Featured Recording: The Timelessness of Psalm 139

Featured Recording

As I’ve mentioned before, finding good psalm versifications on YouTube can be harder than searching for a needle in a haystack.  Besides our own URC Psalmody YouTube channel, the Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir channel, and a few others, the only solid psalm-singing resources I can typically find are jazzed-up contemporary songs that only allude to or loosely paraphrase the psalm they claim as their basis.

When I first discovered the video featured today, I was sure it would follow basically the same path.  It purported to be a setting of Psalm 139, but with a youth choir onstage and the piano accompaniment opening in a minor key, I wasn’t prepared to be impressed.

The first thing I noticed was that the lyrics were anything but shallow.  True, they weren’t strictly from Psalm 139, but they reflected a prominent theme of the broader Psalter, and beautifully interpreted this particular psalm for the Christian life.  Unfortunately, I don’t know the author of these lines (though I hope I soon will), but I’ve transcribed the first two verses below:

Through all the trials which God sends my way,
Through all the troubles that face each day,
Shadows and clouds may bring doubt and fear,
But Lord, I know Thou art near.

Sometimes the darkness seems empty and cold,
Sometimes I search for a hand to hold;
Lost and uncertain of what to see,
I find my courage in Thee.

What came next took me completely by surprise; actually, the first time I heard it, it sent tingles of awe down my spine.  In the space of one pivotal quarter note, the choir transitioned into a major key, opened up into gorgeous 4-part harmony, and began singing the beloved words of Psalm 139 straight out of the 1912 Psalter.  Hearing the voices of a few hundred children and young people singing these lines made them all the more moving.

Lord, Thou hast searched me and dost know
Where’er I rest, where’er I go;
Thou knowest all that I have planned,
And all my ways are in Thy hand.

Following this incredible musical statement of confidence and trust, the choir reverted to the original minor key for one more verse of the new arrangement, then ended their all-too-short anthem with one more stanza from Psalm 139:

If I the wings of morning take,
And far away my dwelling make,
The hand that leadeth me is Thine,
And my support Thy power divine.

The recording of this arrangement is embedded below:

I could make a multitude of applications as a result of this video, from the modernization of psalm settings to the structure of good choir arrangements.  Rather than overcomplicate this post, however, I’d like to leave you with just one thought: The psalms are truly timeless and intergenerational.  Even a child can sing in simple awe, “Lord, Thou hast searched me and dost know/Where’er I rest, where’er I go.”  But these same words can be uttered with equal sincerity by a hopeful young person with tantalizing prospects ahead of him, as well as by a weak and weary senior who through trials and troubles has proved God’s faithfulness over many years.  The inspired psalms speak to any and every Christian, with no regard to age, time, or place.  Of all things, that is what makes this arrangement so powerful, and the Psalter so valuable.

–MRK

(Click here for last week’s Featured Recording)

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