Word Study: Hallelujah

Women in Jerusalem rejoicing

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Those are the first words of St. John’s Gospel.  Then in Psalm 119, the center piece of Orthodox Funerals, we read again and again about God’s Word. For example: ”Your word, O Lord, is eternal.” (verse 89) And again, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (verse 108). "Word" is spoken about over and again in Scripture, so it becomes apparent that the gift of “word,” God gave us humans, is pretty serious.  Not only does Word refer to the Son of God who creates via a Word, but he reveals himself to us through word into our conscious mind. I tended to take speaking and reading words  for granted, but recently I began to examine words (of scripture and liturgy) more carefully to great interest and spiritual advantage

I examined “Bless” the last time I wrote. But now, how about “Hallelujah”?  This was a much more, simple definition.  It means Praise the Lord! It comes from Hebrew “Halal” meaning praise and “Yah” the abbreviated form of the YHWH. It developed during the exilic period of the Hebrew people and was a cultic shout or exclamation. In Scripture it appears only four times, in Chapter 19 of Revelations, which is the only time in Scripture, referring to the great triumphant shout, or “roar of a great multitude in heaven” (Rev. Ch. 19: 1-3) “ Hallelujah Salvation and glory and power belong to our God…” Since Hallelujah incorporates the name of YHWH, it is a serious word.

Psalm 135:1 “Is a call to praise the Lord – the one true God: Lord of all creation, Lord over all nations, Israel’s Redeemer. No doubt post-exilic, it echoes many lines found elsewhere in the OT. It was clearly composed for the temple liturgy. Framed with "Hallelujahs," its first and last stanzas are also calls to praise.” (NIV study Bible, note on Ps 135 The Songs of Praises begin with the actual words: “Praise the Lord” That is synonymous with “Hallelujah.” Finally, a cluster of Psalms (146-150) that are probably post-exilic are all bracketed by shouts of Hallelujah [Praise the Lord].”  The final themes of the Psalter are “themes of praise—and calls to praise—of Zion’s heavenly King, the Maker, Sustainer, and Lord over all creation: the one sure hope of those who in their need and vulnerability look to him for help… (NIV study notes Ps 145-150).

In our Orthodox Liturgy, preparing to read the word of Christ Jesus, we first hear the Angelic “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us.” God’s people, we are being uplifted into the presence of God. Then after the reading of the Epistle we sing, “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.” The song of Praise and of the triumph of God’s glory and power coming to the Church in his Word. The clergy read the Gospel, “announcing the glad tidings with great power.” This is what Jesus referred to, when being tempted by the devil, to turn stones into bread: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” We the Church are preparing to feed our spirits with the word of God, who in the second part of liturgy is coming to feed our bodies through his body and blood of the Eucharist. Therefore, we sing “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!”  Praise the Lord for his gifts to us his people. We prepare to stand in his presence and shout for joy that he is our God, “For who is so great a  God, as our God? You are the God who does wonders…” (Ps. 77). "Hallelujah," I have learned, is not such a simple word after all.

By Tanya Penkrat, a frequent contributor to the Axia Women blog.

Tanya Penkrat