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by Daniel Whedon
COMMENTARY ON THE NEW TESTAMENT.
Intended for Popular Use
By D.D. WHEDON, LL.D.
NEW YORK: NELSON & PHILLIPS.
CINCINNATI: HITCHCOCK & WALDEN.
A WORK like the present was proposed by the author some years ago as a companion-book to his “Psalms Chronologically Arranged;” but providential circumstances suspended the execution of the plan for a time, till, upon invitation to supply a volume of Notes on the Psalms for the proposed Commentary on the whole Bible, the former conception was merged in this, and the present volume is the result. This work in nowise supersedes the former publication. The grounds occupied by the two are distinct, though they mutually supplement each other, according to the original design.
No book in the sacred canon so intertwines itself with all other sacred books, and so interpenetrates all Bible history and prophecy, all secular and spiritual knowledge, as the Psalms. This arises from the nature and scope of sacred lyrical poetry. (See section on “Sacred Hymnology” in the general Introduction.) The difficulty, therefore, of keeping within the limits of sacred exegesis is not slight. On the one hand, the temptation is to a cumbrous weight of dry criticism; on the other, to homiletics, dogmatic theology, and speculation. The office of interpretation is not to say all that might be said, nor even all that might be profitable, but so much as is necessary to lead out, as the word means, (‘ εζηγησις ,) the common reader from what seems perplexing and obscure into the plain and true meaning of the text. Notes explanatory may seem dry, like the dead bones of the prophet’s vision; and such they are to the mere reader, but not to the student. It is not their office to supply thought, nor to make moral applications, but to clear away the rubbish, and reveal the foundations of thought and doctrine contained in the text. The obscurities lie, not in the text per se, as it was delivered to the native Hebrew, but in the accidents of foreign and antique modes of thought, idioms of language, differences of manners and customs, the occasion of writing, the time, place, circumstances, and design of the writer, as these come to the modern reader. That which was clear enough to those for whom the Psalms were originally intended now needs explanation. The same may be said of any antique book written in language and with allusions foreign to us.
The interpretation of Scripture may be viewed in a twofold light. First, in the interpretation of the language of the text, which embraces the signification of words according to etymology and usage, their grammatical construction, and their special application as indicated by the connexion and the scope of the writer; secondly, in the allusions made to facts or things extraneous to the text. The special knowledge of the interpreter, therefore, must lie within the domain of philology, of archaeology in its broadest sense, and the science and skill of applying the laws of language according to universal reason (hermeneutics) for determining the sense. All these may appear dry and foreign to the moral purpose of revelation; but from the sense of Scripture thus ascertained there arise a solidity and substance of truth which give joy and satisfaction and strength to the soul. And this only is reliable exegesis.
It is unfortunate for many devout readers of Scripture that they pay so little regard to the study of Bible history, geography, archaeology, and the principles of interpretation. They thereby lose much of the richness and practical force sometimes the sense itself of the sacred text. What would the New Testament be to us, as compared to what it now is, if stripped of the history of our Lord, his apostles, and the early Church, and presented to us in the abstract form of dogma, law, and ethics? The difference is inconceivable. History makes dogma and ethics practical, and brings down to us the teachings of the Holy Spirit clothed with the warm sympathies of human life. If our Lord has condescended to give himself a human history for our sakes, shall we be so indifferent as to neglect its study? By neglecting it, will any true disciple affect the attainment of a higher spirituality? The same reasoning applies to all Old Testament history. So, also, of language. If God has chosen a human language as the medium of his communications to us, it is evident, from the nature of the case, that we can arrive at the meaning of the Holy Spirit only through a correct knowledge and application of the laws of that language, always following out these two fundamental rules, that words are to be taken and applied according to the standard of common usage, and that the literal or grammatical sense is always the first construction to be, by the interpreter, put on an author’s language; remembering, also, that where spiritual things are the subjects of discourse the spiritual sense is the grammatical or literal sense.
The present volume has been written with constant reference to the average capacity and real wants of all Bible students, whether in the family, the sacred office, the Sunday-school, or private life. It is written for such, not for the learned alone, who have access to original sources of information at will. But, though presented in a humble garb, the facts and interpretations have been adjusted to the standard of modern sacred criticism and literature. It were impossible to make any one man a model. Common sense, which every man must exercise for himself, has as much to do with the interpretation of Hebrew as with managing a common avocation. We have therefore sometimes dissented from learned opinions, but cautiously, and for reasons given in the notes.
The reader is specially cautioned not to look upon the references to parallel or cognate passages with indifference, or with an impression that they are an irrelevant lumbering of the notes. In so condensed a work as this the quotations could not be spread out upon the page, and the necessity was upon us in most cases to simply make the reference. The value of references is founded in the analogy and organic unity of revelation. The Bible goes far toward explaining itself. A good reference Bible is an indispensable commentary. By this means we compare all phases of the same subject, and acquire the most comprehensive, as well as the most authentic and reliable, knowledge. The references here made are generally strictly parallel either as to words or topics, and are often based upon the Hebrew usage of words. No part of the work has elicited more care and labour than this.
Five Psalms 119, 143, 144, 145, 146 are from the pen of Revelation H.B. Hyde, D.D., of Alleghany College. When it was proposed to put this work to press at an earlier date, and the weight of my professional cares precluded all hope of being ready in time, Dr. Hyde kindly consented to aid me. The above is the result. He is well known as an accomplished classical and Oriental scholar, and is the author of the commentary on Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon in this same series.
In conclusion, I would only add the prayer of the apostle: “That my service which I have for [the Church] may be accepted of the saints,” and approved of God.
CLIFTON SPRINGS, N.Y., Oct. 1, 1881. INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF PSALMS.
THE PSALMS are the only collection of sacred songs plenarily inspired which were ever given to the Church, and as such present a claim upon our reverence, faith, and devotional use which belongs to none other. For a thousand years they were the only standard hymns of the Church, and maintained a high rank in the sacred writings, so that the third division of the Old Testament the Hagiographa was denoted by the term Psalms.
Luke 24:44. But soon after the time of our Saviour, even in the apostles’ days, additions began to be made to the hymnology of the Church, as appears from the enumeration of “psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs,” by Paul. Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16. Our Saviour, however, (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26,) gave an example of adherence to the Jewish Church order in chanting, after the Passover, the whole or a part of the Hallel, consisting of Psalms 113-118. Possibly he chanted only the last.
The first New Testament departure from the old custom consisted, chiefly, in setting to music certain poetical portions of the New Testament, as “ Luke 2:14, the so-called Gloria; the parting words of Simeon, Luke 2:29, the Nunc Dimittis; the sublime song of Mary, Luke 1:46, seq., the Magnificat; and the words of Zacharias, Luke 1:68, seq., the Benedictus. The short thanksgiving in Acts 4:24-30, has a psalmodic character, (comp. Psalms 2:0,) and is easily put into metrical form.” Schaff. Various other portions of the New Testament might be cited, especially from the Apocalypse, rich in poetic conceptions and sublime devotion. During the lapse of centuries various lyrical additions were made, to supplement, not to supersede, the Psalms. The new dispensation demanded it. The difficulty which Paul of Samosata, Bishop of Antioch, encountered in the third century in his attempt (for political reasons, Mosheim thinks) to bring back the Churches of Syria to the use of the Psalms alone, and the large advance in hymnology made by Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, in the following century, indicate the strong tendency of the Church in this direction, notwithstanding the jealousy with which it was watched by dignitaries and councils.
A lyrical collection for the use of the whole Church, in any age, must be as comprehensive in its themes as the entire scope of doctrine, history, ethics, unfulfilled prophecy, subjective experience, and divine dispensation known to the age; and in its exterior form and structure must fairly represent the existing literature, modes of thought, and style of language. The Psalms were suited to the Church as it existed under the law of Moses, in connexion with the theocratic history and high nationality of the Hebrew people. Much, very much, therein, rises to a sublime anticipation of the distinctive features of the New Testament Church, and cannot be improved by any light or knowledge of language now possessed, except in adaptation of rhythm and idiomatic forms. “This book, not unreasonably, am I wont to style an anatomy of all parts of the soul, for no one will ever discover in himself a single feeling whereof the image is not reflected in this mirror. Nay, all griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, and 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.” Calvin.
A portion of the Psalter, however, can suit only the condition of the ancient Church and the Hebrew nation.
For reasons just referred to, no one word could give all adequate idea of the contents of the entire collection. The word “psalm” ( ψαλμος , from ψαλλω to sing, to play on an instrument) simply signifies a song, and corresponds to מזמור , a song or psalm, which latter is only used to designate individual psalms, never the collective whole. “Psalter,” from ψαλτηριον , has the same Greek derivation as psalm, and signifies a stringed instrument, then the song sung or performed on the instrument, finally, the book of songs or psalms. The Hebrew title is simply תהלים , ( tehilleem,) praises, or praise psalms, (the Masora gives the feminine plural tehilloth,) or, prefixing ספר , sepher, book of praises. But much of the collection is prayer, and several particular psalms are called in their titles תפלה , tephillahs, or prayer songs. See Hebrew titles of Psalms 17, 86, 90, 102, 142 ; Habakkuk 3:1. But this title is never given to the whole book. On its supposed application to the first two books of the Psalter, see on Psalms 72:20, and its introduction. Book of Praises, or Praise Songs, then, is the most characteristic title of these portions; and certainly praise to God, in the broader sense, of setting forth that which is honourable to his name, is their prevailing trait. Still as a hymn book for the whole Church should set forth the divine methods of grace and of moral government in all the varied fortunes of the Church, it must recognise her struggles with native depravity, her conflicts with the outer world, her persecutions, even her wanderings as well as her triumphs, her subjective experiences, her holy fellowships, and her everlasting heritage. A suffering Redeemer and a suffering Church, no less than a glorified Redeemer and a redeemed people, must swell the songs of Zion.
Various terms are employed to give poetical, musical, liturgical, and moral designations.
Mizmor occurs in the titles of fifty-seven psalms. The word signifies a poem or song set to music, and accompanied by an instrument. It occurs only in the titles.
Shir is found not only in the titles of psalms, but in the text in different parts of Scripture. In the titles it occurs twenty-nine times. It denotes a song to be sung, as mizmor does one to be played on an instrument. The two words sometimes occur together, as shir mizmor, or inversely, mizmor shir, probably placed together without any special design by the collector.
Various musical designations are given, as aijeleth shahar, Psalms 22:0; higgaion, Psalms 9:16; selah, ( rest, pause,) but this latter never in the titles; muth-labben, Psalms 9:0; sheminith, Psalms 6:0. See these terms explained in the notes.
Designations of the instruments of music on which to perform the psalm occur, as, upon gittith, Psalms 8:0; on neginoth, Psalms 6:0; on nehiloth, Psalm v; leannoth, Psalms 88:0; shushan eduth, Psalms 60:0. See the notes.
Terms occur suggestive of the subject-matter or quality of the psalm, as, upon jonath-elem-rechokim, Psalms 56:0; shiggaion, Psalms 7:0; michtam, Psalms 16:0; maschil, Psalms 32:0; jedidoth, ( song of loves,) Psalms 45:0. See notes.
Titles are also used, having a liturgical designation, as, at the dedication of the house of David, Psalms 30:0; for the Sabbath day, Psalms 92:0; to bring to remembrance, ( le-hatzir,) Psalms 38:0; the goings up, ( hammaaloth,) “songs of degrees,” Psalms 120:0; a psalm of praise, title of Psalms 100:0. These seem to have a reference to times and occasions of using.
Titles also designate the performer or precentor, as, to the chief musician, ( lamnatzeach,) Psalms 11:0; to Jeduthun, Psalms 39:0. For the explanation of these terms see notes on the titles of psalms referred to. These titles were given sometimes by the author and sometimes by the compiler.
The Hebrew Psalter is divided into five books, the first ending with Psalms 41:0, the second with Psalms 72:0, the third with Psalms 89:0, the fourth with Psalms 106:0, the fifth with Psalms 150:0, each closing with a doxology except the last, which ends with a “hallelujah,” and all with an “amen.” These books were collected from time to time, as the psalms were written, during a period of six hundred years from the time of David, so that the first and second books were probably compiled during David’s lifetime. Some of the psalms in these books appear obviously to relate to the Captivity, and some of those assigned to the Captivity bear the name of David in the titles. This was probably due to the fact that later editors and compilers added to some of David’s unedited psalms, which were found to breathe a spirit congenial to the Church in captivity, some further matter more definitely local and more largely expressive of the feelings of the Church in their times, much as modern hymns are verbally altered, without impairing their essential identity or their original authorship. In the final revision and collection of the psalms in the days of Ezra the same arrangement that has come down to us we know that a strict regard to the order of time in which they were written was not observed, so that many of David’s psalms are found in the later books, and many of those of the captivity are found in the earlier books. The third book, relating mostly to the times of Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and the Captivity, was written by Asaph, Korah, Heman, and Ethan; one only (Psalms 86:0) is ascribed to David, though Psalms 78:0 probably refers to his times. The fourth book opens with the dirge-like tones of Psalms 90:0, indisputably from the pen of Moses. Besides this, and Psalms 103:0, which is ascribed to David, the psalms of this book are anonymous, ten relating to the times of David and Solomon, and the rest to those of Hezekiah, Nebuchadnezzar, and the Captivity. The last book, beginning with Psalms 107:0, gives twenty-seven anonymous psalms, relating to the times of Jehoshaphat or the Captivity, besides fifteen ascribed to David and one to Solomon. From these data it is probable that the third book was compiled mostly in the reign of Jehoshaphat or of Hezekiah, and the fourth and fifth, together with a revision of the entire Psalter, by Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah. See Malachi 2:13; Malachi 2:13; Ezra 7:10. Authors.
To DAVID seventy-three psalms are ascribed in the common text, to which various critics have added, so as to make the total number eighty, or, according to the Septuagint, eighty-four. As he is the chief contributor, so he is the model, standing throughout the ages as “the sweet Psalmist of Israel,” unrivalled in the sphere of lyrical poetry.
ASAPH stands as the author of twelve psalms, (Psalms 50, 73-83.) His is a family name, extending through many generations.
The SONS OF KORAH, another Levitical family, are honoured in the titles of eleven psalms, (42, 44-49, 84, 85, 87, 88. But see introductory notes to Psalms 72, 88, on the author-ship of the latter.)
HEMAN, the Ezrahite, or son of Ezrah or Zerah, wrote Psalms 88:0. ETHAN, the Ezrahite, also son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, is also mentioned in the superscription of Psalms 89:0.To SOLOMON have been attributed Psalms 45, 127, 128. Psalms 72:0, in the title, according to our English version, is also ascribed to Solomon, but on the construction of the much-contested lamedh ( ל ) here, as denoting authorship, see introductions and notes on titles to Psalms 72, 88. To MOSES is referred Psalms 90:0, and in this both Jews and Christians agree. The reader is referred to the notes on the titles of the above psalms for further information respecting their several authors.
The Principal Psalmodic Periods.
Something more than a poetic taste and faculty was requisite for the production of a sacred lyric suitable to be used in the Church of God, and adapted to the devout of all ages: the heart must be in close sympathy with God, his works, his moral government, and the great plan of redemption. The poet must write and sing from the heart of the Redeemer and the redeemed, penetrated with the genius of the dispensation under which he lives, having absorbed into his own inner life its doctrines, its spirit, and its aims. An age, therefore, of spiritual declension, worldliness, neglect of the institutes of Moses, tainted with idolatry, could not be friendly to sacred song. Devout and spiritual worship would become chilled in its atmosphere and wither under its blight. Solomon wrote “a thousand and five songs,” (1 Kings 4:32,) of which only his “Song of Songs” remains. His lyrical productions are meagre, and seldom rise above the civic-religious sphere. His middle and later life was not in sympathy with the sublime praises which rise from a spiritual Church. Under King Uzziah the nation rose to great power and outward prosperity, but declined in piety. To David’s time belongs the golden age of Hebrew psalmody. He walked with God. Under him the sublimest conceptions of the Theocracy were realized. His poetry and his songs sprang from the inner depths of a true experience. After him, for four hundred years, the most brilliant periods of lyrical poetry were in the reigns of Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah. Later came the downfall of the nation, and the dark period of the Captivity, running through seventy years, followed by the prolonged struggles of the Restoration, and ending with the completion of the Old Testament history and canon. These events roused the deepest religious feelings of the nation, awakening the memories of their former glory, and hopes of a brighter future. The epoch of the Restoration, including the dawning hopes which preceded, was honoured by the appearance of a line of representative men deeply versed in the things of God, and with this great religious revival (Habakkuk 3:1) came the last period of national lyrical poetry.
All the morality of the Old Testament, as of the New, is grounded, primarily, in man’s relation to God; secondarily, in man’s relation to man.
If man should be kind, just, and true to man, because of a common relation of brotherhood, he finds these same duties enjoined by divine authority from man’s relation and accountability to God. “I am the Jehovah, your God,” was the reason assigned for social virtue and kindness. Leviticus 19:10, seq. The same awful annunciation stands at the head of the decalogue.
Exodus 20:2. The obligation to “holiness,” a generic term for all purity and moral virtue, arose from the nature of God: “Ye shall be holy, for I, Jehovah, your God, am holy.” Leviticus 19:2. In the order of duties, obedience to God, arising from reverence for his character, stood first. In the “Ten Commandments,” the first four relate directly to our duty to God, next comes the great law of family life, then the cardinal principles of general life in society. If our duty to God be primal, it is not separated from, nor independent of, our duty to man, but implies it in the order of sequence. In the fifteenth Psalm, he is said to be the man who shall “abide in God’s tabernacle, and dwell in his holy hill,” who is “upright, righteous, true,” and practices all virtue towards men. He is the “happy” man who “delights in the law of the Lord.” Psalms 1:0. The Saviour reduced all the morality and religion of the Old Testament to the two branches, preserving the relative order of each: “Loving God with all the heart, and our neighbour as ourself.”
The description of a perfect character “the ideal man,” as it has been called given in the psalms, is that of one who loves the sanctuary and the worship of God in their spiritual, and not merely liturgical, import, (Psalms 24, 84,) and trusts the Lord steadfastly for temporal as for spiritual good. Psalms 112:7. The outward worship springs from a sincere heart of love to God, and perfect moral rectitude. No worship is accounted as sincere towards God which omits truth, justice, and love towards man. Psalms 50:0. The inner and the outer life are thus in harmony, and correlate as cause and effect. The world is under moral government, and the perfection of man is his perfect harmony with God. The relations of “low and high, rich and poor, together” in society, are harmonized only in this way. Psalms 49:0. Love to our neighbour is as clearly taught in the Old Testament as in the New, (Leviticus 19:18,) and revenge or personal vengeance, the sole prerogative of God, is clearly prohibited to man. Psalms 94:1; comp. Deuteronomy 32:35. On his habitual kindness to his enemies, and personal forgiveness of their offences, David grounds his prayer for divine interference for relief. Psalms 35:11-14. The Imprecatory Psalms, so called, do not contradict this. See the notes on Psalms 35, 109, and others. The Old Testament law is stated, Psalms 18:25, “With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful;” and Psalms 4:3, “The Lord hath set apart him that is merciful for himself;” and Psalms 12:1, “Help, Lord, for the merciful man ceaseth.” It is to be regretted that the radical idea of חסיד is so often lost sight of in our English version by its following too closely the Septuagint, which commonly renders the word οσιος , holy, godly. This is the more strange as the noun חסד , which is rendered in our common version generally by kindness, mercy, pity, favour, goodness, lovingkindness, is rendered by the Septuagint: as Girdlestone has computed, one hundred and thirty-five times by ελεος , mercy. The New Testament law is, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” Matthew 5:7. The Psalms of Asaph and of the sons of Korah are beautiful specimens of moral and religious instruction.
In the character everywhere set forth in the Psalms as the favourite of God and as the “perfect man,” we find “single-heartedness; utter absence of guile; purity of heart, as the centre and mainspring of moral life; justice, fortitude; self-control; rectitude in dealings between man and man; generosity; (Psalms 7:4;) sympathy with all forms of suffering, warm and tender towards friends, but ever prompt and earnest towards all men, even opponents, (Psalms 35:13;) loyalty of subjects to their king; unselfish, sacrificing love of princes to their people; humility; the sense of poverty and need; the first distinct intimation that a broken heart and contrite spirit are acceptable sacrifices to God, (Psalms 51:17;) and that the meek and lowly are especial objects of his favour and grace. Psalms 18:27.” Speaker’s Commentary.
The Future Life.
The argument for a future life cannot be entered upon at large here, but a notice may be given. For the evidence grounded in exegesis we refer the reader to notes on particular passages as they occur. We here observe:
1 . It is inconceivable that God should have delivered such clear views of moral government, redemption, reconciliation, evidences and joys of salvation, ground of confidence, faith in prayer, with the grand outlook of the promise of the covenant for the conversion of the world, and still have left the people in ignorance of the future life; that is, that he should have left them a step lower than the philosophic systems of the heathen. The supposition, however dignified with great names and learning, is simply absurd and preposterous.
Then, again, if the doctrine of immortality be not contained and taught in the Psalms, how could their language be adapted to Christian use? How could they so beautifully express our deepest spiritual experiences, and our dearest hopes of eternal life? Instance Psalms 16, 23, and Psalms 73:24-26. This alone is conclusive subjective proof that they teach the doctrine.
It is certain that the Jews, after the time of Malachi and of the close of the Old Testament canon, believed in the resurrection of the body and an immortal life, and that the Pharisees, in our Lord’s time, fully taught these doctrines. They could not have borrowed them from the Greeks or other heathen nations, for with them the resurrection was not believed in, and the future life was not so clearly a dogma as with the Jews.
2 . The New Testament, and even Christ himself, assumes that the Old Testament taught the doctrine of an “eternal life.” So Christ says to the Jews, “Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life.”
John 5:39. So the Talmud: “He possesses eternal life who comes to the possession of the words of the law.” So Romans 15:4: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope.” “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.” Luke 16:31. The issue between Christ and the Jews was not whether there was a life to come, but whether Christ was the way to it. The eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews is an argument directly in proof that the Old Testament saints looked for a life to come, and suffered, “not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection.” Hebrews 11:35. These are not New Testament arguments applied to interpret Old Testament language, but the testimonies of Jews as to what the Old Testament itself taught, and what the Jews themselves believed that it taught.
3 . In those passages where the difference between the righteous and the wicked is drawn, a perfect contrast, both in character and destiny, is given. Psalm i is a specimen. In all such cases the “end” of the wicked is brought in to solve the otherwise dark problem of their present prosperity. Whether the divine government will take sides with the righteous or the wicked, or be indifferent to both, is not always clear from the present ways of God with men as to temporal conditions in this life. The best of men have stumbled or faltered here. The question is to be decided only by an appeal to the next life. The end of the wicked offers the solution. So Asaph, Psalms 73:16-17: “When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.” The whole psalm bears upon this one point. So in Psalms 37:37-38: “Mark the perfect man… for the end of that man is peace. But the transgressors shall be destroyed together: the end of the wicked shall be cut off.” The entire psalm is another argument upon this single point. The end, the final result, of life the outcome of all divine dispensation in the case is appealed to in the clearest descriptions of reward and punishment, in order to vindicate the ways of God. This method of reasoning runs through the entire Old Testament. Instance the books of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, where the final result is appealed to to solve the enigma of the present life. This doctrine of a final judgment sustained the faith and patience of all Old Testament saints, (Hebrews xi,) and decides the question of their faith in a life to come.
4 . Indeed, hope in a future life enters largely into the essence of an evangelical experience of pardon, regeneration, and communion with God, awakening not only a longing for, but an assurance of, eternal blessedness with God. This indwelling life of God is compared (John 4:14) to a living fountain “springing up into everlasting life.” This is precisely as was the rising of David’s soul from a subjective consciousness of divine truth and love into an assured hope of eternal blessedness, as shown in Psalms 16:7-11; and of that of Asaph, as exhibited in Psalms 73:23-26. But these subjective longings could not have been begotten by the Holy Spirit had there existed no objective revelation of a future life. The inward desire must have had a corresponding external doctrine of faith. This doctrine lies scattered over the pages of the Law, is brought out more clearly by the Prophets, but is nowhere more beautifully exhibited than in the Psalms.
5 . The “stone of stumbling” on this subject, to commentators of a rationalistic tendency, lies in the figures and material dress in which the doctrine of a future state is often clothed. The Hebrew language may, indeed, be called materialistic. It describes things as they appear to the senses. The Hebrews were not a philosophical people. They never cultivated metaphysics or the abstract sciences, and they had no terms to express ideal and spiritual things, or unseen and eternal realities, except by an adsignification to the primary sense of words, or by some analogy or contrast which they might borrow from sensible and material objects. Nor is any language entirely relieved from the same necessity. What idea can we either conceive or express concerning heaven as the place of future blessedness, but by comparing or contrasting it with this life? There is “night” here, there is “no night there;” there are “tears” here, there “God shall wipe away all tears;” “pain and sorrow” are here, in heaven “there shall be no pain, neither sorrow.” As to our form, or state of glory, “we shall be like Christ,” but this conveys no definite idea beyond the imagined glory of the human Christ. We ascend a little way, by help of material objects of comparison, and are then lost in imaginings of ineffable glory. Witness John’s description of Christ’s glorified body, in Revelation 1:12-18. The Saxon words heaven, hell, as well as the Bible terms sheol, hades, gehenna, paradise, have a material root idea. Heaven is the heaved up, arched place; hell, the place under foot, the pit. Sheol is the deep pit, then the grave, the region of the dead; hades is the unseen world, paradise is the grove, the pleasure garden; and gehenna (always translated hell in the New Testament) is the land or vale of Hinnom. But will a man say he has given the scriptural ideas of these and multitudes of other terms when he has stopped short at the literal, radical, or etymological sense?
The Hebrew word heaven, שׁמים , ( shamahyim,) primarily means high, and refers us to the arch of the sky. רקיע , ( rakeeah,) translated firmament, bears a kindred application with the preceding, but radically means solid expanse, and in Ezekiel 1:22; Ezekiel 1:26; Ezekiel 10:1, it is represented as a solid pavement. The throne of God is sometimes represented as in the shamahyim, ( heaven,) Psalms 2:4; and the corresponding Greek word, ουρανος , (heaven,) is in the New Testament the standing word for the place of the abode of God and his saints. Commonly, however, in the Old Testament, God is represented as seated “above the heavens,” and “above the firmament,” (Psalms 8:1; Psalms 57:5; Psalms 57:11; Ezekiel 10:1,) and when he comes forth for signal judgment he is said to “ride upon the heavens of heavens,” that is, the utmost extent of the visible heavens. Psalm 68:38. He is also said to “hear from heaven,” to “look down from heaven,” to “send from heaven.” But the Old Testament idea of future blessedness is more commonly set forth as being “with God,” “at his right hand,” “in his presence,” which is above the utmost limit of the material heavens. Has the New Testament made any advance upon this idea? See 1 John 3:2; Matthew 25:31-38; John 14:14. Regeneration, holiness, sanctification, repentance, righteousness, worship, perfection, and many other phrases, have a radical sense which would give no conceivable idea of either religion or morality.
When God taught the Hebrew people the meaning of the word holy, as in the declaration, “I, Jehovah, your God, am holy,” he taught, as we teach children, by sensible signs, ritualistic forms object lessons, we would say by sensible distinctions of clean and unclean things, by outward purifications from physical defilements, etc. The error of the people then, as now, was, that they rested in the physical and merely emblematic idea of the word, and seldom ascended to the subjective and real meaning. The authors of the psalms describe future blessedness in a similar way under figures of earthly honour or good, such as, “At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore;” “In thy presence is fulness of joy;” “Thou shalt guide me by thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory;” “His soul [he that feareth the Lord] shall abide in blessedness, and his posterity shall inherit the earth;” “Thou wilt not leave my soul in sheol… thou wilt show me the path of life.” If the writers of the Old Testament dwelt more in figures and typical forms, and a language accommodated to the senses, than we do, it was on account of the genius and stage of their language, their Semitic type of thought, and the spirit and liturgy of their dispensation. More than all, it was due to the nature of the case. What different method do we find even in the Apocalypse? The former dispensation was one of elemental truths great truths, indeed, but elemental clothed in types, symbols, and parables, (on parables, see Psalms 78:2,) but not, therefore, obscure and doubtful.
The form of both revelation and dispensation was suited to the culture of the times. Our literalists and rationalists, acting from the standpoint of a higher culture, with sceptical tendencies, make sad work of these primitive and venerable forms of faith by making havoc of the fundamental laws of criticism. If we would know the faith of the ancients we must place ourselves among them, think as they thought, and use language as they used it. We cannot measure their primitive forms of speech by our modern classical usage. They found the doctrine of life without death in the “tree of life” in Paradise. They expressed the reunion of souls after death by the phrase “gathered to their fathers” a form of speech applied to cases even where the sepulchres were widely apart. The covenant of Abraham was “everlasting” only in the Messianic sense. The “throne of David” was established “forever,” but only in Christ. So also “Zion” would stand “forever” only as the typical name of the true Church. The relations of the covenant people to Jehovah as “spouse” and “flock” were rooted in the immutability and eternity of God. The tabernacle and its mystical contents were understood to be “patterns of things in the heavens.” The translations of Enoch and Elijah were public proofs of a life in another state. The people were not surprised at the doctrines of a heaven of blessedness and a life to come, but only at this unexampled, yet well attested, method of reaching them. The translations were open, by daylight, and well witnessed. The severe laws of Moses against necromancy, or pretended divination by means of communication with the spirits of the dead, the most popular of all the forms of divination, proves the fact that both Hebrews and heathen believed in the personal existence of souls after death. The single case of Saul’s application to one of those diviners determines the fact of this common faith of the Hebrews.
6 . Let it be remembered that faith had not yet been developed to the New Testament standard, so that men surrounded by idolaters, as the Hebrews were, could be sufficiently influenced by motives drawn from the future life. It requires large development of intellect and conscience, as well as doctrine and faith, for men to be swayed by considerations of what is best upon the whole and in the final result. The difference between the man and the child, the savage and the cultured mind, is in nothing more manifest than in this. Especially, situated as the Hebrews were, with limited culture in the midst of surrounding idolatry, as Dr. Graves well remarks, “The superiority of the true God could never be established by a comparison of his power in the distribution of future and invisible rewards and punishments. It was only by proving decisively that he, and he alone, was the dispenser of every blessing and of every calamity in the present life, and that he distributed them with the most consummate justice, yet tempered with mercy, that he would completely expose and forever discredit the pretensions of idolatry.” Works, vol. ii, p. 162. But this characteristic dispensation of the Old Testament, so suited to the times and the condition of the Hebrews, did not exclude the doctrine of future and final rewards.
As Ewald says, the Hebrews in later times could not have harmonized their belief of man’s immortality with the Old Testament authority had not their ancient Scriptures contained it. The reader is referred, for further information, to the notes on passages relating to this subject.
It would be naturally supposed that the Psalms the inspired hymns of the Church would express the liveliest and clearest hopes of the Church concerning Messiah which the dispensation of those ages authorized, and it would be equally against all analogy in the method of divine procedure with the Church to withhold a clear outline view of Messiah’s coming, “and the glory that should follow.” And accordingly we find the lyrical poetry of the Old Testament, no less than the writings of the prophets, rich in these central doctrines.
1 . A Messianic prophecy must refer either to Christ or to Christianity. If to the former, it must set forth the dignity and divinity of his person, his distinctive offices as Prophet, Priest, and King, with the functions belonging to these severally. If the reference be to Christianity, it must speak of the Church or “kingdom” of these “latter days,” its spirit, its doctrines, its everlasting continuance, its world-wide extent, (as embracing the Gentile nations,) and the happy condition of the world under Messiah’s rule.
2 . The distinction between the objective and subjective sense of prophecy should be carefully marked. Objective prophecy relates to the intent and fulness of its meaning its just limit and circumference as intended by the Holy Spirit. This must be forever one and immutable. The subjective sense of prophecy relates to the conceptions of the prophet himself of the purport of his own utterances. This might exist in various degrees. “Deity alone knew the whole compass of meaning which he permitted to be announced,” (Seller, Bib. Hermeneutics, P. 2, ch. ii, § 198;) but although we may not assume for the prophets the same extent of knowledge, we must assume that they comprehended the predictive character of their announcements, and their appropriate bearing in the great redemptive scheme. But as no one prophet received all the facts concerning Christ, nor all the facts at one time which he himself recorded, the prophets diligently compared their revelations in order to form the clearest possible idea of the entire synthesis of Messiah’s character, work, and times. See 1 Peter 1:10-11. It would be degrading to the whole subject of prophecy to suppose the prophets ignorant of the true import of their own writings. This would be to set aside all use of their intelligence and the laws of voluntary mental action, using them simply as machines. It would also leave unexplained the strong individuality impressed upon the style of each prophet. But it is not derogatory to the dignity of their office to suppose that by study and meditation upon the collective body of predictions on the same subject their views became enlarged and better defined, growing from age to age as revelation advanced. It is indisputable that the teachings of the Old Testament had awakened a more immediate national expectation of Messiah after the times of Malachi. The unspiritual and secular tendencies of rabbinical teaching had, indeed, given birth to many errors, but the fact of this expectation, which also extended beyond the limit of the nation, shows how deeply rooted in their ancient Scriptures was the doctrine of Christ. Indeed, “it is entirely impossible to construct a life of our Lord without taking prophecy into account. For that life stretches into the past as well as the future. It is a day which has a dawn.” BP. ALEXANDER, Bampton Lectures, 1876.3 . Of the fact of the Messianic predictions the Hebrews were no less convinced than are the Christians. The hope of his coming, as we have just stated, was inwrought in the national faith and expectation. The Pharisees and scribes were familiar with this prevalent, national belief, and entered deeply into it. The Rabbies had carried the system of Messianic application of Old Testament prophecy to an extent equal to the early Christian writers. “A belief in Messiah, founded on the prophecies, and especially upon typical or direct predictions in the Psalms, was one of the fundamentals of faith. This point is not contested by any critics. They may treat it as a superstition, as a mere delusion; but the fact remains, and it is certainly without a precedent or a parallel in the history of religions.” Speaker’s Commentary. By none of the quotations of Christ or the apostles from the Old Testament on this subject was the Jewish mind startled as with a new doctrine; but stumbled only upon the question of their application to Jesus as the prototype and the fulfilment.
The New Testament writers were Jews, and as such testified to this meaning and application of their ancient prophecies. To be fully assured of this, let the reader carefully consider the following passages: John 1:45; John 5:39; John 5:46; John 12:41; Luke 24:27; Acts 3:24; Acts 10:48; Acts 26:22; 1 Peter 1:10-11.
4 . The growth of Messianic revelation, like that of other revelations, was gradational a development, a genetic unfolding. In Genesis 3:15 the Deliverer was simply announced as “the seed of the woman” partaker of our flesh. In Abraham’s time his lineage was declared to be of that patriarch. Genesis 17:7. Later, it was limited to the tribe of Judah, (Genesis 49:10; comp. Hebrews 7:14,) and still later to the house of David. Psalms 132:11; John 7:42. The general idea of a tried and suffering Church preceding the triumphant and honoured state of that Church, was not an unfamiliar doctrine to the Old Testament saints. Genesis 15:13-16; Isaiah 27-33. But these sufferings were not expiatory. That the expiation of sin was to be accomplished only through vicarious suffering life for life was taught from the beginning by animal sacrifice; but the doctrine of a sacerdotal kingdom, first suggested by Jehovah, (Exodus 19:6,) and more positively asserted in Psalms 110:4, of which the Priest-King himself was to be the sin offering, the true and absolute expiation, was not so early revealed. Abraham, indeed, caught a glimpse of the atoning “Lamb of God,” (Genesis 22:13-14; John 8:56,) but in David’s time that Lamb was more clearly revealed. The sufferings described Psalms 2:0; Psalms 40:6-8, were not national, much less ideal, but personal, and such as pertained to the priestly functions of Him who was a Priest-King, after the order of Melchizedek. Psalms 110:4. Isaiah took up the theme, and carried it forward with new additions. Isaiah 53:0. In David’s person and kingdom were clearly unveiled the kingly dignity and dominion of Messiah, (Psalms 2:0; Psalms 45:6-7; Psalms 110:0; Psalms 132:11,) which from this date was resounded through the ages of the prophets. Isaiah 9:6; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Zechariah 9:9. The prophetic office of Messiah appears in the functions of teaching and publishing (preaching) the great acts and doctrines of God, especially such as directly relate to moral government and redemption. Psalms 22:22-31; Psalms 40:9-10; Psalms 35:18. Numerous particulars of Messiah’s history were also brought to light through the Psalms, which will be mentioned in their place. But the reader will remember that almost universally the kingdom of Messiah is prophetically represented in the Old Testament as the kingdom and dominion of Jehovah, of which the organic representative is, in all ages, the Church.
5 . There are different degrees of the spirit of prophecy, and hence of directness and clearness of prophetic delineation. Where the entire scope and subject of a psalm are Messianic there is no difficulty in determining its character, as in Psalms 2, 110; but not unfrequently this class of prophecies appear in a sporadic form, with a slight-trace of historic relation to the context, but in style and import far above the common level of the connexion. This is largely, perhaps wholly, due to that peculiar state of mind which is inseparable from and preparatory for prophecy in its highest sense. A theopneustic, or divinely inspired, writing is the joint product of two minds, the human and the divine, each acting voluntarily and in perfect sympathy with the other; the latter as the efficient cause, the former as the instrument or medium, of the revelation. “Holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” We may not fully comprehend the psychological condition of the human mind in such a case, but we must assume that, in subjective revelations especially, it must be raised in a degree to the level of the Divine Mind as to the precise matter to be communicated. It is not passive merely, but lifted up to its highest capacity of voluntary activity and spiritual subjectivity above itself, but not out of itself. The perceptive power is preternatural, while the visions, objectively considered, are supernatural. All its passive and active states, with all its operations, whether intellectual or emotional, are fully and intellectively within the sphere of consciousness. The imagination is lively and fruitful, the emotional power attuned to the nature of the subject revealed; the attention concentrated and absorbed, so that the outward senses cease to awaken perceptions of external objects; the mental movement is clear, calm, and quick, and the descriptions lifelike, as of realities passing before the eyes. The visions of Ezekiel, Daniel, and of the Apocalypse, are notable examples. In such cases the style naturally falls more or less into measure, the transitions are often abrupt, the mind passing rapidly along the salient points, perceiving, but not stopping to record, the connexions. Psychologically considered, the mind and sensibility are in a poetic frame. It is hence that prophecy generally is written in the form of poetry, in parallel lines, and the successful interpreter must be versed in the laws and imbued with the genius of Hebrew poetry. The communications thus made, passing from the Divine Mind through the human, not mechanically, but conformably to the laws of thought and feeling, become the mental property of the recipient, and the style in which they are written is necessarily impressed with the individuality of the prophet. If it be a doctrine or a fact, he has perceived it; if a matter of sensibility or moral virtue, he has entered into analogous states; and in either case he speaks as from the knowledge of experience. Hence the earlier name of prophet was “seer,” the man who sees, or knows. Especially do these remarks apply to subjective prophecy, as of the Saviour’s sufferings. Psalms 22:6. The tests or rules for determining a Messianic prophecy are few. (1.) When a prophecy is quoted and applied to Christ in the New Testament, it is in all cases to be accepted as so intended by the Holy Spirit. The question of the legitimacy of such application is to be considered settled by divine authority.
(2.) When language and imagery are employed to set forth an ideal character, or the ideal glory of the kingdom of God, to which there is no answerable prototype in Old Testament history, the nature of the description agreeing with the known Christ-ideal of prophecy, or with the Jehovistic reign over the nations, (the theocratic millennium, or latter-day glory of the Hebrews,) it must be accepted and classed with Messianic prophecy. But it must be distinctly understood that where the force of the language may be fully absorbed in the known facts of Old Testament history, it is not lawful to assume for it a predictive Messianic character.
It is no objection to the Messianic import of a passage that it has also a historical groundwork. For instance, in Psalms 22:0 the author was an individual, a real sufferer, and his descriptions arose from the depth of his own peril and distress. But in the agony of his own soul his mind was lifted up by the Holy Spirit to discover in the direction, psychologically, of its own outreachings for help, one in analogous conditions, but in an infinitely greater conflict, pursued to death by ferocious enemies, pouring out his life in agony the Calvary Prototype. So, also, the wars, conquests, kingdom, glory, and person of David became the historic background of the brilliant Messianic paintings of Psalms 2, 96, 98, 110, and such like. It is conformably to the laws of our complex being that we thus rise, by the help of analogy and similitude, from the type to the antitype from the outward and visible to the unseen, the abstract, the spiritual. In subjective prophecy, where the passions, sensibilities, or moral virtues are to be represented, no other method could be adequate. But let us consider these tests apart and in their order.
(1.) As the first test above given has exclusive reference to the number and character of the quotations in the New Testament from the Messianic prophecies of the Old, it will be sufficient to simply supply a classification of such quotations, without giving the total number, of which, according to the tables carefully revised by Bishop Alexander, ( Bampton Lectures, 1876, pp. 257-264,) there are no less than two hundred and fifteen. In the quotations subjoined we do not aim to give a perfect list under each head, nor a perfect enumeration of heads, but only so much as may illustrate the subject.
Christ despised and reproached. The miserable end of the traitor. Christ’s burial and resurrection. Psalms 22:6; Psalms 69:9-10; Psalms 69:19-20. Romans 15:3; Matthew 2:23. Psalms 69:25. Acts 1:20. Psalms 16:8-11. Acts 2:25-28. Christ declaring the Father to his brethren. Christ hated without cause. Christ’s ascension. Psalms 22:22. Hebrews 2:12, (compare John 15:15; John 17:6; John 17:8.) Psalms 109:3, (also Psalms 35:19; Psalms 69:4.) John 15:25. Psalms 68:18. Ephesians 4:8. Christ ministering to the Gentiles. The rage and power of Christ’s enemies. Christ sitting at the right hand of God. Psalms 18:49. Romans 15:9. Psalms 2:1-2. Acts 4:25-26. Psalms 110:1. Matthew 22:44. The Gentiles called to give thanks for the Gospel. Christ’s hands and feet pierced. Christ worshipped by angels. Psalms 117:1. Romans 15:11. Psalms 22:16, (comp.
Zechariah 12:10.) John 19:37. Revelation 1:7. Psalms 97:7. Hebrews 1:6. Christ teaching by parables. Christ derided on the cross. All things subjected to Christ. Psalms 78:2. Matthew 13:35. Psalms 22:7. Matthew 27:39. Mark 15:29. Psalms 8:6. 1 Corinthians 15:27; Hebrews 2:8. Christ’s consuming zeal. They mock him, challenging him to come down from the cross. Christ a Priest-King after the order of Melchizedek. Psalms 69:9. John 2:17. Psalms 22:8. Matthew 27:40-42. Psalms 110:4. Hebrews 5:6. Christ the true bread from heaven. The soldiers part his garments among them. Christ the Son of God. Psalms 78:24. John 6:31; 1 Corinthians 10:3. Psalms 22:18. Matthew 27:35. Psalms 2:7. Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5. Christ riding into Jerusalem. The complaint on the cross. Christ is Adonah, Lord. Psalms 118:25-26. Matthew 21:9. Psalms 22:1. Matthew 27:46. Psalms 110:1; Psalms 110:5. (Hebrews) Matthew 22:44. Children praising Christ in the temple. The Saviour thirsts from exhaustion of the body. Creation ascribed to Christ. Psalms 8:2. Matthew 21:16. Psalms 22:15. John 19:28. Psalms 102:25. Hebrews 1:10. Christ, the corner stone, rejected. They offer him vinegar to drink. Christ is God. Psalms 118:22-23. Matthew 21:42; Acts 4:11. Psalms 69:21. John 19:29. Psalms 45:6-7. Hebrews 1:8-9. Christ betrayed. Not a bone of him was broken. The severity of his rule over obstinate nations. Psalms 41:9. John 13:18. Psalms 34:20. (see Exodus 12:46.) John 19:36 Psalms 2:9. Revelation 2:27; Revelation 12:5; Revelation 19:15. The office of the traitor given to another. Christ the Son of David. Psalms 109:8. Acts 1:20. Psalms 132:11. Acts 2:30; Acts 2:30.Christ (the Son of David) the Saviour. Psalms 132:17. Luke 1:69. (2.) The second test of Messianic prophecy must be applied with caution, and only from a broad view of the plan of revelation, and a close acquaintance with the intent, style, and spirit of prophecy. There are many portions of the Psalms (and this remark applies to the other prophetic writings as well) which, from their elevated style, breadth of expression, and evangelical import, find nothing equal to them in Old Testament history. These scattered lights, when brought together, are found to belong, harmoniously and synthetically, to one central doctrine, and yield a powerful cumulative testimony of the faith and doctrine of the Old Testament saints on this subject, not only from their number, but also from their perfect coincidence. Take, for example, Psalms 93-100, where the conversion of the Gentile nations is so clearly brought forward and celebrated. If no higher revelations of Jehovah to the heathen nations are intended than such as resulted from the known events of Hebrew history, the language not only of these, but of many other passages in the Psalms and the Prophets, must appear inflated and fulsome; and, however they might, as specimens of Oriental poetry, regale our imagination, our understanding must remain unsatisfied, and our judgment misguided. Psalms 72:0, which the Targum, no less than the Christian fathers and modern criticism, admits to be Messianic, is a remarkable instance of this. The picture there so beautifully drawn was never realized in Solomon’s reign, the outcome of which was loud complaint, rebellion, and final dismemberment of the kingdom; precisely the opposite to the spirit of this psalm. Psalms 67, 132 belong to the same class. Many of the psalms also, from which particular parts are quoted in the New Testament as applying to Christ, have other parts not formally quoted, though equally Messianic. This is quite common. This also is what might be expected. “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Revelation 19:10. It is the life, soul, vital part, object and end, of prophecy. “To him [Christ] gave all the prophets witness.” Acts 10:48. To testify beforehand of Christ was the great end of the prophetic office and of Old Testament revelation. We are not to be surprised, therefore, to find a large place and central position given to this subject in the prophetic writings, of which the direct quotations in the New Testament are far from exhaustive. Not unfrequently these prophecies appear in such connexion with personal or historic matter, that to a superficial observer their predictive, or typically predictive, character might be overlooked. Indeed, they might almost seem to have been dropped incidentally, without plan or intention; but upon closer inspection they are seen to bear their own marks of identification and design; and when all are collected and arranged we find them to be complete parts of a symmetrical whole, with nothing redundant, nothing deficient. Just as the parts of a watch, when viewed severally and apart, would not indicate their relation to each other nor their ultimate design, yet when brought together and put in motion would give irresistible evidence, even to one who had never heard of such an instrument, that each part was made for its place, and their total harmony and ulterior use were foreseen and intended by its maker, so is the evidence of the collective body of Messianic prophecies of the class now under consideration. They testify clearly and irrefragably to such a Christ and such a Christianity as the New Testament reveals. Messianic prophecy, therefore, must be considered as an organic unity, the fruit of wise design; accumulating, as to its several parts, from age to age, conformably to a settled plan, till the perfect Christ-ideal was finished. It was fit, also, that this ideal of the personage of the great Deliverer, with the chief attendant circumstances and resultant effects of his advent, should be largely interwoven throughout the Psalms, that by poetry and song, in hallowed worship, their impress might be the more deeply felt in the faith and hope of the Church in all ages.
Much of the harshness of the so-called imprecatory Psalms might be avoided by a different, and equally allowable, translation, and much more by a proper explanation of the terms and allusions in the text. The reader is referred to the notes on the passages themselves, and the introductory notes to the Psalms containing them. A few general remarks here must suffice.
Consider, then, David does not speak as a private individual in the apparent imprecations on his enemies, but as the anointed of God, and for the salutary influence which the divine interference shall have upon the religious faith and morals of the people. He fears that the success of the wicked will weaken the bands of civil government. These considerations are everywhere manifest. In the light of these public functions to which he had been designated by the prophet, and from the standpoint of this representative relation to public law, we must interpret his words.
It is a characteristic of Holy Scripture that therein are set forth in the clearest terms, and greatest particularity of detail, the awful penalty of the divine law against all who wantonly cast off restraint and accountability. The Psalms in question simply indicate the varied forms of terrible wrath which will overtake such crimes as his enemies had committed and proposed. These judgments are beacon fires of warning to deter men from sin; or, if this fail, they show the line of penal consequences which, by the law of God, must follow. In this their publication is in analogy with all revelation in the Old and New Testaments.
It must not be overlooked, that the sufferings of David from the course pursued by his enemies was of the extremest character, both for their severity and their injustice. The case offers no apology for those who indulge in criminations for petty grievances. The sufferer here stands upon the outmost verge of life, and speaks as one who had endured the loss of all things. His enemies had passed beyond suasive and reformatory influences, and the case admitted of no remedy but the retributive and protective course of justice. But even this he submits wholly to the will of God, according to the known principles of his righteous government; and if his language be construed as a prayer, instead of a solemn warning, still it is only a prayer that justice might have its penal course, according to the provisions and design of God, when this alone could support law and protect the righteous.
But it is asked, Is it lawful for a pious man to pray that these judgments may be executed? We answer, in the light of the foregoing statements, It is.
Nothing is here asked upon David’s enemies which the law of God does not lay down as penalty due to such crimes. It is lawful for a pious man, and is a trait of true piety, to pray that the government of God may be sustained, that innocence may be protected, and public order, purity, and peace preserved. But such prayers could not be answered in any government, human or divine, without provision for, and faithful execution of, the punishment of the wicked. When men cease to fear the divine judgments, or wish them abolished, they cease to endorse the divine law. A lax criminal administration in human governments is, by implication, abandonment of law, license to crime, and argues venality and corruption where justice and righteousness should hold sway. In proportion as men attain to just views of the turpitude of sin and the holiness of God, they will delight in the law of God, and approve his judgments. The warnings of Scripture are foregleams of penalty, which the New Testament has not abated. See Matthew 23:32-39; John 8:21; John 8:24; Acts 23:3; 2 Timothy 4:14; Revelation 6:9-10
the <>Sixth Sunday after Easter