This is a song of joy. A celebration of all that is good and wonderful. It is a hymn of praise to be sung not just by people, but by the whole earth, all that is. There are times when we are filled with joy and want to celebrate together. This psalm expresses that experience. One version of this psalm begins with the word, Jubilate, which means to show or feel great joy, to exult, to celebrate.
The psalm comes from a people whose history was filled with tragedy. It has stories of slavey and exile, of persecution and occupation by alien forces. Many psalms reflect this hard and painful history. But this poem is one which remembers the good times, the assurance of blessing and grace that comes from a deep sense of identity as a special people. It may have been a song to sing in gratitude. It reminds me of the phrase from the Desiderata, ‘you are a child of the universe, no less than the trees or the stars’. Everyone, every living thing, the whole cosmos is part of something wonderful and amazing.
In Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths this song would be an invitation to sing praise to ‘God’. But in Jewish tradition the name of the divine would not be spoken, so when reading the scriptures the reader would substitute another word. The letters which represents the divine name are sometimes shown as YHWH. This is often spoken as Adonai, or in English hymns as Jehovah. In many versions of the Bible it is written as LORD, always in capital letters. Perhaps this helps us to avoid thinking that we can know the divine. ‘God’ cannot be captured by a word or a place, but always is more than we can comprehend.
For British Quakers singing in worship is not very common. Nearly always worship is a silent expectant waiting, and no words are necessary. But, sometimes someone is moved to speak, and now and again someone will sing. Quakers value each person’s experience, so even if the words or songs do not seems relevant to your own present circumstances the ministry is accepted. And it is likely that not everyone will feel the urge to shout for joy at the same time. We come to worship with our own peculiar needs and hopes. But a song of joy can bring light and love into our hearts.
There have been many versions of the psalm and many different tunes used to sing it. One old favourite is the Scottish Psalter version, “All people that on earth do dwell”, sung to the tune ’Old Hundredth’. A more modern version is “Jubilate Deo”
Some Quakers prefer not to use the word ‘God’ at all, because of the different ways it is understood. For them and others I offer this version of the psalm.
Shout for joy all the earth.
In wonder, be glad.
Gather with songs of joy.
We are children of the universe, one people.
So unite in giving thanks, and join in celebration.
At the heart of the universe there is goodness and love
which will never end.