If you’re like me, you’ve always assumed that the Scripture used in Handel’s Messiah came from the King James Version of the Bible, simply because of when Handel lived. So imagine my surprise when I went to study the next section of Scripture and couldn’t find that verse! I found something similar, but it wasn’t exactly the same. Did I have the right verse? Was I missing something? Misspelling something in my word searches? What was going on? It turns out, the problem was right there in my assumption.
Because the very next section of the Messiah that I was working on was only 37 seconds long, I’d decided to study it in conjunction with the one following. Both are sung by the alto and seem to go together. That was when I stumbled upon my dilemma. The song says,
“O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain: O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!”
But when I started searching, the closest thing I could find was this,
“O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up on a high mountain; [b]O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold, your God!”
Which comes from the ASV (American Standard Version). The ASV has quite an interesting history of its own, but it wasn’t published until 1901. So if it wasn’t published until after 1900 and Handel died in 1759, what was he using?
It turns out he was using the King James Version of the Bible. Just like I thought. But the KJV hadn’t quite reached its final state yet. The version we use today is the fourth revision, completed in 1769, twenty-seven years after the Messiah was composed. So today, our Isaiah 40:9 reads,
“O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!”
They primary difference in the two translations is the addressee. In the first translation, the command is to the one bearing the message to Zion, Jerusalem, and Judah. In the final translation, Jerusalem is given the message directly to go to the mountains, lift up its voice with strength, not be afraid, and declare to all the cities of Judah (of which Jerusalem is a part) to Behold their God.
And this last part, is the one thing that is most important and unchanging between the two versions, Israel, at the appointed time, would behold their God in a way no man had ever seen Him before.
When we live is important. How we participate in the time we live is important. We don’t always get to see the end of what begins in our day. Just as those living in the days of Isaiah did not get to see the coming of the Messiah and as Handel (and those who helped compile the Scripture for his music) did not live to see the King James Version of the Bible completed. Things will begin in our day that we may never see completed, but that does not lessen the importance of our part in them. Isaiah remained faithful to declare the word that God had given him. Handel was faithful to proclaim through his music the glory of the Messiah that had come. Today, just as Isaiah 40:8 says, their work continues to bring glory to God, not because of who they were but because:
“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.”
It is no less important that we finish our course well, even if we never see the work completed. Whatever God has given you to do today, do it with all of your strength, even if you never get to see the end of it. Do it for His glory. Don’t be afraid. Lift up your voice. Lift up your eyes. Behold, your God.
“In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” Proverbs 3:6
This year, I’m doing something I’ve never done before, completely unplanned. I’m going through Handel’s Messiah and meditating on the Scripture used there. For accountability’s sake, I’ll be sharing it here and on Facebook. If you’d like to join me for this series and other updates, simply fill out the form below.
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