The Diamond of Praise: Hosannah!

The Diamond of Praise: Hosannah!

A Facet of Praise: Hosannah! Save Us! Thank You!

“The area of ancient Israel’s greatest creativity, and so what they did best, was the praise of God.” (Ellen Davis, Getting involved with God). “I will extol Thee, my God, O King; And I will bless Thy name forever and ever. Every day I will bless Thee, and I will praise Thy name forever and ever. Great is the Lord Yahweh, and highly to be praised; And His greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall praise Thy works to another, and shall declare Thy mighty acts, the glorious splendor of Thy majesty, and on Thy wonderful works I will meditate.”  (Psalm 145, a song of praise by David).

Scripture doesn’t define the word “praise,” but it offers plenty of descriptions. Praise can be described as an outward expression of gratitude for all that God has done for oneself, for the community, for the world. Praise is a recounting of the many blessings that God has provided in His grace and mercy. Praise is a grateful appreciation of God’s mighty works. Praise is an expression of thanksgiving to the Lord, an acknowledgement of God’s righteous deeds. To praise God is to thank God and celebrate His presence in the world.

Praise is what we were created to do, it is the chief of our ultimate satisfactions, and we won’t find personal fulfillment unless we develop the habit of forgetting ourselves and praising God. Most of us Christian believers are not following in the footsteps of our Jewish brethren and praising God with an inspired creativity. The fact is, the Hebrew Bible reveals a vocabulary of praise that will help us in our bid to be more expressive of our praise, more imaginative, more creative. The Hebrew Bible reveals praise to be a diamond with an almost uncountable number of facets. There are many words in Scripture that may translate as praise, but the reality is praise has an abundance of angles and facets and dimensions that we need to learn if we want to mature in our praise of God. The Hebrew language is loaded with words that contain the element of praise but with added qualities that expands our view of what praise could mean to us in our walk of faith. Knowing these words will help us to participate more fully and deeply in praising our God, in expressing our thanksgiving to Him in every way humanly possible. “Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim Thy praise (tehillah, see below).” (Psalm 51:15 )

Praising God involves all of us, not just our intellect to think with or our bottoms to sit on. Praise and worship in the Jewish tradition is a physical experience as well as spiritual, with lots of meaningful postures and gestures, singing, multisensory, thoughtful yet expressive. Praise and worship in the Hebrew Bible invariably incorporated music and melody and instrumentation. Praise is not a spectator sport, but one that asks for full participation. As Dwight Pryor once said, “Praise is not afraid of feelings, but they are not based on feelings. If praise were a train, the engine that needs to constantly be stoked is God-focus and self-forgetfulness, and the emotional feelings are basically the caboose… still a part of things, but not what’s running the train.”

Praise is our exhale of gratitude and devotion after our inhale of God’s inspired presence. God initiates, we respond. So praising God is like our respiratory system, and unless we are breathing in God and then breathing out praise, we will spiritually expire. If we don’t learn how to respond to God’s goodness with heartfelt praise, our faith will soon become lifeless. Consider this category of “The Diamond of Praise” in the blog to be my meager attempt to polish each facet on this sparkling diamond. Each Hebrew word in this expanded vocabulary of praise will convey a different aspect of praise, and is intended to help us be more creative in our praise, more expressive, and actually, more biblical.

“Hosannah! We beg of you, Yahweh, please save us now! We beseech you, Lord, grant us success and bring us victory! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of Yahweh. The Lord is God, and He has made His light shine upon us. (Psalm 118:25-27); “The crowds who went in front of Jesus and those who followed Him were all shouting, ‘Hosannah to the Son of David! Blessed and praised is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosannah in the highest heaven!’ And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil as people asked, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds answered, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee!” (Mattthew 21:9; The Triumphant Entry, Matthew 21:1-11).

The cries of Hosannah! that the crowds shouted to Jesus at His triumphal entry into Jerusalem is somewhat different than the messianic prophecy they were actually quoting from Ps. 118:25. Those ancient worshipers singing the psalm passage were chanting, “Hoshiana” which is a Hebrew word that can be described in different ways: Please save us now; Grant us salvation now; Come to the rescue and deliver us now, please; Bring us the victory soon, we beg you. Hoshiana was understood then to be an urgent request for deliverance in a time of need. It was a petition for salvation in a time of danger and distress. The root word for hoshiana (“save us now”) is “Yasha,” which means to be set free into the wide open; to be delivered in a time of desperate need; to be saved from destruction or certain death; to be rescued from an existence that had become “confined, compressed, or cramped.” (E. Peterson). So ‘salvation’ literally means to be liberated into a spacious place, to be delivered into a wide open, broad, expansive existence. The urgent pleas of hoshiana, save us now, in verse 25, is in a context already established earlier in this same psalm, Ps. 118:5, “From my distress, I called upon the Lord. He answered me and set me on a large place. After being in a tight spot, the Lord placed me into a broad space. Because I was hemmed in, I called on the Lord Yahweh. He answered me and gave me room.”

And then Hoshiana evolved into Hosannah, the Hebrew word being upstaged and replaced by the Greek word. The meaning of that salvation word in Ps. 118 developed into a broader term meaning two things at the same time: “Save us now! We praise you for saving us!” By the time of Jesus, the term hosannah was commonly understood to combine “Help us!” with “Thank you!” Hosannah became a term that was both a petition and a praise, in the typical Jewish fashion… On the one hand this, on the other hand that. Both are true. The composer of Psalm 118 intended Hoshiana to be a plea for salvation. The crowds surrounding Jesus centuries later were thinking of Hosannah and intending that word to mean “Save us now! And we praise you for you salvation!” The crowds circling Jesus in praise were exclaiming that they were about to be rescued by this prophet Messiah so long ago prophesied by Moses (Deut. 18). In exclaiming Hosannah, the crowd was declaring their confidence in this man Jesus riding on a donkey’s colt as spoken of in Zechariah 9:9. They were thrilled that soon this man Jesus would deliver them from a narrow existence, a life in which they were hemmed in by any number of things… the Romans, the religious establishment, their own sinfulness. They were zealously hoping that Jesus was the one who would understand their feelings of being trapped in a tight place, that this was the man who bring them salvation.

Despite the probably wide array of things that the crowd wanted to be saved from, there is undoubtedly one memory in that crowd that everyone shared when they were shouting Psalm 118: The Feast of the Tabernacles. This was an extremely popular festival designed by Yahweh through Moses, to be a festival of joy and celebration. This festival had a little bit of everything… a solemn walk to the pool of water where the priest at the head of the group dipped his golden pitcher for the sacred Water Ceremony; the huge flaming light columns that were 20 feet tall and lighting up all of Jerusalem; the beautiful singing, dancing, chanting in the Temple; and the famous Torch Dances in the Temple in which selected men would light torches and spin them in the air and catch them again, all while dancing ecstatically in front of the people who looked on, mesmerized. There was a messianic fervor during this Feast, with everyone believing that the Lord’s Messiah could arrive at any time. Once each day of the Feast, Ps 118 was recited in the Temple by all the worshipers. And then on the 7th Day of the Feast, also known as the Day of Hosannah, Ps. 118 is recited loudly seven times! They were all waving palm or willow branches during these recitations, and the people were ecstatic in their exaltation. The waving of the palm branches, the shouts of Hosannah, the expectation of the Messiah, all these aspects of Christ’s triumphant entrance pointed directly to their beloved Feast of Tabernacles. The spirit of joy and celebration and expectation filled the atmosphere during Jesus’s ride into Jerusalem, just as the air was filled with the same back at the Feast of Tabernacles, also known a Succoth.

It is not terribly surprising to see the evolution of Hoshiana into Hosannah, from Save Us Now to Save us Now and Thank you for Saving Us! The very context of Hoshiana in this psalm is praise and thanksgiving. Look at Ps. 118:29, the verse that concludes the psalm and wraps up its meaning, ”You are my God, and I thank you. You are my God, and I exalt you. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever!” In this famous psalm the very context of salvation is thanksgiving and praise. To see those two aspects fuse together seems natural.

It is traditionally accepted that the final song Jesus and His disciples sang at the Last Supper before departing was Psalm 118, the last of the Hallel Psalms (Mark 14:26). Could there have been a better time for them to sing Hosanna, than that the very beginning of the Passion? Save us now, Lord, and we praise you for your salvation.

Perhaps the most famous and most frequently used liturgical prayer in the Christian Church as been the “Sanctus.” There are two parts to the Sanctus (Latin word for Holy): the first part is based on Isaiah 6:3, and the second part, known as the Benedictus, is taken directly from Matthew 21:9. The following version is known as the ecumenical version because it was adopted by most of the liturgical churches, such as the Catholics, the Anglicans, the Lutherans, the Methodist, while the Eastern Orthodox have a little wrinkle that doesn’t dare touch the Benedictus:


Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might,

Heaven and earth are full of your glory.

Hosannah in the highest!

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.

Hosannah in the highest!