Full of summons to praise YHWH, the biblical psalms always provide a reason for doing so. In English translation, the word ‘for’ or ‘because’—commonly rendering Hebrew כי—habitually serves at the hinge between the command to praise YHWH and a motive clause that grounds such a response in YHWH’s deeds or his character.
Empty praise, that is to say praise for the sake of praise, is virtually unknown in the Psalter. When Christian worshipers hear it from worship platforms and worship leaders, they can be sure that liturgy has become detached from the biblical logic and rhythm of praise.
The psalter’s next-to-last exemplar piles up words in order to articulate the joyful nature of the people’s praise. No mere contemplative bliss, the vigor of their worship is to be expressed via dance and instrumental music.
The reason for such animated worship is, via a kind of logical rhyme, YHWH’s own delight in his people.
Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful. Let Israel be glad in its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King. Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre. For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory. (Psalms 149:1–4 NRSV)
Delight, or taking pleasure, is a notion that occurs frequently in the biblical prophets, as in the Bible’s wisdom literature. One delights in YHWH and in that expression of his heart that is known as Torah or Instruction.
With winsome gratitude, notwithstanding his imperative mode of expression, the psalmist places on display the reciprocal nature of such delight. We see YHWH smiling broadly as he contemplates his own daughters and sons. What is more, he beautifies—the New Revised Standard Version‘s ‘adorns’ is a nice flourish—his humble ones with victory.
The once tattered stroll about in designer threads, a reflected smile lighting their lifted faces.