Psalm 21, LeGrand Baker, the song of redeeming love
Alma references the “song of redeeming love” twice in chapter 5, then again in chapter 26.
13 Behold, how many thousands of our brethren has he loosed from the pains of hell; and they are brought to sing redeeming love, and this because of the power of his word which is in us, therefore have we not great reason to rejoice? (Alma 26:13)
This is one of three references in the Book of Mormon to the song of redeeming love. The other two are in Alma 5 which is a powerful reminder of the ancient Israelite temple drama. One of the best examples is verse 19 where Alma asks: “Can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? [a reference to Psalm 24 which was sung as the people approached the Temple.] I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances? [Interestingly, if that is was in a Psalm, we no longer have it. But the idea is found in the more ancient Hymn of the Pearl. “And the likeness of the king of kings was completely embroidered all over it (his robe).” One wonders if that poem is what Alma was referring to.]
Alma reminded his listeners of the faith of those who were baptized in the waters of Mormon, lived the law of consecration in the wilderness, and eventually joined the Nephites at Zarahemla. He described the power of their conversion this way: “Their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved. (v. 9)
Later in his sermon, Alma will ask:
26 And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?
There is a Psalm — one of the most important and beautiful of the ancient temple rites — that might actually be identified as a “song of redeeming love.” It is Psalm 21.
First, a quick review of the meaning of “redeem” may be useful. In the Greek, the word translated redeem means to purchase or ransom. The Hebrew word translated redeem means the same thing except in the Hebrew it is done by a member of one’s family. In the story of Ruth, Boaz is described as Naomi’s “kinsman”; and Job testified, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” Both “kinsman” and “redeemer” are translated from the same Hebrew word. (Strong # 1350)
The oldest of all the biblical uses of that word is Job’s. It reads,
25 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. (Job 19:25-26)
The connotation of Job’s testimony — that to be redeemed is to see God — is the usual meaning of that “redeem” in the Book of Mormon. Here are four quick examples:
The Saviour said to the Brother of Jared:
13b. Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed [present tense] from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you. (Ether 3:14)
Lehi said to his son Jacob:
3b-4a. Wherefore, I know that thou art redeemed [present tense], because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer; for thou hast beheld that in the fulness of time he cometh to bring salvation unto men. And thou hast beheld in thy youth his glory.(2 Nephi 2:3b-4a)
Lehi testified of himself:
15. But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell [past tense]; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love. (2 Nephi 1:15)
Samuel the Lamanite used “redeem” to describe the final judgement.
16. Yea, behold, this death bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death—that spiritual death; for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual.
17. But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord. (Helaman 14:16-17)
Applying that definition of redeem as used by Job and the prophets of the Book of Mormon, now let’s ask what might be the “song of redeeming love.” If to redeem, means to be brought into the presence of God, then I suspect the song may be the psalm that celebrates one who stands at the beautiful veil of Solomon’s Temple and asks to be invited within.
This was a participatory drama in which all played an important part, for what the king and queen were doing, symbolically the members of the audience were doing also. We do not know the extent of their participation, but one may surmise that parts or all of the audience sang many, if not most, of the Psalms as a part of the ceremonies.
In ancient Israel, a king was, by definition, one who had been foreordained in the Council in Heaven, and anointed to rule in this life. In Psalm 21, as in many of the others, the words are spoken by different voices. There are no stage directions, as there are in modern plays, so one has to pay attention to the words in order to know who is speaking. Our psalm begins by describing the action on the stage. This may have been sung a chorus as in a Greek play, or it might have been a narrator, or it may be that the entire audience sang this part. Psalm 21 reads:
1. The king shall joy in thy strength,
O Lord; and in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice!
2. Thou hast given him his heart’s desire,
And hast not withholden the request of his lips.
So the king has asked the Lord for something, and the Lord has granted that request. In the next verse there is an unusual word, “preventest.” The footnote in the LDS Bible helps with that. It says that the words “thou preventest him” might be translated “thou wilt meet him.” Using that phrase, this is the Lord’s response to the king’s request:
3. For thou wilt meet him with the blessings of goodness:
thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head.
This is the concluding scenes of a coronation as performed by God himself — it is the confirmation of one’s kingship and priesthood. (Psalms 110:4 says of the king: “The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.”) In the next verse we are to learn what blessing the king requested.
4. He asked life of thee, and thou gavest it him,
even length of days for ever and ever. [i.e. through all eternity]
5. His glory is great in thy salvation:
honour and majesty hast thou laid upon him.
“Honour and majesty” are the names of the clothing that represents his kingship and priesthood. “Majesty” clearly represents his kingship, just as it does elsewhere in the scriptures. In Psalm 45:3-4 the king is told by God: “Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty.” In Job 40:10 the fact that the Lord is talking about clothing is made even more clear: “Deck thyself now with majesty and excellency; and array thyself with glory and beauty.” God is dressed the same way in Psalm 93:1-2 and 104:1-2. His clothing is described in Abraham Facsimile 2 # 3 where we learn that God is “clothed with power and authority; with a crown of eternal light upon his head; representing also the grand Key-words of the Holy Priesthood, as revealed to Adam … and all to whom the Priesthood was revealed.”
In his sode experience, Enoch is dressed properly so he can be in the presence of God.
8 And the Lord said to Michael: ‘Go and take Enoch from out his earthly garments, and anoint him with my sweet ointment, [Charles’ footnote reads: “oil” ] and put him into the garments of My glory.’
9 And Michael did thus, as the Lord told him. He anointed me, and dressed me, and the appearance of that ointment is more than the great light, and his ointment is like sweet dew, and its’
10 smell mild, shining like the sun’s ray, and I looked at myself, and was like one of his glorious ones. (“The Book of the Secrets of Enoch,” 22:8-10, in R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, vol. II, (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1976). The sode experience is in vol. 2:442_445.)
In our psalm the words, “honour and majesty hast thou laid upon him” suggests that God himself has dressed the king in royal garments.
6. For thou hast made him most blessed for ever:
thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance.
The king has received a blessing that reaches “for ever,” and now the king is “exceeding glad” because he has seen the countenance of God.
7 For the king trusteth in the LORD,
and through the mercy of the most High he shall not be moved.
[i.e. the king will keep the covenants he has made with the Lord.]
The next 5 verses in the psalm are spoken by God to the king. It is easy for us to read them in the context of our own time — and that without much understanding. In the context of our time, these words sound like a battle hymn, whose emphasis is victory in war. But when one recalls that they were written in a time very unlike our own, then they have a different ring altogether. In the days of ancient Israel, there were no police forces that kept one safe as he traveled. People built walls around cities, and the wealthy built fortifications on their own estates. The words in our psalm, and many like them in the psalms and in Isaiah, are promises of protection — of invulnerability — the same kind of invulnerability he promises us, if we keep his commandments.
8 Thine hand shall find out all thine enemies:
thy right hand shall find out those that hate thee.
9. Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of thine anger:
the LORD shall swallow them up in his wrath, and the fire shall devour them.
10. Their fruit shalt thou destroy from the earth,
and their seed from among the children of men.
11. For they intended evil against thee:
they imagined a mischievous device, which they are not able to perform.
12. Therefore shalt thou make them turn their back,
when thou shalt make ready thine arrows upon thy strings against the face of them.
The final verse is an anthem of praise, sung by the people who sang the first verses of the psalm.
13. Be thou exalted, LORD, in thine own strength:
so will we sing and praise thy power. (Psalms 21:1-13)
I do not know whether this psalm was Alma’s referent in his sermon when he said: “If ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?”
In any case, the psalm provides a relevant context in which one might ask one’s Self that question.
The consequences of one’s not knowing the mysteries of God, and of not keeping one’s eternal covenants, are very severe. Yet, we wander about in this world of darkness, going through life half awake, and uncertain about where and how to walk. After much thought and a good deal of watching other people, I have come to believe I have found the answer to the great question: “As one repents, what should one try to become?” I believe the answer is this: One should seek to be happy — that means to live according to the law of one’s own being – to become again one’s eternal Self and cover that Self with no facade that prevents family and friends from filling one’s life with companionship and joy. I believe that the object of this life is to demonstrate to one’s Self and to God, that what one was at the Council in Heaven, and what one is in this earthly environment are the same — and I believe that the major function of the Holy Ghost is to teach one the truth about who one is, and that the whole purpose of the principles and ordinances of the gospel is to give one the tools to be that.