Psalm 36: Justice like the deep

‘Your justice like the great deep.’ (6)

The Lectionary chooses the middle section of Psalm 36 which rejoices in love and justice. It omits the first four verses. One can see why but let us look briefly at that absent opening section.

There is a voice of rebellion deep in the hearts of the wicked. (1)

And the writer goes on about such schemers as, rather colourfully, they ‘think up wickedness upon their beds.’

Compare this with the next section which declares:

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
    your judgments are like the great deep;

So while shards of evil might hide deep in human hearts, they may be met by justice and love which are available from the deep even to ‘the heavens’. The importance of justice according to divine principles is mentioned again, as so often in the Psalter.

These days in modern writing (let alone the post-modern) you can’t get away with this melodrama where the goodies are pure as the snow and the villains are plain evil and get their comeuppance. Flawed heroes and almost likeable baddies are, more realistically, the norm.

Not for this psalmist. David (“Of David the servant of God” — preface to the psalm) goes on to cherish divine love in no uncertain terms. The lectionary excerpt ignores the baddies at the beginning and the end, like moth-eaten bookends, and just give us the middle verses 5 to 10 about divine love and goodness:

  • it reaches to the heavens
  • how priceless it is
  • all people (‘your people’ in some versions – is there a difference?) find refuge
  • in the shadow of your wings
  • feast and abundance
  • drinking from the river of delights

The references to feasts and abundance might suggest the psalm as an invitation to a communal meal — when not socially distanced of course.


The Emergent Psalter by Isaac Everett; Church Publishing .org
The Emergent Psalter;

A paucity of classical settings is in evidence. Our regular books are also pretty thin on Psalm 36. TiS skips it altogether and PFAS has only one responsorial — and that’s not burning with the spirit of Otis Redding. Sometime a refrain calls for a splash of R&B.

Isaac Everett‘s refrain in The emergent psalter is suitable; a little long but it repeats a simple phrase; it has strong words – Everett points out the ‘feast’ is the same word as ‘overflows’ in the 23rd psalm; modern feel (but in 3/4), starting on and returning pleasingly to major sevenths in tune and backing chords.

But sometimes, it’s nice to write your own so you can swing it if you feel like it. I’ve used verse 7 for this poem. Not R&B but it can be sung with a good beat or ballad/folk style. 

Ps36 cantor OL

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