The Roar of the Redeemed (Exodus 20: 2-3 and Revelation 19: 1-10)
“Hallelujah!” How do we use this word? We might shout it or sing it in worship, or we might say it more casually to reflect relief (Hallelujah, my test results came back all clear!) or excitement (Hallelujah, we’re going on vacation!) or some other emotion. Would you be surprised to learn that it’s a holy word, a word containing one of God’s names, and it literally translates “praise the Lord”? Perhaps even when we say it to show relief or excitement or some other emotion we are actually offering praise to God, but we might want to examine our usage to be sure that we mean what we say. Interestingly, the word appears only four times in the Bible, and all four times in this chapter of Revelation. Let’s look at what’s happening here and whether it merits a “Hallelujah!”
First, we need to look back at Exodus to recall God’s first commandment to the Israelites: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” Remember that the Ten Commandments aren’t simply a list of rules for the Hebrew people to follow: they’re a reminder of who God is and who they are in relation to him and to each other. God could not have been plainer, could he? He reminded his people that he was the one who delivered them from slavery. That only he was powerful enough to set them free from their Egyptian oppressors. While they were living in Egypt, they probably noticed many idols, and they surely witnessed their captors bowing down and worshipping false gods. But only the one true God loved them as his children, heard their cries for justice, and broke their bonds of slavery. Only God could do that, and in this first commandment he, knowing how easily people turn to false gods when they grow impatient or dissatisfied, reminded his people who he was and what he had done, and he made it clear that he would not tolerate idolatry.
Of course, anyone who has read the Old Testament knows that the Israelites would break this first commandment again and again, just as we modern believers break it. Their gods were statues and other material forms, whereas ours are more likely money, entertainment, our own egos, and other distractions. But God, in his wisdom, patience, and mercy, always drew his people back to himself, saving them from their apostasy, just as he saved us through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. John’s vision of heaven, expressed in this passage, was of a great multitude praising God for his justice, something we all long for in our world’s age of lawlessness and violence. John saw the intimate relationship between God and his people illustrated in the form of a wedding, with Jesus the bridegroom and his church the bride. In his vision the multitude shouted “Hallelujah!” in praise of the one true God, to whom salvation and glory and power belong.
Was John’s revelation a foretelling of the fall of Rome? Was it a message of hope just for the people of his own time? Or was it also a message of hope for all of us? A foretelling of the downfall of all that is wicked and evil, of everything and everyone that opposes him? Experts disagree, but if we read John’s Revelation, we can see our world in its pages. Through the benefit of history, we can see that prophecy was fulfilled, and we can take heart that it will be fulfilled again. Because God does not change. When his people remember who he is and what he has done and worship only him, the one true God, he will save us and redeem us. He will restore all of creation to its original splendor, and he will reconcile everything and everyone back to himself. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!