Word Study: Hosanna

CC BY, UmmZ, Flickr

CC BY, UmmZ, Flickr

We know the term “hosanna” from the New Testament when it was shouted in acclamation of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on the colt. The people were quoting Psalm 118:25-26 (ESV): “Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord.”

Hosanna properly means to save, or to be saved or delivered (hosan-), beseechingly or now (-na). It is a prayer for rescue. With time, however, the word changed from a strong plea for help to praise for its arrival—and this is the context in which it is made of Jesus, the Messiah, entering Jerusalem.

Implications of Hosanna

We all understand the basic meaning of this expression because we cry out for God’s help regularly. Life gets tough, Satan is deviously wicked, and we are frail individuals. We call to him because he is El Elyon, the Most High God, the strongest One of all.

But there are two other connotations of hosanna, one already mentioned: hosanna as an ovation for long-awaited deliverance.

It is the difference between “God, help!” and “Look! God is moving!” Don’t you love it when you notice God acting on your behalf or rescuing someone you love?

Still, in this same subtext, there is a deeper acknowledgement: God is the only one able to save. It’s worshipful—“God, you’ve got the power. If this thing is to be done, you will do it.” Often God has to prove to us that he is far bigger than what we’ve made him out to be.

Job said, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (42:5)—or we knew of God’s great power to deliver in other’s lives but had never experienced it for ourselves, not until he allowed us to be wedged in just to prove he could pull us out. Thus, we cry, “Hosanna!”

I Need Thee

The final connotation of hosanna is implied: our essential need for God. C.S. Lewis correctly observes:

“God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He himself is the fuel our spirits burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there” (from Mere Christianity).

I really need God and I’m thankful I comprehend this because many people don’t, including some Christians. Our creature comforts, social connections, and money can make us less dependent on him.

Ecclesiastes 12 is also worth pointing out. “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth before the days of trouble come…” (v. 1). Our need for God is deeper than mere rescue; nevertheless, it is best to know him well before we ever need it. No one learns CPR in the moment of crisis.

Our need for God acknowledges that he knows what’s best for us.

Keep hosanna in mind when you pray and when you praise. Keep it at the heart of you.

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