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Winer, suppose these Psalms are called Psalms of degrees, “from a certain number, or rhythm, obvious in several of them, by which the sense, as it were, ascends by degrees or steps, the first or last words of a preceding clause being often repeated at the beginning of a succeeding one."
“The rhythm by gradation in the Psalms of degrees,” says De Wette, “is a remarkable form. It consists in this, that the thought or expression of a preceding verse is resumed and carried forward in the next.” For example, Psalm cxxi:
1 I lift up mine eyes unto the hills:
From whence will my help come!
The Creator of heaven and earth.
Thy keeper slumbereth not.
The keeper of Israel.
Jehovah, thy shade, is at thy right hand.
Nor the moon by night.
Preserveth thy soul.
From this time forth for evermore.
Thus also in the song of Deborah, and in Isaiah xxvi, 5, 6:
5 The lofty city he hath laid low,
Hath laid it low to the ground. 6 The foot hath trodden it down;
The feet of the poor, the steps of the needy.
This ingenious and not improbable interpretation of the title of the Psalms of degrees, is open to this objection, viz., that not all of those Psalms are characterized by gradational poetry, or this rhythm of gradation, as it is called.
The second opinion which we mention, is the more common one, viz., that these Psalms were styled songs of degrees, or songs of ascents, because they were sung by the pilgrims while on their way ascending, or going up to Jerusalem, to attend the holy festivals; and in the same way afterward by the Jewish exiles, when they returned from Babylon and were ascending
again to Jerusalem. The word men, maalah, signifies a step, ascent, going up, and its root my, alah, is used to denote the going up of the tribes to worship at the tabernacle, as in Exodus xxxiv, 24; and also afterward the going up to Jerusalem, which was situated on a high mountain. “It is,” says Hengstenberg, “ the standing expression for the journey up to Jerusalem, (which was considered as the civil and religious metropolis,) more on account of its moral than on account of its physical height.” In Ezra vii, 9, maalah, the same word that is translated degrees, in the titles of these Psalms, is used to express the journey from Babylon to Jerusalem. The practice of going to Jerusalem to worship was very popular in the times of David and Solomon, and continued to be so during all the reigns of the pious kings of Judah. It seems probable that David provided some songs to be chanted by the pilgrims on their journey up to Zion. See especially Psalm cxxii. Hengstenberg, therefore, translates the titles of these Psalms,
songs of the pilgrims,” and “songs of the pilgrimages.” The only serious objection to this interpretation is, that some of these Psalms are plaintive, and could not apply to a joyful occasion, such as an annual Hebrew festival was. See Psalms cxx, cxxix, cxxx. To this it may be replied, that pilgrim songs of this character should embody somewhat of the varied history and fortunes of the nation. They should be the ballads of a nation in covenant with God, and shonld embrace in their scope somewhat of the varied reminiscences of the national Church. We incline, therefore, to the opinion, that they were selected and thrown together by Ezra, as a suitable collection of pilgrim songs, he taking some from an earlier collection of the same character by David, and adding others thereto which are of later date, and which manifestly belong to his own age.
25. man naz, shir-hanukath habayith, a song of the dedication of the house [of David.] Psalm xxx. De Wette says, “It is better to take the words as a designation of the melody.” He says, there was perhaps & song which was commonly used in the dedication of houses. The law of Moses required that every newly-built house should be dedicated to God by a religious ceremony. See Deuteronomy xx, 5. Hence also there was a hanukath, sacrifice of dedication, Numbers vii, 10. See also 1 Kings viii, 63; Ezra vi, 16; Nehemiah xii, 27.
It is not improbable that singing was part of the ceremony of dedicating a house, and there might have been a well-known song appropriated to such occasions, to the melody of which Psalm xxx was to be sung. It is more probable, however, that the title is suggestive of the occasion of the Psalm which was used at the dedication of the “threshing-floor" of Araunah, the Jebusite—the site of the future temple of Solomon. David expressly said of that place, at the time of its dedication, “This is the house of the Lord God." 1 Chronicles xxii, 1. Thus, the place where Jacob slept in the open field was called by him,
Bethel,” the house of God, because God seemed to dwell there, though at that time there was no city or human habitation. The subject of Psalm xxx well suits this title, and the circumstances of David at that time. (See Introduction to Psalm xxx.)
26. numerby, al hasheminith, upon the eighth. Psalm vi, 12, Many understand the sheminith to be an instrument with eight strings. But the word is an ordinal adjective, signifying the eighth; and it is better to understand it with Gesenius, De Wette, Tholuck, Forkel, and others, as denoting the key, the octave, or fundamental mode, the lowest and gravest notes in the scale, sung by men, the modern bass. As a musical mode, it is opposed to almuth, the treble, soprano, as is indicated in 1 Chronicles xv, 20. (See Almuth.)
27. nbnm, tehillah, praise, a song of praise. “So," says De Wette, “very many of the Psalms might be called. The circumstance that Psalm cxlv alone is thus designated, shows, perhaps, its later production ; for it was by a later Usus loquendi the Psalms received the distinctive appellation bronn, tehillim.” (See section on Title to the Book of Psalms.) There is, however, no sufficient reason for assigning to Psalm cxly a later date. The Hebrew title ascribes it to David, and there is no reason to doubt the genuineness of the title. In the Introduction to this Psalın, we have assigned it to a late period in David's life, and to the occasion of his reviewing the providences of God toward himself and all living things. The occasion called for praise, and the contents of the Psalm emphatically express it. David, therefore, might have designated this as a Psalm of praise by way of preëminence.
28. nrin nimin, mizmor lethodah, a Psalm of praise or
thanksgiving, Psalm c. The word thodah means, primarily, to confess, and as confession of benefits is generally and naturally followed by thanksgiving and praise, so the word takes this secondary meaning, as in verse 4, and Psalms xxvi, 7, and xlii, 5. As a title, this word occurs only in Psalm c, which is emphatically a Psalm of praise and thanksgiving.
29. nbpm, tephillah, a prayer, supplication, also a sacred song, a prayer-song. Psalms xvii, lxxxvi, xc, cii, clxii. “A poem,” says De Wette, “addressed to the Deity.” There is no apparent reason for restricting this title to so few of the Psalms. Many of them very justly deserve the title of nibon, tephilloth, prayer-songs. In Psalm lxxii, 20, this word occurs as the final subscription, or postscript, to the Davidic Psalms_“The prayers,
, or prayer-songs, (tephillim,)of David the son of Jesse are ended.” Gesenius considers this to be the postscript to the whole preceding portion of the Book of Psalms, namely, from Psalm i to lxxii. Dr. Alexander supposes these words “were added to the first great subdivision of the whole collection, as entirely composed of Psalms by David and his contemporaries, with a few added to them on account of some marked similarity in form or substance." Bishop Horsley takes another view, and supposes this subscription is the close of the particular Psalm in question. “The sense is,” says he, “that David the son of Jesse had nothing to pray for, or to wish, beyond the great things described in this Psalm." This is a much more probable interpretation than the one above given; but neither appears to us natural or in place. If David was the author of the seventy-second Psalm, and if, as we have supposed, it was composed by him on occasion of his delivering the entire kingdom to Solomon, which is known to have been the last public act of his life, (see Introduction to Psalm lxxii,) it would be manifestly natural and proper for him to subscribe with his own hand to this his last poetic production, which was destined for the temple-service, the words, “The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.". We consider it then as an appropriate ending of the last Psalm David ever wrote for public performance, and not a snbscription to any formal collection of the Psalms. (See this word noticed under the section of Title of the Book of Psalms.) It should be observed, that the five Psalms which bear the title of tephillim, or prayer-songs, are characterized by the tone and
language of strong supplication. The ode of Habakkuk, (chapter iii,) is also called by the same name, verse 1, although only verse 2 properly contains a prayer. In Psalm cxlii we find maskil, didactic psalm, and tephillah, prayerpsalm, both occurring in the title, and they are put by De Wette in apposition. We should prefer to consider the latter term, however, as denoting the plaintive strain of the Psalm, and the former as indicating its admonitory or instructive matter. We cannot forbear the opinion, moreover, that the occasion of many of the Psalms had much to do in fixing their titles and their peculiar musical designations, and as those occasions are in great measure lost to us, at least as to their freshness and life, the titles must lose much, both of their significancy and pertinency.
SECTION V.-POETRY OF THE PSALMS.
It is familiarly known to the Biblical student, that the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Canticles, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, most of the prophets, and occasional portions of the other Scriptures, are written in the style of Hebrew poetry. The book of Job is a fine specimen of the dramatic form; the Song of Solomon is an exquisite pastoral, which may also be called dramatic; the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are didactic or philosophic poems; the Lamentations of Jeremiah, elegiac, where an impression of monotonous melancholy is intended; and the Psalms are lyric poems, with some rare specimens of the epic, the didactic, the elegiac, and the dramatic forms.
The Psalms being originally written in the poetic form, it is obvious they should be read with reference to the structure of the verse, even in a translation, (so far as a translation can indicate the structure of the original verse,) in order to receive the fullest impression of their beauty and force. Poetry is the language of the imagination and the passions. The mind, under the inspiration of elevated thoughts and lively feelings, moves with greater rapidity and regularity, and the enunciation of sentences, under such circumstances, naturally falls more or less within certain measurements of time. A