8 Hebrew Words for Praise Every Christian Needs to Know

Dear Roger,

I think that if I understand how to really praise God, I will deepen my walk with Him and live a more positive, victorious life. The professor in my college Bible class made the comment that not all the words for “praise” in the Bible really mean “praise.” She mentioned that there were several different Hebrew words which are often translated as “praise” but in fact have deeper and multiple meanings. Could you please elaborate?

Thank you, Jennifer

Dear Jennifer,

Your professor’s right. Not all the words translated as “praise” are equal. Some words translated as “praise” mean “to throw up the hands.” Others describe loud shouting. Some refer to playing the guitar. Others describe hope in the midst of hopelessness, anticipating God’s saving grace while we are still in our troubles.

Let me share with you eight of the most often used words for praise in the Bible.

1. Hallah

“Hallah” is the most common word for praise. This word simply means to boast, brag, or rave about God even to the point of appearing foolish. People who attend football games and shout and scream for their favorite team are called fans.

Unfortunately, for most of us, if we shout and scream and brag on God we may be labeled as fanatics, as if something is wrong with us.

“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live…” (Psalm 63:3-4). 

2. Yadah

“Yadah” means to worship with extended hands.

“Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord” (Psalm 134:2).

(Psalm 43:1-5; 134:2; 2 Chronicles 20: 1- 21; Nehemiah 8:61 Timothy 2:8)

Yadah pictures a three-year-old child, hands raised, running towards daddy, crying, “Hold me, daddy, hold me!”

Yadah is often translated as, “giving thanks.”

Yadah is often a cry for help. Yadah praise is used when we are in desperate straits and need a victory from the Lord.

Raising the hands is one of the most explosive and meaningful expressions of praise.

Raising the hands is an international sign of surrender. A worshiping person raises hands in adoration and surrender to God.

3. Barak

“Barak” is used to denote blessing. 

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).

(Judges 5:1-2Psalm 72:15)

Barack suggests the transcendent privilege of blessing the Lord. 

4. Tehillah

“Tehillah” means to sing or to laud.

“Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises” (Psalm 22:3).

(Exodus 15:2Isaiah 61:3Deuteronomy 10:21)

Tehillah involves music and singing-especially singing. Singing is vital to the worship of God. There are over 300 Bible mandates to sing. This word suggests that God himself is a song of praise. We might say it like this, “God is our song.”

5. Zamar

“Zamar” means to pluck the strings of an instrument.

“For the director of music. Of David the servant of the Lord. He sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.”

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge… I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies” (Psalm 18:1-3).

(Nehemiah 8:10Psalm 18:1-4, 46-50; 68:1-4; Ephesians 5:19)

Zamar speaks of rejoicing. It is involved with the joyful expression of music. Zamar means to sing praises or to touch the strings. It speaks of involving every available instrument to make music and harmony before the Lord. It is God’s will that we be joyful. Use Zamar when you are rejoicing after God has done something great for you.

Zamar is translated into the New Testament has “Psallo”.

“Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).

6 & 7. Todah and Shabach

Todah” means to shout or to address with a loud voice. But Todah goes even further. It includes an attitude of gratitude for God’s promised deliverance even while we are still in need. This type of praise also refers to lifting of the hands in inviting God’s help. Todah praise is having faith and assurance that is well even before the victory actually comes.

For example, David is trapped by the Philistines in Gath. He gives thanks and offers Todah praise even before God delivers him.

“Be merciful to me, my God, for my enemies are in hot pursuit… When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise—All day long they twist my words; They conspire, they lurk, they watch my steps, hoping to take my life. Record my misery… Then my enemies will turn back when I call for help. By this I will know that God is for me” (Psalm 56:1-12).

Offer Todah praise and trust that God will deliver.

Shabach” also means to shout or to address in a loud tone. For example, the pagan king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, was struck insane by God because of his pride. When God restored his sanity seven years later, Nebuchadnezzar shouted words of Shabbat praise:

“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (Daniel 4:37).

8. Hallelujah

“HALLELUJAH” is the premier word for praise in the Bible. Hallelujah transcends the languages of the world. It is not translated; it is transliterated.

“Hallel” means to boast or to brag on, to make a show, even to the point of looking ridiculous.

“Jah” is the short form of the name for God.

Hallelujah is the spontaneous outcry of one who is excited about God. It is used only 24 times in the Old Testament all between Psalm 104 and 150. It is reserved for times of extreme exultation.

“Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens.  Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord” (Psalm 150).

The word hallelujah is used only four times in the New Testament, all of them in Revelation 19:1-7.

“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God.”

“Hallelujah! Revenge on the Harlot: God is just after all.”

“Hallelujah! God is still on his throne even though the world is destroyed.”

“Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.”

Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.