We can praise God by ourselves, and we should. But we’ve all experienced that collective praise has much greater intensity.
It’s fairly well known that Psalms 113 through 118 are collectively known as “the Hallel”, and that traditionally it is sung or recited at Passover. “Hallel” is the Hebrew word for “praise”. You’ll recognize it in the word “hallelujah”, which means “praise the LORD” or “praise to Yah” (Yah being the short form of the memorial name, YHWH).
This God is great, and greatly to be praised!
Psalm 118, the final psalm in the Hallel, is one of the most quoted Old Testament passages in the New Testament. At Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the crowd was singing at least parts of this psalm. Verse 25, in our English translations rendered as “Save us we pray”, is actually the Hebrew word “hosanna”—which was shouted by the crowd.
Verse 26 was also quoted by the crowd: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD”. They correctly understood that they were participating in a fulfillment of the prophecies in the Psalms about the coming of Messiah. They thought it was THE fulfillment, but it turned out to be a preliminary fulfillment. The final fulfillment will be when Messiah returns (see Matthew 23:39).
All this I was familiar with, when I reread these psalms today. Then I did a little digging and learned a little more.
Besides being “the Hallel”, this group of psalms is also sometimes called “the Egyptian Hallel”. That’s because of its connection to Passover, which of course commemorates the Exodus from bondage in Egypt. Even so, I learned that the Hallel is recited or sung not only at Passover, but also at the other major holidays, and even some of the lesser ones.
praise also can be something planned, scheduled, repeated
Another thing I found out is that there’s another Hallel. Psalm 136 is called “the Great Hallel”. This psalm has quite a rich history. It was instituted by King David, to be sung at the Tabernacle (1 Chronicles 16:41). It was sung at the Temple dedication (2 Chronicles 5:13 & 7:3). And it was sung when the foundation was laid for the Second Temple (Ezra 3:11).
This psalm is responsive, that is, the leader says the first sentence of each verse, and the congregation responds with the refrain, “For His mercy (or lovingkindness) endures forever.” Like the Egyptian Hallel, the Great Hallel is also recited at Passover—by the family gathered together for the supper.
We (or at least I) tend to think of praise as something spontaneous, and of course it can be and ought to be. Such was the case when Jesus rode into Jerusalem. However, these psalms make me realize that praise also can be (ought to be?) something planned, scheduled, repeated. It does not diminish the praise if we have intentionally set aside time for it!
It’s entirely possible for something traditional, like the Hallel or anything else, to become empty ritual. There’s no honor to God if that’s all it is. But there’s nothing at all wrong with us planning to get together to praise Him!
We can praise God by ourselves, and we should. But we’ve all experienced that collective praise has much greater intensity. Our individual praise is amplified by being shared with others who share the same faith in the one true God, the God of Israel, the God who still delivers from bondage, the God whose mercy endures forever. This God is great, and greatly to be praised!
We should plan to get together. An evening or a day of praise sounds just right to me.