The Old Song Book

In the forty days of preparation for Easter, the season of Lent starting on 26th February, Churches Together are going to be looking at the old songs of the Bible, the Psalms. There are 150 Psalms collected in the Book of that name and others scattered through the Bible. They have been inspiring and comforting people for thousands of years. They have often been turned into songs or hymns. Some of them are full  of thanksgiving and praise like Psalm 100. ‘Shout for joy!’, or in a traditional hymn version, ‘All people that on earth do dwell, sing!’or a modern version, ‘Jubilate, everybody!’. 

Some are comforting, expressing trust in God, and often were sung at funerals, such as the 23rd Psalm, ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I’ll not want.’ This particular psalm shows clearly a common style of poetry, that of parallelism. The same idea is expressed in two ways, one after the other. ‘He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters.’

Some psalms were used on special occasions, for festivals and processions. There is a series of them, 120-134,  called ‘songs of ascent’ which were probably sung as people approached the temple. Typical is, ‘I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” (Psalm 122). All of these are hopeful, and one of my favourite verses is ‘How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!’(133).

Not all are cheerful. Many ask searching questions, and express pain and despair. One feature, not always appreciated, is that there is often a turning point part way through the Psalm, when for example, a complaint becomes an avowal of trust. Psalm 13 is a good example. It begins, 

How long will you hide your face from me? How long, O Lord?
Will you forget me forever? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?

Then it ends, with,

But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Writing psalms did not stop when the contents of Bible as we know it were finally agreed. Songs and hymns continue to be composed, expressing the whole range of human emotions. In fact you could write your own psalm, expressing your own faith whatever it is. Or find a song that expresses your feelings and let it fill you with joy, or longing, or be a way of shouting your frustration. Perhaps each week you could choose a Psalm or song to help you look forward. The Psalms are not just for the past but also for the present.