The Bible has numerous commands to praise God. Both Jews and Gentiles as well as all living things including plants and animals are invited to praise God. For instance, in Psalm 150, the Psalmist says that everything that has breath should praise the Lord. But for us to effectively praise God, we must start by understanding what the Bible means by praise – and a good place to start is by doing a Hebrew word study. So, what are the 7 Hebrew words for praise?
The Jewish people in the Old Testament praised God in various ways, resulting in several unique names that all help us express our adoration for God. The seven Hebrew words they used for praise are hallel, shabach, tehillah, barak, towdah, yadah and zamar.
Let us take a closer look at each of these.
Hallel: Extravagant Praise
Hallel is a Hebrew word that means to praise extravagantly or to express joy. Often, the Hebrew word of praise hallel combines with the name of God to show to whom we are directing the praise or to portray further why we are praising.
That’s because the name of the Lord reveals a specific characteristic. For instance, if you want to praise God because He is a creator, you would say praise Yahweh; if you want to praise God for being your provider, you’ll say praise Jehovah Jireh. Hence, we can praise God by calling His name. The Bible says in Psalms 148:13: Let them praise the name of the LORD: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven.”
Extravagant praise is seen when David brought the ark to Jerusalem. Often, we don’t let loose and praise fully with all our hearts because we are afraid of what others might think of us. However, David, absorbed in extravagant praise (hallel) did not care if he looked undignified. He was not afraid of giving God extravagant praise.
Zamar: Praise With Musical Instruments
When translated, Zamar means to praise God through music or instruments. According to the Hebrew Dictionary, Zamar, pronounced as zaw-mar’, has three meanings:
- To sing praise or sing
- To play a musical instrument
- To make music
As a primitive root, the meaning of zamar is related to singing forth praises or touching the strings or parts of an instrument to make music. Examples of where the Hebrew word Zamar is used in the Bible include:
- Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name (Psalm 30:4).
- My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples (Psalm 57:7-9).
The power of musical instruments is illustrated in the Bible, where David would play the lyre with his hand, and the evil spirits tormenting Saul would go away (1 Samuel 16:23).
Yadah: Praise With Extended Hands
Yadah, pronounced “Yaw-daw,” comes from two root words: YAD, which means open hand, and AH, which refers to Jehovah. When the two words are combined, they translate to praise with extended hands.
Two examples where the word yadah is used in scripture include:
- I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name, I will lift up my hands (Psalm 63:4).
- May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord, when they hear what you have decreed (Psalm 138:4).
Tehillah: Joyful Praise
This Hebrew word means joyful or song of praise. It’s the type of praise that involves singing, shouting, and making holy noise using instruments. In the Bible, the first tehillah is seen when the Israelites break into praise by singing after seeing the Egyptians were killed by the waters of the Red Sea.
Examples in the Bible where the word tehillah is used include:
- The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song, I praise him (Psalm 28:7)
- Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts (Psalm 105:2).
Barak: Praise By Kneeling
Barak, pronounced baw-rak’, is a Hebrew word that means to praise or to kneel. When translated, it also means to bless. Kneeling is a way to show humility, respect, and submission to God. It’s also a physical act of adoration and complete surrender. Barak is the opposite of Halal (unrestrained, exuberant, and joyful praise). Praising God while kneeling is often associated with bearing a heavy burden. Its praise offered in difficult circumstances, such as persecution, suffering, or trials.
Examples in the Bible where the word barak is used include Psalm 30:1-4 and Psalm 34:1
Todah: Praise Through Thanksgiving
Todah is a Hebrew word that means praise and thanksgiving. When translated literally, it means giving praise by thanking God for all that He has done. Examples of where todah is used in the Bible include:
- We, your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation, we will recount your praise (Psalm 79:13).
- Let us come before His Presence with thanksgiving (todah), and make a joyful noise unto Him with psalms (Psalm 95:2).
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name (Psalm 100:4).
While this thanksgiving praise was mostly mentioned in the Old Testament, its message is reiterated in the New Testament, where God commands us to offer a sacrifice of praise called the fruit of our lips (Hebrews 13:15). A praise of thanksgiving is often given by someone whose prayer has been answered and those who want to proclaim the goodness of God or to show recognition that everything we have is a gift from Jehovah Jireh.
Shabach: Loud Praise
Shabach is a Hebrew word for praise that also means to address in a loud tone. When translated, it also means to laud, commend, or give a triumphant shout of praise. -Examples of where shabach is used in the Bible include:
Every day I will praise you and extol your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts (Psalm 145:2-4).
- Extol the Lord, Jerusalem; praise your God, Zion (Psalm 147:12 ).
- A good example of where a shabach is seen in the Bible is when the walls of Jericho came down after the people of Israel gave a mighty shout (Joshua 6:20).
Unlike the English language which has one word of praise, there are seven Hebrew words for praise: halal, tehillah, yadah, todah, barak, zamar, and shabach. Each Hebrew word for praise has a distinct meaning that provides insight into different ways of praising God, be it by kneeling, dancing, shouting, or including a musical instrument.