During our evening worship service at Northbrook Alliance Church in Brooklyn Center awhile back, we did the song “Come, Christians, Join To Sing“. Growing up in the church, I have heard and sung this song many times. However, I never really focused on the meaning of the words particularly the last line of the first verse which says, “Praise is His gracious choice. Alleluia amen.” I always thought that this must be a typo or mistake in the song. After all, isn’t it our decision or choice to praise and worship God?
Do we have a choice? In Scripture, I think of Joshua and the children of Israel. He says in Joshua 24:14-15, “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
Joshua sets before the children of Israel a choice. The correct choice was obvious to them as is evident from their response in verses 16-18 for none of the pagan gods had led them out of Egypt, performed miracles, given protection on their journey, or had driven out the other nations who lived in Canaan. The Israelites chose to serve the Lord on that day but we know from the rest of Scripture that they did not always follow the Lord.
Fast forward to the time of the prophet Jeremiah. I think we get a glimpse of the choice that really matters. God reveals to us through Jeremiah a new covenant. In Jeremiah 31:32, we read, “‘It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them’, declares the LORD.” And in verse 37 we read, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,’ declares the LORD.”
We see despite the fact that Israel had broken the covenant, which they vowed to keep, that God had been a faithful husband. Despite their sin and rebellion, it was God’s sovereign choice that mattered because He is a covenant-keeping God.
So if God will keep His covenant, what did Israel’s choice matter? Why does our choice matter? The answer is quite simple actually: if we are reluctant participants in a relationship with God, any directive to be obedient would constitute coercion. God does not coerce but I do believe His grace is irresistible. Scripture says, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We must be cooperative participants in relationship with God.
What is praise?
In English, the word “praise” simply means to celebrate, to adore, to extol, or to applaud. However, if we look at the Hebrew language, we find that there are many words which we have translated into our English word “praise”. All of the Hebrew words for praise are connected to an action and demand exuberance, excitement, and passion!
Let’s take a look at some of the meanings and usage in the Old Testament book of Psalms of the Hebrew words for praise.
Praise in the Psalms
Halal – This is where we get the word “hallelujah”. It means to praise the Lord by celebrating, by dancing and shining forth, by acting clamorously foolish.
“Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens” (Psalm 150:1).
Yadah – To praise the Lord with extended hand (yad), to throw out the hand.
“I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word” (Psalm 138:2).
Shabach – To praise the lord with a shout and a loud voice.
“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you” (Psalm 63:3).
Towdah – To thank God for things at hand, as well as things not yet received.
“He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God” (Psalm 50:23).
Tehillah – A praise from your spirit; the residual (new) song of the Lord from the heart of the believer. The book of Psalms in Hebrew is titled, “Tehillim”.
“Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel” (Psalm 22:3).
Zamar – To praise the Lord with the playing of an instrument.
“My heart is steadfast, O God; I will sing and make music with all my soul” (Psalm 108:1).
Gil – To circle in joy, to dance in circles and rejoice.
“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).
So this is the heart of what it means to praise: To celebrate, to shout and applaud, to loudly commend and even to dance for joy. It’s an upward explosion of energetic expression to God! In terms of the cooperative relationship with God that we have looked at, praise is a response to God’s gracious invitation to us to lift our eyes to Jesus our Savior despite our feelings or circumstances.
So why should we accept God’s invitation to lift our eyes to Jesus? In the next few posts, let’s look at 3 possible reasons for accepting God’s gracious invitation to lift our eyes to Jesus.