King David led a very different life from mine. He shepherded sheep, killed a nine-foot-tall warrior using just a sling, spent years on the run from the current King of Israel, ascended the throne himself when King Saul died, faced a rebellion by his son Absalom, and somehow in the midst of all that found time to compose a bunch of songs. Me? Well, my biggest worry right now is getting this blog post done. In Psalm 124, David wrote about facing hostile adversaries, but I don’t have any hostile adversaries, so I have to write about David writing about facing hostile adversaries.
Are you familiar with the expression “lower than a duck’s instep?” Given how many of you are my relatives, you probably are. But in case you need an explanation, it means “super-low”–because a duck, with its flat feet, has the lowest instep you can imagine. It’s basically the opposite of being “fine as frog’s hair.” And today’s psalm is for people in a situation that is lower than a duck’s instep.
Like yesterday’s psalm, the first verse of this psalm has inspired a contemporary English worship song. I will not, however, be linking to a recording of it, because here are the lyrics: “I was glad when they said unto me, I was glad when they said unto me, I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.’ So glad (so glad), so glad (so glad), so glad (so glad), so glad (so glad).” (repeat until dead)
As the saying goes, stop me if you’ve heard this one. It’s “I Lift My Eyes Up,” originally written by Brian Doerksen, whose music was a staple of contemporary worship services from the mid-90s to the early 2000s–including those of my high school youth group. I couldn’t find a streamable official recording, so this one’s a live cover from UK-based Vineyard Music. Doerksen drew inspiration from Psalm 121 for “I Lift My Eyes Up;” it recapitulates the first two verses in particular almost word-for-word. But while Doerksen’s song is as much a prayer for aid as an acknowledgement of God’s power to save, Psalm 121 is pure confidence in God’s protection.
Today’s psalm is, as the NASB summarizes it, a “Prayer for Deliverance from the Treacherous.” The psalmist asks the Lord to deliver him from “lying lips” and “a deceitful tongue” (120:2). For the time, he’s living in a foreign land with war-hungry inhabitants, so he turns to God for safety.
This is it: the behemoth, the magnum opus, the alpha and omega and everything in between. This is Psalm 119.
I expect that lyrical repetition has been around for as long as singing itself. It’s a potent device. If you want to write a hit pop song, get yourself a simple, singable chorus and a catchy hook, and lean into it hard: just drill it into your listeners’ heads. And whatever lyrical gymnastics you’re pulling off in your rap track, whatever rapid-fire vocals and complex internal rhymes, make sure you’ve got a good call-and-response chorus to get the audience bouncing. And to go back further, if you’re an ancient Hebrew lyricist, you too can put these techniques to work. Enter Psalm 118.