Hebrew Words for Praise You Should Know
C.S. Lewis says, “all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise…” Although this sounds really deep, we all intuitively understand what he means. We praise the ones whom we love, the things we enjoy, and the experiences that bring us life. What we delight in, we exult over in praise.
In Scripture, praise is a response to who God is, what He has done, and the promise of what He will do. Ultimately, it’s an expression of enjoyment in him.
Particularly in the Psalms, God gives us descriptions of ways we can respond to Him — and this response could be called praise. The word “praise” appears over 200 times in the English Bible, and while we simply read the same word, “praise,” in English, the original Hebrew paints a beautifully diverse picture of what the Biblical response of praise can actually looks like. There are even multiple words which can be used to explain praise. I’d like to explore seven of them from the Psalms with you here:
Halal - To boast or brag to the point of foolishness
One of my favorite ways to spend time with my two brothers is to get together watch the Dallas Cowboys. I’ll never forget the 2014 playoff game versus the Green Bay Packers. Tony Romo threw a dime of a fade to Dez Bryant. That throw! That catch (and yes, it was a catch)! My brothers and I were ecstatic.
What followed that catch was a response of halal towards the Dallas Cowboys. We boasted. We bragged on our team. We lifted our hands in victory like Rocky.
When our affections for and enjoyment of the Cowboys overflowed, it may have looked foolish to non-Cowboy fans. But we didn’t care. We were sold out to championing our team and its leaders.
We are on the best team through the blood of Christ. And our Leader is the best Leader – He is just, loving, and deserving of our deepest delight and satisfaction in Him. The overflow of our realization of this truth brings about a public halal of our Champion, Winner, and Savior Jesus Christ.
Psalm 35:18 – I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you.
Psalm 69:34 – Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them.
Psalm 119:175 – Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me.
Tehillah - To praise vocally with songs or shouts
While halal is seen, tehillah is sure to be heard.
If you’re ever trying to decide where to go for dinner, ask Drayton Shanks, our Associate Minister and resident foodie. He’ll tell you all about the hidden gems in the area, and the delicious dishes that you can get at each one.
“Oh, it’s SO delicious,” he’ll say.
“Try this! It’s really good,” he’ll tell you.
It seems we have a natural inclination, after experiencing something profoundly beautiful, to urge others to join in praising it. And wee do this all the time:
Have you heard this song?
Isn’t she beautiful?
Wasn’t that awesome?
This is tehillah.
Isn’t our God good? He is all-satisfying! Let’s enjoy his goodness together!
Psalm 100:4 – Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!
Psalm 34:1 – I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
Psalm 66:1-2 – Shout for joy to God, all the earth sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise!
Zamar - To praise God with instruments alone or with voices
Have you ever cried to a piece of music? I have.
I will always remember the first time I heard Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight” for the first time. It’s beautiful, hopeful, and deeply emotional. There is something transcendent about good music, something that stirs our souls in a profound way.
We’re meant to be moved by beauty, and music is truly beautiful. It makes tough guys cry and soothes infants to sleep. This is God’s incredible design.
God uses His creation of music in the Church. Like a prepared feast, teams of musicians all over the earth, gifted by God and called to His purpose, prepare songs of praise to stir the affections of the saints for Christ. As we gather each Sunday, we display the idea of tamar, praising God with instruments and voices — using the gifts he’s given us to glorify him.
Psalm 21:13 – Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength! We will sing and praise your power.
Psalm 92:1 – It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
Psalm 146:2 – I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
Hallelujah - A shouting call for corporate praise
“Hallelujah” is seen in the Psalms as a marking point for the beginning or the end of a song of praise. It’s the marking of a time of halal directed towards jah (God).
This is why we cheer for our daughters’ dance recitals or clap when our sons score a touchdown. The dance may have been out of sync, and the home team may have lost, but as parents, we can’t contain our cheer for our children. We’re declaring that this moment is beautiful, because one whom I love stirs my affections by His goodness.
This is why we sometimes clap at the end of praise songs at church. It is a call to the saints to respond to God.
Psalm 106:1 – Praise the Lord!
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever
Psalm 111:1 – Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Psalm 147:1 – Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.
Yodah - To throw hands upward; to surrender
This outward action described in the Psalms is unsurprisingly natural to us. As children reaches up to mom or dad, so we too symbolically reach up as a confession of faith in the security of our Heavenly Father.
Surely you have seen yodah at work in weekend gatherings. This is why we lift our hands in praise to the Lord, to surrender fully in great joy.
This is an outward expression of the overflow of inward faith. We’re saying, “No matter the storms that I’m facing, I am confessing that my right standing with God through Jesus is more beautiful than any ugliness of sin or pain of suffering.”
Psalm 42:5 – Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation
Psalm 89:5 – Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones!
Psalm 43:4 –Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.
Todah - To sing praise as a community in harmony
Our relationship with God is intimately personal but definitely not private. This is the heart of todah praise, which elevates unity as the Church, “that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine.” (Rom 1:12).
May we, through todah praise, lift our voices and encourage each other with declarations of truth in song:
Oh what a Savior! Isn’t He wonderful? Sing “hallelujah,” for Christ is risen!
Psalm 50:23 – The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”
Psalm 56:12 – I must perform my vows to you, O God; I will render thank offerings to you.
Psalm 42:4 – These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.
Sabah - To reach out for God with affection; to feel God’s love and be satisfied in Him
This is an intimate expression of affection to God.
I’m reminded of this idea by my four-week-old daughter, as she often gets fussy when she’s alone in her crib or swing. Often, she’s only content and calm when she’s wrapped up in my arms. Despite her very limited understanding of her circumstances, she finds security, safety, and warmth in the arms of her caregivers.
This is the heart of sabah praise. We choose refuge in God in the darkest nights — in the times when we feel alone. We cling to His security, His safety, and the warmth of His loving embrace. We are secure in Him.
Psalm 63:3 – Because your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise you.
Psalm 145:4 – One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
Psalm 147:12 – Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!
Praise naturally flows out of our enjoyment. We are made for praise. I pray that our church finds true enjoyment in Christ and His love, which overflows and causes us to respond to His love. Whether by boasting in God’s goodness, shouting His beautiful name, singing about His great love, lifting our hands in surrender, confessing truth to one another, or intimately receiving God’s tender love, He is worthy of all our praise.
Let us praise Him!