Psalm 26: Integrity

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is heinrich-schucc88tz-haus_weisenfels.jpg
Heinrich Schütz managed a setting of Psalm 26 amongst his over 500 pieces. He tried to retire to this house in Weißenfels, Germany, but was recalled to Dresden until he died there in 1672 at 87 years old. Image: wikipedia

Psalm 26 is a declaration of, and perhaps a prayer for, integrity. It sometimes follows the introduction of Job, about whom God avers: “He still persists in his integrity”. Such a strong word — certainly with varying meaning, messaging and impact according to hearer and moment — yet always challenging.

Reminiscent of Psalm 1’s hope to be insulated from bad people and their influence, it has been seen by commentators variously as the song of someone wrongly accused, a prayer for growth into worthy ways, and as a gradual for those entering a place of worship. The enduring value of these songs is how they speak with new voices to each reader, hearer, or singer.

David declares his innocence and refuses to ‘sit with the wicked’ (v. 5). He offers a prayer for justice and confirmation of sticking to the ‘right way’ — that powerful word ‘integrity’ occurs at beginning and end in some translations.  Psalm 1 assures us that blessings will reward such a choice.

Just as Joshua declared “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15), so David declares in verse 11:

As for me, I will live with integrity.

All other ground is sinking sand? (Murray River mouth)
‘… All other ground is sinking sand’ 

Psalm 26 thus declares the wonders of divine love and encourages personal integrity, that we might sing confidently with the psalmist:

My foot stands on level ground  (12)


Composers writing refrains for Psalm 26 seem to agree that themes of love and faithfulness appeal:

Josef Haydn (1794) wrote a trio entitled, rather mysteriously: ‘How oft, instinct with warmth divine‘. The word ‘instinct’ in this case is archaic and means imbued, as the singer continues ‘…thy threshold have I trod.’ So Haydn was captured by ideas later in the psalm, notably verse 8. His subtitle says: The Psalmist declares his Love for God’s House and determines to bless God. Reminiscent of Joshua’s “As for me and my house …” (Josh.24:15).

200 years earlier again (1597) Giovanni Gabrieli, in a major work for two choirs of five voices, eschewed key words and just went with the first five verses. The incipit provides the title: Iudica me Domine/Be thou my judge, O Lord, for I have walked innocently.

All the refrains in our regular modern sources, including The Emergent Psalter, The New Century Hymnal and PFAS (there is no setting in Together in Song), quote verse 3: “Your love is before my eyes”. All are sweet and easy to sing.

Isaac Everett in TEP imagines this psalm as a good processional or call to worship, and recalls Jesus setting his eyes on Jerusalem. He thus selects verse 3 and modifies it slightly to: ‘I’ve set my eyes on your love. I walk in faithfulness to you.’ Typically, he slips from past into present (and often future) tense. Also typically, it’s a nice flowing refrain. This one starts in E minor, going through the relative major and associated chords and ends in a B7 turnaround.

The tunes by Everett and John W Becker (PFAS) are very similar — almost variations on the same tune. The underlying chord structures, both interesting and enjoyable, differ a little more.

All require the singers to present the verses to a tone as provided or chosen, or to a background vamp. At Woden Valley a ‘Tone+’ has been used. This amounts a chanting tone which is moulded so that it follows the same notes, if not the rhythm and metre, of Becker’s refrain tune in PFAS:

Refrain from PFAS, with modified tone in which minims are the chanting notes, extended or abbreviated according to the length of each phrase.

So in the cantor’s music sheet, the first verse with pointing looks like this:

     Judge ' me O God, for I have lived with ' in-teg-ri-ty,
     	I have ' trusted in you ' and have not faltered.

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