Discovering more Hebrew words for worship

Hand raised in worship

Continuing our series of blog posts as an introduction to worship…

In English we only have one word for Praise but in Hebrew there 7 different words for praise and whole load more for worship so we’re going to take a quick look at some of them.

Why? Well when we read in the New Testament that the church did something according to scripture, the scripture they had would have been what we call the Old Testament (though I guess in their day it was just ‘The Testament’) & their blueprint for worship would have been from the Tabernacle of David; so the different words they used will help us understand the richness of meaning that sits behind the few words we have in English…

  • The first word is a word we’ve mentioned earlier in this series, Yadah, which means “to hold out the hand, to revere or worship with extended hands”.
  • Halal (from which we get the word ‘Hallelujah’. The root word means ‘to be clear’ but can also be translated ‘to shine’. When we see someone who is particularly pleased we often say that their face was shining! We are called to shine out in the darkness and as we worship and encounter God’s presence we reflect his glory. In 2 Corinthians 3: 7 -18 it says

    Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?

    If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!

    For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

    Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

    As God shines so we are called to shine in the world.

  • Tehillah and Zamar – both of these words relate to ‘musical’ praise; ‘Tehillah’ means ‘to sing’ (and often refers to a spontaneous song) and ‘Zamar’ means ’to pluck the strings of an instrument’.
  • Hilluwl and Shabach – ‘Hilluwl’ means ‘rejoicing or merry praise’ and ‘Shabach’ means ‘to address in loud tone, to command or to shout’.

But what if you struggle with singing and shouting? Well there are other words that relate to other actions….

  • Barak – this word means ‘to kneel to bless God as an act of adoration, to bow down in worshipful attitude’. The Greek equivalent of this word is the word ‘proskuneo’ (which we’ve also referred to in a previous post) and is the root from which we get the word ‘prostrate’. This might well describe prayer in a time of deep prayer.

There are other words used for praise and worship such as;

  • Guwl – which means ‘to spin around’
  • Alats – ‘to jump for joy, exult, be joyful, rejoice’
  • Caphar – ‘to score with a mark, to inscribe, to enumerate, recount, celebrate, speak, talk, tell’ – again if you are not into singing but perhaps are a writer… this is an approach to worship you might relate to…
  • Dagal – ‘to raise a flag, set up with banners’

This is not an exhaustive list, but we can see these these and more acts of worship in scripture; in Acts 2 we see the early church gave themselves to the breaking of bread and to prayer and again to prayer in 1 Timothy 2: 1 – 3

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour

In 1 Corinthians 14: 26 – 33 it talks about our coming together and the use of spiritual gifts, particularly prophecy & tongues and interpretation, but it is interesting to note that this follows a well known passage on loving each other!

In Ephesians 5: 1-20 and the Corinthians passage we find reference to us bringing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs when we gather together, but interestingly the Ephesians passage says ‘Speak to one another in these things’ and then goes on to say ‘sing and make music in your heart to the Lord’. So both speaking out and singing are mentioned. It also reminds us to be thankful.

So, worship is not just all about singing, music or dancing – it is about the reading of His word, prayers, intercession, the releasing of the gift of Holy Spirit among us as we gather together, it’s about how we do life in a way that honours Him.