THE LITERATURE, or Writings, the third and last division of the books in the Hebrew canon has suffered far more than the others by displacement. The various books are scattered throughout the Prophetschiefly between the Former and Latter Prophets. The titles, too, have been much mistreated.
The books may be arranged in three groups, according to their character, as follows:
THE FIVE SMALL SCROLLS
The Song of SongsLove.
Our translators have rendered the Hebrew word which is the title of this book praise in all of its thirty occurrences in the body of the book. So it seems best to entitle it Praises. The word psalm probably arose from the fact that these compositions were sung in the temple ritual, for the word refers to singing rather than to praise. Its verb is rendered sing twice (Rom.15:9; 1 Cor.14:15), and making melody once (Eph.5:19). Surely Praises is the one most suitable title to this marvelous collection of poems and hymns. Worship is its key note, the kingdom glories are its inspiration and the chosen nation is its theme. Yahwehs dealings with His earthly saints and their experiences of His mercy and justice provoke the praise of His great Name.
As our theme is the outside of the scrolls, we have paid little or no attention to the inner divisions of the books. In the case of the Praises, however, it will pay us to take a glance inside at the headings to the various psalms. For thousands of years they have been an enigma. Only lately has the key been found to clear up the confusion. It is at the close of Habakkuk. He closes his prophecy with a psalm. The third chapter commences with
A prayer of Habakkuk, the prophet,
Then we have the body of the psalm itself, followed by the subscription:
Permanent With Accompaniments
We will find a similar inscription at the head of the fourth psalm, except that our translators have left the Hebrew Neginoth in place of accompaniments. But why should it be at the head of the fourth psalm and at the foot of Habakkuks psalm? As the latter is at the very close of the prophecy there is no possibility of an error. This, however, is not the case in the psalms.
In the Hebrew text all the psalms and head lines run right on without a break. The mistakes have been made in separating the psalms one from another. The first part of the headline to the fourth psalm is really the subscription to the previous psalm. Psalm four should be headed A Davidic Psalm, and should close with the first part of the heading of Psalm five: Permanent, Concerning the Allotments.
And so for all the psalms. Each one has a heading. The assignment Permanent or Precentor is always a subscription and belongs to the previous psalm. Many manuscripts read the first psalm in Acts 13:33, which distinctly refers to what is now the second. There is no heading to the second psalm, so it is part of the first. The first and second psalm are one, and so throughout the collection, psalms without a headline belong to the previous number.
The Massoretic (Traditional) Hebrew text also divides the psalms into five sections corresponding to the five books of the Law. Such a division seems to be indicated in the text by the blessing and double amen with which the first three close. The fourth closes with Amen, hallelujah. They are as follows (as numbered at present):
|I. ||The Book of the Beginning. ||Psa.1-41. |
|II. ||The Book of the Names. ||Psa.42-72. |
|III. ||The Book of the Calling. ||Psa.73-89. |
|IV. ||The Book of the Wilderness. ||Psa.90-106. |
|V. ||The Book of the Words. ||Psa.107-150. |
It is difficult to find a good English equivalent for the title of this book. It consists of six collections intended to serve as a manual of conduct in this world. We would perhaps entitle it Rules for Daily Living. Yahweh warns against the dangers which beset the feet of His earthly people and urges them into the path of understanding and wisdom. The Praises guided them in their communion with Yahweh; the Rules rather directed them in their intercourse with each other.
Like all the scrolls which are designated by the name of a man, the meaning of the name is the index to its contents. It means Enmity. Job is a concrete example of the work of the enemy. The philosophy of evil is discussed to a finish. His four friends make evil the consequence of sin. Job maintains his innocence. Yet Yahweh vindicates him and blesses him far beyond what would have been possible apart from the affliction he had endured. Evil is definitely designed by God to work out His beneficient purpose. Thus the philosophy of evil and enmity is fully elucidated in this book, as its title indicates.
THE SMALL SCROLLS
The Migilloth or Small Scrolls were read each year on the festivals in the order in which they are here given:
| || |
Fast of the Ninth of Abib
The Songs of Songs
Each one is a literary gem, full of the spirit of Yahweh, and admirably adapted to meet and mould the social life of his people.
THE SONG OF SONGS
(THE SONG OF SOLOMON, OR CANTICLES)
The Song of Songs has for its subject the celebration of Yahwehs love for His own people. Often has that love found expression both in word and deed, but here it is presented in the most exquisite and alluring of figures.
Ruth, a Friend, deals most delightfully with the subject of friendship and teaches as well the friendship of Yahweh for the aliens, whom He blesses through His chosen people. She becomes one of two alien women who are reckoned in the genealogy of our Lord. Thus shall the nations have their part in Him in the day when Israel is restored to blessing.
The title of this book is a word of very common occurrence which our translators usually translate How. It is at once a question and an exclamation. Unlike the other small scrolls, it was read upon a fast (rather than a feast) day which commemorates some of the calamities which have befallen the nation. The great subject of divine judgment, which is the burden of this book, is the sufficient reason for its astonishing title.
THE ASSEMBLER (ECCLESIASTES)
Coheleth, from cahal, to assemble, suggests the English title Assembler. It was read at the great assemblies of the feast of tabernacles. The object of the assembling was to consider and to justify the ways with the words of God. But the title may indicate that he assembled many sayings, which are recorded in the book.
ESTHER (A STAR)
Esther is a marvelous manifestation of the care of Yahweh over His people when their sun is set and they are in the power of their enemies. Then He becomes their guiding star, shaping their way by means of a providence which never escapes His control. By the simplest and most insignificant means He turns the fell designs of their enemies into a source of blessing.
Daniel, My Adjudicator-is-subjecting, is so appropriate that no one can miss its aptness. As it is principally concerned with the nations during Israels subjection to them, His title, as included in the name, is El (Dan-i-El) rather than Yahweh, for He does not deal with the other nations. Here we have Gods judgment of Israel by the nations because of their apostasy from Him, and His judgment of the nations because of their mistreatment of His people until the kingdom is once more in the hands of His saints.
EZRA (INCLUDING NEHEMIAH)
Ezra, Help, is the perfect inscription to the history of Judahs restoration to their land and city and temple. The early Hebrew texts all include Nehemiah but the Greek version separates them.
(Words of the Days, or Chronicles)
We have chosen the title Commentaries as an English equivalent for the picturesque Hebrew Words of the Days. The history is no mere repetition of the books of Samuel and Kings but a carefully prepared commentary on the same events as they appeared to the eye of Yahweh. Many events which are assigned to human instrumentalities are here traced back to Yahweh. The purposes and counsels of the heart are unveiled in this divine Commentary.