God’s Lyrics: Rediscovering Worship Through Old Testament Songs

I’m always amazed, considering the wealth of poetic expression and song in scripture how few of them actually migrate into our worship. Every once in a while I get really convicted about this.  Recently I ran across a new book by Douglas Sean O’Donnell. God’s Lyrics: Rediscovering Worship Through Old Testament Songs that hit me with a bit of fresh resolve to address this in my own context.  I love reading the songs of scripture, the moments where we can trace the circumstances of God’s people and the way they process that in praise and lament.  It’s amazing when we can connect the moments of David’s life with one of the psalms he wrote (Psalm 3A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his sonPsalm 18A Psalm of David, the servant of the Lord, who addressed the words of this song to the Lord on the day when the Lord rescued him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.  Psalm 34,  Psalm 51A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba).  This is the stuff of real life – running from God, brokenness in relationships, unanswered prayers.  I can sing these, WE can sing these…maybe they just get buried underneath the distance of time and culture?

Some people would say that these Old Testament songs don’t really belong in our New Testament vocabulary.  Their silence in our worship certainly speaks pretty loudly.  But as the Word of God they must be foundational in laying the groundwork for how we write and choose worship music.  O’Donnell is pretty persuasive in this regard!

O’Donnell investigates the most significant of these Old Testament songs.  Important because they stand at pivotal points in redemptive history. Songs that find their fulfillment in Jesus…songs even that find their response in the Consummation of Revelation.

You can listen to some musical versions here and download hymn arrangements of these here.

[creative project] – read and study these texts this fall.  Write songs from them that would work in your church context. If you sing any songs based on these texts let me know.  Would love to post links!

From his observation of these Old Testament texts he provides us with 4 characteristics that imbibe biblical song.  This is foundational wisdom for those of us mired in song shepherding. (nicely summarized by T. David Gordon in the book’s foreward)

  • The Lord is the center of every song.  In the text he is addressed, adored, and “enlarged.”
  • God’s mighty acts in salvation history are recounted first – our experience becomes 2ndary.
  • God’s acts of judgments are rejoiced in. ( note: this one really feels strange)
  • God’s ways of living – pursuing daily wisdom and justice are encouraged.

In part two he takes his observations and weighs them up against contemporary worship music and lyrics.

Read two great reviews here (from which I borrowed heavily) that go more in depth on how his work critiques and evaluates much of contemporary worship lyrics.

The Gospel Coalition Blog

Reformed Books.net

2 thoughts on “God’s Lyrics: Rediscovering Worship Through Old Testament Songs

  1. I just finished reading the sample pdf of chapter 1 provided by the publisher at their website. I am greatly encouraged and inspired simply by the first chapter. The table of contents as well as your review and others I’ve read makes me really ready to jump into this.

    I really like what he says in the first chapter about our version of cutting and pasting Scripture to ‘fit’ our worship. I have always felt that subjects such as God’s wrath have been long ignored or downplayed in our songs, but O’Donnell has provided me with too much evidence to personally continue to ignore it or downplay it further.

  2. Rich, I agree. I think O’Donell’s book will go a long way to increasing our dialogue with scripture in worship. I like books like this as well because I think they tend to produce a more fruitful conversation between those that preach and those that lead worship.

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