Hosanna is often translated “Please Save Us.” It is a Greek word “ὡσαννά” that most scholars believe is the transliteration of two Hebrew words- יָשַׁע- “yasha” which means “to save or deliver” and אָנּאָ – “anna” which means “please, I beseech.” Other scholars believe its Hebrew roots come from a different verb tense of “yasha” הוֹשַׁ֣ע which means to cause or to bring about salvation. In this tense, hosanna becomes a command to bring about or cause salvation.
Where is Hosanna in the Bible?
Hosanna occurs in the New Testament 6 times. Matthew, Mark, and John mention that the people called out “Hosanna” in praise and celebration during Jesus’ Triumphal Entry to Jerusalem during the week before Passover.
“So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’” (John 12:13)
"Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:9)
“And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!’” (Mark 11:9-10)
The people who were celebrating Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem were quoting Psalm 118:25-26, “Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!” The phrase “Save us, we pray” in Hebrew sounds like “Hosanna.”
Matthew (Matthew 21:12-16) also included another mention of “Hosanna.” After Jesus cleansed the Temple by driving out the moneychangers and those who were buying and selling items, children in the Temple praised Jesus by crying out, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" Though the chief priests and scribes were upset by the children, Jesus commended their praise by saying, “Yes; have you never read, 'Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise?’” This is a paraphrase of Psalm 8:2, “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.”
What Does Hosanna Mean?
As mentioned before, Hosanna means "save us, now!" But what else do we know about this word?
According to Hope Bolinger from Crosswalk, "Hosanna essentially means please save us now. It is a call for deliverance, and according to the Bible Study Tools article linked above, was frequently used at festivals that quoted from Psalm 118:25(more on this below). Hosanna also appears to have multiple meanings beyond a mere, “Save me, Lord.” It is a cry for salvation and also is a cry of thanks. Two polar opposites coming together: cries for help and cries of praise. It’s typically spoken in a rejoicing fashion. People who shouted it often intended to say, “At last, salvation has come to us. After a long wait, it’s finally here.” The word comes from two roots: yasha and anna. Yasha stands for delivers, and Anna: please. In essence, the word boils down to: please, save us, our deliverer."
The Israelites wanted salvation from Rome. They'd seen God conquer enemies in their past. Even though the Babylonians took them captive, when the Babylonians fell to the Persian empire, the Israelites returned back home to Jerusalem and rebuilt their city. When Antiochus Epiphanes IV tried to Hellenize the Israelites, the Maccabees led an uprising and drove them out.
They wanted to see the same thing happen with the Rome, to have a conqueror drive them out.
Jesus did come to defeat an enemy, but not quite the one they had in mind. He knew the ultimate enemy, sin, enslaved far more than the Roman occupation in Israel. Rome would fall a few centuries later, but Jesus needed to face the ultimate enemy: sin.
How is Hosanna Used in Worship?
1. In Christian Church Songs and Liturgy
Christians often sing songs that include “Hosanna” in the lyrics and use the phrase in church liturgy. Exclaiming “Hosanna” is a way to praise God. It reminds Christ’s followers that He can save them and He is the source of their salvation. We, at times, may be like the Israelites. We may cry Hosanna because we want obstacles or difficulties removed from our path, like the Romans. But Hosanna in worship reminds us that Christ defeated the ultimate enemy: sin.
2. In Palm Sunday Celebrations
Palm Sunday (sometimes called Passion Sunday) is the day that Christians celebrate Christ’s Triumphal Entry to Jerusalem. On Palm Sunday, they may wave branches and exclaim together, “Hosanna in the highest.” Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week leading up to the celebration of Easter. Many churches will either use palm branches as decorations, will have children wave palm branches and sing down the aisles, or various other traditions. Some even use the palm branches from previous years as ashes for Ash Wednesday, to place on the foreheads of the congregation.
3. In the Jewish Holiday of Sukkot
In the Jewish faith, Hosanna is an expression often used during the holiday of Sukkot, which many people call the Feast of Tabernacles described in Leviticus 23:33-43. Jewish people build temporary shelters and celebrate the holiday with branches called the “lulav” and “etrog” from palms, willows, other leafy trees and citrons.
My Jewish Learning explains that during Sukkot the Psalms of Praise (Hallel), which are Psalms 113-118, are read and “additional prayers are included in the service asking God to save us (hoshana, from which we get the English word hosanna). During the Hoshana prayers, congregants march around the synagogue sanctuary holding the lulav and etrog. The seventh and last day of the festival is called Hoshanah Rabba, the ‘Great Hoshana.’”
What Does Hosanna Mean to Us Today?
The people in Jerusalem greeted Jesus Christ as their Savior and Messiah by crying out "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Mark 11:9-10) as a song of praise and expectation. Today, we can join in singing along with all the people who followed Christ as their Messiah.
- We can celebrate His salvation to those of us who believe.
- We can pray for Him to save our loved ones.
- We can praise and bless His name.
- We can exalt Him in the highest heavens above everything else in the world.
As Gill’s Exposition of the Bible says:
“Let songs of praise be sung to God, who is in the highest heavens, for all his grace and goodness vouchsafed to the sons of men, through Christ his beloved Son; or let not only all salvation, happiness, and prosperity attend the Messiah, David's son, here on earth, but all glory and felicity in the highest heavens, above which he will be exalted.”
- BibleStudyTools.com, Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Hosanna.
- BibleStudyTools.com, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Hosanna.
- MyJewishLearning.com, Sukkot 101, the editors.
Penny Noyes, M.Ed. is the author of Embracing Change - Learning to Trust God from the Women of the Bible and two books about Hezekiah. You can follow Penny on her blog and on Instagram @pennynoyes.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/ThamKC