Holy Is the Lord

I’ve been entertaining this idea (don’t go crazy about the name, Winfred, I’m most likely to rename it) for a long time, but I never got around to actually doing it. In summary, the goal was to somehow reconcile commonly sung songs with the Bible, to encourage myself and others to read their Bible in order to worship in spirit and in truth. I don’t want to be an ignorant worshiper and far too often I sing of things I do not completely understand. Last night I finally decided to make my first attempt at combining the two by beginning with a fairly simple song, “Holy is the Lord” by Chris Tomlin. I went in with a couple questions to this short song. They were…

  • Why am I singing about standing and bowing in the same verse?
  • Who exactly are the renown?
  • What is the anthem of the Lord’s renown?

Though I originally thought that the process wouldn’t take me very long since there is only one verse, one chorus, and a two-line bridge, it ended up being a 2.5 hour process. I was incredibly blessed by studying this song for it means much more to me now. I never gave Tomlin much credit for his lyrics, but after looking more closely, I have concluded he’s either a genius or I am over scrutinizing. Regardless, this was a great exercise.

________________________________________________________

It seems that this song has deep roots in Nehemiah 8, where Ezra opens the book of the law before the people. The temple had recently been reconstructed. We see in verse 10 the popular line, “for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” However, the lyric, “It’s the anthem of the Lord’s renown,” is quite ambiguous both in the song and in the text. What is this anthem? Why is it rising up? Is there any basis for these lyrics in Nehemiah 8?

Let us first look at the possible responses found in the text in order to figure what this anthem could be. What must be established first is the object the people are responding to, which is the book of the law (Nehemiah 8:3). After Ezra opens the book, the people’s first reaction is to stand. I believe that this is the foundational text by which speakers and pastors request a group or congregation to stand for the reading of God’s Word. After Ezra opens the book he blesses the Lord, and the people respond by exclaiming, ‘“Amen, Amen!” while lifting their hands.’ The third response occurs immediately afterward when the Bible says, “…then they bowed low and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.” The fourth response occurs after certain men and the Levites “explained the law to the people”. We see in verse nine a most sobering response: “For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law.”

After considering the responses, we must consider the definition of “anthem” which, according to dictionary.com is one of three things.

  1. a song, as of praise, devotion, or patriotism: the national anthem of Spain; our college anthem.
  2. a piece of sacred vocal music, usually with words taken from the Scriptures.
  3. a hymn sung alternately by different sections of a choir or congregation.

For Chris Tomlin, one can reasonably infer that the chorus is the anthem of the Lord’s renown, which is certainly true in a broader context. We see different verses in the Psalms and especially Isaiah 6 where the themes of a holy God whose glory is spread throughout the earth are especially prominent. Perhaps Tomlin is referring to the Seraphim when he sings of the renown. Perhaps he is speaking to the anthem of the elect. Both are plausible options. Regardless, this certainly should be our song of praise – words that are constantly on our lips.

In the context of Nehemiah, I can only use my reason to see what this anthem is. It is clear that the people are responding powerfully to the Word of God. I conclude based on my poor knowledge of Hebrew and laughable collegiate-level reason that this anthem manifests itself in a cry of repentance and a proclamation of joy.

The people have undeniable respect for the Word of God, for they stand in reverence when it is opened. Ezra proceeds to bless the great God, to which the people respond “Amen, Amen!” which is an affirmation of the certainty and truth of his blessing. These refugees have great respect for not only the book of the law but also for the God who wrote the laws, for “they bowed low and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.” The teachers of the time began to teach to give the people an understanding of the reading. How do the people respond? They cry. They weep over their sinfulness for the perfect law of a holy God has found them guilty of sin. Their only response is tears, for they understand the true nature of God and the purpose of God’s law. Why would these reverent people cry outside of a heart of repentance? I can think of none.

Instead of reproving the people for their sin, the teachers give them an incredible assurance. This great God that they worship would become their strength. The law is meant to condemn, yet God has granted the privilege of joy to the elect. I cannot help in this season but be reminded of the “good news of great joy that will be for all people”, that Christ would come the salvation provided by the Lord to be both the mediator and king of His people. The joy of the Lord gives us strength to persevere though we are found guilty a million times over. Though we should be punished by God, instead there is profound joy found in salvation. I don’t suppose I am far off by reasoning that the anthem that rose all around after people heard and understood the law was one of brokenness yet mended by an unchangeable fact. There are many Psalms that can serve as potential anthems for the people that day and I encourage you to read through a few, for the themes became much more obvious to me after looking at this passage. Certainly everyone there had a holy reverence that declared, “…and together we sing, everyone sing…”

What strikes me is the great contrast in emotions is founded in man’s understanding of his own position and of God’s and how both are revealed in the book of the law, or the Bible. There is an intense brokenness because the law condemns and yet great joy because the Lord promises to be the strength of His people. My view of the Bible is not high enough. Psalm 40:8 says, “I delight to do Thy will, O my God; They Law is within my heart.” It is impossible to separate an understanding of the will of God from the Word of God. So often I hear people wishing they understood the will or plan of God for their lives, and I am often tempted to say, “God does not care so much about what your future job will be or who you will marry as He is that you conform to the image of Christ,” which I believe is the great goal of God. While the people in Nehemiah 8 do not have nearly as much light as I, they understood how important understanding the law was, so much that verse 12 tells us that “all the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival because they understood the words which had been made known to them.”

How low is my view of God and His Word!? When was the last time I celebrated understanding the Bible, for I know illumination comes only from the Spirit of God. Maybe this is why Berean has a lunch ministry, in hopes of great celebration of clarity. I am really happy I investigated this previously ambiguous phrase, for there is much to learn from the people in Nehemiah. This experience has made me a better worshipper, both in song and in Word. I will strive to remember the anthem of these refugees, who had so little yet had such great joy found in the Word. Tomlin’s anthem, which is really God’s anthem, is something that also must weigh on my heart. Someone slap me if I sound or look remotely ungrateful for greater understanding of scripture.

Here is a closer examination of the song in the scope of Nehemiah 8.

We stand and lift up our hands (Nehemiah 8:5-6a)
For the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10b)
We bow down and worship Him now (Nehemiah 8:6b)
How great, how awesome is He (Nehemiah 8:6a)

And together we sing

[Chorus]
Holy is the Lord God Almighty
The earth is filled with His glory
Holy is the Lord God Almighty
The earth is filled with His glory
The earth is filled with His glory

We stand and lift up our hands
For the joy of the Lord is our strength
We bow down and worship Him now
How great, how awesome is He

And together we sing
Everyone sing

[Chorus]
Holy is the Lord God Almighty
The earth is filled with His glory
Holy is the Lord God Almighty
The earth is filled with His glory
The earth is filled with His glory

It’s rising up all around
It’s the anthem of the Lord’s renown (Nehemiah 8:5-12)

And together we sing,
Everyone sing

Here is a closer examination of the song in the scope of the entire Bible, though I cannot hope to reference all the verses about God being holy, great or awesome. I only recorded the ones I distinctly remember or enjoyed after doing a broad search of the term.

We stand and lift up our hands
3Because Your (E)lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips will praise You.
4So I will bless You (F)as long as I live;
I will
(G)lift up my hands in Your name.
Psalm 63:3-4
48And I shall lift up my hands to Your commandments,
Which I
(A)love;
And I will
(B)meditate on Your statutes.
Psalm 119:48
1Behold, (A)bless the LORD, all (B)servants of the LORD,
Who
(C)serve (D)by night in the house of the LORD!
2(E)Lift up your hands to the (F)sanctuary
And bless the LORD.
Psalm 134:1-2

For the joy of the Lord is our strength
10Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and (A)send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.
Nehemiah 8:10
1O come, let us (A)sing for joy to the LORD,
Let us shout joyfully to
(B)the rock of our salvation.
2Let us (C)come before His presence (D)with thanksgiving,
Let us shout joyfully to Him
(E)with psalms.
3For the LORD is a (F)great God
And a great King
(G)above all gods,
4In whose hand are the (H)depths of the earth,
The peaks of the mountains are His also.
5The sea is His, for it was He (I)who made it,
And His hands formed the dry land.

Psalm 95:1-5

We bow down and worship Him now
6Come, let us (J)worship and bow down,
Let us
(K)kneel before the LORD our (L)Maker.
Psalm 95:6

How great, how awesome is He
1(A)Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised,
In the
(B)city of our God, His (C)holy mountain.
Psalm 48:1
5By (H)awesome deeds You answer us in righteousness, O (I)God of our salvation,
You who are the trust of all the
(J)ends of the earth and of the farthest(K)sea;
Psalm 65:5
3Say to God, “How (A)awesome are Your works!
Because of the greatness of Your power Your enemies will
(B)give feigned obedience to You.
Psalm 66:3
3Let them praise Your (A)great and awesome name;
(B)Holy is He.
Psalm 99:3

And together we sing

[Chorus]
Holy is the Lord God Almighty
3Let them praise Your (A)great and awesome name;
(B)Holy is He.
Psalm 99:3

Fact: El Shaddai means Lord Almighty

The earth is filled with His glory
1The (A)heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their
(B)expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
Psalm 19:1
19And blessed be His (A)glorious name forever;
And may the whole
(B)earth be filled with His glory
(C)Amen, and Amen.
Psalm 72:19

Holy is the Lord God Almighty
The earth is filled with His glory
The earth is filled with His glory

3And one called out to another and said,
(A)Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts,
The
(B)whole earth is full of His glory.”
Isaiah 6:3

We stand and lift up our hands
For the joy of the Lord is our strength
We bow down and worship Him now
How great, how awesome is He

And together we sing
Everyone sing

[Chorus]
Holy is the Lord God Almighty
The earth is filled with His glory
Holy is the Lord God Almighty
The earth is filled with His glory
The earth is filled with His glory

It’s rising up all around
It’s the anthem of the Lord’s renown

5Ezra opened (G)the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people (H)stood up.
6Then Ezra blessed the LORD the great God. And all the people answered, “(I)Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands; then (J)they bowed low and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
7Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place.
8They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.
9Then Nehemiah, who was the (K)governor, and Ezra (L)the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “(M)This day is holy to the LORD your God; (N)do not mourn or weep.” For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law.
10Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and (O)send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

Definition: Renown; celebrated, famous.

And together we sing,
Everyone sing

__________________________________________________

I pray that the anthem of the Lord’s renown will be on my lips. I will end with a quote that I love from Spurgeon.

We don’t sing enough, my brethren. How often do I stir you up about the matter of prayer, but perhaps I might be just as earnest about the matter of praise. Do we sing as much as the birds do? Yet what have birds to sing about, compared with us? Think you, do we sing as much as the angels do? Yet were they never redeemed by the blood of Christ. Birds of the air, shall ye excel me? Angels of heaven, shall ye exceed me? Ye have done so, but I do intend to emulate you henceforth, and day by day, and night by night, pour forth my soul in sacred song.

Pour forth my soul in sacred song indeed.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s