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Hosanna vs. Hallelujah!

By April 5, 2020August 30th, 2022Lost in Translation

So here we are again on Palm Sunday, the traditional start of the last week of the life of Jesus before His resurrection – defeating death once and for all. As Jesus entered Jerusalem, on the back of a colt, people waved palm branches and threw their coats on the ground in His path. They shouted “Hosanna,” a word that we traditionally use on Palm Sunday; and then on Easter we sing, “Christ the Lord is risen today… Hallllllllll………. -e……. -luuuuuu…. jah!” in one of the most famous hymns of the season. So how are these two words different, and why do we change our praise to God?

Well, the word “Hosanna” is actually a plea for salvation – a plea to be saved, if you will. Today, most of us think that it is a type of praise or worship and while that is the current usage, the one we have come to expect, it wasn’t always that way. The root words of Hosanna are actually found in Psalm 118:25. The first word – “yasha” means “to save” and the second word – “anna” means “I (or we) beg you”. When these two Hebrew words are put together, we get “hosanna” in our English pronunciation. And the meaning of the word is, “we beg you to save…” But save from whom? From evil, from Satan, that’s who!

On the other hand, “Hallelujah” is a shout of praise and thanksgiving. In the ancient times, when the Hebrew scribes referred to God, the word they used was Yahweh (we think it was pronounced yah-way). In fact, it was represented by four characters (YHWH), called the secret tetragrammaton, and whenever the word was written by the scribes, they had to break their “pencil” and start writing the next word with a new writing instrument. The word YHWH was so sacred that you could never utter it out loud, and whenever someone came across it in the text, instead of trying to pronounce the word itself, the person would substitute another Hebrew word that meant simply, “the word.”

So, nobody ever heard YHWH actually spoken. But notice that the characters would approximate the pronunciation of Yahweh. And the meaning of Yahweh meant Jehovah God, or Lord. So it was a mighty important word. And to be truthful, since it was never spoken, we don’t how know the original Yahweh was ever meant to be pronounced.

And that brings us to the word “Hallelujah”, which is actually a combination of three different elements – Hallel-u-jah. The first part of the word, “Hallel” means “a joyous song of praise or prayer” – and the letter “u” after “Hallel” means it is a command to “you people”. So far, we have, “you people, sing a prayer of praise”, but to who? Therein lies the cool part of this whole word – for the song of praise is to be sung to “Jah”, and since “J’s” were pronounced at “Y’s”, the praise was to be sung to “Yah” – or the shortened, speakable, first syllable of Yahweh, which also happens to be the way the first two letters of YH-WH would be pronounced, if it could be spoken.

So, putting it all together, we have, “all you people, sing a prayer of praise to the supreme LORD (God)”. And isn’t that exactly what we do when we sing “Hallelujah”? Oh, and by the way, that word LORD, which you always see capitalized in your Bible, is a title of position, and of power and of authority.

So there is a difference between “Hosanna” and “Hallelujah.” Hosanna is what the people shouted as Jesus entered the city – imploring Him to save them from evil. They clearly believed that Jesus had the power and authority to do that, although at that time nobody realized that His death was to occur within a week.

“Hallelujah” is a recognition that Jesus did, in fact, defeat death and eternally saved us from Satan. It is a song of praise and worship in gratitude for what God did for us. Therefore, “Hosanna” is a plea to be saved and “Hallelujah” is the recognition that we have been saved! Isn’t that remarkable? So from now on, we will be clear on the difference between these two powerful words and when we should be using each of them.

Our verse for tonight highlights the words of Matthew as he tells us about the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. Mark, Luke and John also make references to this story. Matthew tells us, in Matthew 21:9, “The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!”

We also have an Old Testament reference as well. The psalmist tells us in Psalm 118:25-27, “O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you. The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.”

My encouragement tonight is that Jesus wanted to save us and everyone who has lived, is living or will be living in the future. Of course, we have free will and can reject this offer of salvation if we choose. My prayer is that we will all shout “Hallelujah” next Sunday while we shout “Hosanna in the highest” tonight. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…

One Comment

  • David Toussaint says:

    That was a very nice definition of the word, and a great encouragement to sing it.
    What a wonderful way to express our love and adoration.


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