I recently began singing through my old green hymnal during my morning quiet time with the Lord.
A quick aside here: I have always struggled with the terminology that's used for personal time spent with God - daily devotions, quiet time, personal meditation, etc - because those terms seem so "Christian-y." I mean... what do people who are not Christians think when (if?) they hear us talking about our daily devotions? (I'm guessing they think we're a little bit crazy!) Anyhow...
I can legitimately call my morning hymnal perusal “quiet time” because I have to sing quietly so I don’t wake up the boys. Once they’re awake it’s time for breakfast, then we start the school day, then I fix a big lunch while they do their on-line algebra class, then… well, you get the point! So I’m singing very quietly through the pages of my old green hymnal.
If you think about it, a hymnal is just as good (maybe even better) than many of the devotional books on the market today. Most of the old songs are full of deep theological truths, and almost every song is based on at least one Scripture passage. So after singing through the song of the day, I read the passage and then look up some information about the author of the hymn. I’m finding a lot of encouragement in the testimonies of these writers and composers.
When I came to the old but familiar “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,” the first thing I noticed was that the Bible verse chosen for this hymn (at least in my hymnal) was spoken by the prosperous, supremely prideful King Nebuchadnezzar. I’ve always been fascinated by this story of God’s direct intervention in a pagan king’s life, driving him away from his magnificent palace to live with wild animals for seven years. Not only did King Nebuchadnezzar live with the animals, but he also lived like them, eating grass like the oxen and growing his hair and fingernails till they looked like feathers and eagles’ claws.
When the king’s seven disciplinary years were finished, he said,
I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.Daniel 4:34&37
(It’s worth your time to read the entire story in Daniel 4.)
So that’s the Scripture passage connected with this hymn. Next, I looked up some information about the man who wrote the words to this song. Joachim Neander was born in Germany in 1650, and studied theology at Bremen University as a young man. In spite of his theology degree, Joachim was known for his wild and immoral lifestyle… that is, until the day he and a couple of friends went to hear and presumably make fun of a visiting preacher. Instead of interrupting the service, however, Joachim was touched by the sermon from 1 Peter 1, and he became a true follower of God that day.
Shortly after his conversion, Joachim became the director of a school in Düsseldorf, and during his years there, he spent much of his free time wandering through the Düssel River Valley. Historians think that Joachim probably wrote and sang many of his poems as he contemplated the beauty of nature in that valley, and he probably also held religious services there. Eventually, the Germans who lived near the area began calling the valley where Joachim Neander spent so much of his time the Neander Valley, or Neanderthal in German.
At this point, you have probably guessed where my story is headed. Exactly 177 years after Joachin Neander died of tuberculosis at the age of 30, an amateur naturalist discovered ancient human remains in a cave in the Neander Valley. This supposed “cave man,” named Neanderthal after the valley where he was found, has been a popular though somewhat contested figure in evolutionary history ever since.
Here’s what I love most about this story. When we learned about Neanderthals in science or history class, most of us assumed that the Neanderthal Man got his name from the valley in Germany where he lived and died. That’s true, of course, but many of us don’t know that the valley itself took its name from a rather wild young theologian who experienced a complete change of life when he had a first-hand encounter with God. From that moment on, Joachim Neander focused on using his life and talents to glorify God, in the process blessing us with the familiar old hymn Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.
As a firm believer in Creation Science, I do not see the Neanderthal Man as any sort of link in the evolutionary chain, or even as an evolutionary “dead end,” as some people now describe what happened when his species died out. I believe that he and his fellow cave dwellers were humans who probably lived a rather isolated and harsh existence, which would account for the genetic differences between their skeletons and mine.
Just as God used the prideful, pagan King Nebuchadnezzar to bring glory to his name, I can’t help but find a bit of glory in the fact that the evolutionary icon Neanderthal Man bears the very same name of a humble teacher who lived his life to glorify God.
That, my dear readers, seems like a supernatural case of poetic justice!
Check out these interesting articles about the hymn writer and about the Neanderthal Man.