“How Awful Is Thy Chastening Rod”


“I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember Thy wonders of old” (Psalm 77:11)

    INTRO.:  A hymn which helps us to remember the works of the Lord and His wonders of old is “How Awful Is Thy Chastening Rod.”  The text was written by Isaac Watts (1674-1748).  Based on the second part of Psalm 77, it first appeared under the heading, “Comfort derived from ancient providences; or, Israel delivered from Egypt, and brought to Canaan,” in his work entitled The Psalms of David in 1719.  Some older books use ten stanzas of four lines each with as tune (St. Anne) attributed to William Croft and most commonly associated with Watts’s version of Psalm 90, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.”  Other books use five stanzas of eight lines each with a tune (Alida) which is an early American melody that has also sometimes been used with Louis F. Benson’s “O Sing a Song of Bethlehem,” with Thomas Toke Lynch’s “The Lord Is Rich and Merciful,” and in newer books with Brian Wren’s 1993 “Come, Celebrate the Call of God.”

     The hymn seeks to apply the lessons of Israel’s wilderness wanderings to us.

I. Stanza 1 speaks about God’s chastening rod

“’How awful is Thy chastening rod!’

(May Thy own children say:)

‘The great, the wise, the dreadful God!

How holy is His way!’

I’ll meditate His works of old,

The King that reigns above;

I’ll hear His ancient wonders told,

And learn to trust His love.”

 A. One thing that we learn from the Old Testament is that God chastens His people: Heb. 12:5

 B. Thus, we can learn by meditating on the works of old: Ps. 145:5

 C. In this way, we can come to trust His love with which He quiets us: Zeph. 3:17

II. Stanza 2 speaks about God’s redemption of Israel

“Long did the house of Joseph lie

With Egypt’s yoke oppressed;

Long He delayed to hear their cry,

Nor gave His people rest.

The sons of good old Jacob seemed

Abandoned to their foes;

But His almighty arm redeemed

The nation that He chose.”

 A. Israel was in Egyptian bondage for many years: Gen. 15:13-15

 B. For many years God heard their cry, and eventually the time was right to do something about it: Exo. 2:23-25

 C. Thus, He sent Moses to redeem them with His outstretched arm: Exo. 6:6

III. Stanza 3 speaks about  God’s guidance of Israel through the wilderness

“Israel, His people and His sheep,

Must follow where He calls;

He bade them venture through the deep,

And made the waves their walls.

The waters saw Thee, mighty God!

The waters saw Thee come;

Backward they fled, and frighted stood,

To make Thine armies room.”

 A. God led the Israelites into the wilderness and they follows: Exo. 13:17-18

 B. He brought them to the Red Sea: Exo. 14:1-2

 C. As the Egyptians chased them, God made the sea become walls through which the Israelites were able to pass through on dry ground: Exo. 14:19-22

IV. Stanza 4 speaks of God’s revelation of Himself at Mt. Sinai

“Strange was Thy journey through the sea

Thy footsteps, Lord, unknown;

Terrors attend the wondrous way

That brings Thy mercies down.

Thy voice, with terror in the sound,

Through clouds and darkness broke;

All Heaven in lightning shone around,

And earth with thunder shook.”

 A. Their journey through the sea was strange, but God saved them from the Egyptians: Exo. 14:30-31

 B. Their footsteps continued to follow in the Lord’s way, through terrors, to Mt. Sinai: Exo. 19:1-2

 C. There, God spoke to them through thundering, lightning, clouds, fire, smoke, and earthquakes: Exo. 19:16-19

V. Stanza 5 speaks about God’s provisions for Israel in their journey

“Thine arrows through the skies were hurled;

How glorious is the Lord!

Surprise and trembling seized the world,

And His own saints adored.

He gave them water from the rock,

And safe, by Moses’ hand,

Through a dry desert led His flock

Home to the promised land.”

 A. While Israel was encamped at Sinai, sometimes God’s arrows were hurled through the skies: Lev. 10:1-2

 B. Yet, God provided for their needs by giving them water from the rock: Num. 20:11

 C. And finally, God through Moses led them to the border of the promised land: Deut. 1:1-5

     CONCL.:  Many of our books have had and still have many of the “Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament” by Watts—“Joy to the World” (Psalm 98), “Jesus Shall Reign” (Psalm 72), “The Lord My Shepherd Is” (Psalm 23), “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” (Psalm 90), “How Shall the Young Secure Their Hearts” (Psalm 119), and “Before Jehovah’s Awful Throne” (Psalm 100).  Others (he paraphrased every Psalm but two) are not as well known.  Psalm 77 uses God’s dealings with the children of Israel to illustrate both the goodness and the severity of God.  Thus, with the Israelites, we can say to God, “How Awful Is Thy Chastening Rod.”


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