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he was "skilled in all the wisdom of the Egyptians," a genius for poetry scarcely inferior to that of any other Hebrew poet, as is evident from the 90th Psalm, and from his other poems contained in his history; which, it may here be remarked, is itself the sweetest and simplest in the world.
The poetry of the Hebrews is the earliest of which we have any knowledge, and the oldest specimen that the world can produce is contained in Gen. iv. 23, the address of Lamech to his wives, generally supposed to be the remnant of a song composed on some particular occasion. "Their historical records may be said to end, where those of Greece begin; the first of their historians being a thousand years anterior to Herodotus, and the last of them his contemporary; and they possessed beautiful poetry, which was committed to writing, probably, centuries before letters were known in Greece, and before the remotest period, in which we can suppose the author of the Iliad to have existed."
The following is an enumeration of the poetical pieces to be found in the historical books of the Old Testament. If the pupil examines them carefully, even by the English translation, it will be an interesting as well as a useful exercise. Parallelism may be detected in them at once; and the tone rises so suddenly from that of the surrounding history into elevated poetry, that no one, with any feeling for the beauty of song, can possibly be unconscious of its presence. They may be taken in the order, in which they come in the sacred books, from Genesis onwards.
The first poetical fragment, which occurs after that of Lamech, is the address of Noah respecting his sons, Gen. ix. 25-27. The next in order is the b.essing of Isaac on his sons, Gen. xxvii. 27-29, 39, 40. Next comes the blessing of Jacob; in the original, unrivalled for its beauty and sublimity, but in the English translation rendered obscure and shorn of its beams. It is contained in the 49th chapter of Genesis. We next meet with the triumphal song of the Hebrews after the passage of the Red Sea; a sublime ode, composed probably by Moses, Exodus xv. The next is a fragment, contained in Numbers xxi. 17, 18, of a song sung by the children of Israel at the digging of a well; verses 27-30 of the same chapter contain a triumphal song of the Hebrews for their victory over the Ammonites, which is quoted in Jeremiahı xlviii. 45, 46. Next we have in Numbers xxiii, xxvi, the prophetic addresses of Balaam, remarkable for their sublimity, and for the wild, sudden, and yet mournful manner, in which they seem to burst from his lips, by an impulse which he cannot resist. Then we have, in the 32d chapter of Deuteronomy, another song of Moses, a beautiful and affecting appeal to the children of Israel, containing some of the most pathetic passages in all the Old Testament, and indeed in all poetry. Then in the 33d chapter we are presented with "the blessing, where with Moses, the man of God, blessed
the children of Israel before his death." This should be read in connexion with the blessing of Jacob, which it very much resembles. What it says of Joseph is full of sweetness, and its closing verses are a sublime strain of religious and patriotic fervour, worthy indeed to be recorded as the last words of the man of God, who had led his chosen people, till they could view afar off the promised land, who was himself to "see it with his eyes," from the summit of Pisgah, and then to be gathered to the dead in silence, and solitude, and awful secresy, by the hand of the Almighty.
These are all the poetry in the historical books of Moses; the next poetical piece in order is the sublime song of Deborah contained in the fifth chapter of Judges. Next is the prayer, (as it is called in the translation) of Hannah, I Sam. ii. 1-10, which may be compared with the song of Mary, Luke i. 46–55. Then we find the pathetic lamentation of David over Saul and Jonathan; II. Sam. i. 19-27. Then David's song of gratitude to God, "for deliverance from the hand of all his enemies and of Saul," II Sam. xxii. This contains what is perhaps the sublimest description in all Hebrew poetry, not excepting even the compositions of Isaiah. It also exhibits in a very beautiful manner the placid spirit of David, and the confidence of his trust in God his deliverer. This song forms with some slight alterations, the 18th Psalm, and should be examined along with it. In the next chapter, (xxiii.) verses 2-7, we have "the last words of David, the son of Jesse, the man raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the sweet psalmist of Israel;”—a beautiful morsel, full of his own sweet, rural, confiding manner. In I Chron. xvi. 8-36, we find a sublime song of thanksgiving, composed by David on occasion of bringing up the ark from the house of Obed-edom to the city of Jerusalem, part of which constitutes the 96th Psalm, which will be found translated on page 461.
These we believe, are all the poetical remains contained in the historical portions of the Hebrew Scriptures. They are full of beauty, and the study of them, standing as they do, in the midst of plain prose, will give the pupil a more forcible idea of the nature and peculiarities of Hebrew poetry, even than the perusal of the exclusively poetical books. Having brought the enumeration down to the last production of David, we shall close with the following fine extract from Campbell, on the influence and character of his genius.
"The gifted influence of David evidently created a new era in the productions of the Hebrew muse. It is impossible to conceive his example and genius as a poet, combined with the splendid circumstances of his reign, having failed to communicate an enthusiastic impulse to the imaginations of his people. He extended their empire, he subdued their enemies, and founded their capital, Jerusalem, in Zion, which he had won from the Jebusites; and having brought the ark of the cove
nant to the consecrated city, he invested the national worship with a pomp of attendance, and a plenitude of vocal and instrumental music, calculated to give an inspiring effect to its solemnities. He himself relieved the cares attending a diadem, with the harp, which had been the solace of his adversities and the companion of his shepherd days; and leading his people in devotion as he had led them in battle, he employed his genius in the composition of beautiful strains for the accompaniment of their sacred rites. He must have thus diffused a taste for music and poetry, much beyond what the nation had hitherto possessed.
His traits of inspiration are lovely and touching, rather than daring and astonishing. His voice, as a worshipper, has a penetrating accent of human sensibility, varying from plaintive melancholy to luxuriant gladness, and even rising to ecstatic rapture. In grief, "his heart is melted like wax; and deep answers to deep, whilst the waters of affliction pass over him." Or his soul is led to the green pastures by the quiet waters. Or his religious confidence pours forth the metaphors of a warrior in rich and exulting succession. "The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer-my God, my strength, in whom I will trust—my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower." Some of the sacred writers may excite the imagination more powerfully than David, but none of them appeal more interestingly to the heart. Nor is it in tragic so much as in joyous expression that I conceive the power of his genius to consist. Its most inspired aspect appears to present itself, when he looks abroad on the universe with the eye of a poet, and with the breast of a glad and grateful worshipper. When he looks up to the starry firmament, his soul assimilates to the splendour and serenity which he contemplates. This lofty but bland spirit of devotion peculiarly reigns in the 8th and in the 19th Psalms. But above all, it expands itself in the 104th into a minute and richly diversified picture of the creation. Verse after verse in that Psalm, leads on the mind through the various objects of nature as through a mighty landscape, and the atmosphere of the scene is coloured, not with a dim or mystic, but with a clear and warm light of religious feeling. He spreads his sympathies over the face of the world, and rejoices in the power and goodness of its protecting Deity. The impression of that exquisite ode dilates the heart with a pleasure too instinctive and simple to be described."
PART OF THE PROPHECY OF BALAAM.
FROM Aram I am brought by Balaš,
By the king of Moab from the mountains of the east:
And come execrate Israel:
How shall I curse whom God hath not cursed?
And how shall I execrate whom God hath not execrated?
For, from the top of the rocks I see him,
Lo! the people who shall dwell alone,
Nor shall number themselves among the nations!
Who shall count the dust of Jacob?
I shall see him, but not now:
Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies:
Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion,
FROM THE SONG OF MOSES TO THE CONGREGATION
VE ear, O ye heavens and I will speak :
As the small rain upon the tender herb,
The portion of Jehovah is his people;
Spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them,
CLOSE OF THE BLESSING PRONOUNCED BY MOSES ON THE
CHILDREN OF ISRAEL.
THERE is none like unto the God of Jeshurun.
In his majesty upon the sky.
The eternal God spreadeth out before thee
He did thrust out the enemy from before thee,
Therefore shall Israel dwell securely;
Happy art thou, O Israel!
Who is like unto thee, O people redeemed,
By Jehovah, the shield of thy help,
And the sword of thy majesty!
Thine enemies shall submit themselves unto thee,
DAVID'S LAMENTATION FOR SAUL AND JONATHAN.*
II. SAMUEL. i. 19-29.
THE glory of Israel is slain upon thy high places:
Tell it not in Gath:
Publish it not in the streets of Askelon:
Lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad,
Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.
Oh mountains of Gilboa! let there be no dew, Nor rain upon you, nor fields of first fruits :
*All those extracts from the Sacred Poets, to which the name of the translator is not prefixed, are translated by the Editor. The English translators of the Bible performed their task with beautiful simplicity, and much faithfulness ;-and though the critical translator requires the most unwearied patience in long, minute, and repeated investigation, yet, with the Editor of the present volume, whose object is simply to present an unstudied picture of the beauty of the original, it is often times sufficient for the accomplishment of his purpose, to divide the common version (almost unaltered except in the correction of evident mistakes) into the parallelistic lines of the Hebrew.