Psalm 123, 4 July 2021

Ascents come in many shapes and sizes, while varied terrain may bring surprises.

Last Sunday’s Psalm 130 was introduced as a Song of Ascent, characterised by brevity and a clear positive message.

Here is Psalm 123, the fourth of the Songs of Ascent (120 to 134). It fits happily into that pattern, short and clear, almost sweet:

1 To you I lift up my eyes,
    O you who are enthroned in the heavens.

However, just as last week’s Psalm 130 had a dash of penitence, so here we find more than a hint of frustration at ‘the system’, whatever that was back in the day:

3 Have mercy upon us, O God, have mercy upon us,
    for we have had more than enough of contempt.
4 Our soul has had more than its fill
    of the scorn of those who are at ease,
    of the contempt of the proud.

Sounds as though not much has changed. This is why we still sing these songs of ascent with their nudges towards the higher ground of justice, equity, optimism and trust.


Musical settings of Psalm 123, perhaps due to its brevity, are relatively few. Together in Song omits this one. A few nice early settings by people like Palestrina, Lassus and Hassler are enticing but well beyond our reach. The Genevan and similar psalters have hymns rather than responsorials. However, some regular sources include nice congregational refrains:

  • The Emergent Psalter chooses the penitential theme, ‘Have mercy on us’, with simple tune and chords
  • In a nice SATB setting, Linnea Good concentrates on the single phrase, ‘To you I lift up my eyes’, from verse 1.
  • David Haas in Psalms For All Seasons takes the hopeful view: Our eyes rest on you, awaiting your kindness.

At Woden Valley, our forward plan optimistically listed the last mentioned from PFAS 123A, to be presented by our loyal and talented women singers. Here is the refrain by David Haas, together with the tone suggested in PFAS 123A, re-arranged for two similar voices:

However, recently re-imposed mask-wearing and other health restrictions have intervened. Looks like it will be solo or nothing, sorry. And our thoughts and prayers go to those who are far more seriously inconvenienced than that little bump.

Meanwhile, here is consolation in the six-part setting Ad te levavi oculos meos by English composer Robert White (1538 – 1574):

And a very happy Independence Day to all followers and readers in the United States of America, collectively to date registering 40% of total page openings during 2021.

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