I recently revisited the familiar passage of Psalm 33 v1-3. You probably know it.
1. Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones;
Praise is becoming to the upright.
2. Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.
3. Sing to Him a new song;
Play skillfully with a shout of joy.
Psalm 33:1-3 (NASB)
I’ve read these verses countless times before and I don’t recall what drew me to them on this particular occasion, but I love how there’s always something new to glean from even the most familiar of passages. These days I primarily read from a Strong’s New American Standard version on my favorite Bible app , and I was struck by the use of the word ‘sing’ in each of these three verses, which I guess I had never really noticed before. Now, other translations don’t necessarily use the word ‘sing’ in time, but the NASB does. Anyway in our language the definition of this word seems pretty straightforward, but I decided to do a quick word study in the original and I’m so glad I did! The first point of interest to me is that each of the three words translated as ‘sing’ in English are actually three different words in the original Hebrew language, with similar meanings yet each one conveying different implications and nuances. Here’s what I was able to unpack.
In Verse 1, “sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones; praise is becoming to the upright.” , the original word is rânan, which means: to creak (or emit a stridulous sound), i.e. to shout — aloud for joy, cry out, be joyful (greatly, make to) rejoice, (cause to) shout (for joy), (cause to) sing (aloud, for joy,), triumph. For starters, this verse is an exhortation to the entire body of Christ. All of the Church. His bride. His sons and daughters. All of us. Not just the worship leader or the worship team. The first part of the definition interests me. “to creak or emit a stridulous sound“. I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve had someone approach me and say that they love corporate praise & worship but they themselves can’t carry a tune (they say) so they just listen. I think they’ve meant it in the context of a compliment generally, but it’s so unfortunate that they have felt the need to sing silently instead of, as this verse says, “aloud” and “cry(ing) out”. I’ve tried to encourage them to sing anyway! To remind them that the Lord is looking at our hearts and our intent, and He doesn’t care about how beautiful our voices may or may not be. We’re all to sing, and shout! And to do so with great joy and triumph! Also it says right there in the verse that “praise is becoming to the upright”! So God finds it lovely and beautiful when all of His people praise Him!
For verse 2, “sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings”, the meaning is more or less what you might think taken in the context of the English phrasing. The original word here is zâmar; and means: “to touch the strings or parts of a musical instrument, i.e. play upon it; to make music, accompanied by the voice; hence to celebrate in song and music: — give praise, sing forth praises, psalms”. So… making music accompanied by vocals… and to celebrate in song! This verse paints the picture that along with the myriad of joyous voices are the musicians playing their instruments. The last phrase in verse 3 reiterates this idea of certain people “play(ing) skillfully” and “with a shout of joy.”
The Hebrew word for ‘sing’ in the first half of verse 3, “sing to Him a new song”, is šiyr; which implies the idea of “strolling minstrelsy”. That was unexpected! We don’t use the English word minstrel very much these days so I Googled it for a bit more insight and found that it dates back to medieval times and is a reference to a “singer or musician, especially one who sang or recited lyric or heroic poetry to a musical accompaniment for the nobility”. I also discovered that this same Hebrew word is found in 1 Samuel 18v6, and paints for us a picture of the meaning of the word:..”When David returned from killing the Philistine (Goliath), that the women came out …., singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments.” I love that! The imagery and realization that we are to collectively sing and play music to exalt and delight our King Jesus! That we are coming out to meet Him, as it were, and shower Him with the praise and adoration He deserves.
Two other things about verse 3 to point out are that we’re to create new songs, and we’re to play skillfully. I’ve heard it said over the years, and have in the past said myself, that we’re not to be performing when we lead worship. But I’m not sure that’s entirely correct. We absolutely need to be continuously monitoring our motivations, and should not be trying to promote or bring glory to ourselves, so in that sense then yes we shouldn’t be ‘performing’. But these verses seem pretty clear that we should desire and strive to play with as much skill as we can. That we are not only leading the congregation in praise and worship to the Lord but we are also presenting to Him the songs that we’ve prepared and we need to give it everything we have. Jesus is our noble King and He deserves our praise and adoration and that we would play and lead with as much skill as possible. And we’re to write new songs and poems and create beautiful visual arts as well. I think that as believers, the creative process is also a form of the praise and worship that we offer to Jesus.
One last thought is for those of us who lead worship to evaluate our leadership of the people God has asked us to serve. Do I lovingly lead in such a way that they are free to be expressive and joyful in the ways these few verses describe? Am I setting that example? Actually not just me but the entire team? Is everyone on stage singing and leading with instruments doing so with joyous faces and with heartfelt singing? Or.. not? And if not then how can we address it and make improvements? How can we encourage and/or what do we need to teach? I think for the most part our congregations won’t be more expressive in worship than we are. So asking ourselves these types of questions and dialoguing with our teams on a regular basis is vital.
Blessings to you as you continue to purse excellence in the art of worship leading! ~ Michelle