Monday, May 15, 2006

Helping Nature Worship

Last week I heard a small Jewish children's choir sing an interesting version of Yismechu HaShamayim. The traditional, liturgical song was sung, followed by an rough English translation. The lyrics are from 1st Chronicles 16:31-32:
Yees-m'choo ha'sha-ma-yeem, yees-m'choo ha'sha-ma-yeem,
yees-m'choo ha'sha-ma-yeem, v'ta-gayl ha'a-retz...
Yeer-am ha'yam, yeer-am ha'yam, yeer-am ha'yam oo'm-lo-o.

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice...
Let the sea thunder and its fulness.
The children's song used the following as it's "Part B" English translation:
The heavens are very glad, the heavens are very glad,
the heavens are very glad, the earth is so happy...
The ocean is full, the ocean is full, the ocean is full and laughing.
Obviously some words has been changed, but that's what happens with children's songs. Thundering seas become laughing oceans. A lot of these Hebrew verbs for "rejoice/glad/happy" are pretty interchangeable anyway.

What seemed more thought-provoking was the change in tense. The Hebrew uses the imperfect tense, which shows incomplete action. Completion is expected in the future. One way to express this in English is with a permissive phrase, as I did above, following the common English translations:
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice...
Equally valid would be a simple future tense:
The heavens will be glad, the earth will rejoice...
But as I read those verses out of context a few days ago, it seemed to me that in either wording there was an expectation that the singers were somehow participating: that King David was asking the ancient Israelites to help the sky be glad, the earth rejoice, the sea thunder, and the field exult.

And it makes me wonder... what does it mean for our worship and service to God to affect the sky, earth, sea, and field?

True, that's not what those verses are really about in context. Verse 16:23 makes it clear that what King David is really talking about is that nature can demonstrate God's goodness and victories as clearly as the ancient Israelites. The children's version of the song did nothing wrong by leaving out my misunderstanding.

But in this modern time of caring about the environment, I also wonder how we can help nature do what King David asked it to do.