Psalms 9 and 10: Acts of justice

Rejoice (2); God is known by acts of justice.’ (16)

This is the start of the disconnect in psalm numbering between Septuagint or Vulgate and the modern psalter. The split runs through to the last three psalms which, like the first eight, are in sync again. In the early translation and the original Hebrew, these two songs were one. Isaac Everett in The Emergent Psalter says:

It’s clear that they form a single unit because the combined text is acrostic, with the first letter of each forming the Hebrew alphabet: Psalm 9 is roughly A-K and Psalm 10 is roughly L-Z. (p.38)

So “9, 10, a big fat psalm”. They were split because they have a different theme. First is joy and thanksgiving, then a lament. Convention would have it the other way around. But in the ship of fools, the first shall be last; so forget the labels, and instead ‘Nine, ten, sing it again’. Everett suggests singing both songs together. He provides a common refrain which switches to the minor key for the second half, Ps. 10.

Schutz Ps9

Nine. As in history, here David is thankful for divine influence. His many enemies have been defeated. The modern reader gets little from triumphalism except as an example of faith in adversity, or as an allegory of our struggling with our own demons or the ‘Dark Side’. Throughout, we are reminded of comfort in times of injustice:

God will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. (9)

Amongst the early settings is one for double choir by Heinrich Schütz. The illustration shows a little detail of the parts, rather confusingly labelled C A T B 5 7 6 8. Choose your partners and do-si-doh.

Ten. The mood changes to waiting, praying and a little hand-wringing while those enemies play their nasty tricks:

Why do you stand so far off O God, and hide yourself in times of trouble? (1)

It’s time to be reminded that it’s not all about me. In PFAS 10A, a plainsong melody, the translator has nicely emphasised a social justice angle:

From every plan which harms the poor,
from schemes to victimise the weak,
from those who snare the innocent,
Lord your defence, your help we seek

This interpretation by Martin Leckebusch certainly brings it up to date in a world of growing chasm between the rich and the poor. Big fat hen or goose, maybe that is the real golden egg?