Night, With Ebon Pinion

By Matt DeVore

 

Night, With Ebon Pinion is a classic hymn rich in meaning. The lyrics recount Jesus’ time in the garden of Gethsemane immediately before He was betrayed by the kiss of Judas, arrested, tried, and crucified. It covers His mental anguish, His loneliness, and His prayer to the Father.

 

Let’s read from Isaiah 53, Mark 14 and Luke 22, which are the foundational texts for this hymn.

 

He was despised and rejected by men;

a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;

and as one from whom men hide their faces

he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his stripes we are healed. (Isa 53.3–5)

 

And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch." And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."

And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand." (Mark 14.32–36; Luke 22.43–44; Mark 14.37–42).

 

Night, With Ebon Pinion draws from these texts in a beautiful way and can aid us in meditating upon the suffering of our Savior. But this hymn suffers from difficult archaic language—even in the title—which can serve as a barrier to the modern, English-speaking Christian’s understanding of the lyrics and thus hinder its usefulness. Since we are instructed to sing with the spirit and with understanding (1 Cor 14.15), this difficulty needs to be overcome in order for the hymn to be effective in its intended purpose.

 

What follows are the original lyrics of Night, With Ebon Pinion on one line followed by a paraphrase using words that are more easily understood by the modern worshiper on the next line. The paraphrase is intended as a sort of commentary—not as a replacement for the excellent poetry of the original hymn.


1. Night, with ebon pinion, brooded o’er the vale;

Night that was as dark as the wing of a black bird covered the Kidron Valley;


All around was silent, save the night wind’s wail,

It was quiet except for the howling of the wind,

 

When Christ, the Man of Sorrows,
In tears, and sweat, and blood,
[Newer hymnals: In tears, and sweat as blood,]

Shedding tears and sweating so profusely that the drops of sweat were like drops of blood,

 

Prostrate in the garden, raised His voice to God.
Laid face-down in the garden of Gethsemane and cried out to God in prayer.

2. Smitten for offenses which were not His own,

Punished for crimes that He did not commit,

 

He, for our transgressions, had to weep alone;
He had to weep alone because of our sins.

 

No friend with words to comfort,
Nor hand to help was there,
Since the disciples were sleeping, He had no friends there to say comforting words to Him nor to help Him,

 

When the Meek and Lowly humbly bowed in prayer.
When Jesus, submitting to the Father with humility, prayed to Him.

(On Meek and Lowly, see Matt 11.29)

3. “Abba, Father, Father, if indeed it may,

Dear and respected Father, if it is possible,

 

Let this cup of anguish pass from Me, I pray;
Allow Me to avoid this terrible suffering I am about to go through.

 

Yet, if it must be suffered, by Me, Thine only Son,
But, if it is necessary that I go through this suffering, even though I am Your only Son,

 

Abba, Father, Father, let Thy will be done.”
My dear respected Father, let Your will be done.

 

As we consider the meaningful content of this hymn, we should be better able to identify with the sickening grief that Jesus endured in the time before his arrest.  We should feel the darkness of the night and the chill of the wind as He was fervently praying without any earthly friend.  We should be able to hear His sorrowful praying and feel the warm sweat-drops falling from His face.  We should feel shameful as we consider that He was receiving the wages of our sins, having no guilt of His own.  And, as we see His ultimate example of submissive obedience, we should be both awestruck and zealous to emulate His great example. 

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