeping with the evidence that can be gleaned from the OT use of the word.
a. Acknowledging God’s sovereignty
Eighteen times, bowing down or falling down is connected with worship directly. As we saw in the introduction, however, the Hebrew word ‘worship’ carries with it the concept of bowing down so that the actual emphasis on such an action is probably not far away from each and every use of the word in the original. In a number of places, the RSV translates the word ‘bow down’ in contrast to the AV’s ‘worship’ so that the action is emphasised (Gen 24:52, Ps 81:9, 86:9, 97:7, Is 2:8, Micah 5:13, Zeph 1:5, 2:11 - all these have to do with an action directed either at YHWH or false gods) and, in one place, the RSV opts for the more emphatic ‘prostrate oneself’ (Is 49:7).
Because the word is regularly employed in the dealings of men, even when God isn’t being mentioned, it can be seen that, far from being a religious word, it appears to have been used from common, everyday life to illustrate the relationship of the creature, man, towards the Creator, God.
By looking at the word’s use in natural relationships, we’ll be able to more fully understand the reason for its use in Divine-human relationships and the concept meant to be understood.
i. Man-man relationships
To do obeisance (as it’s recorded in II Sam 1:2, 14:4, 18:28, Ps 72:11, Dan 3:5,10,15 where the same word is being used as is translated ‘worship’ elsewhere) is to show respect and reverence to a superior or, at least, to one who’s regarded as such. When the authority of an individual was recognised, the inferior person ‘bowed down’ (or ‘prostrated themselves’ if emphasis was needed) at the other’s feet as an acknowledgement of their superiority.
In Joseph’s dream (Gen 37:5-11), he saw that a time was coming when all his family were to be of a lesser standing to himself. Joseph wasn’t the eldest son so that his brothers had no willingness in their own minds to reverse the naturally accepted order and neither would his father ever think of bowing down to a son.
This explains why the dream was so obnoxious to them all and the questions of the brothers explain the action perfectly. They ask Joseph (Gen 37:8)
‘Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to have dominion over us?’
But, as God turned circumstances around, Joseph became second only to the king of Egypt and his brothers unknowingly, at first, bowed themselves to the ground, thus fulfilling the dream that Joseph had received (Gen 42:6).
Thus, in the OT, to bow down to someone was to recognise the other’s superiority over them.
ii. God-man relationships
It’s important to note that, in the above section, the inferior person wasn’t recognising what the other had done but who the other person was. Even though we’ve included both concepts within our definition of the word ‘worship’, it’s more often the case that worship is tied up with a revelation of who God is rather than of what He has done.
The same holds true, then, for man-man relationships as it is in God-man ones. The people bowed down before God or before His presence when they were confronted by a revelation of who God is and not what He’d done (see especially Is 66:23, Ezek 46:2,3 but also Ps 99:5,9, 132:7, Is 27:13).
When a person fell down before God or ‘worshipped’ God in the OT, they were doing so as an acknowledgement of the revelation they’d received from God about who He is and, on a less frequent basis, about what He’d done. For example, when God revealed Himself as the Commander of His own army, Joshua fell on his face and worshipped the One who stood before Him - that is, He acknowledged God’s Sovereignty (Joshua 5:13-15)
God also revealed Himself to Abram as ‘El Shaddai’ (Gen 17:1-3). Abram recognised that and reacted to the revelation in worship by falling on his face.
[NB - Notice also I Sam 5:1-4, Ps 97:7 where a false god is unable to stand before the presence of Almighty God and falls flat on its face in symbolised worship. If the Philistines had really come to their senses, they would have realised that their god was inferior (I Sam 5:7) and, if the god who you serve is defeated by another then it makes sense to abandon your devotion to one for the other. Gods should protect their worshippers - they shouldn’t, themselves, need protection!
See also Is 46:6, 44:17 for a negative aspect of falling down and worshipping in respect of idols.
Worship is also connected with ‘bowing down’ in Ps 95:6 (and with kneeling), II Chr 7:3, 29:29-30.
Worship is connected with ‘bowed heads’ in Gen 24:26, 24:48, Ex 4:31, 12:27, 34:8, I Chr 29:20.
Worship is connected with ‘falling down’ in Num 22:31, Joshua 5:14, II Chr 20:18, Job 1:20, Is 46:6, 44:15,17.]
In acknowledging God’s Sovereignty, it’s necessary for the man or woman to know who God is or what He’s done - and that can only come by a revelation from God. When God is revealed, the man recognises it and then must react in worship, the threefold procedure being more fully laid out as
1. Revelation from God of who God is or of what He’s done
2. Recognition from man of that which has been revealed to Him by God
3. Reaction of man in falling down before Him/worship/an acknowledgement of His Sovereignty
However a man knows God is how a man will worship God. If a man has no revelation of who God is, he can’t react in worship - and, if a man’s revelation of God is limited, so will their worship be.
When believers as individuals worship God, they’re acknowledging who God is as revealed to them by the Holy Spirit and it’s in the area of God’s Sovereignty that they will fall down on their faces and knees to worship the Ever-living One.
As we’ve already seen, bowing down or falling down as a reaction to a revelation of who God is is an acknowledgement of God’s supremacy, sovereignty and authority. It’s a confession that God is the superior One. Coming from this confession there must also arise some action of obedience in the life of the worshipper. Jesus once asked the disciples and the crowds (Luke 6:46)
‘Why do you call Me “Lord, Lord” and not do what I tell you?’
In it, he was expressing the same idea - if a man or woman acknowledges God as Sovereign (that is, as his Lord and Master), the outworking of that in the believer’s life will be obedience to the commands that are received from Him.
Today, we probably have a wrong concept of sovereignty because our kings and queens don’t have the same power and authority as those in Biblical times. Then, a sovereign’s word was with authority and any that refused to obey their commands were under pain of death. It was especially true of the Babylonian kings (Daniel 3:4-6,16-19 - Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) and it’s out of this concept of sovereignty that the term ‘King of kings’ is applied to God.
It’s certainly not enough to merely acknowledge verbally that God is sovereign, neither to express that belief in the action of bowing before Him - but it’s important that there be real obedience to the greater One who’s being acknowledged.
There are at least nineteen Scriptures where ‘worship’ is connected with the word ‘service’ even though they all deal with it in a negative way. For example, Ex 20:5 records the command that
‘You shall not bow down [Hebrew ‘worship’] to them or serve them’
where the ‘them’ is referring to idols. It was true that whatever a man worshipped, that also he served (Deut 8:19, 11:16, 30:17). In Joshua 5:13-15 (used in the previous section), Joshua
‘fell flat on his face...and worshipped’
as a reaction to the revelation received. After this, the Scripture says that Joshua said
‘What does my Lord bid His servant?’
and demonstrated that the recognition of superiority expressed in worship and obeisance found its total outworking in willing obedience to what was commanded him.
In Gen 17:1-3 (again, which we looked at previously), Abram fell on his face as a reaction to the revelation of God as El Shaddai. In Gen 17:23, the final outworking of his reaction of worship is recorded as obedience to God’s command by the circumcision of his entire household. Even in Genesis chapter 22, Abraham still displayed his unswerving obedience to the previous revelation of God received.
Concluding, in addition to the Revelation-Recognition-Reaction process, we may add ‘Service’ as the final outworking of that initial revelation from God of who He is and of what He’s done.
2. The importance of receiving fresh revelation
The subject of revelation has had a bad press in recent years, probably because of the so-called ‘revelation’ of either believers who have gone after what they’re supposed to have had revealed to them and which soundly contradicted the evidence of the Scriptures or of those who were only nominally saved or who held the name of ‘christian’ but who, to cite one example, decided to commit mass suicide to ascend into the tail of an approaching comet.
Many others know the exact time and date of the Second Coming - I read in a newspaper yesterday about a court case (how true this is or not, I have no idea) in which a woman who’d given a piece of land over to the ‘church’ so that she could be present at the Second Coming was suing the organisation because the time and date stated by the leader had long since passed and Jesus hadn’t showed up. To be honest, perhaps both sides should have been committed to have psychiatric reports done on them rather than to let the deceivers and the deceived still stalk the streets of our towns and cities!
I needn’t stress it too much - for it’s plain and obvious - that there can be a real fear come upon believers as they contemplate what might become of them if they give themselves over to the type of ‘revelation’ that some have said to have experienced. Such a fear then pulls away from a belief that the supernatural is a necessary part of the believer’s experience and many settle down into a life which smacks more of legality than it does of the freedom to serve God.
It seems rare that one finds churches who stand on the Scriptures as foundational and able to correct wrong ideas but who, at the same time, are fully seeking to hear directly from God afresh. But, if there’s to be a true worship of God then it can only come when there’s a true and full acceptance of the revelation of God as it comes to individuals and congregations in the here and now - not fossilised truth that’s being passed down from spiritual father to son but as a dynamic and empowered revealing of truth in the present day.
My notes on the ‘Word of God’ should be read at this point for, rejecting the Biblical statements of what the Word of God is, we’ve strayed into a religion which is more legal in its observance than dynamic and life-imparting as the early Church discovered. A people who are without revelation will be a people who are unable to bring to God true worship.
We’ll look at just one example from the OT to emphasise the point because it’s the most illuminative of them all. In Judges 2:6-13, we read that God had performed many mighty deeds and given a revelation of Himself to an entire generation of Israelites (Judges 2:6-7). It was through this revelation that the people had committed themselves to serve YHWH - even though an entire generation had perished in the wilderness for seeing the work of God and rejecting it in preference for the ‘safety’ of a proposed return to Egypt (Numbers chapters 13-14).
But there arose another generation who neither knew who God was nor who had seen the work of God (Judges 2:10). Contained within the Scriptures which had been written to that point were the past revelations of God as Creator, Redeemer, God Almighty (El Shaddai) and Provider (Jehovah Jireh) - to name just a few - but they had no first-hand experience and no revelation about these matters to themselves.
Similarly, they could read about how God had parted the Red Sea and given them Canaan but they hadn’t experienced the events themselves. The bottom line here is that people can’t serve a God that they don’t know exists where my italicised word means ‘to ascertain by seeing’ or ‘experiential knowledge’ as it does in many places where just such an English word renders a Hebrew equivalent (see, for example, Gen 4:1).
As far as the new generation of Israelites were concerned, YHWH was only ‘the god of their fathers’ (Judges 2:12) - He wasn’t their God for they didn’t know Him from experience. If they did know anything about Him, it would only have been told to them by their parents or have been read by them from a scroll - the truth didn’t impinge itself into their own life because they had no personal revelation from God.
Likewise, if a local fellowship doesn’t receive a continuous and progressive revelation of who God is (in the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit and not through the preaching of the dead letter), through first hand experience of that revelation, that local church will never be able to progress in their worship of God beyond God having been revealed as ‘Saviour’ (a necessary and integral part of what it means to be ‘saved’ - a man cannot be saved until he knows that he needs to be saved and cannot recognise that he’s saved until God reveals the forgiveness that he needs).
Similarly, if a local fellowship has no experience of God working in their midst performing mighty deeds, their praise of Him will probably be limited to certain aspects of His previous working in their own lives.
Praise and worship, although they may spring from past revelation or works, are dependent upon fresh revelation and new miracles performed by God. Prov 29:18 notes that
‘Where there is no prophecy, the people cast off restraint...’
and we might understand the word to be relevant to this context by paraphrasing it that
‘Where there is no fresh revelation, the people go any way they want because they can’t recognise God for who He is...’
The sad state of a legalistic fellowship is not that it has a type or form of religion which looks good on the outside (II Tim 3:5) but that, when you start to scratch below the surface, all you find are dead men’s bones (Mtw 23:27).
Much of the time in the OT (if not most of the time), ‘worship’ is man’s reaction to how God has previously revealed Himself. But, with each fresh revelation, there’s a fresh reaction of worship to God. If we find a fellowship that hasn’t changed in its worship of God over a period of time (that is, in the ways it serves Him and its acknowledgement of His Sovereignty in more and more areas of their lives), then it’s a fellowship that’s received no fresh revelation of who God is or who have rejected the revelation which has been brought to them by the Holy Spirit.
Yet, when revelation suddenly comes, watch the worship change...
A test for all of us, to see how deeply we can worship God, is to ask ourselves whether we know Him experientially in the areas, for example, of love, mercy, healing, provision, power, forgiveness, wrath, jealousy, vengeance, war and judgment. We shouldn’t ask ourselves whether we know the right doctrines of the above and other concepts but whether we’ve actually experienced Him in these ways for, unless we have, our worship is fossilised and in need of revelation.
Worship in the NT
In the NT, there’s a wider array of words translated by ‘worship’ and it’s variants in the AV (in all the word appears 73 times) than occurs in the OT. The most important of these (Strongs Greek number 4352) is one that occurs on 60 occasions and is always rendered ‘worship’ in the AV wherever it appears.
Kittels notes concerning this word that it’s
‘...an ancient term for reverent adoration of the gods which, in the case of chthonic deities [the gods of the underworld], would mean stooping to kiss the earth.
The Greeks abandon the outward gesture but keep the term for the inner attitude’
It’s literal translation according to Vines is ‘to kiss towards’ and could also be paralleled in the action of a dog which licks its master’s to show affection or devotion. It’s the concept of the Greeks honouring their earth gods by kissing which is the most significant for it meant that the worshipper had to be involved in some form of bending, kneeling or prostration. This word, therefore, came to take on the Hebrew meaning of ‘worship’ because of the action associated with it and which was paralleled with the ideas of obeisance in the OT.
Two other words deserve a quick mention before we move on. The first (Strongs Greek number 4576) means ‘to revere’ or ‘to adore’ and stresses the feeling of awe or devotion in the act of worship. Kittels comments that the root meaning is ‘to shrink from’ so that the idea of hesitancy of direct approach led to its use in the reverence of deities.
The second (Strongs Greek number 3000) is drawn from a word meaning a hired servant, implying ministry or service to God. Even though this latter word is translated as ‘worship’, it’s also rendered ‘serve’ or ‘service’ in other places and this remains its underlying meaning, Kittels noting that the Greeks used it for such service of a deity and that it wasn’t meant to be regarded as a technical, religious term.
Both these concepts bleed over into the OT concept of worship though, from what we’ve already seen, the second is the more significant for the obedience of the worshipper is stressed as a final outworking of a positive response to revelation.
In the NT, just like the concept of ‘praise’, there are enough occurrences to show that the writers had the same basic concept of worship as that adopted in the OT. The formula ‘Revelation-Recognition-Reaction’ which we observed in the OT will be considered under the next heading ‘Jesus receives worship’ for it’s in these examples that we see a mirror image of the concept.
[Worship connected with falling down before a superior/God in the NT - Mtw 2:11, 4:9, 28:9,17, Luke 4:7, I Cor 14:25, Acts 10:25, Rev 4:9-10, 5:14, 7:11, 11:16, 19:4,10, 22:8 (in which all the revelation John is receiving seems to have become a little too much for him!)
Worship connected with service (where the third word discussed above is predominantly being used) - Acts 7:42, 24:14, Phil 3:3, Heb 10:2 (all of which are translated ‘worship’), Acts 27:23, II Tim 1:3, Heb 9:14, 12:28, Rev 7:15, 22:3 (all of which are translated ‘serve’ by the AV).]
1. Jesus receives worship
When Jesus walked this earth as a Man, whoever He met was being confronted by a revelation of who God is. Col 2:9 (see also Col 1:19) states that
‘...in Jesus, the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily’
which echoes Jesus’ own statement (John 14:9) that
‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father’
It isn’t so much the case that God is revealed through Jesus - even though that’s quite true - but that Jesus is God revealed. For, through a believer God might even be revealed but only Jesus is the revelation of God to man.
As ‘God-revealed’, Jesus was able to receive Divine worship from men and be justified as doing so. It’s this acceptance of worship that’s also an indication that Jesus’ claim was that He is God, the Ever-living One. Notice that Paul observed the need for revelation in I Cor 12:3 where he wrote that
‘...no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit’
for it’s only the Holy Spirit who brings to man a revelation of who God is. When Simon Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ (Mtw 16:16), it wasn’t his own senses that had determined this but because he’d received a revelation from the Father as to the identity of Jesus (Mtw 16:17).
The threefold formula of ‘Revelation-Recognition-Reaction’ can be seen in a number of NT Scriptures in the Gospels (which we’ll look at below) but, although the end reaction of this process is the service of the individual to do the will of God, this didn’t often occur.
In Mtw 14:22-33, the disciples received a revelation of who Jesus is and cried out
‘Truly, You are the Son of God’
and worshipped Him. Jesus was revealed as God in His sovereignty over nature by the Spirit, it was recognised by the disciples through the declaration of who He is and they reacted to it in worship of Him.
In Mtw 2:2,9-11, the magi were led or drawn to Jesus by means of a star or heavenly phenomenon (note John 6:65). When they saw Him, they recognised the One that had been revealed to them and reacted by falling down and worshipping Him.
After the resurrection (Mtw 28:9,17), Jesus revealed Himself to the disciples and they recognised Him (as having power over death). The disciples reacted in worship, yet ‘some doubted’ (Mtw 28:17). Even when the Spirit of God reveals Jesus to men and women, they may not react in worship but with doubt. Here is a warning of which to take note for it’s possible for revival to sweep through large areas but to be made null and void because of the hardness of hearts who would turn against what’s being revealed to them.
In John 9:35-38, Jesus had already healed the blind man but he didn’t know who’d done it - when he’d opened his eyes, Jesus had withdrawn. But Jesus revealed Himself as the Son of man (see the title’s parallel in the OT in Dan 7:13) - the man recognised it (‘Lord, I believe!’ where ‘Lord’ is an acknowledgement or confession of Jesus’ sovereignty) and reacted in worship.
See also Mtw 8:2 (a leper), 9:18 (a ruler), 15:25 (a Canaanite woman), 20:20 (the mother of the sons of Zebedee) and Mark 5:6 (the demoniac called ‘Legion’).
It bears repeating here that the final outworking of revelation is meant to be service or obedience to the will of God. We may like to revel and glory in the revelation that’s been received but, unless we allow it to have its full effect in our lives, it becomes meaningless - like a seed which germinates and begins to put out leaves but which never grows into a strong tree which can stand the trials which will come against it.
2. Some additional points
a. Today’s ‘worship’
Today, much is made of music in ‘worship’ - especially through choruses and new songs. but let’s not lose sight of the meaning of ‘worship’ as revealed in the Scriptures - namely, that it’s a positive reaction to God’s revelation of Himself which culminates in obedience. Without that revelation, a people are unable to worship God for they must know who God is and, therefore, what He requires of them for them to be able to truthfully serve Him.
Often, God chooses to reveal His presence in times of praise. In these times when God ‘draws near’ to us, the natural reaction should be one of awe or reverence expressed in quietness and stillness - even silence - in the same manner as Zeph 2:13 (see also Hab 2:20, Zeph 1:7) commands its readers to
‘Be silent, all flesh, before YHWH...’
In these times, words are such a bad expression of our praise of God that our very sighs become an expression of what’s within (Rom 8:26). Much time can be spent by quietly standing or sitting in His presence and allowing the Holy Spirit to communicate to God the praise which comes from deep within our own spirits.
But this revelation of God’s presence has the ultimate objective of bringing us to a place of obedience and isn’t meant simply to give us a ‘good time’ or make us feel ‘relaxed’ or ‘at peace’. Only as we allow God His rightful place as ruling Master does the fullness of what His presence has come to minister find its fullest outworking.
b. In spirit and truth
Jesus said to the Samaritan woman that he met (John 4:23-24)
‘...the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship Him. God is spirit - and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth’
and Paul echoed the truth (Phil 3:3) that the Church is
‘...the true circumcision, who worship [rather ‘minister to’ or ‘serve’ - Strongs Greek number 3000] God in spirit’
The woman of Samaria put a great deal of emphasis on where worship should take place (John 4:20) where the idea behind her statement was that of the external religious rites which were being performed through sacrifices and offerings on the ‘alternative’ hill rather than at the Temple in Jerusalem by the Jews (the Samaritans still maintain a system of religious service to this very day on the hill that they renamed ‘Moriah’ to claim it as the site of Abraham’s offering of Isaac to God).
But Jesus corrected her saying that geographical location wasn’t important and neither were any of the external physical rites that were being performed if, inside a man, there was no worship. It certainly was important where worship took place but that meant that believers should depend no longer on external religious observances but on the inner matters of the heart.
Prostration in homage or lip service externally isn’t what God requires of a man but prostration in homage within - submission to God by obedience within which would express itself in the action of obedience outside a man. This, then, was the idea behind Jesus’ statement that it was important to worship ‘in spirit’ and not, as has sometimes been interpreted, ‘in the Holy Spirit’.
But the true worshippers won’t just worship God ‘in spirit’ but also in the full and true revelation of who God is, the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
It wasn’t sufficient that Judaism clung on to the revelation of God received through Abraham - it was far more important that they recognised the full truth through the revelation in Jesus Christ and, accordingly, react in worship.
c. The future
Quite rightly, we make much of a relationship with Christ as being the only thing which can be taken out of the world and which will qualify us for the life to come. But, very often, we think of this relationship in terms of our own ‘bosom buddies’ where the idea of equality takes the place of the concept of obedience.
There’s no doubt that Jesus has raised all His followers up as His friends, a unique position considering that we were, at one time, not only alienated from His presence but set against Him as His enemies. But the choice of friendship is bestowed upon individuals by God and the ability to be regarded as such comes from God Himself rather than as a determination of the will on our own part. Therefore, Jesus speaks to His disciples (John 15:14) and notes that
‘You are My friends if you do what I command you’
There can’t be anything much plainer - friendship with God is tied up with obedience to His will. Therefore, at the risk of undermining the great truth about God’s friendship with mankind through the cross, I would rather state that obedience is better understood to be the only thing that a man or woman can take out of this life and into the new world for it demonstrates that the person is in a right relationship with God.
The intention of God was always to bring back all the Creation once more to be under His sovereign control (Is 45:23), something that He’s chosen to do through Jesus Christ where Paul notes that the ultimate outworking of the work of the cross will be (Phil 2:9-11) that
‘...at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’
We must realise, therefore, that worship is a vital part of the believer’s experience and not simply a gooey time within a praise ‘session’ when we go all limp and find ‘peace’.
References and Sources
Allen - Psalms 101-150 by Leslie C Allen in the Word Biblical Commentary Series, Word Books
Braun - I Chronicles by Roddy Braun in the Word Biblical Commentary Series, Word Books
Craigie - Psalms 1-50 by Peter C Craigie in the Word Biblical Commentary Series, Word Books
Kidner - Psalms 1-72 and Psalms 73-150 by Derek Kidner in the Tyndale Old Commentary Series, Inter-Varsity Press
Kittels - ‘Theological Dictionary of the New Testament’ (in one volume), translated by Geoffrey W Bromiley, Wm B Eerdmanns Publishing Company and the Paternoster Press.
Smith - Micah-Malachi by Ralph L Smith in the Word Biblical Commentary Series, Word Books
Strongs Heb/Gk number xxxx (or Strongs) - ‘Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible’, James Strong
Tate - Psalms 51-100 by Marvin E Tate in the Word Biblical Commentary Series, Word Books
TWOTOT - Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (2 volumes), R Laird Harris (Editor), The Moody Press. All words given a number in this work are prefixed by the letter M.
Vines - ‘An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words’, W E Vine, Marshall, Morgan & Scott.
Zondervan - ‘The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopaedia of the Bible’, The Zondervan Corporation, First Edition.