Psalm 56: O God, in Mercy Look to Me (Carlill)

I came back again to Adam Carlill’s Psalms for the Common Era, this time his version of Psalm 56. This Psalm is a plea for mercy when being hotly pursued by enemies. Have you ever felt like David did when he wrote this–slandered, hunted, trapped? The Psalmist petitions God for deliverance, reaffirms his trust in God’s care, and throws in a few ideas about what God might want do to his enemies. Interestingly, the Psalm ends with a future/past tense statement of faith: “I will present my thank offerings to you. For you have delivered me…” Now that’s faith!

Musically, I thought a Medieval Celtic sound would fit this text well. Instead of the standard pentatonic scale, though, I used the Dorian mode. That raised 6th scale tone gives the melody a unique contour that keeps it from becoming predictable.

If you want to geek out for a minute, pay attention to the form of the song. Usually, folk ballad forms are AABA or ABA or something similar, with each phrase of music being the same length. (Take a look at “Sally Gardens,” for example, which is AABA.) This allows a song to have a good deal of singable familiarity, while also having some variation. My tune is an ABAC form with each A being four measures long and the B and C being two. Even more interesting is that the music’s form doesn’t exactly match the text’s form. This creates an oil-and-water tension that keeps the song interesting over its seven verses.

1. O God, in mercy look to me,
for I am trampled low.
All day they challenge me and fight,
oppressors watch me from their height,
to strike and overthrow,
to strike and overthrow.

2. When I am nervous and afraid,
I trust in your decree.
In God, the Lord, whose word is dear,
in God I trust, and will not fear.
What can they do to me?
What can they do to me?

3. All day they falsify my words,
with evil schemes and strife,
while secretly they trail and track,
they keep a watch behind my back,
to take away my life,
to take away my life.

4. Will they escape their wickedness,
who wait to snare my soul?
You count my wanderings as I pass,
decant my tears into your glass;
you note them in a scroll,
you note them in a scroll.

5. Bring down my foes in wrath, O God,
confirming your decree.
In God, the Lord, whose word is dear,
in God I trust, and will not fear.
What can they do to me?
What can they do to me?

6. I call to you, and then my foes
withdraw in disarray,
for God is with me, this I know.
I pay in full the vows I owe,
my sacrifice today,
my sacrifice today.

7. For you deliver me from death;
my feet are sound and shod.
I will not stumble during strife,
but follow you, the light of life,
to walk before my God,
to walk before my God.

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