Hymn notes: Psalm 2 – for when you tire of singing ‘Jerusalem’

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It was early September 1997, and I had watched yet another Last Night of the Proms with its rendition of Jerusalem. The second verse certainly can be stirring, jingoistic stuff – ‘Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand…’ etc. etc. But the first verse is absolute tosh. Asking a rhetorical question, ‘And did those feet in ancient time…’ already I want to shout ‘No! They didn’t!’ Indeed, at the end of verse 1, as the musicians play the musical interlude, you can interpose a ‘bridge’ of words as follows:

                The answer’s no; It really didn’t ever happen so!

I am convinced Jerusalem would be much improved if this caught on!

Therefore, fed up with another Last Night rendition of Blake’s spiritual fantasies, I decided to try and do better. I set to work on a version of Psalm 2, which I must have preached about that time, set to the tune Jerusalem. The key phrase to render was ‘I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.’ It is the crux of the psalm, and God’s answer to the nations. Because I was using rhyming couplets, I had two options for the end of the first verse. I could have stuck to a fairly literal rendition of the text as follows:

                Then in his wrath declare his will:

                ‘I set my king on Zion’s hill.’

When it came up for discussion at the Praise Trust editorial board, this very nearly became the version we used, but I wanted to have something more explicitly Messianic, drawing on the sense of rejection that the cross involved that is expressed in Hebrews 13:12-13. So we went with the more dynamic lines:

I set my Son, whom you condemn,

                as King outside Jerusalem.

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