Posts Tagged 'Confidence'

Psalm 125: So The Lord Surrounds His People

Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people,
from this time forth and forevermore.

–Psalm 125:1, 2 (ESV)

Confidence is a recurring theme in the Songs of Ascent.  “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2)…“Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8)…“He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing the sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:6)…“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope” (Psalm 130:5).

But among these fifteen Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134), Psalm 125 stands out in confidence, if only for the vivid imagery and concrete comparisons quoted above.  Imagine an ordinary Israelite family toiling up the road to Jerusalem, marveling at its near-impregnable perch and the surrounding barricade of mountains.  Imagine them singing this song as they traveled, realizing with awe that the Lord was their Protector even more surely than these natural defenses guarded Mount Zion.  “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore.”

Psalm 125 packs a powerful punch into five concise verses.  Verse 3 promises that “the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous, lest the righteous stretch out their hands to do wrong.”  As the ESV Study Bible notes, this does not mean that wicked rulers will never have dominion over the righteous—but through the psalmist’s phrase “shall not rest” we are assured that God will not allow this oppression to continue indefinitely.  The Psalter Hymnal paraphrases this statement beautifully: “No scepter of oppression/Shall hold unbroken sway…”

The fourth and fifth verses contain a direct prayer to God: “Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hears!  But those who turn aside to their crooked ways the LORD will lead away with evildoers!”  This parallels the promise of v. 3—God will ultimately justify the righteous and condemn the wicked.  And the final exclamation of Psalm 125—“Peace be upon Israel!”—is an even more simplified restatement of the entire psalm’s theme.  There will certainly be peace upon God’s people as he fulfills his everlasting promises.

267, “All Who, with Heart Confiding”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

If any musical psalm setting in the Psalter Hymnal can radiate confidence, number 267 fits the bill.  The text strikes a near-perfect balance between literality and poetry.  Perhaps the solid feel of “All Who, with Heart Confiding” is due in part to the consistent rhyming scheme and powerful verb choices (confiding, abiding, bounded, surrounded, cherish, perish, and so on).  It is also remarkable that this setting includes just about every idea from Psalm 125, from the “abiding” of v. 1 to the “everlasting peace” of v. 5.  Although the creators of this versification had to expand the third stanza slightly to fill the meter, their additions accurately reflect the theme of the psalm:

From sin Thy saints defending,
Their joy, O Lord, increase,
With mercy never ending
And everlasting peace.

KNOWHEAD is a perfectly suited tune.  There’s something about 6/8 meter melodies that conveys confidence exceptionally well.  In fact, it’s interesting to note that while the Psalter Hymnal doesn’t include all that many 6/8 tunes, many of its other instances share this sense, including 13, “Lord, Our Lord, Thy Glorious Name”; 137, “In Doubt and Temptation”; and 300, “The Lord Upholds the Faltering Feet.”

The fact that KNOWHEAD was created specifically for this psalm by gospel hymn composer Charles Gabriel imparts two additional advantages.  First, the tune is custom tailored, as it were, for the message of Psalm 125.  Second, it’s gained a unique association with this text; if you play KNOWHEAD, your congregation will (hopefully) recognize it right away.

As to musical suggestions, play number 267 with a strong 2-beats-per-measure rhythm, and don’t let the eighth notes get “stuck.”  (The editors of the gray Psalter Hymnal made the completely unwarranted decision to lower the key to G and change the meter to 4/4.  Don’t buy it for a minute!)  Regarding the tempo, there’s probably more danger of playing KNOWHEAD too slowly rather than too quickly.  The singers should be able to moderate the tempo pretty well themselves.  And don’t be afraid of a gradual crescendo from beginning to end, especially in the final stanza.  Let the glorious confidence of Psalm 125 spill over through this beautiful combination of text and tune.

All who, with heart confiding,
Depend on God alone,
Like Zion’s mount abiding,
Shall ne’er be overthrown.
Like Zion’s city, bounded
By guarding mountains broad,
His people are surrounded
Forever by their God.

–MRK

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