If you watched or heard the news on 7th November you can’t have missed the reports of the death of Leonard Cohen, the Canadian singer-songwriter.
Inevitably his most famous song, “Hallelujah!” was aired several times and I found myself wondering what the song is about. “Hallelujah” is, of course, a Hebrew word that appears many times in the Bible – usually translated “Praise the LORD”.
So why does Cohen use it repeatedly in his much loved song? Coming up with an answer isn’t as straightforward as you might think. It seems that Cohen wrote a total of 15 verses; in a conversation with Bob Dylan he even claimed that there had been 80 verses at one point. So there are several versions of “Hallelujah” depending on which verses are included. But here’s a verse that is often sung:
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
I hope you’re able to spot the allusions to two Old Testament Bible stories! First there’s a reference to King David’s disastrous affair with the beautiful Bathsheba whom he saw bathing from the roof of his palace (2 Samuel 11). Then there’s Samson’s entanglement with Delilah who nagged him into telling the secret of his strength and then betrayed him to the Philistines (Judges 16).
So this verse is about two men whose reckless pursuit of love leads to personal disaster. And Cohen sings, “Hallelujah!” So I’ve discovered that this is actually a dark song we’re dealing with. It’s a song where “Hallelujah” is used – at least some of the time – in a sarcastic, cynical way.
Thank God that Christmas is coming and a different sort of song is on offer at church. Christmas is a time to sing the praises of God in a sincere, straightforward way. We’ll leave sarcasm and cynicism to others and instead sing “Hallelujah” with unrestrained joy and simplicity of heart as we celebrate God’s uncomplicated love shown in the gift of a Saviour to the world. We’ll sing carols that are full of light and truth.
Heaven sings, “Hallelujah!”
“Hallelujah!” the earth replies.
Yours in Christ