You are currently viewing The Importance of Philosemitic Hymns Part 3-Love for God and the Jewish People

The Importance of Philosemitic Hymns Part 3-Love for God and the Jewish People

Some hymnal traditions have made great use of singing metric psalms. The psalms were of course set to music and singing Scripture helps us to memorise parts of the Bible and to retain a biblical focus. A couple of the metric psalms in the ‘Grace & Glory Hymn Book’ are from the ‘songs of ascent’ (120-134). These were sung on approach to and at Jerusalem during Pesach, Shavuot and Tabernacles and are also some of the ones that people may be more familiar with.

For example Psalm 133 is sung in this format as a metric psalm.

Behold, how good a thing it is,

And how becoming well,

Together such as brethren are

In unity to dwell!

Like precious ointment on the head,

That down the beard did flow,

Even Aaron’s beard and to the skirts

Did of his garments go.

As Hermon’s dew, the dew that doth

On Zion’s hills descend;

For there the blessing God commands,

Life that shall never end.

Psalm 121 is a well-loved psalm and some Jewish people recite verse 5 and 8 and touch their mezuzah when they leave their home or go about their business.

Set to music, Psalm 121 is sung in this way as a metric psalm.

I to the hills will lift mine eyes,

From whence come mine aid;

My safety cometh from the Lord,

Who heaven and earth hath made.

Thy foot He’ll not let slide, nor will

He slumber that thee keeps;

Behold, He that keeps Israel

He slumbers not nor sleeps.

The Lord thee keeps, the Lord thy shade

On thy right hand doth stay:

The moon by night thee shall not smite,

Nor yet the sun by day.

The Lord shall keep thy soul; He shall

Preserve thee from all ill:

Henceforth thy going out and in

God keep for ever will.

On the theme of the songs of Ascent, number 42 in the Grace & Glory Hymn Book puts Psalm 122 into practise by imploring the worshippers to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. It also looks forward to the time when Israel will be exalted and when nations no longer engage in war.

The first and fifth verses include the following:

Father as we come before Thee,

For Jerusalem’s peace we pray

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Hasten on, Millennial day.

Silenced is the noise of battle,

Peace shall reign from shore to shore:

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Nations learning war no more.

Several songs looked forward to and anticipated a day when Jewish people and Gentiles would worship the Lord together. Thomas Cotterill (1779-1823) in the fourth verse of ‘Great God of Abraham hear our prayer’, wrote:

O! Haste the day, foretold so long,

When Jew and Greek, a glorious throng,

One house shall seek, one prayer shall pour,

And one Redeemer shall adore.

A plain, literal, contextual and grammatical reading of Scripture will lead the reader to recognise that since the Lord has a special love for the Jewish people then so should all those who worship the God of Israel. Romans 1:16 reminds us that the gospel is for the Jew first and then the Greek and that was reflected in Paul’s pattern of preaching in the book of Acts where he would firstly speak with Jewish people most usually in the synagogues and then to the Gentiles.

Nearly all the first believers were Jewish, so any Gentile that wants to share the gospel with a Jewish person is merely trying to repay the debt they owe to the Jewish forefathers and for the Scriptures and for Messiah. Nonetheless they would be well advised to educate themselves thoroughly and carefully concerning the sad history of antisemitism throughout not all, but the majority of Christendom. Furthermore this should be done in a gracious way especially considering that very few ancient Gentiles were actually God-fearers. Romans 11 in relation to the olive tree, the natural branches and the wild branches grafted in, shows clearly that the Lord has a plan of salvation involving Israel and the nations.

J. Fletcher’s (1784-1843) hymn reads as follows:

Oh! God of Gentile and of Jew,

Whose grace is flowing free,

Oh! Fill our hearts with love today

For those who’re loved by Thee.

Salvation free have we received

Through this Thy chosen race.

They’re broken off that we may be

Partakers of Thy grace.

Thou yet wilt graft them in again,

Who natural branches are,

When on Thy name they do believe

Thou’lt call Thy sons from far.

The Lord is rich to all who call,

The Jew as well as Greek,

He says,  “there is no difference,

I’m found of those who seek.”

Then preach the Gospel to the Jew,

That he too, may believe

On Jesus Christ, Messiah, King,

Salvation to receive.