Worship in the Old Testament: Lessons from the Psalms | alyssajhoward.com

Worship in the Old Testament: Lessons from the Psalms

Music is a powerful thing. In many ways, it’s a universal language of sorts. It is present in every culture of our world, both past and present. Music has a way of making us feel a wide range of emotions, and it also gives us an avenue to express ourselves when words are not enough. Perhaps this is why music has always been one of the main components of worship. This God-given art form allows us to share our hearts and adoration in a way that words alone simply cannot. Singing songs to God is far from new. It isn’t something our modern churches invented as a way to begin a church service. Worship in the Old Testament is everywhere. Even Moses sang to God in the book Exodus. But the truth is that worship isn’t just about singing songs… it’s about our hearts.

Worship in the Old Testament: Lessons from the Psalms | alyssajhoward.com

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If there is a place in the Bible that speaks most to the heart of worship, it’s the book of Psalms. Quite literally a book filled with songs, we gain a glimpse into what it means to have a true heart of praise. Some of these songs are joyful and thankful for all of God’s blessings. While others come from a place of hardship and sacrifice. But in all things, they bring glory to God… in every triumph as well as every defeat.

In English, we have “praise” and we have “worship.” But in the original Hebrew language of the Bible, there were many words to describe the act of giving God honor and glory.


Zamar (zaw-mar’): to touch the strings or parts of a musical instrument, i.e. play upon it; to make music, accompanied by the voice; hence to celebrate in song and music:—give praise, sing forth praises, psalms

I will sing a new song to You, O God; upon a harp of ten strings I will sing praises to You. – Psalm 144:9

Singing and making music to God is an act of worship. In fact, it’s probably the most common way we express our praise to God. This is why so many church services include music and singing as part of congregational worship.


Barak (baw-rak’): to kneel; by implication to bless God (as an act of adoration)

I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. – Psalm 34:1

This Hebrew word can ultimately have several different meanings depending on the context. But more often than not, it has to do with kneeling and blessing God. “Bless the Lord…” This phrase if found throughout the book of Psalms, and it can be found in many of our worship songs today. We bless the Lord as we bow our hearts in reverence and awe of who He is.


Yadah (yaw-daw’): to use (i.e. hold out) the hand; to throw (a stone, an arrow) at or away; especially to revere or worship (with extended hands); to bemoan (by wringing the hands):—cast (out), (make) confess(-ion), praise, shoot, (give) thank(-ful, -s, -sgiving)

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, that my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever. – Psalm 30:11-12

This word is often translated as either praise or thanks. But what is most interesting is the picture it gives us in the Hebrew… to physically hold out your hands. The lifting of our hands in worship is a natural response of praise.


Shabach (shaw-bakh’): to address in a loud tone, i.e. (specifically) loud; to pacify (as if by words):—commend, glory, keep in, praise, still, triumph

Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise You. – Psalm 63:3

There are times in worship when it’s appropriate to be quiet and reverent. But then there are times when we shout our praises! Another Psalm even tells us to praise Him with a joyful noise!


Halal (haw-lal’): to be clear (orig. of sound, but usually of color); to shine; hence, to make a show, to boast; and thus to be (clamorously) foolish; to rave; to celebrate

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord! – Psalm 150:6

I love the definition of this one… When was the last time you were “clamorously foolish” in your worship? I’m reminded of David dancing in the streets as He praised God. He was more concerned with his worship of God than how people perceived him. (As a side note, this is also where we get the word “Hallelujah.”)


Towdah (to-daw’): an extension of the hand, i.e. (by implication) avowal, or (usually) adoration; specifically, a choir of worshippers:—confession, (sacrifice of) praise, thanks(-giving, offering)

Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of His works with joyful singing. – Psalm 107:22

Sometimes praise is a sacrifice. Yes, there are times when we can’t help but be joyful in our worship. But then there are times when it’s hard. The Psalms are full of songs that convey sorrow and difficult trials. Yet through it all, David praised God and thanked Him for His faithfulness.


Worship is not about singing songs. It’s not about our circumstances. And it doesn’t have to be perfect.

If there is one thing we learn about worship in the Old Testament, it’s this: True worship comes from a humble heart that longs to glorify God in every circumstance.


Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! - Psalm 95:6


*Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

**Photo by Ben White at ChristianPics.co

***All definitions were taken from “Strong’s Definitions,” which is a collection of the unique Greek and Hebrew words and their definitions from the Old and New Testament, organized by Dr. James Strong in 1890. It can be accessed freely at BlueLetterBible.org.


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