‘Let those who are wise consider the steadfast love of God’ (43)
This first song in the last book of the psalms recalls the gathering in from all points of the compass of a fragmented and wandering people, hungry and thirsty’. They gain safety under the ‘steadfast love’ of the divine hand. The catalyst may originally have been the deliverance of the Israelites from exile. People are displaced and look for homes
gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town (3, 4)
This picture remains sharply relevant to the present days of displaced persons, fragmented and suffering families and even tribes seeking a refuge in troubled places of the world. Steadfast love and mercy are much needed against rising fears and harsh responses. The song goes on to enumerate other crises, storms at sea and sickness, in which comforting divine love is to be found and acknowledged in praise.
That evocative phrase ‘Those who go down to the sea in boats’ in verse 23 inspired Henry Purcell to write a motet on those middle verses. A few of the usual composers like Ravenscroft and Lassus also appear in the listings, though none seem quite right for the attention of small groups. A short piece on the first two verses by Paschal de L’Estocart published 1583 may suit a quartet, although the original calls for a countertenor:
Suitable refrains in the normal sources seem to have been discouraged by the infrequent appearance of this and the two succeeding psalms in the Lectionary. Fortunately, Isaac Everett in TEP provides an interesting three-verse, three-part setting that is thoughtful and fun to sing with a little practice. This excellent trio refrain is repeated in PFAS 107C. (If accompanying the singing with guitar, the chords in TEP will be found to differ slightly from the PFAS piano accompaniment. The former reflects the B dominant seventh tonalities of the lead voice part, while the piano takes that accidental as a sus 4 in a passing sub-dominant E. Either works well.)
Marty Haugen’s apposite and enjoyable Consider the steadfast love of God (43) is a simpler alternative in The New Century Hymnal.