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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praz (tehillah, "psalm," "praise," todhah, "confession" "thanksgiving," shabhach, "to praise" "glorify," zamar, yadhah, "to stretch out the hand," "confess"; aineo, epaineo, (epainos):
1. Its Meaning:
The word comes from the Latin pretium, "price," or "value," and may be defined generally as an ascription of value or worth. Praise may be bestowed upon unworthy objects or from improper motives, but true praise consists in a sincere acknowledgment of a real conviction of worth. Its type may be seen in the representation given in the Apocalypse of the adoration of God and of the Lamb, which is inspired by a sense of their worthiness to be adored (Revelation 4:11; 5:12).
2. With Man as Its Object:
Man may be the object of praise, and may receive it either from God or from his fellow-men. In the former case (Romans 2:29; 1 Corinthians 4:5) the praise is inevitably just, as resting on a divine estimate of worth; in the latter case its value depends upon the grounds and motives that lie behind it. There is a praise which is itself a condemnation (Luke 6:26), an honor which seals the eyes in unbelief (John 5:44), a careless use of the epithet "good" which is dishonoring to God (Luke 18:19). This is the "praise of men" which Jesus warned His followers to shun as being incompatible with the "praise of God" (Matthew 6:1-4; compare John 12:43; Galatians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:6). On the other hand, there is a praise that is the instinctive homage of the soul to righteousness (Luke 23:47), the acknowledgment given to well-doing by just government (Romans 13:3; 1 Peter 2:14), the tribute of the churches to distinguished Christian service (2 Corinthians 8:18). Such praise, so far from being incompatible with the praise of God, is a reflection of it in human consciousness; and so Paul associates praise with virtue as an aid and incentive to holy living on which the mind should dwell (Philippians 4:8).
3. With God as Its Object:
In the Bible it is God who is especially brought before us as the object of praise. His whole creation praises Him, from the angels of heaven (Psalms 103:20; Revelation 5:11) to those lower existences that are unconscious or even inanimate (Psalms 19:1-4; 148:1-10; Revelation 5:13). But it is with the praises offered to God by man, and with the human duty of praising God, that the Scriptures are principally concerned. In regard to this subject the following points may be noticed:
(1) The Grounds of Praise.
Sometimes God is praised for His inherent qualities. His majesty (Psalms 104:1) or holiness (Isaiah 6:3) fills the mind, and He is "glorified as God" (Romans 1:21) in view of what He essentially is. More frequently He is praised for His works in creation, providence, and redemption. References may be dispensed with here, for the evidence meets us on almost every page of the sacred literature from Genesis to Revelation, and the Book of Psalms in particular, from beginning to end, is occupied with these themes. When God's operations under these aspects present themselves, not simply as general effects of His power and wisdom, but as expressions of His personal love to the individual, the nation, the church, His works become benefits, and praise passes into blessing and thanksgiving (Pss 34; 103; Ephesians 1:3; 1 Peter 1:3).
(2) The Modes of Praise.
True praise of God, as distinguished from false praise (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8), is first of all an inward emotion--a gladness and rejoicing of the heart (Psalms 4:7; 33:21), a music of the soul and spirit (Psalms 103:1; Luke 1:46) which no language can adequately express (Psalms 106:2; 2 Corinthians 9:15). But utterance is natural to strong emotion, and the mouth instinctively strives to express the praises of the heart (Psalms 51:15 and passim). Many of the most moving passages in Scripture come from the inspiration of the spirit of praise awakened by the contemplation of the divine majesty or power or wisdom or kindness, but above all by the revelation of redeeming love. Again, the spirit of praise is a social spirit calling for social utterance. The man who praises God desires to praise Him in the hearing of other men (Psalms 40:10), and desires also that their praises should be joined with his own (Psalms 34:3). Further, the spirit of praise is a spirit of song. It may find expression in other ways--in sacrifice (Leviticus 7:13), or testimony (Psalms 66:16), or prayer (Colossians 1:3); but it finds its most natural and its fullest utterance in lyrical and musical forms. When God fills the heart with praise He puts a new song into the mouth (Psalms 40:3). The Book of Psalms is the proof of this for the Old Testament. And when we pass to the New Testament we find that, alike for angels and men, for the church on earth and the church in heaven, the higher moods of praise express themselves in bursts of song (Luke 2:14; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Revelation 5:9; 14:3; 15:3). Finally, both in the Old Testament and New Testament, the spirit of song gives birth to ordered modes of public praise. In their earlier expressions the praises of Israel were joyful outbursts in which song was mingled with shouting and dancing to a rude accompaniment of timbrels and trumpets (Exodus 15:20; 2 Samuel 6:5,14). In later times Israel had its sacred Psalter, its guilds of trained singers (Ezra 2:41; Nehemiah 7:44), its skilled musicians (Pss 42; 49, etc.); and the praise that waited for God in Zion was full of the solemn beauty of holiness (Psalms 29:2; 96:9). In the New Testament the Psalter is still a manual of social praise. The "hymn" which Jesus sang with His disciples after the Last Supper (Matthew 26:30) would be a Hebrew psalm, probably from the Hallel (Pss 113-118) which was used at the Passover service, and various references in the Epistles point to the continued employment of the ancient psalms in Christian worship (1 Corinthians 14:26; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; James 5:13). But the Psalter of the Jewish church could not suffice to express the distinctive moods of Christian feeling. Original utterance of the spirit of Christian song was one of the manifestations of the gift of tongues (1 Corinthians 14:15-17). Paul distinguishes hymns and spiritual songs from psalms (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16); and it was hymns that he and Silas sang at midnight in the prison of Philippi (Acts 16:25 the Revised Version (British and American)). But from hymns and songs that were the spontaneous utterance of individual feeling the development was natural, in New Testament as in Old Testament times, to hymns that were sung in unison by a whole congregation; and in rhythmic passages like 1 Timothy 3:16; Revelation 15:3, we seem to have fragments of a primitive Christian hymnology, such as Pliny bears witness to for the early years of the 2nd century, when he informs Trajan that the Christians of Bithynia at their morning meetings sang a hymn in alternate strains to Christ as God (Ep. x.97).
(3) The Duty of Praise.
Praise is everywhere represented in the Bible as a duty no less than a natural impulse and a delight. To fail in this duty is to withhold from God's glory that belongs to Him (Psalms 50:23; Romans 1:20); it is to shut one's eyes to the signs of His presence (Isaiah 40:26), to be forgetful of His mercies (Deuteronomy 6:12), and unthankful for His kindness (Luke 6:35). If we are not to fall into these sins, but are to give to God the honor and glory and gratitude we owe Him, we must earnestly cultivate the spirit and habit of praise. From holy men of old we learn that this may be done by arousing the soul from its slothfulness and sluggishness (Psalms 57:8; 103:1), by fixing the heart upon God (Psalms 57:7; 108:1), by meditation on His works and ways (Psalms 77:11), by recounting His benefits (Psalms 103:2), above all, for those to whom He has spoken in His Son, by dwelling upon His unspeakable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15; compare Romans 8:31; 1 John 3:1).
See also WORSHIP.
J. C. Lambert
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