Christmas Carols are very dear to my heart. I especially love and have tried to memorize all the words of Hark the Herald Angels Sing in recent years. The music and lyrics for that old song was composed by four different people between 1739 and 1857 in a most unique way. If you’d like to get into the details of how that came about, here is a link to a blog that explains it. https://blogs.loc.gov/music/2016/12/hark-the-herald-angels-sing-an-illustrated-history/
To summarize, Charles Wesley first wrote the text only in 1739, then George Whitefield revised the words in 1753, and he is the one that said the angels “sing”, likely because it rhymes with “king,” then Felix Mendelssohn composed some incredible outstanding music in 1840, and in 1857 William Hayman Cummings put Whitefield’s text to Mendelssohn’s music, and it fit together perfectly, masterfully. The way the Bible truth words fit with the incredible classical melody is truly miraculous in my opinion. This is why it is such a treasured favorite of mine. Interestingly, Cummings receives no credit for either the music or the lyrics, but he was the one God used to put it all together. I wonder how often the seemingly small or unknown things we do, things that we don’t get credited with by the world, are used by God in great and long-lasting and far-reaching ways? I am still being impacted for God by Cummings’ work as are many others. Even though Cummings had no idea at the time how great that song would become and how long it would be treasured and influence future generations, God knew and used it. That is something to ponder.
I thank God for Cummings and others like him. Putting God’s Bible truths to music, and being able to sing them to God brings the gifts of Bible truth, masterful music, and for those who will, a genuine heart worship of God together in way that can’t really be described, and only those who have experienced it will likely understand its worth. Those who have this talent to merge musical excellence and words of Bible truth together are truly a gift to humanity from God. Of course, music is only one of many ways a person has the privilege of worshiping God. All of our lives are supposed to be a surrender of genuine worship and God has provided multiple means to help people see God’s worth and the importance of worshiping God.
This Christmas Eve (2021), while I was playing and singing and leading some Christmas worship music, someone made the comment that the angels did not sing, but they spoke / said the words to the shepherds in the Christmas story told in Luke 2:8-20. Thus, the song should say, “Hark, the Herald Angels Said” (not Sing). Despite how many times I have read the Christmas story in Luke, I have always imagined the scene with angels singing and shouting for joy. It kind of took the wind out of my sails at first, but it has caused me to remember the importance of really reading and interpreting God’s Word very, very carefully. I embarked on a study of when singing is mentioned in the Bible and a study of the holy angels in the Bible. It has been a very rich and profitable time in researching these things. I will not try to write about everything I have studied here, but I want to share a few thoughts and conclusions I have come to as a result of how God is speaking to my heart through this study and through Luke 2:8-20; Luke 15:10; Zephaniah 3:17; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 14:1-3; Revelation 15:2-4, and other scriptures. I consulted some of John MacArthur’s teaching in this regard. I have not done an exhaustive study by any means, and I will continue learning and considering the issue of singing and worship in the Bible in all my studies. I am journaling this here for myself and I also hope it might be an encouragement to someone else.
What Bible verses say that angels sing or sang? There are only two instances I can find so far that specifically say that angels sang. Job 38:7 says that the angels sang and shouted for joy at creation. Revelation 5:9 says that the four living creatures (a type of angel) and the twenty-four elders (probably symbolic of the church) sang a new song of worship, saying or singing that Jesus alone was worthy to take the sealed book and open its seals. But was that new song a musical melody or a text hymn recited as most of the worship texts given in Revelation seem to be? Everything else in the Bible between creation and the end times happenings in heaven that John saw by his vision in Revelation has angels saying things, not singing. John MacArthur stated in one of his sermons that he thinks The Fall of humanity into sin after creation stopped the angels’ singing and the angels’ singing will return again after the church is raptured and during the tribulation period in heaven as is indicated in the book of Revelation. That is an interesting thought. Jesus said that angels in heaven rejoice over every sinner who repents. Luke 15:10. What that rejoicing sounds like, saying or singing, is not specified. The first thing angels usually said when appearing to people on earth with their messages from God was “fear not”. Then they spoke the message God had given them for the person receiving the message. Whatever the “saying” by the angels sounded like, God’s use of angels to speak to humans on earth as messengers is a wondrous and marvelous thing to be considered. And the words and truths that were spoken were what was most important. Whatever happened to those shepherds in the true Luke 2 Christmas story, it was magnificent, worth remembering, and worth celebrating at Christmas time and always. And I will always love to sing about it. However, I personally will have to amend the great song to Hark the Herald Angels Said. And I will continue to meditate on and worship God through the wonderful lyrics of that old song—all five verses that I know of. So much truth was set beautifully to excellent music. “God and sinners reconciled.” “Hail the Incarnate Deity”, etc.
So, did angels ever sing in any of the Bible accounts of angels, or do they only speak joyful truth? What were their “songs” and “shouts of joy” at creation? What are the songs of Revelation? I don’t believe the Bible clarifies for us what the angels’ voices sounded like at creation, to the shepherds, and in John’s vision of the future in Revelation. But what is most important is the message. The messages God gave through angels were a wondrous gift from God. There is much about angels God has not told us in His Word. Whatever angels’ roles are in God’s plan, we can trust God with it. Whatever the angels’ voices sounded like, we can heed their messages as Mary and Joseph, the shepherds in the Christmas story, and so many other faithful believers did before us. Oh, the incredible grace and mercy of Triune God to the human race! That is what the far-reaching message of Christmas and Christmas songs that include Bible truth are all about. And we humans have the privilege of singing. We believers in Jesus are commanded in the New Testament to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to the Lord together. Ephesians 5:18-21.
I praise and thank God for giving us angels to be His messengers and to help humanity. I praise and thank God for the truths in His Word and for the great hope we have of rejoicing forever with God in our eternal life. I praise and thank God for the wonderful gift of music for human beings. I will likely write more in this regard, especially on the fascinating topic that apparently, God sings and will sing with us in eternity.
For more detail, John MacArthur’s excellent sermon series: “Angels: God’s Invisible Army” Parts 1 to 3 contains an excellent study of angels throughout the Bible. https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/1361/angels–gods-invisible-army-part-1