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Bible Commentaries

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4
Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8
Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12
Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16
Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20
Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24
Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28
Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32
Chapter 33 Chapter 34 Chapter 35 Chapter 36
Chapter 37 Chapter 38 Chapter 39 Chapter 40
Chapter 41 Chapter 42 Chapter 43 Chapter 44
Chapter 45 Chapter 46 Chapter 47 Chapter 48
Chapter 49 Chapter 50 Chapter 51 Chapter 52
Chapter 53 Chapter 54 Chapter 55 Chapter 56
Chapter 57 Chapter 58 Chapter 59 Chapter 60
Chapter 61 Chapter 62 Chapter 63 Chapter 64
Chapter 65 Chapter 66 Chapter 67 Chapter 68
Chapter 69 Chapter 70 Chapter 71 Chapter 72
Chapter 73 Chapter 74 Chapter 75 Chapter 76
Chapter 77 Chapter 78 Chapter 79 Chapter 80
Chapter 81 Chapter 82 Chapter 83 Chapter 84
Chapter 85 Chapter 86 Chapter 87 Chapter 88
Chapter 89 Chapter 90 Chapter 91 Chapter 92
Chapter 93 Chapter 94 Chapter 95 Chapter 96
Chapter 97 Chapter 98 Chapter 99 Chapter 100
Chapter 101 Chapter 102 Chapter 103 Chapter 104
Chapter 105 Chapter 106 Chapter 107 Chapter 108
Chapter 109 Chapter 110 Chapter 111 Chapter 112
Chapter 113 Chapter 114 Chapter 115 Chapter 116
Chapter 117 Chapter 118 Chapter 119 Chapter 120
Chapter 121 Chapter 122 Chapter 123 Chapter 124
Chapter 125 Chapter 126 Chapter 127 Chapter 128
Chapter 129 Chapter 130 Chapter 131 Chapter 132
Chapter 133 Chapter 134 Chapter 135 Chapter 136
Chapter 137 Chapter 138 Chapter 139 Chapter 140
Chapter 141 Chapter 142 Chapter 143 Chapter 144
Chapter 145 Chapter 146 Chapter 147 Chapter 148
Chapter 149 Chapter 150

Book Overview - Psalms

by Albert Barnes

Introduction to the Psalm

Section 1. “The Title to the Book of Psalm.”

The general title to the Book of Psalms in Hebrew is תהלים Tehilliym Psalms, or more fully, תהלים ספר Sêpher Tehilliym “Book of Psalms?” Sometimes a shorter title is used - תלים Tilliym Other terms are used as appropriate to particular psalms, as מזמורים mizmôriym or שׁירים shı̂yriym songs; or in the singular, מזמור mizmôr and שׁיר shı̂yr a song. These latter titles, however, are not given to the entire collection, but to particular psalms. The former title - מזמור mizmôr - is given to Psalm 3:1-8; Psalm 4:1-8; Psalm 5:1-12; Psalm 6:1-10; Psalm 8:1-9; Psalm 12:1-8; Psalm 13:1-6; Psalm 15:1-5; Psalm 19:1-14; Psalm 20:1-9; Psalm 21:1-13; Psalm 23:1-6; and to 39 others, the last being Psalm 143:1-12, rendered uniformly “a psalm.” The latter title, שׁיר shı̂yr occurs in Psalm 30:1-12; Psalm 46:1-11; and in 27 other psalms, the last being Psalm 134:1-3, and is uniformly rendered “song,” though it is sometimes connected with the word מזמור mizmôr psalm, and rendered “A song and psalm,” as in Psalm 48:1-14; Psalm 65:1-13; Psalm 67:1-7; Psalm 75:1-10; Psalm 87:1-7; Psalm 122:1-9; Psalm 123:1-4; Psalm 124:1-8 it is connected with the word degrees: “A song of degrees.”

The word תהלים Tehilliym is derived from the verb - הלל hâlal to praise, as in the word “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah.” The name is given to the general collection, because praise, more than anything else, is the characteristic of the book, and because the collection seems to have been designed to be used in the public praise or worship of God. They were all probably thus used in Hebrew worship.

The word “Psalms,” as applied to the collection, we have derived from the Greek translation, the word ψαλμοὶ psalmoi in the plural - “psalmos” (a psalm) and “psalmoi” (psalms). This word is derived from ψάλλω psallō to touch, to twitch, to pluck - as the hair or beard; and then, to touch or twitch a string, “to twang,” that is, to cause it to vibrate by touching or twitching it with the finger or with a “plectrum” ( πλῆκτρον plēktron ) - an instrument for striking the strings of a lyre, as a quill. Cic. N. D., 2. 59. Hence, the word is applied to instruments of music employed in praise, and then to acts of praise in general. The noun - ψαλμός psalmos - “psalm,” means properly “a touching, twang,” as of a bowstring, or of stringed instruments; then a song, as accompanying stringed instruments; and then specifically a psalm or song of praise to God. Thus, the verb - ψάλλω psallō - is used in the New Testament as denoting “praise” in the following places: Romans 15:9, “I will confess … and “sing” unto Thy name;” 1 Corinthians 14:15, “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding;” Ephesians 5:19, “Singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;” James 5:13, “Is any merry? let him sing psalms.”

The verb does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament. The “noun” - ψαλμός psalmos - is used in the New Testament in the following places as denoting psalms in general: 1 Corinthians 14:26, “Every one of you hath a psalm;” Ephesians 5:19, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms;” Colossians 3:16, “Admonishing one another in psalms.” In the following places it is applied in the New Testament to the Book of Psalms, considered as a collection of songs of praise; - Luke 20:42, “David himself saith in the Book of Psalms;” - Luke 24:44, “All things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me:” see the notes on that passage; - Acts 1:20, “It is written in the Book of Psalms;” - Acts 13:33, “It is also written in the second psalm.” The word does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament.

Section 2. “The Authors of the Psalm.”

The Psalms thus collected into a book are by no means the production of one poet or one age. They stretch through a long period of Jewish history, certainly from the time of Moses to the time of the return from the captivity of Babylon, and probably later, and they are modified by all the varieties incident to the peculiarities of their respective authors; to individual and national history; to the times in which they were composed. So many of them, however, are the composition of David, that it is customary to speak of them as “The Psalms of David,” though it is probable that not much more than half of the psalms in the collection were written by him. Of the 150 psalms comprising the collection, according to the enumeration in the Hebrew manuscripts, not quite one half are usually ascribed to him. According to DeWette, 74; to Kennicott, 66; to DeRossi, 67; to Rosenmuller and Eichhorn, 71; and to Hengstenberg, 80. It is probable, however, that a portion of the psalms to which no name is prefixed in the title - but how great a portion it is impossible now to determine - is the production of David. Still, so many are known to have been composed by him, and he was so eminent as a poet, as to justify the language which is so frequently employed when they are called familiarly “The Psalms of David.”

The following persons are mentioned in the titles as authors of psalms:

(1) One psalm Psalm 75:1-10; Psalm 76:1-12; Psalm 79:1-13; Psalm 82:1-8; Psalm 1:1-6. The reason for this arrangement cannot now be known. DeWette (Einleitung, III. iii.) supposes that, with the exception of Psalm 1:1-6. and Psalm 79:1-13 to the destruction of the temple and the city; Psalm 42:1-11; Psalm 46:1-11; Psalm 47:1-9; Psalm 48:1-14; Psalm 84:1-12; Psalm 85:1-13; Psalm 87:1-7; Psalm 42:1-11. It is not certain whether these were composed by “the sons of Korah,” or were composed for “the sons of Korah;” that is, for the company of musicians to whom the direction of the music in the temple was confided. It is obvious, however, that if the meaning is that they were composed by “the sons of Korah,” this furnishes no information as to the individual authorship of the psalms. By which one of them they were composed, or whether by more than one, of course is not indicated by a title so general. DeWette supposes that most of these psalms pertain to the times of the Exile, or to a later period. There is nothing very unique in the character of these psalms; nothing which in themselves could lead us to conclude that they were composed by those to whom they are ascribed, rather than by David or Asaph.

(5) Two psalms, 1 Kings 4:31, they are mentioned among others as remarkable for their wisdom: “For he, Solomon, was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol.” In 1 Chronicles 2:6, they are mentioned as “sons of Zerah:” “Zimri, and Ethan, and Heman, and Calcol, and Dara.” In 1 Chronicles 6:33, a Heman is mentioned as one of the “sons of the Kohathites:” “Heman, a singer, the son of Joel.” So, in 1 Chronicles 15:17, he is mentioned in connection with Ethan, who is there said to be the son of Kushaiah; and in 1 Chronicles 15:19, he is mentioned as associated with Asaph and Ethan: “So the singers, Heman, Asaph, and Ethan, were appointed to sound with cymbals of brass.” In 1 Chronicles 25:1, Helman is mentioned with Jeduthun, as one of those whose sons “should prophesy with harps, with psalteries, and with cymbals.” He is there referred to as associated with Asaph. Compare 2 Chronicles 5:12; 2 Chronicles 29:13-14; 2 Chronicles 35:15. Ethan is twice mentioned - 1 Kings 4:31 as above, as a wise man, and 1 Chronicles 2:6, as above. Compare the notes on the introduction to Psalm 127:1-5, are ascribed to Solomon, or are “for Solomon.” See the notes on the titles to those psalms (Psalm 120:1-7. They are grouped together because they appear to have been used on certain special occasions, rather than from anything special in the psalms themselves.

(8) Some of the psalms are ascribed in the Septuagint translation to Jeremiah, to Ezekiel, to Haggai, and to Zechariah. As there is nothing corresponding to this in the Hebrew titles, this must have been, of course, mere conjecture or tradition.

(9) There remains a pretty large number of the collection the names of whose authors are not mentioned; and, of course, there are now no means of determining the question in regard to the authorship. Such are s. 150. These, it will be seen, are irregularly scattered through the book, though they are, for the most part, near its close.

In regard to the origin and authority of the titles to the several psalms, see section 4.

Section 3. “The Formation of the Collection and Arrangement of the Book of Psalm.”

The Jewish Talmud (Cod. Berachot, 1,9) ascribes the formation of the Psalter, or the assembling of the Book of Psalms, to David. It is unnecessary to remark that this cannot be a correct opinion, since many of the psalms are indubitably of a later date than the time of David. Most of the Christian fathers, and many critics of modern times, ascribe the collection and arrangement of the Book to Ezra, and this is now regarded as the most probable opinion; and if so the whole collection must have been formed about 450 years before Christ. But though this may be regarded as the correct opinion in regard to the completion of the whole as it now stands, yet there is evidence in the psalms themselves of the existence of smaller collections made before from which the general one was ultimately formed. By whom those smaller collections were made is not now known, nor can it be ascertained what changes may have been made in them when the general collection was formed.

The Book is divided in the Hebrew text into five minor books or collections, sufficiently marked in their character, and so indicated at the close of each as to make it every way probable that these may have been “published,” so to speak, in the form of different books, or that the later were additions to the first collection or volume. This division is found also in the Septuagint version - a fact which proves that it existed as early as the year 200 b.c. These portions bear marks of being not “arbitrary” divisions made at the time when the general collection was formed, but distinct and independent collections by different persons. The grouping is not precisely accurate, that is, in the first part, the “Psalms of David” Psalm 41:13. All the psalms in this collection, except Psalm 1:1-6; Psalm 2:1-12; Psalm 42:1-11 and Psalm 43:1-5; and Psalm 117:1-2). It is probable that this collection was early made, though DeWette has endeavored to show that it could not have been until after the exile, since he supposes that Psalm 14:1-7 and Proverbs 25:1; and as 2 Chronicles 29:30 he “commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the Lord with the words of David.” (Kitto, Encyclopedia)

The second book in the general collection comprises Psalm 72:20 the following notice is given: “The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended;” and some have supposed that this was the close of the entire psalms preceding it, as one book or collection, Psalm 53:1-6 is the same as Psalm 14:1-7; with only slight variations - the variations consisting mainly in the fact that the word אלהים 'Elohiym is used as the name of God in the latter, in the place of יהוה Yahweh in the former. It cannot be supposed that a collector would have used the same psalm with such a variation in the same collection. So also Psalm 70:1-5 is only a repetition of Psalm 40:13-17, with only a similar change.

It may be “suggested” that these two collections may have been subsequently “united,” and may have constituted as one before the more general collection was made. Thus, the natural “close” of this collection, as of the first collection Psalm 41:13, would be with the words “Amen, and Amen,” Psalm 72:19. To the “entire” collection - the two combined - these words may have been added Psalm 72:20, “The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended,” meaning that “now” an entire and complete collection of the Psalms of David had been made in the “two” combined; or, that “as many had been combined for public worship as were then intended to be used in that service.” This idea would not prevent the supposition that there may have been at that time, in fact, other psalms of David in existence; or that they might have been subsequently introduced into the worship of God in “other” collections.

The third book Psalm 72:20, that “the prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.” It was evidently the design of the author of the compilation at the “close” of that book not to admit in the following book any of the psalms of David; perhaps it was the intention “not” to collect anymore of the psalms of David for the purpose of public worship. Possibly, as DeWette (Einleitung, p. 21) suggests, the author of the collection in the third book put the notice at the end of the second book that David‘s psalms ended there, it being his intention to make a collection of another kind. when this collection was made is unknown. From Psalm 85:1-13 it would seem probable that it was made as late as the return from the captivity at Babylon. That psalm may have been written by one of the company called “the sons of Korah;” or it may have been composed for their use in the sanctuary. This collection closes, like the two former, with the expressive “Amen, and Amen,” Psalm 89:52,

The fourth collection Psalm 101:1-8; Psalm 106:48 with the expression “Amen, Hallelujah.”

The fifth and last book Psalm 108:1-13; Psalm 110:1-7; Psalm 122:1-9; Psalm 124:1-8; Psalm 131:1-3; Psalm 133:1-3; the four last being among the “Songs of Degrees,” Psalm 138:1-8; Psalm 140:1-13; Psalm 141:1-10; Psalm 142:1-7; Psalm 143:1-12; Psalm 144:1-15; Psalm 111:1-10; Psalm 112:1-10; Psalm 113:1-9; Psalm 114:1-8; Psalm 117:1-2; Psalm 137:1-9; Psalm 146:1-10; Psalm 148:1-14; Psalm 149:1-9; Psalm 150:1-6 are anonymous. By whom, and when this last collection was made is unknown. It may without improbability, however, be supposed perhaps that it was made by the person (Ezra?) who undertook to collect into one the entire “books” already existing, and who found many psalms that had not been included by the collectors of the previous books, and who, therefore, grouped all these together in a single book, to be added in the general collection to those which had been already classified and arranged.

Section 4. “The Titles to the Several Psalm.”

All the psalms, except Psalm 30:1-12; Psalm 52:1-9; Psalm 56:1-13; etc. Some combine several of these things together, the author, the occasion, the style of the poetry, the music to be used, etc., as Psalm 52:1-9; Psalm 53:1-6; Psalm 54:1-7; Psalm 56:1-13. The longest and fullest of these titles is that prefixed to Psalm 60:1-12; where we have the dedication to the chief musician, the name of the author, the style of the poetry, the design of the psalm, the instrument of music to be employed, and the historical occasion on which the psalm was composed.

(d) It is very difficult at this distance of time to explain the “meaning” of many of these titles, and critics have differed very materially in their conjectures on this subject. The difficulty arises in a considerable degree from our ignorance in regard to the temple-music, and to the instruments which were employed. The difficulty is the same which would exist two or three thousand years from the present time in explaining a book, now familiar, containing “tunes” of music, and a reference to the instruments of music which are now employed in the public service of God. It might be difficult, if not impossible, so to describe the exact instrument of music used as to be intelligible to a future age; and it would be obviously impossible to explain satisfactorily the “names” of many of the “tunes” which are now in common use - as “Mear,” “Martin‘s,” “Russia, “Windham,” “Lenox.” The difficulty, as has been remarked above, was felt even at the time when the Septuagint version was made, as in several instances the authors of that version have not attempted even to translate the title, but have expressed it in Greek letters answering to the Hebrew. Coverdale, who translated the Bible in 1535, felt the difficulty to be so great that he has omitted nearly all the titles except the names of the authors. In these notes, as far as an explanation can now be given that is satisfactory or probable, it will be offered in the exposition of the particular psalms.

(e) There has been a wide difference of opinion respecting the “authority” of these titles. Not a few modern critics, especially German critics, regard them as of no authority, and argue in respect to the authorship of the psalms, and the time and occasion on which they were composed, as if no such titles were found in the Hebrew. By most of the ancient critics they were considered as genuine, and as having equal authority with the psalms themselves. They were wholly rejected at the close of the fourth century by Theodore of Mopsuestia, one of the ablest and most judicious of the ancient interpreters. Rosenmuller, Hist. Interp. Librorum Sacrorum, P. III, p. 256. Tholuck and Hengstenberg admit their authority. The “objections” to the authority of the title are such as these:

(1) That the “subscriptions” at the close of the epistles in the New Testament are now regarded as of no historical value, and it is asked why may not the same conclusion be adopted in regard to the titles “prefixed” to the psalms?

(2) that the ancient versions, the Syriac and the Greek especially, exhibit them with great variations, often altering the Hebrew, and sometimes giving a heading where the Hebrew has none. It is asked whether these ancient translators would have taken such liberties if the titles had been considered sacred like the psalms themselves? (Kitto). - It is added on this point, that “if ever Ezra settled them, the variations in versions and manuscripts have tended since to make them doubtful.” Eichhorn, “Einleitung,” III, p. 490.

(3) It is argued that the titles are at variance with the contents of the psalms. Thus, it is alleged that sometimes the name of the author is incorrectly given, “as when David is named over the psalms referring to the captivity,” as in Psalm 14:1-7; Psalm 30:1-12.

It is to be observed, however, that these writers sometimes assume that a psalm refers to the time of the exile when it would be possible to explain it on the supposition that it was composed at an earlier date; and that it is not always safe to argue from the internal evidence of a psalm against the inscription. A critic affixes his own interpretation to a psalm, and then adopts that as a basis of argument in regard to its origin; whereas often, possibly in all cases, if the inscription were assumed to be correct, it would not be difficult to explain the psalm, by fair rules of interpretation, in accordance with that supposition.

On the whole, it seems to me that these inscriptions are to be regarded as a part of the inspired record, and as having the authority of inspiration. The fact that they are found in the Hebrew - that they can be traced back to the earliest periods when we have any knowledge of the Hebrew text - that they have come down to us with that text - furnishes proof which it seems we cannot now set aside; that they are to be regarded as a part of the text, and that they should not be rejected, except as any other portion of the Hebrew text should be rejected, i. e., only when it can be demonstrated that an error has crept into the text by the fault of transcribers.

Section 5. “The General Character of the Book of Psalm.”

The Psalms are mostly lyrical poetry, that is, poetry adapted to the harp or lyre; to be used in connection with instrumental music; to be “sung,” not “read.” Such poetry was common among the ancients, as it is among the moderns. Anacreon, Alcaeus, Stesichous, Sappho, and Horace were eminent among the ancients as “lyric” poets; and the numerous writers of “songs,” sacred and secular, among the moderns, are to be ranked in the same class. The phrase “lyric poetry” now, however, is frequently applied to that species of poetry which “directly expresses the individual emotions of the poet” (Webster).

Lyric poetry is, for the most part, an expression of deep feeling, and has its foundation in feeling or emotion. It is not so much the fruit of the understanding as of the heart; not so much the creation of the imagination as the utterance of deep personal emotion. It embraces in its design and nature all kinds of feeling, and may be joyous, pensive, desponding, triumphant, according to the feelings of the author, or to the occasion, for all these utterances may be sung, or may be set to music, the varying tones of music being adapted to express them all. Hence, in the Psalms, 150 in number, and composed by a considerable variety of individuals, and on many different occasions, we have the varied feelings of trouble, anguish, fear, hope, joy, trust, thankfulness, devotion to God, penitence for sin, and the exultation of forgiveness - the heart moved, and finding vent for its feelings in words adapted to the melody of the lyre, or the musical tones of the voice. These feelings are expressed in a great variety of modes or forms, and the music was intended, doubtless, to be in accordance with these varied feelings. The Psalms, therefore, comprise compositions of the following classes or orders:

(1) Hymns in which the praise of God is the principal and leading object, as

(a) in general, God is praised as the God of nature and of men, Psalm 8:1-9; Psalm 19:1-14; Psalm 29:1-11; Psalm 65:1-13; Psalm 93:1-5; Psalm 47:1-9; Psalm 67:1-7; Psalm 75:1-10;

(d) as the helper and deliverer of his people, Psalm 46:1-11; Psalm 48:1-14; Psalm 75:1-10; Psalm 76:1-12; Psalm 30:1-12; Psalm 138:1-8.

(2) Psalms pertaining to the Hebrew nation; to its history; to the Divine interposition in its behalf; and to its relation to Yahweh. Ps. Psalm 114:1-8.

(3) temple psalms, or songs of Zion. Psalm 5:1-12; Psalm 15:1-5; Psalm 24:1-10; Psalm 87:1-7; Psalm 56:1-13; Psalm 79:1-13; Psalm 137:1-9; Psalm 12:1-8; Psalm 14:1-7; Psalm 36:1-12; and many others.

(5) Religious and moral psalms, Psalm 23:1-6; Psalm 121:1-8; Psalm 127:1-5; Psalm 128:1-6; Psalm 42:1-11; Psalm 43:1-5; Psalm 101:1-8; Psalm 131:1-3; Psalm 1:1-6; Psalm 133:1-3; Job 35:10; songs indicating the joy that may spring up in the soul of man in times of distress and sorrow; songs that show that there “is” joy in the darkness of this world; songs which illustrate the power and the value of religion; songs with which men cheer themselves and each other in their journey toward the grave; songs which even the guilty may pour forth from hearts softened into penitence, and filled with thankfulness in the assurance of pardon.

It is most remarkable that this rich poetry should have sprung up in Palestine, and that it should have been confined to that land. It was not that the land was better adapted to lyric poetry than other lands - for in this respect it could not compare favorably with many other countries, and particularly with Greece. It was not that the events of their history had been such as peculiarly to suggest this kind of composition - for poetry adapted to the lyre or to music abounded elsewhere, and especially in Greece. It was not that the Hebrews had a more poetic imagination than other people - for theirs did not, in this respect, surpass the Greek genius, and whatever there was of poetic imagination in the character of their minds was found with equal richness in Arabia and Persia. Nor was it that their language was especiallly favorable for this kind of poetry - for in very many respects it was far inferior in this point to the Greek, and had no superiority certainly over the Arabian and Persian.

The fact that their poetry took this turn; the fact that all which they had was religious; the fact that there was literally no poetry in their language that was designed and adapted to the dance, to festive amusements, to Bacchanalian orgies, to scenes of gaiety, frivolity, and vanity; the fact that in all the lyric poetry of the Hebrews there is literally nothing in this respect that can be placed by the side of much in the Greek lyric poetry - much in Horace - much in Burns; by the side of the lyric poetry of all lands except Palestine, can be traced only to the idea that the new religion prevailed there, and can be best explained on the supposition that the authors of that poetry were inspired to prepare and transmit to future times that which, in all ages, would express the feelings of true devotion, and which might be permanently employed in the praises of God. He will fail to explain the fact that such poetry is found in Palestine alone, and will fail to appreciate its true nature, who does not admit that these “sweet singers” were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

On the general character of Hebrew poetry, see the introduction to the notes on the Book of Job, Section 5. On “the origin and culture of lyric poetry among the Hebrews,” it may be proper to introduce here the following remarks from DeWette‘s “Commentar ueber die Psalmen,” Einleitung, II, pp. 6-12. I copy from the elegant translation of the introduction of DeWette, by Prof. John Torrey, in the Biblical Repository, Vol. III, pp. 450-456:

“If we follow the titles of the Psalms and the common opinion, we must suppose the lyric poetry of the Hebrews, as well as the largest portion of the Psalms themselves, a production of David and his contemporaries. The few specimens of lyric composition which we find before David scarcely enter into consideration, compared with the fertility of his own period. In the earlier history it is but occasionally that the voice of poetry is heard, as in the songs of Moses at the Red Sea, of Deborah, and of Hannah. We are surprised, after so few attempts in lyric poetry, to see so accomplished and fruitful a poet rise up all at once, with several others in his company. So rapid a progress supposes some adequate occasion, some preparatory steps. Now, if we cast our eye over the history of the times immediately preceding the age of David, we are presented with a phenomenon which seems to explain the difficulty.

It is Samuel‘s school of the prophets. Many, as Herder, Eichhorn, Nachtigall, and Rosenmuller, suppose that the composition of psalms was cultivated and brought to perfection in this seminary. Specious as this conjecture appears, it is hardly reconcilable with the facts of the history. It is not intimated that David, before his unction, had any connection with Samuel. The former tends his father‘s flock. Indeed Samuel appears to have had no acquaintance with David when he comes to anoint him, 1 Samuel 16:6 ff. Yet, David is already a skillful minstrel, and famed for his art, 1 Samuel 16:18; he was not, therefore, a disciple of Samuel, at least in minstrelsy. But it is well known that music and song at this period were not separated; we must therefore suppose that David was already a poet, and, as such, known and celebrated. Some time afterward, it is true, we find David in Samuel‘s school of the prophets, but it is only on the occasion of his flight from Saul, 1 Samuel 19:18 ff.

It may be possible that Samuel had some acquaintance with David prior to his unction, though no mention is made of it in the account of that transaction, Judges 11:34. At Shiloh the maidens held a yearly feast with dances, Judges 21:21. It may be questioned whether Samson was not a minstrel, for he is called out to play before the Philistines, Judges 16:25, which is commonly understood to refer to the dance, but excludes not the accompaniments of song and instrumental music. But even if he was not, strictly speaking, a musician and singer, yet we meet in him with the first “Mashal” poet, as we have also from the same period the masterly apologue of Jotham. Such facts, though insulated, presuppose among a people a considerably high degree of cultivation, or at least of poetical capacity.

Indeed, the song of Deborah alone proves that the poetic art was already arrived at a stage of improvement sufficient to account for the origin of the Davidian poetry. Whether a period produces one admirable poem or more is a matter of chance rather than the result of the state of culture. Besides, the times of the judges and of Samuel constituted the heroic age of the Hebrews, a period peculiarly favorable to the first beginnings and gradual improvement of poetry. ‹Such times,‘ says Eichhorn, ‹are poetical under every climate;‘ but I cannot add with him, ‹that poetry, in this case, is like the nation, wild and heroic, breathes only in the warlike trump, and knows no field for practice but that of valor and victory with their attendant train.‘ The occasions which first called forth the Hebrew poets were, probably enough, connected with war; but when poetry has once sprung into life, she confines herself to no such narrow limits, and draws still other objects within her circle. With feasts of victory, sacrifices, dances, and other rites were united, which might easily have tempered the song to a tone of somewhat softer character. Even warlike songs admit of the gentler emotions, and the song of Deborah is rich in touches of amiable feeling. When it is said they sung to the trumpet, we are certainly not to understand it in the literal sense; the music of the harp, of the flute, and of the timbrel, was the accompaniment even of the songs of war, and these instruments are adapted to the softest tones. We are not then obliged to trace the origin of the sweet and amiable poetry of David‘s psalms exclusively to Samuel‘s school of the prophets.

“Unfortunately we know far too little about the prophetic school of Samuel to determine what influence it had on the cultivation of poetry. The passages relating to it are 1 Samuel 10:5; 1 Samuel 19:19-20. In the first of these it is undoubtedly implied that the disciples of the prophets had music among them. and their ‹prophesying‘ (התנבא hitenabē' ) has been understood, not without grounds, in the sense of song, for the word נביא nâbı̂y' sometimes signifies poet, Exodus 15:20, and נבא nibâ' to sing, 1 Chronicles 25:1 ff. We may suppose, however, that this music was employed simply as a support and accompaniment of the prophetic delivery. The prophets probably delivered their messages, in the earlier times at least, in connection with music and a vehement action and declamation approaching to a dance. The passage in 2 Kings 3:15 ff. is remarkable. The prophet Elisha is about to pronounce the answer of the Lord to certain inquiries of Jehoshaphat; but before he does it, he asks for a minstrel; and as the latter strikes the harp, ‹the hand of Yahweh comes upon him,‘ and he utters his reply.

The case here, it is true, is different; the prophet does not play and sing himself, but submits to the performance of another; still it shows the constant connection of music with the prophetic office. Neither is it distinctly asserted in the passages above that the company of the prophets “sung” themselves. The word התנבא hitenabē' which is there employed, may not perhaps signify “to sing,” for Saul and Saul‘s messengers prophecy - התנבאוּ hitenabe'û - as soon as they hear the music, without preparation or practice. Their prophesying was perhaps nothing more than a vehement action, dancing, and gesticulation, as we see from the circumstance of Saul‘s falling down naked. At the farthest, they might have joined in the choral song with the company of prophets. Such choral chants were perhaps sung in the school of Samuel, but only for the purposes of devotion and inspiration; and the proper design of this school was to educate youth for the prophetic office, that is, to give counsel from the Lord to a people under a theocratic government.

Samuel was a prophet, and history has preserved no remains of any poetical works of his. Is it not most probable that he was aiming to educate his disciples likewise for the prophetic office? Now, it is true that the Hebrews drew no accurate line of distinction between lyric poetry and prophetic eloquence; yet these two always differ, particularly in the mode of delivery, for the lyric poem was probably sung, while the prophetic message was only recited. Supposing, then, Samuel was employed in forming his disciples to be prophetic poets or speakers, what is more natural than to imagine that some of them might feel drawn by genius and inclination to lyric poetry, and succeed in perfecting themselves in this? Yet it lay out of the plan of the prophetic school, and was a thing quite accidental. It is hardly correct, therefore, to consider the prophetic school of Samuel simply as an institution for the cultivation of singing and poetry.

“There were other institutions which may have had an influence still more important and decided than this school of the prophets in promoting the culture of lyric poetry, especially of the religious kind. I refer particularly to those musical schools which, according to the account, 1 Chronicles 15:16 ff. were founded by David in aid of the public worship. Yet I cannot retract the unfavorable opinion I once pronounced upon these and similar narratives in the Chronicles; I must rather confirm it. Besides the reasons there alleged, which I may not repeat, it seems to me to be a circumstance particularly calculated to excite suspicion, that the psalms and fragments of psalms represented by the Chronicles to have been sung at the dedication of the tabernacle and on similar occasions can hardly have been penned by David, but belong rather to the later and less pure style of the temple poetry. The psalm which is sung, 1 Chronicles 16:8 ff, is composed Psalm 96:1-13; but both are productions of a later style. If the Chronicles had presented us on this occasion with a genuine song of David, such as the elegy for which we are indebted to 1 Chronicles 16:41, and elsewhere, respecting the Levites who were appointed to give thanks to the Lord, ‹because his mercy endureth forever,‘ betrays the later poetry of the temple, an example of which we have in 1 Kings 4:32. It is singular, however, that with the exception of two which are quite uncertain, no psalms of Solomon are preserved in our present collection; nor do we find any psalm with the author‘s name belonging to the period after Solomon, not even one which admits of being referred with certainty and of necessity to any particular event in the history of those times; and yet such lyric poems as those of Hezekiah and of Habakkuk clearly evince, that during this period the culture of lyric composition had by no means fallen into neglect.

On the contrary, we have many psalms which, according to the results of a sound critical exegesis almost universally acknowledged, must be placed in the times of the captivity, and after the captivity; and these psalms rank, for purity of language, and for sublimity, beauty, and freshness of conception, in the highest class, and are, in no respect, inferior to the poems of David and his contemporaries, for example, Psalm 79:1-13; Psalm 5:10, “destroy thou them, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions, for they have rebelled against thee.”

Psalm 10:15, “break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: seek out his wickedness until thou find none.”

Psalm 18:40-42, “thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies; that might destroy them that hate me. They cried, but there was none to save them: even unto the Lord, but he answered them not. Then did I beat them small as the dust before the wind: I did cast them out as the dirt in streets.”

Psalm 28:4, “give them according to their deeds, and according to the wickedness of their endeavors: give them after the work of their hands; render to them their desert.”

Psalm 31:17, “let me not be ashamed, O Lord, for I have called upon thee: let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave.”

Psalm 35:3-8, “draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me: say unto my soul, I am thy salvation. Let them be founded and put to shame that seek after my soul: let them be turned back and brought to confusion that devise my hurt. Let them be as chaff before the wind: and let the angel of the Lord chase them. Let their way be dark and slippery: and let the angel of the Lord persecute them. For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul. Let destruction come upon him at unawares; and let his net that he hath hid catch himself: into that very destruction let him fall.”

Psalm 40:14, “let them be ashamed and confounded together that seek after my soul to destroy it; let them be driven backward and put to shame that wish me evil.”

Psalm 55:9, “destroy, O Lord, and divide their tongues: for I have seen violence a

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 24th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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