A little while ago we visited the church pastored by the professor of Nils’ Old Testament Theology class. His topic was true praise and it was thought provoking.

He began with two Old Testament words that are used for praise: “Hallelujah!” and “Hosanna!”Hallelujah is actually two words: hallelu (“praise”) and “Yah” (God). We recognize it as an exclamation of adoration to, and for, God. ‘Hallelujah!”

The second word, “Hosanna”, most of us recognize from Palm Sunday and Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem when the crowds shouted out

Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!     (Matthew 21:9 NRSV)

The interesting thing here is the definition of Hosanna. It is “derived from Aramaic (הושע נא) from Hebrew (הושיעה נא) (Psalm 118:25, הוֹשִׁיעָהנָּא), meaning “help” or “save, I pray” (From the Bauer lexicon: Wikipedia citation).

Usually, we think of praise as something done after-the-fact, that is, after we’ve received the help. And that is certainly a good time to praise God. But Dr. Starbuck pointed us to the idea that crying “help” in its own right is a form of praise.

Hosanna finds it’s natural abode in the Psalms, and when one realizes that the “prayer psalter of Israel” (and the church) is full of lament, then you are getting closer to understanding what Dr. Starbuck was talking about. “True praise,” as he referred to it, is not flattery but a description of that which is absolutely true. When we praise God as a holy God we aren’t flattering him, we are stating the truth (and hopefully rejoicing in it).

When we cry “help, Lord!” we praise God because we are stating a huge truth in a simple phrase. We cannot do “it” on our own and only the true God can. We are recognizing that we are needy and that He is the provider. Experientially we’re recognizing that “every good and perfect gift comes from above” (James 1:17) and we need the good gift of help at the moment. Relationally we’re acknowledging that we are children and He is father. All that in one word, “Hosanna!”And more.

This has been helpful because we want to praise God in all circumstances, but honestly, it isn’t always easy. We want to praise without phoniness or manipulation, but our motives are rarely pure. Even so, we want to praise God and these two Old Testament words make it much, much easier to do. When things are good, “Hallelujah!” and when things are tough, “Hosanna!”


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