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fore, to local circumstances, are generally found in the Psalms only so far as to verify the historic reality of the sentiments recorded; thus rescuing the Psalms from the character of mere poems—products of the imagination—and clothing them with the attributes of real religious life and experience; while, at the same time, the general truths uttered and the general allusions made, show that they are equally adapted to the edification of the Church at large, and of individuals in all ages of the world. It has been already suggested, that the principle we are here considering is not confined to the Psalms, or to the poetic Scriptures, but applies to all the prose writings of the sacred volume. It is a canon of interpretation, that the character of the author, his locality and circumstances at the time of writing, as well as the people to whom or for whom he writes, must be taken into account in determining the sense of his words; every Biblical interpreter well understands the important bearing of such circumstances on the scope and meaning of an author. The Lamentations of Jeremiah would lose the peculiar charm of their tenderness and melancholy, separated from the history of the unhappy times of their author. The utterances of the prophets, the parables of our Lord, even the logical and doctrinal epistles of Paul, in fine, almost all the sacred compositions, had their origin in special occasions, and are more or less susceptible of explanation by the circumstances which called them forth. Indeed, historic truth is the web through which all revealed doctrine is interwoven. The ground-work of Biblical theology is Biblical history. The poetry of the Bible, considered subjectively, that is, considered with reference to the feelings and sentiments of the author, is biography expressed in verse. Considered objectively, that is, with reference to the facts and doctrines which are the objects of faith, it is but the versified account of God, the moral government, and of moral being. With regard to the evidence by which we are enabled to determine the historic occasion of the Psalms, we may remark, it is variable. In some instances, we are enabled to attain to the clearest historic certainty; in others, we are left to various degrees of probability. Different authors have differed much in the results of their investigations into this subject; and it must be admitted, that the greatest caution and the most patient inquiry, guided by correct principles, are indispensable in order to attain to reasonable satisfaction. Mere conjecture, or hasty and superficial examination, is worse than useless. The method adopted in the following pages, by which to ascertain the occasions of the Psalms, is that which is recoinmended and adopted by the most cautious and approved modern Biblical critics who have written on this subject. The method is as follows:—First, examine the Psalm itself carefully and analytically, and ascertain what intimations it gives of the condition of the author, either as to his state of mind, locality, or outward circumstances; of the period in which he wrote, or of the events, political, military, or religious, which were transpiring at the time of writing. Next, examine the superscription of the Psalm, and see if any intimation, literal or enigmatical, is contained therein, which can give a clue to its date, authorship, or the circumstances of its origin. If the title contains a distinct allusion to the occasion of the Psalm, and the subject-matter, allusions, or general drift and scope of the Psalm coincide, it is to be admitted as authority in determining the occasion. But if the title furnish no light, and the internal spirit, or external allusions of the Psalm, are distinct and positive, intimating the author, his condition and circumstances, his place and time of writing, we then turn naturally to the history of the Hebrew people, or of the individual author, at the time thus indicated, with a view to compare the actual facts of history with the tone, spirit and allusions of the Psalm. If the correspondence fails here, the want of evidence is decisive. It sometimes occurs that, in the absence of special historic allusions, there is a tone and spirit to the Psalm that indicates unerringly the general condition of the Psalmist at the time; and if by other facts we know the age, or somewhere near the time in which it was written, by the particular tone and drift of the Psalm, carefully compared with the history of the times, we may be able to judge with probability the definite occasion to which it belongs. For instance, if by the title, or the name of the author, or the Chaldaisms occurring in the text, or any special allusions in the Psalm, we find that it belonged to the general period of the captivity, we may be led
by the tone and spirit of the Psalm to determine whether it belonged to a period of great depression and discouragement, or to one of lively hope and joy; and if it belonged to a joyful occasion, we may still further judge by its internal evidence, whether it belonged to an occasion of specially religious rejoicing, such as the erection of the great altar, the laying the foundation of the temple, the finishing the temple; or whether the rejoicing was of a more general or national character, as at the promulgation of the decree of Cyrus, or the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah's administration; or, again, if the Psalm denotes affliction and depression, we may, by minutely considering, be reasonably assured whether it speaks the lively gushing grief of the captives soon after the ruin of their city, or the more hopeful sadness of a later period when the day of their deliverance drew near. We do not propose to enter upon enlarged and detailed illustrations here, but simply to hint to the reader the general course pursued, and the principles by which our inquiries have been conducted. Very many of the Psalms point unmistakably to their own origin; and the more carefully and critically their contents are examined and compared with the facts of history, the more indelibly will the mind be impressed with the historic truthfulness of their statements, the naturalness of the feelings described, and the sincerity of their sentiments. It is not pretended in the following work that perfection has been reached, or that complete satisfaction will in every instance be seenred to the reader. The department of inquiry embraced is such as must necessarily exclude complete satisfaction in many particular cases. The process of comparison and reasoning, by which we have arrived at conclusions in fixing the occasions of the Psalms, has, in most instances, been omitted, simply for want of space, while the convictions, or the probabilities, acquired by investigation, have been presented alone, without the argument which originated and sustained them. On questions of this nature we often meet with conflicting opinions, where much might be said on either side. Without embarking in disputations, or encumbering the page with various opinions, they have been patiently considered, and their just bearings and merits we have endeavoured to weigh.
SECTION II-AUTHORS OF THE PSALMS.
1. Moses is almost universally acknowledged to have written the ninetieth Psalm. The Hebrew title ascribes it to him, and there is no good reason to reject its authority. On the authority of Dr. A. Clarke, and M. C. Peters, a respectable Biblical scholar of the last century, and from allusions and coincidences contained in the Psalm itself, we have also assigned the ninety-first Psalm to the same author.
2. DAVID is by far the most prolific author of the Hebrew lyrics. According to our common text, seventy-three Psalms are ascribed to him. Calmet's arrangement assigns him fortyfive. Rosemuller and Eichhorn allow him seventy-one. The Septuagint version ascribes to him eighty-four Psalms. Hengstenberg says, “David is the author of eighty Psalms.” The exact number cannot be determined. Dr. A. Clarke says, “After all that has been done to assign each Psalm to its author, there are few of which we can positively say, These were composed by David.”
Many of the Psalms which are anonymous, evidently belong to David, while others which are ascribed to him in the titles manifestly cannot belong to him, as they contain references to facts which occurred long after his day. For instance, in Psalm xiv, 7, there is an allusion to the captivity, and which could not have been written by David. Several of the Psalms ascribed to David also contain Chaldaisms which refer them to a later date. “The character attributed to David's poetry by almost all commentators,” says De Wette, “is that of sweetness, elegance, grace; they deny it sublimity: a judgment in which I cannot fully acquiesce. Psalms like xviii, xix, lx, and lxv, indisputably claim to be called sublime.”
“The variety of circumstances, situations, and modes,” says Dr. Hengstenberg, “is first of all peculiar in these Psalms of David. The other composers of the Psalms only divide among themselves his riches. He embraces the whole territory of sacred lyrics, of which he was enabled, from his rich poetical gift, the varied events of his life, and the relations of his time,
to take a full survey, and did not need to confine himself to any particular department. There is also peculiar to David a singular depth and liveliness of feeling, which manifests itself as well in the utterance of pain, the cry out of the depths, in which cold temperaments find themselves so little at home, as in mirth on account of redemption; and more especially in the rapid transition from the one to the other. David has, beyond doubt, given the tone to the method so frequently adopted in the Psalms, of suddenly and immediately interposing a word of divine consolation. It is a consequence of the very profound and lively nature of his feelings, that David rises to greater elevation than all the other writers of Psalms; (compare Psalms xviii, xxix., lxviii, cx, and cxxxix;) whence arises the greater difficulty of the Psalms that proceeded from his pen, and a predilection for rare forms and words. “Yet, on the other hand, David had also a very peculiar faculty in adapting himself to the simple. It is also a conse. quence of the depth and freshness of feeling, that, as the consideration of the doctrinal matter of the Psalms will show, the Psalms of David are precisely those in which the greatest amount of instruction is contained. They are further peculiarly distinguished by the union of child-like humility, such as reminds one of the unassuming shepherd-youth, (for example, Psalms xxiii and crxxi,) with a heroic faith, the spirit of fortitude, which in its God could spring over walls, and was not afraid of myriads of people that lay encamped round about him; in which we again recognise the man of war, the hero David, the deforcer of the lion, and the conqueror of Goliath; compare, for example, Psalms iii, xviii, xxxv, lx, and lxviii. “Peculiar, also, is the strength of consciousness regarding the retributive righteousness of God, which had established itself during the period of the Sauline persecutions, when David found, in this more especially, a shield against despair. Peculiar, yet again, that, amid the straits of life, the oppression through godless enemies comes out so strongly, with whom David had to maintain so very hard a struggle. Then, a peculiar element was introduced into the Psalmodic poetry of David, by the promise of 2 Samuel vii. Upon the ground of