Barnes' Book Notes
Introduction to the Psalm
Section 1. "The Title to the Book of Psalm."
The general title to the Book of Psalms in Hebrew is Te hilliym , Psalms, or more fully, Sêpher Te hilliym , "Book of Psalms?" Sometimes a shorter title is used - Tilliym . Other terms are used as appropriate to particular psalms, as mizmôriym , or ׁ shı̂yriym , songs; or in the singular, mizmôr , and ׁ shı̂yr , a song. These latter titles, however, are not given to the entire collection, but to particular psalms. The former title - mizmôr - is given to Psalms 3:1-8; Psalms 4:1-8; Psalms 5:1-12; Psalms 6:1-10; Psalms 8:1-9; Ps. 9; Psalms 12:1-8; Psalms 13:1-6; Psalms 15:1-5; Psalms 19:1-14; Psalms 20:1-9; Psalms 21:1-13; Ps. 22; Psalms 23:1-6; and to 39 others, the last being Psalms 143:1-12, rendered uniformly "a psalm." The latter title, ׁ shı̂yr , occurs in Psalms 30:1-12; Ps. 45; Psalms 46:1-11; and in 27 other psalms, the last being Psalms 134:1-3, and is uniformly rendered "song," though it is sometimes connected with the word mizmôr , psalm, and rendered "A song and psalm," as in Psalms 48:1-14; Psalms 65:1-13; Ps. 66; Psalms 67:1-7; Ps. 68; Ps. 69; Psalms 75:1-10; Ps. 83; Psalms 87:1-7; Ps. 88; and in Psalms 122:1-9; Psalms 123:1-4; Psalms 124:1-8 it is connected with the word degrees: "A song of degrees."
The word Te hilliym is derived from the verb - hâlal , to praise, as in the word "Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah." The name is given to the general collection, because praise, more than anything else, is the characteristic of the book, and because the collection seems to have been designed to be used in the public praise or worship of God. They were all probably thus used in Hebrew worship.
The word "Psalms," as applied to the collection, we have derived from the Greek translation, the word ̀ psalmoi , in the plural - "psalmos" (a psalm) and "psalmoi" (psalms). This word is derived from ́ psallō , to touch, to twitch, to pluck - as the hair or beard; and then, to touch or twitch a string, "to twang," that is, to cause it to vibrate by touching or twitching it with the finger or with a "plectrum" ( ͂ plēktron ) - an instrument for striking the strings of a lyre, as a quill. Cic. N. D., 2. 59. Hence, the word is applied to instruments of music employed in praise, and then to acts of praise in general. The noun - ́ psalmos , - "psalm," means properly "a touching, twang," as of a bowstring, or of stringed instruments; then a song, as accompanying stringed instruments; and then specifically a psalm or song of praise to God. Thus, the verb - ́ psallō , - is used in the New Testament as denoting "praise" in the following places: Romans 15:9, "I will confess ... and "sing" unto Thy name;" I Corinthians 14:15, "I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding;" Ephesians 5:19, "Singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;" James 5:13, "Is any merry? let him sing psalms."
The verb does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament. The "noun" - ́ psalmos , - is used in the New Testament in the following places as denoting psalms in general: I Corinthians 14:26, "Every one of you hath a psalm;" Ephesians 5:19, "Speaking to yourselves in psalms;" Colossians 3:16, "Admonishing one another in psalms." In the following places it is applied in the New Testament to the Book of Psalms, considered as a collection of songs of praise; - Luke 20:42, "David himself saith in the Book of Psalms;" - Luke 24:44, "All things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me:" see the notes on that passage; - Acts 1:20, "It is written in the Book of Psalms;" - Acts 13:33, "It is also written in the second psalm." The word does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament.
Section 2. "The Authors of the Psalm."
The Psalms thus collected into a book are by no means the production of one poet or one age. They stretch through a long period of Jewish history, certainly from the time of Moses to the time of the return from the captivity of Babylon, and probably later, and they are modified by all the varieties incident to the peculiarities of their respective authors; to individual and national history; to the times in which they were composed. So many of them, however, are the composition of David, that it is customary to speak of them as "The Psalms of David," though it is probable that not much more than half of the psalms in the collection were written by him. Of the 150 psalms comprising the collection, according to the enumeration in the Hebrew manuscripts, not quite one half are usually ascribed to him. According to DeWette, 74; to Kennicott, 66; to DeRossi, 67; to Rosenmuller and Eichhorn, 71; and to Hengstenberg, 80. It is probable, however, that a portion of the psalms to which no name is prefixed in the title - but how great a portion it is impossible now to determine - is the production of David. Still, so many are known to have been composed by him, and he was so eminent as a poet, as to justify the language which is so frequently employed when they are called familiarly "The Psalms of David."
The following persons are mentioned in the titles as authors of psalms:
(1) One psalm Ps. 90 is ascribed to Moses. In regard to the question whether this is to be regarded as a composition of Moses, see the notes on the psalm. No other psalm in the collection is ascribed to him, though not a few specimens of his poetry are preserved in the Pentateuch. Why this was not incorporated with his other writings, or how it was preserved until it obtained a permanent place in the Book of Psalms, cannot now be determined.
(2) David occupies a prominent position as the author of many of the psalms in the collection, but, as has been remarked above, critics are divided in opinion as to the exact number that should be ascribed to him. In the Hebrew inscriptions of the Psalms, 68 are attributed to him. The difference between this number and that noted above in regard to the opinions of DeWette, Kennicott, DeRossi, Rosenmuller, Eichhorn, Hengstenberg, and others, arises from the variations in the manuscripts in respect to these inscriptions; the different value attached to these inscriptions by various critics; the fact that some psalms, though without a title in the Hebrew, are supposed to be so certainly the production of David as to make it proper to ascribe them to him; and the fact that some of the psalms ascribed to him are supposed by different writers to belong to a later period of the Jewish history than his time, and that, consequently, the title by which they are attributed to David is an error. There is every reason to suppose that some of the psalms now without a title are the composition of David, though it is not known, and cannot now be known, why they are not ascribed to him in the titles of the psalms themselves. In consequence of these facts, it is impossible now to determine with exact precision how many of the psalms are to be ascribed to David; though the number is undoubtedly so great that he is to be regarded as the principal author of the collection.
(3) Twelve of the psalms, Ps. 50; Ps. 73; Ps. 74; Psalms 75:1-10; Psalms 76:1-12; Ps. 77; Ps. 78; Psalms 79:1-13; Ps. 80; Ps. 81; Psalms 82:1-8; Ps. 83; are ascribed to Asaph. These, it will be seen, occupy a place together in the collection Ps. 63-83, with the exception of Psalms 1:1-6. The reason for this arrangement cannot now be known. DeWette (Einleitung, III. iii.) supposes that, with the exception of Psalms 1:1-6. and Ps. 73, these are improperly ascribed to Asaph, as, in his view, they pertain to later times of the Jewish history, Ps. 74; Psalms 79:1-13 to the destruction of the temple and the city; Ps. 80 to the Exile, etc. Compare the notes on the introduction to those psalms (Ps. 74; Ps. 79; Ps. 80).
(4) Eleven of the psalms, Psalms 42:1-11; Ps. 44; Ps. 45; Psalms 46:1-11; Psalms 47:1-9; Psalms 48:1-14; Ps. 49; Psalms 84:1-12; Psalms 85:1-13; Psalms 87:1-7; Ps. 88; are ascribed to "the sons of Korah," as the authors, or are "for the sons of Korah." See the notes to the introduction of Psalms 42:1-11. It is not certain whether these were composed by "the sons of Korah," or were composed for "the sons of Korah;" that is, for the company of musicians to whom the direction of the music in the temple was confided. It is obvious, however, that if the meaning is that they were composed by "the sons of Korah," this furnishes no information as to the individual authorship of the psalms. By which one of them they were composed, or whether by more than one, of course is not indicated by a title so general. DeWette supposes that most of these psalms pertain to the times of the Exile, or to a later period. There is nothing very unique in the character of these psalms; nothing which in themselves could lead us to conclude that they were composed by those to whom they are ascribed, rather than by David or Asaph.
(5) Two psalms, Ps. 88; Ps. 89 are ascribed to a person called "The Ezrahite." One of these, Ps. 88, is ascribed to" the Ezrahite," and the other, Ps. 89, to Ethan the Ezrahite." The former of these is also reckoned among those which pertain to the "sons of Korah." Ethan and Heman were probably, however, different persons, to each of whom the name "Ezrahite" might for some reason be applied. In I Kings 4:31, they are mentioned among others as remarkable for their wisdom: "For he, Solomon, was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol." In I Chronicles 2:6, they are mentioned as "sons of Zerah:" "Zimri, and Ethan, and Heman, and Calcol, and Dara." In I Chronicles 6:33, a Heman is mentioned as one of the "sons of the Kohathites:" "Heman, a singer, the son of Joel." So, in I Chronicles 15:17, he is mentioned in connection with Ethan, who is there said to be the son of Kushaiah; and in I Chronicles 15:19, he is mentioned as associated with Asaph and Ethan: "So the singers, Heman, Asaph, and Ethan, were appointed to sound with cymbals of brass." In I Chronicles 25:1, Helman is mentioned with Jeduthun, as one of those whose sons "should prophesy with harps, with psalteries, and with cymbals." He is there referred to as associated with Asaph. Compare II Chronicles 5:12; II Chronicles 29:13-14; II Chronicles 35:15. Ethan is twice mentioned - I Kings 4:31 as above, as a wise man, and I Chronicles 2:6, as above. Compare the notes on the introduction to Ps. 88; Ps. 89.
(6) Two of the psalms, Ps. 72 and Psalms 127:1-5, are ascribed to Solomon, or are "for Solomon." See the notes on the titles to those psalms (Ps. 72; Ps. 127). It cannot be positively determined whether those psalms are his composition, or whether they were composed with reference to him or for him. The latter would seem to be the more probable opinion in regard to Ps. 72, so far as can be determined from the contents of the psalm; but still there is nothing which absolutely prevents us from ascribing the two to him as the author.
(7) Fifteen of the psalms, Ps. 120-134, are entitled "Songs of Degrees." Of these, four are ascribed to David and one to Solomon. The names of the authors of the others are not mentioned. Compare the introduction to the notes on Psalms 120:1-7. They are grouped together because they appear to have been used on certain special occasions, rather than from anything special in the psalms themselves.
(8) Some of the psalms are ascribed in the Septuagint translation to Jeremiah, to Ezekiel, to Haggai, and to Zechariah. As there is nothing corresponding to this in the Hebrew titles, this must have been, of course, mere conjecture or tradition.
(9) There remains a pretty large number of the collection the names of whose authors are not mentioned; and, of course, there are now no means of determining the question in regard to the authorship. Such are s. 150. These, it will be seen, are irregularly scattered through the book, though they are, for the most part, near its close.
In regard to the origin and authority of the titles to the several psalms, see section 4.
Section 3. "The Formation of the Collection and Arrangement of the Book of Psalm."
The Jewish Talmud (Cod. Berachot, 1, 9) ascribes the formation of the Psalter, or the assembling of the Book of Psalms, to David. It is unnecessary to remark that this cannot be a correct opinion, since many of the psalms are indubitably of a later date than the time of David. Most of the Christian fathers, and many critics of modern times, ascribe the collection and arrangement of the Book to Ezra, and this is now regarded as the most probable opinion; and if so the whole collection must have been formed about 450 years before Christ. But though this may be regarded as the correct opinion in regard to the completion of the whole as it now stands, yet there is evidence in the psalms themselves of the existence of smaller collections made before from which the general one was ultimately formed. By whom those smaller collections were made is not now known, nor can it be ascertained what changes may have been made in them when the general collection was formed.
The Book is divided in the Hebrew text into five minor books or collections, sufficiently marked in their character, and so indicated at the close of each as to make it every way probable that these may have been "published," so to speak, in the form of different books, or that the later were additions to the first collection or volume. This division is found also in the Septuagint version - a fact which proves that it existed as early as the year 200 b.c. These portions bear marks of being not "arbitrary" divisions made at the time when the general collection was formed, but distinct and independent collections by different persons. The grouping is not precisely accurate, that is, in the first part, the "Psalms of David" Ps. 1-41, not all the psalms of David are included; and there are a few that are not ascribed to him in the title; but still it was so complete at the time, probably, as to make it proper to regard it as a collection of "his" psalms in respect to the purpose for which that collection was made.
The first book embraces the first 41 psalms, and was, probably, a collection of David' s psalms as such, although it does not embrace by any means all that he wrote, probably not all that were extant at the time when the collection was made. The "close" of this "book" is indicated by the words "Amen, and Amen," Psalms 41:13. All the psalms in this collection, except Psalms 1:1-6; Psalms 2:1-12; Ps. 10; Ps. 33; are expressly ascribed to David, and it is every way probable that all were composed by him. In many manuscripts, in the Septuagint, and in the Latin Vulgate, the first psalm is united with the second (as are, also, in other parts of the general collection, Psalms 42:1-11 and Psalms 43:1-5; and Ps. 116 and Psalms 117:1-2). It is probable that this collection was early made, though DeWette has endeavored to show that it could not have been until after the exile, since he supposes that Psalms 14:1-7 and Ps. 44 were composed after that event. Of this, however, there is no evidence. Of course it is impossible to determine by whom this collection was made. It has been supposed by some that it was as early as the time of Hezekiah, and that it was prepared under his direction, as he is known to have ordered a collection of the proverbs of Solomon to be made and written out Proverbs 25:1; and as II Chronicles 29:30 he "commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the Lord with the words of David." (Kitto, Encyclopedia)
The second book in the general collection comprises Ps. 42-72. This collection is made up of the psalms of "the sons of Korah," Ps. 42-49; of one of the psalms of Asaph, Ps. 50; of 19 psalms of David; of two whose authors are not named; and of one inscribed "to Solomon," or "for Solomon," Ps. 72. At the end of this collection Psalms 72:20 the following notice is given: "The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended;" and some have supposed that this was the close of the entire psalms preceding it, as one book or collection, Ps. 1-72. Carpzov, Introduction ii. 107. But that this was a different collection, or that there were two collections made by different persons, seems evident from the fact that Psalms 53:1-6 is the same as Psalms 14:1-7; with only slight variations - the variations consisting mainly in the fact that the word 'Elohiym is used as the name of God in the latter, in the place of Yahweh in the former. It cannot be supposed that a collector would have used the same psalm with such a variation in the same collection. So also Psalms 70:1-5 is only a repetition of Psalms 40:13-17, with only a similar change.
It may be "suggested" that these two collections may have been subsequently "united," and may have constituted as one before the more general collection was made. Thus, the natural "close" of this collection, as of the first collection Psalms 41:13, would be with the words "Amen, and Amen," Psalms 72:19. To the "entire" collection - the two combined - these words may have been added Psalms 72:20, "The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended," meaning that "now" an entire and complete collection of the Psalms of David had been made in the "two" combined; or, that "as many had been combined for public worship as were then intended to be used in that service." This idea would not prevent the supposition that there may have been at that time, in fact, other psalms of David in existence; or that they might have been subsequently introduced into the worship of God in "other" collections.
The third book Ps. 73-89 consists in part Ps. 73-83 of psalms of Asaph, and in part Ps. 84-89 of the psalms of the sons of Korah, including one of David Ps. 86. The book contains none of the psalms of David, with the exception of Ps. 86; and therefore the notice is given at the end of the second book Psalms 72:20, that "the prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended." It was evidently the design of the author of the compilation at the "close" of that book not to admit in the following book any of the psalms of David; perhaps it was the intention "not" to collect anymore of the psalms of David for the purpose of public worship. Possibly, as DeWette (Einleitung, p. 21) suggests, the author of the collection in the third book put the notice at the end of the second book that David' s psalms ended there, it being his intention to make a collection of another kind. when this collection was made is unknown. From Psalms 85:1-13 it would seem probable that it was made as late as the return from the captivity at Babylon. That psalm may have been written by one of the company called "the sons of Korah;" or it may have been composed for their use in the sanctuary. This collection closes, like the two former, with the expressive "Amen, and Amen," Psalms 89:52,
The fourth collection Ps. 90-106 is made up wholly of anonymous psalms, with the exception of Ps. 90, which is ascribed to Moses, and Psalms 101:1-8; Ps. 103; which are ascribed to David. They are psalms which have almost no local references or allusions, which might, for the most part, have been composed in any country or at any period of the world; and which, in their structure and allusions, give no indication of their authors or of the circumstances which led to their composition. Their authorship, except in the three instances above mentioned, cannot now be ascertained; nor is it necessary to determine that question in order fully to understand and appreciate them. They were manifestly designed for public worship, and probably written with the intention of being so used. This book closes Psalms 106:48 with the expression "Amen, Hallelujah."
The fifth and last book Ps. 107-150, is miscellaneous in its character, and seems to have been intended to be a collection of all the scattered psalms which would be proper for public worship, which had not found a place in the other collections. Part (Psalms 108:1-13; Ps. 109; Psalms 110:1-7; Psalms 122:1-9; Psalms 124:1-8; Psalms 131:1-3; Psalms 133:1-3; the four last being among the "Songs of Degrees," Psalms 138:1-8; Ps. 139; Psalms 140:1-13; Psalms 141:1-10; Psalms 142:1-7; Psalms 143:1-12; Psalms 144:1-15; Ps. 145) are ascribed to David. Part Ps. 120-134 consist of the "Songs of Degrees." The rest Ps. 107; Psalms 111:1-10; Psalms 112:1-10; Psalms 113:1-9; Psalms 114:1-8; Ps. 115; Ps. 116; Psalms 117:1-2; Ps. 118; Ps. 119; Ps. 135; Ps. 136; Psalms 137:1-9; Psalms 146:1-10; Ps. 147; Psalms 148:1-14; Psalms 149:1-9; Psalms 150:1-6 are anonymous. By whom, and when this last collection was made is unknown. It may without improbability, however, be supposed perhaps that it was made by the person (Ezra?) who undertook to collect into one the entire "books" already existing, and who found many psalms that had not been included by the collectors of the previous books, and who, therefore, grouped all these together in a single book, to be added in the general collection to those which had been already classified and arranged.
Section 4. "The Titles to the Several Psalm."
All the psalms, except Ps. 34, now have in the Hebrew titles or superscriptions. Some, however, reckon only 25 exceptions, as, according to their view, the phrase, "Hallelujah," " Praise ye the Lord," occurring at the commencement of several of the psalms, is regarded by them as a title or superscription. The more correct supposition, however, undoubtedly is to regard that phrase as a part of the psalm. To each one of these exceptions the Talmud gives the name of "Orphan Psalms."
(a) The "authorship" of these titles is unknown, and cannot now be ascertained. They are found in the Hebrew; but it is not to be supposed that, so far as the "name" of the author of the psalm is concerned, or so far as they are intended to indicate the author, they were prefixed to the psalm by the authors themselves. The Psalms are not of the nature of epistles or histories, and it cannot be supposed that the author would prefix his name to a mere poem or hymn. The probability, therefore, is, that they were prefixed to the psalms as they came into common use, or by the collectors of the several books, or the collector of the entire book, either as indicating what was the common opinion on the subject of the authorship, and the occasion on which they were composed, or as an inspired record in regard to that authorship and design. The question "by whom" they were prefixed is, however, a point which cannot now be determined. If it were possible to ascertain that, it would do much to determine their authority and worth, but the estimate of their value must now be settled by some other method than this.
(b) These titles are of great "antiquity." The fact that they are found in the Hebrew manuscripts proves this, for there are no Hebrew manuscripts, however ancient, without them. They are found, with some variations, in the Septuagint; and it is thus certain that they existed before that translation was made. This point is also confirmed by the fact that the translators of the Septuagint have, in some instances, copied the Hebrew words in Greek letters, without attempting to translate them; and that, in other instances, the titles which they use are translations of the Hebrew words, and show that they must have been made from a Hebrew original. These facts, however, would not make it necessary to suppose that they had been prefixed by the writers themselves, nor would it be "necessary" to suppose that they were prefixed before the time when the psalms were collected - either the separate books, or the general collection.
(c) The "design" of these titles is either to designate the author of the psalm, or the occasion on which it was composed, or the chief singer to whom it was dedicated, and to whom it seems to have been committed to set it to appropriate music - that is, to arrange the music for a public use of the psalm; or the style of the poetry; or the instrument which was to be used; or the "tune" which was to be sung. Some of the titles simply designate the author, as in many of those ascribed to David; some describe at length the occasion on which they were written, as Ps. 18; Psalms 30:1-12; Ps. 51; Psalms 52:1-9; Psalms 56:1-13; etc. Some combine several of these things together, the author, the occasion, the style of the poetry, the music to be used, etc., as Psalms 52:1-9; Psalms 53:1-6; Psalms 54:1-7; Ps. 55; Psalms 56:1-13. The longest and fullest of these titles is that prefixed to Psalms 60:1-12; where we have the dedication to the chief musician, the name of the author, the style of the poetry, the design of the psalm, the instrument of music to be employed, and the historical occasion on which the psalm was composed.
(d) It is very difficult at this distance of time to explain the "meaning" of many of these titles, and critics have differed very materially in their conjectures on this subject. The difficulty arises in a considerable degree from our ignorance in regard to the temple-music, and to the instruments which were employed. The difficulty is the same which would exist two or three thousand years from the present time in explaining a book, now familiar, containing "tunes" of music, and a reference to the instruments of music which are now employed in the public service of God. It might be difficult, if not impossible, so to describe the exact instrument of music used as to be intelligible to a future age; and it would be obviously impossible to explain satisfactorily the "names" of many of the "tunes" which are now in common use - as "Mear," "Martin' s," "Russia, "Windham," "Lenox." The difficulty, as has been remarked above, was felt even at the time when the Septuagint version was made, as in several instances the authors of that version have not attempted even to translate the title, but have expressed it in Greek letters answering to the Hebrew. Coverdale, who translated the Bible in 1535, felt the difficulty to be so great that he has omitted nearly all the titles except the names of the authors. In these notes, as far as an explanation can now be given that is satisfactory or probable, it will be offered in the exposition of the particular psalms.
(e) There has been a wide difference of opinion respecting the "authority" of these titles. Not a few modern critics, especially German critics, regard them as of no authority, and argue in respect to the authorship of the psalms, and the time and occasion on which they were composed, as if no such titles were found in the Hebrew. By most of the ancient critics they were considered as genuine, and as having equal authority with the psalms themselves. They were wholly rejected at the close of the fourth century by Theodore of Mopsuestia, one of the ablest and most judicious of the ancient interpreters. Rosenmuller, Hist. Interp. Librorum Sacrorum, P. III, p. 256. Tholuck and Hengstenberg admit their authority. The "objections" to the authority of the title are such as these:
(1) That the "subscriptions" at the close of the epistles in the New Testament are now regarded as of no historical value, and it is asked why may not the same conclusion be adopted in regard to the titles "prefixed" to the psalms?
(2) that the ancient versions, the Syriac and the Greek especially, exhibit them with great variations, often altering the Hebrew, and sometimes giving a heading where the Hebrew has none. It is asked whether these ancient translators would have taken such liberties if the titles had been considered sacred like the psalms themselves? (Kitto). - It is added on this point, that "if ever Ezra settled them, the variations in versions and manuscripts have tended since to make them doubtful." Eichhorn, "Einleitung," III, p. 490.
(3) It is argued that the titles are at variance with the contents of the psalms. Thus, it is alleged that sometimes the name of the author is incorrectly given, "as when David is named over the psalms referring to the captivity," as in Psalms 14:1-7; Ps. 25; Ps. 51; Ps. 69. It is also alleged that Ps. 139 cannot be David' s, since it is not free from Aramaisms. It is also said that the occasion on which a psalm was composed is not always correctly specified, as in Psalms 30:1-12.
It is to be observed, however, that these writers sometimes assume that a psalm refers to the time of the exile when it would be possible to explain it on the supposition that it was composed at an earlier date; and that it is not always safe to argue from the internal evidence of a psalm against the inscription. A critic affixes his own interpretation to a psalm, and then adopts that as a basis of argument in regard to its origin; whereas often, possibly in all cases, if the inscription were assumed to be correct, it would not be difficult to explain the psalm, by fair rules of interpretation, in accordance with that supposition.
On the whole, it seems to me that these inscriptions are to be regarded as a part of the inspired record, and as having the authority of inspiration. The fact that they are found in the Hebrew - that they can be traced back to the earliest periods when we have any knowledge of the Hebrew text - that they have come down to us with that text - furnishes proof which it seems we cannot now set aside; that they are to be regarded as a part of the text, and that they should not be rejected, except as any other portion of the Hebrew text should be rejected, i. e., only when it can be demonstrated that an error has crept into the text by the fault of transcribers.
Section 5. "The General Character of the Book of Psalm."
The Psalms are mostly lyrical poetry, that is, poetry adapted to the harp or lyre; to be used in connection with instrumental music; to be "sung," not "read." Such poetry was common among the ancients, as it is among the moderns. Anacreon, Alcaeus, Stesichous, Sappho, and Horace were eminent among the ancients as "lyric" poets; and the numerous writers of "songs," sacred and secular, among the moderns, are to be ranked in the same class. The phrase "lyric poetry" now, however, is frequently applied to that species of poetry which "directly expresses the individual emotions of the poet" (Webster).
Lyric poetry is, for the most part, an expression of deep feeling, and has its foundation in feeling or emotion. It is not so much the fruit of the understanding as of the heart; not so much the creation of the imagination as the utterance of deep personal emotion. It embraces in its design and nature all kinds of feeling, and may be joyous, pensive, desponding, triumphant, according to the feelings of the author, or to the occasion, for all these utterances may be sung, or may be set to music, the varying tones of music being adapted to express them all. Hence, in the Psalms, 150 in number, and composed by a considerable variety of individuals, and on many different occasions, we have the varied feelings of trouble, anguish, fear, hope, joy, trust, thankfulness, devotion to God, penitence for sin, and the exultation of forgiveness - the heart moved, and finding vent for its feelings in words adapted to the melody of the lyre, or the musical tones of the voice. These feelings are expressed in a great variety of modes or forms, and the music was intended, doubtless, to be in accordance with these varied feelings. The Psalms, therefore, comprise compositions of the following classes or orders:
(1) Hymns in which the praise of God is the principal and leading object, as
(a) in general, God is praised as the God of nature and of men, Psalms 8:1-9; Ps. 104; Ps. 145;
(b) as the God of nature and of the Hebrew people, Psalms 19:1-14; Psalms 29:1-11; Ps. 33; Psalms 65:1-13; Psalms 93:1-5; Ps. 135; Ps. 136; Ps. 147;
(c) as uniquely the God of the Hebrew people, Psalms 47:1-9; Ps. 66; Psalms 67:1-7; Psalms 75:1-10;
(d) as the helper and deliverer of his people, Psalms 46:1-11; Psalms 48:1-14; Psalms 75:1-10; Psalms 76:1-12; Ps. 18; Psalms 30:1-12; Psalms 138:1-8.
(2) Psalms pertaining to the Hebrew nation; to its history; to the Divine interposition in its behalf; and to its relation to Yahweh. Ps. Ps. 78; Ps. 105; Ps. 106; Psalms 114:1-8.
(3) temple psalms, or songs of Zion. Psalms 5:1-12; Psalms 15:1-5; Psalms 24:1-10; Psalms 87:1-7; Ps. 132.
(4) Psalms in relation to trial, calamity, distress, whether of individuals or of the nation. These abound, as Ps. 7; Ps. 22; Ps. 55; Psalms 56:1-13; Ps. 109; Ps. 44; Ps. 74; Psalms 79:1-13; Ps. 80; Psalms 137:1-9; Ps. 69; Ps. 77; Ps. 102; Ps. 10; Psalms 12:1-8; Psalms 14:1-7; Psalms 36:1-12; and many others.
(5) Religious and moral psalms, Ps. 90; Ps. 139; Psalms 23:1-6; Ps. 91; Psalms 121:1-8; Psalms 127:1-5; Psalms 128:1-6; Psalms 42:1-11; Psalms 43:1-5; Psalms 101:1-8; Psalms 131:1-3; Psalms 1:1-6; Psalms 133:1-3; Ps. 119:
The uniqueness of the Hebrew lyrical poetry as distinguished from the lyrical poetry of other ancient people, and from most of the lyrical poetry in modern times, is its "religion." It is lyrical poetry on subjects pertaining to religion, or to be employed in religion: as expressing religious feeling, and as designed to awaken and foster such feeling. It is intended to raise the heart and the affections toward God; to lift up the thoughts of men from the earth; to inspire confidence in God; to produce consolation as derived from God in times of trouble; to cheer and comfort man in his pilgrimage along a path of sorrow and trouble to a better abode. Much of it can be best characterized by an expression derived from the Bible itself - an expression no less remarkable for its beauty than its truthfulness - as "songs in the night" Job 35:10; songs indicating the joy that may spring up in the soul of man in times of distress and sorrow; songs that show that there "is" joy in the darkness of this world; songs which illustrate the power and the value of religion; songs with which men cheer themselves and each other in their journey toward the grave; songs which even the guilty may pour forth from hearts softened into penitence, and filled with thankfulness in the assurance of pardon.
It is most remarkable that this rich poetry should have sprung up in Palestine, and that it should have been confined to that land. It was not that the land was better adapted to lyric poetry than other lands - for in this respect it could not compare favorably with many other countries, and particularly with Greece. It was not that the events of their history had been such as peculiarly to suggest this kind of composition - for poetry adapted to the lyre or to music abounded elsewhere, and especially in Greece. It was not that the Hebrews had a more poetic imagination than other people - for theirs did not, in this respect, surpass the Greek genius, and whatever there was of poetic imagination in the character of their minds was found with equal richness in Arabia and Persia. Nor was it that their language was especiallly favorable for this kind of poetry - for in very many respects it was far inferior in this point to the Greek, and had no superiority certainly over the Arabian and Persian.
The fact that their poetry took this turn; the fact that all which they had was religious; the fact that there was literally no poetry in their language that was designed and adapted to the dance, to festive amusements, to Bacchanalian orgies, to scenes of gaiety, frivolity, and vanity; the fact that in all the lyric poetry of the Hebrews there is literally nothing in this respect that can be placed by the side of much in the Greek lyric poetry - much in Horace - much in Burns; by the side of the lyric poetry of all lands except Palestine, can be traced only to the idea that the new religion prevailed there, and can be best explained on the supposition that the authors of that poetry were inspired to prepare and transmit to future times that which, in all ages, would express the feelings of true devotion, and which might be permanently employed in the praises of God. He will fail to explain the fact that such poetry is found in Palestine alone, and will fail to appreciate its true nature, who does not admit that these "sweet singers" were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
On the general character of Hebrew poetry, see the introduction to the notes on the Book of Job, Section 5. On "the origin and culture of lyric poetry among the Hebrews," it may be proper to introduce here the following remarks from DeWette' s "Commentar ueber die Psalmen," Einleitung, II, pp. 6-12. I copy from the elegant translation of the introduction of DeWette, by Prof. John Torrey, in the Biblical Repository, Vol. III, pp. 450-456:
"If we follow the titles of the Psalms and the common opinion, we must suppose the lyric poetry of the Hebrews, as well as the largest portion of the Psalms themselves, a production of David and his contemporaries. The few specimens of lyric composition which we find before David scarcely enter into consideration, compared with the fertility of his own period. In the earlier history it is but occasionally that the voice of poetry is heard, as in the songs of Moses at the Red Sea, of Deborah, and of Hannah. We are surprised, after so few attempts in lyric poetry, to see so accomplished and fruitful a poet rise up all at once, with several others in his company. So rapid a progress supposes some adequate occasion, some preparatory steps. Now, if we cast our eye over the history of the times immediately preceding the age of David, we are presented with a phenomenon which seems to explain the difficulty.
It is Samuel' s school of the prophets. Many, as Herder, Eichhorn, Nachtigall, and Rosenmuller, suppose that the composition of psalms was cultivated and brought to perfection in this seminary. Specious as this conjecture appears, it is hardly reconcilable with the facts of the history. It is not intimated that David, before his unction, had any connection with Samuel. The former tends his father' s flock. Indeed Samuel appears to have had no acquaintance with David when he comes to anoint him, I Samuel 16:6 ff. Yet, David is already a skillful minstrel, and famed for his art, I Samuel 16:18; he was not, therefore, a disciple of Samuel, at least in minstrelsy. But it is well known that music and song at this period were not separated; we must therefore suppose that David was already a poet, and, as such, known and celebrated. Some time afterward, it is true, we find David in Samuel' s school of the prophets, but it is only on the occasion of his flight from Saul, I Samuel 19:18 ff.
It may be possible that Samuel had some acquaintance with David prior to his unction, though no mention is made of it in the account of that transaction, 1 Sam. 16. But he might have been an object of attention to the prophet without being properly his disciple; or perhaps the youth was his own instructor. Natural capacity, in connection with frequent practice, might produce the same degree of talent, to say the least, as an artificial system of instruction, like that which we may suppose to have prevailed in the prophetic school. At the same time, it would be an error to imagine that lyric poetry arose among the Hebrews all at once, as if it sprung out of the ground. David' s contemporaries, the women who celebrated with song and joy his victory over Goliath, practiced a species of poetry which, though rude and uncultivated, was truly lyric in its kind; their short poem, has already the form of the poetic parallelism, and an original and superior mind might easily advance from such a beginning to the highest degree of excellence.
Saul smote his thousands,
But David his ten thousands,
We find also, still earlier, in addition to the examples of Moses, Deborah, and Hannah, the practice, particularly among the women, of music and the dance, from which song certainly was not excluded. Jephthah' s daughter comes out to meet her father with timbrels and dances, Judges 11:34. At Shiloh the maidens held a yearly feast with dances, Judges 21:21. It may be questioned whether Samson was not a minstrel, for he is called out to play before the Philistines, Judges 16:25, which is commonly understood to refer to the dance, but excludes not the accompaniments of song and instrumental music. But even if he was not, strictly speaking, a musician and singer, yet we meet in him with the first "Mashal" poet, as we have also from the same period the masterly apologue of Jotham. Such facts, though insulated, presuppose among a people a considerably high degree of cultivation, or at least of poetical capacity.
Indeed, the song of Deborah alone proves that the poetic art was already arrived at a stage of improvement sufficient to account for the origin of the Davidian poetry. Whether a period produces one admirable poem or more is a matter of chance rather than the result of the state of culture. Besides, the times of the judges and of Samuel constituted the heroic age of the Hebrews, a period peculiarly favorable to the first beginnings and gradual improvement of poetry. ' Such times,' says Eichhorn, ' are poetical under every climate;' but I cannot add with him, ' that poetry, in this case, is like the nation, wild and heroic, breathes only in the warlike trump, and knows no field for practice but that of valor and victory with their attendant train.' The occasions which first called forth the Hebrew poets were, probably enough, connected with war; but when poetry has once sprung into life, she confines herself to no such narrow limits, and draws still other objects within her circle. With feasts of victory, sacrifices, dances, and other rites were united, which might easily have tempered the song to a tone of somewhat softer character. Even warlike songs admit of the gentler emotions, and the song of Deborah is rich in touches of amiable feeling. When it is said they sung to the trumpet, we are certainly not to understand it in the literal sense; the music of the harp, of the flute, and of the timbrel, was the accompaniment even of the songs of war, and these instruments are adapted to the softest tones. We are not then obliged to trace the origin of the sweet and amiable poetry of David' s psalms exclusively to Samuel' s school of the prophets.
"Unfortunately we know far too little about the prophetic school of Samuel to determine what influence it had on the cultivation of poetry. The passages relating to it are I Samuel 10:5; I Samuel 19:19-20. In the first of these it is undoubtedly implied that the disciples of the prophets had music among them. and their ' prophesying' ( hite nabē' ) has been understood, not without grounds, in the sense of song, for the word nâbı̂y' sometimes signifies poet, Exodus 15:20, and nibâ' , to sing, I Chronicles 25:1 ff. We may suppose, however, that this music was employed simply as a support and accompaniment of the prophetic delivery. The prophets probably delivered their messages, in the earlier times at least, in connection with music and a vehement action and declamation approaching to a dance. The passage in II Kings 3:15 ff. is remarkable. The prophet Elisha is about to pronounce the answer of the Lord to certain inquiries of Jehoshaphat; but before he does it, he asks for a minstrel; and as the latter strikes the harp, ' the hand of Yahweh comes upon him,' and he utters his reply.
The case here, it is true, is different; the prophet does not play and sing himself, but submits to the performance of another; still it shows the constant connection of music with the prophetic office. Neither is it distinctly asserted in the passages above that the company of the prophets "sung" themselves. The word hite nabē' , which is there employed, may not perhaps signify "to sing," for Saul and Saul' s messengers prophecy - ּ hite nabe 'û - as soon as they hear the music, without preparation or practice. Their prophesying was perhaps nothing more than a vehement action, dancing, and gesticulation, as we see from the circumstance of Saul' s falling down naked. At the farthest, they might have joined in the choral song with the company of prophets. Such choral chants were perhaps sung in the school of Samuel, but only for the purposes of devotion and inspiration; and the proper design of this school was to educate youth for the prophetic office, that is, to give counsel from the Lord to a people under a theocratic government.
Samuel was a prophet, and history has preserved no remains of any poetical works of his. Is it not most probable that he was aiming to educate his disciples likewise for the prophetic office? Now, it is true that the Hebrews drew no accurate line of distinction between lyric poetry and prophetic eloquence; yet these two always differ, particularly in the mode of delivery, for the lyric poem was probably sung, while the prophetic message was only recited. Supposing, then, Samuel was employed in forming his disciples to be prophetic poets or speakers, what is more natural than to imagine that some of them might feel drawn by genius and inclination to lyric poetry, and succeed in perfecting themselves in this? Yet it lay out of the plan of the prophetic school, and was a thing quite accidental. It is hardly correct, therefore, to consider the prophetic school of Samuel simply as an institution for the cultivation of singing and poetry.
"There were other institutions which may have had an influence still more important and decided than this school of the prophets in promoting the culture of lyric poetry, especially of the religious kind. I refer particularly to those musical schools which, according to the account, I Chronicles 15:16 ff. were founded by David in aid of the public worship. Yet I cannot retract the unfavorable opinion I once pronounced upon these and similar narratives in the Chronicles; I must rather confirm it. Besides the reasons there alleged, which I may not repeat, it seems to me to be a circumstance particularly calculated to excite suspicion, that the psalms and fragments of psalms represented by the Chronicles to have been sung at the dedication of the tabernacle and on similar occasions can hardly have been penned by David, but belong rather to the later and less pure style of the temple poetry. The psalm which is sung, I Chronicles 16:8 ff, is composed Ps. 105 and Psalms 96:1-13; but both are productions of a later style. If the Chronicles had presented us on this occasion with a genuine song of David, such as the elegy for which we are indebted to 2 Sam. 1; this circumstance would have contributed not a little to add weight to its authority, but the insertion of these fragments throws suspicion over the whole of the accompanying narrative. The phrase also, quoted I Chronicles 16:41, and elsewhere, respecting the Levites who were appointed to give thanks to the Lord, ' because his mercy endureth forever,' betrays the later poetry of the temple, an example of which we have in Ps. 136, where this phrase forms a regular refrain; also Ps. 106; Ps. 107; Ps. 118; in which this phrase occurs appear to belong to a later style of poetry.
"We may imagine that a master like David would not be without companions and assistants in the poetic art; and, in fact, several of David' s contemporaries are named in the titles as composers of psalms: but these notices are not always good authority. Solomon, according to the testimony of history, united in himself such richness of lyric invention with the sententious style unique to him, that in his time lyric poetry must have attained to a very high degree of perfection. ' Solomon spoke three thousand proverbs, and his songs were a thousand and five,' I Kings 4:32. It is singular, however, that with the exception of two which are quite uncertain, no psalms of Solomon are preserved in our present collection; nor do we find any psalm with the author' s name belonging to the period after Solomon, not even one which admits of being referred with certainty and of necessity to any particular event in the history of those times; and yet such lyric poems as those of Hezekiah and of Habakkuk clearly evince, that during this period the culture of lyric composition had by no means fallen into neglect.
On the contrary, we have many psalms which, according to the results of a sound critical exegesis almost universally acknowledged, must be placed in the times of the captivity, and after the captivity; and these psalms rank, for purity of language, and for sublimity, beauty, and freshness of conception, in the highest class, and are, in no respect, inferior to the poems of David and his contemporaries, for example, Ps. 45; Ps. 74; Psalms 79:1-13; Ps. 107; and many, if not all, of the Psalms of Degrees. We are here presented, then, with a singular phenomenon. The lyric poetry of the Hebrews, which was cultivated and brought to perfection in the times of David, after producing abundance of fruit, sank into a repose of nearly 500 years, and then all at once, in the most calamitous period of the state, arose again, survived another golden age, and yielded a second harvest - a phenomenon hardly corresponding with the common course of events. The singularity, however, disappears as soon as we suppose that the collection of Psalms contains several pieces, either anonymous or incorrectly named, which belong to the period extending from David to the captivity. Indeed, it is in the highest degree probable that lyric composition flourished side by side with the prophetic poetry, and that many of the prophets themselves contributed to our present collection, and might reclaim their own productions from David and others. Some of the prophets, too, are actually named by the Septuagint as authors of psalms."
Section 6. "The Imprecations in the Psalm."
Much has been written on the subject of the imprecations in the Psalms, or, as they are called, "The imprecatory psalms;" and perhaps there is no part of the Bible that gives more perplexity and pain to its readers than this; perhaps nothing that constitutes a more plausible objection to the belief that the psalms are the productions of inspired men than the spirit of revenge which they sometimes seem to breathe, and the spirit of cherished malice and implacableness which the writers seem to manifest. There has been probably no explanation offered which has relieved the minds of those who are thus perplexed, or which has furnished a solution wholly satisfactory on the question how this spirit can be reconciled with the precepts of the New Testament and with the requirements of true religion. It is useless to attempt to disguise or to conceal the difficulty, and it may be admitted that most of the explanations which have been suggested leave the difficulty just where it was. Perhaps it is not possible for us to remove all such difficulty, or so to present the subject that questions may not be asked which it would be impossible to answer, and, indeed, what subject is there in mental philosophy, in natural science, in morals, or in theology, on which questions may not be asked which the human powers are not yet competent to answer? In regard to the growth of a blade of grass, questions may be asked which no chemist - no person - can answer.
With reference to the imprecations in the Psalms, it will be proper, first, to refer to some specimens of such psalms, that we may know where the difficulty lies; and then to consider in what way, if any, this difficulty may be solved.
The following are among the passages which would be referred to as belonging to that class of psalms. They are not, indeed, all that could be selected, but they are fair specimens, and there are no others that would involve any difficulty which are not found in these.
Psalms 5:10, "destroy thou them, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions, for they have rebelled against thee."
Psalms 10:15, "break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: seek out his wickedness until thou find none."
Psalms 18:40-42, "thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies; that might destroy them that hate me. They cried, but there was none to save them: even unto the Lord, but he answered them not. Then did I beat them small as the dust before the wind: I did cast them out as the dirt in streets."
Psalms 28:4, "give them according to their deeds, and according to the wickedness of their endeavors: give them after the work of their hands; render to them their desert."
Psalms 31:17, "let me not be ashamed, O Lord, for I have called upon thee: let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave."
Psalms 35:3-8, "draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me: say unto my soul, I am thy salvation. Let them be founded and put to shame that seek after my soul: let them be turned back and brought to confusion that devise my hurt. Let them be as chaff before the wind: and let the angel of the Lord chase them. Let their way be dark and slippery: and let the angel of the Lord persecute them. For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul. Let destruction come upon him at unawares; and let his net that he hath hid catch himself: into that very destruction let him fall."
Psalms 40:14, "let them be ashamed and confounded together that seek after my soul to destroy it; let them be driven backward and put to shame that wish me evil."
Psalms 55:9, "destroy, O Lord, and divide their tongues: for I have seen violence and strife in the city."
Psalms 55:15, "let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick (alive, living) into hell: for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them."
Psalms 58:6-10, "break their teeth, O God, in their mouth: break out the great teeth of the young lions, O Lord. Let them melt away as waters which run continually: when he bendeth his bow to shoot his arrows, let them be as cut in pieces. As a snail which melteth, let every one of them pass away: like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun. Before your pots can feel the thorns, he shall take them away as with a whirlwind, both living, and in his wrath. The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked."
Psalms 59:12-15, "for the sin of their mouth and the words of their lips let them even be taken in their pride: and for cursing and lying which they speak. Consume them in wrath, consume them, that they may not be: and let them know that God ruleth in Jacob unto the ends of the earth. And at evening let them return; and let them make a noise like a dog, and go round about the city. Let them wander up and down for meat, and grudge if they be not satisfied."
Psalms 68:2, "as smoke is driven away, so drive them away: as wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God."
Psalms 69:22-25, "let their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not; and make their loins continually to shake. Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold of them. Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents."
Psalms 79:12, "and render unto our neighbors sevenfold into their bosom their reproach, wherewith they have reproached thee, O Lord."
Psalms 83:9-17, "do unto them as unto the Midianites; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook of Kison: which perished at Endor: they became as dung for the earth. Make their nobles like Oreb, and like Zeeb; yea, all their princes as Zebah, and as Zalmunna ...O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind. As the fire burneth a wood, and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire; so persecute them with thy tempest, and make them afraid with thy storm. Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O Lord. Let them be confounded and troubled for ever; yea, let them be put to shame, and perish."
Psalms 109:6-15, "set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan sta