Heidegger's Bible Handbook: Psalms: The Distinctiveness of the Psalter

5. A multifaceted distinction between the rest of the Scriptures and the Psalms is set forth.


Whence also a multifaceted distinction between the rest of the Scriptures and the Psalms is observed. The rest of the the Scriptures contain what commissions God enjoined upon His Servants to be delivered to us. Here, the Prophets themselves, speaking with God, inasmuch as they lay bare all their more inward experiences, call and draw each of us to an examination of his own: so that, with hypocritical corruption and blemish wiped away, we might open our hearts to God. The rest of the Scriptures inform us in the knowledge of the true God and the study of piety, so that we might be led to the communication of heavenly grace. But the use of the Psalms, if it proceed from a believing heart, is arranged in such a way that through it the believing soul is conveyed into the presence of God, and there abundantly pours out the affections of his faith, hope and love, and does not now only hear or speak of God; but, speaking with God, communicates his secrets to Him. And for this thing the Holy Spirit suggests words beautifully agreeing with the individual affections, no matter how various, of the pious mind, whereby we might draw out what we are eager from the abundance of the heart to pour out before God, by a certain, wonderful bubbling forth of the Spirit springing up in us. Concerning the rest of the Scripture in general, the Apostle declares in Romans 15:4, that they were written for our learning, that through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures we might have hope. But the Psalms were composed by some singular counsel of the Holy Spirit in such a way that what the other Scriptures set forth to the reader in narrations, precepts, oracles, and promises scattered here and there, they most pleasantly instill in the minds and mouths of all the pious by words excellent, and adorned with a pleasant modulation for this use, and render them living and breathing, as it were. There is not so great a variety of temptations of the pious, nor so different affections of piety, that they might not obtain in the Psalms a most suitable medicine, or find a formula whereby they might be vividly expressed. Moreover, those formulæ, prescribed for conversing and communicating with God through the Holy Spirit, are employed, not in a simple manner of speech, but in song, that is, with exultation of heart and spirited voice. Indeed, the meaning of the words is the some, in whatever manner they are expressed. Nevertheless, it matters quite a bit with what spirit, and with what affections, they are poured forth before God. It certainly belongs to those rejoicing to sing.[1] Even still, so many and so great are the tribulations of the pious, that the Psalms of David are also filled with affections more fitting for mourning than for rejoicing. Therefore, for as long as with pious and true joy of heart they celebrate and sing before the Lord, it is necessary that they, either rescued from their tribulations by the blessing of God, or most efficaciously touched in the midst of their afflictions with a sense of the Divine goodness, be set free for the song of joy. Finally, the Psalms also have this difference from the rest of the Scriptures, that, while the latter are able to be read and recited by carnal men also, the former are not ale to be used except by men spiritual, and exercised by various tribulations.

[1] See James 5:13.

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