The Psalms Book 1: Introduction

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The Psalms are divided into five books or volumes; and this not by external marks only, but by internal distinctions full of interest. The first closes with Psa. 41 where a conclusion is manifest; the second, with Psalm 72, the last three verses marking closure; the third, with Psalm 89, of which verse 52 is the end; the fourth, with Psalm 106, with verse 48 concluding; the fifth to the end of all. (Psalm. 107-150) The internal characters which distinguish these five books will appear as we pass on.
There is no part of scripture more evidently inspired of God, none more frequently cited by the Holy Spirit throughout the N.T., none more important for the believer to understand by divine teaching, so as on the one hand to enjoy truth needful, fertile, and strengthening for the affections, and on the other hand to keep clear of mistaken applications which might darken and even destroy all right sense of our proper relationship as Christians. The latter danger is not a mere apprehension; in fact it has caused ruinous mischief since the second century, and is no less rife in our own days, and nearly as prevalent among Protestants as among Romanists and others who profess to represent the ancient Catholic church. On scarce any question is Christendom more at one than the assumption that the Psalms compose the most fitting help for Christian comfort and devotion, and the best, because divinely purposed, expression of church worship. The evil result of what is miscalled spiritualizing is the handle it gives the Romanists. If Judah and Israel, if Zion and Jerusalem point to the church, men logically infer that the righteous destruction of the enemies, wicked, etc., warrants the office of the inquisition, and the punishment of heretics even to death.
Yet one may fairly suppose that no believer has ever used them thus, privately and publicly, without finding himself face to face with unanswerable difficulties, to escape which he is continually exposed to the evil of “accommodating” and perverting God's word. Compare Psalm 5:10; 7:6; 10:2,12,15; 17:13, 14; 18:37-42; 28:4; 31:17, 8; 35:1-8; 40:14, 510Destroy thou them, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions; for they have rebelled against thee. (Psalm 5:10)
6Arise, O Lord, in thine anger, lift up thyself because of the rage of mine enemies: and awake for me to the judgment that thou hast commanded. (Psalm 7:6)
2The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined. (Psalm 10:2)
12Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble. (Psalm 10:12)
15Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: seek out his wickedness till thou find none. (Psalm 10:15)
13Arise, O Lord, disappoint him, cast him down: deliver my soul from the wicked, which is thy sword: 14From men which are thy hand, O Lord, from men of the world, which have their portion in this life, and whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure: they are full of children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes. (Psalm 17:13‑14)
37I have pursued mine enemies, and overtaken them: neither did I turn again till they were consumed. 38I have wounded them that they were not able to rise: they are fallen under my feet. 39For thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle: thou hast subdued under me those that rose up against me. 40Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies; that I might destroy them that hate me. 41They cried, but there was none to save them: even unto the Lord, but he answered them not. 42Then did I beat them small as the dust before the wind: I did cast them out as the dirt in the streets. (Psalm 18:37‑42)
4Give them according to their deeds, and according to the wickedness of their endeavors: give them after the work of their hands; render to them their desert. (Psalm 28:4)
17Let me not be ashamed, O Lord; for I have called upon thee: let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave. (Psalm 31:17)
8And hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy: thou hast set my feet in a large room. (Psalm 31:8)
1<<A Psalm of David.>> Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me. 2Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help. 3Draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me: say unto my soul, I am thy salvation. 4Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul: let them be turned back and brought to confusion that devise my hurt. 5Let them be as chaff before the wind: and let the angel of the Lord chase them. 6Let their way be dark and slippery: and let the angel of the Lord persecute them. 7For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul. 8Let destruction come upon him at unawares; and let his net that he hath hid catch himself: into that very destruction let him fall. (Psalm 35:1‑8)
14Let them be ashamed and confounded together that seek after my soul to destroy it; let them be driven backward and put to shame that wish me evil. (Psalm 40:14)
5Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered. (Psalm 40:5)
. In the second book are portions no less energetic for the destruction of enemies, as Psalm 68:12, 23; 69:22-28; 70:2,3; 71:1312Kings of armies did flee apace: and she that tarried at home divided the spoil. (Psalm 68:12)
23That thy foot may be dipped in the blood of thine enemies, and the tongue of thy dogs in the same. (Psalm 68:23)
22Let their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap. 23Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not; and make their loins continually to shake. 24Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold of them. 25Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents. 26For they persecute him whom thou hast smitten; and they talk to the grief of those whom thou hast wounded. 27Add iniquity unto their iniquity: and let them not come into thy righteousness. 28Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous. (Psalm 69:22‑28)
2Let them be ashamed and confounded that seek after my soul: let them be turned backward, and put to confusion, that desire my hurt. 3Let them be turned back for a reward of their shame that say, Aha, aha. (Psalm 70:2‑3)
13Let them be confounded and consumed that are adversaries to my soul; let them be covered with reproach and dishonor that seek my hurt. (Psalm 71:13)
. Nor is it otherwise in the third book: see Psalm 74:11; 79:6,10-12; 83:9-1811Why withdrawest thou thy hand, even thy right hand? pluck it out of thy bosom. (Psalm 74:11)
6Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen that have not known thee, and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon thy name. (Psalm 79:6)
10Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is their God? let him be known among the heathen in our sight by the revenging of the blood of thy servants which is shed. 11Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee; according to the greatness of thy power preserve thou those that are appointed to die; 12And render unto our neighbors sevenfold into their bosom their reproach, wherewith they have reproached thee, O Lord. (Psalm 79:10‑12)
9Do unto them as unto the Midianites; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook of Kison: 10Which perished at Endor: they became as dung for the earth. 11Make their nobles like Oreb, and like Zeeb: yea, all their princes as Zebah, and as Zalmunna: 12Who said, Let us take to ourselves the houses of God in possession. 13O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind. 14As the fire burneth a wood, and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire; 15So persecute them with thy tempest, and make them afraid with thy storm. 16Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O Lord. 17Let them be confounded and troubled for ever; yea, let them be put to shame, and perish: 18That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth. (Psalm 83:9‑18)
. So, yet more sparingly, in the fourth book, as in Psalm 94:1, 2; 104:351O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth; O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, show thyself. 2Lift up thyself, thou judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud. (Psalm 94:1‑2)
35Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless thou the Lord, O my soul. Praise ye the Lord. (Psalm 104:35)
. So, to say nothing of 109, the last book, as Psalm 129:5,6; 137:8,9: 1378 8,9, 140:9,10; 10; 143: 12; 144:6; 149:6-95Let them all be confounded and turned back that hate Zion. 6Let them be as the grass upon the housetops, which withereth afore it groweth up: (Psalm 129:5‑6)
6Cast forth lightning, and scatter them: shoot out thine arrows, and destroy them. (Psalm 144:6)
6Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a twoedged sword in their hand; 7To execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people; 8To bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; 9To execute upon them the judgment written: this honor have all his saints. Praise ye the Lord. (Psalm 149:6‑9)
. Thus uniformly earthly judicial righteousness is the atmosphere, not heavenly grace according to which the Christian is called now to feel, and pray, and walk. Far be it to say that all is not right. It was what characterized the saints in Israel of old; it will be so once more in their midst when the former dominion shall come still more gloriously in the day of the Lord, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem. But we, called out meanwhile from Jews and Gentiles, and composing the one body of Christ, have the privilege and the duty of showing forth His grace Who suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps. We are not Jews, even if once we had been, but members of His body Who is rejected by the world, exalted at God's right hand, and Who sends the gospel to His foes, all the time of our calling. Communion with Him thus is Christianity, and hence the church and the Christian (objects and channels of grace, in His energy Who rests on us as the Spirit of glory and of God) make and sing their own suited psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:1919Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; (Ephesians 5:19); Colossians 3:1616Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Colossians 3:16)). For it is demonstrable that these mean Christian compositions, and in no way the Psalms of David.
Is it meant that the Psalms are not most precious to the believer? If divinely inspired, as indeed they are, how could it be otherwise? No part of the Bible is more redolent of Messiah; and this too, not so much facts and doctrines, as His heart's experience in all circumstances, and His innermost feelings not only about His people, but about and to God Himself. The Psalms not infrequently present His entering into earthly sorrows like His own, besides that in which none could be found but Himself, suffering for our sins; and in both His absolutely perfect affections and expressions, not merely those of Moses, David, Asaph, or any other. This is an inestimable boon for us who, besides what is peculiar, have our earthly path of trial and sorrow, and know His sympathy in this intimate way, as Israel will another day. But it is Modified by the relations to the Jew supposed throughout, and by no means rises up to the unfolding of what is distinctly heavenly as in the Gospels and N.T. in general.
Hence Bp. Home labors in vain, and indeed to his own loss as well as that of all swayed by his thoughts, in seeking to mitigate the spirit of imprecating vengeance in many Psalms. He says that “the offense taken” at this ceases immediately if we change the imperative into the future, and read, not “let them be confounded,” etc., but “they shall be confounded,” etc., of which the Hebrew is equally capable! In this unwarrantable boldness he follows Dr. Hammond, as the latter no doubt was led by others. He is compelled to allow that the N. T. preserves the imperative form, instead of changing it into the future. For this he tries to account, as well as to explain away the impression, as no more than a solemn ratification of God's just judgment. But the criticism is as bad as the doctrine; and the phraseology undoubtedly stands in Hebrew as in English, and no doubt in all other languages. It is the difference in divine dealing which clears all up without violence. When God is judging enemies as of old and by-and-by, His people share it in measure. Now He is displaying sovereign grace, and another spirit of action becomes them, as the N. T. conclusively proves as to the Christian and the church. For all that the Psalms are a rich treasure to the believer. The Spirit of Christ ever speaks therein, though it be not Christ personally save in such as 2, 8, 16, 18, 22, 40, etc.
Psalm 1
The book begins with the beautiful picture of man blessed in dependence and obedience. His character is as marked as his happiness. He has not walked in the counsels of wicked men, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of scorners (ver. 1). With evil in any form he has had no fellowship. But, positively (vers. 2), the law of Jehovah is his delight, and in it he will meditate day and night. In no way is this inconsistent with Gal. 3:1010For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. (Galatians 3:10). For he was not “of the works of the law,” as the principle of his standing before God: all such are and were “cursed.” They never repented and never believed. They which be of faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham, as they are truly his eons. No more in the O.T. than in the N.T. is a man justified with God in virtue of law; as the prophets prove only less clearly than the apostles. None but those who looked by faith for the Messiah walked blamelessly in God's ordinances. Still more evidently is it so with the Christian. “The law” here, as usually in the Psalms and elsewhere, means God's word then revealed. This is ever the delight of the believer, as well as his directory.
Hence in verse 3 we see the issue in the righteous government of God; and to this the book points as the rule. “And he is [or will be] as a tree planted on streams of water, that yieldeth its fruit in its season, and whose leaf fadeth not; and all that he doeth prospereth.” There is life, fruitfulness seasonably, abiding beauty, and unfailing prosperity. This will be manifest in the kingdom only; now it cannot be more than morally true.
The contrast appears in the second stanza of the third verse. “Not so the wicked, but are like the chaff that the wind driveth away” (ver. 4). They are worthless and vanish under pressure. The N.T. adds the divine judgment as burning by unquenchable fire. “Therefore the wicked shall not rise in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous” (vers. 5). When judgment comes (and the Book of Psalms as a whole contemplates it), the present mixed state will give place to a manifest severance, and an execution of God's sentence on earth before the final one for eternity. This is no secret to faith which enters into His mind and will before that day. “For Jehovah knoweth the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked shall perish” (verse 6).
Plainly then the Psalm describes ideally rather than as a fact the just Israelite, as compared with the wicked mass. It is therefore the Spirit of Christ in the righteous remnant, not Christ personally, though He was the sole absolutely Righteous One. Thus is refuted at the starting point the fond and inveterate delusion of the people that every Jew had a good and true title in God's sight. On the contrary not all are Israel which are of Israel. For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart, in spirit, not in letter, whose praise is not of men but of God.
This again is prefatory like the first (to which its structure corresponds, only with double the length), and both not only to the first book (1-41), but to the entire collection. Here the Messiah is as evident and express, as His own are in the preceding psalm. The antagonistic Gentiles and their kings are in full view, not the wicked as such, though wicked indeed those are.
“ Why are the nations tumultuously assembled, and do (lit. will) the peoples imagine vanity? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers consult together against Jehovah and against His Anointed (Messiah). Let us break their bonds and cast away their cords from us.” Such is the first stanza of three verses in which the godless revolt against Jehovah and His Christ is set before us, with no less amazement than indignation. In Acts 4 it is applied to the rebellious union of Romans and Jews, of Pilate and Herod, against the Lord.
But Jehovah's counsel stands, and He answers the fool according to his folly, with a strikingly parallel reference to the rebellious agitation of the peoples and their rulers (4, 6). “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh, the Lord (Adonai) shall mock at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger, and in His wrath terrify them: And I have anointed My King on Zion, hill of My holiness.” Those doings and sayings in each case are an exact counterpart.
The constituted earthly royalty of Messiah in Zion opens the way to the next strophe (7-10). “I will declare the decree: Jehovah said to Me, Thou [art] My Son: I this day have begotten Thee. Ask of Me and I will give nations as Thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth Thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a scepter of iron; as a potter's vessel Thou shalt shiver them.” It is the Son of God born in time, the Messiah; neither eternal Sonship as in John's Gospel and elsewhere, nor resurrection as in Paul's Epistles. Sonship on earth and in time suits the kingdom here announced. But that kingdom, though with Zion its center, embraces the uttermost parts of the earth, and so the nations or Gentiles. It is the Messiah of Whom Solomon was but a type like David. But here the Christ only is described throughout. It is exclusively future. He had not yet asked the earth, but is occupied with relations above it, of heaven and for eternity. Soon He will come in His Kingdom, and receive the world at His demand, when He will rule with the rod of iron, (how different from the gospel!) and shiver men as a potter's vessel. What can be more contrasted with beseeching men and building up His body, the church?
And now, O kings, be wise; be warned, O judges of the earth. Serve Jehovah with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son lest He be angry, and ye perish in the way, for soon His anger burneth. Blessed [are] all those trusting Him” (verses 10-12).
Even here kings and judges are before us, for it is strictly a Messianic psalm. But it is the Son about to execute vengeance on a hostile and haughty world. Yet is He a blessing, the only blessing object of trust for any or all: the secret spring, at the end of Psalm 2, of the blessings for the righteous proclaimed at the beginning of Psalm 1. These are unquestionably a pair, and in the only place suitable, were we to search for one in all the hundred and fifty. Ed.