Singing is good for you. It can have physical and psychological benefits and help you to feel good. Singing improves the memory and can alleviate depression. It involves the mind, the emotions and the body. It’s been said that, “Words make you think. Music makes you feel. A song makes you feel a thought”. In ancient times, when few people could read or write, stories were passed down through song, because songs are memorable.
Group singing has three benefits. It enables the expression of our emotions, which can increase our confidence. It requires a flexible mind in order to make the correct sounds, which can make us more creative and adaptable to life’s challenges. And it connects us socially to others with a common purpose. So group singing can enhance our wellbeing.
In this post we look at some songs in the Bible. We know that Jesus sang with His disciples and Paul and Silas sang in prison (Mt. 26:30; Mk. 14:26; Acts 16:15). And there are songs throughout the Bible.
About one third of the Bible is poetry. For example, the Wisdom books of Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs and the Prophetic books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Lamentations are all poetic. Some of these poems are the lyrics of songs. For example, Psalms, Song of Songs and Lamentations. There are 150 songs in the book of Psalms. It was the Israelites song book. They must have been passionate singers. In all, there are about 185 songs mentioned in the Bible. Let’s look at a few of them.
The first song – after a great victory
The first song mentioned in the Bible happens after one of its greatest miracles. God delivers the Israelites from slavery in Egypt by parting the Red Sea, allowing them to escape from Pharaoh’s army. When the Egyptians pursue them, the sea flows back over them, washing away their chariots and horsemen. Not one of them survived. This was a display of God’s power over nature and a picture of salvation.
What was the people’s response? The Bible says, “when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in Him and in Moses His servant” (Ex. 14:31NIV). They then had a great celebration that included music, singing and dancing. It was like after victory in battle (1 Sam. 18:6-7; 2 Sam. 1:20). The lyrics of the song they sang are in the Bible. It had five parts.
The chorus is (Ex. 15:1, 21):
“Sing to the Lord,
for He is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
He has hurled into the sea”
Here they are summarizing and praising God for what He had done.
Who God is (v.2-3). They praise God as a strong warrior and say “He is my God”.
What God has done (v.4-12). They retell the defeat of the powerful Egyptian army. How they “drowned in the Red Sea”. Only their God had such power.
What God would do in future (v. 13-17). They predict that God will lead them in the conquest and occupation of Canaan. When the Edomites, the Philistines and the Canaanites hear what God had done, they would be terrified. This was later confirmed by Rahab (Josh. 2:9-11).
Conclusion (v.18). “The Lord reigns for ever and ever”. His powerful rule is eternal.
So the first song in the Bible celebrated a great military victory over their enemies. The lesson for us is that as God delivered the Israelites from slavery, through Jesus He can deliver us from the slavery of our sinfulness.
The last song – anticipates a great victory
The last song mentioned in the Bible happens in heaven when there is a time of great tribulation on earth. It’s sung by those who were martyred for their faith in God. They sang the song “of Moses and of the Lamb”.
“Great and marvelous are your deeds,
Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Rev. 15:3-4).
The song is comprised of quotations from the Old Testament. The context is God’s judgement of the ungodly. Those martyred in the tribulation are celebrating God’s coming victory over the ungodly. When Jesus returns in power and glory, He will right the wrongs on our world (2 Th. 1:6-9). Justice will be administered by our mighty God (“Lord God almighty”) over all the nations (He’s “King of the nations”). He is unique (“You alone are holy”). And in the millennial kingdom, He will be worshipped by all nations.
Because of His sacrificial death, Jesus is worthy to execute judgment, as described earlier in Revelation in the new song also sung in heaven:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10).
So the last song in the Bible celebrates the final victory over Satan and those who oppose God. They anticipate deliverance from the presence of sin. The lesson for us is that in future all the wrongs and injustice in our world will be made right through Jesus and justice will be done.
The longest song – All about the Bible
Psalm 119 is a massive acrostic poem of 176 verses. There are 22 stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Moreover, the eight verses in each stanza begin with the same Hebrew letter.
The theme of Psalm 119 is the Hebrew Bible which is called by names such as: “law”, “statutes”, “precepts”, “commands”, “laws”, “decrees”, “word”, and “promise”. It’s mentioned in almost every verse. For example, Psalm 119:89-96 can be titled “God’s enduring word”:
89 Your word, Lord, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
90 Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures.
91 Your laws endure to this day,
for all things serve you.
92 If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
93 I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life.
94 Save me, for I am yours;
I have sought out your precepts.
95 The wicked are waiting to destroy me,
but I will ponder your statutes.
96 To all perfection I see a limit,
but your commands are boundless.
This stanza begins by saying that God’s word is eternal and ends by saying that it’s boundless. So, God’s word is a reliable enduring foundation for our faith. God also established and sustains creation. Through exposure to the Scriptures we can be saved from the penalty of sin. Peter wrote, “you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pt. 1:23). An acquaintance with God’s word reminds us to confess our sins a daily basis in order to maintain our relationship with God (1 Jn. 1:9).
So the longest song in the Bible celebrates God’s word, which is available to us in the Bible. The heading that I’ve given it is “All about the Bible”. It’s about how important the Bible is and how it can guide and help us in our daily life. The lesson for us is that we can trust God’s unchanging word.
The shortest song – God keeps His promises
The two shortest songs in the Bible, which are comprised of five Hebrew words, are in 2 Chronicles.
After Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem (about 958 BC), the priests carried the ark of the covenant into the Most Holy Place of the temple. Then “Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:
‘He is good;
His love endures forever’
Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God” (2 Chr. 5:13-14). So they celebrated the ark’s transfer from the tabernacle to the temple with this song. God had kept His promise to bring them into the Promised Land.
About 100 years later, Jehoshaphat was king of Judah (860 BC). When the Moabite and Ammonite armies came to attack, Jehoshaphat prayed to God for help. He was told to go to the pass of Ziz near the end of the gorge in the desert of Jeruel. “You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you” (2 Chr. 20:17).
Early the next morning they set out and Jehoshaphat “appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise Him for the splendor of His holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:
‘Give thanks to the Lord,
for His love endures forever’” (2 Chr. 20:21).
So the army was led by the singers! As they began to sing and praise God, the Lord caused the enemy to kill themselves. So the Israelites showed they trusted God to deliver them from their enemies by singing this song.
A verse based on these two short songs occurs six times in the Bible (1 Chr. 16:34; Ps. 106:1; 107:1; 118:1, 29; 136:1). It says,
“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
His love endures forever”.
Two reasons are given to give thanks to the Lord. First, “He is good”. That’s a part of God’s nature. Second “His love endures forever”. Under the old covenants, God promised to love the Israelites (Dt. 7:8-9, 12-13; 23:5; 2 Sam. 7:15). So this covenant love never ends. It goes on and on.
The last sentence of this verse, “His love endures for ever” occurs 43 times in the Bible. 26 of these are in Psalm 136 where it is repeated as a chorus or refrain. Under the old covenant, the Israelites knew that God loved them eternally.
So the shortest songs in the Bible reminded God’s Old Testament people that God keeps His promises and He helps them. Today Christians live under the new covenant of God’s grace. Likewise, He will keep His promises to us and help us as His New Testament people.
Songs are a powerful way to express our Christian faith and to remind us of what God has done for us.
The first and last songs in the Bible are songs of deliverance from enemies and the ungodly. They are songs of salvation. So let’s sing songs of Jesus as our Savior and Redeemer.
The longest song in the Bible emphasised the importance of God’s word. Let’s use the Bible to guide and help us in our daily life. So let’s sing songs that remind us of Scriptural events and Scriptural truths.
The shortest songs in the Bible were reminders of God’s covenants with His people. So let’s sings songs about God’s promises to us.
Christians are told to sing “to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Col. 3:16). So, let’s “Give thanks to the Lord (our Creator and Redeemer), for He is good; His love (shown by Christ’s sacrifice) endures forever”.
Written, April 2016
Sharing the gospel in song
Believers are to go into all the world and openly present the good news to all humanity (Mk. 16:15). Each Sunday evening a group of believers faithfully carries out this command, by presenting the gospel in song to the patients in Royal North Shore Hospital, a major public hospital in Sydney, Australia. They also bring patients the comfort and assurance of their faith, the reality and ability of their God, and a reminder that He is there to help them in their time of need. Many prayer requests come from the patients who are touched to know that after being visited by a team member they are prayed for. For some patients it is their last opportunity to receive Jesus Christ as Saviour.
At present the choir consists of nine singers. The longest serving member is the organist, who has served for 65 years. The choir visits three floors of the multi-story hospital, singing traditional hymns for about 20 minutes in each lounge area followed by a brief message from the Bible. There is a nurse who sings with the choir whenever she is on duty.
Some patients have no hope for physical recovery and not long to live. The Christian faith provides hope and peace at time of despair. Singing can have a similar impact on the patients as it did on the prisoners at Phillippi (Acts 16:25-30). The hymns requested most by the patients are: What a friend we have in Jesus, The Lord is my shepherd, Amazing grace, and How great Thou art. One patient said he liked the music, but not the words, because he was an atheist. However, on a later visit he requested a hymn and said that members of his family were praying for him.
The Visitation Team
As many patients are too sick to come to the lounge area to hear the choir, the hospital board gave approval for some to visit in the wards while the choir was singing. They have a great opportunity to witness for Christ in personal contacts and in times of prayer. They also leave a bookmark that has a suitable Bible verse. It is a privilege to be able to do this as many hospitals do not allow the distribution of literature.
A long history
This ministry was started in 1901 by a young commercial traveller who was a good singer, organist and speaker. He gave much of his time in serving the Lord by ministering to others. One of his many business contacts was a nursing sister at the hospital. When she discovered that he was a Christian she said “the patients in the hospital are very lonely and need to hear about God”. He responded to the invitation by getting two others to sing along with him. This ministry has continued for almost 100 years with full hospital support.
A cancer patient
One evening a women dying of cancer requesed Jesus wants me for a sunbeam. She had been seeking the words and the music to this hymn, but her priest had never heard of it. After singing this song the choir gave her a copy of the words and music. She had tears in her eyes as her twin sister wheeled her away. When the choir arrived at her floor the next Sunday she was waiting with the words and music in her hand. She said, “I have sung this song and read the words all through the week and I have read the Bible verse on the bookmark you gave me”. She professed to have trusted Jesus Christ as her Savior. She died within two weeks.
Prayer with the needy
On another Sunday, a Yugoslavian woman was found kneeling beside her husband’s bed; all life-support equipment had been removed. One of the team comforted her, prayed with her and gave her a bookmark. Then the lady said “I have no family, no children and no friends. Of all the friends I thought I had, not one of them has visited me in my time of need with my husband dying. You are the first person who has taken the time to speak with me”.
Words of appreciation
The ministry team often receives letters from of appreciation from the hospital management, and many patients express their thanks for the time spent with them. One hospital board member wrote, “Please convey to the members of your choir the warm appreciation of those of us privileged to hear from the delightful selection of hymns of praise from your melodious choir last Sunday evening. Having been a hospital board member for many years, I know how greatly this work is appreciated by the patients”.
One doctor told us he had heard the hymns over the past 20 years. He praised the work on behalf of the medical staff and nurses. He said it not only comforted the patients but encouraged the staff in their work, and that the message presented was just as essential as the medical work done.
One patient was a retired choir master of an Anglican church. After hearing the choir for some weeks he asked his wife to bring all his music books to the hospital and he presented them to the team in appreciation.
On one occasion an octogenarian said he had heard a group of singers in the hospital 65 years ago. He was amazed when he heard that this group was a continuation of that same work – although not the same people! At the age of 17, and absent without leave from the navy, he was found lying in the gutter by a stranger who took him to the hospital. He never forgot the songs the choir sang. He especially remembered “Rock of Ages cleft for me” and knew that the Lord had been with him ever since he first heard it.
Many older patients attended Sunday School in their childhood went to church during when younger. The hymns bring back memories of previous Christian influences in their lives, particularly in times of illness. One such incident occurred a few years ago when a middle-aged woman, visiting in the wards, asked where the singers came from. On being told, she said that she attended Sunday School in a similar church in Wellington, New Zealand and was looking for one in the Lane Cove area of Sydney. She attended that church for the remaining few years of her life.
Ministering in a hospital is one of the many ways of being ambassadors for Christ to our generation (Acts 1:8; 13:36; 2 Cor. 5:20). The team members consider it a great privilege and opportunity to serve the Lord, and invite you to consider serving in this way in a hospital near you.
Thanks are due to Graham Whittaker for providing the information for this article.
Published, March 1999