All Good Gifts
People study the bible for a variety of reasons. Perhaps to discover what the bible says; perhaps to follow up a line of doctrine; perhaps in hopes of knowing the future; perhaps just to dwell on what God is doing for us, in love and appreciation. This last type of study is not unlike what we do when singing a hymn of praise, and there is many a hymn which can be matched to passages of scripture. Some hymns are written deliberately as paraphrases (such as 'The Lord's my shepherd', 'O God our help in ages past', 'Praise my soul the king of heaven'). Other hymns just develop, and it is only when we have sung them many times that we realise how scriptural they are. For example, take 'Wir pflugen und wir streuen'.....
Its story begins in the eighteenth century with a farmhouse in north Germany, and a group singing peasant songs. Among them is Matthias Claudius, a writer and poet (pen name Asmus). He writes a sketch depicting them all holding their Harvest Festival. Included is a Peasant's Song, 17 verses long, with chorus.
Then a tune is written by J A P Schultz, a court 'kapelmeister'. When he was 48 his health was severely damaged trying to save his music library when the Danish Royal Palace burned down. In 1800 he died, and in the same year the tune 'Wir pflugen' was published, set to the words by Claudius, but only 6 verses.
Some decades later it comes to the attention of Miss Jane Montgomery Campbell, daughter of a London clergyman. She was a teacher in her father's parish school, she wrote verse, compiled 'A Handbook for Singers', and also translated German hymns.....
By 1868 the hymn had been included in the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern, with just the three verses that we know.
What the hymn says is very similar to what the apostle Paul had to explain when he was at Lystra (Acts 14). He and Barnabas were treated as gods after they had performed a miracle. "Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good - giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy." Let us give worship where it is rightly due.
'All good gifts' around us come from God. James 1.17: "...every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."
That 'winds and waves obey him' is a straight quotation from Matthew 8.27 in the famous incident of Jesus stilling the storm. But if we look in Psalm 65, that speaks of an awesome and more widespread display of God's power. "You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples. Those who live at earth's farthest bounds are awed by your signs; you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy." (vv.7,8) The psalm had begun with an acknowledgment of God's forgiveness to His people, while the end of it is in itself a harvest hymn:
Meanwhile, 'daily bread' is a petition in the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6.11). In the age of the supermarket we perhaps take our food for granted. And the blessing of the created order extends to the birds (Matthew 6.26).
Our response to all this? 'Humble' hearts might remind us of Psalm 51.17, " a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."
There is everything to rejoice about in the ordinary human life God has given us, as part of the marvelous scheme of His creation. The hymn and the psalms speak the language of poetry, the literal painting of flowers or valleys shouting do not really come into it. The bible is emphasising that all we experience is God's gift to us. If we take a scientific view of the intricate chains of cause and effect which govern the natural world, we see it as mind-blowing but impersonal. When we take the religious view that the world is God's creation, it is equally mind-blowing, but personal. The challenge of science is to understand exactly how God has done it, and is doing it. The challenge of faith is to see within the overwhelming universe the hand of our own Father.