• TJ

What is Worship? Old Testament Usage of the Words "Praise" and "Worship", (Pt 1).

During the student retreats we take which we like to call "excursions", we devote time each day to worship and learning more about Jesus. We usually bring some instruments and play some songs, and we assign teachings to students and leaders to prepare and deliver to the group while we are together, usually only for a few minutes each day but sometimes we get in the spirit and fellowship for hours. Don't worry the hours part isn't mandatory ;)

In planning out some of that worship, I started to think about what that actually means. What is "worship" and "praise"? We know what it is when we do it, shouting joy and praise to God and waving arms, actively showing our love to Jesus, maybe sometimes lying facedown, bowing...but from a philosophical or technical standpoint, what is it? We use those words all the time, and they are in the bible repeatedly, but what do the words mean and where did they come from? (editor's note: it's important to not get caught up in the technical stuff, but it's fun to study those and dig into B.C. culture to understand the Israelites to which God was committed. But if you're looking for the Holy Spirit to guide you, don't get distracted by the technical; go with your gut!)

Hebrew connections

If you were unaware, the language in the Old Testament is almost entirely Hebrew, so let's start there. I'm including the Strong's citations so you can go into the Strong's app (it's free on Google Play and App Store, links at the bottom) and look at some of the unpacking of the words deeper than the little I'm doing today. I've also left a link for the Logos bible software on mobile, it is a HEFTY tool to investigate textual queries.

There are 7 words in the OT that refer to praising or worshipping God:

SHACHAH/H7812: The first place we see the word in reference to worshipping God is in Genesis 22:5, when Abraham told his servants that he was going up the mountain to worship with Isaac. The Hebrew word here is "shachah", and literally means to "bow down" or to be prostrate especially reflexively in homage to royalty or God. "“Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” (Gen 22:5 ESV)

That's a little less "feely" than most, but it get's the job done, and to illustrate the utility of the word, this isn't the first place in the OT the word is used, only the first place where it is referencing worship directed at Yahweh. Both Lot and Abraham use the word in reference to the messengers who came to visit them, just before the angels tell them to "stop that".

HALAL/H1984: You may have heard this word used recently, it's a term that Muslims use for things that are lawful or permitted. In the Old Testament however it is another form of praise or worship. In Gen 12:11, the Pharaoh's princes praised Sarai because she was beautiful. The word can mean to shine or be clear (audibly). This word can also mean to celebrate

wildly or "go nuts" with worship, and it's the word used for David when he feigns madness in the king's court (1 Sam 21:13). The term is also the root for the word, "hallelujah", which is another word for worship and a combination of "halal" and "Jah" (short for Yahweh). So you could say that there are 8 words for worship, depending how you look at it.

TILLAH/THILLAH/H8416: Another word that stems in origin from halal is thillah, sometimes spelled tillah. The word more accurately translates to glory or praises. We see this first in Exodus 15:11 in The Song of Moses:

“Who is like you, O LORD,

among the gods (elohim, little e)?

Who is like you, majestic in holiness,

awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? Exo 15:11 - ESV

Thillah means to be lauded or commended in praise, specifically in song or a hymn. We should always be "thillah-ing", at home, at work, in the car, etc. This word is more akin to what we know as praise and worship, with a cheerful heart singing praises to the Lord Jesus.

YADAH/H3034: This isn't a space filler in the bible, "God saw that there was yadah yadah yadah"...

rather it is a term that literally means to "hold out one's hand". If you're a fan of Tim Hawkins, he has a great bit about Christian hand-raising in church. Finish this word study before you go look, though! Yadah, is a part of our worship experience, in the same way that we would say differently if someone were singing or raining hands or could be Tillah-ing while you are also "yadah-ing".

We first see the word used in reference to Leah giving birth: "And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the LORD.” Gen 29:35 - ESV. There is a special feeling when you raise your hands in surrender to Him, giving up all fo your trying and failing, and just letting Jesus be Jesus to you. I really like this word for praise. You can bet I'm going to be doing some "Yadah-ing" today!

TOWDAH/TODAH/H8426: Another trickle down Hebrew word is Towdah, which originates from Yadah. This one is more akin to loud shouts of joy or appreciation. Outbursts of praise or specifically acclamation, like when you're in the moment and talking to Jesus and your human body just can't contain itself.

These things I remember,

as I pour out my soul:

how I would go with the throng

and lead them in procession to the house of God

with glad shouts and songs of praise,

a multitude keeping festival. Psalm 42:4 (ESV)

BARAK/H1288: This word occurs all over the OT, and the first time we see it is when God is blessing his creation (Gen 1:28, // H1288 Strong's). When God blesses Abram, this is the word used. Melkhizedek blesses Abram he uses it, as well.

Barak literally means to kneel. It's closest cousin in meaning is shachah, both words are more technical in nature than ethereal. You might also remember that Barak was a name in the OT: Barak was Son of Abinoam of Kedesh in Naphtali and led an army of Israelites against Sisera and....well, you just have to read that story in Judges 4-5, just be warned, it's pretty icky and doesn't end well for Sisera. I only include that because the majority of names in the OT are given with reason, and Barak most likely would have been as well. Barak means to kneel or serve someone, regardless of station. The term is used when Peter gets all bent out of shape about Jesus washing the disciples' feet.

ABAD/H5647: Another word that ties in closely with servanthood is abad. In fact a few translations actually do translate this word as "to serve". We first see this when Adam is charged with keeping the land tidy: "for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground" (Gen 2:5 ESV // H5647 Strong's). So often the word in Hebrew is actually used to imply work or service of some sort. It seems to be used most often in terms of some sort of physical work, service, or often times as referring to slavery. On that note, it's also the Hebrew used when Moses demands Pharaoh let his people go.

Sometimes it's difficult to tell the meaning of the word, as in Psalms:

Serve the LORD with gladness! (Psa 100:2 - ESV

Some translations use the word serve, and some use praise. But at the end of the day, praise is work and that's why it's a worthwhile gift to Jesus. Anyone who's had to study up to play a worship set at their church knows it's work, but it's the kind of work that's worth doing.

Well, just like my other posts, this one has gotten pretty out of hand. I'm going to do a separate Koine Greek post for worship and praise in the NT, and see what we come up with so stay tuned for that, I imagine I'll have extra time to post that tomorrow but alas there is work to be done today.

At the end of the day it's really rewarding to go through the Hebrew language if you're into that sort of thing. I enjoy it because you really start to identify with the Israelites; the culture, feelings and the way they use language are all intriguing. And with a little help from the Logos bible and Strong's concordance anyone can do a word study these days, not just nerdy dudes in seminary.

Strong's Concordance:


Google: (I am unsure of the authorship of the Google app, as I only use Apple, download at your own risk)

Logos Bible Software (from FaithLife):



*These apps can also be downloaded directly from their dev's websites, so a quick google search will get you there. I don't care for either of the experiences on non-mobile devices, although the faithlife bible app is pretty good.

*We are not affiliated in any way either with Strong's or Logos, just happy end-users of the software. This is not

28 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All