April 18, 2024

What does it mean to worship? This is the question I recently stumbled upon as I studied Deuteronomy. Throughout scripture, we are repeatedly warned not to “worship” other gods but what does that really mean?

I studied every occurrence of the word translated to worship in the laws (the first five books of the bible), which is שתחו. Interestingly, this word is always assumed to be the same as שחה, although they clearly are not the same. The Hebrew word, שחה, pronounced shachah, means to lower. This is the word usually translated to worship in the phrase “worship Yahuwah”. What I now know is that שתחו, pronounced shatachu, means to lean. This word is usually used in a slightly different context. It is almost always modified by the object of the action after the words upon or to/ward. For example, “lean to them”[1], “lean upon the head of the staff”[2], “lean to him”[3], or “leaned and kissed to him”[4].

The two are related ideas in that they both denote a change in position. To shachah is to go from a higher to a lower position, while shatachu is to shift one’s weight in any direction away from their center of gravity.

Here is the proof. 

The best proof of this is when Israel leaned on the head of the staff/bed after making Joseph promise to bury him with his people in Gen 47:31. He didn’t worship or bow to the bed, he leaned upon it.

One can lean in, upon, down, or toward. When shatachu is used, the direction or to what a person is leaning is provided. For example, in some bible verses, the people leaned to the ground, upon something, to the gods of others, or they leaned their nose toward the earth. Moses leaned in to kiss his father-in-law in Exodus 18:7.

Understanding ‘Worship’ Affects How We Interpret the Law!

The point is that the word we often read as bow and worship in the bible, actually means to lean toward or rely upon something or someone for support. When Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and several other places in scripture says not to “worship” other gods, it is instructing us not to lean toward or rely on other gods – or more specifically, other powers. We are to only rely on Yahuwah.

Hense, Abraham tells the king of Sodom, “I will not take what does not belong to me lest you say you made me rich and not Yahuwah.” (Gen 14:23) And he refuses to take the free grave offered to him by the Hethites for a burial. (Gen 23:12) Jacob also demonstrated this principle when he told his father-in-law, Laban, that Laban would not give him anything, he would earn it. (Gen 30:31)

Thus, this law specifies that we are to work for what we need, relying on Yahuwah’s power to provide what we need and take nothing from those outside of our own family. That is because Israel (those living like Yah’s children) are representative of God’s provision since it is He who provides to us all. Hense, Moses teaches us that “Our God is ONE.” (Deut 6:4)

In most places in scripture where this law is found, the reason we should not lean on other POWERS is that Yahuwah is our POWER, a Hebrew word often translated to “God”.

The law so many of us fail to recognize is a universal law that affects everyone, and perhaps everything. Yahuwah is to be our source of strength and the one who will deliver us from all things that afflict us. When we rely on a source of power, as we all must, we become subservient to the source. So, if our source is Yahuwah, we are subservient only to Him. On the other hand, when the source is something other than Yahuwah we become subservient to it, which is a dangerous thing.

The meaning of this mystery word cannot be found in the Strong’s dictionary. In fact, I have not been able to find it in any lexicon or dictionary although it is used 167 times in scripture.

The ancient Hebrews would have understood shatachu to mean press the mark of a wall appendage OR press the mark of the wall to secure; i.e. to lean.

The idea is that whatever we lean on or toward is what supports us and what we are secured to! Every living thing must get its power from somewhere. Where are you getting yours?


Shalom Family 🙂

Download Study Notes

[1] Deut 8:19

[2] Gen 47:31

[3] Psa 97:7

[4] Exodus 18:7

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