Tuesday, June 16, 2015

All Kinds of Everything

          The last few weeks of my life have been spent writing a commentary on the Book of Daniel, which of course includes pouring over the so-called “Benedicite” (to give its western name), the long hymn found in chapter three and put on the lips of the three young men as they sang to God in the midst of the fiery furnace.  In the Greek version of Daniel chapter 3 it is found in verses 52-90.  It is absent from the versions of Daniel based on the Hebrew/ Aramaic Masoretic text, since it was added to the original narrative later.  As the reader can quickly discern from a perusal of the hymn, it has little to do with the story into which it has been inserted, and along with the “Prayer of Azariah” (also inserted) rather spoils the dramatic flow and climax of the narrative.  It originally circulated independently of the narrative of the three youths and the furnace, and deserves study all on its own.
            The hymn surveys all of creation, addressing each element and power in the wide world in turn with an exhortation to sing to God and to exalt Him beyond measure unto the ages.  (The constant repetition of this exhortation suggests that the hymn was meant to be sung antiphonally, with the repeated bit used as a congregational refrain.)  The hymn begins by blessing the God of Israel, the Lord God of our fathers, seated in sovereignty on the throne of His majesty in the heavenly temple of His glory.  Blessed is Your Name and the temple of Your glory!  Blessed are You in the holy temple of Your glory!  Blessed are You who behold the depths and sit upon the cherubim!  Blessed are You in the firmament of heaven!
            Our own puny praises are deemed insufficient to fitly sing the praises of One so exalted, and so the singer turns to everything in the world around him to help him declare the excellencies of our God.  Angels, heavens, waters above the heavens, sun and moon and stars in the sky—all must take their part.  Rain and winds, summer heat and winter cold, night and day, lightning and clouds—each one is called into the cosmic chorus.  The whole of nature finds its destiny, unity, fulfillment, and joy in singing to the Lord.  By making the extensive list of all the elements of creation culminate not just with the children of men, but also with Israel and its priests, the author of the hymn declares that all mankind find its unity and its destiny in joining with the people of God. 
            Poring over the Benedicite reminds me of the teaching of the saints that pondering the glories of creation can lead one deeper into communion with God.  The forces of nature may not be divine (as the pagans imagined), but they can provide a path to the divine as we listen to their true voices.  The leaves of the forest, blowing in the wind, can be heard clapping their hands to God; the lion roaring after his prey seeks his food from God, and the seas also roar out their praises to their Maker (Pss. 104:21, 96:11).                                                                                                   
          One of my favourite songs is the old ballad by the Irish singer Dana, All Kinds of Everything.  Dana’s young and crystalline clear voice has haunted and inspired me since I first heard it as a young boy in 1970.  Dana (a devout Christian, by the way) declared that all kinds of everything reminded her of her true love.  The Benedicite takes the sentiment and carries it further:  all kinds of everything remind us of God.  He is every soul’s first and true love; He is the Bridegroom of the Church.  The whistling wind speaks His Name, and the terrible thunder crashes for His pleasure. 

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