“Understandest Thou What Thou Singest?”

Dub McClish

In an attempt to help us better understand some of the words and phrases of some of our spiritual songs, I offer the following comments:

When we sing “Ivory Palaces” we sing in the second verse that “aloes had a part” in Jesus’ life. Aloes, a perfume made from the oil of a tree, was provided by Nicodemus to prepare the body of Jesus for burial (John 19:36) and thus symbolizes the sorrow surrounding His death.

What is an “Ebenezer” (“O Thou Fount of Every Blessing”)? The word means “the stone of help” and it refers to the stone Samuel erected as a memorial of God’s miraculous help to Israel in routing the Philistines (1 Sam. 7:10-12).

In the song “Give Me The Bible” we sing of the “glory gilding Jordan’s wave” (some misread it as “gliding”). That which is gilded is overlaid with gold. “Jordan’s wave” is a figurative reference to death, as Israel had to literally cross the Jordan River to enter the promised land, so we must die to cross over into Heaven. Death holds men in fear, but the promises and comforts of God’s Word make death attractive as though gilded for the faithful servant.

If you won a “Guerdon” (“Beautiful Isle Of Somewhere”), would you know what you had won? “Guerdon” simply means a reward and refers to the promise of God to reward His children in Heaven, that poetic “Beautiful Isle Of Somewhere.

Tis Midnight, And On Olive’s Brow” has two expressions that some may miss. First, “Olive’s Brow” does not refer to the forehead of Popeye’s sweetheart! Just east of Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley, is the Mount of Olives (“Olivet”) upon whose side (“Brow”) is the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus retired there with His apostles and prayed His prayers of agony on the eve of the crucifixion (John 18:1; Mat. 26:36). Second, the last verse of the song speaks of “ether [not either] plains,” which is a figurative reference to the vast regions of space or Heaven.

What is “Ebon Pinion” in “Night With Ebon Pinion”? “Ebon” refers to the color black (as ebony). A “pinion” is the wing of a bird. The setting of this song is the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus. This series of events was so dark and somber that it was as though some great black bird, bearing doom, had cast its shadow over the Lord as He knelt in Gethsemane, was betrayed, tried, and finally crucified.

Hopefully, these few examples of wordings in our songs will stimulate us to look at what we are singing and make those words truly the petitions of our hearts as we address God in song.

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Author: Editor

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