O God our help in ages past

This hymn, written by Isaac Watts and based on Psalm 90 and a lot of other scripture passages, makes a beautiful end-year prayer.

(We used to sing it to a much snappier tune in high school, though :))

O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home:

Beneath the shadow of thy throne
thy saints have dwelt secure;
sufficient is thine arm alone,
and our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
or earth received its frame,
from everlasting thou art God,
to endless years the same.

A thousand ages in thy sight
are like an evening gone,
short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
bears all our years away;
they fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.

Our God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
be thou our guard while life shall last,
and our eternal home.

For the Swahili speakers:

Mungu msaada wetu
Tangu miaka yote,
Ndiwe tumaini yetu
Ya zamani zote.

Kivuli cha kiti chako
Ndiyo ngome yetu,
Watosha mkono wako
Ni ulinzi wetu.

Kwanza havijakuwako
Nchi na milima,
Ndiwe Mungu; chini yako
Twakaa salama.

Na miaka elfu ni kama
Siku moja kwako;
Utatulinda daima
Tu wenyeji wako.

Binadamu huondoka,
Mwisho hana kitu;
Kama ndoto hutoweka
Ndiyo hali yetu.

Ila wewe Mungu wetu,
Ndiwe wa kudumu;
Ndiwe bora, ngome yetu
Twakaa dawamu.

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Oh! Great is our God!

Every so often, I come across a song I can’t get enough of. Here’s the current candidate:

The lyrics:

O! Great is our God! So we should worship greatly!!
No song is too loud! No orchestra too stately
To hail the majesty of our King
So lift your voices loud as we sing

Oh! Great is our God! So let our songs be endless!
So awesome His ways, how could we comprehend them?
So we will make it known to our kids
And we will sing about the gracious gifts you give

Chorus
We will sing your praise and pour forth your fame
We will bless your name
Let everyone give thanks, because our God is great!

Oh! Great is our God! And we cannot contain it!
We sing from our souls, affected by His greatness
His mercy covers all that He’s made
Showing His glory and grace

Words and Music by Brian Eichelberger

Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial 3.0 License

 

Other songs previously stuck on a loop in my head (that I’ve blogged about) include Behold our God, Before the throne of God above, All I have is Christ and By this we know love.

Visions of a seated God

A while back I listened to this sermon on Psalm 2. When he came to verse 4, the preacher remarked that God doesn’t even bother to stand up, and that one recurring theme in scripture is that of God seated on His throne. You know those things that though they never crossed your mind, once they’re pointed out to you, they start popping up all over the place? This was one of those for me.

Isaiah “saw the Lord sitting upon a throne.” Ezekiel saw “the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance.” The psalms have abundant references to God sitting on His throne (I found these), as do the prophets. And in Revelation, God is simply referred to as “Him who is seated on the throne.”

So what?

In the movie The King’s Speech, there’s a scene in which the speech therapist settles himself in the seat reserved for the king at his coronation. His Majesty is indignant, and rightly so. That piece of wood and upholstery had symbolic significance–only those with the right kind of authority could sit in it. How much more with the God of the universe! His is a throne no other being can occupy, not even in jest.

God’s throne is high, holy and lifted up far away from all the messiness of human sinfulness. In Revelation 4, we see it surrounded by concentric circles of holy beings, lightning, thunder and rainbows. He is a transcendent God, absolutely nothing like us. And yet He desires to dwell with us:

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
   who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
   and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
   and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
–Isaiah 57:15

You can’t make up that kind of deity!

Finally, here’s my current favourite song, Behold Our God, which explores the otherness of God and His coming down to our level in Jesus Christ:

Live recording:

Studio recording:

You called, shouted, broke through my deafness

One day I hope to get round to reading Augustine’s Confessions (the story of his journey to faith in Christ). Until then, I’ll be content with snippets like this:

Augustine Confessions X.27

Late have I loved you,
Beauty so ancient and so new,
late have I loved you!

Lo, you were within,
but I outside, seeking there for you,
and upon the shapely things you have made
I rushed headlong,
I, misshapen.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
They held me back far from you,
those things which would have no being
Were they not in you.

You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;
you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;
you lavished your fragrance, I gasped, and now I pant for you;
I tasted you, and I hunger and thirst;
you touched me, and I burned for your peace.

Isn’t that last paragraph an evocatively beautiful picture of the new birth?

Hark! the herald angels sing

Merry Christmas!

Today’s (very familiar) hymn, like the first in the series, was written by Charles Wesley (keen minds may also have noticed they’re the only ones in the series originally written in English 🙂 ).

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King:
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Refrain
Hark! the herald angels sing,

“Glory to the newborn King.”

Christ, by highest heav’n adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the Virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.

Refrain

Hail, the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Ris’n with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Refrain

Source

In the first stanza, Wesley invites us to listen to the angels’ message. In the next two stanzas, he draws us in to worship the newborn King.

If you’d like to explore the biblical themes in greater depth, have a listen to this sermon by Ligon Duncan. Sorry for being brief, but I have some celebrating to do.

Hallelujah, Christ is born!

O come, O come, Emmanuel

Happy 4th and last Sunday of Advent!

Today’s hymn has been a favourite of mine for about a decade. I love the plaintive melody, and now that I know more about the words, I appreciate it even more. Have a listen:


If you’re feeling adventurous, here it is in Latin, with subtitles of a sort (you only need to watch the first 3.5 minutes, as the rest is a repetition).

The original text for the hymn comes from an 8th century Latin poem comprising seven stanzas. In the course of time and translation, some stanzas have been dropped and different English renderings of the Latin phrases adopted. If you’re thus inclined, you may compare 30 different hymnals. Here’s an eight-stanza version I found:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Refrain
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

Refrain

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

Refrain

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Refrain

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Refrain

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

Refrain

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

Refrain

O come, Desire of nations,
bind In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Refrain

[Source]

The first line of each verse refers to a messianic title found in the Old Testament:

Title Reference
Emmanuel Isaiah 7:14
Wisdom Isaiah 28:29
Rod (branch) of Jesse Isaiah 11:1
Day-spring (morning star) Numbers 24:17
Key of David Isaiah 22:22
Lord of might Exodus 19:16
Root of Jesse Isaiah 11:0
Desire of nations Haggai 2:7

In the medieval church, they’d sing one stanza a day during each of the seven days before Christmas. Which means this post is just in time!

Sources, and for more info:

Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light

Happy third Sunday of Advent!

Today’s hymn is another one I wasn’t familiar with before starting this series. As always, two renditions:


The original (in German) had twelve verses; I’m glad we have only one in English:

Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light,
and usher in the morning.
O shepherds, shudder not with fright,
but hear the angel’s warning:
this child, now weak in infancy,
our confidence and joy shall be,
the power of Satan breaking,
our peace eternal making.
[source, where there’s a second verse written some 2 centuries after this one]

Now for the scripture in the song:

  • The phrase ‘break forth’ in the KJV (the Bible translation in use at the time this hymn was translated) is almost always used in relation to singing, especially in the book of Isaiah.
  • Secondly, the image of light ushering in the morning brings to mind John 1:5, 8:12, 12:46; Malachi 4:2, and maybe even Revelation 21:23.
  • The third and fourth lines allude to Luke 2:8-11, even though those verses contain no warning (I’m guessing that it’s there to rhyme with ‘morning’).
  • The next two lines, I think, can’t be pinned down to a specific verse. Though that doesn’t diminish their veracity in the least!
  • In the seventh line I see Genesis 3:15, John 12:31, Ephesians 4:8, Colossians 2:15, Hebrews 2:14 and 1 John 3:8.
  • In the last line I see Micah 5:5a and Ephesians 2:14,17.

As Christians reflect on those last two lines, we look back to the cross where Christ won the victory for us and we also look forward to the ultimate consummation of the breaking of Satan’s power when Jesus Christ returns with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones (1 Thessalonians 3:13, 2 Thessalonians 1:7, Jude 1:14)!