Psalm 25: Justice for guidance

‘Integrity and uprightness preserve me’ (21)

Image: Wikicommons

In Hebrew this in an acrostic psalm, this one conveniently running to 22 verses. The alphabetical arrangement is lost in our translations.

The psalmist seems to swing between two states, first soaring then penitential. David laments his failings and seeks forgiveness and comfort in the second half. Here’s the opening verse, from the old BCP translation:

Unto thee, O Lord, will I lift up my soul; my God, I have put my trust in thee: O let me not be confounded, neither let mine enemies triumph over me.

And progressing to that very familiar and recurrent prayers in the psalms:

Shew me thy ways, O Lord, and teach me thy paths. Lead me forth in thy truth, and learn me: for thou art the God of my salvation; in thee hath been my hope all the day long. (3, 4)

Recognising the value of seeking truth and humility, the psalmist trusts that youthful transgressions will be forgotten. (7) The psalmist declares that on our journey we should trust an upright God … who instructs defaulters in the way, leads the humble in what is right, and teaches right paths (8, 9)

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Many early settings of this psalm include those by Boyce, Lassus, Goudimel (Genevan) and Blow. Composers of any era usually chose to use either the first aspirational or the second penitential section; an impressive total suggests that this psalm was of particular interest and widely loved.

A fresh tune introduced at South Woden uses the powerful theme of verses 4 and 5: “Show me your ways, teach me your paths, guide in truth all day long”, a suitable prayer for the Lenten season:

Both this refrain and the verses, set to a different but similar and compatible tune, are based on the simple descending chords of D min, CΔ, Bb, A7. The arrangement for four voices can be reflective or swing along happily in its 6/4 time. Variation is introduced by having voices 1 and 2 in double time feel (3+3=6) while the supporting Voices 3 and 4 are in triple (2+2+2=6). No voice recording available but the electric version — which unfortunately cannot bring out this play the way human voices can — sounds like this:

Turning our attention to other responsorials in modern sources, we again find several options:

  • Together in Song 14 offers a composition by Christopher Willcock, whose work we find reliably beautiful. The verses are a little challenging for those who do not read music. If such resources are limited, a simpler tone could be substituted for the verses.
  • Everett in The emergent psalter uses verses 4 and 5 for the antiphon: “Lead me in your ways”
  • Psalms for all seasons gives us 25A, again using verse 1 as the refrain and verses to a tone; as well as a more formally arranged 25C.
  • The Taizé chorus Ad te Jesu quotes verse 1 of this psalm.
  • South Woden has a home-grown refrain and verses based on a simple tune used in recent years as the monthly ‘communion chant’, called into service as a vehicle to sing many different verses and psalms:

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