As I read these psalms by the sons of Korah, I find myself wondering about the process of their composition. What sort of music accompanied the psalms, what did they sound like? How did the sons of Korah collaborate to bring their disparate ideas together into a single musical piece? The nationalistic love for Israel and the King in their songs: was it sincere? To what extent was it that when the king wants a song commemorating his marriage, you write him a dang song commemorating his marriage?
Here we have another hymn of triumph, an ode to God’s majesty. Much like in Psalm 24, God is depicted as the King of Israel, victorious over Israel’s enemies and ruling over the nations from his throne. But this psalm was composed by the sons of Korah, who, to all appearances, love a good psalm of orientation. And I wish I did too.
Here’s another psalm of orientation, according to Walter Brueggemann’s classification scheme, about God protecting his people. And here’s the thing about psalms of orientation: they always strike me as the choir preaching to itself. For the person sincerely singing them, life is good, pain is negligible, and on a long enough time frame all evildoers will be brought to justice. How does the choir sound to the person in the Cry Hole? It’s gonna sound like Job’s friends telling him, ““Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright destroyed?” (Job 4:7).
The sons of Korah are at it again with a song celebrating the king’s marriage. Imagine, for a moment, that you are getting married, and instead of picking out an existing song to be played at your wedding, you decide that no other song in existence will do. A new love song will have to be written to commemorate the occasion. What will be the theme of your song? What will it sound like? Will it talk about shooting your foes with arrows?
Psalm 44 is a communal psalm, for the “we” of Israel to sing as a group, recalling God’s saving and empowering work in the days of “our fathers.” It also paints a familiar picture of disorientation: past victories have given way to present defeat, and the community takes it as God’s rejection of them. The psalmist doesn’t just say that God has let this happen, either. He says, “You give us as sheep to be eaten…You sell Your people cheaply, and have not profited by their sale” (11-12). He’s baffled that God has thrown his people to the wolves; God gains nothing from it, and the community, he claims, has done nothing to deserve it. “If we had forgotten the name of our God or extended our hands to a strange god, would not God find this out?” (20-21) he asks.
Who’s the enemy of the day, David? Who’s after your life this time? Right away, asking God for deliverance and vindication, David identifies his foe as “an ungodly nation” and “the deceitful and unjust man.” At least it’s not his friends and countrymen this time. But even so, David takes it personally.
You may know Psalm 42 as the psalm with the thirsty deer simile. It’s one of the more well-known psalms, in part because of the popular worship song “As The Deer.” Written in 1981 by Martin Nystrom, the worship song focuses on God as fulfilling one’s most fundamental desires. It’s decidedly a song of orientation. In Psalm 42, David remembers singing psalms of orientation in the house of God–but such experiences are far from him now. Psalm 42 is a psalm of dehydration.
You might think, as you begin reading Psalm 41, that David’s speaking from a place of smooth sailing. The first few verses are a blessing, much like Psalm 1 or Psalm 15, for those who are generous to those without means. The message seems to be “God helps those who help the helpless,” which sounds like a message of orientation: fair recompense for good deeds, right? And then David reveals that the helpless man in need of aid is himself. It’s a Psalm of Complaint.
Shortly after I began reading Psalms for Chocolate Book, my church started a series on the Psalms, titled “Honest to God.” Coincidence? I think not. Yesterday, the sermon covered Psalm 51, and I’d like to tie in one of the points from that sermon to Psalm 40 here. Take a look at Psalm 51:15: “O Lord, open my lips,
That my mouth may declare Your praise.” David invites God to take control of his vocal apparatus, to deliver him in such a way that he can’t help but praise him. I’m a believer in free will, but when you ask God to come to your aid, you’d better expect him to do something so good it’ll get you talking about it. God’s deliverance leads to worship.
If you’re anything like me, you consider what you say carefully. You ensure that you can trust people before you open up to them; until you drop your guard, every conversation is an experimental trial to see what you can safely share with whom. You gather data and run simulations in your head of possible conversations, testing for optimal outcomes. And you try to make your goal to say the right thing, the thing that is of greatest benefit rather than the thing that makes the most people like you and best hides your faults. But it’s tough. So you don’t speak much. And sometimes you keep it bottled up inside until you feel like you can’t hold it in anymore, and you’ve got to open the floodgates.