Psalm 48: Your judgements our guide

‘Your judgements … our guide for evermore’ (11, 16)

Another song of the Korahites, another royal moment, with Zion and the holy hill the centre of the world. In modern times, this is generally regarded as a non-geographic metaphor. (See also comments made in Psalm 47 regarding ‘sponsorship’.) The song predated the advent of the Christian and Islamic religions. So while Zion is often mentioned, this is poetry. There is no caliphate here. The longing for mercy and safety is universal. The holy hill may be applied to the locus of life, love and justice – often stated as divine judgement, but here more in an atmosphere of awe rather than more dire and dated concepts of retribution.

The next illustration, from the Oscott Psalter of around 1270 CE, shows the Latin script of that same verse: Suscepimus Deus misericordiam tuam in medio templi tui. Note the abbreviation, common in medieval manuscripts, marked by superscript tilde ~. Thus the third word misericordiam (mercy or loving-kindness) appears as mīam, and in as ī. The script in blue in the second column is described as a ‘metrical paraphrase’, perhaps to facilitate singing.

‘ We wait on your loving-kindness in the midst of your temple’; Psalm 48:9 in the 13C Oscott Psalter, British Library MS50000

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One can hardly be surprised if a reader is less than thrilled when coming across compositions for this psalm from old publications called “The Columbian Harmonist, 1807, words by Isaac Watts, 1719″, and described as “Transcribed from The American Singing-Book, 1786. A simple song, apparently written for newcomers to a singing-school. Words by Isaac Watts, his paraphrase of Psalm 48.” But it’s horses for courses, and the Watts translations were widely used in days gone by. The music leader is constantly challenged to draw meaningful ideas from complex, sparse or dated material.

More modern refrains in NCH and PFAS (nothing in TiS) commend themselves to us more warmly, not only for simplicity and good music but also because they spotlight a key verse, whether literally geographic or not:

We ponder your steadfast love O God, in the midst of your temple. (9)

Everett in TEP chooses the penultimate verse, “Tell the next generation” (13) for his refrain.

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