‘Judgement will again be just, and all of true heart will follow it.’ (15)
A song that asks a vengeful God to wipe out the wicked is not likely to win much support in a politically correct society. Sure enough, Psalm 94 does not make it into the lectionary. However, it is an earnest cry for justice to be accorded to the oppressed, the widow, the migrant and the poor. (6, 21) Seen in this light it’s a powerful contribution to the continuity of the justice and equity themes running through the psalter.
Amidst robust language calling for vengeance and discipline, the psalmist impatiently (another “How long?”) laments injustice and social degradation that society — people — can inflict on the poor, unlucky or disabled. The target of his or her anger is ‘the wicked’ who in turn cause ill to widows, migrants and orphans:
They crush your people O God, they murder the widow and the stranger and put the orphan to death. (vs 5, 6)
The psalmist, feeling thankful for the sure support and protection of divine love, (18, 22) asks who will stand up against such evil. This alone would be enough to keep the psalm relevant in all ages.
Tiburzio Massaino (c.1550 – 1608) was an Italian composer and Augustinian monk. This fine but forgotten musician lived in places like Cremona, Innsbruck, Salzburg and Prague.
Massaino’s setting for Psalm 94, one of many pieces for seven to 12 voices, has the rather obscure title of Intelligite insipientes à7. This is no slight on anyone’s intelligence but the injunction in verse 8: Take heed, ye unwise.
For a more familiar composer from the same period, try Domine secundum multitudinem by William Byrd (c.1540-1623). This is a short motet à5 of verse 19 alone:
In the multitude of the sorrows that I had in my heart: thy comforts have refreshed my soul. (BCP)