The Revised Common Liturgy picks up Psalm 9 at verse 9, after David’s confident declaration of thanks for not only personal success but for the power of the ‘Most High’. The praise continues throughout the reading, to the modern ear verging on triumphalism. A strong sense of ‘us and them’, the goodies and the baddies, pervades the psalmist’s poetry.
Perhaps that’s the key to the triumphalism. This is poetry. But it’s also cast in the language and ideas of ancient times, and specifically the conflicted establishment of a post-Exodus ‘promised land’ for the Abrahamic tribes, a struggle still painfully playing itself out.
The ‘wicked’ might represent real foes who opposed King David’s leadership, and they were tough enough; or moral and ethical influences for good and evil felt by all humanity. The psalmist had not received the ‘Love your enemies’ policy update; but even with that guidance to hand, it’s still quite fair to call out inimical or immoral behaviour.
Make what you will of that, but the psalmist’s concern for the less fortunate in that broad sweep of humanity is evident — in verses 9 (the oppressed), 12 (the afflicted), and 18 (the poor) — as it should be to the modern reader. Those key words of the Psalter, justice and equity (vs 4, 7, 8), serve to moderate the emotion in the early section. The underlying desire for a social conscience continues in the section we hear (9-20). The final verses again pray for a divine push towards a just rule.
This psalm and the next one were originally one song. For that story and the evidence, see the main page on Psalm 9 and 10: Acts of justice>
The second instalment, Psalm 10, is more of a lament, while Psalm 9 is the song of praise and victory. Laments usually go the other way around — hands wringing then hands rising. These two are the other way around. That’s life.
At Woden Valley on 21 June we turn to an enticing Paraguayan traditional tune Ore mboriajú (On the poor) in Psalms for All Seasons 9A. The song seems to have been brought to the ecumenical community by the prolific Pablo Sosa who died last year. Arranged by John Bell, the song is typically easy to sing and swings along.
A light backing from a stringed instrument such as guitar or mandolin will help roll around the somewhat predictable but enjoyable ‘circle of fifths’ chords: I-IV-V-I-VI-ii-V7-I. Good for a group sing.
In quite a different style, try this early music setting of Psalm 9, De tout mon coeur t’exalteray. This composition by a prominent French/Flemish composer Claude Le Jeune (1528 – 1600) was just one of his 347 surviving psalm settings. Le Jeune, Goudimel and Sweelinck all influenced European psalm singing including the Scottish Psalter, a familiar exemplar of which is the Old Hundredth. Lutheran practice was generally less constrained than that of the Genevan and Scottish usage. Nonetheless this French interpretation is lively, emphasising the use of percussion in Renaissance music. Other recordings can be heard in more moderate style.