Praise, mostly of God, is a frequent theme in the psalms, the Hebrew title of which is "Praises." Yet praise is a theme that pervades the whole of Scripture. Genesis 1 is indirect praise; direct praise is found in hymns scattered throughout the books of Exodus, 2 Samuel, Isaiah, Daniel, Ephesians, and Revelation. Words that are often used as synonyms or in parallel with "praise, " and so help point to its meaning, are "bless, " "exalt, " "extol, " "glorify, " "magnify, " "thank, " and "confess." To praise God is to call attention to his glory.
A Vocation of Praise. Praising God is a God-appointed calling. Indeed, God has formed for himself a people "that they may proclaim my [God's] praise" ( Isa 43:21 ; cf. Jer 13:11 ). God's actions, such as Israel's restoration from the exile, are to result in God's "righteousness and praise spring [ing] up before all nations" ( Isa 61:11 ). God has also predestined the church "to the praise of his [God's] glorious grace" ( Eph 1:6 ; cf. Matt 5:16 ; Eph 1:14 ; Php 1:11 ; 1 Peter 2:9 ). The future vocation of the redeemed in glory is to sing praise to God and the Lamb ( Rev 4:11 ; 5:12-14 ; 7:12 ). Doxologies are fitting because they capture what God intends for people ( Psalm 33:1 ; 147:1 ).
In the light of this calling to praise God, the oft-declared intention, "I will praise you, O God, " and the exhortations for others to praise God take on additional meaning. In giving oneself to praise the worshiper declares his or her total alignment with God's purposes. The environment of those gathering for worship, judged by such admonitions, was one of lavish praise to God. Since God is holy and fully good, God is not to be faulted, as some do, for requiring praise of himself. Praise is fitting for what is the highest good, God himself. Praise is both a duty and a delight ( Psalm 63:3-8 ).
Reasons for Praising God. In addition to being the fulfillment of a calling, praise is prompted by other considerations, chief of which is the unique nature of God ( 1 Chron 29:10-13 ). One genre of the psalms, the hymns, is characterized by an initial summons, such as "Praise the Lord, " which is followed by a declaration of praise, introduced by the word "for, " which lists the grounds for offering praise, often God's majesty and mercy. The shortest psalm ( 117 ), a hymn, offers a double reason for praise: God's merciful kindness (loyal love) is great, and his truth endures forever. Other hymns point out that God is good ( Ezra 3:10-11 ; Psalm 100:5 ; 135:3 ), or that his ordinances are just ( Psalm 119:164 ), that he remembers his covenant ( Psalm 105:7-8 ), that his love is enduring (Ps. 136), or that he is incomparable ( Psalm 71:19 ). A basic understanding in the hymns, if not in all the psalms, is captured in the theme "The Lord reigns." God's kingship is pronounced both in his majestic power displayed through the creation of the world ( Psalm 29 , 104 ) and in his royal rule, often as deliverer, over his people ( Psalm 47 , 68 , 98 , 114 ). As king, God is judge, warrior, and shepherd. Often too, praise is to the name of God ( Psalm 138:2 ; 145:2 ; Isa 25:1 ). That name, Yahweh, conveys the notion that God is present to act in salvation ( Exod 6:1-8 ).
The biblical examples of praise to God, apart from citing his attributes and role, point to God's favors, usually those on a large scale in behalf of Israel. A hymn in the Isaiah collection exhorts, "Sing praise to the Lord for his glorious achievement" ( Isa 12:5 ; nab ). Exhortations to praise are sometimes followed by a catalogue of God's actions in Israel's behalf ( Neh 9:5 ; Psalm 68:4-14 ). God's most spectacular action involves the incarnation of Jesus, an event heralded in praises by angels in the heavens and shepherds returning to their fields: "Glory to God in the highest" ( Luke 2:14 Luke 2:20 ). Praise is the legitimate response to God's self-revelation. Personal experiences of God's deliverance and favor also elicit praise ( Psalm 34 ; 102:18 ; 107 ; cf. Dan 2:20-23 ; Rom 7:25 ; the healed paralytic, Luke 5:25 ; Zechariah, Luke 1:68 ; the response at Nain, Luke 7:16 ; and Jesus himself, Matt 11:25 ).
An intimate relationship of a person or a people with God is sufficient reason for praise. A psalmist, captivated by the reality of God's choice of Jacob, exhorts, "Sing praise" ( Psalm 135 ; cf. Rev 19:5 ).
Expressions of Praise. The believing community is both a fitting and frequently mentioned context for praise. The author of Hebrews quotes the psalter: "In the midst of the assembly I will praise you" ( Heb 2:12 ). The audience is enlarged beyond the worshiping community when the worshiper announces, "I will praise you [in the sense of confessing], O Lord, among the nations" ( Psalm 57:9 ), and more enlarged still, "In the presence of angels ["gods" NIV] I will sing my praise" ( Psalm 138:1 ; nab ). While privately spoken praise to God is fitting and right, it is virtually intrinsic to the notion of praise that it be publicly expressed. Indeed, David appointed Levites to ensure the public praise of Israel ( 1 Chron 16:4 ; 1 Chronicles 23:4 1 Chronicles 23:30 ).
The Scriptures offer a language of praise and so are instructive on how expressions of praise might be formulated. Nehemiah leads in praise by saying, "Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the Lord" ( Neh 9:5-6a ). The chorister Asaph followed David's cue: "Sing praise to him; tell of his wonderful Acts" ( 1 Chron 16:9 ). Persons intent on cultivating spirituality are often helped, at least initially, by repeating and personalizing such lyrics of praise.
Praise to God in Israel took the form of artfully composed lyrics. A significant number of psalms are identified in their headings as "A Psalm, " a technical term meaning "a song of praise." Israel's expressions of praise to God could include shouts ( Psalm 98:4 ), the plying of musical instruments ( 1 Chron 25:3 ; 2 Chron 7:6 ; Psalm 144:9 ; 150:1-5 ), making melody ( Psalm 146:2 ), and dancing ( Psalm 149:3 ). A public expression at Jesus' entry into Jerusalem took the form of devotees waving palm branches ( Matt 21:1-11 ). Praise for Israel consisted, in part, of the spoken word, "Open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise" ( Psalm 51:15 ) behind which, however, was a total person committed to praise: "I will praise you, O Lord, with my whole heart" ( Psalm 9:1 ). Such praise is not tainted with bitterness or in other ways qualified but is from someone who is thoroughly thankful.
The Bible speaks also of persons praising or commending others ( Gen 12:15 ; 49:8 ; Proverbs 31:28 Proverbs 31:30 ; 2 Cor 8:18 ). However, it counsels, even warns, about the giving and receiving of praise lest it be for the wrong reasons or be misconstrued ( Psalm 49:18 ; Prov 12:8 ; Proverbs 27:2 Proverbs 27:21 ; John 5:44 ).
Unquestionably the Book of the Psalms is centerpiece for any discussion about praise. In it the believer's vocation to praise is wonderfully modeled, so that even laments (one-third of all the psalms) contain elements of praise. As a book of praises, the psalms build to a remarkable crescendo of praise (Pss. 145-150), in which all creatures are summoned to incessant praise of God, as are the stars and planets in the heavens, and even the angels.
Very appropriately, then, does the Christian community repeatedly resort in its worship to the Gloria Patri, "Glory be to the Father" and in clusters large and small sing, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow."
Elmer A. Martens
See also Worship
Bibliography. W. Brueggemann, Israel's Praise: Doxology Against Idolatry; L. J. Coppes, TWOT, 2:217-18; J. C. Lambert and B. L. Martin, ISBE, 3:929-31; C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms; P. Miller, Jr., Interpreting the Psalms; H. Schultz and H.-H. Esser, NIDNTT, 3:816-20; G. von Rad, Old Testament Theology; R. S. Wallace, IBD, 3:1256-57; C. Westermann, The Praise of God in the Psalms.
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