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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.

Sing! Sing! Sing!

“You must sing to God; you must sing! You must sing to our King; you must sing!”

(Psalm 47:7 {verse 6 in English translations})


Some of our translations insert the word “praises” into the text to read: “sing praises.” Though this is not a wrong inference, it is an inference nonetheless. What is most significant to understand about the command to “sing” to honor God is that the form of the verb is in what is called the “Piel” stem, implying repeated action. We are not only to sing praises to God, but we are to do so repeatedly. Notice too, the word “King” is understood properly here to be referencing God as the King, not the king that has his throne in Jerusalem. This is indicated both by the context of the psalm as a whole that speaks of God as the great king over the earth but also by the verse itself that sets up two parallel statements to add intensification. The command is given for us to sing twice and the “to whom” is the same as indicated by the parallel structure of this verse.

And oh, how many of our churches must stand convicted by the words of this psalm. How often people hardly sing as hymns are lifted up to God. While I am not advocating that people stand and bawl over all others, I am advocating that people sing with heart with the same passion as they sing along with the radio in their automobile as they drive from place to place. Sing the words with passion and zeal and with attention to the words that are printed on the page. Do you really mean the words that you are singing? Then again, perhaps that is why people don’t sing with zeal in our culture anymore — they don’t mean the words anyhow! Yikes! Isn’t that convicting!

Loved ones, song is one of the gifts that God has given to us — no other creature shares that capacity. True, some birds and other animals have what we refer to as a “song,” but here I am talking about the expression of ideas to music in a way that is melodious and edifying to all involved. We have been made to sing (amongst other things). So, let us do it! Though the organ might fill the sanctuary with sound, surely several hundred voices — even fifty or one hundred voices — should be able to dwarf the sound of the instrument’s tones. Let us commit to sing, an to sing repeatedly, continually through our lives to the praise and honor of our God and King. Let Christ’s wonderful salvation be your story and your song as you praise your savior all the day long…

This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Savior, all the day long.

This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Savior, all the day long.

-Fanny Crosby