The Psalms

(From the Fourth Pentateuch of the Old Testament: Volume 3 of the Numerical Bible)

Fourth Edition.

F. W. Grant.


In sending forth the present volume of the Numerical Bible, I desire afresh to call attention to that structure of Scripture which its title indicates. The Book of Psalms furnishes a test as to the reality of this, the severity of which can hardly be exceeded. The Psalms are divided, by the very fact that they are such, into 150 portions, arranged (as is well-known) in five books. This, to begin with, must be taken as it is, and meaning found for it: we are not at liberty to alter anything. But this is the smallest matter: each psalm also is divided into verses, every one of which must be similarly respected as a divine landmark, not to be removed. But these amount in number to near 2,500 divisions more. (Exactly 2461.) Then we have the alphabetical arrangement of certain psalms, notably the 9th, 10th and 119th. Besides all this, many of the psalms will be found to be grouped together by their titles, as the eight psalms of the "sons of Korah" (42 — 49,); the four Maskil-psalms (52 — 55,); the five Michtam-psalms following (56 — 60); the eleven psalms of Asaph (73 — 83); and the fifteen "songs of degrees" (120 — 134). All such boundary-lines have been respected absolutely.

See then what is the problem before us. We have to find an interpretation of the Book of Psalms which will accommodate itself — to use, perhaps, as poor a word as one could find — to all these restrictions of the imagination, and in spite of all show itself to be really an interpretation. Moulding itself also in all parts to a numerical symbolism, to which every book, every division, every psalm, every verse, must be conformed! Imagine such an intricate web as this implies thrown over Scripture, and then to find that not only is the meaning not obscured by this, but actually brought out more clearly and enforced.

Let my reader test this for himself through any sufficient portion of the volume before him, and he will hardly fail with us to thank God for such a confirmation of the uniform inspiration of His holy Word, in days like these when the denial of it is rampant. But more, he will thank Him also for such a help to fixed interpretation.

For the help of some who may be more disposed to receive it in this way, I have printed "The witness of arithmetic to Christ," as a first appendix, in the lecture-form in which it was first given. The symbolism of numbers — more fully worked out than hitherto — will be found in the second. The third applies it more systematically than I have attempted to do before, to the literal meaning of the first chapter of Genesis. The fourth may need more apology for its introduction here, while I am convinced of its very great importance for Christians everywhere: it is a plea for the study of the whole revelation of God, including in this not only the many sadly unfamiliar parts of Scripture itself, but of Nature also, a book which God Himself has published in every language. A short summary of the Messianic psalms is the last appendix.

The references are, as in the other volumes, by Mr. Samuel Ridout.

May He without whom nothing has any power or value, be with this attempt to set forth the meaning of His precious Word. F. W. Grant. December 4th, 1896.

Introduction to the Fourth Pentateuch of the Old Testament

The Experience Books

The Psalms, with their kindred books, Job, Solomon's Song, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs, make up the last division of the Old Testament, — a fourth Pentateuch, the utterance of the human heart in response to the divine revelation which in the former books has been made to it. In this way they fill their numerical place without any possibility of question.* They are thus also manifestly the utterances of experience, — characteristically this throughout, whatever other character (even at first sight opposed to this) they may at times exhibit.

{*According to the Hebrew, rabbinic, arrangement, (for it is really no more,) they form, however, part of a third division, the Kethubim, or "writings"; and they are there associated with historical and prophetical books, as elsewhere noticed (Vol. 2, p. 5), in a disorder which has nothing to recommend it to a spiritual mind. Upon this there is no need to dwell again.}

Take as the most striking example of this the book of Psalms. In this we find, as all are aware, many evident prophecies of Christ in His Person and work; and prophecy and experience might seem insusceptible of any proper combination. Yet in fact it is mainly from personal experience that the web of prophecy in them is woven; the historic type which is found in the earlier books being here transferred from the external sphere to the internal. David thus fittingly becomes the author of prophetic psalms, in which the Spirit of God spake by him, and His word was in his tongue. Divine inspiration was here necessary in the fullest sense, that, as with all other prophets (1 Peter 1:11), he might be guided better than he knew. How much better, the twenty-second psalm alone would be sufficient witness, where sufferings peculiar to Christ, and things that could be only said of Him, are found, and yet the voice is that of the unique Sufferer, the language still that of experience, even while we cannot believe that David or any other possible speaker of the time had in fact that experience. The discussion of such points will be found when we come to the psalms themselves with which they are connected: it is enough here to remind ourselves of that remarkable experimental character which at least cannot be denied to run through the book.

Job, the Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, all plainly give us experiences also, the fruits of which are harvested for us in Proverbs, and the grain beaten out. Proverbs is thus the experimental Deuteronomy, the fresh giving of the law as ascertained and justified by experience and is thus the fitting close of the Old Testament as a whole. Its peculiar form is thus perfectly explained.

The Order of the Books,

as given by their numerical significance, is different from that found in our common Bibles, which seems based upon the age of the (supposed) authors. Job, thus, by whomsoever written, is the oldest and comes first the Psalms next, as characteristically the Psalms of David and last come the three books of Solomon — Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song. But there is no uniform arrangement of these books in the MSS, and no trace of a divine order in any of them. If the Pentateuchal analogy and the numbers do not help us, then we have no help. Thank God, they speak here plainly, and thus with the most absolute authority. Let us look at them briefly in this way.

1. Psalms.

We have seen that the first book of any series has a comparative largeness of character such as above all therefore, naturally, the book of Genesis will be found to have. The number is that of precedence and sovereignty, and thus of the divine counsels, though not necessarily manifested yet as in direct prophecy, which we find in its place as third of the great divisions of Scripture. This exactly agrees with the character of prophecy as found in the Psalms, and which has been already glanced at, while their fullness of meaning will be thus easily intelligible. The book will thus be found full of divine mysteries, — of secrets only spoken in the ear of faith.

This peculiar prophetic character is found more or less throughout the whole of it, and distinguishes it at once from every other book except one, which could not however by any possibility fill, the first place here, being destitute entirely of the fullness which we find in the Psalms. This is the Song of Solomon. The persons here are typically prophetic, and the book is a "mystery" throughout but the Song falls naturally into the third place as we shall see, and the breadth of the divine counsels cannot be contained in its eight brief chapters, wonderful as indeed these are.

The second characteristic of the Psalms is just that they are "psalms." The Hebrew word means rather "hymns" or "praises" (tehillim) but everywhere the swell and harmony of poetry and music link themselves with this. The soul in its various moods and most opposite circumstances is controlled and harmonized by the felt presence of God. The one God over all, in all, brings all seeming discords into unity. Change and movement are but the rhythm of a central Life, pulsating in true heart-beats through the whole frame of nature. And thus even inanimate things are bidden to join in the song which heaven to earth sends forth, and earth to heaven. God dwells amid these praises, reigns in them: they are the witness of how stable His kingdom is "the world" too "is established that it cannot be moved."

Thus in its praise and prophecy alike the reign of God is seen in the book of Psalms. The voices of the universe speak of and to Him. Exercises and experiences leave Him Master still. And thus the Psalms fill the first place in this Pentateuch, and could fill no other.

2. Job.

Job as a name has two permissible meanings according to the lexicographers, both of them also suiting well his history. It may mean "one assailed" or "treated as an enemy." It may mean "one who turns," — by implication the "penitent." This last word naturally connects itself with the grand crisis in his history which opens the way for his restoration to full blessing (Job 42:6). The former better connects with his history throughout. Let us consider them.

The "penitent" presents Job in a most important character when we remember that he is certified by God Himself as the best man of his time on earth. And yet this repentance of his at an after-time is not simply his judgment of himself for wild words uttered or thoughts indulged under the pressure of calamities which have overtaken him. His own words show that it was a true turning-point in his life. Up to that time he had heard of God by the hearing of the ear only now his eye saw Him. He was brought for the first time really into the light of His presence, which now for the first time therefore revealed him to himself. Hence the spotlessness of his conduct which he once had built upon could not now satisfy him: the depths of his heart had been revealed: he abhors — not his sins, but — himself, and repents in dust and ashes.

But this will have deeper significance if we compare it with a lesson prominent in Ecclesiastes, where the wisest man is unveiled to us, as here the best. Solomon's wisdom also is accredited by God, just as Job's goodness is only in result to be shown folly, as Job's goodness is owned vileness. The comparison here must be surely intended to be made, and be of some universal interest and so it is: for here in fact is the moral question settled which was left to be settled respectively by Jew and Gentile. For the Jew the law raised Job's question, "How shall man be just with God?" to which the death of the Lord was the only possible answer: "When we were yet without strength in due time Christ died for the ungodly." The Gentile question was different, though Christ was still the answer: "When, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe: … we preach Christ crucified … the wisdom of God."

Notice that in these two books, Job and Ecclesiastes, the questions are worked out differently: Job, the Gentile, works out, apart from law, that which for the Jew was settled under the law — the unrighteousness of man. Solomon, the Jew, with his God-given wisdom, and revelation too in his hand, fails nevertheless, equally with the Gentile who had neither, to find by searching the wisdom needed by the world.

The questions are thus shown to be as universal, as the answers when found are found for all. Job and Ecclesiastes in this way have a world-wide interest and significance.

And yet it does not seem as if Job had its full meaning in that important lesson given, the vileness of the world's best man. Job the "penitent" is hardly the whole truth here. It does not sufficiently explain either the attack of the enemy, the various and diffuse reasoning as to the government of God, and least of all the closing vision and appeal of God Himself; although it connects itself with all these. The subject of the book is larger than this, while it includes it; and here the other meaning of the name, Job "the assailed," agrees with the numerical place of the book, while it suggests a subject which is large enough to cover all its argument, and important enough to claim the separate consideration which is here afforded it.

That subject is "the mission," or perhaps better still, "the ministry of evil;" Job, the saint of God, yet "assailed" by the enemy, the example of it. Part of its ministry is seen in this that it helps to bring Job to the knowledge of himself, though not without that personal vision of God to which he himself ascribes it: Satan's sieve and the Lord's look are similarly related in the gospel story, as means whereby the self-confidence of Peter is broken down in bitter tears of repentance.

Job fills then, clearly, the second place among the "books of experience."

3. Solomon's Song.

The Song of songs gives us experiences of another order. It is a song of the heart, a marriage song, which has been held by faith in all ages to be an allegory of spiritual things. The natural relation is used in Scripture itself as thus figuring that of Jehovah with Israel according to the Old Testament, that of Christ and the Church in the New Testament application. As a book of the Old Testament, we must take the bride primarily to be the earthly bride, but with the higher and heavenly application everywhere shining through. With such a theme as this, we need not wonder at the difficulties of interpretation with which the book abounds. It is a song for the sanctuary: it is only in the sanctuary we can read it aright. There is no need to enter into it further here. It most evidently fills the third place.

4. Ecclesiastes.

As clearly the book of the "Preacher" fills the fourth. It is the testing of the world, by one who has full knowledge of it, — the search into a problem with which man's heart is ever exercised, but the solution of which is never found in the way sought. He would fain find good where it is not to be found, and where the search only results in bitter disappointment, "vanity and vexation of spirit." He is a king, with all the absolute power of a king. The treasures of earth are in his lap. He has will to find what he is in quest of. He has wisdom to back his will. "What shall the man do that cometh after the king?" The experiment is thus made once for all: it can never need to be repeated. The end finds him as bankrupt in wisdom as in material resources, — humbled, so as to find it now with God; but the world fallen and away from Him; under the stamp of death therefore, and passing away; man's good in it to fear Him and to do His will, whom presently he is to meet in judgment.

That is no gospel, surely; nor is the faded king to be the preacher of this. He has one text only, and cleaves to it; simple, yet needing to be pondered, and emphasized by its isolation from all else. And we need still to ponder it.

5. Proverbs.

Only Proverbs remains, and already we have remarked upon its Deuteronomic character. The will of God is here declared in short, clear-cut sentences, not indeed as law, but as maxims of experience, suited to the books among which we are, and which show the path through the world for him who seeks it. It is a human voice permitted, for our encouragement and exhortation, to come after and set its seal to the divine. "Yet how plainly do we see, in this book of moral results, the Deuteronomy, in a sense, of the whole Old Testament, that, except in type and shadow, the heavenly things are not yet come! The glory shines not yet on a road tracked by pilgrim feet. Prophecy and promise do but beckon us onward; and the Old Covenant testifies, in its brightest revelations, to what is beyond itself."

Results of This Human Voice in Inspiration.

"The human element in inspiration" has been sufficiently dwelt upon of late by the "higher criticism" of the day. It has been given indeed so great a prominence — set, we may say, in so great authority — as to enfeeble and bring everywhere into subjection to it the divine. We have been given to know so fully — what was never doubtful — that the writers of Scripture were men, that now the doubt has come to be on the other side, whether we may safely any longer call what they have written the "word of God."

On the other hand, for some who are as far as possible from this, it may be needful to point out, in the books to which we have come, a peculiar feature due to the fact that they are, as we have seen, in a sense in which the previous books were not, really the voice of man. They are largely the utterances of human experience; they are often the records of human searching; they are sometimes the expression of human ignorance, of doubt, of error, of unbelief. All is given us as permitted and controlled of infinite Wisdom for our instruction and blessing: there is nothing at random, not a word that has escaped from this control. Yet we are in fact on very different ground when we are listening to the arguments of Job and his friends, or to the recital of what the "preacher" had once "said in his heart," while he was "proving" it with mirth or with folly, or "seeking out by wisdom" the solution of the problem of the world, from what we are on when we listen to Isaiah's prophecies, or even trace out the language of an inspired historian.

This should be quite evident, and it may seem to some useless to spend words upon such a matter as this. No one is in danger of believing that what the devil says is true, because we find it recorded in the pages of inspiration. And as to Job's friends, we are told by God himself that they had not spoken of Him the thing that was right, as His servant Job had. (Job 42:7.) Job had also failed surely, as his own confession implies (Job 40:5); so that of much of the book it is clear that it contains thoughts and reasonings of men instead of the certain truth as God gives it. It has pleased Him that the workings of the human heart should be told out freely before Him, to find needed answer from Him. In Job we have it in Elihu and the words of God Himself ere the book closes.

Ecclesiastes, still more than Job, gives us these reasonings; but which the writer himself works out for us to a right conclusion. Infidelity, materialism, and what not, show themselves in his first thoughts therefore, and materialism especially has sheltered itself under some of his words, but without a shadow of justification when the character of the book is realized. Indeed everywhere, we may be sure, God has given us the clearest marks of distinction between what is of Himself and what is only the working of man's mind. But this last is also of the greatest interest, and profit to us too, to have before us; they come under the apostle's general rule as to inspired Scripture, and are "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." We may be sure of this beforehand; we shall have the detailed proof as we go on.

The three remaining books are of a different character from these two; and in them the human voice is not simply controlled by but harmonized with the divine wisdom; and are thus either true songs, as are the Psalms and the Song itself, or precepts, as the Proverbs. The allowance of human thoughts is necessarily limited, as it is plainly marked off from the rest; but we have cause to thank God for what has been permitted.