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The titles of the Psalms : their nature and meaning explained online

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1^ namely nhj? (EdSth), or as the singular substantive nnj

(EdMh), we shall render * testimonies ' or ' testimony.*
As the two terms are intimately related, and the
pointing to which they have been subjected is doubt-
less arbitrary, we may make our choice. In those
Pentateuch passages in which light is thrown on our
subject, scholars prefer to read nny as the plural of my —
* testimonies.' Both words are of great importance in
the Old Testament literature.

First as to nnjf — EdMh. The slabs bearing the ten

words of the Law were called the * tables of Testimony '

^ (Exod. 31. 18) ; the chest containing the said tables was

called the ' ark of the Testimony ' (Exod. 25. 22) ; and

the tent in which the ark was lodged was designated the

*7 ' tabernacle of Testimony ' (Exod. 38. 21). It is not

i easy to see how the word, as so associated, could be used

\\ to qualify a title pointing to the Passover.

As the plural of nny the word is found in a series of
passages which will readily occur to the mind. It stands
for laws as divine testimonies {EdSth), or solemn
! charges, and is often combined with other terms of simi-

lar import — statutes, judgements, commandments. One
such passage is i Kings 2.3, in which we read that David,
being nigh unto death, charged Solomon in these words :
' Keep the charge of the Lord thy God, to walk in his
ways, to keep his statutes, and his commandments,
and his judgements, and his testimonies, according
to that which is written in the law of Moses,' &c.
'• In 2 Kings 17. 15, we read how Israel 'rejected the

statutes ' of Jehovah ^ and his testimonies which he


testified unto them.' Again, in 2 Kings 23. 3, we find
Josiah making a covenant with his people, in the presence
of Jehovah, ' to keep his commandments, and his
TESTIMONIES, and his statutes, with all his heart, and all
his soul.'

Here we may find a connexion between the testi-
monies and the Passover. To begin with, let it be
recalled that, as originally given, the Passover does not
strictly come under this heading. The feast, in its first
significance, was ordained in Egypt, before ever Israel
had left the house of bondage. It was given while as
yet the people were unredeemed, in fact while they were
still in ' the land of the enemy.' It was the sign and
token of redemption, and designed to show forth God's
mercy and power to all generations. Though that night
was one * to be much observed unto the Lord for bring-
ing them out from the land of Egypt ' (Exod. 12. 42) ;
and though the celebration of the ordinance in other
circumstances forty years afterwards, immediately after
crossing the Jordan in the plains of Jericho, might well
be memorable (Joshua 5. 10), there was also an instruc-
tion, having the nature of a statute, judgement, and
testimony, concerning the feast, which it is essential to
recognize in this connexion.

The particulars are recorded in Num. g. 5-14 ; and
there we have a detailed statement of the conditions on
which what has come down to our days as the Second
Passover, otherwise the Little Passover, was to be cele-
brated. The original institution was to be held in the
first month \ but for those who, by reason of ceremonial
uncleanness, or 'being in a journey afar off,' found
attendance impossible, it was commanded that there
should be a celebration in the second month, * according




to the statute of the Passover, and according to the
ordinance thereof.' The suggestion is that the psalms
bearing the subscript title Lilies: Testimonies were on
some memorable occasion selected for use at the Second
Passover, a Passover qualified by the word Testimonies
to show that it was the one contemplated by the special
command of the Lord, given through Moses in the
wilderness of Sinai two years after the exodus (Num.

9. i> 8)-

And here we might leave the subject. But we must
examine the psalms themselves. Before doing so, how-
ever, we inquire whether Israelitish history gives us any
record of such a Passover celebration as is here described.
We are directed to the reign of Hezekiah, and in par-
ticular to the Chronicler's account of his reorganiza-
tion of the Temple service (2 Chron. 29-31). We read
that, in the first year of his reign, the king opened the
doors of the house of the Lord ; and, calling the priests,
commanded them to sanctify themselves and to cleanse
the holy place. For sixteen days the work was in hand ;
and afterwards the offering of sacrifices in atonement for
the sins of the people was carried out on such a large
scale that * the priests were too few.' The service of
song was restored, cymbals, psalteries and harps being
brought in ; the Levites stood with ' the instruments of
David,' and * sang praises unto the Lord with the words
of David and of Asaph the seer ' (29. 25-30).

' So the service of the house of the Lord was set in
order ' (2 Chron. 29. 35). But what had happened by
consequence of the prolonged sanctification of the
house, and the renewal of the order of worship ? The
Passover season had gone by — the house was not ready
when the opening day arrived. There was, in the cir-


cumstances. nothing for it, but that the provision set
forth in Nnm. 9 should be accepted, and this was done.
'The king had taken counsel, and his princes, and all the
congregation in Jerusalem, to keep the Passover in the
second month. ... So they established a decree to make
proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beer-sheba
even to Dan, that they should come to keep the Passover
mito the Lord, the God of Israel, at Jerusalem : for they
had not kept it in great numbers (of a long time, R.V.
ntarg.) in such sort as it is written ' (30. 2, 5).

The entire proceedings bear witness to revival. The
congregation of people was large, representing some of
the tribes included in the Northern Kingdom ; and the
Levites ' stood in their place, after their order, according
to the law of Moses, the man of God.' The Temple
having been purified, efforts were afterwards made to
purify the land from monuments of idolatry and symbols
of wickedness. Every work which Hezekiah undertook
* in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and
in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all
his heart, and prospered ' (30. 13, 16, 18 ; 31. i, 21).

Bearing in mind the unrest which characterized the
opening of his reign, and remembering the Passover
note of trust and joy in view of Israel being Jehovah's
redeemed people, we may well regard the Eduth or
'Testimony ' psalms as designated for this period.

Psalm 59.

A Psalm of David : Michtam : when Saul sent, and they

watched the house to kill him.

Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God : i

Set me on high from them that rise up against me.

Deliver me from the workers of iniquity, , 2



And save me from the bloodthirsty men.

3 For, lo, they lie in wait for my soul ;

The mighty gather themselves together against me :
Not for my transgression, nor for my sin, O Lord.

4 They run and prepare themselves without my fault :
Awake thou to *help me, and behold.

5 Even thou, O Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel,
Arise to visit all the ^ heathen :

Be not merciful to any wicked trangressors. [Selah

6 They return at evening, they make a noise like a dog,
And go round about the city.

7 Behold, they belch out with their mouth ;
Swords are in their lips :

For who, say they, doth hear ?

8 But thou, O Lord, shalt laugh at them ;
Thou shalt have all the <> heathen in derision.

9 d o my strength, I will wait upon thee :
For God is my high tower.

10 « The God of my mercy shall prevent me :
God shall let me see my desire upon ^ mine enemies.

11 Slay them not, lest my people forget:
ft Scatter them by thy power, and bring them down,
O Lord our shield.

12 For the sin of their mouth, and the words of their

Let them even be taken in their pride.
And for cursing and lying which they speak.

13 Consume them in wrath, consume them, that they

be no more :
And let them know that God ruleth in Jacob, '
Unto the ends of the earth. [Selah

14 And at evening let them return, let them make a noise

like a dog,

• Heb. mee/.



* So some
The Hebrew
text has, His
■ According
Ais nurey.
' Or, thtm
that tit in
wait for me
« Or, Make
thent wan-
der to and

« That is,
Tht lily of


And go round about the city.

They shall wander up and down for meat, 15

And tarry all night if they be not satisfied.
But I will sing of thy strength ; 16

Yea, I will sing aloud of thy mercy in the morning :
For thou hast been my high tower,
And a refuge in the day of my distress.
Unto thee, O my strength, will I sing praises : 17

For God is my high tower, the God of my mercy.
For the Chief Musician ; set to » Shushan Eduth ',

Psalm 79.

A Psalm of Asaph.

coronations O God,the ^ heathen are come into thine inheritance; i
Thy holy temple have they defiled ;
They have laid Jerusalem on heaps.
The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be

meat unto the fowls of the heaven, 2

The flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth.
Their blood have they shed like water roimd about

Jerusalem ; 3

And there was none to bury them.
We are become a reproach to our neighbours, 4

A scorn and derision to them that are round about us.

> Or rather, for Shu$han Eduth, the Passover Feast, as or-
dained for special circumstances, for the second month (Num. 9.
5-14). In this case the preposition bi (al), 'relating to,' 'con-
cerning,' makes way for !>K (el), which may equally be under-
stood to mean * answering to ' or ' corresponding with.' See
note on p. 36. Possibly, in this instance, the Chief Musician's
programme is out of mind, and the season itself is referred to,
in which case i>K would imply ' in connexion with,' or * for '
the Passover Feast.

■ Or. fias-


5 How long, O Lord, wilt thou be angry for ever ?
Shall thy jealousy bum like fire ?

6 Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen that know

thee not.
And upon the kingdoms that call not upon thy name.

7 For they have devoured Jacob,
And laid waste his ^ habitation.

8 Remember not against us the iniquities of our fore-

fathers :
Let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us :
For we are brought very low.

9 Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy

And deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy

name's sake.
ID Wherefore should the heathen say. Where is their

Let the revenging of the blood of thy servants which

is shed
Be known among the heathen in our sight.

11 Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee ;
According to the greatness of thy ** power preserve »> Heb.

thou ^ those that are appointed to death ; e hcH.

12 And render unto our neighbours sevenfold into their i/VM/A*^'"

Their reproach, wherewith they have reproached
thee, O Lord,

13 So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture
Will give thee thanks for ever :

We will shew forth thy praise to all generations.

For the Chief Musician ; set to ^ Shoshannim Eduth ^ a That is.

Lilits^ a

' Or rather, relating to Shoshannim Eduth, the Passover


The prayer in Psalm 59, that Jehovah will ' scatter '
the heathen and ' bring them down ' recalls the victories
given to Israel under Moses and Joshua (comp. Num.
10. 35). The words ' Let them know that God ruleth in
Jacob, unto the ends of the earth' (13) correspond with
those of Joshua just after the promised land was entered :
* The Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan . . .
that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand
of the Lord, that it is mighty ; that they may fear the
Lord your God for ever ' (Joshua 4. 23, 24).

In Psalm 79, as in the first Shoshannim psalm (44),
the reproaches of the heathen, as levelled against Israel,
are regarded as in reality directed against Jehovah, and
as constituting a reflection upon Hissacredhonour(4. 10).
If the Passover stands for anything, it is for the redemp-
tion of Israel ; and yet the inheritance of God had been
invaded by heathen, cruel and corrupt. Hence the
prayer for deliverance — an essential aspect of the Pass-
over story : Jehovah is besought, by mighty acts as of
old, to evoke the eternal praise of ' the sheep of his
pasture ' (13).

It will be asked by some, no doubt, whether these
psalms — or at any rate the latter of them — are not
post-exilic, and therefore such as Hezekiah could not
possibly have employed on the occasion described. We
reply that, when carefully examined, they proclaim
themselves very plainly as belonging to the time when
Israel was in the land. As to the former of them. Psalm
59, the heading, *0f David . . . when Saul sent, &c.,' must
count for something. Whatever may have been its
origin, Hezekiah could well use it of the enemies that
Feast, as ordained for special circumstances for the second
month (Num. 9, 5-14).


were seeking the downfall of his kingdom when he
ascended the throne. His predecessor Ahaz, by his
ungodliness, invited divine retribution, and from all
quarters ' the heathen ' gave him trouble (2 Chron. 28.
16-22). The terms of the psalm were true of the opening
days of Hezekiah's reign.

As to the second psalm (79), which is confidently
claimed for a much later period, we say that everything
depends upon how its opening verses are interpreted. Is
this a poem— to say nothing of a portion of Holy Scrip-
ture ? If so, then must we not expect in it the qualities
of poetry— intensity, passion, vision ? We shall look in
vain for a period when the entire situation of the poem
is reflected in the history of the people as set forth in
prose records. Take any psalm we may choose, we shall
meet with a like disappointment. Poets do not use the
language of historians ; the things they see are often
different, the emphasis is different, the interpretation
different. If this is so in ordinary literature, why should
we expect less in Holy Scripture ?

As for this psalm of Asaph, what is it but an ampli-
fication, poetic in form and fervid in religious faith, of
Hezekiah's address to the Levites on his succeeding to
the crown ? He said: 'Our fathers have trespassed, and
done that which was evil in the sight of the Lord our God,
and have forsaken him, and have turned away their
faces from the habitation of the Lord, and turned their
backs . . . Wherefore the wrath of the Lord was upon
Judah and Jerusalem, and he hath delivered them to be
a terror (R.V. ntarg,), to be an astonishment and an hiss-
ing, as ye see with your eyes. For, lo, our fathers have
fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters
and our wives are in captivity for this. Now it is in

E 2


mine heart to make a covenant with the Lord, the God
of Israel, that his fierce anger may turn away from us *
(2 Chron. 29. 6-10).

This condition of things, with an anticipation of the
certain issue, forms the subject of the opening verses of
the psalm. Asaph's vision embraces the coming years,
and when speaking of the reproach of Israel he showed
whereunto the evil would lead. The forsaking of Jeho-
vah involved all this in retribution. But that the end
had not come, was made clear by the terms of the
prayer that followed : * We are brought very low. Help
us . . . deHver us . . . wherefore should the heathen say,
Where is their God?' (8-10). Israel is not in exile,
but in the land. The nations are their neighbours, people
dwelling round about them (4, 12) ; the pressure is so
intense that Israel is ' a prisoner,' people ' appointed
to death' (11). There is no prayer, however, for
a ' turning of captivity,' or for restoration to the inheri-
tance of the land. Though in distress, the Israelites are
still * the sheep of God's pasture,' and prepared to * shew
forth his praise to all generations ' (13).

The historical record tells us that at Hezekiah's
command the Levites sang 'praises unto the Lord
with the words of David and of Asaph the seer '
(2 Chron. 29. 30). Is it nothing to the point to find that
these Eduth psalms exactly answer this description
—Psalm 59 being by David, and Psalm 79 by Asaph ?
The latter writer is styled ' the seer.' The former was
no less a prophet (2 Sam. 23. 2 ; Acts 2. 30).

There is another point, arising from the musical line
itself. The psalm goes back at least as far as the days
of the Chief Musician. Can any one conceive of a time
when the service of praise was organized in the manner


which the said term implies when Jerusalem was actually

* on heaps ' ? When the city was destroyed, and the
Temple defiled,worship was suspended — as, for example,
in the days of Ahaz, the predecessor of Hezekiah, When

* the service of the house was set in order,' then, what-
ever terrors were impending, such a prayer as Psalm 79
was appropriate and timely. But if the opening lines
are understood as pointing to a post-exilic date, then
the psalm was never timely, nor the prayer one which
pious faith could deliver in the Temple worship.

Looking at the prayer as serious, and taking into
account the allusions that indicate continued habitation
of the land, we grasp the true meaning of the first three
verses as prophetic of coming judgement. If we remem-
ber the glorious reign that followed, we cannot but con-
clude that the prayer for deliverance was abundantly
answered. The psalm was, in a word, eminently suited
for such a time as that in which Hezekiah celebrated the
Passover in the second month (instead of the first), as
empowered by the testimony, or precept, or command-
ment, or statute, of Jehovah, given by Moses in the
wilderness of Sinai.

As in regard to other titles, so with Shushan Eduth
and Shoshannim Eduth, we get no reliable sense unless
we recognize their relation to the psalms which precede.
This is clear from the following :


Gesenius : Shushan Eduth, Shoshannim Eduth. A melody
whose first line compared the Law as Testimony to a choice
flower {Heb, Lex, s.v. Eduth, Oxford edition).

Dblitzsch : There was probably a well-known popular song
which began 'A Lily is the Testimony/ &c. ; or ' Lilies are the
Testimonies ' ; and the psalm was composed after the melody


of this song in praise of theXhora [Law], and was to be sung in
the same way as it (Commentary on the Psalms, Eaton's transla-
tion, vol. ii. 89).

Fi)RST : Perhaps the name of a musical choir whose presi-
dent was called Shushan, and who was stationed at Adithaim
(Josh. 15. 36) in Judah, without anything more definite being
known about the point (Heb. Lex. s.v., Davidson's edition).

This, of course, is confusion. The outcome of our
treatment is that both Shoshannim and Eduth are
allowed their true lexical meaning, and that simple
sense is adequate for all the purposes of a consistent



(4) Psalms for the Feast of Tabernacles
GiTTiTH (Psalms 7, 80, 83)

Proceeding to consider psalms selected for use at the
Feast of Tabernacles, we are on ground equally inter-
esting : and to a certain extent, as already observed,
some scholars have anticipated our conclusions, by
defining Gittilh, after the Septuagint translators, as
' Belonging to the Winepress.' And assuredly the
vintage season synchronizes with the great autumn
festival, which followed the Day of Atonement, when
the soul was afflicted in penitential sorrow for sin ; it
was, in fact, the joyous * Harvest-Home ' in Israel's

Coming in the seventh month — Ethanim, * flowing
brooks ' — which after the Exile was called Tishri, the
feast lasted eight days. During this time the people
lived in booths formed of the branches of. trees (Exod.
23. 16 ; Lev. 23. 33-43 ; Num. 29. 12-38 ; Deut. 16. 13).
It was at this season that Solomon's Temple was dedi-
cated (i Kings 8. 2 ; 2 Chron. 7. 8-10), and the same
ordinance was observed with great joy by the captives
returned from Babylon (Ezra 3. 4 ; Neh. 8. 13-18).

Historically this feast is said to commemorate the
wanderings in the wilderness, but obviously in order to
emphasize some special aspect of those experiences —
namely, that, though far away from organized human
society, and in remote inhospitable regions, God pro-
vided for the children of Israel, * made them to dwell in
booths ' (Lev. 23. 43). ' In the words of Keil :


' The booth (nso) in Scripture is not an image of
privation and misery, but of protection, preservation,
and shelter from heat, storm, and tempest (Ps. 27. 5 ;
31. 21 ; Isa. 4. 6). That God made his people to
dwell in booths during their wanderings " through the
great and terrible wilderness, fiery serpents, scorpions,
and thirsty ground where was no water" (Deut. 8. 15),
was a proof of his fatherly concern for his covenant
faithfulness — which Israel, by its dwelling in booths
at this feast, was to recall and bring vividly to the
remembrance of succeeding generations ^.*

Jehovah cared for His people when they most stood in
need of His protection. The pillar of cloud to lead them
by day, and the pillar of fire to give them light by night,
were divine ordinances that could not but impress the
camp of Israel with their complete dependence upon
Jehovah. No wonder that, in the Targum of Onkelos,
the words of Lev. 23. 43 should be extended so as to
interpret the cloud as the Heaven-provided tent: the
Lord * made the children of Israel to dwell under the
shadow of clouds ' • and that the Targum of Palestine
should be more specific still, and read the verse : * That
your generations may know how, under the shadow of
the Cloud of Glory, I made the sons of Israel to dwell at
the time that I brought them out redeemed from the
land of Egypt.' * He led them safely, so they feared
not ' (Ps. 78. 53). He who had redeemed the Israelites,
became their Keeper (Psalm 121).

With recollections of God's care, the feast combined
the delights of Harvest Home. Of all festive seasons in
Israel, this was the most joyous. ' All the crops had
been long stored ; and now all fruits were also gathered,
the vintage past . . , The Harvest Thanksgiving of the
' Biblical Archaeology, vol. ii. p, 55.


Feast of Tabernacles reminded Israel, on the one hand,
of their dwelling in booths in the wilderness, while, on
the other hand, it pointed to the final harvest, when
Israel's mission should be completed, and all nations
gathered unto the Lord ^' Hence the season was also
called the Feast of Ingathering.

The Winepress psalms are three in number — 7, 80, 83.
The Hebrew n^na (GiUith) is almost certainly a variant
of n^a {GittSth), which appears in Neh. 13. 15 : * In
those days saw I in Judah some treading winepresses on
the sabbath.' It was apparently read as a plural (and
not as an adjective) by the Seventy, who render it in
each case, ifvlp r&v Xrivwu — ' Concerning the Wine-
presses 2 ' ; and with this the Vulgate agrees Pro Torcu-
laribus. Here we have a safe guide as to the meaning of
n^na, an explanation which has simplicity and antiquity
in its favour.

In view of the natural history of the Holy Land, and
in the light of the customs and institutions of the people.
Winepress is a word that tells its own tale. Both in the
Pentateuch and in later Scripture the vintage is com-
bined (in varying terms) with the general harvest :
* threshing-floor and winepress' (Deut. 16. 13), 'treading
winepresses, bringing in sheaves,' &c. (Neh. 13. 15).
Palestine was ' a land of wheat and barley, and vines
and fig-trees and pomegranates' (Deut. 8.8); and above
all else in popular esteem stood the vine. Israel was

> Edersheim : The Temple^its Ministry and Services, ch. 14.

» The variant in Cod. A as regards Ps. 80 (classing this with
the Shoshannitn psalms) is passed by as simply curious. The
psalm headings in that codex seem to be largely independent
of the sources followed by Cod. B, and of that represented by
the Massoretic text.


Jehovah's vine ; the vintage spoke of Jehovah's pro-

Online LibraryJames William ThirtleThe titles of the Psalms : their nature and meaning explained → online text (page 4 of 24)