« AnteriorContinuar »
CRITICAL, EXPLANATORY, AND PRACTICAL,
BOOK OF PSALMS.
Bv ALBERT BARNES,
IN THREE VOLUMES.
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1867, by
In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
THE BOOK OF PSALMS.
This psalm is one of the most remarkable in the whole collection. It is said, in the title, to be "A Prayer of Moses, the man of God;" or, as it is in the margin, "being a Psalm of Moses." The original word—FTPElfy tephillah—means properly (1) intercession, supplication for any one; (2^ prayer or supplication in general; (3) a hymn or inspired song. Gesenius, Lex. In Ps. lxxii. 20, the word is applied to the whole preceding part of the Book of Psalms,—" The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended." The word prayer would better represent the nature of the contents of this psalm than the word psalm, or hymn.
If the author was Moses, then this is the only one of his compositions which we have in the Book of Psalms. We know, from not a few places in the Pentateuch, that Moses was a poet as well as a lawgiver and statesman; and it would not be improbable that there might have been some compositions of his of this nature which were not incorporated in the five books that he wrote, and which would be likely to be preserved by tradition. This psalm bears internal evidence that it may have been such a composition. There is no local allusion which would make it necessary to suppose that it was written at a later period; there is nothing inconsistent with the sentiments and style of Moses in the Pentateuch; there is much that is in accordance with his style and manner; and there were numerous occasions when the sentiments of the psalm, would be exceedingly suitable to the circumstances in which he was, and to the train of thoughts which we may suppose to have passed through his mind. The following remarks of Prof. Alexander seem to me to be eminently just and appropriate : — " The correctness of the title which ascribes the psalm to Moses is confirmed by its unique simplicity and grandeur; its appropriateness to his times and circumstances; its resemblance to the law in urging the connexion between sin and YOL. III.
death; its similarity of diction to the poetical portions of the Pentateuch, without the slightest trace of imitation or quotation; its marked unlikeness to the Psalms of David, and still more to those of later date; and finally the proved impossibility of plausibly assigning it toany other age or author." As a relic thus of most ancient times,1—as coming down from the most remarkable man in the Jewish history, if not in the world, — as well as for its own instructive beauty and appropriateness to all times and lands,—it is a composition of great interest and value.
This psalm is placed at the beginning of the fourth book of the Psalter, according to the ancient traditional division of the Psalms. Or, perhaps, the author of the arrangement—probably Ezra—designed to place this by itself between the two great divisions of the book, containing respectively the earlier and the later psalms. It may be regarded, therefore, as "the heart or centre of the whole collection," suggesting thoughts appropriate to the entire current of thought in the book.
The phrase, "the man of God," in the title, is given to Moses in Deut. xxxiii. 1; Josh. xiv. 6; Ezra iii. 2, as a title especially appropriate to him, denoting that he was faithful to God; that he was a man approved by God. The title is indeed given to others, Judges xiii. 6, 8; 1 Sam. ii. 27; ix. 6-8; 1 Kings xii. 22, et al.; but there was a peculiar appropriateness in the title as given to Moses on account of his character, his eminent rank, and his influence in founding the Hebrew commonwealth.
It is impossible, of course, now to determine the time when the psalm was composed, but it may not improbably be supposed to have been near the close of the wanderings in the wilderness. The Hebrew people were about to enter the promised land; the generation that came out of Egypt was passing away; Moses himself felt that he was near the end of his course, for he had been apprized that he could not enter the land of promise to B
A Prayer 1 of Moses, the man a of God.
TOE-D, thou hast been our
1 Or, being a Psalm of.
dwelling-place Jin 2all generations.
I Ps. lxxi. 3; Ez. xi. 16.
8 generation and generation.
the borders of which he had conducted the people. These things were eminently fitted to suggest such views of the shortness of human life, and of its frailty, as are here presented. At the same time, all these circumstances were fitted to suggest the reference to the future, and the prayer in respect to that future, with which the psalm so beautifully closes. It seems, then, not improper to regard this psalm as one of the last utterances of Moses, when the wanderings of the Hebrew people were about to cease; when an entire generation had been swept off; and when his own labours were soon to close.
The main subject of the psalm is the brevity—the transitory nature—of human life; the reflections on which seem designed to lead the soul up to God, who does not die. The races of men are cut down like grass, but God remains the same from age to age. One generation finds him the same as the previous generation had found him— unchanged, and as worthy of confidence as ever. None of these changes can affect him, and there is in each age the comforting assurance that he will be found to be the refuge, the support, the "dwelling-place" of his people.
The psalm consists of the following parts: —
I. The fact that God is unchanging; that he is the refuge of his people, and always has been; that from the eternity past to the eternity to come, he is the same,—he alone is God, vers. 1, 2.
II. The frailty of man—the brevity of human life—as contrasted with this unchanging nature-—this eternity—of God, vers. 3-11. Man is turned to destruction; he is carried away as with a flood; his life is like a night's sleep; the human race is like grass which is green in the morning and is cut down at evening;—human existence is like a tale that is told—brief as a meditation— and narrowed down to threescore years and ten.
III. A prayer that the living might be able so to number their days—to take such an account of life as to apply the heart to wisdom ;—to make the most of life, or to be truly wise, ver. 12.
IV. A prayer for those who were to follow—for the coming generation—that God would continue his favours; that though the present generation must die, yet that God, who is unchanging and eternal, would meet the next generation, and all the generations to come, with the same mercies and blessings, enjoyed by those who went before them,—prolonging these to all future time, vers. 13-17.
The psalm, therefore, has a universal applicability. Its sentiments and its petitions are as appropriate now as they were in the time of Moses. The generations of men pass away as certainly and as rapidly now as they did then; but it is as true now as it was then, that God is unchanging, and that he is the "dwelling-place"—the home—of his people.
1. Lord. Not here Jehovah, but Adonai—S37N. The word is properly rendered Lord, but it is a term which is often applied to God. It indicates, however, nothing in regard to his character or attributes except that he is a Ruler or Governor, ^f Thou hast been our dwelling-place. The LXX. render this, refuge—Karafyvyr}. So the Latin Vulgate, refugium ,• and Luther, Zuflueht. The Hebrew word
p^TO, maon—means properly a
habitation, a dwelling, as of God in his temple, Ps. xxvi. 8; heaven, Ps. lxviii. 5; Deut. xxvi. 15. It also means a den or lair for wild beasts, Nah. ii. 12; Jer. ix. 11. But here the idea seems to be, as in the Septuagint, Vulgate, and Luther, a refuge; a place to which one may come as to his home, as one does from a journey; from wandering; from toil; from danger:—a place to which such a one naturally resorts, which he loves, and where he feels that he may rest secure. The idea is, that a friend of God has that feeling in respect to Him, which one has towards his own home—his abode—the place whicli he loves and calls his own. % In all
2 Before c the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to ever
c Prov. viii. 25, 26.
lasting, thou art God.
3 Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, d ye children of men.
d Gen. iii. 19.
generations. Marg., generation and generation. That is, A succeeding generation has found him to be the same as the previous generation had. He was unchanged, though the successive generations of men passed away.
2. Before the mountains were brought forth. Before the earth brought forth or produced the mountains. In the description of the creation it would be natural to represent the mountains as the first objects that appeared, as emerging from the waters; and, therefore, as the first or most ancient of created objects. The phrase, therefore, is equivalent to saying, Before the earth was created. The literal meaning of the expression, "were brought forth," is, in the Hebrew, "were born." The mountains are mentioned as the most ancient things in creation, in Deut. xxxiii. 15. Comp. Gen. xlix. 26; Hab. iii. 6. ^[ Or ever thou hadst formed. Literally, "hadst brought forth." Comp. Job xxxix. 1. % The earth and the world. The word earth here is used to denote the world as distinguished either from heaven (Gen. i. 1), or from the sea (Gen. i. 10). The term world in the original is commonly employed to denote the earth considered as inhabited, or as capable of being inhabited,—a dwelling-place for living beings. *ff Even from everlasting to everlasting. From duration stretching backward without limit to duration stretching forward without limit; that is, from eternal ages • to eternal ages; or, for ever. ^ Thou art God. Or, "Thou, 0 God." The idea is, that he was always, and ever will be, God:—the God; the true God; the only God; the unchangeable God. At any period in the past, during the existence of the earth, or the heavens, or before either
was formed, he existed, with all the attributes essential to Deity; at any period in the future — during the existence of the earth and the heavens, or beyond—far as the mind can reach into the future, and even beyond that—he will still exist unchanged, with all the attributes of Deity. The creation of the universe made no change in him; its destruction would not vary the mode of his existence, or make him in any respect a different being. There could not be a more absolute and unambiguous declaration, as there could not be one more sublime, of the eternity of God. The mind cannot take in a grander thought than that there is one eternal and immutable Being.
3. Thou turnest man to destruction. In contradistinction from his own unchangeableness and eternity. Man passes away; God continues ever the same. The word rendered destruction—K3^, daJcha—means properly anything beaten or broken small or very fine, and hence dust. The idea here is, that God causes man to return to dust; that is, the elements which compose the body return to their original condition, or seem to mingle with the earth. Gen. iii. 19: "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." The word man here, of course, refers to man in general,— all men. It is the great law of our being. Individual man, classes of men, generations of men, races of men, pass away; but God remains the same. The Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate render this, "Thou turnest man to humiliation " which, though not the sense of the original, is a true idea, for there is nothing more humiliating than that a human body, once so beautiful, should turn back to dust; nothing more humbling than the grave. *[f And. sayest, Return,