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What Does ‘Hosanna’ Actually Mean?

Bible Snippets Series

From Matthew 21:

8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna[b] to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[c]

“Hosanna[d] in the highest heaven!”

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

I was reading and re-reading this text in preparation for a story that was going to be told for our church’s Kids Camp. And I realized that there are so many words that we Christians love to throw around without truly understanding (like “sanctification.” And what does “blessed” actually mean?). In trying to figure out how I would try to explain “hosanna,” I realized I didn’t actually know how to translate this phrase:

“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

It sounds like praise, but I was always taught that “hosanna” mean “God, save us!” The phrase is only used a couple of times in the New Testament, and most prominently in this passage (Jesus’ arrival to Jerusalem), yet our Christian praise songs are littered with it. What does it actually mean?

After some googling, it seems that the meaning is derived from root Hebrew words that reference both the concept of “to save or to deliver” and the concept of pleading. The actual roots (“yasha” and “anna”) I can include hesitantly given I have almost no context for the Hebrew language and I don’t want to include them just to try and bolster credibility here. But that makes sense why to the English speaker, the meaning of “hosanna” is always fuzzy at best. I can see how it can be translated as “God, please save us” given those two Hebrew roots.

But the second part, “blessed is he!” sounds more like joyful praise. Not somber and desperate, like “God, please save us.” Plus the fact that translating “God, please us” as a plea doesn’t fit with most of our worship songs. I found a different source translating “hosanna” more as “salvation! Thank you, God!” more helpful for me to mentally internalize. That fits contextually:

“Salvation! Thank you, God! Blessed and praiseworthy are you, Jesus Son of David!”

So from here on out, I guess no one will know the “actual” meaning of the phrase “hosanna.” Maybe it evolved over time. Maybe it can be used in many different scenarios, depending on context (like the English word, “sorry,” which can express condolence and empathy “I’m so sorry to hear that,” OR the expression of guilt and asking for forgiveness “I’m sorry because I was the one who wronged you or committed something wrong.” At the very least, I like the translation of hosanna as “God saves us! Thank you!” more than the pleading tone, “We are broken! God, please save us.”

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