02 July 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Ordinary Time:
2 July 2022 (Psalm 129)

‘Let them be like the grass on the housetops that withers before it grows up’ (Psalm 129: 6) … rooftop gardens in Southwark (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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 129:

Psalm 129 is the tenth 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 128. It is sometimes known by its opening words in Latin, Saepe expugnaverunt me.

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 129 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 eight verses. It is probable that this psalm was composed during a time of trouble, of war, or of persecution. But it is not known why is was included among the ‘Songs of Ascent.’

Psalm 129 depicts the distress of the people in exile. Verses 6-8 may be a lament for the downfall of their present adversaries. It contains no appeal to God for salvation or thanksgiving for an ameliorated situation.

Verses 6-8 depict the transience of the peoples exilic existence. The psalmist likens the people to the roof-top grass that withers rapidly. The rooftop grass evokes the poverty and the landlessness of the people that compel them to utilise their rooftops to grow crops that yield so little that there is almost nothing to harvest.

This situation stands in contrast to the divine blessing of the agriculture in the Land of Israel. The psalmist seeks to convey the harsh reality of the exile. He juxtaposes this situation against the much awaited future and against the abundant Divine blessing of the past.

‘Those who plough ploughed on my back; they made their furrows long’ (Psalm 129: 3) … a sculpture in Kanturk, Co Cork, of Thady Kelleher (1935-2004), World and All-Ireland Ploughing Champion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 129 (NRSVA):

A Song of Ascents.

1 ‘Often have they attacked me from my youth’
—let Israel now say—
2 ‘often have they attacked me from my youth,
yet they have not prevailed against me.
3 Those who plough ploughed on my back;
they made their furrows long.’
4 The Lord is righteous;
he has cut the cords of the wicked.
5 May all who hate Zion
be put to shame and turned back.
6 Let them be like the grass on the housetops
that withers before it grows up,
7 with which reapers do not fill their hands
or binders of sheaves their arms,
8 while those who pass by do not say,
‘The blessing of the Lord be upon you!
We bless you in the name of the Lord!’

Today’s Prayer:

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

Saturday 2 July 2022:

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

We pray for the grace and honesty to disagree well. May we respect and love each other, starting conversations from a place of care and consideration.

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

1 comment:

ian said...

Your photo of the Grinling Gibbons' monument in St Editha's, Tamworth - The article featuring your photo has just been posted on the Church Monument Society's website as their Monument of the Month for July. Many thanks for giving permission to use it. Ian Scruton