27 June 2022
Praying with the Psalms in Ordinary Time:
27 June 2022 (Psalm 124)
In the Calendar of the Church, we are in Ordinary Time. The Caleendar of the Church today commemorates Saint Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria and Teacher of the Faith. 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 124 is the fifth 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 123. It is sometimes known by its Latin opening words, Ad te levavi oculos meos.
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 124 is a short psalm of eight verses, and is sometimes known by its opening words in Latin, Nisi quia Dominus. In the slightly different numbering in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is Psalm 123.
This is a psalm of thanksgiving, using – as so often in the Psalms – a rapid succession of different images, recalling the Exodus and the escape from slavery in Egypt.
The people have been in danger of being swallowed up or swept away, as in a flood, a prey to the enemy’s teeth, captured in a hunter’s trap.
The images do not coalesce into one single metaphor. Rather, they combine to express a mood – in this case, the sense of sudden release from danger.
I often wonder how, during the horrors of the Holocaust, suffering Jews could possibly have sung the words of Psalm 124:
If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
– let Israel now say –
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us … (Psalm 124: 1-3).
Yet they maintained the hope and the expectation that God can and would act through political decision-making to protect the rights of the vulnerable, the abused and the violated. For, as the Psalmist says, and as we – and all children – should be able to sing:
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth (Psalm 124: 8).
Psalm 124 (NRSVA):
A Song of Ascents. Of David.
1 If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
—let Israel now say—
2 if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
when our enemies attacked us,
3 then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
4 then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
5 then over us would have gone
the raging waters.
6 Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
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 yesterday by Andy Flannagan, Executive Director of Christians in Politics.
Monday 27 June 2022:
The USPG Prayer invites us to pray today in these words:
Let us give thanks for the work of Christians in Politics. May we encourage our fellow Christians to get involved in the decision making process.
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