“Extol the Lord our God and worship at His footstool! Holy is He!” (Psalm 99:5)
During Temple times, music played an essential role in the Temple and was a highly developed form of worship.
Today, music continues to play such a major role in prayer services that a chazzan (cantor) usually leads the congregation in beautiful, traditional melodic prayers and Bible cantillation (ritual chanting of Bible passages).
Jewish worship music is so intricate and ornamented that the chazzan has not only a comprehensive knowledge of the Jewish prayers and their accompanying traditional tunes, but is often a musician / singer with an academic degree in music.
The Roots of Worship
Today many people consider worship just a pleasant warm-up to the more “important” component of a congregational service; for instance, the message.
A study of Scripture and the Hebrew language, however, reveals that praise and worship is so much more than just a warm-up.
Many of the Psalms in the Bible are prefaced with “To the Chief Musician.” In modern times, this would be the choir director or worship leader—or the chazzan (cantor) in the synagogue. In Hebrew, this directive reads, “Lamenatzeach” (למנצח).
This word is quite insightful because its root, netzach (נצח), meaning forever or eternity, helps us see into the eternal significance of worship in the life of a Believer.
A related word derived from this same root is nitzachon (נצחון), which means victory. Through the Hebraic roots of our faith, we discover that worship is not simply an enjoyable time of music before the message is delivered, but is, in actuality, a means of connecting with the eternal realm in a way that brings victory. Halleluyah!
“Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.” (Psalm 95:1)
The Role of Worship in Victory
Jehoshaphat provides a wonderful example of how praising God leads to victory.
When a great multitude from Syria came against Israel, Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah, fasted and prayed.
In response, the Spirit of the Lord gave a word that they would not even need to fight in the battle, but only position themselves to see the salvation of Adonai (the Lord). (2 Chronicles 20:17)
“‘You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you.’ … Jehoshaphat bowed with his face to the ground, and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the LORD.” (2 Chronicles 20:17–18)
Jehoshaphat was fully confident that God was in control. All he needed to do to win the victory was fully submit himself to the authority of God through praise and worship.
This is truly amazing! Who did he send in first, even ahead of the mighty warriors of the armies of Israel? The singers and musicians!
“Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise Him for the splendor of His holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: “Give thanks to the LORD, for His love endures forever [Hodu L’Adonai, ki l’olam chasdo].” (2 Chronicles 20:21)
All it took to bring confusion and defeat to the enemy camp was to sing praise and to worship the Lord. This is much different than our concept of spiritual warfare today.
“As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.” (2 Chronicles 20:22)
Worship, however, is not a tool of manipulation. It is not something we do to get something from God; it is an expression of our love, devotion and reverence for who He is — awesome, beautiful, and holy.
“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name. Bring an offering and come before Him; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness and in holy array.” (1 Chronicles 16:29)
Worship in Ancient Times
How did the people of Israel worship the Lord in ancient times?
We can see from Scripture that not only did people sing, but they also played a variety of musical instruments, including tambourines, harps, lyres, cymbals, flutes, and trumpets.
“I will sing a new song to You, O God; upon a harp, an instrument of ten strings, will I offer praises to You.” (Psalm 144:9)
And the worship could be boisterous. When King David brought back the Ark of the Covenant, his worship and that of the Levite leaders was far from orderly, quiet and sedate!
It involved raising their voices with shouts of joy and the playing of loud clanging cymbals and other instruments such as harps. (1 Chronicles 15:16–24)
Although some denominations today frown upon dancing, King David whirled and twirled in praise to the Lord.
His worship was so exuberant, in fact, that his wife, Michal, despised him for it; therefore, God judged her and she remained barren for the rest of her life. (2 Samuel 6:20–23)
The solution, therefore, in energizing a congregation that’s dry and devoid of life may be in restoring a Biblical form of worship.
We can take a hint from David: one of the first things he did as king was appoint singers and musicians to worship the Lord before the Ark of the Covenant and to give God thanks.
“They were to play the lyres and harps, Asaph was to sound the cymbals, and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow the trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God.” (1 Chronicles 16:5–6)
David was certainly not a perfect man. In fact, he was an adulterer and murderer, and yet, God called him a man after his own heart. Why? Because David was not only sorry for his sins, he was a true worshiper of God.
A Biblical Model for Worship
“God is a Spirit [a spiritual Being] and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth [reality].” (John 4:24)
What is the Biblical model of a true worshiper? How does one truly worship God?
Yeshua (Jesus) gave us an answer when He was talking to a Samaritan woman.
The Samaritan woman said to Him, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” (John 4:20)
When Yeshua answered her, He emphasized the inner attitude of a person over location, saying that true worshipers would worship God in spirit and truth.
“A time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” (John 4:21–22)
Yeshua wasn’t dismissing the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, but He was emphasizing the importance of truly worshiping God.
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” (John 4:23)
One does not need to be Jewish to worship the God of Israel, nor does one need to be perfect.
Yeshua revealed what true worship is to a Samaritan woman because God is no respecter of persons; He accepts worship from anyone who fears Him and keeps His commandments.
This Samaritan woman had five husbands in her lifetime and was now living with a man not her husband. And yet Yeshua spoke about worship with her, flawed as she was, so that she could become a true worshiper of God, rather than worry so much about where to worship Him.
Worship in God’s Dwelling Place
“Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.’ The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:3)
In ancient Israel, it was clear that worship was only permissible in specific places that the Lord had chosen, such as His Temple in Jerusalem.
King Jeroboam, who ruled over the Northern Kingdom of Israel, defied this rule; he established worship to false gods and other idolatrous practices all over his land.
In a move that seemed to repeat Israel’s sin of the golden calf in the wilderness (Exodus 32:4), the king made two golden calves, placing one at Dan and the other at Bethel, so that the people would not go to Jerusalem to worship.
He told the people of Israel, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!“ (1 Kings 12:28)
Jeroboam also appointed false priests, designed his own feasts of the Lord and offered sacrifices “on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a month of his own choosing.” (1 Kings 12:33)
As judgment for Jeroboam’s sins, God destroyed the house of Jeroboam and those who followed the king’s model of worship. (1 Kings 14:8–16)
Jeroboam’s making of a golden calf and the subsequent destruction of his family line demonstrates that if we don’t learn our lessons from history, we are doomed to repeat their mistakes and suffer the consequences.
Jeroboam’s sin, however, also underlines the centrality of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple to Jewish worship.
Yeshua (Jesus) called our straying from the Word of God into manmade doctrines and practices, worshiping “in vain:” “… They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” (Matthew 15:7–9)
As Believers, we need to worship the Lord, not only in spirit but also in truth — that is, according to the Biblical model presented to us in the Word of God.
Worship Then and Now
Today, synagogue services retain some elements from ancient Temple worship, such as parts of the traditional Jewish morning service called the Shema (Hear O Israel) prayer; however, much has changed over the centuries.
The Shemoneh Esrei (Amidah or Standing Prayer), an important prayer recited three times a day during the Shacharit (morning), Mincha (afternoon), and Ma’ariv (evening) services, occurs at the time when the daily tamid (perpetual) offerings would have been offered in the Temple in Jerusalem.
Here is a portion of the Shemoneh Esrei:
We will sanctify Your name in this world just as it is sanctified in the highest heavens, as it is written by Your prophet: “And they call out to one another and say: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.”
And those facing them praise God saying: “Blessed be the Presence of the Lord in His place.” And in Your Holy Word it is written, saying, “The LORD reigns forever, Your God, O Zion, throughout all generations. Hallelujah.”
Mussaf (additional) prayers, which also includes the Shemoneh Esrei, are recited on Shabbat, Yom Tov, Chol Hamoed, and Rosh Chodesh in place of the additional offerings that would have been made in the Holy Temple when it was standing.
Because of the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70, a tragedy which Yeshua predicted (Matthew 24:2), we can no longer participate in the ancient Biblical worship of sacrifices and offerings.
While the Bible prophesies that sacrifices and offerings will be reestablished when the Third Temple is rebuilt, today those who follow Yeshua (Jesus) are filled with the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), similar to the way He resided in the Holy Temple.
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit [Ruach HaKodesh], who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.” (1 Corinthians 6:19)
Every Believer with a pure heart of love and devotion to our Heavenly Father has the privilege of worshiping the Lord in spirit and truth, anywhere, at any time.
So, true worship is not about reciting the right words or getting the liturgy exactly right: it is about the condition of our heart.
“These people come near to me with their mouths and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” (Isaiah 29:13)
When we worship God, whether with exuberant singing, dancing, shouting and loud instruments, or in quiet thanksgiving with a sincere heart, we touch eternity and are assured of victory in Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah).
“But I, by your great love, can come into Your house; in reverence I bow down toward Your holy temple.” (Psalm 5:7)