The words for Handel’s Messiah

This last Saturday Handel’s Messiah was performed both by Ottery Choral Society at the Ottery St Mary Parish Church and also by Colyton Grammar School Choir at Exeter Cathedral.

Handel got the lyrics from a preacher named Charles Jennens, who wrote out the whole piece as a collage of Bible verses designed to tell the story of the Messiah. In some cases Jennens copied verses from the King James Version of the Bible directly, and in other cases he abridged or modified the wording of the Bible verses a bit to fit into something that could be set to music and sung. He also decided to change the ‘point of view’ in places;  rather than quoting Jesus’ words about himself directly, for instance, he made it so that the singers are singing about Jesus rather than portraying the role of Jesus.

I’ve deliberately compiled not these exact lyrics, but the Scriptures used; I have used the New Century Version, a modern translation.  They make a long and interesting study of some of the prophecies and life of Jesus.


Part One
1. Sinfonia (Overture)
2. Tenor Recitative. — Isaiah 40:1-3
Your God says,
“Comfort, comfort my people.
Speak kindly to the people of Jerusalem
and tell them
that their time of service is finished,
that they have paid for their sins,
that the Lord has punished Jerusalem
twice for every sin they did.”
This is the voice of one who calls out:
“Prepare in the desert
the way for the Lord.
Make a straight road in the dry lands
for our God.
3. Tenor Air — Isaiah 40:4
Every valley should be raised up,
and every mountain and hill should be made flat.
The rough ground should be made level,
and the rugged ground should be made smooth.
4. Chorus — Isaiah 40:5
Then the glory of the Lord will be shown,
and all people together will see it.
The Lord himself said these things.
5. Bass Recitative — Haggai 2:6,7; Malachi 3:1
This is what the Lord All-Powerful says: ‘In a short time I will once again shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land.  I will shake all the nations, and they will bring their wealth. Then I will fill this Temple with glory,’ says the Lord All-Powerful.
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way for me. Suddenly, the Lord you are looking for will come to his Temple; the messenger of the agreement, whom you want, will come.”
6. Bass Air — Malachi 3:2
No one can live through that time; no one can survive when he comes. He will be like a purifying fire and like laundry soap.
7. Chorus — Malachi 3:3
Like someone who heats and purifies silver, he will purify the Levites and make them pure like gold and silver. Then they will bring offerings to the Lord in the right way.
8. Alto Recitative — Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23
The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be pregnant. She will have a son, and she will name him Immanuel.
The virgin will be pregnant. She will have a son, and they will name him Immanuel,” which means “God is with us.”

9. Alto Air and Chorus — Isaiah 40:9; Isaiah 60:1
Jerusalem, you have good news to tell.
Go up on a high mountain.
Jerusalem, you have good news to tell.
Shout out loud the good news.
Shout it out and don’t be afraid.
Say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God.”
Jerusalem, get up and shine, because your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord shines on you.
10. Bass Recitative — Isaiah 60:2,3
Darkness now covers the earth;
deep darkness covers her people.
But the Lord shines on you,
and people see his glory around you.
Nations will come to your light;
kings will come to the brightness of your sunrise.
11. Bass Air — Isaiah 9:2
Before those people lived in darkness,
but now they have seen a great light.
They lived in a dark land,
but a light has shined on them.
12. Chorus — Isaiah 9:6
A child has been born to us;
God has given a son to us.
He will be responsible for leading the people.
His name will be Wonderful Counselor, Powerful God,
Father Who Lives Forever, Prince of Peace.
13. Pifa (Pastoral Symphony)
14. Soprano Recitative — Luke 2:8,9
That night, some shepherds were in the fields nearby watching their sheep. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them. The glory of the Lord was shining around them, and they became very frightened.
15. Soprano Recitative — Luke 2:10,11
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I am bringing you good news that will be a great joy to all the people. Today your Savior was born in the town of David. He is Christ, the Lord.
16. Soprano Recitative — Luke 2:13
Then a very large group of angels from heaven joined the first angel, praising God and saying:
17. Chorus — Luke 2:14
“Give glory to God in heaven,
and on earth let there be peace among the people who please God.”
18. Soprano Air — Zechariah 9:9,10
Rejoice greatly, people of Jerusalem!
Shout for joy, people of Jerusalem!
Your king is coming to you.
He does what is right, and he saves.
He is gentle and riding on a donkey,
on the colt of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the horses from Jerusalem.
The bows used in war will be broken.
The king will talk to the nations about peace.
His kingdom will go from sea to sea,
and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.
19. Alto Recitative — Isaiah 35:5,6
Then the blind people will see again,
and the deaf will hear.
Crippled people will jump like deer,
and those who can’t talk now will shout with joy.
Water will flow in the desert,
and streams will flow in the dry land.
20. Alto Air — Isaiah 40:11; Matthew 11:28, 29
He takes care of his people like a shepherd.
He gathers them like lambs in his arms
and carries them close to him.
He gently leads the mothers of the lambs.
“Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives.”
21. Chorus — Matthew 11:30
“The burden that I ask you to accept is easy; the load I give you to carry is light.”

Part Two
22. Chorus — John 1:29
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him. John said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
23. Alto Air — Isaiah 53:3; Isaiah 50:6
He was hated and rejected by people.
He had much pain and suffering.
People would not even look at him.
He was hated, and we didn’t even notice him.
I offered my back to those who beat me.
I offered my cheeks to those who pulled my beard.
I won’t hide my face from them
when they make fun of me and spit at me.
24. Chorus — Isaiah 53:4,5
But he took our suffering on him
and felt our pain for us.
We saw his suffering
and thought God was punishing him.
But he was wounded for the wrong we did;
he was crushed for the evil we did.
The punishment, which made us well, was given to him.
25. Chorus — Isaiah 53:5
And we are healed because of his wounds.
26. Chorus — Isaiah 53:6
We all have wandered away like sheep;
each of us has gone his own way.
But the Lord has put on him the punishment
for all the evil we have done.
27. Tenor Recitative — Psalm 22:7
Those who look at me laugh.
They stick out their tongues and shake their heads.  They say:
28. Chorus — Psalm 22:8
“Turn to the Lord for help.
Maybe he will save you.
If he likes you,
maybe he will rescue you.”
29. Soprano Recitative — Psalm 69:20
Insults have broken my heart
and left me weak.
I looked for sympathy, but there was none;
I found no one to comfort me.
30. Soprano Air — Lamentations 1:12
Jerusalem says, “You who pass by on the road don’t seem to care.
Come, look at me and see:
Is there any pain like mine?
Is there any pain like that he has caused me?”
31. Tenor Recitative — Isaiah 53:8
Men took him away roughly and unfairly.
He died without children to continue his family.
He was put to death;
he was punished for the sins of my people.
32. Tenor Air — Psalm 16:10
You will not leave me in the grave.
You will not let your holy one rot.
33. Chorus — Psalm 24:7-10
Open up, you gates.
Open wide, you aged doors
and the glorious King will come in.
Who is this glorious King?
The Lord, strong and mighty.
The Lord, the powerful warrior.
Open up, you gates.
Open wide, you aged doors
and the glorious King will come in.
Who is this glorious King?
The Lord All-Powerful—
he is the glorious King.
34. Tenor Recitative — Hebrews 1:5

This is because God never said to any of the angels,

“You are my Son.
Today I have become your Father.”
Nor did God say of any angel,

“I will be his Father,
and he will be my Son.”

35. Chorus — Hebrews 1:6
“Let all God’s angels worship him.”
36. Bass Air — Psalm 68:18
When you went up to the heights,
you led a parade of captives.
You received gifts from the people,
even from those who turned against you.
And the Lord God will live there.
37. Chorus — Psalm 68:11
The Lord gave the command,
and a great army told the news.
38. Duetto for 2 Alto Solos and Chorus — Romans 10:15
“How beautiful is the person who comes to bring good news.”[a]
[39. Chorus — Romans 10:18
“Their message went out through all the world;
their words go everywhere on earth.”  Not sung in the original performance.]
40. Bass Air — Psalm 2:1,2
Why are the nations so angry?
Why are the people making useless plans?
The kings of the earth prepare to fight,
and their leaders make plans together
against the Lord
and his appointed one.
41. Chorus — Psalm 2:3
“Let’s break the chains that hold us back
and throw off the ropes that tie us down.”
42. Tenor Recitative — Psalm 2:4
But the one who sits in heaven laughs;
the Lord makes fun of them.
43. Tenor Air — Psalm 2:9
You will rule over them with an iron rod.
You will break them into pieces like pottery.
44. Chorus — Revelation 19:6, 11:15, 19:16
Our Lord God, the Almighty, rules.
The power to rule the world now belongs to our Lord and his Christ,
and he will rule forever and ever.
King of kings and Lord of lords.

Part Three
45. Soprano Air — Job 19:25, 26; 1 Corinthians 15:20
I know that my Defender lives,
and in the end he will stand upon the earth.

Even after my skin has been destroyed,
in my flesh I will see God.
But Christ has truly been raised from the dead—the first one and proof that those who sleep in death will also be raised.
46. Chorus — 1 Corinthians 15:21, 22
Death has come because of what one man did, but the rising from death also comes because of one man. In Adam all of us die. In the same way, in Christ all of us will be made alive again.
47. Bass Recitative — 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52
But look! I tell you this secret: We will not all sleep in death, but we will all be changed. It will take only a second—as quickly as an eye blinks—when the last trumpet sounds.
48. Bass Air — 1 Corinthians 15:52, 53
The trumpet will sound, and those who have died will be raised to live forever, and we will all be changed.  This body that can be destroyed must clothe itself with something that can never be destroyed. And this body that dies must clothe itself with something that can never die.

49. Alto Air — 1 Corinthians 15:54b

When this happens, this Scripture will be made true:

“Death is destroyed forever in victory.”
50. Duetto for Alto and Tenor — 1 Corinthians 15:55, 56
“Death, where is your victory?
Death, where is your pain?”
Death’s power to hurt is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
51. Chorus — 1 Corinthians 15:57
But we thank God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
52. Alto Air — Romans 8:31, 33, 34
If God is for us, no one can defeat us. Who can accuse the people God has chosen? No one, because God is the One who makes them right. Who can say God’s people are guilty? No one, because Christ Jesus died, but he was also raised from the dead, and now he is on God’s right side, appealing to God for us.
53. Chorus — Revelation 5:12, 13

“The Lamb who was killed is worthy
to receive power, wealth, wisdom, and strength,
honour, glory, and praise!
To the One who sits on the throne
and to the Lamb
be praise and honour and glory and power
forever and ever.”


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