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CHAPTER XIII

A COLLECTION OF LYRICS

THE Book of Psalms is a collection of Hebrew lyrics. It is a mistake, though a common one, to suppose

that David wrote even a considerable number of them. Ewald allows twelve of the one hundred and fifty Psalms to have been written by David ; Cheyne and Driver appear to think that a slight overestimate. If we suppose the earliest Psalms were written in the time of David and the last in the time of the Maccabees, and that is now the prevailing opinion, — then the Hebrew Psalter represents about eight hundred and fifty years of song in the Hebrew nation.

The authors of these Psalms and the date of their composition are not known. The titles to certain of the Psalms giving the names of the authors and the occasions when they were composed were added by an unknown editor, who made either the collection as we now have it, or the prior collections, which are incorporated in and constitute the present collection. There is very little reason to suppose that this unknown editor had any better advantages for knowing who were the authors of these Psalms than we have; there is reason to think that he had not as great advantages. The critical faculty was not as largely developed in that age, and the grounds on which his opinion seems to have been sometimes based would not be regarded as adequate by any modern critic. Therefore, when we read the statement at the head of a Psalm : “A Psalm of David,” or “A Psalm of Moses,” or “ A Psalm of Solomon,” or “ A Psalm of David after his sin with Bathsheba,” or “A Psalm of David after his experience with Doeg,' we take this as what some unknown editor, perhaps two centuries before Christ, thought about the matter. These titles are no part of the original record ; they are not authoritative; certainly they are not conclusive to one who studies the Bible in the scientific or literary spirit.

1 The twelve are Psalms iii., iv., vii., viii., xi., XV., xviii., xix. 1-6, xxiv., xxix., xxxii., ci.

The collection of Psalms, as we now possess it, is composed of five collections which had been previously made. This is so evident that in the Revised Version we find the five collections put into five distinct books; each of which closes with a doxology. At the end of the second book is the statement: “The

of David the son of Jesse are ended." This was appended to that book to indicate that none of the subsequent Psalms belonged to David, and perhaps to indicate that all the Psalms in the previous two books were written by him. But if that was the intention, it certainly was a mistake. There are Psalms in the subsequent books which are, by their titles, attributed to David, and there are Psalms in the first and second books which history shows very clearly were not written by him. In my youth we sang out of a hymn book entitled “ Watts and Select,” Watts comprising the larger part of the collection. The Hebrew hymnal is “David and Select,” though David is the composer of only a minority of the Psalms; the "select” includes an overwhelming majority of them.

prayers

The Hebrew Book of Psalms contains all the extant lyric poetry of the ancient Hebrews. The word "lyric” is derived from the word "lyre;" in its original significance a lyric poem is one intended to be sung with accompaniment on the lyre. Substantially all the Hebrew poetry intended to serve thus as a vehicle for song is included in the Book of Psalms. Their most notable characteristic is that they are all — with possibly two or three exceptions

– religious. This will at first perhaps seem to the casual reader a truism, since this collection of Psalms is in the Bible; but it is in fact very significant that all the lyrics of the Hebrew people which have been preserved are of one spirit. Imagine that all the extant lyrics of an ancient people were amatory, or all were martial, should we not draw some conclusions respecting the people from this fact ? In saying that all the lyrics of the ancient Hebrews are religious, I mean that they all are expressions of some phase of the divine life. Is there sorrow? it is because of separation from God; joy ? it is because of the presence of God; confession ? it is of sin against God; praise ? it is praise of God. No songs of lovers to their mistresses, or of maidens to victors in war or athletic contests; no dirges over the bodies of the dead; no marriage songs; no glorification of nature : all is sacred, all divine. And if we may believe that these collections are simply relics selected from a much greater mass of Hebrew lyrical poetry which has now perished, then we must either suppose that substantially all the lyrics of the Hebrew people were religious in their character, or else that only those which were religious found such a place in popular esteem that they were preserved from oblivion. The former is probably the case. The Hebrew people were permeated by the spirit of religion. Their laws, their customs, their festivals, their dramas, their fiction, their folk-lore, their proverbs, their popular songs, all were pervaded by their faith in Jehovah as the God, the King, the Father of their nation. This is the first and most notable fact which confronts us at every turn in our study of Hebrew literature; the spiritual significance of this fact I leave to be considered in the closing chapter of this volume.

Poetry is difficult, perhaps impossible to define. It may be said, however, to have two characteristics, - one an artificial beauty in form, the other a vital beauty in spirit. The most exquisite figures of imagination, the greatest intensity of emotion, unaccompanied by the peculiar beauty of form which belongs to poetry may constitute poetical prose, but not poetry: it is prose, though it may be poetical prose; the most perfect beauty of form, if it clothes unpoetical ideas, is not poetry. In English literature the form consists of one of two elements, - rhyme or rhythm. Hebrew poetry contained neither. The formal characteristic of Hebrew poetry consisted in certain artificial arrangements of the lines, in parallelism, as :

1 As is doubtless the case with the Greek lyrics. Symonds, Greek Poets, i. p. 293.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul,

And all that is within me bless his holy name: or in antithesis, as :

“Thou openest thine hand, they are satisfied with good ;

Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled ; or in the repetition of a certain refrain at the end of each verse or paragraph, such as in Psalm cxxxvi., “His mercy endureth forever,” or as in Psalms xlii. and xlviii., really one Psalm, accidentally or erroneously divided, the refrain:

“Why art thou cast down, O my soul,
And why art thou disquieted within me ?
Hope thou in God : for I shall yet praise him

For the health of his countenance." or a dramatic interplay of characters as between the soul, the prophet, and Jehovah in Psalm

xe..:

The Soul. “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most

high
Shall abide under the shadow of the almighty.
I will say to Jehovah, my refuge and my fortress,
My God in whom I trust.

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