Hallelujah is one of my favorite praise words. I love to say it in my private prayer times and I love songs that chop off the first letter and repeat it over and over. So I was very surprised this week to learn what hallelujah means. It is actually two Hebrew words put together – hallu and yah. The first word is a command for a group of people to praise. The second is the object of the praise – Yah, which is a shortened form of God’s name. When you say hallelujah you are telling a group of people to praise the Lord, not particularly suited to times of private prayer. I assumed it meant something like “I praise you Lord” or “I worship you God.” I’m sure God looks at the heart and knows that’s what we mean, but he also knows what the word means.
So what, why am I writing this? The main reason it matters is when we read the word in the Psalms, we need to properly interpret it. In our individualistic culture the tendency is to understand it as me praising God by myself. The idea behind the word is a summons for a group of people to worship God with me. That’s a very different thing.