Psalm 50, 11 Feb ’18

Psalm 50 by Asaph is quite long. Three sections broadly cover (i) the greatness and justice of God, (ii) the doubtful value of sacrifices and superficial or procedural worship, and (iii) a heavy admonishment to the ‘wicked’.

The lectionary reading covers the first half-dozen verses only. It boils down (though psalms should never be boiled down) to a vibrant description of divine eminence, power and identification with the people. The link to the week’s theme of the Transfiguration, while quite direct in the associated 2 Kings selection, is more oblique and atmospheric in the psalm.

Many early settings of the psalm, following 17th and early 18th century translations such as that by Isaac Watts, tend to emphasise the fearful, thunderous and judgmental nature of God. The opening section certainly includes ‘consuming fire’ and ‘raging storms’ associated with the imagery of the transfiguration and the power of the divine seat, depending on your translation. However, the concluding verses (5, 6) speak more gently of gathering the faithful before a God who is the source of rightness and justice.

For more on this theme, see an earlier post for Feb 2015.


That earlier post also outlines just a few of the musical options, including the preferred choice Psalms for All Seasons 50B or 50 C. A little recent history: the cantors’ song sheet in our library says: “PFAS 50B, SW male voices 11 August 2013; mixed voices, 15 Feb 15.”

TiS 30 also covers the required territory. Most of the settings on CPDL online are SATBs of dated translations such as the Watts text mentioned above. The music, like the Haydn piece that follows, is usually more pleasing:

Psalm 50 for three voices, incipit by Josef Haydn

Some stats.

This is post number 300 on!

Although this equates to twice the number of psalms in the psalter, a glance at the index pages shows that many songs, particularly those not included in the lectionary, have received but one visit. Others are more prominent in weekly readings (eg. 8, 98, 104) so commentary appears far more frequently.

The blog started up rather hesitantly in September 2013, about a year after establishing the program at South Woden of singing the psalm each week.  The counter tells me that the site receives about 3,500 hits per year, however fleeting.

Thanks to Rachel K for the original encouragement, and to all the many singers who have contributed their talents and enthusiasm over these wonderful cycles full of good music and inspiration.

New voices will always be welcome.

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