Psalm 146: Care for strangers

‘God cares for the stranger, sustains the orphan and widow.’ (9)

Reading serious news and commentary recently one concludes that polls — in Australia at least, though I do not doubt that readers in other countries will nod in agreement — are revealing a loss of confidence in governance. Part of that is due to perceived weaknesses in both national leaders and opposing aspirants.

People are, in this respect at least, doing just what Psalm 146 recommends:

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish (vs. 3, 4)

There’s a second reason why people might follow this psalm. It’s suffused with calls for equity and justice for all people, a situation that is certainly not being provided by many authorities in current leadership and governments. Many would be delighted to see a social, community, health, justice and financial structure that:

Image: Wikimedia commons

executes justice for the oppressed; gives food to the hungry; sets the prisoners free; opens the eyes of the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down; loves the righteous; watches over the strangers; upholds the orphan and the widow (vs. 7 – 9)

Sounds very much like Jesus quoting Isaiah in Luke 4:18. The theme of justice appears again, as it appears in so many posts, in contrast with the reality we see about us, challenging us to work harder for outcomes based on love rather than selfish interests.

This is not to suggest that governments must be religious or organisationally linked to the church. Separation between church and state is good insurance against ideological extremism. But separation of their value systems will inevitably lead to conflict. Ministers get advice from all quarters. Some of them hopefully recognise humanist and equitable values like those quoted above and variously expressed elsewhere throughout ‘the word’, if not the original beliefs from which they are drawn.  

The psalm finishes with recognition that those who ‘have the God of Jacob for their help (5), and revere the attributes described, (6 to 9), then effectively “God shall reign forever, for all generations.” (10)

Music

Hymns (we prefer antiphonals) on this theme are manifold. TiS 90 is the old favourite (1719) hymn by Isaac Watts, I’ll praise my maker while I’ve breath.

Happy the choir who could introduce a nice piece à4 by Lassus, Lauda anima mea, or his longer setting à6 under a similar title.

Antiphonal settings often feature refrains full of Hallelujahs. Why? The final handful of psalms from 146 to 150 are songs of praise, all starting and finishing with a ringing Hallelujah – praise YHWH. That last line in verse 10 quoted above is just one example.

  • Everett in TEP emphasises this as well as the prince thing and its alternative.
  • Psalms for all Seasons includes three hymns (146A, sure enough, is the Watts hymn) as well as 146B with Taizé refrain. Note also the alternate Refrains 1 (traditional Muscogee Creek Indian) and 2 (Indonesian, in Phrygian mode) for interest and additional tempting musical experiences.
  • PFAS 146B uses a refrain from Taizé. These lovely songs by Jacques Berthier (1923-1994) thrive on simple harmonies. An antiphonal treatment works well, one voice taking the first part of each verse, the chorus responding with the tone set in PFAS.

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