Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
General Editor for the Old Testament:—
A. F. KIRKPATRICK, D.D.
THE BOOK OF
A. F. KIRKPATRICK, D.D.
Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge;
Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity.
at the University Press
In the Psalms the soul turns inward on itself, and their great feature is that they are the expression of a large spiritual experience. They come straight from “the heart within the heart,” and the secret depths of the spirit. Where, in those rough cruel days, did they come from, those piercing, lightning-like gleams of strange spiritual truth, those magnificent outlooks over the kingdom of God, those raptures at His presence and His glory, those wonderful disclosures of self-knowledge, those pure outpouring of the love of God? Surely here is something more than the mere working of the mind of man. Surely they tell of higher guiding, prepared for all time; surely, as we believe, they hear “the word behind them saying, This is the way, walk ye in it,” they repeat the whispers of the Spirit of God, they reflect the very light of the Eternal Wisdom. In that wild time there must have been men sheltered and hidden amid the tumult round them, humble and faithful and true, to whom the Holy Ghost could open by degrees the “wondrous things of His law,” whom He taught, and whose mouths He opened, to teach their brethren by their own experience, and to do their part in the great preparation.
I. The Book of Psalms
II. The Position, Names, Numbering, and Divisions of the Psalter
III. The Titles of the Psalms
IV. The Authorship and Age of the Psalms
V. The Object, Collection, and Growth of the Psalter
VI. The Form of Hebrew Poetry
VII. The Hebrew Text, the Ancient Versions, and the English Versions
VIII. The Messianic Hope
IX. On some points in the Theology of the Psalms
X. The Psalter in the Christian Church
*** The Text adopted in this Edition is that of Dr Scrivener’s Cambridge Paragraph Bible. A few variations from the ordinary Text, chiefly in the spelling of certain words, and in the use of italics, will be noticed. For the principles adopted by Dr Scrivener as regards the printing of the Text see his Introduction to the Paragraph Bible, published by the Cambridge University Press.
The choice and flower of all things profitable in other books the Psalms do both more briefly contain, and more movingly also express, by reason of that poetical form wherewith they are written … What is there necessary for man to know which the Psalms are not able to teach? They are to beginners an easy and familiar introduction, a mighty augmentation of all virtue and knowledge in such as are entered before, a strong confirmation to the most perfect among others. Heroical magnanimity, exquisite justice, grave moderation, exact wisdom, repentance unfeigned, unwearied patience, the mysteries of God, the sufferings of Christ, the terrors of wrath, the comforts of grace, the works of Providence over this world, and the promised joys of that world which is to come, all good necessarily to be either known or done or had, this one celestial fountain yieldeth. Let there be any grief or disease incident into the soul of man, any wound or sickness named, for which there is not in this treasure-house a present comfortable remedy at all times ready to be found.
The Book Of Psalms
Lyric poetry is the most ancient kind of poetry, and Hebrew poetry is mainly lyric. Neither epic nor dramatic poetry flourished in ancient Israel. Some indeed of the historical Psalms may be said to have an epic colouring, but they belong to the class of didactic narrative: Job and the Song of Songs may be called in a sense dramatic, but they do not appear to have been intended for performance on the stage. The only independent branch of poetry in Israel was gnomic or proverbial poetry, which in the hands of the ‘Wise Men’ attained to a rich development, and must have exercised an important influence on the education of the people.
The Old Testament is the religious history of Israel, and the poetry preserved in the Book of Psalms is, as might be expected, religious poetry. Secular poetry no doubt existed, but, with the exception of a few fragments preserved in the historical books, it has not come down to us. The Psalter then is a collection of religious lyrics. Lyric poetry is denned as “that which directly expresses the individual emotions of the poet”; and religious lyric poetry is the expression of those emotions and feelings as they are stirred by the thought of God and directed God-wards. This is the common characteristic of the Psalms in all their manifold variety. Some are directly addressed to God, as petition or thanksgiving or praise: some are the communings of the soul with God, expressing its faith, its hope, its love, its needs, its fears, its aspirations, its joys, its triumphs: some celebrate the ‘marvellous works’ of God in nature and in history: some reflect upon the perplexing problems of life and their relation to the divine government of the world: but God is as it were the sun around which all revolves, and His light and heat illuminate and animate the whole.
The Psalms stand in an intimate relation to the whole of the Old Testament. They are the inspired response of the human heart to God’s revelation of Himself, in Law and History and Prophecy and Philosophy.
The Psalmists celebrate the moral law as the guide of human conduct; they welcome the ordinances of worship and rejoice in the privilege of access to the presence of God in the Temple, as the crowning joy of life.
History supplies its lessons of God’s goodness and man’s ingratitude, thrown into the easily remembered form of didactic poetry. The recollection of the past is a warning for the present, the support of faith in the hour of trial, the ground of comfort in times of calamity.
The Psalms are closely connected with Prophecy. The term ‘prophesying’ is applied to the expression of religious fervour in chant and hymn (1 Samuel 10:10 ff; 1 Samuel 19:20 ff., 1 Chronicles 25:1-3); and David’s chief musicians, Heman, Asaph, and Jeduthun, are called ‘seers’ (1 Chronicles 25:5; 2 Chronicles 29:30; 2 Chronicles 35:15). Sacred poetry often rises to prophetic foresight, or speaks with prophetic authority, while prophecy often passes into lyric poetry. The passion for truth and righteousness, and the unquenchable belief that Jehovah’s moral government of the world is working, surely if slowly, towards a glorious consummation in the establishment of His universal sovereignty, animate and inspire Psalmists not less than Prophets.
Several Psalms reflect the influence of the ‘Wisdom’ or religious philosophy of Israel, both in its practical and in its speculative aspects. The moral lessons for every-day life collected in the Book of Proverbs, and the discussion of the problems of the world in Job and Ecclesiastes, find their echo in the poetry of the Psalter.
The importance of the Psalter for a just appreciation of the history of Israel is obvious. How meagre an idea of the higher religious life of Israel should we derive from the Historical Books apart from the Prophets: how imperfect still would be the picture drawn from the Historical Books and the Prophets without the warmth of colouring added to it by the Psalms. These alone give us a glimpse into the inner religion of the best spirits in the nation, and bear witness to the faith, the love, the devotion of pious souls, even under the limitations of the Old Covenant.
Hence it is essential to study the Psalms critically and historically, to endeavour to ascertain their original meaning, and to assign them to their proper place in the history and development of revelation; not only in order to give life and reality to the Psalms themselves, and to understand them better; but for the sake of the light which they throw upon the religious history of Israel, and the course of God’s dealings with His people.
The inquiry is however one of extreme difficulty. The widest diversity of opinion prevails as to the date and authorship of the Psalms, and we must often be content to acknowledge that a Psalm cannot be assigned to a definite period, still less to a particular author, with any degree of certainty.
But after all, the critical and historical study of the Psalms is but a preliminary to the higher study of their spiritual meaning and their devotional use. The Psalter has been through all the centuries and will ever continue to be the one unique and inexhaustible treasury of devotion for the individual and for the Church. Through its guidance the soul learns to commune with God: it supplies the most fitting language for common worship.
To some it may seem almost a sacrilege to apply the methods of criticism to such a book. It may be disappointing to find that many Psalms once supposed to be David’s must be relegated to a far later age; perplexing to find familiar renderings condemned, and long current interpretations abandoned.
But Holy Scripture conveys divine truth through the medium of human language, and it is our duty to investigate to the full the meaning and the force of that language. Criticism is not the enemy but the handmaid of devotion. As we learn to understand more of the original meaning of the Psalms for those who wrote and used them, we shall learn more of their true meaning for ourselves.
But that meaning is not limited to the ‘original’ sense, if by this is meant only that sense which the writers could recognise in their own words. Every true poet’s words contain far more than he himself at the moment intends. And the words of these inspired poets were so shaped and moulded by the Holy Spirit that they might grow and expand with the growth of revelation, and “gather wealth in the course of ages.” The Psalms belong indeed to the Old and not to the New Testament. They are the product of the Jewish and not of the Christian Church. But “the Psalter in its spiritual fulness belongs to no special time”; and the old words are ‘fulfilled’ in Christ. The Christian Church may, nay must, use them as they are illuminated by the light of the Gospel. And if the saying, “pectus est quod facit theologum,” is true of the study of the Bible generally, it is most true of the study of that book which has well been called “the Bible within the Bible,” the very “heart of the Bible.”
The Position, Names, Numbering, And Divisions Of The Psalter
1. The position of the Psalter in the Old Testament. The Hebrew title of the Old Testament indicates the three great divisions, in which, from very early times, the Canonical Books were arranged by the Jewish Church:—Law, Prophets, Writings. The Book of Psalms belongs to the third of these divisions, the Writings or Hagiographa. But its position in the group has not always been the same. In the mss. of the German type, which our printed editions follow, the Psalms stand first, followed by Proverbs and Job. That this was the ancient order is at least a probable inference from Luke 24:44 where “the Psalms” stands by the side of “the Law” and “the Prophets” as the title of the Hagiographa in general.
The order of the books of the O.T. in our English Bibles is that which had come to be adopted in the Vulgate by the sixteenth century. It corresponds more nearly to the arrangement of the LXX found in the Vatican ms. than to that of the Hebrew, but differs from it in placing Job before the Psalter instead of after the Song of Songs, and in placing the Minor Prophets after instead of before the Major Prophets, and arranging them as they stand in the Hebrew text.
2. Names of the Psalter. The Septuagint translators employed the word ψαλμός, psalm, to render the Heb. word mismôr, which was the technical term for a song with musical accompaniment (see p. xix). The collection was styled simply Psalms, as in the Vatican ms. (ψαλμοί, cp. Luke 24:44), or The Book of Psalms (Luke 20:42; Acts 1:20), or in later times The Psalter, ψαλτήρ or ψαλτήριον. The Greek words have come down to us through the Latin psalmus, psalterium.
In the Hebrew Bible the title of the collection is Book of Praises, or simply, Praises: Sepher Tehillim abbreviated into Tillim or Tillin. This title was known to Hippolytus and Origen in the first half of the third century a.d., and to Jerome. Though the word praise occurs frequently in the Psalter, only one Psalm (145) bears the title A Praise, and the name Book of Praises probably originated in the use of the collection as the hymn-book of the Second Temple. Many indeed of the Psalms cannot be so designated, but no more fitting name could be found for a book, of which praise and thanksgiving are predominant characteristics, and which ends with a diapason of Hallelujahs.
Another title, apparently that of an early collection of Davidic Psalms, was Tephillôth or Prayers (Psalm 72:20). Only five Psalms , 17, 86, 90, 102, 142, are so entitled; but again, although some Psalms (e.g. 1, 2) contain no direct address to God, the title is a suitable one. Prayer in its widest sense includes all elevation of the mind to God. Hannah’s thanksgiving and Habakkuk’s ode are both described as prayer (1 Samuel 2:1; Habakkuk 3:1).
3. Numbering of the Psalms. The Massoretic Text and the LXX both reckon a total of 150 Psalms. The 151st Psalm, which is added in the LXX, is expressly said to be “outside the number.” But this reckoning has not been uniformly observed. Some ancient Jewish authorities reckon 149, others 147 Psalms, the latter number, as the Jerusalem Talmud says, “according to the years of our father Jacob.” These totals are obtained by uniting one or all of the pairs 1, Psalm 2:9, Psalms 10 : 114, 115: or other Psalms. Although the Hebrew and the LXX agree in the total, they differ in the details of the numeration. The LXX unites 9 and 10, 114 and 115, and divides 116 and 147. It may be useful to subjoin a comparative table, for while our modern English versions follow the Hebrew reckoning, the Vulgate and the older English Versions (e.g. Wycliffe and Coverdale) and modern Roman Catholic versions based upon it, follow that of the LXX.
Hebrew (Later English Versions).
LXX (Vulgate. Older English Versions. Rom. Cath. Versions).
Thus for the greater part of the Psalter the numeration of the LXX is one behind that of the Hebrew.
The English reader should also remember that the title of a Psalm, when it consists of more than one or two words, is reckoned as a verse, and sometimes (e.g. in Psalms 51) as two verses, in the Hebrew text. Attention to this is necessary in using the references of commentaries which, like that of Delitzsch, follow the numbering of the verses in the original.
4. Divisions of the Psalter. The Psalter has from ancient times been divided into five books:
= Psalms 1-41 :
= Psalms 42-72 :
= Psalms 73-89 :
= Psalms 90-106 :
= Psalms 107-150
These divisions are indicated by doxologies of a liturgical character, differing slightly in form, at the close of the first four books (Psalm 41:13, Psalm 72:18-19, Psalm 89:52, Psalm 106:48). The first three of these doxologies obviously form no part of the Psalms to which they are appended. The fourth however (see note on Psalm 106:48) appears to belong to the Psalm, and not to be merely an editor’s addition to mark the end of a book. It came however to be regarded (somewhat inappropriately, for Psalms 106, 107 are closely connected) as marking the division between Books iv and v. No special doxology is added to Psalms 150. It is in itself an appropriate concluding doxology for the whole Psalter.
This five-fold division is earlier than the LXX, which contains the doxologies. It is often referred to by Jewish and Christian authorities, and compared to the five books of the Pentateuch.
Thus the Midrash on Psalm 1:1 : “Moses gave the Israelites the five books of the Law, and to correspond to these David gave them the Book of Psalms containing five books.”
Hippolytus [?] (ed. Lagarde, p. 193): “Let it not escape your notice … that the Hebrews divided the Psalter also into five books, that it might be a second Pentateuch.”
Jerome, in the Prologus Galeatus: “Tertius ordo Hagiographa possidet. Et primus liber incipit a Job. Secundus a David, quem quinque incisionibus (sections) et uno Psalmorum volumine comprehendunt.” No doubt he chose this form of expression carefully, for in his preface to the Psalter he somewhat passionately affirms the unity of the Book.
The division is referred to by most of the Fathers, some of whom, as Ambrose, explain it allegorically; others, as Gregory of Nyssa, find in the several books so many steps rising to moral perfection. As will be shewn presently, the division of the books in part corresponds to older collections out of which the Psalter was formed, in part is purely artificial, and probably had its origin in the wish to compare the Psalter with the Pentateuch.
The Titles Of The Psalms
To nearly all the Psalms in the first three Books, and to some of those in the fourth and fifth Books, are prefixed titles, designating either (1) the character of the poem, or (2) matters connected with its musical setting, or (3) its liturgical use, or (4) the author, or perhaps more strictly, the collection from which the Psalm was taken, or (5) the historical occasion for which it was written or which it illustrates. Only 34 Psalms have no title, namely Psalms 1, 2, 10, 33, 43, 71, 91, 93-97, 99, 104-107, 111-119, 135-137, 146-150.
Such titles may occur separately or in combination. Many of them are extremely obscure, and their meanings can only be conjectured. All that will be attempted here is to give the most probable explanations. An elaborate discussion of the innumerable interpretations which have been proposed would be mere waste of time. Some special titles which occur but once will be discussed in the introductions to the Psalms to which they belong.
1. Titles descriptive of the character of the poem
Psalm. Mismôr, rendered Psalm, is a technical term found only in the titles of the Psalter. It is prefixed to 57 Psalms, and with few exceptions is preceded or followed by the name of the author, generally that of David. The verb from which mizmôr is derived occurs frequently in the Psalter (e.g. Psalm 7:17, Psalm 47:6-7, Psalm 149:3) but rarely elsewhere (Jdg 5:3; [2 Samuel 22:50; 1 Chronicles 16:9]; Isaiah 12:5). It appears originally to have meant to make melody, like the Lat. canere, but came to be applied specially to instrumental music, as distinguished from vocal music. Mizmôr then means a piece of music, a song with instrumental accompaniment.
Song. Shîr, rendered song, is the general term for a song or canticle. It occurs 30 times in the titles, generally preceded or followed by mizmôr, and not unfrequently in the text of the Psalms (e.g. Psalm 28:7, Psalm 40:3, Psalm 137:3-4), and in other books. It is applied to secular as well as sacred songs (Genesis 31:27; Jdg 5:12; 1 Kings 4:32; Isaiah 30:29; Nehemiah 12:27; Nehemiah 12:36; Nehemiah 12:46).
Maschil is found as the title of thirteen Psalms, eleven of which are in Books ii and iii. The meaning is obscure, (a) It has been explained to mean a didactic psalm. Comp. the use of the cognate verb in Psalm 32:8, ‘I will instruct thee.’ But of the Psalms which bear the title only 32 and 78 are specifically ‘didactic.’ (b) Delitzsch supposes it to mean a meditation. (c) Most probable however is Ewald’s explanation, a skilful psalm. The word is used in Psalm 47:7, ‘sing ye praises with understanding’ (Heb. maschîl), R.V. marg., in a skilful psalm. It may have denoted something more definite than the ordinary mizmôr, a psalm with musical setting of a specially delicate and artistic character, ‘a cunning psalm.’
Michtam occurs in the title of six Psalms, preceded or followed by of David. It is probably, like Maschîl, a musical term, the meaning of which cannot now be determined. A few of the many explanations which have been given may be mentioned. (1) The LXX and Theodotion render it στηλογραφία or εἰς στηλογραφίαν, an inscription or for an inscription. Cp. the Targ., an excellent inscription or writing. Hence Delitzsch explains, a Poem of epigrammatic character, containing pithy or expressive sayings. (2) In defiance of all grammar and analogy Aquila Symmachus and Jerome treat the word as a compound, and render it as an epithet of David, the humble and sincere or blameless. (3) A golden Psalm (A.V. marg.), with reference to the preciousness of its contents, like the golden sayings (χρυσᾶ ἔπη) of Pythagoras. (4) An unpublished poem. (5) A Psalm of hidden, mysterious meaning.
Shiggaion occurs in the title of Psalms 7, and the Prayer of Habakkuk is said to be set to Shigionoth. The word is derived from a verb which means to wander, and it probably denotes a particular style of poetry or music, or it may include both, and mean ‘a dithyrambic poem in wild ecstatic wandering rhythms, with corresponding music’
A Prayer stands as the title of five Psalms (17, 86, 90, 102, 142). In the subscription to Psalms 72 the preceding collection of Davidic Psalms is designated as The prayers of David. Habakkuk 3 is called A prayer of Habakkuk. Cp. 1 Samuel 2:1.
A Praise is the title of one Psalm only (145), though Praises came eventually to be the title of the whole book.
2. Titles connected with the musical setting or performance
To the chief Musician: R.V. For the Chief Musician: perhaps rather Of the Precentor: is prefixed to fifty-five Psalms, of which only two (66, 67) are anonymous, and most bear the name of David. Fifty-two of these are in Books I–III, and three in Book V. It is found also in the subscription to Habakkuk’s Prayer (Habakkuk 3:19). The verb, of which the word is a participle, is used in Chronicles and Ezra in the sense of superintending (1 Chronicles 23:4; 2 Chronicles 2:2; 2 Chronicles 2:18; 2 Chronicles 34:12; Ezra 3:8-9), and in 1 Chronicles 15:21 in the specific sense of leading (R.V.) the music. There can be little doubt that the word m’naçççach means the precentor, or conductor of the Temple choir, who trained the choir and led the music, and that it refers to the use of the Psalm in the Temple Services. The preposition prefixed to it is generally rendered for, and is supposed to mean that the Psalm was to be handed over to the precentor for musical setting and performance. This explanation however does not account for the rarity of the term in the later books, where the Psalms are predominantly liturgical in character. It seems more probable that the preposition should be rendered of, and that it indicates that the Psalm belonged to an older collection known as The Precentor’s Collection, in the same way as the titles ‘of David,’ ‘of Asaph,’ ‘of the sons of Korah’ probably indicate the collections from which the Psalms bearing them were taken. The reason commonly given for its absence in Books IV and V, that it was unnecessary, because the destination of these Psalms was obvious, is hardly satisfactory. Many of the Psalms in Books I–III which have it prefixed to them, are clearly intended for public use. It seems to have been a term belonging to an older collection, which went out of use in later times. At any rate the translators of the LXX did not understand its meaning.
Selah. This term, though not belonging to the titles, may conveniently be discussed here.
The word is found 71 times in the Psalter in 39 Psalms , 3 times in Habakkuk 3, and nowhere else in the O.T. In 16 Psalms it occurs once; in 15 twice; in 7 (and in Habakkuk 3) three times: in 1, four times. Of these Psalms 9 are in Book I: 17 in Book II: 11 in Book III; none in Book IV: 2 only in Book V. It is to be further noted that all these Psalms, with the exception of the anonymous 66 and 67, bear the name of David or of the Levitical singers (the sons of Korah, Asaph, Heman, Ethan); and all bear indications of being intended to be set to music. The majority of them (28 of the 39: cp. Habakkuk 3:19) have, ‘For the Chief Musician’ in the title, frequently with a further specification of the instruments or melody (4, 9, 46, 54, 55, 57, 59, 60, 61, 62, 67, 75, 76, 77, 81, 84, 88; Habakkuk 3:19). Of the remaining eleven, eight are designated mizmôr, ‘psalm,’ two maschîl, and one shiggaion.
It may fairly be inferred from these facts that Selah is a technical term of great antiquity, having reference to musical accompaniment. Its precise meaning, however, is quite uncertain. There are two main lines of ancient tradition:
(a) By the LXX always, and by Symmachus and Theodotion generally, it is rendered διάψαλμα (diapsalma), which may denote either louder playing, forte; or, more probably, an instrumental interlude while the singing ceased. The Syriac (with a few exceptions) gives an abbreviation of the Greek word. The Vulgate omits it entirely.
(b) The most ancient Jewish traditions interpret the word to mean for ever. So the Targum, with some variety of rendering, Aquila, the ‘Fifth’ and ‘Sixth’ Greek versions, Symmachus, Theodotion, and the Syriac occasionally; and Jerome, who renders semper.
Of these ancient renderings, that of the LXX probably preserves a true tradition as to the usage of Selah: but the meaning ‘always’ is based on no known etymology, and is obviously unsuitable in the majority of passages.
Of the multitude of modern explanations the most generally accepted is that Selah is derived from a root meaning to raise, and signifies ‘Up!’
It is then a direction to the musicians to strike up, either with a louder accompaniment, or with an interlude while the singing ceased. This explanation is supported by the conjunction of Selah in Psalm 9:16 with Higgaion, a term used of instrumental music in Psalm 92:3. It is moreover confirmed by an examination of the passages in which Selah occurs. In the majority of cases it is found at the end of a strophe, or before the introduction of some fresh thought, where an interlude would be most natural (Psalm 3:2; Psalm 3:4; Psalm 3:8; Psalm 24:6; Psalm 24:10; Psalm 44:8; Psalm 46:3; Psalm 46:7; Psalm 46:11; Psalm 66:4; Psalm 66:7; Psalm 66:15); or before some appeal or utterance which would be distinguished from what preceded and would be emphasised by an interlude or by a stronger accompaniment (Psalm 7:5; Psalm 50:6; Psalm 60:4; Psalm 75:3; Psalm 81:7; Psalm 83:8). There are no doubt many instances which do not appear to come under these general principles; but the Hebrew idea of what was fitting by way of accompaniment may have differed from ours; and in some cases the accuracy of the Massoretic Text is doubtful. The Septuagint does not always agree with it in the insertion or omission of Selah, and an obscure technical term would be specially liable to be omitted or wrongly inserted.
The explanation given in the Oxford Hebrew Lexicon, p. 699, also deserves consideration. Selah is there explained to be a liturgical direction to the congregation, meaning Lift up your voices in the benediction ‘Blessed be Jehovah for ever and ever’; or Extol Jehovah for ever and ever. Accordingly it indicates the place of the benedictions (cp. Nehemiah 9:5), and the tradition that it means for ever is accounted for by the closing words of the benediction.
Higgaion occurs in Psalm 9:16 along with Selah as a musical direction, and in the text of Psalm 92:3, ‘with higgaion upon the harp.’ It denotes apparently an instrumental interlude of some kind. The word has the sense of meditation in Psalm 19:14, and according to the usage of the cognate verb, which denotes the growling of a lion (Isaiah 31:4), the moaning of a dove (Isaiah 38:14; Isaiah 59:11), or of a mourner (Isaiah 16:7), it should mean murmuring, meditative music, rather than resounding music.
Two terms refer to musical instruments.
On Negînôth: rather, with music of stringed instruments: occurs six times in the Psalter: and in Habakkuk 3:19 we find on my stringed instruments. Upon Neginah: rather, with music of a stringed instrument (61): may be a variation of the expression, or may indicate the melody to which the Psalm was to be sung. The word is derived from a verb meaning to play on stringed instruments (1 Samuel 16:16-18; 1 Samuel 16:23). It occurs elsewhere in the sense of music or song (Job 30:9; Psalm 77:6; Isaiah 38:20; Lamentations 5:14). The title no doubt indicates that the Psalm was to be accompanied by stringed instruments, perhaps by these only.
Upon Nehîlôth: R.V. with the Nehiloth, or (marg.) wind instruments: in Psalms 5 only. Possibly flutes of some kind are meant. For the use of these in sacred music see Isaiah 30:29 (a pipe): 1 Samuel 10:5; 1 Kings 1:40; and on their use in the services of the Second Temple see Edersheim, The Temple and its Services, p. 55. It is not however the usual word for flute.
Two terms probably indicate the character or pitch of the music.
Upon Alâmôth: R.V. set to A.: is found in the title of Psalms 46, and may possibly once have stood in the title of Psalms 9, and either as a subscription to Psalms 48, or in the title of Psalms 49. See the notes there. The term appears to mean in the manner of maidens, or, for maidens’ voices: soprano.
Upon Shemînîth: R.V. set to the S., i.e. as marg., the eighth (Psalms 6, 12): probably denotes that the setting was to be an octave lower, or, on the lower octave: tenor or bass. Both terms occur together in 1 Chronicles 15:19-21. Heman, Asaph, and Jeduthun were appointed “with cymbals of brass to sound aloud”: eight other Levites, “with psalteries set to Alamoth”; and six “with harps set to the Sheminith, to lead.”
Upon Gittith: R.V. set to the Gittith: occurs in the titles of Psalms 8, 81, 84. In form Gittith is a fem. adj. derived from Gath, and may mean either (1) some Gittite instrument: so the Targ.; ‘the harp which David brought from Gath’: or (2) a Gittite melody; possibly, as has been conjectured, the march of the Gittite guard (2 Samuel 15:18).
The rendering of the LXX, Symm., and Jer. For or over the winepresses may however preserve the true reading, indicating that these Psalms were sung at the Feast of Tabernacles or Ingathering at the end of the vintage. Psalms 81 appears to have been specially intended for that festival; and Psalms 84 is virtually a ‘Psalm of going up,’ for the use of pilgrims to the three great feasts.
To Jeduthun: R.V. after the manner of J. (62, 77): probably means that the Psalm was set to some melody composed by or called after David’s chief musician (1 Chronicles 16:41). In the title of Psalms 39 Jeduthun appears to be named as the chief musician intended.
A series of obscure titles probably indicate the melody to which the Psalm was to be sung by a reference to the opening words of some well-known song. Such are the titles of
Psalms 9 : set to Muth-labben (R.V.), meaning possibly Die for the son.
Psalms 22 : set to Ayyéleth hash-shachar, i.e. the hind of the morning.
Psalms 45, 69 : set to Shoshannim (R.V.), i.e. Lilies. Psalms 60 : set to Shushan Eduth (R.V.), i.e. The lily of testimony. Psalms 80 : set to Shoshannim Eduth (R.V.), i.e. Lilies, a testimony. All these titles probably denote the melody to which the Psalm was to be sung, not the subject of the Psalm or a lily-shaped instrument.
Psalms 56 : set to Yonath elem rechôkîm, i.e. The silent dove of them that are afar off: or, as read with different vowels, The dove of the distant terebinths.
Four Psalms (57–59, 75) have the title, [set to] Al-tash-cheth, i.e. Destroy not, possibly the vintage song to which there is an allusion in Isaiah 65:8. See Introd. to Psalms 57.
The titles of Psalms 53 : set to Mahalath: and 88: set to Mahalath Leannôth: are extremely obscure, but probably belong to this class.
For further details see the notes in each case.
3. A few titles refer to the liturgical use of the Psalm. In the time of the Second Temple, each day of the week had its special Psalm, which was sung at the offering of the morning sacrifice. Thus Psalms 92 is entitled “A Psalm, a Song for the Sabbath day.” This is the only reference to the daily Psalms in the Heb. text: but in the LXX, Psalms 24 is assigned to the first day of the week (τῆς υιᾶς σαββάτων); Psalms 48 to the second day (δευτέρᾳ σαββάτου); Psalms 94 to the fourth day (τετράδι σαββάτων); Psalms 93 to the sixth day of the week (εἰς τὴν ἡμέραν τοῦ προσαββάτου). The Old Latin Version further refers Psalms 81 to the fifth day (quinta sabbati). These titles agree with the arrangement given in the Mishna (Tamid, Psalm 7:3), according to which the Psalm for the third day was Psalms 82.
The title of Psalms 38, 70 to bring to remembrance, or, as R.V. marg., to make memorial, may indicate that they were sung at the offering of incense (see Introd. to Psalms 38): and that of Psalms 100, A Psalm of thanksgiving (R.V.), marg. for the thank-offering, may mark that it was sung when thank-offerings (Psalm 56:12) were offered.
The title of Psalms 30, A Song at the Dedication of the House, may refer to its use at the Festival of the Dedication, instituted by Judas Maccabaeus in b.c. 164, when the Temple was re-dedicated after its profanation by Antiochus (1Ma 4:59; John 10:22).
The title of Psalms 29 in the LXX, ἐξοδίου σκηνῆς (Vulg. in consummation tabernaculi), refers to its use on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles.
To teach is part of the title prefixed to Psalms 60. A comparison of Deuteronomy 31:19 and 2 Samuel 1:18 makes it probable that it was to be learnt by heart and recited on public occasions.
On these titles see further in the notes on the particular Psalms.
A song of Degrees, rather, A Song of Ascents (R.V.), or, for the Goings up, is the title prefixed to 15 Psalms (120–134), which appear to have formed a separate collection, bearing the title The Songs of the Goings up (or, of the Going up), which was afterwards transferred to each separate Psalm.
Various explanations of this title have been proposed.
(1) The LXX renders ᾠδὴ τῶν ἀναβαθμῶν: Vulg. and Jer., canticum graduum, ‘a song of the steps.’ It has been supposed that they were so called because they were sung upon the flight of 15 steps which led from the Court of the Women to the Court of the Men in the Second Temple. But Delitzsch has shewn that the passage of the Talmud quoted in support of this explanation really says nothing at all about the singing of these Psalms upon the steps, or the derivation of the name from them, but merely compares the number of the Psalms with that of the steps.
(2) An explanation which has found considerable favour in modern times regards the term as denoting a particular kind of ‘ascending’ structure, in which each verse takes up and repeats a word or clause from the preceding verse. Psalms 121 offers a good example of this structure; but apart from the fact that no trace can be found of this technical meaning of the word ‘ascent’ elsewhere, the structure is neither peculiar to these Psalms nor characteristic of all of them.
(3) As ‘the ascent’ or ‘going up’ was the regular term for the Return from Babylon (Ezra 7:9), some have supposed that these Psalms were sung by the returning exiles on their march. So the Syriac Version, and probably Aq. Symm. and Theod., who render ᾆσμα τῶν ἀναβάσεων or εἰς τὰς ἀναβάσεις. But the contents of many of the Psalms do not favour this explanation.
(4) ‘To go up’ was the regular term for making pilgrimage to Jerusalem at the great festivals (1 Samuel 1:3; Psalm 122:4). ‘The songs of the goings up’ may have been the name for the songs which were sung on these occasions. We know that the pilgrims went up with singing (Isaiah 30:29; Psalm 42:4), and many of these Psalms are well suited for such occasions; while others, though not so obviously appropriate, might well have been employed for the purpose. This is on the whole the most probable explanation, although the substantive ‘going up’ is not used elsewhere in this technical sense.
4. Titles relating to Authorship. These are regularly introduced by a preposition denoting of or belonging to, by, the so-called ‘lamed auctoris.’ In some instances, as in Habakkuk 3:1, it was no doubt intended to denote authorship; but in others, as will be seen presently (p. xxxiii), it was probably intended to denote origin, rather than, in the strict sense of the word, authorship. This is clearly the case with the title A Psalm of the sons of Korah, which must mean ‘a Psalm from the collection known as that of the sons of K.’; probably also with the title A Psalm of Asaph, and, at least in many instances, with the title A Psalm of David.
(a) One Psalm (90) bears the name of Moses.
(b) 73 Psalms bear the name of David: viz. all those in Book I, except 1 and 2, which are prefatory; 10, which is part of 9; and 33, which appears to be a later addition: 18 in Book II (51–65, 68–70); one in Book III (86); two in Book IV (101, 103); 15 in Book V (108–110, 122, 124, 131, 133, 138–145).
(c) Two (72, 127) bear the name of Solomon.
(d) 12 (50, 73–83) bear the name of Asaph, one of David’s principal musicians (1 Chronicles 6:39; 1 Chronicles 15:17; 1 Chronicles 16:5 ff.; 2 Chronicles 5:12).
(e) To the sons of Korah are attributed Psalms 10 or Psalms 11 : 42 , 44–49, 84, 85, 87, 88 [?], for according to analogy the title is to be rendered as in R.V., of the sons of K.; not, as in A.V., for the sons of K.
(f) The sages Heman the Ezrachite and Ethan the Ezrachite (1 Kings 4:31) have each a psalm attributed to them (88, 89).
5. Titles describing the occasion of the Psalm are prefixed to 13 Psalms, all of which bear the name of David. Psalms 7, 59, 56, 34, 52, 57, 142, 54, are referred to the period of his persecution by Saul: Psalms 18 to the climax of his reign; Psalms 60 to the Syro-Ammonite war; Psalms 51 to his fall; Psalms 3, 63 to his flight from Absalom.
The Value of the Titles. We have now to inquire whether these titles give any authentic information, or must be regarded as additions by editors and compilers, largely, if not wholly, conjectural and untrustworthy.
(i) With regard to the technical musical terms of the titles there is little evidence to shew whether they belong entirely to the time of the Second Temple, or in part at least, are of more ancient origin. The title of Habakkuk’s prayer, set to Shigionoth, and its subscription, For the Precentor, on my stringed instruments, would be evidence for the use of such technical terms in pre-exilic times, if we could be sure that they came from the prophet himself and were not later additions. Elsewhere however we meet with terms of this kind only in the Chronicler’s description of David’s musical services, where we read of the use of “psalteries set to Alamoth,” and “harps set to the Sheminith, to lead” (1 Chronicles 15:20-21). The Heb. verb to lead, is that of which the word rendered Chief Musician or Precentor is the participle. As it is found in Chronicles and Ezra only, and not (with the possible exception of Habakkuk 3:19) in the pre-exilic literature, it is presumed to be a post-exilic word; and it is inferred that this, and probably the other technical terms, belong to the period of the Return from Babylon. Still it must be remembered that the remains of pre-exilic literature are not of a kind in which the technical terms of the musical ritual of the Temple would be likely to occur.
It is however clear that these titles do not belong to the latest stage of the history of the Psalter. They are almost entirely wanting in Books IV and V, though a large proportion of these Psalms were obviously intended for liturgical use. Moreover though the Septuagint translators found them in their text, they were unable to understand even their general purport. It is possible that a knowledge of the technical terms of Palestinian music had not reached Egypt, but it is more probable that they were obsolete and no longer intelligible at the time when the Greek Version of the Psalter was made.
(ii) The titles referring to the liturgical use of Psalms must in some cases at least, if that of Psalms 30 is rightly explained to refer to its use at the Festival of the Dedication, have been added at a late date. Several of them, though agreeing with Jewish tradition, are not found in the Hebrew text.
(iii) It is now generally acknowledged that the titles relating to the authorship and occasion of the Psalms cannot be regarded as prefixed by the authors themselves, or as representing trustworthy traditions, and accordingly giving reliable information. The chief reason for this conclusion is that many of them, as will appear in detail in the commentary, cannot be reconciled with the contents and language of the Psalms to which they are prefixed. Many Psalms which bear the name of David assume situations and circumstances wholly unlike any in which he can be supposed to have been placed, or express feelings which it is difficult to attribute to a man of his position and character: some (e.g. 69) apparently refer to the captivity: some (e.g. 86, 144) are mere compilations: the language of others (e.g. 139) is unquestionably late. In 20, 21, 110, a king is the subject, but hardly himself the author. Opinions must differ widely as to the language likely to be used upon a particular occasion, but after every allowance has been made for the difference of modern feeling and for our ignorance of the details of the circumstances of many epochs in David’s life, it is in many cases impossible to connect the contents of the Psalms with the occasions named in the titles.
The Psalms of Asaph again cannot all have been written by David’s musician Asaph, if indeed any of them were. Some of them refer to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Exile (74, 79, 80); some belong apparently to the post-exilic period.
While however the titles cannot be accepted as giving trustworthy information in regard to the authorship of the Psalms, they are not to be regarded as entirely worthless. The infrequency of their occurrence in the later Books (IV, V) is an indication that they were not the arbitrary conjectures of the latest compilers of the Psalter, and it is reasonable to infer that they rested upon some authority, documentary or traditional.
What then is their value? It seems probable that, in many cases at least, they indicate the source from which the Psalms were derived rather than the opinion of the collector as to their authorship.
In regard to the Psalms of the sons of Korah this is clearly the case. The title A Psalm of the sons of Korah cannot mean that the Psalm was composed by a plurality of authors. It must be part of the title of the collection from which these Psalms were derived. Such a collection may have been called, “The Book of the Songs of the sons of Korah,” and have contained Psalms written by members of the guild or family of Korah and preserved in a collection, made probably for liturgical purposes, which bore their name.
Similarly the title A Psalm of Asaph may not have been meant to attribute the Psalm to Asaph himself, but may have been intended to indicate that it was taken from a collection preserved and used by the guild or family of Asaph. The collection may have been founded by David’s famous musician, though we cannot point to any Psalm in it as even probably written by him, and it still retained the name of its founder, though the main part of it belonged to later times.
In the same way again the title A Psalm of David may have been taken over from the general title of the collection from which the Psalm was derived. There appear to have been two ‘Davidic’ collections: that which forms Book I, and that which was incorporated in the Elohistic collection in Book II. The latter collection may have been called The Book of the Prayers of David. Possibly it had some connexion with a historical work, in which the life of David was illustrated by poems, as was often done in the earlier histories: e.g. Judges 5; 1 Samuel 2; 2 Samuel 22. Now these collections may have been so named from their founder and most eminent poet, although the works of other poets were included in them. Just as in later times the whole Psalter came to be spoken of as the Psalms of David, from its founder and most famous author, so in earlier times the smaller collection, of which only the origin and nucleus was due to David, came to bear his name, and when that collection was incorporated in the Psalter, his name was placed at the head of each Psalm taken from it.
The case is somewhat different with the Psalms assigned to David in Books IV and V. It is much more probable that some of these titles are due merely to editorial conjecture or inference from the contents. Yet even the compilers of these Books may have found Psalms which are there attributed to David in some earlier collection bearing his name, or assigned to him by current tradition. It is an unwarrantable assumption that all the Davidic Psalms must have been incorporated in earlier collections and inserted in the earlier books.
It is quite possible that imitations of Davidic Psalms, such for example as Psalms 86, may have been called by his name, without the slightest intention of fraud. In 1 Chronicles 16 we find a Psalm compiled from other Psalms suggested as an appropriate thanksgiving for the occasion, though it does not appear to be expressly attributed to David.
Again, it is possible that Psalms were written by different poets to illustrate particular episodes in the life of David, or to express the thoughts which might be supposed to have been in his mind upon certain occasions. These “dramatic lyrics” might easily have had his name affixed to them, without the slightest intention of passing them off as his for the sake of giving them currency and authority. To this class of Psalm may belong the Psalm of Moses (90), which can hardly be supposed to have been actually written by him.
While then the titles of the Psalms cannot be supposed to give certain information as to their authors, and many of the Psalms bearing the name of David cannot have been written by him, we are not justified in rejecting the titles as mere arbitrary conjectures. They supply information concerning the earlier stages of the growth of the Psalter; and it is not unreasonable to inquire whether a Psalm taken from a collection which bore David’s name may not have been actually composed by him.
In criticising the title of a Psalm and endeavouring to fix its date by the light of its contents much caution is necessary. The possibility of alterations and additions to the original poem must be taken into account. It is probable that many of the Psalms were not at once committed to writing, but like other oriental poetry, were transmitted orally. The comparison of Psalms 18 with 2 Samuel 22 shews that the text has in some cases suffered from accidental errors of transcription, while in others it appears to bear marks of intentional revision. The comparison of Psalms 53 with Psalms 14, of Psalms 70 with Psalm 40:13 ff., and of Psalms 108 with Psalms 57, 60, shews that editors did not scruple to alter earlier Psalms, to divide them, and to combine portions of them, for their own special purposes. The anthem inserted by the chronicler in 1 Chronicles 16 is a notable example of a composite Psalm. Additions seem to have been made with a view of adapting Psalms for liturgical use. Such processes, which can be definitely traced in some instances, have no doubt been in operation elsewhere.
The Authorship And Age Of The Psalms
It is obvious from what has been said in the preceding chapter that great uncertainty must necessarily rest upon the authorship of the Psalms. When once it is admitted, as it must be admitted, that the titles cannot be absolutely relied on, we are launched upon a sea of uncertainty. Internal evidence, whether of thought, or style, or language, is a precarious guide. Many Psalms are of a quite general character: the circumstances of one period often resemble those of another: many of the Psalms have doubtless undergone adaptation and modification, and the date of a Psalm must not always be determined by a single word or phrase.
Important as it is for the full interpretation of many Psalms to know the circumstances under which they were written, and for the elucidation of the religious history of Israel to determine the age to which they belong, the Psalms as a whole suffer less from this uncertainty than might be expected. Their interest is human and universal. They appeal to the experience of all ages. Still the endeavour must be made to ascertain to what period of the history a Psalm belongs. The question must be considered with reference to each particular Psalm, or group of Psalms, for in those cases in which Psalms are connected by external indications (e.g. by their titles) or by internal resemblances, they must obviously be considered together. The answer must often be non liquet: and even when a Psalm appears to be connected with the circumstances of the life of a particular individual or period, the most that can be said is that the Psalm illustrates, or is illustrated by, that life or that period. Thus it is natural to attribute to Jeremiah several Psalms which reflect feelings expressed in his prophecies, or contain language resembling them; and to assign to the age of Ezra and Nehemiah a number of Psalms which seem to have light thrown upon them by the circumstances recorded in their books. But the historical and biographical records of the O.T., if representative, are only fragmentary and partial. Jeremiah was but one of many persecuted saints and prophets. History repeats itself, and circumstances not unlike those described in Ezra and Nehemiah must have recurred in the later period of which we know practically nothing. Many Psalms of course contain no indications whatever of their date. But a Psalm gains in point and reality if we can give it a historical or personal background, though it is unreasonable to assert dogmatically that it must necessarily have been composed by that particular author or under those special circumstances.
We have seen (p. xxxiii) that the titles ‘A Psalm of David,’ ‘A Psalm of Asaph,’ ‘A Psalm of the sons of Korah’ probably indicate the collections from which the Psalms bearing them were derived. But they easily came to be regarded as giving authoritative information about the authorship of the Psalms to which they are prefixed. The view was frequently held in the Jewish Church and was adopted by some of the Christian Fathers, that anonymous Psalms were to be attributed to the poet last named; but in process of time the whole Psalter came to be attributed to David.
Modern criticism has gone to the opposite extreme, and is disposed to refer the whole Psalter, or at least the greater part of it, to the period after the return from Babylon. Thus Wellhausen (in Bleek’s Introduction, p. 507, ed. 1876): “Since the Psalter belongs to the Hagiographa, and is the hymn-book of the congregation of the Second Temple … the question is not whether it contains any post-exilic Psalms, but whether it contains any pre-exilic Psalms.” Similarly Reuss (History of the O.T. § 282): “Our doubts do not go so far as to deny the possibility of referring a single one of the poems in the present collection of Synagogue hymns to the period of the kingdom. But we have no decisive proofs for such antiquity.” In this country Professor Cheyne in his Bampton Lectures for 1889, on The Origin and Religious Contents of the Psalter in the Light of Old Testament Criticism and the History of Religions, has maintained that the whole Psalter, with the possible exception of parts of Psalms 18, is post-exilic, belonging mainly to the later Persian and Greek period, and containing a considerable number of Maccabaean Psalms; and that it was finally edited by Simon the Maccabee, c. b.c. 140. Duhm (1900) goes even further, and not only denies that there is a single Psalm which could induce an unprejudiced critic to regard it as pre-exilic, but thinks that it is open to question whether any Psalms are as old as the Persian period, and assigns the majority of them to the century beginning with the Maccabaean troubles and ending with the death of Alexander Jannaeus, b.c. 170–78. The completion and final publication of the Psalter took place, he holds, about b.c. 70.
It is however difficult to believe that these views represent a just estimate of the evidence. Religious poetry certainly existed before the exile. Psalms 137 furnishes explicit evidence that the Israelites carried it with them to Babylon, and that their musical skill was famous there. The ‘songs of Zion’ which their conquerors bade them sing were ‘Jehovah’s songs,’ sacred songs destined for use in His worship.
The ancient praise-songs of Israel in the Temple are referred to by the prophet of the Exile: “our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised Thee, is burned with fire” (Isaiah 64:11).
The Book of Lamentations, which, though probably not written by Jeremiah, “betrays in almost every part so lively a recollection of the closing period of the siege and taking of Jerusalem, that at least the greater portion of it can have been written by no one who was not an eye-witness or a younger contemporary of these events,’ is so thoroughly artificial in style and form that it may justly be inferred from it that the art of writing sacred poetry had long been cultivated.
Jeremiah (Jeremiah 33:11) predicts the restoration of the Temple services of thanksgiving, and quotes as in familiar use a doxology otherwise known only from post-exilic Psalms (Psalm 106:1, &.), yet in a form which, by its slight differences from that in the Psalter, shews that it belongs to the prophetic period. “Yet again shall there be heard in this place … the voice of them that say, ‘Give thanks to Jehovah of hosts, for Jehovah is good, for His lovingkindness endureth for ever, as they bring (sacrifices of) thanksgiving into the house of Jehovah.” It is moreover evident from passages such as Jeremiah 20:7 ff. that he was familiar with the style and language of Psalms resembling those which have come down to us, even if it cannot be proved that he is actually quoting any of them.
A century earlier Isaiah refers to the joyous songs of the Passover festival, and the music with which pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the festival was accompanied (Isaiah 30:29).
Amos (Amos 5:23; cp. Amos 8:10) alludes to the songs and music of the religious festivals in the Northern kingdom.
The Song of Deborah (Judges 5) is generally acknowledged to be contemporary with the events which it describes, and though it appears to have undergone some expansion, or modification of form, at a later age, the greater part of the Song of Moses in Exodus 15 is probably Mosaic; and both of these poems are penetrated by a religious spirit.
Religious poetry existed before the Exile, and there is no a priori improbability that the Psalter should contain pre-exilic Psalms. And when we examine the Psalter, we find a number of Psalms which may most naturally be referred to the pre-exilic period.
(a) Psalms which contain a definite reference to the king, viz. 2, 18, 20, 21, 28, 33, 45, 61, 63, 72, 101, 110, presumably belong to the period of the monarchy. The reference of such Psalms as 20, 21, 61, 63 to Judas or Simon, who studiously avoided the title of king, has to be supported by arbitrary and fanciful exegesis, and by setting aside the ordinary meaning of familiar words. That Psalms 45, 72 can refer to a non-Israelite king such as Ptolemy Philadelphus is incredible. ‘Jehovah’s anointed’ in Psalm 28:8 cannot, in view of the context, be understood of anyone but the king. The reference to a king in Psalm 33:16-17 might be quite general, but the omission of any reference to a king in 147, which is clearly based upon it, is significant. The one belongs to the age of the monarchy, the other does not.
(b) Psalms 46-48, 75, 76 may far more naturally be referred to the deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrians under Sennacherib in b.c. 701 than “at the earliest, to one of the happier parts of the Persian age.” They are full of points of contact in thought and expression with the Assyrian prophecies of Isaiah. “The Jewish Church in Isaiah’s time was,” it is argued, “far too germinal to have sung these expressions of daring monotheism and impassioned love of the temple; and the word ‘Elyôn (Psalm 46:5; cp. Psalm 47:3) as a title for Jehovah never occurs in Isaiah, but frequently in the (probably) later Psalms.” It may well be the case that these Psalms soar far above the average belief of the Israelites of the time, but that is no argument against their having been composed by Isaiah or a poet fired with Isaiah’s insight and enthusiasm. They contain nothing in advance of Isaiah’s theology; and it should be noted that it is not “impassioned love of the temple” which inspires the writer of 46 and 48, but admiring love for the city, which had been so signally delivered; and the motive of these Psalms is in full accord with Isaiah’s teaching concerning the inviolability of Zion. The argument from the use of ‘Elyôn in Psalms 46 loses its force when it is observed that it is a poetical word, never used of Jehovah by any of the prophets (see Appendix, Note ii).
An argument from quotations seldom has much weight, for it is often impossible to decide which of two parallel passages is the original, but it seems clear that Lamentations 2:15 combines Psalm 48:2 and Psalm 50:2, and if so, the quotation supports the pre-exilic date of these Psalms.
(c) Psalms 50 reflects most forcibly the teaching of the great prophetic period, the eighth century, and must be referred to this rather than to any later age.
These are some of the most prominent examples of Psalms which are most naturally and simply assigned to the period of the monarchy; but there are others which may with great probability be referred to the same period, and of those which contain no clear indications of date some at least may be pre-exilic.
But the question still remains to be asked, Can we go further, and carry the origin of the Psalter back to David? It is difficult to believe that the tradition of the Jewish Church was entirely wrong in regarding him as the most eminent religious poet of the nation, and in assigning the foundation of the Psalter to him. That he was a gifted poet is proved by his noble elegy over Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:19 ff.) and his lament for Abner (2 Samuel 3:33 f.). Though these poems are not directly religious, they shew that the warrior king was capable of the tenderest feelings. Can these have been the only products of his poetical genius? How came it that David was regarded as “the sweet Psalmist of Israel,” and that so many Psalms were ascribed to him or at any rate that the earliest collections of Psalms were called by his name, unless he was really a Psalmist, and some at least of these Psalms were actually written by him?
His skill as poet and musician, and his interest in the development of religious music, are attested by the earliest records. Later times pointed to him as the founder of the services of the sanctuary. The leaders of the Return from the Exile believed themselves to be restoring his institutions.
But in particular, the incorporation of Psalms 18 in the Book of Samuel as a specimen of David’s poetry illustrating his character and genius is evidence in favour of regarding David as the founder of the Psalter, which cannot lightly be set aside. That Psalm is there circumstantially ascribed to David, and there is no sufficient ground for placing the compilation of the Book of Samuel at so late a date that its evidence on this point can be disregarded as a mere tradition which had sprung up in the course of centuries.
But if Psalms 18 must be acknowledged to be the work of David, important consequences follow. For depth of devotion, simplicity of trust, joyousness of gratitude, and confidence of hope, not less than for its natural force and poetic beauty, that Psalm has few rivals. It has all the freshness of creative genius. It can hardly have been the solitary production of its author. If such a Psalm could have been written by David, so might many others; and it is reasonable to inquire with regard to those which bear his name whether they may not actually have been composed by him.
Both poetry and music existed before David’s time, and poetry had been carried to a high development in such compositions as Exodus 15 and Judges 5. But with David a new era of religious poetry commenced. The personal element entered into it. It became the instrument of the soul’s communion with God. David’s natural poetic powers were awakened by his training in the schools of the prophets under Samuel. The manifold vicissitudes of his life gave him an unparalleled depth and variety of experience. Chosen by God to be the founder of the kingdom of promise, he must still pass through trials and persecutions and dangers to the throne. When he had reached the zenith of his fame, he fell through pride and self-reliance, and by sharp chastisement must learn the grievousness of sin. But genius and circumstances alone could not have produced the Psalms. In his “last words” he himself declared,
“The spirit of Jehovah spake in me,
And his word was upon my tongue.”
Unique natural genius, trained and called into action by the discipline of an unique life, must still be quickened and illuminated by the supernal inspiration of the Holy Spirit, before it could strike out the strains, which were to be the pattern and model of religious poetry for all the ages.
It has often been asserted that the David of the Psalms is an entirely different character from the David of history. The devout singer and the rough warrior cannot, it is said, be the same person. But a great nature is necessarily many sided; and in early ages it is possible that traits of character which to us seem irreconcilable may coexist in the same individual. And the difference is often exaggerated. Not a few of the Psalms illustrate and are illustrated by the history of David’s life; and in that history, fragmentary and incomplete as it necessarily is, are to be found abundant traces of the religious side of his character; of the confidence which in the midst of danger and difficulty threw itself unperplexed upon God; of the patience which could await God’s time instead of rushing to revenge; of the simple faith which ascribed all success and advancement to God; of the hope which looked trustingly forward into the unknown future, in calm assurance that God would fulfil His promises; last but not least, of the penitence which humbled itself in unfeigned sorrow for sin.
It may have been the case, as Delitzsch supposes, that the reigns of Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah were marked by fresh outbursts of Psalm poetry. Under both these kings great national deliverances called for fresh expressions of praise and thanksgiving (2 Chronicles 20; 2 Kings 18 ff.): Jehoshaphat exerted himself for the religious education of the country (2 Chronicles 17:7 ff.): the collection of Proverbs, made under the direction of Hezekiah, attests his interest in literature (Proverbs 25:1).
A few Psalms date from the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and the earlier years of the exile. Some (cp. p. xxxvi) may be from the pen of Jeremiah, who has been credited by some critics with the authorship of a considerable number.
With the Return from the Exile Psalmody revived. The harp which had been hung up on the willows of Babylon was strung once more. Fresh hymns were written for the services of the restored Temple. Psalms 93, 95-100, the lyrical echo of Isaiah 40-66, form a noble group of anthems composed in all probability for the Dedication of the Temple in b.c. 516. Other Psalms may reflect the circumstances of the age of Ezra and Nehemiah, and the renewed study of the Law in that period bore fruit in the devout meditations of Psalms 119.
How long did the Psalter still continue to receive further enrichment? The question has been warmly debated in ancient and modern times, whether any of the Psalms belong to the Maccabaean period. Prophecy was silent (1Ma 4:46, &c.); but must not the great revival of national spirit naturally have found expression in poetry? and do not some of the Psalms clearly refer to the circumstances of that period?
Some critics, as has been mentioned already (p. xxxvii), would refer a considerable number of Psalms, or even the main bulk of the Psalter, to that period, and would bring down the completion of the collection to the reign of John Hyrcanus (b.c. 135–106) or Alexander Jannaeus (b.c. 105–78).
The real question is, however, a much narrower one. The Psalms which have been most confidently and generally referred to the age of the Maccabees are 44, 74, 79, and 60, 83; with a few others. These are thought to present features which belong to that age, and to no other; e.g. in Psalms 44 the description of the nation as suffering, though it has been faithful to God; in 74 the destruction of the synagogues, the profanation of the Temple, and the cessation of prophecy: while the quotation of Psalm 79:2-3 in 1Ma 7:16-17 with reference to the slaughter of the Assideans by the usurping high-priest Alcimus, is supposed to imply that it was written on the occasion of the massacre.
The question is one of exegesis, and a detailed examination of the characteristics of these Psalms must be deferred to the commentary on them. It will then be seen whether they cannot be better referred to the Chaldean or Persian period, or even an earlier time. It has well been pointed out that some distinctive features of the Maccabaean period are conspicuously absent from these Psalms. “They do not contain the slightest trace of those internal divisions of the people which were the most marked features of the Maccabaean struggle. The dangers then were as much from within as from without; and party jealousies brought the divine cause to the greatest peril. It is incredible that a series of Maccabaean Psalms should contain no allusion to a system of enforced idolatry, or to a temporising priesthood, or to a faithless multitude.”
The preliminary question may however be discussed here, whether the history of the Psalter and the Canon does not exclude the possibility of such late additions.
(1) As the author of the Book of Chronicles (c. 300 b.c.), in combining portions of Psalms 105, 96, 106 for the festal anthem which he introduces on the occasion of the translation of the Ark to Zion (1 Chronicles 16:8 ff.), includes as a part of 106 the doxology which marks the end of the fourth Book, it has been argued that the Psalter must have been already known to him in its five-fold division. This is extremely doubtful. This doxology, as will be shewn in the notes to Psalms 106, differs in character from the doxologies at the close of the first three Books; in all probability it was an original part of the Psalm, not an addition by the collector of the Psalter, and only came in later times to be regarded as marking the division between the fourth and fifth Books. And even if it were to be admitted that a five-fold division of the Psalter then existed, it would not necessarily follow that the Psalter was finally complete, and closed against the admission of fresh Psalms.
(2) More important is the fact that the Psalms which upon internal grounds have most generally and confidently been assigned to the Maccabaean period (44, 60, 74, 79, 83) are all found in the ‘Elohistic’ collection. This collection was certainly earlier than the collection contained in Books IV and V, for Psalms 108 consists of portions of two Elohistic Psalms (see p. lv). Moreover some of the supposed Maccabaean Psalms have musical titles, in contrast to the general practice of the last collection. It is exceedingly improbable that a Maccabaean Psalmist would have made his additions Elohistic to correspond with the earlier Psalms, and even furnished his Psalms with titles which no longer had any meaning. And is it conceivable that the LXX translators should have been so entirely at fault as to the meaning of the titles of 60 and 80, if they were quite recent compositions?
(3) The Greek translator of Ecclesiasticus, writing in Egypt, about b.c. 130, states in his Prologue that his grandfather Jesus the son of Sirach was moved to write the book after diligent study of “the law and the prophets and the other books of our fathers” (τοῦ νόμου καὶ τῶν προφητῶν καὶ τῶν ἄλλων πατρίων βιβλίων); and pleading for indulgence towards the defects of his own translation he points out that even in the case of “the law and the prophecies and the rest of the books” there is no small difference between the original and a translation.
From these statements it may reasonably be inferred (1) that Jesus the son of Sirach, c.180 b.c., was acquainted with a threefold Canon of Scripture, distinguished from other writings; and (2) that a Greek translation of a three-fold Canon was current in Egypt c.130 b.c. Now “the Greek Psalter … is essentially the same as the Hebrew; there is nothing to suggest that the Greek was first translated from a less complete Psalter and afterwards extended to agree with the received Hebrew. It is therefore reasonable to hold that the Hebrew Psalter was completed and recognised as an authoritative collection long enough before 130 b.c. to allow of its passing to the Hellenistic Jews of Alexandria.” Accordingly the closing of the Canon of the Psalter must be placed, at the very latest, in the time of Simon (c.140 b.c.). John Hyrcanus (b.c. 135–106), Aristobulus I, who assumed the title of king (b.c. 106), and Alexander Jannaeus (b.c. 105–78), are not celebrated in the Psalter. But it seems very doubtful whether a considerably longer interval than ten years ought not to be allowed between the closing of the collection and its currency in a Greek Version; and the evidence next to be adduced makes it extremely probable that the collection was completed at least half a century earlier.
(4) Fresh evidence as to the contents of the Canon of Scripture known to Jesus the son of Sirach has recently been brought to light by the recovery of portions of the Hebrew text of Ecclesiasticus by Dr Schechter and other scholars. In this text ch. Psalm 51:12 is followed by a Psalm of fifteen verses, which is unquestionably an imitation of Psalms 135 (see Introd. to that Ps.), and is largely composed of phrases taken from Psalms in Book V, e.g. 121, 132, 147, 148. In particular, Psalm 148:14 is quoted verbatim. If this Psalm was composed by Jesus the son of Sirach c.180 b.c., it shews that he was familiar with Psalms, some of which have a strong claim to be regarded as among the latest in the Psalter. This is the most striking example, but Dr Schechter holds that the allusions in the portions of the Hebrew text at present recovered extend over “all the books or groups of the Psalms.” Though it is impossible to prove that the Psalter was finally completed by b.c. 180, a strong presumption is raised against the admission of Psalms after that date, and it is highly probable that among “the other books of the fathers” upon the study of which Jesus the son of Sirach based his work was the Psalter substantially as we now have it. In particular it is noteworthy that we have clear evidence for the existence of the last group of Psalms (144–150), in which Maccabaean Psalms might most naturally be looked for, and one of which (149) has upon internal grounds the best claim of any Psalm to be regarded as Maccabaean.
(5) The Second Book of Maccabees speaks of the care which Judas took to collect the sacred writings which had been dispersed or lost in the war (2Ma 2:14), but no hint is given that the collection included new works. This book however cannot be regarded as a trustworthy historical authority.
(6) If the Psalms of Solomon could be referred to the Maccabaean age, they would afford an almost conclusive proof that the whole of the Psalter belongs to a much earlier time. But it is now generally agreed that this collection belongs to the period after the conquest of Jerusalem by Pompey in b.c. 63, and was completed soon after his death in b.c. 48. Even if the Psalms of Solomon are to be placed at this later date, the argument does not altogether lose its force. For they were written only a century after the standard of independence was raised by Mattathias, and almost immediately after the time at which the Psalter is supposed by some critics to have received its latest additions. But the contrast is immense. They are separated from the Psalter by an impassable gulf. “The spirit which the Psalms breathe is entirely that of Pharisaic Judaism. They are pervaded by an earnest moral tone and a sincere piety. But the righteousness which they preach and the dearth of which they deplore is, all through, the righteousness which consists in complying with all the Pharisaic prescriptions.” Their development of the doctrine of the Resurrection and the Messianic expectation separates them widely from the canonical Psalms. Where for example can we find parallels in the Psalter to language like the following with reference to the Resurrection?
“The destruction of the sinner shall be for ever,
and he shall not be remembered, when He visiteth the righteous:
this is the portion of sinners for ever.
But they that fear the Lord shall arise unto life eternal,
and their life shall be in the light of the Lord, and shall fail no more” (3:13–16).
“For the Lord will spare His saints,
and their transgressions will He blot out by correction:
for the life of the righteous is for ever,
but sinners shall be carried away to destruction,
and the memorial of them shall no more be found” (13:9, 10).
Equally remarkable is the expression of the Messianic hope:
“Behold, O Lord, and raise up unto them their king, the son of David,
at the time which Thou knowest, O God,
that he may reign over Israel Thy servant.
And gird him with strength to break in pieces unrighteous rulers” (17:23, 24).
“And in his days there is no unrighteousness in the midst of them,
for all are holy, and their king is the anointed lord” (v. 36).
“And he himself is pure from sin, to rule over a great people; to rebuke rulers and to destroy sinners by the strength of his word.
And he shall not be feeble in his days, relying upon his God,
for God made him mighty in the holy spirit,
and wise in the counsel of understanding, with strength and righteousness” (vv. 41, 42).
These general considerations are sufficient, taken all together, to make it antecedently doubtful whether any Psalms date from the Maccabaean period, and it seems to be fairly open to question whether the internal characteristics of the supposed Maccabaean Psalms are such as to outweigh these general considerations. The discussion of these special characteristics must necessarily be deferred to the notes on each Psalm. Few modern commentators however deny the possibility, and most maintain the certainty, of the existence of Maccabaean Psalms in the Psalter.
The Object, Collection, And Growth Of The Psalter
What was the object with which the Psalter was compiled? it is often spoken of as ‘the hymn book of the second Temple,’ and it is assumed that it was intended for use in public worship. But it has not the appearance of a collection of hymns made exclusively for liturgical purposes, and there is no evidence that it was so used as a whole in the Jewish Church down to the Christian era. Many of the Psalms were no doubt written expressly for use in public worship, either in celebration of particular events, or for general use; and many not written with this special object are well adapted for it. But many were clearly not originally intended for this purpose, and could only be so used by a process of accommodation. Some Psalms are the outpouring of the heart to God in the most intimate personal communion, in supplication, confession, thanksgiving, praise, springing out of the needs and aspirations of the soul in the crises of life, and adapted primarily for private devotion rather than for public worship. Some are of a didactic character, intended for instruction and edification, and to be read or learnt rather than sung. The object of the compilers of the Psalter would seem to have been by no means simply liturgical, but partly to unite and preserve existing collections of religious poetry, partly to provide a book of religious devotion, public and private.
In this connexion a few words may be said upon a question which has recently been much discussed:—Who is the speaker in the Psalms? At first sight it may seem to the reader accustomed to modern western modes of thought that it can be no one but the Psalmist himself. But in view of the ancient oriental modes of thought and expression it is at least possible that in many Psalms which seem at first sight to be entirely personal and individual, the speaker is not an individual, but the nation or the godly part of it, the collective ‘servant of Jehovah.’ Thus in Psalms 129 Israel speaks as an individual: “Much have they vexed me from my youth up, let Israel now say.” Such personification of the nation is not confined to poetry: it is common in the Pentateuch. Israel often speaks or is addressed as an individual, e.g. in Deuteronomy 7:17 ff.; Exodus 23:20 ff.; Numbers 6:24-26. May not this usage be common in the Psalms? and especially if the Psalter be ‘the hymn book of the congregation,’ is it not the congregation that speaks? This method of interpretation is no novelty. It is found in the LXX and the Targum, in which Psalms apparently most strongly individual (e.g. 23, 56) are interpreted of the nation; it has been adopted by Christian Fathers and Jewish Rabbis and modern commentators of the most widely different schools.
It has been most elaborately developed in recent times by Smend, who holds that in few if any of the Psalms is the voice of an individual to be heard. The hostility of enemies so often complained of is really the hostility of neighbouring nations: the sicknesses and sufferings described are those of the body politic (cp. Isaiah 1:5 ff.). The theory doubtless contains elements of truth; but it has been pressed to absurd extremes, and it is connected with the mistaken view that the Psalter was designed as a whole to be the hymn book of the congregation, and that the Psalms were written for that purpose. Many of the Psalmists were representative men. They spoke on behalf of the nation, or of some class or body within it. Their vivid consciousness of the ‘solidarity’ of the nation, of the reality and continuity of national life, enabled them to enter into its hopes and fears, its joys and sufferings, its triumphs and reverses, with a depth of insight and an intensity of sympathy which made them truly the mouthpieces of the community. The true poet enlarges and generalises his own feelings and experiences. Thus Tennyson writes of In Memoriam: “ ‘I’ is not always the author speaking of himself, but the voice of the human race speaking through him.” But while the Psalmist speaks in the name of many, he speaks in his own name too. He is not, in the majority of cases at any rate, deliberately substituting the personality of the nation for his own personality. Many Psalms are so intensely personal, that it is impossible to suppose that they did not have their origin in real personal experience; often experience so special and peculiar that it is only by a process of accommodation that it can be used by the congregation. Outside of the Psalter, e.g. in Jeremiah and Nehemiah, language closely resembling that of the Psalter is used by individuals. Moreover the speaker is not seldom distinguished from the congregation. And if the reference of Psalms to the nation is as old as the LXX, the reference of them to individuals is still older, for it is implied by the titles, which connect them with events in the life of David. Still, the possibility that the ‘I’ in the Psalter is collective and not individual must be borne in mind in the interpretation of the Psalms, though to what extent the principle is to be applied will remain debatable. In many Psalms where ‘I’ and ‘we’ interchange it may be questioned whether ‘I’ denotes the nation, or the Psalmist speaking on its behalf as its leader and representative. See e.g. Psalm 44:4; Psalm 44:6; Psalm 44:15; Psalm 60:9; Psalm 65:3; Psalm 66:13 ff.; Psalm 74:12; Psalm 89:50; Psalm 94:16 ff; Psalms 103; Psalms 118. Some Psalms where the singular alone is used may be national; but to the present writer it seems exceedingly questionable whether such Psalms as 51, 56, 71, 88, 102, 116, 139, can be other than personal in their origin and primary application, though they may in use have been appropriated by the whole congregation.
Internal evidence makes it certain that the Psalter grew up gradually from the union of earlier collections of Psalms, and these collections differed widely in character. In some the personal element predominated; in others there were more Psalms referring primarily to events in the national history; in others the liturgical intention is obvious.
The various strata of which the Psalter is composed can to some extent be distinguished. Three principal divisions, marked by well-defined characteristics, may be observed. They appear to have arisen in successive chronological order, but such a supposition need not exclude the possibility that the first division received late additions, or that the last division may contain early Psalms. It is an unwarrantable assumption that there can be no pre-exilic Psalms in the third division, because they must all have been included in one of the earlier collections.
(i) The First Division is coextensive with Book I (Psalms 1-41). All the Psalms in it have titles and are described as Psalms “of David,” with the exception of 1, 2, 10, 33. The exceptions are easily accounted for. Psalms 1, 2 are introductory, and probably did not belong to the original collection. Psalms 10 was either originally part of Psalms 9, or was written as a pendant to it. Psalms 33 appears to be of later date, inserted as an illustration of the last verse of Psalms 32. This collection may have been made by one editor: it does not appear, like the Second and Third Divisions, to have had collections already existing incorporated in it.
(ii) The Second Division corresponds to Books II and III (Psalms 42-89). All the Psalms in it, except 43 (which is really part of 42) and 71, bear titles. It consists of (a) seven Psalms (or eight, if 42 and 43 are reckoned separately) “of the sons of Korah” (42–49): (b) a Psalm “of Asaph” (50): (c) ten Psalms, all except 66, 67, “of David” (51–70): (d) an anonymous Psalm (71), and a Psalm “of Solomon” (72): (e) eleven Psalms “of Asaph” (73–83): (f) a supplement containing three Psalms “of the sons of Korah” (84, 85, 87); one “of David,” which is manifestly a cento from other Psalms (86); one “of Heman the Ezrahite” (88); and one “of Ethan the Ezrahite” (89). Thus it appears to have been formed by the union of at least three previously existing collections or of portions of them.
(iii) The Third Division corresponds to Books IV and V (Psalms 90-150). In this division many Psalms have no title at all, and only a few bear the name of an author. In Book IV, Psalms 90 bears the name of Moses: Psalms 101, 103 that of David. In Book V, Psalms 108-110, 122, 124, 131, 133, 138-145, bear the name of David: 127 that of Solomon. Of the rest the majority have no title, or only that of a subordinate collection, e.g. ‘A Song of Ascents,’ a collection which probably existed previously in a separate form for the use of pilgrims. Other groups connected by their titles are the groups of ‘Davidic’ Psalms , 108-110, 138-145; and by contents and form though not by titles, 93–100, the Psalms beginning with Hôdû (‘O give thanks’) 105–107, and the Hallelujah Psalms , 111-118, 146-150.
We may now proceed to examine the characteristics of these divisions. The greater part of the Second Division is remarkably distinguished from the First and Third by the use of the Divine Names. Psalms 42-83 are ‘Elohistic’; that is to say, they employ the appellative Elôhîm = ‘God,’ in the place and almost to the exclusion of the proper name Jehovah, represented in the A.V. by Lord.
In Psalms 1-41, Elôhîm occurs absolutely only 15 times, and in some of these cases it is required by the sense. Jehovah on the other hand occurs 272 times, or, if titles and doxology are included, 278 times.
In Psalms 42-83, the proportion is reversed. Elôhîm occurs 200 times, Jehovah only 43 times (exclusive of the doxology, Psalm 72:18); while in Psalms 84-89 Elohim occurs only 7 times, Jehovah 31 times.
In Psalms 90-150, Jehovah occurs 339 times, while Elôhîm (of the true God) is to be found only in Psalms 108, which is taken direct from two Psalms in the Elohistic group, and in Psalm 144:9, in a Psalm which is evidently compiled from various sources.
It may also be noted that Adônaî = ‘Lord’ occurs much more frequently in the Second Division (31 times), than in the First (10 times), or Third (8 times).
This use of Elôhîm cannot be explained on internal grounds. It stands precisely as Jehovah does elsewhere, and not unfrequently the substitution leads to awkwardness of expression. Thus, for example, Psalm 50:7 is taken from Exodus 20:2; “I am God thy God” is clearly the equivalent of “I am Jehovah thy God”; Psalm 68:1-2; Psalm 68:7-8 are based upon Numbers 10:35; Jdg 5:4-5; Jdg 5:31; Psalm 71:19 is from Exodus 15:11; and in each case Elôhîm takes the place of Jehovah. More striking still is the fact that in two Psalms which are repeated from Book I (53 = 14; 70 = Psalm 40:13 ff.), the alteration is made, though in Psalms 70 Jehovah still occurs twice.
To what then is this peculiarity due? Is it characteristic of a particular style of writing? or is it the work of an editor or compiler?
It seems certain (1) from the alteration in Psalms adopted from Book I, (2) from the variety of the sources from which the Psalms in this group are derived, that the change is, in part at least, due to the hand of an editor. It may no doubt have been the usage of certain writers. It has been suggested that it was a custom in the family of Asaph, connected possibly with the musical or liturgical use of the Psalms. But even if the peculiarity was due in some instances to the author, there can be little doubt that, in the group as a whole, it is due to the collector or editor.
It seems clear also that the substitution of Elôhîm for Jehovah was not due to the superstitious avoidance of the use of the Sacred Name in later times. The Elohistic collection is by no means the latest part of the Psalter. Books IV and V are composed of Psalms the majority of which are unquestionably of later date than those in the Elohistic group. But in these books the want Jehovah is used throughout, with the exceptions noted above. The compiler of Book V knew the Elohistic Psalms in their present form: and so apparently did the compiler of Psalms 86, in the appendix to the Elohistic collection, as may be inferred from a comparison of v. 14 with Psalm 54:4 f.
The suggestion has been made that the compiler’s object was to shew that the God of Israel was not merely a national God, and to counteract the Jewish spirit of exclusiveness. Another suggestion is that the collection was thus adapted for the use of the exiles and Israelites in the dispersion, with a view to avoid the repetition of the Sacred Name in a heathen land. But no positive result can be arrived at. The relation of the ‘Elohistic’ Psalms to the ‘Elohistic’ documents in the Pentateuch is also an obscure question, which needs further investigation.
The argument for the original independence of the three divisions which is derived from the use of the names of God is corroborated:
(a) By the repetition in the Second Division of Psalms found in the First, and in the Third of Psalms found in the Second. Thus 53 = 14, 70 = Psalm 40:13 ff.: 108 = Psalm 57:7-11, Psalm 60:5-12.
(b) By the note appended to Psalms 72, “The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.” This note, whether taken over from an earlier collection by the editor of Books II and III, or inserted by him, appears to shew that he knew of no more Davidic Psalms, or at any rate that his collection contained no more. Clearly therefore his collection must have been independent of Books IV and V, which contain several more Psalms ascribed to David.
(c) By the difference already noticed in regard to titles. In this respect the Third Division is markedly distinguished from the First and Second. In these the Psalms with but few easily explained exceptions have titles, giving the name of the author or the collection from which the Psalm was taken, in many cases the occasion, and some musical or liturgical description or direction. But in the Third Division the majority of the Psalms are anonymous; musical and liturgical directions are rare; and titles of the obscure character of many of those in Divisions I and II are entirely absent. Moreover the musical term Selah, which occurs 17 times in Division I, and 50 times in Division II, is found but four times in Division III, and then in two Psalms ascribed to David (140, 143).
(d) By the character of the contents of the three divisions. Speaking broadly and generally, the Psalms of the First Division are personal, those of the Second, national, those of the Third, liturgical. There are numerous exceptions, but it is in the First Division that personal prayers and thanksgivings are chiefly to be found: in the Second, prayers in special times of national calamity (44, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 89), and thanksgivings in times of national deliverance (46, 47, 48, 75, 76, 65–68): in the Third, Psalms of praise and thanksgiving for general use in the Temple services (92, 95–100, 105–107, 111–118, 120–136, 146–150).
The various steps in the formation of the Psalter may have been somewhat as follows:
(1) An original collection, which bore the name Psalms (or, Prayers) of David, from its first and greatest poet, though poems by other writers were not excluded from it. It has already been suggested (p. xxxii) that the general title of the collection was subsequently transferred to each separate Psalm in the First Group which was taken from it.
(2) The formation of another ‘Davidic’ collection, and the two Levitical hymnaries belonging to the families of Korah and Asaph.
(3) The ‘Elohistic’ collection was formed by the union of selections of Levitical Psalms from the Korahite and Asaphite hymnaries with another selection of ‘Davidic’ Psalms, and ‘Elohistically’ edited.
(4) To this collection was subsequently added an appendix of Korahite and other Psalms (84–89), which were not altered by the Elohistic editor.
(5) Other collections grew up, perhaps to some extent simultaneously with the preceding stages, and these were united in the Third Division, with a gleaning of earlier Psalms, some of which were believed to have been written by David, or were taken from a collection bearing his name.
(6) Finally, the various collections were united in the complete Psalter.
The date of these collections cannot be determined with certainty. Reasons have been given (p. xlvii f.) for thinking that the Psalter was practically complete by about 200 b.c.; and Psalms in the Third Division were known to the chronicler a century earlier. The Second Division contains some Psalms of the period of the Monarchy; but others cannot be earlier than the Exile and Return (e.g. 85). Even the First Division was probably not completed in its present form till after the Exile, though the grounds upon which Psalms in Book I are referred to the post-exilic period are less positive and convincing.
The opinion is gaining ground that “the Psalter, in all its parts, is a compilation of the post-exilic age,” but this does not exclude the possibility that pre-exilic collections of Psalms existed, side by side with prophetic and historical books. Their extent however cannot now be determined.
The arrangement of the Psalms in the several books appears to have been determined partly by their arrangement in the smaller collections from which they were taken, where their order may have been fixed by considerations of date and authorship; partly by similarity of character and contents; partly by liturgical usage. Thus for example, we find groups of Maschil Psalms (43–45, 52–55, 88, 89), and Michtam Psalms (56–60). Resemblance in character may account for the juxtaposition of 50 and 51, 33 takes up Psalm 32:11 : 34 and 35 both speak of ‘the angel of Jehovah,’ who is mentioned nowhere else in the Psalter. The title of 36 links it to Psalm 35:27 (‘servant of the Lord’): that of 56 may connect it with Psalm 55:6. Psalms 111-118, 145-150 are liturgical groups.
The Form Of Hebrew Poetry
Ancient Hebrew poetry possesses neither metre nor rhyme. Its essential characteristic is rhythm, which makes itself apparent both in the rhythmical cadence of each separate clause, and in the rhythmical balance of clauses when they are combined in a verse.
The Hebrew language is characterised by a vigorous terseness and power of condensation which cannot be preserved in English. Hence the clauses of Hebrew poetry are as a rule short. They consist sometimes of two words only, most frequently of three words, but not seldom of more than three words.
The rhythm of the clause often reflects the thought which it expresses. Thus, for example, the lively animated rhythm of the opening stanza (vv. 1–3) of Psalms 2 vividly suggests the tumultuous gathering of the nations; while the stately measure of v. 4 presents the contrast of the calm and unmoved majesty of Jehovah enthroned in heaven. Or again, the evening hymn Psalms 4 sinks to rest in its concluding verse with a rhythm as reposeful as the assurance which it expresses. A peculiar rhythm known as the elegiac or Qînâh rhythm, in which each line is divided by a caesura into two unequal parts, was employed in dirges, and sometimes in other poems. It is found in Lamentations 1-4, and occasionally in the Psalter, e.g. in Psalm 19:7 ff.
The rhythm of clauses however, together with many other features of Hebrew poetry, such as assonance and alliteration, distinctive use of words and constructions, and so forth, chiefly concerns the student of the original. But the rhythmical balance of clauses combined in a verse admits of being reproduced in translation, and can to a large extent be appreciated by the English reader. Owing to this peculiar nature of its form, Hebrew poetry loses less in translation than poetry which depends for much of its charm upon rhymes or metres which cannot be reproduced in another language.
This balanced symmetry of form and sense is known as parallelism of clauses (parallelismus membrorum) or simply, Parallelism. It satisfies the love of regular and harmonious movement which is natural to the human mind, and was specially adapted to the primitive method of antiphonal chanting (Exodus 15:1; Exodus 15:20-21; 1 Samuel 18:7). Such poetry is not sharply distinguished from elevated prose. Many passages in the prophets are written in poetical style, and exhibit the features of parallelism as plainly as any of the Psalms.
The law of parallelism in Hebrew poetry has an exegetical value. It can often be appealed to in order to determine the construction or connexion of words, to elucidate the sense, or to decide a doubtful reading. The arrangement of the text in lines, adopted by Dr Scrivener in the standard edition of the A.V. from which the text in this edition is taken, and in the Revised Version, makes this characteristic of Hebrew poetry more plainly perceptible to the English reader.
The various forms of parallelism are generally classified under three principal heads:
(1) Synonymous parallelism, when the same fundamental thought is repeated in different words in the second line of a couplet. Thus in Psalm 114:1 :
“When Israel went forth out of Egypt,
The house of Jacob from a people of strange language”: and the same construction is maintained throughout the Psalm. Every page of the Psalter supplies abundant examples.
(2) Antithetic or contrasted parallelism, when the thought expressed in the first line of a couplet is corroborated or elucidated by the affirmation of its opposite in the second line. This form of parallelism is specially suited to Gnomic Poetry, and is particularly characteristic of the oldest collection of proverbs in the Book of Proverbs (chaps. 10–22:16). Thus for example:
“Every wise woman buildeth her house:
But folly plucketh it down with her own hands” (Proverbs 14:1). But it is by no means rare in the Psalms, e.g. Psalm 1:6,
“For Jehovah knoweth the way of the righteous:
But the way of the wicked shall perish.”
(3) Synthetic or constructive parallelism. Under this head are classed the numerous instances in which the two lines of the couplet stand in the relation of cause and consequence, protasis and apodosis, proposition and qualification or supplement, or almost any logical or constructional relation; or in which, as is very frequently the case, the parallelism is one of form only without any logical relation between the clauses. Thus e.g.:
“Yet I have set up my king,
Upon Zion my holy mountain” (Psalm 2:6).
The simplest and most common form of parallelism is the couplet or distich: but this may be expanded into a tristich (triplet) or a tetrastich (quatrain) or even longer combinations, in a variety of ways. Thus the three lines of a verse may be synonymous:
“The floods have lifted up, O Jehovah,
The floods have lifted up their voice;
The floods lift up their din” (Psalm 93:3).
Or the first two lines may be synonymous, and the third supplementary, as in Psalm 2:2 :
“The kings of the earth take their stand,
And rulers hold conclave together,
Against Jehovah and against His anointed.”
The third line may be antithetic, as in Psalm 54:3 :
“For strangers are risen up against me,
And violent men have sought my life:
They have not set God before their eyes.”
Or the first line may be introductory, and the last two synonymous, as in Psalm 3:7 :
“Arise, Jehovah; save me, my God:
For Thou hast smitten all mine enemies on the cheek;
Thou hast shattered the teeth of the wicked.”
In a few instances the first line is parallel to the third, and the second is parenthetical, e.g. Psalm 4:1.
Similarly in tetrastichs (usually including two verses) we find (a) four synonymous lines, as in Psalm 91:5-6. Or (b) the first line is parallel to the second, and the third to the fourth, but the second couplet is required to complete the sense; e.g. in Psalm 18:15. Or (c) the first line may be parallel to the third, the second to the fourth, as in Psalm 27:3 :
“Though an host should encamp against me,
My heart shall not fear:
Though war should rise against me,
Even then will I be confident.”
Or (d) the first three lines may be parallel, and the fourth supplementary, as in Psalm 1:3. Or (e) the first line may be independent, and the last three parallel, as in Proverbs 24:12.
Or two synonymous lines may be contrasted with two synonymous lines, as in Psalm 37:35-36 :
“I have seen the wicked in his terribleness,
And spreading himself like a green tree in its native soil:
And I passed by, and lo! he was not,
Yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.”
Even longer combinations than tetrastichs sometimes occur, e.g. in Psalm 39:12; Numbers 24:17 : and on the other hand single lines are found, for the most part as introductions or conclusions, e.g. in Psalm 18:1; Psalm 109:1; Psalm 130:1; Psalm 92:8; Exodus 15:18. While maintaining its fundamental characteristic of rhythm, Hebrew poetry admits of the greatest freedom and variety of form.
Strophical arrangement. Series of verses are, as might be expected, combined, and many Psalms consist of distinct groups of verses. Such groups may conveniently be called stanzas or strophes, but the terms must not be supposed to imply that the same metrical or rhythmical structure recurs in each, as in Greek or Latin poetry. The strophes in a Psalm do not even necessarily consist of the same number of lines or verses.
Such divisions are sometimes clearly marked by a refrain, as in Psalms 42-43, 46, 57 : or by alphabetical arrangement, as in 119: or by Selah, denoting probably a musical interlude, as in Psalms 3, 4. But more frequently there is no external mark of the division, though it is clearly indicated by the structure and contents of the Psalm, as in Psalms 2.
Alphabetic or Acrostic Psalms.
Eight or nine Psalms present various forms of alphabetic structure (Psalms 9, 10, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, 145). In 111 and 112 each letter begins a line, and the lines are arranged in eight distichs and two tristichs.
In Psalms 25, 34, 145, Proverbs 31, Lamentations 4, each letter begins a distich, in Lamentations 1, 2, a tristich. In Psalms 37 each letter begins a pair of verses, commonly containing four, sometimes five, lines. In Lamentations 3 each verse in a stanza of three verses, and in Psalms 119 each verse in a stanza of eight verses, begins with the same letter, and the letters are taken in regular succession.
Such an arrangement, artificial though it seems, does not necessarily fetter a poet more than an elaborate metre or rhyme. It is not to be regarded as ‘a compensation for the vanished spirit of poetry.’ It was probably intended as an aid to memory, and is chiefly employed in Psalms of a proverbial character to connect detached thoughts, or when, as in Psalms 119 and in Lamentations, the poet needs some artificial bond to link together a number of variations upon one theme.
The elaborate development of the system in Lamentations proves that alphabetic structure is not in itself a proof of a very late date.
The Hebrew Text, The Ancient Versions, And The English Versions
i. The Hebrew Text. A few words on the character of the Hebrew Text are necessary in order to justify the occasional departures from it, which will be met with in this commentary.
The extant Hebrew mss. of the O.T. are all comparatively recent. The oldest of which the age is known with certainty is the St Petersburg ms. which is dated a.d. 916; the majority are of the 12th to the 16th centuries. They all present substantially the same text, commonly called the Massoretic Text. Thus while we possess mss. of the N.T. written less than three centuries after the date of the earliest of the books, our oldest ms. of the O.T. is more than ten centuries posterior to the date of the latest of the books which it contains; and while our mss. of the N.T. present a great variety of readings, those of the O.T. are practically unanimous in supporting the same text.
This unanimity was long supposed to be due to the jealous care with which the Jewish scribes had preserved the sacred text from the earliest times. But careful examination makes it clear that this is not the case. Since the rise of the schools of the ‘Massoretes,’ in the seventh and eighth centuries a.d., the text has, no doubt, been preserved with scrupulous exactness. But the recension which they adopted, whether originally derived from a single ms., as some suppose, or from a comparison of mss. held in estimation at the time, unquestionably contains not a few errors, which had crept in during the long course of its previous history. The proof of this lies in the following facts:—
(1) There are many passages in which the Massoretic Text cannot be translated without doing violence to the laws of grammar, or is irreconcilable with the context or with other passages.
(2) Parallel passages (e.g. Psalms 18 and 2 Samuel 22) differ in such a way as to make it evident that the variations are due partly to accidental mistakes in transcription, partly to intentional revision.
(3) The Ancient Versions represent various readings, which in many cases bear a strong stamp of probability, and often lessen or remove the difficulties of the Massoretic Text.
The Massoretic Text as a whole is undoubtedly superior to any of the Ancient Versions: but we are amply justified in calling in the aid of those Versions, and in particular the Septuagint, wherever that text appears to be defective: and even where it is not in itself suspicious, but some of the Ancient Versions offer a different reading, that reading may deserve to be taken into account. In some few cases, where there is reason to suspect corruption anterior to all extant documentary authorities, it may even be allowable to resort to conjectural emendation, and such emendations will occasionally be mentioned.
The accidental corruptions to which all ancient texts were exposed in the process of transmission must of course be carefully distinguished from the intentional alterations to which the Psalms would be especially liable. The original text of a Psalm, like that of the hymns in modern hymn books, was doubtless often altered to adapt it for liturgical use. Archaisms would be modernised: some Psalms would be abbreviated; others would be amplified; in some cases (e.g. 1 Chronicles 16, Psalms 108) portions of Psalms were combined. A comparison of Psalms 18 with 2 Samuel 22 appears to shew that, exactly as might be expected, peculiar forms were replaced by those in ordinary use, unusual constructions were simplified, archaisms and obscure expressions were explained. The processes which in this instance can be traced doubtless went on elsewhere, though to what extent it is impossible to say.
Two further points must be mentioned here in order to explain some of the notes:
(1) Hebrew, like other Semitic languages, was originally written without any vowels, except such long vowels as were represented by consonants. In the earlier stages of the language even these were sparingly used. The present elaborate system of vowel marks or ‘points,’ commonly called the ‘Massoretic punctuation’ or ‘vocalisation,’ was not reduced to writing until the seventh or eighth century a.d. It stereotyped the pronunciation and reading of the O.T. then current, and in many respects represents a far older tradition. But in a vowelless, or as it is called ‘unpointed,’ text, many words may be read in different ways, and the Massoretic punctuation does not appear in all cases to give the true way of reading the consonants.
(2) In some passages the traditional method of reading (Q’rç) did not agree with the consonants of the written text (K’thîbh). In such cases the Massoretes did not alter the text, but appended a marginal note, giving the consonants with which the vowels shewn in the text were to be read. It should be clearly understood that the Q’rç or marginal reading is the accepted reading of the Jewish textual tradition. But internal evidence, and the evidence of the Ancient Versions, lead us to prefer sometimes the Q’rç and sometimes the K’thîbh. See for example Psalm 24:4, where A.V. and R.V. rightly follow the K’thîbh, and desert the Jewish tradition: or Psalm 100:3, where A.V. unfortunately followed the K’thîbh, and R.V. has happily taken the Q’rç.
ii. The Ancient Versions of the O.T. These possess a fresh interest for the English reader, since the R.V. has given occasional references to them in its margin.
(i) The Septuagint. The oldest and most valuable of them is the Greek Version, commonly called the Septuagint (Sept. or LXX), or Version of the Seventy Elders. It derives its name from the tradition that the translation of the Pentateuch was made by seventy or seventy-two elders, despatched from Jerusalem to Alexandria at the request of Ptolemy Philadelphus (b.c. 283–247). But the ‘Letter of Aristeas,’ on which this story rests, is undoubtedly a forgery, and all that can be asserted about the origin of the Septuagint is that it was made (1) in Egypt, and probably at Alexandria, (2) at different times and by different hands during the third and second centuries b.c., (3) before the vowel-points had been added to the Hebrew text, or that text had finally taken its present form.
The Pentateuch was probably translated first under the earlier Ptolemies: and the grandson of Jesus the son of Sirach, about 130 b.c., knew and used the version of the Hagiographa as well as of the Law and the Prophets. This, it may be assumed, included the Psalter.
The character of the LXX varies greatly in different parts of the O.T. The work of pioneers in the task of translation, with no aids of grammar and lexicon to help them, naturally presents many imperfections. Yet not seldom it gives a valuable clue to the meaning of obscure words, or suggests certain corrections of the Massoretic Text. The version of the Psalter is on the whole fairly good, though it is often altogether at fault in difficult passages, and hopelessly astray as to the purport of the titles. It has a special interest for English readers, because, as will be seen presently, it has, through the Vulgate, indirectly had considerable influence on the version most familiar to many of them.
Unfortunately the Septuagint has not come down to us in its original form. The text has suffered from numerous corruptions and alterations, partly through the carelessness of transcribers, partly through the introduction of fresh renderings intended to harmonise it with the Massoretic Text, or taken from other Greek Versions.
The most important MSS. of the LXX for the Psalter to which reference will occasionally be made, are the following:
The Vatican MS. (denoted by the letter B); a splendid copy of the Greek Bible, written in the fourth century a.d., and now preserved in the Vatican Library at Rome. Ten leaves of the Psalter, containing Psalm 105:27 to Psalm 137:6, are unfortunately lost.
The text of this MS. is given in Dr Swete’s edition of the LXX, the lacuna in the Psalter being supplied from the Sinaitic MS. (א).
The equally splendid Sinaitic MS. (denoted by the letter א Aleph), also written in the fourth century, found by Tischendorf in the convent of St Catharine on Mt Sinai, and now at St Petersburg.
The Alexandrine MS. (denoted by the letter A), written in the middle of the fifth century, brought from Alexandria, and now the great treasure of the British Museum. Nine leaves are wanting in the Psalter (Psalm 49:19 to Psalm 79:10).
The Septuagint, with all its defects, is of the greatest interest and importance to all students of the O.T.
(1) It preserves evidence for the text far more ancient than that of the oldest Hebrew MS., and often represents a text differing from the Massoretic recension.
(2) It is one of the most ancient helps for ascertaining the meaning of the language of the O.T., and is a valuable supplement to Jewish tradition.
(3) It was the means by which the Greek language was wedded to Hebrew thought, and the way was prepared for the use of that language in the New Testament.
(4) The great majority of the quotations made from the O.T. by the writers of the N.T. are taken from the LXX.
(5) It is the version in which the O.T. was studied by the Fathers of the Eastern Church, and indirectly, in the old Latin Versions made from it, by those of the Western Church, until Jerome’s new translation from the Hebrew came into use. In the Psalter its influence was permanent, for as will be seen below (p. lxxii), the new version never superseded the old.
(ii) The Targum. After the return from the Babylonian exile, Aramaic, sometimes inaccurately called Chaldee, began to take the place of Hebrew in Palestine. As Hebrew died out, the needs of the people were met by oral translations or paraphrases in Aramaic. Hence arose the Aramaic Versions commonly called the Targums. The Targum of the Psalter is on the whole a fairly good version, though it often assumes the character of a paraphrastic interpretation. In its present form it appears to contain elements as late as the ninth century, but in the main it belongs to a much earlier date. As a rule it represents the Massoretic recension, and is not of much value for textual criticism. It is interesting as preserving interpretations current in the ancient Jewish Church, and in particular, for the reference of several passages in the Psalter to the Messiah.
(iii) The Syriac Version, known as the Peshîṭtâ (simple or literal version), probably originated at Edessa, about the second century a.d. It was made from the Hebrew, with the help of Jewish converts or actual Jews. But the present text in some parts of the O.T. agrees with the LXX in such a way as to make it evident either that the original translators consulted that version, or that subsequent revisers introduced renderings from it. This is largely the case in the Psalms.
(iv) The later Greek Versions require only a brief mention. That of Aquila of Pontus, a Jewish proselyte from heathenism, was made in the beginning of the second century a.d., when the breach between Church and Synagogue was complete, and the Jews desired an accurate version for purposes of controversy with Christians. It is characterised by a slavish but ingenious literalism.
That of Theodotion, made towards the end of the second century, or possibly earlier, was little more than a revision of the LXX.
That of Symmachus, made probably a little later than that of Theodotion, was also based on the LXX. It aimed at combining accuracy and perspicuity, and was by far the best of the three.
These versions were collected in the gigantic work of Origen (a.d. 185–254) called the Hexapla, which contained in six parallel columns, (1) the Hebrew Text, (2) the Hebrew transliterated into Greek letters, (3) Aquila, (4) Symmachus, (5) the LXX, (6) Theodotion. In the Psalter the Hexapla became the Octapla by the addition of two columns containing two more Greek versions known as the ‘Fifth’ (Quinta) and ‘Sixth’ (Sexta).
Unfortunately only fragments of these versions are extant. Generally, though not always, they agree with the Massoretic Text.
(v) The Latin Versions. The earliest Latin Version of the O.T., the Vetus Latina or Old Latin, was made in North Africa from the LXX. This version, of which various recensions appear to have been current, was twice revised by St Jerome (Hieronymus). The first revision, made about a.d. 383, is known as the Roman Psalter, probably because it was made at Rome and for the use of the Roman Church at the request of Pope Damasus; the second, made about a.d. 387, is called the Gallican Psalter, because the Gallican Churches were the first to adopt it.
Shortly afterwards, about a.d. 389, Jerome commenced his memorable work of translating the O.T. directly from the Hebrew, which occupied him for fourteen years. After bitter opposition and many vicissitudes, it won its way by its intrinsic excellence to be the Bible of the Latin Church, and came to be known as The Vulgate.
But long familiarity with the Old Latin Version of the Psalter made it impossible to displace it, and the Gallican Psalter is incorporated in the Vulgate in place of Jerome’s new translation. That new translation, “iuxta Hebraicam veritatem,” never came into general use. It is of great value for the interpretation of the text, and shews that the Hebrew text known to Jerome was in the main the same as the present Massoretic Text.
Accordingly, the student must remember that in the Psalter the Vulgate is an echo of the LXX, and not an independent witness to text or interpretation: while Jerome’s translation (referred to as Jer.) occupies the place which the Vulgate does in the other books of the O.T.
iii. The English Versions. It would be impossible to give here even a sketch of the history of the English Bible. But as the Version with which many readers are most familiar is not that in the Bible, but that in the Prayer-Book, it seems worth while to give a brief account of its origin and characteristics. As the Old Latin Version held its ground against Jerome’s more accurate translation, because constant liturgical use had established it too firmly for it to be displaced, so the older English Version of the Psalter taken from the Great Bible has kept its place in the Prayer-Book, and has never been superseded for devotional use.
The ‘Great Bible,’ sometimes known as Cromwell’s, because the first edition (April 1539) appeared under the auspices of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s famous minister, sometimes as Cranmer’s, because he wrote the preface to the second edition (April 1540), was a revision of Matthew’s Bible (1537), executed by Coverdale with the help of Sebastian Münster’s Latin version, published in 1534–5.
Matthew’s Bible was a composite work. The Pentateuch and N.T. were taken from Tyndale’s published translation; the books from Ezra to Malachi and the Apocrypha from Coverdale’s version; the remaining books from Joshua to 2 Chron. from a translation which there is little reason to doubt was made by Tyndale.
The Psalter in Matthew’s Bible was therefore Coverdale’s work: and Coverdale’s Version (1535) lays no claim to independence. He tells us in the Epistle unto the Kinges hyghnesse prefixed to the work, that he had “with a cleare conscience purely and faythfully translated this out of fyve sundry interpreters,” and the original title-page described the book as “faithfully and truly translated out of Douche and Latyn into Englishe.”
It is not certain who the “fyve sundry interpreters” were; but the ‘Douche’ included the Swiss-German version known as the Zurich Bible (1524–29), and Luther’s version; and among the ‘Latyn’ translations, beside the Vulgate, was the version of Sanctes Pagninus (1527). It is worth while thus to trace the pedigree of the Prayer-Book Version, for in spite of successive revisions, it retains many marks of its origin. Many of its peculiar renderings, and in particular the additions which it contains, are derived from the LXX through the Vulgate.
In the Great Bible these additions were clearly distinguished by being printed in smaller type, and enclosed in brackets. Thus e.g. in Psalms 14, no not one (v. 2), even where no fear was (v. 9), and the whole of vv. 5–7, are in smaller type: and in Psalm 29:1, bring yong rammes unto the Lorde. These distinctions were retained in the Standard Prayer-Book of 1662 (the so-called Annexed Book), but have been dropped in modern editions.
The Prayer-Book Psalter appears to be a reproduction, not critically exact, of the last revision of the Great Bible (Nov. 1540). The text differs in a considerable number of passages from that of 1539.
The A.V. of 1611, though more accurate, is less melodious, and when, at the revision of the Prayer-Book in 1662, the version of 1611 was substituted in the Epistles and Gospels, the old Psalter was left untouched. “The choirs and congregations had grown familiar with it, and it was felt to be smoother and more easy to sing.” Coverdale was a consummate master of melodious prose; and the “exquisite rhythm, graceful freedom of rendering, and endeavour to represent the spirit as well as the letter of the original” have justly given to his work “the pre-eminent distinction of being the version through which the Psalms as an instrument of devotional exercise, as an aid to meditation and the religious habit of mind, and as a formative influence in the spiritual education of man, now live in their fullest and widest use.”
The Revised Version of 1885 has made a great advance upon the A.V. in respect of accuracy of rendering. The changes made by the Revisers will, as a rule, be quoted in this commentary, but the translation must be read and studied as a whole in order properly to appreciate their force and value. Even with the help which the R.V. now supplies to the English reader, it does not seem superfluous to endeavour by more exact renderings to bring the student closer to the sense of the original.
It is well known that the A.V. frequently creates artificial distinctions by different renderings of the same word, and ignores real distinctions by giving the same rendering for different words: and this, though to a far less extent, is still the case in the R.V. Rigid uniformity of rendering may be misleading, but it is well that attention should be called to distinctions where they exist. Again, the precise force of a tense, or the exact emphasis of the original cannot always be given without some circumlocution which would be clumsy in a version intended for general use: but it is worth while to attempt to express finer shades of meaning in a commentary.
The best translation cannot always adequately represent the original: and it is well that the English reader should be reminded that the sense cannot always be determined with precision, and may often best be realised by approaching it from different sides.
The Messianic Hope
Poetry was the handmaid of Prophecy in preparing the way for the coming of Christ. Prophetic ideas are taken up, developed, pressed to their full consequences, with the boldness and enthusiasm of inspired imagination. The constant use of the Psalms for devotion and worship familiarised the people with them. Expectation was aroused and kept alive. Hope became part of the national life. Even Psalms, which were not felt beforehand to speak of Him Who was to come, contributed to mould the temper of mind which was prepared to receive Him when He came in form and fashion far other than that which popular hopes had anticipated; and they were recognised in the event as pointing forward to Him. Cp. Luke 1, 2.
This work of preparation went forward along several distinct lines, some of which are seen to converge or meet even in the O.T., while others were only harmonised by the fulfilment. Thus (1) some Psalms pointed forward to the Messiah as Son of God and King and Priest: others (2) prepared the way for the suffering Redeemer: others (3) only find their full meaning in the perfect Son of Man: others (4) foretell the Advent of Jehovah Himself to judge and redeem.
All these different lines of thought combined to prepare the way for Christ; but it must be remembered that the preparation was in great measure silent and unconscious. It is difficult for us who read the O.T. in the light of its fulfilment to realise how dim and vague and incomplete the Messianic Hope must have been until the Coming of Christ revealed the divine purpose, and enabled men to recognise how through long ages God had been preparing for its consummation.
(1) The Royal Messiah (Psalms 2, 18, 20, 21, 45, 61, 72, 89, 110, 132)
The Kingdom of Israel was at once the expression of God’s purpose to establish an universal kingdom upon earth, and the means for the accomplishment of that purpose. The people of Israel was Jehovah’s son, His firstborn (Exodus 4:22-23; Deuteronomy 32:6; Hosea 11:1), and His servant (Isaiah 41:8); and the Davidic king as the representative of the nation was Jehovah’s son, His firstborn (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7; Psalm 89:26-27), and His servant (2 Samuel 7:5 ff.). He was no absolute despot, reigning in His own right, but the ‘Anointed of Jehovah’ who was the true King of Israel, appointed by Him as His viceroy and representative (Psalm 2:6). He was said to “sit upon the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel” (1 Chronicles 28:5), or even “on the throne of the Lord” (1 Chronicles 29:23; 2 Chronicles 9:8).
Thus he was at once the representative of the people before Jehovah, and the representative of Jehovah before the people, and before the nations. To Him as Jehovah’s viceroy was promised the sovereignty over the nations. Nathan’s message to David (2 Samuel 7) was the Davidic king’s patent of adoption and title deed of inheritance. It was the proclamation of “the everlasting covenant” which God made with the house of David (2 Samuel 23:5). Upon the divine choice of David and his house, and in particular upon this great prophecy, are based a series of what may be called Royal Psalms. Critical events in the life of David or later kings, or in the history of the kingdom, gave occasion to David himself, or other poet-seers, to declare the full significance and extent of that promise. Successive kings might fail to realise their rightful prerogatives, but the divine promise remained unrevoked, waiting for one who could claim its fulfilment in all its grandeur.
Different aspects of the promise are presented in different Psalms. They can only be briefly summarised here: for fuller explanation reference must be made to the introductions and notes to each Psalm.
In Psalms 2 the prominent thought is the divine sonship of the anointed king and its significance. The nations are mustering with intent to renounce their allegiance to the king recently enthroned in Zion. But their purpose is vain, for the king is none other than Jehovah’s Son and representative. In rebelling against him they are rebelling against Jehovah, and if they persist, will do it to their own destruction.
In David’s great thanksgiving (Psalms 18) he celebrates Jehovah as the giver of victory, and recognises that his position as “the head of the nations” (v. 43) has been given him in order that he may proclaim Jehovah’s glory among them (v. 49).
The relation of the king to Jehovah as His anointed representative is the ground of intercession and confidence in Psalm 20:6; and the thanksgiving for victory which follows in Psalms 21 naturally dwells upon the high dignity which belongs to him in virtue of that relation, and anticipates his future triumphs. The same thought is repeated in Psalm 61:6 f.
Psalms 45 is a marriage song for Solomon or some later king of the house of David. In lofty language the poet sets before him the ideal of his office (cp. 2 Samuel 23:3 ff.), and claims for him the fulness of the promise of eternal dominion. The union with a foreign princess suggests the hope of the peaceful union of all nations in harmonious fellowship with Israel.
Psalms 72 is an intercession for Solomon or some other king on his accession. In glowing colours it depicts the ideal of his office, and prays that he may fulfil it as the righteous sovereign who redresses wrong, and may rule over a world-wide empire, receiving the willing homage of the nations to his virtue, and proving himself the heir of the patriarchal promise.
In some crisis of national disaster the author of Psalms 89 recites the promise to David, and contrasting its brilliant hopes with the disappointment which it was his trial to witness, pleads for the renewal of God’s favour.
Psalms 110 is a kind of solemn oracle. It describes David as king, priest, and conqueror. Jehovah adopts him as His assessor, placing him in the seat of honour at His side. Though not of Aaron’s line he is invested with a priestly dignity. The new king of Zion must inherit all the privileges of the ancient king of Salem, and enter upon the religious as well as the civil memories of his capital.
Once more, in Psalms 132, possibly in days when the kingdom had ceased to exist, and the representative of the house of David was only a governor appointed by a foreign conqueror, the ancient promise is pleaded in confidence that it must still find fulfilment.
These Psalms refer primarily to the circumstances of the time. The revolt of the nations, the royal marriage, the accession of a prince of unique promise, the installation of the king, gave the inspired poets opportunity for dwelling on the promises and hopes connected with the Davidic kingdom. But successive princes of David’s line failed to fulfil their high destiny, to subdue the nations, to rule the world in righteousness, to establish a permanent dynasty. The kingdom ceased to exist; yet it was felt that the divine promise could not fail; and hope was directed to the future. Men were led to see that the divine promise had not been frustrated but postponed, and to look for the coming of One who should ‘fulfil’ the utmost that had been spoken of Israel’s king.
(2) The suffering Messiah (Psalms 22, 69, 109, 35, 41, 55). Men’s minds had to be prepared not only for a triumphant King, but for a suffering Saviour. The great prophecy of Isaiah 52, 53 finds preludes and echoes in the Psalter in what may be called the Passion Psalms. The sufferings of David and other saints of the old dispensation were typical: they helped to familiarise men with the thought of the righteous suffering for God’s sake, of suffering as the path to victory, of glory to be won for God and deliverance for man through suffering. They were the anticipation, as the sufferings of the members of the Christian Church are the supplement (Colossians 1:24), of the afflictions of Christ.
But not only were these sufferings in themselves typical, but the records of them were so moulded by the Spirit of God as to prefigure the sufferings of Christ even in circumstantial details. These details are not the most important part of the type or prophecy; but they serve to arrest attention, and direct it to the essential idea.
These Psalms do not appear to have been applied to the Messiah in the Jewish Church as the Royal Psalms were. It was Christ Himself who first shewed His disciples that He must gather up into Himself and fulfil the manifold experiences of the people of God, in suffering as well as in triumph, and taught them to recognise that those sufferings had been foreordained in the divine purpose, and how they had been foreshadowed throughout the Old Testament.
Psalms 22 stands by itself among these Psalms. In its description of the Psalmist’s sufferings, and in its joyous anticipation of the coming extension of Jehovah’s kingdom, it foreshadows the Passion of Christ and its glorious fruits: and our Lord’s use of the opening words (and probably of the whole Psalm) upon the Cross, stamps it as applicable to and fulfilled in Him.
Psalms 69 records the sufferings of one who was persecuted for God’s sake (vv. 7ff.). In his consuming zeal for God’s house, in his suffering as the victim of causeless hatred (cp. Psalm 35:19; Psalm 109:3 ff.), in his endurance of reproach for his faithfulness to God, he was the prototype of Christ. The contemptuous mockery (vv. 12, 20) and maltreatment (vv. 21, 26) to which he was exposed, prefigured the actual sufferings of Christ. The curse which falls upon his persecutors (v. 25; cp. Psalm 109:8) becomes the doom of the arch-traitor (Acts 1:20); and the judgement invoked upon his enemies (vv. 22–24) finds its fulfilment in the rejection of apostate Israel (Romans 11:9-10).
The treachery of the faithless friend described in Psalm 41:9 (cp. Psalm 55:12 ff.) anticipates the treachery of the false disciple.
(3) The Son of Man (Psalms 8, 16, 40). Psalms which describe the true destiny of man, the issue of perfect fellowship with God, the ideal of complete obedience, unmistakably point forward to Him who as the representative of man triumphed where man had failed.
Psalms 8 looks away from the Fall and its fatal consequences to man’s nature, position, and destiny in the purpose of God. Christ’s perfect humanity answered to that ideal, and is seen to be the pledge of the fulfilment of the divine purpose for the whole race of mankind (Hebrews 2:6 ff.).
In Psalms 16 faith and hope triumph over the fear of death in the consciousness of fellowship with God. Yet the Psalmist did not escape death; his words looked forward, and first found their adequate realisation in the Resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:25 ff; Acts 13:35).
In Psalms 40 the Psalmist professes his desire to prove his gratitude to God by offering the sacrifice of obedience. But that obedience was at best imperfect. His words must wait to receive their full accomplishment in the perfect obedience of Christ (Hebrews 10:5 ff.).
Christ as the perfect Teacher adopted and ‘fulfilled’ the methods of the teachers of the old dispensation (Psalm 78:1).
(4) The coming of God. Another series of Psalms describes or anticipates the Advent of Jehovah Himself to judge and to redeem. Such are Psalm 18:7 ff., Psalms 50, 68, 96-98. They correspond to the prophetic idea of ‘the day of Jehovah,’ which culminates in Malachi 3:1 ff. They do not indeed predict the Incarnation, but they served to prepare men’s minds for the direct personal intervention of God which was to be realised in the Incarnation. We find passages originally spoken of Jehovah applied in the N.T. to Christ. The words of Psalm 68:18, which describe the triumphant ascent of Jehovah to His throne after the subjugation of the world, are adapted and applied to the triumphant return of Christ to heaven and His distribution of the gifts of grace (Ephesians 4:8).
The words of Psalm 102:25-26, contrasting the immutability of the Creator with the mutability of created things, originally addressed to Jehovah by the exile who appealed to Him to intervene on behalf of Zion, are applied to the Son through whom the worlds were made (Hebrews 1:10).
Thus the inspired poetry of the Psalter, viewing the Davidic kingdom in the light of the prophetic promises attached to it, played its part in preparing men’s minds for a King who should be God’s Son and representative, as it came to be interpreted in the course of history through failure and disappointment. The record of the Psalmists’ own sufferings helped to give some insight into the part which suffering must perform in the redemption of the world. Their ideals of man’s destiny and duty implied the hope of the coming of One who should perfectly fulfil them. The expectation of Jehovah’s advent to judge and redeem anticipated a direct divine interposition for the establishment of the divine kingdom in the world.
It is not to be supposed that the relation of these various elements of the preparation could be recognised, or that they could be harmonised into one consistent picture beforehand, It was reserved for the event to shew that the various lines of hope and teaching were not parallel but convergent, meeting in the Person and Work of Him Who is at once God and Man, Son and Servant, Priest and King, Sufferer and Victor.
It has been assumed thus far that these Psalms refer primarily to the circumstances under which they were written. Many commentators however regard some of the ‘Royal Psalms,’ in particular Psalms 2, 45, 72, 110, as direct prophecies of the Messianic King: some, because they are unable to discover the precise historical occasion in existing records: others, because the language seems to reach beyond what could be predicated of any earthly king, and the N.T. application of these Psalms to Christ appears to them to require that they should be referred to Him alone.
The particular historical reference of each of these Psalms will be discussed in the introduction to it: here it must suffice to observe that such Psalms as 2 and 45 produce the decided impression that they were written in view of contemporary events. Lofty as is the language used, it is no more than is warranted by the grandeur of the divine promises to the house of David; and if the words are applied to Christ with a fulness and directness which seems to exclude any lower meaning, it must be remembered that it was through the institution of the kingdom that men were taught to look for Him, and their fulfilment in Him presumes rather than excludes the view that they had a true, if partial, meaning for the time at which they were written.
Similarly in the case of the ‘Passion Psalms’ it has been thought that, at least in Psalms 22, the Psalmist is speaking in the person of Christ. Yet even this Psalm plainly springs out of personal suffering; though it is equally plain that the character of that suffering was providentially moulded to be a type, and the record of it inspired by the Holy Spirit to be a prophecy, of the sufferings of Christ. That Psalms 69 cannot as a whole be placed in the mouth of Christ is evident, if for no other reason, from the confession of sin in v. 5.
Have then these Psalms, has prophecy in general, a ‘double sense?’ a primary historical sense in relation to the circumstances under which they were written, and a secondary typical or prophetical sense, in which they came to be understood by the Jewish and afterwards by the Christian Church? We may no doubt legitimately talk of a ‘double sense,’ if what we mean is that Psalmist and Prophet did not realise the full meaning of their words, and that that meaning only came to be understood as it was unfolded by the course of history. But is it not a truer view to regard both senses as essentially one? The institutions of Israel and the discipline of the saints of old were designed to express the divine purpose as the age and the people were able to receive it. The divine purpose is eternally one and the same, though it must be gradually revealed to man, and man’s apprehension of it changes. And it is involved in any worthy conception of inspiration that inspired words should express divine ideas with a fulness which cannot at once be intelligible, but only comes to be understood as it is interpreted by the course of history or illuminated by the light of fuller revelation.
Inspired words are “springing and germinant” in their very nature: they grow with the growing mind of man. They are ‘fulfilled,’ not in the sense that their meaning is exhausted and their function accomplished, but in the sense that they are enlarged, expanded, ennobled. What is temporary and accidental falls away, and the eternal truth shines forth in its inexhaustible freshness and grandeur.
For us the Psalms which were designed to prepare the way for the coming of Christ bear witness to the unity of the divine plan which is being wrought out through successive ages of the world.
(5) The nations. Under the head of Messianic Hope in the Psalter must be included the view which is presented of the relation of the nations to Jehovah and to Israel. Few features are more striking than the constant anticipation of the inclusion of all nations in Jehovah’s kingdom.
On the one hand indeed the nations appear as the deadly enemies of Jehovah’s people, leagued together for its destruction (2, 83), but doomed themselves to be destroyed if they persist in their unhallowed purpose (Psalm 2:9; Psalm 9:17 ff.; Psalm 33:10; Psalm 46:6 ff.; Psalm 59:5; Psalm 59:8).
But concurrently with this view of the relation of the nations to Jehovah and Israel, another and more hopeful view is constantly presented. The nations as well as Israel belong to Jehovah, and are the objects of His care; they will eventually render Him homage; and Israel is to be the instrument for accomplishing this purpose and establishing the universal divine kingdom.
(a) The earth and all its inhabitants belong to Jehovah as their Creator (Psalm 24:1; cp. Psalm 8:1); they are under His observation (Psalm 66:7), and subservient to His purposes (Psalm 33:14); He disciplines and teaches them (Psalm 94:10); they are addressed as being capable of moral instruction (Psalm 49:1).
He is the supreme and universal King and Judge (Psalm 22:28; Psalm 46:10; Psalm 47:2; Psalm 47:8-9; Psalm 96:13; Psalm 98:9; Psalm 99:2; Psalm 113:4); the nations are constantly exhorted to render Him homage (Psalm 2:8 ff.), to fear Him (Psalm 33:8), to praise Him (Psalm 66:1 f.; Psalm 117:1; Psalm 145:21), and even to worship Him in His temple (Psalm 96:7 ff.; Psalm 100:1-2).
(b) The time will come when all nations will acknowledge His sovereignty (Psalm 22:27; Psalm 66:4; Psalm 68:29 ff.; Psalm 86:9; Psalm 102:22). The kings of the earth will render homage to their sovereign (Psalm 102:15; Psalm 138:4). To Him as the hearer of prayer shall “all flesh” come (Psalm 65:2); He is the confidence of all the ends of the earth (Psalm 65:5); and the Psalter ends with the chorus of universal praise from every living thing (Psalm 150:6).
(c) Israel is Jehovah’s instrument for accomplishing the world-wide extension of His kingdom.
In the early days of the kingdom it may have seemed that Israel’s destiny was to subjugate the nations and include them in the kingdom of Jehovah by conquest (2; Psalm 18:43; Psalms 47); yet the thought is never far distant that the object of Israel’s victories is to make Jehovah known (Psalm 18:49; Psalm 57:9), and to lead to the harmonious union of the nations with His people (Psalm 47:9). Psalms 45 suggests the hope of peaceful alliance, Psalms 72 of conquest by moral supremacy (vv. 8ff.). If to the last the thought of actual conquests survived (Psalm 149:6 ff.), a more spiritual conception of Israel’s relation to the nations grew up side by side with it. The Psalmist’s gratitude for personal deliverance widens out into the prospect of the universal worship of Jehovah (22). Psalms 67 expresses Israel’s consciousness of its calling to be a blessing to the world, and the final purpose of its prosperity is the conversion of the nations. Zion becomes the spiritual metropolis in which nations once hostile are enrolled as citizens (87); and Israel’s deliverance from captivity is seen to lead to the universal worship of her Deliverer, and the gathering of the nations to Zion to serve Him (Psalm 102:15; Psalm 102:21 ff.; cp. 96–98).
Thus, even under the limitations of the old Covenant, were formed the hopes which are in part fulfilled, and in part still await fulfilment, in the Christian Church.
On Some Points In The Theology Of The Psalms
A thorough examination of the Theology of the Psalms would exceed the limits of the present work. It would include an investigation whether any progress and development of doctrine can be traced in the Psalms of different periods. All that can be attempted here is a few brief notes on some points which require the student’s attention or present special difficulties.
(i) The relation of the Psalms to the Ordinances of Worship. The Psalms represent the inward and spiritual side of the religion of Israel. They are the manifold expression of the intense devotion of pious souls to God, of the feelings of trust and hope and love which reach a climax in such Psalms as 23, 42–43, 63, 84. They are the many-toned voice of prayer in the widest sense, as the soul’s address to God in confession, petition, intercession, meditation, thanksgiving, praise, both in public and private. They offer the most complete proof, if proof were needed, how utterly false is the notion that the religion of Israel was a formal system of external rites and ceremonies. In such a book frequent reference to the external ordinances of worship is scarcely to be expected: but they are presumed, and the experience of God’s favour is constantly connected with the Sanctuary and its acts of worship.
There are frequent references to the Temple as the central place of worship, where men appear before God, and where He specially reveals His power glory and goodness, and interprets the ways of His Providence (Psalm 42:2; Psalm 48:9; Psalm 63:2; Psalm 65:4; Psalm 68:29; Psalm 73:17; Psalm 96:6 ff.; &c).
The impressive splendour of the priestly array is alluded to (Psalm 29:2, note; Psalm 96:9; Psalm 90:3).
The delight of the festal pilgrimages to Zion is vividly described (42, 43, 84, 122, cp. Psalm 55:14). Consuming zeal for God’s house in a corrupt age characterised the saint and exposed him to persecution (Psalm 69:9).
The joyous character of the O.T. worship is so striking a feature of the Psalter as scarcely to need special notice. The psalter as the hymn-book of the Second Temple was entitled ‘The Book of Praises.’ We hear the jubilant songs of the troops of pilgrims (Psalm 42:4; cp. Isaiah 30:29): we see the processions to the Temple with minstrels and singers (Psalm 68:24-25): we hear its courts resound with shouts of praise (Psalm 95:1 ff.; Psalm 100:1; Psalm 100:4), and music of harp and psaltery, timbrel and trumpet, cymbals and pipe (150).
Sacrifice is referred to as the sanction of the covenant between God and His people (Psalm 50:5; cp. Exodus 24:5 ff.); as the regular accompaniment of approach to God (Psalm 20:3; Psalm 50:8 ff.; Psalm 66:13; Psalm 66:15; Psalm 96:8); as the natural expression of gratitude (Psalm 27:6; Psalm 43:4; Psalm 51:19; Psalm 54:6; Psalm 107:22; Psalm 116:17; Psalm 118:27), especially in connexion with vows (Psalm 56:12; Psalm 66:13 ff.), which are frequently mentioned (Psalm 22:25; Psalm 61:5; Psalm 61:8; Psalm 65:1; Psalm 76:11; Psalm 116:14; Psalm 116:18). The Levitical ceremonies of purification are alluded to as symbols of the inward cleansing which must be effected by God Himself (Psalm 51:7).
But the great prophetic doctrine of the intrinsic worthlessness of sacrifice apart from the disposition of the worshipper is emphatically laid down. It is not sacrifice but obedience that God desires (Psalm 40:6 ff.); it is not thank-offering, but a thankful heart which finds acceptance with Him (Psalm 50:14; Psalm 50:23; cp. Psalm 69:30-31); it is not sacrifice, but contrition which is the condition of forgiveness (Psalm 51:16 ff.). Penitence and prayer are true sacrifices (Psalm 51:17; Psalm 141:2): and the moral conditions which can alone make sacrifice acceptable and are requisite for approach to God are constantly insisted upon (Psalm 4:5; Psalm 15:1 ff.; Psalm 24:3 ff.; Psalm 26:6; Psalm 66:18).
It is God Himself who ‘purges away’ iniquity (Psalm 65:3; Psalm 78:38; Psalm 79:9; Psalm 75:2).
(ii) The self-righteousness of the Psalmists. Readers of the Psalms are sometimes startled by assertions of integrity and innocence which appear to indicate a spirit of self-righteousness and self-satisfaction approximating to that of the Pharisee (Luke 18:9). Thus David appeals to be judged according to his righteousness and his integrity (Psalm 7:8; cp. Psalm 26:1 ff.), and regards his deliverance from his enemies as the reward of his righteousness and innocence (Psalm 18:20 ff.); sincerity and innocence are urged as grounds of answer to prayer (Psalm 17:1 ff.), and God’s most searching scrutiny is invited (Psalm 26:2 ff.).
Some of these utterances are no more than asseverations that the speaker is innocent of particular crimes laid to his charge by his enemies (Psalm 7:3 ff.); others are general professions of purity of purpose and single-hearted devotion to God (Psalm 17:1 ff.). They are not to be compared with the self-complacency of the Pharisee, who prides himself on his superiority to the rest of the world, but with St Paul’s assertions of conscious rectitude (Acts 20:26 ff; Acts 23:1). They breathe the spirit of simple faith and childlike trust, which throws itself unreservedly on God. Those who make them do not profess to be absolutely sinless, but they do claim to belong to the class of the righteous who may expect God’s favour, and they do disclaim all fellowship with the wicked, from whom they expect to be distinguished in the course of His Providence.
And if God’s present favour is expected as the reward of right conduct, it must be remembered that the Israelite looked for the visible manifestation of the divine government of the world in the reward of the godly and the punishment of the evildoer in this present life (1 Kings 8:32; 1 Kings 8:39). He felt that he had a right to be treated according to the rectitude of which he was conscious.
Further, it was commonly supposed that there was a proportion between sin and suffering; that exceptional suffering was an evidence of exceptional guilt. This idea throws light upon the assertions of national innocence in Psalm 44:17 ff., and of personal innocence in Psalm 59:3. They are clearly relative, as much as to say, ‘We know of no national apostasy which can account for this defeat as a well-merited judgement:’ ‘I am not conscious of any personal transgression for which this persecution is a fitting chastisement.’ So Job repeatedly acknowledges the sinfulness of man, but denies that he has been guilty of any special sin to account for his extraordinary afflictions.
Some however of these utterances undoubtedly belong to the O.T. and not to the N.T. They are the partial expression of an eternal truth (Matthew 16:27), in a form which belongs to the age in which they were spoken. The N.T. has brought a new revelation of the nature of sin, and a more thorough self-knowledge: it teaches the inadmissibility of any plea of merit on man’s part (Luke 17:10). But the docile spirit which fearlessly submits itself to the divine scrutiny and desires to be instructed (Psalm 139:23-24) has nothing in common with the Pharisaism which is by its very nature incapable of improvement.
And side by side with these assertions of integrity we find in the Psalms the fullest recognition of personal sinfulness (Psalm 51:5; Psalm 69:5), of man’s inability to justify himself before God (Psalm 130:3 ff., Psalm 143:2), of his need of pardon cleansing and renewal (32, 51, Psalm 65:3), of his dependence on God for preservation from sin (Psalm 19:12 ff.), of the barrier which sin erects between him and God (Psalm 66:18, Psalm 50:16 ff.); as well as the strongest expressions of absolute self-surrender and dependence on God and entire trust in His mercy (Psalm 25:4 ff., Psalm 73:25 ff.).
(iii) The so-called Imprecatory Psalms have long been felt to constitute one of the ‘moral difficulties’ of the O.T. We are startled to find the most lofty and spiritual meditations interrupted by passionate prayers for vengeance upon enemies, or ending in triumphant exultation at their destruction. How, we ask, can such utterances be part of a divine revelation? How can the men who penned them have been in any sense inspired by the Holy Spirit?
These imprecations cannot be explained away, as some have thought, by rendering the verbs as futures, and regarding them as authoritative declarations of the certain fate of the wicked. Of these there are many, but in not a few cases the form of the verb is that which specifically expresses a wish or prayer, and it cannot be rendered as a simple future.
Nor again can the difficulty be removed by regarding the imprecations of Psalms 69, 109 as the curses not of the Psalmist himself but of his enemies. Even if this view were exegetically tenable for these two Psalms, which is doubtful, expressions of the same kind are scattered throughout the Psalter. Moreover the Book of Jeremiah contains prayers for vengeance on his enemies, at least as terrible as those of Psalms 69, 109 (Jeremiah 11:18 ff; Jeremiah 15:15 ff; Jeremiah 17:18; Jeremiah 18:19 ff; Jeremiah 20:11 ff.).
In what light then are these utterances to be regarded? They must be viewed as belonging to the dispensation of the Old Testament; they must be estimated from the standpoint of the Law, which was based upon the rule of retaliation, and not of the Gospel, which is animated by the principle of love; they belong to the spirit of Elijah, not of Christ; they use the language of the age which was taught to love its neighbour and hate its enemy (Matthew 5:43).
Our Lord explicitly declared that the old dispensation, though not contrary to the new, was inferior to it; that modes of thought and actions were permitted or even enjoined which would not be allowable for His followers; that He had come to ‘fulfil’ the Law and the Prophets by raising all to a higher moral and spiritual level, expanding and completing what was rudimentary and imperfect (Matthew 5:43; Matthew 19:8; Luke 9:55).
It is essential then to endeavour to understand the ruling ideas and the circumstances of the age in which these Psalms were composed, in order to realise how, from the point of view of that age, such prayers for vengeance and expressions of triumph as they contain could be regarded as justifiable.
In the first place it is important to observe that they are not dictated merely by private vindictiveness and personal thirst for revenge. While it would perhaps be too much to say that they contain no tinge of human passion (for the Psalmists were men of infirmity, and inspiration does not obliterate personal character), they rise to a far higher level. They spring ultimately from zeal for God’s cause, and they express a willingness to leave vengeance in the hands of Him to whom it belongs. Retribution is desired and welcomed as part of the divine order (Psalm 58:11; Psalm 104:35).
This was a great advance upon the ruder stage of society, in which each man claimed to be his own avenger. David’s first impulse when he was insulted by Nabal was to wreak a terrible vengeance upon him and all that belonged to him. It was the natural instinct of the time. But his final resolve to leave vengeance to God indicated the better feeling that was being learnt (1 Samuel 25:21 ff., 1 Samuel 25:39).
Though their form belongs to the circumstances and limitations of the age, these invocations of vengeance are the feeling after a truth of the divine government of the world. For it is the teaching of the N.T. not less than of the O.T. that the kingdom of God must come in judgement as well as in grace. Love no less than justice demands that there should be an ultimate distinction between the good and the evil, that those who will not submit to the laws of the kingdom should be banished from it (Matthew 13:49-50; Matthew 16:27; John 5:29).
But while the Gospel proclaims the law of universal love, and bids men pray without ceasing for the establishment of the kingdom of God by the repentance and reformation even of the most hardened offenders, and leave the issue to the future judgement of God, the Law with its stern principle of retribution and its limitation of view to the present life, allowed men to pray for the establishment of the kingdom of God through the destruction of the wicked.
The Prophets and Psalmists of the O.T. had a keen sense of the great conflict constantly going on between good and evil, between God and His enemies. That conflict was being waged in the world at large between Israel as the people of God and the nations which threatened to destroy Israel. The enemies of Israel were the enemies of Israel’s God; Israel’s defeat was a reproach to His Name; the cause at stake was not merely the existence of the nation, but the cause of divine truth and righteousness. This aspect of the conflict is most completely expressed in Psalms 83, and prayers for vengeance such as those of Psalm 79:10; Psalm 79:12 and Psalm 137:8 express the national desire for the vindication of a just cause, and the punishment of cruel insults.
Within the nation of Israel this same conflict was being waged on a smaller scale between the godly and the ungodly. When the righteous were oppressed and the wicked triumphant, it seemed as though God’s rule were being set at nought, as though God’s cause were losing. It was not only allowable but a duty to pray for its triumph, and that involved the destruction of the wicked who persisted in their wickedness. There must be no half-heartedness or compromise. In hatred as well as in love the man who fears God must be wholly on His side (Psalm 139:19-22). The perfect ruler resolves not only to choose the faithful in the land for his servants, but “morning by morning” to “destroy all the wicked of the land; to cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord” (Psalm 101:6-8); and it seemed only right and natural to pray that the Divine Ruler would do the same.
Further light is thrown on the Imprecatory Psalms by the consideration that there was as yet no revelation of a final judgement in which evil will receive its entire condemnation, or of a future state of rewards and punishments (see p. xciii ff.). Men expected and desired to see a present and visible distinction between the righteous and the wicked, according to the law of the divine government (Psalm 125:4-5; Psalm 145:20). It was part of God’s lovingkindness not less than of His omnipotence to “reward every man according to his work” (Psalm 62:12). The sufferings of the godly and the prosperity of the ungodly formed one of the severest trials of faith and patience to those whose view was limited to the present life (Psalms 37, 73). Although God’s sentence upon evil is constantly being executed in this world, it is often deferred and not immediately visible; and those who longed for the vindication of righteousness desired to have it executed promptly before their eyes. Hence the righteous could rejoice when he saw the wicked destroyed, for it was a manifest proof of the righteous government of Jehovah (Psalm 52:5 ff.; Psalm 54:7; Psalm 58:10-11; Psalm 92:11).
Again, it must be remembered that we have been taught to distinguish between the evil man and evil: to love the sinner while we hate his sin. But Hebrew modes of thought were concrete. The man was identified with his wickedness; the one was a part of the other; they were inseparable. Clearly it was desirable that wickedness should be extirpated. How could this be done except by the destruction of the wicked man? What right had he to exist, if he persisted obstinately in his wickedness and refused to reform (Psalm 50:16 ff.)?
The imprecations which appear most terrible to us are those which include a man’s kith and kin in his doom (Psalm 69:25; Psalm 109:9 ff.). In order to estimate them rightly it must be borne in mind that a man’s family was regarded as part of him. He lived on in his posterity: the sin of the parent was entailed upon the children: if the offence had been monstrous and abnormal, so ought the punishment to be. The defective conception of the rights of the individual, so justly insisted upon by Professor Mozley as one of the chief ‘ruling ideas in early ages,’ helps us to understand how not only the guilty man, but all his family, could be devoted to destruction.
Let it be noted too that what seems the most awful of all anathemas (Psalm 69:28) would not have been understood in the extreme sense which we attach to it: and some of the expressions which shock us most by their ferocity are metaphors derived from times of wild and savage warfare (Psalm 58:10; Psalm 68:21 ff.). The noblest thoughts may coexist side by side with much that to a later age seems wholly barbarous and revolting.
These utterances then belong to the spirit of the O.T. and not of the N.T., and by it they must be judged. They belong to the age in which the martyr’s dying prayer was not, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60), but, “Jehovah look upon it, and require it” (2 Chronicles 24:22). It is impossible that such language should be repeated in its old and literal sense by any follower of Him Who has bidden us to love our enemies and pray for them that persecute us.
Yet these utterances still have their lesson. On the one hand they may make us thankful that we live in the light of the Gospel and under the law of Love: on the other hand they testify to the punishment which the impenitent sinner deserves and must finally receive (Romans 6:23). They set an example of moral earnestness, of righteous indignation, of burning zeal for the cause of God. Men have need to beware lest in pity for the sinner they condone the sin, or relax the struggle against evil. The underlying truth is still true, that “the cause of sin shall go down, in the persons of those who maintain it, in such a manner as to throw back on them all the evil they have sought to do.… This was waited for with inexpressible longing. It was fit it should be.… This is not the only truth bearing on the point; but it is truth, and it was then the present truth”. It is in virtue of the truth which they contain that these Psalms can be regarded as ‘inspired,’ and their position in the records of divine revelation justified. Their fundamental motive and idea is the religious passion for justice; and it was by the Holy Spirit that their writers were taught to discern and grasp this essential truth; but the form in which they clothed their desire for its realisation belonged to the limitations and modes of thought of their particular age.
(iv) The Future Life. Death is never regarded in the O.T. as annihilation or the end of personal existence. But it is for the most part contemplated as the end of all that deserves to be called life. Existence continues, but all the joy and vigour of vitality are gone for ever (Isaiah 14:10; Psalm 143:3 = Lamentations 3:6).
Communion with God is at an end: the dead can no longer “see” Him: they cannot serve or praise Him in the silence of Sheol: His lovingkindness, faithfulness, and righteousness can no longer be experienced there. See Psalm 6:5; Psalm 30:9; Psalm 88:4-5; Psalm 88:10-12; Psalm 115:17; Isaiah 38:11; Isaiah 38:18 : and numerous passages in Job, e.g. Job 7:9; Job 10:21 ff.; Job 10:14.
Death is the common lot of all, which none can escape (Psalm 49:7 ff.; Psalm 89:48), but the righteous and the wicked are distinguished by the manner of their death (Psalm 73:19). When death comes to a man in a good old age, and he leaves his children behind him to keep his name in remembrance, it may be borne with equanimity; but premature death is usually regarded as the sign of God’s displeasure and the penal doom of the wicked (Psalm 26:9), and childlessness is little better than annihilation.
To the oppressed and persecuted indeed Sheol is a welcome rest (Job 3:17 ff.), and death may even be a gracious removal from coming evil (Isaiah 57:1-2); but as a rule death is dreaded as the passage into the monotonous and hopeless gloom of the under-world.
The continuance of existence after death has no moral or religious element in it. It is practically non-existence. The dead man ‘is not’ (Psalm 39:13). It offers neither encouragement nor warning. It brings no solution of the enigmas of the present life. There is no hope of happiness or fear of punishment in the world beyond.
This world was regarded as the scene of recompence and retribution. If reward and punishment did not come to the individual, they might be expected to come to his posterity. For the man lived on in his children: this was his real continuance in life, not the shadowy existence of Sheol: hence the bitterness of childlessness.
Nowhere in the Psalter do we find the hope of a Resurrection from the dead. The prophets speak of a national, and finally of a personal resurrection (Hosea 6:1 ff.; Isaiah 26:19; Ezekiel 37:1 ff.; Daniel 12:2), and predict the final destruction of death (Isaiah 25:8). But just where we should have expected to find such a hope as the ground of consolation, it is conspicuously absent. Indeed it is set on one side as incredible (Psalm 88:10). It is evident that there was as yet no revelation of a resurrection upon which men could rest; it was no article of the common religious belief to which the faithful naturally turned for comfort.
But do we not find that strong souls, at least in rare moments of exultant faith and hope, broke through the veil, and anticipated, not indeed the resurrection of the body, but translation through death into a true life of unending fellowship with God, like Enoch or Elijah?
Do not Psalms 16, 17, 49, 73, plainly speak of the hope of the righteous in his death?
The answer to this question is one of the most difficult problems of the theology of the Psalter. It can only be satisfactorily treated in the detailed exposition of the passages as they stand in their context. Some of the expressions which appear at first sight to imply a sure hope of deliverance from Sheol and of reception into the more immediate presence of God (e.g. Psalm 49:15, Psalm 73:24) are used elsewhere of temporal deliverance from death or protection from danger, and may mean no more than this (Psalm 9:13, Psalm 18:16, Psalm 30:3, Psalm 86:13, Psalm 103:4, Psalm 138:7). Reading these passages in the light of fuller revelation we may easily assign to them a deeper and more precise meaning than their original authors and hearers understood. They adapt themselves so readily to Christian hope that we are easily led to believe that it was there from the first.
Unquestionably these Psalms (16, 17, 49, 73) do contain the germ and principle of the doctrine of eternal life. It was present to the mind of the Spirit Who inspired their authors. The intimate fellowship with God of which they speak as man’s highest good and truest happiness could not, in view of the nature and destiny of man and his relation to God, continue to be regarded as limited to this life and liable to sudden and final interruption. (See Matthew 22:31 ff.). It required but a step forward to realise the truth of its permanence, but whether the Psalmists took this step is doubtful.
But even if they did, there was still no clear and explicit revelation on which the doctrine of a future life or of a resurrection could be based. It was but a ‘postulate of faith,’ a splendid hope, a personal and individual conclusion.
What was the meaning and purpose of this reserve in the teaching of the O.T.? Mankind had to be trained through long ages by this stern discipline to know the bitterness of death as the punishment of sin, and to trust God utterly in spite of all appearances. They had to be profoundly impressed with a sense of need and of the incompleteness of life here, in order that they might long for deliverance from this bondage and welcome it when it came (Hebrews 2:15). Nor could the revelation of the Resurrection and eternal life be made in fulness and certainty (so far as we can see) otherwise than through the victory of the second Adam who through death overcame death and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life (1 Corinthians 15:21 ff.).
Yet, as Delitzsch observes, there is nothing which comes to light in the New Testament which does not already exist in germ in the Psalms. The ideas of death and life are regarded by the Psalmists in their fundamental relation to the wrath and the love of God, in such a way that it is easy for Christian faith to appropriate and deepen, in the light of fuller revelation, all that is said of them in the Psalms. There is no contradiction of the Psalmist’s thought, when the Christian as he prays substitutes hell for Sheol in such a passage as Psalm 6:5, for the Psalmist dreaded Sheol only as the realm of wrath and separation from the love of God, which is the true life of man. Nor is there anything contrary to the mind of the authors in the application of Psalm 17:15 to the future vision of the face of God in all its glory, or of Psalm 49:14 to the Resurrection morning; for the hopes there expressed in moments of spiritual elevation can only find their full satisfaction in the world to come. The faint glimmerings of twilight in the eschatological darkness of the Old Testament are the first rays of the coming sunrise. And the Christian cannot refrain from passing beyond the limits of the Psalmists, and understanding the Psalms according to the mind of the Spirit, whose purpose in the gradual revelation of salvation was ever directed towards the final consummation. Thus understood, the Psalms belong to the Israel of the New Testament not less than of the Old Testament.
The Church, in using the Psalms for its prayers, recognises the unity of the two Testaments: and scholarship, in expounding the Psalms, gives full weight to the difference between them. Both are right; the former in regarding the Psalms in the light of the one unchanging salvation, the latter in distinguishing the different periods and steps in which that salvation was historically revealed.
The sacred poetry of heathen religions, in spite of all that it contains of noble aspiration and pathetic “feeling after God,” has ceased to be a living power. But “the Psalms of those far distant days, the early utterances of their faith and love, still form the staple of the worship and devotion of the Christian Church” … “The Vedic hymns are dead remains, known in their real spirit and meaning to a few students. The Psalms are as living as when they were written.… They were composed in an age at least as immature as that of the singers of the Veda; but they are now what they have been for thirty centuries, the very life of spiritual religion—they suit the needs, they express, as nothing else can express, the deepest religious ideas of ‘the foremost in the files of time.’”
The Psalter In The Christian Church
If a history of the use of the Psalter could be written, it would be a history of the spiritual life of the Church. From the earliest times the Psalter has been the Church’s manual of Prayer and Praise in its public worship, the treasury of devotion for its individual members in their private communing with God. “No single Book of Scripture, not even of the New Testament, has, perhaps, ever taken such hold on the heart of Christendom. None, if we may dare judge, unless it be the Gospels, has had so large an influence in moulding the affections, sustaining the hopes, purifying the faith of believers. With its words, rather than with their own, they have come before God. In these they have uttered their desires, their fears, their confessions, their aspirations, their sorrows, their joys, their thanksgivings. By these their devotion has been kindled and their hearts comforted. The Psalter has been, in the truest sense, the Prayer Book both of Jews and Christians.”
“What is the history of the Church,” writes Dean Stanley, “but a long commentary on the sacred records of its first beginnings?… The actual effect, the manifold applications, in history, of the words of Scripture, give them a new instruction, and afford a new proof of their endless vigour and vitality.… The Psalter alone, by its manifold applications and uses in after times, is a vast palimpsest, written over and over again, illuminated, illustrated, by every conceivable incident and emotion of men and nations; battles, wanderings, dangers, escapes, deathbeds, obsequies, of many ages and countries, rise, or may rise, to our view as we read it.”
It would be impossible in a few pages to trace the history of the use of the Psalter even in the barest outline. All that can be attempted here is to give some few indications of the vast influence which the Psalter has exercised, and of its paramount importance in the history of Christian worship and devotion.
There is no evidence that the entire Psalter was used in the public worship of the Jewish Church, though many Psalms were sung or chanted in the services of the Temple and the Synagogue. But the number of the quotations from the Psalter in the New Testament, and the multitude of indirect allusions to its thoughts and language, prove how familiarly it was known in the apostolic age.
It was upon the Psalms that our Lord’s spiritual life was nourished. The sting of the Tempter’s quotation of Psalms 91 lay in the fact that its words were a precious reality to Him. He sang the ‘Hallel’ (Psalms 113-118) with His disciples at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:30). A Psalm was the subject of His meditation as He hung upon the Cross, and with the words of a Psalm He gave up His life. In the Psalms He and His disciples found the foreshadowing of His own experience (John 13:18; John 2:17), and He taught His disciples to understand how they prepared the way for His coming (Luke 24:44). The first Christian hymns—the Magnificat, Benedictus, and Nunc Dimittis—are composed after the model of Psalms and contain numerous echoes of them. Doubtless the hymns which Paul and Silas sang in the prison at Philippi (Acts 16:25) were Psalms. St James commends the singing of Psalms as the most fitting expression of joyfulness (James 5:13); St Paul enjoins it as the natural outlet for spiritual enthusiasm and a means of mutual edification (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). It was a common practice at the meetings of the Corinthian Church (1 Corinthians 14:26).
As we pass on into later ages we find that the singing of Psalms was not only a constant element of common worship, but a favourite occupation of Christians in their homes and at their work. It was a tradition in the Church of Antioch that the antiphonal singing of Psalms was introduced by Ignatius, the first bishop (c. a.d. 100), who saw a vision of angels praising the Trinity in antiphonal hymns, and delivered the method of singing which he had seen in his vision to the Church at Antioch, whence it spread to all the Churches. The hymns from Holy Scripture which Tertullian in the second century tells us were sung at the agapae or love-feasts were doubtless Psalms. St Jerome, writing from Bethlehem to Marcella, and describing the charms of the Holy Land, tells her that the singing of Psalms was universal. “Wherever you turn the labourer at the plough sings Alleluia: the toiling reaper beguiles his work with Psalms: the vine-dresser as he prunes the vine with his curved pruning-hook sings something of David’s. These are the songs of this province: these, to use the common phrase, are its love ditties: these the shepherd whistles; these are the labourer’s implements.”
St Chrysostom (347–407) thus describes the universality of the use of the Psalms in his day. “If we keep vigil in the Church, David comes first, last, and midst. If early in the morning we seek for the melody of hymns, first, last, and midst is David again. If we are occupied with the funeral solemnities of the departed, if virgins sit at home and spin, David is first, last, and midst. O marvellous wonder! Many who have made but little progress in literature, many who have scarcely mastered its first principles, have the Psalter by heart. Nor is it in cities and churches alone that at all times, through every age, David is illustrious; in the midst of the forum, in the wilderness, and uninhabitable land, he excites the praises of God. In monasteries, amongst those holy choirs of angelic armies, David is first, midst, and last. In the convents of virgins, where are the bands of them that imitate Mary; in the deserts, where are men crucified to this world, and having their conversation with God, first, midst, and last is he. All other men are at night overpowered by natural sleep: David alone is active; and congregating the servants of God into seraphic bands, turns earth into heaven, and converts men into angels.”
When men and women, forsaking their ordinary callings, dedicated their lives to devotion and prayer in monasteries and communities, the singing of Psalms formed a large part of their religious exercises. In course of time the recitation of the Psalter became a clerical obligation as well. Various schemes or uses were drawn up. Fixed Psalms were generally assigned to certain of the canonical hours, while at the other services the remainder of the Psalms were recited ‘in course.’ Thus according to the Roman or Gregorian scheme fixed Psalms were assigned for daily use at Lauds, Prime, Tierce, Sext, Nones, and Compline; while at Mattins Psalms 50-109, and at Vespers Psalms 110-150 were taken once a week ‘in course,’ exclusive of the Psalms assigned to the other services. The Benedictine or Monastic scheme was similar, also providing for the recitation once a week of those Psalms which were not recited daily. The Ambrosian scheme, deriving its origin from St Ambrose, and still in use in the province of Milan, only provides for the recitation of the Psalter once a fortnight. In the Eastern Church the Psalter is divided into twenty cathismata, each of which is subdivided into three staseis. The whole Psalter is recited once a week ordinarily, and twice a week in Lent, but the details of the arrangement vary according to the time of year.
In this way a portion of the Psalms nearly equal in amount to twice the whole Psalter was recited every week. But many instances are quoted of holy men who recited it much more frequently. It is said that St Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, in the fifth century, repeated it daily; St Maurus, the disciple of St Benedict, and Alcuin, the famous instructor of Charles the Great, did the same. St Kentigern, bishop of Glasgow, in the sixth century, went through it every night. Bede relates how Ecgbert, a young student of noble birth at an Irish monastery, when attacked by the plague, vowed that if he recovered he would recite the whole Psalter daily in addition to the ordinary canonical hours, as a memorial of praise to God.
A knowledge of the Psalter by heart was required of candidates for ordination. St Gennadius, Patriarch of Constantinople (a.d. 458–471), refused to ordain as priest anyone who had not been diligent in reciting the Psalter. St Gregory the Great inquired if Rusticus, who had been elected Bishop of Ancona, knew the Psalter by heart, and refused to allow John the Presbyter to be consecrated as metropolitan of Ravenna on account of his ignorance of the Psalter. The second Canon of the second Council of Nicaea (a.d. 587) laid it down that no one was to be consecrated bishop unless he knew the Psalter thoroughly, and the eighth Council of Toledo (a.d. 653) ordered that “no one henceforth shall be promoted to any ecclesiastical dignity who does not perfectly know the whole Psalter” (Song of Solomon 8).
Various methods of singing the Psalms were in use in ancient times. (1) Sometimes the Psalm was sung throughout by the choir or congregation. This was called cantus directancus, and was the simplest form of singing with little more than monotone. (2) Sometimes the Psalm was sung by a single voice, usually in a very elaborate fashion. This was called cantus tractus. (3) Sometimes the Psalm was sung in cantus responsorius, the precentor and the choir or the congregation taking their parts alternately. (4) Sometimes the Psalm was sung in cantus antiphonalis, the two sides of the choir taking it up alternately. The following passage of St Chrysostom (Hom. v) is of interest as shewing the congregational character of the singing in his day, and emphasising its significance. “When the Psalm began, it mingled all the different voices together, and one harmonious song was raised. Young and old, rich and poor, women and men, slaves and freemen, all raised the same melody.… But it not only united us who were present; it joined the dead with the living. For the blessed Prophet was singing with us.… The Prophet speaks and we all answer, we all respond. You can see no distinction of slave or free, rich or poor, ruler or subject. The inequalities of life are banished; all are united in one choir, all have equal right of speech, and earth imitates Heaven. So great is the nobility of the Church.”
The voices of holy men in every age unite in bearing a concordant testimony to the power and preciousness of the Psalms. A few examples only can be given here.
St Athanasius, in his Epistle to Marcellinus on the Interpretation of the Psalms, the whole of which well deserves study, writes thus:
“They seem to me to be a kind of mirror for everyone who sings them, in which he may observe the motions of the soul, and as he observes them give utterance to them in words. He who hears them read, takes them as if they were spoken specially for him. Stricken in his conscience he repents, or hearing of hope in God, and of the grace which is given to those who believe, he rejoices as if this grace were promised to him in particular, and begins to thank God.… He who genuinely studies all that is written in this book of Divine inspiration may gather, as out of a paradise, that which is serviceable for his own need. Methinks that in the words of this book you may find an accurate survey and delineation of the whole life of man, the dispositions of the soul, and the movements of the mind. If a man has need of penitence and confession, if affliction or temptation has overtaken him, if he has been persecuted or has been delivered from the plots of his enemies, if he is in sorrow or trouble, or if he wishes to praise and give thanks and bless the Lord, he finds instruction in the Psalms.… If thou meditate on these things and study the Psalms, thou shalt be able, under the guidance of the Spirit, to grasp their meaning; and thou shalt emulate the life of the divinely inspired men who uttered these words.”
From Alexandria let us pass to Cappadocia, and listen to the eloquent words of St Basil, in the introduction to his Homily on the First Psalm:
“All Scripture given by inspiration of God is profitable, for it was written by the Spirit to the end that as it were in a general hospital for souls, we human beings might each select the medicine for his own disease.… The prophets provide one kind of instruction, the historians another, the law yet another, and the exhortations of the Proverbs yet another. But the Book of Psalms contains that which is profitable in all of them. It prophesies of the future; it recalls history; it legislates for life; it suggests rules of action; in a word, it is a common storehouse of good doctrines, providing exactly what is expedient for everyone.… A Psalm is the calm of souls, the arbiter of peace: it stills the stormy waves of thought. It softens the angry spirit, and sobers the intemperate. A Psalm cements friendship: it unites those who are at variance; it reconciles those who are at enmity. For who can regard as an enemy the man with whom he has joined in lifting up one voice to God? Psalmody therefore provides the greatest of all good things, even love, for it has invented concerted singing as a bond of unity, and fits the people together in the concord of one choir. A Psalm puts demons to flight: it summons the angels to our aid; it is a weapon in the midst of alarms by night, a rest from the toils of day; it is a safeguard for babes, a decoration for adults, a comfort for the aged, a most befitting ornament for women. It makes deserts populous and marketplaces sane. It is an initiation to novices, growth to those who are advancing, confirmation to those who are being perfected. It is the voice of the Church; it gladdens festivals, it creates godly sorrow. For a Psalm calls forth tears even from a stony heart. A Psalm is the employment of angels, heavenly converse, spiritual incense.… What mayest thou not learn thence? The heroism of courage; the integrity of justice; the gravity of temperance; the perfection of prudence; the manner of repentance; the measure of patience; in a word every good thing thou canst mention. Therein is a complete theology; the prediction of the advent of Christ in the flesh, the threatening of judgement, the hope of resurrection, the fear of chastisement, promises of glory, revelations of mysteries: all, as in some great public storehouse, are treasured up in the Book of Psalms.”
In a well-known passage of his Confessions (ix. 4), St Augustine describes the comfort which he derived from the Psalms in the interval before his baptism.
“In what accents I addressed Thee, my God, when I read the Psalms of David, those faithful songs, the language of devotion which banishes the spirit of pride, while I was still a novice in true love of Thee, and as a catechumen rested in that country house along with Alypius, who was also a catechumen, with my mother at our side, in the dress of a woman but with the faith of a man, with the calmness of age, the affection of a mother, the piety of a Christian. How I addressed Thee in those Psalms! how my love for Thee was kindled by them! how I burned to recite them, were it possible, throughout the world, as an antidote to the pride of humanity. Yet they are sung throughout the world, and there is none that hideth himself from Thy heat. How grieved and indignant was I with the Manichaeans! and yet again I pitied them for their ignorance of those sacraments, those medicines, and their mad rejection of the antidote which might have cured them of their madness. Would that they could have been somewhere near me without my knowledge and watched my face and heard my voice when I read the Fourth Psalm in that time of leisure, and have known the effect of that Psalm upon me. Would that they could have heard what I uttered between the words of the Psalm, without my knowing that they heard … how I spoke with myself and to myself before Thee out of the inmost feelings of my soul. I trembled for fear, and then I became fervent with hope and rejoicing in Thy mercy, O Father. And all these feelings issued forth by my eyes and voice …”
The interpretation of the Psalm and the application of it to his own circumstances which follow are fanciful and far-fetched, but they shew how his heart glowed with fervour as he read, and how he found the Psalms “sweetened with heavenly honey, and luminous with the light of God.”
Luther and Calvin represent the revival of the study of the Bible in the age of the Reformation.
Luther speaks thus of the Psalter, which he found inexpressibly precious in the trials and conflicts of his stormy life:
“You may rightly call the Psalter a Bible in miniature, in which all things which are set forth more at length in the rest of the Scriptures are collected into a beautiful manual of wonderful and attractive brevity. From the Psalms you may learn not the works of the saints only, but the words, the utterances, the groans, the colloquies, which they used in the presence of God, in temptation and in consolation; so that though they are dead, in the Psalms they live and speak. The Psalms exhibit the mind of the saints; they express the hidden treasure of their hearts, the working of their thoughts, and their most secret feelings.”
“This book,” says Calvin, in the Epistle to his Readers prefixed to his commentary, “I am wont to call an anatomy of all the parts of the soul; for no one will find in himself a single feeling of which the image is not reflected in this mirror. Here the Holy Spirit has represented to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, anxieties, in short, all the stormy emotions, by which human minds are wont to be agitated. The rest of Scripture contains the commands which God gave His servants to be delivered to us. Here the prophets themselves, in their converse with God, because they lay bare all their inmost feelings, invite or compel every one of us to examine himself, that none of all the infirmities to which we are subject may remain hidden. It is a rare and singular advantage when every secret recess is laid open, and the heart purged from the foul plague of hypocrisy and brought out to light.”
One quotation from a modern writer must suffice. With profound insight and unrivalled delicacy of touch the late Dean Church thus describes the Psalms and their work:
“In the Psalms we see the soul in the secret of its workings, in the variety and play of its many-sided and subtly compounded nature—loving, hoping, fearing, despairing, exulting, repenting, aspiring—the soul, conscious of the greatness and sweetness of its relations to Almighty God, and penetrated by them to the very quick; longing, thirsting, gasping, after the glimpses that visit it, of His goodness and beauty—awestruck before the unsearchableness of His judgement, silent before the certainty of His righteousness—opening, like a flower to the sun, in the presence of His light, of the immensity of His lovingkindness” … It has been the work of the Book of Psalms to teach devotion, worship, self-knowledge. “They bring before us in all its fulness and richness the devotional element of the religious character. They are the first great teachers and patterns of prayer, and they shew this side of the religious character … in varied and finished detail, in all its compass and living and spontaneous force.… The tongue is loosed to give utterance out of the abundance of the heart, to every mood, every contrasted feeling of the changeful human mind. From all the hidden depths, from all the strange and secret consciousnesses of the awakened and enlightened soul, spring up unexpected and vivid words, in which generation after generation has found the counterpart of its own convictions and hopes and joys, its own fears and distresses and perplexities and doubts, its own confidence and its own sorrow, its own brightest and darkest hours. This immense variety of mood and subject and occasion, with which the reverence and hope of worship are always combined, is a further point in the work of the Book of Psalms. It is a vast step in the revealing of man to man. We know how much we owe of the knowledge of ourselves to the great dramatists, to the great lyrical poets, to the great novelists. Such, in the unfolding to man of all that is really and most deeply involved in the religious character, is the place of the Book of Psalms.”
Luther, as we have seen, calls the Psalms “a Bible in miniature”; and the words which Coleridge uses of the whole Bible may most truly be applied to the Psalms. In them we find copious sources of truth, and power, and purifying impulses; words for our inmost thoughts, songs for our joy, utterances for our hidden griefs, pleadings for our shame and our feebleness. And whatever finds us bears witness for itself that it has proceeded from a Holy Spirit, even from the same Spirit, which in all ages entering into holy souls maketh them friends of God and prophets.
The literature on the Psalter is enormous, and only a few of the most important and useful works can be mentioned here. An interesting sketch of the history of the exposition of the Psalms will be found in § ix of the Introduction to Delitzsch’s Commentary.
St Athanasius’ Letter to Marcellinus on the Interpretation of the Psalms is worthy of its author. It treats of the character and value of the Psalms, classifies them, and indicates how they may be used in the various experiences of life. The most famous Greek commentary on the Psalms is the Homilies of St Chrysostom. It was complete, but only the Homilies upon 58 Psalms are now extant. The corresponding work in the Western Church is the Enarrationes in Psalmos of St Augustine, expositions of the Psalms for the most part actually delivered, the 32 discourses on Psalms 119 forming an exception. It became the great authority from which subsequent writers drew freely.
Medieval expositors followed in the track of the ancient Fathers. The literal meaning was neglected, mystical and allegorical exegesis was predominant. Dependence on the imperfect Greek and Latin Versions often led them far astray, and the absence of any restraint to the luxuriance of their imagination lays them open to the charge of “making anything out of anything.” But the patristic and medieval commentaries are rich in beautiful thought, profound spiritual instruction, and practical application.
To the Jewish commentators of the Middle Ages we owe a great debt. They preserved the tradition of the meaning of the Hebrew language, which had been entirely neglected in the Christian Church, and to them the scholars of the 16th century turned when the study of the original text was revived. Chief among them were Raschi (R. Solomon Isaaki) of Troyes (d. a.d. 1105), Aben Ezra of Toledo (d. a.d. 1167), and David Kimchi of Narbonne (d. about a.d. 1235).
The most important works of the Reformation period were those of Luther, who lectured and wrote much on the Psalms, and Calvin, whose Commentary (1567) marked a new departure in the combination of sound exegesis with practical application. Poole’s Synopsis Criticorum, an abridgment of the Critici Sacri published in 1660 in London under the direction of Bishop Pearson and others, is a convenient summary of the opinions of scholars of the 16th and 17th centuries. Martin Geier’s voluminous work (1668) is one of the best productions of the 17th century.
Rosenmüller’s Scholia (1798–1804, 2nd ed. of the Psalms 1821–23) may be said to mark the transition to the modern period. It is mainly a compilation from older works, and is still valuable, especially for its copious citation of Jewish authorities and for its comments on the renderings of the LXX and other Versions. Among modern German Commentaries those of H. Ewald, H. Hupfeld, F. Delitzsch, and F. Baethgen, are the most generally useful. Ewald’s Commentary in The Poets of the O.T. (1836, 3rd ed. 1866, translated in the Theol. Transl. Fund Library, 1880) is distinguished by “intense poetic and religious sympathy, and by a keen and discriminating historical imagination.” Hupfeld’s work (1855–62, 2nd ed. with additions by Riehm, 1867–71, 3rd ed., revised by Nowack, 1888) is serviceable for its careful investigation of the meaning of the language. Delitzsch (1867, 5th ed. 1894, translation from the 4th ed. by Eaton, 1887), if sometimes fanciful, is always reverent, and constantly penetrates to the deeper meaning. Baethgen, in the Handkommentar zum A.T. (1892, 2nd ed. 1897), represents a newer school of critics, without the extravagances which unfortunately disfigure the work of some of them.
Other German commentaries are those of F. Hitzig, 1835, completely revised edition, 1863–5; A. Tholuck, Uebersetzung und Auslegung der Psalmen für Geistliche und Laien der christlichen Kirche, 1843, 2nd ed. 1873; J. Olshausen in the Kurzgef exeg. Handbuch, 1853; H. Grätz, Kritischer Commentar zu den Psalmen, 1882, (gives much interesting information from Jewish sources, but emends the text too freely): F. W. Schultz in the Kurzgef. Kommentar, 1888, replaced by that of H. Kessler, 1899; B. Duhm in the Kurzer Hand-Commentar, 1899 (trenchant and often suggestive, but shewing little appreciation of either the poetical or the religious worth of the Psalms).
Among French commentaries may be mentioned that of E. Reuss, 1879, Le Psautier, ou le Livre de Cantiques de la Synagogue (strongly advocating the national interpretation of the Psalms).
At the head of English commentaries stands that of Bishop Perowne, The Book of Psalms, a new Translation, with Introductions and Notes, explanatory and critical (1864, 8th ed. 1892), which marks an epoch in the exegesis of the O.T. in England. W. Kay, The Psalms with Notes, 1871, 2nd ed. 1874, contains much that is instructive. T. K. Cheyne, The Book of Psalms, A new Translation with Commentary, 1888, is fresh and suggestive. A. Maclaren’s Exposition, in the Expositor’s Bible, 1893–94, is vigorous and practical.
Among many other commentaries the following may be mentioned: J. M. Neale and R. F. Littledale, A Commentary on the Psalms from Primitive and Medieval Writers, 4th ed. 1884 (useful for the dissertation on The Psalms as employed in the Offices of the Church, and as giving an insight into the methods of patristic and medieval interpretation which have exercised such a wide influence): The Psalms Chronologically arranged, by Four Friends, 1867, 2nd ed. 1891 (based upon Ewald): F. C. Cook, G. H. S. Johnson and C. J. Elliott, in The Speaker’s Commentary, 1873: A. C. Jennings and W. H. Lowe, The Psalms with Introduction and Critical Notes, 1875–7: C H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, 1870–85 (containing, besides his own exposition, a copious collection of extracts from various writers, especially the Puritans): A. S. Aglen, in Bp Ellicott’s O.T. Comm. for English Readers, 1884 (contains many interesting illustrations from English literature): Bishop Barry, in The Teacher’s Prayer Book. E. G. King, The Psalms in Three Collections, translated with notes, 1898, 1902: C. G. Montefiore, The Book of Psalms, 1901 (from The Bible for Home Reading).
 The Dissertation on The Mystical and Literal Interpretation of the Psalms at p. 429 of Vol. i should not be overlooked by those who wish to understand, if they cannot follow, a method of interpretation which has had such a wide currency and still has a strong attraction for many minds.
Among books and articles bearing on the study of the Psalms the following may be mentioned. J. G. von Herder, vom Geist der Ebr. Poesie, 1782–3: Isaac Taylor, The Spirit of the Hebrew Poetry: Archbishop Alexander, Bampton Lectures for 1876, The Witness of the Psalms to Christ and Christianity, 2nd ed. 1878: T. K. Cheyne, Bampton Lectures for 1889, The Origin and Religious Contents of the Psalter in the Light of Old Testament Criticism and the History of Religions, 1891: J. Sharpe, The Student’s Handbook to the Psalms , 2 nd ed., 1894: W. T. Davison, The Praises of Israel, 1893, 2nd ed., 1897 (a brightly written introduction to the study of the Psalms): J. Robertson, Poetry and Religion of the Psalms, 1898: W. Robertson Smith, The O.T. in the Jewish Church, Lect. vii. R. W. Church, The Sacred Poetry of Early Religions (published separately, and also in The Gifts of Civilisation), also Sermon iii in The Discipline of the Christian Character: A. Neubauer, On the Titles of the Psalms according to early Jewish Authorities, in Studia Biblica, Vol. ii, 1890: C. Ehrt, Abfassungszeit und Abschluss des Psalters zur Prüfung der Frage nach Makkabäer-psalmen historisch-kritisch untersucht, 1869: M. Kopfstein, Die Asaph-Psalmen untersucht, 1881: R. Smend, Ueber das Ich der Psalmen, Z.A.T.W. 1888, pp. 49–147, on the question Who is the speaker in the Psalms? discussed very fully and more moderately by G. Beer, Individual- und Gemeinde-Psalmen, 1894: B. Stade, Die Messianische Hoffnung im Psalter, Zeitschr. f. Theol. u. Kirche, 1892, pp. 369 ff.: J. Wellhausen, in Haupt’s Sacred Books of the O.T., text 1895, English translation (by H. H. Furness) with explanatory notes and an Appendix on the Music of the Ancient Hebrews, 1898: cp. Skizzen u. Vorarbeiten, vi. 163.
Much interesting illustrative matter on the use of the Psalms Is to be found in J. Ker’s The Psalms in History and Biography, 1888, A. S. Dyer’s Psalm-Mosaics, 1894, and most fully and attractively in R. E. Prothero’s The Psalms in Human Life, 1904: comp. § i of the Introduction to Tholuck’s commentary, and ch. ii of the Introd. to Bp Perowne’s commentary.
The Paragraph Psalter, by Bp Westcott, 1879, contains a suggestive marginal analysis. S. R. Driver, The Parallel Psalter, being the Prayer Book Version of the Psalms, and a New Version, with an Introduction and Glossaries, (on the origin and history of the Prayer Book Psalter, and explaining characteristic words and archaisms). A convenient Parallel Psalter containing P.B.V., A.V., and R.V. in parallel columns, is published by the Camb. Univ. Press. The Wycliffite Version of Nicholas de Hereford and John Purvey is accessible in a reprint from Forshall and Madden’s edition, published by the Clarendon Press, 1881: and the original of the Prayer Book Version is reproduced in J. Earle’s The Psalter of the Great Bible of 1539, a Landmark in English Literature, with Introduction and Notes, 1894. On the Metrical Versions of the Psalter consult Julian’s Dictionary of Hymnology, and H. A. Glass, The Story of the Psalters, 1888.
To the commentaries mentioned above may now (1906) be added those of W. T. Davison in The Century Bible, 1904; W. F. Cobb, The Book of Psalms with Introduction and Notes, 1905; C. A. Briggs, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Book of Psalms, 1906, in The International Critical Commentary (full and elaborate, devoting special attention to metrical structure, and editorial changes).
Quis audcat praesumere unum Psalmum rotunde ab ullo intelleclum? Vita nostra initium et prof edits est non consummatio.—Luther.
On the word Châsid
The word châsîd is characteristic of the Psalter, in which it is found 25 times. Elsewhere it occurs only in Deuteronomy 33:8; 1 Samuel 2:9; Proverbs 2:8; Jeremiah 3:12; Micah 7:2. (2 Samuel 22:26, and 2 Chronicles 6:41 are of course not independent passages.) It is variously rendered in A.V., ‘godly,’ ‘merciful,’ or, after the Sept. ὅσιος, Vulg. sanutus, ‘holy,’ ‘saints.’ Its exact meaning, however, is disputed. Is it (1) active, denoting the character of the man who practises dutiful love (chesed) to God and to his fellow-men (A.V. and R.V. ‘godly’ or ‘merciful’): or (2) passive, denoting the state of one who is the object of God’s lovingkindness (R.V. marg., ‘one that He favoureth:’ cp. A.V. marg. to Psalm 86:2)? The form of the word is not decisive between the two senses, and appeal must be made to the usage of the word. In favour of (1) it is urged that the word certainly has an active sense in Psalm 145:17 and Jeremiah 3:12, where it is applied to God: and also in Psalm 12:1; Psalm 18:25; Psalm 43:1; Micah 7:2; where it is used of the quality of lovingkindness between man and man.
On the other hand in favour of (2) it may be urged that the substantive chesed from which the adjective châsîd is derived denotes in the Psalter almost without exception God’s lovingkindness to man. It occurs there 127 times, and in three cases only is it used of man’s love to man (Psalm 109:12; Psalm 109:16; Psalm 141:5), though this sense is common elsewhere. It is never used in the Psalter of man’s love to God, and indeed it is doubtful whether it is really so used at all. The passages generally quoted (Hosea 6:4; Hosea 6:6; Jeremiah 2:2) are not decisive.
If the primary meaning of chasid is to be governed (as seems reasonable) by that of chesed in the Psalms, it must certainly mean ‘one who is the object of Jehovah’s lovingkindness.’ And this sense suits the predominant usage of the word best. It is used 15 times with a pronoun to express the relation of the covenant people, or individuals in it, to Jehovah (My, Thy, His chasîdîm), in connexions where the position into which they have been brought by Jehovah’s grace is a more appropriate thought than that of their response to that grace either by love to God or love to their fellow-men. It is not man’s love to God or to his fellow-man which is pleaded as the ground of acceptance or urged as the motive for duty, but the fact that Jehovah by His free lovingkindness has brought the nation and its members into covenant with Himself. In its primary sense then the word implies no moral praise or merit; but it came, not unnaturally, to be connected with the idea of chesed as ‘lovingkindness’ between man and man, and to be used of the character which reflected that love of which it was itself the object; and finally was applied even to God Himself.
On the Title ‘Most High’
The usage of the title ‘Most High’ (Elyôn) should be carefully examined.
(1) As used by non-Israelites, it appears as the designation of the Supreme God in the mouth of the Canaanite priest-king Melchisedek (Genesis 14:18-22); it is employed by Balaam (Numbers 24:16); it is put into the mouth of the presumptuous king of Babylon (Isaiah 14:14).
(2) Its application to Jehovah from the Israelite standpoint is limited to poetry. It occurs in Deuteronomy 32:8 (note the connexion with the partition of the earth among the nations); Lamentations 3:35; Lamentations 3:38; and 21 times in the Psalter [and in 2 Samuel 22:14 = Psalm 18:13], always, with one exception (Psalm 107:11), in the first four books. It is nowhere found in the Prophets.
(3) In the Aramaic of the Book of Daniel it occurs, in one peculiar passage (Daniel 7:18-27) in the plural of majesty; and a synonymous word is used frequently, but, with one exception (Daniel 7:25), in the mouth of Nebuchadnezzar or Belshazzar, or in words addressed to them. It is used several times by the author of Ecclesiasticus, but still more frequently by his Greek translator, who employs it (ὕψιστος, without the article) not only for Elyôn, but for JHVH, El, and other names of God. It occurs also in 2Ma 3:31.
On the Hebrew Tenses
The English reader may be at a loss to understand how it can so often be doubtful whether a verb should be rendered by the past or the future tense. The uncertainty arises from the peculiar character of the Hebrew Tenses, which denote mode of action rather than time of action. The fundamental idea of the ‘perfect’ (sometimes called the ‘past’) is completed action: the fundamental idea of the ‘imperfect’ (sometimes called the ‘future’) is incomplete action.
In simple narrative prose the ‘perfect’ usually refers to the past, and the ‘imperfect’ to the future. But in the higher styles of poetry and prophecy both tenses are used with much greater freedom.
(1) A future event may be regarded as having already taken place, either in order that it may be more forcibly presented to the mind, or because it is contemplated as being absolutely certain to happen; and in such cases the perfect tense, sometimes called the ‘perfect of certainty,’ or ‘prophetic perfect,’ is used. See Psalm 22:29; Psalm 37:20.
(2) A past event may be regarded, for the sake of vivid description, as being still in progress, and the ‘imperfect’ tense may be employed with reference to it. Thus in Psalm 7:15, ‘the ditch he was making’ (imperf.) represents the wicked man as still engaged upon his plot when it proves his own ruin. This usage corresponds to the ‘historic present,’ and is very common in poetry.
The ‘imperfect’ is also used as a frequentative, of repeated action, and to express general truths.
Hence it is often doubtful, as in numerous instances in Psalms 18, whether a Hebrew imperfect refers to the past or the future, and should be rendered by past, present, or future. The decision must be regulated by the context and the general view taken of the sense of the passage. Not seldom the peculiar force of the Hebrew tenses cannot be expressed in an English translation without awkward circumlocutions.
On Psalm 11:1There are two readings here: the Qrç, flee thou (fem.): the Kthîbh, flee ye. If flee thou is addressed, as it is natural to suppose, to David’s soul, it must be explained as a bold combination of direct and indirect speech, equivalent to ‘that she should flee as a bird to your mountain,’ i.e. join you in your mountain retreat. Or David and his adherents may be addressed. ‘Flee, O birds (fem. collective), to your mountain!’ The second reading, ‘flee ye, like birds (or, ye birds), to your mountain,’ is simpler. David and his companions are exhorted to seek the mountain which is their natural or accustomed place of refuge. But it must be admitted that the plural ‘flee ye’ is harsh, and that we should expect the poet’s soul to be addressed; while at the same time if the singular ‘flee thou’ is read, the plural ‘your mountain’ can only be explained by the assumption of a bold construction, or an abrupt transition from sing, to plur. And when we find that all the ancient versions give the verb in the singular, and none of them express your, it becomes almost certain that by a very slight change of text we should read ‘Flee (thou) as a bird to the mountain.’ (גודי הר כמו צפור).
NEW TESTAMENT QUOTATIONS FROM THE PSALMS
Psalm 2:1-2 quoted
Psalm 2:7 quoted
Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; Hebrews 5:5.
Psalm 2:8-9 quoted
Revelation 2:26-27; Revelation 12:5; Revelation 19:15.
Psalm 4:4 quoted
Psalm 5:9 quoted
Psalm 6:3 a
Psalm 6:8 quoted
Matthew 7:23; Luke 13:27.
Psalm 8:2 quoted
Psalm 8:4-6 quoted
Psalm 8:6 quoted
1 Corinthians 15:27; Ephesians 1:22.
Psalm 10:7 quoted
Psalm 14:1 c, Psalm 14:2 b, Psalm 14:3 quoted
Psalm 16:8-11 quoted
Psalm 16:10 b
Psalm 18:2 b
Psalm 18:49 quoted
Psalm 19:4 quoted
Psalm 22:1 quoted
Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34.
Psalm 22:7 quoted
Matthew 27:39; Mark 15:29; Luke 23:35.
Psalm 22:8 quoted
Psalm 22:18 quoted
John 19:24; cp. Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34.
Psalm 22:22 quoted
Psalm 24:1 quoted
1 Corinthians 10:26 .
Psalm 31:5 a
Psalm 32:1-2 quoted
Psalm 34:8 quoted
1 Peter 2:3.
Psalm 34:12-16 quoted
1 Peter 3:10-12.
Psalm 34:20 quoted
Psalm 35:19 b
Psalm 36:1 b
Psalm 37:11 a
Psalm 38:11 quoted
Psalm 40:6-8 quoted
Psalm 41:9 quoted
Psalm 41:13 quoted
Psalm 42:5 quoted
Matthew 26:38; Mark 14:34.
Psalm 44:22 quoted
Psalm 45:6-7 quoted
Psalm 48:2 quoted
Psalm 51:4 quoted
Psalm 53:1-3 quoted
Psalm 55:22 quoted
1 Peter 5:7.
Psalm 62:12 quoted
Matthew 16:27; Romans 2:6.
Psalm 68:18 quoted
Psalm 69:4 quoted
Psalm 69:9 a
Psalm 69:9 b
Psalm 69:21 quoted
Matthew 27:34; Matthew 27:48; Mark 15:36; Luke 23:36; John 19:28-29.
Psalm 69:22-23 quoted
Psalm 69:25 quoted
Psalm 72:18 quoted
Psalm 78:2 quoted
Psalm 78:24 quoted
Psalm 82:6 quoted
Psalm 86:9 quoted
Psalm 88:8 quoted
Psalm 89:10 quoted
Psalm 89:20 quoted
Psalm 90:4 quoted
2 Peter 3:8.
Psalm 91:11-12 quoted
Matthew 4:6; Luke 4:10-11.
Psalm 91:13 quoted
Psalm 94:11 quoted
1 Corinthians 3:20.
Psalm 94:14 quoted
Psalm 95:7-11 quoted
Hebrews 3:7-11; Hebrews 3:15; Hebrews 3:18; Hebrews 4:1; Hebrews 4:3; Hebrews 4:5; Hebrews 4:7.
Psalm 97:7 quoted
Psalm 98:3 quoted
Psalm 102:25-27 quoted
Psalm 103:17 quoted
Psalm 104:4 quoted
Psalm 105:8-9 quoted
Psalm 106:10 quoted
Psalm 106:45 quoted
Psalm 106:48 quoted
Psalm 107:9 quoted
Psalm 119:8 quoted
Psalm 119:25 quoted
Psalm 110:1 quoted
Matthew 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:41; Luke 20:43; Acts 2:34-35; Hebrews 1:13. Cp. Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62; Mark 16:19; Luke 22:69; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 8:1; Hebrews 10:12-13; Hebrews 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22.
Psalm 110:4 quoted
Hebrews 5:6; Hebrews 6:20; Hebrews 7:17; Hebrews 7:21.
Psalm 111:9 a
Psalm 111:9 c
Psalm 112:9 quoted
2 Corinthians 9:9.
Psalm 116:10 quoted
2 Corinthians 4:13.
Psalm 117:1 quoted
Psalm 118:6 quoted
Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10-11; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:4; 1 Peter 2:7.
Psalm 118:25-26 quoted
Matthew 21:9; Matthew 23:39; Mark 11:9; Luke 13:35; Luke 19:38; John 12:13.
Psalm 132:5 quoted
Psalm 132:11 quoted
Psalm 132:17 quoted
Psalm 135:14 a
Psalm 140:3 b
Psalm 143:2 b
Psalm 146:6 quoted
Acts 4:24; Acts 14:15.
This list includes a few passages which are not formally introduced as quotations, though they are taken directly from the Psalms: but it does not attempt to collect the numerous indirect allusions and references to the thought and language of the Psalms which are to be found in the New Testament, and which are interesting and important as an indication of the writers’ familiarity with the Psalter. See Note A in Archbishop Alexander’s Bampton Lectures, pp. 291 ff.