Eaton & Mains, New York
Reprinted 1988 by
Baker Book House
APOCALYPTIC ELEMENTS IN HEBREW SONG
has been no little misapprehension,
both of single compositions and of entire books of the Bible, by reason of
a failure to recognize the pictorial element which is conspicuous therein.
The Hebrew tongue is itself the language of metaphor and passion. The
frequent occurrence of the word “behold”
is a mark of the animated and pictorial character of the composition. The
heart smitten with deep emotion is wont to express its thoughts in glowing
style, and often, where the form of composition is not that of poetry, the
sentiment and language are elevated quite above the manner of prose.
It is worthy of note that nearly two
fifths of the Old Testament are in the style and spirit of Hebrew poetry.
This fact demands consideration when we study these ancient writings as the
embodiment of divine revelation. A rigid adherence to the letter of a
highly wrought composition may blind one’s eyes to the rich spiritual
significance of the grand total impression it was designed to make. In many
cases it involves the absurdity of reducing purely imaginative concepts to
crass mechanical notions which could have no external reality in the world
of sense. This may be illustrated by the following passage from the
eighteenth psalm (verses 6-15):
my distress I call Jehovah,
And unto my God I cry out;
He hears from his temple my voice,
And my cry before him comes into his ears.
Thereupon the earth shakes and trembles,
And the foundations of the mountains move,
And shake to and fro because of his anger.
There went up a smoke in his nostrils,
And a fire out of his mouth devours;
Coals were kindled from it.
He bowed the heavens also and descended,
And thick darkness was under his feet;
And he rode upon a cherub and flew,
And sped swiftly on the wings of the wind.
He makes darkness his hiding place,
His surroundings, his booth, are a gathering of waters, dark clouds of the
From the darkness before him his dark clouds passed,
Hail and coals of fire.
Jehovah also thundered in the heavens,
And Elyon gave his voice,
Hail and coals of fire.
And he sent out his arrows and scattered them,
And many lightnings, and discomfited them.
Then were the channels of the waters seen,
And exposed were the foundations of the world,—
thy rebuke, O Jehovah,
At the blast of the wind of thy nostrils.
The simplest reader of this psalm
observes that, in answer to the prayer of the one in distress, Jehovah
reveals himself in marvelous power and glory. He disturbs for his sake all
the elements of the earth and the heavens. He descends from the lofty sky as
if bending down the visible clouds and making a pathway of massive
darkness under his feet. He seems to ride upon a chariot, borne along by
cherubim, and moving swiftly as the winds. At this point the imagery is
remarkably parallel with that of Ezekiel’s apocalyptic vision (Ezek. 1:4,
5, 22-26). In the psalmist’s thought winds, fire, hail, smoke, clouds,
waters, lightnings, and earthquake are conceived as immediately subservient
to Jehovah, who interposes for the rescue of his devout servant.
who would presume to put a literal interpretation upon compositions like
this? The cultivated and appreciative reader feels at once that he is in
touch with highly wrought imaginative poetry. A dissecting literalism, which
would presume to construct a dictionary of metaphors and apply its own
special definitions uniformly and mechanically to the exposition of such a
scripture, must needs lead into confusion and error. It borders on folly to
ask, in the study of such a psalm, when and where God actually bent down the
visible heaven and made a pathway of clouds on which David or anyone else
saw him descend. But we do see, in all
such emotional word-pictures, how vividly the Hebrew poets apprehended the
presence of God in human experience, and also in the phenomena of the
natural world. The concepts and expressions are in keeping with the
anthropomorphism peculiar to Hebrew modes of thought.
ninety-seventh psalm is of similar apocalyptic character. Jehovah is
celebrated as sovereign of the world, and all the forces of
earth and heaven are the ministers of his will. Perowne translates the
first part of the psalm as follows
is king: let the earth be glad,
Let the multitude of the isles rejoice.
Cloud and darkness are round about him,
Righteousness and judgment are the foundation of his throne.
A fire goeth before him,
And devoureth his adversaries round about him.
His lightnings gave shine unto the world,
The earth saw and trembled.
The mountains melted like wax at the presence of Jehovah,
At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
The heavens have declared his righteousness,
And all the peoples have seen his glory.
It may here be pointed out that the
religious purpose and real value of these apocalyptic songs are not affected
by the critical question of their literary origin. The authorship of the
ninety-seventh psalm is confessedly unknown. The Hebrew text is without
a title. The Septuagint ascribes it “to David, when his land is
established but this heading has no real worth in criticism. Delitzsch
regards the psalm as a product of postexilic times and in its subject-matter
a compilation out of the earlier literature. The eighteenth psalm, however,
claims in its title to be a triumphal hymn of David, “who spoke unto
Jehovah the words of this song in the day of Jehovah’s delivering him out
of the hand of all his enemies and out of the hand of Saul.” It is also
inserted, with the same superscription, in the narrative of David’s
history as written in the Second Book of Samuel (chap. 22). “The author of
the Books of Samuel,” says Delitzsch, “found
the song already existing as Davidic; the difference between his text and
that of the Psalter shows that, even when he wrote, the song had been handed
down by tradition for a considerable length of time.”
But others have questioned the Davidic authorship, and in quite recent times
it has been suggested that it is an ideal hymn of the Israelitish people,
“who, as a reward for their irreproachableness and piety, expect the
erection of the Messianic kingdom through a theophany, and along with it
Israel’s dominion of the world.”
One may naturally feel that the setting
aside of the explicit statements placed at the head of such a song is a
serious disparagement of the Hebrew writers. But a thorough study of the
biblical literature, and the manner of its transmission and use by the
will show that little value is to be given to the titles and superscriptions
of these ancient songs. The habit of poetical embellishment led the Hebrew
annalists to introduce fragments of song, and sometimes entire poems, into
their narratives of the great events of the nation. If tradition report that
a song was sung, or a prayer offered, or a speech made on some great
historic occasion, there will not be wanting men of literary genius in
subsequent times to write a composition presumably appropriate for such occasion.
Songs celebrating great and notable events are not usually written on the
day of their occurrence. On the contrary, they are as a rule the products of
a much later time, and may be composed centuries afterward. Even poets of
our own day compose psalms, lays, and ballads which they assume to put into
the lips of holy men of old, and which may well be believed to represent the
real life and spirit of an ancient hero. The Greek historians do not
hesitate to formulate the very orations spoken by chieftains of a former
age. The reader who will take pains to compare the correspondence between
Solomon and Hiram, as given in 1st Kings 5, 2nd Chron.
2, and Josephus (Ant., 8:2, 6), will observe the freedom with which
Jewish writers made record of such things. David’s words, as recorded in 1st
Chron. 29, are probably a very free report, and therefore very largely the
composition of another than David. In 1st Chron. 16:7-36, David
is represented as putting into the hand of Asaph and his brethren a psalm of
thanksgiving which, upon examination, is found to be compiled out of three
probably postexilic hymns (namely, Psalms 96, 105:1-15, 106:1, 47, 48)
Delitzsch holds, in reference to this composite ode, that the chronicler
“strings together familiar reminiscences from the Psalms after the manner
of a mosaic, in order to express approximately the festive mood and festive
strains of that day.”
being the habit of the Hebrew writers, no serious weight should be given to
the mere critical question of dates and authorship in poems which the
historical writers, for purposes of embellishment, incorporate in the body
of their narratives. A given poem may or may not have been composed at the
time of the event it celebrates, or by the person to whom it is attributed.
Such a question must be determined by internal evidence rather than external
testimony. If the two agree, no question need be raised; if they do not
agree, no serious consequences need be feared by allowing a rational
criticism to do its legitimate work.
fragments of poetry interwoven with the narrative of Numbers 21 are
obviously designed in that connection to serve the purpose of pictorial
embellishment. Verses 14 and 15 are cited from
“the Book of the Wars of Jehovah.” Verses 17 and 18 and 27-30 are
evidently the productions of ballad singers of the nation; but whether they
were composed in the same generation as that of the events celebrated or in
a later age may be an open question. In the account of Joshua’s great
battle at Gibeon (Josh. 10) the unknown writer quotes a fragment from “the
Book of Jasher” (verses 12 and 13), and incorporates it in his narrative
so naively that the majority of his readers have understood the poetical
citation as well as its entire context to be a plain prosaic statement of
fact. By calling attention to the constituent elements of these ancient
writings modern biblical criticism has led most recent expositors to
distinguish the poetry from the prose. The writer of the Book of Joshua
quoted this fragment from the national anthology just as the compiler of the
Books of Samuel quoted David’s lamentation over Saul and Jonathan from
the same source, and also introduced the
eighteenth psalm to adorn his narrative of David’s life.
parallel with these facts of the Hebrew literature, and as a further
illustration in point, we may turn to the famous “Song
of Moses,” as recorded in Exod. 15:1-18. This splendid poem celebrates
the triumph of Jehovah and his people at the Red Sea. The God of Israel is
here depicted as “a man of war,” who hurls the chariots and hosts of
Pharaoh into the sea. By the blast of his nostrils the waters were heaped
didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them;
They sank as lead in the mighty waters.
Thou didst stretch out thy right hand,
The earth swallowed them.
can be no reasonable doubt that this poem celebrates a momentous event in
the history of Israel. One of the later psalmists also broke out in
rapture over the thought of his nation’s rescue from Egypt, and declared
that Jehovah “rebuked
the Red Sea,” led Israel “in the depths as in the wilderness,” and
covered their enemies with waters so that “there was not one of them
left.” Then he adds, “They
believed his words; they sang his praise” (Psalm 106:9-12). But while the
psalmist thus referred to the wonderful
interposition of God in behalf of his people and declared in general terms
that “they sang his praise,” the compiler of the Book of Exodus
incorporates in his narrative the song which Moses and Israel sang on the
occasion of their deliverance. But must we now believe that the song of Exod.
15:1-18, is a composition of Moses and the identical language employed on
the occasion referred to? A question of this kind cannot be permanently
settled by dogmatic presumptions or assertions. Scientific criticism avers
that songs of this character are not usually written on the day of victory
or the next day thereafter. It makes appeal to the facts of literary usage
and to the license freely taken by annalists in adorning their narratives
with illustrative and appropriate pieces of poetry. It maintains that such
expressions as “thy holy habitation” (Exod. 15:13),
and “the mountain of thine inheritance; the place which thou hast made for
thy dwelling, O Jehovah; the sanctuary which thy hands have established”
(verse 17), are less natural and appropriate for Moses and Israel at the Red
Sea than for Israel after they were established in Canaan. But the “Song
of Moses” as it now stands in Exod. 15:1-18, may be a later revision of
what was sung by Moses and Israel. A
popular national ode would be likely to undergo many verbal changes and
receive much supplement in the course of centuries, and such a poem may
preserve the spirit of the occasion for which it was first written after
having undergone modifications of a radical character. Later poets would
naturally have celebrated such a triumph as that of Israel at the Red Sea,
and numerous ballads of like cast may have become current among the people.
An historian accustomed to adorn and enliven his description of great events
by the insertion of such spirited songs would thus employ a current “Song
of Moses” without ever entertaining the question of its authorship and
date. No critic questions the historical purpose or occasion for which this
song was written. Nor need we for one moment doubt that God could have
inspired Moses with ability to write the song within one hour after he
“shook out the Egyptians in the midst of the sea” (Exod. 14:27), and to
have prophesied of the sanctuary that was to be established five hundred
years thereafter in Jerusalem, the mountain of his inheritance. But the
question is not one of possibilities, but
of facts and probabilities. Devout criticism, in the handling of these
questions of authorship and date, is in no conflict with the supernatural,
but it does cry out against the unnatural.
It insists that the true supernatural, which lies back of all divine
revelation, is conserved more surely by a rational than by an irrational and
in mind, then, the habit of the old Hebrew annalists in their free use of
current songs to embellish and enliven narrative, we are not to be disturbed
at finding poetry and prose singularly blended in the historical books of
the Old Testament. Not infrequently one hesitates to say whether a
description is to be understood literally or as a metaphorical
embellishment of facts. For example, we read in Exod. 13:21, 22, as follows:
went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them the way;
And by night in a pillar of fire to give them light;
That they might go by day and by night:—
there departed not the pillar of cloud by day,
And the pillar of fire by night from before the people.
statements and their numerous parallels in other parts of the Scriptures
may be understood either as a record of outward, visible, historic fact, or
as a poetical picture of the wonderful providence which was conspicuous in
Israel’s deliverance from their numerous dangers at the period of the
exodus. But who is to determine absolutely for all readers which of these
two interpretations is the more correct? Some will insist that we must
believe these words as plain literal statements or sacrifice the trustworthy
character of the entire biblical record of the exodus. They refuse to allow
any opinion outside of these alternatives. But others, equally learned and
devout, see no more necessity for insisting on a literal interpretation of
the pillar of cloud and of fire in these passages than of the cherub and the
pavilion in Psalm 18:10, 11. They insist that in all such descriptions of
divine interposition we have so many illustrative examples of the genius of
the Hebrew writers for highly wrought word-painting. Where opinions differ
on such a matter of literary judgment each reader must be allowed the
liberty of deciding for himself and not for another.
a further illustration of the apocalyptic elements in Hebrew song we cite
the following passage from the song of Deborah (Judg. 5:4, 5):
O Jehovah, when thou didst go forth out
When thou didst march out of the field of Edom,
The land trembled, also the heavens dropped;
Also the clouds dropped water.
The mountains quaked before Jehovah,
Yon Sinai before Jehovah, the God of Israel.
us observe next how the same idea is expressed in Psalm 68:8, 9:
God, when thou didst go forth before the people,
When thou didst march in the wilderness,
The land trembled and the heavens dropped before God,
You Sinai before God, the God of Israel.
is most conspicuous in these verses is their vivid concept of the immediate
presence of God with his people. He marches like a great hero at the head of
the thousands of Israel, and clouds and storms, earthquake and flood are
recognized as outward symbols of his majesty. The obvious allusion is to
the march of the Israelites through the wilderness of Sinai. The signal
interpositions of the Almighty in behalf of his people, from the time of
their leaving Egypt until their entrance into the land of promise, were thus
celebrated in the national songs.
Song of Moses, in Dent. 32, is as fundamental and suggestive in the
apocalyptic character of much of its language as it is exquisite in its
literary form. It celebrates the principles of the divine government of the
world, extols the righteousness and goodness of Jehovah as contrasted with
the perverseness of Israel. It reveals God as the judge and avenger of his
people, who will come quickly and pour out his fury upon the wicked, redeem
his own people, and cause them to exult with him in everlasting triumph.
Witness the conclusion of the song (verses 39-43), which may be suitably
rendered as follows:
ye now that I, even I, am he,
And there are no gods with me.
I put to death, and make alive again;
I dashed in pieces, and I will restore;
And there is no deliverer from my hand.
For I lift up unto the heavens my hand,
And say, I live forever!
If I make sharp the lightning of my sword,
And take fast hold of judgment with my hand,
I will turn vengeance on my enemies,
And them that hate me I will recompense.
I will make drunk my arrows with blood,
And my sword shall feed on flesh,
the blood of spoil and of captivity,
From the head of the waving locks of the foe.
O nations, sound aloud his people’s praise,
For he the blood of his servants will avenge,
And vengeance turn upon his enemies,
And make his land and people free from guilt.
prayer of Habakkuk the prophet” (Hab. 3) is remarkable for its apocalyptic
concepts of the divine government of the world. God is portrayed as coming
from Teman and Mount Paran, covering the heavens with his glory. Beams of
light stream from his radiant form while he stands and measures the earth,
makes the nations tremble, and scatters the eternal mountains. Note especially
verses 10 and 11:
mountains saw thee and were in pain,
The tempest of waters passed by;
The deep uttered his voice,
On high his hands he lifted.
Sun and moon stood in their lofty abode,
At the light of thine arrows as they went,
At the brightness of the lightning of thy spear.
are incorporated in the Pentateuch two apocalyptic songs of such exceptional
significance as to justify a more extended comment. They are the oracular
blessings attributed to Jacob and Moses, and recorded in Gen. 49 and Deut.
33. These superior products of ancient Hebrew literature were in their
nature adapted to become very popular and to be repeated familiarly among
the tribes of Israel. They are both in substance poetic apocalypses of
various struggles and triumphs of the twelve tribes as supposed to be
foreseen by the patriarch and the lawgiver. It was a prevalent opinion of
antiquity that highly gifted souls, at the moment of their departure from
the world, were wont to prophesy. Socrates is represented in Plato’s
Apology as saying to his judges: “Now, O men who have condemned me, I
would fain prophesy to you; for I am about to die, and that is the hour in
which men are gifted with prophetic power.”
Socrates uttered something of this kind to his judges is altogether
probable; that he spoke these very sentiments is certainly not impossible.
But the well-trained student of history and literature knows that it is
equally possible, and no less probable, that
these words, as well as all the rest of the Apology, are the language
and thought of Plato. In the introduction to his translation of this
dialogue Jowett observes: “In what relation the Apology of Plato
stands to the real defense of Socrates there are no means of determining.”
The same thing may be said of the oracular blessings ascribed to Jacob and
Moses. Their genuineness must be subjected to the same tests. Did these
ancient worthies of the Hebrew people compose and utter the poems in
question before their death? He would be bold indeed who would assume the
affirmative of this question, and insist withal that the credibility and
value of these scriptures depend upon our maintenance of that affirmative.
fundamental question, first of all to be determined, is one of fact touching
the usage and methods of literary art. All the studied compositions of human
genius belong essentially to a department of the fine arts, and there is no
good reason for excluding Hebrew poems and apocalypses from the same
category. Is it, then, or is it not the habit of poets to transfer
themselves in imaginative thought to bygone times, and compose sentiments
appropriate for great heroes on particular occasions? This question answers
itself with everyone who is familiar with the literature of any cultivated
people. What we have already shown in our observations on the Song of Moses
in Exod. 15 is therefore applicable also to the great poems of Gen. 49 and
Deut. 33. The authorship and date of such productions are legitimate
questions of criticism. It is usually the case that an author, writing long
after the event to which his composition refers, betrays by incidental
words and allusions the real period when he lived. The prevailing verdict of
modern criticism is that both these oracular poems belong to a period long
after the days of Moses. But the approximate date of each is a more
difficult question, and they have been assigned by different critics to
almost every period between the time of David and the Babylonian exile. This
diversity of opinion, however, need not be considered strange, when even
greater diversity exists respecting the time and place of the composition of
the Book of Job. Our sole object in these pages is neither to maintain nor
deny the genuineness of these prophetic songs, but to show that their value
for doctrine and instruction in righteousness is not dependent on that
question of criticism. We see no antecedent improbability, much less an
impossibility, in such men as Jacob and Moses uttering these prophetic
blessings on the tribes of Israel. But we are bound in all honor and
truthfulness to affirm that it was just as possible, and much more in accord
with what we know of the literature of other peoples, for inspired poets of
the times of David, or later, to have written them. The author in
each case transfers himself in imagination to the position of the great hero
to whom the song is attributed. The prophecy of Jacob purports to be a
survey of the future of the twelve tribes as seen by the patriarch in Egypt
when he was about to die. The blessing of Moses assumes to be the words with
which “the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death.”
Both of these poems move in the same general line of thought, but with such
numerous variations as two different writers, at the times supposed, would
naturally have conceived. Jacob’s oracle has a more secular cast, and
contains curses as well as blessings; Moses’ blessing has a more spiritual
and theocratic tone, and contains no word of censure for any of the
tribes. In Jacob’s prophecy Simeon and Levi are associated, and are both
condemned because of their wanton cruelty in the slaughter of the
Shechemites (comp. Gen. 49:5-7, and 34:25-31). But in Moses’ blessing
Simeon is not mentioned, and Levi is extolled as the well-tried priest and
teacher of the chosen people. In Gen. 49:8-12, Judah is praised among his
brethren as preeminent for leadership, conquest, royalty, and wealth; but in
Deut. 33:7, he is passed over with a few words of doubtful import. From
Moses’ point of view the ultimate glories of the tribe of Judah seem to be
hidden by reason of the nearer vision of the priesthood of Levi and the
prosperity of Joseph. In both poems Joseph receives notable distinction, for
Jacob’s passionate fondness for his favorite son was ever memorable, and
Moses could not be supposed to ignore “the myriads of Ephraim and the thousands
prophetic compositions are obviously the products of different periods,
but in their contents and general form they are noticeably analogous. There
are also verbal correspondencies which show that they are not altogether
independent of each other. The patriarch, in telling his children what shall
befall them in the after time, is portrayed as a prophet of the future; but
Moses’ blessing contemplates the conquest of Canaan as already accomplished,
and Israel dwelling safely in a land of corn and wine. The opening words in
Moses’ blessing, however, are more apocalyptic in style than anything to
be found in the prophecy of Jacob. The Hebrew text of Deut. 33:2, is
probably corrupt; but with slight emendation we may read it thus:
forth from Sinai came,
And he beamed out of Seir for them;
He shone forth from Mount Paran,
And came unto Meribah-Kadesh:
At his right hand springs (gushed) for them.
This is a poetic concept of God’s
wonderful kindness toward his people during all their journeys in the
desert, and should be compared with Judg. 5:4,
5, and Psalm 68:8, 9. But it would seem very unnatural
for Moses to say what is written in verse 4:
commanded us a law,
An inheritance for the assembly of Jacob.
The probability is that both these
songs received modifications in the course of years. The entire exordium. of
Moses’ blessing (verses 2-5) may have been the addition of a later hand.
But whatever their origin and history, they occupy their appropriate places
in the volume of divine inspiration, and their apocalyptic elements are
obvious. They constitute together a twofold poetic picture of the struggles
and triumphs of the tribes of Israel.
oracles of Balaam, as written in Num. 23 and 24, are also deserving of our
notice on account of their apocalyptic style and setting. They are more
general in their scope than the blessings of Jacob and Moses, but they are
of the nature of prophetic blessings on the tribes of Israel. The famous
soothsayer is summoned from the mountains of the East to “curse Jacob and utter wrath against
Israel,” but Jehovah puts words of blessing in his mouth, and he declares
that he “cannot go beyond the word of Jehovah,
to do either good or evil of his own mind.”
is very conspicuous in Balaam’s oracles is their fourfold repetition of
blessings. First be speaks from a position whence he can behold the extreme
portion of the camp of Israel, and where Balak had prepared for him seven
altars, seven bullocks, and seven rams. There “he took up his parable and
said” (Num. 23:7-10):
Aram Balak leads me,
The king of Moab from the mountains of the East:
Come, curse for me Jacob,
And come, be wroth against Israel.
How shall I curse whom God has not cursed?
And how shall I be wroth (when) Jehovah is not wroth?
For from the summit of the rocks I see him,
And from the hills I behold him:
Lo, it is a people that dwells in separation,
And among the nations reckons not himself.
Who has counted the dust of Jacob,
Or, by number, the fourth of Israel?
Let me die the death of the righteous,
And let my last end be like his.
king of Moab is chagrined and offended by such words, and takes Balaam to
another part of the mountain whence he may not see the whole camp; but the
second oracle (Num. 23:18-24) is a fuller blessing than the first, and
declares that no enchantment or divination can prevail against the people of
God. Thereafter, in varied form, a third and a fourth oracle of blessing
follow, each predictive of the future glory of Israel (see Num. 24:3-9, and
15-34). In his God-given strength
shall devour the nations, his enemies,
And shall break their bones in pieces,
And with his arrows smite them through.
shall come forth a Star out of Jacob,
And a scepter shall rise out of Israel,
And he shall smite through the corners of Moab,
And break down all sons of tumult.
And Edom shall become a possession,
Even Seir shall become a possession—his enemies.
Besides Moab and Edom (which is in the
poetic parallelism not different from Seir) five other nations are referred
to, namely, Amalek, the Kenite, Asshur, Kittim, and Eber, seven in all,
which are to come in contact with the people of Jacob. In all this we may
see the outline of an apocalypse of Israel’s future struggles and triumphs
among the nations. The fourth oracle is worthy to be compared with the
fuller prophecies of Isaiah (chaps. 13-23), Jeremiah (46-51), Ezekiel
(25-32), Amos (1, 2), and Zephaniah (2). All these are but amplified
delineations of the concept of divine judgment on the nations, and of God's
overruling wars and revolutions so as to secure in the end the peace and
glory of his people—the righteous nation. In Joel 3:2, we have it all
summed up in a single picture thus: “I will gather all nations and bring
them into a valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my
people.” This idea of bringing all the nations into judgment, and out of
them all redeeming those who fear God and work righteousness, is a
fundamental concept of the biblical revelations.
conclusion we reach from this brief study of apocalyptic songs is that in a
faithful and thorough interpretation of them their subjective ideal elements
must be duly recognized. Whether they stand apart as independent psalms or
are incorporated in the historical narratives, their essential contents as
revelations of the righteousness and mercy of God are in either case the
same. When they are assigned by their headings to a particular author or
occasion such assignment is not in itself sufficient always to determine
the authorship or the date of the poem. For the highest literature abounds
with compositions which gifted poets have written as appropriate for persons
and events of a distant past. And it
requires but a slight examination of the habit of the Hebrew historians to
see how freely they made use of such poetic compositions to embellish their
view of what has now been shown and of what follows in the next chapter, we
may here appropriately cite the words of Herder. “Poetry,” he observes, “is a divine language, yet not in the
sense that we understand by it what the divine Being in himself feels and
utters; whatever was given to the most godlike men, even through a higher
influence, to feel and experience in themselves, was still human…. The
spirit of poetry was first exhibited in significant names and expressions
full of imagery and of feeling, and I know of no poetry in the world in
which this origin is exhibited in greater purity than in (that of the
Hebrews). The first specimen which presents itself in it (Gen. 1) is
a series of pictures exhibiting a view of the universe, and arranged in
accordance with the dictates of human feeling. Light is the first uttered
word of the Creator, and the instrument of divine efficiency in the
sensitive human soul. By means of this the creation is unfolded and
expanded. The heavens and the earth, night and day, the diurnal and
nocturnal luminaries, creatures in the sea and on the land, are measured and
estimated with reference to the human eye, to the wants and the powers of
feeling and of arrangement peculiar to man. The wheel of creation revolves
upon a circumference embracing all that the eye can reach, and stands
still in himself as the center of the circle. In giving names to all, and
ordering all from the impulse of his own inward feeling, and with reference
to himself, he becomes an imitator of the Divinity, a second Creator, a true
a creative poet.”
comment on the passage is as follows: “David’s deliverance was, of
course, not really accompanied by such convulsions of nature, by
earthquake, and fire, and tempest; but his deliverance, or rather his
manifold deliverances, gathered into one, as he thinks of them, appear
to him as marvelous a proof of the divine power, as verily effected by
the immediate presence and finger of God, as if he had come down in
visible form to accomplish them.”—The Book of Psalms, new
translation, with notes, etc., vol. 1, p. 186. American ed., Andover,
on the Psalms, in loco.
Einleitang in das A. T., p. 119. Freiburg, 1891.
Book of Jasher, which contained the elegy preserved to us in 2nd
Sam. 1:17-27, must have been compiled after the time of David. The
obvious inference is that the Book of Joshua, which also makes use of
it, was also written after the reign of David, and therefore some
centuries after the time of Joshua. But such a book of national songs
may have contained many a ballad as old as the time of Joshua. The
questions of date and authorship must rest mainly on internal evidence;
but a scientific and devout exegesis may well protest against a
persistent construing of the language of such poetical citations as
unquestionable statements of fact.
daughter and her companions came out to meet her father “with timbrels
and with dances” on his return from the victory over the
Ammonites (Judg. 11:34). In like manner the women of Israel celebrated
the triumphs of Saul and David, and sang (1st Sam. 18:7):
hath slain his thousands,
And David his ten thousands.
So the great victory at the
Red Sea would elicit spontaneous outbursts of exultation from Moses and
the children of Israel, and Miriam and the women would respond to it
“with timbrels and with dances.” But that the song of Exod. 15:1-18,
was composed and committed to memory by the people of Israel before any
celebration of their victory may reasonably be questioned.
Exod. 14:19, 24; 40:38; Num. 9:15; 10:34; 14:14; Dent. 1:33; Neb. 9:12,
19; Psalm 78:14; 99:7; 105:39; Isa. 4:5; 1st Cor. 10:1.
journey through the desert—of which Sinai was the central point—by
the giving of the law and the impartation of doctrine, by the wonderful
provision of food and the gift of victory, and by the infliction of
awful judgments, became one continuous act of divine revelation.”—Cassel,
in Lange’s Commentary, on Judg. 5:4.
is an interesting fact, worthy of notice here for its suggestive
analogy, that the beautiful poem entitled “Milton’s Prayer of
Patience,” written by Miss Elizabeth Lloyd, of Philadelphia (afterward
Mrs. Howell), passed in England as Milton’s own composition, and was
even included in an Oxford edition of Milton’s works as a newly
discovered poem. The first stanza is:
am old and blind!
Men point at me as smitten by God's frown;
Afflicted and deserted of my kind;
Yet am I not cast down.
See the entire poem and introductory
note in Schaff and Gilman’s Library of Religious Poetry, p. 10.
New York, 1881.
Spirit of Hebrew Poetry, translated from the German by
James Marsh, vol. 3 pp.
6, 7. Burlington, 1833.