By Wayne S. Walker
“Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights!” (Psalm 148:1). Do you know what the word “hallelujah” (or its somewhat Latinized form “alleluia”) means? According to the New King James footnote on Psalm 148:1, it means “praise the Lord” or “praise Jehovah.” In the famous song based upon this psalm, with music by William J. Kirkpatrick, the unnamed author begins with the transliteration of the Hebrew term and then follows it immediately with the English translation: “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah!” The last six Psalms are called “Hallelujah Psalms” because they all begin, “Praise the Lord!”
Many other hymns and gospel songs use this term or a variation of it. Philip P. Bliss wrote, “Hallelujah! What a Savior!” John E. Thomas wrote, “Hallelujah! We Shall Rise.” In another hymn, “Praise the Lord, Ye Heavens Adore Him,” also based on Psalm 148, attributed to John Kempthorne, the chorus reads, “Hallelujah! Amen! Hallelujah! Amen! Amen, Amen.” One of my favorite hymns, though not in many of our books, was written by William C. Dix and entitled, “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus.” And then there is that ubiquitous praise song often just called “Alleluia.”
There is certainly nothing wrong with praising the Lord using the word “Hallelujah” either in song or prayer or common speech. However, we must be very careful that we do not allow “Hallelujah” to become just another interjection of surprise. Since “Hallelujah” literally means “praise the Lord,” is there any difference in shouting out “Hallelujah” when startled than in saying, “O my God” or “Good Lord”? It seems to me that using “Hallelujah” as an everyday exclamation comes rather close to taking the Lord’s name in vain. Those who truly wish to praise the Lord will want to avoid that.