1. Hail to the Lord's Anointed,
great David's greater Son!
Hail in the time appointed,
his reign on earth begun!
He comes to break oppression,
to set the captive free;
to take away transgression,
and rule in equity.
2. He comes with succor speedy
to those who suffer wrong;
to help the poor and needy,
and bid the weak be strong;
to give them songs for sighing,
their darkness turn to light,
whose souls, condemned and dying,
are precious in his sight.
3. He shall come down like showers
upon the fruitful earth;
love, joy, and hope, like flowers,
spring in his path to birth.
Before him on the mountains,
shall peace, the herald, go,
and righteousness, in fountains,
from hill to valley flow.
4. To him shall prayer unceasing
and daily vows ascend;
his kingdom still increasing,
a kingdom without end.
The tide of time shall never
his covenant remove;
his name shall stand forever;
that name to us is love.
The United Methodist Hymnal
|First Line:||Hail to the Lord's anointed|
|Title:||Hail to the Lord's Anointed|
|Author:||James Montgomery (1821)|
|Liturgical Use:||Scripture Songs|
This is James Montgomery's best psalm rendering. It is based on Ps. 72 and was written in eight stanzas for, and included in, a Christmas Ode which was sung at one of the Moravian settlements, perhaps Fulneck, in the United Kingdom, Christmas, 1821. It was published in the following year in the Evangelical Magazine and entitled "Imitation of the 72d psalm (Tune: Culmstock)."
—The Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal
I need not tell the intelligent reader that he has seized the spirit and exhibited some of the principal beauties of the Hebrew bard, though, to use his own words in letter to me, his "hand trembled to touch the harp of Zion." I take the liberty here to register a wish, which I have strongly expressed to himself, that he would favor the Church of God with a metrical version of the whole book.
—Dr. Adam Clarke: Exposition to "Commentary on Psalm 72"
Psalm 72 is a well-known prophecy of the coming Messiah – foretelling the reign of the King and what the Kingdom of that Messiah will be like. But perhaps more than a prophecy, Psalm 72 is a prayer. In these verses the psalmist calls upon God to give justice and righteousness to the King, perhaps the newly crowned earthly king of Israel, but also the heavenly king. It is a cry for the deliverance of a broken people, for the realization of peace and light. James Montgomery’s hymn text from 1821 beautifully captures the essence of that prayer. Albert Bailey says, “His poem is more prayer than prophecy, or shall we say it is prophecy in large part unfulfilled but still capable of inspiring the Church to work for its fulfillment!” (Bailey, Gospel in Hymns). As we sing this beautiful hymn, we both declare our hope and our longing for the Kingdom of God, and for the coming of the one who will turn darkness to light, and whose “name to us is Love.”
Montgomery’s revised text of 1828 is most commonly used today, though there are multiple versions and verse combinations in today’s modern hymnals. The Episcopal Hymnal follows the original text most closely. The biggest change comes in The Psalter Hymnal, in which Bert Polman edited the text significantly to stay truer to the actual Psalm. It was not Montgomery’s intent, however, to write a direct paraphrase of the Psalm, but rather to absorb “from the Psalm the essential intent of the Psalmist as he saw it, then [proceed] to create his own imagery” (Bailey, The Gospel in Hymns). As Dr. Adam Clarke says in his Commentaries on the Poetical Parts of the Holy Bible, 1821, “I need not tell the intelligent reader that he [Montgomery] has seized the spirit, and exhibited some of the principal beauties, of the Hebrew bard; though (to use his own words in a letter to me) his ‘hand trembled to touch the harp of Zion.’” Too many changes of the original are thus unnecessary; rather, we should appreciate the spirit of Montgomery’s text.
There is almost no consensus on what tune to use for this hymn, so here are some of the most popular options and some things to consider:
If you’re looking for something different, folk duo Welcome Wagon has a light folk version with banjo and soft vocals. Recording artist Sufjan Stevens, who produced this album, acknowledges that all the poetic lyricism and many roles of the Messiah given in Montgomery’s text can become vague and tedious, but with the light vocals and simple melody of Welcome Wagon’s version, one uncovers “luxurious epiphanies with such steadfast matter-of-factness that even the grandest of clichés begins to sound equitable, noble, and wise.”
This hymn is perfect for advent. Based off of a psalm that foretold the first coming of the Messiah, we now sing these words to look forward to the second coming. This hymn could be paired with another hymn, “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun,” written by Isaac Watts and also inspired by Psalm 72. To switch things up, you could also try reading verses from Watts’ hymn as a call to worship before singing Montgomery’s text.
Suggested music resources:
Laura de Jong, Hymnary.org