I am not hesitant at all to complain about hymns that I find somewhat lacking in scriptural depth , and it is not often that I am surprised by finding a new (to me) hymn of transcendent beauty from a Church of God hymnal. But such was the case several weeks ago when one of our new songleaders chose the hymn “I Waited For The Lord My God” to lead half of the choir. Immediately upon hearing it I was struck by its melancholy beauty, even though it was labeled as a “traditional Spanish melody” with the words from Psalm 40:1-3, 5 (and even though the hymn did not sound remotely Spanish).
In doing a bit of research on the psalm, I found out that it was a Scottish hymn, from the Scottish Psalter (one of my favorite psalters, as I am fond of metrical hymns from the psalms in general) and that the original version is far longer . That said, I immediately was struck by how unfamiliar the song was to me, and yet how beautiful it was at the same time. Why had no one added this song to any of the other hymnals that I had sung, and why had this song never been sung (in my hearing) in the years after it was first published in a hymnal I used in 1993. For the hymn is surpassingly beautiful, worthy of special music as an acapella quartet should one be so willing (it is page 58 in the 1993 Worldwide Church of God hymnal).
In that hymnal, the first, second, third, and fifth verses (of 17 total) are included, and they are a simple and deeply moving piece:
“I waited for the Lord my God,
And patiently did bear;
At length to me He did incline,
My voice and cry to hear.
He took me from a fearful pit,
And from the miry clay,
And on a rock He set my feet,
Establishing my way.
He put a new song in my mouth,
Our God to magnify:
Many shall see it and shall fear,
And on the Lord rely.
O Lord my God, full many are
The wonders Thou hast done;
Thy gracious thoughts to usward far
Above all thoughts are gone.”
Again, it is an immensely beautiful and moving peace, set to a slightly melancholy melody. When I hear the song (and I have been helping our Legacy students here sing it) I think of Jeremiah in the pit of miry clay nearing death, pulled out by the faithful Ethiopian Ebed-Melech before he starves in the pit of the dungeon (see Jeremiah 38). The song gives me a vivid and powerful picture, even though it was a hymn of David and probably sung metaphorically. Though it is curious that WCG would mis-attribute the song to a Spanish melody and not credit it as an anonymous Scottish hymn from the Scottish psalter, it still makes for a compelling song anyway, a song of God’s faithfulness even in trials.
Though it is not my intent at this time to examine Psalm 40 (which is one of the many demonstration’s of God’s concern for the poor and needy) in its entirety, I would like to examine the four verses of the hymn as they were transcribed in the 1993 Worldwide Church of God hymnal and examine why it is they are so moving to me, despite it being until recently a very unfamiliar song to me.
The first verse of the song is: “I waited on the Lord my God, and patiently did bear; at length to me He did incline, my voice and cry to hear.” Sometimes God makes us wait patiently for a long time before he hears our prayers and cries to Him. I know that has been the case with me—for a long time I have prayed about some matters and I still await Him to incline His ear to me and answer my prayers. But unlike some hymns which focus on the suffering, this hymn focuses on the deliverance, providing confidence in God’s loving concern, giving assurance that God does hear our prayers and cries and will listen for us in His time and on His schedule.
The second verse of the song is: “He took me from a fearful pit, and from the miry clay, and on a rock He set my feet, establishing my way.” Here David (the psalmist) sings what seems to be a prophecy about Jeremiah, as well as a statement of how God takes us from the quicksand (the miry clay of doubt and relativism) and places us on the solid rock of God’s truth, establishing our way as believers in righteousness and obedience in following the ever-freshly slain path of our savior Jesus Christ. Again, while some poets (and I speak of myself as well) would focus on the pit and the miry clay, David shows how the miry clay is only temporary, while the way we are established on is lasting and eternal.
The third verse of the song is: “He put a new song in my mouth, our God to magnify: many shall see it, and shall fear, and on the Lord rely.” Instead of the song of anguish, God puts a new song in our mouths after He delivers us (much like Psalm 40 itself), to remind both friendly and unfriendly witnesses of His saving power and His protection of His children. Many will see God’s deliverance, fear God, and then rely on Him an obey Him themselves. God’s deliverance of the righteous sets an example that other people follow (see Esther 8:17). In that way too God’s rule will spread once Jesus Christ establishes His kingdom on the earth.
The fourth verse of the hymn as I know it (and the fifth verse overall in Psalm 40 and in the Scottish metrical hymn based on Psalm 40) is: “O Lord my God, full many are the wonders Thou hast done; Thy gracious thoughts to usward far above all thoughts have gone.” Though the word “usward” is a but awkward, being archaic, its meaning is clear enough. God’s wonders are great and His thoughts and ways are far above ours. Therefore we praise God, knowing that He works a powerful will toward us, far more effective and lasting and beneficial than our own will, and certainly that of our wicked and oppressing enemies.
As a whole, this hymn is a hymn of faith and confidence in God, but a hymn that does not shrink from squarely facing life’s trials and sufferings either. The music is beautiful, with a touch of melancholy, while the stately tone of the song allows the message to be sung in assurance, with deep and genuine feeling. Altogether, it is a wonder to me why this song is so obscure in the Church of God tradition—it is an immensely worthy piece, a hidden treasure as it were.
The full version of the hymn is as follows:
1 I waited for the Lord my God,
and patiently did bear;
At length to me he did incline
my voice and cry to hear.
2 He took me from a fearful pit,
and from the miry clay,
And on a rock he set my feet,
establishing my way.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
our God to magnify:
Many shall see it, and shall fear,
and on the Lord rely.
4 O blessed is the man whose trust
upon the Lord relies;
Respecting not the proud, nor such
as turn aside to lies.
5 O Lord my God, full many are
the wonders thou hast done;
Thy gracious thoughts to us-ward far
above all thoughts are gone:
In order none can reckon them
to thee: if them declare,
And speak of them I would, they more
than can be number’d are.
6 No sacrifice nor offering
didst thou at all desire;
Mine ears thou bor’d: sin-off ‘ring thou
and burnt didst not require:
7 Then to the Lord these were my words,
I come, behold and see;
Within the volume of the book
it written is of me:
8 To do thy will I take delight,
O thou my God that art;
Yea, that most holy law of thine
I have within my heart.
9 Within the congregation great
I righteousness did preach:
Lo, thou dost know, O Lord, that I
refrained not my speech.
10 I never did within my heart
conceal thy righteousness;
I thy salvation have declar’d,
and shown thy faithfulness:
Thy kindness, which most loving is,
concealed have not I,
Nor from the congregation great
have hid thy verity.
11 Thy tender mercies, Lord, from me
O do thou not restrain;
Thy loving-kindness, and thy truth,
let them me still maintain.
12 For ills past reck’ning compass me,
and mine iniquities
Such hold upon me taken have,
I cannot lift mine eyes:
They more than hairs are on mine head,
thence is my heart dismay’d.
13 Be pleased, Lord, to rescue me;
Lord, hasten to mine aid.
14 Sham’d and confounded be they all
that seek my soul to kill;
Yea, let them backward driven be,
and sham’d, that wish me ill.
15 For a reward of this their shame
confounded let them be.
That in this manner scoffing say,
Aha, aha! to me.
16 In thee let all be glad, and joy,
who seeking thee abide;
Who thy salvation love, say still,
The Lord be magnify’d.
17 I’m poor and needy, yet the Lord
of me a care doth take:
Thou art my help and saviour,
my God, no tarrying make.