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Go Down, Moses

Full Text

1 When Israel was in Egypt's land,
Let my people go,
oppressed so hard they could not stand,
Let my people go.

Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt's land,
tell old Pharaoh: Let my people go.

2 The Lord told Moses what to do,
Let my people go,
to lead the Hebrew children through,
Let my people go. [Refrain]

3 As Israel stood by the waterside,
Let my people go,
at God's command it did divide,
Let my people go. [Refrain]

4 When they had reached the other shore,
Let my people go,
they let the song of triumph soar,
Let my people go. [Refrain]

5 Lord, help us all from bondage flee,
Let my people go,
and let us all in Christ be free,
Let my people go. [Refrain]

Psalter Hymnal, 1987

Text Information

First Line: When Israel was in Egypt's Land
Title: Go Down, Moses
Meter: Irregular
Source: African-American spiritual
Language: English
Refrain First Line: Go down, Moses
Copyright: Public Domain
Liturgical Use: Scripture Songs


Scripture References:
all st. = Ex. 7

This African American spiritual dates from before the Civil War. It was published in the Jubilee Songs (1872), made popular by the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University in their concert tours (see also PHH 356). Often known by its refrain line, "Go down, Moses," the spiritual was also published in J. B. T. Marsh's The Story of the Jubilee Singers with their Songs (1876). "When Israel Was in Egypt's Land" originally had twenty-four stanzas of which the Psalter Hymnal (as well as other modern hymnals) include four narrative stanzas and one stanza of application. Commenting on the spiritual’s message, John Lovell, Jr., writes:

"Go Down, Moses" does not employ the undercurrent symbolism of "Steal Away to Jesus" and other such poems. Only a very obtuse listener can miss its point. It says flatly that Moses freed these Egyptian slaves boldly and justly because slavery is wrong. It clearly projects the principles of this experience to all the world: wherever men are held in bondage, they must and shall be freed. The "Let my people go!" refrain is thunderous. It does not argue economic, sociological, historical, and racial points. . . . It wastes no words and moves relentlessly toward its goal of filling every listener with a pervasive contempt for oppression and a resounding enthusiasm for freedom.
-from Black Song, 1972, pp. 326-327

A stanza not printed in the Psalter Hymnal reiterates Lovell's point:

We need not always weep and moan
Let my people go!
And wear these slavery chains forlorn
Let my people go!

Psalter Hymnal is a prayer to God for freedom for all who are oppressed, a petition for liberation in Christ.

Liturgical Use:
Worship that focuses on the Old Testament Exodus event or on redemption for the oppressed and freedom in Christ; Easter Vigil service.

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook



The spiritual is in the call-and-response pattern: a leader sings the verses with some rhythmic freedom, either unaccompanied or with only light accompaniment; the entire congregation sings the phrases "Let my people go!" and the refrain, probably in harmony. That practice fits well for stanzas 1-4,…

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The Cyber Hymnal #7404
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Psalter Hymnal (Gray) #476
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Worship and Rejoice #618


Instances (1 - 29 of 29)Text InfoTune InfoTextScoreFlexScoreAudioPage Scan
African American Heritage Hymnal #543TextPage Scan
Chalice Hymnal #663Text
Church Hymnal, Fifth Edition #679
Gather Comprehensive #715TextPage Scan
Glory to God: the Presbyterian Hymnal #52Text InfoTextAudio
Hymnal 1982: according to the use of the Episcopal Church #648Text
Hymnal Supplement 98 #825TextPage Scan
Hymnal: A Worship Book #164
Hymns for a Pilgrim People: a congregational hymnal #453
Lead Me, Guide Me (2nd ed.) #650
Lift Every Voice and Sing II: an African American hymnal #228Text
Lift Up Your Hearts: psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs #42TextFlexscoreAudioPage Scan
Oramos Cantando = We Pray In Song #488
Presbyterian Hymnal: hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs #334Text
Psalter Hymnal (Gray) #476Text InfoTune InfoTextScoreFlexscoreAudioPage Scan
Sing With Me #71Text
Songs for Life #103Text
The Covenant Hymnal: a worshipbook #119
The Cyber Hymnal #7404TextScoreAudio
The New Century Hymnal #572TextPage Scan
The New National Baptist Hymnal #499
The United Methodist Hymnal #448TextAudio
This Far By Faith: an African American resource for worship #87TextPage Scan
Timeless Truths #89Text
With One Voice #670TextPage Scan
Worship (3rd ed.) #508TextPage Scan
Worship (4th ed.) #579
Worship and Rejoice #618TextScoreAudioPage Scan
Worship in Song: A Friends Hymnal #294
Include 19 pre-1979 instances