Hymn of the Month, September 2015
Researched and written by Shelby Breedlove and Rev. Nicholas Davelaar
Many of the hymns we sing are gems of wisdom, guidance, and admonition, drawn from God’s Word and set to music so that the word of Christ might dwell in us richly. Let’s take some time to dig into another of these this month, “My Song Forever Shall Record,” a setting of Psalm 89.
History: The hymn’s text
We know both very little and a lot about the text of “My Song Forever Shall Record.” On the one hand, we know very little inasmuch as it appeared first in the 1912 Psalter without any mention of the author’s name. On the other hand, we know a lot inasmuch as the hymnwriter did not create an original work, but instead paraphrased a portion of Scripture. This is an ancient song, one of the inspired songs of God’s people, paraphrased and put to music so that we today might take upon our lips the praise of Psalm 89.
History: The hymn’s tune
The tune in the Trinity Hymnal, Winchester New, is the oldest of the three commonly used for this song. It originally comes from a 1690 hymnal published by Georg Wittwe in Hamburg, Germany. Since then it has been reworked and employed for a number of hymns.
Sources: 1912 Psalter; Psalter Hymnal Handbook.
“My Song Forever Shall Record” is a song of joyful trust in difficult circumstances. Those difficult circumstances go unmentioned in the song before us, but not in Psalm 89. On the whole, Psalm 89 is a lament. In it we hear the people of God mourn their situation and plead with God to look upon them in mercy, and not because they deserve it, but out of faithfulness to his promises.
The words of “My Song Forever Shall Record” come from the beginning of that lament. Centuries later, we join them in remembering and celebrating the mercy and faithfulness of God and our blessedness in knowing him as our God. As needy sinners, we today are no less blessed to have such a God.
My song forever shall record
the tender mercies of the Lord;
your faithfulness will I proclaim,
and every age shall know your name.
In this opening verse we take the words of Psalm 89:1 on our lips, announcing that we will never stop singing of God’s tender mercies and faithfulness. As we’ll convey in later verses, God’s character gives us hope and joy, and thus we will keep singing of his tender mercies and faithfulness until every age, every generation knows his name.
I sing of mercies that endure,
forever builded firm and sure,
of faithfulness that never dies,
established changeless in the skies.
In this second verse we elaborate a bit on God’s mercies and faithfulness. In particular, we highlight their changelessness, following the lead of Psalm 89:2.
Behold God's truth and grace displayed,
for he has faithful cov'nant made,
and he has sworn that David's Son
shall ever sit upon his throne:
Here we move on to Psalm 89:3 and join the psalmist in elaborating further on the changelessness we sang of in the previous verse. We explain that we see that changelessness displayed in God’s act of making a covenant with David. God has sworn that David’s Son shall ever sit upon his throne.
"For him my mercy shall endure,
my cov'nant made with him is sure;
his throne and race I will maintain
forever, while the heav'ns remain."
This fourth verse is a summary of God’s covenant with David. God made with David a sure covenant, promising to establish his throne forever, as the psalmist recounts in Psalm 89:4.
We today have the joy of singing this in the wake of the coming of David’s promised Son, Jesus Christ. He has received David’s throne and shepherds God’s people with all power and authority. In that light, we might add that God’s mercy and faithfulness are displayed not only in how God made a covenant with David, but also how he has fulfilled it so marvelously!
Almighty God, your lofty throne
has justice for its cornerstone,
and shining bright before your face
are truth and love and boundless grace.
Here we jump ahead to Psalm 89:14 and express with delight who our God is, which we know from all that he has revealed by word and deed, especially through Jesus Christ his Son. Our God is the God who is enthroned above all powers, the God before whom truth and love and boundless grace shine bright.
With blessing is the nation crowned
whose people know the joyful sound;
they in the light, O Lord, shall live,
the light your face and favor give.
Moving on to Psalm 89:15, we also express with delight who God’s people are: a blessed nation to know the joyful sound of God’s truth and love and boundless grace. We who believe in Jesus Christ as our great prophet, priest, and king certainly belong to that nation!
Your name with gladness they confess,
exalted in your righteousness;
their fame and might to you belong,
for in your favor they are strong.
In this verse we continue on to Psalm 89:16-17 and express with delight who God’s people are, or more accurately, what they do. With gladness they confess his name. They live for his glory and rely on his favor for strength. Do you?
All glory unto God we yield,
Jehovah is our help and shield;
all praise and honor we will bring
to Israel's Holy One, our King.
Following the lead of Psalm 89:18, we close our song by confessing God’s name with gladness, singing to him with praise and adoration. This close of our song, however, is not the close of a believer’s prayer, as Psalm 89 makes clear. In fact, it’s only the beginning. Confession and supplication naturally flow from a believer’s joyful trust in the mercy and faithfulness of God. How could it not given who we are and who God is?