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 ‘Yah’.
‘Yah’ is a shortened version of God’s name - Yhwh (popularly pronounced "Yahweh", and rendered as "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 1984 edition of the NIV therefore translated 'Hallelu Jah' as ‘Praise the LORD all you people’. The KJV translated it as ‘Praise ye the LORD’. ‘Ye’ in old English is a plural word (‘thou’ being the singular equivalent). If you were addressing a group of people you would say 'ye / you / your', but if you were addressing an individual you would say 'thou / thee / thy / thine'. 'Praise ye the LORD' therefore simply meant 'you who can hear me, praise the LORD!'
In the Old Testament, ‘Hallelujah’ only appears in the book of Psalms, where each occurrence is an exhortation to the hearers to praise 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). Its transliterated Greek form (hallelouia) appears four times in the New Testament in Revelation 19:1-6. This word appears in the form 'alleluia' in the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible.
The plural nature of 'hallelujah' makes its use particularly suited to congregational worship. In fact, the Jews used it in that way. During Passover, the Levites led in singing the Hallel (Psalms 113-118). When they read the first line of the psalm, the people would repeat it back to them. When the Levites read the other lines, the people responded with "Hallelujah". The modern practice of using the word "Hallelujah" to express only one's personal praise to God is quite different than its original Hebraic usage, in which it was used to exhort all present to praise Yahweh.
Dr. Stuart Pattico
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