Hallelujah – Hebrew for “Glory to the Lord” – After discussion with my wife and others I decided to revisit the subject of “Hallelujah” made famous by Leonard Cohen’s writing, and timeless by Jeff Buckley’s version of the song.
Let’s delve into this a bit. It is important I post my disclaimer up front. I’m not learned in musical intent. While I do enjoy music in both sound and lyric, it is possible and likely each of us will take from music different feelings. This is common with wine, and holds true with song. I’m only giving you my interpretation as I understand it. Let’s begin.
In order to follow along, we should have the video queued up and ready to go found below. Watch and listen once through it without distraction. Jeff’s video starts in a dark setting, black clothing, white guitar, an soft electric feel resonates from his guitar with no distortion. I always like a black and white setting for things like this. It always gives me the feeling of something that lasts and lasts. Color in both video and still pictures gives me a ‘new age’ reflection, so the old formats seem to not only have been around longer , but may in turn last longer.
Well I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
Well it goes like this:
The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
David (King David) was known for music. He is credited with concept of Temple singing and 1 Samuel 16:22-23 is pretty clear to me: Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David now stand before me, for he has found favor in my sight.” So it came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him.
The fourth, fifth, minor, major, etc. are pretty interesting. After I researched it a bit I found this from a gentleman in Florida: “It is clever the way that not only the chords line up in the lyrics and in the music, but also because the connotations themselves of “major” and “minor” add to the meaning of the song. The “fourth” is a major chord based on the fourth of the key Buckley is playing in. Likewise the fifth is the major chord based on the fifth tone of the key. The “Minor Fall” corresponds to Buckley playing a minor chord based on the sixth of the key. “Major Lift” corresponds to playing the major chord on the fourth again.”
Do you wonder what a king composing “Hallelujah” for the Lord would express through that meaning?
Well your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
She tied you to her kitchen chair
And she broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
This verse ties in with the end of the first and the “baffled king” as it relates to faith being strong but needing proof. This verse is intertwined in such a fashion it is hard to pick apart if you’re not paying close attention. David wasn’t out with his army, which was tradition, and managed to sneak a peek at Bathsheba who was bathing toward the end of the day. We can debate whether or not she should have been there at that time of day or whether she was bait as some versions depict afternoon, and others moonlight or nighttime, but either way David looked upon her and didn’t stop. 1st Samuel 11:2: Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance. Eventually David conspired to kill Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, among others after he sent for her and committed adultery. We all know what happened on down the line to David.
“Having taken a Nazirite vow at birth, Samson had been set apart to God. As part of that vow, his hair was never to be cut,” I read on another site. Samson divulged to Delilah, who had been paid by the Philistine leaders, that his strength would be removed if his hair was cut with a razor or shear. Delilah conspired, cut his hair, and weakened Samson was captured. The story goes on of course, but this portion is relevant to our song.
Put yourself in the position of David or Samson and ask yourself what version of “Hallelujah” you’d be expressing as “she drew” them?
But baby I’ve been here before
I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor
You know, I used to live alone before I knew ya
And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
And love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah
I’m not clear on the first portion of this verse. Possibly this is from an experience Cohen had as the writer, or maybe not. I envision something like the damp emptiness of a home void of a soul partner. Possibly life before love or before loss. Although meager life… The bitter is necessary to appreciate the sweet, yes?
Nearly the same applies for me in the second half of the verse. This may have been related to a vision or experience Cohen had, but for me, this plays well with the marching of a returning or conquering force. I can see battle flags and banners draped all over with cheering people and rows of soldiers. Is that what love is? A conquering force with a “victory march”???
That would explain a “cold and broken” Hallelujah proclaimed before the Lord, might it not?
Well there was a time when you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show that to me do ya
But remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah
This gets muddy. Cohen is noted for saying this was about the beauty and spiritual nature of love making. Buckley attributes this and the balance of the song to that of orgasm. While I’ve read this from Buckley in a couple different interviews, I chose to take the interview into context. I noticed in those same interviews that was the only subject of the dialogue between Buckley and the interviewer. I’m assuming there was more to talk about between two seated people than one or two questions and answers. I might be wrong, but for this reason I guessing this was sensationalized somewhat or probably a lot. Either way, the song doesn’t hold the meaning of orgasm for me across the board. To me this verse does without a doubt contain the act of love making though.
The first portion I view as a time when two people’s love making was more often in frequency and obviously more satisfying and special to them. This assumes what was, so it would appear to be fading by comparison. The ‘holy dove’ is orgasmic in detail with white movement, and you’re left with the expression of “Hallelujah” within the breathing being taken and made during love. What must that be like in relationship to the Lord?
Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
And it’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah
Questioning God’s existence isn’t something I dig, but questioning in and of itself is OK. In fact, not knowing is the pinnacle question we have at many times in our lives. It’s OK to question and not understand. It’s not OK to assume and forget that ‘faith’ is a pretty big word and should be fully grasped. Learning from Paradise Lost that to hurt first or become jaded is normal saddens me. But life experience can shape our responses. Luckily, we have Gospel to help us shy away from the human tendencies we have that run to the negative. Shooting somebody who ‘outdrew ya’ would be an example of a behavior we’d seek to modify of course. We don’t ever seek to be in a position of hurting to stay ahead of being hurt in healthy relationships, and we certainly don’t hurt in response to being hurt either.
What would be a cry you’d hear at night? What would a non-believer or lost soul do in times of love lost and despair? What would a “Glory to the Lord” sound like from a wretch? What about a believer that was having a rough go of it? What about a “Hallelujah” from a person suffering a loss of faith? Would it be cold and broken?
The song starts off light and soulful and then breaks into stride or cadence if you will, and we feel it build with each verse. The little bridge in the last verse is no accident. I wonder why that is? Is that the “Selah” Pastor Brian mentioned a few weeks back in some fashion? A pause for impact and effect? I think so…
Take this imagery, the examples of sin, the portraits of love lost, and faith tested, and you have a story book tragedy. Yet that isn’t my take-away. Instead, the pain and anguish in Buckley’s voice let’s me know that even when we’re at our worst the Lord is right there with us. Is there a reason to not share “Hallelujah” and give glory to the Lord in everything we do and experience? Especially if we don’t understand it or are hurting.
Is that not a Christian ethic?
While some Christians won’t agree with me, I find this song deeply moving, rich in soul, and clearly worthy of listening. Cohen wrote a good song, Buckely made it great with his recording. I love it, and I know how I feel in relationship to God as I view each of those same feelings portrayed with my own retrospect. I can relate, and when you can do that, your feelings and conclusions come to you with great conviction. That conviction translates into Christian ethics and morals when properly shaped.
Those are good things.