Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord! [Psalm 117 (ESV)]

giant swallowtail vbutterflyAs a way of emphasizing the penitential nature of Lent, hymns with alleluia or hallelujah were not sung at our church during Lent’s forty days.  With the exception of Palm Sunday’s All Glory, Laud, and Honor, the hymns for the last six weeks were rather slow, somber, and introspective and I missed the more joyful upbeat hymns I enjoy. Easter service, however, opened with Christ the Lord is Risen Today and the twenty “Alleluias” we sang in five verses made up for their long absence.

If you’re not familiar with this beautiful hymn, check it out. YouTube has an outstanding rendition done by the Tabernacle Choir accompanied by full orchestra, a trumpet ensemble, and bell choir. This hymn’s alleluias are Easter’s version of the cascading of glorias in Christmas’ Angels We Have Heard on High. Regardless of your musical talent (or lack of it), you can’t help but join in singing them! Without benefit of choir, bells, or orchestra, our congregation’s joyful alleluias (some of which were off key) weren’t on a par with those of the Tabernacle. Nevertheless, because they were heartfelt, they were welcome music to God’s ears!

Having enjoyed singing those alleluias, I wondered what exactly was meant by the word. “Alleluia” comes from an ancient Hebrew word combining hālal, which means to praise or glorify, and yâ, a contraction for God’s name of Yahweh. When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, ”hallelujah” was derived from the Hebrew spelling of the word; ”alleluia” simply is the Latin transliteration of the Greek. In Scripture, we usually find the original Hebrew of hālal yâ translated as “Praise the Lord,” which isn’t entirely accurate. In Hebrew, hālal  is an imperative command (rather than a suggestion) and the more accurate translation would be “You must praise the Lord!”

Since we are commanded to praise the Lord, what exactly is praise? While praise and thanks are closely linked, they are not quite the same thing. Thanks is gratitude for what has been done or given while praise exalts the doer or giver. Thanks is when it finally rains after weeks of drought and praise is for a God who holds the incredible power of wind, rain, thunder, and lightning in His almighty hands. Thanks is for the newborn baby and praise is for the God who miraculously packed all the makings of a human being (including a soul) into two small cells! I’m thankful when I see a beautiful sunrise but praise is when I silently sing the old hymn’s words, “When morning gilds the skies, My heart awaking cries: May Jesus Christ be praised!” Praise is an acknowledgement of the excellence, goodness, capability, power, authority, and perfection of God’s character, traits, and works. It is thanking, honoring, exalting, magnifying, applauding, proclaiming, and celebrating Him. We praise God not just by singing alleluias, but in our everyday words, actions, and thoughts.

While praise usually comes from a grateful heart, there are no qualifiers in Scripture’s “hallelujahs.” The call to praise is not dependent upon circumstances. We must praise the Lord, not because He is good to us (or those we love); we are to praise the Lord because He is a good God!

Perhaps, because there isn’t a better word encompassing the meaning of hallelujah in any other language, people from all over the world have borrowed hallelujah/alleluia from the original Hebrew. While it may be spelled differently, “hallelujah” sounds very much the same in almost every language.

“Hallelujah” appears twenty-four times in Psalms and four in Revelation. In Psalms, those hallelujahs come from earth but, in Revelation, they come from heaven. Someday, we will join a heavenly chorus of believers from every nation and the unified sound of our heavenly hallelujahs will be even louder and more beautiful than those of the Tabernacle Choir!

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. [Revelation 19:6 (ESV)]

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