Psalm 119: The Music (part 4)

In danger oft and nigh to death,
Thy law remembered is mine aid;
The wicked seek my overthrow,
yet from Thy truth I have not strayed.

So, it’s Psalm 119 week here at URC Psalmody.  To review, we’ve been looking at ALL of the Psalm 119 song selections in the blue 1959/1976 Psalter Hymnal used in most URCNA churches.

Part 1 covered selections 235-237.

Part 2 covered selections 238-240.

Part 3 covered selections 241-246.

In part 4, we’ll be looking at selections 247-249, which take us through Psalm 119:89-112.

247, “Forever Settled in the Heavens”

Psalm 119:89-96 moves from the broad to the personal, from a meditation on the importance of God’s revelation and providence in Creation to the importance of God’s revelation and providence to the life of one individual.  It ends with the world-wise and world-weary phrase, “I have seen a limit to all perfection, but Your commandment is exceedingly broad.”  Read more on this section HERE, courtesy of our friend Glenda Mathes.

I’m going to come right out and say it: I think the reason that this selection does not receive as much attention as it should in our singing is the tune, ARCADIA.  It’s actually not that bad of a tune, but the chromatic surprise halfway through might throw some congregations for a loop.  The content of this portion of Psalm 119 is so excellent that I would rather get this song sung more often than let it gather dust in the hymnal because of an unfamiliar tune, so I will recommend using the alternate tune, DUKE STREET (“Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun”).

With that tune, this song becomes quite serviceable, addressing doctrines such as creation, general and special revelation, providence, salvation, covenant and perseverance.  It simultaneously glories in God’s creation and shows the vanity of this earth without the lens of God’s Word.

248, “How I Love Thy Law, O Lord”

The next two sections, “Mem” and “Nun,” begin with some of the best-known verses in Psalm 119.  Psalm 119:97-104 opens up with “Oh how I love Your law!  It is my meditation all the day,” and proceeds to meditate on the benefits of loving God’s commandments.  For more on this section, check out Ascibelog, HERE.

For dealing with such an important and familiar section of Psalm 119, selection #248 plays fast and loose with the text.  The first stanza is barely recognizable as verses 97-100 unless you look closely, for it changes grammatical moods and senses all over the place.  It almost entirely skips the beautiful taste imagery from verse 103, changing “How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth” to the much less vivid “Sweeter are Thy words to me than all other good can be.”  Am I nit-picking?  Perhaps.  But I have sung multiple versions of this text that maintain the metaphors and moods of the original much better than #248.

So on the one hand, #248 leaves us wishing for a more faithful versification of Psalm 119:97-104, perhaps the old “O How Love I Thy Law” (an old tune by Dwight Armstrong, listen to it HERE), which although it plays with the ordering a bit, covers the psalm text much more completely and faithfully.

On the other hand, #248 is still a good song in its own right.  It still expresses the main gist – a deep and abiding love for God’s Word, which is definitely something for us to sing about.  And it does it with an intriguing tune, GRANDVILLE.  We can long for better, but for now #248 is a solid placeholder.

249, “Thy Word Sheds Light upon My Path”

Here’s the portion of Psalm 119 that almost every Christian knows – “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  Psalm 119:105-112 is a song of dedication in the midst of danger, a renewal of vows before and during the battle.  For more on this section, read HERE.

If #248 did a poor job versifying the previous section, #249 makes up for it by versifying Psalm 119:105-112 with both simple and beautiful poetry and solid and faithful paraphrasing.  Both the words and the tune (LOUVAN) are accessible and excellent.

This song does a heartfelt job of expressing the Christian’s courageous dedication in the midst of distress and danger.  It creates a poignant picture that should be treasured by God’s Church and sung often.

O grant us light, that we may know
the wisdom Thou alone canst give;
that truth may guide where’er we go,
and virtue bless where’er we live.

O grant us light, that we may see

where error lurks in human lore,
and turn our seeking minds to Thee,
and love Thy holy Word the more.

-Lawrence Tuttiett, “O Grant Us Light”

-JDO

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