‘Praise the Lord’, ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Amen’ – these words are common in Christian conversation but sometimes their familiarity takes away from the original meaning. In years gone by, for thousands of years actually, believers exclaimed ‘Hallelujah!’ which was in fact two words joined together to pack a punch of praise. Hallelujah means “Praise God!” It was created from the Hebrew words ‘hallel’ a verb meaning ‘praise’ and ‘Yah’ (the abbreviated Hebrew name of God – short for Yahweh.)
There is significance to the word ‘hallelujah’ which for some, may have lost its impact through the years. During the 3rd to 5th centuries, the Talmudic period, the words ‘hallel’ and ‘Yah’ were expressed separately. The combined ‘hallelujah’ expression was emphasized prominently in Psalms 146-150. Each psalm opens and closes with ‘hallelujah’ meaning, ‘praise the Lord’ The New Ungers Bible Handbook suggests that in these psalms ‘hallelujah’ was used as a religious cry, probably used to encourage audience participation.
The Hallelujah Chorus
“Later, ‘hallelujah’ became a stereotyped cry of joy; the Jews of Alexandria sang it after being saved from annihilations by the Egyptians (3 Macc. 7:13) and it introduces the angelic praise of God in Rev. 19: 1-8,” they report. The latinized version is spelled ‘alleluia’ and it always suggests everything we have, worships. Augustine wrote, “The Christian should be an alleluia from head to foot!”
The exclamation ‘hallelujah’ became an important part of Christian liturgy, and is just one of many Hebrew contributions we eagerly and often mindlessly embrace. It most likely made its greatest international impact when Handel wrote ‘The Hallelujah Chorus’ for his epic classic, ‘Messiah.’ What Handel experienced during the time he wrote ‘Messiah’ sums up the impact we should all seek. He withdrew for twenty-three days so he could be totally immersed in his music. The Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations said, Handel described his feelings when he wrote the Hallelujah Chorus. Handel said, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself.”
Many of us can testify that his experience is shared with us during the moving presentation of the Hallelujah Chorus.
Halal is the primary Hebrew root word for praise and ‘hallelujah’ builds from that base. It means ‘to be clear, to shine, to boast, show, to rave, celebrate, to be clamorously foolish.’ How about that? When we praise God, do we come near to that original meaning?
How great does our enthusiasm and joy shine? How boastful are we about God and His mighty power and love? Are we prepared to rave about Him or do we prefer to boast and rave about our footie team or sports or movie stars? Are we happy to be seen as fools for Christ?
How ‘clamorously foolish’ do we get when we surrender ourselves to praise Him? Our faith would be a profound and radical thing if we could just enter into a Hallelujah reality-check.
Halal conveys quite an extensive meaning. First it relies on what lamps and stars do. They shine and display light. In this sense it appears in Job and Isaiah. Job 31:26 speaks of the shining sun and the moon’s splendor as ‘halal.’ Isaiah warns the loss of this radiance comes as judgment from the Lord Himself. Isaiah 13:10-11 “For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; The sun will be dark when it rises and the moon will not shed its light. Thus I will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their iniquity; I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud and abase the haughtiness of the ruthless.”
The loss of ‘halal’ indicates a terrible judgment. Has that illuminating presence gone because we have found other gods? Is fear of man now the preference for us? Hallelujah means God is our reality. We can have no other gods before Him.
Keep in touch for the next instalment.