The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville


A friend recently notified me that there had been a local meeting on the subject of ‘stress’. She mentioned that the principal speaker confided that when he had suffered from stress, he had sought solace and comfort in the Psalms. In particular, he referred to Ps 42 - ‘As the hart panteth for the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee O God…’ and Ps 46 - ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble…’ The friend was aware that I was compiling material for an article on the Psalms and thought it might be a useful line of further inquiry. It proved so to be.

The 4th Century St Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea, reinforces the point concerning the calming effects of the Psalms.

“A psalm is tranquillity of soul and the arbitration of peace. It settles one’s tumultuous and seething thoughts… a psalm creates friendships, unites the separated and reconciles those at enmity.”

According to traditional western reckoning there are 150 psalms. They contain praises, laments, royalty, protestations, guilt, thanksgiving for deliverance from enemies, invocations to smite unbelievers… Some scholars recognise five divisions - in imitation of the five-fold division of the Torah.

1. Ps 1 to 41
2. Ps 42 to 72
3. Ps 73 to 89
4. Ps 90 to 106
5. Ps 107 to 150

Seventy three are attributed to King David, who was evidently an accomplished musician. That his music Tehillin (a Hebrew word meaning praises) was able to assuage the malaise of King Saul is evidenced by a passage in 1 Samuel 16 from verse 17.

“But the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul and an evil spirit troubled him. And Saul’s servants said unto him, ‘Behold now an evil spirit from God troubleth thee. Let our Lord now command thy servants which are before thee to seek out a man who is a cunning player on the harp. It shall come to pass, when the evil spirit of God is upon thee that he shall play with his hand and thou shalt be well…’” And as it says in Verse 19 onwards, that musician was David, taken from tending the sheep. He was able to lift Saul’s dark moods.

All the psalms are regarded as poetry. They do not rhyme when translated… Those in the English Psalter are intended to be sung or chanted, the structure being of a device known as parellelism. This involves short phrases of two brief metric clauses connected by association (synonym, antonym or more specific form of the same sentiment), ‘pointed’ to assist in breath pauses for the singers. Psalm 150 is given as an example:

Praise the Lord, O praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.

Praise Him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his abundant goodness.

Praise him in the blast of the ram’s horn: praise him on the lute and harp.

Praise him with the timbrel and dances: praise him upon the strings and pipe…

It is no random thinking that the selection of one famous and comforting psalm is often quoted at funerals. The bereaved and mourners always feel somewhat relieved of their despair. This is the psalm which starts “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want… “ (No. 23.)

Rod Dawson

Winter Edition 2014

The Psalms