249

Great is the Lord Our God

Scripture References

Thematically related:

Further Reflections on Scripture References

Traditionally associated with the Levitical "Sons of Korah," this celebration song matches the exuberant faith of Psalm 46 (see also 76, 84, 87, 122, 125, and 137). In the post-exilic liturgy of the temple, this psalm was sung at the time of the morning sacrifice on the second day of the week. Because the LORD
 
Almighty is present in Zion, that hill's rather modest height is likened to Mount Zaphon (North Mountain), the Mount Olympus where the Canaanite gods supposedly sat in counsel. Jerusalem, unlike the imperial capitals of Egypt and Mesopotamia, was no grand city. But her walls and citadels are impregnable because "the Great King" lives there. And in Jerusalem's temple "we meditate on [God's] unfailing love" (v. 9). In this psalm we proclaim the greatness of the LORD and the glory of his city (st. 1), extol God's triumphs over Zion's enemies and his people's sense of security (st. 2), and praise the LORD's love, grace, and righteousness (st. 3). Zion rejoices in its King and in the ramparts God maintains (st. 4). The psalmist exhorts the people to let succeeding generations know Zion will not fail-for God, the unfailing guide, is present there [by his Word and Spirit] (st. 5). Emily R. Brink (PHH 158) versified stanza 1, and Bert Witvoet (PHH 4) versified stanza 2; stanzas 3 through 5 (with some alterations) are from The Book of Psalms (1871), a text-only psalter that was later published with music in 1887.
 
Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Additional Prayers

Gracious God,
you have made us fellow citizens with the saints in the city of your eternal light.
In the times of upheaval or when the foundations shake,
teach us to wait in silence for your steadfast and transforming love,
made known to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tune Information

Name
DIADEMATA
Key
D Major
Meter
6.6.8.6 D

Musical Suggestion

This versification originally began with the words found in stanza 3, “Within in your temple, Lord.” This single stanza functions well as an introit or opening verse for the worship service. It could be sung by an ensemble and lead into the singing of a psalm or hymn of praise.

Hymn Story/Background

Traditionally associated with the Levitical "Sons of Korah," this celebration song matches the exuberant faith of Psalm 46. In the post-exilic liturgy of the temple, this psalm was sung at the time of the morning sacrifice on the second day of the week. Because the LORD
 
Almighty is present in Zion, that hill's rather modest height is likened to Mount Zaphon (North Mountain), the Mount Olympus where the Canaanite gods supposedly sat in counsel. Jerusalem, unlike the imperial capitals of Egypt and Mesopotamia, was no grand city. But her walls and citadels are impregnable because "the Great King" lives there. And in Jerusalem's temple "we meditate on [God's] unfailing love" (v. 9). In this psalm we proclaim the greatness of the LORD and the glory of his city (st. 1), extol God's triumphs over Zion's enemies and his people's sense of security (st. 2), and praise the LORD's love, grace, and righteousness (st. 3). Zion rejoices in its King and in the ramparts God maintains (st. 4). The psalmist exhorts the people to let succeeding generations know Zion will not fail-for God, the unfailing guide, is present there [by his Word and Spirit] (st. 5). Emily R. Brink versified stanza 1, and Bert Witvoet  versified stanza 2; stanzas 3 through 5 (with some alterations) are from The Book of Psalms (1871), a text-only psalter that was later published with music in 1887.
 
George Job Elvey composed DIADEMATA (Greek for "crowns") for the Matthew Bridges text "Crown Him with Many Crowns." It was first published in the Appendix of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1868). The tune is a splendid example of a nineteenth-century English hymn tune and is equally appropriate for this joyful psalm of Zion. A stately tempo is helpful, combined with a ritard on the final phrase of the fifth stanza.
— Bert Polman

Author Information

Emily Ruth Brink (b. 1940, Grand Rapids, MI) graduated from Calvin College, the University of Michigan (MM in Church Music and Worship) and Northwestern University, Evanston, IL (PhD in Music Theory).  She taught at the State University of New York (New Paltz), Trinity Christian College (Palos Heights, IL), and the University of Illinois (Campaign/Urbana). In 1977 she was appointed to the Psalter Hymnal Revision Committee, and in 1983 moved to Grand Rapids, becoming the first music and worship editor of the Christian Reformed Church for the next twenty years, also serving as adjunct professor at Calvin Theological Seminary. She was the founding editor of Reformed Worship and oversaw many other publications.  She served on the executive committee of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, served as the first woman president (1990-1992); served in both local and national offices of the American Guild of Organists, and has been a member for more than twenty years on the Consultation on Common Texts.  In 2002, she moved to the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship as Senior Research Fellow, focusing especially on conference planning and global resources, and traveling to help plan and participate in worship conferences in more than fifteen countries.  
 
 
— Emily Brink

Albertus (Bert) Witvoet (b. Joure, Friesland, the Netherlands, 1934) wrote the versification in 1983 for the Psalter Hymnal. Witvoet spent his childhood and youth in the Netherlands, where he developed a love for music and singing. Currently a Canadian citizen, he is a member of a Christian Reformed church in St. Catharines, Ontario. Educated at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the University of Toronto, Witvoet taught English at Hamilton Christian High School, Toronto District Christian High School, and Harbord Collegiate Institute in Toronto and served for many years as the editor of the weekly Christian Courier (previously known as The Calvinist Contact). He has written poetry and translated poems from Dutch into English.
— Bert Polman

Composer Information

As a young boy, George Job Elvey (b. Canterbury, England, 1816; d. Windlesham, Surrey, England, 1893) was a chorister in Canterbury Cathedral. Living and studying with his brother Stephen, he was educated at Oxford and at the Royal Academy of Music. At age nineteen Elvey became organist and master of the boys' choir at St. George Chapel, Windsor, where he remained until his retirement in 1882. He was frequently called upon to provide music for royal ceremonies such as Princess Louise's wedding in 1871 (after which he was knighted). Elvey also composed hymn tunes, anthems, oratorios, and service music.
— Bert Polman
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