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Take every song captive

Good singers, it's time to capture Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah'

Take every song captive

(Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images)

Atheists don’t exist. Everyone believes in a god of some sort. Atheists even know that God exists. Chapter 1 of Romans tells us that, and so does a piece of lesser evidence: “Hallelujah,” a song written by Canada’s Leonard Cohen, initially released 28 years ago but decade by decade resonating ever more powerfully.

A huge number of singers have covered it: Over 300 versions and counting. Bob Dylan, Jon Bon Jovi, Bono, Jeff Buckley—and those are just the B’s. In 2007, a British music magazine’s survey of songwriters hailed “Hallelujah” as one of the all-time “Top 10 Greatest Tracks.” American television shows like The O.C. and The West Wing, and movies like Watchmen and even Shrek, have used it to set a sober yet soaring mood.

A huge number of listeners revere “Hallelujah.” Versions by two different singers were No. 1 and No. 2 on the British charts in 2008. “Hallelujah” is the fastest selling hit ever in Norway. Australian listeners ranked it third on the “Hottest 100 of All Time.” It highlighted the opening ceremonies of the last Winter Olympics. A good book about the song, Alan Light’s The Holy or the Broken, came out earlier this month.

Why? Partly the tune. Songwriter Rufus Wainwright says, “It’s an easy song to sing. The music never pummels the words. The melody is almost liturgical and conjures up religious feelings.” Numerous recordings, some just of the music, are on the internet: If you want to hear the best violin rendition I’ve heard, plug into YouTube’s search engine “Manuel Pedro violino Shrek Song.”

You may note that I’ve suggested listening to “Hallelujah” without the lyrics, because those words that the music never pummels are sometimes sacrilegious. Cohen penned a variety of versions, but the central stanzas offer a union of sex and salvation: Jeff Buckley called the version he used “the hallelujah of an orgasm.” Even apart from that, the lyrics form a brooding, angst-filled, lonely ode to failure, “a cold and broken hallelujah.” But that’s not the biblical hallelujah evident in the last of the Psalms, 150, which rightly starts and ends, “Praise the Lord!”

Great tunes should not be wasted. Second Corinthians 10:5 says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” My corollary: Take every song captive. It’s become a minor hobby for me—I put some words of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and the Doxology to the stirring music of the former Soviet national anthem, and now I offer to the world some improved lyrics to “Hallelujah”:

I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, it pleased the Lord. 
But You don’t love us for our music, do You?
Sin goes like this: The fourth, the fifth,
Adam’s fall, the major rift,
The baffled king neglecting Hallelujah.
Chorus: Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.

Nathan said, “I see your lust.
You violate a soldier’s trust.
Your pride, your pomp, at night they overthrew you.
You steal, you kill, you get your way,
But God has said, your child will pay, 
And from your lips He’ll draw the Hallelujah.”
Chorus: 4X Hallelujah

David prayed, “Have mercy, Lord,
You saved me from Goliath’s sword.
Yes, I lived for self before I knew you.
Now, more evil in your sight,
So I give up, I cannot fight. 
Mine’s a cold and broken Hallelujah.”
Chorus: 4X Hallelujah

“Blood your hyssop, I’ll be clean.
Wash me so my sin’s not seen.
Give me of your Holy Spirit, will you? 
Create in me a new, clean heart.
Give me now a strong, fresh start, 
So every breath I draw is Hallelujah.”
Chorus: 4X Hallelujah

“You don’t delight in sacrifice.
You don’t excuse our secret vice.
You want from us a broken spirit, do you?
You’ve shown me what I did was wrong.
I’ll stand before You, Lord of song, 
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.”
Chorus: 8X Hallelujah

If you’d like to sing this and put it on YouTube, be my guest: Send me an email with its web address. Merry Christmas! Hallelujah!

Email molasky@worldmag.com

See "Readers take song captive" and "'Taking every song captive' progress report."

Listen to a report on reader response to Marvin Olasky’s “Hallelujah” challenge on WORLD’s radio news magazine The World and Everything in It.

 

Comments

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  • blainejaysmith
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 06:27 pm

    I am a recovering pornography addict, and now my wife and I run an addiction recovery program for couples fighting this terrible, destructive epidemic in their own lives.  Several years ago I too modified the lyrics to "Hallelujah" keeping the first person view of a husband singing to his wife, but inserting the hope we have found in the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  I pray it may add to this welcome conversation:I've heard there was a secret chordThat David played, and it pleased the LordI dedicate this humble version to you.Well, it goes like this, the fourth, the fifth,The minor fall, the major liftThe fallen king composing Hallelujah Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah Well, your faith was strong but you lost the truth.You saw her bathing on the roofHer beauty and the moonlight overthrew you.You brought her to your bedroom chairShe broke your throne, she cut your hairAnd from your lips she drew the Hallelujah Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah Well baby, I've been here before.I've seen this room, and I've walked this floor.I felt so all alone before I knew you.Then we raised our flag on a marble arch,But love is not a victory march.It's a long and sometimes weary Hallelujah Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah Well, there was a time when you wouldn't hideWhat's really going on inside,But now you never show that to me, do you?But remember when I moved in youAnd the Holy Ghost was moving tooAnd every breath we drew was Hallelujah Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah And yes I know there's a God above,Who weeps when all we learn from loveIs how to shoot at someone who outdrew you.It becomes a cry that you hear at nightAnd gets filled with sorrow, pain and frightIt becomes a cold and broken Hallelujah Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah So you wonder if we loved in vain,But I'm still trusting in His nameAnd I don't think He's given up yet, do you?There's a blaze of light in this blessed wordThough it seems that both are often heardThe holy and the broken Hallelujah Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah I did my best, it wasn't muchI couldn't feel, so I tried to touchI told the truth and I quit just trying to fool youAnd even though so much went wrongI'll stand before the Lord of SongWith nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah King David trusted in the LordThat somehow there'd still be rewardAnd all the promise I can give now to you, Is to lean upon Christ's mighty armWith faith that He will heal all harmAnd together we'll keep singing Hallelujah Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

  • blainejaysmith
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 06:27 pm

    I am a recovering **** addict, and now my wife and I run an addiction recovery program for couples fighting this terrible, destructive epidemic in their own lives.  Several years ago I too modified the lyrics to "Hallelujah" keeping the first person view of a husband singing to his wife, but inserting the hope we have found in the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  I pray it may add to this welcome conversation:I've
    heard there was a secret chord
    That David played, and it pleased the Lord
    I dedicate this humble version to you.
    Well, it goes like this, the fourth, the fifth,
    The minor fall, the major lift
    The fallen king composing Hallelujah

    Hallelujah,
    Hallelujah
    Hallelujah, Hallelujah

    Well,
    your faith was strong but you lost the truth.
    You saw her bathing on the roof
    Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you.
    You brought her to your bedroom chair
    She broke your throne, she cut your hair
    And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

    Hallelujah,
    Hallelujah
    Hallelujah, Hallelujah

    Well baby,
    I've been here before.
    I've seen this room, and I've walked this floor.
    I felt so all alone before I knew you.
    Then we raised our flag on a marble arch,
    But love is not a victory march.
    It's a long and sometimes weary Hallelujah

    Hallelujah,
    Hallelujah
    Hallelujah, Hallelujah

    Well,
    there was a time when you wouldn't hide
    What's really going on inside,
    But now you never show that to me, do you?
    But remember when I moved in you
    And the Holy Ghost was moving too
    And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

    Hallelujah,
    Hallelujah
    Hallelujah, Hallelujah

    And
    yes I know there's a God above,
    Who weeps when all we learn from love
    Is how to shoot at someone who outdrew you.
    It becomes a cry that you hear at night
    And gets filled with sorrow, pain and fright
    It becomes a cold and broken Hallelujah

    Hallelujah,
    Hallelujah
    Hallelujah, Hallelujah

    So you
    wonder if we loved in vain,
    But I'm still trusting in His name
    And I don't think He's given up yet, do you?
    There's a blaze of light in this blessed word
    Though it seems that both are often heard
    The holy and the broken Hallelujah

    Hallelujah,
    Hallelujah
    Hallelujah, Hallelujah

    I did
    my best, it wasn't much
    I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
    I told the truth and I quit just trying to fool you
    And even though so much went wrong
    I'll stand before the Lord of Song
    With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

    Hallelujah,
    Hallelujah
    Hallelujah, Hallelujah

    King
    David trusted in the Lord
    That somehow there'd still be reward
    And all the promise I can give now to you,
    Is to lean upon Christ's mighty armWith faith that He will heal all harm
    And together we'll keep singing Hallelujah

    Hallelujah,
    Hallelujah
    Hallelujah, Hallelujah

  • John DeGraaf
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 06:27 pm

    A Christmas version of Cohen's "Hallelujah" was released the same day you wrote this! They did a fantastic job redeeming the song. You can view it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1E-9Z8sFyRs

  • Mom23Is
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 06:27 pm

    Thank you for this!!  I heard this song for the first time a couple of years ago, on GodVine, no less.  At first,  I was mostly focused on the melody, which was beyond beautiful, but something about it bothered my spirit.  After listening more closely, I realized that it was the lyrics that disturbed me.   I  hope that one of your readers posts to YouTube with your redeemed words!

  • Tex Patriate's picture
    Tex Patriate
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 06:27 pm

    Yes! Thank you Dr. Olasky for redeeming this song! Music is a gift from Yahweh and no other. Why indeed should the devil have all the good music? I will not be posting a cover on YouTube, but I will share your article with all my musician friends who might.

  • George
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 06:27 pm

    It has been said that Martin Luther put hymns to tunes he heard in the saloons where he drank. When asked he was reported to say "Why should the Devil have all the good music."  Music stirs the heart, yet we all know the heart can be decieved. All good things are gifts from God. What words you use with the tune conveys your intent and the heart is an idol factory. I read the lyrics posted and wondered if this was about Israel 3500 years ago or Benghazi 3 months ago. Which ever it may be one thing is certain, history repeating itself is proof that evolution does not exist. We can not defeat sin on our own, we must have devine intervention.

  •  jrmbasso's picture
    jrmbasso
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 06:27 pm

    Music by two well known pagans has inspired me for many years. "Chichester Psalms" by Leonard Bernstein and "Adagio for Strings" by Samuel Barber. The former is a setting of psalms in Hebrew including Psalm 23 sung by a boy soprano accompanied by a harp. The Adagio, a lushly orchestrated movement of a string quartet by the composer, would be difficult to sing. Without words the deep feelings it evokes can be quite diverse from joy to sorrow. It was part of the musical score of the movie, "Platoon." For this reason, perhaps, God has chosen to leave us words in the Bible, without music, to sing to His praise.