‘Your people know hardship; you have set up a banner … a refuge’ (3)
It was the washbasin that put me onto it.
I realised of course that there is quite a lot of repetition in the psalms – asking God to defend, save and vanquish evil, ‘for human help is worthless’ as in this song (Ps 60:11). But you immediately know you’ve been there before when you read something like this:
Ephraim is my helmet, Judah is my sceptre, Moab is my washbasin. On Edom I hurl my shoe … (Vs 7, 8)
Those colourful phrases including basin and shoe, indeed a whole slab of this psalm and some of 57, have been recycled in Psalm 108 (qv). They paint a picture of a writer suffering stress under external pressure, but also a benevolent Spirit who ranges far and wide across petty boundaries and conflicts. ‘Who’, asks the song, ‘will lead us into the strong city?’ (9)Then answers: ‘With God we will do valiant deeds.’ (12)
The keen scholar might well analyse the historical references in each phrase, noting that the tribes in Caanan were not great friends of their neighbours — Moabites, Edomites, Ammonites, even the Cardassians were probably in there somewhere Israel was in and out of war with them from the arrival out of Egypt; and what has changed? Here David has clearly been under sore duress when, as the sub-heading to the psalm says:
… he struggled with Aram Naharaim.
Our purpose here is not historical exegesis but to try to recreate the beauty of singing these ancient poems in a meaningful and inspirational setting. So, unless you are quite dedicated to changing not a jot nor a tittle (Matt. 5:18 KJV in a different context), then at the risk of throwing out Moab with the washbasin, I’d be paraphrasing for dear life.
How (I’m tempted to add: “in God’s name”) does the cantor sing “Moab is a washbasin and let us all throw our shoes” with a straight face? Do you try to slide it off in a folksy guitar number, or clothe it in Gregorian mystery, perhaps singing in Latin so no-one knows what the heck is going on anyway? I don’t think so.
Henry Purcell played
Henry Purcell played it straight, writing a setting of Psalm 60 for six voices and continuo, with the rather forbidding title of O God, thou has cast us out. He sets up some nice antiphonal sections with two groups of three voices answering each other.
But wait! He ducked Moab and the washbasin completely by picking verses before and after that bit.
Otherwise (as for many in this group of ‘skips’ from 55 to 61 omitted from the Lectionary) there are few classical settings available.