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Revelation by Robert Dean
Series:Revelation (2004)
Duration:1 hr 9 mins 14 secs

Words Mean Something


We live in a world today where meaning of any text, whether it is a musical text, a visual representation of art, or a written piece of literature, is now determined completely and exclusively by the reader, the observer, the listener. In other words, when it comes to the text of Scripture and hermeneutics it no longer matters what the writer intended, what matters is what it means to you. 


We have seen that music reflects a worldview. This poses some questions in some people's minds. One question that has come in: In light of all of this, is it improper or wrong to listen or play all secular music? What is the criteria? What is the biblical basis for this issue? What we have gotten at in the last few lessons is that secular music does have a worldview behind it, and we need to be aware of what that worldview is. Obviously there are some kinds of music and some kinds of lyrics that run completely counter to Christianity and we really don't want those kinds of messages rattling around inside our head. As we mature and as we study the Word we are going to come to an understanding of some of those things, just like some of the things we might read.


As a Christian we can approach this in one of three ways. The first way is we can say, I don't want to have anything to do with the world around me so I'm going to run off an join a monastery. I'm not going to listen to any music, I'm not going to watch any TV, I'm not going to go to any movies, I'm not going to read any books, something might just leak in. And rather than think and use critical evaluating skills and understand the world around as a believer interested in taking the gospel to a lost culture, I'm just going to isolate myself as a monk. So there is the ascetic response. Then there is the other response: We are all part of the world and so we just have to get along, and nobody wants to think we are weird. All the neighbours are going to think I'm weird if I don't watch certain movies, if I don't listen to certain kinds of music and do certain things. So the other extreme is thinking to culture is neutral and just non-thinkingly and non-critically immersing one's self in the culture, just like everybody else. And that is what is happening to a lot of people and why a lot of Christians are completely ineffective in doing that. The cosmic system, the worldliness that exists around us, is a system of thinking that is designed to help our sin nature justify itself and make life work apart from dependence upon God. When we think about the concept of worldliness one of the ultimate things we need to realize is that one of the purposes of human viewpoint thinking is to give us a rationale for making sin comfortable and making righteousness seem strange. Think about that. It helps us to stay in our comfort zone of our sin nature rather than stepping out on the unique position of the Word of God. So when we ask the question: Is it proper to listen to all secular music? the word "all" is important. Some is okay, there is some music that is better than others, some words are better than  others, but what is important is—and you can add this to art—to understand where they are coming from, what the thought issues were that impacted their thinking. This applies to all kinds of things. We can appreciate the craftsmanship that is there. We can appreciate the fact that these unbelievers are in the image of God and therefore are creating as God created, and we can appreciate their creativity as reflecting that imageness. We can also appreciate the fact that they are wrestling with trying to explain meaning and purpose in life, and we can see the tension that is in these fallen human hearts that doesn't have an ultimate reference point in the person of God. We can appreciate how they use texture and how they use light and the colors without getting sucked into their worldview. So it is not an issue of going away from it all, it is not an issue of just swimming around in it all the time; it is an issue of recognizing how the human viewpoint of the current culture is displayed in all of these things so that we can come to them and not get absorbed or be influenced by the pagan, existential, postmodern, relativistic worldview that is there. In other words, you have to think. We can't just go through life just emoting about Jesus, which is what most people seem to want to do, because most people are intellectually lazy.


Another question was: What about when we go to these passages of Scripture that talk about music, such as when Miriam and the women had been rescued from Egypt and they were singing the song of praise and they are using tambourines and cymbals and stringed instruments? We do that today! First, we are not sure what those instruments were. Secondly, just because your frame of reference is that tambourines were used in some kind of loose, informally structured manner doesn't mean that is how it was used then. What happens is that our worldview in terms of our frame of reference of the kind of dancing and music that is contemporary today is often used and read back into the text without a proper understanding of what was going on in the historical context.


We should not have a legalistic approach toward music. We can have a lot of fun with some kinds of Christian music in its right context. The thing we are focusing on is what is involved in corporate worship in the meeting of the local church when the focal point of the meeting of the local church is the exposition of the Word of God and where the congregation is expected to concentrate, and to think and to follow to some extent a sophisticated train of logic and knowledge in explanation of the Word so that they can go new places with their thinking that they haven't been before.


We want to focus now on the lyrics. That is not as much of a battle, at least theoretically speaking, as the music is. Most people at a theoretical level would say that the words need to be biblically correct and need to focus on God. Ultimately everything must be handled by the Word and the real quality of worship isn't evaluated on the basis of how we feel.


We have to look at the lyrics and we will do that by briefly looking at a couple of the psalms. Apparently David composed 364 songs to be sung at the altar with daily sacrifices. That is a lot more than we have in our Psalm book. He composed 52 songs to accompany the Sabbath offerings throughout the year, and additional 30 songs for the new moon festivals and other festivals. Solomon, according to 1 Kings, composed over 1000 songs, including Song of Solomon. See the value that the Bible places on music and singing. God gave us a standard for singing and it is called the book of Psalms. The are many other psalms and poetry in the Scriptures but the book of Psalms was the collected hymn book for the nation Israel. There is no music there but it gives us a standard, a divinely inspired criterion for understanding what the words should be in a hymn or song of praise. We need to understand how the words flow and how they direct our thinking toward a doctrinal goal. That is what a hymn should do. It should be taking us to various different doctrines and weaving them together so that our concentration on God and what He has done, who he is, all these different aspects are brought together.


Psalm 22 is a lament psalm. Lament psalms had four categories to them. These were complex works of poetry, they weren't something that somebody just sat down and spun out in a hurry. There is a lot of thought that goes into the structure of these words. The Hebrews didn't rhyme words, they rhymed ideas. Usually there are these four elements in a lament psalm. There is an introductory cry to God—the first ten verses of Psalm 22. Then there is a lament where the writer is expressing the adversities, the problems, the difficulties he is afacing in life. Then as he goes through his lament he begins to focus more on the character of God, and there is a tone shift there. We would thing that that would be radically reflected in the music as he goes from talking about how "all the enemies are against me, I am overwhelmed, and backed into a corner. No one loves me but you, God." There is a confession of trust followed usually by a petition or prayer.


There are two sections in the first ten verses of Psalm 22. The opening cry out to God in the first two verses, followed by a historical rehearsal of who God is, what He has done, and then in verse 6 it goes back to the problem and the cry to God again. Then there is a confidence section. All of this is in the opening introductory cry. But listen to how the words of the hymn (that is what it is) carry our thinking on.       


Psalm 22:1 NASB "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning." David is saying these things prophetically and Jesus Christ quotes this psalm on the cross, but it is coming out of a historical context of David's own life and then the Holy Spirit applies it prophetically later on.


[2] "O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; And by night, but I have no rest." You feel the helplessness of the writer, he is overwhelmed by the circumstances of his life. Then he shifts the focus. Think about what the music would have to do if you were composing music to fit this. 


[3] "Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel. [4] In You our fathers trusted; They trusted and You delivered them. [5] To You they cried out and were delivered; In You they trusted and were not disappointed." The music needs to support that shift in focus.


Then he comes back to himself [6] "But I am a worm and not a man, A reproach of men and despised by the people." He is on the virge of total self-absorption and self-pity here, and God is not saying anything to him. [7] "All who see me sneer at me; They separate with the lip, they wag the head, {saying,} [8] Commit {yourself} to the LORD; let Him deliver him; Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him."


Then he comes back to his confidence in God. [9] "Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb; You made me trust {when} upon my mother's breasts. [10] Upon You I was cast from birth; You have been my God from my mother's womb."


Then there is a shift, he starts to focus on the lament itself. [11] "Be not far from me, for trouble is near; For there is none to help. [12] Many bulls have surrounded me; Strong {bulls} of Bashan have encircled me. [13] They open wide their mouth at me, As a ravening and a roaring lion." Notice the detail and how he is expressing in very vivid terms the imagery here of his adversity and how he feels overwhelmed. But the self-pity is leaving. [14] "I am poured out like water, And all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It is melted within me. [15] My strength is dried up like a potsherd, And my tongue cleaves to my jaws; And You lay me in the dust of death."


The petition, where he develops confidence again. [19] "But You, O LORD, be not far off; O You my help, hasten to my assistance. [20]  Deliver my soul from the sword, My only {life} from the power of the dog. [21]  Save me from the lion's mouth; From the horns of the wild oxen You answer me."


Now he skips to the praise. [22] "I will tell of Your name to my brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will praise You. [23] You who fear the LORD, praise Him; All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him, And stand in awe of Him, all you descendants of Israel. [24] For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from him; But when he cried to Him for help, He heard." Notice the focus on God being a very present help in time of trouble.


We need to understand by just reading this that it is structured, the words take us in a direction, there is resolution in the words themselves, and the resolve in a statement of declarative praise to God.


Declarative praise is another kind of psalm, so we turn to Psalm 113. Psalms 113-118 is a collection of Psalms that were called in the Jewish hymnal the Hallel [praise] psalms. They were sung at the special feasts and festivals, specifically at Passover. Before Passover they would usually sing Psalm 113 and 114, and then after Passover, when it was over with, they would sing Psalms 115 through 118.


In Psalm 113 verses 1-3 give us the call to praise; verses 4-9 give us the cause to praise. Then call to praise is a command to the people to praise God. What has happened in our superficial world today is that people run around and sing Praise God and Hallelujah as if those phrases have substance in themselves. They are so overused that they lose any meaning. In the Hebrew the word hallel, which is the verb to praise, is in the second person plural imperative. It is a command to people to praise God, and in hallelujah, jah is the first syllable in the name of God, so it is a command to praise God. You don't praise God by saying, Praise God. How do we praise God?


Ps 113:1 NASB "Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD, Praise the name of the LORD," – His character, the focus is on who God is. [2] "Blessed be the name of the LORD From this time forth and forever. [3] From the rising of the sun to its setting The name of the LORD is to be praised.' That is our call to praise.


Then we have the cause to praise. Why should we praise God? Because [4] "The LORD is high above all nations; His glory is above the heavens. [5] Who is like the LORD our God, Who is enthroned on high, [the uniqueness of God] [6] Who humbles Himself to behold {The things that are} in heaven and in the earth?" God is a God who is intimately involved in His creation. He knows and pays attention to what is going on in our lives. He cares about each one of us individually and He is intimately involved in our lives. The psalmist gives two examples, the first relates to God's care for the impoverished. [7] "He raises the poor from the dust And lifts the needy from the ash heap." These are the homeless. So God cares about us when we go through those crises that leave us destitute, no matter what the cause may be. The second is, [8] "To make {them} sit with princes, With the princes of His people. [9] He makes the barren woman abide in the house [He grants her a home] {As} a joyful mother of children. Praise the LORD!" So there is a call to praise and a cause to praise.


That is our model, the standard of how the content of songs should go. A couple of hymns, giving a contrast between a couple of different things. One is one which was written by James Dack, a Plymouth Brethren, and it is a meditation on the ascension and session of Christ. When we sing this, this is powerful. The words to this:


Son of God, you now are seated

High upon your Father's throne

All your gracious works completed

All your mighty victory won


Every knee in heaven is bending

To the Lamb for sinners slain

Every voice and heart is swelling

Worthy is the Lamb to reign


Jesus, Lord, your faithful promise

Says, Behold I quickly come

And our hearts to yours responsive

Cry, Come Lord, and take us home


O the rapture yet awaits us

When we meet you in the air

And with you ascend in triumph

All your deepest joys to share


Lamb of God, when you in glory

Shall to this sad earth return

All your foes shall quake before you

All who now despise you mourn


Then shall we at your appearing

With you in your kingdom reign

Yours the praise and yours the glory

Lamb of God for sinners slain.



Notice how that takes us through all the different doctrines we have been studying. It forces us to think and concentrate on all that focuses on who Jesus Christ is and is doing. This is fabulous worship.


The focus of the next hymn is what many people call occupation with Christ, the focus on the Lord as the focal point of everything in our lives. It is a prayer.


Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul's Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven's joys, O bright Heaven's Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

For contrast, a contemporary chorus that has been written with the same idea of focusing on the Lord.


Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus


(The other verses in Be Thou my vision sing, I want to think about you so that by contemplation of you drives me to a greater understanding and appreciation of who you are.) 


To reach out and touch Him.


(We are not going to do that in this life. We learn Him through a contemplation of doctrine, the Scriptures and thinking them through and correlating Scripture with Scripture and building theology. That is how we understand and that is the depth of the Be Thou my vision hymn. But here is all about Him doing everything for me because I am too lazy to do anything about my spiritual life, and make it happen for me. It is all self-centred., not theocentric or Christocentric) 


Then another hymn:


He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials he multiplies peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father's full giving is only begun.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.


In contrast, a contemporary chorus:

When the music fades all is stripped away, and I simply come

Longing just to bring something that's of worth that will bless your heart.

I'll bring you more than a song, for a song in itself is not what you have required

You search much deeper within through the way things appear …. etc.


Compare that to what we have just through in terms of those great hymns and the Psalms. See how shallow it is, how self-focused it is: I want to impress you, God, with what I am bringing to you. And this is one of the very popular songs that is out there. They are using technique to drive the music, and what happens is that the music can eventually eat up the words.


We need to have an understanding of what singing and worship is all about, and how it important it is that the words and the music fit together and the focus is on God, His work, and what He has done in history. It is to reinforce the doctrine that we have learned and our own orientation to the Word.