by Rabbi Jeffrey Adler
It is profound how often the Scriptures refer to music. The prophets commonly wrote and prophesied in poetry. The book of Psalms is really a book of the hymnal of ancient Israel. Rabbi Paul encouraged believers to worship with “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, making melody…”. Biblical faith is not merely a cerebral exercise, but, a heart expression meant to be verbalized and vocalized. Psalm 1’s exhortation to “meditate” uses the verb “yehgeh”, the imperfect tense of “hagah”, whose root meaning carries the sense of mutter, to verbally interact with the text. Often, this is done with music.
Psalm 96 continues in this vein. “Shiru l’Adonai shir chadash”. “Sing to Adonai a new song”. The use of the imperative here strongly urges on to music. The Scriptures constantly stress the element of joy. Habakkuk 3 says that though the fig tree not blossom, the olive tree cast her fruit, there be no grapes on the vine, nor sheep in the fold or ox in the stall, in other words the cupboard be completely bare and the economy belly-up, “yet will I triumph in Adonai, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. Adonai my Lord is my strength. He has made my feet like a deer’s, He will make me walk on my high places.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
Psalm 34:2 states, “I will bless Adonai at all times, His praise is continually in my mouth”.
The new song referred to here is not necessarily a brand new song for every occasion. “Chadash” does not always refer to brand new, but, in many cases, renewed. The song to the Lord is fresh, even if it is an old song. Jeremiah in Lamentations refers, in one of history’s darkest moments, to Elohim’s mercies being “new every morning”, a reference that became part of a great Christian hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”. Parts of traditional liturgy, such as the “Shema”, “V’Ahavata”, “Alenu”,”Kaddish”, et al, are said every week, every service, yet contain a freshness each time they are recited. Traditional Christian liturgy also has this element. It is not the wording that is new, but, the substance of Elohim’s reality and Presence.
“Shiru l’Adonai kol-haaretz”. “Sing to Adonai, all the earth.” Again, it is stated the consistent message that intimate relationship with Adonai was never intended only for Israel; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was reaching out to all the nations and people of the whole world. In Isaiah 42 and 49, the first of Isaiah’s great Servant Songs proclaiming Israel’s suffering, atoning Messiah, states that “He would be a Light to the nations (Gentiles)”.
“Shiru l’Adonai, barkhu sh’mo”, “Sing to the Lord, bless His Name,”. “Barak”, “bless” has the sense of “bend the knee”; the song is meant to be an act of awestruck submitted worship effected by the sense of the Majesty and Goodness of God.
“Sapp’ru bagoyyim k’vodo.” Publish among the nations His Glory.” “Saphar” is the root from which the Hebrew word for “book” or “scroll” is derived. Again, spread the news of Adonai’s greatness by every means possible to all the earth, to “the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
“Basru miyom-l’yom y’shuato.” “Declare His salvation from day to day.” Basar carries the nuance of declaring good news. The word “m’vaser” is the Hebrew word for “gospel”, or, “good news”. Our message and proclamation is a daily statement of the Greatness of God and the provision of His salvation. Of course, that Salvation is embodied in the Person of Yeshua; He is the heart of God’s message.
“B’kol haamim niphlotav”- This proclamation, at its heart, is a declaration of the wonderful acts of Adonai. The message is not about us. “Palla’”, whose basic root is never used in the Scriptures, springs forth derivatives such as the title given to Messiah in Isaiah 9:5 as “Pelle Yoetz”, the “Wonderful Counselor”; the verb’s derivatives are only applied in the Hebrew text to describe God or His works. Our message is about Adonai, His Anointed Messiah, what He has done. The message is a proclamation to come to Him instead of ourselves.
“Ki gadol Adonai umhullal m’od. Nora hu al-kol-elohim.” “Great is Adonai, and, greatly to be praised. He is to be feared (awed) above all gods.” We sing praise to and rejoice in Elohim because He merits it.
“Ki kol-elohe’ haamim elilim, vAdonai shamayim asa.” “Because, all the gods of the peoples are idols, but, Adonai made the heavens.” We have a bit of a pun here; the core Hebrew word for God is “el”; Those worshiped in the world and to whom are attributed power and glory are “elil”- empty, incapable of anything- but, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob actually made the Universe with all its vastness and intricacies. They are nothing; He is everything.
We are then encouraged to bow down to Him, worship Him, acknowledge His Beauty and Splendor. His reign brings real peace, justice, fairness. The heavens rejoice, the earth rejoices, the sea roars, the trees sing for joy. We are invited to join in the chorus that already rings throughout all God’s wonderful creation.
Rabbi Jeffrey Adler is president of the Board of HaShomer and also Rabbi of Sha’arey Yeshua in Indianapolis, IN.