Give the leader your justice O God. (v. 1)
This psalm asks for the ruler to show justice, compassion and goodness to his people. Surely a common enough theme, but more poignant since we see how often rulers around the world are more interested in grasping power and its benefits than rescuing the poor (v. 4).
We give thanks for the remarkable life and example of the late Nelson Mandela – a humble giant of the century.
What is an appropriate musical treatment for this psalm? We could simply use a hymn based on the psalm text, like NCH 104, We hail you God’s anointed; it’s relevant to leadership, has a sense of social justice and is listed for Advent.
However, especially after that psalms summary gem in my most recent post, let’s stick to the lovely tradition of the antiphon.
Not too many antiphonal settings come to hand. Some sources use these first few verses to proclaim the justice of God and, hopefully, the anointed king or good leader in such demand. Isaac Everett chose verse 4:
For he shall deliver the poor who cry out in distress and he shall have pity on the needy and the weak.
At South Woden we respond to such a social justice theme. Unusually, however, Isaac’s tune is not too captivating; Lectionary Singer, in her excellent blog Singing from the Lectionary, says of this response:
It’s not amazing, but I’m having trouble finding good … refrains for this particular Psalm.
Further, poverty and weakness are only a part of the agenda. The pressing need for the extension of peace and justice through good leadership, underlined by the life of Mandela, leads us to the broader, and perhaps more poetic, reference in verse 3:
You can listen to the tune here >. I’d love to have collaborators as usual – contact me or turn up early!
- We strive to make our references to God free of gender as often as possible. In this case, the psalm seems to refer to a king, perhaps Solomon, so some lack of gender neutrality is acceptable. We may still validly address this prayer of hope to God, seeking enlightenment in our and others’ governments.
- The final verses 18-20 are the psalmist’s doxology to conclude this group of songs. It will therefore be sung in a separate chant style to set it slightly apart from the foregoing text.
- For those with a good memory, we sang from this psalm in January 2013, albeit hearing different verses. The setting we used then is here >