The Art and Soul of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’

Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ is a song most people either love or hate.

Many artists have produced versions of the song over the years. The version at the bottom is my favorite by the modern a capella band, The Pentatonix.

Bringing the Bible to Life

This song conjures up happy memories for me from my early days in church and with my parents, who read to me from a Children’s Bible.

The song discusses the story of David and Bathsheeba from the Hebrew Bible. Here is an excerpt from Rollingstone where Cohen discusses the meaning behind his lyrics:

As a student of the sound, I understood the resonances of his incantation and invocation of David,” said Bono, who added that he immediately responded to the “vaingloriousness and hubris” of the lyric. “I’ve thought a lot about David in my life. He was a harp player, and the first God heckler – as well as shouting praises to God, he was also shouting admonishment. ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?’ That’s the beginning of the blues.”

But this first verse almost instantly undercuts its own solemnity; after offering such an inspiring image in the opening lines, Cohen remembers whom he’s speaking to, and reminds his listener that “you don’t really care for music, do you?”….

….The second verse of “Hallelujah” shifts to the second person – “Your faith was strong but you needed proof.” Apparently the narrator is now addressing the character who was described in the first verse, since the next lines invoke another incident in the David story, when the king discovers and is tempted by Bathsheba. (“And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon” – 2 Samuel 11:2.)…

“The story of David and Bathsheba is about the abuse of power in the name of lust, which leads to murder, intrigue, and brokenness,” said Reverend Scott. He recounted that until this point, David had been a brave and gifted leader, but that he now “began to believe his own propaganda – he did what critics predicted, he began to take what he wanted.”

Reverend Scott calls the choice of the word baffled to describe this David “an obvious understatement on Cohen’s part. David is God’s chosen one, the righteous king who would rule Israel as God’s servant. The great King David becomes no more than a baffled king when he starts to live for himself.

“But even after the drama, the grasping, conniving, sinful King David is still Israel’s greatest poet, warrior and hope,” Scott continued. “There is so much brokenness in David’s life, only God can redeem and reconcile this complicated personality. That is why the baffled and wounded David lifts up to God a painful hallelujah.”

You read the rest here: How Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ Brilliantly Mingled Sex, Religion

Deep Resonance

How many of us today can relate to David’s timeless story?

Complex, artistic, inspired. Once upon a time, the deep, complex spiritual meaning of scriptures was accessible to everyone. Post-Englightenment, is anything truly sacred?

With this song, Cohen has recaptured the sacred beauty of scripture through music, a medium that still resonates with most people.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I think a song like ‘Hallelujah’ is worth a thousand apologetic essays. Because it speaks directly to the heart.


What do you think of this song?

Do you like the sound?

Do you find it inspiring?