The Diamond of Praise – Zamar (Joyfully Sing!)

The Diamond of Praise – Zamar (Joyfully Sing!)

A Facet of Praise – Zamar (Joyfully Sing!).

“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 Praise. 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.

Zamar – A very popular Hebrew term, a call to praise with stringed instruments; to celebrate God’s presence with music, singing and playing the guitar.

Music refuses definition. Music can be described, it can be lived, it cannot be defined. Music goes too deep for that. Deeper than we can imagine and deeper than we can possibly know until heaven, where music seems to be the common language. This makes us wonder if, at creation, God didn’t merely speak the words that brought everything into existence. No, perhaps God sung those words. God filled the new universe with the new song of creation. God didn’t merely shout “Let there be light!” No, God sung those words that brought light to life. God’s first creative act, a song. Is it any wonder that at creation “the morning stars sung together and all the angels shouted for joy.” (Job 38:7).

I believe that music is in the very soul of God, it’s in the repertoire of God’s self-expression. The Trinitarian Persons undoubtedly have spent eternity singing divine love songs to each other. If somehow music is a part of God’s essence, then we humans, being made in the image of God, also have music built into our human nature. Music has been part of the creative process, in both God’s and ours, since literally Day One. It’s no surprise that music was central to Jewish worship in the Hebrew Bible. Music seemed to be the primary method of self-expression when addressing God in praise, worship, lament, petition. The ancient Jews sang to God in the key of faith, and so was considered the greatest gift God could have given mankind.

It’s not surprising then, that the Bible, both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, are full of songs… from Moses and Miriam to the heavenly angels, from the Psalms to the Song of Songs, from Genesis to Revelation. For wherever there is self-expression, there is bound to be a song. Rabbis say that the oldest texts in the Hebrew Bible are poems/songs. Because they were sung, they were remembered more precisely through the oral tradition, and they were probably less tampered with or paraphrased down through history. So it appears that the most authentic pieces of Scripture are the songs that were sung. They were memorized more easily, preserved more accurately, and handed down with more authority.

David, the man after God’s own heart, was primarily a musician, who also happened to be a king who led worship. The Psalms were either written by David or composed in the tradition of David. There is a phrase in II Samuel 23:1, the last words of David, that has been interpreted two different ways. Both versions are interesting and instructive. In the first version, he called himself the “sweet psalmist of Israel.” After a dramatic life of tumultuous ups and downs, it appears he still at the end saw himself primarily as a musician of the Lord, the one who instituted the music programs for worship with 4,000 musicians, the one who composed countless psalms for the God of Israel. It seems that at the end of his life, David circled back and saw himself as the young boy playing his harp and singing for his sheep and for his Lord God.

Music and Prophecy. “Worship in song is a higher form of proclamation.” (St. Benedict). It makes sense then, that if God wants to communicate a revelation to humans, He will often prefer to communicate musically, primarily through a prophet. That’s why music and prophecy are spiritually joined at the hip throughout Scripture. God talks through music with people, and prophets speak musically to the people. The two are intrinsically and dynamically fused. The Holy Spirit seems to inspire us, and open our hearts that much more effectively, through the prophetic use of music. Some examples in the Hebrew Bible include:

(1) “As soon as you come to the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and a lyre before them, and they will be prophesying. And then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed into another man.” (1 Samuel 10:5-6).

(2) “And Elisha said, ‘Now bring me a musician.’ And it came about when the musician played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him, and he said, ‘Thus says the Lord….”  (2 Kings 3:15-16).

(3) “Moreover, David and the commanders of the army set apart for the service some of the sons of Asaph and Hemar and Jeduthun, who were to prophesy with lyres, harps, and cymbals.”  (1 Chronicles 25:1).

My life goes on in endless song above earth’s lamentations. I hear the real, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation. Through all the tumult and the strife I hear its music ringing. It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?”  (Traditional Irish Lyric).

How about a musical survey of the Psalms where we are able to catch the ancient Jews in song-filled praise and worship of the almighty God? Could any form of praise get more inspiring or engaging? Could there be a better picture of what is going on in heaven right now? Is there a better way for us on earth to begin to learn the language of heaven?

“Shout joyfully to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of His name! Make His praise glorious, saying to God, “How awesome are all your works!” (Ps. 66:1-3);

“I will sing praises to you with a harp for your faithfulness, O my God. To you I will sing praises with the lyre, O Holy one of Israel. My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to you; and my soul, too, which you have redeemed. My tongue will utter your righteousness all day long!” (Ps. 71:22-24).

“I will sing praises to you for your mercy and your justice, O Lord, I will sing praises!” (Ps. 101:1).

“I will sing to the Lord as long as I live! I will sing praise to my God while I have my being!” (Ps. 104:33).

“O give thanks to the Lord, call upon is name; Make known His deeds among the peoples. Sing to Him, sing praises to Him! Speak of all His wonders. Glory in His holy name!” (Ps. 105:1-3).

“I will sing a new song to you, O God! Upon a harp of ten strings, I will sing praises to you!” (Ps. 144:9).

“Hallelujah! Sing to the Lord a new song, and His praise in the congregation of the godly ones! Let Israel be glad in his Maker; Let the children of Zion rejoice in their King! Let them praise His name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre! For the Lord takes pleasure in His people.” (Ps. 149:1-4).