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The Fools of Praise

The Fools of Praise

HALAL Hâlal, haw-lal ́: To boast. To rave. To shine. To celebrate. To be clamorously foolish.1

Let them praise (hâlal) His name with dancing and make music to Him with timbrel and harp. — Psalm 149:3

A couple of years ago my wife and I were invited to a Jewish wedding. I’d never been to one before and had no idea what I was getting into. There were differences in the ceremony — that much is true — but the culmination of the wedding was just like any other. There were vows, a kiss, and a pronouncement. There was a new union — husband and wife.

After the ceremony, we made our way to the reception where the real fun and games began. A huge banquet awaited us — a spread of food and drinks as impressive as any I’d ever seen at a wedding. There was grand music and dancing, and everyone shouted and laughed in celebration. And though I was the Gentile of Gentiles in the room (how else would you describe a Christian preacher at a Jewish wedding?), I quickly found that participation in this party was not optional.

I was watching the rowdy festivities when, without warning, two yarmulke-wearing men in their mid-sixties sandwiched me between them. Seconds later, I was swept into a dance with these two strangers, and after a few moments, as if on cue, both men threw their heads back and laughed with such energy that it seemed to come from their very souls. These guys knew how to have fun, but even more importantly, they knew how to draw others into their party. They knew that the cosmic union of souls, the coming together of two people in holy matrimony, was a thing worthy of foolish, near-nonsensical celebration. The celebration was for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike.

The wedding was an amazing experience, and those men personified a word I’d read in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. It was a word of praise, a word used again and again throughout the book of Psalms — hâlal.

Hâlal is the primary Hebrew word for praise. It’s the word from which we derive the biblical word hallelujah. It’s an exuberant expression of celebration, a word that connotes boasting, raving, or celebrating. It carries with it the notion of acting in a way that is “clamorously foolish.” True hâlal contemplates laying aside your inhibitions and killing your self-consciousness.

It’s an exuberant expression of celebration, a word that connotes boasting, raving, or celebrating.

In the Old Testament, the word hilul (which comes from the same root word) is used in two places outside the psalms. In both the book of Judges and the book of Leviticus, it is used to describe the way the people might celebrate a harvest festival. There, they’d dance on the grapes, expressing the harvest’s juices for use in wine making. Imagine their enthusiasm as they danced and danced, as the hems of their robes were dyed purple. This dance carries with it the idea of hâlal.

Hâlal is used throughout the psalms. Psalm 69:30 reads,

I will praise (hâlal) God’s name in song.

Psalm 22:22 reads,

I will declare Your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise (hâlal) You.

In Psalm 109:30, the psalmist wrote,

With my mouth I will greatly extol the Lord; in the great throng of worshippers I will praise (hâlal) Him.

But though these psalms were written in the first person, they were often sung corporately.

Because psalms of hâlal were not static declarations, because they were meant for corporate celebration, let’s consider the shape of that celebration using Psalm 149:3. The text of the psalm is simple:

Let them praise (hâlal) His name with dancing and make music to Him with timbrel and harp.

Imagine the Hebrew people gathered together. There, tens of thousands of Levites and musicians faced the Israelites, and together, they formed a sort of praise pit. The Levites and musicians played, and as their songs rose, a combustible energy built and built and built until some spark of God ignited the praises of the people. In that moment, the worshippers began to shout, laugh, and dance. They jumped around, hands raised. To the outside observer, they might have appeared drunk or foolish, but they were most sober in their celebration of God; they were incarnating hâlal.

The concept of hâlal is so embedded in the notion of praise that it serves as a capstone to the entire book of Psalms. In Psalm 150:6, the writer concludes,

Let everything that has breath praise (hâlal) the Lord.

The God of the universe made us to praise Him with abandon, like foolish but fun-loving children. Sometimes I wonder if God looks down on North America, if He sees our dignified, carefully orchestrated worship experiences, and wishes we’d cut loose. I wonder if He wishes we’d celebrate Him the way those two Jewish gentlemen celebrated at that wedding I attended. I wonder if He wishes we’d join the party, that we’d step out onto His great dance floor and risk being undignified.

God is inviting us into hâlal. Will you let go? Will you enter His courts with dancing?

  1. hâlal, haw-lal ́; a prim. root; to be clear (orig. of sound, but usually of color); to shine; hence to make a show, to boast; and thus to be (clamorously) foolish; to rave; causat. to cel- ebrate; also to stultify:—(make) boast (self ), celebrate, commend, (deal, make), fool (-ish, -ly), glory, give [light], be (make, feign self ) mad (against), give in marriage, [sing, be worthy of ] praise, rage, renowned, shine.” Strong, A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible, Volume 2, 33.

Excerpted with permission from Holy Roar by Chris Tomlin, copyright Bowyer & Bow, LLC and Darren Whitehead.

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Can you imagine celebrating in worship the way Chris described that wedding reception party? Are you ready to cut loose and make the sanctuary a dance floor? Come share with us on our blog! We want to know if you’re up for hâlal! ~ Devotionals Daily