Revive Our Hearts Podcast

What “Hallelujah” Means

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Watch Nancy teach this series.

Leslie Basham: Here's Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. 

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I've heard that there are three words that are recognized universally in almost every language: the word "Amen," the word "Hallelujah," and the word "Coca-Cola."

Leslie: Today, Nancy is going to focus on one of those words. Can you guess which one?

This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, co-author of Seeking Him, for Monday, October 1, 2018. 

Hallelujah! That word gets used a lot. Church-goers say it in prayer, and sometimes just say it when they're happy. Sometimes people use it to mock preachers, but using that word is very serious. Nancy will explain why in this new series, "Hallelujah: A Praise Celebration."

Nancy: Let me ask you, if you have your Bible—and I hope that you do—to turn with me to Psalm 113. As you're turning there, let me give you a little context and background for where this psalm falls. I think Scripture always takes on additional meaning to us if we know where it falls, what the context is, and a little bit about the background.

Psalm 113 is the first in a short collection of six psalms (Psalms 113–118) that are known as the hallel psalms. Sometimes they're known as the Egyptian Hallel, and I'll tell you why in just a moment. The word hallel means, in Hebrew, "praise." These are praise psalms, but a lot of the psalms are praise psalms.

But these particular psalms focus on praising God for His deliverance from slavery in Egypt. The children of Israel had been slaves in Egypt for four-hundred years. God sent His servant, Moses, to lead them out of slavery.

The second of these hallel psalms, if you just let your eye go down to Psalm 114, starts by talking about this: "When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language . . ." (Psalm 114:1). So, it actually refers specifically to the exodus from Egypt.

This whole collection of psalms, the hallel psalms, are an important part in the Jewish life of their annual celebration of the Passover. When did the Passover begin, when was it inaugurated? At the Exodus, when the children of Israel were leaving Egypt, right? These psalms commemorate the deliverance of God's people from captivity, from Egypt.

They also point, in a New Testament sense for those of us who are New Testament believers, to God's ultimate redemption of His people, that will not just be those who are coming out of Egypt, but will spread to God's people all around the world, that He is delivering for Himself.

The first two psalms in this collection, Psalms 113 and 114, are typically sung when the Jews celebrate Passover. They're sung before the Passover meal. The last four, Psalms 115–118, are typically sung after the Passover meal. So it's likely that when we read in Matthew 26 that "they sang a hymn as they left" that as Jesus and His disciples left the upper room where Jesus had had the last supper and had just instituted the Lord's Supper, that as they left that room and they sang a hymn and then they went out to Gethsemane where Jesus would be arrested and then taken to be crucified; it's likely that these psalms were the hymns Jesus and His disciples sang in the Upper Room before Jesus went to be crucified.

That makes them for us, as New Testament believers, very very special, as we think that Jesus knew and sang these psalms! We'll see, as we go through this psalm that this psalm (as do the others) gives us an early Old Testament portrait of Christ and His redeeming work.

These psalms are songs of thanksgiving, and as the Jews would celebrate the Passover every year (many of them still do), they would remember and they would rejoice. They would look back and they would thank God for the slain Passover lamb, and they would thank God for redeeming and delivering His people from bondage.

Today, as we celebrate the Lord's Supper as we often do in our churches, we also look back. We also remember; we also rejoice. What do we remember? What do we rejoice over? Well, it's the deliverance that we've experienced from sin through the shed blood of Christ, our Passover Lamb.

As we celebrate the Lord's Supper, these psalms are appropriate for us to have in mind as we remember and we rejoice.

During the Passover, the Jews not only looked back, they also looked forward to the day when Messiah would come and would deliver His people from their spiritual bondage. As we observe the Lord's Supper in our churches, we not only look back, we also look forward. We anticipate the hope of our final, ultimate, complete redemption when Jesus comes back to take us to Himself.

So, put these psalms in the context of the Passover and the Lord's Supper. We look back; we remember; we rejoice, and we look forward with great anticipation to the consummation of God's eternal plan as we experience that final redemption.

Now, to Psalm 113. There are three stanzas, and each one has three verses, so it outlines pretty neatly. We're going to take a day on each of these three stanzas (plus, this first day, on the first phrase of this psalm). Let me read Psalm 113 (the first three verses are one stanza, then verses 4–6, and then 7–9 form the third stanza), and then we'll start to unpack just the first phrase. 

Praise the LORD!
Praise, O servants of the LORD,
  praise the name of the LORD!

Blessed be the name of the LORD 
  from this time forth and forevermore!
From the rising of the sun [some of us saw that this morning! And we're thanking God in our worship time this morning for the beauty of the rising of the sun . . . we praised Him]
  to its setting, the name of the LORD is to be praised!

The LORD is high above all nations,
  and his glory above the heavens!
Who is like the LORD our God,
  who is seated on high,
  who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? 

He raises the poor from the dust
  and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
  to make them sit with princes,
  with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home,
  making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the LORD! (Ps. 113:1–9).

This is a short psalm, but one that's packed with meaning, and we're going to manage, I think, to get four days of programs out of that psalm. So join me, if you would, in praying and asking the Lord to speak to us through His Word.

Lord, we honor You because this is the Word of the Lord! This is our praise to You and about You, but You've also given this to us. It's inspired, and it's holy, and I pray that You would fill our hearts this day with fresh hunger, fresh thirst, fresh appetite to hear You, to know You, to see You, to respond to You, and to praise You with all that is within us for Your great redeeming works.

We love You. We bless You. We celebrate Christ our Passover Lamb, who has been slain for us, but is also raised and ascended and seated at the right hand of God—who today makes intercession for us. We come boldly to the throne of God, in the name and through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, to say, "Oh, God, come visit us, meet with us, speak to us, tune our hearts to sing Your praise. Be magnified as we worship, as we listen, as we respond to Your Word." We pray in Jesus' holy name, amen.

The first verse: "Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD!" That might sound a little repetitious, and if you were writing this in an English class in high school, your teacher might say, "Now, that's a little redundant. You need to be more concise."

I never had a teacher tell me I was too concise in my writing. Usually they said, "You need to trim some words out. You're using too many words." But when Scripture uses this number of repetitions, it's not an accident. It's intentional. God doesn't need an editor.

In Hebrew poetry (we could talk about that another time) it's just important to know that when you see repetition in the Scripture (particularly in Hebrew poetry), it's significant; it's important. There's a purpose for it. It's intentional. The emphasis in this first verse shines light on the concepts that God wants to make sure we get.

So we start with the first phrase, "Praise the LORD!" Does anyone know what that phrase is in the original Hebrew language in which the Old Testament was written? Praise the Lord in Hebrew would be . . . Hallelujah! You knew it! You were a little afraid to say it, because you thought you might be wrong. If you can say the word  hallelujah, you can speak a little bit of Hebrew. That's the word there.

It's actually two Hebrew words that are put together. The first is a verb, hallel. That word means "to praise." When you go to the root of that word, its meaning is really special. Here is what a couple of Bible dictionaries tell us about that word. It means "to be bright, to shine, to be splendid, to boast, to celebrate, to glorify."

The root word has the idea of radiance, brightness, bright shining radiance. It could refer to a bright or a clear light that's visible from a specific source—such as the sun, the moon, the stars give off light. They're radiant; they're bright; they're brilliant; they're splendid.

From this we get the Hebrew word hallel, which means to praise, to make your boast in God, to shine a spotlight on Him, to show that He is brilliant. Wikipedia even has something to say about this word, hallel, in Hebrew. It says it's "joyous praise in song; to boast in God."

It says it also can refer to someone who acts madly or foolishly. And we have some illustrations in Scripture of people who when they would praise the Lord, people thought were kind of nuts. This is a God they're praising that you can't see, and yet people are praising Him.

I think if some people who don't know God were to walk into some of our churches and hear us talking about how good God is, how faithful God is, how kind God is . . . or they hear us clapping to praise the Lord, or watch us lifting our hands to praise Him, to bless Him . . . or they hear us sing, "Hallelujah!" and sometimes shouting "Hallelujah!" (if you're Presbyterian, this may be hard for you), those people might look around and think, Who are they talking to? What are they talking about? What's this about?

They might we think we were looking a little foolish, that we were acting madly, that we were crazy. But we're not crazy (if we are, it's good crazy) as we praise the Lord, as we celebrate His greatness, His goodness. Hallelujah!

Another Bible dictionary says this verb hallel (the root to that) suggests "being sincerely and deeply thankful for and satisfied in, lauding the superior qualities or the great acts of the subject." Now, that's a mouthful. But it means that, as we focus on God who is so great, who is so powerful, we focus on His superior qualities, His exceptional, extraordinary, unique, amazing qualities. We're deeply thankful for them.

We're sincerely thankful. We're satisfied as we lift up worship and praise, as we boast in God, as we say, "Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!" We offer up praise. You see in this passage and in many of the psalms, our praise is to be offered with an attitude of joy, with an attitude of rejoicing, an attitude of delight. It's knowing who God is, believing that God is who He says He is. In our lives, that kind of faith should always be intertwined with joy.

Faith and joy are intertwined because of the greatness of our God.

Now, that doesn't mean every circumstance in our lives is a joyful one. We know that's not the case. There are some here today who are in the middle of some deeply grieving, painful, hurtful circumstances. But in the midst of that, haven't you experienced as you lift your eyes up (even though they may be filled with tears) that there's joy from a source you can't explain, that doesn't have anything to do with your circumstances. It has everything to do with the One who you're praising, the One you're worshiping.

Faith and joy are intertwined because of the greatness of our God!

I said hallelujah is a combination of two Hebrew words. The first is the verb hallel, which means to praise. The second word is the noun jah, which is short for jaweh or Jehovah. You'll see that jah at the end of some compound names in the Old Testament.

Elijah means, "the God of Jehovah." Abijah, King Abijah in the Old Testament, means "My father is jaweh (Jehovah)." When you see that jah at the end of a name, it refers to Jehovah. So hallel, jah—hallelujah—what does it mean when you put it together? "Praise the Lord, praise jaweh, praise Jehovah."

When we read in the English text, "Praise the Lord" as we do at the beginning and at the end of this psalm, it's that Hebrew word, Hallelujah. Jah—Jehovah, the self-existent One, the One who revealed Himself to Moses in Exodus 3 as "I AM that I AM." "I need nothing; I need no one; I am self-existing; I am self-sufficient."

Whenever we speak the word "hallelujah," we're actually speaking the Lord's name in an abbreviated form. So let me say this (and I don't want to put anybody on the spot, but maybe we need to be put on the spot), to use this word or a similar words casually or flippantly is to trivialize the Lord's name.

When somebody makes a great shot in a basketball game or when you get a raise or something, to just flippantly say, "Hallelujah!". . . Now if you mean, "Praise the Lord," then say that. But if you just mean you're excited about something, be careful how you use that word, because when we use that we're using God's name.

To trivialize that word is to trivialize God's name, to take it in vain. It's to profane His name. So use the word, use the term, use it with joy, use it as praise. But remember, when you do, you're speaking the name of God.

Here's how Charles Spurgeon addressed that. He said, "Surely, this is not a word to be dragged in the mire. It should be pronounced with solemn awe and sacred joy." Awe and joy! Hallelujah.

So, "Praise the Lord" is the first phrase of this psalm—hallelujah. This is a Hebrew expression of praise to God. It's a standard call to worship in the celebration and the corporate worship of the Jews. With one exception in the Psalms (Psalm 135), when you see the word hallelujah or the phrase "Praise the Lord in the Psalms," it's always found at the beginning or at the end of the psalm.

It's a call to worship. It's a benediction. It's an exclamation point. It's a celebration in our corporate worship.

Alfred Edersheim (some of you may recognize that name as a nineteenth-century scholar of biblical times and life and has written some wonderful helpful scholarly works about what it was like in the Bible times) describes the responsive reading of the psalms in the temple worship. He said the Levites would read the first line of the psalm, and then the people would repeat that line.

After the Levites would read each successive line (of course they didn't have their Bibles, they didn't have iPhones, they didn't have the text in front of them, this was transmitted orally), the people would say (at the end of each line) "Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!"

So I want us to read Psalm 113 in this responsive way that the Jews might have read it in their corporate worship. I'm going to read the text, and then I'm going to ask you to say with all your heart (like you mean it, with energy) the part that's in brackets there. We'll read this responsively. 

So, beginning in verse 1 (Psalm 113):

Praise the LORD! (Praise the Lord!) 
Praise, O servants of the LORD, (Hallelujah!)
Praise the name of the LORD! (Hallelujah!) 

Blessed be the name of the LORD (Hallelujah!) 
  from this time forth and forevermore! (Hallejuah!) 
From the rising of the sun to its setting, (Hallelujah!)
  the name of the LORD is to be praised! (Hallelujah!) 

The LORD is high above all nations, (Hallelujah!) 
  And his glory above the heavens! (Hallelujah!) 
Who is like the LORD our God, (Hallelujah!) 
  who is seated on high, (Hallelujah!) 
  who looks far down (Hallelujah!) 
  on the heavens and the earth? (Hallelujah!) 

He raises the poor from the dust (Hallelujah!) 
  and lifts the needy from the ash heap, (Hallelujah!) 
To make them sit with princes, (Hallelujah!) 
  with the princes of his people. (Hallelujah!) 
He gives the barren woman a home, (Hallelujah!)
  making her the joyous mother of children. (Hallelujah!)
Praise the LORD! (Hallelujah!) (vv. 1–9)

Hallelujah! Don't you love reading Scripture that way? So, maybe when your pastor reads the psalms on Sunday, you insert a few hallelujahs. (You might want to talk with him about that first.) Well, hallelujah! Praise the Lord!

Now this word, hallelujah, is found forty-two times in the Old Testament. I want to talk about just how it's used grammatically and what it suggests so that when you read the term hallelujah or praise the Lord (depending on your translation), you'll know what it is really meaning and saying.

First of all, it's almost always used in the imperative mood. What does that suggest to you? This not an option. This is a command! Praise the Lord! You see it in Psalm 113, verse 1 and verse 9. This is not a suggestion. Praise the Lord! Not just, if you feel like it, praise the Lord. If the sun is shining today, praise the Lord. This is whatever's happening, praise the Lord!

The grammatical form makes this the strongest command possible in the Hebrew language. "Praise the Lord!" So, to praise the Lord is a great privilege, but it's also an awesome responsibility for every child of God in every season and circumstance of our lives.

Also, the grammatical form here suggests that this is not just to be an occasional activity, something you just do when you're sitting in a recording session and we're reading responsively and you go, "Hallelujah, praise the Lord!" This is to be a habitual lifestyle. It's a way of life.

Praise is to be a way of life.

One commentator said it should be our "persistent, persevering activity." Of course, we come together for our corporate worship, and we don't do that every day, all the time. But twenty-four/seven we are to be in lifestyle of praising the Lord—consciously, volitionally, gladly, eagerly, willingly. Hallelujah, praise the Lord!

Then it's interesting that the verb used in this phrase (hallel), the verb "to praise" is not in a singular form. It's in the plural form, which suggests that praise is not essentially or primarily a solo song. It's not a spectator sport. ALL are to join in praising the Lord, as we just did in the reading of that psalm, and as we're doing here, gathered in the presence of the Lord, praising the Lord.

A moment ago before this session started, we had some time of praise. Different ones led us out loud in praise. Did you find that your heart was joining in as people were praising the Lord? Praise the Lord, y'all. Or as they say in the South, "All y'all."

Praise the Lord. Worship does not equal a group of singers or musicians standing on a platform, performing. Now, they may be worshiping the Lord, but for us to just stand there and watch them, like bumps on logs, that's not worship. We're supposed to join. We're not just supposed to stand there and spectate.

It's sad to me to say, but you look around at a lot of churches today during the "worship time" and the only people singing, pretty much, are the people up on the platform! Now, it's great that they're singing, but what about us? This is a plural "y'all." "All y'all, praise the Lord! Hallelujah!"

If this psalmist were a worship leader in a church service, I think he would say to the congregation, "Praise the Lord all of you—not some of you—all of you!" So we see here the power of the corporate praise of God's people. Some of you remember the names Charles and John Wesley—the founders of Methodism.

Charles and John were hymnwriters. They loved hymns. The Methodists in the early days of the Methodist revival were hymn-singing people. In 1761, John Wesley wrote what he called some "rules for singing." Let me read to you the first two of those rules. This language is a little quaint, but I think it makes a point.

Number one: Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.

Have you ever found it so hard, sometimes, to sing the songs or the hymns that were being sung? Was it a cross to you? He says, "Take up that cross." Sing to the Lord even when you don't feel like it, and you will find it becomes a blessing to you. So, number one, sing all.

Number two . . . we wouldn't quite use this wording today, but I think you'll get what he means.

Number two: Sing lustily and with a good courage. [In those days, the word "lustily" would mean "sing out, sing up, sing courageously."] Beware of singing as if you were half-dead or half-asleep [I like that!], but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan. 

He was saying to them, "When you were following Satan and you were at the bars and you were at the games and whatever, you would sing out, but then you come to church her voice drops and you sing timidly. Sing out! Sing with good courage. Sing lustily!"

Now there are some like me who have a voice that is not made to be miked when singing. I'm kind of a soundman's worst nightmare, because sometimes in conferences I will just break into a song, and all they can hear in their headsets is my voice, and I think maybe they want to turn off the mic.

I don't have a singing voice. My mother's the one in the family who got that. But we're still supposed to sing. My voice, the older I get, the more it cracks, and it's not something they would ever air on Christian radio—unless I sing during this series and then they might not have any option!).

But we're to sing all, sing out, sing to the Lord. Hallelujah! It's a word that's mostly used in the Old Testament, but four times in the New Testament we find this word hallelujah. It's a transliteration of the Hebrew, "Hallelujah, praise the Lord."

All four of those uses in the New Testament are found, do you know where? Revelation 19, one of the last chapters of the Bible. This is the chapter where we see the consummation of human history. We see the fall of Babylon the Great, representing the kingdom of man. We see that the King of kings returns to earth to reign forever and ever. And this great work of our heavenly, holy, majestic God prompts the citizens and the angels of heaven to lift their voices up in a great hallelujah chorus in Revelation 19. When we think of singing, "Hallelujah," saying "Praise the Lord!" we don't always think of using it in the way it's used first in Revelation 19—as these angels and saints praise God for His righteous judgments. Let me read Revelation 19:1.

"After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice . . . " and in the Greek, that loud voice is the word from which we get "megaphone." This was like a megaphone, these angels, these citizens, this "of a great multitude in heaven, crying out . . ." What do they cry out? Let me hear it a little bit more. Hallelujah! Let me hear it as if you had a megaphone. I love it! 

[They were] crying out, "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality and has avenged on her the blood of his servants." 

Once more they cried out, "Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever." [This is God's judgment on Babylon the Great—on all wickedness and all kingdoms of men.] And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, "Amen. Hallelujah!" And from the throne came a voice saying, "Praise our God, all you his servants you who fear him, small and great." 

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude [And in that day, that multitude will include us. We'll be there! We'll be part of this throng] like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, [what?] "Hallelujah! For the LORD our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready" (Rev. 19:1–7).

Say it with me: Hallelujah! Again: Hallelujah! Louder: Hallelujah! For the Lord God Almighty reigns. Praise the Lord! 

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been leading us in a study of Psalm 113. We're calling this series "Hallelujah: A Praise Celebration." We're able to bring you this kind of teaching thanks to listeners who know the value of getting into God's Word each day. They want to continue hearing the teaching of Revive Our Hearts, and they support the ministry through prayer and financial gifts.

When you support the ministry with a gift of any size today, we’d like to send you the 2019 Revive Our Hearts wall calendar. Nancy, I know listeners look forward to getting this calendar each year.

Nancy: Yes, it’s become a tradition for so many of our listeners to get the calendar each fall, and be ready for a new year. This time, the calendar theme is “Seeking Him.” It’s filled with colorful artwork and beautiful lettering designed by our team. Each page in this thirteen-month calendar includes a new word of the month to focus on. They’re all drawn from the chapter themes from the book I've co-authored, Seeking Him: Experiencing the Joy of Personal Revival.

Each page of this calendar also includes a Scripture verse on that theme and a quote from the book. One of my favorites is this one on “grace.” It says, “There is not a moment or circumstance you will ever face for which God’s grace is not available and more than sufficient to meet your need.” Imagine being able to look at that quote every day of the month and being reminded that whatever you are facing that day, God's grace is there. It's available, and it's sufficient for your need.

I know you’ll want to get this year’s wall calendar to hang in your home. So when you make a donation of any amount, ask for the wall calendar. Our number is 1–800–569–5959, or visit us at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Leslie: Okay, think about this: You can't worship and whine at the same time! Let that sink in, and join us tomorrow when we talk more about it. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts. 

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth invites you to worship the Lord in praise. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.

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