Summary: The day Jesus arrived in the ancient city of Jerusalem, there’ was singing, shouting, dancing, even laying down branches and garments in the street in front of the donkey Jesus rode on. Of special interest is this foreign word, "Hosanna." What does the w
Hosanna in the highest
The day Jesus arrived in the ancient city of Jerusalem, there’ was singing, shouting, dancing, even laying down branches and garments in the street in front of the donkey Jesus rode on.
Of special interest is this foreign word, "Hosanna." What does the word mean? We use it as a praise expression, much like we would say "Hallelujah," or "Praise the Lord," but doing so may cause us to miss the underlying meaning.
The word is of Hebrew origin, formed from two words, "yashaw" and "naw".
The first of these two words is familiar to us because it stands behind the name of Jesus. The angel who instructed Joseph, explained that Mary’s baby should have the name "Yeshua," ". . . because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21) The word has a variety of possible translations: "help, liberate, preserve," literally, "make open, wide or free."
The last syllable of our word "hosanna", "naw", is a primitive particle of incitement and entreaty, which may be rendered: "I pray now."
Together these two words form a prayer, "Help, or save now, I (we) pray."
In the New Testament, "hosanna" is only found in relation to this story - the Triumphal Entry celebrated on Palm Sunday. However, even though this Hebrew word may sound strange to our ears, it was well known to Jewish worshipers, having been taken right out of their worship book:
"This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you." (Psalm 118:24-26)
Please note that this Psalm was recited as the procession of worshipers would approach the temple, quite possibly it was customary for pilgrims to chant this Psalm as they came to the temple at Passover time. However, this time, something is different, the worshippers are not merely going through the annual ritual, they are projecting these words toward the One who sits on the donkey, Jesus, the Savior. How do we know that? Well, because the religious leaders clearly understood that’s what was happening, and so they tried to stop what they thought to be blasphemy. In support of His own identity as the Son of God, the Messiah, Jesus not only refused to quiet the praise, but added that if they stopped, the stones would make up for their lack - the Lord must be praised, and Jesus is Lord!
"Save now, we pray!" they chanted loudly, "Hosanna!"
Even more closely related to the term "hosanna", are two Old Testament passages where we hear people use this word when making a plea before their King. The first is a story which appropriately comes from the reign of King David.
Joab, who held a position equivalent to Secretary of Defense in David’s administration, noticed that the King missed his son Absalom who was in hiding after having killed his half brother, Amnon, in revenge for the rape of Absalom’s sister Tamar. So Joab concocted this scheme to get David to allow his son to return safely to Jerusalem. Finding a woman who would be good at acting the part of a grieving widow and mother, Joab dressed her in mourning clothes and sent her on a mission to King David. When she approached the King, she cried out, "Hosanna" - "Help me, O king!" (II Samuel 14:4) Then she spun her tale of woe, telling the King that her husband was dead, and in a fight, one of her sons killed the other son and now the town was demanding that the surviving son, her only remaining hope for support, be handed over to be executed.
King David was moved by this story and prepared an order to be sent back to the town to spare the life of this widow’s son, when the woman gave up her play acting and appealed to the King to bring back his own son, Absalom, who had been banished. David then realized that it was Joab who was behind this scheme and sent him to bring Absalom back to Jerusalem, although the glad reunion would wait another two years until Absalom was able to convince Joab to get the King to invite him back into his presence.
Obviously, the reason we’re looking at this story is because of the plea of the woman seeking help from the King, words similar to those shouted by the crowds entering the city with Jesus. Some may be bothered by Joab’s use of deception, even though he believed he was only bringing about what the King really wanted, reconciliation with his son. However, this methodology was common in that era, as seen in the story of God’s Prophet, Nathan, using the story of the rich man taking the poor man’s lamb when David needed to be confronted with his sin with Bathsheba.