Know Your Bible
A Comprehensive Analysis of the Psalms
(A Guide to the Psalms)
Dr. W. Graham Scroggie
A Guide to the Psalms
These studies are not written for the scholar, nor to promote scholarship, but for the general reader, and to quicken devotion, though, it is hoped, the scholar will find the studies stimulating.
Attention is called to the following features:
An attempt is made by the arrangement of the text, to indicate to some extent the principle of parallelism so characteristic of Hebrew poetry. The paragraphing is intended to show the main divisions of each Psalm; and speeches within a Psalm, by one or more voices, are shown in italic print.
Superscriptions and subscriptions are preserved, with here and there a word of interpretation. The theory of Dr. J. W. Thirtle has been followed throughout, namely, that many superscriptions should be the subscriptions to the preceding Psalms, and these have been so arranged.
Further details will be found in the Introduction.
Each Psalm has a Title, and at the end a Thought which is designed to fix in the mind the main lesson of the Psalm. To each is added a note which relates the Psalm to some incident in Christian story. The Exposition aims, as far as is practicable within its limits, at giving interpretative, homiletical, and devotional help.
The acrostic Psalms are shown by the Hebrew alphabet in the left-hand margin.
The verse numbers are arranged in a straight line on the left, and are not allowed to interfere with the poetic form of the Psalm.
All references to Deity, both by name and pronoun, have the initial letters in capital type and this, in several places, has an interpretative value.
It is hoped that these several features combined may help to make the reading and study of the Psalms more interesting and profitable.
A Guide to the Psalms
A Psalm of David
When Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba
1 Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Thy lovingkindness:
According unto the multitude of Thy tender mercies
Blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me throughly from mine iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I acknowledge my transgressions:
And my sin is ever before me.
4 Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Thy sight:
That Thou mightest be justified when Thou speakest,
And be clear when Thou judgest.
5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity;
And in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward parts:
And in the hidden part Thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
7 Purge me with hyssop,
And I shall be clean:
And I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Make me to hear joy and gladness;
That the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice.
9 Hide Thy face from my sins,
And blot out all mine iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God;
And renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from Thy presence;
And take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation;
And uphold me with Thy free spirit.
13 Then will I teach transgressors Thy ways;
And sinners shall be converted unto Thee.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
Thou God of my salvation:
And my tongue shall sing aloud of Thy righteousness.
15 O Lord, open Thou my lips;
And my mouth shall shew forth Thy praise.
16 For Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it:
Thou delightest not in burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit:
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.
18 Do good in Thy good pleasure unto Zion:
Build Thou the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then shalt Thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness,
With burnt offering and whole burnt offering:
Then shall they offer bullocks upon Thine altar.
For the chief musician
This is the fourth and the greatest of the seven Penitential Psalms, the others being, 6, 32, 38, 102, 130, and 143. In spite of all that has been said against the Davidic authorship, the correctness of the title has not been disproved. It may readily be granted that verses 18, 19 are a liturgical addition of a later date.
In the so poignant a cry of a stricken heart one would not expect to find any definite strophical arrangement, yet, it may be said, the Psalm is in three parts.
In Part I (1-12) is a cry for pardon (1-8), and renewal (9-12). In Part II (13-17) is a promise of witness (13-15), and a confession of faith (16, 17). In Part III (18, 19) is a liturgical addition, a prayer for Zion, that it may be upbuilt (18), and that the worship of the people may be acceptable (19). With this Psalm should be read 2 Sam. 11, 12, and Psa. 32.
Certain notes dominate the music of this Psalm, music which is now plaintive, and now gladsome. The first note is that of Sin, which is the occasion of the Song. In the main, sin is regarded in three ways: as a blotted record, which must be expunged; as a polluted robe, which must be washed; and as a fatal disease, from which we must be cleansed (1, 2). Wrong-doing is transgression, violation of law; and iniquity, that which is morally off the straight; and sin, a missing the mark (1, 2). Though evil-doing is a crime against our fellows, it is essentially sin against God (4). Only as it is acknowledged can it be forgiven, and after it is forgiven the remembrance of it will be for our good (3). Sins come out of sin; our evil acts, out of our evil nature (5). For the latter we are not responsible, but for the former we are.
The second note of the Psalm is that of Personal Responsibility. David reiterates that the sin is his; “my … my … my…” he says. Neither he nor we can blame heredity, nor society, nor instinct, but only ourselves. Make sure of that.
Another note in this Psalm is that of Repentance. The evidence of this is in the whole Psalm rather than in any one verse; contrition percolates from every part of it, sorrow, profound sorrow, for the wrong done to his fellows, and the sin against God. Only they can appreciate David’s emotion here who have experienced it. Remorse is a terrible experience even when, as here, it is a sign of grace. The Psalmist’s sorrow was not for the consequences of his sin, but for the sin itself. Esau, and Saul, and Judas were sorry for the consequences of their wrongdoing, but not for the cause of it, and that is not repentance. Though consequences run on, thank God the sin can be forgiven, but only when it is repented of. There is no forgiveness where there is no repentance.
A fourth note here relates to Forgiveness. Had David not believed that pardon was possible, this Song would never have been sung; but having looked at himself, he swiftly looks to God, Who will purge him, wash him, renew him, heal him, gladden him, deliver him, restore him, and all, by creating in him a clean heart (7-14). The radical wrong is not in our surroundings but in our souls.
Another note is that of Testimony (12, 13, 15). The restored should tell what God hath wrought, and such service will help to keep the evangelist steady and steadfast.
Yes, after three thousand years, these are still the great notes in the sad and rapturous music of Jew and Gentile alike; sin, responsibility, repentance, forgiveness, and testimony. Consciousness of sin should always bring sorrow for it, and this will lead the penitent to “the fountain filled with blood,” where alone forgiveness and cleansing are to be obtained; and thereafter, through all our days, we should preach the gospel of full recoverability through God’s matchless grace.
Thought: There’s no use of washing the clock’s face while the mainspring is broken
This Psalm was sung by Francois Benezet on his way to execution. He was a young man, and was studying for Holy Orders. He was executed in January, 1752, on the esplanade at Montpellier. His youth, his courage, and the fact that he left a widow and child, created a profound impression among his co-religionists. By the fiery path his Miserere soon became his Jubilate Deo.
Maschil of David
When Doeg the Edomite came and told Saul, and said unto him, “David is come to the house of Ahimelech.”
Title: The Treacherous Tongue
1 Why boasteth thou thyself in mischief, O mighty man?
The goodness of God endureth continually.
2 Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs;
Like a sharp razor, working deceitfully.
3 Thou lovest evil more than good;
And lying rather than to speak righteousness.
4 Thou lovest all devouring words,
O thou deceitful tongue.
5 God shall likewise destroy thee for ever,
He shall take thee away,
And pluck thee out of thy dwelling place,
And root thee out of the land of the living.
6 The righteous also shall see, and fear,
And shall laugh at him:
7 “Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength;
But trusted in the abundance of his riches,
And strengthened himself in his wickedness.”
8 But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God:
I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.
9 I will praise Thee for ever,
Because Thou hast done it:
And I will wait on Thy name;
For it is good before Thy saints.
For the chief musician
Set to mahalath (dancings)
This Psalm though brief is pregnant. According to the title, the historical occasion of it is in the record of 1 Sam. 21, 22, and it is Doeg who is challenged and condemned. The Psalm is regarded by many as unsuitable to these circumstances, and chiefly for three reasons, namely (a) because what Doeg told Saul was truth, and not a lie (3); (b) because a herdman is not likely to have had “abundance of riches” (7); and (c) because there is no reference in the Psalm to the slaughter of the priests at Nob. These points are not fatal to the accuracy of the title, for (a) while what Doeg said to Saul was true, the report helped to confirm Saul in a false and cruel suspicion, namely that David was scheming against him; (b) Doeg, as Saul’s chief of the herdmen, may have been well-to-do; and (c) the Psalm may well have been written before the slaughter of the priests took place.
Observe that there are three speeches in these few verses—what the Psalmist says to his enemy (1-5); what the righteous say of the slanderer when he is destroyed (7); and what the Psalmist says to God (9). This leaves only four lines of connection between these utterances (6, 8). Look at each of these.
The Psalmist to his enemy (1-5). This speech is in two parts. In the first (1-4) the evil-doer is denounced; and in the second (5) his fate is predicted. But what is it that is denounced? Malicious talking, one of the tongue’s cardinal sins. For talk to be malicious it need not be untrue, for malice is a matter of motive. Doeg told Saul that David had gone to Ahimelech at Nob, and had been received by him. That was true, but why did Doeg tell Saul that? It is his motive that made his matter malicious. Doeg’s design was not to deliver but to damn David, and he was proud of it (1). Words are for use, and not for abuse, as a razor is to shave with, and not to slay with (2); but the use a man will make of his tongue is determined by what he loves in his heart (3). The heart is the fountain, and the language is the flow, and James asks, “Doth the fountain send forth from the same opening sweet water and bitter?” (James 3:11): then, “above all keeping keep thy heart, for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). Who can tell all the anguish which has been suffered in consequence of mischievous tongues! Read carefully what James says on this subject in chap. 3:1-12, and then ask the Holy Spirit to take and train your tongue.
In the midst of this arraignment how impressive is the thought, “the goodness of God endureth continually” (1). It is the answer to the preceding question. The boasting of the wicked against the righteous cannot avail, for God’s goodness to the latter “endures all the day.” Are you the victim of malicious talk? God’s love is all around you as an ocean round an island.
In the next verse (5) the fate of the evil-speaker is forecast. Three strong metaphors are used. God will “break down” such, as a house is levelled with the ground; He will “pluck” such “out of his tent”; and He will “root” such “out of the land of the living.” How terrible a thing, to be broken down, and dragged out, and plucked up by God! Watch your tongue!
Now follows what is said of the mischief-maker. The Righteous of the Wicked (6, 7). It is worth while to notice the effects upon the righteous of the overthrow of the wicked, when they see it, and the passage promises that they “shall see” (6). The sight produces first awe and then scorn; the righteous first “fear” and then, “laugh”; but their fear is not terror, nor is their laughter merriment. They who are “righteous” laugh as God does (Ps. 2:4); and this is what they say (7), “Lo, this is the man …!” The negative and positive sides of his sin are observed, and the positive follows from the negative. If a man does not “make God his strength,” he may do anything, and nothing that he does can save him from being broken down, and dragged out, and plucked up (5).
In contrast to the lot of the evil-speaker is the case of the Psalmist. He says first of all what is his state (8a), and then he accounts for it (8b). The first line may be one figure, a “tree in the house of God,” or two, a tree firmly planted, while the wicked is plucked up, and a guest of God safely housed, while the wicked is dragged out. But his condition and enjoyment are not due to his own merits, but come of his trusting in the mercy of God always (8b). And so the Psalm concludes on a note of praise.
The Psalmist to God (9). Observe the parallelism here. “I will praise,” and “I will wait”; the one looks back, and the other looks on; and the second clauses are related in like manner, pointing to what God has done, and to what He will do for all who wait on Him.
Thought: The tongue had better be tied than be treacherous
When Charles I was a prisoner in the Scottish Camp at Newark, his victors insulted him by ordering Ps. 52 to be sung:
Why boasteth thou thyself, thou tyrant,
That thou canst do mischief;
Whereas the goodness of God endureth yet daily?
It was by an appeal to the Psalms that Charles robbed the insult of its sting. His only reply was to ask for Psalm 56:
Be merciful unto me, O God;
For man goeth about to devour me;
He is daily fighting and troubling me.
Mine enemies are daily in hand to swallow me up;
For they be many that fight against me,
O Thou Most High.