The familiar word Hallelujah looks exactly like a Biblical name (verb + name of God), and it's a bit of a miracle that it was never applied as one (as far as we know). And even though in our modern languages, it exists as a verbal orphan, like a little linguistic island in a familiar textual ocean, in Hebrew it's part of a vast cluster of frequently occurring names, words and phrases. Where in our experience, Hallelujah means something like YOO-HOO!!, in Hebrew the word Hallelujah was recognized as proper language, and perfectly understood.
🔼Etymology of the word Hallelujah
The word Hallelujah consists of two elements. It ends with יה (Yah) = יהו (Yahu) = יו (Yu), which in turn are abbreviated forms of the Tetragrammaton; the name of the Lord: YHWH, and it starts with an imperative form (that means it's a command) of the root הלל (halal):
🔼Hallelujah in the Bible
Although Hallelujah consists of two distinct verbal entities (a verb and a name), it's consistently written as one word. In the Old Testament, it occurs only in the Psalms, and often at the beginning.
Hallelujah seems to fulfill the function of a mere liturgical term; a call to praise, like "here we go!" But under scrutiny a second meaning emerges, or perhaps the primary meaning that had slipped under the popular or liturgical one.
It seems that the word Hallelujah tends to show up in the vicinity of contemplations on death, which is after all the final moment of letting go every living creature has to deal with. The Bible sometimes calls death the "way of all the earth" (Joshua 23:14, 1 Kings 2:2) and the Psalmist distinctively admonishes not only his soul to perform Hallelujah (146:1), but also everything that has breath (150:6). It's a common misconception to believe that only humans have souls. In Genesis 1:20, God creates "swarmers that swarm" and gives them the soul of life. A verse later He creates the creepers and sea beasts, also endowed with the soul of life (1:21). Then He commands, "Let the earth bring forth the soul of life, according to its kind ..." (1:24).
The apostle Paul says it clearly. Not only humans are waiting anxiously for the fulfillment; all of creation has fallen and all of creation longs for the end, the freedom and the glory of the children of God (Romans 8:18-22).
Or as the Psalmist puts it: "Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul. Hallelujah!" (104:35). And "Blessed be YHWH, the God of Israel, from eternity to eternity. And let all the people say Amen. Hallelujah!" (106:48). "We will bless Yah, from this time forth and evermore. Hallelujah!" (115:18) "The Truth of YHWH endures forever. Hallelujah!" (117:2).
In Psalm 115:17 occurs the imperfect form of Hallelujah, namely יהללו־יה, Yehallelujah, meaning 'they are praising Yah' or 'they will praise Yah'. John the Revelator wrote:
"After these things I heard, as if it were, a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven saying, "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God. Because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her". And a second time they said "Hallelujah! Her smoke rises up forever and ever". And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne, saying, "Amen. Hallelujah!" And a voice came from the throne saying, "Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great". And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude and as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty reigns". " (Revelation 19:1-6; see full New Testament concordance).
Hallelujah is not a mere liturgic command, like a prelude to something exuberant. It is a crucial exercise that teaches us not only how to live but also how to die. Blessed is the one who is able to die in the spirit of Hallelujah, who can render the soul without hesitation or trepidation.
Hallelujah seems a good skill to have when the moment of the final letting go is at hand.