Thoughts of God's grace in action on a London Council Estate
Have we lost the true meaning of worship?
Have you ever considered the different kinds of kisses in the Godfather movies? There’s the romantic kiss Michael gives his girlfriend Kay and then later the parental kiss he gives his two children. But right at the end of movie there is a different kind of kiss. Michael’s wife watches as mafia captains visiting them each kiss Michael on the hard declaring their loyal submission to their godfather, ‘Don’ Corleone.
There are different kinds of kisses in the Bible too. There are the romantic kisses in the Songs of Solomon and the kisses Jacob gives his mum and dad, Isaac and Rachel (Gen 27) and the parental kisses Laban gave his grandchildren and daughters (Gen 31), the brotherly kisses of Joseph for his 11 brothers (which must have taken a while) and even the kiss of betrayal from Judas. But there is also another kind of kiss, the same kind of kiss that we find at the end of the Godfather:
“Kiss His Son, or He will be angry and your way will lead to destruction, for His wrath can flare up in a moment.” (Psalm2:12 NIV)
This is same kiss of loyal submission that the mafia captains gave their godfather but instead we are told to kiss the Son of God and warned of the consequences of what will happen if we don’t. In Middle Eastern culture a kiss on the hand, ring and often on the feet of a King would be expected and statues of pagan gods would be kissed in the same way as an act of worship. In fact, the Greek word for worship is “proskuneo” which comes from the words “pros” to move towards and “kuneo” the special kiss of submissive loyalty. Job gives us an insight into kissing and worship:
“Have I looked at the sun shining in the skies, or the moon walking down its silver pathway, and been secretly enticed in my heart to throw kisses at them in worship?” (Job 31:26-27 NLT)
Ancient worship was pretty passionate and involved your whole body. Hebrew words for praise and worship reveal this clearly. For example, there’s the Hebrew word ‘guwl’ which means to spin round violently, the words ‘alats’ and ‘alaz’ which mean to jump for joy and ‘ranan’ which means to shout with excitement. You might think that is the kind of stuff you are much more likely to see at a pop concert or football match than a church service. We can get so used to reading the psalms spiritually but if you read a psalm like Psalm 98 in Hebrew it feels like a wild explosion of shouts and jumps in Praise of God.
Hebrew words for worship are equally physical. The word ‘shachah’ means to bow low or lie face down in loyal submission. One example of ‘shachah’ is Psalm 95:6, which uses 3 words for bowing and literally says:
“Come on, let’s go and lie face down in submission (‘shachah’) and bow down and kneel before the LORD our maker.”
Of course, ‘shachah’ has a bible sense which is much greater than the act of lying face down and came to mean an attitude of submissive reverence, wonder and awe long before the psalms were written. When the Old Testament was translated into Greek a couple of hundred years before Jesus was born it made sense to translate ‘shachah’ Hebrew worship into Greek ‘proskuneo’ worship because they meant the same idea, submissive action to show a loyal reverent awe.
Understanding the biblical concept of worship came naturally to the ancient world. From their worship words they knew that when someone worshipped a god they were making a statement. They were saying that they were weak and their god was great, they were servants and their god was in charge. Their act of worship was also a commitment to stay loyal and be obedient to an authority greater than us. Have we, worshiping in our modern churches, lost the true meaning of worship?