Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Heart of Worship

A present-day expression among evangelical Christians carries both excitement and exasperation—7/11 songs, 7 words repeated 11 times! The younger generation, for the most part, loves the “7/11’s” for the rhythm of the music and the repetition of the worshipful phrases. The older generation longs for the familiarity of the old hymns and the spiritual depth of the lyrics. To accommodate both generations, many churches blend the two musical patterns in the worship service.

Psalm 100, a “Thanksgiving Hymn,” contributes to the musical discussion, not by choosing sides, but by centering on the “heart of worship” that both musical styles can and should do more to elevate in worship.

This traditional Thanksgiving Psalm is technically classified as a Descriptive Psalm of Praise consisting of the following divisions (Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms, 131):

• Imperative Call to Praise, 1-4
• Reasons for Praise, 5

Psalm 100 is unique. The Call to Praise has 7 imperatives, the number 7 highlighting completeness, and this 7-fold Call to Praise is arranged chiastically, that is, with introverted correspondence as explained by Bullinger:

This is where there are two series, and the first of the one series of members corresponds with the last of the second; the second of the first corresponds with the penultimate (or the last but one) of the second: and the third of the first corresponds with the antepenultimate of the second. That is to say, if there are six members, the first corresponds with the sixth, the second with the fifth, and the third with the fourth. And so on (Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, 374, italics his).

A number of details aid in recognizing the chiastic structure that highlights the center of the Psalm and the heart of worship (using the New American Standard Bible, NASB, for English reference):

• The 1st and 7th imperatives are near synonyms in this context (“shout,” הריעו and “bless,” ברכו).
• The 2nd and 6th likewise express synonymity (“serve,”/worship עבדו and “give thanks,” הודו, See Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, II, 639, Tate, Psalms 51-100 in the Word Biblical Commentary series, 536-37).
• The 3rd and 5th imperative verbs are the same (באו) though translated differently as “come” and “enter.”
• The 4th clause stands alone at the center and moves the outward expressions of worship inward, “know God.” Verse 3 provides internal motivation for meaningful worship and is clearly the catalyst in the Call to Praise.

The King James Version (KJV) of verse 3 follows:

Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

The New International Version (NIV) changes “and not we ourselves” to “and we are his.” The NASB agrees with the KJV but puts “His we are” in the margin. The difference centers on a textual problem.

The disputed clause in the text is “and not we ourselves” (literally “and not us,” ולא אנחנו ). The margin of the Hebrew text has ולו instead of ולא. These two readings sound the same and the difference consists of (1) a conjunction “and” (ו) plus the negative “not” (לא), KJV, and (2) a conjunction “and” (ו) and a preposition “belonging to” (ל) attached to the personal pronoun “Him” (ו), NIV, NASB margin. The textual critical data favor the marginal reading as does the immediate context where the following possessives appear, “his people” and “his pasture” (See Tate note 3b, 533-34). Divine creativity and ownership emerge as the central themes of the verse.

The interpretive difference between the two readings is not great but it is significant. The KJV translation contrasting the creator God with God’s people contains three ideas:

• God is the Creator
• God’s people are not creators
• God’s people belong to Him

The marginal reading has two ideas:

• God is the Creator
• God’s people belong to Him.

This latter reading is the more powerful statement, not being encumbered by an idea no one would have considered consciously—people creating themselves. Neither reading affects theological change, but they do affect the point and power of the poem.

The practical application of this Imperative Call to Praise with its central focus on verse 3 is the recognition that the worship of God is only as heartfelt and profound as one’s understanding of God’s character. Reflecting on the Person of God is the heartbeat of dynamic worship. His attributes need to be expressed in all worship music whether that be the “7/11” or traditional music categories.

Verse 5 outlines three reasons for praising God that do find expression in the contemporary worship music scene—Goodness, Lovingkindness, Faithfulness.

The goodness of God comes to the forefront in the chorus “God Is So Good,” repeating the few but comforting words that bounce around in one’s head. Also, the Hymn, “The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll Not Want,” revitalizes the soul with its familiar lyrics, “Goodness and mercy all my life Shall surely follow me.”

Lovingkindness as a divine characteristic becomes the focus in the contemporary rendition of “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” and the traditional Hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” Such musical meditations on God’s love elevate the emotions in praise.

Finally, God’s faithfulness resounds in the contemporary chorus “In That Day” when God fulfills His Word in the life of the believer, and in the ever-popular “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”

Speaking musically to God and one another in worship by “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 4:19) must involve both the mind and the emotions to achieve the “heart of worship.” Rather than complaining about the repetitions in the “7/11’s” or the “antiquities” of the music and lyrics in traditional hymns, worshipers need to focus attention on what the music says about God and revel musically in His attributes. Psalm 100 forcefully and beautifully captures this emphasis by focusing on the majesty of God around which to center the thoughts, clap the hands and tap the feet.