Inductive Bible Studies,

[Copyright by W. R. HARPER, 1887.]

PREPARED BY PROFESSORS W. R. HARPER (Yale University), W. G. BALLANTINE (Oberlin Theol. Sem.), WILLIS J. BEECHER (Auburn Theol. Sem.), and G. S. BURROUGHS (Amherst College).


Tenth Study.—The Psalms of David—First Period.

[The material of this "study" is furnished by Professor Harper.]


1. It will not be possible, within the scope of these " studies," either

(1) to examine the scientific grounds upon which a particular Psalm is assigned to David, or

(2) to study closely all the Psalms which, by common consent, have been assigned to that author. It is proposed to take up a few of those in reference to whose authorship there is little doubt, and to study them as David's. Anything contained in the Psalm which is inconsistent with a Davidic authorship, will be noted.

2. The only true method, the historical, must be employed; and in almost no other part of Scripture is it possible to apply this method more strictly or with greater satisfaction. We know so many of the details of David's life, that, comparatively speaking, it is not difficult to distribute his literary work in connection with these details.

3. If one desires to do the work here outlined comprehensively and intelligently, let him first obtain some knowledge of the structure and contents of the Psalter as a whole. The importance, even the necessity, of this is self-evident.

4. If one desires to do the work here outlined with some degree of thoroughness, let him first obtain some knowledge of the principles of Hebrew poetry (see topic 2 below). As will be seen, the study of the poetry of a given Psalm is, after all, the study of the thought as a whole, and of the relation of its various thoughts to each other. It will be said that this is rather the theme and the analysis of the poem, and not the poetry. Try it and see. Only the Revised Version, of course, can be used in this work.

5. If the treatment given seems fragmentary, let it be remembered that only three " studies" can be given to the whole subject of David's Psalms.


[In the following work on the Psalms, let it be distinctly understood that no one is under obligation to do all that is outlined. Select what seems to be most important.]

1. The Psalter and its Divisions.1

(1) Number of Psalms in our English Bible, in Septuagint?

(2) Note the division of Psalms into different books; number in each?

(3) Study and compare the doxologies at the end of Pss. 41; 72; 89; 106.

(4) Meaning of Ps. 72:20? inferences to be drawn?

(5) What light upon the age of this five-fold division is gained from 1 Chron. 16:35,36?

(6) The times of David, Hezekiah, and the return from exile, the principal periods of Hebrew Psalmody; explanation of this fact?

2. The Form of Hebrew Poetry.

(1) Study Pss. 19:1,2; 21:1,2 (R. V.), and note

(a) that each verse has two lines or members in each of which the same thought is expressed with slight modifications;

(b) that this method of expression, called parallelism, is the characteristic feature of Hebrew poetry; and

(c) that, wherever, as in these verses, there is practically a repetition of the same idea, the parallelism is called synonymous (cf. synonymous words, or synonymous phrases).

(2) Study Prov. 10:1-5, and note that, in each verse, the second line or member is in antithesis (contrast) with the first; this is antithetic parallelism.

(3) Study Ps. 21:3; 25:6; 37:13; 42:1, and note that, in each verse; the first line does not furnish a complete thought, the second being needed to finish out the idea begun in the first; this is synthetic parallelism.

(4) Study the parallelism of Ps. 15, and note that verses 1 and 2 have each two members, but that verses 3, 4, 5 have each three members.

(5) Study Ps. 18:6, and note that

(a) the first and second members are synonymous;

(b) the third and fourth are synonymous;

(c) that the third and fourth, taken together, stand in the synthetic relation with (i. e., are needed to complete the thought of) the first and second.

(6) Search in the Psalms for other and similar combinations.

3. Characteristics of Hebrew Poetry.2

(1) Religious;

(a) the Hebrews were a religious nation,

(b) religion finds its best expression in song,

(c) the fact that it is religious has given Hebrew poetry its pre-eminence over all other poetry.

(2) Simple and Natural;

(a) Hebrew poetry is largely free from artificial limitations;

(b) the distinction between poetry and the higher " style of prose is slight;

(c) among the Hebrews all thought stands in immediate contact with living impressions and feelings, and so, if incapable of rising to the abstract, is prevented from sinking to the unreal" (Robertson Smith).

(3) Largely Subjective;

(a) the Hebrew poet writes of himself, out of himself, and for himself;

(b) that which is outside is taken up because of its relation to what is within;

(c) "Man's inmost soul and all the vast variety of human experience, are presented in Hebrew poetry as the common experience of humanity of all ages and of all lands."

(4) Sententious;

(a) brief, terse, loosely connected;

(b) uttered as intuitions rather than as products of logical reflection;

(c) the parts of a poem not always clearly distinguished;

(d) figures of speech extravagant in number, character and variety.

(5) Realistic;

(a) Hebrew poets in close communion with nature;

(b) all nature aglow with the glory of God;

(c) all nature sharing in the destiny of man;

(d) "Hebrew poetry, therefore, excels all other poetry in its faithfulness to nature, its vividness and graphic power, its intense admiration of the beauties of nature, and reverence for its sublimities.."

4. Classification of David's Psalms.3

(1) Those which seem to have been written in connection with his persecution by Saul, viz., 7; 11; 34 (?); 35; 52; 54; 56; 57; 59 (?); 142.

(2) Those connected with the removal of the ark to Jerusalem, viz., 15; 24; 30; 68 (?); 101; 132.4

(3) Those penned during his wars, viz., 2 (?); 20; 21; 60 (?); 110.

(4) Those connected with his great sin, viz., 32; 51.

(5) Those connected with Absalom's rebellion, 3; 4; 23; 26; 27; 28; 37; 62 (?); 69; 109.t


1. Read carefully Psalms 7; 52; 54; 56; 57; 142, and make notes under the following heads:

1) The circumstances under which the Psalms seem (or claim) to have been written (see superscriptions).

2) Expressions which they have in common.

3) Phases of feeling to which they give utterance; or elements in the character of the writer which they exhibit, e. g., 7:1,10,17; 54:4,6.

4) Expressions showing the writer's ideas concerning God, God's relation to man, 7:8,9,11; 52: 1; 54:7; 56:8.

5) Expressions showing the writer's ideas concerning his own relation to his fellow men, or their relation to him, e. g., 7:2,15,16; 52:1,7,8; 57:3; 56:2,5,6.

6) Sentiments which would oppose the Davidic authorship of any one of these Psalms.

2. Take up exhaustively Ps. 56,5 and treat as follows:—

1) Read the Psalm carefully two or three times, and mark every expression which seems to need explanation, and by means of such helps as are within reach determine its force; e. g., (v.1) "swallow me up," "all the day long;" (v. 2) "fight proudly;" (v. 4) "in God I will praise," "flesh;" (v. 5) "wrest my words;" (v. 6) "waited for my soul;" (v. 7) "cast down the peoples;" (v. 8) " tellest," "tears into thy bottle," " thy book;" (vs. 10, 11) compare them with v. 4; (v. 12) " thy vows;" (v. 13) " in the light of the living."

2) Study the parallelism of each verse; e. g., v. 1, three members; 2 and a synon. and together synth. with 1; v. 2, synon. or synth.; v. 3, synth.; v. 4, 1 and 2 synon., and together synth. with 3; v. 5, synon.; v. 6, same as v. 4; v. 7, acc. to margin, antith., but acc. to text, perhaps synon.; v. 8, three members; vs. 9, 10, synon.; v. 11, synth. or synon.; v. 12, synth.; v. 13, four members, 3 and 4 synth., and together synth. with 2; 2, 3 and 4 together synon. with 1.

3) Determine the meaning and force of each particular verse; v. 1, a cry for help, because of danger; v. 2, enemies oppose him in multitudes, continually and proudly; v. 3, in time of fear he trusts in God; v. 4, since he trusts in God, how can man harm him? v. 5, they misrepresent him, occasion him sorrow; v. 6, they dog his footsteps for an opportunity to take his life; etc.

4) Determine the logical connection which exists between each verse and that which precedes and follows it:

(1) v. 2 is an enlargement of the second and third members of v. 1; v. 3, an expression of confidence in God, notwithstanding the situation described in v. 2; v. 4, a continuation of the thought of v. 3.

(2) v. 5, not connected with v. 4; v. 6, continuation of v. 5; v. 7, a prayer for the destruction of those described in vs. 5, 6; v. 8 furnishes ground for the request made in v. 7, viz., God's personal interest in him; v. 9, consequence of v. 8; vs. 10, 11, expression of confidence, in spite of the situation.

(3) v. 12 expresses the writer's sense of obligation in view of the deliverance which, in v. 13, he has already received or is sure to receive.

5) Discover the theme, and make an analysis of the Psalm upon the basis of this theme; e. g., with the theme Trust in God in time of Danger,

(1) vs. 14, a cry for help, an expression of confidence;

(2) vs. 5-11, same thoughts expressed more strongly;

(3) vs. 12, 13, thanksgiving.

6) Compare the superscription of the Psalm with its contents, and determine

(1) whether there is any other external testimony in favor of the Davidic authorship (cf. 1 Sam. 21:11-16; the word "escaped" in 22:1; 27-29);

(2) whether there is anything in the Psalm itself which favors the superscription;

(3) whether there is anything in the Psalm which opposes the superscription.

7) Accepting the Davidic authorship, review the Psalm, eudeavoring to grasp as definitely as possible the entire situation which furnished the occasion, and to interpret the contents of the Psalm in accordance with this situation.

8) Note carefully the teachings of the Psalm under the following heads:—

(1) Attitude of the wicked toward the righteous;

(2) God's attitude toward the righteous;

(3) God's attitude toward the wicked;

(4) The confidence of the righteous in view of God's protection;

(5) The duty of the righteous toward God in view of his protection.

3. Upon this or a similar model, take up and work out other Psalms of this period, e.g., 52; 142.



1) See Perowne's commentary on Psalms (Draper, Andover), vol. I., pp. 4-17; article in Smith's Bible Dictionary, "Psalms;" introductions to various commentaries.

2) Taken from Brigg's "Biblical Study," pp. 250-55.

3) This classification does not include all Psalms which may lay claim to Davidic authorship; only those of which the historical situation is more or less clear.

4) Ps. 132 perhaps may better be assigned to the removal of the ark in Solomon's time to its resting place, the temple (2 Chron. 6:41 seq.). Ps. 109is thought by some to belong to the times of Saul, not those of Absalom.

5) Consult the various commentaries.