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The root הלל (halal) covers quite an array of meanings. The renowned Scripture theorist and father of modern Hebrew philology Wilhelm Gesenius squeezed all various meanings and nuances of halal into the central charge of splenduit. But almost a hundred years later, the authoritative dictionary of Brown, Driver and Briggs, listed two separate roots halal, each with their own group of meanings.

Three quarters of a century later, Harris, Archer and Waltke published their lexicon, and split the second root of Brown, Driver and Briggs in two, forming three distinct roots halal. This is of course wonderfully clever, but as mere readers of the Scriptures, we should never forget that to the Hebrews these three roots were indistinguishable.

Note that at first glance the form הלל (halal) may seem somewhat similar to חלל (halal, or chalal), but it's really quite different and no Hebrew poet would entertain a parallel between them.

הלל I

The verb הלל (halal I) denotes what lamps and celestial bodies do: shine, emit light (Job 31:26, Isaiah 13:10). This verb occurs a mere five or six times in the Bible, but it exists in cognate languages with similar meanings. In Job 41:10 this verb is employed to state how the sneezes of Leviathan "flash forth light". Equally enigmatic is a statement made by the prophet Isaiah, "How you have fallen from the heavens, O shining one, son of dawn" (Isaiah 14:12). The noun translated with "shining one" is הילל (helel) and was derived from our root halal. BDB lists this word as an appellation, an epithet, but HAW interprets it as the proper name Helel.

הלל II

The identical verb הלל (halal II) means to be boastful or to praise (also see the other important praise-verb ידה, yada). Our verb הלל (halal) shows up all over the Bible, from praising God in a liturgical setting to letting it rip in an informal bout of worship. It's even used to convey praise for commendable people (Proverbs 31:30). This verb yields three derivations:

  • The masculine noun הליל (hillul), meaning praise or a rejoicing. It occurs only in plural: הלולים (hillulim), literally meaning congratulations or rejoicings (Judges 9:27, Leviticus 19:24).
  • The masculine noun מהלל (mahalel), again meaning praise but literally a "container" for praise. It occurs only in Proverbs 27:21 where silver and gold are tested in a crucible and a furnace, and a man in his "container for" praise.
  • The feminine noun תהלה (tehilla), meaning praise, song of praise or thanksgiving or adoration, or it denotes praiseworthy deeds. This noun occurs all over the Bible. HAW condenses the meaning of this beautiful noun as, "the results of halal as well as the divine acts which merit that activity".

הלל III

The troublesome verb הלל (halal III) means to be insane, or rather irrational. It yields two derivatives:

  • The feminine noun הוללה (holela), meaning madness (Ecclesiastes 1:17).
  • The feminine noun הוללות (holelut), meaning madness as well (Ecclesiastes 10:13).

Without designating a separate root, BDB carefully acknowledges a mere few occasions in which derivations of the halal stem may denote a kind of madness: Ecclesiastes 1:17 (compare to 2:12, 7:25), where the feminine noun הוללה (holela) seems grouped together with folly, and both contrast wisdom (see the "name" Hochma).

The other instance of halal-madness that BDB is willing to concede occurs in the same book: Ecclesiastes 10:13 (compare with 9:3), where the feminine noun הוללות (holelut) is modified by the word רעה (ra'a), the common Hebrew word for evil, and both reflect the result of a process that starts with speaking nonsense.

The younger lexicon of HAW, however, counts sixteen instances of this meaning of madness; enough to recognize a whole separate root (1 Samuel 21:13, Psalm 102:9, Jeremiah 25:16).

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