1 Chronicles 16:23-36

I cannot remember the last time I heard either of the books of Chronicles being read in church. The likely reason for that, of course, is that they repeat many of the stories in the books of Samuel and Kings. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have their place. They do. Because not only do they shine a different perspective on the history of God’s people, but in many cases actually expand the stories recorded elsewhere.

So, for example, 2 Samuel gives us a wonderful description of King David bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6), but only the book of 1 Chronicles describes the installation ceremony itself.

Indeed, 2 Samuel describes the Ark being carried on poles, and being led into Jerusalem with much praise, singing, fanfare and excitement. It also describes the Ark being placed in the tent that had been pitched to house it, and the appropriate Burnt Offerings and Fellowship Offerings being offered. But only 1 Chronicles details the hymns that were sung.

Because according to 1 Chronicles, they firstly sang a hymn of praise (1 Chronicles 15:8-22; Psalm 105). A hymn praising God for his faithfulness to his promises. A hymn which recited God’s promises to Abraham and his descendants, that he would give them the Promised Land. A hymn that recited the journey the people had taken. And a hymn that was appropriate to be sung as God (represented by the Ark of the Covenant) was installed in the new capital city of the Promised Land.

The promises of God had come true in every detail. It had taken a long time, and the journey had been difficult, but now the people could finally look back and see where God had led and guided them. As a consequence, they were able to sing God’s praises confidently, because what had been promised had finally been fulfilled.

And having sung a hymn about God’s faithfulness, they then followed that up with a second hymn (1 Chronicles 15:23-33; Psalm 96). This time singing about the greatness of the Lord and inviting the whole universe to praise God as their creator and king.

As far as the people were concerned, when one considered God’s mighty deeds, there just couldn’t be a greater king. Consequently the hymn exhorted a universal call to worship God, who wasn’t just king, but was judge of all as well.

Now, can you imagine the excitement? Can you imagine the enthusiasm in the singing? It had been several hundred years since the people had crossed the Jordan River and set foot in the Promised Land. It had taken that long for Jerusalem to be captured and adopted as the capital city. But now that the Ark of the Covenant had been brought to Jerusalem, the journey was complete. It was a time of great excitement. And the singing, and the praising, and the celebrations would have been something to be seen.

Now, of course, the general congregation probably didn’t join in the singing at all—the hymns were probably sung and led by professional singers. The people would not have had to worry about singing in tune. Despite that, the sentiment that was expressed was evidently felt by all. Because at the end, the congregation couldn’t help but give a rousing “Amen,” being united in the praise that had been offered.

The day that the Ark was brought into Jerusalem, would have been a day to remember. Because apart from the significance of being the final stage of the fulfilment of God’s promise to his people, there was the singing, the psalms, the hymns, and the spiritual songs, all of which we rely on the books of Chronicles to give us the details.

And, of course, that rather neatly brings us to the issue of the kind of hymns that we sing today (because we have inherited a rich history of singing praises to God.) Because just as the singing and the songs was relevant on the occasion of the Ark being brought into Jerusalem, so it should be relevant and meaningful for us today.

As a consequence, I think there are two things which we can learn from this story in 1 Chronicles of which we should take special note.

And the first is that we are all called to join in the singing of praises to God. Indeed, the call in the first hymn was for the faithful to sing God’s praises, and the call in the second hymn was for the whole creation to join in the singing. In other words the two hymns that were sung may well have been songs that were new to the congregation. But, despite that, everyone was called to join in singing the praises of God.

So, when we say we can’t sing, or we are concerned about what others might think, we need to consider carefully the command for everyone, and everyone without fail, to sing God’s praises.

And the second thing about these hymns, was that their content related to events that were very relevant at the time. Yes, they included some history, but they weren’t historical songs that no longer had any relevance for the worshipping community. On the contrary, the two hymns were contemporary in their outlook, and, as a consequence, the people were able to respond with meaning and with enthusiasm.

The story in 1 Chronicles, then, gives us a different perspective, not otherwise recorded in 2 Samuel. And it has implications regarding the kind of hymns we should be singing today.

Because if the people in David’s time sang about the fulfilment of God’s promise in bringing the Ark into Jerusalem—and the writers of later hymns could sing about things that were relevant to them—then we should be singing God’s praises about the things that God has promised us and the things that are relevant to us today too.

Indeed, over the centuries, music has been an important part of the life of the worshipping community. But are the hymns that we sing appropriate for us today? Do our hymns express our own spiritual stories? Or do we need to find our own hymns and our own songs—not only for special occasions, but for everyday too?

Posted 6th June 2019
© 2019, Brian A Curtis