Hope Network Newsletter: The “Why” of New Songs (Apr 1993)

By Matt Dabbs

by Jack Pape
April, 1993

11This is the third and final part of this series on music. The first was on variety in form and idiom in music; the second was a history of special music. This article by Jack Pape, a preacher from Colorado Springs, brings new thinking on when our hearts overflow so much that the old songs are not enough. Jack, a godly man who is always stretching the wineskins, deals thoroughly with the text. I know you’ll be blessed.
-Lynn Anderson, feature editor

In many places where we worship today we hear “new songs”—contemporary music. Most of these are so new they haven’t found their way into hymnals yet, not even into song sheets. Quite often they are so new that they must be projected on our overhead transparencies and learned while they are sung. They sound fresh, new, helpful to some people. To others, they are disconcerting “camp songs” for “change’s sake.” Psalm 40 challenges us to rethink new music. As we search for new songs today, this psalm hits us right on the overhead transparency. What kind of help does the Scripture give in understanding this question?

Why Sing?

The writer of Psalm 40 puts his problem on the table with only half a line, “I waited patiently for Yahweh.” That is it. Actually the Hebrew repeats itself to express the writer’s intense pain. “Hopefully I hoped in Yahweh.” Things looked bleak but this poet waited for Yahweh to renew him.

He did not wait in vain. Rescue and refreshment finally came: “He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.” Several things indicate that the writer’s trouble was severe sickness. The “miry pit” or “slimy bog” probably refers to the underworld as does the “mud and the mire” in verse 2. For the Jew, death took a person to the pit. Psalm 69:14 described death as mire: “Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink.” Job 33:30 sees death as a pit of darkness, “turn back his soul from the pit, that the light of life may shine on him.” Psalm 30:3 praises God for deliverance from the grave, “O LORD, you brought me up from the grave; you spared me from going down into the pit.” Old Testament writers frequently associate “the pit” with death. But God has delivered this singer in Psalm 40 who expected to die. Likely the disease almost did him in, but God spared his life.

“He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” In other words, “I almost slipped into the pit of death, but God gave me health so that my life is now on a solid rock.” The psalmist is so overjoyed that he cannot express himself without a new song: “he put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” This new song signifies a new orientation. Old songs can’t express the singer’s new feelings. God’s rescue inspires a new song.

New Wineskins

Renewal which breaks forth in a new song is a common theme for God’s people in both Testaments. When God rescued Israel from Egypt, old songs, like old wineskins, could not contain the new energy. So Moses and Miriam sang a new song (Exodus 15). God’s special mercy to Mary prompted a new song: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47). New songs are the new rejoicing of the spirit.

Someone asked me, “Why do we need new songs? What is wrong with the old songs?” There is nothing wrong with the old songs. But whenever there is renewal in people’s lives, there will be new songs just as new wine requires new wineskins. The same can be said for the church. Wherever there is renewal of our life in God, the church will sing new songs. That is why the book of Revelation says, “And they sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation’” (Revelation 5:9). And again, “They sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders” (Revelation 14:3).

New Every Morning

New songs are needed continually because God’s mercy is new every morning: “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall….My soul is downcast within me. Yet… I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassion never fails. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:19-23).

The first thing which results from God’s new deliverance is a new song and the second is a new evangelism. Now: “Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:3). There is not much evangelistic fervor among us today, but new experiences of God in our lives generate new songs and renewed fervor so that “many…see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”

Newness In Daily Life

But let us not be distracted by “really big” examples of God’s deliverance. Newness of God also breaks through in the daily lives of common believers.

Verse 4 says that new help and a new song are possible for anyone: “Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.”

According to verse 5, the kind of renewal which calls for a new song is not an isolated event but the common experience of those who pray and wait: “Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.” God did not play favorites with this singer. God’s soul-stirring blessings are for all people. “He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted” (Job 5:9). “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11).

New Obedience

This new deliverance and new song produce a new obedient heart: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced;… Then I said, ‘Here I am, I have come—it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart’” (Psalm 40:6-8). The writer of Hebrews applied this verse to Christ: “Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, O God” (Hebrews 10:7).

The old world of spiritual fatigue produces only dead ritual. But with a new song God wants renewed worship and willing hearts which say, “I desire to do your will.” He wants a new way to look at law: “O my God; your law is within my heart.”

The new life is not one of lawlessness, not at all. Rather the new life is utterly new because God’s law is obeyed with utter delight!

New Proclamation

By the end of Psalm 40, the poet has a new willingness to go public. He declares this new, bold, public testimony aloud: “I proclaim righteousness in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, as you know, O Lord. I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and salvation. I do not conceal your love and your truth from the great assembly” (Psalm 40:9-10).

This pledge to public proclamation is a high point of this psalm which the chiastic structure underscores. In Hebrew literature the chiastic structure uses four lines to form a literary “X” placing parallel statements in positions 1 and 4, and in positions 2 and 3.

This chiasm is (1) “I proclaim,” (2) “I do not seal,” (3) “I do not hide,” and (4) “I speak.” Notice that positions 2 and 3 are parallel: “I do not seal, I do not hide,” and positions 1 and 4 are parallel: “I proclaim, I speak.”

Also in a Hebrew chiasm positions 1 and 4, the beginning and the ending, shout the main emphasis. This writer adamantly vows, “I will not be silenced in the great assembly. I will tell of God’s goodness.”

New Songs Are For All

So, what’s the point? Not just religious “big shots” experience God’s goodness! God does so many wonders among his people that they cannot be counted. And you don’t have to be a professional theologian in order to proclaim God’s goodness in the great assembly. When this writer vows that he will not hide God’s saving help in his heart and will not conceal his steadfast love and faithfulness, he is bucking the trend which threatened to silence the simple piety of common people. Those “too many to declare” deeds of God must be declared by the very ones who experience them. So today we need new songs, and some of the best ones may come out of the quiet persons on the pew who must find new ways to release the exuberance of their hearts. New songs need not be the expressions of professional musicians who sing music of the old “religious” genre; new songs express the praise of common people who experience God’s uncommon loving power.Wineskins Magazine

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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