This psalm contains very grievous lamentations, poured forth by its inspired penman when under very severe affliction, and almost at the point of despair. But he, at the same time, whilst struggling with sorrow, declares the invincible steadfastness of his faith; which he displayed in calling upon God to deliver him, even when he was in the, deep darkness of death.1

A Song or Psalm of the sons of Korah. To the chief musician upon Machalath, to make humble. An instruction of Heman, the Ezrahite.

Heman, whose name appears in the inscription, is probably the same person who is mentioned in sacred history, 1 Kings 4:31, where Solomon, when commended for his wisdom, is compared with Ethan, Heman, Chalcol, and Darda.2 It is, therefore, not surprising that a man, so highly distinguished by the spirit of wisdom, was the author of this psalm. Some translate tlhmale, al-machalath, upon infirmity;3 but it is probable, according to the ordinary use of the word, that it denotes either some instrument of music, or the beginning of some song.4 Of the other words I have already sufficiently spoken elsewhere. Moreover, it is of importance to bear in mind, that in the person of one man there is presented to our view an example at once of rare affliction and of singular patience. God, in so sorely exercising Heman, whom he had adorned with such excellent gifts to be an example to others, did not do this for the sake of his servant only. His object was to present common matter of instruction to all his people. Carrying out this object, Heman ascending, as it were, an elevated stage, testifies to the whole Church his infirmities as well as his faith and constancy. It greatly concerns us to look upon such a distinguished servant of God, and one who was so eminently adorned with the graces of the Holy Spirit, thus overwhelmed with so heavy a burden of afflictions as made him mournfully complain that he differed nothing from a dead man, -- it greatly concerns us, I say, to look on this spectacle, that our distresses, however grievous, may not overwhelm us with despair; or if we should at times be ready to faint through weariness, care, grief, sorrow, or fear, that we may not on that account despond, especially when we see that it is not without the highest effort that the holy prophet emerges from this profound darkness into the cheering light of hope. We should rather rest assured that the Spirit of God, by the mouth of Heman, has here furnished us with a form of prayer for encouraging all the afflicted who are, as it were, on the brink of despair to come to himself.

1 "As well the singers as players, or dancers, shall be there; i.e., the whole chorus of joy and praise. Dr Chandler renders it, 'They shall sing like those that lead up the dance;' i.e., with joy and exultation." -- Williams. Symmachus and Aquila translate the text:-- ...Kai aJdontev wJv cwroi, pasai phgai en soi : "And they shall sing as in leading up a dance; 'All my fountains are in thee.'"

2 There are various opinions as to the occasion of the composition of this psalm. Dr Kennicott conceives it to be the prayer of a person shut up in a separate house because of the leprosy, who seems to have been in the last stage of that distemper; this disease, under the Mosaic dispensation, having been supposed to come from the immediate stroke of God. Kimchi is of opinion that it was written in the name of the Jewish people during the captivity, in the language of a poor slave under his chains. Bishop Patrick supposes that Heman, the author of it, was during the same period cast into a dark prison, (see verses 5, 6,) or, that he was otherwise as miserably treated, as if he had been in a dungeon; and that he here bewails his private calamity.

3 The Heman mentioned in that text has been supposed by some to be the son of Zerah, one of Judah's sons, by his daughter-in-law Tamar, spoken of in 1 Chronicles 2:6. If these two passages refer to the same persons, then as the grandchildren of Judah are called in 1 Kings 4:31, the sons of Mahol, it would follow that Mahol was either another name of Zerah or the name of his wife. If this Heman was the author of the psalm before us, and if Ethan, his brother, wrote the subsequent psalm, as they lived at least one hundred and seventy years before Moses, these poems are the oldest poetical compositions extant, and the most ancient part of divine revelation. This, however, is far from being certain. Heman, the grandson of Judah, may have been the author of the 78th psalm; but the 79th could not have been written by Ethan, his brother, as it speaks of transactions that took place long after his time, at least as late as the days of David, who is particularly mentioned in it. Calvin obviously considers this Heman to have lived in the time of David or Solomon. There is a person of the same name who was constituted by David one of the chiefs of the sacred singers, 1 Chronicles 25:1. But he was a Levite, whereas the present Heman is called an Ezrahite, which is understood to denote a descendant from Zerah, the son of Judah. If, therefore, the chief musician in the time of David be intended, some transcriber must have erroneously applied to him the term Ezrahite. But if the psalm, as is supposed by many, was written during the Babylonish captivity, it must have been written by a different person.

4 Street renders the title, "An instructive psalm in sickness, through affliction, by Aiman, the Ezrahite." He observes, "hlxm, sickness, is used, Exodus 23:25. The word tlhm, is the construct form of it." He adds -- " The title thus translated agrees with the matter contained in the psalm."