Saturday, January 29, 2011


This is the only "modern" song that came to mind as I thought about songs that might recount specific salvation events in History. Tune and words written by American William Billings, Chester is very nationalistic, but it does thank God for his blessing on the nation, and His deliverance from their (relatively) Godless enemy. I like it.

"Let tyrants shake their iron rod,
And slavery clank her galling chains,
We fear them not, we trust in God,
New England's God forever reigns.

Howe and Burgoyne and Clinton too,
With Prescot and Cornwallis joined,
Together plot our overthrow,
In one infernal league combined.

When God inspired us for the fight,
Their ranks were broke, their lines were forced,
Their ships were shattered in our sight,
Or swiftly driven from our coast.

The foe comes on with haughty stride;
Our troops advance with martial noise,
Their veterans flee before our youth,
And Generals yield to beardless boys.

What grateful offering shall we bring?
What shall we render to the Lord?
Loud halleluiahs let us us sing,
And praise his name on every chord!"

After writing it all out, I like it even more! It reminds a lot of of Exodus 15, and of Deborah and Barak's song in Judges 5. Could we sing this in church today? I'm not sure...but I like it!

Here is a recording of the song with a good introduction. Not the best choir in the world, but not bad for high-schoolers.

Moses' Song

Moses' song, recorded in Exodus 15, is the first major song recorded in the Bible. Moses leads the people of Israel in singing this song after they are delivered from Egypt and the Egyptian army is drowned in the Red Sea.

It is a long song (18 verses in our Bibles) and is basically a song rejoicing in God's utter destruction of the evil Egyptians. It can be roughly outlined like this:

I. I will sing to YAWHEH for He has delivered me (1-3)
II. Vivid description of judgment on the Egyptians (4-12)
III. The Nations fear the LORD (13-18)

This song focuses most on points 2 and 4 from my earlier post ("mighty acts of salvation recorded," and "His acts of judgment are rejoiced in") which I believe are the weakest areas in our worship music today. What if people today wrote songs recounting how God has blessed the Church and punished/judged the forces of evil? It is obviously a little easier for Israel in this case since the were the people of God, as a nation, they were all in one location, and God worked very directly in history to save them from the Egyptians. In fact, this event is mentioned in many more songs thoughout the Bible, including Psalms 78, 81, 105, 106, 114, and 135. I have a hard time thinking of how we could write songs for worship today that reference specific salvation events in "modern" history (partly because the Church is so divided...), but I'm sure it is possible.

How many songs do we sing that have lines like these?
"The LORD is a man of war; the LORD is his name. Pharaoh's chariots and his host he cast into the sea, and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea. The floods covered them: they went down into the depths like a stone. Your right hand, O LORD, glories in power, your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy. In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries; you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble."

This song is about salvation for the people of God, but the other side of that is God's terrible judgment on His enemies. We just don't sing this kind of stuff unless we sing the songs of the Bible! The only way we will be able to write songs like the ones God has given us is if we raise up a generation saturated in these songs from the Bible. Maybe we can only sing slightly odd versions of these songs (I'm for the chant version), but I think that it is most important that we learn these words, these songs that God has given us, and use them as a pattern as we write worship songs for today.

Monday, January 24, 2011

"God's Lyrics"

I haven't posted here for well over a year now! I've been busy graduating, getting married and working and haven't had a lot of time to devote to this area. I've just started reading a book that is reviving my interest and enthusiasm in the area of Church Music.
So far God's Lyrics by Douglas Sean O'Donnell, promises to be a fantastic read. His basic idea is to look at the songs from the Old Testament that God gave to his people, analyze them, and compare them with the songs used in worship over the past century or two. He specifically focuses on a handful of the longer and more prominent songs in the Old Testament including Moses' song of victory after the Egyptians are drowned in the Red Sea, Moses' song he teaches Israel before he dies, Deborah's song, Hannah's Song, and "the Song of Habakkuk." I find it a little odd that he doesn't use a Psalm, but I bet he will address that before the end of the book.
O'Donnell identifies four major themes he claims are the "meat" of the OT songs:
  • The LORD is at the center: our God is addressed, magnified, and adored.
  • His mighty acts in salvation history are recounted.
  • His ways of living are encouraged.
  • Finally (and I think most notable for our culture and time), His acts of judgement are rejoiced in.
I think that much of 19th century hymnody is fairly strong on points 1 and 3, but I don't think points 2 and 4 come up much in the worship music I am familiar with.