Psalm 119: The Music (part 1)

Having briefly examined the overarching themes and ideas of Psalm 119 on Monday and taken a cursory glance at the Psalter Hymnal‘s treatment of the psalm yesterday, we now embark on our customary look at the selections found in the Psalter Hymnal.

235, “How Blessed are the Perfect in the Way”

Selection #235 is the Psalter Hymnal‘s attempt to capture all of Psalm 119 in one song.  It is definitely what we would call a “Psalm-Hymn,” that is, a very loose thematic paraphrase of a psalm.   Every now and then you’ll know where the lyrics are coming from (stanza 1 echoes verses 1-8, stanzas 3-4 approximates verses 9-16), but the hymn sporadically jumps around in the text of Psalm 119, sometimes taking poetic liberties with the text (for instance, the word and concept of God’s “Spirit” appears nowhere explicitly in the Psalm, yet features prominently in stanza 2).

This is not to condemn the song or the concept of a psalm-hymn, but merely to point out that if you want textual accuracy, #235 is not your best bet.  It is however, a fair summary of the concepts found in Psalm 119, and references most of the familiar “highlights” along the way.

The text of #235 seems wordy and slightly archaic, but as Genevan tunes go, ROYAL LAW is fairly accessible and learnable.

236, “How Blest the Perfect in the Way”

The first stanza (verses 1-8) of Psalm 119 opens this grand psalm with a jubilant declaration of the blessedness and joy of responding to God’s revelation with a “whole heart” (verse 2).  Read more about the text HERE, courtesy of our friend Glenda Mathes.

Selection #236 especially picks up on the biblical metaphor of walking in God’s paths from verse 3 and extends it throughout the whole song (notice stanza 2 and the addition of the word “Guide” in stanza 4). Although this requires the author to massage the text a bit, it makes for a cohesive, unified song that remains fairly faithful to the text of Psalm 119:1-8.

The tune, APPLETON, is written in a bright key and has somewhat of a declarative fanfare-ish sound to it, making it well suited to introducing Psalm 119 and proclaiming the blessedness of those who walk with God.  I’d suggest reflecting that happiness with brighter stops, perhaps with some brassy stops to highlight the fanfare nature of the tune and its words.

237, “How Shall the Young Direct their Way?”

Read about the text of Psalm 119:9-16 HERE.

I’ll be honest, this has always been one of my favorite selections in the Psalter Hymnal.  As a child, I enjoyed the fact that it was about “the young,” and as a developing singer, I loved the running bass line in measures 5 and 13.  This tune, DUANE STREET, has real movement to it, as long as it is played at a decent tempo.  The evenness of this tune (all the notes have the same value) suggests a touch of solemnity and promise, making it quite fit to match the vow-like nature of Psalm 119:9-16.

The text is linguistically accessible and reflects the psalm fairly faithfully, making #237 a really excellent selection, especially for Sunday School or Profession of Faith Sundays.  It is a beautiful prayer for the Christian to use for rededication and a prayer for true heart sanctification, echoing the prayer of Mark 9, “I believe; help my unbelief.”

Sincerely I have sought Thee Lord,
O let me not from Thee depart;
To know Thy will and keep from sin
Thy Word I cherish in my heart.


3 Responses to “Psalm 119: The Music (part 1)”

  1. 1 Joel July 25, 2012 at 8:44 am

    I agree – #237 is probably my favorite selection from Psalm 119. I love when young and old alike sing it lustily in worship. It’s my favorite, unless of course you count Psalm 119X from the Book of Psalms for Singing.

    • 2 James O July 25, 2012 at 9:54 am

      Yes! 119X is excellent – between that and 98A, the Book of Psalms for Singing won me over quickly. The OPC I went to during college used the Book of Psalms for Singing and to hear them sing those two selections would give me goosebumps.

    • 3 Michael Kearney July 28, 2012 at 7:21 pm

      Number 237 is excellent. We’ve sung it at both the regional and national conventions of Reformed Youth Services–what a beautiful offering of praise!

      A related complement to this part of Psalm 119 is found in number 132, a versification of Psalm 71: “From days of early youth, O God,/By Thee have I been taught,/And faithfully have I declared/The wonders Thou hast wrought.”

      Let youth praise Him!


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