SINGING WITH THE UNDERSTANDING: “IVORY PALACES”

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Neal Pollard

A little less than a century ago, Henry Barraclough wrote one of the most unique, lyrically-rich songs in our songbook.  The musical arrangement is soothing in a way that matches the meaning of the words.  However, its poetry has caused some problems.

The first verse begins, “My Lord has garments so wondrous fine, and myrrh their texture fills; Its fragrance reached to this heart of mine, with joy my being thrills.”  This and the following verses must be understood in light of the chorus, which essentially tells us that Jesus left the perfect splendor of heaven to come to this sinful earth because of His unmatched love.  With that background, we understand Barraclough’s meaning to be figurative.  Jesus did not wear the clothes of a king while on earth.  Thus, the writer seems to speak of the qualities of Jesus’ character, the power and influence of it.  Myrrh  is a perfume, a theme the writer uses through the various stanzas of the song.  So, this first verse speaks of the attractiveness of Jesus’ character.

The second verse talks about the sorrow and pain He allowed Himself to endure.  While we think of aloe as a healing plant, the writer speaks of it in the sense of its bitter root (see the footnote at the bottom of the song in Praise For The Lord). While Jesus was a king, He was also the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (cf. Isa. 53:3).

The third verse shifts the focus to Jesus as the Great Physician.  He’s an attractive king, He’s a suffering Savior, but He’s also the able healer.  The word “cassia,” as once again a footnote supplies, is a “medicinal herb.”  The idea is that He rescues us from our sin problem.

The final verse refers to Jesus’ second coming.  He will bring the faithful Christian to heaven.  Taken together, we see Jesus in the “garb” (clothes) of King, Savior, Physician, and Judge.  Driving it all is “only His great eternal love.”  Understanding the underlying theme of the songwriter helps us to better worship and better appreciate the perfect Son of God. 

5 thoughts on “SINGING WITH THE UNDERSTANDING: “IVORY PALACES”

  1. Pingback: SINGING WITH THE UNDERSTANDING: “IVORY PALACES” | Preacherpollard's Blog

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