In terms of tune, this is quite different what I grew up singing. Furthermore, it may strike some as unusual for a hymnal published by the gospel advocate in 1889 for an a capella-singing church to have a piano reduction in its pages. Oh, the interesting things we find when we look into our own history!
This tune was supplied by “Mrs. R.M. McIntosh.” Mr. Rigdon McCoy McIntosh is listed as one of the editors of this hymnal. McIntosh was not himself associated with the Churches of Christ, but was a Methodist. There was no one employed by the Gospel Advocate in the late 19th century who was capable of being the music editor for a hymnal of the scope. McIntosh was well-known as a Church musician and his involvement lent credibility to the project in addition to his expertise that will surely required.
Our focus is so often the destination yet this hymn calls our attention to the journey. It is enough that we are lead by Christ; we needn’t worry about the itinerary. The very thought of being under the leadership of Jesus brings comfort to the worshipper. These words were originally penned as a response to the 23rd Psalm, though themes of God’s leadership are vibrant in other passages as well.
Sometimes, even though I walk through the valley of death; sometimes, even though he leads me by still waters – he still leads. Regardless of the circumstance, the song reaffirms our trust in God that he will lead us THROUGH trouble, not AROUND trouble.
Although the author is said to have been channeling Psalm 23 as he wrote these words, I’ve always seen the Exodus story embedded within the poem. The children of Israel were led by God from the Red Sea forward. The Red Sea was a moment of great trouble for them as they saw Pharaoh and his army nearing closer and closer, revenge and recapture in their hearts. God parted the waters, moving them through their troubles, and on to safety on the other side. Faith would have had them move on with God, hand-in-hand, without murmuring or complaining. If you’re familiar with this moment in Israel’s history, you know that they failed miserably; they grumbled, murmured, and even wanted to go back to Egypt to die! But the faith of the singer speaks contentment, not because of the destination, nor because of the ease of the journey, but because of the one who leads us.
Finally, the singer stands on the verge of Jordan. This transitional moment in Israel’s history has fascinated poets for generations. Something about this moment has become a metaphor for passing from this life into the next. To cross over Jordan is to go into all of God’s promises, surely some anticipation of heaven is allowed within this picture. As Jesus neared the end of his life in John 17, he prayed to God and noted that he had brought glory to the father, having accomplished the work which God had assigned him. It is only by God’s grace, power, and infant wisdom that we shall become victorious in any lasting sense. Having overcome this life and the sin which so easily entangles, we peer into the great unknown; we look over into death and perhaps wonder if it is death that awaits us or life. The Christian knows of the many promises of God relating to eternal life. “Eternal life” is not just a discussion of duration and quantity, but is essentially a discussion of quality. The quality of life that this person anticipates is nothing less than the fullness of what he has experienced in this life being lead by the very hand of God. At this point in the relationship, even the cold and yet-unfamiliar wave of death’s waters will not dissuade the worshipper from moving forward into the great promises of God.
The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want, he leadeth me…
Photo: Levi Sisemore
Christian Hymns, 1889
E.G. Sewell, R.M. McIntosh, Leonard Daugherty
Gospel Advocate Publishing Company