Tag Archives: Church Music

Now May the God of Peace

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23, ESV).

A Prayer of sanctification that God would deepen our repentance and strengthen our faith in the daily battle against remaining sin.

Lord, I desire Your will
My heart yearns to obey
Though daily I am faced with sin
Enticing me away

So, help me rise each day
Battle and war with sin
Until I see You face to face
And final vict’ry win

Lord, You have so designed
Sin to remain in me
That as I struggle, watch and pray
I learn humility

So, help me to obey
Holiness to pursue
Deepen repentance when I fail
Strengthen my faith in You

I rest within the hope
Your Spirit dwells in me
Completing that which was begun
So holy I may be

Now may the God of Peace
Sanctify me wholly
And keep me blameless ’til the day
Christ comes in victory

Words ©1992, 2015 Kenneth A Puls

Read more about how this hymn came to be written and download free sheet music (PDF), including chord charts for acoustic guitar, an arrangement of the tune for Classical Guitar, and an arrangement of the tune for Instrumental Ensemble.

—Ken Puls

What to Say in the Last Lines of a Worship Song

The Last Measure

What’s the best way to end a worship song? What should we say or sing in those last lines? We know endings are important. That final statement that punctuates our prayer or praise in singing should be thoughtful and purposeful. So what is the expected end—joy, glory, heaven, hope?

And what about sad and solemn songs? How should they end? As Christians we can certainly sing in a minor key. We live in a fallen word. Our songs not only express the joy and delight of knowing Christ, they also sound the more somber tones of sin and suffering. We sing in minor, but we don’t like to end in minor. We like our songs to end on high notes with positive lyrics and major chords. You can even find in music history a technique used by songwriters to strengthen the harmonic resolution of the final chord and create a happier ending. The Picardy Third is the use or substitution of a major chord, especially at the end of a piece of music, where a minor chord would be expected.

On the one hand it make sense to end with the brighter sounds of major. As followers of Christ, we see past the crumbling and broken promises of this fallen world to the sure and certain promises of God in His Word. We look beyond the strife and struggles of this life and rest in the joy and hope of knowing Christ. We have been rescued from sin and despair. Because we have a Savior we are bound for glory and destined for praise.

Many of the psalms highlight this upward trajectory. They orient us to look away from our own distress and sorrows and up to the glory and joys of belonging to God. Though they begin with pleading and lamentation, they end with hope and praise. For example, David opens Psalm 16 with a prayer: “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” But he ends rejoicing in verse 11: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” The book of Psalms as a whole crescendos and culminates in praise. We reach the pinnacle with the command in the final verse of the Psalms:

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
(Psalm 150:6)

Yet not all of the psalms follow this anticipated climb. Some make unpredicted turns and go down unforeseen paths. When you survey the 150 psalms, though blessing and praise predominate, you find a variety of endings:

  • 43 psalms end with praise and thanksgiving to God
  • 31 psalms end with God’s blessings for His people (salvation, peace, unity, goodness, mercy, joy…)
  • 11 psalms end by telling or declaring who God is
  • 9 psalms end with an exhortation (be strong, wait for the Lord, hope in the Lord) or a commitment (to seek the good of God’s people)
  • 24 psalms end with prayer or pleading (for justice, deliverance, salvation, strength, peace, blessing…)
  • 12 psalms end with words of warning about judgment on the wicked
  • 9 psalms end by contrasting judgment on the wicked with blessings for the righteous
  • 7 psalms end with triumph over evil and enemies
  • 4 psalms end with lament or complaint

Songwriters can learn much from a study of the psalms. The psalms are Scripture’s songbook for worship. They instruct us how to pray and praise God through music. They teach us how to craft and use lyrics in creative and intentional ways to communicate truth.

Sometimes the psalmist may take a surprising turn in order to make a profound point. A good example of this is Psalm 12. David begins with a prayer: “Save, O LORD, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man” (Psalms 12:1). He cries out in the midst of crisis for the Lord to save. In verse 5 the Lord answers saying, “I will now arise” and “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.” In verses 6–7 we see that place of safety:

The words of the LORD are pure words,
like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.
You, O LORD, will keep them;
You will guard us from this generation forever.
(Psalm 12:6–7)

The place of safety is the Word of God. David can rest in knowing that all God has promised is certain and true. Though the day seems dark, God will fulfill His Word.

The psalm then ends in 12:8 with a final verse. So how would you expect this psalm to end? What would you sing in those last lines? You might choose words that exhort God’s people to believe and trust in God’s Word. Or perhaps you would conclude with praise and thanksgiving to God for His Word or for salvation. These types of endings are certainly found in the psalms. But David does something different, something not expected. He ends the psalm with sober, even distressing words:

On every side the wicked prowl,
as vileness is exalted among the children of men.
(Psalm 12:8)

C. H. Spurgeon refers to this verse as a “return to the fount of bitterness, which first made the Psalmist run to the wells of salvation.” The ending is unexpected, but David crafts his words intentionally to underscore an important truth. The overwhelming circumstances that grieved him at the beginning of the psalm have not changed. The trouble still exists. But what has changed is David’s outlook. He has been brought back to the Word of God. God does not always deliver us from our suffering. Our circumstances may not change. Troubles may still arise and threaten us. Yet God Word always remains true. It is our place of safety.

Read a full exposition here of Psalm 12: A Place of Safety

So what is the best way for a worship song to end? The psalms demonstrate that we need not always end with upbeat praise and soaring sounds. There are many possibilities and there are times when the unexpected ending may be the better choice. So learn from the psalms. Aim for praise; it is after all the ultimate finale of our songs and our lives. But give thought to your options. Don’t forget final words of pleading, warning and rebuke. Don’t neglect last lines that express godly fear, repentance and awe. And don’t avoid the inevitable cadences of lament and grief. For our music to ring true to God’s Word and to our experience as we walk in the light of His Word, we need the joys and the sorrows. We are pressing on to glory and praise, but there are most certainly times along the way when it is fitting to sing and even end with somber tones and sober thoughts.

Gathered Now We Come to Worship

Gathered now, we come to worship,
Hearts united, singing praise!
We would look to Jesus only,
Letting none distract our gaze.
May we offer music fitting
For the worship of our King.
Let us foremost seek His pleasure
As our voices join to sing.

Worship is not about our efforts, our pursuits, or our offerings. Worship centers on the glory and majesty of Christ Jesus. This hymn is a meditation on 2 Corinthians 4:5 “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake.”

Check out the lyric video on youtube:

And download the music from band camp:

Click here to download lyrics and free sheet music: including song sheet, chord chart and music arranged for classical guitar.

—Ken Puls

 

Music at Grace 2015

Grace Musicians 2015

Often I am asked by members and visitors at Grace Baptist Church where to find the lyrics or music to the songs we sing in worship. Our music at Grace comes from many songwriters and composers, embracing new songs of our day as well as cherished hymns of the faith.

Listed below are the 10 songs we have sung most so far in 2015:

10,000 Reasons
All I Have Is Christ
Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)
Come As You Are
Come Lord Jesus – Even So Come
He Will Hold Me Fast
In Christ Alone
Sovereign
This Is Amazing Grace
You Alone Can Rescue

Click here to see a complete list of 150 of our current and favorite music for worship thus far for 2015. Each song is linked to a page where you can find lyrics and/or music.

Click here to see our service orders (posted each week) for gathered worship at Grace.

I Love Thy Kingdom Lord

Cross and Steeple

One of the great hymns of the faith that has stood the test of time is Timothy Dwight’s “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord.” Dwight lived from 1752 to 1817 and was the grandson of Jonathan Edwards. He was a young man in his twenties during the American Revolution. Licensed to preach in 1777, he served until the fall of 1778 as a chaplain in the Connecticut Brigade of the Continental Army. Later he became pastor of a Congregational church in Fairfield, Connecticut and from 1795 to 1817 served as the 8th President of Yale College.

While serving at Yale, Dwight revised and reprinted Psalms of David (1719) by Isaac Watts, and included several of his own hymns that paraphrased the Psalms. “I Love Thy Kingdom Lord” first appeared in print in the 1801 edition of Dwight’s revision. It is the earliest known hymn by an American writer still in common use.

Dwight’s original title to hymn was “Love to the Church.” In the lyrics he celebrates our allegiance to the Kingdom of God and our love for Christ and His church. The hymn is based in part on two verses from Psalm 137:

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy
(Psalm 137:5–6)

If you know the hymn, the connection with the psalm may not be immediately evident. Most hymnals include only four verses; Dwight originally composed eight. Unfortunately, the verses most often left out include the ones that tie the hymn to the psalm. Here are the original eight verses to the hymn:

I Love Thy Kingdom Lord

I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode,
The church our blessed Redeemer saved
With His own precious blood.

I love Thy church, O God.
Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye,
And graven on Thy hand.

If e’er to bless Thy sons
My voice or hands deny,
These hands let useful skills forsake,
This voice in silence die.

Should I with scoffers join
Her altars to abuse?
No! Better far my tongue were dumb,
My hand its skill should lose.

For her my tears shall fall
For her my prayers ascend,
To her my cares and toils be given
Till toils and cares shall end.

Beyond my highest joy
I prize her heavenly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows,
Her hymns of love and praise.

Jesus, Thou Friend divine,
Our Savior and our King,
Thy hand from every snare and foe
Shall great deliverance bring.

Sure as Thy truth shall last,
To Zion shall be given
The brightest glories earth can yield
And brighter bliss of Heaven.

Timothy Dwight, 1801

Download a PDF of the hymn “I Love Thy Kingdom Lord” to the tune ST THOMAS with all 8 verses.

Download a setting of the tune ST THOMAS for Classical Guitar

O Sovereign God, How Great Your Grace

Hymn1

Thirty years ago I made my first endeavor writing a hymn. It  was prompted by two significant events that God brought into my life in 1985. During that year I began serving God in the music ministry, and as a result, was introduced to the Doctrines of Grace.

On February 10, 1985 I was called as Music Minister at Raven Oaks Baptist Church in Omaha, Nebraska (the name of the church was later changed to Sovereign Grace Baptist Church). During the morning worship service on that day, Pastor Bill Lollar preached from Ephesians 2:8–9 as part of a series of messages on “The Greatest Verses in the Bible.” Bill’s preaching, along with a Wednesday night study through the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith that spring, challenged and deepened my understanding of God’s Word. Bill also encouraged me to read Loraine Boettner’s book The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. After reading Boettner’s book in May and June, I wrote the hymn and shared it with the church on June 23, 1985. It was a celebration of the truths I was learning and a milestone that would set the course of my ministry.

In Spirit and In Truth

In Spirit and In Truth

What is most important to you when you worship God? If you were to list those things that are really essential for you to participate in worship, what would they be? Is it a certain style of preaching? Is it a certain translation or version of the Bible? Is it a certain type of music? Is it a sense of reverence and awe? Is it a sense of excitement and praise? Of course it is important to be intentional and thoughtful about reading and preaching God’s Word. We should be careful and purposeful about our praying and singing. We want to respond to God in ways that are biblical and appropriate.

But worship is more than the external elements we engage in. It is more than the outward actions that occupy so much of our concern. In John 4:1-26 Jesus points us to something much deeper at the heart of worship.

The context of this passage may seem at first to be somewhat unusual for a discussion about worship. Jesus is passing through Samaria on His way to Galilee and He stops at Jacob’s well for a drink. There He encounters a women from Samaria and He draws her into a conversation by asking her to give Him a drink.

Read more sermon notes from “In Spirit and In Truth” (from the series “Thoughts on Worship”) delivered at Grace Baptist Church, May 17, 2015.

Listen online at Grace

See more Sermons and Articles

Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions: What Can We Learn?

Psalm Inscriptions

Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions
In Leading God’s People in Prayer and Praise

Conclusion: What Can We Learn?

The psalm inscriptions offer a unique perspective on music and worship for the church musician. In this series we have examined the inscriptions under five categories:

I. DESIGNATION: Those titles using the Hebrew preposition לֹ lamed.  They can denote the author(s) of the psalm, the recipient(s) of the psalm, to whom the psalm is dedicated, or possibly whom the psalm is about.

II. DESCRIPTION: Titles that state the type of poetic genre or musical composition. [psalm, maschil, song, praise, prayer, testimony, michtam]

III. EXPLANATION: Titles that provide a historical connection for the psalm. They relate the circumstances surrounding the composition of the psalm.

IV. APPLICATION: Titles that indicate the liturgical, devotional or didactic use of the psalm. [For the Sabbath Day, To Bring Remembrance, Of the Ascents]

V. INTERPRETATION: Titles that explain how the psalm should be musically interpreted or performed. [On Flutes, With Stringed Instruments]

[Download a PDF list of Psalm Inscriptions highlighted by category]

The psalms set a precedent and paradigm for church music through the ages. Although a measure of uncertainty still surrounds the meanings of some of psalm inscriptions, they are a part of God’s revelation in Scripture and have relevance for the present day. God has given us enough light to reveal some of their purposes within the Psalter. Those who serve God with the gift of music can especially benefit from a knowledge of these headings.

So what can we learn from the Psalm inscriptions? How can they be useful and encouraging to us as we magnify God through music in the present day? Here, in summary, are ten lessons we have gleaned over the course of the study:

1. The psalm inscriptions reveal a wide range of poetic and musical forms found in the psalms. These include psalms, songs, prayers, praises, testimonies, michtams, maschils, and shiggaions. This diversity in the Psalter sets a precedent for the vast tapestry of poetic and musical forms used in worship throughout church history.

2. The psalm inscriptions display a wide range of usefulness for music in worship. The psalms shape and accompany much of the content of Old Testament worship. They not only function as musical compositions, but also as prayers, wisdom literature and liturgical texts. According to the inscriptions, the poetic and musical forms in the Psalter provide helpful structure for singing, playing music, celebrating (at a wedding), petitioning God (in time of need), praising God, giving thanks to God, grappling with injustice, repenting of sin and declaring faith in God as He is at work in the lives of His people.

3. The inscriptions and especially the psalm texts themselves show the wide range of emotional expression possible and appropriate for worship. From the deepest valleys of anguish and despair in Psalm 88, to the sorrow and grief of Psalm 51, up to the highest peaks of joy and praise that culminate in Psalm 150, the psalms demonstrate the unmatched ability and usefulness of music to express such emotion. Enoch Hutchinson in Music of the Bible explains:

“The essence of lyric poetry is the immediate expression of feeling; and feeling is the sphere in which most of the psalms move. Pain, grief, fear, hope, joy, trust, gratitude, submission to God, everything that moves and elevates the heart is expressed in these songs.” [1]

4. The psalm titles demonstrate the wide range of musical expression possible in worship. Many types of instruments are mentioned in the inscriptions including stringed instruments, flutes, an instrument of Gath, as well as a host of others mentioned in the texts of the psalms themselves (such as Psalm 150). Vocal forces include solos (individual praise and lament) to “everything that has breath.”

5. The psalm inscriptions highlight the connection between music and God’s work in human history. They link the psalms to real situations recorded in Scripture and actual worship practices of ancient Israel and the Temple. We sing the words penned by David and other Old Testament songwriters as they looked to God for strength and help. We join our voices with God’s people in past ages, singing the words that carried their praise and comforted their hearts. The psalms remind us that we are part of something much larger than what we see God doing in our lives today. We are part of God’s covenant promises and plan of redemption that has shaped all of human history since the Garden of Eden to the present day.

6. The psalm inscriptions intimate a place for personal expression (I and me) in music for worship. The psalms are the heartfelt and authentic cries of David, Asaph and other songwriters, expressing their petitions and praises, their thanksgivings and laments. Though many of the psalms began as individual expressions of worship, expressed in the first person (I and me), God’s people in all ages have identified with the psalms and found an affinity with their message. We sing the words of the psalmists as our own because they express common experiences and feelings, such as remorse over sin, repentance of sin, praise to God, thanks to God, and adoration of God. The psalms demonstrate that we can address God in personal and intimate ways, though corporately as the gathered people of God.

7. The psalm titles suggest a connection between the popular or familiar music of the culture and music in worship. The sound of the music in the Temple was not markedly distinct from the music of the people. Temple musicians borrowed from familiar tunes, styles and instruments of the day. The psalms set a precedent for the church throughout its history to harness the music of the world for the glory of God. This is evident in the New Testament as well. In Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, alongside psalms, Paul lists hymns, a musical form borrowed from pagan culture, first used to honor false Greek and Roman gods, but now synonymous with music of the church.

8. The psalm inscriptions reveal that our worship of God should extend beyond our times of gathered worship. The Psalms of the Ascents (120–134) were sung by Israel as they journeyed to the Temple in anticipating of corporate worship. We see David and others lifting praise and crying out to God in many situations and circumstances, in times of joy and in times of need. We can pray and sing to God at any time and in any place and He will hear us and answer us.

9. The psalm titles set a precedent for care and planning for music in worship. The psalmists were careful to include instructions concerning how the psalms should be musically performed. This involved care in using appropriate instruments and tunings, care in using the psalms for appropriate occasions, and care in finding the right tune to fit with a certain text. The psalm titles teach us the value of being thoughtful and intentional in preparing for and leading worship.

10. The psalm titles highlight the value of ministry of those who compose, compile, plan and lead music in worship. They remind us to give thanks for songwriters, musicians and worship leaders in the church. We need to encourage them and pray for them. We need to pray that God will raise up more servants in the church who will use their musical gifts for His glory and benefit of His people.

For more on Music and Worship, see “What Then Shall We Sing?”

Part 1: Thoughts on Music
Part 2: Thoughts on Music and Worship
Grid for Evaluating Music

Note:
[1] Psalm 4, 6, 54, 55, 61.

This series is based on a seminar paper for “Special Research in Church Music” at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (May 1995).

See a Table of Contents for this series: Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions

(Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway)

Hymns for Classical Guitar

If you are a guitarist looking for music to play this Easter weekend, here are some suggestions. These hymn transcriptions are free downloads (PDF). They can be used for accompanying congregational singing, playing prelude or offertory music, or simply playing for your own enjoyment. Click on the hymn title to view or download the free sheet music.

Hymns for Good Friday

Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed
O Sacred Head Now Wounded
There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Hymns for Easter

Crown Him With Many Crowns
Christ the Lord Is Risen Today (EASTER HYMN)
Look Ye Saints, the Sight Is Glorious
Thine Is the Glory

You are welcome to copy and share these hymns with friends and fellow guitar enthusiasts. Please copy the full page with the website address and the “Used by Permission” notice at the bottom (see Permissions).

For additional music, check out:

Hymns for Classical Guitar
Christmas Music for Classical Guitar
More Music for Classical Guitar

Guitar and Clouds

Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions: Titles of Interpretation

Played by Flutes

Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions
In Leading God’s People in Prayer and Praise

Titles of Interpretation

The inscriptions included at the beginning of many of the psalms offer valuable instruction for church musicians. They provide brief glimpses of the worship practices of ancient Israel and the Temple. In earlier posts we considered four categories of titles: designation, description, explanation and application. The final category of psalm inscriptions is interpretation.

Thirteen inscriptions included in the first three books of the Psalter relate to interpretation, clarifying how the psalm was musically performed or sung. These inscriptions always follow the designation to the chief musician (lamnatstsech). Although these headings are the most difficult of the five types to satisfactorily understand and adequately translate, they include terms that most likely denote musical instrumentation, voicings, melody or tune names, and musical styles. All but one use the preposition ‘al meaning upon or according to or the proposition b meaning with.

Instrumentation

Three of the headings appear to indicate musical instrumentation. They refer to stringed instruments, flute or wind instruments, and an unknown instrument of Gath.

With Stringed Instruments

An instruction to perform with stringed instruments appears in five psalms. [1] The singular with a stringed instrument occurs in two psalms. [2]

The Hebrew inscription binginoth consists of the preposition b meaning with or on and the plural form of the noun neginoth. Neginoth comes from the root nagan meaning to touch (strings) or to play a stringed instrument. [3] Most modern versions translate the inscription as with stringed instruments or simply for strings. The KJV leaves the term untranslated as on Neginoth.

Stringed instruments were especially important for the accompaniment of the psalms in the Temple worship, as Edersheim explains:

That music was chiefly sustained by the harp (Kinnor) and the lute (Nevel). Of the latter (which was probably used for solos) not less than two nor more than six were to be in the Temple orchestra; of the former, or harp, as many as possible, but never less than nine. There were, of course, several varieties both of the Nevel and the Kinnor. The chief difference between these two kinds of instruments lay in this, that in the Nevel (lute or guitar) the strings were drawn over the sounding-board, while in the Kinnor they stood out free, as in our harps. [4]

Idelsohn adds: “These two instruments were the most important ones, without which no public religious ceremony could be held.” [5]

Upon Flutes

The inscription el-hanechiloth occurs only in Psalm 5. It consists of the preposition el meaning upon and the plural form of the noun nechilah which most likely denotes a flute. [6] Most modern versions translate the heading as for flute accompaniment or simply for flutes. As with neginoth the KJV leaves this term untranslated, upon Nehiloth.

Flutes were primarily used on special occasions and festivals in the worship of Israel, including Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. [7] According to Edersheim, “the flute was also used by the festive pilgrim-bands on their journey to Jerusalem, to accompany ‘the Psalms of Degrees,’ or rather of ‘Ascent,’ sung on such occasions.” [8] This heading does not appear on any of the Songs of Ascent, however, all of the psalms in Book V lack titles of application.

When flutes were used in the Temple, they were highlighted as solo instruments as Edersheim notes:

In the Temple, not less than two nor more than twelve flutes were allowed, and the melody was on such occasions to close with the notes of the flute alone. [9]

Upon the Gittith

The instruction ‘al-hagitith appears in three psalms. [10] The Hebrew phrase consists of the preposition upon ( ‘al), the definite article h and an uncertain term gittith.

The term gittith most likely refers to a musical instrument named after the Philistine city of Gath. [11] David spent time in Gath when he was fleeing from Saul (1 Samuel 21:10–15). He would have been aware of their musical practices. Kraus suggest, however, that the term “probably refers to a melody” and should be rendered according to the Githitic (tune). [12] The KJV, NAS, NIV, ESV and NRSV all leave the term untranslated. The NKJV has on the instrument of Gath.

Voicings

The two headings indicating a certain voicing or tuning of the stringed instruments are the first of the headings to appear in Scripture outside the Psalter. They are found in 1 Chronicles 15:20 and 21 where David prepares to bring the ark to Jerusalem and appoints Levites to oversee the worship of God.

The singers, Heman, Asaph, and Ethan, were to sound bronze cymbals; Zechariah, Aziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Maaseiah, and Benaiah were to play harps according to Alamoth; but Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, Mikneiah, Obed- edom, Jeiel, and Azaziah were to lead with lyres according to the Sheminith. Chenaniah, leader of the Levites in music, should direct the music, for he understood it (1 Chronicles 15:19–22).

The use of the inscriptions in this historical context reveals that they are ancient, going back at least to the beginning of David’s reign as king.

According to Sheminith

The heading ‘al-hasheminith occurs in Psalms 6 and 12. The term is unclear, but likely instructs the instrumentalist to tune to or play in a lower key.

The KJV, NIV, ESV and NRSV leave the term untranslated. NKJV has on an eight-stringed harp. The NAS has upon an eight-stringed lyre. Klein suggests two possible meanings: a musical instrument probably of 8 strings or an octave. [13] Peter Craigie, in his commentary, renders it upon the octave implying a lower tuning or bass accompaniment, which, he says, “would be appropriate to the solemn theme of the psalm.” [14]

According to Alamoth

A similar heading to sheminith occurs in Psalm 46, ‘al-‘alamoth. This term is also uncertain, but is likely a compliment to sheminith, especially in light of their use in 1 Chronicles 15:20–21. Alamoth, therefore, would denote a tuning to or playing in a higher key.

The KJV, NKJV, NAS, NIV, ESV and NRSV all leave the term untranslated. Klein refuses to speculate on this term saying it is “of uncertain origin and meaning.” [15]

Melodies

At least seven headings in the psalms suggest the use of pre-existing tunes or well-known melodic patterns to perform the psalm. Idelsohn explains the role of these tunes in Israel’s worship:

The vocal song of the Temple, like all religious song among the ancient and primitive nations, drew its sap from the folk song, though foreign tunes may have occasionally crept in. These Temple songs—folk-tunes modified and sanctified—were in turn copied by the ‘representatives of the people,’ the Anshe Maamad, from all parts of the country, who learned the melodies together with the texts, and would carry them to their homes. [16]

Curt Sachs further clarifies the use of these melodic patterns:

Oriental music has always been, and still is, composed in well-defined designs or melodic patterns. These melodic patterns might be compared to the three Greek orders or styles in architecture, the composition of which had detailed rules with which the artist was compelled to comply, and only within these specifications could he follow his personal interpretation. In music, melodies using the same scale, and relating to each other by their general mood, belong to one melodic pattern. [17]

According to Aijeleth Hashachar

The tune Aijeleth Hashachar is found only with Psalm 22. The KJV and NAS leave the title untranslated, but other versions have spawned a number of suggested translations. These include: The Deer of the Dawn (NKJV and NRSV), The Doe of the Morning (NIV), and Doe of the Dawn (ESV).

According to Jonath Elem Rechokim

The title ‘al-Jonath Elem Rechokim occurs only in Psalm 56. The terms in the heading are uncertain and have produced a number of various translations: The Silent Dove in Distant Lands (NKJV), A Dove on Distant Oaks (NIV), The Dove on Far Off Terebinths (NRSV and ESV). The KJV and NAS leave the title untranslated.

According to Shoshannim

The inscription ‘el-shoshannim means literally upon Lilies. Of the seven inscriptions that likely refer to tune names or melodic patterns, this one presents the most difficulty. It occurs in three psalms, 45, 69, and 80. Psalm 45 is a song of love replete with praise and adoration. Psalm 80, however, is a lament containing a refrain that pleads with God for revival. It seems improbable that two psalms of such different character could be performed with the same musical setting.

The phrase is literally translated as Lilies (NKJV, NIV, NRSV, and ESV). The KJV and NAS leave the title untranslated.

According to Shushan Eduth

The title ‘al-shushan appears only in Psalm 60. Although the term ‘eduth meaning a testimony is often included as part of the tune name, it should be considered as a separate title of description, as in the heading to Psalm 80. The title ‘al-shushan consists of the preposition according to (‘al) and the noun lily (shushan) which appears in the plural form in Psalm 45, 69, and 80. Commentators who attached ‘eduth to this title assume unnecessarily that the noun shushan is in the Construct state and must be linked with the following term. The translation of the title should read, however, to the tune “A Lily.”

The KJV, NAS and ESV leave the title untranslated. Translated tune names include: Lily of the Testimony (NKJV) and The Lily of the Covenant (NIV and NRSV).

According to Muth-labben

The heading ‘almuth labben occurs only in Psalm 9 (Psalm 10 is a continuation of this psalm and does not have its own heading.) Owen suggests that the title derives from the words ben meaning son and ‘almah meaning young woman. He translates the performance instruction as soprano voice of boys. [18] Other scholars suggest the first word in the title relates to the Hebrew root muth meaning to die. [19]

The KJV, NAS, ESV and NRSV leave the title untranslated. NKJV and NIV translate the name of the tune as Death of the Son.

According to Machalath (Leannoth)

The title of Psalm 53 uses the uncertain term machalath with the preposition according to (‘al); Psalm 88 uses both machalath le‘annoth introduced by according to (‘al). Marvin Tate says in his commentary that the phrase is “assumed to be a tune or chanting pattern to be used with the psalm.” [20] The KJV, NKJV, NAS, NIV, ESV and NRSV leave the terms untranslated, implying this possibility.

Do Not Destroy

The heading ’al-tashcheth appears in four psalms. [21] It consists of the negative particle ’al and the Hiphil (causative active) form of the verb shachath meaning to spoil, ruin, or wipe out. [22] The KJV and NAS leave the title untranslated. The NKJV, NIV, NRSV, and ESV all translate the title as Do not Destroy.

The inscription may relate to Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 9:26, or David’s words in 1 Samuel 26:9, or more likely, to the words of a song recorded in Isaiah 65:8 which begins:

Thus says the Lord:
“As the new wine is found in the cluster,
and they say, ‘Do not destroy it,
for there is a blessing in it,’
so I will do for my servants’ sake,
and not destroy them all.”

Marvin Tate explains:

The “do not destroy it” expression seems to have been a popular saying or proverb which reflected the idea of a vineyard keeper refusing to destroy grape-vines when the first clusters of grapes were bad. The vines still had the blessing of life in them and a potential for future production. Like the vines, Israel had brought forth the grapes worthy of destruction but Yahweh would not destroy Israel because she still contained a blessing (cf. Isa 28:23-28). [23]

Styles

According to Jeduthun

This heading referring to Jeduthun, one of David’s chief musicians, appears in two psalms (62 and 77). Jeduthun’s name also appears in a title of designation (with the preposition  לֹ) in Psalm 39. Tate suggests that the title in Psalm 62 and 77 employing the preposition ‘al may be “referring to a tune or musical setting, according to which the psalm was to be sung.” [24] The Hebrew preposition, however, is best translated here as according to. [25] Kraus suggests the proper rendering “After the manner of Jeduthun’s music making,” [26] denoting a particular style for which Jeduthun was known.

Conclusion

Although the titles of interpretation are the most difficult to translate, they do shed some light on the use of music in worship.

First, the titles indicate a measure of thoughtfulness and planning in the preparation and performance of music. The musicians who served in the Temple were intentional in choosing what instruments were used (strings, flutes, and even an instrument of Gath) and the key or tuning of the musical setting (lower or higher). They used specific melodic patterns or tunes to accompany certain psalms. They even used the musical settings or styles of particular composers (as with Jeduthun). The titles of application serve to remind us to put thought and care into the planning of music for worship.

Second, the titles also suggest a rich crossover between the music of the Temple and the popular music of the people (sung in homes, in the fields and in other cultural settings). Temple musicians borrowed from well-known or popular settings; they included melodic patterns that were familiar to the people. This is a point worth noting. There are some who have concluded that sacred music (music used in the worship of God) should have a decidedly distinct sound or style from secular music (music used for other purposes in the world). The psalm inscriptions, however, suggest that the musical style and arrangement of sacred and secular are not so markedly separate.

In the New Testament Paul provides a paradigm for church music that encompasses a vast array of musical sounds and styles down through history and around the world. We are to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16) to the glory of God. The music of the church begins with the psalms, rooted in the worship of ancient Israel. But even in the psalms we see the beginnings of the varied sounds of praise in worship. Along with popular melodic patterns accompanying some of the psalms, we see remarkably, instructions to use an instrument (or possibly a tune) from Gath. A part of the musical tradition from a city of the Philistines, one of Israel’s enemies, is selected and sanctified for use in worship.

The psalms set a musical precedent for worship that God will accomplish in fuller measure in the New Testament through the church. Throughout church history, God has added and continues to add many musical styles and sounds to His praise. As the gospel goes out in the power of God’s Spirit, conquering hearts and lives, people from each generation and from every tribe and tongue and nation add their voice to the music of the church. There is not one sound that is solely sacred, but a vast array of musical composition that God is weaving into a tapestry of praise for His glory.

Notes:
[1] Psalm 4, 6, 54, 55, 61.
[2] Psalm 67, 76.
[3] The New Brown–Driver–Briggs–Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon [BDB], 618.
[4] Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services (New York: F. H. Revell, 1874; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1987), 78-79.
[5] Abraham Z. Idelsohn, Jewish Music: Its Historical Development (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1929; reprint, New York: Dover Publications, 1992), 8.
[6] John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1992), 3:263.
[7] Edersheim, The Temple, 79-80.
[8] Edersheim, The Temple, 80.
[9] Edersheim, The Temple, 80.
[10] Psalm 8, 81, 84.
[11] Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English. (New York, MacMillian Publishing Company, 1987), 111.
[12] Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalm 1–59: A Commentary, trans. Hilton C. Oswald (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1988), 31.
[13] Klein, Etymological Dictionary, 666.
[14] Peter C. Craigie, Psalm 1-50, Word Biblical Commentary, eds. David A. Hubbard, et al., vol. 19 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 90.
[15] Klein, Etymological Dictionary, 473.
[16] Idelsohn, Jewish Music, 20.
[17] Curt Sachs, The History of Musical Instruments (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1940), 126.
[18] Owen, Analytical Key to the Old Testament, 3:269.
[19] Klein, Etymological Dictionary, 327.
[20] Marvin E. Tate, Psalm 51-100, Word Biblical Commentary, eds. David A. Hubbard, et al., vol. 20 (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, 1990), 394.
[21] Psalm 57, 58, 59, 75.
[22] William L. Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1988), 366.
[23] Tate, Psalm 51-100, 77.
[24] Tate, Psalm 51-100, 120.
[25] Tate, Psalm 51-100, 120.
[26] Kraus, Psalms 1-59: A Commentary, 30. See also BDB, 393.

This series is based on a seminar paper for “Special Research in Church Music” at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (May 1995).

See a Table of Contents (thus far) for this series: Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions

(Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway)