30 Mar 2014

Psalm 140

For the first time in not quite a year I have made another addition to my online collection of Genevan Psalms. This latest effort is Psalm 140, one of the so-called imprecatory Psalms that calls down God's wrath on the wicked. The imprecatory Psalms are sometimes an embarrassment to Christians, who may find themselves uncomfortable with references to God's anger and judgement. After all, does not Jesus command us to turn the other cheek and to love our enemies? Do these commands not supplant the harsher logic of the old covenant? In fact, however, Psalm 140 and Jesus' Sermon on the Mount are not in conflict with each other, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer points out:

The enemies referred to here are enemies of the cause of God, who lay hands on us for the sake of God. It is therefore nowhere a matter of personal conflict. Nowhere does the one who prays these psalms want to take revenge into his own hands. He calls for the wrath of God alone (cf. Romans 12:19). Therefore he must dismiss from his own mind all thought of personal revenge; he must be free from his own thirst for revenge. Otherwise, the vengeance would not be seriously commanded from God.

Furthermore, in no way can we truly access the mercy of God if we do not first recognize that God is a God of justice who rightly judges sin. Only when we bring ourselves to fear God's righteousness can we freely accept his forgiving grace in our own lives. If we dare to rush too quickly into God's mercy, bypassing his justice, we are left with a permissive god of our own making, not the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. Grace then becomes "cheap grace," as Bonhoeffer famously labelled it.

The melody to this Psalm is in the Hypoionian mode, or what we nowadays would call a major key. The score is posted here. The Decalogue is also set to this tune in the 1562 edition of the Genevan Psalter. The text is my 83rd Genevan versification, and it is unrhymed.

Incidentally, I might point out here that the 11-month gap between my versification and arrangement of Psalms 66 and 140 has been due to two factors:

First, I have been preoccupied recently with preparations for the publication of my most recent book, We Answer to Another. which was released just over two weeks ago.

Second, since September of last year I have been working on a second psalter project, with psalm versifications set to original melodies of my own composition. Although I have thus far posted only two of these on my website, Psalms 23 and 29, I have actually written forty-five fresh metrical psalms to be sung to a slightly fewer number of tunes. This too is an ongoing project for which I have not yet come up with a satisfactory title.* I plan to post a few more of these at some point in the near future, along with a description of the principles undergirding this project.

* My tongue-in-cheek working title for this growing collection is Psalms of David (Koyzis).

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