Is it Wrong to Bow Down to People?
NCW 72, July-September 2001
Joshua bowed down and did obeisance before an angel, but committed no sin in doing so (Josh. 5:14). Ruth bowed down to the ground before Boaz in gratitude (Ru.2:8-10), but she was not worshipping Boaz. The Shunamite woman bowed down before the prophet Elisha after he had raised her child from the dead (2 Ki. 4:37), but she was not committing idolatry by doing so. Neither was Lot when he "bowed down" before two angels of Yahweh in Genesis 19:1. Nor was David sinning against Yahweh's commandment when he "bowed down and did obeisance" before King Saul (1 Sam. 24:8). Bathsheba and Nathan the prophet were also blameless when they "bowed down in honour" before King David, while the Monarch was on his deathbed (1 Ki. 1:16, 25). When Jacob and Esau had their dramatic reconciliation, we read:
Q. Many Christians say that bowing down as a mark of respect for someone is idolatrous because it is the same as worshipping them. Is that true?
A. Bowing down to those in authority or as a sign of respect is perfectly acceptable scripturally.
"Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be Lord over your brothers and may your mother's sons bown down to you" (Gen.27:29)
"He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother" (Gen.33:3).
Other examples of bowing down include Gen. 23:7-13, 33:4-7, 42:5, 43:26-29, 48:9, Num. 22:31; 1 Sam. 20:41 and 25:41.
What is not acceptable is bowing down in such a way as would give worship to anyone other than Yahweh (e.g. Satan, Mt.4:9), whether human beings or inanimate objects like idols (e.g. Ex.20:5; 23:24; Lev.26:1; Zeph.1:5, etc.). The difference substantially between the two forms of bowing concern the offer of sacrifices or not (e.g. 2 Ki.17:36), whether physical (Old Covenant) or spiritual (New Covenant).
The dividing line between respect and worship is, however, a fine one, and we must ever be careful. You will recall that Mordecai would not bow down to Haman even though the latter had a superior secular authority to him and such was expected in the Persian court. But that was because he was an Amalekite.
We are to pray only to God, Yahweh-Elohim, as taught by Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself in the Lord's Prayer, since He alone is worthy of worship. Praying or bowing down to statues of the virgin Mary, or even the virgin Mary herself, constitute therefore an act of idolatry, and is strictly forbidden in Scripture. This includes praying to dead saints or even living ones. We are to devote our prayers and worship to the One Most High God (El Elyon) who is known as Yahweh-Elohim (KJV "LORD God") through His Son Yah'shua (Yeshua/Jesus) as sole Intercessor, and to no one else. If we do bow to others then there must be a very clear distinction in our minds between showing respect and worshipping.
There are some Christians who do not believe in bowing at all save to God. I respect their decision even though I don't agree with it. These days bowing as an act of respect is fast disappearing in proportion to the rise in pride and arrogance in people. With today's focus on respect and worship of the self such is hardly surprising. Falling on one's face before Yahweh used to be common, and then it went no further than kneeling down, and today people don't even do that except ritualistically on occasion. I personally like to bow to show respect to people and would encourage such as a good discipline in learning humility.
This page was created on 9 March 2003
Last updated on 9 March 2003
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