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Can We Talk About The Lord’s Supper?
I ask us to reexamine our traditions concerning the Lord’s Supper.

Shachah, An Old Testament Word for Worship

What is worship? One could begin with the word itself, an English word. Usually we are told that it means to give worth, or worthship to someone. But that doesn’t explain what worship is. Worship is usually used to describe religious devotion to God. But worship isn’t necessarily religious.

One can worship another person as a sign of respect as to a hero or royalty. The adoration showered upon entertainers and sports heroes is a form of worship. Worship can also be given to one’s dearly beloved, poets in their posy often descant upon whom they adore and worship, even the very ground that their darling walks on.

One can also worship another by submitting from fear. This might sound wrong, but consider Thayer’s Lexicon entry for the Greek word phobos usually translated into English as fear. It tells us that to reverence, venerate, to treat with deference or reverential obedience are all in the range of meaning for this word. Submission, a central concept in worship, is to humble oneself before another or something (an idol). Fear can lead one to submit to the one, or thing, feared. This makes the command to fear God, and Him alone, shine with special meaning.

In the Old Testament, one Hebrew word commonly translated as worship is shachah (Strong’s Hebrew lexicon #7812). Literally it means to bow down, even to falling down flat in prostration before whatever or whomever is being worshiped. It is a humble position of obeisance, it shows deep respect.

But shachah isn’t always translated into the English word worship. Other words or phrases are used as well, and they give us a wider understanding of what this word can mean. Several instances of shachah include acts like pouring dirt over one’s head, or shaving one’s hair. Already mentioned was bowing down, even laying down flat. These all refer to worship in one form or another as it relates to humbling oneself.

When Abraham purchased his burial plot he bowed to the people he was dealing with, this was shachah. Abraham was showing respect and giving honor to them. It is a very oriental attitude to show respect towards others by humbling oneself this way. It was a form of worship. (Genesis 23.7 & 12)

Abraham, bowing, did shachah to the angels who appeared to him and Sarah; one of the angels may well have been the pre-incarnate Christ. (Genesis 18.2)

When Abraham took Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him to God, he went to shachah God. Abraham said,

“… I and the lad will go yonder and worship …” (Genesis 22.5)

Jacob did shachah seven times to his brother Esau to placate him. (Genesis 33.3)

Moses did shachah to his father-in-law. (Exodus 18.7) He bowed down to him.

Joshua removed his shoes and fell on his face before “the Captain of the host of the Lord”, this was shachah. (Joshua 5.14)

Ruth did shachah to Boaz when she “bowed herself to the ground”. (Ruth 2.10)

A prophet said to Eli, “And it shall come to pass that every one that is left in thine house shall come and crouch to him for a piece of silver and a morsel of bread …” (I Samuel 2.36) The word crouch is used to translate the Hebrew shachah.

David did shachah to Saul and Jonathan. After a denied prayer, David did shachah to God (II Samuel 2.20).

Abigail did shachah to David.

Saul did shachah at Samuel’s appearance as a ghost. “… he stooped with his face to the ground and bowed himself …” (I Samuel 28:14).

Absalom received shachah, obeisance, from men of Israel during his conspiracy against David, his father. (II Samuel 15.5)

David was beseeched, received shachah. (II Samuel 16.4)

Ornan, “bowed himself to David with his face to the ground.” This was shachah. (I Chronicles 21.21)

Mephibosheth reverenced (Hebrew = shachah) David by falling on his face and doing reverence. (II Samuel 9.6,8)

David left us a beautiful psalm recorded in I Chronicles 16.29, “… worship God in the beauty of holiness …”, which is shachah.

Bathsheba did obeisance to David when she made petition to him for the sake of Solomon. (I Kings 1.16)

Solomon did shachah by bowing to his mother. (I Kings 2.19)

In Esther we read that the King commanded that everyone bow down to Haman, or to shachah to him. But Mordecai did not! (Esther 3.2) This history tells us about a very important characteristic of worship, that it is for the one receiving it, not the one giving it! And that this, often overlooked, perhaps taken for granted, fact has larger implications, it illustrates one way that worship belongs to God.

When Job was afflicted with tragedy he shaved his head (shachah) and fell down upon the ground and worshiped God (shachah). (Job 1.20)

Ahab did an evil thing when he worshiped a false god, shachah. (I Kings 16.31)

And the “sons of the prophets bowed themselves to Elisha”, shachah. (II Kings 2.15)

Psalms tells us that all kings will fall down before God, they will shachah. (Psalms 72.11)

And just to round the range of meaning out to a more full sense we read that “a heavy heart makes a man stoop”, where stoop is the translation of shachah. (Proverbs 12.25)

These examples show the sense of being humble or humbled before someone or something, or even a situation. And in most of them it is within the context of worship.

Israel had a special command to worship God alone, Israel was not to worship other gods: they were not to bow down or shachah to them (Exodus 18.7). Israel was to do shachah “… before the Lord thy God” , one example is by bringing the first fruits (Deuteronomy 26.10).

When the Temple built by Solomon was dedicated, the glory of God came upon it, and the people “bowed themselves with their faces to the pavement and worshiped and praised” God, shachah. (II Chronicles 7.3) Israel worshiped and sang and played instruments and sacrificed and bowed down and worshiped, shachah. (II Chronicles 29: 28-30)

And it is not only Israel who worshiped God in the Old Testament: “The host of heaven” worships God : shachah (Nehemiah 9.6).

One could find many more examples in the Old Testament. But from the examples given it is obvious that among other things, shachah includes a very physical aspect of body posture as an action or sign of respect, humility, submission, reverence, love, or fear. That body posture may be the bowing of the head, bowing at the waist, bowing down flat on the ground, even falling down flat which suggests an involuntary worship. Other actions involve pouring dirt over one’s head, or shaving it. Often it includes humbly begging for favor in some way.

In all this it is of utmost importance to keep in mind that the Old Testament is the earthly picture of heavenly truths. It is filled with types where the physical illustrates the spiritual. But even so, that such body actions are tied so closely to worship tells us something about the nature of worship itself. And it suggests that our modern worship may not be all that it ought to be. We are to worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), and we are told “…the flesh profits little …” (John 6). Paul tells us that,

bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. (I Timothy 4:8)

I don’t suggest that we be more physical in our worship, but the Old Testament gives us a picture, and the New Testament explains that picture. Both the picture and its explanation show a deep reverence, even fear at times, for God at the core of worship. I do suggest that perhaps sometimes our worship approaches the lukewarm, and that we will benefit and be built up in Christ by taking a close look at worship as shown in the Bible. As the Church, we are New Testament, under the New Covenant. Christ has been revealed to us. The worship in the Old Testament is shown in a new light. On the Emmaus road Jesus explained all things concerning Himself in the Scriptures (Old Testament) to the disciples who were unknowingly with their risen Lord. (Luke 24:13-32) Significantly, they knew him only when He revealed Himself to them in the breaking of bread. Given that the Old Testament is for our edification, let us have our thinking about worship be conditioned by those Scriptures.

Here are some facts about the usage of the Hebrew word shachah, and about how it’s translated. Out of a sample of 169 instances in the Old Testament where this word, shachah (Strong’s Hebrew lexicon #7812) occurs, it was translated variously as:

worship: 97 times.

bow/bowed down: 51 times.

obeisance: 9 times.

reverence: 4 times.

fell/fall down/flat: 3 times.

put dirt on one’s head: 1 time.

shave one’s head: 1 time.

crouch: 1 time.

stoop: 1 time.

beseech: 1 time.

The words: bow, stoop, crouch, and fall are not usually accompanied by the word worship. But when the word worship is used by the translators it is regularly accompanied by those other words, or phrasing, that show a bowing or falling down in conjunction with it.

If one follows the words for worship throughout the Old Testament, reading every verse, it has an amazing effect, almost overwhelming, to encounter so many instances of worship in all settings, good, indifferent, and evil. We must come away from such an intensive reading with a new understanding of what worship is. And maybe a sense that what we call worship today is a little bit on the weak side of things. Maybe that it is too intellectual and based on inner feelings and thoughts more than it ought to be. But again, as I said, we aren’t called to a show in the flesh, but to worship in spirit and in truth. One must always keep in mind that such worship in the flesh, the physical action or posture, is itself not a sure indication of the attitude of the heart. One can bow down before another for a multitude of deceitful reasons just as one can mouth words hypocritically. Nevertheless, true worship is a little more affecting than what we may be used to. True worship, like the fruit of the Spirit, though spiritual in nature, will manifest itself outwardly, worship in spirit and in truth arises out of the fulness of the heart.

©FH 2012

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