Psalm 24: 1st Sunday of Advent with Commentary by Dr Noel Donnelly

Psalm 24 Commentary.

Psalm 24 is quite a long psalm. It is one of the so-called “acrostic” psalms, where each line begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. While being a memory aid for the original singers, it is also a means to deliver us to the punchline at the end, for us a kind of  A to Z into God’s teaching.

For the first Sunday of Advent the lectionary selects from the 22 verses only three pairs for us: verses 4 and 5, then 8 and 9, and finally 10 and 14. These selected verses make a confident prayer for instructions from God on how to fulfil our covenant-relationship, the love pact that God makes for us. There we have a great Happy New Year prayer for the way ahead.

That prayer begins with an appeal from the singer on behalf of us all, “Lord, make me know your ways. Teach me your pathways, Lord”.

The next stanza is not addressed to God, so the singer may look out to the congregation as he or she reminds them of the psalmist’s basic teaching: “The Lord is good and upright; guides those who have gone astray, guides the humble along the right path and teaches the poor his way”. All these words, ”your paths”,  “the right path”, “pathways”, all lead to the final stanza which stresses that God’s ways are faithfulness and love and friendship. They all give us a road map for direction and prayer in the new liturgical year ahead, trusting in God as our travelling companion.

In our weekend liturgy the psalm makes a bridge between the Jeremiah reading and the Gospel. Jeremiah speaks out in grim times: the powerful armies of Nebuchadnnezzar, King of Babylon, are fast approaching, and he himself is imprisoned by King Zedekiah, yet he proclaims hope that a righteous branch will spring up and restore everything; Jesus in the Gospel asks his people to stay awake and hold their heads up high as the end of time approaches.

Our psalm bridges these with its prayer for guidance in the between-times. I’m reminded of the saying of Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. When you do know better then do better!”

Psalm 24: words and music Noel Donnelly (c) Kevin Mayhew.  Sung by Noel Donnelly


Psalm 24: Words (c) The Grail, England. Music (c) Gerry Fitzpatrick. Sung by Elspeth Glasgow.


Graphic of David the psalmist (c) Netta Ewing.