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Christian Praise Songs: The God of Israel

December 7, 2011 Leave a comment

The more I read the Bible, especially the Old Testament passages, I notice disparity between scriptural language and that of modern hymns and praise songs. Certainly the church replacement theme has continued through Protestant history, as I observed previously here in reference to one current praise song with the line “Speak O Lord, till your church is built, and the earth is filled with your glory.”

A recent choir praise song, “Great is the Lord Almighty,” is another that contrasts with the language of the Bible.  It’s a great upbeat tune, with great words of praise overall, though without the depth of thought of traditional hymns.  See the full lyrics here.

The verses for this song briefly reference stories of the Old Testament:  at the drowning of Pharoah and his army at the Red Sea, and Joshua and the people at Jericho.  In each case, the lyric tells us, after these great deliverances they were singing – the chorus line,

Great is the Lord Almighty, He is Lord He is God indeed
Great is the Lord Almighty, He is God supreme

From my continual Bible reading, though, I observe that throughout the OT, the Israelites when they praised the Lord, used the phrase “the God of Israel,” with frequent reference to Him as the covenant keeping God of Israel.  A song with the above lines might be good enough for Gentiles in our modern times of songs lacking serious teaching, but to associate such simple lyrics with the Old Testament age is to betray vast ignorance of the strength and depth of their actual faith.

Indeed, a search in my Bible software (“The Word”) for the exact words “God of Israel” finds 201 references, mostly throughout the Old Testament.  Only two references occur in the New Testament, both in the gospel accounts (Matthew 15:31, Luke 1:68).  I also remember an old praise song, “The God of Israel is Mighty,” with other words of a more OT Israel style.

The New Testament, with a focus on bringing the Gentiles in, does not use that phrase, but several texts speak of the people of Israel, such as “the house of Israel” and “the Israel of God.”  Then Revelation 15:3 mentions the Song of Moses, and the words proclaimed by those saints who sing “the Song of Moses and the Lamb.”  Here the full purpose of God finds expression as God is praised as the “King of the nations,” the one that “All nations will come and worship.”  This is the God we worship, the God of Israel and the nations, the covenant keeping God — and we use words that convey these attributes of God instead of just simple lyrics about how great God is, yet without mention of the ways in which He is great.

Speak, O Lord, Till Your Kingdom Comes: Church Praise Songs

July 28, 2011 Leave a comment

How common it is for wrong biblical ideas to enter through songs.  From church history I’ve heard that the error of Arianism spread easily through simple songs, such as one with the line “There was a time when the Son was not.”  That is a more extreme example, but even within American churches, many of us can recall the songs about having “a mansion” in heaven — whereas the reference — John 14:3 — is referring to many “rooms” in my Father’s house.

The general theme of church replacement / supremacy is of course well represented in the classic hymns, if in a subtle way:  all the refernces to Zion, as in “we’re marching to Zion, beautiful beautiful Zion” and “Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion city of our God,” or other songs where the word Zion, or even Beulah land, is used as a reference to heaven.

By contrast, apparently the only hymns with biblical reference to Israel and its great future, come from historic premillennialist Horatius Bonar.  He wrote seven such hymns, but I have never seen the sheet music that goes to those songs, nor seen these hymns in any church hymnal.

Among contemporary praise songs, the church-supremacy trend continues, as in the recent song (sung often at the local Reformed amillennial church) “Speak, O Lord.”  Most of the words are fine, and overall it is a great hymn, but the last verse includes the words “Speak, O Lord, till Your church is built and the earth is filled with your glory.” 

Of course, most people just sing the words and don’t really think about the words, or ask “is this biblical?”  The reference to the earth being filled with the glory of the Lord is in Habakkuk 2:14 — in the great chapter with the words “the just shall live by faith,” where we are also told of a vision that “awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end-it will not lie,” and describes both judgment to come as well as the great promise in verse 14:  For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.  Even amillennialist John Reisinger has expressed his doubts, realizing that this verse contains more than just the influence of the church in this age.  To say “till your church is built and the earth is filled with your glory” of course suggests that the church, or the gospel going forth, is going to bring this about (classic postmillennialism), and of course is not scriptural, as something never taught explicitly or implicitly in the Bible.

As shown in this blog’s title, though, I suggest a scripturally correct wording, that fits the rhythm and syllables for the song:  Speak, O Lord, Till Your Kingdom Comes, and the earth is filled with Your glory.