Psalm 7: Decree justice

‘Awake; decree justice’ (6)

This song is another plea for justice and deliverance from attackers. You can’t help wondering at the back-story. The heading, with or without the translation is obscure:

שִׁגָּיוֹן, לְדָוִד: אֲשֶׁר-שָׁר לַיהוָה–עַל-דִּבְרֵי-כוּשׁ, בֶּן-יְמִינִי. Shiggaion of David, which he sang unto God, concerning Cush a Benjamite.

Modern song books throw little light on what a ‘shiggaion’ is, or who Cush was. What was going on? Was it someone attacking the tribe of Benjamin and therefore the king took it on as a national threat? Or was this a song rolling out after a few beers with his beleaguered tipsy mate Cush? And this is not purely wild speculation. One definition says: “from the verb shagah, “to reel about through drink.”1

St Augustine (354-430 CE) commented:

Now the story which gave occasion to this prophecy may be easily recognised…2 For there Chusi, the friend of king David, went over to the side of Absalom, his son, who was carrying on war against his father, for the purpose of discovering and reporting the designs which he was taking against his father …

Dark dealings and spies! However, the precise circumstances do not really matter. Or, as Augustine says:

But since it is not the story itself which is to be the subject of consideration in this Psalm …

Instead, note points of resonance with the modern world in which we live, including:

  • sorrow at our own failings (3-5)
  • hope that divine love provides a refuge and relief (1 and 17); and
  • much-needed justice (6-11).
An antiphon preceding the beginning of Psalm 7 celebrates the justice of God in the ‘Howard Psalter’, c.1325. British Library Arundel MS83 f.16r.

This psalm does not appear in the RCL and therefore is hardly mentioned in some modern collections. However, such limits were irrelevant to early composers like Gabrieli who wrote an impressive SSAATBB. Hassler wrote an SATB; and then a trio by Lassus which might provide pleasure for a few dedicated songsters if the occasion arises.

Everett in TEP chooses the refuge idea from verse 1 for his refrain. There’s no shortage of hymns, rather than our preferred responsorials: lists nearly 40 of them.


2 See 2 Kings and 2 Samuel 15:32-37