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ON THE DEDICATION OF THE WALLS OF JERUSALEM BY NEHEMIAH.
An exhortation to praise God for his excellent greatness, 1,2; with all kinds of instruments, 3-5; and by all living creatures, 6.
1 'Praise ye the LORD!
Praise God in his sanctuary!
Praise him in the firmament of his power!
2 Praise him for his mighty acts!
Praise him according to his excellent greatness! 3 Praise him with the sound of the 'trumpet!
Praise him with the psaltery and harp!
4 Praise him a with the timbrel and dance!
Praise him with stringed instruments and organs 5 Praise him upon the loud cymbals!
Praise him upon the high-sounding cymbals!
6 Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD! Praise ye the LORD!
1 Heb. Hallelujah.
2 Or, cornet. Psa. 98. 6.
a Exod. 15. 20.
Or, pipe. Psa. 149. 3.
b Isa. 39. 20.
c 1 Chron. 15. 16, 19, 28.
INTRODUCTION TO PSALM CXIX.
PSALM OF EZRA.
Psalm exix has been referred, by the most judicious interpreters, to the time of Ezra. "It may be recognised," says Professor Hengstenberg, "by its compass, as being the conclu sion of one great whole." It appropriately stands, according to its general subject and scope, at the end of the Book of Psalms, and most aptly applies to the circumstances of the Jews about the time of the close of the sacred canon. If Ezra himself was
not the author of this Psalm, it appears highly probable that he was the editor and compiler. Dr. Clarke suggests, that Ezra might have compiled it chiefly from notes and memoranda supplied by the pen of David. This is probable. Many expressions and sentiments seem strongly Davidic, though other allusions and circumstances seem referable rather to the condition of the Church during and after the captivity. Ezra had access to many Hebrew writings and fragments of poetic literature, which have long since perished. From these sources, guided by inspiration, he might have formed the present Psalm, with such additions of his own as were needed to give unity to the whole, and to adapt it to the peculiar want of his times.
"There is no Psalm in the whole collection," says Dr. Alexander," which has more the appearance of having been exclusively designed for practical and personal improvement, without any reference to national or even to ecclesiastical relations, than the one before us, which is wholly occupied with praises of God's word, or written revelation, as the only source of spiritual strength and comfort, and with prayers for grace to make a profitable use of it." This is the peculiar character of this Psalm. It is eulogistic and commendatory of God's word, and intended to induce and encourage a habit of study, of faith, and of obedience to the same. Still, there are manifest intimations of a historic occasion and origin of the Psalm, as we shall presently see.
If we attend to the circumstances of the Church at the time of Ezra, we shall perceive a peculiar fitness of the Psalm to that age. During the seventy years of captivity, the Hebrews were scattered abroad throughout a vast extent of country, and deprived of the regular instructions of the Levites, and of the services of the sanctuary. It hence followed, that, upon their return to their own land, the greater part had never seen the practical exhibitions of the Mosaic worship, nor heard the law itself read. Their knowledge of religion was almost wholly traditional and exceedingly imperfect. In short, they needed a great restorer of their faith, a second Moses, about as much as when their forefathers left Egypt. Such a restorer of the religion of Moses was found in Ezra. He was of the lineage of the priesthood, a man of great learning and natural
powers of mind, "a ready scribe in the law of the Lord," and wholly devoted to the religious interests of his people. “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.” Ezra vii, 6, 10. Ezra stood high in favour with the reigning Persian monarch, (see preceding Introduction,) who commissioned him with full powers, as governor of Judea, to restore the ancient worship, and also to extend a religious supervision over the provinces west of Euphrates. This mission of Ezra was subsequent to the completion of the second temple by Zerubbabel, at a time when it was most needed, and when circumstances favoured its widest influence upon the nation.
Another fact should not be overlooked. The Hebrews had lost their language during their residence with the Babylonians, and had now returned to their native land speaking the Chaldee dialect. When, therefore, the Hebrew Scriptures were read to them, it became necessary to explain in Chaldee. Thus it is said, "they read in the book of the law distinctly, and gave the sense, [that is in Chaldee,] and caused the people to understand the reading." Nehemiah viii, 8. This circumstance greatly enhanced the difficulty of teaching the Scriptures. The office of Ezra as the religious teacher of the nation, is particularly brought out in the transactions recorded in the eighth chapter of Nehemiah. The Jews regarded him as
their second Moses.
Psalm cxix, was compiled and prepared "principally," says Mr. Townsend, "with the view of impressing upon the minds of the Jewish youth the importance and necessity of devoting themselves to the study of the whole word of God." From the historical notices given in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and from the sharp rebukes and hortatory appeals which we find in the prophecies of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, we are amply assured that the times of Ezra were marked by great religious ignorance, worldly inclinations, scepticism, and neglect of the written word of God. To counteract these tendencies, and induce a healthier religious state, by a more direct and thorough knowledge of the written word of God, Ezra wrote and laboured. He collected and arranged the entire books of the Old Testament Scriptures, wrote the book
which bears his own name, edited and compiled various particular portions of the sacred canon, and placed the literature of the nation in a more attractive and accessible form.
In the Psalm before us, it will be seen that the Divine oracles are set forth under ten different characteristic and descriptive terms; namely, testimonies, commandments, precepts, word, law, ways, truth, judgments, righteousness, statutes. But five verses occur in the whole Psalm (the Jews say but one, verse 122) in which one or other of these words does not occur. The adaptations of the word of God to save the soul from sin; to instruct the ignorant; to comfort in afflictions; to preserve from evil; to cultivate all the moral and religious virtues; to encourage to duty, patience, and perseverance; to admonish and reprove iniquity; to mature and exalt the character of man; to illustrate the perfections and government of God; and, in short, to promote every good, and useful, and holy end, is presented with clearness and vividness in a great variety of forms. God, the moral government, the depravity and helplessness of man, the wickedness and ruinous effects of sin, the freeness, fulness, and condescension of Divine grace, are kept constantly before the mind. "The praise of God's word," says Hengstenberg, "the assertion that it is the infinitely sure way of salvation, and the only comfort in suffering; the determination to be faithful to God's word and law; prayer for the spiritual understanding of the law, and for strength to fulfil it; and supplications for the salvation promised in it, form the contents of this Psalm."
The tone of the Psalm is that of "soft, quiet melancholy, comforted by God." If we take the person speaking as the representative of the Jewish family, and as speaking, consequently, for them, we shall find a clue to the condition of the Church in the time of Ezra, and, therefore, some reason to reckon this among the class of national Psalms. For instance, we find "the beginning of deliverance always present, verses, 26, 32, 50, 65, 93, still it is only the beginning; [this deliverance is recent, and the foregoing judgments salutary, verses, 67, 71, 75;] the Psalmist always finds himself still partially within the reach of death, verses 17, 25, 40, 83, 175; the Church is still few in number, verse 87; severely oppressed by 'the proud,' the haughty heathen world, for example, verses
23, 51, 85, 95; and the reproach which still lies upon it, is dreadful, 22, 39."
The mechanical structure of the Psalm is extremely artificial. It is divided into twenty-two parts, each part designated by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and containing eight verses. Each of these verses begins with the same letter which designates the section. This artificial arrangement seems intended to assist the memory of the learner, or reader, and suggests to us that the Psalm is not intended to be read continuously, like a narrative, but with frequent pauses, as we read proverbs and apothegms. It should, in fact, never be read with the rapidity of ordinary compositions, but slowly, thoughtfully, and with meditation. Each verse is, in general, a distinct theme, and the whole Psalm is "a storehouse of materials for pious meditation."
WRITTEN BY EZRA, WITH A VIEW TO COMMEND THE FAITHFUL READING AND KEEPING OF GOD'S WORD.
This Psalm containeth sundry prayers, praises, and professions of love and obedience to God's word.
1 Blessed are the 'undefiled in the Who walk in the law of the LORD!
2 Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, And that seek him with the whole heart!
3 They also do no iniquity,
They walk in his ways.
4 Thou hast commanded us
To keep thy precepts diligently. 50 that my ways were directed To keep thy statutes!
Or, perfect, or, sincere.
a 1 John 8. 9. and 5. 18.