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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Psalms 144

 

 

Introduction

CXLIV.

There is nothing more curious in the composition of the psalter than the union of the two entirely dissimilar pieces which compose this psalm. Psalms 144:1-11 are a mere cento from former psalms, the 18 furnishing the greater number of expressions and figures, and must from this circumstance be regarded as one of the latest in the collection, whereas Psalms 144:12-15 are Composed of a fragment of some ancient song, whose beginning is lost, and which has neither grammatical nor logical connection with the medley of quotations that precedes it. (See Note to Psalms 144:12). This interesting fragment gives, unfortunately, no indication of its date or authorship. We can imagine it, however, chanted at harvest, at festivals, or as “the help tune” of the reapers:

“their wine song, when hand

Grasps at hand, eye lights eye in good friendship,

and great hearts expand,

And grow one in the sense of this world’s life.”

R. BROWNING: Saul.

The progressive rhythm of the latter part is very fine.


Verse 1

(1) Strength.—Rather, rock. Comp. Psalms 18:2; Psalms 18:46. LXX. and Vulg., “my God.”

Which teacheth.—See Psalms 18:34. More literally,

“Who traineth my hands for war,

My fingers for fight.”


Verse 2

(2) My goodness·—Or, my lovingkindness, or my grace, a shortened form of “God of my grace” (Psalms 59:10; Psalms 59:17). The expression is exactly analogous to the term” grace,” applied to kings as the source of grace or mercy. For the other epithets, see Psalms 18:2.

Who subdueth.—Psalms 18:47; but the verb is different (cognate with 2 Samuel 22:48), and here the singular, “my people,” instead of “my peoples.” Some MSS. indeed have the plural here, and the Syriac and Chaldee followed them, or changed to suit Psalms 18. If we had the historical incidents out of which the psalm sprung we might account for the change.


Verse 3

(3) See Psalms 8:4.


Verse 4

(4) Vanity . . . shadow.—See Psalms 39:5-6; Psalms 102:11. The occasion of the introduction of these sentiments here is not quite clear. It may be the humility of the warrior who ascribes all success to God instead of to human prowess, or it may be a reflection uttered over the corpses of comrades, or, perhaps, a blending of the two.


Verse 5

(5) Come down.—The theophany for which the psalmist prays is described in the classic language for such manifestations taken from Psalms 18:9; Psalms 18:13; Psalms 18:16-17; Psalms 18:43; Psalms 18:45, with reminiscences of Psalms 104:32; Exodus 19:18. But there are touches of originality, as in the next clause.


Verse 6

(6) Cast forth lightning.—Literally, lighten lightning, the verb being quite peculiar to this place.


Verse 7

(7) Rid.—The Hebrew verb means “to tear asunder,” and is used of the gaping of the mouth (Psalms 22:13). The meaning here is got from the cognate Arabic, and Syriac

Strange children.—Literally, sons of the stranger.


Verse 8

(8) Right hand of falsehood.—Most probably with allusion to the custom (see Psalms 106:26) of raising the right hand in taking an oath.


Verse 9

(9) See Psalms 33:2-3.

O God.—The only instance of Elohim in the last two books of the psalter with the exception of Psalms 108, which is a compilation from two older songs.


Verse 10

(10) David his servant.—See Psalms 18:50.


Verse 12

(12) That our sons.—This rendering of the relative, which so strangely begins this fragment, would be possible after Genesis 11:7; Genesis 13:16, &c, if a finite verb instead of participles followed; or it might mean “because,” as in Genesis 30:18, &c, but for the same anomalous construction; or it might, as by the LXX., be rendered whose, if any antecedent for it could be discovered. But all these devices are plainly impossible, and there is nothing for it but to treat the passage which it introduces as a fragment of another poem quite unconnected with the previous part of the psalm. Render, we whose.

As plants.—The Hebrew word seems always to denote a young, vigorous tree lately planted. (See especially Job 14:9, aptly translated by the LXX. νεόϕυτον. (For the comparison, comp. Isaiah 5:7; Psalms 1:3, Note, Psalms 128:3.)

Grown up in their youth.—The form here used is peculiar, but in another conjugation the verb is frequently used of bringing up children (see 2 Kings 10:6; Isaiah 1:2; Isaiah 23:4, &c.). as it is of the rain nourishing young plants (Isaiah 44:14). Here the poet must mean grown tall beyond their age, or the figure is somewhat tame. A suggestion to read, “reproductive in their youth,” i.e., though young themselves, bringing up families, improves the poetry, and suits well the intention of this fragment of song and the general feeling of the Hebrew race. Comp. especially Psalms 127:4, “sons of youth” (Burgess).

Corner stones.—The word only occurs once besides, in Zechariah 9:15, where it is used of the corners of the altar. The derivation is from a root meaning to conceal, as is also the word rendered garners, in the next verse. Aquila and Symmachus, “angles.”

Polished.—The Hebrew word means to hew, used, with one exception, of wood for fuel, but is cognate with a word used of stones, and in Isaiah 51:1 in the passive participle of a cave hewn in a rock. The exception is Proverbs 7:16, where the word is applied to tapestry.

After the similitude of a palace—i.e., like a large and stately building. There seems no reason to confine the reference to the Temple, as the LXX. and Vulg. do, though the absence of the article is not insuperably against this (Isaiah 44:28).

The explanations usually given of this passage make the resemblance to be either to caryatides carved at the angles of a palace, or to carved or variegated wood pillars in the corners of a spacious room. For the former there seems to be no authority in Scripture or known Hebrew usage. The latter has the support of Dr. J. G. Wetzstein, but seems far-fetched. It is far more according to Hebrew feeling to render the words simply, like hewn angles, the building of a palace; an image suggestive, like that of “the wall” in Song of Solomon 8:9 (see Note), of unassailable chastity and virtue. Perhaps the phrase “women of strength or of a strong fortification,” in Ruth 3:11, may imply the same figure. Grätz alters to “daughters of a palace.”


Verse 13

(13) All manner of store.—See margin, all kinds of corn.

Thousands and ten thousands.—Literally, thousands multiplied.

Streets.—Rather, outplaces, i.e., pastures, fields, as in Job 5:10 (where see margin).


Verse 14

(14) This verse is full of obscurities. The words rendered “oxen, strong to labour,” can hardly bear this meaning with the present pointing, since the participle is passive, and there is no authority for rendering oxen bearing burdens. The words have been rendered oxen laden, either with the produce of the land, or with their own fat (so apparently the LXX.), or with young, pregnant—all open to the objection that the passive of to bear must mean “to be borne,” and the latter to the further objection that the words are in the masculine. But since allûphîm elsewhere means “heads of families” (Jeremiah 13:21, &c) or “princes,” and the noun cognate with the verb is used of a post connected with the revenue (1 Kings 11:28; comp. the connection between the Greek ϕορός and ϕέρτερος), the participle passive may easily here mean “honoured,” or “high in office.” Or, from the use of the cognate Chaldee form in Ezra 6:3, “strongly laid,” we might render, our princes firmly established; and this is the best explanation of the passage.

No breaking in.—Heb., a “breach,” i.e., in the town walls. LXX. and Vulg., “no falling of the fence.” Others refer to the folds for cattle. (See Psalms 60:2.) Ewald, however, connecting closely with the mention of “pregnant oxen,” renders no abortion. So Syriac: “Our cattle are great (with young), and there is not a barren one among them.”

Nor going out—i.e., either to war, or into captivity (Prayer Book version), or the breaking out of cattle. The first is the more probable.

Complaining.—Rather, outcry, cry of sorrow, as in Jeremiah 14:2; or possibly, cry of battle.

Streets.—Better, squares.


Verse 15

(15) Happy.—It is only a narrow and one-sided religion that can see anything out of place in this beatitude of plenty and peace. If we could rejoice with the psalms, fully and without misgiving, in the temporal blessings bestowed by Heaven, we should the more readily and sincerely enter into the depths of their spiritual experience. And the secret of this lies in the full comprehension and contemplation of the beautiful and pleasant as the gift of God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 144:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/psalms-144.html. 1905.

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Monday, December 16th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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