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א 1. Blessed are they who are upright, 396396 “Vel, perfecti.” — Lat. marg. “Or, perfect.” in their way, walking in the law of Jehovah. א 2. Blessed are they who, keeping his testimonies, seek him with all their heart. א 3. Surely they do not work iniquity, who walk in his ways. א 4. Thou hast commanded that thy statutes should be observed carefully 397397 מאד, meod, superlatively, — to the uttermost. א 5. I wish that my ways may be directed to the observing of thy statutes! א 6. Then I shall not be ashamed, when I have respect to all thy precepts. א 7. I will praise thee in the uprightness of my heart, when I shall have learned the judgments of thy righteousness. א 8. I will observe thy statutes: do not forsake me very far. 398398 Hammond reads, “O forsake me not to any great degree;” and adds, “The Hebrew עד-מאד, ad meod, here, and in verse 43, is literally unto very much. So the LXX. render it, ἕως σφόδρα, i e., to any high degree, the Chaldee, ‘unto all at once,’ but the Syriac, for ever, both referring it to the time, whereas the Hebrew seems rather to the degree, from the noun that signifies multitude, plenty, abundance.”
Some call this the octonary psalm, because that, through every successive eight verses, the initial words of each line begin with the same letter in alphabetical order. That this was done to aid the memory, may be gathered from each part containing a doctrine, which ought to form a theme of constant meditation among the children of God. For the purpose, therefore, of rendering it less irksome to the reader, the prophet has distinguished every successive eight verses by their beginning each with the corresponding letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and thus all excuses, on the score of ignorance, are removed, even from the callous and slothful. This help does not extend to those who read it in other languages; but the principle must not be overlooked, that the doctrine exhibited in this psalm should be carefully studied by all the children of God, and treasured up in their hearts, to render them the more conversant with it. Touching the author, I assert nothing, because it cannot be ascertained, even by probable conjecture, who he was; and expositors are agreed that no satisfactory conclusion can be arrived at in the matter. As David surpassed all others in point of poetical and devotional talent, I will not scruple occasionally to insert his name. 399399 Some consider this psalm, as well as all the other alphabetic psalms, to be much more modern compositions than the time of David, and refer it to the time of the captivity in Babylon. But many others, as Venema, Michaelis, etc., ascribe it to David, and suppose it to have been written before his elevation to the throne. Its contents, certainly, favor this latter opinion, seeming to accord so well with the long and harassing persecution to which he was subjected by the malice and revenge of Saul. If David was its author, it is the most artificial and operose in its composition of all his psalms, and he has exhibited in the treatment of his subject — which is the celebration of the perfection of God’s law, and the happiness of those who obey it — an extraordinary fecundity of expression, as if one of his intentions had been to show in how many various shapes, and with what copiousness of words, he could enunciate and illustrate a few and the same topics. The aspirations for instruction, consolation, and protection, with which almost every portion of this psalm is mingled, have a soothing and delightful effect, whilst the language throughout is rendered impressive by its peculiar strength and concinnity. It may, however, be doubtful, whether it be just to elevate it, as has been done by some, above all the other psalms. Dr Adam Clarke justly remarks, “Like all other portions of divine revelation, it is elegant, important, and useful; and while I admire the fecundity of the Psalmist’s genius, the unabating flow of his poetic vein, his numerous synonymes, and his copia verborum, by which he is enabled to expound, diversify, and illustrate the same idea: presenting it to his reader in all possible points of view, so as to render it pleasing, instructive, and impressive; I cannot rob the rest of the book of its just praise by setting this, as many have done, above all the pieces it contains. It is by far the longest, the most artificial, and most diversified, yet, in proportion to its length, it contains the fewest ideas of any in the book.”
It may be proper to take notice of certain terms which frequently occur in the psalm. Of the term תורה, torah, I say nothing, which, having its derivation from a word which signifies to instruct, is yet uniformly taken
for law. Some of the Rabbis affirm that חוקים, chukim, signifies statutes, or divinely appointed rites, the, reason of which is very obvious. They say that פקדים, phikudim, denotes those precepts which relate to natural justice. It is certain that משפטים, mishpatim, signifies commandments, because this is proved by the etymology of the word. As to עדות,
edoth, the Hebrews understand it of the doctrine of the law, but with the certain indication, pointing out to us that it is comprehensive
of the manner in which God enters into covenant with his people. The precepts of the law are denominated judgments and righteousness,
to inform us that God enjoins nothing except what is right and just, and that mankind ought to seek for no other rule for
the perfecting of holiness, but what consists in
regulating their life by rendering obedience to the law. The meaning is almost synonymous when they are called the ways of the Lord, intimating that those who do not depart from the direction of the law, may safely conclude that they are in no danger of going
astray. The ordinances of God, and the edicts offerings, have the term חוקים,
chukim, applied to them indiscriminately, and,פקודים , phikudim, refers to different kinds of justice, as is manifest from many parts of Scripture which demonstrates that there is no foundation
for the subtle distinction and difference formerly noticed. And in this psalm almost all these
terms are synonym as the context will show.
Others deny that these and other similar terms, which frequently occur in this psalm, are mere synonymes; and they have endeavoured
to show from etymological investigation, that, although all of them designate the law, yet they present it under a different
aspect. Jebb has attempted, at some length, to point out the specific differences between these words. The following is an
abstract of his remarks: —
“The next peculiarity to be observed in this psalm is, the regular recurrence of nine characteristic words, at least
one or other of which is found in each distich, with one solitary exception, the second distich of the 12th division. These
words are law, testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandments, judgments, word, saying; and a word which only twice occurs as a characteristic, — way.
“These are, doubtless, all designations of the Divine Law; but it were doing a deep injury to the cause of revealed truth to affirm that they are mere synonyms; in other words, that the sentiments of this compendium of heavenly wisdom are little better than a string of tautologies. The fact is, as some critics, both Jewish and Christian, have observed, that each of these terms designates the same law of God, but each under a different aspect, signifying the different modes of its promulgation, and of its reception. Each of these words will now be examined in order, and an attempt will be made to discriminate them.
“1. Law. This word is formed from a verb which means to direct, to guide, to aim, to shoot forwards. Its etymological meaning, then, would be a rule of conduct, a κανών σαφὴς. It means God’s law in general, whether it be that universal rule called the law of nature, or that which was revealed to his Church by Moses, and perfected by Christ. In strictness, the law means a plain rule of conduct, rather placed clearly in man’s sight, than enforced by any command; that is to say, this word does not necessarily include its sanctions.
“2. Testimonies are derived from a word which signifies to bear witness, to testify. The ark of the tabernacle is so called, as are the two tables of stone, and the tabernacle: the earnests and witnesses of God’s inhabitation among his people. Testimonies are more particularly God’s revealed law: the witnesses and confirmation of his promises made to his people, and earnests of his future salvation.
“3. Precepts, from a word which means to place in trust, mean something intrusted to man, ‘that which is committed to thee:’ appointments of God, which consequently have to do with the conscience, for which man is responsible, as an intelligent being.
“4. Statutes. The verb from which this word is formed means to engrave or inscribe. The word means a definite prescribed written law. The term is applied to Joseph’s law about the portion of the priests in Egypt, to the law about the Passover, etc. But in this psalm it has a more internal meaning; — that moral law of God, which is engraved on the fleshy tables of the heart; the inmost and spiritual apprehension of his will: not so obvious as the law and testimonies, and a matter of more direct spiritual communication than his precepts: the latter being more elaborated by the efforts of the mind itself, divinely guided indeed, but perhaps more instrumentally, and less passively, employed.
“5. Commandments, derived from a verb signifying to command or ordain. Such was God’s command to Adam about the tree; to Noah about constructing the ark.
“6. Judgments, derived from a word signifying to govern, to judge or determine, mean judicial ordinances and decisions: legal sanctions.
“7. Word. There are two terms, quite distinct in the Hebrew, but both rendered word, in each of our authorized versions. The latter of these is rendered saying in the former volume of this work. They are closely connected; since out of twenty-two passages in which word occurs, in fourteen it is parallel to, or in connection with, saying. From this very circumstance it is evident they are not synonymous.
“The term here rendered word means the Λόγος, or Word of God, in its most divine sense; the announcement of God’s revealed will; his command; his oracle; at times, the special communication to the prophets. The ten commandments are called by this term in Exodus: and דביר is the oracle in the temple. In this psalm it may be considered as, — 1. God’s revealed commandments in general. 2. As a revealed promise of certain blessings to the righteous. 3. As a thing committed to him as the minister of God. 4. As a rule of conduct; a channel of illumination.
“8. As to the remaining word way, that occurs but twice as a characteristic word, and the places in which it occurs must rather be considered as exceptions to the general rule: so that I am not disposed to consider it as intended to be a cognate expression with the above. At all events, its meaning is so direct and simple as to require no explanation: a plain rule of conduct; in its higher sense, the assisting grace of God through Christ our Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” — Jebb’s Literal Translation of the book of Psalms, with Dissertations, volume 2, pages 279-293. To procure greater respect for the law, the prophet adorns it with a variety of titles, taking care constantly to enjoin upon us the same doctrine. I now proceed to the consideration of the contents of the psalm.
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