Bible Quizzes for Smart People XXX
Bill Long 1/16/07
Handel's Messiah II
1. "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem, behold, they King cometh unto thee. He is the righeous Savior, and He shall speak peace unto the heathen."
We can tell the quaintness of the KJV by the last word of the quotation. I don't know if I have heard anyone use the word "heathen" in years. I think, actually, the last time I heard it was from Archie Bunker in one of the "All in the Family" episodes. Nevertheless, this soprano Air is sung just after the announcement of the birth of Christ by the angel, near the end of Part I. The Chorus sings, "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will towards men" (Luke 2: 14). Then, the soprano sings these words. When she sings "shout," she almost does. This, indeed, is great news. Handel here skillfully weaves an OT text with the preceding verses from Luke. Where is this taken from?
2. "Then shall the eyes of the blind be open'd, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing."
These two verses follow 1 immediately, but they are sung in a 22-second recitative by a countertenor. These are two verses taken over in the NT to describe the healing work of Jesus, even though the idea originated in the OT. I love the imagery of the lame man leaping. Note how the verses build. First we have a "regular" miracle, where eyes are opened and ears unstopped. But, then, we focus on the results of miracles. The lame man doesn't just trudge or walk. He leaps, and he doesn't just leap like a high-jumper; he leaps like "an hart." Prancing takes the place of proneness. Also, the tongue of the dumb is not simply "released" so that he can tell of God's great deeds. Rather, he sings. The heart has to be engaged for the voice to sing. So good is the good news of this deliverance that Handel rushes to the end of Part I in a positive frame. The final words of that part are from Mt. 11:28-30--"his yoke is easy and his burden is light." So far the Good News is only good, and is good seemingly for everyone. But, then again, we are only in Part I. Which biblical passage is here quoted?
3. "Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world."
This long Chorus (more than 3 minutes) begins Part II. We are now in a different theological climate. In classic "Doctrine of Christ" or "Christology," which you learn in seminary, you divide Christ, so to speak, into the "person" and the "work" of Christ. Christ's person stresses what Part I of Messiah emphasizes: Christ's antecedents, birth, and ministry of teaching, healing and miracle working. But, the "work" of Christ is about the events leading to his death and the meaning of Christ's death in Christian theology. We are smack in the middle of the latter as Part II opens. Not only does Jesus do great works, but he will offer himself as a sacrifice for sins. As such he is the "lamb of God," replacing or fulfilling the OT sacrificial system in his person. This is the Christian "reading" of Christ's death, however offensive it might appear to many Jews and non-religious people in the world of that day or of ours. The notion of Jesus's "Lambship," to coin a term, then entered deeply into Christian theology, devotion and hymnody. In our age (2007), where the notion of a sacrifice for sin sounds curiously outdated, the notion of Christ as sinless lamb of God seems out-of-place. But even for Handel the concept was powerful. Where do you find this verse and who speaks it?
4. "He gave his back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked off the hair." The NRSV and KJV puts this in the first person, describing the work of the servant of God.
After the "Behold the Lamb of God" Chorus is the Alto Air (of which this is a part), "He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." This Aria is the longest piece in the entire work (more than 11 minutes). As such it seems to be the emotional midpoint of Messiah (the Hallelujah Chorus is really about 2/3 of the way through Messiah). The tones are plaintive; the singer sings with the most forlorn dejection and rejection. She seems to be acquainted with the grief which afflicted the Son of God. This grief is described in Is. 53. But then, in the second half of the Air, the tone changes (as does the Scripture quoted). Grief is replaced by angry allegations and attacks. The music is more jagged and staccato, the tone is insistent, the threat of extreme bodily danger is imminent. The larger literary context of this quotation (I am giving you a helpful hint!) is of the servant of God who is so treated. The passage of the bolded quotation begins with one of my favorite verses: "The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word." Isn't that a great verse for those who teach? So, where is this more painful verse from?
5. "He trusted in God that He would deliver Him, let Him deliver Him, if He delight in Him."
The version of Messiah I use capitalizes all the "He's" and "Him's." This could lead to the "Who's on first?" phenomenon, but the Scripture quoted here contains the words of the despisers and rejecters of Jesus. The words are said in a mocking tone. Since Jesus emphasized that trust of God was central to who he was, well, why not continue to trust? And, where is the God that supposedly delights in the Christ? If God truly is God, God would deliver him. That is the spiteful refrain. Where do you find these words in the Scriptures?
Let's do one more on Handel.