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PSALM 139

In this Psalm David, that he may dismiss the deceptive coverings under which most men take refuge, and divest himself of hypocrisy, insists at large upon the truth that nothing can elude the divine observation — a truth which he illustrates from the original formation of man, since he who fashioned us in our mother’s womb, and imparted to every member its particular office and function, cannot possibly be ignorant of our actions. Quickened by this meditation to a due reverential fear of God, he declares himself to have no sympathy with the ungodly and profane, and beseeches God, in the confidence of conscious integrity, not to forsake him in this life. 199199     This Psalm has often been admired for the grandeur of its sentiments, the elevation of its style, as well as the variety and beauty of its imagery. Bishop Lowth, in his 29th Prelection, classes it amongst the Hebrew idyls, as next to the 104th, in respect both to the conduct of the poem, and the beauty of the style. “If it be excelled,” says he, “(as perhaps it is) by the former in the plan, disposition, and arrangement of the matter, it is not in the least inferior in the dignity and elegance of its sentiments, images, and figures.” “Amongst its other excellencies,” says Bishop Mant, “it is for nothing more admirable than for the exquisite skill with which it descants on the perfections of the Deity. The Psalmist’s faith in the omnipresence and omniscience of Jehovah is in the commencement depicted · with a singular and beautiful variety of the most lively expressions: nor can anything be more sublime than that accummulation of the noblest and loftiest images, in the 7th and following verses, commensurate with the limits of created nature, whereby the Psalmist labors to impress upon the mind some notion of the infinity of God.” If we compare this sacred poem with any hymn of classical antiquity in honor of the heathen deities, the immense superiority of the sentiments it contains must convince any reasonable person that David and the Israelites, though inferior in other respects to some other nations, surpassed them in religious knowledge. No philosopher of ancient times ever attained to such sublime views of the perfections and moral government of God as the Hebrew Prophets. How are we to account for this difference but on the supposition of the divine origin of the religion of the Hebrews? On any other supposition these Psalms are a greater miracle than any of those recorded by Moses.
   Bishop Horsley refers the composition of this Psalm to a later age than that of David. “The frequent Chaldaisms,” says he, “of the diction, argue no very high antiquity.” Dr. Adam Clarke, on the same ground, argues that it was; not written by the sweet singer of Israel, but during or after the time of the captivity. Other critics, however, maintain that the several Chaldaisms to be found in it afford no foundation for such an opinion. “How any critic,” says Jebb, “can assign this Psalm to other than David, I cannot understand. Every line, every thought, every turn of expression and transition is his, and his only. As for the arguments drawn from the two Chaldaisms which occur, (רבעי for רבצי, and עריך for צריך,) this is really nugatory. These Chaldaisms consist merely in the substitution of one letter for another very like it in shape, and easily to be mistaken by a transcriber, particularly by one who had been used to the Chaldee idiom: but the moral arguments for David’s author-ship are so strong as to overwhelm.’my such verbal or rather literal criticism, were even the objections more formidable than they actually are.” — Jebb’s Literal Translation of the Psalms, etc., volume 2.

To the chief Musician, a Psalm of David.


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