SINGING WITH THE UNDERSTANDING: “NIGHT, WITH EBON PINION”

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Neal Pollard

Another song we often sing prior to the Lord’s Supper is “Night, With Ebon Pinion.”  Written in 1854, when Schumann and Liszt were composing, Dickens and Thoreau were writing, and Nightingale was nursing, Love Jameson wrote this beautiful hymn.  However, its wording has puzzled many a thoughtful singer.  Filled with beautiful poetry, it is nonetheless enigmatic at points.

The first verse begins, “Night, with ebon pinion.” The Praise for the Lord songbook has notations for difficult words and phrases.  Thus, at the bottom of the song is an explanation.  “Ebon pinion” means “wings of darkness.”  So, the complicated beginning can hamper our comprehension of the next phrase (“brooded o’er the vale”).  Though the word “brood” has several meanings, including those related to birds, the thought here seems to be that dark night hovered closely over the place (which context suggests is the Garden of Gethsemane).  The verse paints the picture of darkness and silence, except for the sound of the wind.  In that lonely setting, Jesus, in profound sorrow, intensely prayed, completely overcome with emotion and exhaustion (“prostrate”).  Jameson appeals to Luke’s record of events in this verse (Lk. 22:44).

The second verse begins with an allusion to Isaiah 53, blending together several ideas from that prophetic chapter which foretells the events of the crucifixion.  It also bears resemblance to Romans 4:25. But, then Jameson returns to the lonely scenes of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed while Peter, James and John slept (cf. Mark 14:33-37).

The last verse begins by again alluding to Mark 14, where Jesus, in deep sorrow, pleads to God, “Abba, Father” (36). This is a special, Aramaic word.  It is the language of a child to his father, but its meaning is also of one who is an heir.  The songwriter seems to be drawing on the intimate, personal aspect of the relationship between Son and Father. The rest of the verse alludes back to Jesus’ prayer (Mat. 26:39 and Luke 22:42).

Taken together, this song is meant to lift a single facet of Jesus’ diverse suffering, His time in agonizing prayer in prospect of His arrest, trial, scourging, mockery, hanging, and all else that He endured.  It helps us remember the anxiety our Savior, all-man as well as all-God (Heb. 5:7).  If we comprehend and contemplate its meaning, it can aid our mental preparation for the Lord’s Supper as well as remind us of God’s great love for each of us!

 

About Neal Pollard

preacher, Bear Valley church of Christ, Denver, Colorado
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2 Responses to SINGING WITH THE UNDERSTANDING: “NIGHT, WITH EBON PINION”

  1. kenandjean92 says:

    Songs have such wonderful words and can teach us so much especially when you take the time to understand their meanings. Thanks for reminding us of some of them. I have a book on the origins and background of many of our songs and it is so fascinating.

  2. Sheila Simpson says:

    Thank you Brother Pollard for writing about this song!

    I rarely hear this song sung anymore, but just remembering the tune from years ago,
    still tugs at my heart. <3

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