Psalm 65: Due Praise

Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion,
and to you shall vows be performed.
O you who hear prayer,
to you shall all flesh come.
When iniquities prevail against me,
you atone for our transgressions.
Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
the holiness of your temple!

–Psalm 65:1-4 (ESV)

"All nature joins in singing a joyful song of praise."

“All nature joins in singing a joyful song of praise.”

Can Psalm 65 be summarized in a single sentence?  If so, it is a song of thanksgiving to God for his abundant providence and faithfulness in both creation and redemption.  The Lord sits supreme above all the (false) gods of the nations because he hears prayer (v. 2), atones for his people’s transgressions (v. 3), has created the world (vv. 6-8), and continues to sustain it with awesome deeds (vv. 9-13).  As a result, how could praise be withheld from him, especially in Zion, the city of his chosen people?

Today it’s time for us to evaluate Psalm 65 as set to music in the Psalter Hymnal.

114, “Praise Waits for Thee in Zion”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

In my own church at least, “Praise Waits for Thee in Zion” is probably the most familiar setting of Psalm 65 from the Psalter Hymnal.  This praiseful and praiseworthy versification sets to music the first five verses of Psalm 65, which form a fairly complete section of thought in the text.  It begins by extolling the Lord for his salvation, and it ends by stating that “Man finds no sure reliance, no peace, apart from Thee.”

The accompanying tune, MENDEBRAS, is a bouncy German melody arranged by Lowell Mason, and it’s one that I inevitably associate with this psalm setting.  When played too slowly this tune is dismal, but the opposite temptation always lurks to play it just a bit too fast.  Personally, I like a tempo just a touch slower than 120 bpm (2 beats per second).  The only challenge to the singers is the soprano jump to a high F in the last line.  Some hymnbooks have remedied this by lowering the key to E-flat, which I believe ruins the brilliance of the music.  Instead I would suggest that sopranos who can’t reach the F simply sing a D, as is written for the third line directly above.

115, “Thy Might Sets Fast the Mountains”

(Sung by the Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir)

Psalter Hymnal number 115 takes on the remainder of Psalm 65, verses 6-13.  Like its companion, “Thy Might Sets Fast the Mountains” is textually accurate and musically appropriate.  Once again the versification has three stanzas, with a recapitulation of the key theme of this part of the psalm at the very end: “All nature joins in singing a joyful song of praise.”

You’ll probably recognize the tune WEBB right away as the melody of “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” (Psalter Hymnal number 467).  While this association may be a little confusing at first, I believe this is a very fitting tune with the confidence and jubilation necessary to carry the vivid words of Psalm 65.  Thankfully, the soprano line never goes too high, and the brilliant key of A works perfectly.  Once again, the only challenge to the average accompanist is finding the proper tempo.  If you can attain that, this version of Psalm 65 might soon become a favorite!

116, “Forth from Thy Courts, Thy Sacred Dwelling”

(Sung on YouTube)

“Forth from Thy Courts” is the Psalter Hymnal’s Genevan offering for Psalm 65.  The English text of this 16th-century setting, composed by Rev. William Kuipers in 1931, is much more ornate than our other versifications, and in some cases a little less accurate.  It still forms a powerful paraphrased version of the psalm, however, as evidenced in the second stanza:

A mighty stream of foul transgression
Prevails from day to day;
But Thou, O God, in great compassion,
Wilt purge my guilt away.
Blest is the man whom Thou hast chosen,
And bringest nigh to Thee;
That in Thy courts, in Thee reposing,
His dwelling-place may be.

To modern ears, this Genevan tune in a minor key is far from jubilant; that is a roadblock that may be impassable for our American culture.  However, choosing a befitting organ registration for this selection and playing it at a lively tempo can help dispel any complaints about singing a dirge.  After the very last verse, you might repeat the last line and end in an F-major chord, as done in the recording above.

117, “Before Thee, Lord, a People Waits”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

While a fourth version of Psalm 65 isn’t really necessary in the Psalter Hymnal, there’s nothing that should detract from its use.  “Before Thee, Lord, a People Waits” includes a solid versification of Psalm 65:1-8, and a lilting, uplifting tune to accompany it.  I find the tenor and bass parts in the first two lines to be rather monotonous, but it would be relatively easy to employ some creative re-harmonizing here.  Once again, the poor sopranos will be confronted with a high F right at the end; I don’t believe the key can be dropped, since the bass part goes down to a G already, but an alternate soprano note of C might resolve the problem.

The year is crowned, O Fount of blessing,
With gifts to cheer the land;
Thy goodness fills the earth, expressing
The wonders of Thy hand.
The hills rejoice; the pastures, teeming
With flocks that skip and spring,
The golden grain, in valleys gleaming—
All sing to God the King.

–MRK

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