Psalm 21: Just rulers

‘A ruler who trusts in God shall not fall’ (7)

Detail of a miniature of Richard II, king of England (1377-1399), receiving his bride, the princess Isabel, from her father, Charles VI, king of France: Jean Froissart, Chroniques, (Bruges), c. 1480-1494, Royal 14 D. vi, f. 268v British Library

Both 18 and 21 are labelled ‘Royal’ psalms. Triumphalism and violent undertones pose difficulties to modern readers schooled in values of democracy and the new commandment. Remember that times have changed. This was an era of an eye for an eye, and the modern nation state had not been invented. Machiavelli probably would have sounded tame.

David also had in mind the promise, with implied kingly responsibilities, that the children of Abraham in Israel were chosen as the vehicle eventually to bring reconciliation to a degenerate world.

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Händel picked up this text, a gift to Royalists, for one of his four anthems for celebrations at the coronation of King George II in 1727.

Psalm 21 is omitted from the Lectionary and thus from several hymnaries such as TiS and NCH. The psalters of course will always have a suitable settings should the need arise: PFAS has a token offering in hymn form. Everett’s refrain in TEP is the pick of the day, with simple but compelling music and interesting use of hemiola.

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