Where have all the OT songs gone?

Matt Hosier’s post on fatness stirred up some memories of a classic old song we used to sing in my youth growing up in restorationist circles, based on Isa 55:2 in the King James Version. My favourite line went "and your soul shall delight itself in fatness, in fatness, in fatness" – a great Biblical justification for a second helping of cake. Along similar lines, I always felt that the song based on the prayer of Jabez "O that you would bless me, and enlarge my borders" sounded like a request for a bigger waistline.

It made me ponder how Scripture saturated many of the songs we used to sing in those days were, especially rich in Old Testament references, which have virtually been expunged from modern worship songs (with the exception of the "safe" bits of Psalms). I think this is due in part to the seeker sensitive movement and in part to the lack of systematic coverage of the entire Bible in the church’s program of teaching and preaching.

For instance, we would often sing of Zion: "Awake, awake, O Zion and clothe yourself with strength" (Isa 52:1), "Sing and rejoice O daughter of Zion, for lo I come" (Zech 2:10) or "O Zion, O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain" (Isa 40:9).

Other songs picked up even more obscure Old Testament references: "I hear the sound of rustling in the leaves of the trees" (2 Sam 5:24), "the trees of the fields shall clap their hands" (Isa 55:12), "Pierce my ear O Lord my God" (Deut 15:17), "Within the veil, I now would come" (Lev 16), "Lord our God, he runs in the heavens, he rides on the clouds" (Ps 104:3), "Lord give me also springs of water" (Josh 15:19), and even "I will not be like those of Ephraim, who carrying bows, turned away when the heat of the battle came" (Ps 78:9).

I’ll just mention a couple of other favourites. One song contained the line "I will extol your love more than wine" (Song 1:4), which always struck me as somewhat odd in a strictly teetotal church. Damning with faint praise anyone?

There was less squeamishness in those days about the more abrasive portions of Scripture. We would sing about "the horse and the rider he has thrown into the sea" (Ex 15:21) and "God’s enemies shall be crushed beneath our feet" (Rom 16:20).

For years I sang about the "guard of my salvation", before realising that this was just Ern Baxter’s way of pronouncing "God of my salvation" in his broad American accent.

So, what classic OT allusions do you miss? And who’s going to redress the balance? Let’s have some new songs about the wine of Lebanon, the balm of Gilead and the jawbone of a donkey. Who will be the first modern songwriter to mention Melchizedek or Canaan? Sadly, my own contribution based on the song of Deborah, has yet to gain widespread acceptance.

5 thoughts on “Where have all the OT songs gone?

  1. Wow, you brought back memories. As a kid learning piano, the ‘horse and rider thrown into the sea’ song was the second praise song I learned. The first was ‘they rush on the city and run on the walls’ I assume from the conquests in Joshua.

  2. I did write a song that started

    King of Salem, King of Peace
    By whose reign all wars will cease

    and the second verse
    Jesus, King of righteousness

    so that technically alludes to Melchizedek though he doesn’t get a name check…

    We used to sing “you shall go out with joy” – I always wondered if some spotty charismatic youth ever heard that as divine guidance on his dating options…

    goodness, looking through your list –
    pierced ears – check
    rustling leaves – check
    within the veil – check

    no wonder unbelievers never got saved during worship!

  3. We do Days of Elijah at my church sometimes if that counts. I’m not quite sure if it makes sense though. “These are the days of your servant, David, rebuilding a temple of praise” and the whole song itself

  4. @Matt – there was a guy in my church who did in fact go out with someone called Joy. Everyone looked at him whenever we sang that song!

    @Jake – that song always tempts me to sing “and these are the days of Adam and Eve, nakedness being restored”

  5. Ah, happy days!

    I remember singing “terrible as an army with banners” but changing it to the more obviously effective “terrible as an army with machine guns.”

    But I do find that I cannot read the Psalms, or portions of the Prophets, without those great old restoration choruses resounding in my head – which is sometimes a blessing, and sometimes not..!

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