It is common to hear people say 'Hallelujah' in a church service. But what does this word actually mean in the Hebrew language?
‘Hallelujah’ is comprised of two Hebrew words, namely ‘Hallelu’ and ‘Jah’.
‘Jah’ is pronounced ‘Yah’. It is a shortened version of God’s name - Yhwh. We do not know exactly how Yhwh was pronounced, but it is popularly pronounced as Yahweh today ('Jehovah' is also a popular, but incorrect pronounciation). Yhwh is usually rendered "the LORD" in most English Bible translations.
'Hallelu' is another form of the Hebrew word 'Hallal', which means 'praise'. However, 'Hallelu' is the second person plural imperative form of this word. This simply means that it is actually a call to other people to praise Yah - i.e. “praise Yah all you people”.
The NIV therefore translates 'Hallelujah' as ‘Praise the LORD all you people’ and the KJV translates it as ‘Praise ye the LORD’. ‘Ye’ in old English is a plural word (‘thou’ being the singular equivalent). 'Ye' is never used with reference to only one person. It is always a plural word. If you were addressing only one person, you would say 'thou' instead. ‘Hallelujah', in the orginal Hebrew is therefore a request for a congregation or group of people to praise God.
In the Old Testament, the word ‘Hallelujah’ only appears in the book of Psalms, where each occurrence is a call for others to praise the Lord. In each occurrence, the Psalmist is saying to his hearers ‘Praise ye the LORD’ (Psalm 105:45; 106:1; 106:48; 111:1; 112:1; 113:1; 113:9; 116:19; 117:2; 135:1; 135:21; 146:1; 146:10; 147:1; 147:20; 148:1; 148:14; 149:1; 149:9; 150:1; 150:6)
It would appear that the way Christians use 'Hallelujah' today is quite different than its original Hebrew meaning. We will often say 'Hallelujah' to express our personal praise to God. Well, thankfully God knows what we mean. However, having looked briefly at the etymology of the word and its biblical usage, it is evident that orginally, 'Hallelujah' was a not the word one would use to express only their personal praise; it was a way of calling others to give praise to God.
Dr. Stuart Pattico
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