Post Title: Hebrew's Rich Vocabulary of Praise
The goal of our study, Todah Living, is that we might praise more biblically, freely, and consistently!
Listen to Psalm 100, verse 5,
For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
That is the fundamental nature of praise, giving expression to who God is and what He has done, and based on that, what we can expect he is doing today. And so the psalmist rejoices in verse 4,
Enter his gates with thanksgiving [todah, from yadah],
and his courts with praise [tehillah]!
Give thanks to him; bless [barak] his name!
Isn't this striking? Hebrew has such a beautiful tapestry of praise language. The idea of praise is woven into the very fabric of life for the people of God. It is a challenge to develop a deeper grasp and a broader view of our praise.
Let's look at some key Hebrew words on the subject.
Halal - is a direct synonym for yadah; it also means to praise. The root of halal comes from a word that means to shout or cry aloud. It has the connotation to shout for joy, to rejoice, to be sincerely and deeply thankful. You see the word over 100 times in the Hebrew Bible, although you don't recognize it. For example, in Psalm 135, each translation of the word praise comes from the Hebrew word halal.
Hallelujah, from halal, is a word we are all very familiar with. It is not a translation but a transliteration, the actual Hebrew word brought directly into English. But hallelujah is not a declaration of praise. Rather, it is a directive to praise.
We don't use it that way in English today; we use it as a word of praise. It is appropriate to do so because a term can be defined by how it is used. But biblically speaking, it's like having the family together for a big dinner, and you say, "Let's eat!" followed by everyone else at the table saying, "let's eat, let's eat, let's eat"—without anyone taking a bite.
Barak - can also be translated as praise. Listen to King David in Psalm 103,
"Bless [Barak] the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless [Barak] the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all His benefits"
Literally, say the sages of Israel concerning Ps. 103:1, your innards should praise God.
The idea behind barak is to adore with bended knee in reverence and love. Observant Jews praise dozens and dozens of times daily, saying, "Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu." Baruch is a form of the word barak, "Blessed art thou O LORD our God."
Tehillah - is a Hebrew word often translated as praise. As a noun, it is the word for a psalm. The book of Psalms is called Tehillim (plural of tehillah), which means the hymns of praises or the book of praises. Many of the psalms were sung. They were used in an individual context, and they were used in the corporate context of worship.
"I will bless [barak] the LORD at all times," says David in psalm 34, "his praise [tehillah] shall continually be in my mouth."
It is the idea of verbal expression with a corresponding attitude of delight and joy; that is the essence of tehillah. The psalms are Israel's hymnbook, and what a treasure to the world! They reflect this incredibly rich and diverse outpouring of Israel's heart and faith towards God—both in good times and bad.
Yes, there are psalms of lament, helping us give our emotions and duress up to God. Yes, we should not keep our troubles bottled up but confess everything to him. That is part of the transformative power; it will inexorably lead to high praise.
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness
- Psalm 30:11
Shachah - means worship. It is remarkably straightforward. There is no mystery here because it is the same in Greek as it is in Hebrew. Chavah is another Hebrew word that describes worship. The basic idea of both is to bow down, to prostrate oneself, to do obeisance.
We all understand that when you come into the presence of royalty, you curtsy or you bow. It is also used in interpersonal relationships. Abraham honored his three visitors by bowing down to the ground. Worship is bowing down, doing obeisance, showing reverence. It is a voluntary act done in an attitude of respect and adoration.
Our English word comes from the old English word 'worthship.' Worship is attributing to someone the worthiness they deserve in accordance with who they are or what they have done. Said another way to worship is to assign worth.
The perversion of worship is idolatry, bowing to the wrong things, or the wrong ones. Idolatry gives the worth—which belongs to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob alone—to someone or something else. C.S. Lewis uses terminology which is provocative and helpful. He talks about humans being bent towards either creature (other people) or the creation (such as things)—rather than worshipping the Creator. And this leads to a myriad of spiritual and psychological dysfunctions.
What is it that bends us away from our Father? Iniquity (avon in Hebrew). Avon means to twist, distort, or bend. At the heart of avon is the impulse towards self-centeredness. Avon describes that which makes you turn from God and bend towards another. In Paul's Hebraic worldview, "they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen."
When you bow before the one, true God, he becomes the lifter of your head. He raises you into the posture he desires for you. You are his son, you are his daughter, and he says to you, "You are acceptable to me in Jesus, welcome my good and faithful servant."
The power of praise is that it combats our inclination towards idolatry and iniquity. Instead of bending towards self, we freely and willingly bow before the Lord of Glory in humble adoration.
Let all kingdom people hallelujah! (editor: that is not a typo;-)
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
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