When I posted about my love of hymns, a reader shared that the old song “I Shall Not Be Moved” is a favorite of hers.
I didn’t know it, so I looked it up – and I found several versions.
Among so many others, I found a Johnny Cash version , a southern gospel variety in a very peppy tempo (I bet this is more common in modern churches, when it is sung at all), a similar Gaither version. and a modern black gospel version.
They all have different lyrics, but the concepts are the same in all of them.
I discovered that it is an old African American spiritual song, which explains the lyrical and musical structure as well as the multiple versions. It would have evolved over time, as the song would have at first been passed on orally and not within a hymnal. As the people singing it became more educated, they would have written it down and added more words, like in the southern gospel version. The modern gospel versions would keep some of the ad lib tradition instead of being tied to specific lyrics like in the southern gospel tradition.
(It also explains why I hadn’t heard it, as spirituals are more popular within the Pentecostal churches and in the south (or Appalachian regions) than other evangelical denominations. I was raised Nazarene in California at first and then later on the East Coast.)
Here is one that is arguably the “original” (or close to it)
Consider the lyrics of this version, after taking out the repetition:
I’m on my way to heaven I shall not be moved.
Oh preacher, I shall not be moved.
I’m sanctified and holy, I shall not be moved.
Just like a tree planted by the water, I shall not be moved.
This song has so few words, but it says SO much! It says that
- we have been made right with God (I Cor. 6: 11)
- we are headed toward a reward in heaven (Phil 3:20-21).
- we have leaders to help us stay committed (I Peter 5:1-5)
- God keeps us strong, healthy, and growing (like the tree) (Psalm 119:116).
- and nothing in this world is worth letting go of these truths, so we are confident that we will never give up this path (Phil 3:7-14) and God will never let go of us. (John 10:25-30)
This short song is completely grounded in Scripture.
The imagery is straight from Psalm 1.
Psalm 1 says that those who are righteous, those who follow the law of the Lord, are
“like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.”
Just like a tree is sustained by the water, so are we sustained by God’s Spirit in our lives. More than sustained – spiritually prosperous! We are healthy and strong and productive – as long as we are connected to God.
And the contrast is to the wicked, those who do not love God’s law.
Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.”
They are blown around by the wind, unlike the stability of a tree. They do not have a future with God.
This song is not technically a hymn, which typically has a lot of words diving deeply into one concept. It is a spiritual, which has many concepts in a handful of phrases. But the beauty of it comes from that simplicity: it encourages use to look deeper into Scripture to understand the concepts and see how they ring true in our lives.
And that’s my favorite thing about good music – good lyrics and moving music prompt us to listen to God more closely.
Are there any hymns, songs, or spiritual songs which you find encouraging? Songs which prompt you to dig deeper into the Scripture they are founded on? Songs which help you pause and listen for God’s voice?
Share here so we can all be encouraged by by God’s Scriptures found in classic songs of our faith!