Commentary by Dr Noel Donnelly on Psalm 15

Psalm 15 Commentary 33B  by Dr Noel Donnelly

Psalm 15 starts off by claiming that God is the singer’s “portion” and “cup”. The background to this is two-fold: firstly the “portion” refers in the Book of Joshua to the portion of land given to the 12 tribes when the Promised Land was divvied up “by lot”. This lottery was understood to be what God intended. Your tribal territory was thereby understood as God-given. My portion can be for us our home.

Secondly, “my cup” was understood as my condition in life, my special situation that God has given me to drink. My cup can be my personal circumstances.

Portion and cup are in God’s hands.

Those two points may be more acutely appreciated when, as some scholars argue, the singer of the psalm is a woman, a refugee who feels surrounded by  God in her new secure situation. Perhaps we can get into her shoes, (if she had any!) when we sing this psalm. The psalm is very positive and recognises with joy that God is always present, through life and even beyond the grave.

Our liturgy selects verses 5, 9, 10 and 11 from the complete psalm and divides these up into 3 stanzas for singing. The response is “Preserve me, God. I take refuge in you!”

Our psalm makes a bridge between the reading from the Book of Daniel with its prophecy about the end of time and the Gospel where Jesus does the same. Both readings have a positive ending amidst the turmoil: Daniel speaks of the saved being like bright stars for all eternity; Jesus about the angels gathering the chosen from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. Our psalm sings about “the fullness of joy in God’s presence, happiness at God’s right hand for ever”. It cheers us up in darkening Autumn days.

While the psalm is often sung at funerals, it is of course very appropriate also  for our November remembrances.

Ps 15: setting: Gerry Fitzpatrick.   Sung by the St Mungo Singers

Ps 15: setting: Noel Donnelly.  Sung by Grace Buckley