Anatomy of a PsalmSong

Matt Redman stole my idea.

Back in the spring, I decided to write a song using Numbers 6:24-26 as the lyrics for the chorus:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. (NIV)

If I were still a music critic, I'd give Matt Redman's new worship album 4.5 stars out of five!

If I were still a music critic, I’d give Matt Redman’s new worship album 4.5 stars out of five!

And mere weeks before I was ready to debut the song in my church, Redman goes and releases an album containing a song that uses the very same idea. The last track on his new album Your Grace Finds Me is called Benedictions, and it’s based largely on the Priestly Blessing I’ve quoted above.

Harrumph.

Oh well. There’s probably room in God’s creation for two worship songs based on this iconic passage, so I probably won’t seek any cease-and-desist orders just yet ;). And on the bright side, the fact that I independently came up with the same idea as one of the top worship songwriters of this generation is pretty cool for me. (Maybe not so much for Redman, but that’s his problem.)

‘My’ new worship song made its debut October 27 at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Calgary. (Here’s a link to the demo recording, in case you missed it or want to listen again. Feel free to download and put it on your mp3 player and share with your friends, etc. I just posted it in my Google Drive and made it public; not a very snazzy way to share, but it does the trick).

And on the off chance you’re interested in hearing about its genesis (and at the risk of being a little self-indulgent), here’s a rundown of how the tune, dubbed 19 Blessings, came together:

In the early months of 2013, I devoted a fair bit of my personal Bible study time to the Moses story, and as I mentioned in Torah! Torah! Torah!, I connected with more of the text than I’d expected.

Numbers 6:24-26 is one of the passages that struck me the hardest – in the midst of His efforts to teach and tame a stiff-necked and wayward people; in books overrun with rules and regulations and do’s and don’ts (mostly don’ts), God tsunamis His children with this empowering, enriching, unmerited and unexpected wave of encouragement and grace.

Not what I expected from the ‘Old Testament God’, I confess.

Once it was on my radar screen, I started putting the passage to good use. I pray that blessing over my kids as they go to bed or slumber in the early morning. I text it to them when we were apart. I pray it over my wife as she struggles with health issues or job issues. And when I write a note of encouragement to a friend, I often conclude it with that blessing.

At some point in the spring, I finally realized (all by myself, to be sure :/) that if this passage can bless people in text or in conversation, how much more could God use it to bless people in music? I decided I needed to write a worship song around it.

I started humming and playing around with melody, and before long I had a chorus I could work with. I didn’t have any bright ideas about verses, though, so I tabled that internal discussion for a later time.

I had a little ‘A-ha! Moment early this summer when I recalled the day I met a guy named Barry back in the spring of 2012. I was leading a music team at a Christian retreat, and even though we’d barely spoken two words to each other and he’d only heard me sing and play a half-dozen songs or so, he proclaimed to a room full of people (mostly strangers to him, at the time), that ‘I sense that Rob has the spirit of David upon him!’

Spirit of David?!? Wherever did he get that idea?

Now, please don’t think for a moment that I’m onboard with this. That he would even say that is very flattering and the sentiment is appreciated, but I’m certainly in no hurry to pick up the mantle Barry audaciously and unilaterally(?) lay at my feet.

But it did get me thinking about David: The warrior. The king. The sinner.

King DavidThe songwriter.

King David wrote dozens of the Psalms – some of which formed the Zion’s share of the worship songbook of Ancient Israel. And since I struggle with lyrics when it comes to writing worship songs – largely because it’s all been said before – I decided to effectively co-write a worship song with King David, by adapting one of his Psalms.

Nothing leapt off the page from the first dozen and a half I looked at, but when I came across Psalm 19, kaplooey!

Following the pattern lay down in psalm-based songs like Better is One Day, I Lift My Eyes Up and Refiner’s Fire, I didn’t feel obligated to use the words of the psalm verbatim, but I chose what fit the chord progression that was developing simultaneously and adapted or set aside what didn’t.

The first bit of the song goes like this:

The Heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim His handiwork;
Day after day, they pour forth speech; their voice goes out to all the Earth;
They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them;
They have no speech, they use no words; yet their voice goes out…

bless you

I quite like the above translation of Numbers 6:24-26, but it would have been tough to fit the word ‘countenance’ in my new worship song.

[CHORUS]
The Lord bless you and keep you
And cause His face to shine upon you, and be gracious
The Lord bless you and keep you
And turn His face toward you, and give you peace!

Now, when it came to Verse 2 of the song, I took some liberties with Verses 4-6 of the Psalm, and this is a bit risky, I admit. I changed the spelling of the word ‘sun’ to ‘son’, and repeated but adapted the ‘they have no speech’ bit accordingly:

In the Heavens is a tent for the Son; like a bridegroom coming forth
He rises at one end, goes west from east; nothing can hide from His warmth
He needs no speech, He is the Word; His glory shines within
He needs no speech, He is the Word, yet His voice goes out…

The Lord bless you and keep you (and so on…)

I hope this adaptation doesn’t ruffle any feathers. I once heard a preacher suggest that the New Testament is the Gospel, revealed, and the Old Testament is the Gospel, concealed, and I decided to pick up that ball and run with it in Verse 2 of the new song.

Words like ‘bridegroom’ and ‘rises’ make me wonder if David wasn’t hinting at Christ without knowing it. And the psalm talks about the sun going from one end of the horizon to the other; seemed sensible to be specific about the directions, so I said ‘goes west from east’ in my song. Now, when I ponder Jesus on the Cross, I imagine one of his hands pointed west, the other pointed east, so those words (and now this Psalm) also make me think of Christ.

That can’t be a bad thing, can it?

The second part of the verse is a reminder for me that God was under no obligation to bother with the New Testament, and yet He did anyway. God clearly spelled out the standard by which humanity could (theoretically) please Him under our own steam, in the Torah. Time after time in the Old Testament we turned our back on Him, and still He didn’t give up on us, sending prophet after prophet to steer us straight – and we promptly ignored them all (or worse).

So after all that, if He’d chosen not to speak another word into our situation, we’d have had no right to complain. And yet, ‘The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.’ – John 1:14a (The Message)

He needs no speech, He is the Word, yet His voice goes out … in the Gospels and changes everything. He blesses us and keeps us and turns His face toward us, and gives us peace – when we let Him.

Thanks be to God!

That’s most of the song, which I named 19 Blessings because its chorus is full of blessings and its verses are based on Psalm 19. It’s definitely got some musical similarities to my first worship song, All the More, penned in early 2011, but I’m not sure it’s as easy to sing along with, or as catchy.

Is 19 Blessings worthy of my God and the people He’s given me to lead in praise music most Sundays? I really don’t know, but I offer it anyway – with a boldness and audacity I’m far from comfortable with. That’s why David’s prayer in Psalm 19:14 is also the bridge for this song:

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, my rock and my redeemer. Redeemer!

Readers, may the Lord bless you and keep you and cause His face to shine upon you and be gracious. The Lord bless you and keep you and turn His face toward you, and give you peace.

Or, put another way…

Peace be with you.

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About robpetkau

Communications professional by day, amateur musician by night, worship leader (at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Calgary) on weekends and aspiring Bible teacher in my dreams. Grateful husband to the woman who completes me. Doing-the-best-I-can dad to the son and daughter who keep me on my toes. Striving disciple of the GodMan who came, taught and died for me. Thanks for stopping by!
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2 Responses to Anatomy of a PsalmSong

  1. Pingback: Li’l Abner | Disciplehood

  2. Pingback: The Hooky Song | Disciplehood

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