11 Hebrew Words for Praise Every Christian Should Know (and You’re Probably Already Doing)

"Let all the people praise You." Psalm 67:3

"11 Hebrew Words for Praise Every Christian Should Know" by Steppes of Faith

“Let all the peoples praise You.” Psalm 67:3

Many of today’s modern churches often conduct contemporary services with less than traditional forms of praise and worship. Gone are the days of robed choirs singing traditional hymns to a piano accompaniment. Gone, too, are the days of little hymnal books. Now, we sing along to rock-n-roll-like bands while the words flash on giant screens.

How we praise and worship God has drastically changed through time. Then again, perhaps not.

In the Old Testament, we read of the Jewish people praising the Lord in a variety of ways, and each of these ways has its own word. Unlike the English language, which has only one word for praise, the Hebrew language has well over a dozen.

With over 250 mentions of “praise” in the Bible, its Hebrew roots seem important for Christians to understand. It enhances our modern worship and helps us better understand why we praise the way we do. It makes us healthier and more mature Christians as we express what only God deserves.

Here, we look at eleven of these Hebrew words. Some are similar or overlap with others, but each is distinct on its own, as we will see.

The Most Common Word for Praise

Halal/Hallal = “to shine; to boast; to rave; celebrate; to act clamorously foolish in praise.”

By far, the most common Hebrew word for praise is halal. It is the root word for hallelujah (a combination of “halal” plus “Yahweh”), and it appears 96 times in the Old Testament. It implies shining a spotlight on God for others to see and wildly praising Him to the point of acting foolishly. Psalm 113 gives us one example.

“Praise, O servants of the LORD. Praise the name of the LORD! Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time forth and forevermore! From the rising of the sun to its going down, the LORD’s name is to be praised.” (Psalm 113:1-3)

The psalmist’s excitement is overwhelming. He emphatically and eagerly directs it at God. We see this also in Psalm 150.

“Praise the LORD! Praise God in His sanctuary. Praise Him in His mighty firmament! Praise Him for His mighty acts. Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!” (Psalm 150:1-2)

Psalm 150 continues with exuberant praise and a call to praise God with various musical instruments. It then ends with a resounding “Praise the LORD (v6)!”

In addition to vocalizing our praise, Psalm 149 tells us we should dance and sing.

“Let them praise His name with the dance. Let them sing praises to Him with the timbrel and harp.” (Psalm 149:3)

Other examples of halal are found in Judges 16:24, 2 Samuel 14:25, 2 Chronicles 7:6, Ezra 3:10-11, Nehemiah 5:13, Isaiah 62:9, Jeremiah 20:13, and Joel 2:26.

Make a Joyful Noise

Tehillah = “From the singing of halals; to sing or laud; often perceived to involve music, especially singing hymns and songs of praise; a time of spontaneous instruction to bring forth light and celebration through singing, shouting, and making holy noises.”

Tehillah appears 56 times in the Old Testament. It is what we do when we corporately engage in musical worship. But instead of being seen by others, it is meant to be heard. It is a noise that is louder for God than for anything else. As one Bible teacher put it, “The power of tehillah expresses itself vocally so that there is no doubt who the star in the room is.”

Exodus 15 records the Bible’s first tehillah when Moses and all the Israelites break into song just after God drowned the Egyptian army in the Red Sea.

“I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously!” (Exodus 15:1)

Psalm 100 wholly focuses on tehillah. It is both a song of thanksgiving and a commandment.

“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him and bless His name.” (Psalm 100:4)

We see tehillah also in the New Testament. Luke 1:46-55 records Mary’s song of praise during her visit with her cousin Elizabeth before their respective birthings of Jesus and John the Baptist.

When we engage in tehillah, we worship a God who loves us unconditionally. In return, we offer our praise not to be seen by others but to be heard by the only One who deserves it.

Other examples of tehillah are found in Psalm 9:14, 34:1, and 66:2.

We praise God with tehillah when we play musical instruments during our worship.

Praise God with Musical Instruments

Zamar = “To pluck the strings of an instrument; to sing; to praise; joyful expressions of music with instruments.”

Used 44 times in the Old Testament, zamar is similar to halal and tehillah as a musical term. However, it specifically indicates giving God praise by plucking a stringed instrument in addition to singing or other forms of music. It is a harmonious and collective sound like a choir, as we see in Revelation 5:12. In a prophetic vision, John saw “ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” surrounding God’s throne, all singing in one accord.

King David and the Israelites worshiped this way when the ark was placed in the tabernacle in 1 Chronicles 16.

“Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him. Talk of all His wondrous works! Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.” (v9,23)

The prophetess and judge Deborah also used zamar after she and Barak defeated King Jabin of Canaan.

“Hear, O kings! Give ear, O princes! I, even I, will sing to the LORD. I will sing praise to the LORD God of Israel.” (Judges 5:3)

Numerous other examples include Psalm 21:13; 57:8; 61:8; 68:32; 92:1; 108:1; 146:2; 147:1; and 150:3-5. We can sum up zamar in Psalm 47:6.

“Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King; sing praises!”

Lifting Hands in Praise

Yadah/Yodah = “to throw out the hand; to worship with an extended hand; to lift the hands; to cast out.”

Todah/Towdah = “an extension of the hand in adoration and an open statement of affirmation; frank acknowledgment or acceptance.”

Several Hebrew words describe a style of praise by raising and clapping hands. Two of them are yadah and todah. Both words illustrate praising God with our hands outstretched in acknowledgment of His worthiness.

Yadah is used 96 times in the Old Testament. It is an Aramaic word derived from the Hebrew word for hand (yad). It implies celebration or confession, which is a form of praise. We confess our need for the Savior by reaching out to Him out of our brokenness and lifting our burdens to Him.

Psalm 67:3, “Let the peoples praise You, O God. Let all the peoples praise You.”

The prophet Daniel engaged in yadah after the governors conspired to imprison him because he would not stop praying to God.

“Now, when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day and prayed and gave thanks before His God, as was his custom since early days.” (Daniel 6:10)

Other examples of yadah are Genesis 29:35; 2 Chronicles 7:3,6, 20:21; Isaiah 12:1,4; and Jeremiah 33:11.

Todah is like yadah but more specific. Instead of raising our hands in confession, we raise them to give thanksgiving to God. It is a praise-filled acknowledgment that God is omnipotent and constantly at work in our lives.

“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him and bless His name.” (Psalm 100:4)

“Offer to God thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High.” (Psalm 50:14)

Other examples of todah are Psalm 50:23 and 42:2 and Jeremiah 17:26.

We praise God and confess our need for Him with both yadah and todah when we raise our hands to Him.

Shout to the Lord, all the Earth!

Shabach = “to shout; to address in a loud tone; to triumph.”

In charismatic churches, the congregation typically raises their hands in yadah. They may also praise God with a shabach.

Shabach means to shout. And not just any shout. Shabach means you are giving your best shout—a shout in triumph, such as when Joshua led the Israelites in tearing down Jericho’s walls.

“So the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat.” (Joshua 6:20)

Other examples of shabach are Psalm 66:1 and 98:4-9, Hebrews 13:15, and Revelation 5.

A similar word is ruwa, which is shouting a joyful noise or a battle cry. We engage in ruwa when we cry out, “Glory! Hallelujah!”

“Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph! For the LORD Most High is awesome.” (Psalm 47:1-2)

We also see ruwa in 1 Chronicles, 16:36, Psalm 68:4, 96:11, and 103:22, Luke 2:14, Philippians 4:4, and Revelation 7:10 and 19:6-8.

Praise Him with the Dance

Alaz = “to rejoice; to exalt; to jump for joy in praise to the Lord.”

Karar = “to dance or whirl”

Machowl = “a round dance; dancing”

We can praise the Lord by singing, playing instruments, stretching our hands, and even shouting. We can also praise Him by dancing. The Hebrew language has three different words for this type of praise—alaz, karar, and machowl.

Earlier, we mentioned how King David rejoiced with halal (praise to the point of foolishness) and zamar (praise with musical instruments) when he placed the ark in the tabernacle (1 Chronicles 16). Previously, he danced before God in 2 Samuel 6:14,16 when he first brought the ark to Jerusalem. He sang as loud as he could as he danced in a tunic, considered as being naked at the time. And that did not please his wife one bit.

The prophet Jeremiah gives us another example of praise by dancing when he prophesied the capture of the Israelites and God’s subsequent deliverance from Babylon seventy years later.

“The joy of our heart has ceased. Our dance has turned into mourning.” (Lamentations 5:15)

“Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old together.” (Jeremiah 31:13)

Indeed, the Lord enjoys our singing, shouting, and dancing before Him. But there is another form of praise that He might like a bit more.

Full submission in barach is perhaps God's favorite form of praise.

Kneeling in Prayer

Barach/Barak/Baruch = “to kneel; to bless God as an act of adoration; blessed; a blessing.”

Barach means to bless the Lord in adoration of His love, mercy, and sovereignty. We engage in barach when we assume a physical posture in humility of His overwhelming grace.

One Bible teacher describes barach as “an ardent desire to worship in reverence, in the absolute knowledge of how infinitely small and ephemeral we are, like breath on a mirror.”

“Blessed (Baruch) be the Lord for evermore, amen and amen.” (Psalm 89:52)

Barach also means to kneel in prayer.

When Daniel returned to his room to pray after hearing of the governors’ conspiracy, he engaged in both yadah (worshiping with outstretched hands) and barach. With hands extended, he knelt in humility, submission, and praise to the Lord, just as he had always done three times daily (Daniel 6:10).

Elijah praised God with barach in 1 Kings 18:42 when he prayed for God to end Israel’s drought.

“And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; then he bowed down on the ground and put his face between his knees.”

Paul also expressed barach adoration to God in his letter to the Ephesian church.

“For this reason, I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” (Ephesians 3:14)

Nothing blesses God and praises Him more than humbling ourselves in total submission to His love and grace. Whether we kneel before Him, raise our hands in surrender, or worship Him in song and dance does not matter. What matters most is that we submit, knowing He loves us with unspeakable love, a love that led His Son to die on the cross for us. For that alone, He is worthy of all eternal praise.

“To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 1:5-6) 

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