Psalm 71, 31 Jan 2016

The full psalm, of which we read but 6 verses at this time, touches many of the common ideas sprinkled throughout the psalter; the essential goodness and caring nature of the creator, the rock, the strong fortress; the psalmist seeking succour ‘out of the depths’ of harsh experience; assurance of a benign protection against inimical powers, even when we are weak and old; and at the end more evidence, if such were needed, that the psalms were sung:

Lyre player, AlteNatGal
Girl with lyre, Adolf von Hildebrand, c.1910. Alte National Gallery Berlin

I will praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, my God; I will sing praise to you with the lyre, my lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you— I whom you have delivered. (verses 21-24)

These declarations we hear often in other psalms but not from this particular section since it is never included in the lectionary. The full psalm also touches on all stages of life from birth (God as midwife, verse 6) to old age.

But back in verses 1-6, the psalmist rejoices in the firm refuge and deliverance that is his life-long hope and belief. In amongst the rhetoric, there’s an important symbiotic link. One of these links was mentioned a week or so ago in relation to Psalm 37. In that song, justice flows from wisdom which flows from divine righteousness. Here, the link is between salvation and that same fundamental goodness:

In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me (v.2)

There’s an implication that we need to nurture this linkage internally, between a secure spiritual condition and uprightness, individually and as a community. It’s not that simple, of course. The New Testament has plenty to say about this — keywords faith, works and grace. Today’s NT readings, however, are really pushing different (and it seems quite disparate) ideas, of which this is an easy pick:

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor.13:13)


The old age dimension does not arise until verse 9 (‘Do not cast me off in my old age’), so is not included in our reading today. However, responses in both Psalms for all seasons and The emergent psalter are both energised by this idea. Everett specifically notes that feelings of loneliness and abandonment are commonly faced by the ageing, and wrote his refrain as a two-part round ‘to make it clear to the congregation that they weren’t singing alone.’ (p. 141)

Our male voice group has also sung this to a home-grown TTBB setting loosely based on an Eastern Orthodox chant for the beatitudes.

And speaking of male voices, I discovered a duet by German composer of the 17th century David Thoman. It is arranged with basso continuo and would be pretty thin without accompaniment.

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