“Hallelujah! How good it is to sing to our God, for praise is pleasant and lovely” (Psalm 147:1, CSB).
Alleluia! Praise Jesus our Lord and Savior! Shout it out loud dear reader. Don’t be shy to make a joyful sound to the Lord.
Don’t be surprised if after your shout of Alleluia, you feel happier somehow and rather peaceful, despite any odd looks you might have received from those around you in reaction to your unexpected outburst of praise to God. Like food or water for our bodies, our souls seem to be fed and enriched by praising God.
There are many ways to praise God in prayer and song, in speech and music, in a variety of words. But there’s something particularly joyful and deeply satisfying about the word Alleluia, or Hallelujah, which is the original word in Hebrew. The word ‘hallel’ in Hebrew means a joyous praise in song, and the second part, ‘Yah’, refers to Yahweh, God; so that the whole word more or less means ‘praise God joyfully.’
An in-built Desire
“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150:6, ESV).
The desire to joyfully praise God seems to have been built into our human nature. Alleluia rolls off our tongues so easily, and there’s a deep satisfaction that accompanies it.
Venerable Fulton J. Sheen is quoted as saying, “If you do not worship God, you worship something, and nine times out of ten it will be yourself. You have a duty to worship God, not because He will be imperfect and unhappy if you do not, but because you will be imperfect and unhappy.”
The intrinsic need to praise God is perhaps most clearly seen in communities that have a tradition of ululation—a joyful, trilling sound made during celebrations such as weddings, the birth of a child, graduations, and ordinations. It is a sound that expresses thanksgiving, hence it acknowledges the existence of a good God who blesses, since one cannot logically give thanks to no one.
Ululation is common in various parts of Africa, the Middle East, parts of Asia, Cyprus in Europe, and among some Jews. While the trill sound itself is a little bit different in each community, it bears a remarkable resemblance to the sound of the word ‘Alleluia’. It may not be far-fetched to conclude that even before people know the Good News of Jesus, of the one true God, they sense Him, from whom we all come. They desire to give Him praise with a sound so authentic that it comes from the heart and finds its way to the tongue, where it performs its celebratory trilling dance. No overthinking, no planning. Just an expression of joy.
Dancing and ululation are part and parcel of Mass in the Catholic Church in many African countries. A choir member or any participant, may break out in ululation, for instance while singing the Gloria, during the offertory procession or after Holy Communion. Ululation is also a common practice in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Eritrean Orthodox Church.
Alleluia, beyond being a Hebrew word, seems to be a heavenly one, as many who have the gift of worshiping in the Spirit will attest. And unlike our ancestors, who may not have known to whom, worship and honor is due, we are privileged to be able to direct our worship to Jesus, king of kings.
Power in Praise
“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel” (Psalm 22:3, ESV).
Something astounding happens when we praise God. He comes. As we know, in His presence “there is fullness of joy” (See Psalm 16:11). You know that feeling you get when someone you love walks into the room? Everything seems better and brighter, doesn’t it? What about when Jesus, the One who is love, walks into the room? Can anyone’s life possibly remain the same as before He came in? Well, can you add honey to a cup of tea without sweetening it? Or spice to food without seasoning it?
In the book Power in Praise by Merlin Carothers, the author tells stories of the miraculous happenings in people’s lives as a result of praising God. These were people who chose to praise God in dire circumstances. As a result, Jesus did many amazing things in their lives, including delivering an alcoholic father, healing a daughter from an incurable mental illness, and bringing home many ‘prodigal’ children.
There is an exciting incident told in the Bible relating to praise in Chapter 6 of the Book of Joshua. It is an action packed, praise-filled and thrilling event. A strong wall stands between the Israelites and the city of Jericho, their God-given right. God gives Joshua an unusual strategy. Their army must march around the city once a day for six days, with their priests playing trumpets and carrying the Ark of the Covenant. On the seventh day, the Israelites are to march around the walls of Jericho seven times. When Joshua gives the order, the men are to give a tremendous shout. They obey. Jericho’s walls miraculously fall down. The Israelites enter and capture the city. What an amazing lesson in the power of praise! Praise with trumpet blasts and with loud shouts.
We know from the Book of Revelation that the sound of the saints in heaven praising God is tremendous. “And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunders, saying, Hallelujah: for the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigneth” (Rev 19:6, ESV).
And so on earth, as it is in heaven, we joyfully praise Jesus. Alleluia!