Monday, September 14, 2009

Psalms 120 - 129

All of the songs of the 120s are labelled "songs of ascents." I'm not sure what that means. They are all quite short, though, at four to nine verses long. All ten of them together are considerably shorter than Psalm 119.

120: The Psalmist complains of lying lips and deceitful tongues (2), and tells such liars that God will punish them with a warrior's sharp arrows, with burning coals of the broom tree. (4) Then, he laments living among those who hate peace. (6)

121: I recognize Psalm 121 immediately from, of all places, the soundtrack of the 1980s movie "The Falcon and the Snowman." Funny.

It is an eight-verse poem of reassurance in second person that reads almost as a lullaby, affirming to the readers or listeners that God will watch over them and preserve them from harm. And although I have often expressed scepticism over whether the Bible should really be promising physical protection to believers, in this context I find the sentiment rather touching. This might be my new favorite Psalm.

122: A jumbled and upbeat Psalm about how nice it is to pray and worship communally, especially in Jerusalem.

123: A short Psalm of devotion and submission to God, asking mercy for those who have endured the contempt of "the proud" and "the arrogant."

124: States forcefully that Israel would have been doomed in its conflicts with its neighbors, if not for the direct assistance from God.

125: Compares people who believe in God with unshakeable mountains.

126: A song of joy and happiness, stating that the Lord has done great things for us (3), especially in returning the exiles from captivity.

127: The first two verses of this Psalm state that all labor is futile unless it is in accordance with God's will. The remaining three verses are in praise of sons, who are a blessing from God; it's best to have a lot of them and to have them young.

128: A promise of prosperity to believers, with this great line: Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table. (3)

129: A somewhat disjointed Psalm that seems to be about how the peoples who were against Israel have now fallen on hard times.

Well, I still don't know what a "song of ascents" is. This set of Psalms seems unusually upbeat and brief; maybe that has something to do with it. Or, maybe it just has to do with the musical setting?

...ah-ha. Says here that they probably are the songs traditionally sung while climbing up to Jerusalem. Also that they are short and upbeat, so I guess I was on the right track.


Jennifer said...

Psalm 121's one of my favorites, too, largely thanks to Madeleine L'Engle's literary use of it. (Also, the lines she emphasizes -- "The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night" -- have particular resonance for me. I mean, the idea of the sun not smiting me by day? Awesome! "Nor the moon by night" is more evocative.)

gl. said...

jennifer, you just made me look up that madeline l'engle story. thanks! (and may i just say, as someone who read 'a wrinkle in time' in the 80s, that i have a hard time accepting it was really published in 1962.)