Home Worship Planning History of Hymns History of Hymns: 'Hear the Turmoil of the Nations'

History of Hymns: 'Hear the Turmoil of the Nations'

By Nick Klemetson, Guest Contributor

Carl daw1
Carl P. Daw Jr.

“Hear the Turmoil of the Nations”
by Carl P. Daw Jr.
Voices Together, 201

Hear the turmoil of the nations!
How earth’s peoples sigh and groan!
Voices call for revolution;
factions thrive, and threats are thrown.
Few take time to seek God’s blessing,
which some others falsely claim.
God, whose will alone is sov’reign,
soon will turn their pride to shame.
*© 2018 Hope Publishing Company. Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Before his ordination as an Episcopal priest, Carl P. Daw, Jr. (b. 1944) taught in the English department for eight years at the College of William and Mary. This fusion of backgrounds in literature and theology has led to a long vocation of hymnological writing and study. Daw’s hymns were first published in The Hymnal 1982, as he served on the editorial committee. He is best known today for hymns such as “Like the murmur of the dove’s song” (1981), “O day of peace that dimly shines” (1982), and “Restore in us, O God” (1989). He was executive director of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada from 1996–2009, being named a Fellow in 2007.

Beginning in 2016, Daw began composing paraphrases of all one hundred fifty psalms. Set poetically using modern language, these paraphrases aim to “give us the ability to interpret the psalm text anew, providing it with immediacy and application that it otherwise might not have” (Daw, 2018, p. v). He completed the collection in 2022, and it is published in three volumes by Hope Publishing Company, titled Praise, Lament, and Prayer: A Psalter for Singing.

“Hear the Turmoil of the Nations,” based on Psalm 2, is in the first volume of the collection. Biblically, Psalm 2 does not have an author prescribed in the text, though Acts 4 attributes the words to David.

On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:

“Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord
and against his anointed one.”

Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:23–30, NIV).

In the larger context of Acts 4, the Sanhedrin rulers and leaders have gathered to respond to actions taken by Simon Peter in the previous chapter. A lame beggar confronted Peter and John as they entered the temple. Instead of giving him money, Peter ordered the man to walk in Jesus' name, and his ankles were instantly strengthened (Acts 3:6–8). The church leaders in the New Testament acted in a way that Psalm 2 advises against. They trusted their authority versus God’s supreme authority. As a result, Simon Peter (representing Christ) stood up to the leaders, saying that Christ is the cornerstone upon which the church is built (Acts 4:11). After conferring, the leaders acknowledged that the man was healed through the power of the Lord, but that further spreading this would be a detriment and ordered Peter and John to no longer teach or heal in the name of Jesus. Peter’s and John’s responses connect directly to the advice in the psalm. The disciples asked the question, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him?” (Acts 4:18.) In The Oxford Bible Commentary, Loveday Alexander described this as a “legitimate exercise of free speech in the face of a tyrannical abuse of authority” (Alexander, 2007, p. 1034).

In the preface to volume one of Praise, Lament, and Prayer, Daw stated that his primary source for the psalms came from the Book of Common Prayer (1979) of the Episcopal Church (Daw, p. vii). In Daw’s paraphrase, the psalm is almost completely represented throughout the three-stanza hymn. The three stanzas mirror the three-part structure of the psalm:

  • Part one (vv. 1–3) describes earthly world leaders conspiring together to rise against God.
  • Part two (vv. 4–9) shifts the perspective, and we hear that God has already enthroned a king to reign over us.
  • Part three (vv. 10–12) demonstrates the consequences of the actions in vv. 1–3: be warned, for the authority of kings on earth pales compared to the ruler of the heavenly kingdom.

Daw uses a similar style of brutally honest, God-fearing rhetoric in the few lines of the hymn that are not direct paraphrases. The line, “Few take time to seek God’s blessing, while some others falsely claim,” could be interpreted as a direct claim that today's government leaders are acting just as the Sanhedrin did in Acts 4. Stanza 2 of the paraphrase is set in the past tense, reflecting its psalmic origin. Here, God takes an active role in instilling the king on the holy hill. Despite this adherence to the psalm’s origins, the end of stanza two distinctly nods to the New Testament, where the “dormant promise” is fulfilled through the coming of Jesus Christ.

While Daw’s text could be read as a harsh, direct warning to world leaders that God’s way is THE way, this would overlook its biblical origin. In the psalm, David instructs the rulers of the earth to “submit to the Lord with fear, and with trembling bow before him” (Ps 2:11). Daw’s paraphrase is just as direct: “Listen, all who govern nations! Turn to God for strength and courage when your fears and doubts increase.” More broadly, the text reaffirms a caution against excessive hubris. In his commentary, Daw writes that “this final stanza is addressed to the leaders of the nations, warning them to turn to God and promising that they will be blessed by God” (Daw, 2018, p. 125).

In volume one, each paraphrase is set to a public domain tune. In choosing a tune, Daw would usually settle on a poetic meter and complete one stanza of the paraphrase, then look for tunes that might best fit the meter. For “Hear the turmoil,” Daw chose the Welsh tune EBENEZER because “its constant movement seems to provide a musical expression of the world in turmoil” (Daw, 2018, p. 125). Nearly every measure of this strong tune uses a triplet figure on the second beat. The continuous rising and falling of the tune, combined with its grounded tonality in F minor, adds a sense of restlessness and instability to the foreboding text.

Paraphrasing psalms, familiar and unfamiliar, in this way, can allow worshipers to recognize aspects of the scripture that may not be evident in biblical prose. “Hear the Turmoil of the Nations” takes a psalm that is used only once in the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A: Transfiguration of our Lord) and presents it in an accessible, relevant way that makes it especially suitable for congregational singing. Candler School of Theology Professor Joel LeMon writes that “Psalm 2 provides critical background for understanding both what it means and what it meant to recognize Jesus as messiah (i.e., the Christ) and Lord” (LeMon, 2014). This commentary aligns with Daw’s intention of mixing past and present tense in his poetry. This psalm and its paraphrase are both a historical account of biblical theology and a reminder of God’s omniscience in the present day.


Verses marked NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Nick Klemetson is a graduate of St. Olaf College and Emory University. He is the parish organist at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Lakeland, FL, and teaches courses in music history and the history of jazz at Florida Southern College. A published composer, currently he is a candidate in the Doctor of Pastoral Music program, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, where he studied hymnology with Dr. C. Michael Hawn.

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