Taking Every Song Captive: Hallelujah!

One of the things I love about RUF and Indelible Grace music is the work they do to put old hymn lyrics to new music. They have brought back many hymns from the forgotten past. Singing hymns to new music also helps focus our attention on the words again. So many times, we sing well-known hymns and songs almost on auto-pilot.

But what about taking a well-known tune and writing new lyrics for it? Marvin Olasky, World Magazine, recently wrote about his rationale for doing just that:

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.

Dr. Olasky has taken a popular secular song, “Hallelujah”, and written new lyrics for it. He explains why:

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!”

The new lyrics are really wonderful. They fit the melody in a way that the original ones just didn’t. Here are the verses that Dr. Olasky wrote:

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

Dr. Olasky then invited musically inclined readers to record themselves singing the revised song and send it to him. Here is a recording of Ben Ghormley singing the new “Hallelujah”:

5 thoughts on “Taking Every Song Captive: Hallelujah!

  1. jilldomschot says:

    Cohen was a poet. This Dr. Olasky just isn’t. Taking music and rewriting lyrics for it is an old tradition, especially for music that had the right tempo, such that iambic lines or lines of tetrameter made of any words could fill the spaces. And I honor Olasky for making an attempt with a modern song, in which filling the gaps will necessarily be more difficult. Still, only an accomplished poet could have made a better version of this song. What’s wrong with Olasky’s? His version uses the same cheap rhymes and hack rhythms, but completely lacks the surprise and the depth or honest, real emotion. Part of the problem is in replacing the personal voice with distant biblical retelling. That’s just my opinion, anyway. I wish the author were here so I could tell this to him–he really needs to find the personal voice in his song, the kind of angst that would bring a man to his knees and cause him to rend his clothes.

    • Roy says:

      I think you nailed what bothers me most about Olasky’s version. It’s trite, in a way.

      When I hear the original “cold and broke Hallelujah”, I am reminded that “a broken and contrite heart, you will not spurn.” This is love in the real, broken, fallen world. Where despite everything, we persist in loving each other and praising God

  2. Pastor Timothy says:

    i like the new version, although I’m not sure that song is singable in a congregational context. The range is too high for most to sing it. It might be excellent for special music, but better left alone when it comes to the congregation.

      • Pastor Timothy says:

        Sorry, I just assumed that was the purpose. I always figure that if someone was going to put sacred words to it, they would try and introduce it to the congregation, so that is where my mind jumped. 🙂

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