This week, I started reading about the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. This, of course, is one of the few incidents that the gospel writers consider so significant that all four of the writers include this in their texts.
As I began to work on it, I decided to do a quick word study on the word “Hosanna.” I decided to take a quick second and share some of what I’ve learned with you guys.
Hosanna is Strong’s number G5614. The G implies that “hosanna” is Greek in origin, but it’s actually a Greek transliteration of a Hebrew phrase, and that phrase is “hoshiya na.” This phrase “hoshiya na” is only found once in the Hebrew Bible, and that is in Psalm 118:25. This verse says,
Save now, I beseech thee, O LORD: O LORD, I beseech thee, send now prosperity.
This phrase can be broken down further into the primitive root “yasha” (H3467), meaning “save” and the contraction “anna” (H577) which means means an emphatic “Now!” and can be translated “I beg, I pray.” I read (and partially skimmed) an article at Precept Austin that is seriously in depth on Hosanna and spends a great deal of space examining the important uses of the root “yasha” throughout the Bible.
However, that was beyond my purposes and interest level for this word study project. So, I kept going. I didn’t understand how a phrase in the Hebrew that meant “Save now! I beg!” came to be associated with the praises in the triumphal entry. So, I was really happy when I came across the article that John Piper has on Desiring God that talks about the shift in meaning of Hosanna. Piper attributes it to the quick answer that the Psalmist receives to his prayer, and since I’m no expert, I’m going to take him at his word.
There was six mentions of the word “hosanna” in the New Testament These occur in Matthew 21:9 (2x), Matthew 21:15, Mark 11:9, 10 and John 12:13. Reinforcing the theme of praise instead of prayer, Luke uses “glory in the highest” instead of “Hosanna in the highest” and also uses “blessed” in the place where the other writers use “hosanna.”
I also found a great interpretation of how we should define “hosanna” to take place in the Webster’s 1828 dictionary. In this dictionary, “hosanna” is defined as
an exclamation of praise to God, or an invocation of blessings. In the Hebrew ceremonies, it was a prayer rehearsed on the several days of the feast of tabernacles, in which this word was often repeated
I found this to be intriguing as I learned about the Feast of Tabernacles and the customs that the Jewish people practice during Sukkoth. I had read in Vine’s Expository Dictionary that Psalm 118:25 is part of the Hillel Psalms that are recited by worshippers and priests during the feast accompanied by the waving of palm and willow branches.
Seeing as how during the triumphal entry, the crowd waves Palm branches and cuts them and spreads them on the ground, I thought this was a really cool connection between Jewish practices and the New Testament.
During Sukkoth, the Jewish people make their own lulav to use during the special prayers such as the Hoshanot. During these prayers the people wave their lulavs and occasionally pound them on the ground in their praises to God.
I didn’t realize when I first set out that I would find Hosanna to be such an interesting word for study. The other thing I didn’t realize is that I’ve also pronounced it in a way that just feels wrong to me now after listening to the Greek pronunciation a few times!