A Theology of Worship // Part Two

Part One

Worship in the Old Testament.

Before we can come up with a theology of worship we must begin by looking at the subject from a biblical standpoint.

In the Bible the English word “worship” is derived from four different Hebrew words and six different Greek words (in the NIV). A quick study of these words provides a basic definition of “prostration, paying of homage to, service, and showing of reverence.” We can now see the word “worship” as being something of an attitude, a posture, and of lifestyle as well.

This is played out well within the Old Testament as we see plenty of evidence of altar worship in Genesis through Noah, Abraham, and Jacob (Genesis 8, 22, 28). This could be thought of as worship as a sacrifice.

Into Exodus, worship is presented within the confines of a building structure, where people are able to worship God in the way they build a place to meet and engage with him. Examples of this are found within a good majority of the Old Testament through building specifications for both the tabernacle and later, the temple.

Israel worshiped God within the four festivals that were celebrated consistently (Sabbath-Ex. 31, Passover/Unleavened Bread-Ex. 12, Num. 28, Pentecost-Lev. 23, and Tabernacles-Deut. 16).

One of the most important verses on worship in the Old Testament is found in Deuteronomy 12:4: “You must not worship the Lord your God in their way.” This verse provides a foundation for how to observe what can be confusing ways of worship to our modern times. Worship is absolutely something done in God’s way not the way of the world around us, and it clearly involves sacrifice.

David Peterson would even go as far as to say,

“Decisive for understanding the Old Testament view of worship is the idea that the God of heaven and earth had taken the initiative in making himself known.

Worship is not only something done God’s way, but it was something put into place by him as well. As the Old Testament moves into the books of the prophets, God uses men to rebuke and correct the worship of his people going awry through their incorrect living. James Torrance summarizes this well:

“They (the prophets) exposed the paganism of the rituals and the legalism of their belief that their sacrifices were efficacious in themselves. So God can say to them, through Amos: ‘I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies…But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.’ In other words, worship is no longer seen as an ordinance of and an obedient response to grace, it has become false worship-an abomination to God who says ‘Take it away!’”

This is the perfect foundation as we move into worship as it is shown to us in the New Testament.