Blessed Be the God of Israel (Luke 1:68-79)

Scripture References

Further Reflections on Scripture References

This text is based on the Song of Zechariah, also known by the first word in the Latin text, the Benedictus. This canticle is sung daily at Morning Prayer in many Christian traditions. Stanza 1 speaks of the hope Zechariah has in the coming Messiah; stanza 2 speaks of God’s covenant faithfulness; and in stanza 3 Zechariah addresses his newborn son, John, the one promised to “prepare the way” for the coming of the Messiah. Zechariah no doubt had time to prepare this text during this time of silence before his son was born.
Sing! A New Creation

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

The words of Zechariah which form this song express the long hope of Israel that God would be faithful to his promises and provide new hope through David’s seed. The Confessions recall this promise-keeping God as the heart of our Advent hope. Our World Belongs to God, paragraph 5 speaks of God “keeping his promise” and paragraph 23 speaks of God “remembering the promise to reconcile” as the basis for sending his Son. Similarly Belgic Confession, Article 18 says that God “fulfilled the promise made to the early fathers and mothers...” Further, the generations are to be the “fruit of the loins of David.”

Tune Information

F Major or modal
Meter D


Hymn Story/Background

Also commonly known by the Latin title “Benedictus,” this is one of the Lukan canticles that the Christian church has used for matins (morning prayers), given Zechariah’s reference to “the rising sun.” Ralph Vaughan Williams turned an old ballad melody into this cheerful hymn tune in the English Hymnal (1906).
The tune FOREST GREEN is a traditional English tune associated with several texts, including “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Its AABA form makes it simple to learn, and the moving eighth notes infuse it with joy. At the end of the third line, watch for the two half notes—not the dotted half and a quarter one might expect. Play with a hopeful bounce. For a descant, see Sing! A New Creation (Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2002), #104.
— Bert Polman

Author Information

Carl P. Daw, Jr. (b. Louisville, KY, 1944) is the son of a Baptist minister. He holds a PhD degree in English (University of Virginia) and taught English from 1970-1979 at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. As an Episcopal priest (MDiv, 1981, University of the South, Sewanee, Tennesee) he served several congregations in Virginia, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. From 1996-2009 he served as the Executive Director of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. Carl Daw began to write hymns as a consultant member of the Text committee for The Hymnal 1982, and his many texts often appeared first in several small collections, including A Year of Grace: Hymns for the Church Year (1990); To Sing God’s Praise (1992), New Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1996), Gathered for Worship (2006). Other publications include A Hymntune Psalter (2 volumes, 1988-1989) and Breaking the Word: Essays on the Liturgical Dimensions of Preaching (1994, for which he served as editor and contributed two essays. In 2002 a collection of 25 of his hymns in Japanese was published by the United Church of Christ in Japan. His current project is preparing a companion volume to Glory to God, the 2013 hymnal of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  
— Emily Brink

Composer Information

Through his composing, conducting, collecting, editing, and teaching, Ralph Vaughan Williams (b. Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, England, October 12, 1872; d. Westminster, London, England, August 26, 1958) became the chief figure in the realm of English music and church music in the first half of the twentieth century. His education included instruction at the Royal College of Music in London and Trinity College, Cambridge, as well as additional studies in Berlin and Paris. During World War I he served in the army medical corps in France. Vaughan Williams taught music at the Royal College of Music (1920-1940), conducted the Bach Choir in London (1920-1927), and directed the Leith Hill Music Festival in Dorking (1905-1953). A major influence in his life was the English folk song. A knowledgeable collector of folk songs, he was also a member of the Folksong Society and a supporter of the English Folk Dance Society. Vaughan Williams wrote various articles and books, including National Music (1935), and composed numerous arrange­ments of folk songs; many of his compositions show the impact of folk rhythms and melodic modes. His original compositions cover nearly all musical genres, from orchestral symphonies and concertos to choral works, from songs to operas, and from chamber music to music for films. Vaughan Williams's church music includes anthems; choral-orchestral works, such as Magnificat (1932), Dona Nobis Pacem (1936), and Hodie (1953); and hymn tune settings for organ. But most important to the history of hymnody, he was music editor of the most influential British hymnal at the beginning of the twentieth century, The English Hymnal (1906), and coeditor (with Martin Shaw) of Songs of Praise (1925, 1931) and the Oxford Book of Carols (1928).
— Bert Polman

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