We all know that praise is an essential part  of prayer and is often associated with  music. In fact, the first hymn sung at our  Memorial Meetings should always be a hymn of  praise. Furthermore, following the example of the  Lord’s Prayer, our prayers should begin and end  with praise. But what actually is praise? What does  the word mean?

Praise

There are nine Hebrew words translated as praise  in the Old Testament and six Greek words in the  New Testament. This number of words, with fine  shades of meaning between most of them, gives us  some idea of the importance of the subject of praise.  We will not here list the words, but if we make a  compilation of their meanings we can summarise  praise as thanksgiving, worship, and the verbs  to bless, laud, give glory and honour, applaud,  commend, speak well of, and celebrate in song.

So praise is fundamentally to thank and worship  (give worth to) by rehearsing God’s doings in prayer  or song. Real praise can only be given when it is  sincere and without hypocrisy. A proud man cannot  praise another; a self-centred man feels the world  owes him a living. Such a man does not appreciate  God’s gifts because they are taken as a right. One  of our failings is that we generally take the gifts of  the Eternal Spirit for granted. We need to count our  blessings one by one and then sincerely thank our  Divine Father for them. This is praise to the One  in whom we live, and move, and have our being.  This need for sincerity in our praise is expressed  in Psalm 95 verses 1–7. Then David appeals to us  not to be hard-hearted, and not to err in our heart  because we do not know His ways (v8–11).

Paul says, “By him therefore let us offer the  sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is,  the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name”  (Heb13:15). So our praise must be sincere, based  on a sound knowledge of God, and continual.

The music of the psalms

The English word psalm is a translation of  the Hebrew mizmor meaning “music”, or by  implication, “a poem set to music”. But note  that the music is first. Similarly the Greek word  psalmos means “a set piece of music”. It is not an  ode (the word translated as “song” in the book of  Revelation), which is words sung.

Hebrew poetry is lyrical, that is, accompanied  on a lyre. When playing his instrument the player  must pour his soul into the music, otherwise the  music is dead. Consequently, when a musician  plays, the music not only expresses his emotions,  but also affects his emotions. Out of these heart-felt  emotions thoughts and words begin to flow. This  is why the psalms read so differently to the other  books of the Bible, with the exception perhaps of  Lamentations and Songs of Solomon. This is why  psalms do not generally rhyme by sound, but by  ideas repeated and developed.

The Book of Psalms has been called the  hymnbook of Israel, but it is more than that. With  a hymn the words generate the music. With a psalm  the music generates the words.

‘Psalming’ means to sweep the strings with the  hand; the product is a psalm. We can easily imagine David playing on his harp or lyre and, as the music  takes hold of his inner emotions, the words of praise  come, unforced, into his mind. We have just such a  case when Elisha called for a minstrel to sooth his  troubled mind, “until the hand of the Lord came  upon him,” and he was able to give Yahweh’s Word  to king Jehoshaphat (2 Kings 3:15).

Ideas in the psalms are presented in parallel  form, following not rhyme but rhythm. (In fact  all Hebrew scripture is written with a rhythm, a  meter, that Tyndale, in his translation, cleverly  preserved. That rhythm is also preserved to some  extent in the King James Version, which is why  it is so memorable. Because modern translations  lack this feature they are less easily remembered).  Grasping this structure helps us to appreciate the  psalms and gives us a feeling for praise. So praise  is not just intellectual, nor is it like the insincere  thanks of a disappointed child who has just received  handkerchiefs for a birthday present. True praise  arises out of the emotions of the heart based on an  understanding of our Father’s will and character.

If you pause at this point and read Psalms 95 and  96 in the light of these comments, you will see how  the psalmist’s thoughts develop out of the music  even though you can’t hear it. You will probably  see the psalms in a new light.

These two Kingdom psalms begin with praise  that is not just a sentimental rapture; it is governed  by reason, “for Yahweh is a great God, and a great  King above all gods” (Psa 95:3).

Psalm 96

“O sing unto Yahweh a new song:

sing unto Yahweh, all the earth.

Sing unto Yahweh, bless his name;

shew forth his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the heathen,

his wonders among all people.

For Yahweh is great, and greatly to be praised:

he is to be feared above all gods.”

Having begun with a song of praise in verses  one and two, the psalmist develops his praise by  rehearsing what he is praising God for. In the same  way, we don’t just say, “Thank you.” We say what  we are thankful for. He continues in verse 7:

“Give unto Yahweh, O ye kindreds of the people,

give unto Yahweh glory and strength.

Give unto Yahweh the glory due unto his name:

bring an offering, and come into his courts.

O worship Yahweh in the beauty of holiness:

fear before him, all the earth.”

This is how to praise and worship. Actually  the words ‘praise’, ‘worship’ and ‘glory’ are in  essence the same thing. For example, picking up  from the words just cited above, we read, “Give  unto Yahweh the glory due unto his name; worship  Yahweh in the beauty of holiness” (Psa 29:2). Also,  “Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of  his judgment is come: and worship him that made  heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of  waters” (Rev 14:7).

Psalm 96 continues in verse 11 with an acrostic  of the memorial name:

“Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be  glad;

let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof.

Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein:

then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before  Yahweh:

for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth:

he shall judge the world with righteousness,

and the people with his truth.”

So these psalms are songs of praise that rehearse  Yahweh’s goodness out of a thankful heart. And  when David says, “Harden not your heart, as in  the day of provocation” (Psa 95:8), we learn that  we can choose for ourselves whether we will be  hard-hearted or soft-hearted. It follows that the  hard-hearted cannot truly praise Him, only the  tender-hearted.

David, the sweet psalmist of Israel

David records that, “The Spirit of Yahweh spake  by me, and his word was in my tongue” (2 Sam 23:1–2). Through music the voice of the Great  Musician of the universe came to him and inspired  him. David praised “Yahweh our Lord”, singing,  “how excellent is thy name in all the earth”, as  his hands moved over the strings of his harp. Like  Daniel, he kneeled before his God to bless Him  and in his psalms he invites us to do the same: “O  come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel  [Heb barak] before Yahweh our maker” (Psa 95:6).  “Sing unto Yahweh, bless [Heb barak, from a root  to bow the knee, to kneel] his name; shew forth his  salvation from day to day” (Psa 96:2).

In the future we will have the great privilege  of joining with David in singing praises, “saying  with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was  slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom,  and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing…  Amen” (Rev 5:12).

The psalms are regarded as being divided into  five books. David wrote all the psalms in the first  book, Psalms 1–41, and many others. True, in our  Bibles Psalms 1 and 2 are anonymous, but they are  attributed to David in Acts 4:25. Psalm 10 is also  anonymous, but Psalms 9 and 10 are actually one  psalm penned by David. Proof that they are one  psalm is that they are both acrostic, and it is only by  joining them together that the acrostic is completed.  The other anonymous psalm is Psalm 33, but it is  attributed to David in the Septuagint translation,  and this is obviously correct.

Another psalm of David is Psalm 65. It opens  with the words,

“Praise waiteth [literally, ‘is silent’] for thee,

O  God, in Sion:

and unto thee shall the vow be performed.

O thou that hearest prayer,

unto thee shall all flesh come.”

Here prayer and praise are equated. But more  importantly, praise is now silent in Zion but is  ready to burst forth when the Son of David appears  to deliver his people. Israel will look upon their  deliverer and say, “Hosanna to the Son of David:  Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord;  Hosanna in the highest” (Matt 21:9); “Blessed is he  that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Matt 23:39;  citing Psa 118:25–26).

In that day even nature itself will sing praises  to him, for the psalm concludes:

“The pastures are clothed with flocks;

the valleys also are covered over with corn;

they shout for joy, they also sing.”

Psalm 65:13

And it will not be just Israel who will sing his  praises, it will be all the earth, for the next psalm  says:

“Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands:

Sing forth the honour of his name:

make his praise glorious…

All the earth shall worship thee,

and shall sing unto thee;

they shall sing unto thy name…

O bless our God, ye people,

and make the voice of his praise  to be heard:

Which holdeth our soul in life,

and suffereth not our feet

To be moved.”

These words come from the same David that  danced and sang before the Ark as it came to  Zion:

“Thou hast turned for me my mourning into  dancing:

thou hast put off my sackcloth,

and girded me with gladness;

To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee,

and not be silent. O Yahweh my God,

I will give thanks unto thee for ever.”

Psalm 30:11–12

Blessing

Blessing is to receive God’s favour. But blessing  is a two way process; man also blesses his Maker.  Noah said, “Blessed be Yahweh Elohim of Shem”  (Gen 9:26); Melchizedek said, “Blessed be the  most high God” (Gen 14:20); Job said, “Yahweh  gave, and Yahweh hath taken away; blessed be the  name of Yahweh” (Job 1:21); Moses said, “When  thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless  Yahweh thy God for the good land which he hath  given thee” (Deut 8:10).

David also blessed his God. For example in his  acrostic Psalm 103 he wrote:

“Bless Yahweh, O my soul:

and all that is within me,

bless his holy name…

Bless Yahweh all his works in all places of his dominion:

bless Yahweh, O my soul.”

Psalm 103:1, 22

(see also 1 Chron 29:20; 1 Kings 8:54–61)

This idea of blessing God continues into the  New Testament. Zacharias, filled with the Holy  Spirit said, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel;  for he hath visited and redeemed his people”  (Luke 1:68); Simeon “blessed God” (Luke 2:28);  the disciples, “returned to Jerusalem with great  joy: And were continually in the temple, praising  and blessing God. Amen” (Luke 24:53). Paul and  Silas even “sang praises unto God” when suffering  dreadfully in the deepest prison, so that the prisoners  heard them (Acts 16:25).

Praise to Yahweh is reasonable – He has made  us! Somehow we are better at praising men than  God Who fills heaven and earth by His spirit.  Nevertheless praise is the highest delight of those  who do it regularly, as indeed we should.

David invites us to join him in praising Yahweh  when he said:

“I will bless Yahweh at all times:

his praise shall continually be in my mouth…

O magnify Yahweh with me,

and let us exalt his name together.”

Psalm 34:1–3

The Hallelujah psalms

There are twelve of these psalms. All begin and end  with the word “hallelujah” and all are anonymously  written. The first two are Psalms 105 and 106.  But, you say, Psalm 105 does not begin with  “Hallelujah”. True, for somehow the translators  have put the word at the conclusion of Psalm 104  instead of at the beginning of Psalm 105. Psalm 105  is how God has treated Israel; Psalm 106 is how  Israel has treated God. The first is Yahweh’s grace;  the second is Israel’s disgrace!

The next Hallelujah psalms are Psalms 111  and 113. Note that the “Hallelujah” that concludes  Psalm 111 has been mistakenly put at the beginning  of the next psalm. Psalm 111 describes the man who  fears Yahweh; Psalm 113 describes Yahweh Who  is to be feared, and praised!

Then we come to Psalms 116 and 117. Here  again the “Hallelujah” has been put at the end of  Psalm 115 instead of at the beginning of Psalm 116Psalm 116 is thought to be the psalm sung by the  Lord and his disciples in the upper room. Certainly the words are most appropriate for that occasion,  for the song is of gratitude for deliverance from  death. It is also a psalm that could be read very  effectively by someone immediately before their  baptism. Psalm 117, the shortest psalm, is a song  of praise to be sung by a choir.

Psalm 135 stands alone as a Hallelujah psalm  and yet it is obviously a pair with the following  psalm. It is a most remarkable call to praise Yahweh.  This psalm is full of God. The name is used fifteen  times in the psalm and another four times in the  abbreviated form ‘Yah’. ‘Adon’ occurs once and  ‘Elohim’ once. So God is referred to by name 21  times in 21 verses – 38 times in all.

The final five Hallelujah psalms are psalms  146 to 150. It has been said that these five psalms  are like the sun shining from a cloudless sky. Life  is trouble free and happy. They form a wonderful  finale to the collection of psalms.

Psalm 147 says, “praise is comely,” and so it is.  “Sing unto Yahweh with thanksgiving;  sing praise upon the harp unto our God…  Praise Yahweh, O Jerusalem;  praise thy God, O Zion…  Hallelujah.”

Psalm 147:1, 7, 12, 20

Psalm 150 is the final paean of musical praise.  It carries us in spirit even beyond the millennium  to the time when God is all and in all.

“Let everything that hath breath

praise Yahweh.

Praise ye Yahweh.”

In summary

To praise is to extol Yahweh’s great qualities with  rejoicing and song. Let us give glory and honour to  Him and anticipate the day of glory when we shall  sing, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which  was, and is, and is to come” (Rev 4:8).

“Amen; Alleluia. And a voice came out of the  throne saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants,  and ye that fear him, both small and great. And I  heard as it were the voice of a multitude, and as the  voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty  thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God  omnipotent reigneth” (Rev 4:8; 19:4–6)