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by Joseph Exell
§ 1. TITLES OF THE WORK AND GENERAL CHARACTER.
THE usual Hebrew title of the work is Tehillim (תהלּים), or Sepher Tehillim (סכּר תהלּים); literally, "Praises," or "Book of Praises" — a title which expresses well the general character of the pieces whereof the book is composed, but which cannot be said to be universally applicable to them. Another Hebrew title, and one which has crept into the text itself, is Tephilloth (תפלּות), "Prayers," which is given at the close of the second section of the work (Psalms 72:20), as a general designation of the pieces contained in the first and second sections. The same word appears, in the singular, as the special heading of the seventeenth, eighty-sixth, ninetieth, hundred and second, and hundred and forty-second psalms. But, like Tehillim, this term is only applicable, in strictness, to a certain number of the compositions which the work contains. Conjointly, however, the two terms, which come to us with the greatest amount of authority, are fairly descriptive of the general character of the work, which is at once highly devotional and specially intended to set forth the praises of God.
It is manifest, on the face of it, that the work is a collection. A number of separate poems, the production of different persons, and belonging to different periods, have been brought together, either by a single editor, or perhaps By several distinct editors, and have been united into a volume, which has been accepted by the Jewish, and, later on, by the Christian, Church, as one of the "books" of Holy Scripture. The poems seem originally to have been, for the most part, quite separate and distinct; each is a whole in itself; and most of them appear to have been composed for a special object, and on a special occasion. Occasionally, but very seldom, one psalm seems linked on to another; and in a few instances there are groups of psalms intentionally attached together, as the group from Psalms 73:0. to 83, ascribed to Asaph, and, again, the "Hallelujah" group — from Psalms 146:0, to 150. But generally no connection is apparent, and the sequence seems, so to speak, accidental.
Our own title of the work — "Psalms," "The Psalms," "The Book of Psalms" — has come to us, through the Vulgate, from the Septuagint. ΨαλοÌς meant, in the Alexandrian Greek, "a poem to be sung to a stringed instrument;" and as the poems of the Psalter were thus sung in the Jewish worship, the name Ψαλμοιì appeared appropriate. It is not, however, a translation of either Tehillim or Tephilloth, and it has the disadvantage of dropping altogether the spiritual character of the compositions. As, however, it was applied to them, certainly by St. Luke (Luke 20:42; Acts 1:20) and St. Paul (Acts 13:33), and possibly by our Lord (Luke 24:44), we may rest content with the appellation. It is, at any rate, one which is equally applicable to all the pieces whereof the "book" is composed.
§ 2. DIVISIONS OF THE WORK, AND PROBABLE GRADUAL FORMATION OF THE COLLECTION.
A Hebrew tradition divided the Psalter into five books. The Midrash or comment on the first verse of Psalms 1:0. says, "Moses gave to the Israelites the five books of the Law, and as a counterpart to these, David gave them the Psalms, which consist of five books." Hippolytus, a Christian Father of the third century, confirms the statement in these words, which are quoted and accepted by Epiphanius, Τοῦτοì σε μεÌ παρεìλθοι, ὦ Φιλοìλογε ὁìτι καιÌ τοÌ Ψαλτηìριον εἰς πεìντε διεῖλον βιβλιìα οἱ ̔Εβραῖοι ὡìστε εἷναι καιÌ αὐτοÌ ἀìλλον πενταìτευχον: i.e. "Be sure, too, that this does not escape you. O studious one, that the Hebrews divided the Psalter also into five books, so that that likewise was another Pentateuch." A modern writer, accepting this view, observes, "The Psalter is also a Pentateuch, the echo of the Mosaic Pentateuch from the heart of Israel; it is the fivefold book of the congregation to Jehovah, as the Law is the fivefold book of Jehovah to the congregation."
The "books" are severally terminated by a doxology, not exactly the same in every instance, but of a similar character, which in no case forms any part of the psalm whereto it is attached, but is simply a mark of division. The books are of irregular length. The first book contains forty-one psalms; the second, thirty-one; the third and fourth, seventeen respectively; and the fifth, forty-four. The first and second books are mainly Davidical; the third is Asaphian; the fourth, chiefly anonymous; the fifth, about three-fifths anonymous and two-fifths Davidical. It is difficult to assign to the several books any special characteristics. The psalms of the first and second books are on the whole more mournful, and those of the fifth more jubilant, than the remainder. The historical element is especially pronounced in the third and fourth books. Books I, IV, and V. are strongly Jehovistic; Books II. and III. are, on the contrary, predominantly Elohistic.
It is generally allowed that the collection was formed gradually A strong note of division — "The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended " — separates the first two books from the others, and seems to have been intended to mark the completion either of the original edition or of a recension. A recension is perhaps the more probable, since the note of division at the close of Psalms 41:0, and the sudden transition from Davidical to Korahite psalms, raises the suspicion that at this point a new hand has intervened. Probably the "first book" was, speaking generally, collected together soon after the death of David, perhaps (as Bishop Perowne thinks ) by Solomon, his son. Then, not very long afterwards, the Korahite Levites attached Book II, consisting of a collection of their own (Psalm 42.-49.), a single psalm of Asaph (Psalms 1:0.), and a group of psalms (Psalm 51.-72.) which they believed to have been composed by David, though omitted from Book I. At the same time, they may have prefixed Psalms 1:0. and 2. to Book I. as an introduction, and appended the last verse of Psalms 72:0, to Book II. as an epilogue. The third book — the Asaphian collection — is thought, with some reason, to have been added in a recension made by the order of Hezekiah, to which there is an allusion in 2 Chronicles 29:30. It is a reasonable conjecture that the last two books were collected anti added to the previously existing Psalter by Ezra and Nehemiah, who made the division at the close of Psalms 106:0. on grounds of convenience and harmony.
§ 3. AUTHORS
That the principal contributor to the collection, the main author of the Book of Psalms, is David, though denied by some moderns, is the general conclusion in which criticism has rested, and is likely to rest. The historical books of the Old Testament assign to David more than one of the psalms contained in the collection (2 Samuel 22:2-51; 1 Chronicles 16:8-36). Seventy-three of them are assigned to him by their titles. The psalmody of the temple generally is said to be his (1 Chronicles 25:1-6; 2 Chronicles 23:18). The Book of Psalms was known in Maccabean times as "the Book of David (ταÌ τοῦ Δαβιìδ)" (2 Macc. 2:13). David is cited as the author of the sixteenth and the hundred and tenth psalms by the writer of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:25, Acts 2:34). Internal evidence points to him strongly as the writer of several others. The extravagant opinion that be wrote the whole book could never have been broached if he had not written a considerable portion of it. With respect to what psalms are to be regarded as his, there is naturally considerable doubt. Whatever value may be assigned to the "titles," they cannot be regarded as absolutely settling the question. Still, where their authority is backed up by internal evidence, it seems well worthy of acceptance. On this ground, the sober and moderate school of critics, including such writers as Ewald, Delitzsch, Perowne, and even Cheyne, agree in admitting a considerable portion of the Psalter to be Davidic. The psalms claiming to be Davidical are found chiefly in the first, second, and fifth books — thirty-seven in the first, eighteen in the second, and fifteen in the fifth. In the third and fourth books there are only three psalms which claim to be his.
The next most important contributor would seem to be Asaph. Asaph was one of the heads of David's choir at Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 6:39; 1 Chronicles 15:17, 1 Chronicles 15:19; 1 Chronicles 16:5), and is coupled in one place with David (2 Chronicles 29:30) as having furnished the words which were sung in the temple service in Hezekiah's time. Twelve psalms are assigned to him by their titles — one in Book II. (Psalms 50:0.), and eleven in Book III. (Psalm 73.-83.). It is doubted, however, whether the real personal Asaph can have been the author of all these, and suggested that in some instances the sept or family of Asaph is intended.
A considerable number of psalms — no fewer than eleven — are distinctly ascribed to the sept or family of Korahite Levites (Psalm 42, 44.-49, 84, 85, 87, and 88.); and one. other (Psalms 43:0.) may be probably assigned to them. These psalms vary in character, and manifestly belong to different dates; but all seem to have been written in the times preceding the Captivity. Some are of great beauty, especially Psalm 42, 43, and 87. The Korahite Levites held a position of high honour under David (1 Chronicles 9:19; 1 Chronicles 12:6), and continued among the chief of the temple servants, at any rate to the time of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 20:19; 2 Chronicles 31:14). Heman, the son of Joel, one of David's principal singers, was a Korahite (1 Chronicles 6:33, 1 Chronicles 6:37), and the probable author of Psalms 88:0.
In the Septuagint Version, Psalm 138, 146, 147, and 148, are ascribed to Haggai and Zechariah. In the Hebrew, Psalms 138:0, is entitled "a Psalm of David," while the remaining three are anonymous. It would appear, from internal evidence, that the tradition respecting these three, embodied in the Septuagint, deserves acceptance.
Two psalms are in the Hebrew assigned to Solomon. A large number of critics accept the Solomonic authorship of the former; but by most that of the latter is rejected. Solomon, however, is regarded by some as the author of the first psalm.
A single psalm (Psalms 90:0.) is ascribed to Moses; another single psalm (Psalms 89:0.) to Ethan; and another (Psalms 88:0.), as already mentioned, to Heman. Some manuscripts of the Septuagint attribute Psalms 137:0, to Jeremiah.
Fifty psalms — one-third of the number — remain, in the Hebrew original, anonymous; or forty-eight, if we regard Psalms 10:0. as the second part of Psalms 9:0, and Psalms 43:0, as an extension of Psalms 42:0. In the Septuagint, however, a considerable number of these have authors assigned to them. Psalm 138, 146, 147, and 148. (as already observed) are attributed to Zechariah, or to Zechariah conjointly with Haggai. So is Psalms 149:0, in some manuscripts. David is made the author of Psalm 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 67, 71, 91, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 104, and 137, in several copies; and in a few David is made joint author of two psalms (Psalms 42:0. and 43.) with the sons of Korah. On the whole, the collection may be said to have proceeded from at least six individuals — David, Asaph, Solomon, Moses, Heman, and Ethan — while three others — Jeremiah, Haggai, and Zechariah may not improbably have had a hand in it. How many Korahite Levites are included under the title, "sons of Korah," it is impossible to say; and the number of the anonymous authors is also uncertain.
§ 4. DATE AND VALUE OF THE &LDQUO;TITLES,&RDQUO; OR SUPERSCRIPTIONS TO PARTICULAR PSALMS.
On a comparison of the "titles" in the Hebrew with those in the Septuagint, it is at once apparent
(1) that those in the Hebrew are the originals; and
(2) that those in the Septuagint were taken from them.
The antiquity of the titles is thus thrown back to at least as early as the second century B.C. Nor is this the whole. The Septuagint translator or translators clearly write considerably later than the original authors of the titles, since a largish portion of their contents is left untranslated, Being unintelligible to them. This fact is reasonably regarded as throwing back their antiquity still further — say, to the fourth, or perhaps to the fifth century B.C. — the time of Ezra.
Ezra, it is generally allowed, made a recension of the Scriptures of the Old Testament as existing in his day. It is a tenable theory that he affixed the titles. But, on the other hand, it is a theory quite as tenable that he found the titles, or at any rate a large number of them, already affixed. Lyrical compositions among the Hebrews from the earliest times had superscriptions attached to them, generally indicating the name of the writer (see Genesis 4:23; Genesis 49:1, Genesis 49:2; Exodus 15:1; Deuteronomy 31:30; Deuteronomy 33:1; Judges 5:1; 1 Samuel 2:1; 2 Samuel 1:17; 2 Samuel 22:1; 2 Samuel 23:1; Isaiah 2:1; Isaiah 13:1; Isaiah 38:9; Jonah 2:1; Habakkuk 3:1). If the collection of the psalms was-made gradually, it is perhaps most probable that each collector gave titles where he could, to the psalms which he collected. In that case the titles of Book I. would probably date from early in the reign of Solomon; those of Book II. from late in that reign; those of Book III. from the time of Hezekiah; and those of Books IV. and V. from the age of Ezra and Nehemiah.
The earlier titles would, of course, be the more valuable, and the more to Be depended on; the later ones, especially those in Books IV. and V, could claim but little confidence. They would embody merely the traditions of the Captivity period, or might be mere guesses of Ezra. Still, in every case, the "title" deserves consideration. It is prima facie evidence, and, though it maybe very weak evidence, is worth something. It is not to be set aside as wholly worthless, unless the contents of the psalm, or its linguistic characteristics, are distinctly opposed to the titular statement.
The contents of the titles are of five kinds: 1. Ascriptions to an author. 2. Musical directions, 3. Historical statements as to the circumstances under which the psalm was composed. 4. Notices indicative of the character of the psalm or its object. 5. Liturgical notices.
Of the original (Hebrew) titles, one hundred contain ascriptions to an author, while fifty psalms are left anonymous. Fifty-five contain musical directions, or what appear to Be such. Fourteen have notices, generally of great interest, as to the historical circumstances under which they were composed. Above a hundred contain some indication of the character of the psalm or of its subject. The indication is generally given by a single word. The composition is called mizmor (מזְמוׄר), "a psalm to be sung with musical accompaniment;" or shir (שׁיר), "a song;" or maskil (משְׂכִיל), "an instruction;" or miktam (מִכְתָּם), "a poem of gold;" or tephillah (תְּפִלָּה), "a prayer;" or tehillah (תְּהִלָּה), "a praise;" or shiggaion (שׁגָּיוׄנ), "an irregular ode" — a dithyramb. Or its object is declared to be either "teaching " (לְלַמֵּד), or "thanksgiving " (לתוׄדָה), or "to call to remembrance " (לְהָזְכִּיר).Liturgical notices are such as שִׁיר ליוׄם השַּׁבָּה, "a song for the sabbath day" (Psalms 92:0.), שׁיר המַּעֲלוׄת, "a song of the goings up", and the like.
§ 5. CHIEF GROUPS OF PSALMS.
The chief groups of psalms are, first and foremost, the Davidical; secondly, the Asaphian; thirdly, that of "the sons of Korah;" fourthly, the Solomonic; and fifthly, the anonymous.
The Davidical group is at once the most numerous and the most important. It consists of seventy-three psalms or hymns, which are thus distributed among the "books;" viz.: thirty-seven in the first, eighteen in the second, one in the third, two in the fourth, and fifteen in the fifth. The compositions appear to cover the greater portion of David's life. Fourteen are assigned with much reason to the years before his accession to the throne; nineteen to the earlier part of his reign, before the commission of his great sin; ten to the time between that fall and his flight from Jerusalem; ten to the period of his exile; and three or four to the time after his return, the closing period of his long reign. The remainder contain no indications of date. These results of a very careful analysis may be thus tabulated —
Psalms of David's early life — 7, 11, 12, 13, 17, 22, 23, 34, 35, 52, 54, 56, 57, 59
Psalms of the earlier part of his reign — 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 24, 26, 29, 36, 58, 60, 68, 101, 108, 110
Psalms from the time of his great sin to his flight from Jerusalem — 5, 6, 32, 38, 39, 40, 41, 51, 55, 64
Psalms of the exile — 3, 4, 27, 28, 31, 61, 63, 69, 70, 143
Psalms of the last period of his reign — 37, 103, 139
The Asaphian group is made up of a cluster of eleven psalms in Book III. (Psalm 73-83.), and a single psalm (Psalms 50:0.) in Book II. Psalm 50, 73, 75, 78, 81, 82, 83, are not improbably the work of the specified author; but the remainder (Psalm 74, 76, 77, 79, 80, 81, and 82.) seem improperly assigned to him. They may, however, have been written by a member or members of the same sept, and so may have crept into a small collection to which the name of Asaph was attached. "The history of hymnology," as Bishop Perowne observes, "shows us how easily this may have happened."
The Korshite group of eleven or twelve psalms belongs, in part to the second, and in part to the third book It is best regarded as comprising the first eight psalms of Book II. (Psalm 42. - 49.) and four psalms (Psalm 84, 85, 87, and 88.) in Book III. These psalms are predominantly Elohlstic, though the name Jehovah occurs in them occasionally (Psalms 42:8; Psalms 44:23; Psalms 46:7, Psalms 46:11; Psalms 47:2, Psalms 47:5, etc.). They set forth the Almighty especially as King (Psalms 44:4; Psalms 45:6; Psalms 47:2, Psalms 47:7, Psalms 47:8; Psalms 48:2; Psalms 84:3). They speak of him by names not used elsewhere, e.g. "the living God and "Jehovah of hosts " (יחוָׄה צבָאוׄת). Their predominant ideas are, "delight in the worship and service of Jehovah, and the thankful acknowledgment of God's protection vouchsafed to Jerusalem as the city of his choice." Three of them (Psalm 42, 45, and 84.) are psalms of special beauty.
The Solomonic psalms are two only, if we confine ourselves to the indications given by the titles, viz. Psalms 72:0, and 127.; but the first psalm is also thought by many to be Solomonic. These psalms have not many marked characteristics; but we may, perhaps, note a sobriety of tone in them, and a sententiousness that recalls the author of Proverbs.
The anonymous psalms, forty-eight in number, are found chiefly in the last two books — thirteen of them in Book IV, and twenty-seven in Book V. They include several of the most important psalms: the first and second in Book I.; the sixty-seventh and seventy-first in Book II.; the ninety-first, hundred and fourth, hundred and fifth, and hundred and sixth in Book IV.; and in Book V. the hundred and seventh, hundred and eighteenth, hundred and nineteenth, and hundred and thirty-seventh. The Alexandrian school assigned several of them, as already mentioned, to authors, as the sixty-seventh, the seventy-first, the ninety-first, the hundred and thirty-seventh, and the entire group from Psalms 93:0, to Psalms 99:0.; but their attributions are not often very happy ones. Still, the suggestion that Psalm 146, 147, 148, and 149, were the work of Haggai and Zechariah is not altogether to be rejected. "Evidently they constitute a group of themselves;" and, as Dean Stanley says, "sum up the joy of the return from Babylon."
A very marked group is formed By the "Songs of Degrees" — המַּעֲלוׄת שׁירוׄת— which extend continuously from Psalms 120:0. to Psalms 134:0. These are most probably hymns composed for the purpose of being sung by the provincial or foreign Israelites on their yearly "ascents" to keep the great festivals of Jerusalem. They comprise the De Profundis, and the blessing on unity.
Other "groups" are the Hallelujah Psalms, the Alphabetic Psalms, and the Penitential Psalms. The title "Hallelujah Psalms" has been given to those which commence with the two Hebrew words, הלְלוּ יהּ, "Praise ye the Lord." They comprise the following ten: Psalm 106, 111, 112, 113, 135, 146, 147, 148, 149, and 150. Thus all but one belong to the last Book. Seven of them — all but Psalm 106, 111, and 112. — end with the same phrase. Some critics add Psalms 117:0, to the number of "Hallelujah Psalms," but this commences with the elongated form, הלְלוּ אֶתיְהזָה
The "Alphabetic Psalms" are either eight or nine in number, viz. Psalm 9, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, 145, and, to a small extent, Psalms 10:0. The most elaborate is Psalms 119:0, where the number of stanzas is determined By the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and each of the eight lines of every stanza begins with its own proper letter — all the lines of the first stanza with aleph, all those of the second with beth, and so on. Other psalms equally regular, but less elaborate, are Psalms 111:0. and 112, where the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet furnish, in regular sequence, the initial letters of the twenty-two lines. The other "Alphabetic Psalms" are all of them more or less irregular. Psalms 145:0. consists of twenty-one verses only, instead of twenty-two, omitting the verse which should have commenced with the letter nun. No reason can be assigned for this. Psalms 37:0, contains two irregularities — one in ver. 28, where the stanza that should have begun with ain begins actually with tamed; and the other in ver. 39, where vau takes the place of fau as the initial letter. Psalms 34:0, omits vau altogether, and adds pe as an initial letter at the end. Psalms 25:0. omits beth, vau, and kaph, adding pe at the end, like Psalms 34:0.Psalms 9:0. omits daleth and yod, and jumps from kaph to koph, and from koph to shin, also omitting tau. Psalms 10:0, sometimes called alphabetic, is so only in its latter portion, where stanzas of four lines each commence respectively with koph, resh, shin, and tau. The object of the alphabetic arrangement was, no doubt, in every case, to assist the memory; but only Psalm 111, 112, and 119. can have been of very much service in this respect.
The "Penitential Psalms" are generally said to Be seven; but a far larger number of the Psalms have a predominantly penitential character. There is no authoritative limitation of the number to seven; but Origen first, and after him other Fathers, have given a certain sanction to the view, which has on the whole prevailed in the Church. The psalms especially singled out are the following: Psalm 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143. It will be observed that five out of the seven are, by their titles, assigned to David.
One other group of psalms seems to require special notice, viz. "the Imprecatory or Comminatory Psalms." These psalms have been called "vindictive," and said to breathe a most unchristian spirit of revenge and hatred. To some truly pious persons they seem shocking; and to a much larger number they are more or less a matter of difficulty. Psalm 35, 69, and 109. are especially objected to; but the spirit which animates these compositions is one which constantly recurs; e.g. in Psalms 5:10; Psalms 28:4; Psalms 40:14, Psalms 40:15; Psalms 55:16; Psalms 58:6, Psalms 58:9; Psalms 79:6-12; Psalms 83:9-18, etc. Now, it is not, perhaps, a sufficient answer, but it is some answer, to note that these imprecatory psalms are, for the most part, national songs; and that the utterers of them are calling for vengeance, not so much on their own personal enemies, as on the enemies of their nation, whom they look upon also as God's enemies, since Israel is his people. The expressions objected to are thus in some sort parallel to those which find a place in our National Anthem —
"O Lord our God, arise,
Scatter her enemies...
Confound their polities;
Frustrate their knavish tricks."
Further, the "imprecations," if we must so term them, are evidently "the outpourings of hearts animated by the highest love of truth and righteousness and goodness," jealous of God's honour, and haters of iniquity. They are the outcome of a righteous indignation, provoked by the wickedness and cruelty of the oppressors, and by pity for the sufferings of their victims. Again, they spring, in part, out of the narrowness of view which characterized the time a time when men's thoughts were almost wholly confined to this present life, and a future life was only dimly and darkly apprehended. We are content to see the ungodly man in prosperity, and "flourishing like a green bay tree," because we know that it is but for a while, and that retributive justice will in the end overtake him. But they had no such assured conviction. Finally, it is to Be borne in mind that one of the objects of the psalmists, in praying for the punishment of the wicked, is the benefit of the wicked themselves. Bishop Alexander has noticed that "each of the psalms in which the strongest imprecatory passages are found contains also gentle undertones, breathings of Beneficent love." The writers' desire is that the wicked may Be recovered, while their conviction is that God's chastisements alone can recover them. They would have the arm of the wicked and evil man broken, that when God makes search into his wickedness, he may "find none" (Psalms 10:15).
§ 6. VALUE OF THE BOOK OF PSALMS.
The Psalms have always been regarded by the Church, Jewish as well as Christian, with a special affection. The "Psalms of Ascents" were probably used from the actual time of David by the worshippers who thronged to Jerusalem on the occasions of the three great festivals. Other psalms were either originally written for the service of the sanctuary, or were introduced into that service at an early date, and thus made their way into the heart of the nation. David early acquired the title of "the sweet psalmist of Israel" (2 Samuel 23:1) from a grateful people who delighted in his utterances. It was probably a feeling of special affection for the Psalms that produced the division into five books, by which it was made into a second Pentateuch.
In the Christian Church the Psalms won for themselves a place even above that which for centuries they had held in the Jewish. Morning and Evening Service each commenced with a psalm. In Passion Week, Psalms 22:0. was recited every day. Seven psalms, selected on account of their solemn and mournful character, were set apart for the special additional services appointed for the season of Lent, and became known as "the seven penitential psalms." Tertullian, in the second century, tells us that the Christians of his day were wont to sing many of the psalms in their agapae. St. Jerome says that "the psalms were continually to be heard in the fields and vineyards of Palestine. The ploughman, as he held his plough, chanted the Hallelujah; and the reaper, the vine-dresser, and the shepherd sang something from the Songs of David. Where the meadows were coloured with flowers, and the singing birds made their complaints, the psalms sounded even more sweetly." Sidonius Apollinaris represents boatmen, while they worked their heavy barges up the waters, as singing psalms till the banks echoed with "Hallelujah," and applies the representation to the voyage of the Christian life —
"Here the choir of them that drag the boat,
While the banks give back responsive note,
'Alleluia!' full and calm,
Lifts and lets the friendly bidding float —
Lift the psalm.
Christian pilgrim! Christian boatman! each beside his rolling river,
Sing, O pilgrim! sing, O boatman! lift the psalm in music ever."
The primitive Church, according to Bishop Jeremy Taylor, "would admit no man to the superior orders of the clergy unless, among other pre-required dispositions, he could say all David's Psalter by heart." The Fathers generally delighted in the Psalms. Almost all the more eminent of them — Origen, Eusebius, Hilary, Basil, Chrysostom, Athanasius, Ambrose, Theodoret, Augustine, Jerome — wrote commentaries on them, or expositions of them. "Although all Divine Scripture," said St. Ambrose, in the fourth century, "Breathes the grace of God, yet sweet beyond all others is the Book of Psalms. History instructs, the Law teaches, prophecy announces, rebuke chastens, morality persuades; in the Book of Psalms we have the fruit of all these, and a kind of medicine for the salvation of man." "To me it seems," says Athanasius, "that the Psalms are to him who sings them as a mirror, wherein he may see himself and the motions of his soul, and with like feelings utter them. So also one who hears a psalm read, takes it as if it were spoken concerning himself, and either, convicted by his own conscience, will Be pricked at heart and repent, or else, hearing of that hope which is to Godwards, and the succour which is vouchsafed to them that Believe, leaps for joy, as though such grace were specially made over to him, and begins to utter his thanksgivings to God." And again, "In the other books of Scripture are discourses which dissuade us from those things which are evil, but in this has Been sketched out for us how we should abstain from things evil. For instance, we are commanded to repent, an& to repent is to cease from sin; But here has Been sketched out for us how we are to repent, and what we must say when we repent .... Again there is a command in everything to give thanks; but the Psalms teach us also what to say when we give thanks... We are enjoined to Bless the Lord, and to confess to him. But in the Psalms we have a pattern given us, both as to how we should praise the Lord, and with what words we can suitably confess to him. And, in every instance, we shall find these Divine songs suited to us, to our feelings, and our circumstances." Abundant other testimonies might be added with respect to the value of the Book of Psalms; But perhaps it is more important to consider briefly in what its value consists.
In the first place, then, its great value seems to Be that it furnishes for our feelings and emotions the same sort of guidance and regulation, which the rest of Scripture furnishes for our faith and our actions. "This Book" says Calvin, "I am wont to style an anatomy of all parts of the soul, for no one will discover in himself a single feeling whereof the image is not reflected in this mirror. Nay, all griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, anxieties in short, all those tumultuous agitations wherewith the minds of men are wont to be tossed — the Holy Ghost hath here represented to the life. The rest of Scripture contains the commands which God gave to his servants to be delivered to us; but here the prophets themselves, holding converse with God, inasmuch as they lay bare all their inmost feelings, invite or impel every one of us to self-examination, that of all the infirmities to which we are liable, and all the sins of which we are so full, none may remain hidden." The portraiture of the emotions is accompanied by sufficient indications of which of them are pleasing and which displeasing to God, so that by the help of the Psalms we may not only express, but also regulate, our feelings as God would have us regulate them.
Further, the energy and warmth of devotion exhibited in the Psalms is suited to stir up and inflame our hearts to a greater affection and zeal than they could otherwise readily attain to, and thus to raise us to spiritual heights beyond those natural to us. As flame enkindles flame, so the fervour of the psalmists in their prayers and praises passes on from them to us, and warms us to a glow of love and thankfulness which is something more than a pale reflex of their own. Without the Psalms, without the constant use of them, Christian life tends to become dead and dull, like the ashes of an extinguished fire.
Other uses of the Psalms, which add to their value, are intellectual. The historical psalms help us to picture to ourselves vividly the life of the nation, and often add touches to the narrative of the historical books which are of the highest interest. Those rightly ascribed to David fill out the portrait faintly sketched in Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, turning into a living and breathing figure what, Gpart from them, were little more than a skeleton. The Messianic psalms address themselves in great part to our reason, and furnish an argument, second to few others, for the truth of Christianity. The whole Psalter is instinct with those truths which are felt on all sides to be of the essence of the Christian religion — its "theistic ideas are those which we find in our Creeds;" its Christology "unlocks many [obscure] passages;" its "view of the mystery of man's conception, birth, and destiny is precisely that which has commended itself to Christian thought" as most reasonable. As St. Basil says, "The Psalms contain a perfect theology." In reading them, studying them, saturating with them our hearts and minds, we indoctrinate ourselves with the purest religious ideas expressed in language of the most perfect beauty.
§ 7. LITERATURE OF THE PSALMS.
"No book has been so fully commented on as the Psalms," says Canon Cook, in the 'Speaker's Commentary;' "the literature of the Psalms makes up a library." Among the Fathers, as already observed, commentaries on the Psalms, or expositions of them, or of some of them, were written by Origen, Eusebius, Basil, Chrysostom, Hilary, Ambrose, Athanasius, Theodoter, Augustine, and Jerome; that of Theodoret being, perhaps, the best, but that of Jerome having also a high value. Among Jewish commentators of distinction may be mentioned Saadiah, who wrote in Arabic, Abeu Ezra, Jarchi, Kimchi, and Rashi. At the era of the Reformation the Psalms attracted great attention, Luther, Mercer, Zwingle, and Calvin writing commentaries, while other expository works were contributed by Rudinger, Agellius, Genebrard, Bellarmine, Lorinus, Geier, and De Muis. During the last. century or so, the modern German school of criticism has laboured with great diligence at the elucidation of the Psalter, and has done something for the historical exegesis, and still more for the grammatical and philological exposition of the Psalms. The example was set by Knapp, who in 1789 published at Halle his work entitled, 'Die Psalmen ubersetz' — a work of considerable merit. He was followed by Rosenmuller not long afterwards, whose ' Scholia in Psalmos,' which made its appearance in 1798, gave at once "a full and judicious presentation of the most important results of previous labours," including the Rabbinical, and also threw fresh light on several subjects of much interest. Ewald succeeded to Rosenmuller, and in the early portion of the present century, gave to the world, in his 'Dichter des alt. Bundes,' those clever, but somewhat overbold, speculations, which elevated him into the leader of German thought on these and kindred subjects for above fifty years. Maurer lent his support to the views of Ewald, and helped greatly to the advance of Hebrew scholarship by his grammatical and critical researches, while Hengstenberg and Delitzsch, in their able and judicious Comments, toned down the extravagances of the Berlin professor, and encouraged the formation of a more subdued and reverent school of criticism. More recently Koster and Gratz have written in a similar spirit, and have helped to vindicate German theology from the charge of rashness and recklessness.
In England, not much was done to elucidate the Psalms, or facilitate the study of them, till about eighty years ago, when Bishop Horsley's son published his father's work, entitled, 'The Book of Psalms, translated from the Hebrew, with Notes explanatory and critical', with a dedication to the Archbishop of Canterbury. This publication gave a stimulus to Hebrew studies, and especially to that of the Psalter, which led in a short time to an issue from the press of several works possessing considerable value, and not even yet wholly superseded by the productions of later scholars. One of these was a 'Key to the Book of Psalms' (London, Seeley), published by a Rev. Mr. Boys, in 1825; and another, still more useful, was "ספר תהלים, The Book of Psalms in Hebrew, metrically arranged," by the Rev. John Rogers, Canon of Exeter Cathedral, published at Oxford by J. H. Parker, in 1833. This book contained a selection from the various readings of Kennicott and De Rossi, and from the ancient versions, and also an "Appendix of Critical Notes," which excited a good deal of interest. About the same time appeared the . Translation of the Psalms' by Dr. French and Mr. Skinner, which was issued from the Clarendon Press in 1830. A metrical version of the Psalms, by Mr. Eden, of Bristol, was published in 1841; and "An Historical Outline of the Book of Psalms," by Dr. Mason Good, was edited and published by his grandson, the Rev. J. Mason Neale, in 1842. This was succeeded in a few years by 'A New Version of the Psalms, with Notes, Critical, Historical, and Explanatory,' from the pen of the same author. Of these last two works it has been said that they were "distinguished by taste and originality rather than by sound judgment and accurate scholarship;" nor can it be denied that they did but little to advance the critical study of Hebrew among us. Dr. Jebb's ' Literal Translation and Dissertations,' published in 1846, was more important; and Mr. Thrupp's 'Introduction to the Psalms,' given to the world in 1860, together with his article on the Psalms in Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible', raised the character of our psalmodic literature to a higher level In the year 1859, Professor Alexander, of Princeton University in America, furnished to English and Anglo-American students an even more valuable treatise.
But a still more advanced period now set in. In the year 1864 Canon (now Bishop) Perowne published the first edition of his elaborate work in two volumes, entitled, 'The Book of Psalms, a New Translation, with Introductions and Notes Explanatory and Critical' (London: Bell and Sons). This excellent and standard production has gone on from edition to edition ever since that date, receiving improvements at every step, until it is now decidedly one of the best, if not absolutely the very best, comment upon the Psalter. It is the work of a first-rate Hebraist, of a man of superior judgment and discretion, and of one whose erudition has been surpassed by few. English scholarship may well be proud of it, and may challenge a comparison of it with any foreign exposition. It was not left long, however, to occupy the field without a rival. In the year 1871 appeared the smaller and less pretentious work of Dr. Kay, once Principal of Bishop's College, Calcutta, entitled, 'The Psalms translated from the Hebrew, with Notes chiefly exegetical' (London: Rivingtous), a scholarly production, characterized by much vigour of thought, and an unusual acquaintance with Oriental manners and customs. Almost simultaneously, in 1872, a work in two volumes, by Dr. George Phillips, President of Queen's College, Cambridge, made its appearance under the title of 'A Commentary on the Psalms, designed chiefly for the use of Hebrew Students and of Clergymen' (London: Williams and Norgate), which deserved more attention than was accorded to it, since it is a storehouse of Rabbinical and other learning. A year later, in 1873, a fresh step in advance was made by the publication of the very excellent 'Commentary and Critical Notes on the Psalms' (London: Murray), contributed to the 'Speaker's Commentary on the Old Testament,' by the Rev. F. C. Cook, Canon of Exeter, assisted by Dr. Johnson, Dean of Wells, and the Rev. C. J. Elliott. This work, though written above twenty years ago, maintains a high place among English critical efforts, and is worthy of Being put upon a par with the comments of Hengstenberg and Delitzsch. Meanwhile, however, a demonstration had been made on the other side By the more advanced school of English critics, in the production of a work edited By "Four Friends," and entitled,' The Psalms chronologically arranged, an Amended Version, with Historical Introductions and Explanatory Notes', wherein Ewald was followed almost slavishly, and the genuine "Psalms of David" were limited to some fifteen or sixteen. Efforts on the opposite, or traditional, side, however, were not wanting; and the Bampton Lectures of Bishop Alexander, and the sober and learned comments of Bishop Wordsworth and Canon Hawkins, may be especially noticed. The slighter work of the Rev. A. S. Aglen, contributed to Bishop Ellicott's 'Old Testament Commentary for English Readers', is of less value, and yields too much to the German sceptical writers. The same must be said of Professor Cheyne's more elaborate contribution to the literature of the Psalms, published in 1888, and entitled, 'The Book of Psalms, or the Praises of Israel, a new Translation, with Commentary,' which, however, no student of the Psalter can afford to neglect, since the acuteness and learning displayed in it are undeniable. Excellent service has also Been rendered to English students, comparatively recently, By the publication of the 'Revised Version,' issued at the instance of the Convocation of the Province of Canterbury, which has corrected many errors, and given, in the main, a most faithful representation of the Hebrew original.
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17