Hebrew Word for Worship: Shachah

by | Feb 6, 2024 | Blog | 0 comments

In the Old Testament, worship involves acts of reverence, adoration, and obedience to God. However, it also entails specific rituals and offerings that the priests performed. The system of sacrificial offerings was central to Israelite worship, serving as a means of atonement for sins and a way to express devotion and gratitude to God. Worship was done on an altar and later advanced to an ark, then a temple. In all three sacred places, authentic worship occurred only when there was heartfelt submission to God, recognizing him as the covenant-keeping God.

So, what is the Hebrew word for worship?

Shachah is the Hebrew word for worship. It means to bow down or to prostrate oneself. In the Old Testament, “Shachah” was not just an act of bowing down; it was a way to demonstrate utmost respect, humility, and complete submission. 

Exploring the Concept of Worship Within the Context of Hebrew Scriptures

As we have already pointed out, the Hebrew word for worship is “Shachah”, pronounced as “shaw-khawwhich”. It means “to bow down.” When we expand further on the word, we find that it carries other connotations, like to fall flat, to beseech humbly, to do reverence, to prostrate oneself before God and angels.

For instance, Abraham bowed before the Hittites, which, in this case, bow down was a way to show respect (Genesis 23:7). Abraham also fell facedown when God appeared to him to establish the covenant of circumcision (Genesis 17:3) In another similar scenario, Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence (worship) when he met the Commander of the Lord’s army (Joshua 5:14).

In the Old Testament, when an angel appears to someone, they would bow (shachah) in fear and reverence. For example, when the two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening when Lot saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground (Genesis 19:1).

In addition, when Abraham saw three visitors approaching, he bowed low to the ground, believing two of them to be angels. (Genesis 18:2). Angels are messengers of God that deliver important instructions to humans. So, as a sign of respect and acknowledgment of their divine authority, people would kneel or bow before them. So, while shachah also means reverence and bowing down, we should not confuse it with worship, which is reserved for God alone.

Examples of Where the Word Shachah Appears in the Bible:

“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care” (Psalm 95:6-7)

“Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: Bring an offering and come before him: Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness” (1 Chronicles 16:29).

“I will destroy your idols and your sacred stones from among you; you will no longer bow down to the work of your hands” (Micah 5:13)

Israelites’ Worship of False Gods

There are numerous accounts in the Old Testament of the Israelites worshiping false gods. Despite being commanded to worship Yahweh alone, the people of Israel worshiped false gods such as Baal and Asherah (Judges 3:7; 6:25; 10:6).

Worship of false gods and false worship of the true God are both false worships (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8-9; Colossians 2:23). False worship refers to worship that is not per the commandments and will of God. It includes practices that involve devotion to false gods, idols, or anything that takes precedence over the worship of the one true God.

God had commanded the people of Israel not to worship idols (Exodus 20:3; 23:13; Deuteronomy 5:7). Often through prophets, God frequently condemned idol worship and called the people of Israel to repent. Furthermore, worshipping idols resulted in severe consequences for the Israelites, including divine punishment and exile (Deuteronomy 28:64-65; Jeremiah 25:8-11; 2 Kings 17:18-20).

Meanings of Worship in the Bible

Scripture makes it clear that worship is for God alone because He is worthy (Luke 4:8). God has done numerous things. He has given us eternal love, the Holy Spirit, forgiveness of sin, eternal life, and much more. Just thinking about what He has done and continues to do is enough to cause us to praise and worship him.

True worship is to show obedience to God, His word, and laws. It’s the opposite of worshiping God according to what we believe is right in our eyes, i.e., worshiping the one true God the wrong way. (Amos 5:21–27) Apostle Paul describes true worship as “presenting our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice pleasing to God,” which means giving to God all of ourselves. In this case, our body also refers to our thoughts, mind, heart, and attitude.

The Bible also tells us that God desires our worship and that we should worship Him alone (Psalm 99:5; Exodus 20:5-6). God-honoring worship is shaped by God’s word, and it’s worshiping the Lord in ways that please Him and with a sincere heart. Worship is how we fellowship with God.

How People in the Old Testament Worshipped

Abraham Worship Before Sacrificing Isaac

The word shachah first appears in the Bible when God tests Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, as a burnt offering. Before offering the sacrifice, Abraham took his servant, and they worshiped God first (Genesis 22:5). For Abraham, Isaac was most important. So, God decides to test whether his love for Isaac is greater than that of God. Abraham’s trust and faith were also put to the test. Nonetheless, while Abraham was doing one of the hardest things, he decided not to grieve or complain.

He chose to worship God despite the burden he was carrying. This is true worship, and Abraham is a good example of a true worshiper. In this case, worship was not easy for Abraham, and he could have chosen his servant to do it instead. However, through worship, Abraham showed complete submission to God. Abraham’s worship was a willingness to give the one thing that mattered most to him. It was true worship.

Job Worships God Amid Tragedy

Job, a righteous and faultless man, was tremendously blessed by God. When God describes Job’s character to Satan, He says, “There is none on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8).

But Satan replied that Job was a faithful servant to God because of his blessings and if he lost everything, he would have no reason to love God. God allows satan to bring destruction but even though Job lost everything, he still worships God.  

At this, Job got up and tore his robe, and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship. Job 1:20

While we often worship in happy moments, Jobs’ response to the calamity shows that it’s possible to worship God even when in the valley. 

See, when we come into worship with heavy hearts and burdens, not one of our struggles will surprise God. 

Conclusion

The Hebrew word for worship, shachah, means to bow down. However, shachah also has other meanings that teach us the correct way to worship. Based on the meaning we get from the word shachah, it’s clear that worship isn’t about outward actions such as singing and kneeling. True worship is acknowledging God’s greatness and doing it with a sincere heart in ways that please only Him.

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About: Ronie

Ronnie Amaya has been actively involved in ministry since his high school and university days where he served as a Christian union leader. After graduation, he worked as an itinerary minister preaching in Schools, Universities, Street Evangelizations, and Churches. In 2018, he led a team in planting a new church in Nairobi, Kenya where he is currently serving as the lead pastor.
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Ronie

Ronnie Amaya has been actively involved in ministry since his high school and university days where he served as a Christian union leader. After graduation, he worked as an itinerary minister preaching in Schools, Universities, Street Evangelizations, and Churches. In 2018, he led a team in planting a new church in Nairobi, Kenya where he is currently serving as the lead pastor.

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