What is an “Ebon Pinion”?

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

I remember singing this song as a kid during worship services.  It was almost always sang right before communion.  And I always remember thinking, “An ebon pinion?  What in the world is that?  And who talks like that anymore?”

Many of you may know this song.  As I’ve gotten older, it has become one of my favorites.  Once I learned the meaning of the words, it has become to me one of the more beautiful and moving songs that we sing.

Unfortunately, many of us will sing this and other songs (just like I did for many years) without knowing the meaning of the words.  You may think, “I’m just singing along.  What’s the big deal?”  Would you ever want your preacher to stand in the pulpit and use words that he doesn’t understand?  Would you want someone to lead a prayer and speak words that he’s only heard someone else say without knowing their true meaning?  You can see the obvious danger in that.  How would the preacher know whether or not he was speaking false doctrine?

Singing is no different.  If we sing the words to a song and don’t even know what the words mean, how can we possibly be teaching and admonishing one another (Colossians 3:16).  Or better yet, how do we know that we aren’t teaching each other error in what we are saying?  When we sing, we are doing more than singing along with a song.  We are singing to encourage each other.  We are singing to teach those around us.  We are singing to praise God.  If we don’t understand what we are saying, how can we really do that?

Let’s go through the definition of the some of the words for the song Night, with Ebon Pinion.  I really think this will help you to better understand the song.  These definitions are coming from www.merriam-webster.com, then summarized into my own wording.

Ebon – this word refers to something that is black or very dark.  The word ebony is a heavy, blackish wood from various tropical trees.

Pinion – if you have an engineering background, you may be thinking of a type of gear, but this song is not about gears.  The pinion in this song is referring to the pinion joint in the wing of a bird.  I’m not a veterinarian, but from best I can tell it’s like the bird’s version of the human wrist.  To simplify it, you just need to know that this word is referring to a section of a bird’s wing.

Brooded – the verb form of the word brood, which is how it is used in this song, refers to the act of caring for or incubating.  An example would be how a chicken sits on her eggs, or how a bird will cover her young with her wing.

Vale – this is a shortened way of saying the word valley.

With those definitions, let’s look at the first line of that song again.  “Night with ebon pinion, brooded over the vale;”  The writer, Love H. Jameson, is very poetically setting the scene of Jesus as He begins his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46).  The night is so dark and consuming, it is like the black wing of a bird covering the entire valley.  Imagine a night where the darkness seemed so heavy that it felt like it was consuming you.  This line of the song also helps to describe Jesus’ possible mental state at the time of His prayer.  It would be one of much stress, like a large dark weight is pressing down on Him, knowing that He was soon going to be crucified.

The next line is much easier to understand in our modern language.  “All around was silent, save the night-wind’s wail.”  It is setting more of the landscape around Christ, indicating that it was completely silent in the garden, and the only noise that can be heard is the whistling of the wind.  It is a time when Christ was about to pour His heart out to His father.

The only additional word I think might be somewhat new to a few is the word prostrate.  This word means to lie face down in a manner that is submissive, even to the point of meaning that there is no will to rise up.  This would bring to mind an image of Christ literally lying face down on the ground, or possibly bowing to the ground before He begins His prayer.

Now that you understand the meaning of those words, read through the words of the entire song (all 3 verses), and see if you don’t also see the power and the emotions of this song.

Night with ebon pinion, brooded o’er the vale;
All around was silent, save the night-wind’s wail,
When Christ, the Man of Sorrows, in tears and sweat and blood,
Prostrate in the garden, raised His voice to God.

Smitten for offenses which were not His own,
He, for our transgressions, had to weep alone;
No friend with words to comfort, nor hand to help was there,
When the Meek and Lowly humbly bowed in prayer.

“Abba, Father, Father, if indeed it may,
Let this cup of anguish pass from Me, I pray;
Yet, if it must be suffered, by Me, Thine only Son,
Abba, Father, Father, let Thy will be done.”


Such a powerful and sobering thought to imagine Christ mentally suffering alone in the garden with only His Father to pour out His heart to.  That’s the Man who took our place on the Cross.  That’s the Man who saved us eternally.  He did it in agony.  He did it under stress.  He did it for you and me.

The next time you sing this song prior to the Lord’s Supper, sing it with emotion.  Allow the words to speak to you and through you.  Sing it to help teach those around you what Christ did for you and them.

2 thoughts on “What is an “Ebon Pinion”?

  1. Mario A. Rubio

    As I started to read the lyrics of this hymn, I was so overwhelmed with how emotional I became, to understand the meaning of this old song not only brings tears to the eyes, but a heart of repentance, because of my sins He died to give me a way of life.

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