Written by Sir Robert Grant (1779-1838), a British lawyer and politician with Anglican roots, the words to “O Worship the King” were inspired by reading Bible translator William Kethe’s version of Psalm 104 in a 1561 psalm book.
Sir Robert Grant was born in India and later returned to become governor of Bombay; however, he spent several of his interim years in England fighting for Jewish rights in the House of Commons. Like his father before him, who worked alongside William Wilberforce to push for the emancipation of African slaves in the British Empire, Grant was known in both England and India for his social advocacy. Grant presented a bill on April 15, 1830, taking on the case of Jewish civil disabilities. This bill kept the legislature busy for thirty years.
It wasn’t until 20 years after Grant’s death that legal restrictions, (such as wearing a yellow badge or paying special taxes), were lifted for Jews in England. In 1867, long after Grant died of a stroke in western India, Jewish men were granted the right to vote in England.
Shortly after Grant’s death, Grant’s brother Charles collected a dozen sacred poems written by Grant and made his words about our Shield, Defender and Friend “whose canopy [is] space” more widely available to the public. Although Grant was inspired by Kethe’s translation of Psalm 104, the words to “O Worship the King” echo other Scripture passages, including Psalm 84 and Genesis 15:1 (the metaphor of God as “our Shield”). Some lines may remind us of verses in Colossians as well. Here are a few:
Pavilioned in Splendor
Paul refers to “the riches of the glory of this mystery,” “the hope of glory,” and Christ being “seated at the right hand of God” in chapters 1 and 3. But perhaps it is this Colossians passage that best captures the idea that earthly pavilions and splendor are subject to Christ : “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (1:16-18)
Our Shield and defender
These words are especially striking, considering that both Robert and Charles Grant spent much of their life’s work championing the cause of those who were being treated unjustly. Paul writes in Colossians 3:25 and 4:1, “For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”
Whose Chariots of Wrath … wings of the storm
The imagery here of deep thunderclouds and a dark path is one of strength and triumph during war. Paul writes in Colossians 2:15 that Christ nailed our debt to the cross, forgiving our trespasses, and by doing so, Christ “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”
What Tongue Can Recite?
Grant’s version refers to reciting God’s bountiful care, and the contemporary version refers to reciting God’s glories and wonders. Both versions convey the burden we feel to tell others about our all-powerful, caring God. Paul wrote in Colossians 4:3-4, “Pray also for us, that God may open us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”
[You] Breathe in the air, [You] Shine in the light*
In contrast to the battle imagery Grant uses to show God’s power over darkness, he now describes a sparkling kingdom of light. This is similar to the contrast in Colossians 1:12-13, where Paul writes, “… giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”
*The original version reads, “It breathes in the air, it shines in the light,” referring to God’s bountiful care.
Written by a member of our church staff
Worship selection from our June 15-16 services