What is worship? What is the primary activity associated with worshipping? Chances are that most think of music first when thinking of worship. Perhaps this is because the Psalms clearly exalt the Lord in music and praise. Perhaps our concept of worship comes from visions of heaven in the books of Isaiah and Revelation. There the heavenly beings never stop singing before God. But this is at best an incomplete understanding of worship as presented in the Word of God. In the Bible, “worship” is introduced as a posture, not an activity.
In Hebrew, “havah,” which literally means to bow or to prostrate oneself to the ground as a sign of honor, worship, and homage, is the first word we encounter that is universally translated “worship.” Prostration is not a comfortable position for anyone. In fact, people generally fall prostrate in times of overwhelming emotion, fear, awe or desperation. Prostration makes a person vulnerable and defenseless. We cannot resist or fight well from that position. And maybe that is the whole point. Worship begins by putting ourselves in a defenseless and vulnerable position before the Lord.
Abraham found himself defenseless the first time havah was used in the Old Testament (Genesis 22:5). Abraham had left all that he had known to follow God. Abraham had listened as God promised to open the womb of his barren wife to make him a father. Abraham had waited … then intervened with his own ideas … and then waited again for some two decades until God’s promise was fulfilled and Isaac was born. And Abraham had listened as this same God commanded him to go to a mountain, and there sacrifice this son Isaac, the son of God’s promise and Abraham’s affections, as a burnt offering to the Lord. If Abraham wanted Isaac to live, he could not follow through, or so it seemed. But instead of running Abraham took his son Isaac and a team of servants and journeyed three days to the mountain commanded by God. There he bowed himself prostrate, defenseless before the Lord in worship. English Bibles quote Abraham as saying, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship.”
Worship?! Abraham and Isaac did not take any musical instruments. They are not recorded to have sung any songs. Isaac did ask, “Where is the lamb…for the sacrifice?” Abraham answered matter-of-factly, “God will provide for himself the lamb.” Abraham knew full well that it was just a matter of time before he would make himself defenseless before the Lord by making his son defenseless on the altar.
God himself did provide the ram, first in the thicket on Mount Mariah, and later on the cross in His own beloved son Jesus Christ. In worship, Isaac was first bound, and then released from the altar, spared by God’s lamb. Bowing in defenseless obedience, Abraham demonstrated what worship really means. It was the posture of his heart that made Abraham a worshiper, and Isaac with him. Did Abraham and Isaac sing any songs that fateful day? Who knows…but they did worship. And by bowing before the Lord, releasing our grip on the things we hold most dear, so can we.