Copyright 2015 by Bob Rogers
Imagine if legendary blues singer B.B. King died and went to heaven, and met King David, singer of the psalms. What would their conversation be like? Here’s how I imagine it:
B.B.: Are you David? Nice to meet you, sir. My name is Riley B. King, but my friends call me B.B.
David: Why do they call you B.B.?
B.B.: It stands for Blues Boy. You know, David, we have a lot in common!
David: What’s that?
B.B.: Both born in small towns, you in Bethlehem, and me in Itta Bena, Mississippi. Both played stringed instruments, you the harp and me the guitar. This is my guitar, Lucille. And we both sang the blues.
David: I’m glad you recognize that. When people think of my psalms, they may think of praises to God. But if you really read the psalms, you will find that many of them express disappointment with God. I wrote many of them in hard times.
B.B.: Yeah, growing up a black man in the Mississippi delta, I can relate to a lot of your psalms. One of my big hits was “Every Day I Have the Blues.”
David: You had the blues every day, and I had them all night long. Psalm 6 is about that. I was so depressed that I felt I was going to die, and I tried to convince God not to let me die by saying I could not praise the Lord from the grave. I did not mean that I didn’t believe in the afterlife– in fact, in Psalm 16, I said God would not abandon me in the graven, nor let his “Holy One” see decay. Hey, B.B., did you know that “Holy One” is Hasid in Hebrew, a play on words on my own name, David. You see, we Hebrews knew how to have fun with a pun, too. But it was still the blues. As I said in Psalm 6, verse 6, “I am worn out from weeping all night.”
B.B.: I like that one. It reminds me of a song by Slim Harpo. He sang, “You can cry, cry, baby, cry, cry all night long. But when you wake up in the morning, You’re gonna find your good man gone.”
David: Yeah, but the beautiful thing is that although I cried all night, God finally answered my prayer. I put that in near the end of Psalm 6: “The Lord has heard my plea for help; the Lord accepts my prayer.” B.B., let me ask you a question. Are black folks the only ones who sang the blues in your time? I mean, I’m a Hebrew, and like you said, many of my psalms were sad.
B.B.: I like to say that playing the blues and being black is like being black twice. But truth is, black folk ain’t the only ones singin’ the blues. In fact, lots of folk call country music the white man’s blues. In fact, one of your psalms reminds me of a country song.
David: Which one was that?
B.B.: Psalm 10.
David: The sequel to Psalm 9. Yes, I remember that one. It opens, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”
B.B.: Yeah, there was a country song that said, “Where, O where, are you tonight? Why did you leave me here all alone?” Like I said, the white man’s blues.
David: But again the difference is that I ended my song with faith. Listen to verse 17: “You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted.” It reminds me of something I heard one of your American presidents say after he got shot and came up here. Abraham Lincoln said, “Often I am driven to my knees because there is nowhere else to go.”
B.B.: That’s cool. I like ole Abe. Hey, didn’t you say this Psalm 10 was the sequel to Psalm 9? How’s that?
David: Psalm 9 and 10 form an acrostic in Hebrew, with each stanza beginning with each of the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet, so Psalm 10 finishes the acrostic that starts in Psalm 9. Psalm 9 praises the Lord with enthusiasm and even says, “For you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” So remember when you read Psalm 10, not only that it moves from doubt to faith, but that it is part of another psalm of faith.
B.B.: Man, I didn’t know that! It’s like you didn’t cut a single, you was putting out a theme album, dude! So when I think the thrill is gone, I just need to hang on to God, cause it ain’t gone after all.
David: That’s right, B.B.
B.B.: But sometimes folks don’t see that. They just drown in their tears.
David: I wrote a psalm about that, too. I begin Psalm 13 by crying to God for times, “How long, O Lord?”
B.B.: Yeah, makes me think of some blues dudes named K-Ci & Jojo. They had a song that said, “How long just I cry, how long must I try, to make happiness my friend?”
David: I had the answer to that in my Psalm. I said, “But I trust in Your unfailing love.” Again, the mood changes to confidence in God.
B.B.: How can you have so much trust in God? I mean, with King Saul chasin’ you all over the hills, trying to slit your throat?
David: Yeah, Saul had the army of Israel and I had a rough band of 600 men. In fact, one time I felt like God had completely forsaken me. That’s when I wrote the bluest of my blues– Psalm 22. I sang, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
B.B.: Hey, wait a minute, man! I know those words. Jesus said that on the cross! Dude, you wrote that?
David: Yeah, check it out. When Jesus said that on the cross, Jesus was singing the blues, B.B. — literally! The words Jesus quoted from the cross, and not only those words, but other parts of Psalm 22 remind us of the cross. Listen to these lyrics from that psalm:
“He trust in the Lord, let the Lord rescue Him…”
“They have pierced my hands and feet.”
“They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”
All of those lines are quoted in the gospels when they talk about Jesus’ crucifixion. So you see, no matter how bad life seems, Jesus knows how it feels. He’s been there. He suffered for our sins on the cross, and experienced the very absence of God, because God cannot look upon sin, and Jesus became sin for us.
B.B.: That’s one of the reasons Jesus is my Main Man. I mean, if anybody had a reason to sing the blues, He did after what they did to Him on the cross.
David: But remember that Jesus didn’t stay on the cross. He arose from the grave! Jesus knew this when he sang Psalm 22. Even this psalm moves to hope, because near the end it says, “He has not hidden His face, but has listened to my cry for help.” B.B., remember how I explained to you that Psalm 10, a psalm that expresses a feeling of forsakenness, was preceded by Psalm 9, a psalm expressing God’s presence. In a similar way, Psalm 22 begins with “Why have you forsaken me?” but it is followed by my # 1 hit, Psalm 23, which talks about how God never forsakes us, even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death!
B.B.: Cool, man! You know, folks down in my home state of Mississippi have been singing the blues ever since Hurricane Katrina came down there and wiped things out. There’s this blues rock singer named Marc Broussard; he was trying to raise money for victims of the hurricane, and he used your Psalm 22. Here, I got the thing on my iPod. Listen to a little of it: (David puts on the headphones, and listens to a few bars of Bootleg to Benefit the Victims of Hurricane Katrina.)
David: Wow, brother, it sounds different on my harp.
B.B.: Same broken heart, though, isn’t it? In Broussard’s song, “My God,” he concludes with these words:
“My God, my God, heal this sin-stained soul. I give my life to you, take me and make me whole. Oh, You are the way, the truth and the life. Burn over me, Lord, send me Your might. Oh, I can do nothing without You. With Your strength this dark night I’ll get through.”
David: Yes, it is. Same broken heart. Same faith at the end. Speaking of a broken heart, I have to confess that I often sang the blues because of trouble I brought on myself.
B.B.: Yeah, I heard about you and your woman, Bathsheba. But I read Psalm 51 when you confessed it. Dude, you really laid your soul bare. That’s what I’m talkin’ about.
David: B.B., that wasn’t the only psalm I wrote after that. I also wrote Psalm 32 and Psalm 38. I was sick. Sick in my body. My bones felt brittle. I was so sick and disgusted with my own sin.
B.B.: Dude, there’s an indie rock band in Seattle, Washington, called Sorry the Band. They’re white boys, but they know how to sing the blues. I think they bootlegged Psalm 32 and Psalm 38, man.
David: Really? What do they call the song?
B.B. I think they just call the song “Shame.”
David: B.B., that’s the thing I wish people on earth could understand– that they can overcome their shame.They can beat the blues. Each of my psalms were soul therapy. They started with doubt, but ended with faith.
B.B.: I know it, man. That’s what Ray Charles and I were singing about on his last album before he died. We sang, “Lord, have mercy, please have mercy on me. Well, if I’ve done somebody wrong, Lord, please have mercy, if you please.”
David: That’s what the Lord did for me and did for you! When I did somebody wrong, I pleaded for mercy, and He gave it when I least deserved it. He told me that the Messiah would come through my descendants and He did! God sent Jesus the Messiah, and He died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins and yours. Now by faith in Jesus, the Lord has mercy on all who sing the blues.
B.B.: Amen, brother!