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Unending Songs

Those who were musicians, heads of Levite families, stayed in the rooms of the temple and were exempt from other duties because they were responsible for the work day and night. 1Chronicles 9.33.

It is only a small verse in a long section describing the duties of the Levites in the temple, but it caught my eye and I suddenly saw its significance — In the temple, praise was not merely continual but was continuous; it never ceased. And that was as it should be, for the temple (and the tabernacle in the wilderness that it replaced) was a representation of a heavenly reality and, in heaven, worship continues “day and night” (Revelation 4.8).

The Children of Israel had always found in song a way of expressing their joy and their gratitude to God for his salvation. They sang after they had come through the Red Sea (Exodus 15.1-18). They sang God’s praises at the well at Beer (Numbers 21.17-18). There is the Song of Deborah in Judges 5.1. And David “sang to the Lord” when the Lord delivered him from all his enemies (2 Samuel 22.1). Indeed, that song is in fact Psalm 18, and it was one of many songs that David sang to the Lord and were included in the book of Psalms — the hymn book of Israel. That book’s name, in Hebrew, is Tehillim which means “Praises”.

But it is the “continuous” aspect of praise mentioned earlier that these verses cause me to really focus on this morning. David said, “I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips” (Psalm 34.1). “My tongue will speak of your righteousness and of your praises all day long” (Psalm 35.28). And a thousand years later Paul says: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5.19-20). “Rejoice in the Lord always,” he tells the Philippians, “I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4.4). And the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews urges us: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that confess his name” (Hebrews 13.15).

If my body is the “temple” of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6.19), then I too should have temple musicians in my heart, doing the work of praise “day and night”. But as I glance back at today’s verse, I notice what it is that makes that possible — I notice that temple praise is described as “work”.

Praise can be, and often is, spontaneous; but praise must go on even when there is nothing to make me spontaneously break out in song. At such times … times of darkness or unhappiness or difficulty … especiallyat such times … praise is a work to which I need to put my voice. And I know from past experience that there is a great power in such praise. My testimony is that of Jehoshaphat who “appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: “Give thanks to the LORD, for his love endures forever.” And as they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated (2 Chronicles 20.21-22). Praise has often given me the victory in the face of imminent defeat.

Lord Jesus, put a new song in my mouth today that praise may be the fruit of my lips that I can offer back to you. Amen.

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