Monthly Archives: February 2014

Psalms 38 & 102

(Here’s the 18th post in my continuing series on the Psalms for All Seasons Sunday school class I co-teach with Andrew Friend. Each week we sing psalm settings from Psalms for All Seasons, Lift Up Your Hearts, and other CRC hymnals. Previous posts is the series focused on Psalm 121, Psalm 122Psalms 2/99Psalm 72Psalm 95Psalm 147,  Psalm 112,  Psalm 29,  Psalm 40Psalm 23Psalm 27Psalm 130Psalm 15Psalm 51,  Psalm 6, Psalm 32, and Psalm 143.)

Our class looked at Psalms 38 & 102 (along with Psalm 143) during our fourth and final Sunday (Feb. 16) on the seven penitential psalms. Neither Psalm is included in the Revised Common Lectionary.

Psalm 38 is a lament about the psalmist’s horrible afflictions brought about by his sins and a cry for help from the Lord. The opening prayer is almost identical with the opening of Psalm 6, but the author of Psalm 38 goes into much greater detail about his physical suffering.

The Word Biblical Commentary (Craigie & Tate 2004), which labels it “A Sick Person’s Prayer,” notes the great number of symptoms: “At first sight, it appears that the patient as almost every disease in the book: the opening description of unhealthy ‘flesh’ and ‘bones’ is a blanket description, the ‘flesh’ signifying dermatological or surface complaints, the ‘bones’ covering all internal complaints. The specific complaints are staggering in their proportions: open wounds, burning loins (ulcers?), numbness, congestion, a “growling heart,” palpitations, and trouble with the eyes” (p. 303-304)

My wounds fester and are loathsome
because of my sinful folly.
I am bowed down and brought very low;
all day long I go about mourning.
My back is filled with searing pain;
there is no health in my body.
I am feeble and utterly crushed;
I groan in anguish of heart.

The psalmist also feels abandoned by other people (“My friends and companions stand aloof from my affliction, and my neighbors stand far off.”) and God. Unlike Psalm 6, Psalm 38 gives no hint that the prayer of psalmist has been heard. It ends with a final plea to God.

Lord, do not forsake me;
do not be far from me, my God.
Come quickly to help me,
my Lord and my Savior.

The only Psalm 38 setting in Psalms for All Seasons and Lift Up Your Hearts is “Rebuke Me Not in Anger, Lord” (PFAS #38A/LUYH #150/PH87 #38). It is another setting with an original versification for the gray Psalter Hymnal (by Helen Otte) but it is set not to a tune from the Genevan Psalter but BOURBON. However, the turn was changed to CHICKAHOMINY for LUYH and PFAS. I associate CHICKAHOMINY with “Ride On, Ride On in Majesty” (LUYH #149/PH87 #382), which is its tune in the gray Psalter Hymnal. However, it is changed to DEO GRACIAS in Lift Up Your Hearts. (The two hymns are listed side-by-side in LUYH since their tunes are interchangeable. Psalms for All Seasons’ performance notes for “Rebuke Me Not in Anger, Lord” suggests that “Stanzas 3, 4 and/or 6 of this setting may be interlaced with readings of the gospel passion narratives or with the singing of Henry H. Milman’s hymn “Ride On, Ride On in Majesty.”)

Rebuke me not in anger LORD;
your arrows wound and bring despair.
My guilt is like a heavy load
that is too much for me to bear.

Since the psalm isn’t in the lectionary, PFAS doesn’t have a responsorial setting for Psalm 38 The blue Psalter Hymnal has two lengthy settings: “In Thy Wrath and Hot Displeasure” (PH57 #66), which has nine stanzas (with lyrics from two hymns in the 1912 Psalter), and “Lord, Thy Wrath Rebuke Me Not” (PH57 #67), which has 11.

Psalm 102 opens with another lament about suffering (but without a confession of sin) culminating in a statement about the psalmist’s mortality.

For I eat ashes as my food
and mingle my drink with tears
because of your great wrath,
for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.
My days are like the evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.

Contemplating his own transience leads to reflect upon the eternity of God; the future of Jerusalem, which now lies in ruins; and “a future generation… a people not yet created,” who will one day be praising the Lord. The psalm culminates in a remarkable declaration that even after heaven and earth pass away, God and his worshipers will remain.

In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.
The children of your servants will live in your presence;
their descendants will be established before you.

The only song representing Psalm 102 in Psalms for All Seasons and Lift Up Your Hearts is “O Lord, Hear My Prayer” (PFAS #102A/LUYH #462 & #903/SNC #203) a short Taizé song  derived from the beginning of the psalm. Bizarrely, the song appears twice in Lift Up Your Hearts: #903 has a four-part harmony and accompaniment. #462 has only the melody part and is meant to be used with “A Litany for the Sick and Dying” (PFAS #102B/ LUYH #461), which is also based on Psalm 102.

There are two Psalm 102 settings in the Psalter Hymnals: “Thou, O Lord, Art God Alone” (PH57 #198) and “Lord, Hear My Prayer” (PH57 #199/PH87 #102). The latter is from the 1912 Psalter, but was revised extensively and expanded by Marie Post for the gray Psalter Hymnal. One of our class members who grew up with the blue Psalter Hymnal said she remembers singing the former, but not the latter. “Thou, O Lord, Art God Alone” is set to ST. GEORGE’S WINDSOR, which we recognized as the tune of “Come, You Thankful People, Come” (LUYH #473/PH87 #527).

My understanding of the Revised Common Lectionary psalm choices is that they were selected to fit with the Old Testament readings. (We’ve tended to use them at other appropriate places in the worship service, like the opening of worship and confession.) Be that as it may, I wish its creators had found a way to include more psalms. Only 104 psalms are included, but 26 of them are used five or more times. Psalm 38 I could take or leave, but It seems like they could have found room for Psalm 102.

Psalm 143

(Here’s the 17th post in my continuing series on the Psalms for All Seasons Sunday school class I co-teach with Andrew Friend. Each week we sing psalm settings from Psalms for All Seasons, Lift Up Your Hearts, and other CRC hymnals. Previous posts is the series focused on Psalm 121, Psalm 122Psalms 2/99Psalm 72Psalm 95Psalm 147,  Psalm 112,  Psalm 29,  Psalm 40Psalm 23Psalm 27Psalm 130Psalm 15Psalm 51,  Psalm 6, and Psalm 32.)

Our class looked at Psalm 143 (along with Psalms 38 & 102) during our fourth and final Sunday (Feb. 16) on the seven penitential psalms. The psalm has apparently been used by Christians as a prayer anticipating the Last Judgement.

Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.
Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you.

Psalm 143 is a cry for help from someone is great distress—crushed to the ground by an enemy, “dwell[ing] in darkness like those long dead.” Throughout the psalm he calls for help from the Lord, trusting in God’s covenant faithfulness and “unfailing love”—not on the psalmist’s own righteousness. The psalmist has faith in God because of his past deeds and meditates upon them.

I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.
I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.

The psalmist asks not only for rescue from enemies, but also instruction and guidance:

Teach me to do your will, for you are my God;
may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.

In a collect written for the psalm, Eugene Peterson captures the connection between God’s past deeds and learning the right way to go: “I will go over again what I know of your ways and reorder my ways by what I learn in Jesus Christ.”

Members of our class were struck by a couple of themes in the psalm. First, troubles of the psalmist are spiritual ones—“ So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed.…  Answer me quickly, Lord; my spirit fails.” So the psalmist’s spirit requires help from God’s “good Spirit.” (A look at an online concordance shows that “spirit” is rare in the psalms—just 15 include it—and only Psalm 51 has more references to it than Psalm 143.)

Second, the psalm uses military imagery that is still applicable in modern warfare, e.g., in Afghanistan: being pursued by an enemy in a “parched land”; the desire to be on level ground and to find a safe way to go, e.g, a road without IEDs.

Psalm 143 is one of several psalms in which the psalmist waits for an answer in the morning, suggesting a night of prayer in the Temple. Presumably for this reason, the Revised Common Lectionary assigns the psalm to the Easter Vigil (during all three years).

The Psalm 143 hymn in Psalms for All Seasons and Lift Up Your Hearts is “Hear My Prayer, O God” (PFAS #143A/LUYH #895) with modern lyrics by Carl Daw set to Hal Hopson’s HYMN CHANT. Fortunately—since it’s the only Psalm 143 in either book—it’s a good one.

Hear my prayer, O God, and listen to my plea;
faithful, righteous One, give ear and answer me.
Judge me not, I pray; no merit dare I claim;
knowing my own faults, I trust in your just Name.

The responsorial setting is “I Lift My Soul to You; Hear My Prayer” (PFAS #143B), which is set to a fragment of “What Wondrous Love.”

A brief digression before discussing the Psalm 143 settings in the Psalter Hymnal: I started attending the CRC around 1993 when the gray Psalter Hymnal was just six years old, but because I never used a blue Psalter Hymnal, it seems like an older book to me. [By comparison, I can remember the Service Book and Hymnal (the red book) used by several Lutheran denominations before being replaced in the late 1970s by the Lutheran Book of Worship (the green book).] So prior to teaching this Sunday school class, I had little exposure to the blue Psalter Hymnal, a situation which may have continued if I hadn’t happened upon a copy in the piano bench in our house (I’m not sure how it got there) and began to look at its Psalm settings.

So while I wasn’t around to witness displeasure with the new (gray) Psalter Hynmnal in 1987, I am beginning to vicariously understand some of it by comparing the psalm settings in the two books. The psalm sections of the blue Psalter Hymnal (and the red Psalter Hymnal before it) were largely derived from the 1912 Psalter, created by Presbyterians but authorized for use in the CRC. The gray Psalter Hymnal replaced many of those with new lyrics set to psalm settings from the 16th Century Genevan Psalter, which was created under the supervision of John Calvin. As neat as this idea sounds, the problem is that many of those tunes aren’t as suitable for 20th Century congregational singing as the ones they replaced.

I mention this as background to the fact that our class liked the Psalm 143 settings in the blue Psalter Hymnal (both from the 1912 Psalter) more than the Genevan setting in the gray Psalter Hymnal. Those two blue PH settings are “Lord, Hear Me in Distress” (PH57 #294), a full versification set to DENBY, and “When Morning Lights the Eastern Skies” (PH57 #295), which is based on verses 8-12. 

The full versification in the gray Psalter Hymnal is “LORD, Hear My Prayer, My Supplication” (PH87 #143) is set to GENEVAN 143 with lyrics by James Vanden Bosch.

When I remember days of old, LORD,
I meditate on all your doings,
on all the works your hand have wrought.
I stretch my hands out to implore you;
my soul thirsts like a desert land.

The gray Psalter Hymnal also has a short response derived from verse 1: “Hear Our Prayer, O Lord” (PH87 #624).

Psalm 32

(Here’s the 16th post in my continuing series on the Psalms for All Seasons Sunday school class I co-teach with Andrew Friend. Each week we sing psalm settings from Psalms for All Seasons, Lift Up Your Hearts, and other CRC hymnals. Previous posts is the series focused on Psalm 121, Psalm 122Psalms 2/99Psalm 72Psalm 95Psalm 147,  Psalm 112,  Psalm 29,  Psalm 40Psalm 23Psalm 27Psalm 130Psalm 15, Psalm 51, and Psalm 6.)

Our class looked at Psalm 32 (along with Psalm 6) during our third Sunday (Feb. 9) on the seven penitential psalms. Psalm 32 is included in the Revised Common Lectionary during Lent (Years A & C) and two ordinary time Lord’s Days in Year C. (Psalm 6 isn’t included in the lectionary.)

Psalm 32 finds the psalmist looking back on a time of unrepentant sinning—“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long”—and recognizing the joy and peace that comes from repentance.

Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.

Now the psalmist can recognize that the Lord is “my hiding place [who] will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance” and raise a call to worship: “Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!”

Psalm 32 has elements of a wisdom psalm: its opening (reminiscent of Psalm 1) and verses 8-10:

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you.
Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the Lord’s unfailing love
surrounds the one who trusts in him.

Some commentators suggest that this section has another speaker (viz., God instructing the psalmist in response to repentance), but it may be that the psalmist’s response to God’s mercy is to instruct others in the ways of the Lord (like the author of Psalm 51; see verse 13). Members of our class disagreed about the contemporary relevance of mule references in a society with a paucity of mules. I think it’s a pointed comparison: Where do I go that I couldn’t if the Lord limited my movement by tying me up? What sort of things do I say that I couldn’t if God placed a bit in my mouth to limit my speech to “only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29)?

There are only three settings of Psalm 32 in CRC hymnals.

“How Blest Are They Whose Trespass” (PFAS #32A/LUYH #669/PH87 #32/PH57 #55) is one of the select 69 hymns to appear in all three Psalter Hymnals and Lift Up Your Hearts with the same tune (RUTHERFORD). It is the only Psalm 32 setting to appear in any of the Psalter Hymnals.

How blest are they whose trespass
has freely been forgiven,
whose sins are wholly covered
before the sight of heaven.
Blest they to whom the LORD God
does not impute their sin,
who have a guileless spirit,
whose heart is true within.

The lyrics come from two songs in the 1912 Psalter. The first three stanzas (vv. 1-7) are from a hymn set to RUTHERFORD. The fourth and fifth stanzas (vv. 8-11) are from another hymn. (Each hymn covers only part of the psalm.) The two hymns were collapsed into one in the 1934 Psalter Hymnal. The lyrics and title, originally “How Blest Is He Whose Trespass,” were updated for the gray Psalter Hymnal.

The saying about horses and mules, bits and bridles doesn’t appear in the hymn. Stanza 3 contains a paraphrase of v. 9 (“Then do not be unruly or slow to understand; be not perverse, but willing to heed my wise command”). The lyrics and a footnote suggesting the stanza be sung by a soloist seemingly endorse the theory that vv. 8-9 is spoken by the Lord.

[RUTHERFORD’s other use in Lift Up Your Hearts is for the hymn “Cast Down, O God, the Idols” (LUYH #626).]

The responsorial setting is “You Are My Hiding Place” (PFAS #32B/LUYH #412). It also appears in Lift Up Your Hearts as a standalone song, which can be sung as a canon. The beginning is derived from Psalm 32:7, the ending from Joel 3:10.

You are my hiding place.
You always fill my heart with songs of deliverance.
Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in you.
I will trust in you.
Let the weak say,“I am strong in the strength of the Lord.”

The only other Psalm 32 hymn in Psalms for All Seasons is “While I Keep Silence” (PFAS #32C), which is inspired by verses 3-4 & 7. (Unhelpfully, the musical score has only the melody line.) We sang it with piano (Andrew) and violin (Naomi). However, we liked the version here and concluded that the hymn may work best a cappella.

While I keep silence, silence, silence in my flesh,
my breath and body fail.
My sins grow bitter, bitter, bitter in my mouth.
My bones return to dust.
O God, I groan both day and night,
beneath your heavy hand.

Psalm 6

(Here’s the 15th post in my continuing series on the Psalms for All Seasons Sunday school class I co-teach with Andrew Friend. Each week we sing psalm settings from Psalms for All Seasons, Lift Up Your Hearts, and other CRC hymnals. Previous posts is the series focused on Psalm 121, Psalm 122Psalms 2/99Psalm 72Psalm 95Psalm 147,  Psalm 112,  Psalm 29,  Psalm 40Psalm 23Psalm 27Psalm 130, Psalm 15, and Psalm 51.)

Our class tackled Psalm 6 together with Psalm 32 during our third Sunday (Feb. 9) looking at the seven penitential psalms. Psalm 6 is ignored by the Revised Common Lectionary and neglected in the CRC hymnals despite containing one of the best descriptions of grief in the Psalter.

The psalmist calls out to the Lord for mercy because of his physical (“my bones are in agony”) and mental (“my soul is in deep anguish”) distress and anticipates his death.

I am worn out from my groaning.
All night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.
My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
they fail because of all my foes.

Like the author of Psalm 32, who also suffers in the bones, the psalmist asks not for what is deserved, but mercy from God because of his “unfailing love.” In the final three verses, the mood of the psalm shifts as the psalmist announces that “The LORD has heard my weeping…, has heard my cry for mercy… [and] accepts my prayer.”

The musical highlight of our slim Psalm 6 pickings was “My Eyes Are Dim with Weeping” (PFAS #6B), the responsorial setting in Psalms for All Seasons. The response, from the Iona Community, has a leader’s part (“My eyes are dim with weeping and my pillow with tears”), which Naomi sang, and a congregational response (“Faithful God remember me”). The paraphrase of the Psalm is by Calvin Seerveld. (“In Psalm 6,” says Seerveld in his introduction, “the psalmist admits that his life is a mess.”) Here are the first three verses:

LORD God! Please do not set me straight while you are angry!
Don’t try to correct me while you are all wound up!
Deal gently with me, LORD, because I am fragile, petering out, really—
Heal me, O LORD, for my very bones are caving in,
my deepest self is horribly disturbed—
and you, LORD, how long will it be before…

I’d like to use this in worship and it’s a shame the lectionary doesn’t give us an obvious service for its use.

The alternative responsorial is the refrain of “Healer of Our Every Ill” (PFAS #6B-alt/LUYH #303)—“Healer of our every ill, light of each tomorrow, give us peace beyond our fear and hope beyond our sorrow.” The entire song, by Marty Haugen, is in Lift Up Your Hearts. We liked the full song, but it isn’t closely connected to the psalm. [Haugen has nine hymns in LUYH, including “Shepherd Me, O God” (PFAS #23H/LUYH #456) and “Gather Us In” (LUYH #529/SNC #8). Haugen’s “Bring Forth the Kingdom” (SNC #123/SWM #236/SNT #20) and “Awake! Awake and Greet the New Morn” (SNC #91) didn’t make the cut.]

“LORD, Chasten Not in Anger” (PFAS #6A/LUYH #409/PH87 #6) is the only complete Psalm 6 setting in the new CRC hymnals. It’s one of a number of psalm settings in the gray Psalter Hymnal that combined a fresh versification (by Clarence Walhout) with the appropriate tune from the Genevan Psalter (GENEVAN 6). (A sample is here.) (GENEVAN 6 trivia from the Psalter Hymnal Handbook: “This tune is one of the few in the Genevan Psalter to include a melisma, a syllable set to more than one note.”)

LORD, chasten not in anger,
nor in your wrath rebuke me.
Give me your healing word.
My soul and body languish;
I wait for you in anguish.
How long, how long, O LORD?

According to the Psalter Hymnal Handbook, “Walhout… was a member of the Poets’ Workshop, a group of several writers who worked on versifications for the 1987 Psalter Hymnal.” I’m curious about how many versification that group composed and how many were included in the new hymnals.

The last line of GENEVAN 6 is used as the refrain of “A Prayer of Lament in Solidarity with Sufferers” (PFAS #6C) by John Witvliet.  Here is the first part of the prayer:

Our hearts cry out, to you, O Lord.
Those whom we love (_________) struggle in fear and pain.
They feel abandoned.
Their eyes—and ours—are filled with tears.

The blue Psalter Hymnal has two versifications of Psalm 6. “No Longer, Lord, Do Thou Despise Me” (PH57 #10) is set to a tune (credited to Louis Bourgeois, 1549), which appears to be a slightly revised version of GENEVAN 6 (which is from the 1542 Genevan Psalter). It has two extra syllables in the first line and is missing the melisma; the rest is nearly identical.

The other versification in the blue Psalter Hymnal is “Lord, Rebuke Me Not” (PH57 #9). Our class preferred this to the Genevan tune and wishes it would have been included in Psalms for All Seasons. (Our class member who grew up with the blue Psalter Hymnal didn’t recall singing either of its two Psalm 6 settings.)

God hath heard my supplication,
He will surely grant my plea.
Let mine enemies be routed,
Be defeated suddenly.


The book of Hosea opens with a strange command from the Lord to Hosea: “Go marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD.”

Naomi’s drawing of Hosea places the adulterous wife figure—representing both Hosea’s wife Gomer and Israel (and wearing nothing but high heals)—in the place of Adam in Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. The figure reaching out to her represents Hosea and the Lord.


 Like the rest of her Sunday school art, Naomi created this during our hour-long class. She describes it as “unfinished.” (Click to enlarge.)


Below the chest of the male figure is God as a mother loving Israel as a child and teaching him to walk (11:1-3). Below the figure’s hand is one of several images of judgement in the book: a whirlwind—“They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind” (8:7). Two others are an eagle over the house of the Lord (8:1), now a place of idol worship, and three wild beasts (from chapter 13).

The image below is the only piece of my own artwork I’ll be posting: a depiction of Hosea’s family as it would appear on the back window of their minivan. The oldest son is named Jezreel because the Lord says he “will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel” (1:4). The daughter is named Lo-Ruhamah because the Lord ”will no longer show love to Israel” (1:6) and the youngest son is named Lo-Ammi because the Lord said that “you are not my people, and I am not your God” (1:8).


This is the third post in my series of the art Naomi Friend created for our Minor Prophets Sunday school class. Previous posts were on Jonah and Amos. Next up: Zephaniah.

Psalm 51

(Here’s the 14th post in my continuing series on the Psalms for All Seasons Sunday school class I co-teach with Andrew Friend. Each week we sing psalm settings from Psalms for All Seasons, Lift Up Your Hearts, and other CRC hymnals. Previous posts is the series focused on Psalm 121, Psalm 122Psalms 2/99Psalm 72Psalm 95Psalm 147,  Psalm 112,  Psalm 29,  Psalm 40Psalm 23Psalm 27Psalm 130, and Psalm 15. On Feb. 2, we tackled Psalm 51)

Psalm 51, the second of the seven penitential psalms our class is taking up, is another of the famous psalms that deserves its reputation. It contains the most heartfelt expression of guilt and repentance in the Bible and several passages used regularly in liturgy and prayer.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

In my home church, we sang vv. 10-12 as part of our regular liturgy:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with your free Spirit.

Verse 15—“Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise”—is another standard opening for worship or daily prayer.

The psalm also contains some anticipations of Christian doctrine, like original sin (“Surely I was sinful at birth”) and the Holy Spirit.

The ending of the psalm seems schizophrenic. Verses 16-17 give a pointed expression of the anti-sacrifice attitude found in many of the prophets:

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.

Many commentators view verses 18-19—which conclude the psalm with a reference to “bulls will be offered on your altar”—as a later addition. The Revised Standard Lectionary doesn’t include them and neither do most of the psalm settings in Psalms for All Seasons.

(The lectionary assigns Psalm 51:1-17 to Ash Wednesday for all three years, and 51:1-12 or 1-10 during three Lord’s Days.)

The Psalm 51 settings in Psalms for All Seasons range from full versifications to short choruses (some of them alluding only vaguely to the psalm).

The most complete versification is “Be Merciful, Be Merciful, O God” (PFAS #51B/PH87 #51), which was written for the gray Psalter Hymnal by Stanley Wiersma and set to GENEVAN 51. Its five stanza cover the entire psalm with vv. 18-19 taking the entire fifth stanza.

Be good to Zion; LORD in mercy hear.
The walls around Jerusalem lie broken.
Rebuild the walls, LORD; help us rebuild them.
Be good to Zion; LORD in mercy hear.

While not as old as GENEVAN 51, another versification, split between two hymns with four stanzas each, has its origins in the 1912 Psalter and has appeared in some form in all three Psalter Hymnals, Lift Up Your Hearts and Psalms for All Seasons. “God, Be Merciful to Me” (PFAS #51N/LUYH #622/PH57 #94) is a versification of the first nine verses of Psalm 51. The song is set to REDHEAD (a.k.a. REDHEAD 76/AJALON/GETHSEMANE) in the 1912 Psalter and blue Psalter Hymnal. Psalms for All Seasons set it to GOD, BE MERCIFUL, a modern tune full of syncopation by Christopher Miner.

God be merciful to me,
on your grace I read my plea.
Wash me, make me pure within;
cleanse, O cleanse me from my sin.

“Gracious God, My Heart Renew” (PFAS #51O/PH57 #95) is versification of verses 10-19, which was set to tune called GETHSEMANE by John Dykes in the 1912 Psalter and the blue Psalter Hymnal, but to REDHEAD in Psalms for All Seasons. Somewhat confusingly, Lift Up Your Hearts combines this hymn with the first stanza of “God, Be Merciful to Me” to create another hymn called “God, Be Merciful to Me” (LUYH #623) (also set to REDHEAD).

Gracious God, my heart renew,
make my spirit right and true;
in your presence let me stay,
by your Spirit show the way;
your salvation’s joy impart,
steadfast make my willing heart.

The gray Psalter Hymnal picks and chooses lines from the two versifications to create a composite hymn, again called “God, Be Merciful to Me” (PH87 #255), which covers verses 1-3, 4, 8, 10-12, 13-14, 17 & 19 and is set to REDHEAD.

 “Have Mercy upon Me, O God” (PFAS #51D) is a modern versification that covers most of the psalm. “Have Mercy on Me, O God” (PFAS #51L) has a versification of vv. 1-2 as the chorus with stanzas based on vv. 3-6, 12-13 and 16-17. A sample is here.

“Ten piedad de mí/Lord, Have Mercy on Me” (PFAS #51E) is more loosely based on the psalm. Here is stanza 3:

Lord, refresh and make me like the newness of the spring,
like a flower opening to your warming rays.
So my grateful tongue will tell the wonders of your love,
and my pardoned heart will sing your praise.

Four of the modern hymns focus on verses 10-12. The most straightforward of these are “Create in Me a Clean Heart” (PFAS #51F/SNC #49/SWM #153) (the tune is here) and John Carter’s “Create in Me a Clean Heart” (PFAS #51H) (the tune is here). We were familiar with the former from Sing! A New Creation.

“Give Me A Clean Heart” (PFAS #51C) by Margaret Douroux is more loosely connected to the psalm text. Here’s the refrain.

Give me a clean heart so I may serve thee.
Lord, fix my heart so that I may be used by thee.
For I’m not worthy of all these blessings.
Give me a clean heart and I’ll follow these.

“Change My Heart, O God” (PFAS #51A/SNC #56) is another song we knew from Sing! A New Creation. It’s seems only tangentially connected to Psalm 51 (“clean heart” = “changed heart”?). The tune is here.

Change my heart, O God; make it ever true.
Change my heart, O God; may I be like you.
You are the Potter; I am the clay.
Mold me and make me; this is what I pray.

The responsorial setting in Psalms for All Seasons is “The Sacrifice You Accept, O God” (PFAS #51G). The two alternative refrains are “Khudaayaa, Raeham Kar/Have Mercy on Us” (an Urdhu hymn) and “Nkosi, Nkosi/Lord, Have Mercy” (from South Africa). The responsorial setting in Sing! A New Creation, “Kyrie Eleison/Lord, Have Mercy” (SNC #50), uses the Ghanan Kyrie (LUYH #637) as its refrain.

Psalms for All Seasons also includes “Misericordia, Señor/Be Merciful, O Lord” (PFAS #51M), a chant that incorporates parts of the psalm.

Psalm 51 is hardly the only Bible passage (or psalm) to ask the Lord to “have mercy,” but the editors of Psalms for All Seasons have decided to place several “kyrie” settings here. The first of these are two “Prayers of Confession,” both with old and familiar lyrics (and no explicit connection to Psalm 51). Each is followed by a short musical response consisting of either repeated “Lord, have mercy” or “Kyrie eleison.” “Prayer of Confession 1” (PFAS #51J/SNC #52) begins “Merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed…” and is followed by a response from the Russian Orthodox liturgy. “Prayer of Confession 2” (PFAS #51K/SNC #53) begins “Gracious God, our sins are too heavy to carry, too real to hide…” and is followed by the response from Ghana.

Psalms for All Seasons also includes a “Kyrie/Lord, Have Mercy” (PFAS #51I/LYUH #633) with a tune by Kathleen Hart Brumm. Since Naomi is a self-described fan of kyries, we sang all of these. The Brumm kyrie, which has leader & congregation parts, was our favorite.

[Versions of these two confessions are found in Lift Up Your Hearts as “A Prayer of Confession and Assurance of Pardon” (LUYH #636) and “A Prayer of Confession” (LUYH #640). Lift Up Your Hearts has four “Kyrie/Lord, have mercy” songs: Brumm’s version; “Kyrie Eleison/Lord, Have Mercy” (LUYH #635), the Russian Orthodox kyrie; “Kyrie Eleison/Lord, Have Mercy” (LUYH #367), the Ghanan kyrie; and “Lord, Have Mercy” (LUYH #639) by Steve Merkel. None of these are linked to Psalm 51 in the indices.] 

There are two other Psalm 51 settings in the Psalter Hymnals. The gray Psalter Hymnal includes “O God, Be Gracious to Me in Your Love” (PH87 #167), which is set to SONG 24, while the blue Psalter Hymnal has “O God, the God That Saveth Me” (PH57 #96), another hymn from the 1912 Psalter.

Psalm 15

(Here’s the 13th post in my continuing series on the Psalms for All Seasons Sunday school class I co-teach with Andrew Friend. Each week we sing psalm settings from Psalms for All Seasons, Lift Up Your Hearts, and other CRC hymnals. Previous posts is the series focused on Psalm 121, Psalm 122Psalms 2/99Psalm 72Psalm 95Psalm 147,  Psalm 112,  Psalm 29,  Psalm 40Psalm 23Psalm 27, and Psalm 130. On Nov. 24, we tackled Psalm 15, which the Revised Common Lectionary assigns to the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany in Year A (this coming Sunday) as well as on Ordinary Time Sundays in Years B & C.)

Psalm 15 is a psalm that enumerates the qualifications to worship and was probably used as an entrance liturgy. The Psalm opens with a question—“Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?”—and then answers it with list of positive and negative qualifications:

The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

“Whoever does these things,” the Psalm concludes, “will never be shaken.”

Psalms for All Seasons contains three hymns based on Psalm 15.

“LORD, Who May Dwell Within Your House” (PFAS #15D/LUYH #612) is the only complete Psalm 15 hymn in Lift Up Your Hearts. It has modern lyrics, consisting of three short stanzas, by Christopher Webber set to CRIMOND, the tune of “The LORD, My Shepherd, Rules My Life” (PFAS #23B/LUYH #732/PH87 #23). A sample is here.

LORD, who may dwell within your house or on your holy hill?
Those who do good and speak the truth, whose lives are blameless still.

“LORD, Who Are They That May Dwell” (PFAS #15A/PH87 #15), the setting found in the gray Psalter Hymnal, has five (non-rhyming) stanzas with the middle three covering the psalm’s ethical demands for worship and the first (“LORD, who are they that may dwell within the courts of your house?”) and last (“Now these are they who may dwell within the courts of the  LORD”) providing a frame. The tune  (STELLA CARMEL) was composed for the lyrics; they were first published in 1973.

They lead an incorrupt life
and do the thing that is right.
They speak the truth from their heart
and use not their tongue for harm.

“Lord, Who Shall Be Welcome” (PFAS #15B) is a 21st Century hymn with a refrain based on verse one (“Lord, who shall be welcome in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy mountain?”) and three stanzas that each conclude “they will stand with the Lord forever.” A sample is here.

Those who walk without blame,
those who walk with the righteous,
who speak the truth from their heart:
they will stand with the Lord forever.

My original plan for our using Psalm 15 in our upcoming worship service was as an opening song, but none of these three hymns strike me as a strong opening hymn. So I decided to use it as a confession instead. In our upcoming service for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, we’re using “LORD, Who May Dwell Within Your House” as a call to confession and “A Prayer of Confession” (PFAS #15E) as a unison prayer of confession. The prayer combines some references to the ethical demands of Psalm 15 with language from Psalm 23 and ends with the final verse of “The LORD, My Shepherd, Rules My Life,” which is sung to the same tune (CRIMOND) as “LORD, Who May Dwell Within Your House.”

The responsorial setting for Psalm 15 is “I’m Gonna Live So God Can Use Me” (PFAS #15C/LUYH #854), a lively African-American spiritual. (The refrain of “Lord, Who Shall Be Welcome” is suggested as an alternative.)

The Psalm 15 setting in the blue Psalter Hymnal, “Who, O Lord, with Thee Abiding” (PH57 #20), is set to HELEN, which seems more energetic than the settings in PFAS, but I wouldn’t use it because all of the masculine language, e.g., “Doing this, and evil spurning/He shall nevermore be moved:/This the man with Thee sojourning/This the man by Thee approved.”)