Psalm 119: The Music (part 6)

This evening we come to the end of Psalm 119 week at URC Psalmody.  Here’s what we’ve done:

From there, we’ve proceeded to examine each of the Psalter Hymnal‘s selections based on Psalm 119.  Along the way, we’ve been linking to our friend Glenda Mathes’ blog (Ascribelog) for a more in-depth meditation on each of Psalm 119’s stanzas.

And now, with Part 6, we come to the last three stanzas of Psalm 119 and the end of Psalm 119 Week:

255, “Regard My Grief and Rescue Me”

Psalm 119:153-160 is a prayer for deliverance from faithless and wicked men.  The psalmist asks God to vindicate him, to “plead [his] cause and redeem [him],” for he knows that God will act on his behalf because of the truth of God’s Word (verse 160).  Read more about this stanza HERE.

Selection #255 is remarkably faithful to the scriptural text, even maintaining the language of “swerving” from God’s Law in verse 157/stanza 3.  Because of its focus on facing enemies and its plea for vindication, this would be a good psalm to sing when remembering Christ’s suffering under Pontius Pilate.  It could also be sung as a prayer on behalf of any who are suffering oppression at the hands of wicked men, particularly the persecuted church.

The tune, PRESTON, is unfamiliar.  To maintain the somber mood, I suggest using HAMBURG (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”).

256, “Though Mighty Foes Assail Me, Lord”

The penultimate stanza of Psalm 119 is really remarkable.  It starts off as a continuation of the previous stanza, speaking of the persecution by princes (verse 161), but goes on to describe the overwhelming peace and hope that the believer can find in God’s Word. The psalmist compares God’s Law to spoil and treasures that one may find after a hard-fought battle.  He declares that “seven times a day I praise You for Your righteous rules” (verse 164).  Not only is this verse the basis of the monastic practice of having seven services every day, but it is also – more importantly – a call for us to be constantly thanking God for the peace we have in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).  Check out a meditation on this stanza HERE on Ascribelog.

Selection #256 captures this bombastic hope and confidence.  Although it distills the “seven times a day” to “throughout the day,” it is still a faithful reflection of the text and its moods and language.  Particularly poignant is the opening line, “Though mighty foes assail me, Lord/I fear not them, but Thee.”

The tune, ERSKINE, might take a bit of learning, for it is generally unfamiliar.  To increase this song’s “air time,” perhaps a more familiar tune is needed.  Common Meter Double is a pretty standard meter, so there are many to choose from.  SERAPH (“How Vast the Benefits Divine”) strikes me as a good choice, reflecting both the confidence in danger and the hope for peace of this stanza.

257, “O Let My Supplicating Cry”

The last stanza of Psalm 119 is a prayer containing desperation, longing, and repentance, as well as confidence and joy in salvation.  Thus, it fitly summarizes the entire psalm as well as directing the entire prayer-psalm heavenward.  Read what our friend Glenda Mathes has to say about this stanza HERE.

#257 is a passionate prayer for God to hear our prayer, teach us His Law, and forgive our sins.  In this way, it is a fitting summary of Psalm 119:169-176 and a beautiful song for the Christian to sing.  The content of this song makes it an excellent prayer of confession.  Throughout this series, I’ve commented that several of these selections would be apt to sing after the traditional reading of the Ten Commandments.  Selection #257, with its earnest and repeated pleas for God’s help to obey and mercy to forgive, strikes me as tremendously appropriate for this use as well, perhaps the best choice of all.

The tune, ERNAN, is a simple and prayerful Lowell Mason offering.  Like many of his other tunes, the harmonies and rhythms are easy and accessible, yet possessing a thoughtful beauty.  This tune-word match is quite good and adds to the overall prayer quality of this selection.  If you are accompanying this tune, keep that tone in mind and try to choose stops that add to the prayerful mood.

Instructed in Thy holy law,
to praise Thy Word I lift my voice;
O Lord, be Thou my present help,
for Thy commandments are my choice.

Conclusion

A slow walk-through – Psalter Hymnal in hand – of Psalm 119 can be a great blessing.  To me, it seems so often that Psalm 119 just runs together in my mind as one big chunk of repetitive, Torah-celebrating stanzas.  Taking the time to read and experience each stanza, seeing the individual thrusts as well as the big picture, can greatly enrich our love for God’s Word and our delight in obeying His Torah.  Using the Psalter Hymnal to take these words on our lips in our homes and in our corporate worship can unite us in our longing for and delight in God’s Law.

To finish Psalm 119 week, I include this prayer, based on Psalm 119, taken from the Scottish Psalter of 1595:

“Most merciful God, Author of all good things, Who hast given Thy holy commandments unto us, whereby we should direct our life, imprint them in our hearts by Thy Holy Spirit; and grant that we may so renounce all our fleshly desires, and all the vanities of this world, that our whole pleasure and delight may be in Thy law; that we, being always governed by Thy holy Word, may in the end attain to that eternal salvation which Thou hast promised, through Christ Jesus, Thy Son.  Amen.”

-JDO

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