Our Singing God
Tom Wilson, New Jersey, USA
It is striking that while there are numerous mentions of singing in the Scriptures and nine references to a 'New Song'; there are only four references to God Himself singing. The context of each occurrence is different and full of instruction for us.
The first of these can be called:
THE SONG OFDISAPPOINTMENT
Isaiah 5. 1, 'Now let Me sing to My Well Beloved, a song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard'. First the CRY - 'What more could have been done?' v. 4. God details all the preparations that He had made in working with the nation of Israel. He had fenced it with boundaries, cleared it of enemies, planted His name among them as His possession and became the tower of protection for them. However, the pain of a broken heart can be heard in the complaint that He looked for choice grapes but found instead sour grapes. Scholars tell us that the expression could literally be translated, 'a stench'. Moses, centuries earlier, in Deuteronomy 32, had spoken of them as 'grapes of gall'. His plan therefore, could not be benign neglect, but judicial punishment.
This is followed by the CATALOGUE of failure, v. 7. Lest there be any protest, God details, first, the perpetrators as both 'the house of Israel' and then, 'the men of Judah'. Then He speaks of the particulars of their sin in a series of six 'woes'. The parallels in our modern society, and even in the churches, are striking. The six sins of Materialism, Pleasure, Selfishness, Perversion, Pride and Partiality have become the order of the day.
Lastly, the CONSEQUENCES are detailed, vv. 24-30. The solemn pronouncements of God are made in the succeeding chapters where five times God states, 'For all this . . . '. Punishment could be the only outcome. Destruction and defeat became the portion for Israel when they were taken away by the Assyrians in 722BC and then Judah was carried into captivity by the Babylonians in 605 and 586BC.
But even in the midst of judgement, there is the possibility of recovery. When we turn to chapter 27, verses 2-6, we read of possible restoration, and later, the Lord Himself in John 15 claims to be the True Vine where union with Him results in fruit, more fruit, and much fruit.
THE SONG OF DELIGHT
Zephaniah. 3. 17, 'The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing'.
There can be no doubt that this message is primarily millennial as it looks forward to a future day. First, the prophet speaks of RETRIBUTION. Privileged by birth, he was probably a cousin of good king Josiah and a great-great-grandson of king Hezekiah. He had watched the efforts of the young king to effect a return to God by the nation but it was apparent to him that any reformation was simply on the surface. The burden of his message thus became the awful day of the Lord that would be visited on sinners, and the need for a heart return to God. But in the midst of gloom he could see a bright gleam of the grace of God. His plea is for RESTORATION.
The disaster of God's judgement was about to fall on Judah in the Babylonian captivity. However, his vision widens to include the determination of God that in a coming day all the nations would be brought under judgement. Still, deliverance is promised to all that would heed the message. What REJOICING in that coming day. The presence of God among His people will be the full realization of the promise of 'Emmanuel' (God with us), given at the incarnation, when God is to dwell among His people. His Power as the Mighty God will be celebrated in the salvation He provides and His pleasure will resound in the song He sings. Surely it will be a song such as of a mother over her newborn, or of a father over the return of the prodigal. It will be the fulfilment of all His designs from a bygone eternity as He cherishes those that are His own.
The next two references are both found in the New Testament.
THE SONG OF DARKNESS
In Matthew 26. 30, comes the SONG OF DARKNESS, 'And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives'.
The section begins with the SUPPER of the Passover. This was of course the commemoration of God's rescue by blood of Israel from bondage and a token of the covenant that they were God's redeemed people. It was the annual reminder of the suffering they had endured and the freedom into which they had come. Not only so, but it was also a symbol of the communion they knew in fellowship with God. Edersheim suggests that this would have been the first time the Lord could have been the host at a Passover meal. It is Luke who records the Lord's words that 'with desire' He had desired to eat this with them, and we can safely assume that it was in view of the completion of all that was symbolic now to be incorporated into the reality that He was shortly to suffer. The old order was passing away and the new was about to begin. It is in this context that we get the SONG OF DARKNESS, no doubt one of the psalms.
It is part of the Passover ritual to sing the great 'Hallel' comprising Psalms 113-118. The first two psalms were sung at the start of the feast and then the rest towards the end. It is significant to see in Psalm 118 that we have first, THE STONE, v. 22, which speaks poignantly of His rejection. Peter later quotes this verse too, in his accusation against the leaders of the nation. The next section details THE SHOUT OF REJOICING, vv. 25-26, which had been proclaimed with such enthusiasm just a few days before at the triumphal entry. Finally, it speaks of THE SACRIFICE, v. 27, when the work of redemption was to be accomplished, not just for Israel but for all those who would believe of Christ. What thoughts must have filled the mind of the Saviour as He sang the words.
Lastly we are reminded of THE SYMBOLISM of His Passion. This would soon be accomplished in His death. It is with joy, that week by week, we recall His words spoken on that solemn occasion, 'this is My body'. Represented in the loaf, His was a body prepared, in which He tabernacled, and which He willingly sacrificed on the cross. His blood represented in the cup, 'this is My blood of the new covenant', which He shed so that sin could be fully dealt with. We remember Him, 'until He come', then the symbols become reality.
THE SONG OF THE DIRECTOR
Heb. 2. 12, 'I will declare Your name to My brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You'.
This is, of course, a quotation from Psalm 22. 22, where it is expressed slightly differently. The writer to the Hebrews presents Christ first as the CHAMPION, but in Psalm 8, verse 6 we are told of the 'but' of intention – man as the crown of God's creation. Next, in verse 8 there is the 'but' of frustration – man as the failure. Then, finally, we get the 'but' of God's realization - Man in perfection – Jesus. That which man failed to accomplish, our Lord Jesus, in the perfection of His manhood, has taken to its highest fulfilment.
Next He is presented as the CONQUEROR. He is seen suffering as He fought the fight alone, but this has resulted in bringing many sons to glory. Paul uses this same imagery of the conquering hero in 2 Corinthians 2. 14, where the victors are associated with Him in His victory. But if there is to be association with Him it is vital that there be sanctification. That this is an ongoing process is evident from the tense that is used, 'those being sanctified', i.e., set apart to the relationship of brethren, v. 11.
Finally, we see Him as the CHOIR DIRECTOR. This was a function of the Levitical order, put in place officially by David, and designed to give a leader to the worship of God's people in song. Later under Nehemiah, we see two groups circuiting the walls of Jerusalem with worship in song, one led by Ezra the priest and the other by Nehemiah himself. Now, in this passage, the Lord is exercising His priestly function as He leads His people in song. Stress is also laid on the privilege of the believers as they join Him as those called 'brethren'! But it is His prominence and centrality that are emphasized in the passage here. So through all eternity we will be led by Him in the glorious redemption songs of 'Moses and of the Lamb'.