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3. Ascertain the author of the psalm.
This is frequently intimated in the inscriptions; but as these are not always to be depended upon, we must look for other more certain criteria by which to ascertain correctly the real author of any psalm. The historical circumstances, which are very frequently as well as clearly indicated, and the poetical character impressed on the compositions of each of the inspired poets, will enable us to accomplish this very important object. Let us take, for instance, the psalms of David. Not only does he allude to his own personal circumstances, to the dangers to which he was exposed, the persecutions he endured, the wars in which he was engaged, his heinous sin against God, and the signal blessings conferred upon him ; but his psalms are further stamped with a peculiar character, by which, if it be carefully attended to, we may easily distinguish him from every other inspir. ed author of the psalms. Hence we find him repeating the same words and ideas almost perpetually ; complaining of his afflictions and troubles ; imploring help from God in the most earnest supplications; professing his confidence in God in the strongest manner; rejoicing in the answers graciously vouchsafed to his prayers; and labouring to express his gratitude for all the blessings conferred upon him. Again, in what ardent language does he express his longing desire to behold the sanctuary of God, and join with the multitude of those who kept holi. day! With what animation does he describe the solemn pomp with which the ark was conducted to Jerusalem, &c.! Of all the sacred poets, David is the most pleasing and tender.
The style of David has boen imitated by the other psalmists, who have borrowed and incorporated many of his expressions and images in their odes; but these imitations may easily be distinguished from their archetype, by the absence of that elegance and force which always characterise the productions of an original author.
4. Attend to the structure of the psalms. The psalms, being principally designed for the national worship of the Jews, are adapted to choral singing: as we have already adverted to this circumstance, it may suffice again briefly to intimate it on the present occasion, and to observe, that attention to the choral structure of these compositions will enable us better to enter into their spirit and meaning 2 Bishop Horsley's edition of the Psalms is carefully divided with a view to this very circumstance.
X. We shall conclude this section, the importance of whose subject must apologise for its apparently disproportionate length, with the following common but very useful
TABLE OF THE PSALMS, classed according to their several subjects, and adapted to the purposes of private devotion.
I. Prayers. 1. Prayers for pardon of sin, Psal. vi. xxv. xxxviii. li. cxxx. Psalms styled penitential, vi. xxxii. xxxviii. li. cii. cxxx. cxliii.
2. Prayers, composed when the Psalmist was deprived of an opportunity of the public exercise of religion, Psal. xlii. xliii. Ixiii. Ixxxiv.
3. Prayers, in which the Psalmist seems extremely dejected, though not to. tally deprived of consolation, under his afflictions, Psal. xiii. xxii. lxix. lxxvii. Ixxxviii. cxliii.
4. Prayers, in which the Psalmist asks help of God, in consideration of his own integrity, and the uprightness of his cause, Psal. vii. xvii. xxvi. xxxv.
5. Prayers, expressing the firmest trust and confidence in God under afflictions, Psal. iii. xvi. xxvii. xxxi. liv. Ivi. lvii. Ixi. Ixii. Ixxi. lxxxvi.
6. Prayers, composed when the people of God were under affliction or persecu. tion, Psal. xliv. Ix. lxxiv. Ixxix. Ixxx. Ixxxiii. Ixxxix. civ. cii. cxxii. cxxxvii.
7. The following are likewise prayers in time of trouble and affliction, Psal. iv. v. xi. xxviii. xli. lv. lix. lxiv. Ixx. cix. cxx. cxl. cxli, cxlii. 8. Prayers of intercession, Psal. xx. Ixvii. cxxii. cxxxii. cxliv.
II. Psalms of thanksgiving. 1. Thanksgivings for mercies vouchsafed to particular persons, Psal. ix. xviii. xxii. xxx. xxxiv. xl. lxxv. ciii. cviü. cxvi. cxviii. cxxxviii. cxliv. 1 See Vol. II. p. 448.
2 Bader, Herin. Sacr, pp. 392-394.
2. Thanksgivings for mercies vouchsafed to the Israelites in general, Psal. xlvi. xlviü. lxv. lxvi. lxviii. lxxvi. Ixxxi. Ixxxv. xcviii. cv. cxxiv. cxxvi. cxxix. CXXXV. cxxxvi. cxlix. III. Psalms of praise and adoration, displaying the attributes of God.
1. General acknowledgments of God's goodness and mercy, and particularly his care and protection of good men, Psal. xxiii. xxxiv. xxxvi. xci. c. ciii. cvii. cxvii. cxxi. cxlv. cxlvi.
2. Psalms displaying the power, majesty, glory, and other attributes of the Di. vine Being, Psal. viii. xix. xxiv. xxix. xxxiii. xlvii. I. Ixv. Ixvi. Ixxvi. Ixxvii. xciii. xcv. xevi. xcvii. xcix. civ. cxi. cxiii. cxiv. cxv. cxxxiv. cxxxix. clxvii. cxlviii. cl.
IV. Instructive Psalms. 1. The different characters of good and bad men, - the happiness of the one, and the misery of the other, - are represented in the following psalms : i. v. vii. ix. x. xi. xii. xiv. xv. xvii. xxiv. xxv. xxxii. xxxiv. xxxvi. xxxvii. 1. lii. liii. lviii. Ixxii. lxxv. Ixxxiv. xci. xcii. xciv. cxii. cxix. cxxi. cxxv. cxxvii. cxxviii. cxxxiii.
2. The excellence of God's laws. Psal. xix. cxix.
V. Psalms more eminently and directly prophetical.
VI. Historical psalms. Psal. Ixxviii. cv. cvi.
ON THE BOOK OF PROVERBS. 1. Title, author, and canonical authority. - II. Scope. - III. Sy
nopsis of contents. — IV. Observations. 1. The book of Proverbs? has always been ascribed to Solomon, whose name it bears, though, from the frequent repetition of the same sentences, as well as from some variations in style which have been discovered, doubts have been entertained whether he really was the author of every maxim it comprises. Those in the thirtieth chapter are expressly called The words of Agur the son of Jakeh ; and the thirty-first chapter is entitled The words of king Lemuel. It seems certain that the collection called the PROVERBS of SoloMON was arranged in the order in which we now have it, by different hands : but it is not therefore to be concluded that they are not the productions of Solomon, who, we are informed, spokeno less than three thousand proverbs. (1 Kings iv. 32.) As it is no where said that Solomon himself made a collection of proverbs and sentences, the general opinion is, that several persons made a collection of them, perhaps, as they were uttered by him. Hezekiah, among others, as mentioned in the twenty-fifth chapter : Agur, Isaiah, and Ezra might have done the same.
1 On the peculiar nature of the Hebrew Proverbs, see Vol. II. Part II. Chapter V. Section VI.
2 It is not said that these proverbs were written compositions, but simply that Solomon spake them. Hence Mr. Holden thinks it not improbable that the He. brew monarch spoke them in assemblies collected for the purpose of hearing him discourse. Attempt to Illustrate the Book of Ecclesiastes, p. xliv.
The Jewish writers affirm that Solomon wrote the Canticles, or song bearing his name, in his youth, the Proverbs in his riper years, and Ecclesiastes in his old age.
Michaelis has observed, that the book of Proverbs is frequently cited by the apostles, who considered it as a treasure of revealed morality, whence Christians were to derive their rules of conduct; and the canonical authority of no book of the Old Testament is so well ratified by the evidence of quotations as that of the Proverbs.
II. The scope of this book is, to instruct men in the deepest mysteries of true wisdom and understanding, the height and perfection of which is, the true knowledge of the divine will, and the sincere fear of the Lord. (Prov. i. 2—7. ix. 10.). To this end, the book is filled with the choicest sententious aphorisms, infinitely surpassing all the ethical sayings of the antient sages, and comprising in themselves distinct doctrines, duties, &c. of piety towards God, of equity and benevolence towards man, and of sobriety and temperance; together with precepts for the right education of children, and for the relative situations of subjects, magistrates, and sovereigns.
Ill. The book of Proverbs may be divided into five parts.
Part I. In the proem or exordium, containing the first nine chapters, the teacher gives his pupil a series of admonitions, directions, cautions, and excitements to the study of wisdom. This part, says Bishop Lowth, is varied, elegant, sublime, and truly poetical : the order of the subject is, in general, excellently preserved, and the parts are very aptly connected. It is embellished with many beautiful descriptions and personifications; the diction is polished, and abounds with all the ornaments of poetry, so that it scarcely yields in elegance and splendour to any of the sacred writings.
Part II. extends from chapter x. to xxii. 16. and consists of what may be strictly and properly called proverbs, — namely, unconnected sentences, expressed with much neatness and simplicity.
Part III. reaches from chapter xxii. 17. to xxv. inclusive : in this part the tutor drops the sententious style, and addresses his pupil as present, to whom he gives renewed and connected admonitions to the study of wisdom.
The proverbs contained in
Part IV. are supposed to have been selected from some larger collection of Solomon" by the men of Hezekiah,” – that is, by the prophets whom he employed to restore the service and writings of the Jewish church. (2 Chron. xxxi. 20, 21.) This part; like the second, consists of detached, unconnected sentences, and extends from chapter xxv. to xxix. Some of the proverbs, which Solomon had introduced into the former part of the book are here repeated.
Part V. comprises chapters xxx. and xxxi. In the former are included the wise observations and instructions delivered by Agur the son of Jakeh to his pupils Ithiel and Ucal. The thirty-first chapter contains the precepts which were given to Lemuel by his mother, who is supposed by some to have been a Jewish woman married to some
neighbouring prince, and who appears to have been most ardently desirous to guard him against vice, to establish him in the principles of justice, and to unite him to a wife of the best qualities. Of Agur we know nothing ; nor have any of the commentators offered so much as a plausible conjecture respecting him. Some critics have supposed that Agur and Lemuel are different names for Solomon;
but this hypothesis has been satisfactorily refuted by Mr. Holden. The contents of these two chapters strongly militate against it.
IV. The proverbs of Solomon afford a noble specimen of the didactic poetry of the Hebrews; they abound with antithetic parallels; for this form is peculiarly adapted to adages, aphorisms, and detached sentences. Much, indeed, of the elegance, acuteness, and force, which are discernible in Solomon's wise sayings, is derived from the antithetic form, the opposition of diction and sentiment. Hence a careful attention to the parallelism of members (which topic has already been largely discussed)? will contribute to remove that obscurity in which some of the proverbs appear to be involved. Sometimes also one member or part of a proverb must be supplied from the other ; or, as Glassius has expressed it in other words, sometimes one thing is expressed in one member, and another in the other, and yet both are to be understood in both members. Thus in Prov. x. 14. we read,
Wise men lay up knowledge ;
But the mouth of the foolish is near destruction. The meaning of which is, that wise men communicate, for the benefit of others, the wisdom they have acquired and preserved; while fools, being destitute of that knowledge, soon exhaust their scanty stock, and utter not merely useless but even injurious things. Again,
A wise son maketh a glad father :
But a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother. Prov. x. 1. Both the father and mother are to be understood in the two members of this passage, although in the first the father only is noticed, and in the second the mother only is mentioned. Lastly, many things
. which are spoken generally, are to be restrained to particular individuals and circumstances : as however this rule has already been illustrated at length, it will not be necessary to multiply additional examples. The author, with much pleasure, refers his readers to the Rev. Mr. Holden's 'Attempt towards an Improved Translation of the Proverbs of Solomon,' with Notes, as the best critical help to an exact understanding of this fine compendium of Ethics that is extant in the English language. 1 See his Attempt towards an improved Translation of the Book of Proverbs, Preliminary Dissertation,' pp. xviii.-xxv. 2 See Vol. II. Part II. Chapter III. Section II. Q IV. pp. 521–526. 3 See Vol. II. Part II. Chap. X.
ON THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES.
I. Title, author, and canonical authority.—II. Scope and synopsis.
III. Observations. 1. THE title of this book in our Bibles is derived from the Septuagint version, EKKAHEIAETH! signifying a preacher, or one who harangues a public congregation. In Hebrew it is termed, from the initial words
, obnp .n27 (DIBRY ROHELETH) the Words of the Preacher;" by whom may be intended, either the person assembling the people, or he who addresses them when convened. Although this book does not bear the name of Solomon, it is evident from several passages that he was the author of it. Compare ch. i. 12. 16. i. 49. and xi. 9, 10. The celebrated Rabbi Kimchi, however, ascribes it to the prophet Isaiah ; and the Talmudical writers to Hezekiah. Grotius, from some foreign expressions which he thinks are discoverable in it, conceives that it was composed by order of Zerubbabel for his son Abihud ; Jahn, after some later German critics, for the same reason, thinks it was written after the Babylonish captivity ; and Zirkel imagines that it was composed about the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, from some traces of the notions of the Pharisees and Sadducees which he conceives he has discovered in this book, and against which he supposes it to be directed. But it is not likely that those Jewish sects would permit a work levelled against themselves to be inserted in the sacred canon : and with regard to the foreign expressions alleged by Grotius, their appearance may be accounted for by the circumstance of Solomon's having indulged in sinful intercourse “ with strange women,” (1 Kings xi. 1, 2.) whose language he probably acquired.
The beautiful descriptions, which this book contains, of the phenomena in the natural world, and their causes, of the circulation of the blood (as the late Bishop Horsley thought), and of the economy of the human frame, all show it to be the work of a philosopher. It is generally supposed to have been written by Solomon in his old age, after he had repented of his sinful practices, and when, having seen and observed much, as well as having enjoyed every thing that he could wish, he was fully convinced of the vanity of every thing escept piety towards God. The Rabbinical writers inform us, and their account is corroborated by Jerome, that the Jews, who, after the captivity, collected the inspired writings into the canon, at first refused to admit this book into the sacred code, in consequence of some heresies and contradictions, which, from inattention to the author's scope
1 The opinions of these and of other writers are satisfactorily refuted by the Rev. Mr. Holden in his • Attempt to illustrate the Book of Ecclesiastes (8vo. London 1822). Preliminary Discourse, pp. v.-xxviii.
2 Bp. Horsley's Sermons, vol. iii. pp. 189, 190. Mr. Holden has refuted this hy. pothesis, Ecclesiastes, pp 173, 174.