20 Jun 2011

Update: Psalm 38

I have just posted my versification for Psalm 38, along with my arrangement of the tune. This psalm is scarcely less dark than Psalm 88, which I set to verse the weekend after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March. It is definitely a psalm of lament, the kind we tend not to sing in our churches these days.

My iniquities flood o'er me,
and before me
all my sins are a burden.
My wounds fester without healing,
I am reeling
from my mad and foolish ways.

I am bowed low in my grieving,
scarce believing
that I'll cease from my mourning.
For my loins are racked with burning
from your spurning;
there's no soundness in my flesh.

The author of the psalm appears to be conflicted, sounding different, and not entirely consistent, themes throughout. On the one hand, he recognizes and confesses his own sin and its role in his current state of suffering. Yet he also believes he has been unjustly abandoned by his friends, who fear to suffer his fate along with him:

Foes oppose me without reason
in their treason,
they are many and mighty.
Those who answer good with evil
cause upheaval;
enemies are they of right.

This psalm, which is ascribed to David in the Hebrew, could relate to episodes in the great Hebrew ruler's life when he was fleeing from enemies plotting his demise, including his wayward sons whom he proved unable to control. A not altogether able administrator, David was undoubtedly painfully aware of his own shortcomings in the unfolding of these episodes, while nevertheless protesting against his betrayers.

On the other hand, a christological interpretation might see this psalm expressing the words of Christ, who, while not sinful himself, bore the sins of the world in his own suffering on the cross.

A word about the tune, which has a metrical structure unusual even for the Genevan psalms: 847 847. The rhyming scheme is aab ccd, with the short four-syllable lines rhyming with the previous eight-syllable line. The traditional rhyming scheme has rhymed lines 3 and 6, despite their having feminine and masculine endings respectively. Consequently, I have abandoned any effort to rhyme these lines in my own versification, which I believe makes the psalm more singable.

This psalm of lament ends, if not on an upbeat note, at least on a note of expectation of future redemption:

LORD above, do not forsake me,
rather make me
to be near you for ever.
Hurry to become my saviour;
show your favour
to me, my redeeming LORD.


Bob MacDonald said...

It is good to see your meditation. For me Psalm 38 builds on psalm 6 and gives us the theme of remembrance - drawing in psalm 70 and 137. I recall my first reading of Psalm 6 with fear and trembling. The Church must not forget these psalms of trouble. You may be aware of my public process of translation and comments emerging on my blogs. (links to translations here.) I am too definitively in learning mode these past 5 years, but being aged, I thought it necessary to demonstrate boldly that it is never too late to learn the psalms in Hebrew.

David Koyzis said...

Thanks, Bob. I hadn't seen your website before. It looks fascinating. I've put a link to it on my links page.

Bob MacDonald said...

avid - I am glad you are fascinated. I find the process difficult but exquisitely challenging on all fronts and very enjoyable as well as growth inducing. Thanks for the link. I welcome comments.