Weird worship

ElShaddai Edwards has tagged me with the Weird Worship meme, in which I am supposed to come up with five worship songs with strange, perplexing, or otherwise – well, weird lyrics. My peeps know I’m highly critical of worship songs in general, but this has been more difficult than I thought to come up with songs whose lyrics I might characterize as “weird”, as opposed to simply badly written, wrong-focused, or theologically errant, or which there are a host of songs I might mention. But here I go…

1) His Banner over Me – Kevin Prosch

He brought me to His banqueting table

Yes, He brought me to His banqueting table

And His banner over me is love

I am my beloved’s and He is mine

Yes, I am my beloved’s and He is mine

And His banner over me is love

Now, what’s the problem with that? It’s taken directly from the Bible (Song of Solomon 2:4), right? Well, I was always struck with how obscure the concept of a “banner over me” was – I mean, what the heck does that mean? I heard some explanations (e.g. one site has the following explanation: “Like a banner on a wall or a public proclamation, the king makes it clear to all that he delights in this woman. He publicly flatters her, making it clear that she is his. He is beginning to introduce her as his beloved, making the likely prospects of marriage clear to others.”), but they all seemed suspicious. Then I found out that what we have with “banner” is increasingly recognized as a mistranslation of an obscure Hebrew root. Thomas Constable notes that, based on the comparison of a cognate Akkadian root and comparative ANE literature, scholars are being convinced that the word “banner” really shouldn’t appear here at all; rather, the phrase should read something more along the lines of “His wish regarding me was lovemaking” or “His intentions were to make love.” This alternative translation has been adopted but toned down in the NET Bible and the NRSV (so, e.g. the NRSV: “his intention toward me was love.”). So in other words, we have the Beloved and the Lover in a public setting (the banqueting hall) and the Lover can’t stop looking at her with desire and in anticipation of their being alone. [I will not even address the possibility, sometimes argued, that the “banner over me” imagery refers to a particular sexual posture.]

I’m not one who accepts the allegorization of the Song of Solomon to the relation between Christ and the Church, but even if we recognize that there is some sense of intimacy between Christ and His bride that it analogous to a sexual relationship (or vice versa), it certainly strikes me as “weird” to think about my relationship with God in terms so explicitly sexual/sensual. I mean, who wouldn’t blanch at a similar song built around the verse in which the Lover relates his pleasure at the specifically female aspects of her anatomy? Yeesh.

[On a related note, ElShaddai’s blog unknowingly converged with this subject in as post called Love and lust: Seerveld and the Song of Songs).]

2) Your Love is Extravagant – Darrell Evans

In the same vein, this is a song that has recently been blacklisted from the worship set at our church at the request of three women independently. Given the context of the previous song, I trust you’ll be able to see what made these ladies (godly, chaste, and virtuous all three) so uncomfortable:

Your love is extravagant

Your friendship, it is intimate

I find I’m moving to the rhythms of your grace

your fragrance is intoxicating in the secret place

Your love is extravagant

Spread wide in the arms of Christ . . .

‘Nuff said.

3) Days of Elijah- Robin Mark

(I know this is a favorite, and I hope you’ll forgive me if you love this song and I step on your toes here.) This one always struck me as odd. I mean, it’s catchy, and it has more biblical imagery than most worship choruses nowadays, but strangely enough, that’s the problem. The point of the song is that we are in the end time (dispensationalist futurists await the coming of Elijah before the eschaton; besides, just look at the chorus!), a stance which I as a preterist have problems with, but the jumbling together of unrelated texts/people/events in salvation history that we see in this song should make you scratch your head no matter your eschatological persuasion.

Are these the days of Elijah? Jesus made it crystal clear that the Elijah that was to come before the great and terrible day of the Lord as prophesied in Malachi had already come before Jesus began His ministry, in the person of John the Baptist! Where do we see any – any – Scriptural indication that there’s going to be another Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord?

Are these the days of His servant Moses, righteousness being restored? For that matter, what does righteousness restored have to do with Moses? If the Scriptures can mean anything, they mean nothing.

Are we the voices in the desert crying, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord”? No – that was John the Baptist again. We can water down that expression to mean any gospel presentation, and that twist of the Scripture’s intent would have been slightly more acceptable, but clearly the original meaning is what is being implied, namely the heralding the coming of Messiah. How do I know this? Look at the next line:

“Behold He comes riding on the clouds, shining like the sun at the trumpet call . . .” Here we get into pure nonsense from a preterist perspective. Jesus was clear in Matthew 24 that this was to happen before THAT generation was to pass away; Scripture gives no evidence that it was supposed to be something that happened then and happened again 2,000 year later. Oh, and it wasn’t ever supposed to conjure thoughts of a cloud-surfing entrance to the world in style that people would get ecstatic about, because the “coming on the clouds” aspect of His coming was the aspect of judgment (cf. Isaiah 19:1), which isn’t the thing we should be smiling and clapping over. For more on that, see my fifth choice below.

4) God of Earth and Outer Space – Thad Roberts

My friend Leah found this one in the Baptist Hymnal. Never sang it, though.

God of earth and outer space, God of love and God of grace

Bless the astronauts who fly, As they soar beyond the sky

God who flung the stars in space, God who set the sun ablaze,

Fling the spacecraft thro the air, Let man know your presence there.

God of atmosphere and air, God of life and planets bare,

Use man’s courage and his skill As he seeks your holy will.

God of depth and God of height, God of darkness, God of light,

As man walks in outer space, Teach him how to walk in grace.

God of man’s exploring mind, God of wisdom, God of time,

Launch us from complacency To a world in need of thee.

God of power, God of might, God of rockets firing bright.

Hearts ignite and thrust within, Love for Christ to share with men.

No comment necessary on this one, folks.

5) The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord – Andy Park

Now, I don’t want to make a big issue of this song, especially as it is quoted almost verbatim from Isaiah 61:1-2. But since I had to come up with a fifth song, and I just heard this one recently, I thought I’d point out something that I think is weird about it. The chorus simply repeats,

This is the year of the favor of the Lord

This is the day of the vengeance of our God

Definitely stands out as unique in the modern worship repertoire – or even the older hymns, for that matter. How often do we purpose to sing of vengeance and judgment, common misunderstandings of apocalyptic imagery notwithstanding (see song 3 above)? Here again, my eschatology has the execution of that order of business as a first-century event, following on the heels of the fulfillment of the “favorable year” aspect that Jesus indisputably confirmed in His Own day in Luke 4:18-19. I find it hard to believe that the vengeance aspect of the time mentioned in Isaiah 61:2 was to be put off for some two millennia, but that’s just the preterist in me speaking.

All right, the last order of business is to pass this meme on to five more people. Do with it as you like, guys. First, since he’s usually a good sport about these sorts of things, is Josh. Next victim is Mike Beidler because 1) I know nothing of his views on worship music and 2) maybe I can goad him into updating his blog. Heather, you like lists and are a natural critic – what’s your five? Next, the dynamic music libraries (and sisters) known as Saige and the aforementioned Leah, who are not without opinions on these matters, and who are due more blog posts (although Leah had two – count ’em – two posts this week! That brings her average up to .0002 a month now). Do with this what you will, guys. Remember that you don’t have to be critical per se, but just point out some lyrics the Church sings that strike you as weird, strange, or outright bizarre, even if you don’t have a problem with the song as a whole.

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  • Good stuff, Steve – thanks for posting!

    Regarding the “banner” song, I agree that it’s just a little weird how we innocently sing that song as kids (or adults) without getting the sexual reference. Seerveld translates Song 2:4 as “He would lead me out to a [hidden] arbour, and cover me there with his love.” The choice of “arbour” builds off the apple tree imagery in the preceding verse. He writes about this specific verse:

    Miming his kisses that explored the inside of her mouth [2:3], the Shulammite confesses happily of their dallying alone [2:3, “in his shade”] on beds of country flowers [1:16]: we needed no blankets, no flags declaring for whom we were; his body and carresses covered me [2:6], rapturously…. (Seerveld, p.95)

    If you insist, like I do, on not reading this allegorically, I do recommend Seerveld’s work.

  • Good stuff, Steve – thanks for posting!

    Regarding the “banner” song, I agree that it’s just a little weird how we innocently sing that song as kids (or adults) without getting the sexual reference. Seerveld translates Song 2:4 as “He would lead me out to a [hidden] arbour, and cover me there with his love.” The choice of “arbour” builds off the apple tree imagery in the preceding verse. He writes about this specific verse:

    Miming his kisses that explored the inside of her mouth [2:3], the Shulammite confesses happily of their dallying alone [2:3, “in his shade”] on beds of country flowers [1:16]: we needed no blankets, no flags declaring for whom we were; his body and carresses covered me [2:6], rapturously…. (Seerveld, p.95)

    If you insist, like I do, on not reading this allegorically, I do recommend Seerveld’s work.

  • Quite interesting, ElShaddai. The Song of Solomon reads not unlike other ANE romantic (sometimes erotic) poetry. But you know, the part that I regret the most about this type of reading of SoS is the kid’s song. I always thought it was a pretty little song, especially with kids’ voices. Now it just seems . . . well, I guess “weird” is the word. 🙂

    And surprisingly enough, ElShaddai, I had written the “banner” portion of this post before you posted your SoS post. Strange, no?

  • Quite interesting, ElShaddai. The Song of Solomon reads not unlike other ANE romantic (sometimes erotic) poetry. But you know, the part that I regret the most about this type of reading of SoS is the kid’s song. I always thought it was a pretty little song, especially with kids’ voices. Now it just seems . . . well, I guess “weird” is the word. 🙂

    And surprisingly enough, ElShaddai, I had written the “banner” portion of this post before you posted your SoS post. Strange, no?

  • Pingback: SoD: “His banner over me” « He is Sufficient()

  • It’s been interesting to explore Song of Songs from Seerveld’s perspective exactly for the ANE relationship that you mention. Cultural context is one of my interests and studies like this that blow off the cobwebs of allegory and return to the literary roots of the text are intriguing.

    I had a different song version of “His Banner Over Me” in mind when I first responded to your post, but regardless, yes, it is just a little weird…

  • It’s been interesting to explore Song of Songs from Seerveld’s perspective exactly for the ANE relationship that you mention. Cultural context is one of my interests and studies like this that blow off the cobwebs of allegory and return to the literary roots of the text are intriguing.

    I had a different song version of “His Banner Over Me” in mind when I first responded to your post, but regardless, yes, it is just a little weird…

  • Laura

    Of your blog, this is the first post I have ever read, so I honestly have no idea what you personally believe in concerning to the Lord or anything of that nature :). However, considering that you’re taking the time to write about worship songs, I’m dangerously assuming that you at least have particpated in worship services?

    Regardless, if you know my awesome God, if you even have the slightest concept of His identity (not to insinuate that you’re unintelligent, I struggle with grasping in the slightest fraction of His infinite self.), you’ll know how pointless our worship is anyway. We are so inconsequential compared to Him, so utterly worthless without His love to give us value.

    To Him, our finest singing voices, our most intellectual lyrics are still not even close to glorifying Him as much as He deserves. It makes no difference whether or not the lyrics are ‘weird’ or not to Him; He simply delights in the fact that His children’s hearts are seeking to worship. I believe it is the heart behind the words, and that the lyrics just help us express that. And if He doesn’t care what the lyrics are, so long as they do not blaspheme Him (and no adoring heart ever could), then why in the world would I bother myself with criticising and dwelling on someone else’s worship that glorifies the Living God just as much as my own does? And furthermore, what a waste of time! I could have spent my time delighting in my God!

    And as for your comment on the sexual nature of the first song, obviously God created sex, and I believe its intimate nature is just a fraction, a glimpse of the true intimacy we are meant to have with Him. Furthermore, sex itself is a gift from Him that, when not abused, glorifies Him. Understanding the emotional depth of romantic intimacy helps me, in my finite understanding, grasp the reality of His intimacy.

    It’s so sad to me that soceity has been able to pervert our view of sexuality, to make even singing about one of God’s greatest gifts to His children seem dirty or wrong. . . not that I even interpret that scripture from that perspective. I believe that Song of Songs is an incredible allegory of His great love for His Bride and the individual components of it :). But even outside of that interpretation, there is nothing wrong with delighting in His gifts.

  • Laura

    Of your blog, this is the first post I have ever read, so I honestly have no idea what you personally believe in concerning to the Lord or anything of that nature :). However, considering that you’re taking the time to write about worship songs, I’m dangerously assuming that you at least have particpated in worship services?

    Regardless, if you know my awesome God, if you even have the slightest concept of His identity (not to insinuate that you’re unintelligent, I struggle with grasping in the slightest fraction of His infinite self.), you’ll know how pointless our worship is anyway. We are so inconsequential compared to Him, so utterly worthless without His love to give us value.

    To Him, our finest singing voices, our most intellectual lyrics are still not even close to glorifying Him as much as He deserves. It makes no difference whether or not the lyrics are ‘weird’ or not to Him; He simply delights in the fact that His children’s hearts are seeking to worship. I believe it is the heart behind the words, and that the lyrics just help us express that. And if He doesn’t care what the lyrics are, so long as they do not blaspheme Him (and no adoring heart ever could), then why in the world would I bother myself with criticising and dwelling on someone else’s worship that glorifies the Living God just as much as my own does? And furthermore, what a waste of time! I could have spent my time delighting in my God!

    And as for your comment on the sexual nature of the first song, obviously God created sex, and I believe its intimate nature is just a fraction, a glimpse of the true intimacy we are meant to have with Him. Furthermore, sex itself is a gift from Him that, when not abused, glorifies Him. Understanding the emotional depth of romantic intimacy helps me, in my finite understanding, grasp the reality of His intimacy.

    It’s so sad to me that soceity has been able to pervert our view of sexuality, to make even singing about one of God’s greatest gifts to His children seem dirty or wrong. . . not that I even interpret that scripture from that perspective. I believe that Song of Songs is an incredible allegory of His great love for His Bride and the individual components of it :). But even outside of that interpretation, there is nothing wrong with delighting in His gifts.

  • Hi Laura,

    I understand where you’re coming from. But think for a minute here: the writers of Scripture are absolutely unanimous in affirming that we are not to be content with offering God anything less than our very best. As David said, “I will not offer to the Lord that which costs me nothing.” The modern worship movement notwithstanding, I cannot find a scriptural exception clause for lyrics in worship. What kind of “sacrifice” of praise is it when we simply emote to music? Is worship not about more than our streams of emotion flowing before God? Does/would it mean every bit as much for your husband/boyfriend to simply sign the Hallmark Valentine’s Day card he gives you, “I love you,” as it would if he were to take the time to write out why it is that he loves you? To craft it into poetry? To craft it into fine poetry? Or better yet, what woman is as happy with an anniversary gift of a Hallmark card as she is with precious jewelry? Does neither suggest more affection, devotion, or a commitment to please than the other?

    I think we have every right and the responsibility to demand more from ourselves – and from one another – in worship as in every area of the Christian life. It’s the “iron sharpens iron” principle. I must disagree with your contention that “good enough” is simply good enough.

    And as for your comment on the sexual nature of the first song, obviously God created sex, and I believe its intimate nature is just a fraction, a glimpse of the true intimacy we are meant to have with Him.

    Following your line of thought, worship music : a relationship with God :: sex : marriage. Now, I don’t know if you’re married or not, but let me tell you: intimacy in marriage is much, much more than sex. This leaves the worship movement either 1) claiming that recreational sex is a (or the) central aspect of the marriage relationship or 2) dramatically overemphasizing the importance of musical worship.

    Furthermore, sex itself is a gift from Him that, when not abused, glorifies Him. Understanding the emotional depth of romantic intimacy helps me, in my finite understanding, grasp the reality of His intimacy.

    So picturing yourself and God writhing in bed makes for a worship experience for you? Uh huh. Of course, I’m not a woman. But I sincerely beg your pardon: I think it’s weird.

    I believe that Song of Songs is an incredible allegory of His great love for His Bride and the individual components of it :).

    I don’t. That we can make the application of marriage relationships with the marriage of the Bride and the Lamb (or with any other marriage) is doubtless, but to say that the Song of Solomon was written as an allegory…well, I just don’t buy it, Laura. 🙂

    But even outside of that interpretation, there is nothing wrong with delighting in His gifts.

    Hey, no argument there 😉

  • Hi Laura,

    I understand where you’re coming from. But think for a minute here: the writers of Scripture are absolutely unanimous in affirming that we are not to be content with offering God anything less than our very best. As David said, “I will not offer to the Lord that which costs me nothing.” The modern worship movement notwithstanding, I cannot find a scriptural exception clause for lyrics in worship. What kind of “sacrifice” of praise is it when we simply emote to music? Is worship not about more than our streams of emotion flowing before God? Does/would it mean every bit as much for your husband/boyfriend to simply sign the Hallmark Valentine’s Day card he gives you, “I love you,” as it would if he were to take the time to write out why it is that he loves you? To craft it into poetry? To craft it into fine poetry? Or better yet, what woman is as happy with an anniversary gift of a Hallmark card as she is with precious jewelry? Does neither suggest more affection, devotion, or a commitment to please than the other?

    I think we have every right and the responsibility to demand more from ourselves – and from one another – in worship as in every area of the Christian life. It’s the “iron sharpens iron” principle. I must disagree with your contention that “good enough” is simply good enough.

    And as for your comment on the sexual nature of the first song, obviously God created sex, and I believe its intimate nature is just a fraction, a glimpse of the true intimacy we are meant to have with Him.

    Following your line of thought, worship music : a relationship with God :: sex : marriage. Now, I don’t know if you’re married or not, but let me tell you: intimacy in marriage is much, much more than sex. This leaves the worship movement either 1) claiming that recreational sex is a (or the) central aspect of the marriage relationship or 2) dramatically overemphasizing the importance of musical worship.

    Furthermore, sex itself is a gift from Him that, when not abused, glorifies Him. Understanding the emotional depth of romantic intimacy helps me, in my finite understanding, grasp the reality of His intimacy.

    So picturing yourself and God writhing in bed makes for a worship experience for you? Uh huh. Of course, I’m not a woman. But I sincerely beg your pardon: I think it’s weird.

    I believe that Song of Songs is an incredible allegory of His great love for His Bride and the individual components of it :).

    I don’t. That we can make the application of marriage relationships with the marriage of the Bride and the Lamb (or with any other marriage) is doubtless, but to say that the Song of Solomon was written as an allegory…well, I just don’t buy it, Laura. 🙂

    But even outside of that interpretation, there is nothing wrong with delighting in His gifts.

    Hey, no argument there 😉

  • Steven

    I’ve got a few offerings for the strange lyric pile:

    1. “Getting Used to the Family of God” is made up of syrupy lines aplenty. But how about this one in the chorus: “Learning to love you, how easy it is.” I don’t find it easy learning to love everyone in the church, which is what the song seems to be about. Maybe it’s just me…

    2. “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning” is one I can’t bring myself to lead. Consider the words in the refrain: “Let the lower lights be burning, send a gleam across the wave! Some poor fainting struggling seaman you may rescue, you may save.”

    3. I think I’m leaning more toward picking on certain lines than entire hymns, but here goes again… “Let Me Live Close to Thee” contains this: “In Thy field I would wield sickles brave and true.” How can a sickle be brave and true?

    There are more but I don’t want to over-do it. I’m pretty critical of some of our hymns but keep it in my own thoughts mostly, so as not to discourage folks who are encouraged by them somehow. The music in some of them is worth ridicule. One in particular has a verse whose music sets up for the refrain in such a way that I expect the chorus of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer will be forthcoming.

    Keep up the interesting studies and sharing them with careful thoughtfulness. I’m still considering and testing what you’re presenting in other posts. Thanks for the work.

  • Steven

    I’ve got a few offerings for the strange lyric pile:

    1. “Getting Used to the Family of God” is made up of syrupy lines aplenty. But how about this one in the chorus: “Learning to love you, how easy it is.” I don’t find it easy learning to love everyone in the church, which is what the song seems to be about. Maybe it’s just me…

    2. “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning” is one I can’t bring myself to lead. Consider the words in the refrain: “Let the lower lights be burning, send a gleam across the wave! Some poor fainting struggling seaman you may rescue, you may save.”

    3. I think I’m leaning more toward picking on certain lines than entire hymns, but here goes again… “Let Me Live Close to Thee” contains this: “In Thy field I would wield sickles brave and true.” How can a sickle be brave and true?

    There are more but I don’t want to over-do it. I’m pretty critical of some of our hymns but keep it in my own thoughts mostly, so as not to discourage folks who are encouraged by them somehow. The music in some of them is worth ridicule. One in particular has a verse whose music sets up for the refrain in such a way that I expect the chorus of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer will be forthcoming.

    Keep up the interesting studies and sharing them with careful thoughtfulness. I’m still considering and testing what you’re presenting in other posts. Thanks for the work.

  • Steven, thanks for the comments – I loved all three of your examples! And I agree that many of the more modern hymns are laughable in their musical content (some are outright groanable). We shouldn’t have to choose between high musical quality and high lyrical quality, doggoneit.

    Thanks also for the encouragement. I hope you stick around and interact on some of those other “interesting studies”. 🙂

  • Steven, thanks for the comments – I loved all three of your examples! And I agree that many of the more modern hymns are laughable in their musical content (some are outright groanable). We shouldn’t have to choose between high musical quality and high lyrical quality, doggoneit.

    Thanks also for the encouragement. I hope you stick around and interact on some of those other “interesting studies”. 🙂

  • Miriam Aponte

    I am a little confused with one of the comments above. It states “To Him, our finest singing voices, our most intellectual lyrics are still not even close to glorifying Him as much as He deserves” So this means, just throw out there whatever you want, even if it makes no sense and call it worship? Who are we worshiping? If we were to go to England to appear before Queen Elizabeth and have to speak with her, we would choose our words carefully. We would even bow before her. How much more the GOD OF HEAVEN? Of course it makes a difference whether or not the lyrics are ‘weird’ or not to Him; He delights in the worship of his people. True worship. Not the make me feel good rhythms that causes ME to want to dance and clap my hands. It is not about our feelings, it is about Him.

    Miriam Aponte