“Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, so that it may be a witness for me against them. When I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, the land I promised on oath to their ancestors, and when they eat their fill and thrive, they will turn to other gods and worship them, rejecting me and breaking my covenant. And when many disasters and calamities come on them, this song will testify against them, because it will not be forgotten by their descendants. I know what they are disposed to do, even before I bring them into the land I promised them on oath.” So Moses wrote down this song that day and taught it to the Israelites. Deuteronomy 31:19-22
Barry Manilow was an up and coming popular song-writer and artist during my formative years of the 1970s. Even if you’ve never heard of Barry Manilow, you’ve heard his work. He wrote the commercial jingle, “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” Know it? I dare you to stop humming it! You can’t, can you?
Manilow also wrote “You Deserve a Break Today” for a fast-food hamburger chain. I don’t need to say which company. You already know. Even if you haven’t heard that jingle for decades, you would recognize it instantly if you heard it. That’s the staying power of music.
One of Barry Manilow’s best known hit songs is from 1975, “I Write the Songs.” Ironically, Manilow made it famous, but he didn’t write it. Bruce Johnston did. Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher is credited with saying, “Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.” We may debate the wisdom of such sentiment. Yet the point stands: music has impact.
The pedagogical power of music was recognized long before Barry Manilow’s mellow voice soothed a broken generation of youth in the 1970s. Drum and fife cores have long marched with armies into battle to inspire tired soldiers to give their all for the cause.
The stories of the Bible are peppered with songs. It starts with Adam singing in the Garden of Eden. Yeah, he really sang when he saw Eve for the first time. You can look it up! The music continues through the Hallelujah Chorus in the book of Revelation. From the beginning of the Bible to the end, people are singing. In the very center of the book there is even a collection of 150 worship songs.
The church has long used songs to pass their faith on to the next generation. One of our traditional Thanksgiving songs is called “We Gather Together.” Adrianus Valerius originally wrote it to celebrate Holland’s liberation from Spain around 1600. But the church coopted it for their own purposes of celebration. Theodore Baker translated the Dutch song into English. It became an American Thanksgiving hymn in the 20th century.
We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens his will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.
Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining his kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
thou, Lord, wast at our side; all glory be thine!
We all do extol thee, thou leader triumphant,
And pray that thou still our defender wilt be.
Let thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!
This grand old song reminds us that Thanksgiving involves a declaration of constant dependence upon God. God has not set us free from sin to make us independent. He has set us free in Christ to make us ever more dependent upon himself.
This song is not only our testimony to the world; it serves as a witness against us if we ever forget our dependence on God. We don’t forget our songs. This is one which might indict us some day if God should use it against us. Let’s include a declaration of dependence as we give thanks to God this week.