Bible History Online
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
PSALMS, BOOK OF
samz, (tehillim, "praises," cepher tehillim, "book of praises"; Psalmoi, Psalterion):
I. INTRODUCTORY TOPICS
2. Place in the Canon
3. Number of Psalms
4. Titles in the Hebrew Text
II. AUTHORSHIP AND AGE OF THE PSALMS
1. David as a Psalmist
2. Psalmody after David
III. GROWTH OF THE PSALTER
1. Division into Five Books
2. Smaller Groups of Psalms
IV. POETRY OF THE PSALTER
V. THE SPEAKER IN THE PSALMS
VI. THE GOSPEL IN THE PSALTER
1. The Soul's Converse with God
2. The Messiah
3. Problem of Sin
4. Wrestling with Doubts
5. Out of the Depths
6. Ethical Ideals
7. Praying against the Wicked
8. The Future Life
I. Introductory Topics.
The Hebrew title for the Psalter is cepher tehillim, "book of praises." When we consider the fact that more than 20 of these poems have praise for their keynote, and that there are outbursts of thanksgiving in many others, the fitness of the Hebrew title dawns upon us. As Ker well says, "The book begins with benediction, and ends with praise--first, blessing to man, and then glory to God." Hymns of praise, though found in all parts of the Psalter, become far more numerous in Books IV and V, as if the volume of praise would gather itself up into a Hallelujah Chorus at the end. In the Greek version the book is entitled in some manuscripts Psalmoi, in others Psalterion, whence come our English titles "Psalms," and "Psalter." The Greek word psalmos, as well as the Hebrew mizmor, both of which are used in the superscriptions prefixed to many of the separate psalms, indicates a poem sung to the accompaniment of stringed instruments. The title mizmor is found before 57 psalms. The Psalter was the hymnal of the Jewish nation. To individual psalms other titles are sometimes prefixed, such as shir, "song"; tehillah, "praise"; tephillah, "prayer," etc. The Psalter was both prayerbook and hymnal to the Jewish people. It was also a manual for the nurture of the spiritual life in private as well as public worship.
2. Place in the Canon:
The Psalms were placed in the kethubhim or "Writings," the third group of the Hebrew Scriptures. As the chief book of the kethubhim, the Psalter appears first in the great majority of German manuscripts, though the Spanish manuscripts place Psalms after Chronicles, and the Talmud puts Ruth before Psalms. There has never been any serious question as to the right of the Psalter to a place in the Canon of Scripture. The book is possibly more highly esteemed among Christians than by the Jews. If Christians were permitted to retain only one book in the Old Testament, they would almost certainly choose Psalms. By 100 BC, and probably at a much earlier date, the Book of Psalms was completed and recognized as part of the Hagiographa, the 3rd division of the Hebrew Bible.
3. Number of Psalms:
According to the Hebrew text, followed by modern VSS, there are 150 separate poems in the Psalter. The Greek version has an additional psalm, in which David describes his victory over Goliath; but this is expressly said to be "outside the number." The Septuagint, followed by Vulgate, combined Psalms 9 and 10, and also 114 and 115, into a single psalm. On the other hand, they divide Psalms 116 and 147 each into two poems. Thus, for the greater part of the Psalter the Hebrew enumeration is one number in advance of that in the Greek and Latin Bibles.
The existing division in the Hebrew text has been called in question at various points. Psalms 42 and 43 are almost certainly one poem (see refrain in 42:5,11; 43:5); and it is probable that Psalms 9 and 10 were originally one, as in Septuagint. On the other hand, it is thought by some that certain psalms were composed of two psalms which were originally separate. We may cite as examples Ps 19:1-6,7-14; 24:1-6,7-10; 27:1-6,7-14; 36:1-4,5-12. It is evident that such combinations of two different poems into one may have taken place, for we have an example in Ps 108, which is composed of portions of two other psalms (57:7-11; 60:5-12).
4. Titles in the Hebrew Text:
(1) Value of the Superscriptions.
It is the fashion among advanced critics to waive the titles of the psalms out of court as wholly worthless and misleading. This method is as thoroughly unscientific as the older procedure of defending the superscriptions as part of an inspired text. These titles are clearly very old, for the Septuagint, in the 2nd century BC, did not understand many of them. The worst that can be said of the superscriptions is that they are guesses of Hebrew editors and scribes of a period long prior to the Greek version. As to many of the musical and liturgical titles, the best learning of Hebrew and Christian scholars is unable to recover the original meaning. The scribes who prefixed the titles had no conceivable reason for writing nonsense into their prayerbook and hymnal. These superscriptions and subscriptions all had a worthy meaning, when they were first placed beside individual psalms. This indisputable fact of the great antiquity of these titles ought forever to make it impossible for scientific research to ignore them. Grant for the sake of argument, that not one of them came from the pen of the writers of the Psalms, but only from editors and compilers of exilic or post-exilic days, it would still be reasonable to give attention to the views of ancient Hebrew scholars, before considering the conjectures of modern critics on questions of authorship and date. Sources of information, both oral and written, to which they had access, have long since perished. In estimating the value of their work, we have a right to use the best critical processes known to us; but it is unscientific to overlook the fact that their proximity to the time of the composition of the Psalms gave them an advantage over the modern scholar. If it be said by objectors that these ancient scribes formed their conclusions by the study of the life of David as portrayed in the historical books of Kings and Chronicles, the reply is ready that several historical notices in the titles cannot be thus explained. Who was Cush? Who was Abimelech? (Psalms 7 and 34). A careful weighing of the facts concerning the superscriptions will make it seem highly improbable that the earliest of these titles does not reach back into pre-exilic times. We almost certainly have in them the results of the labors of Hebrew scribes and compilers stretching over several centuries. Some of the titles may have been appended by the psalmists themselves.
We are far from claiming that the titles are always intelligible to us, or that, when understood, they are always correct. The process of constructing titles indicative of authorship had not ceased in the 2nd century BC, the Septuagint adding many to psalms that were anonymous in the Hebrew. The view expressed nearly 50 years ago by Perowne is eminently sane: "The inscriptions cannot always be relied on. They are sometimes genuine, and really represent the most ancient tradition. At other times, they are due to the caprice of later editors and collectors, the fruits of conjecture, or of dimmer and more uncertain traditions. In short, the inscriptions of the Psalms are like the subscriptions to the Epistles of the New Testament. They are not of any necessary authority, and their value must be weighed and tested by the usual critical processes."
(2) Thirtle's Theory.
J. W. Thirtle (The Titles of the Psalms, 1904) advances the hypothesis that both superscriptions and subscriptions were incorporated in the Psalter, and that in the process of copying the Psalms by hand, the distinction between the superscription of a given psalm and the subscription of the one immediately preceding it was finally lost. When at length the different psalms were separated from one another, as in printed editions, the subscriptions and superscriptions were all set forth as superscriptions. Thus it came about that the musical subscription of a given psalm was prefixed to the literary superscription of the psalm immediately following it. The prayer of Habakkuk (Hab 3) was taken by Thirtle as a model or normal psalm; and in this instance the superscription was literary. "A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, upon Shigionoth," while the subscription is musical, "For the Chief Musician, on my stringed instruments." The poem of Hezekiah in celebration of his recovery (Isa 38:9-20) seems to support Thirtle's thesis, the superscription stating the authorship and the occasion that gave birth to the psalm, while Isa 38:20 hints at the musical instruments with which the psalm was to be accompanied in public worship. If now the musical notes be separated from the notes of authorship and date that follow them, the musical notes being appended as subscriptions, while the literary notes are kept as real superscriptions, the outcome of the separation is in many instances a more intelligible nexus between title and poem. Thus the subscript to Ps 55, "The dove of the distant terebinths," becomes a pictorial title of 55:6-8 of the psalm. The application of the rule that the expression "for the Chief Musician" is always a subscript removes the difficulty in the title of Ps 88. The superscription of Ps 88, on Thirtle's hypothesis, becomes "Maschil of Heman the Ezrahite." Ps 87 thus has a subscript that repeats the statement of its superscription, but with an addition which harmonizes with the content of the poem. "Mahalath Leannoth," with a slight correction in vocalization, probably means "Dancings with Shoutings," and 87:7 speaks of both singing and dancing. The tone of Ps 87 is exceedingly cheerful; but Ps 88 is the saddest in the entire Psalter. The application of Thirtle's hypothesis also leaves Ps 88 with a consistent literary title, whereas the usual title ascribes the psalm first to the sons of Korah and then to Heman the Ezrahite.
(3) Meaning of the Hebrew Titles.
Scholars have not been able to come to agreement as to the meaning and application of a goodly number of words and phrases found in the titles of the Psalms. We append an alphabetical list, together with hints as to the probable meaning:
(a) 'Ayeleth ha-Shachar (Ps 22) means "the hind of the morning," or possibly "the help of the morning." Many think that the words were the opening line of some familiar song.
(b) `Alamoth (Ps 46) means "maidens." The common view is that the psalm was to be sung by soprano voices. Some speak of a female choir and compare 1 Ch 15:20; Ps 68:11,24 f. According to Thirtle, the title is a subscript to Ps 45, which describes the marriage of a princess, a function at which it would be quite appropriate to have a female choir.
(c) 'Al-tashcheth (Psalms 57 through 59; 75) means "destroy not;" and is quite suitable as a subscript to Psalms 56 through 58 and 74 (compare Dt 9:26). Many think this the first word of a vintage song (compare Isa 65:8).
(d) Ascents, Song of" (Psalms 120 through 184): the Revised Version (British and American) translates the title to 15 psalms "A Song of Ascents," where the King James Version has "A Song of Degrees." The most probable explanation of the meaning of the expression is that these 15 psalms were sung by bands of pilgrims on their way to the yearly feasts in Jerusalem (Ps 122:4). Psalms 121 through 123; 125; 127; 128 and 132 through 134 are well suited for use on such occasions (see, however, Expository Times, XII, 62).
(e) "For the Chief Musician": 55 psalms are dedicated to the precentor or choir leader of the temple. "To the Chief Musician" might mean that the precentor was the author of certain psalms, or that there was a collection of hymns compiled by him for use in temple worship, or that certain psalms were placed in his hands, with suggestions as to the character of the poems and the music which was to accompany them. It is quite likely that there was an official collection of psalms for public worship in the custody of the choir master of the temple.
(f) "Dedication of the House" (Ps 30): The title probably refers to the dedication of Yahweh's house; whether in the days of David, in connection with the removal of the ark to Jerusalem, or in the days of Zerubbabel, or in the time of Judas Maccabeus, it is impossible to say positively. If Ps 39 was used on any one of these widely separated occasions, that fact might account for the insertion of the caption, "a Song at the Dedication of the House."
(g) "Degrees": see "Ascents" above.
(h) Gittith (Psalms 8; 81; 84) is commonly supposed to refer to an instrument invented in Gath or to a tune that was used in the Philistine city. Thirtle emends slightly to gittoth, "wine presses," and connects Psalms 7; 80 and 83 with the Feast of Tabernacles.
(i) Higgayon: This word is not strictly a title, but occurs in connection with Celah in Ps 9:16. the Revised Version (British and American) translates the word in Ps 92:3, "a solemn sound," and in Ps 19:14, "meditation." It is probably a musical note equivalent to largo.
(j) Yedhuthun: In the title of Ps 39, Jeduthun might well be identical with the Chief Musician. In Psalms 62 and 77 the Revised Version (British and American) renders "after the manner of Jeduthun." We know from 1 Ch 16:41; 25:3 that JEDUTHUN (which see) was a choir leader in the days of David. He perhaps introduced a method of conducting the service of song which ever afterward was associated with his name.
(k) Yonath 'elem rechoqim (Ps 56): We have already called attention to the fact that as a subscript to Ps 55 "the dove of the distant terebinths," or "the silent dove of them that are afar off," would have a point of contact with Ps 55:6-8.
(l) Machalath (Ps 53), Machalath le`annoth (Ps 88): Perhaps Thirtle's vocalization of the Hebrew consonants as mecholoth, "dancings," is correct. As a subscript to Ps 87; mecholoth may refer to David's joy at the bringing of the ark to Zion (2 Sam 6:14,15).
(m) Maskil (Psalms 32; 42 through 45; 52 through 55; 74; 78; 88; 89; 142): The exact meaning of this common term is not clear. Briggs suggests "a meditation," Thirtle and others "a psalm of instruction," Kirkpatrick "a cunning psalm." Some of the 13 psalms bearing this title are plainly didactic, while others are scarcely to be classed as psalms of instruction.
(n) Mikhtam (Psalms 16; 56 through 60): Following the rabbinical guess, some translate "a golden poem." The exact meaning is unknown.
(o) Muth labben: The title is generally supposed to refer to a composition entitled "Death of the Son." Possibly the melody to which this composition was sung was the tune to which Ps 9 (or 8) was to be sung. Thirtle translates "The Death of the Champion," and regards it as a subscription to Ps 8, in celebration of the victory over Goliath.
(p) On "Neghinoth'' occurs 6 times (Psalms 4; 6; 54; 55; 67; 76), and means "with stringed instruments." Neghinath (Ps 61) may be a slightly defective writing for Neghinoth. Perhaps stringed instruments alone were used with psalms having this title. According to Thirtle's hypothesis, the title was originally a subscript to Psalms 3; 5; 53; 54; 60; 66; 75.
(q) Nechiloth (Ps 5), possibly a subscript to Ps 4, is supposed by some to refer to "wind instruments," possibly flutes.
(r) Celah, though not strictly a title, may well be discussed in connection with the superscriptions. It occurs 71 times in the Psalms and 3 times in Habakkuk. It is almost certainly technical term whose meaning was well known to the precentor and the choir in the temple. The Septuagint always, Symmachus and Theodotion generally, render diapsalma, which probably denotes an instrumental interlude. The Targum Aquila and some other ancient versions render "forever." Jerome, following Aquila, translates it "always." Many moderns derive Celah from a root meaning "to raise," and suppose it to be a sign to the musicians to strike up with a louder accompaniment. Possibly the singing ceased for a moment. A few think it is a liturgical direction to the congregation to "lift up" their voices in benediction. It is unwise to dogmatize as to the meaning of this very common word.
(s) Sheminith (Psalms 6; 12), meaning "the eighth," probably denotes the male choir, as distinguished from `Alamoth, the maidens' choir. That both terms are musical notes is evident from 1 Ch 15:19-21.
(t) Shiggayon (Ps 7) is probably a musical note. Some think it denotes "a dithyrambic poem in wild ecstatic wandering rhythms, with corresponding music."
(u) Shoshannim (Psalms 45; 69) means "lilies." Shoshannim `edhuth (Ps 80) means "lilies, a testimony." Shushah `edhuth (Ps 60) may be rendered "the lily of testimony." Thirtle represents these titles as subscripts to Psalms 44; 59; 68; 79, and associates them with the spring festival, Passover. Others regard them as indicating the melody to which the various psalms were to be sung.
(v) "Song of Loves" (Ps 45) is appropriate as a literary title to a marriage song.
(4) Testimony of the Titles as to Authorship.
(a) Ps 90 is ascribed to Moses. (b) To David 73 psalms are ascribed, chiefly in Books I and II. (c) Two are assigned to Solomon (Psalms 72; 127). (d) 12 are ascribed to Asaph (Psalms 50; 73 through 83). (e) 11 are assigned to the sons of Korah (Psalms 42 through 49; 84; 85; 87). (f) Ps 88 is attributed to Heman the Ezrahite. (g) Ps 89 bears the name of Ethan the Ezrahire. In most cases it is plain that the editors meant to indicate the authors or writers of the psalms. It is possible that the phrase "to David" may sometimes have been prefixed to certain psalms, merely to indicate that they were found in a collection which contained Davidic psalms. It is also possible that the titles "to Asaph" and' "to the sons of Korah" may have originally meant that the psalms thus designated belonged to a collection in the custody of these temple singers. Ps 72 may also be a prayer for Solomon rather than a psalm BY Solomon. At the same time, we must acknowledge, in the light of the titles describing the occasion of composition, that the most natural interpretation of the various superscriptions is that they indicate the supposed authors of the various poems to which they are prefixed. Internal evidence shows conclusively that some of these titles are incorrect. Each superscription should be tested by a careful study of the psalm to which it is appended.
(5) Titles Describing the Occasion of Writing.
There are 13 of these, all bearing the name of David. (a) Psalms 7; 59; 56; 34; 52; 57; 142; 54 are assigned to the period of his persecution by Saul. (b) During the period of his reign over. all Israel, David is credited with Psalms 18; 60; 51; 3; and 63.
II. Authorship and Age of the Psalms.
Ps 90 is ascribed to Moses. It is the fashion now to deny that Moses wrote anything. A careful study of Ps 90 has brought to light nothing inconsistent with Mosaic authorship. The dignity, majesty and pathos of the poem are worthy of the great lawgiver and intercessor.
1. David as a Psalmist:
(1) The Age of David Offered Fruitful Soil for the Growth of Religious Poetry.
(a) The political and religious reforms of Samuel created a new sense of national unity, and kindled the fires of religious patriotism. (b) Music had a large place in the life of the prophetic guilds or schools of the prophets, and was used in public religious exercises (1 Sam 10:5 f). (c) The victories of David and the internal expansion of the life of Israel would inevitably stimulate the poetic instinct of men of genius; compare the Elizabethan age and the Victorian era in English literature. (d) The removal of the ark to the new capital and the organization of the Levitical choirs would stimulate poets to compose hymns of praise to Yahweh (2 Sam 6; 1 Ch 15; 16; 25).
It is the fashion in certain critical circles to blot out the Mosaic era as unhistoric, all accounts of it being considered legendary or mythical. It is easy then to insist on the elimination of all the higher religious teaching attributed to Samuel. This leaves David "a rude king in a semi-barbaric age," or, as Cheyne puts it, "the versatile condottiere, chieftain, and king." It would seem more reasonable to accept as trustworthy the uniform tradition of Israel as to the great leaders, Moses, Samuel and David, than to rewrite Israel's history out of the tiny fragments of historical material that are accepted by skeptical critics as credible. It is often said that late writers read into their accounts of early heroes their own ideas of what would be fitting. James Robertson's remark in reply has great weight: "This habit of explaining the early as the backward projection of the late is always liable to the objection that it leaves the late itself without explanation" (Poetry and Religion of the Psalms, 332).
(2) David's Qualifications for Composing Psalms
(a) He was a skillful musician, with a sense of rhythm and an ear for pleasing sounds (1 Sam 16:15-23). He seems to have invented new instruments of music (Am 6:5). (b) He is recognized by critics of all schools as a poet of no mean ability. The genuineness of his elegy over Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam 1:19-27) is commonly accepted; also his lament over Abner (2 Sam 3:33 f). In the elegy over Saul and Jonathan, David displays a magnanimity and tenderness that accord with the representations of S as to his treatment of Saul and of Jonathan. No mere rough border chieftain could have composed a poem full of the tenderest sentiment and the most exemplary attitude toward a persecutor. The moral elevation of the elegy has to be accounted for. If the author was a deeply religious man, a man enjoying the friendship of God, it is easy to account for the moral dignity of the poem. Surely it is only a step from the patriotism and magnanimity and devoted friendship of the elegy to the religious fervor of the Psalms. Moreover, the poetic skill displayed in the elegy removes the possible objection that literary art in the days of David had not attained a development equal to the composition of poems such as the Psalms. There is nothing more beautiful and artistic in the entire Psalter.
Radical critics saw the David of the Bible asunder. They contrast the rough border chieftain with the pious Psalmist. Though willing to believe every statement that reflects upon the moral character of David, they consider the references to David as a writer of hymns and the organizer of the temple choirs as the pious imaginings of late chroniclers. Robertson well says: "This habit of refusing to admit complexity in the capacities of Biblical characters is exceedingly hazardous and unsafe, when history is so full of instances of the combination in one person of qualities the most diverse. We not only have poets who can harp upon more than one string, but we have religious leaders who have united the most fervent piety with the exercise of poorly developed virtue, or the practice of very questionable policy. A critic, if he has not a single measure of large enough capacity for a historical character, should not think himself at liberty to measure him out in two halfbushels, making one man of each" (Poetry and Religion of the Psalms, 332). Among kings, Charlemagne and Constantine the Great have been likened to David; and among poets, Robert Burns. There were contradictory elements in the moral characters of all these gifted men. Of Constantine it has been said that he "was by turns the docile believer and the cruel despot, devotee and murderer, patron saint and avenging demon." David was a many-sided man, with a character often at war with itself, a man with conflicting impulses, the flesh lusting against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh. Men of flesh and blood in the midst of life's temptations have no difficulty in understanding the David of the Bible.
(c) David was a man of deep feeling and of imperial imagination. Think of his love for Jonathan, his grateful appreciation of every exploit done in his behalf by his mighty men, his fondness for Absalom. His successful generalship would argue for imagination, as well as the vivid imagery of the elegy. (d) David was an enthusiastic worshipper of Yahweh. All the records of his life agree in representing him as devoted to Israel's God. In the midst of life's dangers and disappointments, "David strengthened himself in Yahweh his God" (1 Sam 30:6). We should have been surprised had no trace of religious poetry come from his pen. It would be difficult to imagine Milton or Cowper or Tennyson as confining himself to secular poetry. "Comus," "John Gilpin," and the "Charge of the Light Brigade" did not exhaust their genius; nor did the elegy over Saul and Jonathan and the lament over Abner relieve David's soul of the poetry that clamored for expression. The known facts of his life and times prepare us for an outburst of psalmody under his leadership. (e) The varied experiences through which David passed were of a character to quicken any latent gifts for poetic expression.
James Robertson states this argument clearly, and yet with becoming caution: "The vicissitudes and situations in David's life presented in these narratives are of such a nature that, though we may not be able to say precisely that such and such a psalm was composed at such and such a time and place, yet we may confidently say, Here is a man who has passed through certain experiences and borne himself in such wise that we are not surprised to hear that, being a poet, he composed this and the other psalms. It is very doubtful whether we should tie down any lyric to a precise set of circumstances, the poet being like a painter who having found a fit landscape, sits down to transfer it to canvas. I do not think it likely that David, finding himself in some great perplexity or sorrow, called for writing materials in order to describe the situation or record his feelings. But I do think it probable that the vicissitudes through which he passed made such an impression on his sensitive heart, and became so inculcated withn an emotional nature, that when he soothed himself in his retirement with his lyre, they came forth spontaneously in the form of a psalm or song or prayer, according as the recollection was sad or joyful, and as his singing mood moved him" (Poetry and Religion of the Psalms, 343 f).
The Biblical writers, both early and late, agree in affirming that the Spirit of Yahweh rested upon David, empowering him for service of the highest order (1 Sam 16:13; 2 Sam 23:1-3; Mt 22:43;. Acts 2:29-31). The gift of prophetic inspiration was bestowed upon Israel's chief musician and poet.
(3) External Evidence for Davidic Psalms
(a) In the New Testament David is named as the author of certain psalms. Thus Ps 110 is ascribed to David by Jesus in His debate with the Pharisees in the Temple (Mt 22:41-45; Mk 12:35-37; Lk 20:41-44). Peter teaches that David prophesied concerning Judas (Acts 1:16), and he also refers Psalms 16 and 110 to David (Acts 2:25-34). The whole company of the disciples in prayer attribute Ps 2 to David (Acts 4:25 f). Paul quotes Psalms 32 and 69 as Davidic (Rom 4:6-8; 11:9 f). The author of He even refers Ps 95 to David, following the Septuagint (Heb 4:7). From the last-named passage many scholars infer that any quotation from the Psalms might be referred to David as the chief author of the Psalms. Possibly this free and easy method of citation, without any attempt at rigorous critical accuracy, was in vogue in the 1st century AD. At the same time, it is evident that the view that David was the chief author of the Psalms was accepted by the New Testament writers. (b) In 2 Macc 2:13 (the Revised Version),in a letter purporting to have been written by the Jews of Israel to their brethren in Egypt, about 144 BC, occurs the following: "And the same things were related both in the public archives and in the records that concern Nehemiah; and how he, rounding a library, gathered together the books about the kings and prophets, and the books of David, and letters of kings about sacred gifts." We do not know the exact date of 2 Maccabees, but it was almost certainly in the 1st century BC. The author regards David as the author of books in the sacred library gathered together by Nehemiah. (c) Jesus the Son of Sirach, who wrote not later than 180 BC, and possibly a good deal earlier, thus describes David's contribution to public worship: "In every work of his he gave thanks to the Holy One Most High with words of glory; with his whole heart he sang praise, and loved him that made him" (Ecclesiasticus 47:8 f the Revised Version (British and American)). David's fame as a psalmist and the organizer of choirs for the sanctuary was well known to Ben Sira at the beginning of the 2nd century BC. (d) The author of Chronicles, writing not later than 300 BC, and probably much earlier, represents David as making provision for a service of song before the ark of God and in connection with its removal to the city of David (1 Ch 15; 16). It seems to be imagined by some scholars that the Chronicler, whose historical accuracy is severely attacked by certain critics, is responsible for the idea that David was a great writer of hymns. On the contrary, he has less to say about David as a poet and psalmist than the author of Samuel. Only in 2 Ch 29:30 is there explicit mention of David as the author of praises to Yahweh. The Chronicler speaks repeatedly of the instruments of David and of his organization of the choirs. And so in the kindred books of Ezra and Nehemiah there is mention of the style of worship introduced by David (Ezr 3:10; Neh 12:24,36). The author of the Book of Kings refers repeatedly to David as a model king (1 Ki 11:4; 2 Ki 14:3; 20:5 f, etc.). He becomes a witness for the high reputation of David for uprightness and religious zeal. (e) Amos refers incidentally to David's great skill as an inventor of musical instruments (Am 6:5). The same prophet is a witness to the fact that songs were sung in worship at Bethel to the accompaniment of harps or viols (Am 5:23). (f) The earliest witness, or witnesses, if the narrative be composite, we find in 1 and 2 Samuel. David is described as a wonderful musician and as one on whom the Spirit of Yahweh rested mightily (1 Sam 16:13-23). He is credited with the beautiful elegy oyer Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam 1:17-27) and the brief lament over Abner (2 Sam 3:33 f) . He is said to have danced with joy before the ark, and to have brought it up to Jerusalem with shouting and with sound of trumpet (2 Sam 6:12 ff). He is credited with the pious wish that he might build a temple for Yahweh and the ark, and is said to have poured forth a prayer of thanksgiving to Yahweh for the promise of a perpetual throne (2 Sam 7). David dedicated to Yahweh much wealth taken from his enemies. (2 Sam 8:11). Both the good and the bad in David's life and character are faithfully set forth in the vivid narrative.
We come next to two statements that would settle the question of David's psalms, if critics would only accept them as the work of an author living within a generation or so of the time of David. Unfortunately 2 Sam 21 through 24 is regarded by most critical scholars as an appendix to the early narrative of David's career. There is no agreement as to the exact date of the composition of these chapters. Naturally the burden of proof is on the critic who tries to disintegrate a document, and suspicion of bias is inevitable, if by the disintegration he is able to escape the force of a disagreeable argument. Happily, we live in a free country, every man having a right to hold and to express his own opinion, for whatever it may be worth. It seems to the present writer that 2 Sam 21 through 24 may well have come from the pen of the early narrator who told the story of David's reign in such a masterly fashion. Even if these chapters were added by a later editor as an appendix, there is no sufficient reason for putting this writer so late as the exile. His statements cannot be set aside as unreliable, simply because they run counter to the current theory as to the date of the Psalms. 2 Sam 22 purports to give the words of a song which David spake to Yahweh, when he had been delivered from Saul and from all his enemies. Ps 18 is evidently a different recension of the same poem. The differences between 2 Sam 22 and Ps 18 are not much greater than the differences in the various odd of "Rock of Ages." Only the most advanced critics deny that David wrote this glorious song. 2 Sam 23:1-7 must not be omitted, for here David claimed prophetic inspiration as the sweet Psalmist of Israel. This original and striking poem is worthy of the brilliant royal bard. (g) The titles of the Psalms are external evidence of real value for determining the date and authorship of the Psalms; and these ascribe 73 to David. A sweeping denial of all the forms of external evidence for Davidic psalms ought to be buttressed by convincing arguments from internal evidence. Unverified conjectures will not answer.
(4) Internal Evidence for Davidic Psalms
The fact that many of the psalms ascribed to David correspond in tone and temper and in historical allusions with incidents in his life, while not in itself convincing proof that David wrote them, certainly re-enforces the external evidence in favor of Davidic psalms. We must refer the reader to the commentaries of Delitzsch, Kirkpatrick, Perowne and others for the evidence discovered in individual psalms. In many psalms the evidence is strongly in favor of the superscriptions, in which David is named as the writer. See especially Psalms 18; 23; 32; 3.
(5) Number of Davidic Psalms
Opinion varies among conservative scholars all the way from 3 or 4 to 44 or 45. It has come to pass that a critic who acknowledges even Ps 18 to be David's is called conservative. In fact, the more radical critics regard a scholar as conservative if he assigns even a small group of psalms to the period before the exile. We must not allow ourselves to be deterred from ascribing to David any psalm that seems to us, on the basis of both external and internal evidence, to come from his pen. Delitzsch and Kirkpatrick are safer guides than Cheyne and Duhm. Maclaren also has made a close and sympathetic study of David's life and character, and accepts the results of sane criticism. W. T. Davison (HDB, IV) speaks out clearly and strongly for Davidic authorship of Psalms 7; 11; 17; 18; 19 (first half), 24 and a few other psalms or parts of psalms, though he makes large concessions to the present tendency to bring the psalms down to a later date. He stands firmly for a large body of pre-exilic psalms. Ewald assigned to David Psalms 3; 4; 7; 8; 11; 18; 19; 24; 29; 32; 101; also 60:8-11 and 68:14-19. Hitzig ascribed to David Psalms 3 through 19, with the exception of Ps 5; 6 and 14. If one follows the titles in the Hebrew text, except where internal evidence clearly contradicts the superscriptions, it will be easy, to follow Delitzsch in attributing 44 or 45 psalms to David.
2. Psalmody after David:
(1) Psalms of Asaph (Psalms 73 through 83, also 50).
The prophetic spirit throbs in most of the psalms ascribed to ASAPH (which see). God is pictured as a righteous Judge. He is also pictured as the Shepherd of Israel. Ps 73 holds fast to God's righteous rule of mankind, in spite of the prosperity of the wicked. Ps 50, which is assigned by many to the time of Hosea and Isaiah, because of its powerful prophetic message, may well have come from Asaph, the contemporary of David and of Nathan. Some of the Asaph group, notably 74 and 79, belong to the period of the exile or later. The family of Asaph continued for centuries to lead in the service of song (2 Ch 35:15; Neh 7:44). Inspired poets were raised up from age to age in the Asaph guild.
(2) Psalms of the Sons of Korah (Psalms 42 through 49; 84; 85; 87).
This family of singers was prominent in the temple-worship in the days of David and afterward. Several of the most beautiful poems in the Psalter are ascribed to members of this guild (see Psalms 42; 43; 45; 46; 49; 84). We are not to think of these poems as having been composed by a committee of the sons of Korah; no doubt each poem had an individual author, who was willing to sink his personality in the psalm that he was composing. The privileges and blessings of social worship in the sanctuary are greatly magnified in this group of psalms
(3) Psalms of Solomon (Psalms 72; 127).
Even conservative critics are in doubt as to the Solomonic authorship of the two psalms ascribed to him by the titles. Perhaps assurance is not attainable in the present state of inquiry. Delitzsch well says: "Under Solomon psalmody already began to decline; all the productions of the mind of that period bear the stamp of thoughtful contemplation rather than of direct feeling, for restless yearning for higher things had given place to sensuous enjoyment, national concentration to cosmopolitan expansion."
(4) The Era of Jehoshaphat.
Delitzsch and others regard the period of Jehoshaphat as one of literary productivity. Possibly Psalms 75 and 76 celebrate the deliverance from the great eastern invasion toward the close of Jehoshaphat's reign.
(5) The Era of Hezekiah.
The latter half of the 8th century BC was one of literary vigor and expansion, especially in Judah. Perhaps the great deliverance from Sennacherib's invasion is celebrated in Psalms 46 and 48.
(6) The Period of Jeremiah.
Ehrt and some other scholars are inclined to attribute to Jeremiah a considerable number of psalms. Among those which have been assigned to this prophet may be named Psalms 31; 35; 38; 40; 55; 69; 71. Those who deny the Davidic authorship of Ps 22 also assign this great poem to Jeremiah. Whether we are able to name definitely any psalms of Jeremiah, it seems thoroughly reasonable that he should have been the author of certain of the plaintive poems in the Psalter.
(7) During the Exile.
Ps 102 seems to have been composed during the exile. The poet pours out his complaint over the present distress, and reminds Yahweh that it is time to have pity upon Zion. Ps 137 pictures the distress of the captives by the rivers of Babylon. The fire and fervor of the poem bespeak an author personally involved in the distress. No doubt other psalms in our collection were composed during the captivity in Babylon.
(8) Post-exilic Psalms
As specimens of the joyous hymns composed after the return from exile, we may name Psalms 85 and 126. Many of the liturgical hymns in the Psalter were no doubt prepared for use in the worship of the second temple. Certain recent critics have extended this class of hymns so as to include the greater part of the Psalter, but that is surely an extreme view. No doubt, the stirring times of Ezra and Nehemiah stimulated poets in Jerusalem to pour forth thanksgiving and praise to Israel's God. Ewald taught, that the latest psalms in our collection were composed at this time.
(9) Are There Maccabean Psalms?
Calvin, assigned Psalms 44; 74 and 79 to the Maccabean period. If there are Maccabean psalms, Calvin has perhaps hit upon three of them. Hitzig assigns to the Maccabean period all the psalms from 73 to 150, together with a few psalms in the earlier half of the Psalter. Among moderns, Duhm puts practically the whole Psalter in the period from 170 to 70 BC. Gesenius, Ewald, Hupfeld and Dillmann, four of the greatest names in Old Testament criticism, oppose the view that the Psalter contains Maccabean psalms. Most recent students admit the possibility of Maccabean psalms. The question may well be left open for further investigation.
III. Growth of the Psalter.
1. Division into Five Books:
In the Hebrew text as well as in the Revised Version (British and American), the Psalms are grouped into five books, as follows: Book I, Psalms 1 through 41; Book II, Psalms 42 through 72; Book III, Psalms 73 through 89; Book IV, Psalms 90 through 106; Book V, Psalms 107 through 150. It is possible that this division into five books may have been already made before the Chronicler composed his history of Judah (compare 1 Ch 16:36 with Ps 106:48). At the end of Book II appears a subscript which is significant in the history of the Psalter. It is said in Ps 72:20: "The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended." It would seem from this note that the editor who appended it meant to say that in his collection he had included all the psalms of David known to him. Singularly enough, the subscript is attached to a psalm ascribed to Solomon. Psalms 51 through 70, however, lie near at hand, all of which are attributed to David. Ps 71 is anonymous, and Ps 72 might possibly be considered a prayer for Solomon. There is a further difficulty in the fact that the Second Book of Psalms opens with nine poems ascribed to the sons of Korah and to Asaph. It is a very natural conjecture that these nine psalms were at one time united with Psalms 73 through 83. With these removed, it would be possible to unite Psalms 51 through 70 with Book I. Then the subscript to Ps 72 would be a fitting close to a roll made up of psalms ascribed to David. It is impossible at this late date to trace fully and accurately the history of the formation of the Psalter.
2. Smaller Groups of Psalms:
Within the Psalter there lie certain groups of psalms which have in a measure retained the form in which they probably once circulated separately. Among these groups may be named the Psalms of Ascents (Psalms 120 through 134), the Asaph group (Psalms 73 through 83), the sons of Korah groups (Psalms 42 through 49; 84 through 87, except 86), a Mikhtam group (Psalms 56 through 60), a group praising Yahweh for His character and deeds (Psalms 93 through 100), to which Psalms 90-92 form a fitting introduction. Psalms 103 through 107 constitute another group of praise psalms, and Psalms 145 through 150 make a closing Hallelujah group.
The Psalter has had a long and varied history. No doubt the precentor of the temple choir had his own collection of hymns for public worship. Small groups of psalms may have been issued also for private use in the home. As time went on, collections were made on different organizing principles. Sometimes hymns attributed to a given author were perhaps brought into a single group. Possibly psalms of a certain type, such as Maskil and Mikhtam psalms, were gathered together in small collections. How these small groups were partly preserved and partly broken up, in the history of the formation of our present Psalter, will, perhaps, never be known.
IV. Poetry of the Psalter.
For general discussion of the form of Hebrew poetry, see POETRY. In the Psalms almost all known varieties of poetic parallelism are exemplified. Among moderns, C.A. Briggs has made extensive research into the poetical structure of the Psalms. In summing up the result of his study of the various measures employed in the Psalms, he classes 89 psalms or parts of psalms as trimeters, that is, the lines have three main accents; 22 psalms or parts he regards as tetrameters, each of the lines having four accented syllables; 25 psalms or portions are classed as pentameters, and an equal number as hexameters. He recognizes some variety of measure in certain psalms. There is coming to be agreement among Hebrew scholars that the rhythm of Hebrew poetry is largely determined by the number of accented syllables to the line. Some critics insist rigorously on perfect regularity, and therefore are compelled to resort to conjectural emendation.
See POETRY, HEBREW.
Nine psalms are known as alphabetical poems, namely, Psalms 9; 10; 25; 34; 37; 111; 112; 119; 145. The most elaborate of these is Ps 119, which is divided into 22 sections of 8 verses each. Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet occurs 8 times in succession as the initial letter of the verses in its section.
As to strophical structure or stanza formation, there is evidence in certain psalms of such organization of the poems. The refrains with which strophes often close form an easy guide to the strophical divisions in certain psalms, such as Psalms 42; 43; 46; 107. Among English commentators, Briggs pays most attention to strophical structure. There is some evidence of antiphonal singing in connection with the Psalter. It is thought by some that Psalms 20 and 21 were sung by responsive choirs. Psalms 24 and 118 may each be antiphonal.
V. The Speaker in the Psalms.
Smend, in ZATW, 1888, undertook to establish thesis that the speaker in the Psalms is not an individual, but a personification of the Jewish nation or church. At first he was inclined to recognize an individual speaker in Psalms 3; 4; 62 and 73, but one year later he interpreted these also as collective. Thus, at one stroke individual religious experience is wiped out of the Psalter, A few scholars have accepted Smend's thesis; but the great majority of critics of every school have withheld their assent, and some of the best commentators have shown that theory is wholly untenable.
Perhaps the best monograph on the subject, for the German student, is one by Emil Balla, Das Ich der Psalmen. Balla's thesis is that the "I" psalms, both in the Psalter and in the other books of the Old Testament, are always to be understood as individual, with the exception of those in which from plain data in the text another interpretation of the "I" is necessary. Of 100 psalms in which "I" occurs, Balla classes 80 as easy to interpret; in the remaining 20 there might be reasonable room for difference of opinion whether the psalm was individual or collective.
Personification is largely used in all parts of the Old Testament. There is no room for doubt that Ps 129, though using "I," "my" and "me," is the language of Israel as a people. The same is true of Ps 124. The author of Ps 126 likewise associates himself with his brethren. The author of Ps 122, however, is evidently speaking for himself individually, when he says in 122:8, "For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee." The intelligent reader usually has no difficulty in deciding, after a careful reading of a psalm, whether the "I" refers to an individual Israelite or to the congregation of Israel. Sane views on this subject are important, inasmuch as Smend's theory does violence to the strength and power of the individual religious experience of Old Testament believers. In many portions of the Old Testament, national duties are urged, and Israel is addressed as a whole. At the same time, it would be easy to exaggerate the relatively small place that individual religion occupies in the prophetic writings and in the Law. The Psalter absolutely refuses to be shut up in the molds of a rigid nationalism.
VI. The Gospel in the Psalms
Christians love the Psalter as much as the ancient Jew could possibly have done. On every page they discover elements of religious life and experience that are thoroughly Christian. In this respect the earlier dispensation came nearer to the perfection of Christian standards than in political and social organization. Along with the New Testament, the aged Christian saint desires a copy of the Psalms. He passes easily from the Gospels to the Psalter and back again without the sense of shifting from one spiritual level to another. Religious experience was enjoyed and was portrayed by the ancient psalmists so well that no Christian book in the apostolic period was composed to displace the Psalter.
1. The Soul's Converse with God:
(1) The Psalmists Are Always Reverent in Their Approach to Deity.
Yahweh is infinitely holy (Ps 99:3,5,9). Psalms 95 through 100 are models of adoration and worship.
(2) Thirsting for God.
Psalms 42 and 43, which were originally one psalm, voice the longing of the individual soul for God as no other human composition has been able to express it. Ps 63 is a worthy companion psalm of yearning after God.
(3) Praising God.
More than 20 psalms have for their keynote praise to God. See especially Ps 8:1,9; 57:7-11; 71:22-24; 95:1-7. The first three verses of Psalms 33; 34; 40; 92 and 105 reveal a rich vocabulary of praise for stammering human lips.
(4) Joy in God's house.
Psalms 84 and 122 are classic hymns expressive of joy in public worship in the sanctuary. Religious patriotism has never received a more striking expression than is found in Ps 137:5 f.
(5) Practicing the Presence of God.
In Psalms 91 and 23 the worshipping saint delights his soul with the sense of God's protecting presence. The Shepherd, tender and true, is ever present to shield and to comfort. The shadow of the Almighty is over the saint who dwells in the secret place of the Most High.
(6) God in Nature.
The Psalmist did not go "through Nature up to Nature's God"; for he found God immanent in all things. He heard God's voice in the thunder; felt His breath in the twilight breeze; saw the gleam of His sword in the lightning's flash, and recognized His hand in every provision for the wants of man and the lower animals. See Ps 104, "Hymn of Creation"; Ps 29, "Yahweh, the God of the storm"; and the first half of Ps 19, "the heavens are telling."
(7) Love for God's word.
Ps 119 is the classic description of the beauty and power and helpfulness of the Word of God. The second half of Ps 19 is also a gem. Ps 119 was happily named by one of the older commentators "a holy alphabet for Zion's scholars." The Psalmist sings the glories of God's Word as a lamp to guide, as a spring of comfort, and as a fountain of hope.
(8) God's Care of All Things.
Faith in Divine Providence--both general and special--was a cardinal doctrine with the psalmists; yea more, the very heart of their religion. Ps 65 sings of God's goodness in sunshine and shower, which clothes the meadows with waving grain. The river of God is always full of water. Ps 121, "Yahweh thy Keeper," was read by David Livingstone at family worship on the morning when he left home to go out to Africa as a missionary.
(9) God Our Refuge.
The psalmists were fond of the figure of "taking refuge in God." Yahweh was to them a rock of refuge, a stronghold, a high tower, an impregnable fortress. Psalms 46; 61 and 62 exalt God as the refuge of His saints. His help is always easy to find. The might and wisdom of God do not overwhelm the inspired singers, but become a theme of devout and joyous contemplation.
Our Lord Jesus found in the Psalms prophecies concerning Himself (Lk 24:44-47).
2. The Messiah:
(1) The Suffering Saviour.
While hanging on the cross, the mind of our Lord turned to the Psalter. He voiced the terrible anguish of His soul in the opening words of Ps 22, and breathed out His spirit at the end with the trustful words of Ps 31:5. He also invited the fulfillment of a Messianic prediction in Ps 69:21 by saying, "I thirst." Isa and the Psalms did not fail Him in the hour of His shame, when reproach broke His heart, and there was none to comfort Him. Only Isa 52:13 through 53:12 surpasses Ps 22 as a picture of Calvary and an interpretation of the significance of the cross. Whether Ps 22 is a direct prophecy of Christ, or only a typically Messianic psalm, is in dispute. Every sentence can be applied to Jesus without straining its meaning. If David or some other sufferer took up his harp to sing of his own sorrows, the Spirit of God guided him to describe those of a greater.
Rationalistic critics insist that to apply part of a psalm to David and part to Christ introduces confusion. They ridicule theory of a "double sense," and contend that the language refers to the Psalmist and to him alone, and that the application of certain verses to our Lord Jesus is only by way of accommodation. This theory ignores the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit altogether; and when men talk of "psychological impossibilities," they may be talking nonsense; for who of us can us can understand fully the psychological experience of men while receiving revelations from God? The real author of inspired prophecies is the Holy Spirit. His meaning is that which the reverent interpreter most delights to find; and we have evidence that the Old Testament writers did not fully comprehend their own predictions concerning Christ (1 Pet 1:10-12). We ought not to be surprised that we should be unable to explain fully the method of the Holy Spirit's activity in guiding the thought of prophets and psalmists in their predictions of the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow them.
(2) The Conquering King.
Psalms 2 and 110 (with which Ps 72 may be compared) describe the Messiah as Yahweh's Son, a mighty. Conqueror, who shall overwhelm all foes and reign supported by Yahweh. Some will oppose the Messiah, and so perish; others will enter His army as volunteers, and in the end will enjoy the fruits of victory. "It is better to sit on His throne than to be His footstool."
(3) The Growing Kingdom.
There is room in the earth for no god other than Yahweh, the Creator and Redeemer of mankind. Psalms 47; 67; 96 through 100 and 117 are proofs of the glorious missionary outlook of the Psalter. All nations are exhorted to forsake idols and worship Yahweh. Ps 47 closes with a picture of the whole world united in the worship of the God of Israel. Ps 67 is a bugle call to all nations to unite in the worship of the true God. Psalms 96 through 100 paint the character of Yahweh as a basis of appeal to all nations to turn from idols and worship the God of Abraham. Psalms 96 and 98 exalt His righteousness; Ps 97 His power and dominion; Ps 99 His holiness and His fidelity to Israel, while Ps 100 tells of His goodness. Idols will finally go down before a God worthy of men's reverence and love.
3. Problem of Sin:
The Psalter deals with man as a sinner. Seven of the best known poems in the collection are so charged with a sense of sin and of its deadly fruits that they have been known for centuries as the Penitential Psalms (6; 32; 38; 51; 102; 130; 143). Besides these poems of penitence and confession, there are many passages elsewhere in the Psalter which depict the sinfulness of men. And yet there are assertions of personal innocence and righteousness in the Psalter that sound like the claims of self-righteous persons (7:3-9; 17:1-5; 18:20-24; 35:11-17; 44:17-22). The psalmists do not mean to affirm that they are sinless before God, but rather that they are righteous in comparison with their foes who are seeking to destroy them. Sometimes they plead for mercy in the same context. The honest exegete does not find the Pharisaic temper in these noble hymns, though he is quite willing to admit that the Christian cannot well employ some of the expressions concerning his own experiences. Jesus requires a humility deeper than that which was attained in Old Testament times.
(1) Confessing Sin.
(a) Individual confession: Psalms 32 and 51 are notable examples of individual confession. The cries of the penitent in Ps 51 have been repeated by thousands on bended knee as the best expression of their own sense of sin and yearning for forgiveness. (b) National confession (see especially 78; 95 and 106). Ps 105 celebrates the praises of Yahweh for His unfailing kindness to Israel; Ps 106 tells the tale of Israel's repeated rebellion.
(2) Seeking Forgiveness.
Ps 51 is the penitent's cry for mercy. Never did the soul of man plead more powerfully for forgiveness. God cannot despise a heart broken and crushed with the sense of sin and pleading like a lost child for home and mother.
(3) Conquering Sin.
Psalms 130 begins with a cry out of the depths and ends with a note of joy over redemption from sin. The plenteous redemption of which the poet speaks includes triumph over sin in one's heart and life. The cries of the Old Testament saints for victory over sin were not unheeded (139:23 f; 19:13; 119:133). The author of Ps 84 truthfully depicts the life of Yahweh's worshippers, "They go from strength to strength." Victory over sin is sure in the end.
4. Wrestling with Doubts:
The ancient Hebrew seems to have had no temptation to atheism or pantheism. The author of Ecclesiastes felt the pull of agnosticism and materialism (Eccl 3:19-21; 9:2-10), but in the end he rejected both (12:7,13 f). The ancient Hebrew found in the world about him one difficulty which seemed almost insuperable. He believed in the wisdom and power and justice of God. How then could it be possible, in a world over which a wise and just God presides, that the wicked should prosper and the righteous suffer? This is the question which is hotly debated by Job and his three friends. A partial solution of the difficulty may be seen in Ps 37, theme of which is `the brevity of godless prosperity, and the certainty that well-doing will lead to well-being.' A better solution is attained in Ps 73, which depicts God's attitude toward the wicked and toward the righteous. The wicked will be suddenly overthrown, while the righteous will live forever in the enjoyment of communion with God. Not even death can sever him from God. The fleeting pleasures of proud scoffers pale into insignificance before the glories of everlasting fellowship with God.
5. Out of the Depths:
(1) Out of the depths of persecution and slander the author of Ps 31 climbed into his refuge, as he exclaimed, "In the covert of thy presence wilt thou hide them from the plottings of man: Thou wilt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues." (2) Ps 77 is a stairway out of depths of suspense and the anxiety. The experience of the author well illustrates Maclaren's epigram, "If out of the depths we cry, we shall cry ourselves out of the depths." (3) The author of Ps 116 looked into the jaws of death. Perhaps no other psalm has so much to say of physical death. The singer is filled with gratitude as he reviews the deadly peril from which Yahweh has saved him. (4) Ps 88 is unique, because it is sad and plaintive from beginning to end. The singer has long cried for deliverance from bodily weakness and from loneliness. (5) Out of the depths of disaster and defeat the authors of Psalms 60; 74; 79 and 89 cry to God. The Babylonian exile was a sore trial to patriotic Jews. They mourned over the destruction of their beautiful temple and the holy city in which their fathers had worshipped. The author of Ps 60 closes with hope and confidence (60:12).
6. Ethical Ideals:
"Unquestionably in the Psalms we reach the high-water mark of Old Testament practical piety, the best that, the Old Testament can exhibit of heart-religion."
(1) What Sort of Man, Then, Would the Psalms Acclaim as Good?
Ps 1 opens with a vivid contrast between the righteous and the wicked. Ps 15 is the most complete description of a good man to be found in the Psalter. The picture is drawn in answer to the question, What sort of man will Yahweh receive as an acceptable worshipper? The morality of the Bible is rooted in religion, and the religion of the Bible blossoms and bears fruit in the highest ethics known to man. Ps 131 makes humility a prime quality in real goodness. Ps 133 magnifies the spirit of brotherly love. The social virtues had a large place in the psalmists' ideals of goodness. Humility and brotherly love are a guaranty of peace in the home, the church and the nation. Ps 24:4 is a compend of ethics in a single sentence.
(2) The Ethics of Speech.
Even a casual reading of the Psalms must impress one with the fact that the psalmists felt very keenly the lies and slanders and boastings of the wicked. Stirred with righteous indignation, they call upon God to awake and confront the blatant foes of truth and righteousness (see especially Psalms 12; 52 and 120).
(3) Ministering to the Needy.
Bible readers are familiar with the ideal of the good man in Job 29:12-16; 31:13-22. Ps 82 is a plea for justice. Venal judges are one day to confront the great Judge. Men need fair play first. Perhaps there will then be no occasion for the exercise of almsgiving. Ps 41 is a plea for kindness. The Christian reader is reminded of the words of Jesus, "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy." The Ideal Ruler is both just and beneficent (Ps 72:2,12-14).
7. Praying against the Wicked:
To be a good lover one must know how to hate. The excitement of battle throbs in many of the Psalms. The enemies of righteousness are victorious and defiant. Their taunts drive the psalmists to importunate prayer. Yahweh's honor is at stake and His cause in peril. More than 20 psalms contain prayer for the defeat and overthrow of the wicked. Warlike imagery of the boldest kind is found in many of the imprecatory psalms. To the Christian reader some of the curses pronounced against the wicked are startling and painful. Many are led to wonder how such imprecations ever found a place in the Bible. The most severe curses are found in Psalms 35; 69 and 109. Maclaren's words are well worth reading as an introduction to Ps 109: "For no private injuries, or for those only in so far as the suffering singer is a member of the community which represents God's cause, does he ask the descent of God's vengeance, but for the insults and hurts inflicted on righteousness. The form of these maledictions belongs to a lower stage of revelation; the substance of them, considered as passionate desires for the destruction of evil, burning zeal for the triumph of truth, which is God's cause, and unquenchable faith that He is just, is a part of Christian perfection." Two remarks may be made, as suggestions to the student of the Psalter: (1) We ought to study the psalms of imprecation in the light of their origin. They are poetry and not prose; and De Witt reminds us that the language of oriental poetry is that of exaggerated passion. Some of these imprecations pulse with the throb of actual battle. Swords are drawn, and blood is flowing. The champion of Yahweh's people prays for the overthrow of His foes. The enemies cursed are men who break every moral law and defy God. The Psalmist identifies himself with Yahweh's cause. "Do not I hate them, O Yahweh, that hate thee? And am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: They are become mine enemies" (Ps 139:21 f). Thus the psalmists pray with God's glory in view. (2) We ought to use the imprecatory psalms in the light of our Lord's teaching. We cannot pronounce curses on our personal enemies. This heavenly artillery may be turned upon the saloon, the brothel and the gambling hell, though we must not forget to pray for the conversion of the persons who are engaged in these lines of business.
8. The Future Life:
"If a man die, shall he live again?" What answer do the Psalms give to Job's cry for light? There are expressions in the Psalter which seem to forbid hope of a blessed immortality (Ps 6:5; 30:9; 39:13; 115:17). The psalmists are tempted to fear that fellowship with God would cease at death. Let this fact, however, be borne in mind, that not one of the poets or prophets of Israel settled down to a final denial of immortality. Some of them had moments of joyous assurance of a blessed life of fellowship with God in the world to come. Life everlasting in the presence of Yahweh is the prospect with which the author of Ps 16 refreshes himself (16:8-11). The vision of God's face after the sleep of death is better than worldly prosperity (17:13-15). The author of Ps 73 wins rest for his distressed mind in the assurance of a fellowship with God that cannot be broken (73:23-26). God will finally take the singer to Himself. It has been well said that Ps 49 registers the high-water mark of Old Testament faith in a future life. Death becomes the shepherd of the wicked who trusted in riches, while God redeems the righteous from the power of Sheol and takes the believing soul to Himself.
One of the most elaborate and informing articles on the history of the exposition of the Psalms is found in the Introduction to Delitzsch's Commentary (pp. 64-87, English translation). Among the Fathers, Jerome, Chrysostom and Augustine are most helpful. Among the Reformers, Calvin, the prince of expositors, is most valuable. Among modern commentators, Ewald and Delitzsch are scholarly and sane. Their commentaries are accessible in English translation Hupfeld is strong in grammatical exegesis. Baethgen (1904) is very thorough. Among recent English and American commentators, the most helpful are Perowne (6th edition, 1866), Maclaren in Expositor's Bible (1890-92), and Kirkpatrick in Cambridge Bible (1893-95). Briggs in ICC (1906) is learned; Davison, New Century Bible, is bright and attractive. Spurgeon, Treasury of David, is a valuable compilation, chiefly from the Puritan divines. Cheyne, The Book of Psalms (1888) and The Origin and Religious Contents of the Psalter (1891), is quite radical in his critical views. Binnie, The Psalms: Their Origin, Teachings and Use (1886), is a fine introduction to the Psalter. Robertson, The Poetry and Religion of the Psalms (1898), constructs an able argument against recent radical views.
John Richard Sampey
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'psalms, book of'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
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