Words for Expressions of Praise and Acclamation in the Old Testament

Vocal expressions of praise abound in the Scripture; many of these terms apply to musical as well as spoken celebration. The biblical worshiper expresses praise to God aloud.

A verb frequently used is halal, in the intensive form hillel, meaning “praise” or “boast about” (1 Chron. 29:13; Pss. 44:8; 56:4; 84:4; 99:3; 111:1; 150:1–6). The expression “Hallelujah!” means “Praise the Lord!” and is a combination of hillel and a short form of the Lord’s personal name, Yahweh. The reflexive construction hithallel (Pss. 34:2; 105:3) means “to make one’s boast in the Lord.” The related noun tƒhillah, “praise,” also occurs (Pss. 33:1; 102:21) and, in the plural form, tƒhillim is the Hebrew name for the book of Psalms. An often-associated term is the verb yadah, in the causative form hodah, meaning “to confess allegiance to Yahweh,” but generally translated “give thanks” (Pss. 9:1; 67:3; 92:1; 100:4; 111:1; 136:1). Yadah also yields the noun todah, thanksgiving (1 Chron. 29:13; Pss. 95:2; 100:4). David appointed Asaph and his family specifically to celebrate by praising and giving thanks (hillel, hodah, 1 Chron. 16:4–7).

Equally common is the expression “bless [or praise] the Lord” (berekh, Neh. 9:5; Pss. 103:1; 104:1; 134:1–2); although this is the same word as “kneel” (see section 106), in most cases it no longer has that meaning, since God may also bless his people (Ps. 67:1). Another verb for praise is shibbaḥ (Pss. 63:6; 96:3; 145:4). The worshiper desires to “make high,” to extol or exalt the Lord (romem, Pss. 34:3; 99:9; 118:28; 145:1); the related noun (romƒmot, Ps. 149:6) indicates “high praises”; he or she seeks to glorify the Lord (kibbed, Ps. 22:23) and magnify him (giddel, Ps. 34:3). All are summoned to give or ascribe (yahav) to God greatness (Deut. 32:3) and glory (Ps. 29:1–2).

The vocal praise of Yahweh is characterized by abandon and even tumult. Often the invitation goes forth to raise a shout (rua‘, in the causative construction heri‡‘, Pss. 47:1; 66:1; 95:1–2; 100:1); the related noun (tƒru‘ah, Pss. 33:3; 47:5; 89:15) means a shout like a war cry. The worshipers may “make a ringing cry” (rinnen, Pss. 33:1; 71:23; 98:4–6; 145:7; noun rinnah, Pss. 30:4; 47:1); this term can indicate joyful shouting or singing and is sometimes combined with the verb patzaḥ (Ps. 98:4; Isa. 49:13), meaning “break out into joyful celebration.” In the Lord’s presence, his people must be joyful or glad (same‡ḥ, Pss. 9:2; 53:6; 97:12; 118:24; Joel 2:23). There is complete joy or gladness (simḥah) in serving him (Pss. 16:11; 100:2); indeed, he is the worshiper’s joy (Ps. 43:4). Therefore the Lord’s people exult (‘alatz, Ps. 68:3; ‘alaz, Pss. 96:12; 149:5; sis, Ps. 68:3) and rejoice (gil, see 106) before him.

Leave a Comment