The Diamond of Praise – Shachach (Worship, Bow Down!)

The Diamond of Praise – Shachach (Worship, Bow Down!)

A Facet of Praise – Worship (Bow Dow!).

“The area of ancient Israel’s greatest creativity, and so what they did best, was the praise of God.” (Ellen Davis, Getting involved with God). “I will extol Thee, my God, O King; And I will bless Thy name forever and ever. Every day I will bless Thee, and I will praise Thy name forever and ever. Great is the Lord Yahweh, and highly to be praised; And His greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall praise Thy works to another, and shall declare Thy mighty acts, the glorious splendor of Thy majesty, and on Thy wonderful works I will meditate.”  (Psalm 145, a song of praise by David).

Scripture doesn’t define the word “praise,” but it offers plenty of descriptions. Praise can be described as an outward expression of gratitude for all that God has done for oneself, for the community, for the world. Praise is a recounting of the many blessings that God has provided in His grace and mercy. Praise is a grateful appreciation of God’s mighty works. Praise is an expression of thanksgiving to the Lord, an acknowledgement of God’s righteous deeds. To praise God is to thank God and celebrate His presence in the world.

Praise is what we were created to do, it is the chief of our ultimate satisfactions, and we won’t find personal fulfillment unless we develop the habit of forgetting ourselves and praising God. Most of us Christian believers are not following in the footsteps of our Jewish brethren and praising God with an inspired creativity. The fact is, the Hebrew Bible reveals a vocabulary of praise that will help us in our bid to be more expressive of our praise, more imaginative, more creative. The Hebrew Bible reveals praise to be a diamond with an almost uncountable number of facets. There are many words in Scripture that may translate as praise, but the reality is praise has an abundance of angles and facets and dimensions that we need to learn if we want to mature in our praise of God. The Hebrew language is loaded with words that contain the element of praise but with added qualities that expands our view of what praise could mean to us in our walk of faith. Knowing these words will help us to participate more fully and deeply in praising our God, in expressing our thanksgiving to Him in every way humanly possible. “Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim Thy praise (tehillah, see below).” (Psalm 51:15 )

Praising God involves all of us, not just our intellect to think with or our bottoms to sit on. Praise and worship in the Jewish tradition is a physical experience as well as spiritual, with lots of meaningful postures and gestures, singing, multisensory, thoughtful yet expressive. Praise and worship in the Hebrew Bible invariably incorporated music and melody and instrumentation. Praise is not a spectator sport, but one that asks for full participation. As Dwight Pryor once said, “Praise is not afraid of feelings, but they are not based on feelings. If praise were a train, the engine that needs to constantly be stoked is God-focus and self-forgetfulness, and the emotional feelings are basically the caboose… still a part of things, but not what’s running the train.”

Praise is our exhale of gratitude and devotion after our inhale of God’s inspired presence. God initiates, we respond. So praising God is like our respiratory system, and unless we are breathing in God and then breathing out praise, we will spiritually expire. If we don’t learn how to respond to God’s goodness with heartfelt praise, our faith will soon become lifeless. Consider this category of “The Diamond of Praise” in the blog to be my meager attempt to polish each facet on this sparkling diamond. Each Hebrew word in this expanded vocabulary of praise will convey a different aspect of praise, and is intended to help us be more creative in our praise, more expressive, more biblical.

Being Physical with Worship. The spiritual and the physical belong together, and are in fact inseparable. We were created as whole beings with a mysterious fusion of body and spirit and soul and body and everything else that constitutes our personhood. Not only that, the Incarnation reveals how important the body is to Creator God. In a sense, the idea, the reality, of God taking on a physical body was actually a spiritual act. We need to make sure we incarnate our worship. So worship of our Creator needs to include the body if we want to worship with our whole selves. Physical acts of worship become meaningless if it is done thoughtlessly, without its intention of worshipping God. But worship is not limited to the nonphysical, the so-called spiritual either, or one is not truly involved fully in the act of worship. As Rev. Josef Ratzinger once wrote in his excellent article, The Theology of Kneeling, “The bodily gesture itself is the bearer of the spiritual meaning, which is worship. Without the heart of worship, the bodily gesture would be meaningless, while the spiritual act itself must of its very nature express itself in the bodily gestures.” So physical gestures are invaluable in the act of worship. They can point to spiritual truths, they can stimulate worshipful acts, and they can enable a fuller expression of awe, lament, adoration and worship. Using the body helps us to put the Gospel message into motion. The movement of one’s body can be a sign that communicates a message… Do you want to signal to God that you submit to Him, that you want to confess to Him, that you adore Him, that you intend to follow Him in trust? There are gestures and postures and movements that can express what is on your heart without any use of words. Body language is vital to spiritual life and expression. In this blog series entitled “Physical Worship,” I will focus on the worshipful use of the body through such gestures and movements as: prostration before God; sitting at the feet of Jesus; standing in respect and oneness; kneeling in submission; walking in order to follow; running the good race; jumping for joy; lifting up the heart and hands; offering the kiss of peace;; and the act of crossing oneself with the sign of the Cross. This is important: Physical postures and actions during worship reflect the attitudes of the heart, but they can also help produce the attitudes of the heart.

“Bring to the Lord, O families of the peoples, Bring to the Lord glory and strength. Bring to the Lord the glory of His name; Bring an offering and come into His courts. Worship (shachach) the Lord in the splendor of holiness.” (Ps. 96:7-9).

To worship is to lose oneself in adoration of almighty God in response to His worthiness, to celebrate the Lord for being supremely worthy of all reverence and praise. Worship is the weaving together of praise, thanksgiving and adoration. The English word “worship” comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word, “worth-ship.” Worthy is the Lord. “Worship is the delightful sense of admiring awe, empowering love, and astonished wonder in the presence of that most ancient mystery, that majesty we call our Father who art in heaven.” (A. W. Tozer).

Shachach – The Hebrew term most frequently used in the Hebrew Bible for “worship.” (It is the root word for another term for worship, “nistahaweh”). It means to bow down low, to adore out of submission and humility; to stoop down; to prostrate oneself; to fall down flat on the ground; to do reverence; to pay homage to a superior being, like the King; to make what is known as a “profound bow.” To worship is thus a heart that is willing to submit to God in adoration and humility. To worship is to do reverence to the Lord, to make oneself lower in order to raise the Lord higher in honor.

“Come let us worship (shachach) and bow down (kara). Let us kneel (barakh) before the Lord our Maker. For He is Good, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.” (Ps. 95:6).

And now, worship in the New Testament: “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” (Romans 12:1).

There are two primary Greek words for worship in the New Testament: “Proskuneo” and “Pipto.” They mean pretty much the same thing, and since “pipto” is used more often, we’ll focus on that word.

“Pipto” = The root Greek word meaning to fall down, used over 90 times in the New Testament; is the starter word for dozens of terms involving falling downward from a higher place to a lower place; pipto is the biblical term for prostration, falling onto one’s face on the ground, to collapse to the ground; to fall flat down in worship, reverence, allegiance, or submission; to drop down to the earth as if dead. In the Christian tradition, to fully prostrate oneself often includes confession and gratitude, as well as to pray from a low place before God’s greatness and awesome mystery. To prostrate oneself before the Lord is to assume a humble, servile position before our Master, the almighty God.

Literally volunteering to perform a face plant on the ground is unusual to say the least. It takes a lot of pride-swallowing and ego-relinquishment to stretch flat on the ground. But “pipto” was fairly commonplace in the biblical era, as well as in other parts of the world right now. The West does not like to be humbled, evidently. The lesser form of pipto is when one would kneel with both knees on the ground and the forehead touching the ground as well. It was a position slaves would take with their master out of duty and respect. Often out of disrespect a person witnessing this would kick the rear end of the person lying on the ground. This would confirm that person’s place in life. The full prostration would be lowering oneself to the ground and assuming a position in which the entire body was flat on the ground, from the head to the toes to all the limbs. Often the phrase “throw oneself to the ground” would indicate a full prostration, with the word pipto more times than not referring to the full prostration.

Flat on the Ground. When a defeated soldier is brought to a conquering king, the captured foe lays his body out, face down, fully on the ground. That physical act acknowledges the fact that he is in subjection to the king, that he submits to his power and authority. To lie prostrate in worship is to acknowledge much the same thing, that the worshiper is humbly in full submission to God the King. To lie prostrate in prayerful worship is done out of reverence and a healthy fear of God’s might and authority over us. Interceding for the people of Israel after the Golden Calf debacle, Moses fell prostrate before the Lord for forty days and nights. He fasted the whole time he was prostrate, because he “feared the anger and wrath of the Lord.” (Deut. 9:18-19). Moses acknowledges his subservience to Yahweh by his physical gesture. Even more telling was the time when all the people on Mt. Carmel saw the fire of heaven come down at Elijah’s request, “When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, ‘The Lord – He is God! The Lord – He is God!” (1 Kings 18:39). Prostration is a rather radical, visual way to signal one’s submission and respect to God. It would be interesting to try this posture in private prayer, no less in community worship.

Gethsemane. One of the most heart-breaking scenes in the Gospels reveals a full prostration… Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane flat on the ground in utter agony. “And He took with Him Peter, James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled; and He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.’ And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground (pipto), and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. And He was saying, ‘Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.’” (Mark 14:33-36; also refer to Matt. 26:36-39).

We see here that Jesus is in desperate distress, and He literally threw Himself to the ground, fully prostrating Himself in prayer to His Father. Jesus is humbly submitting to the Father as He opens His heart to Him. He is fully on the ground, in total privacy, stretching out and remaining vulnerable to whomever might come to Him there. But that is not all He is doing on the ground like that. According to many biblical scholars, Jesus is also identifying Himself with the fall of mankind, kissing the dust of the earth. Jesus “lets Himself fall into man’s fallenness.” (Fr. Ratzinger). With a tormented soul, Jesus collapses to the ground and assumes a servile position before the Father as well as a position of solidarity with His fellow human beings in the flesh.

There are many other fascinating situations in the New Testament in which pipto was demonstrated, whether voluntarily or not:

(1.)  The Samaritan leper who was the only one of the ten healed lepers who returned to Jesus to express his gratitude by falling at His feet (pipto). (Luke 17:16);

(2.)  Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration went flat on the ground (pipto) with Jesus after they heard the Father’s voice out of the holy cloud (Matt. 17:6);

(3.) The three wise men from the East fell down (pipto) when they approached Jesus (Matt. 2:11);

(4.)  The Devil demanded that Jesus pipto before him to show subservience to the Devil’s power during the Temptation (Matt. 4:9);

(5.)  The midnight mob of Roman soldiers and religious authorities fell to the ground (pipto) in Gethsemane when confronting Jesus, and Jesus saying that He was the great I AM (John 18:6);

(6.)  Saul, soon to become Paul, lay prostrate (pipto) on the ground after his “come to Jesus” moment on the road to Damascus. (Acts 9:4, 22:17).

(7.) The scene at the throne of worship in John’s Apocalypse, “The 24 elders will fall down (pipto) prostrate before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever…” (Rev. 4:10).

It’s no wonder the physical gesture of pipto, lying flat on the ground, is out of fashion in so many Christian churches. It is truly a sign of weakness and submission, and many of us are not so good at that. There are many church traditions, though, that have retained that physical act of worship, most notably the Pentecostal service, the Roman Catholic, the Anglican, and the Orthodox Churches. During the Good Friday services, the priests and deacons like prostrate before the altar, to identify not only with man’s fallenness, but also to participate in the anguish and humiliation of Christ during His Passion. One would also witness aspiring priests prostrating themselves during their ordination service, stretching out on the floor, to symbolize their utter inadequacy and insufficiency in assuming this mission in their lives, pleading with God to provide the strength and wisdom necessary for them to perform their church duties in a way that would honor Him.

It would seem that if one were not physically capable of prostration, or is in the situation in which that would be feasible, one could prostrate themselves in their hearts. A wonderful act of worship might indeed be to speak to the Lord while mindfully lying on the ground, humbly, reverently, in our hearts.

Here is a most beautiful meditational song centered on when Jesus fell to the ground in Gethsemane, collapsing in agony. Perhaps identifying with Jesus here would be easier to do if we assumed the same worshipful posture. Your soul is in for a spiritual treat if you haven’t heard Taize music yet. Wonderful music for meditation and worship. Bless you with peace.

TAIZÉ – Stay With Me – YouTube