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“The Verbs of Worship”

1 Chronicles 16:23-36
Bob DeGray
May 9, 2004

Key Sentence

Worship is an action that reflects prepared minds and hearts.


        I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that the Eskimos have dozens of words to describe different kinds of snow and ice. When I was in Russia I asked my group if it was true in Russian at well, and they said it was, not so much for snow as for various kinds of ice. But I’d never actually verified the Eskimo thing, so I visited and found the answer to the question ‘Does "Eskimo" really have some megaboss number of words for snow?’ Their answer was “well that depends on what "megaboss" means. And it also depends on what language you decide is "Eskimo". The dialects spoken by coastal native peoples from the east of Siberia to Greenland are classed as Eskimo, but many scholars divide them into two languages, Yupik and Inuit. Inuit is the best candidate from a folkloric point of view, being spoken most widely, from Greenland to northeastern Alaska.” The site then goes on to list words for snow and ice from two different dialects of Inuit, including 49 words from the dialect spoken on Greenland. Here are some examples:
        'sea_ice' siku
        'pack_ice' sikursuit
        'rotten (melting) ice' sikurluk
        'iceberg' iluliaq
        '(piece of) fresh_water ice' nilak - that’s what you put in your soft drink.
        'lumps of ice stranded on the beach' issinnirit,
        'glacier' sirmiq
        'icy mist' pujurak
        'snow (on ground)' aput
        'snow in air/falling' qaniit (qanik = snowflake)
        'air thick with snow' nittaalaq
        'new fallen snow' apirlaat
        'snow crust' pukak
        And on and on.

        The reason I mention all this is because I think you can tell a lot about a people by what their language emphasizes. Knowing about all these words, you know immediately that snow and ice were a very important part of Inuit culture. In the same way if you study the Hebrew language it will not be long before you are struck by the number of words devoted to worship. I don’t know the actual count, but my informal estimate is there are dozens of words about the heart attitudes and actions of God’s worshipers. So as we consider the importance of worship to the church, investigating whether it might be the most important ministry in the church, I think we should spend some time with what I call ‘The Verbs of Worship.’

        To do that I’ve chosen a passage in 1st Chronicles, a worship song written by David and given to his worship leaders as a model for godly worship. It doesn’t contain every Hebrew word for worship by a long shot, but it contains enough to give some great insight into worship and some guidance for preparing for it and doing it. What we’ll see is that worship is an action that reflects prepared minds and hearts. The passage is 1st Chronicles 16:23-36. We’ve already read it as our Scripture reading. Now we’re going to go through it verse by verse and pick out the verbs of worship. I’ve listed most of them in your bulletin, and you’ll notice that for each of them I’ve given you space to write a brief application.

        Before we begin that verb-by-verb study, I’d like you to turn to the passage in your Bible and take a quick look at the context. A few chapters before this text, David had been a fugitive, on the run from King Saul, leading a Robin Hood band of mighty men who battled the Philistines while staying one step ahead of Saul’s forces. But then Saul himself died in battle with the Philistines, and in short order David was proclaimed king at Hebron, captured Jerusalem, moved his capital there and brought up the Ark of the Covenant, the focus of Israel’s worship, to a tabernacle on Mt. Zion. That being done, David appointed a worship team from among the Levites. It really is a worship team. Listen to the description in 1st Chronicles 16:4-6 “He appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to make petition, to give thanks, and to praise the Lord, the God of Israel: 5Asaph was the chief,” - and then he names several others - and then says “They were to play the lyres and harps, Asaph was to sound the cymbals, 6and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow the trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God.”

        But it wasn’t enough for David to say “Ok guys, get out those instruments and jam”; He also wanted them to understand the content their worship was to express. So he gave them an example. Verse 7 “That day David first committed to Asaph and his associates this psalm of thanks to the Lord.” Verses 8 to 22 are worship vaguely reminiscent of Psalm 105, and our verses 22-36 remind us of Psalms 96 and 106. It’s neat that Asaph and his team probably took David’s example and divided it into three or more worship choruses, which are still reflected in the Psalms.

        Let’s start with verse 23: ‘Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day.’ The first word in the section is our first verb of worship, and the way we want to look at these is to think about the basic meaning of the verb, how it is used elsewhere, what it points to in this context, and how we can imitate it. This verb is shir, which occurs often in the Psalms, and is always associated with singing and singers. It’s one of the words that most closely ties worship and music together. Thirty of the Psalms contain this word in the title, almost always with another descriptive word such as ‘a Psalm’, or ‘a Lament’. So, for example, if you were to look at the beginning of Psalm 83 you would see that it is ‘a song, a psalm of Asaph’ - written by David’s worship leader.
        In the immediate context what we are commanded to do is to ‘Sing to the Lord’. This phrase appears 12 times in the Old Testament, the first of which is that joyous moment of worship in Exodus 15, after the Hebrews crossed the Red Sea. The point is that the object of our worship ought to be God. I know that’s excessively simple, so I’ll say it again: the object of our worship ought to be God. We saw last week that it is because of his works and his perfections that he is worthy of our worship. And no one else is: all the gods the world worships are idols.

        Application? Those who lead worship and those who worship should strive to have God as the focus. When the worship team prepares they ought to say ‘how can we make this music focus on God? How can we take the attention off of ourselves and get it on God?’ And when we walk through that door Sunday morning, we ought to have prepared in advance to put our mind and heart on God. How do we prepare? Often it is by singing, having some worship music on at home and letting it penetrate your heart. Also things like leaving enough time to get ready, and praying that God would keep you from distractions, and reading the passage we’re studying. Anything that helps your heart focus on God is good preparation.

        The second phrase in verse 23 is ‘proclaim his salvation day after day.’ The verb is ‘basar’ and it means "to bring news, especially concerning military encounters." It is used this way when the messengers bring news to David first of Saul’s death and later Absalom’s. This same concept is at the heart of the theological uses of the word. Someone, often a messenger from the Lord, brings good news of salvation. Thus Isaiah 52:7 “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, "Your God reigns!"” Our text commands us to announce this same good news of salvation, ultimately the good news about Jesus, day after day. We saw the same thing last week when the worshipers sang ‘worthy is the Lamb that was slain and has redeemed men to God by his blood’.

        What does this mean for us? Simply that our worship should never stray too far from Jesus. The good news of his salvation is our best testimony to him, and is worth proclaiming over and over - not necessarily with the same song or Scriptures every week, but with, from time to time, new songs that brings new insight into the proclamation of his salvation. The worship team is always looking for new songs, and you as a worshiper should be looking as well, for music, text, images - that help your heart appreciate the good news of what Jesus has done.

        Well, we’d better move along. Verse 24 “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.” The verb in this sentence, ‘declare’ or ‘tell’ is Hebrews saphar, also translated ‘recount’. I was going to pass this one up but the Hebrew meaning is so neat. Basically, it’s a counting word, as in arithmetic. In Scripture it reports counting of objects, people, actions, and thoughts.

        The form of this verb we’re looking at has the idea of re-counting things to others, or publically. Fathers are to instruct their children of the need of the primacy of God, and about his mighty acts. And every believer is to recount the miracles and mighty deeds of the delivering God, as for example in Psalm 9, where David says “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will recount all your wonders.” In our context the command is to recount the glory of God among the nations. This isn’t really telling people about God’s glory. It’s worshiping God, recognizing his glory, and doing so in the midst of the nations so others can hear. Application? Be willing to recount as worship those things that bring God glory. This might be the old, old stories of Moses and Joshua and Daniel, or something as contemporary as God’s work in your own life, but if it brings God glory it is worth recounting as worship. Twila Paris had a song on one of her older albums called ‘seventy years ago’ that brought God glory recounting his work in a previous generation.

        Verse 25: “For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.” There are two verbs in this verse. The first is praise, which looks like a noun in English, but is really a verb, a participle in Hebrew. The root is ‘halal’ from which we get ‘hallelujah’ - praise Yahweh, or praise the Lord. It’s no surprise that this is one of the key verbs of worship - it’s used 417 times. But despite that it is rarely just repetition. Many of the uses of this word have an indirect object. We praise ‘the Lord’ - he’s the direct object - for his power, greatness, love, salvation or some other truth of his character. There is intellectual activity here: we’re supposed to involve our minds in praise, so that it has content, Biblical content. On the other hand, praise also comes from the heart - it is the heart’s response to what the mind recognizes about God. It isn’t a cold formality, but a warm affirmation.

        The other verb in this verse is also a key to genuine worship: it tells us that the Lord is to be feared above all gods. This is the verb ‘yareh’, the common Old Testament word for fear. Thus his worshipers, and his worship teams should ‘fear’ the Lord. What does that mean? We’ve talked many times over the years about what the fear of the Lord should look like in our lives. Last summer when we were studying Proverbs I tried to summarize this by saying “the fear of the Lord is respect for the Lord, it is awe at his power, it is true fear of his judgment and it is honoring him by obedience.” Let me expand that just a little: The fear of the Lord is respect for him - holding him in high esteem as the most important person in your life. It is awe at his power - the power that created the universe and all things seen and unseen. It is true fear of his judgment, knowing that his wrath at sin is both just and real. Finally it is honoring him by obedience - showing respect by making him in the practice of our lives as important as he is in theory. Far from causing us to cringe back from worship, this fear should be a major driving force. Worship becomes the expression of our awe, the outworking of our respect, and the means by which we honor him.

        In 1st Chronicles the same reason is given both to praise God and to fear him: verse 26 “For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. 27Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy in his dwelling place.” David is saying something we have said often - that God is God and we are not. It is because of his creative power, his splendor, his majesty, his strength and even his joy that we praise him and hold him in awe and respect and honor. Our worship needs to constantly recognize that he is God and we are not.

        The next verb is found three times in verses 28 and 29 “Ascribe to the Lord, O families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength, 29ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name.” This is the verb that initially attracted me to this text. ‘Yahav’ is used 33 times in Scripture, always as a command. The idea of the verb is giving, but with the implication not of giving a physical gift, but verbal affirmation. That’s why the English versions use a somewhat obscure English word. ‘Ascribe’ means to assign something to someone as a quality or characteristic. In these verses we are called as worshipers to assign or attribute to the Lord the characteristics of strength and glory that are fitting to his name. First we recognize his glory or his strength or any of his other perfections and then we tell him what we have seen, in worship.

        Once again, as we apply this it is first an exercise of the mind and then an affirmation of the heart. Let me challenge you for a moment. How many of God’s attributes or characteristics, such as his power or his love, can you mentally reel off in the next ten seconds. I’ve got a watch here and I’m going to time you. Go. Okay how many got more than five? More than ten? Did anybody get more than fifteen? Very good. Unfortunately most of us bog down. In ten seconds I can’t get much further than the Westminster Shorter Chatechism’s ‘God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.’ That’s eleven attributes, but that’s not enough to satisfy this verb ‘ascribe’. The problem is that theology wants to systemize things, so that it groups attributes under obscure headings like ‘goodness’ and then under that heading they include major things like love, grace, mercy, patience and other huge areas of God’s character.

        But for worship what we need is a list that includes those things and his kindness, his compassion, his gentleness, his understanding, his knowledge, his wisdom, his reliability, his majesty, his power, his strength, and all his other qualities as actually found in Scripture. The best list I ever saw was in a guide to worship and it had several hundred attributes. I appear to have lost it. Nonetheless, the point is that in order to ascribe something to God we have to know what the something is and have evidence in Scripture that verifies it as his. Probably the best way to get this is start a page in a notebook and keep it by you when you have a quiet time and every time you see something attributed to God in Scripture make a note. Then, as that page fills up, and the next pages, use that list as aid to worship - ascribe to the Lord, mentally and from your heart, those truths about him you have found in Scripture.

        All right, we need to skip a couple of verbs here, so we’ll skip the ones at the end of verse 29 and in verse 30: “Bring an offering and come before him; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness. Tremble before him, all the earth!” It’s easy enough to skip the verb bring, in ‘bring an offering’, though to those worshipers the offering may have been the most important part of worship. Here at Trinity we’ve consistently gone against the trend in churches and kept an offering - because giving is an act of worship. It’s kind funny, though, to skip the verb translated ‘worship’ by the NIV. But it’s not a very common word, and is fairly narrowly focused on bowing down, rather than on worship in general, so we’ll skip it. Finally, we’ll skip the word tremble because it is closely related to the word fear we already studied.

        That brings us to verses 31-33: “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, "The Lord reigns!" 32Let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them! 33Then the trees of the forest will sing, they will sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.” The predominant theme of these verses is the joy of worship, expressed by four different verbs. First, samah, which denotes being glad or joyful with your whole being: in various places heart, soul and mind are emphasized. At times the things of this world can bring this joy, from wine to a wise son to the feasts of Israel, but the most common cause is the Lord’s salvation. This is the joy of the Lord that will be our strength. And the heavens themselves are commanded to share this joy.

        The next verb is ‘gil’, ‘be glad’ which is not as common, but when it does occur it often refers to rejoicing at God's works or attributes. Typical examples are rejoicing at his restoration of his people, his delivering and protecting from enemies, his glory, his judgment, and his rule. Here the whole earth is commanded to be glad about these things. The third verb for joy only means that in context. David says let the sea ‘roar’ or ‘thunder’ and it is only the context that tells us that it is roaring or thundering with joy. The fourth word for joy is jubilant, and it’s a fairly rare word which means ‘exultant’, that ‘yes’ feeling you have when something goes your way. And the reason for joy in all these verses is because God is coming to judge the earth. That may seem a little odd, but as Paul explains in Romans all of creation is groaning, waiting for the day when it’s proper ruler returns to reign and the prince of this world, Satan, is cast down. Then the heavens will rejoice, the earth will be glad, the seas will roar and the fields will be jubilant.

        What’s the point? These and other examples in other places make it clear that much, if not all, of worship is to be joyful. We should rejoice as we praise God for who he is and what he does. I wonder, folks, if those up here on the worship team and all of us out there have been allowing joy in worship? At times the joy in our worship seems muted. I can’t flip a switch to make you joyful. But I can advise you to come to worship expecting to find the joy of the Lord which will be your strength. This joy will start with a decision of your will and grow out of a response of your heart.

        Finally, though there is a lot of good stuff in the last three verses, we’re going to look at just one more verb of worship. Verses 34 and 35 “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. 35Cry out, "Save us, O God our Savior; gather us and deliver us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, that we may glory in your praise." ‘Give thanks’ is ‘yada’ which was mostly used to express one's public declaration or acknowledgment of God's attributes and works. This term is translated "give thanks" in most English versions, and some critics would say there is no such concept in Hebrew. I disagree. I think in cases like this, where there is some concrete good God has done in view, then the translation ‘give thanks’ is just right. As Laird Harris says in the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament “Thanksgiving follows praise, for when one declares God's attributes and works, he cannot help but be thankful for these. The numerous instances where ‘yada’ is used to praise God for some act or thing are a good fit with our concept of giving thanks, especially if a basic meaning of the root is ‘to acknowledge.’

        In the context we are giving thanks both for who God is: ‘give thanks to the Lord for he is good’ and for what he has done: “Save us and deliver us that we may give thanks to your holy name.’ It’s neat that this future act of salvation, which happens through the death and resurrection of Jesus, is desired in their worship, and the thanksgiving that will accompany it is already anticipated. Also this is the second time in this Old Testament text that we’ve seen salvation as a reason for worship, the same thing we saw over in Revelation last week. Our application is to practice thanksgiving, for who God is and especially for what he has done, especially in Jesus.

        So worship is an activity of the heart and the mind, and like any activity, it is characterized by verbs. Let’s review some of the verbs of worship:

The verb: sing;
The context: to the Lord;
The application: have a heart that is prepared to focus on the Lord in worship.

The verb: proclaim;
The context: his salvation;
The application: don’t ever let your worship stray too far from Jesus.

The verb: declare;
The context: counting up his glory;
The application: be willing to recount as worship those things that bring glory to God.

The verb: praise;
The context: the Lord for;
The application: truths about God from your mind find affirmation from your heart.

The verb: fear;
The context: he is God and we are not;
The application: use worship to express your awe, respect and honor of God.

The verb: ascribe;
The context: to the Lord;
The application: know God’s attributes and use them in praise.

The verb: rejoice;
The context: all creation rejoices;
The application: expect to find joy in worship.

The verb: give thanks;
The context: to the Lord;
The application: practice being thankful for who God is and what he has done.

        The last verse of our section shows us the response of the worship team and all the people to this example of worship. Verse 36: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Then all the people said "Amen" and "Praise the Lord.” Our response should be the same.