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The perusal of the Sacred Scriptures for intellectual gratification cannot be inconsistent with the higher and nobler use of them for religious improvement. While admitting their supreme importance in the latter point of view, the man of taste and feeling finds also in them attraction and delight, and the antiquarian and philosopher treasures of information respecting the early history of our race.
It is the purpose of this little work to present one of the choicest portions of the sacred vol. ume in a form more attractive than it usually wears, by removing the embarrassment arising from the confused arrangement of its parts, and the obscurities of its language, - chargeable, not on the prophets and sages who indited its several compositions, but upon the imperfect instruments by which it has been handed down to us.
The Psalms are lyric poems; that is, they are poems designed to be rehearsed with the aid of instrumental music. They are religious and devotional hymns; yet nearly all having distinct reference to events in the history of the Jewish nation, or of the individual composer. The government of the Hebrews was so decidedly theocratic, that is, they regarded in so literal a sense Jehovah as the king and ruler of the nation, that all events assumed of course a religious character, and were recognized as direct works of the Divine hand. Consequently, in joy and sorrow, the thoughts of the Psalmist turned to Jehovah, not with the languid movement with which our cold philosophy allows us to acknowledge the Ruler of the universe, but with the intimate and exclusive feeling with which one claims the protection of his own and his country's sovereign.
The opinion that David was the sole author of the Psalms is refuted by the pages of the Bible itself, where seventy-one only are inscribed with the name of David, twenty-eight bear the names of other composers, and fifty-one have no author's name attached. The inscriptions, however, are not considered by the learned as worthy of implicit confidence, for many of the psalms ascribed by them to David bear in their contents incontestable marks of a later origin. The pious and learned Dr. Adam Clarke, who
has, in his Bible, examined the subject with great care, assigns to David not more than fifty psalms. Of the inscriptions he says, “ They are of slender authority; several of them do not agree with the subject of the psalm to which they are prefixed, and not a few of them appear to be out of their places.” The same authority will justify us in not regarding as conclusive the citation of a psalm as David's by the New Testament writers. In his remarks on Psalm xcv. he says: “ This psalm is attributed to David by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Calmet and other eminent critics believe that it was composed in the time of the captivity, and that the Apostle only follows the common opinion in quoting it as the production of David, because in general the Psalter was attributed to him."
The arrangement of the Psalms in our Bibles is the result of the union in one body of five successive collections. The boundaries of these several portions are marked by doxologies, placed at the ends of Psalms xli., lxxii., lxxxix., cvi., and the last. The first second, and third books end with “ Amen and Amen!" the fourth with “ Amen and Hallelujah!” the fifth with “ Hallelujah!”
“ The person,” says Professor Noyes, “who began the collection, put together the psalms of David; the second collector, those psalms of David which it was still in his power to glean, admitting a few others; the third had no psalms of David in view, and when he would join his collection to the former, he added the note at the end of the second book : Here end the psalms of David, the son of Jesse. The fourth collected anonymous psalms, and therefore his book exhibits only one of Moses and two of David. The last made a collection of whatever sacred poems he could gather; he has, therefore, fifteen of David and thirty anonymous.” The date of the earliest of these collections must have been after the captivity, or five hundred years after David, since Psalm xiv., which appears in it, distinctly alludes to that event.
The natural result of a collection so structed is, that while the early books contain, on the whole, the earliest compositions, and the later ones those more modern, yet not a few psalms of early date are embraced in the latest book, and some of a late date in the earliest.
It is admitted on all hands, that the best source of information as to the occasions to which the psalms severally relate is found in the compositions themselves. From that source, by the aid of critics and commentators, the compiler of this volume has endeavored to derive grounds for his arrangement. He has followed