Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Holy nickname

Last spring, my bible study group read the Song of the Sea - what the Israelites sang after crossing the parted sea while fleeing the Egyptians. One thing that caught my attention was the nickname "Yah" used in the song. It is, the commentary explained, an abbreviation of the YHWH formal name of God.

It made something click for me in the worship services: Halleluyah. Learning it growing up in a Protestant church, and seeing it used in novels, I had always thought of it as just a word of praise. The past six years of attending worship services that include Hebrew let me realize that Hallelu is a Hebrew word: Let us praise. And "yah" is a nickname for God.

The name YHWH used to be pronounced by the High Priest inside the Temple during the High Holy Day services. Two thousand years ago, the Temple was destroyed and the office of High Priest was discontinued. The prohibition on saying the name outside that specific circumstance is such that the vowels and pronunciation have been lost. The Bible records an instance of the death penalty being imposed for inappropriately speaking the name YHWH (Leviticus 24:10-23).

And yet, there is this nickname. A nickname so pervasive that it is part of the most common praise for the Lord. Halleluyah. Holy nickname.

1 comment:

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