Learning to Say ‘Hallelujah’

Five psalms, the last five, all begin with a single word: “Hallelujah”—or, as most translations have it, a single phrase, “Praise the Lord.” Each of those five psalms ends with “Hallelujah” too. Ten hallelujahs end the psalter.

For the Old Testament people of God, 10 was the perfect number, the one that represented the whole. Thus five psalms ending the psalter, each beginning and ending with “Hallelujah!” represent all the praise there is, the kind of praise God deserves.

When the psalmist describes in Psalm 146 the works of the God who deserves every hallelujah, he uses seven verbs, each in the original a verb form best translated as “God is upholding . . . is giving food . . . is setting free . . . is giving sight . . . is lifting up . . . is loving . . . is watching over . . .”

To the Hebrews, the number seven meant something like the number 10—all there is; in this case, the whole of God’s activity. This is who God really is, the upholding, feeding, freeing, sight-giving, lifting, loving, watching One. We are blessed if we put our hope in the Lord “who remains faithful forever” (vv.5-6) and learn not only whom but how to hallelu.

That is the point of this joyful song. If we really mean to give all praise to the God who is always—and in all ways—giving to us, our lives will not only say “hallelujah” but point to the giving God.

Nearly 20 years ago in The Banner, Art Hoekstra wrote: “It’s not the House of Parliament, the White House, or the courthouse that makes justice. It starts at your house.” The children of this God—and that is, by faith, who we claim to be—will always be treating others the way God would treat them. Scripture is replete with references to such behavior. God’s work on earth consistently shows particular concern for those who are overlooked or ignored or unnoticed. And God’s people will do the same.

Just think of the implications of this for us today. The same verses that tell of the seven-fold work of God introduce us to the seven-fold focus of God’s work: “the oppressed . . . the hungry . . . prisoners . . . the blind . . . those who are bowed down . . . the righteous  . . .  the  alien. . . .” Victims of injustice and persecution. Those who suffer from hunger and malnutrition. Those unjustly or even deservedly behind bars. Those who cannot see, literally or figuratively. Those weighed down with concern. Those in the fellowship of believers. And those who feel like they do not belong. All are the objects not of our pity but of our piety.

This has huge implications for the way we treat those among us who need physical or financial help, those unable to feed themselves or their families, those locked up and cut off from society, those with disabilities, those who have been dehumanized or are depressed, those who possess full citizenship, and those who do not.

The people of God live to praise their God with the full commitment God deserves. We do that in large part by imitating God’s giving behavior with our own. “Hallelujah” is an easy thing to say, but it is exceedingly hard to do. Living our praise to the God who deserves it all will find us in society and in soup kitchens and in prisons and in hospitals and befriending and listening to and welcoming and accepting folks, whatever their situation, whatever their behavior, whatever their ability, whatever their past, whatever their present.

Hallelujah!

About the Author

Rev. Joel R. Boot is the executive director of the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

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