"Lord, Open Now My Heart to Hear"
A Bible Study Inspired by a Hymn
Text: Johann Olearius, 1611-1684; tr. Matthias Loy, 1828-1915, sts. 1, 3, alt;
tr. Mark A. Jeske, b. 1952, st 2
(Lutheran Service Book 908)
Primary Biblical Reference: Psalm 119:131–133, 140; Psalm 143:8
Lord, open now my heart to hear,
And through Your Word to me draw near;
Let me Your child and heir remain.
Your Word inspires my heart within;
Your Word grants healing from my sin;
Your Word has pow’r to guide and bless;
Your Word brings peace and happiness.
To God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit, Three in One,
Shall glory, praise, and honor be
Now and throughout eternity.
The first and third verses of “Lord, Open Now My Heart to Hear” were written by Johann (Johannes Gottfried) Olearius. The second verse was composed by Mark Jeske. Olearius was the son of Johann Olearius, pastor of St. Mary’s church and Superintendent at the city of Halle. The younger Olearius entered the University of Wittenberg in 1629 (M.A. 1632, D.D. 1643), where he then became a lecturer and, in 1635, adjunct of the philosophy faculty. He continued to advance in academic circles and, in 1643, he also became the chief court preacher in Halle. In 1680 he was moved to Weissenfels where he held similar ecclesiastical and academic positions until his death. He wrote a commentary on the Bible and numerous devotional works, but his greatest claim to fame came from his work with hymns. He compiled one of the largest and most important German hymnals of the 17th Century. The first edition (1671) had over 1,200 entries and the second edition (1672) had 1,340 hymns. To put that another way, you would have to sing almost 26 hymns each Sunday to sing all the hymns in the second edition once a year. The first edition also contained 302 hymns of Olearius himself, enough for over five hymns per Sunday to sing them through in one year. Olearius’ hymns “may best be described as useful, being for times and seasons hitherto unprovided for, and filling up many gaps in the various sections of the German hymn-books. They are mostly short, many of only two verses, simple and easy of comprehension, often happy in expression and catching, and embodying in a concise form the leading ideas of the season or subject. Many were speedily adopted into German hymn-books, and a considerable number are still in use.” Four of that “considerable number” are found in the Lutheran Service Book (347, 559, 794 and 908). Lamb of God knows three of these and the fourth (559) has been marked by the hymnal review committee as worth learning. It is also worth noting that Bach used a number of Olearius’ hymns for his cantatas.
The “extra” verse was composed by Mark Jeske, a pastor in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). He has written a number of additional verses for hymns over the years.
“Lord, Open Now My Heart to Hear” is found in the section of the hymnal that contains hymns for the “Beginning of Service,” and that is exactly how we will be using it this coming Sunday. As we gather in worship, we gather to hear God’s Word and praise him. No surprise, this is what our opening hymn accents.
As far as the wondrous gift of God’s word, and the many blessings He gives to us through His Word is concerned, we could bring forth a multitude of biblical references. Psalm 119, sometimes called the “giant Psalm” because it is the longest chapter in the Bible, is all about these blessings. In verse 169 we read, “Let my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding according to your word!” Notice that God gives “understanding.” Also notice that He does this through His Word.
Our hymn begins by echoing such truths. We ask the Lord to open our hearts. We ask Him to draw us near with His Word. The second verse also expands on the “understanding” that God grants through His Word.
The Psalm also expands on the blessings we receive from God’s Word. Verse 105 reads. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Notice that we are directed to God’s Word for our light, not to some “inner” light. The true Light comes from Christ and his Word. Outside of Christ is darkness. So he says, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). We also read, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ’I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’” (John 8:12). It is the Word, the Bible, which tells us what He has done for us and continues to do for us – including our salvation. It tells us how believers are to live.
131 I open my mouth and pant,
because I long for your commandments.
132 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
as is your way with those who love your name.
133 Keep steady my steps according to your promise,
and let no iniquity get dominion over me. (Psalm 119:131-133)
As we read in verses 131-133, the Psalmist pictures himself as a runner gasping for air. It isn’t, though, air that he gasps for but God’s Word and His Commandments. Just as we can’t live physically without air, so we can’t live spiritually without God’s Word and His Commandments. See how the second verse of the hymn really captures this sentiment.
Notice especially verse 133. There the psalmist prays that God would keep his steps steady doing what is right, and keep sin and evil from dominating him. When we cling to Christ’s Gospel, His Means of Grace through which the Holy Spirit works, He will keep us on the path to heaven; Satan and his minions are powerless against Christ and His Gospel. In verse one of the hymn we sing, “Let me Your Word e’er pure retain; Let me Your child and heir remain.”
It is no surprise that believers from every age echo Psalm 119:140: Your promise is well tried, and your servant loves it. Yes, the Word of God is “well tried.” It has been tried for century after century. They are tried to this very day. Once tried, it is proven absolutely true. So we can trust God’s Word and be confident in His promises. What a comfort as we face all the trials of life in this fallen world.
While any time is a good time to be in God’s word, the Psalm envisions us beginning our day with the Lord:
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul. (Psalm 143:8)
Morning devotions are an excellent way to begin every day. On Sunday mornings we worship the Lord, we hear of his steadfast love, learn how we should live, and we have our soul lifted. On Sunday morning the Lord opens our hearts to hear (verse 1).
The final verse of our hymn is doxological. Here we not only sing praise to God be we make it clear that we are praising the only true God, the Triune God revealed in the inspired Word of God. Indeed, without the inspired Word of God we would never have the understanding of God as Triune. But, thanks to this great gift from God, we gather to worship the one and only God in truth and purity.