Be Clamorously Foolish

One year I asked my parents for a large, hard-backed American Heritage College Dictionary for Christmas.  That’s all I wanted: a huge, library-sized, two-ton dictionary!  My Mom thought this was crazy.  “Really?” she asked me, “Are you sure that’s what you want?”  Yes.  I was sure.  I was in college and I was reading Shakespeare and John Milton and those guys use some obscure and very interesting words.  I wanted to know what they all meant!  Unfortunately, the little paperback dictionary I had in high school just wasn’t cutting it.  I needed a real dictionary like the ones used in the library.  My parents, being the generous and loving parents that they are, bought, wrapped and placed that huge dictionary under the tree for me that year.  It was wonderful!  I couldn’t wait to find a word that I needed to look up.  I still have that dictionary.  It still wears its blue dust jacket and sits prominently on my shelf.  Every time I look at it I remember that sweet Christmas. 

For as long as I can remember I have longed to know what words mean.  When reading a book if I find a word that I am unfamiliar with, I underline it and write it in the margin along with its part of speech and its definition.  This practice may be too nerdy for some and that’s okay.  I am uniquely wired by God to zone in on lesser used words and explore their meanings for the benefit of the church.  With my spiritual gift of teaching and my education, I see words as portals to meaning and to significant life change.  After all, God speaks to us through his Word.

While reading through the Psalms this month, I noticed a phrase that is repeated over and over, “Praise the Lord”, and I got curious.  What does it mean to praise the Lord?  Psalm 117 has two verses and it repeats “Praise the Lord” twice.  Why?  When I think of praising the Lord, I always think of music.  I need to sing and play an instrument to praise the Lord, right?  If that is true, then I am in trouble and many others with me because we are not all blessed with musical talents.  Most of us know, however, that praise isn’t always about music, so I set off on a journey to discover what praise is. 

In the Hebrew language, there are seven different words that are all translated “praise” in our English versions.  All seven words mean “praise” but each has a different method of delivering that praise.  If a translation included all the detail of each of these seven words, it would be too bulky, wordy and confusing to read, so for conciseness the translators simply use the word praise.  In Psalm 117 the Hebrew word is “halal”.  You may notice that is part of the familiar word “Hallelujah” which means “praise Yahweh” or “praise the Lord”.  Hallal means “to be clear, to shine, to make a show, to boast, to be clamorously foolish, to rave, to celebrate, an arrogant boastful celebration” (Baker, OT number 1984).  According to this definition, praise sounds noisy and boisterous, like an exciting party! 

Think about the first part of this definition “to be clear, to shine”.  The object of our praise should be daringly obvious.  A spotlight on a dark stage makes the whole audience focus on one actor.  Our praise does the same thing.  We call attention to our God and put the spotlight on him.  We do this daily with how we live our lives.  Setting family and church as high priorities put the spotlight on our Lord.  Being kind instead of retaliating when someone offends us, practicing patience as a worthwhile virtue instead of boasting about not having any, sacrificing personal comforts to do things for others, these are ways we clarify who we praise.  Think of one thing you can do this week that makes it clear who you praise.  You may even want to get your family involved with you; bring them alongside you as you declare your praise.

Hallal also means “to be clamorously foolish”.  Have you ever watched adults play with a baby?  My mom is so great at this!  She makes silly faces and weird noises and smiles and laughs.  All babies love my Mom.  She is clamorously foolish with them.  She has fun with those little ones and they remember because the second time they meet my Mom, they leap into her arms.  She has never met a little one that she did not win over in a matter of minutes.  Why?  Because she is not worried about what anyone thinks about her actions.  She doesn’t care if others disapprove of her giggles and silly voices.  Her actions are not for them.  Her actions are solely for the benefit of putting that little baby at ease and helping him or her to relax and have fun.  She keeps the baby so busy having fun that there is no time to miss Mama.  My Mom praises the Lord with this silly foolishness.  I’m certain that the Lord smiles every time my Mom interacts with one of these babies.

Psalm 117:1 could read “Be clamorously foolish for the Lord, all nations!”  To praise by being clamorously foolish means that the only person we are concerned about pleasing is the Lord Himself.  We become oblivious to all others.  Their opinion or judgment does not matter; only the Lord’s opinion matters.  Of course, our Lord expects us to love one another, so when we are concerned with pleasing only him, we will automatically treat others with respect.  Clamorously foolish also has a certain amount of inherent noise.  Clamorous praise is loud, bold, and without apology.  This praise is directed at our God and no one else.  We are completely focused on yelling at the top of our lives (and sometimes, our lungs!) his astounding virtues, his kindness, wisdom, justice, righteousness, omnipotence, etc.

Many times, the world criticizes us because we never have any fun.  “Christians are all about don’t do this and don’t do that!”, they say.  It’s true that God has given us boundaries and some things are off limits for believers, but fun is not one of them.  Here in his word, God has commanded us to have fun and to be clamorously foolish in his name.  Go ahead and make silly faces at the baby nearest you.  That pleases God.


Baker, Warren. Ed.

AMG’s Annotated Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary of the Old Testament.

AMG Publishers, 2013

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