Sing a New Song

Sing a New Song

We all love old music. Whether it’s centuries old or even just a few months, the tunes we enjoy most are unavoidably the ones we already know. And there’s no getting around it. Music has a strange power to capture thoughts and feelings from the past, recent or long ago, and send them streaming into our present at the sound of just a few bars.

It’s a common experience to find yourself moved by some old song that you’ve sung for years. And if it’s a Christian hymn or worship chorus, you might feel freshly connected to God’s amazing faithfulness, not just through the ages, but in your particular life.

That was my experience recently when I heard an old anthem called “Holy Is He.” The choir at my childhood church would sing it on special occasion, and it had been years, perhaps fifteen, since I’d heard it. It brought back rich memories and inspired gratitude for God’s mercy in my life in surrounding me at an early age with such high praise to him, even before I was old enough to understand it much or feel it deeply. Which has me sensing afresh that there is a wonderful place for old songs.

But I’m unaware of any command in the Bible to “sing old songs.” It’s not disobedient to sing old songs; it simply isn’t something God needs to remind us to do. Our inertia is toward humming and singing and selecting the stuff we already know. We already like the songs we like, after all.

What we don’t yet know is the new songs. And it takes some energy to write them and learn them. So the Scriptures need to remind us again and again to “sing a new song.”

Sing Something New

Three Psalms start with precisely these words — Psalms 96, 98, and 149 — “sing to the Lord a new song.” As does Isaiah 42:10 (“sing to the Lord a new song”) and Psalm 33:3 (“sing to him a new song”). And Psalm 144:9 adds its voice to the chorus, “I will sing a new song to you, O God.”

Why is this the case? Psalm 40 gives us a clue.

The psalmist has “waited patiently for the Lord” for some deliverance. God hears him, and rescues him, and one of the things he does for him in the deliverance is “he put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:3).

New songs of praise are appropriate for new rescues and fresh manifestations of grace. As long as God is gracious toward us, as long as he keeps showing us his power, and wowing us with his works, it is fitting that we not just sing old songs inspired by his past grace, but also that we sing new songs about his ever-streaming, never-ceasing grace.

New Mercies, New Music

And this isn’t just true in this age, but for eternity. God will never cease to inspire awe in us about the breadth and depth and height of who he is and his mindboggling love for us in Christ, and we get the joy of continuing to create and sing new songs of praise to him for it.

If we take our cues from the worship of heaven in the book of Revelation, and get a little foretaste now of the feast of worship to come, it seems God would have us blend in new songs with the old as we prepare to “sing of the steadfast love of the LORD, forever” (Psalm 89:1).

In Revelation 15:3, we’re told that “those who had conquered the beast” sing “the song of Moses” — which is an old song, from Exodus 15 or Deuteronomy 32 — but they also sing “the song of the Lamb,” a new song. So also the worshipers of heaven are said to be “singing a new song” in Revelation 14:3. And in Revelation 5:9, the four living creatures and 24 elders “sang a new song.”

Forever God will continue to “show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7), and as he does — for his glory and for our joy — we will keep singing new songs.

It’s a beautiful thing when we get a start on that now.


More on singing in corporate worship:

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor at desiringGod.org and an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He has edited several books, including Thinking. Loving. Doing., Finish the Mission, and Acting the Miracle, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.