Psalm 69: Salvation

‘So God listens to the needy and does not despise prisoners’ (33)

Illuminated capital S in Salvum me fac, Deus, Psalm 69:1. BL Cotton MS Vesp.1

Sometimes themes and verses are repeated so often in the psalms that it’s hard to find new inspiration. In Psalm 69, we hear again the laments and prayers of someone who feels enmity, opposition, slander and loneliness, the while giving thanks for merciful love and safety in divine provision.

Stridently fresh, however, is the lament that the psalmist must give back what he never stole. (4) This reminds us of all those people who have been plundered or abused by the powerful around the world, losing their rightful property, freedom or integrity.

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Sinking in swirling waters is also fresh imagery — ‘up to my neck, I sink in deep mire where there is no foothold’. Another new touch is in verse 21, quoted in all the gospel stories of the crucifixion:

They gave me gall to eat, vinegar to quench my thirst.

Save me O God by John Blow (1648-1708) nicely captures these fresh ideas using a four-part chorus, with a trio singing selected verses. Lassus wrote at least three settings for verses in Psalm 69, including a trio Deus tu scis using verse 6; on verse 13 Adversum me loquebantur à5; and another trio Exaudi me on verse 17.

Sifting the few contemporary settings available for this psalm, two in Psalms for All Seasons — with different authors but the same chord sequence — appear unremarkable but should respond well to sympathetic treatment. 69C has added attraction as coming from the pen of John Bell and Wild Goose.

Some of the text in Looking for God by Australian band The Sons of Korah, released on their 2005 album Resurrection. Enjoy their sparse treatment on their web-site or here:

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