‘Let those who are wise consider the steadfast love of God’ (43)
Many of the psalms seem to have fag ends of widely varying ideas, statements and twists tossed in that at first sight seem to confuse. Sometimes they meld into a tasty, herbal mix: others just coexist, leaving the reader to ponder.
The unifying thread through this mix is the various experiences of exiles and refugees, blown to the shores as by variable winds of life. The song recalls with thanks the end of the era of exile in Babylon. It describes the experience of various groups in distress, a theme sharply relevant to today’s disaster areas such as Syria, Burma, Sudan — the full effects of global warming are yet to be seen — and dreams of safer havens.
This week’s reading includes the first few verses celebrating not only divine mercy, but also this veritable melting pot of humanity — “God gathered them from the east and the west”. (v.3)
Then follow 17 to 22 about people afflicted by sickness due to poor choices, or perhaps in tough times like the Israelites enduring privation after escaping from Egypt.
This first song in the last book of the psalms recalls the gathering in from all points of the compass of a fragmented and wandering people, hungry and thirsty’. They gain safety under the ‘steadfast love’ of the divine hand. The catalyst may originally have been the deliverance of the Israelites from exile. People are displaced and look for homes
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)
This picture remains sharply relevant to the present days of displaced persons, fragmented and suffering families and even tribes seeking a refuge in troubled places of the world. Steadfast love and mercy are much needed against rising fears and harsh responses. The song goes on to enumerate other crises, storms at sea and sickness, in which comforting divine love is to be found and acknowledged in praise.
That evocative phrase ‘Those who go down to the sea in boats’ in verse 23 inspired Henry Purcell to write a motet on those middle verses. A few of the usual composers like Ravenscroft and Lassus also appear in the listings, though none seem quite right for the attention of small groups. A short piece on the first two verses by Paschal de L’Estocart published 1583 may suit a quartet, although the original calls for a countertenor:
An interesting approach is found in Isaac Everett’s three-part refrain from The Emergent Psalter. Enjoyed the bluesy feel, as well as the admixture, as indicated at the outset, of various ideas that reflect the multiple voices, demands and pressures impinging on our consciousness from all angles. The composer has taken the psalm’s two internal antiphons, then added a tag:
- Let them give thanks to God for mercy and love, for wondrous deeds for humanity (verses 1, 15 and 31); and secondly
- Then they cried to their God in their trouble, delivered from their distress (found no less than four times, in verses 6, 13, 19 and 28);and
- May those who are wise give heed to these things; consider the love of God (the final verse 43)
Suitable refrains in the normal sources seem to have been discouraged by infrequent appearance of this and the two succeeding psalms in the Lectionary. Fortunately, Isaac Everett in TEP provides a great three-verse, three-part setting that is thoughtful and fun to sing with a little practice. This excellent trio refrain is repeated in PFAS 107C. (If accompanying the singing with guitar, the chords in TEP will be found to differ slightly from the PFAS piano accompaniment. The former reflects the B dominant seventh tonalities of the lead voice part, while the piano has an occasional A chord and omits the dominant sevenths on B and E. Either works well.)
Marty Haugen’s simple, apposite and enjoyable Consider the steadfast love of God (43) is offered in the The New Century Hymnal.