Enter His Courts with Praise, by Andrew Hill, discusses the history of worship in the Old Testament, in order to give a richer understanding to the reader of the nature of worship, which can shed light on our New Covenant worship practices.
The first Hebrew word Hill discusses is darash. This word means to seek, or to inquire. It carries the idea of spiritual inquiry – of seeking to know God and His will. This is an essential aspect of worship, since we cannot truly worship what we do not know. The next Hebrew word, yare, speaks of the fear, awe, or reverence we feel toward God in response to a recognition of who He is as holy, just, and perfect. This reverence bordered on terror, and motivates the heart to worship, respect, and obey the Lord. Yare “marked the practical outworking of the fear of God in the life of the community.” Hill defines the word yare as “reverent obedience.”
Hill then discusses the word abad. Abad means “work” or “service,” but can be translated “worship” when it deals with carrying out the commands of God. The relationship between worship and service is so close that it should be a reproof of the often lawless lives we live, while simultaneously claiming to worship God. Sharat seems to refer to a higher level of service than abad, and speaks of the ministering of the Levitical priests, as ministers of God. Sharat suggest the idea of a commissioned minister and representative of God. Thus, it implies a solemn dedication to service.
The most commonly used Hebrew word for worship is shaha. Literally meaning to fall down or grovel, shaha implies the humility and conscious unworthiness of the worshipper. God expects us to be genuinely humble, and oh, how it would change our worship services and our relationships with God if we truly grasped the implications of this word!
The Hebrew word sagad occurs only in the book of Isaiah, and most likely comes from the Aramaic word segid, which occurs only in Daniel chapter three. Both of these words mean to prostrate oneself in prayer, implying thankfulness or supplication.
Finally, Hill discusses a group of Hebrew verbs which, while not translated by the English term “worship,” are used in a worship context to speak of nearness to God, or abiding carefully by His laws. These words are, bo, meaning “to come,” or “enter,” halak, meaning “to go” or “to walk,” nagash, meaning “to approach,” and qarab, meaning “to draw near.” While non of these words literally means “to worship,” they each speak to the notion of God’s drawing near to us, and our drawing near to God.
Studying these Hebrew words for worship is so beneficial because they shed such light on who God is and how He wants to be viewed. It is also a reminder that worship is so much richer than we usually ever imagine. Studying the Old Testament history of worship is crucial to a full understanding of worship today. I think that the history of worship is so neglected in this day and age that worship leaders do not even grasp how generations worshiped just within the last 200 years, let alone worship over the last several thousand years! But it is vital to a vibrant spiritual worship to learn from the practices of those before us, even in the Old Covenant. Even if we do not carry over all of the practices themselves to our contemporary worship, the knowledge of the past that we can draw on to influence the richness of our own worship is invaluable.
I think the main thing I came away from this book with was the notion of worship as a response to God. So often we view worship as the initial event in our conversation with God. That is, we view ourselves as the initiator in the relationship, as if to say that God will now speak to us because we have properly worshipped Him. But in truth, worship is always viewed as a response throughout Scripture.
If I could share three crucial points, the first would be that idea of worship as a response to God. We cannot truly worship God until He first speaks to us. Worship is always a response to who God is, what He has done in our lives, and what He has said in His Word. We must view “the event of worship as a Spirit-led reaction to what we believe God has said and done” (pg. xix).
The second concept is the truth that worship does not only refer to a section of a Sunday morning service, but to the whole of one’s life. Especially among young Christians today, there is a wall of separation between what happens outside the church doors, and what happens within. We need to get back to the truth that who we are as a servant of God belonging to Christ should define who we are and everything we do.
Hill offers a couple excellent quotes on page thirteen, and then on page twenty-nine: “So then, while the fear of the Lord is an attitude that includes the emotion of reverence and awe for a unique, holy, all-powerful, and all-knowing God, it is primarily ‘a way of life based on a sober estimate of God’s presence and care’… “In fact, William Dyrness has observed, ‘There can be no split between the sacred and profane spheres of life; at least potentially every moment can be sacred unto the Lord.’”
Finally, I think another essential truth to remember is that Christianity is all about a relationship. Likewise, worship is all about a relationship. We are not worshiping an idea, or stone statue, or even an impersonal being far away. We worship a personal, relational God, who wants to know us deeply, and whom we must long to know more fully.
Hill has delivered a gem in Enter His Courts with Praise. Every pastor, church leader, even simply interested Christian, should read this book, and find himself encouraged to study the history of worship, in order to know God more deeply, and to glean whatever rich practices may be reapplied in a New Covenant context.