Hallelujah – Holy or Broken?

I’ve watched the video of the IDF soldiers singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in Hebrew several times now.  They are truly talented.  The production is excellent, the music is beautiful and moving, and both the vocalists and musicians are phenomenal.  And while I can recognize a little Hebrew, I am nowhere near fluent.  Perhaps some who have listened to this song have, like me, been able to pick out a few words here and there.

Which brings me to a little bit of a dilemma – I don’t really know what they are singing.  I know the lyrics in English, and of the Hebrew words I am able to pick out, I think some of the English equivalents are in both the original lyrics by Leonard Cohen and in a later version by Jeff Buckley.  And frankly, those lyrics are not praiseworthy.  But as I watched this video during the month of Elul, the Holy Spirit began to speak to me through those not-very-nice lyrics and through another song with perhaps a similar theme:  “After The Thrill Is Gone” by The Eagles.  Let me explain.

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:1-4).

What does it mean to have perseverance and endurance, but to have left your first love?  Consider for a minute a few lines from “After The Thrill Is Gone:”

Time passes and you must move on
Half the distance takes you twice as long
But you keep on singing for the sake of the song
After the thrill is gone

You’re afraid you might fall out of fashion
And you’re feeling cold and small
Any kind of love without passion
That ain’t no kind of lovin’ at all

Same dances in the same old shoes
You get too careful with the steps you choose
You don’t care about winning but you don’t want to lose
After the thrill is gone

Have we allowed that excitement of when we were first saved, or more recently the excitement of first coming to know the Hebraic Yeshua, observing the Sabbath and celebrating these wonderful feasts, to become routine? Does it take more and more effort to hang on?  Are we doing this simply for the sake of doing it, because we are supposed to?  Are we more concerned with falling “out of fashion,” of not appearing faithful rather than actually being a true disciple?  Is it more important not to lose than it is to win?

Looking into the future, Yeshua once told his disciples, “because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12).  But we who are seeking to live by God’s instructions are not lawless, are we?  Maybe our love has not grown cold, but perhaps it is on its way to becoming lukewarm.  No, the thrill isn’t gone, but is it waning?  Are we – let me make this personal – am I at risk of losing my first love?

With this in mind, I come to the Leonard Cohen song.  Again, the lyrics are not very uplifting (hint: “Hallelujah” is not a shout of praise; it is the cry of ecstasy and passion).  Please do not be offended, but consider this verse:

You say I took the name in vain
But I don’t even know the name
And if I did, well really, what’s it to ya?
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Applying a carnal context to something we hold as sacred, the lyricist suggests that after a while – after the initial thrill is gone – passion has slipped away and no one can distinguish whether this cry of “Hallelujah” is genuine (he calls it “holy”) or counterfeit, an attempt at faking it (he calls it “broken” – taking the name in vain).  These words that have been hijacked to convey a secular meaning actually expose a real spiritual problem:  we can get to the point where our words of worship and praise become rote.  “Hallelujah” or “Thank You Jesus” or even “Baruch Hashem” just become words we get used to saying.  Showing up on Sabbath, reading the portions, praying, declining the pork, and other things are just something we are supposed to do.  We – OK, I – need to return to the passion of that first love, when all of this was new and exciting.

Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first (Revelation 2:5).

Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God,
For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take words with you and return to the LORD.
Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity
And receive us graciously,
That we may present the fruit of our lips” (Hosea 14:1,2).

 Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Yeshua, the author and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).

 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit (Psalm 51:12).

This Yom Teruah (traditionally the Day of Trumpets, or Rosh Hashanah) as we enter the Ten Days of Awe leading up to Yom Kippur, I am determined not to lose that first love. The thrill is not gone.  Let there be no question that it is a “Holy” and not “broken” Hallelujah!  Blow the shofar!  The Bridegroom is soon coming for His bride with a love more passionate than anyone can imagine.

Unless marked otherwise, Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation

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