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by Arthur Peake
BY THE REV. W. E. ADDIS
OUR word “ Psalm” is derived from the LXX, and signifies, though only in very late Gr., a song or hymn accompanied by a stringed instrument. It represents the Heb. term “ mizmor.” In the Alexandrine MS of the LXX the word used for the collection of sacred lyrics is “ psaltery,” i.e. stringed instrument. “ Mizmor” never occurs in the text of the Pss., though found no less than fifty-seven times in the titles of individual Pss. Sometimes the Pss. are described as “ songs,” without reference to instrumental accompaniment. The Heb. title of the book is “ praises,” a name partly, but not altogether, appropriate. At the end of Psalms 72 the foregoing Pss. which bear David’ s name are styled “ the prayers of David.” The number of poems is Psalms 150, David’ s song of triumph over Goliath, added in the LXX, being confessedly “ outside of the [canonical] number.” Closer inspection shows that this number is artificial. The LXX reckon Psalms 9, 10 as one Ps. and similarly unite Psalms 113, 114. On the other hand, they turn Psalms 116, 147 each into two Pss. Hence, there is a different numeration in the LXX, followed by Greek and Latin Christians, and in the MT, followed by Reformed Churches and EV. Neither is absolutely correct. Psalms 9, 10 are doubtless one Ps., Psalms 148 is probably two; but there is no valid reason for dividing Psalms 116 into two Pss. Again MT and LXX recognise two Pss. in 42, 43 which are really one.
We may pass next to the Heb. titles which assign the Pss. to their supposed authors. One is ascribed to Moses (Psalms 90), seventy-three to David. The LXX give eighty-three to David, and this increase by ten does not cover the difference, for Psalms 122, 124, 131 are attributed to David in MT but not in important MSS of the LXX. Twelve Pss. (Psalms 50, 73-83) bear the name of Asaph, a leader of David’ s choir; one (Psalms 89) is assigned to Ethan, who was also chief in the guild of Temple musicians; ten belong to the “ sons of Korah,” viz. Psalms 42-49, 84, 85, 87, 88 has a double title, viz. “ For the Sons of Korah” and “ A Maschil of Ethan the Ezrahite.” Psalms 72, 127 are said to be Solomon’ s. Fifty Pss. are in Rabbinical language “ Orphan,” i.e. have no titles. Of these sixteen have no title containing origin or source, though they have musical directions prefixed; the remaining thirty-four are absolutely “ Orphan” Pss. Thirteen Pss. give both the author’ s name and the circumstances under which he wrote.
This arrangement, or rather want of arrangement, is perplexing, and the confusion becomes worse when at the end of Psalms 72 we find the words, “ The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.” Psalms 72 is assigned not to David but to Solomon; moreover, David’ s prayers are not ended but continued, though with large insertion of Pss. from other authors or collections, almost to the end of the Psalter. As a rule the Pss. of Asaph and those of the Korahites are placed together or in proximity, though it is puzzling to find one Ps. of Asaph (Psalms 50) separated from the rest of the Asaphic productions. Another difficulty arises from the use of a Heb. preposition which may mean either “ by” in the sense of authorship or “ belonging to,” “ used by.” It seems almost certain, that “ by David” is a correct translation of the titles in which David’ s name appears. The present writer at least can see no shadow of evidence for the supposition that this was a “ Davidic Psalter, not composed by David, but gathered together from different authors and periods of composition under David’ s name.” It is different with regard to Asaphite and Korahite Pss. A guild may sing a hymn together or make a collection of hymns for its own use, but a guild can scarcely write a hymn by joint effort. Nor is the order of the Pss. fixed by subject or tone. Occasionally, but only occasionally, kindred Pss. are linked together. The reader who examines Psalms 1-10 will see that the order has no connexion with the subject-matter.
There is, however, a division of the Psalter which throws some light on the inquiry before us. In imitation probably of the Pentateuch, the Pss. are divided into five books, each closing with a doxology, Psalms 150 forming a doxology which ends the last book and also the whole collection. We thus get Book I (1– 41), Book II (42– 72), Book III (73– 89), Book IV (90– 106), Book V (107– 150). How old is this arrangement? No one can say. It is recognised, indeed, by the LXX, but we do not know when the Pss. were first turned into Gr., except that the task must have been accomplished some time before the earliest books of the NT were written. We are on surer ground when we turn to 1 Chronicles 16:7-36. There a Ps. is inserted which consists of Psalms 105:1-15; Psalms 9:6; Psalms 106:1; Psalms 106:47 f. Now the remarkable thing is that the Chronicler includes the doxology ( Psalms 106:48 *) at the close of Psalms 106 and treats it as an integral part of Psalms 106. It has been very naturally inferred that the Chronicler, writing about 300 B.C. or a little later, was not only familiar with the division into five books, but mistook altogether the purpose of the doxology to which he was used. This argument, however, is less certain than it seems. It is very doubtful whether 1 Chronicles 16:7-36 belonged to the original text of Ch. The connexion between 6 and 37 gains by its removal. Additions were undoubtedly made from time to time and at a date much later than that of Ch. In the Book of Psalms the analogy of modern hymn-books favours this view, and it is beyond all reasonable dispute that Pss. of the Maccabean age do occur in the Psalter.
There is another feature peculiar to certain Pss, viz. 42– 83. In these Pss. the personal name Yahweh is usually omitted and Elohim (= God) substituted. This is in accordance with later usage. In Ecclesiastes the sacred name never occurs; the Book of Daniel employs it in ch. 9 and nowhere else, and the Chronicler, when he is not copying from his sources, prefers to use Elohim.
Can we discover the collections out of which our Psalter grew? Book I furnishes us with an example of such a collection. It consists entirely of Davidic Pss. with rare exceptions which admit of easy explanation, viz. Psalms 1, 2, which were probably added later, as respectively moral and theocratic introductions to the Psalter; Psalms 10, which has no inscription, because, as the LXX saw, it is the second half of Psalms 9; Psalms 33, which is assigned expressly to David in the LXX, the omission in MT being a scribal error.
Next come Pss. by David and his contemporaries, Psalms 42-89 (Psalms 84-89 being an appendix). Here the question is more complicated. We have already referred to the subscription of Psalms 72, “ The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.” Here and only here, we have Pss. in considerable number connected with other names, such as those of Moses, Solomon, Asaph, and the sons of Korah, and in LXX Jeremiah, Haggai, and Zechariah. Generally critics have agreed to place Psalms 42-50 after Psalms 72, so as to unite Psalms 50 to the rest of Asaphic Pss. Thus we obtain the following arrangement: Psalms 51-72 Davidic, the subscription being now quite appropriate; Psalms 42-49 Korahite; Psalms 50, 73-53 Asaphic Pss. Note carefully that all these are Elohistic. To them an appendix has been added, Psalms 84-89. Here we have four which are Korahite, one by David, one by Ethan. Their secondary character can hardly be doubted. Why else was the Davidic Ps. here separated from Psalms 51-72? It is a still stronger argument that Psalms 84-89 show no trace of Elohistic revision; the name of Yahweh is again dominant.
Our third and last collection extends from Psalms 90 to the end of the Psalter (Books IV and V). It entirely ignores the musical terms so frequent in the two preceding collections. Probably some radical change had been made in the Temple music, and the old musical titles had fallen out of use because they were no longer intelligible. These three collections were originally independent of each other. This is true of the first and second collections, for Psalms 14 of the first collection reappears as Psalms 53, except that it has undergone an Elohistic revision; Psalms 40:13-17 recurs as Psalms 70; Psalms 31:1-3 is identical with Psalms 71:1-3. It is also true of the third collection in relation to the second, since the beginning of Psalms 108 is a repetition of Psalms 57:8-11. There are also distinct traces of smaller collections. Of these the most valuable is the “ Little Psalter of the Pilgrims” (Psalms 120-134), sung by those who were thronging from other lands to keep one of the great feasts at Jerusalem.
We have also Michtam Pss. in 16, 56– 60, the real sense of the word being quite unknown; and Pss. which begin and end with Hallelujah, viz. Psalms 146-150.
What, then, is the value of these titles? We will state the case in words taken from Professor Kirkpatrick’ s Commentary, because he is as conservative as a candid scholar can be. “ It is now admitted by all competent scholars that the titles, relating to the authorship and occasion of the Pss. cannot be regarded as prefixed by the authors themselves, or as representing trustworthy traditions and accordingly giving reliable information” (p. 31). Availing ourselves of this liberty, we may examine some of the Pss. for which the titles claim Davidic origin.
Psalms 69 cannot be by David. The words “ God will save Zion and build the cities of Judah, so that men may dwell there,” are those of a post-exilic writer, not of a successful warrior and popular king. Nor could David say, “ For thy sake have I borne reproach.” “ The reproaches of those that reproached thee fell upon me.” Did David ever suffer reproach for his devotion to Yahweh? Religious persecution, so far as we know, began in Maccabean times. What is meant by the words, “ The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up” ? The Temple was still unbuilt when David died. And why should zeal for the Temple, even if it had existed, “ eat up” the worshipper? Because he pined for the Temple and its worship, from which his enemies excluded him. Psalms 3 cannot have been composed by David when he was fleeing from Absalom. The reference to “ his holy hill” points clearly to the Temple. Nor does Psalms 3 contain a single allusion to this crisis. All is lifeless and vague. Contrast the true account of David’ s pathetic sorrow in 2 S. or his noble and authentic lamentation over Saul and Jonathan.
The Aramaic tinge of Psalms 139 precludes of itself any idea that it is by David. In Psalms 110 a king is the subject of the poem: there is no trace of a royal author.
We come last of all to Psalms 18, a Ps. assigned to David by scholars who show little bias in favour of the late Jewish opinion embodied in the titles. “ The internal evidence of its contents,” says Prof. Kirkpatrick, “ corroborates the external tradition.” Certainly there is prima facie ground for giving this Ps. a position of its own. Of others we have, as has been already said, a double recension within the Psalter itself. For this we have external evidence, since it is repeated at length in 3 S. 22. But closer examination reduces this witness to nothing. 2 Samuel 22 and 2 Samuel 23:1-7, “ the last words of David,” are late additions to the text, since 2 Samuel 21:22 finds its natural and obvious continuation in 2 Samuel 23:8 (p. 292). The internal evidence is decisive not for, but against the Davidic authorship. There is a want of concrete detail, so that even the advocates of Davidic origin differ about the period of David’ s history to which the Ps. belongs. The conventional theophany would suit any victory won by a champion of Judah in later times. How could David have written “ Thou savest a poor (or humble) people” ? or described himself in the language of Pharisaic piety, as one “ who kept the ways of Yahweh . . . for all his judgments are before me and I did not put his statutes from me” ? Such language presupposes familiarity with the Pentateuch, or at least with a notable part of it. The monotheism of the Ps. is in keeping with that of the Psalter throughout: it is absolute and dogmatic, “ Who is God save Yahweh?” Very different were the views of the real David, who kept idols called teraphim (p. 101) in his house ( 1 Samuel 19:13; 1 Samuel 19:16) and assumed that when his enemies drove him forth from Yahweh’ s land he would have to worship other gods ( 1 Samuel 26:19). Nor could David (who died long before the Second Isaiah) have realised the missionary vocation of Israel and said, “ Therefore will I give thanks to thee among the nations and sing unto thy name.”
It may be well to add that scholars who have accepted a small number of Pss. as Davidic are unable to agree which those Pss. are.
How, then, did the legend of David the Psalmist arise? It has no attestation prior to the Exile. We are all familiar with his beautiful dirge over Saul and Jonathan ( 2 Samuel 1:19-27); and the fragment from a similar lyric on Abner ( 2 Samuel 3:33 f.). But neither of these mentions religion at all. Further, an old tradition ( 1 Samuel 16:14-23) makes much of his musical skill. Otherwise the only pre-exilic mention of David as a musician is found in Amos 6:5. The prophet is denouncing the frivolous luxury of the rich, and taunts them with devising for themselves “ instruments of music like David.” This negative evidence is clinched by the fact that Ezekiel, with all his elaborate rules for the restored Temple, makes no mention of singers. Our conception of David as a sacred poet is mainly due to the Chronicler. It is he who idealises David after his own fashion and turns him into a saint of the Levitical pattern. Characteristically he omits David’ s sin against Uriah, and all the scandals in the royal family. David’ s numbering of the people is his solitary error, and that had to be related because of its connexion with the building of the Temple, The Chronicler dismisses military matters in a brief and perfunctory way, though he magnifies the military forces of Judah and Israel in the most extravagant fashion. On the other hand he attributes to David his own absorbing interest in ritual. According to him the pious king divided the Temple service between twenty-four courses of priests and Levites, and twenty-four courses of singers (1 Chronicles 25). Now the first clear reference to Temple singers is in Ezra 2:41, and in this passage, as generally in the oldest parts of Ezra and Nehemiah, they are distinguished from Levites. But the Chronicler turns the Temple musicians into Levites, and traces their descent to Asaph, Heman, and Ethan. Moreover, the sons of Korah are door-keepers in 1 Chronicles 9:19; 1 Chronicles 26:19, but appear as singers, 2 Chronicles 20:19. Evidently, after the Exile, music has become more prominent in Temple worship, and the pious Jews could not imagine this sacred function as left at one time to laymen. In the time of Herod Agrippa (Josephus, Ant. xx. 9, 6) the Levitical musicians obtained leave to wear the white robe of the priests. It was easy for the Chronicler to identify the remote past with his own time, as we see from his ascribing to David admittedly post-exilic Pss.
We set out to prove that there are no Pss. certainly or even probably Davidic. We have in reality advanced further. The Psalter, as a whole, presumably belongs to the Second Temple and even to the later history of that Temple. It cannot, of course, be proved that there are no pre-exilic Pss. Psalms 20, 21 presuppose the existence of a Jewish king, and if we take the royal title in its strict sense, we have to choose between a king of Judah who reigned before 586 B.C. and the Maccabean prince, Aristobulus (p. 608), who took the title of king in 105 B.C. Psalms 137 must have been composed after the Exile, while the hatred of the Babylonian conqueror was still fierce and bitter. Observe, also, that it speaks of “ Yahweh’ s songs,” though we are not told when the songs were sung. Possibly they were popular hymns preserved by oral tradition. With these, and, it may be, with some other exceptions, the general rule holds good, that when historical allusions are definite and certain, the Ps. containing them belongs to the Maccabean age. Yet we can but rarely state with precision the date and explain the historic reference of a Ps. Much learning and ingenuity have been spent on such questions, and with meagre results. Conjecture has been piled upon conjecture. Again, the history of the Jews under Persian rule from the middle of the fifth century B.C. to the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great is all but a blank to us; otherwise we might have understood many Pss. much better than we do, and escaped the temptation to find a clue for every difficulty in the Maccabean history. As specimens of Pss. certainly Maccabean we may take Psalms 44, 60, 74, 79, , 83. The reasons for this judgment will be found in the notes on the Pss. in question. Here it will be enough to note the following points: (1) Maccabean Pss. plead that the people of Judah are suffering by no fault of their own. On the contrary, they are faithful to the covenant and free from any enormous sin, especially from the sin of idolatry. We know from Jeremiah and Ezekiel that the state of things in this respect was wholly different among the exiles of 597 and 586. Not only had the people sinned, but they continued to sin with obstinate impenitence. (2) From certain Pss. we gather that the Jews were scattered over all lands, but had an army of their own in Palestine. This was the case in Maccabean times but not before. (3) In Maccabean Pss. the Jews are undergoing religious persecution. Antiochus Epiphanes was the first to persecute the Jews for their religion In his mind Greek religion was bound up with Greek culture; he tried to enforce both, or at least to make the observance of the Jewish Law a crime. The Assyrians and Babylonians came seeking land and tribute, and displayed no interest in Jewish religion. (4) Psalms 47 complains, if the text is sound, that while the Sanctuary is profaned and partially destroyed there is no prophet. At the time when the first Temple was destroyed there were many prophets, including Jeremiah and Ezekiel. (See also the notes on Psalms 60, 74 with the historical references there pointed out.) Add to this the use of the word hasid or “ godly” man (see on Psalms 4), and anav or humble. This latter word, very rare elsewhere, is found twelve times in the Psalter, where it has become almost a technical term to describe a pious Israelite.
It is hard to say when the Psalter was completed. It probably received no addition after the Pss. of Solomon. These Pss. were composed in Heb., though preserved only in Gr. translation. They seem to have been written as late as 63 B.C., the year in which Pompey entered Jerusalem. Their belief in immortality and the coming of the Messiah is more pronounced than in the canonical Psalter. But they resemble that Psalter in the general tone of their piety, and on the whole they share the same faith and hope. If we ask why they did not gain a place in the OT Canon, the answer is because they were not yet written or at least not yet generally known. Of course glosses might be and were added later still. In one way or another, Pss. which represented the spiritual history of a devout Jew may have been altered for liturgical use. We may remark in passing that the number of Pss. intended from the first as the voice of collective Israel is still a subject of dispute.
The chief value of the Pss. lies in the insight they give into the common faith of the Jews, and also into the experience of saintly men who, in moments of inspiration, reached heights inaccessible as yet to the ordinary believer. It will be convenient to treat these two subjects separately. See further pp. 93f.
The Unity of God.— This truth is put in a dogmatic form, hardly known before the time of 2 Is. In Psalms 115 we have a confession of monotheistic faith, and this was the common heritage of Israel. No doubt we read in Psalms 14 of “ impious” persons who say there is no God, but it is not certain that the Psalmist was thinking of Jews, rather than of heathen. In any case, their atheism is not theoretical but practical; God seeks for those who pay attention to His law and finds none. The Psalmist held no strict doctrine of creation. It is not till we almost touch the Christian era in 2Ma_7:28 that we light on a definite statement (contrast Wis_11:18 ) that God made all things out of nothing (but see p. 136). It is needless to say that the Jewish conception of the world differed greatly from ours. It was supposed (see Psalms 104) that the heavens were spread out like a tent, and that upper stories were built above them with water instead of wood for beams. There was Yahweh’ s palace. Below the earth was Sheol, “ the silent land” ( Psalms 115:17), to which men go down after death and cease to be concerned with religion. Certain mythological matter is adopted (see on Psalms 74:13) but only for purpose of embellishment. We have a mythological allusion to the “ bread of heaven” in Psalms 105:40. We also meet with anthropomorphism which jars on modern feeling. Not only has God a right arm, hands, fingers, eyes, eyelids, nostrils, but He is said to awake like a warrior out of sleep, as one who had been overcome with wine ( Psalms 78:65).
Still the monotheism of the Pss. upon the whole, is pure and noble. Yahweh is God from everlasting to everlasting (Psalms 90). He knows everything, is present everywhere even in Sheol. Observe that even in Psalms 139, the most spiritual in some respects of all the Pss., no abstract terms are employed: indeed such abstract terms do not exist in Biblical Heb. But the concrete language used is a gain, rather than a loss, for concrete terms preserve, as abstractions could not do, purest belief in the personal nature of God. One striking point illustrates the Hebrew conception of God. Why did God, who can do according to His will, tolerate the wicked? To this question the Psalmist gives no reply: no philosophic answer is attempted. He is content to pray for their destruction and to express his own horror and hatred of them.
God’ s Character.— The view given in Psalms 18:25 f. is not a lofty one. Every man, it is implied, finds the God he deserves to find. “ With the pure thou showest thyself pure, but with the perverse thou showest thyself perverse.” This falls short not only of prophetic but of the higher heathen teaching, as is shown in the notes on this Ps. Very different is the teaching of Psalms 8, where belief in God’ s absolute elevation above man is united with the thought of God’ s loving care for man and man’ s greatness as a fellow-worker with God. God is much more than a personification of mere power. Rather “ righteousness and equity are the foundation of his throne.” Indeed, the usual doctrine of the Jewish Church is that God is a Being who can be safely trusted. This is well illustrated by Psalms 11. The author is in desperate case: his friends would have him flee like a bird to the mountain. The very pillars of the earth, i.e. the powers which maintain moral order, are shaken. Nevertheless God is in His holy temple: He is enthroned in the heaven: He constantly tries the children of men. He is righteous and the righteous shall see His face. Thus man is indebted to God, not only for his creation but also for his preservation at each moment. The needy and afflicted may take refuge in Him. Even the Gentiles share in His goodness, though of course they are not admitted to the same religious privileges which the Jews enjoy. Still God governs the whole world with equity ( Psalms 9:8).
God and Nature.— The Pss. acknowledge wisdom and goodness as displayed in the material world; but none of them can be said to love nature as Virgil loved it. It is a mistake to call the author of Psalms 104 “ the Wordsworth of the OT” (Kirkpatrick, p. 605): he is too utilitarian for that. Biblical Heb. has scarcely any word for colours, except with reference to the cloth and garments used in the Sanctuary; this shows that the Jewish feeling for nature was widely separated from our own (p. 24). Still God’ s relation to nature is portrayed in imaginative language, which is sometimes sublime: “ Thou clothest thyself with light as with a garment.” We have a fine picture of God’ s beneficence, of the hill-streams where the wild asses quench their thirst, of the birds that sing among the branches, of the mountains that are a refuge for the wild goats, of Yahweh’ s trees which are full of sap. “ The young lions roar after their prey and seek their meat from God.” Generations pass away but the spirit or breath of God is continually replacing them and renewing the face of the earth. Perhaps the most imaginative and original thought of God in nature occurs in Psalms 19 : “ Day unto day uttereth speech, night unto night conveyeth knowledge.” The poet personifies the days and nights. He pictures them as a long series of personal beings born of each other. Each day and each night, before it dies, passes on the story of creation. The sun, ever young, goes forth like a bridegroom from his nuptial chamber in joy and strength.
God and Man.— In nature God has manifested His care for man. He brings forth from the earth fodder for man’ s cattle, bread to eat, wine to gladden his heart, oil which makes his face shine (Psalms 104). But He has crowned all His mercies by giving man the Law. “ He showeth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and judgments unto Israel.” “ He hath not dealt so with any nation.” And as God seeks man and strives to bring man into union with Himself, so man naturally longs for God. “ As a hind which pauteth for the water-brook, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” The pilgrim goes to God’ s altar. But the altar is only the means of approach: God Himself is the goal which the pilgrim seeks.
What God Requires of Man.— A general answer is given to this question in Psalms 15, 24. Liberality to the poor is also a prominent feature in the morality of the Psalter. The morality does not transcend that of the Egyptian “ Book of the Dead,” though the Psalter is quite free from the magical superstition of Egyptian religion. Fair dealing between man and man is often inculcated in the Pss.: nowhere, however, do they require a man to forgive his enemies, if they continue to be such. (For the apparent exception in Psalms 7:4 , see the note.) Observe, on the other hand, that the righteousness required is that of the heart. The Psalmist knew little of that “ war of the members” which tortured Paul, or even of that “ enslaved will” of which Jeremiah speaks. The good Jew felt that he knew the Law and had strength to keep it. “ The word of the law was very nigh” him, and God would pardon defective observance if the will to keep a law was there. Prayers like “ Teach me to do thy will” ( Psalms 143:10) or “ Take not thy holy spirit from me” ( Psalms 51:11) are rare. If a Jew was faithful to the national covenant, then God rewarded him, and was indeed bound to do so by solemn and reiterated promise. No less was God bound to punish the wilful transgressor. If, again, a man sinned and repented, then God withdrew the stroke of punishment from the sinner and from others involved in the penalty. The reward or punishment must overtake a man in this life, for there was no intercourse with God after death. “ In death there is no remembrance of thee, and who will give thee thanks in the pit?” ( Psalms 6:5). This is the habitual assumption of the Pss. (See further Psalms 88:10-12, Psalms 115:17.) The sting of death lay in the belief that God and man took no knowledge of each other in the lower world. For this reason his view of death is radically different from the Greek view, which it resembles superficially. But it had a disastrous effect on Jewish religion. If a man was pious and his affairs prospered, he was apt to indulge in self-complacency. See among many other passages, Psalms 41:12, “ As for me because of mine integrity thou has supported me and established me before thy face for ever.” In contrast to this, if a just man suffered it was taken for granted that there was some secret flaw in his character. God was punishing him for secret sin, hidden, it might be, even from the sinner himself. It might be also that God was correcting him, strengthening and purifying his character. Hence the Psalmist’ s prayer that God would manifest His favour again by restoring his fortune. Hence also the passionate cry for deliverance was really a cry for absolution. Nay even the curses which the Psalmist hurls at his foes are a prayer that God would assert Himself as the moral governor of the universe. Of course such words should not be adopted by Christians, and belong to a religion which was still rude and undeveloped.
Where is Man to Find God, or, in other words, where does God Dwell?— The answer in Psalms 139 is that God is everywhere. But He was to be found specially in heaven and in the Temple. No attempt is made to reconcile these two answers. He dwells in heaven, and is surrounded by the angels, who are the ministers of His mercy and justice. Those constitute the heavenly court (Psa 29:17). They inflict physical suffering, but they are not in themselves good or bad, nor do they incite to sin. This heavenly God is also called the Lord of Hosts, probably because the elemental powers are enlisted on His side and do His bidding.
Over against this theory? we have, as has been said, to set another, viz. that God dwells in the Temple, which is a second Paradise. It is enriched ( Psalms 46:4) and gladdened by a river, of course metaphorical. Thence God hears the prayer of His people and blesses them. Occasionally, as in Psalms 14, 20, those two views stand side by side. The lower view, as we must needs think it, did most to secure the steadfastness of Jews in their religion. In a world out of joint the Temple was the one place where light and blessing flowed. “ We have thought of thy lovingkindness, O Yahweh, in the midst of thy temple” ( Psalms 48:9). “ This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell, for I have desired it” ( Psalms 132:14). God’ s manifestation in Zion is the pledge that He will in the end re-verse the doom of His people and alter the course of history in their favour. See especially Psalms 46. Moreover the Temple held Jews together all the world over. “ Hear my supplications when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands unto thy holy temple” ( Psalms 28:2). Psalms 87 is peculiarly instructive. This Ps. regards every Jew, whatever his birthplace may have been, as a spiritual citizen of Jerusalem. That is his true home, and Yahweh, when He makes up the register of the peoples, sets down the pious Jew as a native of Jerusalem.
We turn next to special passages in the Pss. which cannot be taken as representing the accepted orthodoxy of Jewish religion because they transcend it. Some of the Psalmists rise above ritual religion, or at least suffer sacrificial worship to fall into the background. One reason is that the later Jews had the writings of the prophets, and looked upon them as part of the sacred Scriptures, though inferior in authority to the Law. Further, the Deuteronomic limitation of sacrifice to the one altar at Jerusalem made sacrifice impossible, except at rare intervals, to the mass of Jews scattered in distant lands. Something also may be due to the bad repute of priests like Alcimus (pp. 382, 385, 607) and the worldliness of the later Maccabeans, which, as both high priests and secular rulers, they could hardly escape. We can scarcely quote Psalms 50 in this connexion. It denounces “ the severance of religion from morality,” a denunciation which all pious Jews would have approved; it pours contempt on the notion that God needs to be fed with the flesh and to drink the blood of the victim. The strange thing is that the Psalmist thought, it worth while to refute so gross an idea of the Godhead.
More to the purpose is Psalms 119:108, where the accepted sacrifices are the freewill offerings of the mouth, the sacrifice, not of animals, but of praise. Psalms 51 speaks in still clearer tones, “ Thou desirest not sacrifice else would I give it thee: thou delightest not in burnt offerings. The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” Similarly in Psalms 69 we are told that praise and thanksgiving please God better than the sacrifice of a bullock. The most interesting deprecation of material sacrifice is to be found in Psalms 40. The Psalmist does not exclude sacrificial worship: the offerings prescribed by the Law for the congregation remained as they were. But private piety was directed into another channel: the true sacrifice consists in joyful resignation to God’ s will. “ Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not: mine ear hast thou opened” ( i.e. to hear God’ s voice) “ . . . In the roll of the book it is laid down for me: to do thy will have I desired and thy law is within my heart” ( cf. Jeremiah 31:33). This Ps. is a notable preparation for Christianity.
The Pss. now and again rise above Eudæ monism, i.e. the doctrine that prosperity here and now is the reward of virtue, and that affliction, though it may be imposed for a time in order to test and strengthen piety, is as a rule the punishment of sin. No doubt there is an important element of truth in this doctrine; Temperance, industry, honesty promote success in life on the whole; the doctrine becomes false, when applied to all cases indiscriminately. The ordinary Jew did not look forward to a life with God after death: hence he had to face the difficulty that men, apparently devout, were often unfortunate in life and died with their misery unredressed. There could be no question of educative suffering in such cases. Still the obstinacy of Jewish faith discovered a way of escape even here. It found the supreme blessedness in communion with God, even if temporal blessings were withheld. For the classical example of a life lifted high above the changes of fortune we may turn to Psalms 4. The Psalmist is surrounded partly by godless men, partly by men who would fain be pious but are driven almost to despair, because God does not recognise their piety by outward and visible blessing. Such persons seem to be righteous in vain. From the depth of their despondency they cry, “ Who will show us any good?” We may understand the good meant to be fruitful harvests, strong and healthy children, in some cases positions of dignity and influence. The Psalmist answers indirectly with the priestly blessing (Numbers 14) in his mind, “ Yahweh, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.” Thus in communion with God lies the supreme blessedness. “ Thou hast put joy in my heart more than they had when their wine and corn and new wine abounded.” Further, we are told the secret of this joy: “ When I call upon him, Yahweh will hear.” He will hear though the answer did not come in accordance with the current expectation.
The Hope of Immortal Life.— One or two Pss. may be considered which have been supposed to hold this hope, but on insufficient grounds. To this category Psalms 16 belongs. The poet believes that his God will not abandon his soul to Sheol, “ neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life. In thy presence is fulness of joy, at thy right hand are pleasures evermore.” The author apparently refers to salvation from sudden death. We may compare Psalms 61:7 f. He (the king) shall abide before God for ever. “ Oh prepare mercy and truth which may preserve him.” Mercy and truth would not, of course, preserve him from dying at last, but they would secure an easy departure in ripe old age. So Psalms 17 also fails us, when we search for trace of this hope. Here the Psalmist is confident enough, but not of life after death. “ I shall behold thy face in righteousness: when I wake up I shall be satisfied with thy appearance” ( i.e. the manifestation of thyself, the vision of Divine glory. Cf. Isaiah 6). Beholding the face of God usually means to participate in Temple worship: the words “ When I awake” may be taken quite literally as referring to the morning worship in the Temple. Much more to the point is Psalms 49:15 *, “ God will redeem my soul from the power of death, for he shall receive me.” Finally we have to consider Psalms 73:23 ff. “ Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel and afterwards receive me into glory, Whom have I in heaven but thee and who is there on earth that I desire beside thee? My flesh and my heart fail: God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.” The meaning seems to be that communion with God begun here and faithfully maintained cannot be broken by death. At all events belief in immortality becomes inevitable when man has advanced so far. In the supreme bliss of Divine communion the thought of death and even of time fades away. Such knowledge of God is eternal life and holds within itself the promise of endless continance. We may note in conclusion the following points with regard to the Jewish doctrine of personal immortality. It is not physical or metaphysical but religious. Next, Hebrew thought observes the true order: it begins with God and through Him reaches the hope of immortal life in Him. The reverse order has constantly led to reliance on magical superstition of one kind or another, or else to physical and metaphysical “ proofs” which are not convincing. The OT religion contemplates the immortality of faithful souls, and not, with one or two possible exceptions ( Psalms 1:5, Daniel 12:2), the immortality of man as such. But the Divine communion of elect souls with God discloses the possibilities inherent in human nature, and therefore open to all. See further pp. 378f.
As we have seen, the Psalter frequently insists that the highest spiritual privileges belong to the Jews, but there are striking passages in which the Psalmists address themselves, not merely to fellow-Jews but generally to mankind. This liberal spirit may be due to the conquests of Alexander, which brought different races into immediate contact with each other. From Assyria and Babylon little was to be learnt. They represented for the most part, though not of course exclusively, the rule of brute force. Alexander the Great and his successors inherited the loftiest civilisation then known. Psalms 46 may have been written in the time of Alexander or one of his early successors. Jerusalem has been wonderfully preserved: the poet expects a time of universal peace. He calls on the warriors to be still and know that Yahweh is God and is exalted above all nations. In a considerable number of Pss. it is not Jew or Gentile but man as man— man in his relation to God— that comes into question. The Gentiles, moreover, are invited to rejoice in God’ s care for Israel. They are to bow down before Him, to worship and serve Him; they are even to offer sacrifice to Him. Psalms 82:8 goes so far as to speak of the foreign nations as the future “ inheritance” of Yahweh, a term reserved elsewhere for Israel. We have a trace of proselytising zeal in Psalms 119:46, “ I spake of thy testimonies before kings and was not ashamed.” It is best to treat Psalms 15, 24 as catechetical instruction for those who desired to attach themselves to the Jewish Church and become the clients of Yahweh. In Psalms 105:22 we have the first appearance of the theory, constantly asserted in Philo and in the Christian Fathers, that Gentile wisdom was borrowed from the Hebrews.
The Messianic Age.— The most remarkable thing in the character of the Jews generally, and especially in the Jews of the post-exilic age, was the firmness of their faith and hope. They have been well called the nation of hope. They were suffering from the oppressive rule of foreigners, who mocked at their religion and at one time tried to exterminate it. Nor was there any escape by human means from the exile which threatened them. Therefore their faith rose higher and its light burned clearer. They were confident that God would reverse the order which pressed so severely upon them and was besides an insult to the Divine majesty. God had wrought wonders for them in the past (see e.g. 77), Surely He could do again what He had done long ago. This belief was stimulated by the actual condition of Israel. In the Maccabean age the heart of the nation was set in the right direction: the people, as a whole, were free from idolatry and faithful to their covenant with their God. Here was another reason for Divine interference. It is no doubt for God to keep the “ times” in His own hands. Nevertheless the author of 102 felt that the appointed time of restoration could not be far off. “ It is time to have pity upon her, yea, the time is come.” Then the heathen were to be shattered, the righteous rewarded, and Yahweh to be enthroned for ever ( Psalms 10:15 f.) The future is to be rich in temporal blessings for Israel. Zion and the cities of Judah are to be built up again. But spiritual blessings were not forgotten, and the author of Psalms 84 draws a charming picture of the approaching age from its spiritual side—“ Mercy and truth are met together: righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth springeth out of the earth and righteousness looketh down from heaven.” The Pss. just cited and many others inspired by the same hope are usually called Messianic in a wide and general sense. The term is apt to be misleading, for they do not make any reference to the ideal King, to the anointed One or Messiah who was to establish the Kingdom of God upon earth. The pious Jew, however, did not apprehend as clearly as we do this distinction between Pss. which are, strictly speaking, Messianic and others which are eschatological rather than Messianic. The hope of the Jewish saints and heroes was satisfied if sin was punished and righteousness rewarded and triumphant. They cared little for the exact means by which the momentous change was brought about. It might be effected (so, e.g., Malachi 4) directly by Yahweh Himself, or by an ideal King or by a succession of ideal kings. All this was of secondary moment, and in any case the promised salvation must come ultimately from Yahweh.
Still the distinction, which did not greatly interest the Jews, has very great interest for us, partly because belief in a personal Messiah marks a stage in the development of religious ideas, and still more because it left so deep an impress on the NT writers and upon the early Christians in general, not to speak of its strong influence on the mind and career of our Lord Himself. Observe that the word Messiah or ideal prince in its technical sense is not found or is scarcely round in any part of the OT. 1 Samuel 2:10 and Psalms 2 are said to furnish instances of its use, but this is at least doubtful. That the notion, if not the name, bas a place in the Pss. is beyond question. Some of the most definite references to an ideal King may have been interpolated by a later hand. But this only proves how strongly Messianic expectation had seized upon the heart of the people. The writer of Psalms 89 approaches, though he does not actually reach, the Messianic faith. He pleads the promise made to David that his seed is to be established for ever. It is to endure like sun and moon. In Psalms 72 the Messianic belief is made more definite: it speaks, moreover, of a Messiah who is superhuman. He is to rule from the Euphrates to the ends of the earth. All kings are to do Him homage; all nations are to serve Him. His rule is to be a beneficent one; the needy and the poor are to be the special objects of His care. All men are to be blessed in Him. He comes down like refreshing rain on the grass. He is to live ( Psalms 72:5 in LXX) as long as the sun and moon. Psalms 2 is also distinctly Messianic. The conquering King is victorious by Divine decree, nay, He is the Son of God. True Hos. ( Psalms 11:1) speaks of Israel as the son of God. Concerning Solomon also as the representative of the nation the promise ran ( 2 Samuel 7:14), “ I will be his father and he shall be my son.” Probably, however, we are justified in a stricter and eschatological interpretation of the title in Psalms 2. From a religious and ethical point of view this Ps. is greatly inferior to Psalms 72.
The OT knows nothing of a suffering Messiah. The belief found a measure of support among Jewish doctors. They distinguished between the Messiah, the Son of David, and the Son of Joseph. The latter was to gather the ten tribes once more together, but was afterwards to fall in battle against the Romans, led on by a sort of Antichrist. The Jews were then to endure redoubled sufferings, from which they were to be finally delivered by the true Messiah, who was the Son of David. This idea, however, cannot be traced beyond the third century A.D. and has no shadow of support in any part of the Bible. Psalms 22 has been generally accepted as a prophecy of Messiah’ s sufferings uttered by the Christ in His own person. So in the ancient Church Cassiodorus called it “ a history rather than a prophecy,” and Theodore of Mopsuestia, who thought it referred to the Psalmist’ s own time, was condemned by the general feeling of the Church. We must bear in mind that its fulfilment in Jesus by no means implies that the Ps. itself is Messianic. It speaks not of an ideal King but of an ideal sufferer. It is a striking feature that the man who suffers so terribly refrains from the usual curses of the persecutors. There is nothing unreasonable in the belief that the image of an ideal sufferer here portrayed was realised above all human expectation in the passion and death of Jesus, and a psalm which Jesus Himself quoted as He hung on the cross makes a unique appeal to the Christian heart. Only we must refrain from pressing the details. “ They have pierced my hands and feet” is a favourite text, but the meaning of the words so translated is more than doubtful. The parting of the vestments, and the vinegar given to Jesus that He might drink, are instances of the way in which the Gospel history was conformed in detail to OT prophecy. Not that the Gospel story is mythical— very far from it; but there may be and probably are a few mythical accretions even in the Synoptic narrative, of which accretions Psalms 22 furnishes two. One important point remains to be mentioned. In Psalms 22:22-31 agony changes into joy and triumph. Not only is all Israel to exult, but “ all the ends of the earth,” and “ all the kindreds of the nations are to be converted and acknowledge Yahweh and are to bow down before Him.” It is, therefore, natural to regard the sufferer in the former half as a being of superhuman grandeur. How else could His suffering and deliverance affect the whole world in so marvellous a degree? But the last nine verses are probably a separate Ps. or a liturgical addition. The sufferings depicted in Psalms 22:1-21 have no apparent connexion with the triumphant song which follows.
On a superficial view the Pss. are intensely national. They speak of the struggle for national existence, of Israel’ s past glories and present trials. They magnify the Jew: they console and encourage those who are faithful to Judaism. The individuals who pour out their complaint, their confession, or their thanksgivings before God are all loyal Jews. No Psalmist reached the standpoint of Paul, from which all national distinctions are lost in a higher unity. Nevertheless there is an element of universalism in the Psalter, easy to see and more prominent here than elsewhere in the OT. The more the Jews were scattered among the cities of the Mediterranean, the harder did the literal observance of the Law become. Hence Jews were forced, almost in spite of themselves, to lay the stress on the moral element in religion and on the great central truth— on God’ s spiritual nature and on man’ s communion with Him. No sacrifice was lawful unless offered in the Temple; but a visit to the Temple In the case of many foreign Jews involved a long and perilous journey, and could be made but seldom. The obligation of paying tithes was limited in the Law to the fruits of the earth and cattle. A Jew engaged in trade at Alexandria or Rome had no need to give them a thought. A religion thus purified from ritual observance could address itself to mankind, and this the Psalmists often do. God requires obedience from men as such, not merely from Jews. “ Yahweh looked from heaven and beheld the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek after God” ( Psalms 14:2). Yahweh is to rule the world in righteousness ( Psalms 9:8). God’ s care for man is wonderful, considering the gulf which parts man from God: “ What is man that thou art mindful of him or the son of man that thou visitest him?” ( Psalms 8:4). The relation of the Psalmists to the heathen world is best understood when we remember that they are invited to rejoice with Israel over Yahweh’ s victories. He triumphs for their good. “ Oh let the nations rejoice and be glad and sing for joy, for thou shalt judge the peoples with equity.”
What has been said may partially explain the charm which has made the Psalter a bond of union between the Churches of Christ and even between church and synagogue. The sublime and pathetic utterances of the best Pss. came straight from the heart of Israelites thousands of years ago— and they go straight to the heart still.
Appendix on Heb. metre, the musical directions in the titles, and a brief comparison of Heb. with Babylonian and Egyptian hymns.
1. Hebrew Metre.— The parallelism in Heb. poetry has been discussed elsewhere (p. 23). The rhythm or metre of Heb. poetry is still imperfectly known, but the following points may be taken as fairly certain. Heb. metre is accentual, i.e. a line has a certain number of accented syllables. A line contains two, three, or four accented syllables. One line with the same number of accents may follow another, or the number may vary to lines with three and two accents alternating with each other. An example will best illustrate the metre intended, though a representation in English must obviously be very imperfect. The passage selected is Psalms 19:7 ff.
BY PRINCIPAL W. T. DAVISON
AMONGST the teachers of Israel for some time before the Exile there were three main classes— the priests, the prophets, and the wise men (Hakamim). “ The Law,” it was said, “ shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet” ( Jeremiah 18:18). The priest gave the people instruction based upon law and tradition; the prophet was bidden to carry to them a message with which he had been directly inspired by the Spirit of God; it was the duty of the wise “ to translate general principles into terms of everyday life and to give counsel for everyday conduct.” Hear the word of the wise “ is the injunction of Proverbs 22:17; “ These also are sayings of the wise” introduces a new section of the book in Proverbs 24:23. Their influence grew considerably during the period immediately after the Captivity; it was naturally strongest when the direct inspiration of prophecy was no longer felt, and when the reflective period in the religion of Israel was at its height. They have been described as the “ humanists” of Israel; their teaching has also been compared with the “ philosophy” of other nations, especially with the “ sophists” of pre-Socratic times; they have been styled “ moral casuists.” But none of these names fits the case, and the associations connected with them should not be allowed to prejudice a first-hand study of Hebrew Wisdom.
Five extant books represent the literature of Wisdom (Hokma). Three of these are canonioal— Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes; two are outside the Canon— a work by the son of Sirach, known as Ecclesiasticus, and the Wisdom of Solomon. The Song of Solomon should not be included in the list, but certain Pss. illustrate the work of the school, such as Psalms 1, 37, 49, 50, 73, 112. The Book of Baruch (3:9– 27) contains a remarkable eulogy of Wisdom, while the succession of “ wise” teachers lasted till the time of Philo of Alexandria, 4 Maccabees, and the treatise Pirké Aboth. The last-named “ sayings of the Fathers” are purely Jewish, while the writings of Philo and the Book of Wisdom are attempts, only partially successful, to harmonise Hellenic philosophy with Jewish religion. Traces of the influence of Ecclesiasticus are tolerably obvious in the NT— for example, in the Epistle of James— and parallels are traceable between some passages of Wisdom and the Epistle to the Hebrews, as well as other parts of the NT. It is the object of this article not to discuss these books severally (see introductions to Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes), but briefly to characterise Wisdom Literature in general.
1. In discussing the meaning of Wisdom in the OT, the distinction between Divine and human must be kept in mind. The writers assume throughout that there is one God, Creator and Preserver of all, who alone is perfect in knowledge, as in power and holiness. But the Divine attribute of Wisdom is contemplated in and by itself, as is never the case with power or righteousness; it is the quality in virtue of which God knows and plans and purposes all things, possessing as He does perfect comprehension of all creatures and their capacities, and perfectly adopting the best means for the accomplishment of the highest and best possible ends. Wisdom on the part of man implies a capacity of entering to some extent into the meaning and scope of Divine wisdom, so far as that is possible to finite, ignorant, and sinful beings. Creation—“ nature,” as we call it— is one field of knowledge. The proverbial wisdom of Solomon, extolled in 1 Kings 4:29-34, included “ trees, from the cedar in Lebanon to the hyssop that springeth out of the wall,” and a knowledge of beasts and fishes and birds. But nature, animate and inanimate, was not the chief theme of “ Wisdom.” The Jewish sage was not concerned with physical science and natural law in the modern sense; it was human life in all its relations, and especially in its moral and religious aspects, with which he had to do. Wisdom for him meant the power to understand, discriminate, and form just estimates of value in this all-important region; the ability rightly to conceive the ends of life, the end of ends, and fully to master the best means for securing the highest good. All this, however, is conceived not in a philosophical but in a deeply religious spirit. Hence the subject of Providence, the moral government of the world, the distribution of rewards and punishments, and the relation between a man’ s character and his lot and condition in fife, occupied much of the attention of the students of Wisdom.
2. Close definition is difficult, if not impossible, since a measure of progress is discernible in the conception of Wisdom during the centuries covered by the literature. In the earliest stage it has been described as “ a kind of common-sense philosophy of life, with a strong religious tendency.” But this will not cover the sublime conception embodied in Proverbs 8, nor the description of Job 28, nor the process of grappling with life-problems characteristic of Job and Ecclesiastes. Still less does it correspond to the subject of the high eulogies in Sir_4:11 ; Sir_4:24 and Ecc. 24, or to the well-known description in Wis_7:22-30 . “ She is a breath of the power of God and a clear effluence of the glory of the Almighty. She is an unspotted mirror of the working of God and an image of His goodness. She, being one, hath power to do all things; and remaining herself, reneweth all things; and from generation to generation, passing into holy souls, she maketh men friends of God and prophets.” It remains true, however, that among the Jews “ philosophy” was practical and religious, in contrast with the speculative and dialectic tendencies of the Greeks. Man is represented as engaged in a search after wisdom rather than as having attained it, and advance is made in the search as time goes on.
3. But there are certain general characteristics which distinguish Hebrew Wisdom throughout, and these may be briefly summarised as follows:
( a) It is human rather than national. Every careful reader must have noticed that Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes are less distinctively Jewish than the other canonical books. They appeal neither to law nor to prophets as final authorities. For better, for worse, they strike a “ cosmopolitan” note. The absence of sacrificial and Messianic ideas has been made a ground of objection against these books, some portions of which, it is urged, might have been written by Pagans. But religion is never forgotten by the writers, and in the wider outlook and freedom from national prejudice compensation may be found for some alleged deficiencies. It may be remarked in passing that the Book of Wisdom, which is characteristically universalist in the earlier chapters, takes up a strongly national and particularist tone in its later portion, which presents a sort of philosophy of history from a Jewish standpoint.
( b) The details of daily social life in their moral aspects are prominent in the Wisdom Literature. The king and the day-labourer, the tradesman in his business and the guest in the home, women in the management of their houses and the due control of their tongues, the oppressor, the usurer, the cheat, the tale-bearer— all receive sound and wholesome advice. The tone of the counsel is often “ secular,” and the motives urged often run on a low and prudential rather than a lofty and ideal plane. But religious considerations are always in the background, and often come notably to the front. It would not be difficult to select from Proverbs a store of profound spiritual aphorisms, such as “ His secret is with the righteous,” “ The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord,” “ Where no vision is, the people perish,” and “ He that winneth souls is wise.” Self-regarding virtues are not foremost in the estimation of writers who tell us many times that “ before honour is humility,” who tenderly enjoin submission to the fatherly chastening of the Lord, and who remind the vindictive that to feed and help an enemy is the best revenge, one that will not pass unnoticed by the Lord of all.
( c) The ethical spirit of the “ wise” is not opposed to the legalism of the priest or the fiery earnestness of the prophet; rather does it supplement and complete both. Religion has its ceremonial and mystical side, but there is always danger lest its close connexion with prosaic duties in everyday life should be forgotten. Priest, prophet, and sage, all have a place in the old covenant, and each has a truly religious message to deliver. “ The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,” occurs in Job and Ecclesiastes, as well as many times in Proverbs. But the God whom these writers fear and trust is one who is Himself righteous and loves righteousness in man, across the counter as well as in the Temple. He abominates a false balance, lazy habits, a greedy appetite, and a smoothly flattering as well as a scolding and contentious tongue.
( d) These writers were orthodox in their religious beliefs, but they were not closely tied by dogmatic considerations, and they expressed themselves with freedom and force. The criticism which styles them “ sceptics” makes very free with the text of Job and Ecclesiastes in order to establish the position. But it is perfectly true that in dealing with the facts and deep problems of life the writers of these two books do exhibit considerable freedom from traditional and conventional beliefs, while maintaining their faith in the God of Israel and of the whole world. It is largely to them that we owe the trains of thought which in Judaism prepared the way for the doctrine of immortality, as the saints of earlier days groped their way through the problems of pain and death, first to the hope, and afterwards to the assurance, of life beyond the grave.
4. Much may be learned concerning the current ideas of Wisdom on its human side by a study of the various synonyms used for it and the somewhat copious vocabulary which describes its opposite, Folly. In addition to the phrase “ wisdom and understanding” as used in Deuteronomy 4:5 f. and Isaiah 11:2, in which stress is laid upon intelligent comprehension of the Divine law of righteousness, we may draw attention to a number of synonyms, without professing to enumerate them all. Binah may be rendered “ intelligent perception” ; ta’ am is good taste or discernment applied to morals; tushiyah, often used for strength or help, in Proverbs indicates the solid, sound knowledge that may be relied on as a stay in time of need; ormah is on the border-line between prudence and unning, and stands for a “ subtlety” of perception that will enable a wise man to steer his vessel craftily” and well; while sekel indicates discretion, or good sense in active operation.
On the other hand, the foolish man is described sometimes as pethi, simple, ignorant, easily misled; or as kesil, heavy, stupid, obstinate; or as evil, rashly, wantonly foolish. He may be baar, coarse, brutish, or nabal, churlish and ignoble. The emptiness and unworthiness of folly are employed in one group of words, and its unsavoury and corrupt character, without wholesome salt of reason and understanding, in another ( Proverbs 1:7 *). The Bunyan-like picture of Madam Folly in Proverbs 9:13-18 stands out in bold contrast with the picture of Wisdom and her seven-pillared palace, at the opening of the same chapter.
The subject of the literary form of the Hokma books does not come within the scope of this chapter (p. 24). But it may be noted now skilfully the elementary form of the mashal, or “ proverb,” consisting of a short, bare couplet, is expanded for the presentation of symbolic pictures and of ideas far beyond the scope of the original saw or maxim. The structure of Ecclesiasticus is like that of Proverbs, but Job, Koheleth, and Wisdom exhibit different attractive developments of what might have appeared an intractable form of verse.
5. One notable feature of this literature is a certain personification of Divine Wisdom, and there is some difficulty in interpreting its exact scope and meaning. Is the writer of Proverbs 8:22 f., for example, simply using in bold and vivid fashion a well-known grammatical figure, endowing Wisdom with personal qualities only for the purpose of literary and poetical effectiveness? Or is Wisdom here truly hypostatised— i.e. was it regarded by the writer as a personal being, distinct from God Himself? The answer would seem to be that in these passages the religious imagination is at work under special conditions, and forms of expression are used which, if literally pressed by Western readers, would imply distinct personal existence, but that this was never intended by the Oriental readers, who would probably have been shocked by such a turning of their literature into dogma. A somewhat similar development is discernible in the use of the phrases “ Spirit of God” and “ Word of God,” neither of which in the minds of OT writers implied personal distinctions either within or outside the personality of the one true God, who was the sole object of faith and worship.
None the less the language employed is very bold. Wisdom not only cries and puts forth her voice, as in Proverbs 8:1— an obvious metaphor; of her it is also said, “ Yahweh possessed me in the beginning of his way. . . . I was brought forth or ever the earth was. . . . I was by him as a master-workman” (or “ foster-child,” sporting as children will do), “ . . . daily his delight, rejoicing in his habitable earth,” etc. Wisdom, says Ben-Sira, “ came forth from the mouth of the Most High. . . . He created me from the beginning, and to the end I shall not fail” ( Sir_24:3 ; Sir_24:9 ). In the Wisdom of Solomon the prayer is offered “ Give me wisdom, that sitteth by thee on thy throne” ( Wis_9:4 ); Wisdom “ fills the world” ( Wis_1:7 ), was present at and was an instrument in the creation ( Wis_9:2 ; Wis_9:9 ); Wisdom makes men prophets (Wis 9:27), gives knowledge of the Divine counsel, and confers glory and immortality ( Wis_8:10 ; Wis_8:13 ). One of the most recent commentators on this book, Rev. J. A. F. Gregg, holds that in it Wisdom “ is not hypostatised . . . is personal but not a person . . . possesses the moral qualities of God without His self-determination. . . . The writer of Wisdom regards her as far more than a merely literary personification; he conceded to her a refined, supersensuous personality.” We agree with this if the phraseology of literary personification is to be judged by modern and Western standards. But greater latitude of expression was permitted to the Jewish and Hellenistic writers of two thousand years ago, and it is necessary to remember that psychological analysis was then in its infancy. Mr. Gregg admits that “ no modern psychologist would allow personality to Wisdom on the data advanced in the book.” The line of personality is now drawn at the possession of self-consciousness and self-determination, and none of these writers held that Wisdom apart from God was personal in this sense.
The standpoint of these passages is most nearly gained if we bear in mind that at the foundation of the writers’ theology lay the idea of a living God, whom they were attempting to realise not as transcendent only, but as immanent in the world. They desired to bring all the Divine attributes— and Wisdom had almost come to include them all— into living relation with the world, and graphic personification was the best means at their disposal. If the one living and true God is to be brought into close relation and communion with His creatures, neither the abstractions of philosophy nor the language of mere transcendence will suffice. Hence we find, both within and outside the canonical Scriptures, a use of the terms “ Word of God,” “ Spirit of God,” or “ Wisdom of God” as a supreme intermediary, preparing the way for the idea of Incarnation and the fuller revelation of the NT.
Another subject of great importance can barely be touched on here. All these writers, covering a period of more than five hundred years, believed in the moral government of God, His perfectly wise and gracious ordering of the affairs of the world and of man. How do they regard the standing problems of pain, sin, and death? Is there any progress in ability to grapple with these difficulties, and is any continuous development of thought with regard to them discernible? What may be called the orthodoxy of the period before the Exile is substantially expressed in the earliest Wisdom document (Proverbs 10-24). Obedience to God is rewarded by prosperity, disobedience will be punished by calamity and overthrow. The disciplinary character of suffering, it is true, is not ignored; chastening is necessary for God’ s children; but this is quite compatible with the fatherly government which secures that justice shall be done— in this life, for no other comes into the account. Justice is also mainly concerned with the nation and the family as units; individual character in relation to individual condition and destiny is not a main theme with the writers before the Captivity.
The Book of Job— and, in a minor transitional fashion, some of the Pss.— represents a revolt against this doctrine as not in accordance with the facts of life and as not adequately describing the righteous government of God. A different interpretation of life is set forth in this sublime poem. The writer of Job, impressed by the vastness and variety of the Divine wisdom, faces the difficulty of the sufferings of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked very much— if we may so express it— in the spirit of the prologue to Tennyson’ s “ In Memoriam.” He desires that knowledge should grow from more to more, but that more of reverence should dwell in the sons of men, who ought to know themselves “ fools and slight” in comparison with Divine Wisdom. The absence of definite dogma does not diminish, but rather increases, the profound religious impression made by a book which teaches men how to draw near to the very heart of God, even while bold enough to put searching questions concerning His mysterious ways.
The son of Sirach, “ one who gleaneth after the grape-gatherers,” who is a sage but hardly a poet, inculcates a subdued resignation, a passive submission to the Divine will, which is devout in spirit and excellent in practice, though it does little or nothing to answer the passionate questionings of anxious souls. The writer of Ecclesiastes is not the cynic, or the pessimist, or the agnostic, that he is often represented to be. (We are discussing the books of Job and Ecclesiastes as they have come down to us, without entering here on the critical questions raised by their composite authorship as it is accepted by most modern scholars.) It is true that as the preacher contemplates the working of what we should call natural law, life seems to be little but “ emptiness and striving after wind.” But if Koheleth sometimes seems little better than a Hebrew Stoic, he remains a Hebrew, not a Stoic. Apart from the teaching of the last verses concerning judgment, it would seem to be the aim of the writer to show how vain and empty is the life of the senses, viewed at its best, and the wisdom of steadfastly performing duty in reliance upon God, however He may hide Himself. He must be trusted and obeyed amidst much in life that is and will remain unintelligible.
The writer of the Wisdom of Solomon, while possessing much in common with his predecessors, is distinguished from them by his clear, explicit teaching concerning immortality. God “ made not death” ; He “ created man for incorruption.” Love of Wisdom and obedience to her laws form the path to immortality. “ The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, and there shall no torment touch them.” Towards this doctrine earlier saints and worthies were but dimly groping their way, and even the writer of this book discerns the truth “ darkly as in a mirror.” The doctrine of the natural immortality of the soul, which he accepts in Hellenic fashion, does not abolish death and bring life and immortality to light, as does the Christian gospel. One of the chief features of interest in the study of the Wisdom Literature of the OT is to trace out the various ways in which its messengers, like heralds before the dawn, were preparing the way for the revelation of the “ manifold wisdom of God” in the New.
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12