Psalm 119: The Music (part 3)

Psalm 119 week continues.  As we continue examining the Psalter Hymnal‘s treatment of Psalm 119, I feel the need to state what is perhaps the obvious: I am far less qualified to comment on the music of these psalm versifications than Michael is.  I’ve been a church accompanist for 10 years now, but am far surpassed in musical knowledge by my cohort on this blog.  So, what I’m saying is: feel free to interact and add your own opinions.  This is, after all, designed to be a forum for discussion and we’d love to hear what you have to say about the plethora of selections of Psalm 119 versifications that our beloved Psalter Hymnal has.

That said, let’s continue with Part 3:

241, “Thy Promised Mercies Send to Me”

Read a heartfelt meditation on Psalm 119:41-48 HERE on Glenda Mathes’ blog.

As pointed out in the link above, this section of Psalm 119 is the psalmist’s prayer for “the only antidote” to Satan’s taunts: the promised mercies of God.  This is a song that expresses an intense craving, a craving for God’s love and for the written Word that teaches us that love.  It’s a  joyful song that shows a Christian’s anticipation of “walking in a wide place” (verse 45).  It’s a song of jubilant hope and confidence, even amidst taunts (verse 42) and and threats of shame (verse 46).  It expresses bold, even brash, confidence to “speak of Your testimonies before kings” (verse 46).

For that reason, the tune, SARAH, is well placed, for it wonderfully captures the longing with its flowing lilt and the confidence with its sometimes “bouncy” rhythm.  It’s really a delightful tune to reflect a delightful sentiment – longing combined with confidence, for all of these pleas are founded in truth and hence can be counted on.  The words do a great job of summarizing the content and flow of the psalm.

This really strikes me as a great song for young people, since it combines the joy, idealism, hope, passion, and confidence that often accompanies young adults.  This song would fit well at a Profession of Faith, the baptism of a new Christian, or at a missionary send-off.

242, “Lord, Thy Word to Me Remember”

Psalm 119:49-56 is a prayer of confident hope in the midst of great affliction, a song “in the night” (verse 55).  For more on this stanza, read HERE.

To be honest, this selection somewhat baffles me.  The tune, WILMOT, is overwhelmingly joyful.  It’s a good tune, but is it really befitting of a song sung “in affliction” (verse 50), amidst “derision” (verse 51), and “sojourning” (verse 54)?  Especially stanza 3, which expresses the singer’s anger over the sins of the wicked (verse 53), seems strange when sung to this tune.  I suppose a case could be made that this choice of tunes reflects the Christian’s overwhelming confidence in the face of danger, but even then, I judge this tune to perhaps be a bit much for these words.  It really is a good tune, but perhaps misplaced in Psalm 119:49-56.

This tune/word combination is unfortunate, especially since selection #242 does a really excellent job at paraphrasing the biblical text.  I’ve always been attracted to the pilgrim/sojourner imagery of the Bible, and this portion of Psalm 119 (along with verses 17-24) is a beautiful “pilgrim’s prayer.”  Setting these words to a different tune would adorn these words far better.

243, “Thou Art My Portion, Lord”

Dwight L. Moody used to say that “every Bible should be bound in shoe leather.”  When we are truly convicted by the truth of God’s revelation, we respond not with our words or thoughts, but with our feet – we become doers of the Word.  Psalm 119:57-64 captures this idea of doing, of walking, of turning “my feet to your testimonies” (verse 59).  Read more about this stanza HERE.

Selection #243 does a good job of versifying this stanza, and so would make a great song of application to sing after reading the Law or a sermon on the 10 Commandments.  I do wish that stanza 2, which versifies verses 59-60, would make the “feet” image of verse 59 more explicit.  Instead it skips to verse 60 and says, “With earnest haste, and waiting not, to Thy commands I turned,” which does capture the image, but not as tersely and vividly as the psalm text.

The tune, CARLISLE, might not be the most familiar, but it really befits this text.  It’s a lovely, memorable tune with a lot of flowing movement, and the rising passage in the second half really captures the emotion of the singer earnestly desiring to “hasten an not delay to keep Your commandments” (verse 60).  Overall, this is a really beautiful selection and deserves more “air time” than I’ve seen it get.

244, “Thou, Lord, Hast Dealt Well with Thy Servant”

Psalm 119:65-72 is an interesting prayer, for it gives thanks for affliction.  It seems that the psalmist had “gone astray” (verse 67) but in the end was brought back, through affliction, to a life of obedience.  As the ancient Greeks said, “Suffered things are learned things.”  Read a thoughtful meditation on treasuring affliction in Psalm 119 HERE.

Selection #244 does an excellent job not only of summarizing this stanza of Psalm 119, but also of tracing this theme of “good affliction” through the entire song.  This ties the song directly to Romans 8:28 (that all things, even suffering, work together for our ultimate good – to bring us back to God) and also to the parable of the Prodigal Son.  This song could be sung as a statement of faith during a time of affliction or as a celebration of lessons learned after coming through such a time.  The words are simple, the grammar is understandable, making this a very accessible selection.

The tune, JANET, is the familiar tune used for #281, “O Praise Ye the Name of Jehovah.”  The familiar tune makes this selection very singable, but one could wish for perhaps a more solemn tune.  After all, this is the song of someone who has just come through affliction.  Until such a tune is found, as accompanists, we can reflect the movement of this song by not playing too brightly or joyfully, especially in stanzas 2 and 4.  Don’t make it a dirge – you are praising God for His providence, after all – but maintain a bit of thoughtfulness (or find or write a new tune).

245, “Thou, Who Didst Make and Fashion Me”

Read an excellent examination of Psalm 119:73-80 HERE.

Selection #245 picks and chooses which aspects of the psalm to dwell on, greatly shortening the imprecatory verse 78.  The words are a bit clunky and disjointed.  The result leaves a bit to be desired when compared with the rich psalm text, since this stanza of Psalm 119 is such a multi-faceted and complete prayer.  However, #245 is a worthy song to sing, especially since it is our only version of Psalm 119:73-80.  Reading through it, it strikes me that these words would be beautiful to sing on behalf of a child just being born or baptized, since the prayer covers many aspects of the Christian life.

The tune, HUMILITY, is also a bit lackluster, but since it is Long Meter (LM), there are many alternates to chose from.  I might suggest GERMANY (#222, “O Give the Lord Wholehearted Praise”) for its familiarity and hopeful tone.

246, “My Soul for Thy Salvation Faints”

Psalm 119:81-88 is the song of a Christian who realizes that he has lost sight of his “first love” because of the cares and trials of this world (Revelation 2:4); he’s lost the energy that accompanies our conversion and youthful passion for Christ.  He memorably compares his soul to a wineskin that has become shriveled in the smoke (verse 83).  For more ruminations on this passage, check out Ascribelog, HERE.

Although noticeably lacking any reference to wineskins or smoke, selection #246 does a good job of summarizing this portion of scripture and capturing the desperation of the psalmist.  The tune, BELMONT, is particularly poignant.  The melody is a simple yet expressive lament, while the upward trend of the bass notes bespeak of the hope of healing that the Christian still has in the midst of being “almost consumed.”

This is a particularly emotional and personal song.  Among counselors, it’s often said that admitting your problem is the first (and large) step to recovery, and brings with it a large amount of hope.  Psalm 119:81-88 and its accompanying song is that first step, that admission of fainting, of being “almost consumed” and yet hoping still.

Affliction has been for my profit,
that I to Thy statutes might hold;
Thy law to my soul is more precious
than thousands of silver and gold.

-JDO

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