Posts Tagged 'David'

Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land

fergusonA week ago, I heard an extremely unusual commencement address. Although I’ve only graduated twice, I’m fairly familiar with the genre of commencement speeches: usually a motivational talk that congratulates students on surviving four years of high school or college while spurring them on to pursue their dreams. Even in a Christian context, a typical graduation speech might focus on discovering God’s grand plan for your life and serving him with your utmost potential.

My graduation ceremony featured Dr. Sinclair Ferguson as guest speaker. As soon as I saw the title of Dr. Ferguson’s address, I realized this speech was going to be different. It was entitled, “How Shall We Sing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land?” Yes, the text Dr. Ferguson had chosen to unfold for us in the last minutes of our college career was from one of the most abject laments of the Bible, Psalm 137.

Although a warm and engaging speaker, Dr. Ferguson was not interested in the personal hopes and dreams of us college graduates. His main question was this: “Has your education prepared you to sing the Lord’s song, the song of your Lord Jesus Christ, in the land in which you are being called to serve him?” Pointing us to Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as four “college graduates” who sang the Lord’s song in a strange land, Dr. Ferguson enjoined the graduating class of 2017 to follow their examples.

These young men were able to remain strong in the face of opposition because they knew God’s sovereignty, they knew God’s truth, and they knew God’s presence. Their faith in God allowed them to sing. Their faith was tested in the fires of persecution and affliction—and not merely metaphorical fires.

Dr. Ferguson also pointed us to the example of David, the author of the beloved 23rd Psalm. David was not a cherubic shepherd boy when he wrote this psalm. He could speak about the valley of the shadow of death because he had been through it himself, numerous times.

Two thoughts pressed themselves upon me as I heard Dr. Ferguson’s words. First, the Psalms were written in real life. The author of Psalm 137 was not trying to tune into his “bluesy” side any more than the author of Psalm 23 was inspired by a Thomas Kinkade painting. No, the contents of the Psalter were written by real people suffering through real trials, and determined to seek the face of God nonetheless. As such, the psalms are for us. We ought not to shy away from the full spectrum of emotions and situations in the Psalter. Days that call for Psalm 137 will come, and when they do, we must have the courage to take this psalm and others upon our lips.

The second thought is that Dr. Ferguson’s message resonates especially at a place like Geneva College, where the psalms are regularly sung. Geneva has taught me to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land, not just by training me to be a truthful communicator in a world of deceit, but actually by teaching me to sing the Lord’s songs. To cite just one example, Psalm 117 is sung at the end of every chapel service at Geneva. When it was announced as the closing song at Saturday’s commencement ceremony, the graduates stood unbidden, recognizing the gravity and joy of the occasion. By teaching the psalms, Geneva has given to me and others a spiritual vocabulary that we can turn to when we encounter those trials and temptations. For that I am exceedingly grateful.

A memorable commencement address to conclude a memorable college career. I go forth rejoicing, with Dr. Ferguson’s charge still resounding in my soul: “Go and sing the Lord’s song in what is becoming an increasingly strange land, and trust his power and trust his truth and trust his presence, and he will be with you to the end of your life, and then by his grace for all eternity.”

–MRK

(The entire commencement ceremony, including Dr. Ferguson’s remarks, can be viewed here.)

Psalm 132: The Lord Has Chosen Zion

Remember, O LORD, in David’s favor,
all the hardships he endured,
how he swore to the LORD
and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob,
‘I will not enter my house
or get into my bed,
I will not give sleep to my eyes
or slumber to my eyelids,
until I find a place for the LORD,
a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.’

–Psalm 132:1-5 (ESV)

As its first line indicates, Psalm 132 is, in part, a song about David, the king of Israel.  But Psalm 132 is so much more than just a royal psalm.  It is a declaration of God’s promises to his people and his Church.  It is a commendation of all those who make God’s house their care.  And, most importantly, it is a powerful prophecy concerning the kingdom of David’s ultimate Son, Jesus Christ.

277, “Gracious Lord, Remember David”

(Sung at Synod 2012)

“Gracious Lord, Remember David” was the first selection sung during plenary session at Synod 2012, and it immediately became my favorite—so it’s especially hard to remain objective as I write this review.

Honestly, though, I believe the text of number 277 is a true gem.  Where a purely literal versification of Psalm 132 would prove clunky or difficult to understand, the authors tweaked the text just enough to make it fit the tune snugly.  For the most part, they simply let the idioms and phrases of the original text shine through.  The most paraphrasing occurs in the first and second stanzas, but even here it is carried out carefully.  The only spot I might question is at the beginning of the second stanza:

Far away God’s ark was resting,
It is with His people now…

This is certainly one possible interpretation of Psalm 132:6 (“Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah; we found it in the fields of Jaar”), but there might be others as well.

Out of all the stanzas, the fourth is definitely my favorite, both for its content and for its poetic integrity:

Thou, the Lord, hast chosen Zion,
Thou hast ever loved her well;
This My resting-place forever,
Here, Thou say’st, I choose to dwell.
Surely I will bless and help her,
Feed her poor, her saints make glad,
And her priests shall stand before Me
In salvation’s garments clad.

The fifth verse also does an excellent job of preserving the original meaning of the psalm as it relates to both King David and his descendant, Jesus Christ.  The only extra-biblical content is the last line, “Blessed be His holy Name,” which makes sense only if we realize that it refers to the ultimate Anointed One, the true King of Israel.

The tune of number 277 comes as a bit of a surprise; it’s the tune of the Fanny Crosby hymn “All the Way My Savior Leads Me.”  Nevertheless, it certainly matches the theme and mood of this psalm; in particular, the repetition of the last two lines provides a delightful emphatic effect.  When I played this song at Synod 2012, I beefed up the bass line with a 32’ stop in the pedal for the second half of this stanza.  With 200 men singing along, this was one of those exhilarating moments when “the house shook.”

“Gracious Lord, Remember David” is the only setting of Psalm 132 in the Psalter Hymnal, but would anyone ask for another one?  Number 277 is an excellent selection, and I believe it’s not sung nearly as much as it ought to be.

I will cause the might of David
Ever more and more to grow;
On the path of Mine Anointed
I will make a lamp to glow.
All His enemies shall perish,
I will cover them with shame;
But His crown shall ever flourish;
Blessed be His holy Name.

–MRK

Sing a New Song, Chapter 6: Singing Kings

Have you ever heard the psalms described as “the hymns of Christ”?  In Chapter 6 of Sing a New Song, this phrase takes on a completely new meaning.  Today in our ongoing study of this book we’re discussing an essay by Michael LeFebvre entitled “The Hymns of Christ: The Old Testament Formation of the New Testament Hymnal.”

MRK: Although I initially dreaded a boring historical lecture as I began Chapter 6, I was pleasantly surprised.  In fact, by the time I had finished reading, this chapter had become my favorite so far!  While LeFebvre does delve into the hymnological history of ancient Israel, his presentation is both convincing and relevant.

JDO: LeFebvre’s main thesis is that the book of Psalms was collected and compiled much later than we might expect. Even though it’s located in the middle of the Old Testament, it was probably one of the last books to be completed.  To provide some context for this thesis, LeFebvre outlines the history of singing throughout the Old Testament.

He starts with the time of the Patriarchs in Genesis.  We know that singing and music was an early development in the history of mankind (Genesis 4:20-22).  However, nothing in Genesis explicitly links singing to worship.  The Patriarchs’ worship focused on “sacrifice and prayer” (p. 93).  It wasn’t until the time of Moses and worship in the Tabernacle that singing became an integral part of the Old Testament church’s worship.

MRK: It’s interesting that even early on in Israelite history, God commanded Moses to write a song for the people.  This shows the importance of singing, and more specifically the importance of written songs as opposed to mere oral traditions.  It also establishes an inspired songbook as a companion to the book of the law; LeFebvre points out that “Israel’s first ‘Bible’ and first ‘hymnal’ were published at the same time” (p. 94).

JDO: He focuses especially on the song of warning in Deuteronomy 32 and the song of blessing in Deuteronomy 33 as crucial entries in Israel’s songbook.  Deuteronomy 31 makes it clear that these two songs were compiled into some sort of hymnal.  The song of the Red Sea (Ex. 15) or the psalm of Moses (Ps. 90) may have been included in this collection as well; we don’t know.  We do know that by the end of Moses’ ministry, singing was not only an important part of Israel’s religious identity, but also a crucial component of God’s regulations for worship.

LeFebvre then moves on to the pre-Davidic period, in which he notes references to several other songs.  He mentions the mysterious “Book of the Wars of Yahweh” (referenced in Numbers 21) as probably a collection of battle songs, and “The Book of Yashar” (referenced in Joshua 10 and II Samuel 1) as a tabernacle hymnal.  He offers quite a bit of evidence, and although it is admittedly speculative, this theory seems to hold ground as plausible evidence for a thriving practice of hymn-singing in early Israelite worship.

MRK: “It was with David’s rise to the throne that a major shift took place in Old Testament worship,” says LeFebvre (p. 97).  This involved “the centralization of worship in Jerusalem and the production of a new line of hymnody” as a result of God’s new covenant with David.  He makes the intriguing suggestion that David actually composed the psalms as part of his preparations for the Solomonic temple.

Now, I don’t know about you, Jim, but it’s always bugged me that the Psalter is often referred to as “the Psalms of David.”  After all, David certainly didn’t write all the psalms; what about Moses, Asaph, the sons of Korah, and so on?  But LeFebvre’s explanation was eye-opening: “Even though the psalms were not all personally written by David, they were all identified with his throne…because of the special covenant God had established with his throne as Israel’s eternal head” (pp. 99, 100).

JDO: Right.  Rather, the title “the Psalms of David” conveys that David and his descendants compiled the Psalter, and that its contents are focused on that Davidic line.  Additionally, LeFebvre makes the case that the Davidic kings led Israel not only in political and military capacities but as the song-leaders of Israel.  “The royal office, in ancient Israel, was a sacral office as well as a political one.”

MRK: LeFebvre presents evidence that the temple hymn library was surprisingly extensive.  Solomon composed 1,005 songs (I Kings 4:32), and an extra-biblical source attributes 4,050 songs to David.

JDO: Certainly there were many more than 150 psalms in use during the Old Testament.  This just raises the question, “Why these?”  Why do we have only 150, and why these specific 150?  In the next section of his chapter, LeFebvre gives some excellent answers.

MRK: In the sack of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 BC, “we can only imagine what might have happened to the law books, songbooks, and other texts kept in the temple library.  Many texts may have been lost forever in the temple conflagration.  Others must have been hastily stashed into caves ahead of the approaching Babylonian armies, and some were evidently carried away to Babylon” (p. 101).  But fast forward a few decades: the Babylonians were overthrown by the Persians, who permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild.  Enter Ezra.

JDO: In both Jewish and Christian tradition, Ezra is credited with re-collecting the psalms into their present form, though it might have been someone else working during his time period.  We know that the psalms as we know them must have been collected during post-exilic times due to the inclusion of several exilic (Psalm 137) and even post-exilic (Psalm 126) songs.

MRK: This is where I started getting really excited about LeFebvre’s chapter—he goes on to investigate the amazing literary and historical patterns present within the Psalter.

JDO: Yes, this is where we get the payoff.  If Ezra (or someone working for him) collected the psalms, why did he do it? And why these psalms?  Believing in the providence of God as we do, we can’t simply assume that this is a random collection hastily thrown together.

MRK: LeFebvre points first to a relationship between the Ezran Psalter and the Pentateuch: both containing five books, both centered on the Law of God (cf. Psalm 1).  This hearkens back to his earlier note about the close relationship between the Scriptures and the hymns of pre-Davidic Israel.

He presents the surprising statistic that “a conservative assessment identifies close to a third of the Psalter as royal psalms” (p. 103).  It might seem odd that these royal psalms would be preserved in the post-exilic period without a king on the throne, but this makes sense once we understand Christ as the Singer of the psalms—but more on that later.

LeFebvre next considers the Psalter’s division into books, proposing that “the first three books of the Psalter are structured around Israel’s faith in the (now fallen) Davidic dynasty, and the last two books uphold hope in the restoration and future fulfillment of the Davidic covenant.  It is fitting to conclude, therefore, that the post-exilic Psalter was a hymnal prepared for a coming heir to David’s throne” (p. 104).  That coming heir was Christ.

JDO: Really, that point just blew my mind.  Here at URC Psalmody, we always emphasize that Christ is the chief Singer of the psalms, or that all the psalms point to Christ.  But LeFebvre goes further—he says that the psalms were collected with the coming of Christ explicitly in view.  This was a carefully chosen, precisely organized hymnal put together with the sole purpose of preparing the way for Jesus, the coming heir to the Davidic throne.  Ezra and company were waiting for the day when a new Davidic king would re-establish himself as the ruler of God’s people and their chief song-leader.  So they got a songbook ready for him.  That songbook is our Psalter, and that Davidic King is Christ.

The distinct thrust of each book within the Psalter can be seen by looking at what LeFebvre calls “seam psalms”—the first and last psalms within each book.

MRK: Yes.  Never before had I noticed the connection between Psalm 2 at the beginning of the first book (Psalm 1 is often considered a “preface”) and Psalm 72 at the end of the second book.  They’re completely complementary!  In the third book I was struck by the balance of exilic psalms (79 and 80 for example) with songs of longing for Zion (e. g. 84, 87) and God’s promised faithfulness (e. g. 73, 76).  This internal tension mounts throughout the book, culminating in the abysmal Psalm 88 and the heart-rending cry of Psalm 89 (which might be viewed as the climax of the whole Psalter):

Lord, where is your steadfast love of old,
which by your faithfulness you swore to David?
Remember, O Lord, how your servants are mocked,
and how I bear in my heart the insults of all the many nations,
with which your enemies mock, O LORD,
with which they mock the footsteps of your anointed.

–Psalm 89:49-51 (ESV)

JDO: LeFebvre points out that the fourth and fifth books “answer the crisis raised by books 1-3, anticipating the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant” (p. 106).  Or, to use his vivid analogy:

Like one of those photomontages where numerous little pictures are arranged in a way that forms a bigger picture, the individual psalms and psalm groupings of Book 4 provide a picture of the inviolable reign of the heavenly King and remember His faithfulness to the Abrahamic covenant, even long before the anointing of King David.  On this basis, they lead us in repentance—with great expectation.

(p. 105)

MRK: The fifth book contains the resolution of the entire Psalter, with “Diaspora [dispersion] saints joyously anticipating the victorious ingathering of God’s people from all corners of the earth in a new fulfillment of the Exodus-Sinai-Zion story.”

JDO: The whole book of Psalms, therefore, is pointed at one thing: the coming of a new Davidic heir.  The Psalter moves “from promise through disaster to renewed promise and expectation” (p. 107).

LeFebvre wraps up this analysis with an immensely important point.  If it’s true that the Davidic king was the song-leader of Israel, if it’s true that the book of Psalms was collected to prepare for the coming of Christ, then viewing the psalms as “Christ-centered” begins to mean so much more.  The Psalms are not simply “about Jesus” in some nebulous way.  Rather, they are a collection of divinely-inspired songs written and collected for use by the church of Christ.

MRK: How true.  Personally, I was blown away by the realization that David as the singing king of Old Testament Israel was a picture of Christ, the singing King of kings.  And if David spoke through the psalms, Christ infinitely more!

LeFebvre concludes his chapter, like the previous chapters in SaNS, with some practical implications of his study.

  1. Not surprisingly, “the Psalter should be sung in the church.  It is not simply a book to be read in devotions or preached (though it is all that), but it is also a hymnal to be sung by the church in worship.…The Psalter is designed for the Israel of Christ, and the church should sing it” (p. 109).
  2. We need to oppose the mentality that the church sings as a choir performing for God.  Instead, LeFebvre suggests that the congregation is a “backup ensemble” singing along with Christ, the Great Soloist.
  3. The point that struck me the most—the Psalter is not yet fulfilled.  “We still look forward to the full ingathering of God’s people from all nations, the submission of kings and nations in reverence before Christ, the purging of sin from our communities, and the final consummation of all things held out in the Psalms, climaxing in the final joyous moment when ‘every thing that hath breath [will] praise the LORD’” (p. 110).

Amen!  We look forward with longing to that glorious day.

Next time, we’ll turn to the difficult topic of imprecatory psalms as we consider Chapter 7 of Sing a New Song, by David P. Murray, entitled “Christian Cursing?”

Until then,

–JDO/MRK

Who sings the Psalms? (part 1)

When you sing or read the Psalms, have you ever wondered, “Wait… who’s talking here?”  Maybe it seems that your pastor is sending mixed messages.  One Sunday he references Psalm 51 and says that this is David’s personal prayer after he had an affair with Bathsheba and murdered her husband.  But then the next Sunday he chooses to sing Psalm 51 as a prayer of confession, saying that the psalm is our words of penitence.  So which is it?

This has been a bit of a quandary for me throughout my reading of the psalms, especially since I began studying them in in earnest last summer.  How do we read and sing the biblical psalms?  What’s the best way to understand them?  In whose voice should we read and meditate on them to get the most out of our study?

I suggest five possible solutions which present themselves to my mind:

1. The original author

We know that David wrote at least 75 psalms (73 are directly attributed to him in the Hebrew text, and the New Testament attributes Psalms 2 and 95 to him).  Many of these psalms are directly linked with specific events in the life of David.  For instance, Psalm 3 was written when David fled from Absalom, Psalm 18 when he was delivered from the hand of Saul, Psalm 51 when Nathan confronted him about his affair with Bathsheba, etc.

Psalm 90 was written by Moses as a reflection on God’s faithfulness to Israel.  Psalm 72 was written either by or about Solomon on the occasion of his ascension to the throne.

Understanding the context and authorship of these psalms helps us see how God worked in these saints’ lives, how they understood the actions of God, and how they saw themselves in light of God’s overarching story of redemption.  These psalms can add personal color to the historical narratives recorded elsewhere.  For instance, Psalm 54 shows us the desperation and fear of David in light of the Ziphites’ betrayal, but also his confidence brought about by faith in God’s preserving help.  This colors our reading of I Samuel 23, adding a personal element to the “bare facts” historical account.

2. The Old Testament people of God

The book of Psalms was used in the liturgy of the Old Testament church.  Psalm 30 was written for the dedication of the Temple, Psalm 38 to accompany the memorial offering.  Many of the psalms bear the inscription, “To the choirmaster,” implying use at corporate worship.  The “Sons of Korah,” to whom many of the psalms are attributed (at least 25 psalms), were a family of Levites who were in charge of the service music (I Chronicles 6:31-33).  Asaph, another psalmist (12 psalms), was appointed by David to lead the people in songs of worship (I Chronicles 16:7).

I Chronicles 16 explicitly quotes Psalms 105, 96, and 106 as being used in corporate worship.  Solomon’s Temple dedication service seems to have several psalms in mind (see II Chronicles 5:12-13, 7:3).  Ezra also uses the Psalms of David for the dedication of the rebuilt Temple (Ezra 3:10-11).

Reading and singing the psalms in this light gives us a glimpse into Israel’s corporate understanding of who they were as the people of God.  Many of the Psalms specifically reflect on Israel’s history: the plagues against Egypt (Psalm 78), the Exodus (Psalm 80), the giving of the Law (Psalm 81), the wilderness wanderings (Psalm 78), the crossing of the Jordan (Psalm 114), etc.  Psalm 137 is a poignant cry from an exiled people.  The Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) were yearly sung by the people as they climbed up to Jerusalem on pilgrimage.

Reading the psalms as the collected prayers of the Old Testament people of God gives us insight into their history and worship, how they interacted with God’s redemption as a corporate body of chosen people.  Singing the psalms in this way helps us celebrate God’s work in Old Testament redemptive history.

3. Jesus Christ

As a young Jew growing up in Israel, Jesus would have been intimately familiar with the psalms.  As the divine Son of God, He who is the Word of God was instrumental in the inspiration of those psalms.  On the road to Emmaus, Christ explicitly stated that the Psalms were about Him (Luke 24:44).  The New Testament constantly quotes Psalms 2, 110, and 118 as being prophetic of Christ’s work.  As one pastor once said to me, “As Christians, we should only sing the psalms that are explicitly about Christ, which I believe would be Psalms 1 through 150.”

It would be no stretch of the imagination to say that the biblical psalms greatly shaped Jesus’ understanding of His ministry.  He quoted them constantly in regards to Himself.  Then it would also be appropriate to say that our understanding of His ministry should also be shaped by the psalms.  Psalm 22 is His cry from the cross.  Psalms 2 and 47 are His triumph at the Ascension and ultimately at His Second Coming.  Psalm 24 speaks of His glory and triumphant return.  Psalm 110 speaks of His priestly work.

Christ is the Righteous Man (the only one) of Psalm 1.  He is the only one who can dwell in God’s tent and ascend to God’s holy hill (Psalm 15).  He is the King of Psalms 20-21 and 72.  He is the Betrayed One of Psalms 54 and 109.  He is the Living Water of Psalms 42 and 63.

Reading the psalms with Christ as their ultimate Singer help us to see and savor Him more.  The psalms flesh out our understanding of His work and give us words with which to celebrate and praise Him.

In part 2, we’ll look at the remaining two possibilities of “Who sings the Psalms?”

4. The Christian communion of saints

5. The individual believer

And we’ll seek to come to a conclusion of how to synthesize the different categories as we read, meditate on, and sing the biblical psalms.

-JDO

Psalm 54

Behold, God is my helper;
the Lord is the upholder of my life.

–Psalm 54:4 (ESV)

David wrote Psalm 54 in the context of great personal danger.  He had just been betrayed by the Ziphites among whom he had been hiding (I Samuel 23).  Saul, who had actively been trying to kill David for some time now, was hot on his trail.  Understanding the personal context of David’s life as he wrote this psalm makes this psalm’s bold declaration of confidence all the more striking.  Betrayed by his foreign allies (“strangers,” verse 3), pursued by Saul and the army of Israel (“ruthless men,” verse 3), David still expresses courage and hope.

The psalm is divided into two sections by the selah after verse 3.  I’ve heard/read many theories about what the selahs in the book of Psalms are, but the one that I prefer (at least, it makes the most sense) is that the selah is a musical interlude between different sections of the psalm, an instrumental bridge.

Before the selah, in verses 1-3, David pleads his case to God, asking Him to “vindicate” and “save” him (verse 1-2), laying his situation before the Lord (verse 3).  His situation may seem hopeless, but David has full confidence that God will hear his prayer because of His Name (verse 1), which He has placed on David (I Samuel 16).

After the selah, in verses 4-7, there is a marked difference in tone.  Instead of pleading his case, David expresses his confidence, speaking of the defeat of his enemies as if it’s already a “done deal” (verse 5, 7).  The reason for this confidence is founded in the character of God – God is described as a helper, an upholder, as a deliverer (verses 4, 7).  The key adjectives used to describe God are “faithful” and “good” (verses 5, 6).

Verses 6-7 express David’s thankfulness to God, the response of a grateful heart to a great deliverance.  David is not bargaining with God (“if You deliver me from Saul, I will sacrifice to You”); rather he is expressing the natural result of salvation, a thankful heart freely offered (verse 6).

This psalm is applicable in a variety of contexts.  This psalm can provide fruitful meditation on the Passion of Christ, when He who is the Greater David was viciously betrayed by Judas (Hebrews 12:3) and yet went forward in confidence.  Jesus, assured of His final vindication, “endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

It would also be well-suited for the believer to pray/sing with respect to our own struggles in this life.  The confidence of David is our confidence as well – and even more so because of Christ.  We may not struggle with pursuing armies or deadly betrayal, yet we daily fight against “the schemes of the devil… and spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:11-12).  Our daily battle with sin and temptation can be greatly aided by the confidence of this psalm.

Finally, this is a beautiful psalm to pray regarding those Christians who are being physically assaulted for their faith.  We can use this psalm on their behalf as we uphold them in our prayers.

99, “O Save Me by Thy Name”

Psalm 54 has only one selection in the blue Psalter Hymnal, paraphrased in 1832 by Lowell Mason (of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” fame).  The words do a good job of reflecting the content of the psalm (although the somewhat archaic use of “judge me in Thy might” in stanza 1 might need a bit of explanation to the congregation–“judge” here reflecting the concept of “vindicate me” in the psalm).  Stanzas 1 and 2 reflect verses 1-3 and stanzas 3-5 reflect verses 4-7.

The tune (BOYLSTON) is good, but probably unfamiliar to most congregations.  This is unfortunate, since this is our only selection of Psalm 54.  However, since the tune is Short Meter (SM), there are a variety of tunes to which these words can be sung.

Because of the dramatic change in mood between verses 1-3 and 4-7, the choice of tune should be determined by what aspect of the psalm you wish to reflect.  If one wishes to reflect the suppliant pleading of a distressed soul (verses 1-3), then GORTON (152, “Remember Not, O God”) would be a good fit.  If one wishes to reflect the bombastic confidence and thanksgiving of verses 4-7, then perhaps ST. THOMAS (479, “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord”) would be an appropriate substitution.

If accompanying this psalm, try to reflect the change of mood.  Perhaps use a quieter, prayerful organ stop for stanzas 1-2, and then switch to a confident, brighter stop for the last three stanzas.  Maybe even include a selah of your own – a key change or short interlude – between stanzas 2 and 3, to reflect the change in mood.  If you’re arranging this song for a choir (or have an especially versatile congregation), maybe you could get really creative and arrange the first two stanzas in a minor key before switching to major for stanzas 3-4.

Psalm 54 is important, for it teaches us how to pray in desperate times, and also demonstrates the joy and confidence Christians may hold on to in those very times.  It covers a large range of the Christian experience in its seven verses – distress, deliverance, and delight (could one say an echo of “sin, salvation, and service?”), culminating in the gratitude of the redeemed heart:

My sacrifice of praise
to Thee I freely bring;
My thanks, O Lord, to Thee I raise
and of Thy goodness sing.

–JDO


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