Press "Enter" to skip to content

Listening to the lyrics

Every Wednesday and Friday the ORU student body, faculty and staff join together for chapel. During each worship song, the music builds momentum and the congregation belts the chorus or bridge.

Everyone begins to sing the next verse, but what did the previous statement actually mean? Yes, it rhymed and it flowed well with the progression of the song, but is there an understanding
of what the lyrics mean?

Understanding worship songs is important. When there is meaning associated with the lyrics being sung, there can be deeper worship and greater intimacy with the Lord.

“When songs are not scripturally correct, they do more to put us in bondage than to set us free,” said Dr. William McDonald, assistant professor of Old Testament. “When songs are biblically correct, they release within us an anointing that identifies within us the deepest core of our being. You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”

The popular Hillsong Live song “Cornerstone” is an adaptation of the classic hymn “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.”

This song could be considered one of the most theologically-advanced worship songs of today. Many of the verses contain deep insight into Old Testament theology.

The full verse from the Hillsong adaptation reads:
“When darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.”
“My anchor holds within the veil” is
a prime example. There are two possible
interpretations for this statement.

The first interpretation says the “veil” represents the curtain separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies in the Old Testament Tabernacle (Exodus 26:31-34). This is symbolic because the
High Priests were allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies only once a year to atone for the sins of the Israelites.

McDonald works in the Graduate School of Theology and Ministry and is a historian with an emphasis in Hebrew studies. He explained the other interpretations of priest.

“Still the meaning of the word priest is not readily known,” he said. “Most define priests by their function. The word priest can be defined as one who has the capacity to draw into the presence of God.”

When Jesus died on the cross there was an earthquake and the “veil” separating these two places was torn (Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, Luke 23:45).

Jesus’ death was a cleansing sacrifice for believers. It gave them access to a place of grace and intimacy with the Father that was previously only available for
priests. This first interpretation of these lyrics describes how believers cast their trust within the grace of God, which was bought with the blood of Jesus.

“When Jesus died on our behalf and the veil was ripped we are now given the opportunity to draw into His presence,” McDonald said.

The second interpretation comes from the original hymn “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less,” which originally read:
“When darkness veils his lovely face
My anchor holds within the veil.”

The original hymn’s meaning was simpler than in today’s famous tune. It could be explained as trusting in the unchanging goodness of God even when life’s circumstances don’t seem to reflect it.

“Because of my experiencing God in drawing near on a continual basis, that provides an anchor,” McDonald said.

“No Longer Slaves” by Jonathan David Helser is another theologically complex song gaining popularity.

“I’m no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God” has more meaning than what some might see at first glance.

The idea of being free from enslavement was controversial when Jesus first posed it.

John 8:31-32 said, “Then Jesus said to the Jews who believed in Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.’”

The people were confused and insisted they had never been enslaved to anyone before. To explain, Jesus said when people commit sins they become enslaved by them. Then Jesus said in verses 35-36, “A slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore, if the Son makes you free you shall be free indeed.” The unspoken truth of this verse is that sons
are free.
Before singing another line in chapel, examine its meaning. The entire worship experience could be altered if the lyrics’ weight were understood.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply