Psalm 9, Refugee Week

As a coda to the post last week on this psalm, a week ahead of schedule, we note that the psalm arrives at the beginning of Refugee Week in Australia. Each year a theme is chosen, this year’s being Unity.

Psalm 9 is not obviously a call for attention to the painful plight of asylum seekers and refugees. In general, the psalm is thankful for past successes.

However, it continually reminds the reader throughout of the need to follow divine standards of equity, by paying heed to the poor, the afflicted and oppressed.

Putting on our selective lenses tuned to the refugee wavelength, sure enough we can read phrases as entirely relevant. The psalmist avers that God:

  • judges people with equity (8)
  • is a stronghold for the oppressed (9)
  • does not forget the cry of the afflicted (12)

Then towards the end we read:

18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
    nor the hope of the poor perish for ever.

Similar references continue in Psalm 10 which, as pointed out in the previous post, together with Psalm 9 was originally part of the same song.

This could easily be an example of reverse engineering, reading into the text our own predilections. The poor and oppressed are widespread across the communities of the world, whether displaced persons or not. Yet the Psalter as a whole, rooted in the experience of an oppressed people violently displaced from Egypt as an undesirable foreign minority, is alive with the undercurrent of justice and equity for all, particularly the outcast.

Traditional Provençal names of the winds from all quarters; plaque in Orange, France.

More specific references to the refugee appear in several other psalms. Remember for example Psalm 107 which we sang in March this year (read more>). This first song in the final Book V of the psalms recalls the gathering in from all points of the compass of a fragmented and wandering people, hungry and thirsty’.

… 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)

A few pages earlier, Psalm 105 builds its story on the experiences of both Jacob and Joseph as aliens and refugees in ‘the land of Ham’, in Egypt.

While this is a model for empathy towards the alien, we can’t take it too far. First, though treated as slaves, the Israelites were not likely to integrate. Their exceptionalism is part of the myth. The narrative plot required that they would escape to try somewhere else.

Second, unity requires unusual broad mindedness on the part of both immigrant and host nation. Given humanity’s genetic wiring for tribalism and protectionism, one might almost say ‘super-human’ broad mindedness.

Third, wrangles over legal refugee status are a relatively recent construct — if post-Westphalian sovereignty spawned in 1648 is to be considered recent. Since then, the nation state, its boundaries and citizenship have become ever more formalised. The psalms imagine that the oppressed of any category and source, whether financial, geographic, tribal, national, racial or religious, might gain safety under the ‘steadfast love’ of the divine hand; and hopefully, as sought in the Refugee Council’s theme for 2021, unity in their adoptive land. With this in mind, the final prayer of Psalm 9:19, 20 sounds more like a call to nations, including Australia, to take a humane approach:

19 Rise up, O God! Do not let mortals prevail;
    let the nations be judged before you.
20 Put them in fear, O God;
    let the nations know that they are only human.

🎵

All this is probably straying beyond the bounds of the aims of this blog, and perhaps of the psalmist. The main purpose is to introduce appropriate music. So to repeat the previous entry on Psalm 9, at Woden Valley on 20 June we turn to an immigrant tune from overseas, in this case 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. It is certainly appropriate to the theme of refugees, who are included in the poor of the world.

A light backing from a stringed instrument, in our case a mandolin, will help us to roll around the somewhat predictable but enjoyable ‘circle of fifths’ chords: I-IV-V-I-VI-ii-V7-I. Good for a group sing. Percussion anyone?

We will sing the verses, suitably paraphrased to fit, to the same tune.

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