Barnes Notes on the Old Testament-Book of Song of Solomon (Annotated)

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It's time for us to breathe and build Despite the common opinion of church-age Christians, Dr. Schultz maintains that the book of Deuteronomy Schultz maintains that the book of Deuteronomy is not the narrative of a never-smiling God and a frightened, timid nation. Rather, the love of Jehovah for His people is the heart of Ezekiel and Daniel: Basic Bible Commentary.

Steven Tuell shows how the books of Chronicles present the revelation of God's plan and We constantly apply these principles, insensibly it may be, when we read Homer, or when we read the records of knight-errantry, or when we endeavor to understand the poetry of any people in the earlier periods of history. The language which a covenanter or a Puritan used may possibly have expressed no other internal emotion than would be expressed by the milder language which we should use; the rough words which the uneducated and the common use may express no different feelings than would be found to exist when the thoughts are conveyed in the smooth tones, and the courtly phrases of those in the higher walks of life.

There may be as much bitter feeling beneath silk and satin as beneath a dress made of the skins of wild beasts; in the palace as in the wigwam. It may be possible that those who lived in the earlier ages of the world really meant no more by the language which they often used, and which seems to us to be so harsh, so revengeful, and so savage, that we do in the milder tones which we employ, and which we now suppose to be demanded by civilization and Christianity.

It is, at least, a supposable case that the people of future times may have had conveyed to them as much in the records of our literature, and of our customs, which they will find it difficult to explain consistently with their notions of refinement, civilization, and the spirit of pure religion, as we recognize in the language of the covenanters and the Puritans of Scotland and England, or in the poetic effusions of the days of David. Let us be sure that we understand precisely what they meant, and exactly how our own spirit is better than theirs, before we condemn them.

In some instances, the passages might have been rendered in the future instead of the imperative mood, with no violation of the laws of the Hebrew language, or the proper principles of interpretation. Several of the passages of this kind which may properly be applied to the Messiah, are undoubtedly of this nature, and those passages are to be interpreted, when the laws of language will admit of such an interpretation, as expressive of what sinners deserve, and of what will come upon them, and not as indicating any desire on the part of the author that it should be so.

It must be admitted, however, that this consideration does by no means remove all the difficulty, nor does it in fact even diminish it. It cannot be affirmed by anyone acquainted with the Hebrew language that this solution could be applied to will the cases in reference to which the difficulty exists, and there is still an explanation needed to meet the cases which cannot be brought under this rule.

In a book claiming to be inspired, the objection is, in effect, as great if there is only one such passage as if there are many. The essential difficulty is to explain it consistently with the claim to inspiration at all. It should be conceded, further, that this explanation is one which cannot be admitted in regard to the most difficult of the passages. No man can show that they are all mere predictions of the future; no one can prove that all that is implied in these passages is a mere expression of what sin deserves, or what ought to be inflicted on transgressors.

Beyond all question there is, in many cases, an expression of feeling - or desire - or wish; there is language used which implies that there would be gratification - satisfaction - pleasure - if the calamity invoked should come upon the enemies of the writer, or if the punishment should be inflicted on the wicked; there is what is of the nature of prayer, that these calamities might come, and that the wicked might be detected, arrested, punished. We cannot on any honest principles interpret these psalms without admitting this; and the objector has a right to ask how this feeling can be vindicated; how it can be reconciled with the spirit of Christianity; how it can be shown to be consistent with the belief that the psalms were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

This is a fair question to ask, and it is one which a believer in the inspiration of the Bible should be held to answer. In such a case all that the inspired writer, or the Spirit of inspiration, is responsible for, is the fairness of the record, or that he has given an exact statement of the feelings which would be cherished and expressed by those who should inflict the vengeance, or who should experience gratification in seeing it.

A person may describe the acts of the American savage, scalping, torturing, murdering by slow degrees women and children, or the acts of cannibals, without being responsible for any of the feelings of the savages in doing this; and the writer of history cannot assuredly be responsible for all or any of the feelings of barbarous delight which a tyrant may have in oppressing his subjects, or for the fury and hatred which leads men to pursue with vengeance their flying victims.

The inspired writers who made a record of the cruelty of the sons of Jacob Genesis ; Genesis , or of the act of David in bringing forth the people of Rabbah, and "putting them under saws, and under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron. All that the writers can be held to be responsible for is the correctness of the record.

An instance of this kind occurs in Psalm , "O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. The idea may be, and from anything that appears actually is, that such had been the pride and arrogance of Babylon, such the wrongs which she had done to other people; such her acts of cruelty and oppression - that they who should overcome, subdue, and destroy her, would have conscious satisfaction and pleasure in bringing deserved punishment on her, even in those forms which men usually regard as savage and barbarous.

In this there is nothing which necessarily implies that the author of the psalms would approve of it, or that he would have done it himself. If the case is supposed even to indicate the common feelings of the Hebrew people, in view of the destruction of an enemy under which the nation had suffered so much and so long, still it may be a mere record of that feeling as a matter of fact, and the Spirit of inspiration is responsible only for a fair account of the feelings which would actually exist.

In one of the methods which have thus been indicated the difficulties in regard to a portion of what are called the "imprecatory psalms" may be removed altogether. These are solutions, however, which cannot be applied to all of them; and if there is any number, however small - if there is a single one remaining - to which these solutions cannot be applied, it must be admitted that the actual difficulty still remains, for the Psalms are to be regarded as forming one book; they have, as is fairly implied in the idea that they are inspired, one author - the Holy Spirit; and as it is a principle which must be held by all who regard the Bible as an inspired book, that one text of Scripture fairly interpreted is sufficient to establish the truth of any doctrine, so it must be admitted that a well-founded objection to a single text, fairly interpreted, as really affects the question of inspiration as though there were many passages of that character.

Some other solution, therefore, must be found in order to remove the real difficulty in the case. The real question is, whether under any circumstance such prayers - such imprecations - can be right; and whether, if ever right, the circumstances in the Psalms were such as to make them proper. To obtain a just view of this, several remarks are to be made. He was, by the appointment of God, the civil and military ruler of the nation. His authority was not an usurped authority; nor were his acts those merely of a private man, a man individually wronged. As a king - a magistrate - he was appointed to preserve order; to maintain law; to dispense justice; to detect, arraign, and punish the guilty.

As a magistrate, he represented the state; the majesty of the law; the interests of justice. As, a magistrate, an act done - an offence committed - a crime in the community, did not respect him as a man - an individual - but as appointed to administer the government and to defend the state. No one can deny that David sustained this relation to the state, and that the duty of maintaining and administering law rested supremely with him. From anything that appears, also, the remark here made is applicable to each of the cases where "imprecations" are found in the Psalms.

The question, then, is, whether there is anything in the office and functions of one appointed to make and execute the laws of a land which would render such imprecations justifiable. It is not wrong that a penalty should be affixed to law; it is not wrong that the penalty of a law should be inflicted; it is not wrong that pain, privation of office, imprisonment, and the loss of life itself, should follow the commission of crime.

So all laws determine; so all nations have judged. It is material here to remark that this is not an arbitrary thing; that it is not a matter of individual or local feeling. It is laid in our very nature. It is found in all nations. It is acted on among all people. A law without a penalty would be a mockery and a farce. When a man, in accordance with a just sentence of law, is fined, imprisoned, executed, we approve of it. We feel that it is what ought to be done, and in this feeling we are conscious of no wrong. We are conscious that we are not to be blamed for approving the sentence which condemns the guilty anymore than we are for approving the sentence which acquits the innocent.

The foundation of this feeling is laid in the very nature of man, and, therefore, it cannot be evil. No man feels that he is blameworthy when he thus finds himself approving of a just sentence of law; no man feels that this principle of his nature ought to be resisted or reversed, so that he would be a better man if he were conscious of the opposite feeling. There are laws made which define crime, and designate its just penalty; there are arrangements made for arresting the guilty, and bringing them to trial; there are prisons built in anticipation that there will be men to be punished.

There are courts organized for the express purpose of trying offenders; there are penalties affixed by law to different classes of crimes; there are processes prescribed in the law books for arresting.

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There is a class of men whose business it is to detect and arrest offenders; there is a class whose business it is to try them; there is a class whose business it is to inflict punishment on them. Hence, we have a detective police - men whose calling it is to find out offenders; we have an array of constables, jurymen, and judges; we have sheriffs, keepers of prisons, and executioners.

These arrangements are necessary in our world. Society could not do without them. No community would be safe without them. No man would feel that his life, his property, his family were secure without them. They enter into the very structure of society as it exists on earth; and if these were abolished, the world would soon be filled with anarchy, bloodshed, and crime.

The business of a detective officer, of a constable, of a sheriff, of a juryman, of a judge, is as lawful as that of a farmer, a blacksmith, a school-teacher, a physician, a clergyman. No man occupies a more honorable position than the judge of a court, though it be a criminal court; no man is rendering more valuable service to his country than he whose daily business it is to detect offenders, to prosecute for crime, or to administer the laws of a nation.

The constable and the judge may go to their work with as conscious a feeling that they are engaged in an honorable work as the farmer or the merchant; and the foreman of a jury who declares that a man arraigned for crime has been found guilty, and the judge who pronounces the sentence of the law, and the man who executes the sentence, may each one lie down on his bed at night as calmly as the man who during the day has been engaged in sowing seed in his field, or gathering in his harvest, or administering medicine to the sick, or preaching the Gospel.

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Through all that day the one may be as conscious that he has had no malice toward his fellow-men, no desire of revenge, as the other. In the bosom of each one there may have been only the consciousness of a simple desire to do his duty. It is as proper for such a man to pray as any other man.

He may pray in his closet and in his family; he may breathe forth a mental prayer when searching for a man charged with an offence, or when hearing a testimony against him, or when sitting in judgment on him, or when inflicting the penalty of the law.

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He may pray, as other men do, that he may be "diligent in business;" that he may be "fervent in spirit;" that he may "serve the Lord" in that calling. He may pray that he may have grace to be faithful to his trust; firm in his conduct; "successful in what he is appointed to do. It is that the wicked - the guilty - may be brought to punishment; that they may be punished; that they may receive the due reward for their deeds.

It is not malice against an individual; it is not a desire of revenge; it is not the indulgence of any private feeling; it is not conduct inconsistent with the widest benevolence. The officers of justice are engaged in the very work of bringing men to punishment; and why may they not "pray" for success in the work in which they are engaged? Why may not any man who loves the cause of justice, and who desires the security and good order of a community, pray that the wicked may be checked in their career - arrested - confined - punished?

Since men lawfully engage in doing the thing, why may they not lawfully pray for the Divine blessing to aid them in doing it? It is further to be remarked that a magistrate offering such a prayer would have a very different feeling from one who was engaged in an unlawful employment.

How can a man engaged in the manufacture and sale of intoxicating drinks "pray"? How can he ask for success in his work? To do this would be to pray that his neighbor, his fellow-men, near or far off, might spend their property for that which would not profit them; might waste their time, ruin their health, cut short their lives, and destroy their souls; that they might be profane, gross, offensive, beastly; that they might be a pest in the community, be led into crime, and find their home in an almshouse, a penitentiary, or an insane asylum; that their families might be beggared, and that a once peaceful home might become a hell; and that the young, the vigorous, the hopeful, the beautiful, the sons of the virtuous and the pious - might go down early to the drunkard's grave; that the hearts of wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters might be crushed and broken, because a husband, a father, a brother, had been made a drunkard.

But what fiendish malignity would there be in such a prayer as this! Hence, such men do not ask the Divine blessing on their work. But a magistrate may pray, and should pray. He may pray that he may be successful in discharging the duties of his office; in administering justice; in prosecuting for crime; and in pronouncing the sentence of the law. His prayer, in fact, is simply that justice may be done to all; that punishment may be inflicted when it is deserved; and that he may be made an instrument in the hands of God in detecting and punishing crime.

At the same time this may be so far from being a vindictive and revengeful spirit, that he himself may be among the most kind and humane men in a community, and when he pronounces the sentence of the law, he may be the only one in the court room that shall weep. Tears may flow fast from his eyes as he pronounces the sentence of the law, while the hardened wretch sentenced to the gallows may be wholly unmoved. It indicated no lack of feeling and no malevolent spirit when Washington signed the death-warrant of the accomplished Andre, for he did it with tears.

In the same way, and with the same spirit, a man may go forth to the defense of his country when invaded, or when one portion of it has risen up in rebellion against a lawful government. A soldier called forth to defend his country may pray; the commander of an army may pray - should pray. But the prayer of such an one may be, and should be, in the line of his duty, for success in that which he has undertaken. It will be a prayer that the enemies of his country may be overcome and subdued. It indicates no malice, no personal feeling, no spirit of revenge, when he prays that the enemies of his country may be scattered as chaff before the wind; or that their counsels may be turned to foolishness; or that he may be successful in subduing them.

It is a prayer for the triumph of a righteous cause; and as all his acts as a soldier tend to the destruction of the enemies of his country; as he is actually engaged in endeavoring to subdue them; as all his plans contemplate that; as he cannot be successful without that - if the employment itself is right, it cannot be wrong that he should pray for success in it; that is, that his enemies may be delivered into his hands, and that God would enable him to overcome, to scatter, to subdue them.

In this view of the matter there is necessarily no feeling inconsistent with the purest benevolence when the defenders of liberty and law and right apply to themselves the language of Psalm : "Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand; to execute vengeance upon the pagan, and punishments upon the people; to bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; to execute upon them the judgment written," Psalm It is, substantially, that these expressions "are a mere record of what actually occurred in the mind of the psalmist," and are preserved to us as an illustration of human nature when partially sanctified.

According to this explanation we are not required by any just view of inspiration to vindicate those feelings, or to maintain that such feelings could not occur in the case of an inspired man. One of the main objects of the Psalms is to illustrate religion as it actually exists in the minds of good men in this world; men who are not absolutely perfect, but whose best religious emotions are mingled with many imperfections. According to this view the Spirit of inspiration is no more responsible for these feelings on the part of the psalmist than it is for the acts of David, Abraham, Jacob, or Peter.

The feelings - the acts - are what they are; the Spirit of inspiration is responsible for a correct record or statement in regard to these acts and feelings: a record that shall be historically and exactly true. A few remarks may explain this further. The Bible never claims that they were perfect; it makes a fair record of their faults; it lays down the general principle that none are absolutely free from sin: 1 Kings ; Ecclesiastes ; James ; 1 John ; Job As it is everywhere declared in the Bible that no one is absolutely perfect, and as it is admitted that David, for example, was guilty of wrong acts, as in the case of Uriah - so, for the same reason, it is to be admitted that men, even the best of men, are liable to sin in thoughts and in words as well as in deeds.

There is and must be a manifest and palpable difference between being inspired, and being personally perfect. Inspiration, in its true nature, secures a truthful record; it does not necessarily secure absolute sanctification. Indeed, inspiration has no necessary connection with sanctification; - as it is conceivable, certainly, in accordance with the common belief, that Balaam uttered true prophecies respecting the Messiah, yet no one from that fact feels bound to maintain that he was otherwise than a bad man.

Livy, Gibbon, Hume, Robertson, were not perfect men, and yet it may be true that they have given a correct account of the events which they profess to record; nor do we argue that because they were faithful historians that therefore, they were perfect men, or that they never did or said anything, which, if it were recorded exactly as it occurred, would not be inconsistent with the idea of absolute perfection of character. It is, therefore, a very important principle "that inspiration secures a correct record, not that it implies or secures personal sanctification; and that if it does secure a correct record the limit of responsibility in regard to it is reached.

Assuming, as the Bible does everywhere, that man is depraved; that he has corrupt and evil propensities; that he has passions which by nature are uncontrollable, and that it is the design of religion to teach him how to control and govern them - what we want is an illustration of religion as it comes in contact with such a heart. If the Bible had described only the feelings and conduct of a perfect being, it would be obviously unfit for man, for it would not be adapted to his condition. As man is imperfect and sinful, a representation of religion which would leave the impression that there is no true piety except where there is absolute perfection, would be adapted only to discourage and dishearten, for it would hold up that before his mind which he would feel to be unattainable, and his own consciousness of imperfection would lead him to the painful conclusion that he had no true religion.

Hence, in the Bible, except in the solitary instance of the Savior, we have no record of the life of a perfect saint. We have a description of piety as it must always be found in the life of man: as feeble, and struggling, and doubting, and contending with evil passions; as a life of conflict, of mingled light and darkness, good and evil, happiness and sadness, cheerfulness and despondency; as a life where evil often breaks out, where there is a constant effort required to subdue it, and where there is, amidst much that seems to be otherwise, yet truly a constant progress in the soul toward perfection - a perfection not to be obtained in this life, but which is to be consummated in heaven alone.

Such a record only is fitted for man; such a record only would properly represent and describe man in his present condition. In another world - in heaven - a true record of man redeemed would be a record of religion without imperfection - as it would now be of the angels. As it is, we have now in the Bible everywhere recorded the lives of imperfect men: imperfect in their conduct; imperfect in their feelings; imperfect in their words.

We have the biographies of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, of Eli, David, Hezekiah, Moses, Aaron, Josiah, James, John, Peter - all imperfect but good men; men in whose bosoms there were the strugglings between good and evil principles; in whose lives the evil principle was constantly breaking out, and over whom for the time it seemed to triumph.

Hence, the painful but honest records which we have of piety in the Bible. In like manner, in order to see and understand what true piety is, as it is found in connection with human nature, it might be important that there should be such an illustration of it as we actually find in the Psalms: the honest record of what passed through the mind of a good man; of what imperfect man actually feels often, even when it is proper to characterize him as a man of God.

It need be hardly remarked that if this is a true view of the matter, we are not bound to attempt to vindicate these expressions of passion - anymore than we are the conduct of David in the matter of Uriah, or of Peter in denying his Lord. The mere fact that they are recorded as having occurred in the lives of good men is no evidence that they are right, or are to be followed by us. If the above remarks are correct, then the record was made for other purposes than that we should imitate the conduct of those who gave expression to these feelings.

Nor should the fact that such feelings actually existed in the minds of good men, or that these "imprecations" are found in their writings, be charged on religion, as if it tended to produce them, anymore than the act of adultery and murder on the part of David, or the profaneness of Peter, should be referred to as an illustration of what religion is adapted to produce in the hearts and lives of men. Religion is not responsible for these things. The responsibility is in our corrupt nature.

They gave vent to their internal emotions. They state real feelings which they themselves had; feelings which, while human nature remains the same, may spring up in the mind of imperfect man, anywhere, and at any time. They record what other men actually feel; and in making the record, they simply give utterance to what passed through their own hearts. They do not apologize for it; they do not pause to vindicate it; they offer no word in extenuation of it - anymore than other sacred writers did when they recorded the facts about the errors in the lives of the patriarchs, of David, and of Peter.

In some of these ways it is probable that all the difficulties in regard to the "imprecations" in the Psalms may be met. They who deny the inspiration of the Psalms should be able to show that these are not proper explanations of the difficulty; or that they are not consistent with any just notions of inspiration. Section 7. The "Christian" looks to the Psalms with an interest as intense as did the ancient Jew; and, as expressive of personal religious experience, as well as for the purpose of a manual for worship, the Psalms are selected by the Christian, from the whole Bible, as they were by the Jew from the books in his possession - the Old Testament.

As such, they will retain their value in all times to come, nor will there ever be in our world such an advance in religious light, experience, and knowledge, that they will lose their relative place as connected with the exercises of practical piety. How far this fact is to be regarded as a proof that the authors of the Psalms were inspired; that there was communicated to them a knowledge of the principles and workings of true piety, so in advance of their own age as to be on a level with what will be possessed in the most advanced periods of religious culture; that there must have been an influence on their minds, in composing the Psalms, beyond anything derived from mere poetic genius, is a question which must occur to all reflecting minds.

It is a fair question to propose to one who doubts the inspiration of the Psalms, how he will account for this fact, consistently with his idea that the authors of the Psalms were men endowed only as other men of genius are, and with the acknowledged fact that they lived in an age when the views of truth in the world were comparatively obscure. How did it happen that a Hebrew bard, in the matter of deep religious experience and knowledge, placed himself so high as to be a guide to mankind in all coming times, after a new revelation should have been introduced to the world, and after all the attainments which men would have made in the knowledge of religion and of the human heart?

The special value of the Psalms arises: a from the fact that they are adapted to the worship of God; b from the fact that they are records of deep religious experience. For this many of them were originally designed in their very composition; to this the entire book seems to have been intentionally adapted by those who made the collection.

It is not necessary to suppose that these sacred songs comprise the whole of the Hebrew lyrical poetry, for as we know that some of the books mentioned in the Old Testament, though inspired, accomplished their purpose and have been lost, so it may have been in regard to a portion of the lyrical poetry of the Hebrews. Many of the words of the Savior, though all that he spoke was pure truth - truth such as no other man ever spoke - truth such as the Spirit of God imparts - were lost from not having been recorded John , and in like manner it may have been that truths which were written may have accomplished their purpose, and have passed away.

But, if there were such productions which have not come down to us, we have no reason to doubt that they were of the same general character as those which have survived, and which now constitute the Book of Psalms. Now, it is remarkable that the poetry of the Hebrews is so adapted to public worship above all other poetry, and that the poetic genius of the nation took so exclusively a religious turn. In this respect the Hebrew lyric poetry stands by itself, and is unlike that of every other nation.

Among the Greeks there are, indeed, hymns to the gods - hymns designed to be used in the worship of the gods; but this is by no means the general character of their lyric poetry. Among the Persians, the Arabs, the Romans, the Babylonians, there were doubtless such hymns; but this is not the prevailing character of their lyric poetry. In the early Scotch, French, Spanish, Italian, and English poetry there are such hymns, but this is by no means the exclusive or the predominant character of the early lyric poetry of those nations.

Few of all their lyric compositions can be used in the worship of the true God; nor is that which can be thus used always of the most exalted character as poetry. The composition of psalms and hymns is a separate poetic art; and though there are specimens, in the hymns in these languages, of the highest kind of lyric excellence, yet it is to be admitted that a large portion of that species of literature would scarcely be regarded as even "respectable," if it related to other subjects than religion.

Of the Hebrews, however, this is their all. They have no other poetry whatever. They have none merely amatory or pastoral which will compare with the Bucolics of Virgil, or with much of the poetry of Burns.

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Their poetry of the religious kind, also, is all of a high order. There is none that can be placed on the same low level with much that is found in the hymn books of most denominations of Christians - very good; very pious; very sentimental; very much adapted, as is supposed, to excite the feelings of devotion - but withal so flat, so weak, so unpoetic, that it would not, in a volume of mere poetry, be admitted to a third or fourth rank, if, indeed, it would find a place at all. It is for him who rejects the idea of "inspiration," as applied to the Book of Psalms, to account for this fact.

It is this which, in the estimation of religious persons in general, gives it its chief value.

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It is the guide of young believers; and it becomes more and more the companion, the comforter, and the counselor, as the believer moves along through the varied scenes of life, and as grey hairs come upon him, and as the infirmities, which pre-intimate the approaching close of all things, press him down. A religious man is rarely, if ever, placed in circumstances where he will not find something in the Psalms appropriate to his circumstances; where he will not find that the Hebrew sacred bard has not gone before him in the depths of religious experience.

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Hence, in sickness, in bereavement, in persecution, in old age, on the bed of death, the Book of Psalms becomes so invariable and so valuable a companion; and hence, not as a matter of convenience, but as supplying a want in the minds of men, and as significant of their value, the Psalms and the New Testament are so often bound together in a single volume. Hence, also, for the aged, for the sick, for those whose powers of vision fail by disease or by years, the Psalms and the New Testament are printed in large type, and bound in convenient forms, that the truths contained in these volumes may be still accessible to the saint ripening for heaven, as the light fails, and as life ebbs away.

To the end of the world the Psalms in religious experience will occupy the same place which they now occupy; to the end of the world they will impart comfort to the troubled, and peace to the dying, as they have done in the ages that are past. Section 8. As yet there has been no commentary that has met the wants of the Christian world; there are none, whatever anticipations may have been raised, which can be read without feelings of disappointment. For this fact there must be a cause; and that cause is probably to be found in the very peculiar qualifications needed to produce a commentary on the Psalms: - qualifications which are rarely to be found united in the same person.

A few remarks on the qualifications necessary for preparing such a commentary may explain the cause of the failures which have occurred; and may, perhaps, also explain the reason why the one now submitted to the public may be found to be an addition to the failures already existing. Every man who prepares a commentary on the Psalms will probably, at the close of his work, be sensible of a feeling of disappointment in what he had hoped, perhaps what he had expected to do, and will share fully in the feelings of his readers that what is thus submitted to the world is very far from being what a commentary on this portion of the sacred Scriptures ought to be.

The unique qualifications for preparing a commentary on the Psalms are such as the following: 1 A knowledge of the Hebrew language, particularly as it is affected by the laws of poetry which prevailed among the Hebrews. In all languages there are special rules of poetry; rules by which the sense of the words used is affected. In most languages, words have a "poetic" and a "prosaic" sense; and the application of the meaning of a word as used in prose to a passage in poetry might by no means express the idea which was in the mind of the poet. We learn almost insensibly, in reading a language familiar to us, to make this distinction accurately, even when we could not explain it; and we read a psalm, a hymn, a lyric song, without mistaking the meaning.

But it is another thing when one undertakes to read a book of poetry in a language different from his native tongue. What is obvious to an Italian, a Frenchman, or a German, in reading poetry in his native language, becomes a matter of difficult acquisition when an Englishman attempts to read the poem. The same thing is true in studying a dead language. It need not be said that there is a unique literature with respect to the Greek and Latin poets; and he who can read Herodotus or Livy cannot assume that he has such a full knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages as to qualify him to understand the poetry in those languages.

So much depends often on rhythm, on the poetic forms of words, or on the images special to poetry, that a classical education is not complete, nor is the student qualified to apprehend the meaning of the language of a poem, or to appreciate the beauties of its thought and imagery until he has mastered this most difficult part of the rules of language.

That the Hebrews, like other people, had such rules and usages, there can be no doubt, for they are to be found in all languages, and there is abundant evidence in the Hebrew poetry itself that they existed among the Jewish people. Yet, it may be doubted whether it is possible now so fully to recover the knowledge of those rules and usages as to apply them perfectly in the explanation of the poetic portions of the sacred writings.

Much pertaining to the rhythm of the language, much relating to the accents, much connected with the peculiar use of words, it may be impossible now to recover. To show the difficulty of this subject in its bearing on the interpretation of the Psalms, as well as to illustrate the subject of Hebrew poetry, I may refer to the remarks of DeWette, Einleitung, vii. An elegant translation of this may be found in the Biblical Repository, vol.

This is true, in fact, in regard to the interpretation of any portion of the sacred volume. Since the Bible is a book of religion, employed in describing the nature, the power, and the influence of religion, it is obvious that correct religious feeling, or a practical acquaintance with religion, is necessary in an interpreter. The principle is substantially the same which is required in the interpretation of books on any subject. In a treatise on painting, poetry, sculpture, architecture, there will be things which could not be so well explained as by one who had a practical knowledge of these arts; and in order to the possession of a complete qualification for the interpretation of such a book, an ability to appreciate what is said on those arts must be regarded as indispensable.

It is obvious that the mere knowledge of words - of philology - would not be all that would be demanded; nor would any power of explaining local allusions, laws, customs, manners, or geographical or historical references, be all that would be required. Beyond all this, there was in the mind of the writer or author that which he intended to express, and which no mere knowledge of language or of customs would be sufficient to explain. To show what the writer meant it would be obviously necessary to be able to understand him - to appreciate what he intended to say; to bring out what was in his mind; what he thought of - what he felt - what he designed to express.

Hence, however valuable a work may be on the Psalms as a philological work, or as illustrating the authorship of a psalm, and the circumstances of the author in its composition, it is plain that we have not reached the main thing unless we have entered into the spirit of the author, and are qualified to understand and appreciate his own feelings in the composition.

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There is no book in the world in which there are such varied expressions of piety, in which there are such diversified forms of religious experience, as in the Book of Psalms. As the Psalms were designed for every age of the world, for persons found in every rank and condition of life, for seasons of joy and of sorrow, for childhood, youth, middle age, old age, for the ignorant and the learned, for times of sickness and of health, for private, social, domestic, and public life, for magistrates and private citizens, for war and peace, for acts of business and acts of charity, for the living and for the dying, and for those that mourn - so they were designed to form a "manual" that would illustrate religion in all these forms and relations; to be a book in which anyone, in all the varied conditions of human existence, might be sure that he would find something that would be applicable to himself.

If this is so, then it is clear that in order to a good commentary on the Psalms - in order that the expositor may be able to enter into the real spirit of the work which he undertakes to explain - piety of no common order is demanded; a rich and varied religious experience is required that falls to the lot of very few of mankind.

Looking simply at this qualification of a commentator on the Psalms, we may cease to be surprised that no such commentary has ever appeared as to leave nothing yet to be desired. The Psalms are poetry, and poetry of the most delicate kind. Much of the beauty of the Psalms, and much of their adaptedness to the wants of man, depends on the fact that they are poetry.

This was a reason why the Spirit of God, in breathing his influence on the men who composed the Psalms, preferred that the sentiments found in them should be expressed in poetry rather that in prose, and hence, this medium was selected. Among the original endowments of the human mind, that which contemplates "poetry" as among the means of happiness; as adapted to impress truth on the mind; as fitted to arouse the soul to great efforts; as designed to fill the mind with calm, peaceful, pure, patriotic, pious emotions, is one. Possessed by men, indeed either in the power of producing poetry or of appreciating it in very different degrees, yet it is an endowment of man; and, being such, religion makes use of it to promote its own ends.

There are those who will be moved by little besides calm argument, stern logic, severe demonstration; there are those who will be aroused only by the lofty appeals of eloquence; there are those who will be most influenced by the voice of persuasion; there are those who will be awakened from dangerous slumbers only by the denunciations of wrath; there are those in whose minds pure and joyful and holy emotions will be best excited by poetry. It is the province of "song," as such, to awaken many of the most pure and devoted feelings of piety in the human soul; and the Book of Psalms is the portion of the sacred volume by which it is designed and expected that this object will be accomplished as a permanent arrangement.

It is clear, therefore, that he cannot be completely qualified to be a commentator on the Psalms who has not himself such endowments as to appreciate the beauties of poetry; who cannot, in this respect, enter into the feelings of the sacred writer on the one hand, and into the hearts of those who are so made as to be affected by poetry on the other. One of the causes of the "failure" to produce a good commentary on the Psalms may be traced to this source. A mere philologist; a man who regards nothing as valuable but exact demonstration; a man of prosaic temperament, though he may have piety that is exalted and pure, may lack still an important qualification for entering into the true spirit of the Psalms, and for meeting the needs of those who seek for edification and comfort in this portion of the Bible.

The Psalms comprise, more than any other book in the Bible, a record of the workings of the heart. Indeed, they pertain mostly to the heart. They are not addressed, as the epistle to the Romans is, to the loftier powers of the understanding, nor do they make such appeals to the imagination as the visions of Isaiah, or the visions of John in Patmos.

It is the heart which, in the Psalms, is eminently the medium of communication between the Divine Spirit and the soul. Of all parts of the Bible there is most to illustrate the human heart in the Psalms. All that there is in the heart of man is there in one way or another illustrated, and in an almost endless variety of circumstances.

To be able to explain the words used; to state the origin and authorship of the Psalms, and the occasion on which they were composed; to investigate the genuineness and accuracy of the text, and to determine the value of the varied readings; to understand and explain the parallelisms, the rhythm, and the accents employed in the Psalms; to comprehend and appreciate the poetry of the Psalms; or to gather together what Jewish rabbis and the Christian fathers have written, or to transplant from Germany what has been produced under Rationalistic views of the Bible, or even what the German mind in its best workings and under the influence of true religion has produced, is not all or mainly what is demanded in a commentary on the Psalms that will meet the wants of those in our own land, or that will illustrate the Psalms in the manner that will be of most value to the great masses of the young, the sick, the bereaved, the tempted, the aged, and the desponding.

A man who cannot in this varied manner enter into sympathy with the writers of the Psalms in the workings of the human heart as there illustrated, is not a man who is fully qualified to prepare a commentary on this Book. For some purposes he may, indeed, make a book that will be valuable, but not a book that will be valuable in relation to the real purpose designed to be accomplished by the Psalms - to be a guide and a comfort to believers of every station and condition, in all the varied circumstances of human life, and in all the varied and complicated workings of the human heart.

The Psalms are so rich; so full of meaning; so adapted to the wants of believers; they so meet the varied experiences of the people of God, and are so replete with the illustrations of piety; they so touch the deepest fountains of emotion in the soul, that, so far as most of these points are concerned, a "commentary," considered as an additional source of light, does not differ materially from a candle considered as affording additional splendor to the sun. What a man finds in the ordinary perusal of the Psalms as a book of devotion, on the subject of deep experimental piety, is so much in advance of what he will usually find in the commentary, that he turns from the attempt to explain them with a feeling of deep disappointment, and comes back to the book itself as better expressing his emotions, meeting his necessities, and imparting consolation in trial, than anything which the commentator can add.

He welcomes the Book of Psalms itself as a comforter and a guide; and in the little volume sold now at so cheap a rate, or appended to his pocket Testament, the common reader of the Bible finds more that is suited to his need than he would in the voluminous commentary of Venema; in all the collections in the Critici Sacri; in the Synopsis of Poole; in the Annotations of Grotius; or in the learned expositions of DeWette - elegant as the work of DeWette is - or of Tholuck, or Hengstenberg.

The first psalm has no title prefixed to it, which is the case, also, with many others, Psalm 10 ; Psalm ; Psalm , and others. It is now in vain to attempt to search for the cause of this omission. On the origin and authority of the titles prefixed to the Psalms, see the introduction, Section 4. Some have supposed that the reason why no title was affixed to this psalm was that the general title, "The Psalms of David," was prefixed to the whole book, and that that was a sufficient indication of the author of this the first in the series. But this is mere conjecture, and this reason would no more make proper the omission of the title to the first psalm than of any other that came under that general title.

In some manuscripts 2 codices of Rossi this psalm is not numbered; in some others 4 codices of Kennicott, and 3 codices of Rossi it is united with the second psalm, and the two are reckoned as one. It is, however, manifestly a distinct composition from the second psalm. It has a unity of its own, as the second has also; and there are almost no two psalms in the whole collection which might not be united with as much propriety as these.

It is impossible now to ascertain the authorship of the psalm, though the common opinion is probably the correct one, that it was composed by David. But on what occasion it was written it is now equally impossible to discover. There are no historical allusions in it which would enable us to determine the occasion on which it was written, as there is nothing in it which certainly determines its authorship. The terms employed are of the most general character, and the sentiments are applicable to all times and all lands.


It is stated in 1 Kings that Solomon wrote a thousand and five songs; yet only one of them is found in the Bible; and through the ages there have often been questions as to whether or not this one really belongs in the Canon. The Desert of the Exodus. In the way - The path where they are found, or where they usually go. The chief writers of the Alexandrian School were:. French, Oxford: Clarendon Press,

It has all the marks of being a general introduction to the Book of Psalms, and of having been designed to express in a few sentences the substance of the entire collection, or to state the great principle which would be found to run through the whole of it - that a righteous life will be attended with prosperity and happiness, and that the life of the wicked will be followed by sorrow and ruin. This was the great principle of the Jewish theocracy; and was of sufficient importance to be stated clearly in the commencement of a book that was designed to illustrate so fully the nature and the value of true religion.

Compare Deuteronomy The psalm is designed to describe the blessedness or the happiness of the righteous man. This is done "literally and figuratively, positively and negatively, directly and by contrast, with respect both to his character and his condition here and hereafter. It is not, however, as Prof. Alexander supposes, a "picture of the truly happy man;" it is a description of the blessedness of the righteous man, in contrast with the condition of the unrighteous.

The righteous man is indeed prosperous and happy; and it is one design of the psalm to show this. But it is not the happy man, as such, that is in the eye of the psalmist; it is the righteous man, and the blessedness of being righteous. The psalm is properly made up of two parts - the blessedness of the righteous man, and the unblessedness, or, the German word, "ungluck" DeWette , of the wicked or ungodly man.

The blessedness of the righteous man, Psalm This consists also of two minor parts: 1 His character Psalm , and this is described also in two forms - negatively and positively. He does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of the scornful, Psalm He delights in the law of the Lord, and he has pleasure in meditating continually on his truth, Psalm His condition is compared with that of a tree planted in a well-watered place, whose leaves are always green, and whose fruit never fails; so whatever he does shall prosper.

The condition of the unrighteous, or the strong contrast between the unrighteous and the righteous, Psalm Their condition and destiny are expressed in three forms: 1 They are like chaff which the wind drives away, Psalm Psalm Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish. Notes on the Bible by Albert Barnes []. Bible Hub. Barnes' Notes Introduction to the Psalm Section 1. Psalm Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. Blessed is the man - That is, his condition is a happy or a desirable one.

The particular kind of blessedness referred to here, as explained in the subsequent part of the psalm, consists in the fact that he avoids the companionship of the wicked; that he has pleasure in the law of the Lord; that he will be prospered in this world; and that he will not perish at lasts.

The word "man" here, also, is of the most general character, and is designed to include all people, of all times and of all conditions, who possess the character referred to. The term is applicable to the poor as well as to the rich; to the low as well as to the exalted; to the servant as well as to the master; alike to the aged, the middle-aged, and the young. All who have the character here described come under the general description of the happy man - the man whose condition is a happy and a desirable one.

That walketh not - Whose character is that he does not walk in the manner specified. Alexander renders this, "Who has not walked. It is the characteristic of the man, always and habitually, that he does not thus walk; it has not only been true in the past, but it is true in the present, and will be true in the future. It is that which distinguishes the man. The word "walk" is often used in the Scriptures to denote a way of life or conduct - since life is represented as a journey, and man as a traveler.

Psalm : "who walketh uprightly. In the counsel - After the manner, the principles, the plans of this class of men. He does not take counsel of them as to the way in which he should live, but from the law of the Lord, Psalm This would include such things as these: he does not follow the advice of sinners, 2 Samuel ; 1 Kings ; he does not execute the purposes or plans of sinners, Isaiah ; he does not frame his life according to their views and suggestions.

In his plans and purposes of life he is independent of them, and looks to some other source for the rules to guide him. Of the ungodly - The wicked. The word used here is general, and would embrace all kinds and degrees of the unrighteous. It is not so specific, and would, in itself, not indicate as definite, or as aggravated depravity, as the terms which follow.

The general sentiment here is, that the man referred to is not the companion of wicked men. Nor standeth - This indicates more deliberation; a character more fixed and decided. In the way - The path where they are found, or where they usually go. His standing there would be as if he waited for them, or as if he desired to be associated with them. Instead of passing along in his own regular and proper employment, he stations himself in the path where sinners usually go, and lingers and loiters there.

Thus, he indicates a desire to be with them. This is often, in fact, illustrated by men who place themselves, as if they had nothing to do, in the usual situation where the wicked pass along, or where they may be met with at the corners of the streets in a great city. This word means literally, those who miss the mark; then, those who err from the path of duty or rectitude. It is often used to denote any kind or degree of sin.

It is more specific than the former word rendered "ungodly," as denoting those who depart from the path of duty; who fail in regard to the great end of life; who violate positive and known obligations.