Free Online Bible Library | Obeisance

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OBEISANCE (ō-bā’săns, Heb. shāhâh). The act of bowing low or of prostrating oneself—whether before (1) God (Mic.6.6), (2) a god (2Kgs.5.18), (3) an earthly ruler (Gen.42.6), or (4) one’s equals in a gesture of courtesy (Gen.23.12). Courteous obeisance is a mark of culture; but worshipful obeisance is a dreadful sin if directed to any other than the true God (Exod.20.4-Exod.20.6).

OBEISANCE (used in the expressions to do or to make obeisance in the KJV, and so used nine times in the KJV to tr. the reflexive form of שָׁחָה, H8817, to bow down or to prostrate oneself). “Obeisance,” from the French, originally meant “obedience,” but today seems to mean a bow or some other movement of the body whereby respect and reverence is shown to a superior. As such, it is a good tr. for שָׁחָה, H8817, since both include the ideas of worship and action appropriate to it. שָׁחָה, H8817, is often used also for homage given God, but is not rendered then in the KJV as “to do obeisance,” but “to worship.” It is used also with reference to the worship of other gods. More recent scholars derive this Heb. verb from a reflexive, causative form of חוה, although with the change they do not assert a change in meaning. See Worship of Church.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

o-ba’-sans: It is used 9 times in the King James Version in the phrase "made (or did) obeisance" as a rendering of the reflexive form of (shachah), and denotes the bow or curtsey indicative of deference and respect. The same form of the verb is sometimes translated "to bow one’s self" when it expresses the deferential attitude of one person to another (Ge 33:6,7, etc.). Occasionally the vow of homage or fealty to a king on the part of a subject is suggested. In Joseph’s dream his brother’s sheaves made obeisance to his sheaf (Ge 43:28; compare also 2Sa 15:5; 2Ch 24:17). But in a large number of instances the verb denotes the prostrate posture of the worshipper in the presence of Deity, and is generally rendered, "to worship" in the King James Version. In all probability this was the original significance of the word (Ge 24:26, etc.). Obeisance (= obedience) originally signified the vow of obedience made by a vassal to his lord or a slave to his master, but in time denoted the act of bowing as a token of respect.

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