I’ve recently begun going through a book & DVD study entitled “In the Dust of the Rabbi“, written by Ray Vander Laan, with a few of my friends. I became interested in Ray Vander Laan’s work through my reading of Rob Bell’s book, “Velvet Elvis.”
It was Rob’s suggestion that there was so much more to the Bible than what we can understand without knowledge of historical and cultural events from Jesus’ days on the earth. Our limited knowledge of such things only gives us surface information about the meanings behind the Scriptures.
So, we’re reading the book. And it’s very good so far.
One of the things that keeps coming to mind lately as I choose songs for worship each week is how the language of many of the praise songs we sing (many of which come directly from Scripture) is foreign to our culture today. There are phrases and words used in the songs that we only use when we sing praise songs. Words such as hosanna, hallelujah really aren’t used in conversations today.
So, what do they mean? How can we sing them and mean them if we don’t understand the meaning behind them?
I did a little digging and here’s what I found about the word Hallelujah –
This famous exclamation of joy stems from the word halal, plus the particle u, meaning ‘and’ or ‘with’, and jah, which is short for Yahweh, the Name of God. The verb halal means ‘to shine,’ and since the people of Biblical times did not have flashlights, this verb is most often ascribed to stars. This makes Daniel 12:3 even more interesting than it already was.
Hallelujah means: shine with God!
But wait! There’s even more. I found a further explanation (below) on an interesting website written by Jewish Rabbis:
Hallelujah is a remarkable word. In the Bible, it appears only in the book of Psalms; yet this exuberant exclamation of joy and gratitude has survived the passage of centuries, transcending the barriers of language and culture. What exactly does it mean? According to the Talmud, Hallelujah is the most sublime expression of God’s praise, combining together in one word both praise (hallel) and God’s Name (the two-letter Name ‘Ya-H’). Yet Hallelujah does not appear throughout the book of Psalms. It is only used in the last third of the book, starting with chapter 104
“Let sin be finished from the earth, and evil be no more. My soul will bless God, Hallelujah!” [Ps. 104:35]
What is special about this particular verse, that it contains the very first usage of the word Hallelujah? The Sages noted that the theme of this verse is the destruction of evil. King David, they explained, only began employing this declaration of God’s praise after he witnessed the downfall of the wicked.
- In what way does Hallelujah relate to the downfall of the wicked?
- Why does it contain the short, two-letter Name of God, and not the full Name of God (consisting of four letters), which is more commonly used?
We need first to determine the inner meaning of the Name ‘Ya-H’. This Name for God appears in the Torah after Amalek’s unprovoked attack on the Jews, as they left Egypt. God took an oath, as it were, “upon the throne of Ya-H, a war against Amalek throughout the generations” [Ex 17:16]. The Sages explained that as long as evil exists in the world – as long as Amalek has not been destroyed -God’s Name is incomplete, containing only two letters.
Thus the Name ‘Ya-H’ refers to the state in which the world is not yet perfected. As long as there is room for evil and violence in the world, God’s rule is incomplete. God’s full Name belongs to the era in which the corrupted spirit will be destroyed, evil will dissipate like smoke, and all will acknowledge and praise God with His complete Name.
The most elevated praise, combining God’s praise with His full Name, belongs to a future time. But the praise of Hallelujah reflects a sublime form of praise suitable for our days.
If we can raise our sights and understand the purpose of evil, if we can grasp that a world in which evil existed and was subsequently overcome is greater than one in which evil never played a part, then we can honestly combine God’s praise with the Name ‘Ya-H’. This combination indicates that we recognize the value of a world in which corruption is allowed to exist. Hallelujah is an expression of this lofty outlook, acknowledging God’s praise in an incomplete world.
King David succeeded in reaching this level when he witnessed the fall of the wicked. “Let sin be finished and evil be no more.” He understood the role of the wicked and their downfall, and at that point was able to call out: Hallelujah!
You see? There’s so much more to the word than just a way of saying, “Yeah, God!” The next time you find yourself singing this word, it will be less unfamiliar. Now you can worship Him better. The enemy has been defeated! Praise God! Hallelujah!