Hallelujah – kd Lang

The song “Hallelujah“, written by Leonard Cohen, is an absolutely haunting song.  Originally released in 1984, Cohen’s lyrics are rooted in the biblical narrative of King David.  Though Cohen was raised Jewish, he admitted that he grew up with a strong messianic vision of Judaism.  That vision certainly comes through in Hallelujah.  Interestingly, Cohen exhibits a particularly clear grasp of repentance and brokeness.  In Psalm 51, David says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” David’s broken heart is something that is not lost on  Cohen.  He gets it.  Of course, as a Christian, I take the vision of the lyrics further, understanding that this broken heart must be rooted in the gospel.  The gospel is not for those who have it all together.  Jesus said that he did not come for those who are healthy, but for those who are sick; he did not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Mk 2:17).  So then, the Gospel is for the humble, the poor in spirit, the repentant, and the broken.  Cohen’s song hauntingly makes this point.

Written in the key of C major, Cohen’s chord progression brilliantly follows the lyric “it goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, and the major lift”: F, G, A minor, F.   This seems to be a double entendre – David’s fall into temptation is a “minor fall” compared to the “major lift” of God’s grace.  Grace comes to the beloved of Christ, who cry out to God in repentance with a ‘cold and a broken hallelujah’.

Click “Read the Rest of this Entry” to see the lyrics and watch a video of the song performed by K.D. Lang.

Below are Cohen’s  lyrics with my notes written in bold.  I have included the version sang by kd Lang – which in my opinion is particularly beautiful and penetrating.  Just a gorgeous song.


(Narrator describing the Faith of David)
Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

(Narrator describing the Fall of David)
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

(David – recognizing that this room of failure and temptation is not new – He has been here before – and he recognizes that it is the gospel that will restore him; not a flag, not a victory march, but a cold and broken halleluhah – repentance)
Maybe I’ve been here before
I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
but love is not a victory march
it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah

(David – lamenting how his fall has his fall has left him questioning God, yet still believing)
Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
But it’s not a cry that you hear at night (not regret)
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light (not emotional experience)
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah (but a repentant and broken heart)
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

(David – recognizing that his self-effort amounts to nothing.  He is now authentic, honest, open, and repentant before the Lord of Song with nothing but Hallelujah)
I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

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