Sing with Understanding

“God is King over all of the earth; sing a maskil!”

(Psalm 47:8 {verse 7 in English Translations})

 

Once more, to drive the great Truth home, the psalmist proclaims that God is indeed the sovereign king over all of his creation — and he indeed is not done doing so! Surely it is true that we need to be reminded of this great truth regularly for though our words don’t betray or disbelief; our actions regularly betray that we do not believe this to be true. We act as if we are our own masters and kings, yet God is king and sovereign over all he has made.

There is something curious about the way some translations handle the final word of the psalm. The last term is the Hebrew word lyI…kVcAm (maskiyl). The term itself appears 13 times in the superscripts of the psalms identifying the type of song that a given psalm happens to be. In each of these cases, the term is usually left untranslated. This verse contains the 14th use of the term in the Hebrew Bible, yet here, most of our English Bibles seem to translate it in some way, whether it be rendered “a song of praise” or “sing with understanding,” it is being rendered in a way that it is never rendered any of the other times it is found in the Bible, which seems odd to me — hence here, as in the superscripts, I have left the term untranslated.

Leaving it untranslated, though, does not mean that the term does not communicate any valuable information. It is believed that lyI…kVcAm (maskiyl) is derived from the term lAkDc (sakal), which refers to having insight or understanding in a particular area. Arguably, one could state that these psalms labeled as Maskils are psalms of understanding or Truth (of course, that term can apply to all of the psalms) — and note, that this particular psalm is not listed as a maskil, it is only commanding us to sing a maskil.

I am afraid that one of the things that we have lost in our culture is a deep understanding for theology and for the theology of our hymns. While I do enjoy praise music and we incorporate it into our worship services, there is no question that the lyrics, while not necessarily bad, don’t teach a great deal of theology. Granted, it is true that many of our traditional hymns don’t teach us much either, but that statement cannot be consistently made across the spectrum of our hymnody — much of which is deep in the meaning it contains. In any case, many western believers have fallen into the trap of singing words without reflecting what it is that they are saying — often singing things that are entirely contrary to the way they live:

“I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love…”

“I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold…”

“Take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to Thee…”

“Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take him at his word…”

“Righteousness, Righteousness, is what I long for…”

And the list goes on…

My point is not to condemn singing or the songs we sing…not for a moment! My point is that we fail to pay close attention to what it is that we are singing and we fail even more to attend our lives to living out the words of the songs we sing. If we sing words without understanding, is that of any value to us or interest to God? Loved ones, may we take the command of the psalmist to heart and indeed sing songs with our understanding as well as with our voices.

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