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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

Let us Go to the House of the Lord

“A Psalm of Ascents; of David.

I rejoiced when ones said to me,

‘Let us go to the house of Yahweh!’”

(Psalm 122:1)

This psalm begins with a wonderful statement that is alien to the experience of many American Christians: “I rejoiced” when it came time to go to the house of the Lord.  Now, your temptation might be to argue with me and say that every Christian is now a temple of the Holy Spirit, so there is no longer any “going up” to the temple in Jerusalem (or elsewhere) and thus one cannot make a parallel between the Temple and the Church building.  All of that may be true on a surface level, but let’s hear the heart of the psalmist.  Why is he glad to go to God’s house?  Not only is it the place where he can enter into God’s presence, but it is also the place where he can gather with other believers in fellowship and in common worship and it is a place where he can go and sit under the instruction of the priests of God’s Word.  Though there are some theological nuances that we must be careful with, there really are a number of similarities in sentiment as to why the psalmist is rejoicing—this gathering is something that he has been looking forward to for a long time.  Hmmm…can we say the same thing about our gatherings on Sunday morning with the other believers?  Do we look forward to Sunday all week long, or is Sunday worship just something we do?

This is an important question to ask in a culture where the mindset that many take is that they can worship on the golf course just as well as they can worship in the pew.  It is also an important question to ask in a culture where the institutional church is being rejected and being replaced by the “emergent” church—a group that rejects the institutional church altogether.  So how do we answer this question?  Is it a good thing for us to gather with other believers in the Christian age or must this psalm be relegated to the Jewish church?

To begin with, we must never forget that Christian fellowship was given to the church for her edification.  The church is described as a “body with many parts” in 1 Corinthians 12 as well as a building made up of many stones in 1 Peter 2.  This idea sets before us the initial reality that if we are going to be believers in Jesus Christ, we are going to have to do so in community and in relationship with other believers.  In addition, this community and fellowship is not something that we are to dread, but instead is something that “makes our joy complete” (1 John 1:4).  Indeed, the hymnist is correct when he refers to the church as a “happy throng.”

Yet the joy of the church does not come from fellowship with other Christians; one can find that at a variety of social gatherings.  The joy comes from Jesus Christ.  Not only is Christ in our midst, he is binding us together as one body of Christ to his own glory and honor and to our joy and satisfaction.  Indeed, we ought rejoice when our brother or sister in the faith says, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”  For that is an invitation not only for joyful fellowship, but for joyful fellowship before Jesus Christ’s throne of grace as one body—united in faith before a living God.  Let us rejoice and be glad!

Psalms, Hymns, & Spiritual Odes (Colossians 3:16)

“Let the word of Christ dwell richly in you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing with psalms, hymns, and spiritual odes, in thanksgiving in your heart, to God.”

(Colossians 3:16)

 

This passage is the passage that has often been cited in the debate over what kind of music should be allowable in the worship of God’s people.  Some have argued that “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” all refers to the singing of the Psalms from the Old Testament, but such a statement carries with it very little textual support.  Paul uses three distinct words in the Greek to express what he commends the Colossian church to be doing; he uses the term yalmo/ß (psalmos), from which we get the English word “psalm,” the term u¢mnoß (humnos), from which we get the English word “hymn,” and the word wˆjdh/ (ode), from which we get the English word “ode.” 

In Greek, the word “psalms” obviously refer to the 150 psalms which compose the book of the same name.  These psalms were used as part of the worship of God’s people in the Old Testament.  The word “ode” refers to those songs sung as part of the church liturgy and were not limited to the 150 Psalms; for example, Moses’ song in Exodus 15 is called an “ode” in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.  “Hymns” on the other hand referred to any song with religious content.  The very fact that the Old Testament is filled with hymns that are not part of the book of Psalms and the very fact that the New Testament is filled with song fragments should remind us that God never intended that his people limit worship to the 150 psalms found in the Old Testament.  In addition, the saints in heaven are described as singing “a new ode” (Revelation 5:9), implying that even in heaven, God’s people are continuing to compose new songs of praise to our God and King.  The reality is, there are not enough words in all of the languages of all of the peoples of the world, nor enough combinations of notes or instruments to adequately praise our God for who he is and for what he has done, and this means that every new generation of believers has an obligation to continue to add to the body of the hymnody for the glory of our Redeemer.  Oh, how heaven will be filled with song!  Let us look forward to that time as we sing praises to our God and King as well!

Beloved, what an important part singing praises to God has in the life of the believer, and note just how closely we see Paul connecting the singing of praises with the dwelling of Christ’s word in your heart.  This leaves us with a very important principle that marks a good hymn from a bad one.  Good hymns lead your heart into God’s word: they either contain scripture or are built upon scriptural truths.  Good hymns reinforce God’s word within you; good hymns point to God and His Word, not to the hymn or to the singer.  The singing of hymns, psalms, and spiritual odes is not an end in and of itself, but rather is meant to draw you more deeply into Christ and into his word—if they do this, no matter the tempo, the instrumentation, the longevity, or the pedigree, they are good hymns; if they do not draw you more deeply into Christ, they are wasting your time.

All glory, laud, and honor

To thee, Redeemer, King,

To whom the lips of children

Made sweet hosannas ring!

Thou art the King of Israel,

Thou David’s royal Son,

Who in the Lord’s name comest,

The King and blessed One!

-Theodulph of Orleans

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 6)

“As with fat and the choicest cuts of meat, my soul will be satisfied.

My lips will exult; my mouth will exclaim hallelujah!”

(Psalm 63:6 {Psalm 63:5 in English versions})

 

Now, in a culture that is as health conscious as ours is, we somewhat lose the impact of the initial metaphor.  We usually think of fatty food as something bad and to be avoided because it is just simply not good for you (or at least, in a society that is as sedentary as ours is, it is not good for you).  Yet, one thing that must never be forgotten is that typically, when you are dealing with meats, the fattiest cuts are also the tastiest cuts.  As a child, before I became aware of this and that health concern and when I was active enough that I could eat whatever I wanted and never gain a pound, one my favorite things about when Dad made steaks on the grill, was eating the fat on the outside of the cut.  And that is exactly what David is communicating.  Take all of your health issues and set them to the side and think simply of the wonderful taste that comes with fat, and recognize that David is saying that his soul enjoys his God in the same way as his taste buds enjoys the fatty cuts of meat. 

We, as humans, respond to food.  This is not a cultural thing, but it is tied to our very being—we like to eat and we like to eat well.  We have made an art out of fine cooking, and almost everything we do on a social level is done around food.  Different cultures may have different styles of food that is popular with their palates, but there is food, none-the-less.  And what David is seeking to communicate to us through the ages is that as satisfying as the best meal may be—and when we have an exceptional meal prepared for us, it is not uncommon for us to think of that meal for days if not weeks—and crave it again—so too, David says, his soul enjoys God.  The question that needs to be asked, then, is does your soul crave God in the same way your mouth craves a favorite food.  Do you look forward all day to your morning or evening prayer time in the same way that you look forward all day to a special meal that is being prepared?  Do you savor your time in prayer as you do a good meal or do you see it as just one more thing to do?

Beloved, I think that we are all guilty of falling short of the mark that David sets for us, but he continues his metaphor in the second line of the psalm.  Just as your lips and mouth do not remain silent, but instead rejoice, in a good meal, so too, his lips and mouth cannot remain silent at the presence of God in his life.  And, indeed, David’s mouth did not remain silent, but from his mouth came the many sweet psalms of the first part of the book of Psalms.  Loved ones, does your heart sing, do your lips exult, does your voice refuse to remain silent at the wonders of God?  If so, then praise God, but if not, I pray that these words of David will spur you on and help nurture within you a heart of praise. 

I will sing of my Redeemer, and his wondrous love to me:

On the cruel cross he suffered, from the curse to set me free.

Sing, O sing of my Redeemer!  With his blood he purchased me;

On the cross he sealed my pardon, paid the debit and made me free.

-Philip Bliss

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 6)

“As with fat and the choicest cuts of meat, my soul will be satisfied.

My lips will exult; my mouth will exclaim hallelujah!”

(Psalm 63:6 {Psalm 63:5 in English versions})

 

Now, in a culture that is as health conscious as ours is, we somewhat lose the impact of the initial metaphor.  We usually think of fatty food as something bad and to be avoided because it is just simply not good for you (or at least, in a society that is as sedentary as ours is, it is not good for you).  Yet, one thing that must never be forgotten is that typically, when you are dealing with meats, the fattiest cuts are also the tastiest cuts.  As a child, before I became aware of this and that health concern and when I was active enough that I could eat whatever I wanted and never gain a pound, one my favorite things about when Dad made steaks on the grill, was eating the fat on the outside of the cut.  And that is exactly what David is communicating.  Take all of your health issues and set them to the side and think simply of the wonderful taste that comes with fat, and recognize that David is saying that his soul enjoys his God in the same way as his taste buds enjoys the fatty cuts of meat. 

We, as humans, respond to food.  This is not a cultural thing, but it is tied to our very being—we like to eat and we like to eat well.  We have made an art out of fine cooking, and almost everything we do on a social level is done around food.  Different cultures may have different styles of food that is popular with their palates, but there is food, none-the-less.  And what David is seeking to communicate to us through the ages is that as satisfying as the best meal may be—and when we have an exceptional meal prepared for us, it is not uncommon for us to think of that meal for days if not weeks—and crave it again—so too, David says, his soul enjoys God.  The question that needs to be asked, then, is does your soul crave God in the same way your mouth craves a favorite food.  Do you look forward all day to your morning or evening prayer time in the same way that you look forward all day to a special meal that is being prepared?  Do you savor your time in prayer as you do a good meal or do you see it as just one more thing to do?

Beloved, I think that we are all guilty of falling short of the mark that David sets for us, but he continues his metaphor in the second line of the psalm.  Just as your lips and mouth do not remain silent, but instead rejoice, in a good meal, so too, his lips and mouth cannot remain silent at the presence of God in his life.  And, indeed, David’s mouth did not remain silent, but from his mouth came the many sweet psalms of the first part of the book of Psalms.  Loved ones, does your heart sing, do your lips exult, does your voice refuse to remain silent at the wonders of God?  If so, then praise God, but if not, I pray that these words of David will spur you on and help nurture within you a heart of praise. 

I will sing of my Redeemer, and his wondrous love to me:

On the cruel cross he suffered, from the curse to set me free.

Sing, O sing of my Redeemer!  With his blood he purchased me;

On the cross he sealed my pardon, paid the debit and made me free.

-Philip Bliss

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 4)

“For your covenant faithfulness is better than life;

my lips will sing praises to you.”

(Psalm 63:4 {Psalm 63:3 in English Bibles})

 

Those of you who know me well know that I sound a bit like a broken record when I get to verses like this, but I would hold that these things are essential for the Christian to understand.  The Hebrew word that is found in the first part of this verse is the word ds,x, (chesed).  This word is translated in a number of ways in our English Bibles, sometimes we see it as “mercy” or “loving-kindness” and sometimes we see it as “grace” or “faithfulness.”  It is a word that carries with it many ideas, but essentially reflects God’s covenant faithfulness in the midst of his people’s covenant unfaithfulness.  And, oh, through history, how God demonstrates his ds,x, (chesed) to his people. 

And indeed, David speaks some very important words here—he says that the ds,x, (chesed) of God is better than life.  Were it not for God’s covenant faithfulness, life would not be worth living, David communicates.  Were it not for the covenant faithfulness of God this world would have been swept away in his wrath over sin.  Were it not for the covenant faithfulness of God, you and I would be condemned to the darkness of eternal judgment.  Were it not for God’s covenant faithfulness, he would have never sent his Son to redeem a people for himself—to redeem you and me.  Friends, do you see just how important this word is to us—this characteristic of God?  Do you see how we could not live without it?  Oh, how often we take God’s covenant faithfulness for granted; let us be reminded by these words of David that it is better than life itself—it is what makes life worth living!

And as a result of God’s covenant faithfulness in your life and in the lives of believers everywhere, it ought to cause your voice to sing praises to God!  The verb that David uses in the second clause is the word xb;v’ (shavach), which means to sing loud praises—to laud another.  Beloved, when you look back at your own life and you see the hand of God at work, does it not make you want to sing!  When you look back through history and you see God’s hand at work in the lives of his people, does it not make you want to praise!  Oh, how often we take the work of God for granted in our lives—oh how often we take the covenant faithfulness of God for granted—as if it were something that was our due pay for services rendered!  Beloved, our infinite praise is God’s due pay for his covenant faithfulness!  So, let us get to work—it is a precious labor to praise our God.  No, we will never repay what we owe, but though we cannot repay, shall we not try?  Shall we not praise him for who he is and for what he has done?  It is a pleasant duty and a delightful task that has been set before us, indeed.

All glory, laud, and honor to thee, Redeemer, King,

To whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring!

Thou art the King of Israel, thou David’s royal Son,

Who in the Lord’s name comest, the King and blessed One!

-Theodulph of Orleans

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 3)

“Thus, in the Holy Place, I have seen you;

seeing your might and your glory.”

(Psalm 63:3 {Psalm 63:2 in English Bibles})

 

Now, a question of translation arises in the first clause.  This verse begins with the words vd<QoB; !Ke (ken baqodesh), which mean “thus, in the Holy Place.”  The interpretive question that must be asked is whether or not David is referring generally to the sanctuary of God, as many translate it, which would likely speak of the Tabernacle and the grounds around it, or whether he is literally referring to the “The Holy Place” within the Tabernacle. 

The parallelism that we find in the second verse does not help us too much in answering that question given that it really highlights the second part of the first clause.  David says that he has seen God in the first part of the verse, then clarifies the statement at the end of the verse with the language of having seen God’s might and glory.  Indeed, this is something that David had witnessed early on in his life, but far more so by the later days (again, suggesting the probability of a later date).

So, how ought we to understand this first clause?  We can certainly take this as a general reference to the Tabernacle as a whole, but my suggestion is that this is a very specific reference to the Holy Place within the Tabernacle.  The structure of the tabernacle was that there were outer courts where the people could pray and worship, but when you entered the Tabernacle proper, there were two separate rooms, the Holy Place, where only priests were permitted to go and then the “Holy of Holies,” where the high priest alone was allowed to go once a year to take the blood of the sacrifice on the day of Atonement.

If only the priests were allowed to enter the Holy Place, how is it that David might have seen it?  There were three pieces of furniture within the Holy Place.  The first was the altar of incense, where incense was burned perpetually before the Lord to represent the perpetual prayers of the saints.  The second piece of furniture was the menorah, the seven-branched lampstand. This was kept lit through the night, not only providing light within the Holy Place, but also as a symbol of the light of truth to the world.  Lastly, there was the Table of Shewbread (also called the bread of the presence).  There were 12 loaves of bread that were put on the table on the first day of the week and left there until the Sabbath, when the priests would eat them and new loaves would be brought.  The twelve loaves represented the twelve tribes of Israel and the loaves together in the Holy Place represented the people of God in the perpetual presence of their God.

In 1 Samuel 21:1-9, we learn that at one point in David’s life, when he was fleeing from Saul, he and his men came to Nob (where the tabernacle was at the time) and asked for food.  The only food that was available was the shewbread—something that was only allowed for the priests to eat.  Yet, these loaves were given to David and his men.  Now, we are not told that David himself went into the Holy Place to retrieve these loaves, but this is not totally un-probable. 

Regardless on where you may fall in this discussion, the point is the same:  in the midst of David’s darkest hour, in the middle of spiritual dryness, his strength comes from his reliance on the Lord.  Oh, how often we falter, dear friends, because we seek to rely on our own strength rather than on the strength of God.  How often we allow the world to overrun or at least intrude into our spiritual lives.  How easily distracted our prayer time can be.  Beloved, what David is reminding us of is just how we rely upon God for our strength and apart from God, we will wither away—much like the plants of the land do when they are without water.  It is in God and in his glory that we must rest—it is in Christ and only in Christ that we can find health and joy.  Oh, beloved, seek his face, pursue the Lord and rest in him—no matter what the state of the world around you.

 

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 2)

“O God, you are my God; again and again I seek you.

My soul thirsts for you;

My flesh yearns for you—

In a land that is dry and exhausted without water.”

(Psalm 63:2 {Psalm 63:1 in English Bibles})

 

The wilderness around David is a visible metaphor for the spiritual state of the land of Israel at this point in history.  He looks around him as he flees into the wilderness and recognizes that the dryness of the land around him is much like the dryness of the hearts of those who seek his death—who seek to rule the kingdom of Israel not for the glory of God, but for their own gain and prosperity.

How quickly we forget, as we go through life, that riches are not found in the things of this world, but they are found in the things of God and in his righteousness.  Jesus says one of the marks of a true Christian, though, is that they hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6).  And as I have said many times before—hungering and thirsting is not a casual wondering what you will have from the buffet line tonight, but it is a deep hungering that recognizes that if the need is not met, you will die.

The illustration that we are given here is of being in a dry and barren land—the wilderness of Judea—in a time of drought.  We must remember that one of the most common judgments against God’s people when they entered into idolatry was just that—drought.  Yet, in the midst of judgment and fleeing for his life, David seeks to find his strength in prayer.  And David’s model that is one of constant prayer—seeking God’s face over and over again.  The verb for “to seek,” which is the verb rx;v’ (shachar), is found in the Piel stem, which simply means that it reflects continued, repeated action.  Thus, again and again, David is presenting himself before the Lord, seeking his face in prayer.

Oh, how we need to keep this principle before us as we go through our daily lives.  No, we may never be forced to flee into the wilderness because someone is seeking our life.  Yet, there are trials and struggles enough in this life that should force us to our knees.  And, beloved, it is on our knees that the man or woman of God finds their strength.  Friends, do not take this privilege for granted, but instead dedicate your life to continually seeking God’s face in prayer, and even in the midst of a dry and dusty land, God will provide you with an ever-flowing stream of soul-quenching water through his Holy Spirit.

Are we weak and heavy-laden,

Cumbered with a load of care?

Precious Savior, still our refuge—

Take it to the Lord in prayer!

Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?

Take it to the Lord in prayer!

In his arms he’ll take and shield thee;

Thou wilt find a solace there.

-Joseph Scriven

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 1)

“A psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah”

(Psalm 63:1 {superscript in English Bibles})

 

It is always helpful when psalms contain superscripts, which can introduce for us the context and the historical setting of the psalm (remembering that in the Hebrew Bible, the superscripts are part of the inspired text).  Even so, many of the superscripts still leave us with the responsibility of doing some footwork in the historical books if we want to narrow down the context more exactly.  And, in this case, we really have two possibilities that could provide the context for this psalm.

The earlier of the two possibilities would be found in 1 Samuel 23, when David was fleeing for his life from Saul.  He spent much time in the Judean wilderness (for example, see 1 Samuel 23:15).  The difficulty that some have with this earlier dating is that David refers to himself as “king” in this psalm (verse 11 in English Bibles) and technically, Saul was still the king of Israel.  At the same time, David had already been anointed by Samuel to be King of Israel by this point (1 Samuel 16), and though he had not yet assumed the role of King, the office was rightfully his.

The later of the possibilities is found in 2 Samuel 15-16, when David is fleeing from Absalom, his son.  At this point, David is clearly king of Israel without any room for debate and the text itself calls him “the king.”  David is found to spend time in the wilderness of Benjamin (which is often seen as part of the Judean wilderness) and Judah as he flees for his life again.  In turn, this second, later, choice may be a better option to fit the context of the psalm, though both are possibilities.

Whichever option you choose, what is perhaps more important is that the early church saw this psalm as a hymn that was reflective of their condition.  The church is a church in the wilderness heading for an eternal promised land that Christ has prepared and preserved for us, but for now, we are tested and tried here in this sinful world.  The early church especially also clearly understood what it meant to have people seek to destroy them as persecution abounded during those days (and still does today in other parts of the world).  Thus, tradition tells us, that men and women in the Early church often sang this particular psalm daily as a reminder of where they were and of God’s hand of provision in their lives.

Beloved, as you reflect on the words of this psalm, remember the context from which it comes—it is one of trust in God even in the midst of having to flee for your life.  Oh, how we can learn from those ancient saints who clung to this psalm for encouragement in the midst of their great trials.  Oh, how we would grow if we saw trials for what they are—not things to be feared, but opportunities for God to demonstrate his provision to us.  Loved ones, do not seek the easy life that finds its comfort in worldly things; seek the life that rests in God’s hand for all needs even in the midst of great tribulations.

A Proverb in a Song: part 13

“Do not fear that a man should gain riches,

for the glory of his house becomes great,

because he will not take any of it on his death,

his glory will not go down after him.”

(Psalm 49:17-18 {Psalm 16-17 in English Bibles})

 

You may feel that, after the psalmist has reached the climax of his message, he is going back over the same ground again, perhaps for emphasis.  But do not miss the implications of this statement.  Essentially, the psalmist is looking around at the world and recognizing a fact that believers have noticed for years and years—how is it that the wicked are so often the ones who get wealthy and famous in this world?  With that in mind, he is saying, fear not—for no matter how much wealth they may accumulate and no matter how much fame and glory they may achieve, it is all for naught.  It will die with them.  No matter how you translate “Sheol” in the previous passage, the results are the same once you arrive here—at the grave or in eternal torment, your glory will do you no good—your reputation will not follow you beyond this world.

Yet, do not think that the psalmist is only thinking in negative terms, because he communicates a profound truth if you read between the lines.  The faithful do not concern themselves with earthly glory, but, rather, their glory is God himself!  Thus, not only will God preserve his own through the grave, bringing them into eternal paradise and not judgment, but the glory of the faithful will remain with them—what is more, it will increase!  For in death, we are brought into the presence of God himself, no longer separated by sin from being able to recognize the glory of our God and King!  What a wonderful promise, what a wonderful gift!

The problem is that for many believers, their glory is not found in God alone, but they have become tempted by the culture we live in to seek after the perishable things of this world.  Oh, how often our eyes become turned away from the source of all true riches.  We become burdened by bills to pay, desires to have this or that, and wishes to give our families all the things that our neighbors are giving to their families.  We say, wouldn’t life be so much better if we had this or that…  Yet, one thing leads to the next and we end up on a pathway that leads to seeking after the things of this world with our energies, rather than devoting ourselves to seeking after God and His glory. 

Loved ones, do not fall into that trap.  The things of this world are perishable and will pass away.  They will slip from your hands just as easily as water through your fingers.  And in death, you will take none of it with you.  Yet, beloved, here is the hope that we may glory in—seek after God and his glory and not only will it enrich and bless your life in immeasurable ways here on earth, but you will take it with you—and not only that, if your glory is God in this world, dear friends, how much more will you enjoy that glory in the next!!!  Oh, loved ones, what a wonder of God’s grace!  Beloved, find your joy and your treasure and your glory in God and it will never perish and those things will follow you from this life into the next.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus!

Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free;

Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me.

Underneath me, all around me,

Is the current of thy love;

Leading onward, leading homeward,

To thy glorious rest above.

-Samuel Trevor Francis

A Proverb in a Song: part 12

“Like sheep, they are directed toward Sheol,

death shall shepherd them,

and the upright one shall tread upon them through the morning.

Their rock images shall be destroyed in Sheol from His lofty abode.

Nevertheless, God will redeem my life from the hand of Sheol,

For He will take me—Selah!”

(Psalm 49:15-16 {Psalm 14-15 in English Bibles})

 

Here we have reached the climax of the psalm.  Though the wicked will be led to the grave and their idols will be destroyed, God will redeem His people—preserving them through the grave.  Beloved, if anyone ever tells you that the Old Testament is devoid of the Gospel, do point them to passages like this, for oh, these remind us of the richness of the promise that the Old Testament saints understood.  They may not have known the name or the timing of the one who would come as the Messiah, but they trusted and believed in his coming, and through faith in the promise they found life.

Bet let us not miss the deep truths contained within these verses.  First of all, notice the language of those who are entrenched in sin—these are led or directed toward Sheol.  The language of the verse is clear, the end to which their pathway leads is no accident—it is to the grave and into judgment.  Indeed, the psalmist says, death will be their shepherd.  Death is the first and primary result of sin—not just physical death but spiritual death as well.  When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, they did not die physically that day, but lived many years after that.  Yet, they immediately died in a spiritual sense—they were immediately cut off with their relationship with God, the source of their life in the first place (was it not God who breathed life into them?).  Thus, without a relationship with a new shepherd, all men and women are bound to the old shepherd, death and are being led like sheep to Sheol.

So what is this Sheol place?  There have been many suggestions, but the most common two are either that Sheol is simply the grave or that Sheol is some sort of underworld place akin to Hades or Hell—the Greek translation of the Old Testament often renders this Hebrew word as either “inferno” or “Hades.”  The one thing that everyone agrees on is that this is the place to which the dead go.  In most cases, I think that we must allow context to provide us with the most natural reading of the text.  In most cases, I am more inclined to simply translate this as “the grave,” understanding that it is to the grave that our bodies go even though our spirits either enter into torment or into Christ’s presence immediately upon death.  I translate it this way also remembering that the great promise that we have is not simply that our spirits will go into Christ’s presence, but that our bodies will be raised as well (not left to the grave to eternally rot), but will be bodily resurrected at the second coming of Christ. 

Yet, in the context of this psalm, it does not seem unrealistic to translate “Sheol” as “Hades” or “Hell.”  The psalmist is speaking of eternal judgment as a result of sin and he is speaking how God will raise him up and not abandon him to such judgment.  That seems to imply that he is employing this idea of Sheol to convey a deeper, spiritual truth—one dealing with eternal torment, not just the corruption of decomposing in the grave. 

So what does it mean when the psalmist says the upright shall tread upon them in the morning?  There are two ways to explain this.  The first is in terms of a literal treading on the dirt that covers the grave.  This does not much help to explain the language of doing so in the morning, apart from the morning being a fresh part of the day, often associated with life.  The better option is to recognize this as a reminder that in the final judgment, Jesus has promised to share some of his authority in terms of destroying his enemies with believers.  In Psalm 2:9 we are given the picture of Jesus being given the rod by which he will break the nations; in Revelation 2:26-27 that same imagery is applied toward believers who have overcome the things of the earth in faith.  The principle is simple, what God gives the Son, the son gives to his bride.  And, in part, we have already engaged in doing just that through the proclamation of the gospel, but that which is in part now, will be brought to fullness at the time of the second coming.

And finally, not only will the sinners enter Sheol in judgment, but the idols that they worship (their rock images) will be destroyed in Sheol as well.  There are two levels by which this clause can be understood.  The first would be the simplest reading of the text to reflect the idea that while God is eternal, the creations of man will pass away over time.  These images that they worship are nothing more than the works of their hands—they are not immortal gods that they bow to but rock images—and will perish over time.  On a secondary level, there are times when false religions seem to act with some degree of power, and when we see such, we should always remember that these religions find their power in demonic sources.  Yet, even the demons will face God’s eternal wrath and are reserved for the torments of Hell right along with those who worship them.  Beloved, the lake of fire will be filled with all of God’s enemies—human and otherwise.

With all of this before us—the great pronouncement of condemnation upon all those who do not serve God in faith—the psalmist lets out a cry of confident joy.  He is saying, though you who serve false gods will be destroyed with those gods, I will be redeemed and preserved by my God, who lives forever.  The grave will not keep me—Hell has no claim on me—I belong to the King of Kings and he will not let me perish with his enemies!  And all we can say to that is Amen and Amen—and once again, I say, Amen!

Beloved, live, act, and sing with confidence, because you have been redeemed!  You and I will spend an eternity with our God and King while those who worship false idols or demons will spend an eternity with their gods in torment—what is there not to rejoice over.  At the same time, with such a message of good news, why do we not do like this psalmist and boldly proclaim it to all that we meet!  Oh, what words of wisdom are brought to us in this parable in song.

Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!

Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;

Redeemed through his infinite mercy,

His child, and forever, I am.

Redeemed, redeemed, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;

Redeemed through his infinite mercy,

His child, and forever, I am.

-Fanny Crosby

A Proverb in a Song: part 9

“Their graves are their everlasting homes—

tabernacles from generation to generation;

they proclaim loudly by their own name over the land.”

(Psalm 49:12 {Psalm 49:11 in English})

 

Not only will all face death—both the wise and the foolish, great and small, but apart from God, there is none who can escape the grave.  No matter who you are or what you have done, the grave awaits all as a final home.  There are none—save Jesus—who have entered the grave and risen from it, thus where else but Jesus can one find hope?  You would not trust your car to a mechanic who had never lifted the hood; you would not trust yourself to a heart surgeon who had never performed a successful operation; why would you trust your eternal soul to one who never left the grave?  Jesus left the grave and promised his followers that he would bring us through the grave as well—that sounds like a pretty safe bet, but oh, how many would deny Him and seek their own pathway only to their own destruction.

There is some discussion as to the meaning of the final clause in this verse.  It is a Hebrew idiom that is often translated as speaking of how people name lands after themselves in their vanity, yet still find themselves buried in those same lands.  Regardless of how you understand the idiom, there certainly is an ironic link here between these lands and the graves wherein the people will make their final homes.  Yet, I think that there may be something more going on with this verse.  The language of proclaiming (or speaking boldly) in one’s own name is also used of the activity of God (Exodus 34:5-7).  In this passage, God is essentially invoking his own name to give force to what it is that he is going to say next—specifically in context, it is a statement about his sovereignty.  God does not proclaim by his name very often, but when he does, we should take notice, because it is adding force to what he is about to say next.  It is as if God is couching the force of the next statement in the very nature of his being.  If we take this, then and apply it back to our verse, we may also interpret this, then, as the unbeliever essentially seeking to make a bad imitation of God.  They seek to pronounce their authority by their own name upon the land, yet the land will still consume them in the end.

How easy it is to become arrogant and to begin to think of ourselves in terms of our own authority, power and might.  But, beloved, how short-lived our influence is.  In the scope of eternity, only one person has made a difference, and that person is Jesus Christ.  How silly and foolish it is for us to seek to pronounce things by our own names when we cannot order the events of today, let alone, tomorrow.  How foolish and arrogant we become before the eyes of God when we trust in our own might and not in the might of Him who formed us and who called us from before the creation of the world.

A Proverb in a Song: part 8

“For he sees that the wise will die together with the stupid and foolish ones;

and they will leave behind their strength to others.”

(Psalm 49:11 {Psalm 49:10})

 

The psalmist continues to build his case—not only can a man not redeem himself or another man in terms of eternal matters before God, but he cannot even build his own legacy up in this life in such a way that he will live on forever.  The wise and the foolish will both die and be put into the ground.  The professor with the PhD and the homeless man with a third grade education will find equality in the grave.  The Nobel Prize recipient and the “snake-oil” salesman will both be laid to rest in the dirt.  Oh, how the grave is the great equalizer in the eyes of the world!  Not only that—but your power, your wealth, your might, your empire, etc… will be left to others to abuse, misuse, and squander as they see fit.  What a depressing cycle it is for those who do not have a relationship with Christ Jesus!

How often we become obsessed with what kind of legacy we will leave behind when we move from this world into the next.  How will we be remembered?  What will our great grandchildren say of us?  What will future generations say of our contributions to the generation in which we lived?  But beloved, these are the concerns of the world—they should not bear heavily upon your soul.  Why is this?  First, we are held firmly in the hand of a sovereign and wonderful God who will bring about his plans in this world without compromise and without question.  Secondly, life is not about me or about my plans or about my accomplishments; it is about Christ.  Thus, all the next generation needs to remember about you is whether or not you were faithful in pointing them in the direction of the one who really matters—pointing faithfully to Christ.  Loved ones—right there is the answer to all of our questions about tomorrow and finding satisfaction in the work of today.  Did you point faithfully to Christ?  Did you live a life that clearly communicated the truth of Christ’s preeminence?  Were others drawn to Christ because of your faithful witness?  Beloved, if the answer to these questions is, “yes,” then your life was a resounding success—little else matters.

All to Jesus, I surrender,

All to Him I freely give,

I will ever love and trust Him,

In His presence daily live.

I surrender all, I surrender all,

All to Thee, my blessed Savior,

I surrender all.

-Judson Van deVenter

A Proverb in a Song: part 7

“A brother can surely not redeem a man;

he cannot give to God his ransom.

For precious is the redemption of their life

And he will fail forever.

That he should live again forever,

That he should not see the grave.”

(Psalm 49:8-10 {Psalm 49:7-9 in English Bibles})

 

The first great truth of this proverb is set before us in these three verses.  And in doing so, he again addresses the question of why the believer does not fear his oppressors.  And the truth is this—it is impossible for a man to redeem himself or to redeem another from their sins.  Sin earns for us a debit against God that we cannot pay for ourselves, and as sinners, we cannot pay for anyone else.  Oh, what a sorry state we are in as we live and breathe in this world.  We are born sinners and condemned to die.  No matter how hard we work or labor, there is nothing we can do within our own strength to better that lot for ourselves or even on behalf of another. 

The great theologian of the medieval church, Anselm, put forward this same dilemma; reminding us that it is we as mankind who need a savior, yet it is only God (who needs no saving) that can save us.  He who needs saving must be saved by him who needs no saving himself.  Christ owed nothing to God as he had no sin debit—we owed everything and then some.  It is only through the saving work of Christ that we can know redemption—it is only because Christ paid the debit we owed—that I personally owed!—that you or I can have the hope and promise of eternal life.

And this was a truth that was understood long before the coming of Jesus.  The sons of Korah are clearly saying just that—man cannot redeem his brother any more than he can redeem himself—the debit owed as a result of sin is just too high.  Powerful words from ones who knew what it meant to have God give them a second chance, as God did not destroy the sons of Korah in Korah’s rebellion.

Beloved, do not despair the grave, for the one who has offered you redemption has already been there and has risen!  There is nothing to fear because our big brother has gone there first.  Yet, loved ones, never miss the importance of this great truth, because it is a truth that the world largely does not and cannot understand.  It is impossible for you or I to earn our own deliverance—no matter how many good and noble things we might do.  At the same time, there is hope from despair in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Cling to him and always point the way to him before a watching world that does not comprehend this truth.

A Proverb in a Song: part 6

“Why should I fear the day of evil?

Iniquity is the very footprint of those who surround me—

Those who trust upon their own strength,

And boast of abundant riches!”

(Psalm 49:6-7 {Psalm 49:5-6 in English Bibles})

 

And now the Psalmist sets the question before us.  How is it that those who believe in God can walk without fear in the presence of Great evil?  How is it that when they are surrounded by men of iniquity, they can stand confident in their God?  Thus, with this in mind, the rest of the psalm is aimed at reasoning through this question and setting the answer before an unbelieving world. 

What I find particularly interesting is the interplay between these two verses.  Verse 6 (Hebrew) begins with the question of fearing in the day of evil and ends with a definition of what the day of evil happens to be, namely the time when his foes surround him—implying the idea of their seeking to crush him.  Literally, the psalmist writes that Iniquity is the “heel” of those who surround him—it is what defines them firstly, but also, it implies malicious intent—particularly in the context of the verb bb;s’ (savav), which means, “to surround.”

As the psalmist moves to verse 7 (Hebrew), he provides a definition of those whose footprint is iniquity—of those whose very life is defined by sin.  And the psalmist lists two attributes:  they rely on their own strength and they praise (or boast in) wealth.  Sadly, that sounds like much of our American culture today?  In America, we idealize the “self-made-man” and the man who can “stand alone” against the world.  Oh, how this mindset is so alien to the Biblical mindset!  How we are not a people who stand alone against the world, but who stand united not only with other believers in the body of Christ but also with Christ himself as our King and Lord.  We are not self-made men and women, but are God-made, and, oh, how I thank God that this is the case!

Beloved, if you are swayed by the world to adopt their views of what makes a man great and strong, you will be led into pride and iniquity.  In addition, if you are relying on your own strength, from where do you find comfort and peace when you are surrounded and overwhelmed by the enemy.  If your strength is in your riches or in your strength, you will be defeated and sink in to fear—and oh, how far that is from where the heart of the believer is to be—how far indeed.  Believer, cling to Christ and find your hope and strength in him and in him alone and call others to do the same.

A Proverb in a Song: part 5

“I will stretch out my ear to a proverb,

I will open a riddle with a lyre.”

(Psalm 49:5 {Psalm 49:4 in English Bibles})

 

And what will be the riddle that this proverb is to solve?  The question is posed in the very next verses, and asks the question that many of us have asked at some point or another—a question that the watching world asks of us as well.  How is it, it may be said, that believers can face such persecution and oppression from outside, yet still maintain their hope.  Though we know that the answer is and can only be God, oh, how this is a great riddle to the unbeliever.

So beloved, hear the psalmist’s song of freedom, lifted up to the tune of the lyre.  Hear him sing of God’s glory and deliverance not only from oppressors, but from the oppression of the grave itself!  And be encouraged, for it is this God who has made such a promise to all who love him and come to him through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ.  It is us, beloved, it is us, who will one day sing with this psalmist of the finished plans of God, looking back from beyond the grave, over all that God has done for his people—for you and for me—and praising him for his remarkable faithfulness in times of trouble and great joy.  Oh, our God is great and wonderful, faithful beyond the ages—what a privilege and what a joy it is, to sing his endless praises!

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,

Freely bestowed on all who believe!

You that are longing to see His face,

Will you this moment His grace receive?

Grace, grace, God’s grace,

Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;

Grace, grace, God’s grace,

Grace that is greater than all our sin.

-Julia Johnston

A Proverb in a Song: part 4

“My mouth shall speak wisdoms;

the meditation of my heart is understanding.”

(Psalm 49:4 {Psalm 49:3 in English Bibles})

 

And now that the psalmist has called peoples from across the planet to heed the words of his lips, he addresses them specifically.  He is saying, listen here, you people of the earth and I will provide true wisdom for your ears!  In addition, the psalmist clarifies the importance of what he is going to say by pointing out that the meditation of his heart—that which he is about to speak—will give them understanding.  Oh, beloved, how deep a truth this is for us—wisdom and understanding come from no other place but from God and is conveyed to us through his Word.  How often do we seek to forge our own understandings?  How often do we reject the plain teachings of scripture because we cannot comprehend what is being revealed?  How often do we submit the scriptures to our own understanding rather than submitting our understanding to the scriptures?

Now, you will note something unusual about the translation that I have rendered with respect to the word “wisdom.”  In English and in Hebrew, the word wisdom is normally used as a collective noun, simply meaning that whether you speak one piece of wisdom or twenty, it is still referred to as “wisdom” and not “wisdoms.”  Yet, in this verse, the psalmist has pluralized this word.  What is significant about this is that the plural form of wisdom only occurs in four places in the Hebrew Bible—once here, and three times in the book of Proverbs (1:20, 9:1, 24:7).  This provides a connection to what it is that the psalmist is going to communicate in the following verse—the wisdom that he is about to espouse is a proverb to be heard by all the nations of the earth.

Finally, it is worth noting that the Hebrew word for meditation, tWgh’ (haguth), is derived from the Hebrew verb, hg”h’ (hagah), which means, “to growl.”  The imagery is   reflective of the way that traditional Hebrew students of God’s word would mutter softly as they were immersed in their study of the scriptures.  This intense concentration, accompanied by the quiet muttering as they studied, was reminiscent of an animal quietly growling as they were focused steadfastly on their prey.  This being said, it is worth posing the question, in our busy and hectic world, do we ever make the time to study God’s word so intently that we do not permit distractions to encroach on that time?  Sadly, I think that answer for most of us is no. 

Beloved, hear the words of wisdom that will come from the depth of this psalmist’s soul.  They will bring understanding to our hearts.  But do not only hear his words, hear what he communicates to us by his life.  He is a man who has spent time growling over scripture—so deeply focused on the study of God’s word that outside distractions are cast aside totally.  And as a result of this devotion to God’s word, wisdom pours from his lips.  Friends, if you want wisdom, James reminds us that we are to pray for it and that God will give it in abundance (James 1:5-8)—and this comes through trial (James 1:2-4).  Yet, if you want to nurture and mature wisdom, you must immerse yourself in the undistracted study of God’s word.  That means we must be deliberate about making such time—indeed, that is a challenge in our modern, fast-paced culture, but oh, how wonderful the benefits of such time are!

A Proverb in a Song: part 3

“As well as the sons of Adam—even the sons of man—

together, both the rich and the needy.”

(Psalm 49:3 {Psalm 49:2 in English Bibles})

 

If you have been reading along with this psalm in your favorite Bible translation, you will quickly notice that there is some disparity between the language above and how most translators translate the first portion of this verse.  Most will translate this as “both low and high” or something very similar to that.  Essentially, what they are doing is taking the language of the “sons of Adam” and “the sons of man” and treating them idiomatically to reflect the idea of highborn and lowborn people of various estates, which would also make the first half of the verse parallel to the second.

Yet, I am not convinced that this is what the psalmist is seeking to do.  As we talked in the previous verse, this psalm is not written to Israelites alone, but it is directed to all people of all nations.  With that in mind, it seems to me that the psalmist is using language that is as broad as possible to refer to people from every tribe and nation.  The psalmist uses the very specific language of the Sons of Adam, which of course is all of mankind, and then he uses generic language that again refers to all people.  The idea here being that all people without exclusion are called to listen to the words of wisdom he is about to write—given as emphasis of what he proclaims in the previous verse.

Yes, beloved, as we said earlier, the Gospel is for all people of all time.  There is no one—man, woman, or child—that the words of scripture do not apply to.  The question is, if we understand this and agree with this, why do we not share the truth of God’s word with more people in our lives?  Why do we back down at the first sign of challenge and fail to stand for what we know to be the truth?  Oh, beloved, let us sound the alarms and preach from the rooftops—let us proclaim to the sons of Adam—indeed to all the children of the earth—that Jesus Christ is Lord and that salvation is found in his name and in his name alone!

A Proverb in a Song: part 2

“Hear this, all ye peoples!

Listen carefully, all who dwell in the world!”

(Psalm 49:2 {Psalm 49:1 in English Bibles})

 

Notice to whom this psalm is written.  All too often we only think of the scriptures in terms of being written for God’s people, yet, this psalm is addressing all people of world!  Oh, what an important reminder this is that the oracles of God are to be shared with all of creation—young and old, rich and poor, far and near.  The gospel is for every culture and race and the truth of God is suitable for all.

How often we adopt the attitude, when dialoguing with non-believers, do we back down from holding to this great truth.  We adopt the attitude of our culture which says, “Let me believe what I want to believe and I will let you believe what you want to believe…”  It makes people uncomfortable when you hold fast to the position that the truth of scripture is the only truth and all other things that masquerade as truth have their origins in the pits of Hell.  It does not sound very “tolerant” to say that, does it?  Yet, is light tolerant of the darkness?  Indeed, not!  Light casts darkness away!

We live in a world where people have preferred darkness to light (John 3:19), for in the darkness, the sins of men remain hidden.  Light exposes sin for what it is and light hurts the eyes when it is seen for the first time, yet, beloved, light is where we belong, for God is light.  And as we are in the light, we then must, by necessity, reflect the light of His glory into the world and the world will largely reject us—not for who we are, but for whose light we shine.  Beloved, do not be shy about shining your light amongst men and women, the truth of scripture is for all mankind—without qualification or exception.  Truth is truth, regardless of the circumstances.  So shout to the world, with this psalmist, that they would hear the truth of God’s wonderful revelation!

I will tell the wondrous story,

How my lost estate to save,

In His boundless love and mercy,

He the ransom freely gave.

Sing, O sing of my Redeemer!

With His blood he purchased me;

On the cross he sealed my pardon,

Paid the debit and made me free.

-Philip Bliss

A Proverb in a Song: part 1

“To the Director: From the Sons of Korah, a Psalm”

(Psalm 49:1 {Superscript in English Bibles})

 

While David is most well known for his psalm writing, the sons of Korah provide another block of psalms, 11 in all, that were used for worship with God’s people.  Korah was the Great-grandson of Levi, from whom the Priests would be drawn.  More importantly, Korah was the son of Izhar, who was the brother of Amram.  And while Amram is not an overly familiar name to us, his two sons are quite familiar: Aaron and Moses. 

Yet, the story of Korah is not one of the happiest in scripture.  Numbers 16 records how Korah rose up in rebellion against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, seeking more prominence in the leadership of Israel.  Korah, Dathan, and Abiram allowed their pride to consume them and they rejected the authority that God had placed over them.  In punishment, God opened up the earth to swallow up these men, their immediate families, and those who directly followed them—in all, 250 people died that day.  What is worse, on the next day, the grumbling of the people against Moses increased and God sent a plague (a gruesome disease afflicted by God), which destroyed 14,700 more people who were rising up against Moses.  In the New Testament, Jude will cite the rebellion of Korah as a sign of God’s faithfulness to bring judgment upon false teachers and those “for whom the dark gloom of eternity has been kept.”  Hard words of Korah, indeed.

Yet, the sons of Korah were not destroyed in their father’s rebellion (Numbers 26:11)!  By God’s abundant grace, he spared them that they might learn from their father’s error and know the glory of God.  In turn, the Sons of Korah, would eventually be assigned by David and Samuel as those who would guard the entrance to the Tabernacle (1 Chronicles 9:19).  In addition, it would be given to the Sons of Korah to make the flat cakes of bread used for meal offerings (1 Chronicles 9:31).  What is more, eleven psalms would be written by these Sons of Korah for use in the worship of God’s people.

How often we expect the sons of the father to bear guilt with him, and that is the natural way in which nature works.  God has established a standard by which this happens in the natural order of things (Exodus 34:7).  At the same time, this psalm is a psalm about redemption and being kept from being swallowed by Sheol (something that these sons knew all about as Korah had been swallowed up by the earth himself).  It is a reminder to us that while sin has a natural tendency to wear down and destroy, God redeems.  Oh, what a wonderful God we have that would take the sons of a man who wreaked such havoc within the people of Israel and use them for his praise throughout the generations!  Oh, if he is willing to work like this in the lives of the Sons of Korah, what he may even be willing to do with a wretch like me!

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see!

-John Newton 

A New Song!: Introduction

Introduction:

 

While we often think of the book of Revelation in terms of God’s judgment being brought upon his enemies, one of the major themes of Revelation is that of worship.  In fact, nearly half (24 of 60 uses) of the New Testament uses of the verb proskunew (proskuneo), which means “to worship,” are found in the book of Revelation.  It is a book that depicts both proper worship in heaven in the here and now and proper worship in heaven when all of the elect are finally gathered around the throne of Christ. 

With that in mind, Revelation is also a book that contains quite a few songs to the glory of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (and especially to the Son for his redeeming work).  It is as if the Apostle John can’t help but break out in joyful song as he relates his theophany to us. 

In the church today, there are (and I expect will always be) debates surrounding the use of new hymns being used in the church.  Some churches even go as far as to exclusively sing the psalms, as God’s inspired songbook.  I think that singing the psalms is great!  I also think that singing the New Testament songs is a great thing to do (though in the New Testament we are largely only given fragments of the song itself)!  And, I think that the inclusion of songs in the New Testament sets a precedent that each generation should always be contributing to the body of hymnody.  Yes, that means that some hymns will pass into obscurity as new ones are added, but the best ones will not.  I can’t imagine a day when a company will print a hymnal without standards like “Amazing Grace”, “O For a Thousand Tongues,” and “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” 

The key that we have to keep before us is to be careful that the new songs teach good theology.  So much of the theology that we learn is from the hymns.  Hymns often touch us deeply and stick with us, thus helping to shape the way we think about God and the Bible.  One of the great things about the “tried and true” hymns of the faith is that they have been tried and tested by generations as to what they teach.  As a generation that is adding new songs to the hymnody of the church, it is our responsibility to weed through the good and bad hymns on the basis of what they teach about our Lord.

Jesus is worth a hundred thousand generations of hymns and more!  His glory is beyond the capacity of our language to convey!  And once this world passes away, we will have an eternity to try and properly praise his worth.  I look forward to that day.  But for now, even in our limited capacity, we should be giving our all to the joyful task of that praise. 

These two verses contain a fragment of a hymn that John witnessed the angels singing in heaven.  As I mentioned above, there is a lot of theology that is contained within our hymnody.  I thought it would be useful to look briefly at some of the theology that is taught within this wonderful hymn fragment.