Psalm 19, 4 Oct ’20

All you dear friends who have sung with our Psalm Singers in the South or with The Gospel Folk in Canberra will recall the energy and joy of uniting in The rivers of Babylon, a song made famous by The Melodions and Bob Marley. This is a driving reggae version which includes the refrain:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.

Sure enough, this psalm is the source of that phrase, often used by preachers before their message. (V.14.) So when we sing a paraphrased version of the psalm using Bob Marley’s tune, it might seem that this refrain is the whole story.

‘Starry Night’ by Vincent van Gogh. This image and Bob Marley above: Wikimedia commons

It ain’t. The Babylon song is actually largely drawn from Psalm 137, while this one presses us to notice two other major riffs that run through this psalm. Indeed they are messages that recur frequently throughout the Psalter.

First, in a soaring opening section of six verses, the glories of creation are celebrated:

The heavens declare the glory of God, and skies are the work of God’s hands (1)

Day and night are imagined in a constant reverberating dialogue, one which is deep and meaningful but having no words or language, one whose sound permeates all lands and seas.

Then secondly, we are assured of the justice and rightness of divine ways and ‘law’:

A 15th century psalter, Glossa ordinaria psalterii, with commentary in Latin by Pierre Lombard, c.1250. Bibliothèque Humaniste MS 96, Selestat.

The ordinances of God are true
    and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
    and drippings of the honeycomb.

So all in all, it’s a powerful song and worth singing in whatever style you fancy. This one by the Melodions is one of the few pop songs whose lyrics are direct biblical quotes — see also ’40’ by U2.

The song is also a classic case of musique sans frontières, the tune being drawn from a 16th century Lutheran hymn, adapted and made famous by a Jamaican Rastifarian group, rolling around in homes, halls and the ether, thence coming direct to a video monitor near you. As Psalm 19 itself says:

Their sound is gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world.

Which might remind you of the odd Händel oratorio; see more on both messages and musical offerings in the main page on this psalm. [At South Woden this week, zooming in to St James, we will not hear the reggae version.]

A chorus in The Messiah by G F Händel, Their sound is gone out, from Psalm 19:4.

Meanwhile here’s a finely controlled modern take by the Sons of Korah:

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