The earliest as well as the most sublime of poetic utterances known to man are found in the Scriptures. Before the oldest of the world's poets had sung, the shepherd of Midian recorded those words of God to Job --in their majesty unequaled, unapproached, by the loftiest productions of human genius:
"Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? . . . Or who shut up the sea with doors, When it brake forth; . . . When I made the cloud the garment thereof, And thick darkness a swaddling band for it, And prescribed for it My decree, And set bars and doors, And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further; And here shall thy proud waves be stayed?
"Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days began, And caused the dayspring to know its place? . . . "Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? Or hast thou walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed unto thee? Or hast thou seen the gates of the shadow of death? Hast thou comprehended the breadth of the earth?
Declare, if thou knowest it all. "Where is the way to the dwelling of light, And as for darkness, where is the place thereof? . . . "Hast thou entered the treasuries of the snow, Or hast thou seen the treasuries of the hail? . . . By what way is the light parted, Or the east wind scattered upon the earth? Who hath cleft a channel for the water flood, Or a way for the lightning of the thunder; To cause it to rain on a land where no man is; On the wilderness, wherein there is no man; To satisfy the waste and desolate ground; And to cause the tender grass to spring forth?" "Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, Or loose the bands of Orion? Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? Or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons?" Job 38:4-27, R.V.; 38:31, 32.
For beauty of expression read also the description of springtime, from the Song of Songs:
"Lo, the winter is past, The rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth; The time of the singing of birds is come, And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; The fig tree ripeneth her green figs, And the vines are in blossom, They give forth their fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away." Canticles 2:11-13, R.V.
And not inferior in beauty is Balaam's unwilling prophecy of blessing to Israel:
"From Aram hath Balak brought me, The king of Moab from the mountains of the East: Come, curse me Jacob, And come, defy Israel. How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? And how shall I defy, whom the Lord hath not defied?
For from the top of the rocks I see him? And from the hills I behold him: Lo, it is a people that dwell alone, And shall not be reckoned among the nations. . . . "Behold, I have received commandment to bless: And He hath blessed, and I cannot reverse it. He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, Neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel:
The Lord his God is with him, And the shout of a King is among them. . . . Surely there is no enchantment against (margin) Jacob, Neither is there any divination against (margin) Israel: Now shall it be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!"
"He saith, which heareth the words of God, Which seeth the vision of the Almighty: . . . How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, Thy tabernacles, O Israel! As valleys are they spread forth, As gardens by the riverside, As lignaloes which the Lord hath planted, As cedar trees beside the waters."
"He hath said, which heard the words of God, And knew the knowledge of the Most High: . . . I shall see Him, but not now: I shall behold Him, but not nigh: There shall come a Star out of Jacob, And a Scepter shall rise out of Israel. . . . Out of Jacob shall come He that shall have dominion." Numbers 23:7-23, R.V.; 24:4-6, R.V.; 24:16-19.
The melody of praise is the atmosphere of heaven; and when heaven comes in touch with the earth, there is music and song--"thanksgiving, and the voice of melody." Isaiah 51:3.
Above the new-created earth, as it lay, fair and unblemished, under the smile of God, "the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy." Job 38:7. So human hearts, in sympathy with heaven, have responded to God's goodness in notes of praise. Many of the events of human history have been linked with song.
The earliest song recorded in the Bible from the lips of men was that glorious outburst of thanksgiving by the hosts of Israel at the Red Sea:
"I will sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously: The horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and song, And He is become my salvation:
This is my God, and I will praise Him; My father's God, and I will exalt Him." "Thy right hand, O Lord, is glorious in power, Thy right hand, O Lord, dasheth in pieces the enemy. . . .
Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, Fearful in praises, doing wonders?" "The Lord shall reign for ever and ever. . . .
Great have been the blessings received by men in response to songs of praise. The few words recounting an experience of the wilderness journey of Israel have a lesson worthy of our thought:
"They went to Beer: that is the well whereof the Lord spake unto Moses, Gather the people together, and I will give them water." Numbers 21:16. "Then sang Israel this song:
How often in spiritual experience is this history repeated! how often by words of holy song are unsealed in the soul the springs of penitence and faith, of hope and love and joy!
It was with songs of praise that the armies of Israel went forth to the great deliverance under Jehoshaphat. To Jehoshaphat had come the tidings of threatened war. "There cometh a great multitude against thee," was the message, "the children of Moab, and the children of Ammon, and with them other beside." "And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah gathered themselves together, to ask help of the Lord: even out of all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord." And Jehoshaphat, standing in the temple court before his people, poured out his soul in prayer, pleading God's promise, with confession of Israel's helplessness. "We have no might against this great company that cometh against us," he said: "neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon Thee." 2 Chronicles 20:2, 1, 3, 4, 12.
Then upon Jahaziel a Levite "came the Spirit of the Lord; . . . and he said, Hearken ye, all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and thou King Jehoshaphat, Thus saith the Lord unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God's. . . . Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord. . . . Fear not, nor be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them: for the Lord will be with you." 2 Chronicles 20:14-17.
"And they rose early in the morning, and went forth into the wilderness of Tekoa." 2 Chronicles 20:20. Before the army went singers, lifting their voices in praise to God --praising Him for the victory promised.
On the fourth day thereafter, the army returned to Jerusalem, laden with the spoil of their enemies, singing praise for the victory won. Through song, David, amidst the vicissitudes of his changeful life, held communion with heaven. How sweetly are his experiences as a shepherd lad reflected in the words:
"The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. . . .
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me." Psalm 23:1-4.
In his manhood a hunted fugitive, finding refuge in the rocks and caves of the wilderness, he wrote:
"O God, Thou art my God; early will I seek Thee: My soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh longeth for Thee, In a dry and weary land, where no water is. . . .
Thou hast been my help, And in the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice." "Why art thou cast down, O my soul?
And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: For I shall yet praise Him,
Who is the health of my countenance, And my God." "The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?"
Psalms 63:1-7, R.V.; 42:11; 27:1.
The same trust is breathed in the words written when, a dethroned and crownless king, David fled from Jerusalem at the rebellion of Absalom. Spent with grief and the weariness of his flight, he with his company had tarried beside the Jordan for a few hours' rest. He was awakened by the summons to immediate flight. In the darkness, the passage of the deep and swift-flowing stream must be made by that whole company of men, women, and little children; for hard after them were the forces of the traitor son.
In that hour of darkest trial, David sang:
"I cried unto the Lord with my voice, And He heard me out of His holy hill.
"I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, That have set themselves against me around about."
After his great sin, in the anguish of remorse and self-abhorrence he still turned to God as his best friend:
"Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy loving-kindness: According unto the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. . . . Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." Psalm 51:1-7.
In his long Life, David found on earth no resting place. "We are strangers before Thee, and sojourners," he said, "as all our fathers were: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is no abiding." I Chronicles 29:15, R.V.
"God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea." "There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the City of God, The holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved God shall help her, at the dawn of morning. . . . The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge." "This God is our God for ever and ever: He will be our guide even unto death."
With a song, Jesus in His earthly life met temptation. Often when sharp, stinging words were spoken, often when the atmosphere about Him was heavy with gloom, with dissatisfaction, distrust, or oppressive fear, was heard His song of faith and holy cheer.
On that last sad night of the Passover supper, as He was about to go forth to betrayal and to death, His voice was lifted in the psalm:
"Blessed be the name of the Lord From this time forth and for evermore. From the rising of the sun until the going down of the same
The Lord's name is to be praised." "I love the Lord because He hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because He hath inclined His ear unto me,
Therefore will I call upon Him as long as I live. "The sorrows of death compassed me, And the pains of hell gat hold upon me:
I found trouble and sorrow. Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech Thee, deliver my soul.
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; Yea, our God is merciful. "The Lord preserveth the simple:
I was brought low, and He helped me. Return unto thy rest, O my soul; For the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.
Amidst the deepening shadows of earth's last great crisis, God's light will shine brightest, and the song of hope and trust will be heard in clearest and loftiest strains.
"In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; Salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks. Open ye the gates, That the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in.
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee. Trust ye in the Lord forever: For in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength." Isaiah 26:1-4.
"The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads: they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." Isaiah 35:10, R.V.
"They shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together unto the goodness of the Lord: . . . and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all." Jeremiah 31:12.
The Power of Song
"It is one of the most effective means of impressing the heart with spiritual truth. How often to the soul hard-pressed and ready to despair, memory recalls some word of God's--the long-forgotten burden of a childhood song, --and temptations lose their power, life takes on new meaning and new purpose, and courage and gladness are imparted to other souls!"
The history of the songs of the Bible is full of suggestion as to the uses and benefits of music and song. Music is often perverted to serve purposes of evil, and it thus becomes one of the most alluring agencies of temptation. But, rightly employed, it is a precious gift of God, designed to uplift the thoughts to high and noble themes, to inspire and elevate the soul.
As the children of Israel, journeying through the wilderness, cheered their way by the music of sacred song, so God bids His children today gladden their pilgrim life. There are few means more effective for fixing His words in the memory than repeating them in song. And such song has wonderful power. It has power to subdue rude and uncultivated natures; power to quicken thought and to awaken sympathy, to promote harmony of action, and to banish the gloom and foreboding that destroy courage and weaken effort.
It is one of the most effective means of impressing the heart with spiritual truth. How often to the soul hard-pressed and ready to despair, memory recalls some word of God's--the long-forgotten burden of a childhood song, --and temptations lose their power, life takes on new meaning and new purpose, and courage and gladness are imparted to other souls!
The value of song as a means of education should never be lost sight of. Let there be singing in the home, of songs that are sweet and pure, and there will be fewer words of censure and more of cheerfulness and hope and joy. Let there be singing in the school, and the pupils will be drawn closer to God, to their teachers, and to one another.
As a part of religious service, singing is as much an act of worship as is prayer. Indeed, many a song is prayer. If the child is taught to realize this, he will think more of the meaning of the words he sings and will be more susceptible to their power.
As our Redeemer leads us to the threshold of the Infinite, flushed with the glory of God, we may catch the themes of praise and thanksgiving from the heavenly choir round about the throne; and as the echo of the angels' song is awakened in our earthly homes, hearts will be drawn closer to the heavenly singers. Heaven's communion begins on earth. We learn here the keynote of its praise.