The Many Facets of Praise
Updated: Nov 30, 2020
As we learned last week, worship is not just more than a song. It is not a song at all. The word worship simply means "to bow".
The question then is: "What are we doing when we play instruments and sing songs on Sunday morning?" To understand that, we need to dive into the word, or rather the words, praise.
For a language with a relatively small vocabulary, Hebrew has a lot to say about praise. There are seven distinct words which are often translated as our one English word "praise". Here they are:
Barak (baw-rak) To kneel, to bless, to salute.
Judges 5:2 "When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves-praise (barak) the Lord."
2. Halal (hah-lal): To be clear (of sound or color), to shine, to make a show, to boast, to be clamorously foolish.
Psalm 22:22 "I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise (halal) you."
3. Yadah (yaw-daw): to hold out the hand, to revere with extended hands, confess, give thanks.
Psalm 138:2: "I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise (yadah) your name for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word."
4. Todah (tow-dah): Confession, thanksgiving in song, the thanksgiving choir or procession.
Psalm 26:7 "Proclaiming aloud your praise (todah), and telling of all your wonderful deeds."
5. Shabach (shaw-bach): To address in a loud tone, triumph, commend.
Psalm 117:1,2 "Praise (shabach) the Lord, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever."
6. Zamar (zaw-mar): to touch the strings or part of a musical instrument, to make music accompanied by the voice, to sing.
Psalm 149:3 "Let them praise (zamar) his name with dancing, and make music to him with the tambourine and harp."
7. Tehillah (teh-hil-law): song of praise, laudation.
Psalm 22:3 "Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise (tehillah) of your people."
Rather than attempt a word study and risk scholarly wrath upon my noggin, I will share a few thoughts.
First, look at all that texture and breadth! Praise isn't simply one thing. It is multiple things stacked on top of each other, and often occurring alongside worship. It's a layer cake of reverence dunked in thanksgiving!
Second, look at how active it is! According to the Bible, praise is a contact sport. Just look at those verbs: kneeling, shining, boasting, hands extending, confessing, thanking, proclaiming, plucking and striking, lauding. Whew. Most scholars agree the Israelites had to change their t-shirts when they were done praising.
Third, notice how visceral it is! These words of praise aren't meant to engage your intellect as much as punch you in the gut. Throughout the Psalms God is warring, guiding, establishing, delivering, saving, and gathering. His people are responding to his acts and his character with their bodies, souls, and spirits. The picture of praise is not of a class giving assent to a dissertation. It's more like a stadium erupting over a game winning touchdown.
That is not to say praise is a weekend at Lollapalooza. We haven't even talked about the awe of God, the fear of God, or the reverence of God. But the Israelites understood that praise was textured, active, and visceral.
A few more observations:
Musicians: when you play your instrument, that by itself is praise. In American culture we view "the worship team" as backing up the singers so they can lead the congregation so they can sing the song and therefore praise. Nope. When you pluck, strike, bow, blow, or strum, it is praise to God. Give that act the preparation and respect it deserves.
I was surprised to find out that confession is praise. Most of us view confession as a closet act. We also view confession as pertaining to our specific acts of sin. While it is that, confession also encompasses our general acknowledgment of our fallen nature. But it is also thanksgiving, not simply remorse. Look at how the word todah (thanks, confession) is used in Psalm 50:23:
"He who sacrifices (slaughters) thank offerings (thanks, confession) to me honors (makes heavy or weighty) me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation (liberty) of God."
Do you want to be free? Do you want to honor God? Try confession and thanksgiving together.
One more for fun.
Halal is the root of the word "Hallelujah". We translate that as "Praise the Lord", but more technically it is the phrase "Let us praise Yah". Yah is the shortened form of Yahweh. According to Strong's concordance "It probably means 'He who causes to be'". So when we say, "Hallelujah" we are saying:
"Let us praise He who causes to be".
How cool is that?
P.S. All scripture is taken from the New International Version.