Questions in the Psalms : who asks, who answers?

 

Have I said this before?

One engaging aspect of Psalm 2, as I said recently, is that it starts with a question.  Having noticed that,  I went looking for others, and there are indeed ten psalms which open with questions;  but there are many more questions in the bodies of the psalms.

A capsule full of questions
a lot of questions inside a single opiate?
How do you show a question?

There is no question mark in Biblical Hebrew or Latin, but both languages manage fine without.  It’s always interesting to see how a language deals with questions.  You can do it through question words, like Kipling’s six honest serving men , you can do it through word order, you can do it through adding a particle to one of the other words in a sentence, you can add a catch-all to the end of a statement (innit/ n’est-ce pas/ zar ne), you can even start a sentence with a word which indicates the answer you are expecting (Latin nonne for yes and num for no).  A question mark is a late invention, because it’s almost like St Francis’ advice about using words to preach only if all else fails.  There are so many ways to indicate a question, even if it’s not spoken aloud.  One theory about the origin of a question mark is that it’s an indicator of raising the pitch at the end of the phrase, ‘interrogatively’, as you might say.  I wonder whether Australians ever consider doubling the question mark to indicate that there’s a real question and not just a rising inflection?

page of psalm in multiple languages
lovely multilingual Psalter, even without question marks
What if the question is rhetorical?

I was charmed to discover that Henry Denham, in the 1580s,  suggested a backwards question mark to indicate a rhetorical question, though it lasted less than a century before dying out.  Its spirit lingers over those who try to develop a way to show irony or humour in text messages, but nothing has really caught on yet.  People keep trying though, because no one wants to be insulting inadvertently. Body language provides context that the written word does not, one reason why we need punctuation.

Lots of question marks
enough questions to keep you awake at night
Do they expect an answer?

The psalms contain both real and rhetorical questions, because so many of them are framed as a form of dialogue, even if we only hear one side.   I think the biggest problem with a rhetorical question mark would be deciding which questions actually are rhetorical.  The distinction is a subtle one, depending on the expectations of the speaker (though I used to have problems even choosing between nonne and num, because you can always inflect a question sarcastically to mean the opposite). Some rhetorical questions are obvious : Who is like the Lord our God? (Pss 34/35, 70/71, 88/89, 112/113), Who is the King of glory? (Ps 23/24), but some are more difficult to gauge :  How can God know? Does the Most High take any notice? (Ps 72/73), Is it possible for God to prepare a table in the desert? (Ps 77/78). 

Is it a real question?

It is easier to be sure of which questions are not rhetorical : Lord, why do you reject me? Why do you hide your face? (Ps 87/88); From where shall come my help? (Ps 120/121).  Bitterness and grief can use questions as a trope, yet these are not rhetorical questions but real ones : Will you be angry for ever?  (Pss 84/85, 89/90); Will you work your wonders [only] for the dead? (Pss 6, 29/30, 87/88), and the great question in Ps 136/137, which manages to be both a real question and a rhetorical one : How can we sing the song of the Lord on alien soil?  Rhetorical questions may not require or even have an answer, but they are a way to introduce some of the biggest problems or questions that we all have to grapple with.

Are there questions in the early Old Testament?

Questions are surprisingly rare in the early books of the Old Testament, especially in conversations between God and people.  Usually, God is giving instructions, and the people comply.  Questions tend to mean trouble.  The first question ever comes from the serpent to Eve : ‘Did God really say…’, and after she and Adam have eaten the apple, it is God who starts asking the questions, starting with ‘Where are you?’ and moving so dreadfully fast to ‘What have you done?'(Genesis 3).  He questions Cain just before the fatal excursion when he kills Abel, and then asks another terrible question, ‘Where is your brother?’ (Genesis 4).  When God asks questions, they must be rhetorical, because of course he always knows the answer, but it is a way to make us face reality. 

Flood and Ark
the ark coming to rest on Mt Ararat (below) once all the baddies are drowned (above)

Noah never asks any questions, even sending out birds to find out how far the floods have receded rather than asking God, and over time, God becomes a more distant figure, still giving commands, but not available to question.  Abraham asks very few questions, despite having lengthy conversations with God, and when he does, they are very ceremonial and diffident (cf. the bargaining with God about whether there will be any just men to be destroyed in Sodom).   Abraham asks no questions at all when God tells him to sacrifice Isaac, because that would spoil the story.  Moses asks questions: Why me?  How can I be convincing?, but God gives him short shrift, and there is a definite movement of God away from the people, with Moses and later Aaron being the intermediaries.  God lives up on the holy mountain, and is not to be questioned.   Only when we get to David and the psalms do we hear direct, visceral questions again.

Who is being questioned?
More questions marks
questions come in all shapes and sizes

The questions are usually addressed to God, but not always.  The psalmist addresses other men (O men, how long will your hearts be closed? Ps 4) or sub-groups like ‘the wicked’ (Ps 51/52, 61/62), but also mountains (Pss 67/68, 113/114) and the sea (Ps 113/114).  These are obviously rhetorical in that they cannot expect a verbal answer, but they are direct and arresting, and they indicate the breadth of the scope of the psalmist,   rather than showing him as a single person alone at night, speaking into the void.

What is being asked?
Job talking to Jesus
how would you not ask questions, given the chance?

The same questions and themes recur continually. How long do I have to wait before you help me? (passim; from Ps 6 through to Ps 118/119, this question keeps being asked).  What is man, and why is God interested in him?  Who is just in God’s eyes?  Why do the wicked prosper?   Some of the rhetorical questions are just swagger : Who is like our God?  Whom should I fear?,  – but it’s good to read those as a contrast to the questions of desolation and desperation which recur.  How long? is perhaps the most frequent question, but it comes up addressed to different interlocutors, though mostly it is a plea for God to come to the rescue.  Sometimes the question is framed differently, as in Ps 100/101 (O when, Lord, will you come? v.2)  and Ps 118/119 (When will you console me? v.82; When will you judge my foes? v.84), and sometimes rhetorical questions are used to encourage the Lord to hurry (Can dust give you praise? Ps 29/30). 

Who’s asking?

Some of the more shocking questions are deliberately put into other people’s mouths, as in Ps 77/78 : They even spoke against God./ They said : ‘Is it possible for God to prepare a table in the desert?[…] Can he also give us bread?’ vv.19f, but most of the time the psalmist is happy to challenge God in his own voice.  He is so sure that God is on his side that the Lord’s tardiness in rescue must be due to sleep (Ps 43/44, v.24), or a desire to make a big entrance (many of the ‘how long?’ questions).  At times he can sound petulant or exasperated, but he is always honest and direct, and not afraid to remind God of how much praise and love the psalmist has already lavished on him.  This is not a dialogue between equals, but it is a covenant where both sides have rights of speech and reply.

How many questions can fit in a psalm?
history of Joseph
powerful people doing bad things

The psalmist also addresses his questions to specific groups, including powerful and frightening ones: ‘Do you truly speak justice, you who hold divine power?’ Ps 57/58, where he is haranguing wicked judges and rulers, and threatening them with God’s vengeance.  He returns to this theme in Ps 93/94, with a whole peppering of questions.  He summons God to appear on earth and do some smiting.  He calls out, twice, ‘How long shall the wicked triumph?’.  He tells God that these wicked people are confident that God will pay no heed, and then his question is addressed to them: ‘When will you understand?’ followed by two definitely rhetorical questions : ‘Can he who made the ear, not hear? / Can he who formed the eye, not see?’, powerful words echoed in Isaiah (6.10), Jeremiah (5.21) and of course in Psalm 113/115 to draw the contrast between God and pagan idols who can’t do anything.  He continues, ‘Will he who trains nations, not punish?/ Will he who teaches men, not have knowledge?’, and then swings round to talk about how good God is to ‘his own’.  Two more questions follow, and they might seem rhetorical if the tone were not so urgent.  ‘Who will stand up for me against the wicked? / Who will defend me from those who do evil?’  If God will not step in, he is done for.  As so often in the Psalms, the individual is crying out for help because his cause is just but the legal machinery is loaded against him.  He is not asking for indulgence or forgiveness; he is brave or rash enough to demand justice, and even reproach God with his last question : ‘Can judges who do evil be your friends?’  Of course not.  He ends with an affirmation of confidence, and we too have to trust that God saved him.

King and furnace
we really need a rescue here
Why are you cast down, my soul? (three times)

There is a similar flurry of questions in a few other psalms, including the Pss 41/42, 42/43 sequence. This is the classic yearning psalm, where the ‘how long?’ question is not because the speaker needs to be rescued, but because he so longs to see God’s face.  I have taken these two psalms together because they repeat lines and whole verses, both internally and from one to another; my commentary says that they were both originally parts of one poem, and there is plenty of internal evidence for that.  Any division is late, and porous.  The questions are simple, and addressed to different interlocutors.  First (Ps 41/42) the psalmist asks a general question (When can I enter and see the face of God?), which seems even humbler because he is not asking it of God directly.  He describes himself as pelted repeatedly by questions from others : ‘Where is your God?’  He remembers his past happiness as a leader in the Temple and questions his own sadness: ‘Why are you cast down, my soul?’, an interesting bit of introspection which leads almost to dialogue, as he actually answers two lines later. The psalm moves on into praise of God, and the speaker bravely questions God directly: ‘Why have you forgotten me?  Why do I go mourning[…]?’ before repeating the ‘Where is your God?’ question from others, now directly named as ‘enemies'(v.11).  The strophe with the ‘Why are you cast down?’ question is repeated, with its affirmation of faith in God. 

Procession
leading the rejoicing crowd into God’s house

Psalm 42/43 starts here and is practically a recap of the questions, shorn of the some of the beautiful images of the previous psalm.  The first strophe is the usual plea for help against enemies.  The second strophe is addressed directly to God : ‘Since you are my stronghold, why have you rejected me?’ and repeats the line, ‘Why do I go mourning oppressed by the foe?’.  Then we have two happy strophes, but this time looking forward to the future, not a remembrance of what is past, as in the previous psalm.  The last strophe is the same one that was repeated in the previous psalm, with the question to his own soul, to ask why it is sad and to end on a note of hope and praise.

asking God a question
Does God ask questions?

God himself gets to ask questions in the Psalms, especially in Ps 49/50, an interesting psalm which I discussed before, nearly all of it God speaking in the first person.  He mocks his people for thinking that ritual and outward observance are all that he cares about : ‘Do you think I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?’ (v. 13), and he goes on to reproach them for their wickedness, listing their sins, and then questioning again : ‘You do this, and should I keep silence?  Do you think that I am like you?’ (v.21).  Again, God asks a question in the baffling Ps 81/82, and it is the familiar ‘How long?’ question, upbraiding his agents, though presumably he could simply override them.

Are there any answers?

One very striking thing about all these questions is that they do not elicit answers, except in Ps 41/42, where ‘Why are you cast down?’ is followed by the explanation, ‘My soul is cast down as I think of you’ (v.7), but this is really rare.  In all the other cases I can think of, the question is left hanging, to be answered only by God’s action (a rescue, or a revelation).  The questions are piled up, but no answers come.  A similar situation creates the essential form of the Book of Job.

A parallel set of questions?  The Book of Job
Questions from Job's comforters
Job being questioned (or accused?) by his friends

The Book of Job is full of questions to God, in terms so like the words of the psalms that it seems likely either that they date from a similar era, or that one is, deliberately or unconsciously, quoting the other.  Job, like the psalmist, has real questions to ask God.  He wants to understand the reason for innocent suffering (the main ‘why’ question in the psalms), and he longs for relief (the ‘how long’ question).  The language is most beautiful, and Job constantly finds new ways to deal with his hypocritical friends, who are sure that his suffering is a just punishment for secret sin.  Job is asking his questions of God; the friends question Job, because they are convinced he is concealing past guilt, the justification for what they are determined to see as God’s just punishment. Job knows better, and he has complete faith in God’s goodness,  but he wants to understand why the innocent suffer; he wants to argue his case with God, like the psalmist pleading only for a fair hearing and a just judge.

pleading a case before God

Another person intervenes in the discussion : Elihu (these speeches are thought to be a later addition).  He reproaches Job for presuming to question God.  He reminds him that God has many ways to speak to people, dreams, visions, illness etc, but he is accountable to no man.  Elihu is like a bridge between the earlier discussion and the arrival of God himself; he describes the puniness of man and the mightiness of God even more strongly that the Psalms do.  Elihu describes the power of God in apocalyptic terms, like a warm-up act, and then bows out, as God speaks to Job ‘from the heart of the tempest’ (Job 38).

Leviathan with big teeth…but God is in charge

And what does God say?  How does he answer Job’s (fair and justified) questions?  He asks questions back, quite deliberately not even trying to give answers. ‘Brace yourself[…]; now it is my turn to ask questions and yours to inform me’.  All Kipling’s serving men come out in force; the questions rattle like hailstones.  The poetry is sublime, like Milton,  but better.  God pounds Job with his counter-questions, designed to show the difference between his knowledge and God’s.  Then he challenges him : ‘Is [God’s] opponent willing to give in?  Has God’s critic thought up an answer?’ (Job 40).  Job surrenders utterly, and says that he will not speak again.  God makes another speech (this is the section about Behemoth and Leviathan).  Job repeats his capitulation : ‘I have been holding forth on matters I cannot understand […], now, having seen you with my own eyes, I retract all I have said’ (Job 42).  God rebukes the false comforters, he praises Job and restores all his fortune and family, so there is a happy ending.

Shepherds and sheep
his flocks are bigger than ever
Why keep asking, if there are no answers?

But still no answers, because the answers are not the point, any more than they would be if they were to be found in the Psalms.  The basic question of innocent suffering, of why bad things happen to good people, is one that human beings have been asking ever since they learned to think, and there is no easy answer.  What matters is to keep on asking God the question ; the essential thing is the dialogue, and the relationship which makes it possible.

 

© Kate Keefe and Music for Mass 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kate Keefe and Music for Mass, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Never on a Sunday : Psalm 2, clash of God and kings

Why do the nations so furiously rage together?
dead kings : what happens after the nations have been raging together

Psalm 2 is the most familiar psalm that you have never sung on a Sunday. It is not prescribed for any Sunday, Holy Day of Obligation or major saint’s day. Yet it is possibly one of the best-known psalms; it was one of Luther’s favourites; it contains some of the most famous lines supposed to have been spoken by God; it is quoted by both Peter and Paul in Acts, as a direct foreshadowing of Jesus, and Paul quotes it repeatedly in the Letter to the Hebrews.  It is quoted three times in the book of Revelation, where only one other psalm is cited directly.  But we never sing it on a Sunday.


Occasional weekday psalm

I only set it because my friend in Australia needed it for a weekday Mass. Then it came up again, twice, again for weekdays, and is about to do so again over the Eastertide weeks.   So far I have had to write a new tune for it each time because the moods in the different versions varied so much, so I did a bit of investigating.  How many settings can one psalm need?


Form, shape and function

It’s a short psalm, only twelve verses altogether, but it’s slightly scrappy. Some of it is in direct speech, but with at least three different speakers, so the feel of it is of great compression, and if you wanted to make it simpler to grasp, you would have to expand it quite a bit.  It starts with a direct question, which is always very engaging, even though the rest of the psalm does not actually answer it. The first stanza vividly portrays a world in chaos, kings, nations and peoples murmuring, making tumult, plotting and fomenting unrest.  It’s intensely dramatic, on a very big canvas.  It’s like the Creation stories of the Greeks or even earlier civilisations, where all the monsters or titans rumble and fight until Kronos or Zeus pins them under the earth so that humanity can take root and civilisation triumph.  Here the evil forces are kings, plotting against ‘the Lord and his Anointed’, the first time that this word is used to describe the Messiah.   Only the king and the High Priest were anointed;  the Messiah is both king and High Priest (just like Melchisedek of old, as it says in Psalm 109/110), and the apostles are keen to appropriate this psalm to Jesus.

First stanza

The first stanza portrays chaos, but not the pre-Creation chaos of Genesis.  This is the chaos of warring kings and nations, and they are all plotting together to make common cause against God and ‘his Anointed’,  the rightful king, the king that God has chosen.  These other kings are enormously powerful (‘the kings of the earth’),  they are all working together, and the stanza ends with direct speech from them : ‘Come, let us break their fetters, […] cast off their yoke’.  The atmosphere is dark; it sounds like a threat.  The ‘their’ here refers to the fetters that have been put on the kings of the earth by the Lord, so we are talking about the wielders of earthly authority being restrained by God, and deciding to fight against that restraint : warfare on a cosmic scale, unlike the usual intimate individualism of the Psalms.

Second stanza
God of wrath
God of anger, terrifying even in pink

And cut! you might say if you were making this into a film (it would make a great superhero cartoon).  The second stanza is a classic reversal of point-of-view : now we are in heaven, and God is watching these puny opponents.  They may be ‘kings of the earth’, but they are ridiculous.   His reaction is laughter and scorn, swiftly overtaken by anger, but his words are calm.  Again the stanza ends with two lines of direct speech : ‘It is I who have set up my king / on Zion, my holy mountain.’

An extra line (?)

Then we have a line which feels almost like a stage direction.  It is in parenthesis, and holds up the action without contributing much : (I will announce the decree of the Lord:) , and if you look up different translations, they deal with it differently, assigning it to God, to Christ or simply to the psalmist.  My commentary says that the text is uncertain, that in the Hebrew text it is God speaking, and in the Vulgate the words have been corrected to come from the Messiah, which makes better sense.  But that’s not clearly what we have, even in the new version of the Psalms which has just come out, where they drop the brackets but leave it unclear : ‘I will announce his decree ‘, with no indication of who is speaking.  So this extra line stays as an extra line, altering the flow of the verses if it is included in the Responsorial Psalm.  As I said, different translations sometimes incorporate it, so that the flow of the stanzas is unimpaired; but not the ones we use in the Lectionary.

Third stanza

The third stanza continues in first person direct speech.  God is named as the speaker,  speaking to the person reporting the direct speech (‘The Lord said to me’ ), whom we can identify only as ‘the Anointed’, the king set up by God.  The Lord officially recognises him as his Son, in words which recall God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7.14, but here it is in the present tense, not the future, and I would love to know whether it resembles any legal adoption formula recognised at the time (think of the scene in Ben Hur, where Arrius formally adopts Ben Hur as his son and heir). 

Antony Gormley clay figures
Antony Gormley’s little pot people, fragile like us

God goes on to promise all rule and authority to his Son, who will rule (indeed, break) the ends of the earth with the proverbial rod of iron, and shatter them like a potter’s jar.  The language is highly-coloured and dramatic.  The relationship between God and the Anointed could not be closer.  This is the earliest stratum of all the expectations built up into the figure of the Messiah, and you can see why the apostles use it to strengthen Jesus’ claim to kingship.  It is a very fierce and destructive version of kingship being offered here, but we need to remember the context of the earlier stanza, where all earth’s kings together are trying to overthrow God’s legitimate rule. 

Fourth stanza

The fourth stanza returns to these earthly powers and points the moral for them.  In a direct (and fearless) address to these kings and rulers of the earth,  the psalmist issues a prophetic warning (and you can see why prophets were never popular with the authorities).  Dreadful things will happen if they do not serve the Lord and carry out his will.  The text is slightly corrupted again around vv. 11 and 12,  but the meaning is clear, even if the reconstruction of the exact words is not.   The language of all this section is direct and colourful : ‘trembling, pay him your homage […] for suddenly his anger will blaze’.  It’s another threat, like the first stanza, but a much more frightening one.

Another freestanding line (coda?)
penitential psalm illumination
the psalmist alone with God

There is one more line to this psalm, like a coda, and it is a complete change from all the previous text :’Blessed are they who put their trust in God’.  When I saw this as the Response for one of the versions of this psalm used on a weekday, I thought that the Response might have been taken from another psalm or even another book of the Bible, which does sometimes happen; but no, it is integral, the last line of the psalm itself.  It could sound warning or reassuring, but the force of it is to return the focus away from these rulers and bring it back to us and the psalmist.

Handel, Jennens and Psalm 2

The great elephant in the room that I have deliberately not yet looked at is Georg Friderick Handel.  He is at least partially responsible for the familiarity of Psalm 2, or rather both he and his librettist Charles Jennens.  Their most successful collaboration is of course Messiah , probably sung more often than any other choral work, and beloved.  The libretto for  Messiah is a collection and arrangement of verses from all over the Bible, most from Isaiah, with the Book of Psalms coming in as the next most used text.  There is a fascinating Text Study of Handel’s Messiah libretto by Martin P. Dicke, which I came across by chance and was delighted to find, because it saved me a lot of work (my Messiah doesn’t list the Bible references in the libretto at the beginning).  I recommend it.

MS of Messiah

Jennens uses several of the psalms, but usually only one or two verses each time.  When it comes to Psalm 2, though, he uses several verses, and one of the Recitatives (No.34) which Martin Dicke classes as a quotation from Hebrews, is where Paul quotes Psalm 2 (v.7) yet again.  The psalm translation is Coverdale, out of the Book of Common Prayer (except for v.9, which is from the KJV), which is why the first verse is so much more dramatic even than our version.  Musically it’s irresistible.  Handel sets it for bass, with all the orchestra rushing around furiously raging for all they are worth.  It’s tremendously exciting.  The Chorus then gets to be the kings of the earth, plotting, and what is striking about this is that Handel does not take them seriously.  This is a jolly piece of music, very intricate and upbeat to sing.  It’s not possible to sing it intimidatingly.  Although I’ve sung it many times, I’ve never been clear on its relation to the other parts of the text, but now I know better.  I certainly didn’t realise it followed straight on from the previous two numbers!  However,  the Lord is about to ‘laugh them to scorn’.

King with sceptre or rod of iron?

The tenor then warns of God’s vengeance, skipping to a few verses further on, the lines about the rod of iron and the potter’s vessel.  This music is full of sharp edges, all spiky like shards, and indicates that the Lord (or his King) will have no trouble in subduing these petty princes.  They will be smashed to pieces with savage relish.  It is followed by the Hallelujah chorus, so it is clear that it has worked.

Psalm 2 and Revelation

Psalm 2 is repeatedly referenced in the book of Revelation, and it is these verses again, vv. 8 and 9, the rod of iron and the shattered pot; they focus on the figure of the king and his fierce power, the breaking up of the established order and the creation of the new kingdom where those currently in power will be cast out of their seats, as it says in the Magnificat. This is the topsy-turvey nature of Christ’s message, which comes up repeatedly : the last shall be first, the master shall become the servant, a woman is allowed to sit and listen to teaching, and so on. 

Not a Sunday psalm

So why don’t we ever sing it on a Sunday?  I think it’s because the focus is so broad and the portrayal of God and the Anointed are so fierce.  This is a psalm to encourage those living in times of utter turbulence that God will come and smite everyone into submission.  The wicked will suffer mightily unless they submit.   Like every psalm in the Psalter, it has its place, and there will be people hearing it who find exactly what they need in it, but it’s not the psalm that most of us would turn to most often. 

Editing to soften

The weekday versions are selective.  I’d set it twice before the first verses even came into play, and the resolutely upbeat nature of the first two versions is the result of leaving most of the verses out.  The emphasis is on the authority conferred by God (‘You are my Son.  This day I have begotten you’, the Response for one version) and his promises to the king he has chosen (‘I will give you all the nations as your heritage‘, the Response for the other one).  More of the verses are included in the darker version for the Second Week of Easter, but even there, God’s ridicule, scorn and anger are left out, along with the final threat.  Although the Response for this version is the last verse  (‘Happy are all who put their trust in the Lord’), I had to give this psalm a modal setting to keep it dark, because the mood is not cheerful.  We do sing darker psalms, occasionally (Ps 87/88; Ps 136/137), but there is nothing personal in this psalm, no developing relationship between God and the speaker.  The scope of the whole psalm remains the whole world, and the dramatis personae are the kings of the earth and an unspecified ‘they’ who put their trust in God.  The individual is keeping out of the way; the last line seems almost an afterthought.

Wrath, blood, fire and doom
The wrath of God

It is a harsh version of kingship, and a scary portrayal of God.  The emphasis is on God’s power and wrath, a more Calvinist or Protestant attitude, possibly.  The psalmist is so confident that no harm can come to him that he even dares to rebuke the kings of the earth, but the emphasis is not on him.  Rather this is a psalm about the standing of a long-hoped-for figure, a prediction of the eternal kingship presiding over God’s Kingdom after the Second Coming.  So the Hallelujah Chorus directly follows Psalm 2 in Messiah (returning to Handel), because that will be the outcome; the words of the Hallelujah Chorus are out of Revelation, and bring the second part of the oratorio to an end.  The third part, beginning with I know that my Redeemer liveth, is all focused on what happens after the Last Judgment, after the establishment of the new Kingdom.  Powerful and esoteric stuff. 

Christ Pantocrator, usually with a book rather than a rod of iron

Psalm 2 is crucial to the early Christians’ understanding of Jesus’ place as God’s Anointed, the Son, the King set up by God on Zion.  We don’t sing it often because we are usually highlighting other aspects, more personal, more comforting; but you can’t have the one without the other.  It’s not a comforting psalm if you are invested in ‘the kings of the earth’, but if you’re an ordinary vulnerable mortal, this King is on your side.

 

©Kate Keefe and Music for Mass 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kate Keefe and Music for Mass, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.