Home » Poetry

Category: Poetry

The Elder’s Song — Psalm 71

WITH SUFFERING COMES WISDOM? With the advance of age, the increase of learning? Perhaps, but not without years of unbridled struggle with the tangle of contradictions that daily surrounds us. An enemy approaches? Indeed, a “wicked” enemy is near at hand (captor, oppressor, anxiety, disease) whose firm grip latches on with “the grasp of the unjust and cruel”!

A “lament” is not a supplication cushioned by casual thanksgiving. It is a plea of pain joined to praise. Like most other laments, this one is the cry of a person who knows both need and consolation. The advancing wisdom is not that the years have brought lessening of the pain; rather, with the years has come a closer identification of the pain-ridden with the One who is able to comfort and sustain. “Be thou to me a rock of refuge.” Who, indeed, has not sought that Shadow of Stability as the years crept snail-pace along, or in sudden debility leapt upon us?

Whether we live to be eighty or forty (and in many primitive societies only ten percent of the populace exceeded forty), the issue of our mortality and the taunt of our mortal enemies is of grave concern to any would-be psalmist (you, reader?) who knows our frail, earthly condition.

Hymn seventy-one of Israel’s songbook strikes a chord of universal disharmony, exposing a personal dilemma with which all of God’s creatures sooner or later must contend. The feelings of forsakenness, and of being the one who is “put to shame and consumed” are no respecters of age and circumstance. Yet perhaps oldtimers attend more resolutely (thus their wisdom) to the only lasting source of strength, which can out-distance “The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks I That flesh is heir to.”*

This gray-haired songster gives a testimony. This music is obedient passing-on of the living traditions of the elders, whose mouths are founts of complaint and adoration, whose faith is a descant lifted “all the day long” but only slightly above the sonorous lament. Together they break forth in sacred chorus. The message? Either our earthly ballads are ended with a dread finale composed by the Enemy; or the last strains of hope are played by Hands whose grace redeems all death-dealing adversaries, including the “last enemy” itself.

In this oft-practiced chant, an ageless ancient’s voice transcends “The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,”** holding forth in triumphant melody as though to say: Is not the praise of God our deepest fulfillment? Is not the trust of Yahweh our everlasting hope?

Pray you, wise and weary fellow traveler, chant the same.

* William Shakespeare, Hamlet, act 3, sc. 1, lines 62-63
** Ibid., line 58.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AS “Biblical Insights for Christian Living,” TODAY’S WORD FOR ADULTS,




Rachel Weeping at Bethlehem for the Children of Israel and Palestine

THEN THEY JOURNEYED FROM BETHEL; and when they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel was in childbirth, and she had hard labor. . . As her soul was departing . . . she named him Benoni; but his father named him Benjamin. So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar at her grave . . . the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day.”    —Genesis 35:16–20  


“Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them. . . .’ Then pharaoh commanded all his people, ‘Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.’”Exodus 1:8–10a, 22


“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea . . . When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or younger . . . Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.’” —Matthew 2:16–18 (Jeremiah 31:15)


“Did the dead in their kingdom have eyes for seeing? . . . Would Abraham see Rachel’s eyes and know she was Rachel he was seeing? Did the dead have speech? Was there any remembering among them?” —Frederick Buechner, The Son of Laughter, 192


Oh, my dear, dear children!

Such wretched grief is this

That stirs within my bones  

Entombed among these stones.


Through all of Israel and Palestine

I weep for you by day and cry for you by night.


Where Jacob tricked his father Isaac

And stole his brother’s blessing

Then strove with God who struck his hip

Which left him walking limp.


Through all of Israel and Palestine

I weep for you by day and cry for you by night.


Where Shechem plundered Dinah

Then her brothers took revenge

And deranged old King Herod

Massacred the holy innocents.


Through all of Israel and Palestine

I weep for you by day and cry for you by night.


Where I in harsh labor pains

Gave birth to my precious Benoni

Son of my sorrow, babe of my distress

Whom sadly I left motherless.


Through all of Israel and Palestine

I weep for you by day and cry for you by night.


Where futile feuds and fatal wars

Sweep across this Promised Land

And cactus sheds its tears

Upon the sun-scorched desert sand.


Through all of Israel and Palestine

I weep for you by day and cry for you by night.


Where wrenched and wracked your bodies lie

Beneath the holy sphere your spirits seek for rest

I pray my cries to reach your ears

My eyes to see your eyes in heavenly light.


Through all of Israel and Palestine

I weep for you by day and cry for you by night.


Where shepherds keep watch below

And angels stand guard above

Mary gives birth to her beloved son

Who is Yeshua, God’s deliverance.


Rachel Weeping at Bethlem
“Rachel Weeping for Her Children” by Jacob Steinhardt, 1962
Published December 25, 2023 on Voxpopulisphere.com
permission is granted for liturgical use of the poem “rachel weeping at bethlehem” so long as attribution is cited along with copyright
Copyright © 2023 Charles Davidson, All Rights Reserved 
verses from the New Revised Standard Version, 1991, Oxford University PreSS