Psalm 101: Justice 1.01

I will sing of mercy and justice; I will walk with sincerity. (1, 2)

King David and harp

King David shown here with his harp, assuming he was in fact the poet and songster of this psalm, determines to ‘sing of loyalty and of justice’. (v.1) He adds a powerful proviso. Recognising that he himself is not there yet, he intends to ‘study the way that is blameless’, (v.2) seeking that vague but enticing quality called ‘integrity’, then continuing with a manifesto of the attributes of a good ruler.

This early admission of personal inadequacy avoids a tone of boasting. In a broader modern context, singers might well view these aspirations as social goals for increasing justice in the community.

In a way, if Psalm 1 is an introductory call to an upright way, this is a sort of version 1.01 — the next lesson, expanding the call to a good life by adding a few practical dimensions for reformist attention.

The classical composers stayed away from this one in droves, a little surprising given the somewhat grand declarations. Since this is a ‘skip’, not in the Lectionary and thus seldom sung, our usual sources — NCH, TiS and PFAS — also skip or give it cursory treatment. The last psalter mentioned has just one setting with antiphonally spoken verses, the refrain tune being drawn from an old hymn. Everett in TEP uses verse 2 mentioned above.