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Day 21: Praise and Worship Songs

For the choir director, upon the hind of the morning. A psalm of David. Psalm 22:1 (Hebrew text)

The Hind of the Morning – If you thought the contemporary passion for praise and worship songs started in this generation, then you haven’t read the Psalms. In fact, Moses started the whole genre with his song (Exodus 15), but David is the consummate composer. However, David’s praise and worship songs might never make it into our Sunday services. Why? Because they don’t always have the upbeat, positive, repetitive outlook that we have come to expect. David’s praise and worship songs come from a penetrating experience of life, not from idealized theological answers.

A prime example is Psalm 22. We recognize the psalm by its first English verse (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”), but that is not the first Hebrew verse. The first Hebrew verse is the instruction to the choirmaster to set these words to the music of a tune called, “the deer of dawn.” In Hebrew, the phrase is ayyeleth hashshahar.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “So what?” What does it matter that David wanted this psalm sung to a tune about deer? Ah, but you don’t see just how startling this is unless you recognize what David’s choice implies. You see, the words ayyeleth hashshahar are used in other parts of Scripture (Song 6:10, Proverbs 5:19) as metaphors for a man’s beautiful bride. You would have seen the clue if you knew that the word ayyeleth is specifically a female deer (a hind, not a roe). The tune David chooses might easily have been a wedding song. But for David, the joyful tune of the morning after marriage becomes the vehicle to speak of a terrible loss – the absence of God.

Imagine taking one of the familiar tunes of celebration, like “Here I am to worship”, and re-writing the lyrics so that the song is about God’s abandonment. Now you have some idea of the marked contrast that David wants to employ. David takes a wedding tune (possibly) and turns it into a funeral dirge.

Why would David create such a jarring juxtaposition? Perhaps David wanted the music itself to underscore the traumatic content of these words. “My God, where are you? Why have you left me? I am lost and hurting. I know Who You are, but I don’t see You acting appropriately. What’s the matter?” The lyrics are shocking, even more so when they are set to a tune of joyful exuberance. Now the music and the lyrics thrust us into the confusion of these thoughts. We expected a God of grace – and we got a God of silence. We wanted joy in the morning – but we got an empty bed.

Praise and worship? Yes, the Bible does not allow us to escape into the world of make-believe “everything is perfect” repetition. Praise and worship begins here – in disparity between what should be and what is, in desperate cries and emptiness. Praise and worship starts with the absence of the lover of my soul – but it doesn’t end here, as we shall see.


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