Four readings of Psalm 105 over the last two months have left us in no doubt as to the allegorical importance of the Hebrew tales of exile into Egypt, their harsh experience as refugees, and finally the miraculous pursuit and escape across the Red Sea.
In the final section included in this fourth and last Lectionary appearance of Psalm 105 until Year A comes around again in 2023, Psalm 105 reminds the hearer of bread from heaven in the wilderness, water from the rock and the land of promise. The conclusion — stated with didactic clarity unadorned by the characteristic poetic flights found elsewhere throughout the Psalter — is that all of this was intended “that they might keep the statues and observe the laws.”
This reference to revealed biblical standards of moral and social behaviour, including concepts of justice and equity, also reappears throughout the psalms. A seminar held by the Australian National University in September 2020 investigated the complex nature and extent of the ‘Rule of Law’ in the East Asian region. Under a ‘thin’ definition, rule of law means minimally the facilitation of fair transactions. The ‘thick’ definition, closer to the biblical principles, spans concepts of equity, human rights and fair and open governance and justice.
Regrettably, but perhaps unsurprisingly as reports of information warfare, hacking, protests, suppression and brutality appear on our screens nightly, the observed trend is towards rule by, rather than of, law. Law becomes a tool for control rather than a standard for social aspiration. Thick or thin is increasingly applied purely for expedience, security of régime and retention of power. These circumstances alone should encourage us to raise with fervour the poetic voice of the psalm songs and their message of justice for all.
Now to the music. As this psalm has recurred recently, the relevant series of posts has brought to the fore just a few of the many musical references:
- an antiphonal harmonised quote from a setting for five voices by Lassus
- a home-grown refrain
- Confitemini Domino, the setting by Orlando di Lasso
- an instrumental treatment of a Genevan setting.
- A contemporary song by Esther Mui, Scripture in Song
Listen now to the superb voices of Le Poème Harmonique, a baroque music group based in Normandy, France in an anonymous setting of Confitemini Domino, Psalm 105: