I am the song leader in my church. I am not very proficient as a musician or a choral director. I pray that, someday soon, God will send someone more capable, to take this ministry from me. But for the time being it is my responsibility to select the music and lead the congregation in the singing every week.

I take that responsibility seriously. The hymns and songs that I select must be doctrinally sound, they must be appropriate for worship with a God-centered worldview, and, withing those parameters, I try to select music that will reinforce and, support the text and subject of my pastor’s messages.

Some of us have been singing the hymns for years; the words roll off our lips but the messages often don't engage our minds or penetrate our hearts. With the apostle Paul, I want the congregation to "sing with understanding."

So for the past couple years, it has been my practice to select one hymn each week, research it, and then highlight it with a short introductory commentary so that the congregation will be more informed regarding the origin, the author's testimony, or the doctrinal significance of the hymns we sing.

It is my intention here with this blog, to archive these hymn commentaries for my reference and to make them freely available to other church song leaders. For ease of reference, all the hymn commentaries in this blog will be titled IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Other posts (which will be music ministry related opinion pieces) will be printed in lower case letters.

I know that some of the comments contain traces of my unique style, but please feel free to adapt them and use the content any way you can for the edification of your congregation and to the glory of God.

All I ask is that you leave a little comment should you find something helpful.

Ralph M. Petersen

Please follow this blog to keep notified of new entries.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


If you have attended church regularly for over forty years, you are probably familiar with a not-so-great, song we used to sing frequently in Sunday School or Youth meetings.  

Give Me Oil In My Lamp” has a chorus that repeats over and over after each verse;
Sing, hosanna, sing hosanna,
Sing hosanna to the King of kings.

I had no idea what that strange word meant when I was a kid, but it does come up about this time every year (Palm Sunday) so I want to define it, as it appeared in Scripture, in both the Greek and Hebrew languages. 

The word, Hosanna, is used in the New Testament in three different places and each occurrence is in the context of a single event; Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  In Matt. 21, the people in the crowd are shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David!"  In Mark 11, they cry "Hosanna in the highest!" And in John 12, they simply call out, "Hosanna!"

Our English word "Hosanna" comes from the Greek word, which sounds exactly like, "hosanna."  The translators just used English letters to phonetically match the Greek word.

But the men who actually wrote the New Testament in Greek did the same thing that our English translators did to the Greek word. They took a two-word Hebrew phrase and just used Greek letters to make the sound of the phrase – “Hoshiya na.”

And that phrase occurs in the Old Testament, in Psalm 118:25, where it literally means, "Save, please!"   It was a loud cry of desperate men calling out to God for help.

But the meaning of that phrase changed over the years.  In the Psalm, the desperate plea was immediately interrupted and followed by the joyful exclamation: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" 

In other words, what was a cry of desperation was suddenly turned to loud shouts of joy as they realized that help was already on the way.

And so the phrase, “hoshiya na”, evolved into a joyful proclamation of hope and exultation.  Instead of meaning "Save, please!" it came to mean, "Salvation! Salvation! Salvation has come!”

So when the crowd shouted "Hosanna to the Son of David!" they were cheering and shouting, "The Son of David is our salvation! Salvation belongs to the King!"

And when they shouted, "Hosanna in the highest!" they were saying, "Let all the angels in heaven join the song of praise. Salvation! Salvation!  Let the highest heaven sing the song!"

So now, you are probably beginning to associate the word, Hosanna, with loud shouts of praise and you would be right.  In fact, that association can be seen in another hymn, "Praise Him! Praise Him!" written by Fanny Crosby.  In the third stanza is this line - "Heavenly portals, LOUD with Hosannas ring!"

"Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise."  Psalm 98:4  

Today, when we sing "Hosanna," we can personalize it almost as if we had been there ourselves.  Let's sing this as a song of loud praise and assurance.  

"Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!  Our Savior, the Son of David has come. He has saved us from guilt and fear and hopelessness.  Salvation! Salvation belongs to our God and to the Son!"


Hosanna, loud hosanna,
The little children sang,
Through pillared court and temple
The lovely anthem rang.
To Jesus, who had blessed them
Close folded to his breast,
The children sang their praises,
The simplest and the best.

From Olivet, they followed
‘Mid an exultant crowd,
The victor palm branch waving,
And chanting clear and loud.
The Lord of earth and heaven
Rode on in lowly state,
Nor scorned, that little children
Should on his bidding wait.

"Hosanna in the highest!"
That ancient song we sing,
For Christ is our Redeemer,
The Lord of heaven our King.
O may we ever praise him
With heart and life and voice,
And in his blissful presence
Eternally rejoice!

No comments:

Post a Comment