Song in the night

“Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night?” Job 35:10

THE HALLMARK OF THE FAITHFUL ARE THE STILL SMALL STRAINS OF OUR HEARTFELT SONG IN THE NIGHT. In the midst of a discourse between Job and his friends, Elihu profoundly describes God as “our Maker who gives songs in the night.” Elihu’s assertion is that people often do not seek God as we ought to, even in the midnight hours of our lives. But a great and ancient truth is contained within these words. God’s people enjoy a blessing known to no other, for even in the darkest of times, God has given us a ray of hope—and a song.

James 5:13 says in the form of a proverb, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” It’s easy to sing when we’re happy. It’s easy to praise God when things are going our way, and it’s easy to see God’s providential blessing in the good times. But life is not lived on the mountain tops for most of us. At times, we walk through the “valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:3). Most days for most people are somewhere in the middle. How are Christians to express themselves in such times as people of faith? How should we entreat our God in the midnight hour, in times of suffering, pain, sorrow, and grief? James 5:13 says we ought to pray. I want to acknowledge we may not always find it within ourselves to “Sing and be Happy”. Yet, there are different types of songs. The psalms, the hymnal of God’s people for millennia, contain both praise and lament. There are some 42 psalms of lament in the psalter. If prayer is talking to God, what better way to do that than with a psalm? Sometimes the psalms help us express thoughts and feelings for which we are unable to find words. I find that, even if I do not relate to the immediate context and circumstances of the psalmist, the rawness, humanity, and emotions expressed before God resonate on a deep spiritual level teaching me what it means to be intimate, to be nearer to God.

We worship planners tend to gravitate toward creating “mountain top” worship experiences. I often hear churches promise “an upbeat and encouraging worship service.” We come to church thinking we must show our happy faces, even if we are inwardly hurting. But wherever we are today, if we are to develop an unshakable intimacy with God that will carry us through life, we must develop the strength of faith and hope—the honesty—to raise our song of lamentation in the night.

Scripture is filled with the prayers and songs of God’s people in times of darkness.

The Passover

Perhaps one of the darkest and bloodiest nights recorded in scripture is found in the original Passover. As Israel prepared for the Exodus, the tenth and final plague swept Egypt claiming the lives of the firstborn. This night would finally break Pharoah’s hard heart and begin the deliverance of God’s people. Tradition tells us that as the Hebrew nation observed the Passover each year, they sang Psalms 113-118 which ring with lament, deliverance, and praise.

Song *373 Be Still, My Soul

*All hymn numbers taken from Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs.

Jesus in the Garden

In Jesus’ final moments with his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion Jesus unveiled the identity of his betrayer; instituted the Lord’s Supper, what would be a perpetual memorial of his death, and sought out communion with his Father in the garden of Gethsemane where he began to feel the full weight of his imminent suffering. In the hour of trial, he knew his closest followers and inner circle would forsake him, and yet, Matthew records, “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Matthew 26:30). While we don’t know for sure what they sang, it is quite probable Psalms 113-118 would have been part of their festal repertoire.

Song 220 Night, with Ebon Pinion

NOTE: The first phrase, “Night, with ebon pinion, Brooded o’er the vale” (Jameson) refers to a night when darkness like black wings hovered over the Kidron valley through which Jesus and his disciples walked on their way to the Mount of Olive’s and later the Garden of Gethsemane.

Song 208 ‘Tis Midnight, and on Olive’s Brow

Paul and Silas in Prison

In like manner, consider Paul and Silas as they journeyed through Philippi preaching and ministering. They had just healed a servant girl afflicted by demon possession to the fury of her greedy owners. Though men accused them, beat them severely, and imprisoned them, no power of hell could silence their song in the night. The Physician records, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25).

Song 531 Faith of Our Fathers

It Is Well with My Soul

“Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul” (Spafford). Those words were penned by the hand of a grieving Horatio G. Spafford (1873) who lost his only son to scarlet fever and later his four daughters in a horrible accident at sea. Horatio learned of the tragedy by telegram from his wife which read “saved alone.” I do not believe he was smiling when he wrote those now famous words, “it is well.” I do not believe he was “doing fine” as we often say without thinking. Nor was he burying his grief when he penned those three beautiful words as he wept in the hull of a ship passing over the place where his beloved family perished. Rather, he was expressing the profound depth of his faith. When life bereft him of earthly happiness, he discovered a deeper joy in the coming day when faith shall be sight. Spafford would later write the full text to the now classic hymn.

The music so perfectly married to the words, swelling with emotion as a violent sea, would later be composed by Phillip P. Bliss in 1876. Bliss would afterword perish in a fatal train accident. Their tragedy and faith have served generations of souls through the dark of night.

Song 409 It is Well with My soul

Spurgeon’s final word

“And many a night do we have—nights of sorrow, nights of persecution, nights of doubt, nights of bewilderment, nights of anxiety, nights of oppression, nights of ignorance—nights of all kinds, which press upon our spirits and terrify our souls. But, blessed be God, the Christian man can say, “My God giveth me songs in the night.”

“the Christian who can sing in the night, will not have to leave off his song; he may keep on singing it forever. He may put his foot in Jordan’s stream, and continue his melody; he may wade through it, and keep on singing still until he is landed safe in heaven; and when he is there, there need not be a pause in his strain, but in a nobler, sweeter song he may still continue singing the Saviour’s power to save.”
C. H. Spurgeon, “Songs in the Night,” Sermon preached at the New Park Street Chapel; Southwark, England; 27 February 1898.

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