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What is Good…

“It is good to praise Yahweh;

To sing to your name, Most High.”

(Psalm 92:2 [verse 1 in English])


Indeed, it is good to give God praise. How often, though, we seek to define for ourselves what is good rather than seeking obedience to God’s word about what is truly good. Scripture tells us that it is good to be in the presence of the godly (Psalm 52:9), to give thanks to our God (Psalm 54:6), to be near God (Psalm 73:28), to be afflicted that we might learn the statutes of God (Psalm 119:71), to wait quietly on the Lord (Lamentations 3:26), to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8), to discern the will of God (Romans 12:2), to not cause a brother to stumble (Romans 14:21), and to remain orthodox in your theology (Hebrews 13:9).

And while we could go on, isn’t it interesting how many of the things listed above take place in the context of our gathered worship on the Sabbath day. We pray, we gather, we sing, we learn the statutes (even sometimes in affliction), and we learn to wait on God’s time and his deliverance from trouble. It indeed is good to praise Yahweh, and not just on the Sabbath day, but with every waking breath and with our rest at night.

And in the context of praise, the psalmist also speaks of singing those praises. The term that we translate here as “sing” is the Hebrew word rmz (zamer), which refers to singing while accompanied by a stringed instrument like a harp or a lyre. It is the root from which the word rOwm◊zIm (mizmor), which is translated as “Psalm” comes from…a reminder that instrumentation is appropriate for the worship of God’s people.

Most High is one of those rich names for God amongst God’s people. It reflects his majesty and the loftiness of his name and person. When the Messiah was announced to Mary by Gabriel, he is referred to as the Son of the Most High, again a reminder of Jesus’ divinity (Luke 1:32). How rich and good it is to sing praises and proclaim the name of our most high God!

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your own pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, holy to Yahweh, and honorable; honor it from doing your own things and finding your own pleasure and speaking words, then you shall delight in Yahweh and I will cause you to ride on the high places of the earth; I will feed you with the inheritance of Jacob your father, for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken.”

(Isaiah 58:13-14)

Singing a Hymn (Matthew 26:30;Mark 14:26)

“And singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”

(Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26)

As we have discussed above, the place to which they were going that dark evening was located on the Mount of Olives, just to the east of Jerusalem. Yet, Matthew and Mark add an important little detail…they went out singing. We are not told exactly what it is that they were singing apart from that it was a hymn of one sort or another. Some have suggested that it was likely Psalm 118, as such would be sung or read at the end of the Passover celebration, and this may very well be the case.  The term that is used is uJmne/w (humneo), which is the word from which we get the English term, “hymn.” This is a different term than yalmo/ß (psalmos), which is the term from which we get the English word, “psalm.” The verbal form of this, ya/llw (psallo) is the literal translation of the Hebrew word for psalm, rwømzIm (mizmor), both of which mean to sing a song accompanied by plucking a stringed instrument—the traditional Hebrew musical accompaniment for singing.

The fact that the language distinguishes between psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (the term wjˆdh/—ode) implies the distinction. If indeed it was Psalm 118 that they sung, there is a good chance that rather than singing a metrical form of it (as we might sing today), they sang a hymn based on that psalm (again, as is a common practice today as well).

Regardless of the exact content of the hymn they sang (for the Gospel writers do not give us this), we must take note of two things. First that they were singing and second that they were singing praises to God. It is amazing how valuable hymnody is to the church. We will find that there are hymns that will get us excited and hymns that will comfort us when we are low. There have been a lot of different traditions and aspects of worship that characterize the worship of God’s people, but one thing that ties all of our traditions together is that we sing—in fact, I would argue that one could not call a church service worship unless it did include singing…that is, if we wanted to be Biblical.

Loved ones, do not get anxious about singing. Sing regularly and sing often. Sing in the presence of God’s people and sing in private. Sing in formal worship and extend your private worship as part of all you do. And do not get carried away singing the songs of this world, but sing songs that praise God. Indeed, there may be some songs that are worthy, but none so worthy as the great hymns of the faith. The subjects of which worldly songs speak may honor worthy subjects (although all too often their subjects are base and unremarkable), but who is more worthy of honor and praise than God himself? He is perfect and beautiful and infinitely praiseworthy. The rich man does not take notice of pennies in the street, but he does get excited about a way to add another thousand or million dollars to his portfolio. Believer, you have been given a relationship with one of infinite worth—why sing of the corroded pennies of this world rather than of the God of all creation? To do so is to busy yourself with picking up old pennies and miss the fact that you are walking on streets of pure gold.

Salvation’s joyful song is heard

Where’er the righteous dwell;

For them God’s hand is strong to save

And doeth all things well.

I shall not die, but live to tell

The wonders of the Lord;

He has not giv’n my soul to death,

But chastened and restored.

-William Sherwin