The Diamond of Praise – Yadah (Hands Up!)

The Diamond of Praise – Yadah (Hands Up!)

A Facet of Praise – Yadah (Hands Up!).

“The area of ancient Israel’s greatest creativity, and so what they did best, was the praise of God.” (Ellen Davis, Getting involved with God). “I will extol Thee, my God, O King; And I will bless Thy name forever and ever. Every day I will bless Thee, and I will praise Thy name forever and ever. Great is the Lord Yahweh, and highly to be praised; And His greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall praise Thy works to another, and shall declare Thy mighty acts, the glorious splendor of Thy majesty, and on Thy wonderful works I will meditate.”  (Psalm 145, a song of praise by David).

Scripture doesn’t define the word “praise,” but it offers plenty of descriptions. Praise can be described as an outward expression of gratitude for all that God has done for oneself, for the community, for the world. Praise is a recounting of the many blessings that God has provided in His grace and mercy. Praise is a grateful appreciation of God’s mighty works. Praise is an expression of thanksgiving to the Lord, an acknowledgement of God’s righteous deeds. To praise God is to thank God and celebrate His presence in the world.

Praise is what we were created to do, it is the chief of our ultimate satisfactions, and we won’t find personal fulfillment unless we develop the habit of forgetting ourselves and praising God. Most of us Christian believers are not following in the footsteps of our Jewish brethren and praising God with an inspired creativity. The fact is, the Hebrew Bible reveals a vocabulary of praise that will help us in our bid to be more expressive of our praise, more imaginative, more creative. The Hebrew Bible reveals praise to be a diamond with an almost uncountable number of facets. There are many words in Scripture that may translate as praise, but the reality is praise has an abundance of angles and facets and dimensions that we need to learn if we want to mature in our praise of God. The Hebrew language is loaded with words that contain the element of praise but with added qualities that expands our view of what praise could mean to us in our walk of faith. Knowing these words will help us to participate more fully and deeply in praising our God, in expressing our thanksgiving to Him in every way humanly possible. “Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim Thy praise (tehillah, see below).” (Psalm 51:15 )

Praising God involves all of us, not just our intellect to think with or our bottoms to sit on. Praise and worship in the Jewish tradition is a physical experience as well as spiritual, with lots of meaningful postures and gestures, singing, multisensory, thoughtful yet expressive. Praise and worship in the Hebrew Bible invariably incorporated music and melody and instrumentation. Praise is not a spectator sport, but one that asks for full participation. As Dwight Pryor once said, “Praise is not afraid of feelings, but they are not based on feelings. If praise were a train, the engine that needs to constantly be stoked is God-focus and self-forgetfulness, and the emotional feelings are basically the caboose… still a part of things, but not what’s running the train.”

Praise is our exhale of gratitude and devotion after our inhale of God’s inspired presence. God initiates, we respond. So praising God is like our respiratory system, and unless we are breathing in God and then breathing out praise, we will spiritually expire. If we don’t learn how to respond to God’s goodness with heartfelt praise, our faith will soon become lifeless. Consider this category of “The Diamond of Praise” in the blog to be my meager attempt to polish each facet on this sparkling diamond. Each Hebrew word in this expanded vocabulary of praise will convey a different aspect of praise, and is intended to help us be more creative in our praise, more expressive, more biblical.

Being Physical with Worship. The spiritual and the physical belong together, and are in fact inseparable. We were created as whole beings with a mysterious fusion of body and spirit and soul and body and everything else that constitutes our personhood. Not only that, the Incarnation reveals how important the body is to Creator God. In a sense, the idea, the reality, of God taking on a physical body was actually a spiritual act. We need to make sure we incarnate our worship. So worship of our Creator needs to include the body if we want to worship with our whole selves. Physical acts of worship become meaningless if it is done thoughtlessly, without its intention of worshipping God. But worship is not limited to the nonphysical, the so-called spiritual either, or one is not truly involved fully in the act of worship. As Rev. Josef Ratzinger once wrote in his excellent article, The Theology of Kneeling, “The bodily gesture itself is the bearer of the spiritual meaning, which is worship. Without the heart of worship, the bodily gesture would be meaningless, while the spiritual act itself must of its very nature express itself in the bodily gestures.” So physical gestures are invaluable in the act of worship. They can point to spiritual truths, they can stimulate worshipful acts, and they can enable a fuller expression of awe, lament, adoration and worship. Using the body helps us to put the Gospel message into motion. The movement of one’s body can be a sign that communicates a message… Do you want to signal to God that you submit to Him, that you want to confess to Him, that you adore Him, that you intend to follow Him in trust? There are gestures and postures and movements that can express what is on your heart without any use of words. Body language is vital to spiritual life and expression. In this blog series entitled “Physical Worship,” I will focus on the worshipful use of the body through such gestures and movements as: prostration before God; sitting at the feet of Jesus; standing in respect and oneness; kneeling in submission; walking in order to follow; running the good race; jumping for joy; lifting up the heart and hands; offering the kiss of peace;; and the act of crossing oneself with the sign of the Cross. This is important: Physical postures and actions during worship reflect the attitudes of the heart, but they can also help produce the attitudes of the heart.

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving (towdah), and His courts with praise (tehilla)! Give thanks to Him (yadah) and bless (barak) His name! (Psalm 100:4). Another way of saying the same thing, revealing the meanings of the Hebrew words… “Enter His gates in full choir with extended hands in praise and adoration, and into His courts with a new song in celebration! Throw your hands up to God in thanksgiving and praise, and bless His name on bended knee!”

Yadah – “yad” means open hands, and “ah” refers to Yahweh; A Hebrew term of praise meaning Hands to God! Or, Give God your hands! Or, Throw your hands to God! To revere, praise, offer thanksgiving, worship, laud, all with hands in the air. Depending on context, can also mean to praise God with extended hands while in the midst of difficulty, with the wringing of hands. “O give thanks and praise (yadah) to the Lord, for He is good; For His mercy and lovingkindness is everlasting.” (1 Chronicles 16:34). “Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones! Praise (tehillah) Him with all you have, for praise looks lovely on the lips of the upright. Lift your praises loaded with thanksgiving with the soundof the lyre.” (Ps. 1-2).  

Towdah  – A Hebrew term whose root word is “yadah;” Usually in the context of a full choir, to extend arms in praise in a spirit of trust; to reach out with arms in thanksgiving and adoration, much like children would reach out in trust and love to be embraced by the Father. “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise (towdah), and pay your vows to the Most High; Call upon me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor me.” (Ps. 50:14); “Indeed, the Lord will comfort Zion; He will comfort all her waste places. And her wilderness He will make like Eden, and desert like the garden of the Lord; Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and praise (towdah), with the sound of a melody.” (Isaiah 51:3).

Lift Up Your Hands!  A common prayer gesture in ancient Israel was the lifting up of hands. Many scholars believe that the official use of this gesture of praise originated from an ancient covenantal rite, in which anyone who entered into a covenantal agreement would raise his hand to take the covenant oath of loyalty. We see this in every court of law in which the person who is about to testify raises his right hand and swears over the Bible to tell the truth in complete honesty. So there is an aspect of yadah that implies a promise of faithfulness to the Lord, an acknowledgment of loyalty to the covenant love established with God. The Hebrew Bible is full of references to the raising of hands in worship. An interesting picture of the importance of this gesture is in Exodus 17, when Moses was on the hill, overlooking the fierce battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites soon after starting their journey in the wilderness. As long as Moses could be seen by the troops with his arms and hands raised, they would take the advantage. If Moses’ arms started to lower in fatigue, the Israelites would begin to lose heart. Many believe that Moses was raising his arms in prayer and worship. As long as he was interceding for the Israelites and praising Yahweh, God was enabling the Hebrews to be victorious. Moses here is a clear picture of a prayer warrior, a leader engaging in intercessory prayer and adoration. This tradition of lifted hands during worship has carried right through to many contemporary churches. To raise one’s hands in prayer implies celebration, adoration, submission, and confessing an ardent praise of God on high. Throughout the psalms. “In your Name I will lift up my hands.” (Ps. 63:4); “May the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.” (Ps. 141:2); “Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift my hands toward your Most Holy Place.” (Ps. 28:2); “I spread my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.” (Ps. 143:6). We are implored throughout Scripture to lift up holy hands, raise our hands to God Most High, stretch out our hands heavenward, extend the palms upward in adoration and worship.

The Importance of Yadah and Judah.  An historically important son of Jacob was given the name of Judah by his mother Leah, the relatively disliked wife of Jacob. The full Hebrew name of Judah was Jehudah, which literally means “praise” or “thanks.”  Leah was grateful to God with this particular son, so instead of rather negative names with her first three sons, she said, “This time I will praise the Lord!” (Gen. 29:35). Testifying to Judah’s eventual importance, the names of “Jew” and “Judaism” are given in his honor. Judah was an unlikely hero in biblical faith because of his moral lapses here and there. But he was also known as the “perfect penitent” in Jewish history because of his humble willingness to confess after he had done wrong. In fact, Rabbi Sacks reports that Judah was literally the first person in Scripture to admit when he was wrong! Judah’s family line were renowned for producing the best leaders and soldiers of all the Israelites. So much so, that when the Israelites went into battle in the Promised Land, they wouldn’t even go to fight unless Judah’s family was in the front. When they wanted to go to battle, they first exclaimed, “Send up Judah!” Judah was most importantly the ancestor of kings, including the inestimable David. Of course, Jesus Himself was from the line of Judah, and was prophesied as being  a “lion of Judah.” (Gen. 49:9).

Between the history of Judah and the full meaning of the word “praise” in that context, yadah is regarded in Jewish circles as one of the main words for praise in the Scripture. Give your hands to God in praise and thanksgiving! Thanks be to God!