Old Testament Word Studies
"Save, Set Free"
"Praise, Confess, i.e., Acknowledge"
The word yadah and its related noun todah are common words in the Bible; the verb is often translated "give thanks" or "praise" and even "confess"; and the noun is rendered and "thanksgiving." While these translations are acceptable, they do not capture the precise nuances of this root.
Claus Westermann in his book The Praise of God in the Psalms goes into great detail to explain that the concept of giving thanks is very different than praise (p. 25). In fact, Westermann surveys a number of languages to show that "thanks" is a secondary development. For example, in Greek the basic word is "grace," and then by extension saying words of grace or giving thanks. The reason for this distinction may be seen from a comparison of giving thanks and praising. First, in giving thanks, whether you express it or not, you are the subject of the verb: "I thank you" or "thanks." But in praise, true praise, the object of the praise is the subject of the sentence: "He lifted me up from a miry clay; he set my feet on solid ground; he put a new song in my heart." Praise does not always rise to that level of focus, but when praise is at its best it does--it is a looking away from oneself and focusing on the object of praise. Second, praise is normally the spontaneous and enthusiastic expression of delight and appreciation. But giving thanks can more easily become a fixed duty. Third, true biblical praise is given in a forum, with an audience that will be encouraged and exhorted to greater faith. Thanksgiving can be done in private more easily. And fourth, offering praise to God usually cost the Israelite, for he had to bring the sacrifice of praise to the sanctuary--the todah. Giving thanks in our culture does not have that emphasis on generosity.
This does not mean that we cannot use the translation of "thanks" and "thanksgiving" for these words; but it does mean we must make a distinction between biblical thanksgiving and the modern practices.
The Hebrew lexicon by Brown, Driver and Briggs lists only one Hebrew root and includes the rare meaning of "to throw, cast." The other major dictionaries (KBL and Holladay) have the verb "to throw, cast" from a different root altogether. The question of homonyms is always a problem in trying to see etymological connections. Usually other Semitic languages will help us decide whether these words are connected or not. The Akkadian language seems to support a division into two roots, although the two different meanings which suggest different roots could have been a separate development from one common source. BDB explains that the act of casting or throwing would refer to the gestures or the voice of the one praising. This is not very convincing, however; it certainly does not fit the meaning of "confess." Whether there was one root, or two separate roots, will not make a great difference in the meaning of the verb, unless someone made too much out of the idea of gesturing. Nevertheless, I shall include both ideas, and make the meaning of "cast, throw," a separate category of meaning, and leave it up to the expositor to decide if it is also a separate root.
In dividing the usage of this word into categories of meanings, I shall use four categories. In the classification into these denominations, both the noun and the verb uses will be included.
1. Throwing or casting
Three times the word yadah is used with this sense, all in the basic verbal stem. (known as the qal stem).
Jeremiah 50:14 uses the verb for shooting arrows.
Lamentations 3:53 uses the verb for the act of throwing stones at the prophet.
If this category is connected to the following categories, it is not clear what the connection would or should be.
2. Praising, i.e., acknowledging who God is and what he has done
When the verb is used with the meaning of praise, it is almost always referring to a public acknowledgment or outward declaration and recital of the wonderful acts and marvelous nature of God. An exception to this would be Psalm 119:62 where the praise is given in the middle of the night. In this category the verb appears in the hiphil stem rather than the simple qal stem. Not knowing what the actual meaning of this category would have been in its qal makes it difficult to explain the kind of nuance the hiphil carries. So we simply look at the uses in contexts to see how the category works.
Psalm 111:1 says, "I will acknowledge ('odeh) Yahweh with all my heart in the company of the upright and the assembly." This was the normal setting for paying vows of praise; in fact, Psalm 122 explains that the people went up to Jerusalem for the festivals in order to acknowledge God publically.
Psalm 105: 1 says, "O give thanks (hodu) to Yahweh, proclaim His name; make known His deeds among the people." The "name of the LORD" refers to the divine attributes or perfections, His nature, exhibited in His works.
Many churches today use the word "confess" with reference to public praise, or the public and communal saying of the creeds--confessing their faith. This is the meaning of this category, the public acknowledgment of who God is and what He has done. The translation "praise" is workable, but not very precise; the translation "give thanks" is also workable, but does not capture the main idea of the word. The praise envisioned here could be included in prayers (Neh. 11:17), set to music (Neh. 12:46), or in general even apply to spiritual service such as that of the Levitical priests (1 Chron. 16:4-10). Many of the psalms of praise in the Bible include this kind of praise, and even the lament psalms or prayers include it in the vow of praise section, the end of the prayer in which the psalmist promises to praise God publicly when He answers the prayer.
3. Making the sacrifice of praise (the todah)
Of all the words for praise in the Bible, this one is most closely tied to the worship service in the sanctuary. The noun todah, and at times the verb yadah, refer to what is called the "sacrifice of praise." This means that the worshiper would bring a sacrifice, a peace offering according to Leviticus 7, which would be placed on the altar to be cooked for a communal meal. While the animal was being cooked, the worshiper would stand beside the altar and proclaim the praise, the todah; this would be the reason that everyone would eat from this sacrifice--God had done something for the worshiper. In other words, it cost the worshiper to praise the LORD, for the evidence of gratitude is generosity, not just in words of praise but in sharing the bounty. And the people would eat when praise was given properly; this would have the greatest value for the poor and the priests who depended on the praise of the people for their meals.
2 Chronicles 30:22 tells how the Levites ate the peace offering sacrifices and praised the LORD in the sanctuary.
Psalm 54:6 says, "Willingly I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O LORD, for it is good."
When people received benefits from the LORD, they knew that they owed Him their thanksgiving--in a way that would encourage and edify the congregation. So they would do it in the sanctuary, even if they thanked Him frequently beforehand. But to do it in the sanctuary required the accompaniment of sacrifices. The New Testament picks this up in Hebrews 13 when it tells us to offer the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our lips, and not to forget to share with those who have needs.
4. Confessing or acknowledging sin
The basic idea of "acknowledge" for the verb works well because it can apply both to praise and to confession of sin. It means to say the same thing that God says--here about sin. The fact that one word can be sued for both ideas is not that difficult to understand: to confess sin properly will necessarily praise God for His provision of forgiveness, and to praise God properly will necessarily include the acknowledgment of our sin and need. Both can be understood as an acknowledgment. But whereas the use for praise was most often in the sanctuary as a public declaration, the confession of sin was more private, even if made in the sanctuary. Only when the sin is known in the congregation, or involves the congregation, was public confession necessary--and then also and always with a sacrifice, a sin offering.
In Job 40:14 the meaning of "acknowledge" occurs with the sense of conceding a point: God says, "Then I will acknowledge that your own right hand can save you."
But the idea of acknowledging sin to God is more commonly the emphasis.
Psalm 32:5 has "I said, I will confess ('odeh again) my transgression to the LORD." Here it basically means to admit to the sin, to agree with God about it.
Leviticus 16:21 has the word for the High Priest's confession of the sins, when he confessed all the sins of the people over the goat. In Leviticus the form of the verb may occur in the hithpael stem.
So in contexts dealing with sin the same verb will have the sense of "acknowledge" with the connotation of confessing sin.
There are a number of words derived from this verb that we can now understand a little better. Of course, we already have noted todah, "praise" or "sacrifice of praise offering." We also have a noun huyyedut, which means "songs of praise" (Neh. 12:18). There is also a proper name yedutun (usually written Jeduthun in English translations). We only know the meaning of the name because we know the verb it uses. But this man was one of the musicians that David appointed--so was this a guild name rather than a personal name? Then we have the personal name for Judah, yehudah, literally, "may he be praised" (an old hophal [passive] spelling). The name "Judah," and the short form "Jew" (yehud), mean "praise." Paul in the beginning of Romans makes a pun on the name when he is talking about the true Jew who is circumcised in the heart--his "praise" (i.e., Judaism) is from God.
It would be impossible to discuss the numerous words for praise in the Old Testament in a short paragraph. These each require their own study. The most frequently used words are: halal, "to praise, acclaim, boast in" (but not confess); barak, "to bless, to enrich" (but not acknowledge or confess); ranan, "to give a ringing cry, shout" (in praise or lament); kibbed, "to glorify, honor" (but not confess); gil, "to give a cultic shout"; zamar, "to sing to the accompaniment of stringed instruments, praise"; and numerous other words.
The Greek text used a few words for these meanings. One was exomologeo, "to confess, acknowledge" or literally, "to say the same thing"; another was exagoreo, "to tell, proclaim publicly (in the agora)"; and the third was aineo, "to tell, speak of, praise, approve." Interestingly, eucharisteo, "to give thanks," is not used for yadah.
In English the common denominator for the usage of praise and of confess would be "acknowledge." When we study the biblical concept of praise or confession, we find yadah referring to the public acknowledgment of who God is and what he has done, or who the sinner is and what he has done. Confessing sin is similar to confessing faith, for here too it was to be acknowledged in the sanctuary when a sin offering was being made, and here too some praise of God would be included for the provision of forgiveness. The big difference for the ritual is that in a praise (todah offering) the people will eat from the sacrifice, but in a confession of sin, none of the congregation is permitted to eat--it is a sin offering, not a fellowship of peace offering.
This word, then, does more than direct different translations in different contexts. It opens the way for further study into how praise should be given in the sanctuary, and how confession is related to the same ritual of worship. An Israelite would come to the sanctuary and first give a sin offering, confessing his sin. Then, at the end of the ritual of the service, he would offer the peace offering, and if that was for praise, he would publically declare his praise. This verb yadah fits both activities.