Psalm 64: Deadly Shafts

Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;
preserve my life from dread of the enemy.
Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,
from the throng of evildoers,
who whet their tongues like swords,
who aim bitter words like arrows,
shooting from ambush at the blameless,
shooting at him suddenly and without fear.

–Psalm 64:1-4 (ESV)

While Psalm 64 is a lament (or, as it calls itself, a “complaint”), its author is far from hopeless.  David petitions the Lord to protect him from the evil plans of wicked men.  He describes their bitter words as arrows, and their malicious actions as “shooting from ambush.”  But he further states, in keeping with the metaphor, that God will also shoot his arrow to destroy the wicked.  When the Lord’s vindication is made manifest, “then all mankind fears; they tell what God has brought about and ponder what he has done” (v. 9).  The psalmist ends with a declaration of praise and trust:

Let the righteous one rejoice in the LORD
and take refuge in him!
Let all the upright in heart exult!

–Psalm 64:10

113, “Hear, Lord, the Voice of My Complaint”

The Psalter Hymnal contains only one version of Psalm 64: “Hear, Lord, the Voice of My Complaint.”  It’s not as thorough as could be desired, but it’s hardly inaccurate or softened; in fact, I think it preserves the original meaning and flow of thought of Psalm 64 quite well.  The first stanza is particularly notable for its similarity to the  ESV text.  Overall, a first-rate versification!

Although the tune MONORA might be fitting for the last stanza of Psalm 64, I’m not convinced of its appropriateness for the more imprecatory stanzas 1 and 2.  I might be tempted to play around instead with the tunes of Psalter Hymnal #100 (VOX DILECTI) or #161 (AUDITE AUDIENTES ME), which combine a somber minor section with a more uplifting major section.  There exists a dizzying array of C.M.D. tunes from which to choose.

Like most of the imprecatory psalms, Psalm 64 is helpful for just about any situation in which a Christian suffers oppression at the hands of unbelievers—from workplace problems to physical persecution.   It speaks especially of the caustic words of hate and mockery with which so many of us are acquainted.  Even in situations like these, however, the believer can be assured that God will soon vindicate him.

The just shall triumph in the Lord,
Their trust shall be secure,
And endless glory then shall crown
The upright and the pure.

–MRK

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