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Oops: Singing the Wrong Lyrics

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  Praise Him all creatures here me low.

Okay, technically that’s not exactly how the lyrics go.  But, hearing it as a child, that’s what I thought it said.  In fact, since I thought I knew the words, I kept singing it that way.  No one around me noticed.  It wasn’t until some point in college that I happened to actually look down and read “all creatures here below.”  


But, when we learn something first by hearing it instead of reading it, of course we hear whatever we think we hear.  This is especially true if you grow up in church.

The results can be interesting...

Like that great old praise song about “Gladly, the Cross-eyed Bear.” 

Or let’s all raise our voice in that classic Wallace and Gromit favorite: “Bringing in the cheese!  Bringing in the cheese!  We shall come with joy, see!  Bringing in the cheese.”  I wouldn’t mind a bit of Wensleydale, if you’d be so kind.

So, this whole line of thought brings me to poor Elvina.   Mrs. Elvina Mable Hall, to be exact.  She is known to us only through a single poem, “Jesus Paid it All.”  When added to music written by John Grape, it has remained a favorite Protestant hymn for almost 150 years.

The thing is, since Elvina grew up in church, she had one of those “hear-me-low” moments.  Except, in this case, the "oops" is written right into the lyrics.  So, we keep right on singing the mistake.  Most people don't notice.  In fact, someone would have to be some kind of an insanely over-the-top Bible trivia addict who insists on making mountains out of molehills to even notice it (my wife’s somewhat unfair take on my perfectly normal desire to be faithful to scripture).

So, where is the mistake?  It’s in the fourth verse of the hymn.  Here’s how it reads:

     Lord, now indeed I find
       Thy power and Thine alone,
     Can change the leper’s spots
       And melt the heart of stone.

Where is it? Look at line three.  Now, use any Bible software (concordance, if you want to be quaint) and look up “leper’s spots.”  Guess what? No matter how much you look, you won’t find anything.  In fact, although it can be given as a punishment by God, the Bible does not use ever leprosy as something that illustrates sin (to be ceremonially unclean was not about being sinful).

Now, look up “leopard’s spots.”  Voila!  Jeremiah 13:23 “Can Ethiopians change their skin or leopards their spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.”  In pointed sarcasm the prophet announces the sinful nation of Judah can change its ways and do good.  Sure it can -- just as easily as a leopard can change its spots.  (The “hearts of stone” reflects an image from Jeremiah chapters 17-19 and is also implied in 2 Corinthians 3:3)

The phrase she heard in church in sermons about our ingrained sinfulness was “leopard’s spots.” 


Sure, since most people are surprised the Bible makes any mention at all of leopards, we keep singing the oops.  And, we all get the idea.  Maybe it isn’t worth even a blog post. 

But, if you happen to feel either hyper-biblical or just a little rebellious, then the next time you sing Jesus Paid it All, then go ahead and boldly sing out, “leopard’s spots.”  Trust me.  No one around you will notice the difference.  After all, we only hear what we think we hear.

1 comment:

Kris D. said...

This is great insight, and I had never realized that the word was mistakenly used. We recently discussed in our choir the appropriateness of using the word leper, since in the dictionary it is said to be a word used to define an outcast, or to degrade someone. "Leprosy" is not even the correct name of the disease, and the name "leprosy" comes from the root of being outcast and defiled. Our children's missions teachers have done a half a year of study and fundraising to help treat modern-day leprosy, better named as Hanson's Disease. The children were taught that it is kinder and less ostracizing to say Hanson's disease instead of leprosy or calling someone a leper. We decided that to be consistent in our teachings, we would consider not using the word leper. Now, we can use leopard and be Biblical about it!! :) Thanks for sharing this.