02 May 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
2 May 2022 (Psalm 68)

‘As the smoke vanishes, so may they vanish away’ (Psalm 68: 2) … smoke at a mountain railway station in Wales (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today (2 May 2022) is a public holiday, marking the May Day holiday. During this season of Easter, I am reflecting each morning on the Psalms, and in this Prayer Diary on my blog I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 68:

Psalm 68 begins in the Latin version: Exsurgat Deus et dissipentur inimici eius. In the slightly different numbering in the Septuagint and Vulgate, this is Psalm 67.

It has 35 verses in most English translations, including the NRSVA, and the Latin Vulgate version, but 36 according to the Hebrew numbering. It has been called ‘The Great Redemption Accomplished’ and ‘one of the greatest Psalms.’

God’s name is found in seven different forms in this psalm: YHWH, Adonai, El, Shaddai, Yah, Yahweh-Adonai and Yah-Elohim.

This Psalm is sometimes difficult to interpret. It consists of snippets, each a few verses long, commemorating how God has looked after the people. For the Early Church, this psalm foretold the ascension of Christ.

It may have accompanied a liturgy or drama in the Temple depicting the escape of the people from Egypt (verse 7), through their presence before God on Mount Sinai (verses 8, 16) to the promised land (verse 9-10) and to Jerusalem, where God dwells (verse 17). However, this movement is difficult to see in the selections of verses in the lectionary readings.

The opening verse echoes Moses’s words whenever the Ark was moved (see Numbers 10: 35).

The language in verse 2, ‘as wax melts,’ is the language of God’s presence. In Canaanite culture, the storm god, Baal, ‘rides upon the clouds’ (verse 4), but both here and in verse it is the Lord God who does his. This is God who is the defender of orphans and widows, the needy and the prisoners (verses 5-6).

Marc-Antoine Charpentier composed Exsurgat Deus (H. 215) ca 1690, set for soloists, chorus, two treble instruments and continuo, based on this psalm. Handel’s oratorio Messiah cites verses 1 and 18. There are settings by many other composers, including Johann Pachelbel and John Stainer.

The second part of verse 31, ‘Let Ethiopia hasten to stretch out its hands to God,’ was part of the coat of arms of Emperor Haile Selassie, and was once used as the national motto of Ethiopia.

‘Lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds’ (Psalm 68: 4) … small clouds and clear skies over Skerries, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 68 (NRSVA):

To the leader. Of David. A Psalm. A Song.

1 Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered;
let those who hate him flee before him.
2 As smoke is driven away, so drive them away;
as wax melts before the fire,
let the wicked perish before God.
3 But let the righteous be joyful;
let them exult before God;
let them be jubilant with joy.

4 Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds—
his name is the Lord—
be exultant before him.

5 Father of orphans and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
6 God gives the desolate a home to live in;
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious live in a parched land.

7 O God, when you went out before your people,
when you marched through the wilderness,

8 the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain
at the presence of God, the God of Sinai,
at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
9 Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad;
you restored your heritage when it languished;
10 your flock found a dwelling in it;
in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.

11 The Lord gives the command;
great is the company of those who bore the tidings:
12 ‘The kings of the armies, they flee, they flee!’
The women at home divide the spoil,
13 though they stay among the sheepfolds—
the wings of a dove covered with silver,
its pinions with green gold.
14 When the Almighty scattered kings there,
snow fell on Zalmon.

15 O mighty mountain, mountain of Bashan;
O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan!
16 Why do you look with envy, O many-peaked mountain,
at the mount that God desired for his abode,
where the Lord will reside for ever?

17 With mighty chariotry, twice ten thousand,
thousands upon thousands,
the Lord came from Sinai into the holy place.
18 You ascended the high mount,
leading captives in your train
and receiving gifts from people,
even from those who rebel against the Lord God’s abiding there.
19 Blessed be the Lord,
who daily bears us up;
God is our salvation.

20 Our God is a God of salvation,
and to God, the Lord, belongs escape from death.

21 But God will shatter the heads of his enemies,
the hairy crown of those who walk in their guilty ways.
22 The Lord said,
‘I will bring them back from Bashan,
I will bring them back from the depths of the sea,
23 so that you may bathe your feet in blood,
so that the tongues of your dogs may have their share from the foe.’

24 Your solemn processions are seen, O God,
the processions of my God, my King, into the sanctuary—
25 the singers in front, the musicians last,
between them girls playing tambourines:
26 ‘Bless God in the great congregation,
the Lord, O you who are of Israel’s fountain!’
27 There is Benjamin, the least of them, in the lead,
the princes of Judah in a body,
the princes of Zebulun, the princes of Naphtali.

28 Summon your might, O God;
show your strength, O God, as you have done for us before.
29 Because of your temple at Jerusalem
kings bear gifts to you.
30 Rebuke the wild animals that live among the reeds,
the herd of bulls with the calves of the peoples.
Trample under foot those who lust after tribute;
scatter the peoples who delight in war.
31 Let bronze be brought from Egypt;
let Ethiopia hasten to stretch out its hands to God.

32 Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth;
sing praises to the Lord,

33 O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens;
listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.
34 Ascribe power to God,
whose majesty is over Israel;
and whose power is in the skies.
35 Awesome is God in his sanctuary,
the God of Israel;
he gives power and strength to his people.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Truth Tellers,’ and it was introduced yesterday by Steve Cox, Chair of Christians in the Media.

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (2 May 2022) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the work of Christians in the Media, a network which supports Christians who work in our media industries.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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