Hymn Story

Go Tell It on the Mountain

Hymn lists

by book of Bible

“Go Tell It on the Mountain” is an African-American spiritual that celebrates the birth of Christ.  It calls us to do the most natural thing in the world—to spread the news about something wonderful that we have found.  That wonderful thing, of course, is the birth of the Christ child.

We have no idea who wrote the words to this song, but we can make an educated guess regarding his/her inspiration.  The prophet Isaiah wrote:

You who tell good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain.

You who tell good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with strength.

Lift it up. Don’t be afraid.

Say to the cities of Judah, “Behold, your God!” (Isaiah 40:9).

Isaiah also wrote:

How beautiful on the mountains

are the feet of him who brings good news,

who publishes peace,

who brings good news of good,

who publishes salvation,

who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

“Go Tell It on the Mountain” would surely have been lost long ago, except for the work of John W. Work, Jr. and his brother, Frederick J. Work.  Those brothers searched Appalachia for American spirituals, and in 1907 published a collection entitled Folk Songs of the American Negro.

The verses of this song are short and simple—two lines each—likewise the chorus.  It tells of shepherds whose evening was interrupted by a holy light—and an angel’s chorus.  It tells of the Christ-child, born in a lowly manger—and the salvation that he brought us.  Then it says:

Go tell it on the mountain,

over the hills and everywhere

Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ was born.

It strikes me as more than coincidence that Jesus, at the end of his ministry on Earth, stood on a mountain and challenged his disciples (and us) with the same message.  He put it this way:

Go, and make disciples of all nations,

baptizing them in the name of the Father

and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you.

Behold, I am with you always,

even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).

Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.

Copyright 2014, Richard Niell Donovan