It’s hard to read the Psalms without coming across one of 65 references to the Hebrew word “mishpat,” which is usually translated as “judgments” or “justice.”
The term appears 23 times in Psalm 119in passages that worshipers have sung for centuries, such as: “I will praise you with righteousness of heart, when I hear of your righteous judgments. I will keep your statutes; Oh, don’t leave me completely!
But when Old Testament scholar Michael J. Rhodes dug into the Top 25 Worship Songs listed by Christian Copyright Licensing International, he found symbolic tendencies in the lyrics. For starters, “justice” was mentioned once, in a song.
“The poor are completely absent from the top 25. In contrast, the Psalter uses varied language to describe the poor on almost every page,” he writes, in a Twitter thread. “The widow, the refugee, the underdog are completely absent from the top 25. …
“While ‘enemies’ are the third most common character in the Psalms, they rarely appear in the Top 25. When they do, they appear to be enemies only in a spiritual sense. Perhaps the most devastating. .not a SINGLE question is ever asked of God. The Top 25 never asks anything of God. Poke the psalter and it bleeds the cries of the oppressed begging God to act.”
It is far from a promising Vespers Psalm: “The Lord frees the prisoners; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over foreigners, he sustains the widow and the orphan; but he ruins the way of the wicked. …Praise the Lord.”
When these issues surface on social media, they often escalate into debates about politics and social justice, noted Craig Greenfield, author of “Urban Halo” and “Subversive Jesus.” Former dot-com entrepreneur, he leads the global youth ministry “At the same time internationally“, based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The question, he said, is why so many worship songs focus on personal experience and feelings – alone. This has been true with new hymns for several generations.