29 Apr 2016

Worship is the Shema in 3D: Vitamins for Worshiping with Heart, Mind, Soul & Strength

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: A Gathered People, Books, Church, Hebrew Bible, Psalms, Worship

hebrewworship-150x150Words Reflect Values

This Friday morning as we near the end of our prayer journey through the Psalms for April, I have decided to look back over the book’s rich vocabulary related to the idea of “worship.” The Psalms are our friends so we will have “Words with friends” 🙂

When thinking about “worship” it is not uncommon for writers to give a short list of a few words that are typically translated as “worship” in our English Bible. My cohorts, John Mark Hicks & Johnny Melton, and I did the same in A Gathered People.  This blog does not reproduce material from our book though.

We sometimes even believe that short list is the whole story but it is not. There are many, many, many words in Hebrew related to what English speaking people might call “worship” that are not translated as such. This is a limitation of “Concordance Theology.”

In Hebrew there are over 50 words that have some relation to the concept of worship. This is important fact to recognize because the number of words a culture has to describe something indicates the value placed on that reality. Two brief examples in American English should suffice. Think of all the words that we have to name or describe a “car.” Some cultures have only one. Think of all the words that Americans have invented to designate women (some good and some bad).

Hebrew has more for “worship” than we do cars and women combined! That should tell us something way beyond the mere lexeme “worship.” So today we will learn a handful of them for Freaky Friday theology … I will give basic English transliteration (words often have more than one way of transliteration). I want us to see the rich depth and variety of conceptions that are pulled together biblically like a string that makes up a softball. All references are to the Book of Psalms.

Words with Friends … “Worship,” like “Love,” Cannot be “Reduced” to One Word

1) Barak is a word that has various shades of meaning. It means to kneel, to give reverence as adoration, etc. It is used in these places

I will BLESS (extol, NIV) the LORD at all times …” (34.1)

let us KNEEL before the LORD our maker” (95.6)

2) Samah is a word that easily shows the reality of Hebrew psychology viewing humans as a psychosomatic unity. The word entails outburst of emotion and even to spin around (as in a dance). This is rather tamely, and lamely, translated into English as “rejoice” most often.  Rejoicing is not simply an emotion but an emotion that is reflected in bodily expression. We find it in these places

REJOICE in the LORD and be glad” (32.11)

This is the day the LORD has made; let us

REJOICE and be glad in it” (118.24)

3) Hallal can mean to make a show, rave about, brag about, to be extravagantly over the top, etc … it is often translated as praise. But again our English word “praise” does not capture hallel. We find this word here

You who fear the LORD, PRAISE him” (22.23)

we will PRAISE your name forever” (44.8)

My soul will be satisfied as with richest foods;

with singing lips my mouth will PRAISE you” (63.5)


4) Zamar has various connotations, all of them with the producing of loud sounds. It is rendered variously as rejoice, sing and shout. We need to understand that volume is included …

SING joyfully to the LORD, you righteous” (33.1)

SHOUT FOR JOY to the LORD all the earth” (98.4)

and will SING praise to the name of the LORD Most High” (7.17)


5) Gadol usually means large, big, excessive, to cause to increase. For instance the city Jonah goes to is a gadol city to the Lord. But Hebrew is flexible and not quite an offspring of Common Sense Realism like Churches of Christ. The word is used in worship frequently. It is rendered as magnify or glorify which, again, is a rather lame translation.

GLORIFY the LORD with me” (34.3)

I will praise God’s name in song and GLORIFY

him with thanksgiving” (69.30)


6) Gol is a word that is related to making noise too. To call out loud, to bleat, even like thunder. It is used twice in Psalm 95 so I will cite those together

let us SHOUT ALOUD to the Rock of our Salvation.

Let us come before him with thanksgiving and SHOUT (extol – NIV)”


7) Kabod is a wonderful word. It has the meaning of something like splendor, luminous or numinous. We encounter it in places like

worship the LORD in the SPLENDOR of his holiness” (29.2)

Ascribe to the LORD the GLORY due his name” (96.8)


8) Yadah is a word, like most of these words, show how the inner and outer attitude and action are supposed to be one and the same. There is no mere “in your head” worship in the Bible. If it is in your head then it will be seen in your body. So yadah indicates holding out our hand, to revere (as shown by the posture of the hand) to praise (as seen by the posture of the hands). This word is found in these places,

Then I will ever sing PRAISE to your name” (61.8)

PRAISE the LORD with the harp” (33.2)


9) Alaz is an energetic word no doubt. Combing notions of jumping for joy, or triumph, and rejoicing we encounter this word in these places. It is tamed in English

extol him who rides the clouds –

the LORD is his name –

and REJOICE before him” (68.4)


10) Anah means to give heed or pay attention or give an account or … we encounter it here

SING to the LORD with thanksgiving” (147.7)


11) Dagal means to flaunt, or to raise which is usually done with something, so we see

We will shout for joy when you are victorious

and will lift up our BANNERS in the name of our God” (20.5)


A biblical theology of assembly

A biblical theology of assembly

12) Tehillah is a spontaneous song of praise. It is where the Book of Psalms derives its name. We find this word in these places

I will bless the LORD at all times; his PRAISE will always be on my lips” (34.2)

He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of PRAISE to our God” (40.3)

Sing to the LORD a new song, his PRAISE in the assembly of the saints (149.1)


13) Todah is an extension of the hand, adoration, confession of gratitude, a sacrifice of praise and more. It is often rendered in English as thanksgiving. We find it in these places

Sacrifice THANK OFFERINGS to God” (50.14)

I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with THANKSGIVING” (69.30)

Enter his gates with THANKSGIVING ...” (100.4)

So here is a sampling of the large variety of spices in the Bible’s vocabulary of “worship” to the One who is worthy of worship. The Psalms are the Bible’s own laboratory of what it means to worship in Spirit and Truth (that is if we actually believe the Spirit is responsible for these words and the inspiration of our worship as Jn 4.24 actually teaches).

Worship is the Shema in 3D!

Worship is not mere prostration before the Lord as is so frequently asserted. Worship is a reality so complex that the Saints of old had to come up with more than fifty words to describe it. I frequently shutter when I listen in on discussions of worship in our fellowship because we approach worship in ways that are completely alien to the Bible. Worship is a reality that involves everything that means being truly human.

It demands heart.

It demands “soul.”

It demands mind.

It demands strength.

It demands body, soul and spirit.

The sampling of the words above show how complex and varied this thing called “worship” really is. We domesticate and sanitize worship. Westerners turn it into a cerebral exercise foreign to Scripture.

But I think if you asked our Spiritual ancestors like Moses, David, the family of Korah, and most of all, Jesus what worship is in a nutshell? I think they would say that worship is the embodiment of the Shema (Deut 6.4) …

That is we, God’s human creatures, loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. When Jesus reduced the entire Bible to the shema it is essentially an act of worship.  Everything that is creaturely, about us creatures, is devoted and given back to the Creator.  Nothing is withheld from him.

This also explains the second greatest command, loving our neighbor as ourselves.  If the Creator is deserving of our utter devotion then so is his IMAGE!! (Place this in the context of ancient Israel, God or the gods are served by maintaining their images in the various temples. Every human is God’s own living breathing image). We express devotion to the invisible God by serving/loving his very own Icon!

When we study the Psalms that is exactly why every part of the human being: body, creativity, voice, mind, devotion, hands … is devoted to God.

This is how I think worship is to be conceived. Worship cannot be conceived of as some king of baptized Platonic dualism that drives a wedge between mind/spirit and bodily/creative expression.  Worship is love God with heart, soul, strength, mind and body … sometimes it is stillness and sometimes it is the body shaking in light of the splendor of the Creator God.

Sometimes, an Israelite would say, we offer only partial “worship.”

4 Responses to “Worship is the Shema in 3D: Vitamins for Worshiping with Heart, Mind, Soul & Strength”

  1. Dwight Says:

    Awhile back some argue that “worship is life” and then some argued against that concept by saying that not all that we do is worship, such as eating, mowing, etc. What those people failed to realize is that God required not only Temple worship, but daily life observance in the things they did. There eating, not eating unclean animals, was service and worship. The list of this is long. God was in their lives on a daily basis in practice and but God wanted the heart of the people in their life as worship. Worship wasn’t momentary, but perpetual.

  2. Harmony Says:

    Thank you for this EXCELLENT explanation of worship! Along the same lines, if the Spirit lives in me (I Cor. 3:16) and I am abiding in Christ, the True Vine (John 15), then all I do, think, say, and feel has the potential to be a form of worship when I have given myself wholly over to His Spirit’s leading. As a sanctified member of His Kingdom, the Body of Christ, I am perpetually on ‘holy ground’ and I cannot live separately from this identity, Him being inside of me (me being the now present physical embodiment of His grace, love, and blessing). My life is worship. My life is His.

  3. Dwight Says:

    In response to the “partial” worship, we in the coC have been guilty of promoting partitioned worship or worship that is outwardly with others in assembly as worship, where as all other times is not. This has led to partitioning God out of the lives of many in that they seek God at assembly, but not in living.
    The Jews worshipped more than we give them credit for and while true they did come to regard their “many things of worship and service” as works that justified them, instead of faithful worship, we have gone the opposite route and made only certain things worship (five acts to be exact) and we are justified when we do them together at the same time and place.

  4. Drew Ellis Says:

    Bobby, I have been preparing all week to discuss “going to worship” as a concept tomorrow in a sermon. Your blog post from 5 yrs ago hits me in a special way. I’ve been focused on the Psalms, the Shema, the words of Jesus in John 4, and Paul in Romans 12:1. WORSHIP today in our western churches is such an act of “reducing to the least common denominator”. The gathering is often substituted in entirety for “worship”, and we have so unknowingly painted the Almighty into a corner of our hearts, focused into an hour or two on a Sunday. Thank you for your focus, brother. Shalom

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