Dr Noel S Donnelly has provided us with short commentaries to help psalmists and cantors
(and others) understand more about what they are singing.
We begin with Psalm 90, suggested for the 1st Sunday of Lent, Year C
Psalm 90/91 ( the difference in numbering occurs because some traditions follow the Hebrew numbering and others the
numbering adopted by the Hebrews in Alexandria,and known as the Septuagint.
Psalm 90 is a real winner! In fact it is prayed every single night by monks and others too at the end of the monastic celebration of Night Prayer of the Church, Compline. The singer knows he can find shelter under the wings of the constantly protecting Lord. He is assured that he can be safely tucked up in bed, totally safe in the arms of God: the psalm comforts him, “You shall not fear the terrors of the night or the plague that stalks the darkness!” Even the angels have been given orders to protect you. The warmth and abundance of God’s loving protection colour the whole of the psalm. All will be well and all manner of things will be well!
In a style that reminds me of a mother rocking a child to sleep this psalm shows one of the special features of Hebrew poetry: a balance of parallel ideas, like the toll and counter-toll of a bell. The removal of plagues in the darkness is balanced with the riddance of scourges at high noon; confident walking on beasts and adders is matched by safe trampling on young lions and snakes; the calling of the psalmist with the answering of God; and shelter of wings with shade of God’s shield. Wherever we look, God is there, surrounding the psalmist with care, rocking him like a mother in his arms.
In the New Testament we find Satan using this psalm cynically, as he tempts Jesus into dramatic demonstrations of his trust in God by throwing himself off the Temple roof and so on? Can Jesus really trust God to protect him through this stunt, after all, quotes Satan, He has given his angels orders about you, to guard you, and again:
They will carry you in their arms in case you trip over a stone.’ Jesus sternly rebukes Satan for testing the power of God in such an eccentric way. Humble trust in God is required, not the engaging in outlandish demands, trying to put God to the test but really seeking to show off, putting ourselves at the centre of attention.
This is a lovely psalm of quiet trust; one that helps all of us to face whatever is ahead, night or day, with the serene assurance of God’s loving presence around us,….. always! Yes, right now!
audio: com Ps 90 short
music: Ps 90 gf – Full Score