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The Biblical Texts for Handel's Messiah

The following are the Biblical texts for George Frederick Handel's musical masterpiece, The Messiah. Most of the lyrics are direct quotes of the Biblical texts, but a few are modified slightly, primarily to change verb tense, or a change in person (for example, from first to third person for Matthew 11:30).

According to Jay Welch, "The omission of certain numbers out of the original 53 is in keeping with a tradition of excisions established by the composer himself" (a quote from the album-cover notes of the Philadelphia Orchestra/Mormon Tabernacle Choir recording of the work). I have two separate recordings of The Messiah, neither of which contain numbers 34-37, so I do not have the texts for those.

For the most part, all I have done here is give the text as it is in the King James Version. The King James Version with which we are familiar today is actually the fourth edition of that translation, published in 1769. Since this work was composed in 1741-1742, the edition of the KJV that was used would have been slightly different in some places, and that may account for some of the variations. I have noted, in at least some of the instances, a change in person, or when a variant reading is used, or made other notes when I have noticed variations. However, you will probably find a few others which I have not noted.

The compilation of the text is generally attributed to Mr. Charles Jennens, a friend of Handel's. However, some scholars believe it was actually compiled by Jennens' secretary, one Mr. Pooley, who was a clergyman. Whatever the case, judging by the use of marginal readings and variant translations, I am inclined to believe that whoever compiled the text was quite familiar with Scripture.

Overture                                          (Number 1)
                                                  (Number 2) 
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.               
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her,
that her warfare is accomplished,
that her iniquity is pardoned: 
for she hath received of the LORD's hand double for all her sins.  
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,                    
Prepare ye the way of the LORD,                                    
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.               
Every valley shall be exalted,                    (Number 3)                                     
and every mountain and hill shall be made low;                     
and the crooked shall be made straight,                            
and the rough places plain:                                        
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,      (Number 4)                   
and all flesh shall see it together:                               
for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.                          

                                               Isaiah 40:1-5


For thus saith the LORD of hosts;                 (Number 5)
Yet once, it is a little while,
and I will shake the heavens, and the earth,
and the sea, and the dry land;
And I will shake all nations, 
and the desire of all nations shall come:
and I will fill this house with glory,
saith the LORD of hosts.

                                                Haggai 2:6-7

Behold, I will send my messenger,
and he shall prepare the way before me:
and the Lord, whom ye seek,
shall suddenly come to his temple,
even the messenger of the covenant,
whom ye delight in:
behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.
But who may abide the day of his coming?          (Number 6)
and who shall stand when he appeareth?
for he is like a refiner's fire, 
and like fullers' soap:
*                                                 (Number 7)
And he shall set as a refiner and purifier of silver:
and he shall purify the sons of Levi,             
and purge them as gold and silver,
that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.

                                               Malachi 3:1-3

                                                  (Number 8)
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign;
Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,
and shall call his name Immanuel.
                                                 Isaiah 7:14

...which being interpreted is, God with us.
                                                Matthew 1:23

                                                  (Number 9)
O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion,
get thee up into the high mountain:
O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem,
lift up thy voice with strength;
lift it up, be not afraid;
say unto the cities of Judah,
Behold your God!
Arise, shine; for thy light is come,
and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee.

                                  Isaiah 40:9 (margin), 60:1

                                                 (Number 10)

For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,
and gross darkness the people:
but the LORD shall arise upon thee,
and his glory shall be seen upon thee.
And the Gentiles shall come to thy light,
and kings to the brightness of thy rising.
                                               Isaiah 60:2-3

                                                 (Number 11)

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light:
they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death,
upon them hath the light shined.

                                                  Isaiah 9:2

                                                 (Number 12)

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor,
The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

                                                  Isaiah 9:6

Interlude: Pastoral Symphony                     (Number 13)
                                                 (Number 14)

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field,
keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them,
and the glory of the Lord shone round about them:
and they were sore afraid.
*                                                (Number 15)
And the angel said unto them, Fear not:
for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy,
which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour,
which is Christ the Lord.

                                                 Luke 2:8-11

                                                 (Number 16)

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the
heavenly host praising God, and saying,
*                                                (Number 17)
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace,
good will toward men.

                                                Luke 2:13-14

                                                 (Number 18)
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O daughter of Jerusalem:
behold, thy King cometh unto thee:
he is just, and having salvation;1
lowly, and riding upon an ass,
and upon a colt the foal of an ass.
And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim,
and the horse from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow shall be cut off:
and he shall speak peace unto the heathen:
and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea,
and from the river even to the ends of the earth.

                                            Zechariah 9:9-10

1"He is the righteous saviour" - this is either
artistic license, or a variant reading which was used in
Handel's day.  This reading is not in any of the editions or
translations of the Bible with which I am familiar - CAS.
                                                 (Number 19)
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, 
and the tongue of the dumb sing:
for in the wilderness shall waters break out,
and streams in the desert.

                                               Isaiah 35:5-6

                                                 (Number 20)
He shall feed his flock like a shepherd:
he shall gather the lambs with his arm,
and carry them in his bosom,
and shall gently lead those that are with young.

                                                Isaiah 40:11

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, 
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me;
for I am meek and lowly in heart:
and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 

                                            Matthew 11:28-29
                                   (changed to third person)                                                         person)

                                                 (Number 21)
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

                                               Matthew 11:30
                                   (changed to third person)

                                                 (Number 22)
The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith,
Behold the Lamb of God, 
which taketh away the sin of the world.

                                                   John 1:29


He is despised and rejected of men;              (Number 23)
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief:
and we hid as it were our faces from him;
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he hath borne our griefs,                 (Number 24)
and carried our sorrows:
yet we did esteem him stricken,
smitten of God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions, 
he was bruised for our iniquities:
the chastisement of our peace was upon him;
and with his stripes we are healed.              (Number 25)
All we like sheep have gone astray;              (Number 26)
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

                                               Isaiah 53:3-6

                                                 (Number 27)
All they that see me laugh me to scorn:       
they shoot out the lip, the shake the head, saying,
*                                                (Number 28)
He trusted in the LORD that he would deliver him:
let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.

                                                Psalm 22:7-8

                                                 (Number 29)

Thy rebuke hath broken his heart; and he is full of heaviness:
and he looked for some to take pity on him, but there was no man;
neither found he any to comfort him.

The closest match I could find to this, using a concordance,
is Psalm 69:20.  The compiler may have been familiar with an
alternate translation of this verse which is not listed in
the margins of any modern editions of the KJV.  Psalm 69:20,
as found in today's KJV, is reproduced below.

Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness:
and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none;
and for comforters, but I found none.

                                                 Psalm 69:20

                                                 (Number 30)
Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?
behold, and see
if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow,
which is done unto me,
wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me
in the day of his fierce anger.

                                           Lamentations 1:12

                                                 (Number 31)
He was taken from prison and from judgment:
and who shall declare his generation?
for he was cut off out of the land of the living:
for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

                                                 Isaiah 53:8

                                                 (Number 32)
For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell;
neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

                                                 Psalm 16:10

Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell,
neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

                                                   Acts 2:27

He could have had either text in mind.  In either case, it
was modified slightly and changed to third person.

                                                 (Number 33)
Lift up your heads, O ye gates;
and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors;
and the King of glory shall come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
the LORD mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O ye gates;
even lift them up, ye everlasting doors;
and the King of glory shall come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory.  Selah.

                                               Psalm 24:7-10
                                                 (Number 38)
And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written,
How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace,
and bring glad tidings of good things!

                                                Romans 10:15

                                                 (Number 39)
But I say, Have they not heard?
Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth,
and their words unto the ends of the world.

                                                Romans 10:18

                                                 (Number 40)
Why do the heathen rage,
and the people imagine a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying,
Let us break their bands asunder,                (Number 41)
and cast away their cords from us.

                                                 Psalm 2:1-3

                                                 (Number 42)
He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh:
the Lord shall have them in derision.

                                                   Psalm 2:4

                                                 (Number 43)
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron;
thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.

                                                   Psalm 2:9

                                                 (Number 44)
And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude,
and as the voice of many waters,
and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying,
Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

                                             Revelation 19:6

And the seventh angel sounded;
and there were great voices in heaven, saying,
The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord,
and of his Christ;
and he shall reign for ever and ever.

                                            Revelation 11:15

And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written,

                                            Revelation 19:16

                                                 (Number 45)
For I know that my redeemer liveth,
and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth;
And though after my skin worms destroy this body,
yet in my flesh shall I see God.

                                                Job 19:25-26

But now is Christ risen from the dead,
and become the firstfruits of them that slept.

                                                I Cor. 15:20
                                                 (Number 46)
For since by man came death,
by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die,
even so in christ shall all be made alive.

                                      I Corinthians 15:21-22

                                                 (Number 47)
Behold, I shew you a mystery;
We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump:
for the trumpet shall sound,
and the dead shall be raised incorruptible,      (Number 48)
and we shall be changed.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption,
and this mortal must put on immortality.
*                                                (Number 49)
So when this curruptible shall have put on incorruption,
and this mortal shall have put on immortality,
then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written,
Death is swallowed up in victory.      
O death, where is thy sting?                     (Number 50)
O grave, where is thy victory?
The sting of death is sin;
and the strength of sin is the law.
*                                                (Number 51)
But thanks be to God,   
which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

                                     1 Cor. 15:51-57

                                                 (Number 52)
What shall we then say to these things?
If God be for us, who can be against us?
He that spared not his own son,
but delivered him up for us all,
how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect?
It is God that justifieth.
Who is he that condemneth?
It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again,
who is even at the right hand of God,
who also maketh intercession for us.

                                              Romans 8:31-34

                                                 (Number 53)
And they sung a new song, saying,
Thou art worthy to take the book,
and to open the seals thereof:
for thou wast slain, 
and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood
out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
Saying with a loud voice,
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power,
and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour,
and glory, and blessing.
And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth,
and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, 
and all that are in them, heard I saying,
Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power,
be unto him that sitteth upon the throne,
and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
And the four beasts said, Amen.
And the four and twenty elders fell down and 
worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.

                                       Revelation 5:9, 12-14


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