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) No. 382. OCTOBER. [1809.
THE BOOK OF PSALMS.*
It has been aptly observed by an old divine, f that "the Scripture is a spiritual paradise," and that "the book of Psalms is placed as the tree of life in the midst of this paradise." "The Psalms," he adds, "are enriched with variety, and suited to every Christian's estate and condition. They are a spiritual panoply and store-house; if he find his heart dead, here he may fetch fire; if he be weak in grace, here he may fetch armour; if he be ready to faint, here are cordials lying by. There is uo condition you can name but there is a Psalm suited to that condition." A still older writer, the pious and judicious Hooker, inquires in the same spirit—" What is there necessary for man to know which the Psalms are not able to teach?" whilst a later divine (Bishop Horne), in his Preface to a Commentary on this portion of Scripture, replete with the spirit of devotion, writes as follows:—"That which we read, as matter of speculation, in the other Scriptures, is reduced to practice, when we recite it in the Book of Psalms; in those, repentance and faith are described, but in these they are acted; by a perusal of the former, we learn how others served God, but, by using the latter, we serve Him ourselves." "In the language of this divine book," continues the writer last quoted, "the prayers and praises of the Church have been offered up to the throne of grace from age to age. And it appears to have been the manual of the Son of God, in the days of His flesh; who, at the conclusion of His last Supper, is generally supposed, and that upon good grounds, to have sung a hymn taken from it; who pronounced, on the cross, the beginning of the 22nd Psalm, 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?' and expired with a part of the 31st Psalm in His mouth: 'Into Thy hands I commend My Spirit.'" "No tongue of man," as Dr. Hammond has well observed, "can convey a higher idea of any book, and of their felicity, who use it aright."
* The following are some of the most important modern works bearing upon thia subject:—
The Book of Psalms in Hebrew, metrically arranged, &c. By J. Rogers, M.A.
Oxford: J. H. Parker. n.d. Commentary on the Psalms. By E. W. Hengstenberg. Translated by Rev. P.
Fan-bairn. 3 vols. Edinburgh: Thomas Clark. 1844—8. A Literal Translation of the Book of Psalms, &c. By the Rev. John Jobb,
A.M. 2 vols. Longmans, Brown, and Co. 1846. The Psalms in Hebrew, with a Critical, Exegetical, and Philological Commentary. By the Rev. George Phillips, B.D. 2 vols. London: J. W.
Parker. 1846. Die Psalmen. Erklart von Justus Olshausen. Leipzig. 1868. Die Psalmen. Ubersetzt und ausgelogt von Dr. Hermann Hupfeld. 2 vols.
Gotha. 1865—8. A Commentary on the Book of Psalms; Critical, Devotional, and Prophetical.
By William De Burgh, D.D. 2 vols. Dublin: Hodges, Smith, and Co. 1860. An Introduction to the Study and Use of the Psalms. By Joseph Francis
Thrupp, M.A. 2 vols. Cambridge: Macmillan and Co. 1860. Die Psalmen ubersetzt und ausgelegt von Dr. Ferdinand Hitzig. 2 vols.
Leipzig und Heidelberg. 1863. The Psalms Translated and Explained. By Joseph Addison Alexander, D.D.
Edinburgh. 1864. Allgemeines iiber die Hebraische Dichtung und uber das Psabnenbuch, von
Heinrich Ewald. Gottingen. 1866. Die Psalmen und die Klaglieder erklart von Heinrich Ewald. Gottingen. 1866. David der Konig von Israel, von Dr. Friedrich "Wilhelm Rninimachar.
Berlin. 1867. The Book of Psalms; a new Translation, with Introductions and Notes Explanatory and Critical. By J. J. Stewart Perowne, B.D. 2 vols. Boll
andDaldy. 1864—8. Notes Critical, Explanatory, and Practical, on the Book of Psalms. By
Albert Barnes. 3 vols. Hamilton, Adams, and Co. 1868. t Thomas Watson. Vol . 68.—No. 382. 4 Z
And in conformity with this view of the intrinsic value of the Book of Psalms has been the place which it has ever held alike in the Jewish and in the Christian Church. Of all the books of the Old Testament, none has held so conspicuous a place as this in the congregational worship of the Church in all succeeding generations; no book is quoted so frequently in the New Testament as the Book of Psalms; and there is none which, in the individual experience of believers, has been, in so preeminent a degree, the lamp to their feet in life, and the anchor of their souls in death.
It is very far from our purpose to disparage, in any way, the importance of those critical researches which, in modern times more especially, have been directed to the discovery of the historicalmeaningof the Psalms, i.e.their immediate reference to the history of the Jewish nation generally, or to the occurrences of the life of David in particular. On the contrary, we gratefully acknowledge the elucidation which has thus been given to many obscure passages, and the additional interest imparted to the Psalms by means of a clearer insight into the date and circumstances of their composition. We cannot, however, too strongly protest against any system of interpretation which restricts this precious and enduring heritage of the Church to the past conflicts, trials, or triumphs of the Jewish Church or nation, or of any of its individual members. Widely as the early writers of the Church often wandered in their expositions, through want of a competent knowledge of the language in which the Psalms were written, they, in common with the ancient Jewish Church, laid firm hold of a truth, which has been too much overlooked in more recent times,—that as regards the prophetic writings generally, and as regards the Psalter in a pre-eminent degree, it is the "testimony of Jesus" which is "the spirit of prophecy."
We are fully conscious of the difficulty involved in the application of this principle to the interpretation of particular passages, and of the importance of bearing ever in mind the momentous distinction between the immediate reference—and even the ultimate scope—of the writer, and the higher and deeper meaning designed by the "Spirit of the Lord," who spake by David, and "Whose word was in his tongue." (2 Sam. xxii. 2.) Whilst, then, we may be unwilling to endorse the literal truth of Augustine's opinion, that hardly a word will be found in the Psalms which is not spoken in the name of Christ and the Church, either both jointly, or of one of the two singly; and if of the Church, then of each one amongst us, we do not hesitate to affirm our belief that the trials, the sufferings, and the triumphs described by the Psalmists have, in all cases, their several lessons of instruction, and, in very many cases, their direct personal application to the history of each individual member of Christ's Church; whilst, as regards many portions of the Psalter, its exclusive accomplishment must be sought in the personal history and experience of the Great Captain of our salvation. It is reasonable to regard, as an illustration of the prevailing system of Jewish interpretation, the application to our Lord by Satan (an application not challenged by Himself) of the promise given to the righteous man generally in the 91st Psalm, "He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways"; whilst, as illustrations of the direct and primary application of the language of the Psalms to Christ, we may refer to the words quoted by St. Peter from the 16th and the 110th Psalms, with reference to the former of which (whatever may have been the current interpretation), the Apostle expressly declares that David, "seeing this before, spake of the resurrection of Christ;" and with reference to the latter, in words which seem to imply (as those of our Lord in St. Matt. xxii. 41—45, and St. Mark xii. 35—37, unquestionably do) the concurrent interpretation of those whom he addressed, "For David is not ascended into the heavens, but he saith himself, The Loed said nnto my Lord, Sit thon on my right hand, until I make thy foes thy footstool."
Once more; it appears to us to be a canon of interpretation absolutely indispensable to the right understanding of the prophetical character of the Psalms, that we should recognize not only (1) distinct prophecies applicable, in their primary or their exclusive sense, to Christ; and (2) prophecies presenting, under allusions to the history of the Jewish Church, unequivocal indications of the destinies of the Christian Church; but also (3) predictions which are inapplicable to the past or present circumstances of the Christian Church, and which can be consistently interpreted only of the future destiny of the Jews, and the concomitant manifestation of the Divine judgments and mercies to the nations of the earth.
Of this latter class of predictions those contained in the 98th and 102nd Psalms will suffice as illustrations. In the former of these Psalms the revelation of the righteousness of Jehovah before the eyes of the nations, and of His salvation to the ends of the earth, is expressly connected with the remembrance of His lovingkindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel: whilst, in the latter, the building up of Zion, and the mercy hereafter to be shown to Jerusalem, are set forth in terms quite inapplicable (whatever the date of the Psalm) to the restoration from Babylon, inasmuch as they are immediately connected not only chronologically, but also in the direct way of cause and effect, with the appearance of the Lord in glory, and the universal homage which shall be rendered to His name:
"Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come. For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof. So the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth thy glory. When the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory." (Ps. cii. 13—16.)
Having thus stated some of the grounds on which we deem the right understanding of the Psalter to be of permanent and daily increasing importance to the universal Church of Christ, we shall proceed to offer a few remarks on some points of general interest, which we trust may be found serviceable to our readers in their habitual perusal and recital of this portion of Holy Scripture.
I. As regards the Divisions of the Psalms. Speaking generally, we may regard the Psalter as consisting of two chief divisions, viz., (1) the Psalms of David and his times, including a few Psalms belonging to a somewhat later period, 1—89; and (2) of Psalms ranging, for the most part, from the times of Hezekiah to those of Ezra, 91—150, separated by the noble 90th Psalm, which is commonly ascribed to Moses, the man of God. A further division, resting alike on ancient tradition and on internal evidence, is that, in accordance with which the Psalter is regarded as consisting of five books, corresponding to the divisions of the Pentateuch, distinguished by the doxologies which are found at the end of Psalms xli., lxxii., xcix., and cvi. respectively; which doxologies, by reason of the absence of any special connexion with the Psalms to which they are appended, have been regarded as marking the respective terminations of different collections, made, probably, by different persons, and at different times.
Other indications exist that this latter division of the Psalter was not made on arbitrary grounds. Amongst these we may notice the following :—
(1.) Of the forty-one Psalms which compose the first Book, all except Psalms i., ii., x., and xxxiii., are expressly ascribed to David, and it is probable that all were composed by him.* In this book the name Jehovah occurs 272 times, whilst Elohim occurs only 15 times.f
(2.) The second Book, which consists of Psalms xlii.—lxxii., is made up of eight of the Psalms of the sons of Korah, one of Asaph, nineteen of David, one inscribed " to, or for Solomon," and two anonymous Psalms. At the end of this book we find the words, "The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended." Moreover, Psalm liii., with very slight variations, is identical with Psalm xiv., the variations consisting chiefly in the substitution of Elohim (the prevailing word used in this book as a designation of the Almighty) for Jehovah. In like manner Psalm lxx. is but a repetition, with a few variations, of Psalm xl. 13—17, two of those variations consisting in the substitution of " Elohim" both for "Jehovah" and for "Adonai," in verses 4, 5—and one, in the substitution of " Jehovah" for "Elohai," "My God," in verse 5.
(3.) The third Book (Psalm lxxiii. — lxxxix.) consists chiefly of the Psalms of Asaph, and of the sons of Korah, with one only ascribed to David, viz. Psalm lxxxvi. "Elohim" preponderates in the earlier portion of this book, "Jehovah" in the later portion.
(4.) The fourth Book (Psalm xc.—cvi.) is made up of anonymous Psalms, with the exception of Psalm xc, ascribed to Moses, and Psalms ci., ciii., ascribed to David. In this book the name Jehovah is exclusively employed.
• The tod Psalm is expressly as- state of construction, or with pronominal
cribed to David in Acts iv. 25. suffixes, in which cases the word Je
t The Hebrew student will under- hovah would be inadmissible; neither
stand that these instances do not in- do they include the singular forms of
elude the use of the word Elohim in a the word El and Eloah.