Ten Thousand Angels

(Photo of Ray Overholt)


“Thinkest thou not that I cannot pray to My Father, and He shall give Me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53)

     INTRO.:  A song which reminds us that Jesus could have prayed for twelve legions of angels to save Him but chose to suffer and die for us instead is “Ten Thousand Angels” (#580 in Hymns for Worship Revised).   The text was written and the tune was composed both by Ray Overholt, who was born at Dutton in Kent County, MI, on July 24, 1924, and spent his young years living on a farm near Middleville, MI, a town southeast of Grand Rapids. He caught the musical itch at an early age when he took two dollars, got a guitar, and taught himself to play. By the time he was ten years old, he had written a tune called “The Lonesome Cowboy.”  He continued to write songs after growing up and beginning to entertain the folks in the Grand Rapids area. Two tunes they remembered were “Desert Sand” and “Believe in Me Or I’ll Be Leaving You.”   Over the next few years he rose to a measure of success.  Ray was said to have given the youngsters in Grand Rapids, MI, quite a treat each evening at 6:00 P. M., Monday through Friday over WOOD-TV hosting his own television show, “Ray’s Roundup,” which included a partner that they said was an “…old codger named ‘Shorty’….”

     Ray would play his guitar and sing, while Shorty would spin some tall tales.   His guest list was impressive, with stars such as Hank Williams, Red Saunders, Stewart Hamlin, Ray Price, and Delores Hawkins appearing on the show.   He himself even appeared on Kate Smith’s national program.  And Ray also continued his songwriting, having one tune published by the Country Music publishing company called “Will the Lord Look Down and Frown At Me” that was recorded on a Diamond label. Another tune, “Finance Company Blues,” was published by Venice Music and recorded for Specialty Records.  However, after Ray left his television show, he entered the nightclub circuit and began drinking pretty heavily, but after a while decided that there must be a better life than the show-business whirlwind and told his wife that he was quitting all of the smoking, drinking, and cursing.  A little later, he thought that if he had made up secular songs, he could do a song about Christ.  So he opened his Bible, which he seldom read but knew a little about from his mother, and began to read the portion of scripture that describes Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, telling Peter to put away his sword and saying that He could ask His Father for twelve legions of angels, although at the time he did not know that this would be 72,000 angels. 

     Thinking that “He Could Have Called Ten Thousand Angels” would make a good title for a song, Overholt began doing a little research and found that the more he read about Jesus, the more he admired Him for what He had done.  While performing in Battle Creek, MI, he produced the song in 1958.  It was first published in 1959 by Lillenas Publishing Company.  After being converted that year at the age of 35, Overholt went on to become a travelling singer and preacher for the next nearly fifty years and is credited with a number of other songs, including “Hallelujah Square” which was nominated for three Gospel Music Association Dove Awards in consecutive years, and “I’m The One” which has also appeared in some of our books. In addition, he was a member of the Michigan Gospel Music Association’s Hall of Fame and was inducted into Michigan Country Music Hall of Fame.  On Sunday, Sept. 14, 2008, Overholt, age 84, died at his Battle Creek, MI, home as he was getting into the van to make a trip for a Grand Rapids concert. It was assumed that heart failure was the cause.

      Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, “Ten Thousand Angels” has appeared in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1977 Special Sacred Selections edited by Ellis J. Crum; the 1978 Hymns of Praise edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat; the 2009 Favorite Songs of the Church and the 2010 Songs for Worship and Praise both edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.; and the 2012 Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs edited by Steve Wolfgang et. al.; in addition to Hymns for Worship.

     The song emphasizes the decision of Jesus to sacrifice rather than to save Himself.

I. Stanza 1 focuses upon the arrest of Jesus

1. They bound the hands of Jesus in the garden where He prayed;

They led Him through the streets in shame.

They spat upon the Savior so pure and free from sin;

They said, “Crucify Him; He’s to blame.”

 A. After He had prayed in the garden, Jesus was bound by the officers who led the mob to arrest Him: Jn. 18:3, 12

 B. He was led through the streets to the high priest: Matt. 26:47, 57

 C. It was this mob which later shouted to crucify Him: Mk. 15:12-14

II. Stanza 2 focuses upon the mocking of Jesus

2. Upon His precious head they placed a crown of thorns;

They laughed and said, “Behold the King.”

They struck Him and they cursed Him and mocked His holy name.

All alone He suffered everything.

 A. While mocking Jesus, the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head: Matt. 27:29

 B. They laughed at Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews”: Mk. 15:18

 C. They also beat Him and struck Him: Lk. 22:63-65

III. Stanza 3 focuses upon the crucifixion of Jesus

3. When they nailed Him to the cross, His mother stood near by;

He said, “Woman, behold thy son!”

He cried, “I thirst for water,” but they gave Him none to drink.

Then the sinful work of man was done.

 A. After His trial, Jesus was taken out and nailed to a cross: Lk. 23:33

 B. His mother stood nearby and He said to her, “Woman, behold thy Son”: Jn. 19:25-26

 C. Also while on the cross, He cried, “I thirst” but rather than water they gave Him sour wine: Jn. 19:28-29

IV. Stanza 4 focuses upon the death of Jesus

4. To the howling mob He yielded; He did not for mercy cry.

The cross of shame He took alone.

And when He cried, “It’s finished,” He gave Himself to die;

Salvation’s wondrous plan was done.

 A. All through His ordeal, Jesus never cried for mercy but remained silent: Matt. 27:12-14

 B. His last words were “It is finished”: Jn. 19:30

 C. Then, after crying out with a loud voice, He breathed His last and died: Mk. 15:37

     CONCL.:  The chorus continues to point out what Jesus could have done to spare Himself the agony of the cross.

He could have called ten thousand angels

To destroy the world and set Him free.

He could have called ten thousand angels,

But He died alone, (alone), for you and me.

This song is sometimes used to prepare our minds for the Lord’s supper, and it is certainly an appropriate one to do so because it brings to our minds what Jesus went through in His suffering and death for our sins.  We can be so thankful that Jesus was willing to sacrifice Himself for us and not call for deliverance from “Ten Thousand Angels.”

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