09 May 2022
Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
9 May 2022 (Psalm 75)
I have another medical appointment later this morning, and I am planning to fly from Birmingham to Dublin later this afternoon. But, before this day begins, I am continuing my morning reflections in this season of Easter continues, including my morning 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 75 is the third psalm in Book 3 in the Book of Psalms, which includes Psalms 73 to 89. In the slightly different numbering scheme in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is psalm is numbered as Psalm 74. In Latin, it is known by its opening words as Confitebimur tibi Deus.
This is the fourth of the ‘Psalms of Asaph.’ These are the 12 psalms numbered 50 and 73 to 83 in the Masoretic text and 49 and 72-82 in the Septuagint. Each psalm has a separate meaning, and these psalms cannot be summarised easily as a whole.
But throughout these 12 psalms is the shared theme of the judgment of God and how the people must follow God’s law.
The attribution of a psalm to Asaph could mean that it was part of a collection from the Asaphites, identified as Temple singers, or that the psalm was performed in a style associated with Asaph, who was said to be the author or transcriber of these psalms.
Asaph who is identified with these psalms was a Levite, the son of Berechiah and descendant of Gershon, and he was the ancestor of the Asaphites, one the guilds of musicians in the first Temple in Jerusalem.
Asaph served both David and Solomon, and performed at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (see II Chronicles 5: 12). His complaint against corruption among the rich and influential, recorded in Psalm 73, might have been directed against some of court officials. The words used to describe the wicked come from words used by officials of the cult or sacrificial system.
Several of the Psalms of Asaph are categorised as communal laments because they are concerned for the well-being of the whole community. Many of these psalms forecast destruction or devastation in the future, but are balanced with God’s mercy and saving power for the people.
Psalm 75 is attributed to Asaph. It continues the theme of Psalms 57, 58, and 59, which also begin with the words al tashcheth (אל תשחית), ‘Do not destroy.’ Scholars do not agree on its meaning, but it may refer to an ancient song whose tune was to be used in singing the Psalms.
Like the previous psalms, Psalm 75 speaks of the Jews in exile, and praises God for preserving them. The laments of the people are voiced here and their promise to sing the praises of God at all times is established.
This psalm is labelled as a song or psalm to the leader, interpreted as the chief musician or leader of the community. The leader ends the psalm with a statement about the wicked being humbled and the righteous being exalted.
The Midrash Tehillim cites ten scriptural verses that mention horns to identify ten horns that God gave to the people: the horns of Abraham, Isaac (the shofar or ram’s horn), Moses, Samuel, Aaron, the Sanhedrin, Heman the Ezrahite, Jerusalem, the Jewish Messiah, and David in the future.
When the people sinned, these ten horns were removed from them and transferred to the wicked, as it is written, ‘a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong … was different from all the beasts that preceded it, and it had ten horns’ (Daniel 7: 7). The Midrash teaches that as long as the horns of the wicked prevail, the horns of Israel will be cut off; but in future, when God elevates the horns of the righteous, the horns of the wicked will be cut off.
Some commentators suggest the horn may be a symbol of honour or strength, but when possessed by the arrogant, the horn is said to be ‘cut down’ or humbled. While God rejects the horns of the haughty, he exalts the horns of the righteous.
In Jewish tradition, Psalm 75 is recited as a ‘prayer for forgiveness.’ In the Sephardic tradition, this psalm is recited during the Motza’ei Shabbat prayers on Saturday evening.
Johann Sebastian Bach used the beginning of Psalm 75 for the opening movement of Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir (BWV 29), a cantata for the inauguration of a town council in Leipzig. He used the music again for the movement Gratias agimus tibi of the Mass in B minor, expressing the same thought of thanks.
Hymns based on Psalm 75 or specific verses include the popular ‘Now Thank We All Our God,’ Catherine Winkworth’s translation of Rinkart's ‘Nun danket alle Gott.’ The German hymn and its English version inspired several settings, including some by Bach.
Psalm 75 (NRSVA):
To the leader: Do Not Destroy. A Psalm of Asaph. A Song.
1 We give thanks to you, O God;
we give thanks; your name is near.
People tell of your wondrous deeds.
2 At the set time that I appoint
I will judge with equity.
3 When the earth totters, with all its inhabitants,
it is I who keep its pillars steady.
4 I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast’,
and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn;
5 do not lift up your horn on high,
or speak with insolent neck.’
6 For not from the east or from the west
and not from the wilderness comes lifting up;
7 but it is God who executes judgement,
putting down one and lifting up another.
8 For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup
with foaming wine, well mixed;
he will pour a draught from it,
and all the wicked of the earth
shall drain it down to the dregs.
9 But I will rejoice for ever;
I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.
10 All the horns of the wicked I will cut off,
but the horns of the righteous shall be exalted.
The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Celebration in Casablanca.’ It was introduced yesterday by the Right Revd Dr David Hamid, Suffragan Bishop in Europe.
The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (9 May 2022) invites us to pray:
Let us pray for the Diocese in Europe and the many countries it serves.
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