The True Meaning Behind Leonard Cohen’s Song “Hallelujah”

Some songs seem to have the edge over others, and each creative mind wants to use them in different productions. One song that has undergone various renditions is “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, from being a judge’s pick on “American Idol” to contestants making it their choice to prove their musical prowess. It was also featured in movies and series such as “Shrek” and “Scrubs”, respectively. The song sneaks into every occasion, be it a religious one or a social one, such as when Justin Timberlake sang it in 2010 for the survivors of Haiti’s earthquake. So what exactly do the words to “Hallelujah” mean? Let’s tell you what we know so far.

A Lamentation of Lost Love and Betrayal

Christians know the story of David, who had the unique gift of music and, as a young boy, used to play the harp to calm down the evil spirits that visited King Saul often. Later, when he became King, David could not control his lust for a beautiful woman, Bathsheba, who saw bathing. Therefore, he had her husband killed so he could marry her. The lyrics to Cohen’s song also talk about Delilah, who befriended Samson to get the secret of his strength. She used her charms and learned the secret was in his hair and got Samson to cut his hair, leaving him weak and at the mercy of the Philistines. The first verse of “Hallelujah” recounts such biblical stories, but once you get deep into the other stanzas, you realize there is more to the song than biblical passages. By referencing Samson and Delilah, Cohen shows the tragic romance that befalls Samson. The lyrics “her beauty overthrew you” show the lust that overcame David leading to the betrayal that Uriah the Hittite experienced when the king sent him to war to be killed.

In another stanza, you can feel Cohen’s pain when he says that he did his best, but it was not enough, so even if he stands before the Lord, he confesses there is nothing to say but “Hallelujah.” It is as if he is admitting he has given up on love. Yet in another verse, as published by Genius Lyrics, Cohen goes ahead to say that his lover would let him know what was going on below and she would communicate how she felt. It is concluded to be a sexual reference with Cohen feeling that his lover is no longer intimately interested in him. Hence he reminisces about the orgasms they once shared through the lines “the holy dove was moving to and every breath we drew was Hallelujah.”

It Has No Religious Meaning

According to Rolling Stone, Cohen confessed that David’s Hallelujah was a religious song, but he wanted to push his song to be more secular. He explained that the words could mean lots of things to people and left it open for different interpretations, even those that have nothing to do with religion. Truth be told, if you look closely at the lyrics, there is no kitchen chair in the bible to which Samson was tied before Delilah cut off his hair. Besides, the words even when sings “Baby, I’ve been here before” should tell you as much.

Therefore some conclude that the song is not a religious one and should not be sung in church. According to Reasons for Hope Jesus, the lyrics do not honor God. Even if “Hallelujah” means “praise God,” the lyrics in no way praise Him, but still, there is a version that magnifies His Name. The article goes ahead to discuss why the song is not church-appropriate. For instance, Cohen says he doesn’t know the name, and even if he took it in vain, it doesn’t matter. There is some blasphemy in that. Christians know too well that one of the Ten Commandments warn them not to take the Lord’s name in vain, and it matters because doing so is a sin.

All the same, Cohen was not too religious. He only said he had a fondness for Christ because he was touched by His generosity and could not comprehend Him. But he considered himself to uphold the Judaism faith and said he was not interested in another religion. The word “Hallelujah” has unfortunately continued to be misconstrued, and some attached a religious meaning to the song. It is no wonder that even Tori Kelly decided to sing her version during the final night of the RNC (Republic National Convention). It, however, left many bewildered since they could not understand why the song, which to some is a break-up song, was being sung at a political event.

The Song Was Underappreciated for a Decade

Although it has become like a national anthem being played at weddings, funerals, political events, and churches, that was not always the case. When Cohen took the song “Hallelujah” for recording, he had decided even on the order of the verses. According to Leonard Cohen Forum, when asked about the song that had taken the longest gestation period, Cohen did not hesitate to cite “Hallelujah.” According to him, it had taken him five years, writing 80 verses and discarding them before finally settling on the six, which to him were coherent though only four made it to the studio.

Unfortunately, despite taking so long to come up with the song, the producers thought it was not his best work. CBS Records then-president Walter Yetnikoff said it was a disaster, and even hesitated to release it to the US market. He was right because after it was released in America, it did not do well. In 1991, John Cale modified the lyrics and created his version. It still was unsuccessful until Jeff Buckley popularized it. He sang it in clubs and recorded it in 1994. It is only after Buckley’s death that the song became a massive hit and today has stamped its place in the world of music as a song that will continue to be interpreted differently depending on who is listening.

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