Psalm 108

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your steadfast love is great above the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.

(Psalm 108:3, 4 ESV)

Psalm 108 contains a well-crafted balance of praise and petition to God.  The psalmist David speaks of God’s exaltation among the nations, his supremacy over the heathen, and his support of his chosen people.  As a whole, the psalm rejoices in God’s steadfast love in the past and seeks continued mercies in the present.  Two noteworthy settings of Psalm 108 are included in the Psalter Hymnal.

218, “My Steadfast Heart, O God”

Surprisingly, the authors of “My Steadfast Heart, O God” successfully compacted the entire thirteen verses of Psalm 108 into three short stanzas.  While the lyrics skip over some of the details of the text (especially in vv. 7-11), the theme of the Scripture is left entirely intact and easily understood.  Even the tune, CUTTING, is familiar and fitting; the key of E-flat is perfect for most congregations.

219, “My Heart Is Fixed, O God”

More thorough than number 218 in its approach, “My Heart Is Fixed, O God” versifies Psalm 108 in seven short-meter stanzas.  The text is fairly literal and hardly hindered by archaic language.  There are only two possible sources of confusion, especially for younger members of the church: in v. 1, the song declares, “My heart is fixed” (possibly the remedy to the “broken heart” of Psalm 51?), and in v. 5, God’s “sway” is mentioned.  Nevertheless, a simple explanation by a pastor or parent is probably all that’s needed to clarify.

While this setting is sung to an obscure tune named FERGUSON in the 1912 Psalter, the editors of the Psalter Hymnal made a wise choice to substitute ST. THOMAS instead.  Most commonly sung to the hymns “Rise Up, O Men of God” or “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord,” this melody carries both the praise and the petition of Psalm 108 excellently.  Some would contend that the high E near the end of the tune necessitates a key drop to F.  I’ve always preferred this key, G, for brilliance, but changing the key in this case is relatively easy.

How could these settings of Psalm 108 be used in worship?  Since number 219 is more literal, it might be a good choice if your church is systematically singing through the Psalter.  However, the advantage of number 218 is its more concise hymn-like format.  It seems to me, for example, that this setting would serve well as the psalm of confession.  Even if the congregation isn’t singing along, both of these tunes make an excellent offertory or postlude, on organ or piano.  Wherever you use them in the service, these versifications of Psalm 108 are fine examples of good psalmody.

The help of man is vain,
Be Thou our Helper, Lord;
Through Thee we shall do valiantly
If Thou Thine aid afford.

–MRK

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