Psalm 138, 6 Feb 21

Though you are high, you care for the lowly.’ (6)

Verse 1 in this psalm of praise imagines God sitting supreme in the company of other gods and lesser heavenly beings. Literal or figurative, this sketch has the potential for a “head-of-a-pin” side track discussion about angels and gods. Not my thing.

So concentrate on the remaining message — which essentially is that we should adhere to (“bow towards the holy temple of”) love and faithfulness. God holds these above all things. (2)

In such a régime, the rulers of the world would listen to the divinely ordained ethical structure, the ‘word’ of Psalm 119. (4)

They would provide leadership to implement these principles. It’s not much use just praising them without action.

They would recognise and exemplify the concept that, though rulers are mighty, they have a responsibility to follow this astoundingly simple and sensible humanist rule and care for the lowly. (6)

Then, this gracious influence will preserve and enhance the potential in each and every one. (7) The psalmist concludes with a prayer that the divine Spirit would sustain this work of love in our lives and world. (8)


Delightful early music settings are to be found under various headings, corresponding to various verse selections of the psalm and the various languages of the composers. Some examples are In conspectu angelorum (Francisco Guerrero), Confitebor tibi Domine (Lassus, Mendelssohn, Willaert) and Il faut que tous mes esprits (Paschal de L’Estocart, Jan Sweelinck).

Confitebor tibi, Domine, in toto corde meo /  I will give thanks unto thee, O Lord, with my whole heart. A setting by Flanders composer Adrian Willaert, founder of the Venetian school; in three parts, published 1559.

Here is the lovely and quite short setting mentioned above, by Sweelinck:

At Woden Valley: Omicron has wound the clock back to the days when gathering together was discountenanced, days of online worship. These sessions at least maintained some personal connections despite the many drawbacks. So who knows whether a psalm might be sung or not? If a song is feasible, the setting by Isaac Everett, They shall sing of the ways of the Lord, might be well placed.

Some years ago I arranged this refrain for four voices, then paraphrased the verses to fit the same tune with an additional contrasting B section in an AABA. The four part harmony is definitely not happening, but for interest, here’s the refrain:

Harmonised version of Isaac Everett’s refrain to Psalm 138. The Emergent Psalter, arr. Webmaster. The B section tune continues with the final G of the A section over an Ab chord, creating a nice entry contrast on a major seventh.

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