Psalm 9: No One Will Be Forgotten

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A few thoughts about Psalm 9 as it relates to the lectionary texts the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B. Extracted from the legendary Pulpit Fiction podcast.

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The holy heart of justice,

     a fortress when there's trouble 
     The helpless will not be forgotten 
The holy heart of justice,

     compassion when there's suffering 
     The helpless will not be forgotten 

Whole-hearted thanks,

     we give our whole-hearted trust 
Whole-hearted thanks,

     we give our whole-hearted trust 

The holy heart of justice,

     the rhythm beats forever 
     The helpless will not be forgotten 
The holy heart of justice,

     we place ourselves within you 
     The helpless will not be forgotten 

 

Whole-hearted thanks,

     we give our whole-hearted trust 
Whole-hearted thanks,

     we give our whole-hearted trust 

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In a Nutshell

Psalm 9 is about gratitude for God's perfect fairness-- righteousness, if you want a religious word. Yet there is tension in the text: While God is praised for compassion and justice, there's a tone of lament for those who at the moment aren’t experiencing justice at all.

 

There's a sense that God knows things aren’t fair for some

of us, but that the Holy One will not forget those who suffer:

• Verse 10: You, O Holy One, have not abandoned

                   those who seek you. (Worldmaking version)

• Verse 18: The helpless will not always be forgotten, nor shall

                   the hope of the needy be lost in the end. (Worldmaking version)

 

Mix together compassion for the oppressed, anger for injustice, longing for change, thankgiving for God's goodness and driven prayer for social justice and we've got a recipe for a very political psalm-- both 3000 years ago and in the 21st century.

An acoustic version of "The Holy Heart of Justice."

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The 9-10 Acrostic

Scholars wonder if Psalm 9 and Psalm 10 go together.

 

Linked, they form a single alphabetical acrostic poem, every other line beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In the Septuagint, 9 and 10 are a single psalm.

 

In general, Psalm 9 has a theme of gratitude and praise, while Psalm 10 centers on lament. Both have a back-and-forth voice, sometimes praying to God sometimes talking about God.

 

The jury will likely be out forever regarding whether 9 and 10 are historically joined or not. Either way, try them together. There's a delicious arc that includes happy gratitude, sad begging for help, angry lament for injustice to the poor, and deep trust that the Holy One resonates with perfect justice.

Poetry Play

Acrostic psalms include 9-10, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119 and 145. This form of poetry shapes the texts so they are easy to memorize. Maybe using the 22 letters of the Hebrew aleph-bet brings a sense of artistic fullness and completeness.

 

Tangent alert! The Christian tradition has a famous acrostic for "Jesus Christ Son of God, Savior." The first letters of these words in Greek spell ICHTHYS, meaning "fish." Hence the fish fetish in jewelry, backs of cars and church banners. It's not just a trendy pop symbol-- it's been around awhile!

 

Acrostic poetry is easy and fun to do alone or with a group. Keep it light or go as deep as you desire. Try one! Follow the simple template at ReadWriteThink.org. You may be a poet and don't know it.

For Music Nerds Only

The psalms are songs.

 

They're about 3000 years old and, in their day, had rhythm, a melody and a groove to them. They have been an essential part of the worship tradition for mellenia. That's why in many local synagogues and churches the psalms are sung or chanted today.

 

Tangent alert! Jesus and his circle probably knew many of the psalms by heart from their worship traditon. Hmmm...what did Jesus' singing voice sound like?

 

Anyway, musicians will enjoy the fact that within the psalm texts are notes to the director. For instance:

 

  • The top of Psalm 9 reads: "To the music leader: According to Muth-labben. A psalm of David." Muth-labben is probably the title of a known melody, and some translations render it "The Death of the Son." A real toe-tapper, that one, I bet.

 

  • Higgaion (Higg-eye-OWN). Following verse 16, this term shows up. Psalm scholars think it may refer to meditation, recitation or something relating to the melody. Not always much help, those scholars. 

 

  • Selah (SEH-leh) probably means a musical break, a moment to pause from singing the text and absorb the meaning of the words we have been singing. In Psalm 9 there's a Selah after verse 16 and verse 20.

The helpless will not always be forgotten,

nor shall the hope of the poor

be lost in the end.

 

Psalm 9.18

Pic by Istvan Benedek

Pic by Creates Ima

The Politics of Memory

Psalm 9 seems stuck on people referred to as "the poor," "the oppressed," "the needy," "the afflicted" and "those who suffer." (verses 9, 12, 18). These folks seem to get special attention from the convenant God of Israel.

 

As opposed to say, "enemies," "the wicked" and "those who hate" (verses 3, 5, 13). They get, shall we say, a different kind of attention from God.

 

In Psalm 9, what is celebrated as just, fair and beautifully right? That the Holy One remember those who trust God (v 10, 12, 18). In the text, these are the ones being oppressed and in trouble. God is said to be "mindful of them."

 

But that's not all. Apparently, justice also means that God blots out the names of of the wicked, making their memory vanish (v 5-6). In other ords, those who have forgotten God will be forgotten by God (v. 17). For these, their violence boomerangs back on them as if falling into their own pit.

 

That God remembers is an important theme in the Older Testament. Remembering means God listens, acts, helps, defends and restores. When God is said to forget, the people hope that God forgets their sin, their waywardness and delusion.

StacyWills.com

Textual Tension

In Psalm 9, the people of God are emotionally all over the map.

 

One moment, it's praise to God for faithful help, the next it's cursing the abusers. We're agonizing with God in lament and then celebrating real justice. 

 

Monitoring the tone:

  • 1-4 I CELEBRATE and THANK YOU, God; I know from experience how wonderful you are!

  • 5-8 In your perfect judgment, you've wiped out wicked nations and people so their names are forgotten. So hooray and wow, I guess.

  • 9-10 You help those in trouble and never forget those who trust you.

  • 11-12 PRAISE OUR GOD for holy justice!

  • 13-14 GOD, HELP US in our suffering!

  • 15-16 Wicked nations have failed because of God's work.

  • 17 They shall die forgotten, but those suffering shall not be forgotten.

  • 19-20 Put the nations in their place, O God!

 

The passionate poetry of the psalms can carry us into all kinds of different orbits all in a single moment.

"Of Us": Wondering About Holy Pronouns

Psalm 9 is concerned with "the needy." It sounds pretty straightforward, right? But what words do we use in worship for this group?

 

If we speak of “the needy,” it might seem as if we assume no one in the room is on food stamps. Or that no one hearing these words would be suffering from abuse, prejudice or addiction. "The needy" might seem like those other than us. 

 

On the other hand, we might be aware of extreme poverty and violence elsewhere in the world to the extent that we feel there are folks much worse off than "we" are. Maybe there's value in that perspective, too.  "The needy" is not us.

 

I’m curious how we make language for the groups of people for whom the Holy One has a soft spot.

 

Same with the Beattitudes. When Jesus preached on the mount/plain about the poor in spirit, the meek, those who mourn, the peacemakers, are these people “them? or "us"?

 

I suggest that They are always some of Us. And that We might be Them at any moment. Also: Who's on first and What's on second.

 

As a worshipping assembly, the people in the room are not the church; we're part of the church which is the global Body of Christ. We're not the whole world; we're part of the whole world which would be dimished were we not present with it.

 

Maybe there’s always only "us."

 

Maybe speech like, "those of us who are poor," or "those of us who are struggling in systems that oppress" help jog our memories and tweak our perspective, reminding us that we're all in the same boat.

 

The hope is that using care-full language shapes us as people who claim one another-- across socio-economic lines and inclusive in race, language, culture-- whatever might possibly seem like a separating line. 

 

Here's to all of us in the variety of ways we encounter life. Let us make prayers of compassion and lament in solidarity with those of us having a tough time of it right now. We may be in that group or may be soon.

 

Let us also make prayers of joy and graitude in solidarity with those of us who are celebrating new life.

 

-- Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

 

Whom Have We Forgotten?

Likely, we can't know until or unless we seriously reorient to a different perspective.

 

It’s a crazy question because if society is not paying attention to these of us, many of us have also cultivated an blind spot to this question:

 

Who are our brothers and sisters of the earth who are invisible or forgotten?

 

Could a text like Psalm 9 lead us to confession?

Might it suggest faithful lament on behalf of those of us suffering in systems of injustice?

Could it re-commission us for prayerful attention and active social change?

 

So often our ancient scriptures poke us to pay attention. They mess with our sense of entitlement and challenge the assumption that we know everything. 

 

What would happen to us if we allow it?

Pic by Rick Sampson

Thanks to Leroy Allen Skalstad Photography for use of these images.

Mr. Skalstad is a formerly homeless disabled Vietnam veteran who loves B&W street photography.

The Reflection Gallery

 

Below is a collection of "street portraits" by photographer Leroy Allen Skalstad.

What do his images of homeless people evoke in you?

Thank you

for studying with us at PsalmImmersion.com

 

The grace, peace and justice of God is in and about you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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