« PreviousContinue »
THE SCENE OF THE PSALM.
ALL recent explorers of Palestine speak in glowing terms of that “solemn eastern background,” with its mellow tints of blue and purple, rising conspicuous, as if a wall built by giants, from the deep gorge or valley of the Jordan. This mountain range, and especially the hills of Gilead, with their rugged rayines and forests of sycamore and terebinth, are full of blended memories of joy and sadness. From one of these slopes, the Father of the Faithful obtained his first view of his children's heritage. On another, the Angels of God—the two bright celestial bands-greeted Jacob on his return from his sojourn in Syria.* From another, trains of wailing captives on their way to Babylon, must oft and again have taken through their tears their last look of “the mountains round about Jerusalem.” Nigh the same spot, the footsteps of our blessed Redeemer
* Gen. xxxii. 1.
Himself lingered, when death was hovering over the couch of the friend He loved at Bethany. Martha and Mary, from their Village-home, must have lifted their eyes to these same “hills,” from whence they knew, in the extremity of their anguish, their "help" alone could come. While, at a later period, the same spot was rendered illustrious as the locality of Pella, the mountain fortress and asylum whither their Lord had admonished His followers to flee, when the Imperial Eagles of Rome were gathered by Titus around the devoted city.*
This “land beyond the Jordan” still further derives an imperishable interest from being the exileretreat of the sweet Singer of Israel in the most pathetic period of his chequered life and reign. There is no more touching episode in all Hebrew history than the recorded flight of David from his capital on the occasion of the rebellion of Absalom and
* See Mr Stanley's chapter, in his “Sinai and Palestine,” on “Peræa and the Trans-Jordanic Tribes,” in which these different references are graphically grouped together. “ The Peræan hills are the ‘Pisgah' of the earlier history: to the later history they occupy the pathetic relation that has been immortalised in the name of the long ridge,' from which the first and last view of Granada is obtained. They are the 'Last Sigh' of the Israelite exile.”—(P. 328.)
the defection of his people. Passing, barefoot and weeping, across the brook Kedron, and thence by the fords of Jericho, he sped northwards with his faithful adherents, and found a temporary shelter amid these remote fastnessess.
Minds of a peculiar temperament have often found it a relief, in seasons of sadness, to give expression to their pent-up feelings in poetry or song. Ancient as well as modern verse and music abound with striking examples of this,—“Songs in the Night,” when the mouldering harp was taken down from the willows by some captive spirit, and made to pour forth its strains or numbers in touching elegy. David's own lament for Jonathan is a gush of intensified feeling which will occur to all, and which could have been penned only in an agony of
It was a spirit crushed and broken with other, but not less poignant sorrows, which dictated this
* As an example in modern poetry, need we refer to that noblest tribute ever penned over departed worth, the “In Memoriam” of Tennyson; or in modern song, to the exquisite and plaintive loveliness of this very Psalm, set to music by Mendelssohn, and so well known by the title, “As the hart panteth."
Psalm of his exile. May we not imagine that, in addition to the tension of feeling produced by his altered fortunes, there was in the very scene of his banishment, where the plaintive descant was composed, much to inspire poetic sentiment? The alternate calm and discord of outer nature found their response in his own chequered experiences. Nature's Æolian harp—its invisible strings composed of rustling leaves and foaming brooks, or the harsher tones of tempest and thunder, flood and waterfallawoke the latent harmonies of his soul. They furnished him with a key-note to discourse higher melodies, and embody struggling thoughts in inspired numbers. In reading this Psalm we at once feel that we are with the Minstrel King, not in the Tabernacle of Zion, but in some glorious "House not made with hands,”—some Cathedral whose aisles are rocky cliffs and tangled branches, and its roof the canopy of Heaven !
Let us picture him seated in one of those deep glens listening to the murmur of the rivulet and the wail of the forest. Suddenly the sky is overcast. Dark clouds roll their masses along the purple peaks. The lightning flashes; and the old
oaks and terebinths of Bashan bend under the tumult of the storm. The higher rivulets have swelled the channel of Jordan,—"deep calls to deep"—the waves chafe and riot along the narrow gorges. Suddenly a struggling ray of sunshine steals amid the strife, and a stray note from some bird answers joyously to its gleam. It is, however, but a gleam. The sky again threatens, fresh bolts wake the mountain echoes. The river rolls on in augmented volume, and the wind wrestles fiercely as ever with the denizens of the forest. At last the contest is at an end. The sky is calm—the air refreshed—the woods are vocal with song—ten thousand dripping boughs sparkle in the sunlight; the meadows wear a lovelier emerald ; and rock, and branch, and floweret, are reflected in the bosom of the stream.
As the royal spectator with a poet and painter's eye is gazing on this shifting diorama, and when Nature is laughing and joyous again amid her own tear-drops, another simple incident arrests his attention. A Hart or Deer, hit by the archers or pursued by some wild beast on these “mountains of the leopards,” with hot eyeballs and panting sides, comes bounding down the forest glade to quench