A Lesson in Greek and Hebrew
You all know that the New Testament was first written in Greek, and the Old Testament was first written in Hebrew. Wherever the word “hosanna” occurs in the New Testament, do you know what the Greek word is? Right! It’s “hosanna.” All the English translators did was use English letters (h-o-s-a-n-n-a) to make the sound of a Greek word.
But if you look in a Greek dictionary to find what it means, you know what you find? You find that it is really not originally a Greek word after all. The men who wrote the New Testament in Greek did the same thing to a Hebrew word that our English translators did to the Greek word: they just used Greek letters to make the sound of a Hebrew phrase. I know this sounds sort of complicated. But it’s really not. Our English word “hosanna” comes from a Greek word “hosanna” which comes from a Hebrew phrase hoshiya na.
And that Hebrew phrase is found one solitary place in the whole Old Testament, Psalm 118:25, where it means, “Save, please!” It is a cry to God for help. Like when somebody pushes you off the diving board before you can swim and you come up hollering: “Help, save me . . . Hoshiya na!”
A Shift in Meaning
But something happened to that phrase, hoshiya na. The meaning changed over the years. In the psalm it was immediately followed by the exclamation: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The cry for help, hoshiya na, was answered almost before it came out of the psalmist’s mouth. And over the centuries the phrase hoshiya na stopped being a cry for help in the ordinary language of the Jews. Instead it became a shout of hope and exultation. It used to mean, “Save, please!” But gradually, it came to mean, “Salvation! Salvation! Salvation has come!” It used to be what you would say when you fell off the diving board. But it came to be what you would say when you see the lifeguard coming to save you! It is the bubbling over of a heart that sees hope and joy and salvation on the way and can’t keep it in.
So “Hosanna!” means, “Hooray for salvation! It’s coming! It’s here! Salvation! Salvation!”
And “Hosanna to the Son of David!” means, “The Son of David is our salvation! Hooray for the king! Salvation belongs to the king!”
And “Hosanna in the highest!” means, “Let all the angels in heaven join the song of praise. Salvation! Salvation! Let the highest heaven sing the song!”
Two Kinds of Hosannas
Picture a Super Bowl game, and (believe it or not) the Vikings are three points ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are on their own 35 and have no more time outs. There are two seconds remaining on the clock. The Vikings’ fans are going wild. The Steelers line up, fake a pass to the receivers on the left sideline, and run a wide sweep around the right end, and the quarterback breaks into the open and heads down the right sideline-40 – 45 – 50 – 45. The only hope for the Vikings is Willie Teal, the safety, cutting a diagonal across the field. And out of the Vikings’ grandstand come two kinds of hosannas, the old kind and the new kind. One part of the crowd is yelling: “Catch him!
Catch him, Willie!” (That’s the old hosanna.) The other part of the crowd is yelling, “You got him! You got him, Willie!” (That’s the new hosanna.) The word moved from plea to praise; from cry to confidence.
So when we sing “Hosanna” now, let’s make it very personal. Let’s make it our praise and our confidence. 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! Hosanna in the highest!
Copyright John Piper