1 O God, we with our ears have heard— our fathers told us so— What you accomplished in their days, in days of long ago.
2 Your hand drove nations out, and placed our fathers there instead; You crushed the peoples, but you caused our tribes to grow and spread.
3 It was not by their sword or arm that they possessed the land, But by your love and favour shown, and by your mighty hand.
4 You are my King and God; ordain for Jacob victories. 5 Through you we trample down our foes and rout our enemies.
6 My sword does not bring victory, nor do I trust my bow. 7 You put our enemies to shame and overcome our foe.
8 In God alone we make our boast, rejoicing all day long, And to your name for evermore we’ll offer praise in song.
9 But now you have rejected us and brought us very low, And when our armies march to war, with them you do not go.
10 Our hateful foe has plundered us; you made us flee, O God. 11 You let us be devoured like sheep and scattered us abroad.
12 You cheaply sold your people off; the sale produced no gain. 13 Our neighbours look on us with scorn and treat us with disdain.
14 You make us a reproach and shame before the nations’ face; The peoples shake their heads at us and mock at our disgrace.
15 Disgrace I suffer all day long and I am filled with shame 16 Because of mocking taunts and scorn from those who hate my name.
17 All this has happened to us, though we’d not forgotten you. We had not spurned your covenant; to it we had been true.
18 Our hearts did not turn back; our feet from your path did not stray. 1 9 You crushed and left us in the dark where jackals hunt their prey.
20 If we forgot God’s name, or to false gods had stretched our hands, 21 Would God not know, for he our hearts and secrets understands?
22 And yet it is for your own sake we face death all the day; We’re reckoned like the sheep that are for slaughter led away.
23 Awake, O Lord! Arise from sleep! Do not reject your folk. 24 Why hide your face and quite forget our pain and cruel yoke?
25 For we’ve been humbled to the dust, laid prostrate on the ground. 26 Rise, help, redeem, because within your cov’nant love we’re found.
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the tune Old 44th here.
This Psalm is written in response to some event which has gone badly wrong and, in verses 9-16, the writer pours out his heart about the defeat, and the ensuing abuse, plundering, mocking, shame poured on their heads by the victors. But the psalm begins with a remembering of the stories of the nation’s history and God’s part in those events and it puts me in mind of a poem by Steve Turner which goes:
“History repeats itself. Has to. No-one listens.”
It was important for the nation to tell and re-tell those stories in the meeting places, at the family meal-table, to keep them in the nation’s consciousness, to later write them down for all to read, so that they would know that regardless of the current situation, whether one of victory or defeat, that they are God’s people and God’s hand is always ready to respond to our faith in him.
So the flow of the Psalm might be something like this: We worship you God because you have already done this, this and this but we now find ourselves in this dire situation and its not as a result of our lack of faith or our sin, please help us!
I wonder how many times we cut straight to “please help us!”
Do we actively watch out for signs of God’s activity in our world – at any level? And if so, do we share it with others, blog it, tweet it, sing it, pray it?
Do we take time to tell God how we feel about the current situation, good or bad, we find ourselves, or someone else, in?
Do we review our lives and our behaviour and, if so, do we invite God to review it with us and seek his forgiveness or guidance as necessary?
O God, Our help in ages past Our hope for years to come Our shelter from the stormy blast And our eternal home.
The Rev’d Sheila Coop is Minister of Macedonia URC in Failsworth