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‘Worship means intimacy’ someone once told me and the evidence that they presented in support of that was a certain Greek word (proskyneo, in case you’re interested) which does indeed mean something like ‘to come towards to kiss.’

 

Except that, in the Bible, it’s not that kind of kiss. When they used that Greek word to translate the Hebrew Old Testament they were most often using it to say that someone bowed down before someone else (like Abraham does in Genesis 18:2). When you bow down low like that with your face to the ground the only things you are capable of kissing are somebody else’s feet which is rather the point: when a lesser king or his ambassador appeared before another, greater king in order to ask for his support or protection he would pay homage to him; he would bow down and kiss his feet (like Abraham does with the Hittite rulers in Genesis 23:7.)

 

Now there definitely is intimacy in that kiss but it says something very different to what a full on lip-to-lip smooch would say. It says “I am totally subject to your authority” “You are far, far greater than I” “I need your protection” “All that I am I lay before you” it does not say “I have strong feelings for you” or “You’re mine” nor yet “One look from you is rapture.”

 

David understands the kiss of homage. He gives it to Jonathan [1 Sam 20:44] and Saul [1 Sam 24:8] receives it from Abigail [1 Sam 25:23] while she is still Nabal’s wife and from Mephibosheth [2 Sam 9:6-8] and then at the lowest point of his story; exposed as a murderer and an adulterer, he rises from the death-bed of his infant son and gives that kiss of homage to God [2 Sam 12:18-20]. He is not telling God how he feels about him, he is telling God what he knows about him, that he is Lord and that David isn’t.

 

There has been a kind of revolution in songs of worship in my lifetime. Many of them are simply about voicing the desire for intimacy with God. Nothing wrong with that so long as we understand what kind of intimacy the Bible talks about; it’s not the kind that proceeds from our feelings but from the facts. He is Lord, so in approaching him we come off our pedestal and bow down to him, we humble ourselves, we submit ourselves.

 

Now, why is it so important to know that? Sometimes people do have the most overwhelming feelings of love for God, that’s not wrong is it? Absolutely not! But you also hear other people saying sadly “I just couldn’t join in with the worship this morning: if you felt like I did, you wouldn’t want to kiss him!” people who have let God down and messed up other people’s lives in the process, people who have only feelings of pain and confusion. They need to know that they can join in at will with no danger of hypocrisy because this intimacy isn’t the kiss of passion which starts from our feelings, it’s the kiss of homage which starts from the facts: in this relationship there is one Lord and it is not me.