Hebrew Praise And Worship Words!
It’s a beautiful language, and it’s no surprise that the words of praise and worship are just as beautiful as anything else in Hebrew.
In this blog series, we’re going to explore some of the most common Hebrew praise and worship words, as well as their meanings. Let’s get started!
Hebrew Praise And Worship
Did you know that we get words for “praise” and “worship” from a list of dozens of words? For instance, praise is something that is loud and visible. So, when we think of what volume music should be at church, we can actually use a word from the Bible to explain what that looks like. In other words, the word “hallelujah” means you are loud and perhaps even a bit boisterous. For some, this is what you would hope it means. For others, maybe you are intrigued by the idea of how ancient words in the Scripture can renew our worship today. It just might transform your church’s worship if they only knew how the Bible in its own words and culture explains worship.
The 7 Hebrew Words For Praise In The Bible
I was a twenty-something worship leader at my first full-time position. This growing, 1,000 member church was pastored by an amazing scholar at the time. Dr. Porter earned his two advanced degrees from MIT. This scientist, chemical engineer, and businessman retired early to plant a church in the heart of the brain trust of nuclear research in the East San Francisco Bay Area. Our parishioners were served well by a pastor who could speak in scientific, academic, and business terms. The two areas that Dr. Porter soared in was apologetics and worship. He could preach a sermon using gluons as a metaphor for how God holds things together–yet, literally! And, he spent years as a lay-consultant in the Plymouth Brethren movement teaching churches to transform their worship to reach the current generation radically.
The years in Pleasanton, California were some of my favorite ministry memories. One of these is when I decided to use a book given to me by another pastor entitled, The Hallelujah Factor by author Jack Taylor. In Taylor’s book, I learned some Hebrew and Greek root words that define our praise and worship to God. On one Sunday, I decided to start to open a song with the explanation of the word “hallelujah” and the response blew me away. Our English language at time is unable to give the full color of an almost overused word as “hallelujah.” Pastor Porter was enthused as he valued the teaching component and the help it gave to our worshippers. He asked me to preach a sermon after this and reading something I wrote about the Psalms. The honor of sharing the pulpit with Dr. Porter is a memory I’ll never forget. But, more importantly the explanation of the words in original Hebrew for praise and worship moved the ball forward in our worship expression. People now knew we were not asking them to mimic what another tradition in Christendom does by culture. We were helping them engage in the emotions and colors of the ancient language of our sacred texts in the Old Testament.
As worship leaders, the more we model what we do within the framework of what the Bible clearly explains worship to look like the more often our leadership thrives. With trends in music style in a constant flux and with worshiping in a growing multicultural context, what is it that transcends our momentary strategy? Yes, we want to speak the language of our people and community so their worship expression is authentic. But, do we know what we are translating? Are we aware of the meanings of what we are singing? What are the freedoms we have to express praise and worship? The Book of Psalms and other areas of Scripture teach us that we may be using a rather limited vocabulary to describe what we do each Sunday morning. What I hope to do, is offer my fellow worship leaders and worshipers an expanded language to enrich your heartfelt expression of praise and of worship. Also, knowing this language enhances not only our corporate gathering, but it may also inspire our personal and private expressions as well.
In this primer of Hebrew worship and praise language, we are going to focus on seven ones used more often then others. It will be likely that your favorite Psalm will contain some of this vocabulary. Remember, there are many more words. These just happen to be the most used and are a great place to begin rethinking our description and expression of worship. I have to mention one point of modern history on the topic of “worship” so we are all on the same page. You see, worship is an extremely broad term that has come to mean any and all actions and intentions. So, when we talk about what we do on a Sunday gathering the conclusion over recent times is to put that event as just another worship activity in a life of worship. What we miss in this idea is that worship as individuals is indeed our call for eternity. However, we are part of the Body of Christ and our worship is judged more in that context than we give credit to in our conversations. We come to church as individuals when we really should be coming as a part of a family! We miss the language of Scripture if we apply things as personal which are meant to be corporate.
Another important point then to make is that the word “praise” has lost favor when discussion our corporate worship gatherings. We use a generic version of the word “worship” to house praise that is done together with the church as well as our own personal devotional life. This creates a problem when we as worship leaders hold a title that then cannot be narrowly defined! So, the word praise is mentioned in the Scripture hundreds of times, giving us momentum to flow into this activity of jubilant, expressive, and joyous celebration. Yes, there are other words that are expressed as “worship” that are more reverent. What is helpful to our discussion here is to go back to the 1980s and 1990s and redeem the phrase “praise and worship” in our vocabulary. Often when we say “worship,” we mean “praise!” And, when we say “worship” we mean our corporate gathering not our personal devotional life.
Now that we have embraced the word “praise”–a word with 254 references in the NASB version of the Bible–we can now see the nuances of what main words in Hebrew is translated from. The following seven Hebrew words are translated into the English word praise. Let’s see how our expression of worship–or praise–changes from the original language of Old Testament Scripture. In particular, we will stay mostly in the book of Psalms to narrow what could be a large volume on its own! However, we will break that rule as we explore the last ones on the list. I will be using common transliterations of the words, not actually Hebrew characters. Also, I am including Strong’s numbers so you can look up Scriptures for these words in a concordance on your own and find them in other passages across the Bible.