19 Jul 2012

Update: Psalms 30, 76 and 145

I have recently posted versifications and harmonizations for Psalms 30, 76 and 145.

Psalm 30 was perhaps written by someone who had recovered from a near fatal illness, as indicated in these verses: "O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit" (verses 2-3). The psalmist expresses great joy at his unexpected healing, similar to what the nation of Israel as a whole experienced when it was delivered from its foes on numerous occasions. Accordingly, the ancient Hebrews sang Psalm 30 to celebrate the re-dedication of the Jerusalem temple in the 2nd century BC after it was desecrated by the tyrannical ruler Antiochos IV Epiphanes, or what we now know as Hanukkah (see also John 10:22-42). In Christian liturgical usage, Psalm 30 is appropriately sung on Easter or one of the sundays thereafter.

The focus of Psalm 76 is more obviously corporate in character, with a special focus on Mount Zion, site of the Jewish temple. It appears to have been composed on the occasion of Judah's victory over the Assyrian armies of Sennacherib, as recounted in 2 Kings 18-19 and Isaiah 36-37. Might King Hezekiah himself have written this psalm? He certainly would have had ample reason to express the sentiments therein, for tiny Judah's victory over the near eastern superpower of the day was miraculous by any standard.

In the Genevan Psalter Psalms 30 and 76 are set to the same melody, which is in the hypomixolydian mode and has a metrical pattern of 88 88 99. In arranging this tune one might say that I was killing two birds with one stone, to coin a phrase. Psalm 139 is also set to this tune, and a text for this may well be my next effort.

Psalm 145 is one of the final Psalms of praise that close this ancient liturgical collection. It is an alphabetical psalm, meaning that each line begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in alphabetical order. In Jewish practice Psalm 145 makes up the major part of the Ashrei, which is prayed three times daily. Very early it was noticed that this psalm is missing a verse for the Hebrew letter נ (nun) in the original language. However, most English translations include a verse based on its presence in the Septuagint and other ancient versions, on the assumption that these translations were made before the verse fell out of the surviving Hebrew manuscripts. My own text includes this verse.

In the Genevan Psalter the tune for Psalm 145 is in the mixolydian mode and has a metrical pattern of 10 10 10 10 11 11 11 11.

This text and harmonization I have dedicated to my esteemed colleague, Dr. Jacob P. Ellens, on the occasion of his recent retirement after 25 years of service at Redeemer University College. Verse 4 is key here: "One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts," which has obvious relevance for someone who has devoted his working life to educating the young in the ways of God and his world. Thanks be to God that he saw fit to bless us with Ellens' years of selfless service in academia proper and in academic administration.

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