Posted by: rcottrill | January 18, 2017

Holy, Holy, Is What the Angels Sing

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Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church. As others have contributed ideas, this wonderful resource has grown to over 80 items now. And, for more than three dozen reasons why congregations should still use hymn books rather than merely projecting words on the wall, see The Value of Hymn Books.

Words: Johnson Oatman Jr. (b. Apr. 21, 1856; d. Sept. 25, 1922)
Music: John Robson Sweney (b. Dec. 31, 1837; d. Apr. 10, 1899)

Wordwise Hymns (Johnson Oatman)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Sometimes this gospel song is called “The Angel Song,” which is a little strange, since its main premise is that the angel’s can’t sing the song of redemption. One day the author and composer were reading from the book of Revelation together, and discussing the singing in heaven. As they parted that day, Oatman said he hoped to put into words that wonderful scene. He was back the next day with some lines of verse, and Sweney wrote the melody immediately.

Music in one form or another seems universal. In every nation, in every culture, there is music of some kind. The style and purpose may differ greatly, for various reasons. But it’s there. Even in nature there are songs. The birds sing, and the whales too, after their fashion.

Music is a kind of language. It can convey joy or sorrow, love, anger, tension, and more. It can relax or energize. It can celebrate or entertain. It can be an aid to memory, or a distraction that helps listeners to forget. It can accompany marching or dancing. In spiritual life, it can be a vehicle for praise or prayer to God, or frame a testimony to one’s beliefs, or teaching to others (Col. 3:16).

The Bible tells us, “By Him [the Lord] all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible” (Col. 1:16). Only God is eternal and uncreated. All else was brought into being by Him, which would seem to include music. And several Bible passages indicate that the Lord Himself sings (e.g. Zeph. 3:17; Heb. 2:12).

But the question we must address here is: Do angels sing? Many know the Christmas carol that begins, “Hark, the herald angels sing.” So, do they? There are a couple of difficulties with that. First, it’s not how the hymn began when the author, Charles Wesley wrote it. Originally, it was, “Hark, how all the welkin rings,” with welkin being a word for sky. Wesley didn’t claim the angels sang.

Nor does the Bible seem to do so at the time of Christ’s birth. When they came to some shepherds to announce the birth, we’re told, first one angel appeared “and said [some things] to them” (Lk. 2:10). Then he was joined by “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest’” (vs. 13-14). Saying usually means talking, not singing. However, that word “praising” can mean either to praise, or to sing praises, leaving the possibility that they did indeed sing.

In the book of Job, God asks him about creation: “Where were you [Job] when I laid the foundations of the earth?…When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4,7). This is Hebrew poetry, which uses parallelism. We know that “the sons of God” elsewhere in the book are angels, so “the morning stars” refers to them too, poetically describing their heavenly glory–a glory which the shepherds also saw (Lk. 2:9). The angels, therefore, sang at creation.

In heaven, there are “four living creatures” around God’s throne which other passages identify as angelic beings called cherubim (Ezek. 1:4-5, 26; cf. 10:18-22). They are said to sing a new song (Rev. 5:8-10). Later in the book, all the servants of God are called upon to “praise” Him (Rev. 19:5), using the same word for praise as in Luke 2:13. In the passage an angel describes himself to the Apostle John as a “fellow servant” with John, implying he was called to sing too (Rev. 19:10).

This relates to the song written by Johnson Oatman, Jr. Describing the scene around God’s throne, it’s called, Holy, Holy Is What the Angels Sing. And “Holy, holy, holy” does indeed resound from the cherubim there (Rev. 4:8), but there’s no indication they sing the words. Perhaps it’s a minor point. But there’s another questionable issue in the song.

Oatman’s purpose was to indicate that those redeemed through faith in Christ have a reason to sing which the angels do not. True enough. Christ did not shed His blood for the angels, only for sinful human beings. However, they do seem to be singing along with the “twenty-four elders,” which many Bible commentators believe represent the church (Rev. 5:8-9). The angels can surely praise God for what He did for us. But even if they accompany us with singing, we will have a unique perspective on “redemption’s story” that they cannot share (Rev. 5:9).

CH-1) There is singing up in heaven
Such as we have never known,
Where the angels sing the praises
Of the Lamb upon the throne,
Their sweet harps are ever tuneful,
And their voices always clear,
O that we might be more like them
While we serve the Master here!

Holy, holy, is what the angels sing,
And I expect to help them make
The courts of heaven ring;
But when I sing redemption’s story,
They will fold their wings,
For angels never felt the joys
That our salvation brings.

CH-3) Then the angels stand and listen,
For they cannot join the song,
Like the sound of many waters,
By that happy, blood washed throng,
For they sing about great trials,
Battles fought and victories won,
And they praise their great Redeemer,
Who hath said to them, “Well done.”

1) If we will actually use some of the hymns we sang on earth, what hymns would you love to sing in heaven?

2) What will our heavenly songs be about?

Wordwise Hymns (Johnson Oatman)
The Cyber Hymnal


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