PSALM 111 1

The title to this psalm supplies the place of an argument; and, that others may be induced to engage in the praises of God, the Psalmist points out the manner of doing so by his own example. Then he gives a short account of the manifold benefits which, in olden times, he conferred upon the faithful, and is daily conferring upon them. The psalm is composed in alphabetical order, each verse containing two letters. The first verse begins with a, a aleph, while the letter b, b beth, is placed at the commencement of the next half of the verse. The last two verses only are not divided into hemistiches; but each of these has three letters. If, however, any one will closely examine the contents, he will find that this has occurred through mistake or inadvertence; for if we make these two verses into three, 2 the construction of the sentences corresponds very well one with another; and consequently, the transcribers have erred in not attending to the prophet's distinction.

1 This and the subsequent psalms, to the 119th, are supposed to have been sung by the Jews at the celebration of the Passover; and the subject-matter of them was peculiarly adapted to such a purpose. "From the 111th to the 118th psalm, inclusive," says Jebb, in his recent work on the Psalms, "we find very interesting marks of a ceremonial which, tradition asserts, was observed by the Jews at the eating of the Passover, namely, the singing of the Gospel Hallel -- that hymn, in all likelihood, which our blessed Lord sang with his disciples after the Last Supper. Dr Lightfoot informs us that there is considerable discrepancy of opinion among the Jews as to what psalms constituted the Greater Hallel; the various opinions extending or contracting its range from the 113th to the 137th psalm. As usual, these traditions are uncertain and ill defined, and have more respect to the arbitrary dicta of the Rabbins than to the internal evidence of Holy Scripture. Let us now examine this evidence. In the first place, we are to remark, that all the psalms (except the 114th and 118th) which precede the 119th, have Hallelujah (that is, Praise ye the Lord) either prefixed or subjoined, or both, while those which are without this burden are in evident connection; the 119th as evidently beginning a new series. In the absence, then, of any consistent testimony, it seems fair to assume, that this group of psalms formed the Greater Hallel, the sentiment they contain being singularly applicable to the festival, -- to the great deliverance from Egypt, which it celebrated, and to the second delivery from Babylon, which so strongly resembled it. According to Dr Lightfoot, the 113th and 114th psalms were sung at one period of the feast, at the second cup; and after the fourth cup, the other psalms, namely, the 115th to the 118th, inclusive; and here the feast ordinarily ended. They thus held the place of grace before or after meat; and this division is very consistent, the latter psalms being more evidently Eucharistical." -- Jebb's Literal Translation of the Book of Psalms, with Dissertations, volume 2, pages 269-271.

2 "These two verses," says Dr Geddes, "might just as well have made three, and then the whole of both psalms would be regular." According to Jerome, this is the first psalm that is exactly alphabetical, the rest of this description, which precede it, being only nearly so.


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