Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible

Adam Clarke, LL.D., F.S.A., (1715-1832)

Preface to the Book of Psalms

Section I - On the Names Given to this Book

This book is termed in Hebrew ספר תהלים Sepher Tehillim, which some learned men derive from הל hal or הלל halal, to move briskly, irradiate, shine; and translate, The Book of the Shinings forth, Irradiations, Manifestations, or Displays, namely, of Divine wisdom and love exhibited in God’s dealing with his chosen people, or with particular. persons, as figures, for the time being, of what should be accomplished either in the person of Christ, or in his mystical body the Church. But as halal signifies also to praise, and praise arises from a sense of gratitude, is the expression of inward joy, and was often exhibited by brisk notes, sprightly music, etc., it may be well denominated The Book of Praises, as the major part of the Psalms have for their subject the praises of the Lord.

That the Psalms were sung in the Jewish service, and frequently accompanied by musical instruments, there is no doubt, for the fact is repeatedly mentioned; and hence the most ancient translation we have of the Psalms, viz., the Septuagint, as it stands in what is called the Codex Alexandrinus, is called Ψαλτηριον, The Psaltery, which is a species of musical instrument resembling the harp, according to the accounts given of it by some of the ancients. From this term came the Psalterium of the Vulgate, and our word Psalter, all of which are deduced from the verb ψαλλω, to sing, as the voice no doubt always accompanied this instrument, and by it the key was preserved and the voice sustained.

A Psalm is called in Hebrew מזמור mizmor, from זמר zamar, to cut off, because in singing each word was separated into its component syllables, each syllable answering to a note in the music.

General Division of the Book

The Hebrews divide the Psalms into five books, and this division is noticed by several of the primitive fathers. The origin of this division is not easily ascertained; but as it was considered a book of great excellence, and compared for its importance to the Pentateuch itself, it was probably divided into five books, as the law was contained in so many volumes. But where the divisions should take place the ancients are not agreed; and some of them divide into three fifties rather than into five parts; and for all these divisions they assign certain allegorical reasons which merit little attention.

The division of the Hebrews is as follows: -

Book I. From Psa 1:1-6 to Psa 41:1-13 inclusive.

Book II. From Psa 42:1-11 to Psalm 72 inclusive.

Book III. From Psalm 73 to Psalm 89 inclusive.

Book IV. From Psalm 90 to Psalm 106 inclusive.

Book V. From Psalm 107 to Psa 150:1-6 inclusive.

The First, Second, and Third Books end with Amen and Amen; the Fourth, with Amen and Hallelujah, the Fifth, with Hallelujah.

But the Psalms themselves are differently divided in all the Versions, and in many MSS. This is often very embarrassing to the reader, not only in consulting the Polyglots, but also in referring to theological works, whether of the Greek or Latin Church, where the Psalms are quoted; the Greek ecclesiastical writers following the Septuagint; and those of the Latin Church, the Vulgate. I shall lay a proper table of these variations before the reader, remarking first, that though they differ so much in the division of the Psalms, they all agree in the number one hundred and fifty.

A Table of the Differences in Dividing the Psalms Between the Hebrew Text and the Ancient Versions, Syriac, Septuagint, Chaldee, Arabic, Aethiopic, and Vulgate

In the above versions Psalm 9 and 10 make only Psalm 9. Hence there is one Psalm less in the reckoning as you proceed to

Psa 114:1-8, 115, which make Psa 113:1-9 in all those versions. Hence two Psalms are lost in the reckoning.

Psalm 116 is divided at Psa 116:9, the versions beginning Psalm 115 at Psa 115:10. Hence one Psalm is gained on the above reckoning.

Psalm 119 makes Psalm 118 in all the versions.

Psalm 147 they divide at Psa 147:11, and begin Psalm 147 with Psa 147:12. Here then the reckoning becomes equal, and all end alike with Psa 150:1-6. ‘

In the Syriac, Septuagint, Aethiopic, and Arabic, there is what they call an extra-numeral Psalm, said to have been composed by David after his victory over Goliath. A translation of this will be found at the close of these notes.

The Hebrew MSS. agree often with the versions in uniting Psalms which the common Hebrew text has separated, and thus often support the ancient versions. These things shall be considered in the course of the notes.

On the Compilation of the Book, and the Authors
to whom the Psalms Have Been Attributed

After having said so much on the name and ancient divisions of this important book, it may be necessary to say something in answer to the question, “Who was the author of the Book of Psalms?” If we were to follow the popular opinion, we should rather be surprised at the question, and immediately answer, David, king of Israel! That many of them were composed by him, there is no doubt; that several were written long after his time, there is internal evidence to prove; and that many of them were written even by his contemporaries, there is much reason to believe.

That the collection, as it now stands, was made long after David’s death, is a general opinion among learned men; and that Ezra was the collector and compiler is commonly believed. Indeed all antiquity is nearly unanimous in giving Ezra the honour of collecting the different writings of Moses and the prophets, and reducing them into that form in which they are now found in the Holy Bible, and consequently the Psalms among the rest. See this subject treated at large in the preface to Ezra, etc.

In making this collection it does not appear that the compiler paid any attention to chronological arrangement. As he was an inspired man, he could judge of the pieces which came by Divine inspiration, and were proper for the general edification of the Church of God.

The writer of the Synopsis, attributed to St. Athanasius, says that the friends of King Hezekiah chose one hundred and fifty Psalms out of the number of three thousand which David had composed, and that they suppressed the rest: he says farther, that this is written in the Chronicles; but it is not found in the Chronicles which we now have, though it might have been in other Chronicles which that author had seen.

That some Scriptural collections were made under the influence and by the order of Hezekiah, we learn from Pro 25:1 : ‘These are also proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah, king of Judah, copied out.” But whether these were employed on the writings of the father, as they were on those of the son, we cannot tell. The above authority is too slender to support any building of magnitude.

The only method we have of judging is from the internal evidence afforded by several the Psalms themselves, and from the inscriptions which many of them bear. As far as time and facts are concerned, many of them can be traced to the days of David, and the transactions which then occurred, and in which he bore so eminent a part. But there are others in which we find no note of time, and no reference to the transactions of David’s reign.

As to the inscriptions, they are of slender authority; several of them do not agree with the subject of the Psalm to which they are prefixed, and not a few of them appear to be out of their places.

In one of the prologues attributed to St. Jerome, but probably of Eusebius, at the end of Vol. II. of St. Jerome’s Works by Martinay, we find a table in which the whole Book of Psalms is dissected, showing those which have inscriptions, those which have none, and those to which the name of a particular person, as author, is prefixed. I shall give these in gross, and then in detail: Psalms without any name prefixed, 17; Psalms with an inscription, 133; in all 150.

These are afterwards divided into those which bear different kinds of titles, without names; and those which have names prefixed. I shall give these from the Quintuplex Psalterium, fol. Paris, 1513, as being more correct than in the edition of Jerome, by Martinay.

No Inscription 1, 2, 32, 42, 70, 90, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 103, 115, 136, 147


David’s 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 33, 34, 33, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 67, 68, 69, 85, 100, 102, 107, 109, 133, 137, 139, 140, 141, 142, 143, 144


Solomon’s 71, 124


Sons of Korah 41, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 83, 84, 86


Asaph 49, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82


Heman 87


Ethan 88


Moses 89


No Name Specified
A Song or Psalm
A Song or Psalm
A Psalm or Song
A Prayer of the Afflicted



Hallelujah 104, 105, 106, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 116, 117, 118, 134, 135, 145, 146, 148, 149, 150


Psalms of Degrees 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 132


Grand Total


Supping that the persons already mentioned are the authors of those Psalms to which their names are prefixed, there are still fifty-three, which, as bearing no proper name, must be attributed to uncertain authors, though ii is very probable that several of them were made by David.

The reader will observe that as the preceding enumeration is taken from the Vulgate, consequently it is not exactly the same with ours: but the rules already given at page 200, will enable him to accommodate this division to that in our common Bibles, which is the same with that in the Hebrew text.

In order to make the preceding table as correct as possible, I have carefully collated that in the Benedictine edition of St. Jerome’s Works, with professedly the same table in the Quintuplex Psalter, in both of which there are several errors. In the Works, though all the numbers are given at large, as primus, decimus, centesimus, &c, yet the sum total, under each head, rarely agrees with the items above it. This was so notoriously the table in Jerome’s Works, that I thought best to follow that in the Psalter above mentioned, which had been carefully corrected by Henry Stephens.

After all, this table gives but small satisfaction, when we come to collate it with the Psalms in the Hebrew text, or as they stand in our common English Bible. That nothing might be wanting, I have made an analysis of the whole from our present text, collating this with the Hebrew where I was in doubt; and by this the reader will see how greatly these tables differ from each other; and that many Psalms must now come under different arrangement, because of their different titles, from that which they had in St. Jerome’s time. For instance, in St. Jerome’s time there were seventy, or, as in some copies, seventy-two Psalms that had the name of David in the inscriptions; at present there are seventy-three thus inscribed in the Hebrew text.

Taken from "Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible" by Adam Clarke, LL.D., F.S.A., (1715-1832)

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