“Hallelujah” is a Bible praise word meaning, “Praise the LORD.” It has become one of the most recognizable worship words in Christian songs, sometimes in the form “Alleluia.” In the “Song Select” website of currently registered Christian songs, there are almost 1,000 entries of songs whose titles include “Alleluia” and over 1,000 for “Hallelujah.”
The word hallelujah achieved great recognition with George Fredrick Handel’s oratorio, Messiah. Born in Germany, Handel spent most of his career in London. He collaborated with Charles Jennens, a well-known wordsmith of the time, to produce the text of Messiah. Jennens took most of the words for the oratorio directly from the King James Version of the Bible. The most celebrated section of Messiah was the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Jennens used three verses from the book of Revelation as the basis for this masterpiece (19:6, 11:15, 19:16). Although Messiah first premiered in Dublin in 1741, its most famous version was first performed at a gala concert in London in 1754. Tradition has it that King George II was in the audience for this performance and was so moved that he rose to his feet. The audience followed, since no British subject would sit in the presence of a king who was standing, and so the custom began that the audience stands during the singing of this chorus.
In the 1980s, gravelly-voiced Canadian singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen released an album with his song, “Hallelujah.” The song was little noticed at the time, partly because of Cohen’s ponderous pace of presentation. Cohen’s “Hallelujah” became popular when it was covered by Bob Dylan, Bon Jovi, Willie Nelson, Bono of U2, Sheryl Crow, and many others. It received widespread attention when included in the first Shrek movie in 2001. Last year, a cover version by Alexandra Burke became the #1 “Christmas Single” in the United Kingdom, a remarkable feat for a 25-year old song.
The meaning of the song is questioned, since it is a mysterious mix of images both religious and romantic. Analysis is fiercely debated like other rock classics with religious overtones such as “American Pie” and “Stairway to Heaven.” Despite its secular origins, the song has a spiritual vibe, largely because of the repetition of “Hallelujah” (over 20 times). It has even been adapted by Christian worship leaders and used as a praise song in churches. Cohen’s version ends each verse with the word “Hallelujah.” Most impressive are the final two lines of the last verse:
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
This much Cohen got right. Revelation 19 pictures a multitude in heaven singing, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power to our God … Hallelujah! For the Lord God Almighty reigns.”
Christmastime turns many hearts toward religious concerns, hearts that have been occupied with other things for most of the year. It is a time of both emptiness and longing for some. Many are searching for spiritual meaning and fulfillment in their lives. Here is the key: look at Jesus, realize that he is your Savior, and sing “Hallelujah.” May there be nothing on your tongue but Hallelujah. May your faith draw you to the chorus of believers who will sing the eternal “Hallelujah Chorus.”
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings! and Lord of lords!
Nebraska Christian College