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ALL critics agree that, in order to the accurate literal interpretation of the psalms, it is necessary to ascertain the author, and the occasion on which each psalm was composed.
But, however interesting this information might appear, it would possess a very inferior value, did it terminate in a mere gratification of curiosity, of erudite research, or of taste. That which confers real importance on the inquiry, is the necessity of an accurate literal, as the only definite and solid basis on which to found a rational and enlightened, as well as a devotional spiritual interpretation.
With respect to some of the psalms, both the author and the occasion of their composition are sufficiently obvious; but, in the majority, they are by no means so clear on a superficial view.
If the psalms were like many of the Old, and all the New Testament anthems, interwoven with the narrative of the historic facts in which they originated, the reader could be at no loss
respecting either the authors, or the occasions of their composition. Were the psalms, like the songs of Deborah and Hannah, the anthem of Moses, the songs of Zachariah and Mary, or the lamentation over Saul and Jonathan, combined with the historic narrative of the circumstances which gave them birth; a light and precision would be shed upon their origin, precluding all further inquiry.
But this is not the case. The psalms, and the historic records of the periods in which they were composed, are handed down to us in different books of Scripture; and it requires no small portion of patient research to compare them together, and to detect the frequently minute indices, apparently scattered in the text, and often requiring the aid of a reference, both to the geography and customs of the Jews, in order to elicit clear and conclusive information on the subject. Possibly God, whose wisdom thought fit to withhold a more full light, lest the historic sense becoming too obviously prominent, unadvised readers might be tempted rather to rest in the literal, than be insensibly drawn on to pass through the dead letter to that living word which is alone the spirit and the life; and that many might then be so unfortunate, whilst they diligently perused scrip
ture, yet to become historians rather than Christians. On this account it may not improbably be that, whilst the number of apparently incidental indications are so circumstantial as to afford little less than conclusive evidence of the occasions on which most of the psalms were written, to persons diligently pursuing the investigation; yet the discovery is rather the reward of patient and scrutinizing research, than the obvious and prominent feature forcing itself on the observation of readers, who do not examine scripture with that particular object in view.
No assistance is afforded in order to ascertain the occasion on which each psalm was written, excepting, first, the text of the book of psalms itself; secondly, the titles of the psalms, both in the original Hebrew and the Septuagint; and, thirdly, a diligent comparison of these with the historic books of the Old Testament, and the lights frequently afforded by geographical research, and by comparing the position of places incidentally mentioned in the one, with the historic or local circumstances alluded to in the other; and, although the text of the book of psalms seldom, perhaps, furnished so full a light as to render the occasion on which each psalm was written at once obvious; and, although the
titles appear, in many instances, more obscure than even the psalms themselves, sometimes referring to the occasion on which they were written, and at others to those on which they were to be sung; and, although the scriptural historians do not always furnish those ample details curiosity might desire, yet it seldom happens that the indications afforded are so meagre, or the clew so intricate, as, when diligently perused, to lead to no satisfactory conclusion.
Since the circumscribed limits of this little manual do not admit of entering into a description of the grounds on which the occasion of each psalm has been assigned, it seems more particularly desirable here to state the general principles on which the inquiry has been conducted.
And first, with respect to the authors of the respective psalms.
In this little work, David is assumed to be the author of all the psalms which, in the original Hebrew, bear his name.
He is also considered as the author of all those psalms which, although they do not bear his name, yet appear manifestly referring to events recorded of the same period.
Without urging the argument, that received prepossession is in favour of such an opinion,
and that it appears futile to dissent from established opinion, unless there are reasons to adduce in favour of one more probable; it appears to us that the word of scripture itself fully authorizes the belief. David is repeatedly spoken of as the Psalmist of his period, and no other is mentioned. It appears, therefore, most scriptural to ascribe the psalms of that period to him, unless there be any obvious reason, in any particular instance, proving the contrary.
With respect to those psalms which manifestly treat of events posterior to the time of David, it appeared safest to suggest the probability of their being composed by those who are mentioned, in sacred writ, as invested with the prophetic character at that period, and as having borne a prominent part in the transactions of the age alluded to.
Secondly, with respect to fixing the particular occasion on which the psalms were written, the following principles have been pursued.
In the first place, a psalm enrolled in the public service of the Jewish nation, must be supposed to have been composed on some occasion of public interest and notoriety. Hence the Port Royal writers have diligently compared the psalm itself both with its titles and with the historic books, under a full persuasion