"Hallelujah" meaning
Entertainment & Playlists

Behind the Meaning of “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen

Photo of author
Written By Will Fenton
Entertainment & Playlists

Behind the Meaning of “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen

Photo of author

Leonard Cohen’s iconic song “Hallelujah” has been performed and covered by countless artists, earning it a place in the pantheon of modern music classics.

The song’s haunting melody and evocative lyrics have captured the hearts of audiences worldwide, but what is the true meaning behind the word “Hallelujah”?

The song’s meaning has been debated and interpreted over the years.

Some have seen it as a religious hymn, while others view it as a reflection of the human experience, with themes of love, loss, and redemption.

This article will explore the history of the song and the different interpretations of its meaning, shedding light on the genius of Leonard Cohen and the enduring power of his music.


Cohen wrote the song in 12/8 time, similar to gospel music and, by extension, early rock and roll songs.

Cohen wrote a lot of different stanzas for the song before deciding on the final version, just like Bob Dylan did with “Like a Rolling Stone.”

He wrote about 80 verses of the song. 

Some say that during one writing session at the Royalton Hotel in New York, Cohen had to sit on the floor in his undies and bang his head on the floor.

The single word “Hallelujah” is used as the song’s chorus. 

The song makes several explicit references to the Bible.

It’s exultant, but it’s also a song about the dark side of humanity and our most valued trait: love.

Love is wanted and treasured, but it is not only cheerful. 

Cohen says, “It’s a cold, and it’s a broken hallelujah.”

Cohen sings, “She cut your hair,” referring to the stories in the Book of Judges about Samson and Delilah.

He also talks about King David and Bathsheba.

King David & Bathsheba’s Dark and Twisted Love Story

Before discussing where the song “Hallelujah” originated and how it started, it’s good to know its basic story.

The scandalous story is about cheating and betrayal, and it is just as bad as any scandal involving celebrities or world leaders in the modern age.

King David was the second king of The United Kingdom of Israel and Judah, as it was called at the time.

Bathsheba was already married to another man, a soldier named Uriah.

David was mesmerized by Bathsheba’s beauty when he saw her bathing on the roof. 

He asked for her to be brought to him as he knew Uriah was away at war, so it was a good time.

David and Bathsheba had a passionate love affair, and in the end, Bathsheba got pregnant. 

David devised a plan to get Uriah back home so he could sleep with Bathsheba.

He did this to hide the incident. 

The goal was to make people think the baby was Uriah’s.

But Uriah had other ideas. 

He wasn’t ready to leave the war front because the war was still going on.

David sent Uriah to the front lines to be killed because he wouldn’t return home.

Ultimately, this story is about how power is abused for lust.

The lust leads to adultery, killing, and being broken. 

David was a brilliant and brave leader until he fell in love with Bathsheba.

Read more:  14 Best Songs About Beauty

After that, he started to believe his lies, which happened to many great leaders.

David started doing what he wanted without thinking about the consequences.

In the past, people have said that Bathsheba’s lured David to fall in love with her beauty.

But the truth is that David was very interested in Bathsheba, and there was a big power difference between them.

In the Bible, Bathsheba had little power because she was a woman.

In the original version of the song, there were references to other Bible verses, like the story of Samson and Delilah. 

During Cohen’s 1985 world tour, he often changed the lyrics to the song during different shows.

In “Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song,” a documentary about Cohen, the creators said it took Cohen about five years to write “Hallelujah.”

The True Meaning of the Song “Hallelujah”

What do the lyrics to “Hallelujah” mean?

“Halleluja” Verse 1

“I’ve heard there was a secret chord that David played, and it pleased the Lord.”

This line in the song’s lyrics talks about King David and the sacred chord he played on his harp.

When David was young, King Saul told him to play his harp because he thought the music would keep evil forces away.

David joined the royal court because of how good he was as a singer.

This was his first step toward uniting the Jewish people and rising to power.

“But you don’t really care for music, do you?”

What does the line mean?

David suddenly remembers who he’s talking to and sees God isn’t impressed by performances.

Some people don’t agree with the lyrics “the baffled king composing Hallelujah.”

Many people think that the word “baffled” should have been “battled,” but “baffled” is still the right word.

David is the main character in a complicated story about how he falls short of being “chosen by God.”

The word “baffled” stands for his role as the main character.

David was baffled by the fact that God had chosen him, but he still had to deal with basic human urges.

After all, David killed and committed adultery, so he was a horrible person.

“Hallelujah” Verse 2

In the second verse, David’s faith is talked about.

“Your faith was strong, but you still needed proof.”

David’s faith was tested when he saw Bathsheba taking a bath on the roof. 

He knew he was making a big mistake by wanting a woman who was already married.

“She tied you to a kitchen chair, She broke your throne, and she cut your hair.” 

Because a chair is lower than a throne, it was a sign that King David had lost his power.

Cutting David’s hair is a sign of his loss of power, but it also shows how strong Bathsheba became when her son Solomon became king.

Also, the cutting of hair references Delilah in the Bible.

She became friends with Samson so she could find out how he was so strong.

She talked Samson into cutting his hair, but it turned out that his beautiful hair was the secret to his power.

“Hallelujah” Verse 3

“I took the name in vain,” and asks, “What’s it to you?”

This means that David used the Lord’s name in vain and then lied about how faithful he had been in the first place.

Also, he made his own choices in the end, whether they were right or wrong, so it didn’t matter.

The following line of the third verse says, “There’s a blaze of light in every word, it doesn’t matter which you heard, the holy or the broken Hallelujah.”

This line shows that there is always a little bit of hope behind every word or action.

Read more:  50 Best Rappers of All Time (Greatest Rap Artists)

The line “holy or broken” means either true faith in God or faith that has been broken.

“Hallelujah” Verse 4

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.

David turned to touch because he no longer felt love. 

This shows that his motivation was not very deep.

But he clarifies that he is at least telling the truth and not trying to be someone he is not.

In the end, David says, “I stand before the Lord of Song with nothing but Hallelujah on my tongue.”

David says, “It all went wrong,” but he stands by his choices and throws himself at God’s mercy as he praises the Lord.

Other Verses of “Hallelujah”

The song has other meaningful verses too.

For example, when David says, “I know this room; I’ve walked this floor,” he is saying that he used to live alone and is ready to go back to the comfort of a life without love.

Love isn’t always good and pure; as the saying “Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold, and it’s a broken Hallelujah.” Love can sometimes be unreliable, wrong, or even misleading.

There was a time you let me know, What’s really going on below, But now you never show it to me, do you?” represents the start of a new, honest friendship and how it grows over time.

Then, the relationship changes to not letting each other know how they feel.

When David says, “Maybe there’s a God above.

As for me, all I’ve ever learned from love is how to shoot somebody who outdrew you,” he is admitting that his faith was being tested and that all he learned from love was how to get back at someone who hurt him.

David says again that his faith is shaken, and he made terrible decisions.

He also says again that love isn’t always rainbows and happiness.

And it’s not a cry that you hear at night; It’s not somebody who’s seen the light, It’s a cold, and it’s a broken Hallelujah.

“Hallelujah” is Not Meant to be a Religious Song

Cohen says that “Hallelujah” is not about religion, even though it talks about the Bible and tells the story of King David and Bathsheba.

How does Cohen describe the song himself? What he said is as follows:

“This world is full of conflicts and things that cannot be reconciled. But there are moments when we can… reconcile and embrace the whole mess, and that’s what I mean by ‘Hallelujah.’”

Cohen went on to say that the song “Hallelujah” shows many different kinds of hallelujah.

He thinks that both broken and perfect hallelujahs have the same value.

Cohen said that the song was his way of proving his faith in life, not in formal religion. 

Instead, he wanted to show how passionate and emotional he was about his faith in life.

Cohen said in an interview that the song is based on a religious story, but he wanted it to be a secular song.

Cohen said he wanted people to understand the song in their own way.

In this interview, Leonard Cohen talks about his song “Hallelujah.”

Judaism In “Hallelujah”

Even though Leonard Cohen was Jewish, he wasn’t religious.

Still, he wrote much of his poetry and music using religious imagery from his religious past.

This song takes the listener through happiness, sadness, celebration, and pain.

Few people in history have understood this journey, including the Jews.

Read more:  13 Best Brett Young Songs of All Time (Greatest Hits)

Some people believe the song is about Cohen’s struggles with faith and the tests of faith that Jewish people have gone through.

Most music experts believe that Cohen wrote the song so that the lyric expressions would be more vague and not religious.

How Did “Hallelujah” Become So Popular?

Many people heard “Hallelujah” for the first time when they saw the “Shrek” movie.

The song first gained a lot of attention when it was recorded by John Cale, who was in a band called Velvet Underground.

Jeff Buckley also did a version of the song, and his sudden death boosted it.

However, “Hallelujah” became a big hit when it was used in the movie and soundtrack for “Shrek” in 2001.

“Hallelujah” Covers

Different entertainers have also done private performances of the song, and it was even played on “Saturday Night Live” when Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump in 2016.

Kate McKinnon, a cast member, sang the SNL version.

When McKinnon sang the song, he wasn’t trying to make fun of it. 

She had shed tears before, so SNL wasn’t trying to be funny this time.

John Cale

After John Cale, a Welsh singer-songwriter, saw Leonard Cohen perform “Hallelujah,” he asked Cohen to send him the lyrics.

Cale says that when he got the 15-page fax from Cohen, he looked through it and picked what he thought were the “cheeky verses.”

“Hallelujah” by John Cale is known for its “soberness and sincerity.”

Rufus Wainwright’s version of “Hallelujah” was on the “Shrek” soundtrack, but Cale’s version is in the movie.

The version by Cale is also on the soundtrack album for the TV show “Scrubs.”

Jeff Buckley

People have said that Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” is “sorrowful.”

But Buckley said what he thought of the song and that his version of “Hallelujah” was a “hallelujah to the orgasm.”

Jeff Buckley was born Scotty Moorhead, but his father was a country musician named Tim Buckley.

Tim Buckley was a friend of Leonard Cohen.

Jeff Buckley had little to do with his biological father, but he was more talented and famous than his dad.

Buckley was influenced by many kinds of music, including hardcore punk rock, jazz, folk music, classic rock, and even Pakistani folk music.

He started playing in French bars, and “Hallelujah” was one of his first songs.

Jeff Buckley died untimely just before he put out his second album.

After his death, Buckley was seen as a musical genius, and his version of Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is one of the most loved versions of the song.

Rolling Stone put Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” on their list of the 500 greatest songs.

Rufus Wainwright

The version of “Hallelujah” by another Canadian singer, Rufus Wainwright, has been called “purifying and almost liturgical.”

Because his version of the song is on the “Shrek” album, the song has been certified Platinum twice in the U.S.

K.D. Lang

Leonard Cohen was a Canadian artist, so it made sense for his most famous song to be played at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics on February 12, 2010.

The Olympic committee wanted a Canadian to sing the song, so they chose country and pop star K.D. Lang

Her version of “Hallelujah” is one of the most famous versions of the song.

A few months later, lang was asked to replace Susan Boyle at the Logie Awards in Australia at the last minute.

She sang “Hallelujah” again, and there was a long-standing ovation this time.

What Leonard Cohen Thinks Of All The “Hallelujah” Covers

Leonard Cohen was aware of his song’s popularity, and interviewers were always eager to ask him what he thought about various versions of it.

Cohen thought it was “ironic and funny” that the song became so famous after his record label turned it down when he first wrote it.

In a 2009 interview with CBC Radio, he said, “Too many people sing it.”

You may also like: Songs Everyone Knows

Photo of author

Will Fenton

Introduced to good music at a young age through my father. The first record I remember being played was "Buffalo Soldier" by Bob Marley, I must've been six years old. By the time I was seven, I was taking drum lessons once a week. The challenge but the euphoric feeling of learning a new song was addicting, and I suppose as they say the rest was history. Favorite album of all time? Tattoo You by The Rolling Stones Best gig you've ever been to? Neil Young at Desert Trip in 2016 Media mentions: Evening Standard Daily Mail

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This