01 July 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Ordinary Time:
1 July 2022 (Psalm 128)

‘Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house’ (Psalm 128: 3) … a fruitful vine in the walled garden at the Hedgehog Vintage Inn in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

In the Calendar of the Church, we are in Ordinary Time. Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary 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 128:

Psalm 128 is the ninth in a series of 15 short psalms (Psalm 120-134) known as the ‘Songs of Ascents.’ These psalms begin with the Hebrew words שיר המעלות‎ (Shir Hama’a lot). In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is counted as Psalm 127. It is sometimes known by its opening words in Latin, Beati omnes qui timent Dominum.

Many scholars say these psalms were sung by worshippers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals. Others say they were sung by the Levite singers as they ascended the 15 steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Mishnah notes the correspondence between the 15 songs and the 15 steps between the men’s court and the women’s courtyards in the Temple. A Talmudic legend says King David composed or sang the 15 songs to calm the rising waters at the foundation of the Temple.

One view says the Levites first sang the Songs of Ascent at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple during the night of 15 Tishri 959 BCE. Another study suggests they were composed for a celebration after Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in 445 BCE. Others suggest they may originally have been songs sung by the exiles returning from Babylon, ascending to Jerusalem or individual poems later collected together and given the title linking them to pilgrimage after the Babylonian captivity.

These psalms are cheerful and hopeful, and they place an emphasis on Zion. They were suited for being sung because of their poetic style and the sentiments they express. They are brief, almost like epigrams, and they are marked by the use of a keyword or repeated phrase that serves as a rung on which the poem ascends to its final theme.

Psalm 128 may date from the post-exilic period, after the year 539 BCE. It was probably a pilgrimage song, sung as people walked to Jerusalem for a major festival.

This is a short psalm only six verses, and discusses the blessed state of those who follow God.

Those who hold God in awe will be joyful; they are those who follow God’s ways. If we do so, we will be prosperous, enjoying the results of our hard work and living in harmony with God.

The promises of large families and the guarantee of heirs was a blessing in an age of high infant mortality. Verses 5-6 form a blessing, perhaps pronounced by a priest. The prosperity of Jerusalem was fundamental to the happiness of the people, who prayed that God would bless the people in the community from Zion, his dwelling place in the Temple.

These concluding verses also include a well-known blessing at traditional weddings in rural Ireland: ‘May you live to see your children’s children.’ The Book of Proverbs celebrates the same idea: ‘Children’s children are the crown of old men’ (Proverbs 17: 6).

The concluding prayer for peace upon Israel also appears in Psalm 125 and is a ‘detached clause.’

‘Your children will be like olive shoots’ (Psalm 128: 3) … the olive tree is an essential part of life in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 128 (NRSVA):

A Song of Ascents.

1 Happy is everyone who fears the Lord,
who walks in his ways.
2 You shall eat the fruit of the labour of your hands;
you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.

3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
4 Thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the Lord.

5 The Lord bless you from Zion.
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life.
6 May you see your children’s children.
Peace be upon Israel!

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Ethics and Leadership.’ It was introduced on Sunday by Andy Flannagan, Executive Director of Christians in Politics.

Friday 1 July 2022:

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us pray for the work of Christians in Parliament as they support MPs, peers and the many parliamentary staff who work in the Houses of Parliament.

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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