Page images


The opinion has long since been exploded, that David was the sole author of the Psalms. For the contents of some of them prove that they were written during the captivity.

According to the Hebrew inscriptions, which are translated in the common English version of the Scriptures, and which form the Italic titles in the following translation, the authors of the Psalms are Moses, David, Solomon, Asaph, Heman, Ethan, and the sons of Korah.

But great uncertainty rests on these inscriptions, because several of them are inconsistent with the contents of the psalms to which they are prefixed. It is, indeed, not improbable that the name of the author was originally prefixed to his composition by his own hand. This is said to have been the practice of the Oriental poets from a very remote age, as it certainly was of several of the Hebrew prophets. If this were the case with respect to the Psalms, it is probable that many of the titles were lost in consequence of the use made of them in public worship, and that their place was afterwards partially supplied by uncertain tradition, or mere conjecture. What is certain is, that many of the inscriptions are at undeniable variance with the contents of the psalm; and this fact tends to throw discredit on those, with which thé tenor of the composition sufficiently agrees.

To David the Hebrew titles ascribe seventy-one psalms. Of these, many contain positive internal evidence of the accuracy of their titles. From his fame, as a player upon the harp, when he was invited to play before Saul, from his appellation of the sweet psalmist of Israel, and from the tradition of antiquity, there can be no doubt that he was the author of most of those, which are ascribed to him, and of some, which have no title.

“The inscriptions, indicating the authorship of David,” says Eichhorn, “cannot be all right; not however on account of the greatness of the number ascribed to him. Who knows not that, as a shepherd, and in a private station, David knew no truer friend than his harp; and that, when a king, he gloried in his songs more than in his crown? The whole course of his life, whether joyous or sorrowful, he introduced into his compositions. Who then must be surprised at the number of psalms of lamentation, which come under his name? Who ever suffered more, or more variously, or more undeservedly, than David ? From the condition of a shepherd he raised himself to the throne. Through what hosts of enviers and enemies must he have pressed before he reached it! More than once was he obliged to flee from the javelin of Saul with his harp in his hand; what wonder, then, that it sounded his terrors ? How often was he compelled to rove through the wilderness to avoid the persecution of one, who should have loved and protected him, as a member of his house, and successor to his throne? And when these dangers were past, long was it before the dangers of his life were past. Ishbosheth contended with him, as a rival aspirant for the throne, and until the whole royal family was extinct, he never felt himself at rest. Then he engaged, with various success, in war with the neighbouring kings, from Egypt to the Euphrates; and at last, after so many victories, he was destined to find his most dangerous enemy in the person of his own son, the rebellious Absalom. Amid so many and bitter calamities, the number of his poetic sighs and lamentations is not a matter of surprise. Besides, is it at all probable that the brief chronicles of the Hebrews make us acquainted with all his domestic afflictions through the whole course of his life? These, however, are not less hard to be borne than public calamities."

The characteristics of David's poetry are said by the same distinguished critic to be loveliness, and deep feeling. With him agrees so good a judge of poetry as the author of the Pleasures of Hope. “ His traits of inspiration are lovely and touching rather than daring and astonishing. His voice, as a worshipper, has a penetrating accent of human sensibility, varying from plaintive melancholy to luxuriant gladness, and even rising to ecstatic rapture. In grief his heart is melted like war, and deep answers to deep, whilst the waters of affliction pass over him; or his soul is led to the green pastures by the quiet waters, or his religious confidence pours forth the metaphors of a warrior in rich and exulting succession. The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer

- my God, my strength, in whom I will trust my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.' Some of the sacred writers may excite the imagination more powerfully than David, but none of them appeal more interestingly to the heart. Nor is it in tragic, so much as in joyous expression, that I conceive the power of his genius to consist. Its most inspired aspect appears to present itself, when he looks abroad upon the universe with the eye of a poet, and with the breast of a glad and grateful worshipper. When he looks up to the starry firmament, his soul assimilates to the splendor and serenity, which he contemplates. This lofty but bland spirit of devotion reigns in the eighth and in the nineteenth Psalm. But above all, it expands itself in the hundred and fourth into a minute and diversified picture of the creation. Verse after verse, in that Psalm, leads on the mind through the various objects of nature as through a mighty landscape, and the atmosphere of the scene is colored not with a dim or mystic, but with a clear and warm light of religious feeling. He spreads his sympathies over the face of the world, and rejoices in the power and goodness of its protecting Deity. The impression of that exquisite ode dilates the heart with a pleasure too instinctivo and simple to be described.”

To Moses only one psalm is ascribed, viz. the ninetieth. In this beautiful elegy there is nothing absolutely inconsistent with the supposition that he was the author of it. Most critics, however, have supposed it to savour of a later age. Grotius remarks, “that it was not composed by him, but adapted by the author to the circumstances and feelings of Moses, containing sentiments, which he might have expressed.” The writers of the Talmud ascribe the ten psalms following the ninetieth to Moses; but they do this upon the wholly unfounded supposition, that those psalms, which have no title, are to be attributed to the author, whose name occurs in the next preceding title.

The ninty-ninth certainly could not have been written by him, since it contains the name of the prophet Samuel, who was not born, till nearly three hundred years after the death of Moses.

Twelve psalms, viz. Ps. l. and lxxiii lxxxiii., are ascribed to Asaph, a celebrated Levite, and chief of the choirs of Israel in the time of David. 1 Chron. xvi. 4, 5. That he was a poet, and composed as well as sung, is evident from 2 Chron. xxix. 30. Moreover Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the Lord with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer.

But he could have been the author of but a small portion of these twelve psalms. Psalms lxxiv., lxxvii., lxxix., lxxx., indisputably belong to the times of the captivity, and several of the rest have with good reason been referred to the same period. They may, however, have been written by a later poet of the same name. Eichhorn, Rosenmüller, and De Wette are of opinion, that of all the psalms ascribed to Asaph, the contemporary of David, only the fiftieth is decidedly his. This, however, is enough to place him in the number of poets of the very first order. It is marked by a deeper vein of thought, and a loftier tone of sentiment, than any of the compositions of David. In Asaph, the poet and the philosopher are combined. “ He was,” says Eichhorn, one of those ancient wise men, who felt the insufficiency of external religious usages, and urged the necessity of cultivating virtue, and purity of mind.” It may well be said of him, as of the scribe in the New Testament, that he was not far from the kingdom of God.

Eleven psalms, the forty-second and forty-third being supposed to be one psalm, viz. xlii — xlix., and lxxxiv., lxxxv., 1xxxvii., and lxxxviii., are ascribed to the sons of Korah, a Levitical family of singers. 1 Chron. vi. In consequence of the ambiguity of the Hebrew preposition, it has been doubted whether the inscription is intended to designate them as the authors of these psalms, or only as the musicians, who were to perform them in the temple. The preposition, however, is the same that denotes authorship in the case of those psalms, which are ascribed to David. Heman the Ezrahite, whose name occurs


in the title of one of these psalms, may have been one of the sons or descendants of Korah; or the mention of him in the inscription may have arisen from the amalgamation of contradictory titles. The titles were probably given them by some one, who had learned from tradition that they were the productions of the sons of Korah, but had not been informed of the names of their respective authors. Whatever may be the true explanation of their inscriptions, it is almost universally conceded that the psalms in question were not written by David. In style they differ materially from his. Whoever was their author, they are not unworthy of Asaph. No psalms in the whole collection possess a more permanent interest. None indicate a richer imagination, or a more powerful inspiration. None breathe a bolder, freer spirit of enthusiasm, or contain more sublime and affecting sentiments. Most of them, especially psalms xlii., xlvi., and lxxxiv., belong to that order of compositions, which, having once passed through the mind, are never forgotten; and which are most remeinbered in seasons when much that passes for poetry, being weighed in the balance, is found lighter than vanity.

In the Hebrew titles, the eighty-eighth psalm is ascribed to HEMAN, and the eighty-ninth to ETHAN, both called Ezrahites. The persons intended were, probably, Levitical singers in the time of David, mentioned in 1 Chron. vi. 33, 44. But there can be little doubt that the titles are wrong ; and that these Psalms belong to a later age than that of David.

To SOLOMON only two of the psalms are inscribed, viz. the 72nd and 127th. But these could scarcely have been written by him. It has been suggested that his name was prefixed to the latter, merely because the first verse mentions the building of a house, which the author of the title supposed to refer to the temple. Of the 72nd he seems to be the subject rather than the author. It is not improbable, however, that some of the psalms were written by Solomon, since in 1 Kings iv. 32, he is said to have written one thousand and five songs.

« PreviousContinue »