As for the relation of the psalms to the similar compositions of Babylonia, we find many interesting and instructive parallels of form, language and thought, but not less striking differences which must not be ignored, due to the far higher religious stand point of Israel, and the suppression of magic in the interests of religion (though some of the older forms and expressions doubt less continued to be used). The resemblances may be partly ex plained by the independent development of closely related peoples (G. R. Driver, in The Psalmists, pp. 109 seq.), and partly by the entrance of the Hebrews into a land dominated by Mesopotamian influence (as the Tell el-Amarna tablets prove) ; but it is quite possible that there was some direct influence also, even prior to the exile. This possibility also applies, but in a much smaller degree, to the influence of Egypt ; there is the well-known parallelism of the "Hymn to the Sun" of Ikhnaton with Ps. civ., which matches the close relation of the "Teaching of Amenophis" to our canonical Book of Proverbs. But whatever contributions came directly or indirectly from without, there is good ground for holding that in all that really matters the Psalter is a native product, and that to Israel still belongs the undiminished glory of carrying the religious lyric to its highest point of development.
Any attempt to characterize the teaching of this anthology must be made with the full consciousness of its variety of authorship, purpose and date. It is the most varied of the books of the Old Testament, and offers many unreconciled antitheses. Devotion to the sacrificial system and ritual of the temple is found side by side with prophetic protests against the popular reliance on them. Faith in the exact retributive justice of God within the limits of earthly life does not exclude the perplexities of those who could not be blind to the sufferings of the innocent and the prosperity of the wicked. The nationalistic demand for supremacy over, and even for vengeance on, enemies is neighbour to the uni versalistic sense of Israel's missionary stewardship for all the world. The recoil from the shadow of death, which leaves no light of Yahweh's presence beyond the grave, does not wholly prevent the conviction of a fellowship with God that virtually conquers death. But certain comprehensive truths may be use fully remembered in the study of the Psalms.
The central religious principle is, of course, the idea of God. The monotheism is sometimes implicit rather than explicit, for there are a number of references to other "gods" (lxxxvi. 8, lxxxix. 6, xcv. 3, etc.) ; yet these are perhaps no more than the survival of ancient phraseology. The general standpoint of the psalms is that of an exalted and imageless monotheism (cxv.), unlimited in power, universal in range. The most prominent attributes of Yahweh are "lovingkindness" (chesedh) and "right eousness" (yedhek, sedhakah), combined in cxlv. 17, expanded
in xxxvi. 6-11; they are complementary, not antithetical. To these must be added the mystery and majesty of God—the quality which we have come to call "the numinous," best ex pressed in Ps. xc. ; the wrath of God cannot be measured by human norms of right and wrong. This great God is omnipresent (cxxxix. 7-12), and eternal (xc. r, 2 Cll. 26-28). Around this great and exalted personal centre in heaven, but on the lower level of earth, we may trace a series of concentric circles in nature, history, human society, the temple, narrowing at last to the personal religion in which man can look right up to God. Nature is directly controlled in all its detail by God, and no "laws of nature" come between Him and His creation. The cosmology of the "nature" psalms (viii., xix. 1-6, xxix., lxv., civ., cxlviii.) is crude ; man walks on a flat earth, with the "shades" of Sheol beneath his feet, and Yahweh with His angels above his head, on the solid firmament ; round about the earth is the primaeval ocean and its monsters, overcome long since by Yahweh's creative power. The great facts which emerge from this primitive setting of man's life are the dignity and glory of his high place (viii.) amid the glories of Yahweh's creation (xix. i-6) and His univer sal providence (civ.). The power of the enthroned Yahweh is man ifest in the majesty of the thunderstorm which sweeps the earth, whilst in the heavenly palace His angels glorify Him (xxix.).
The peculiar providence of God is, however, best seen in the redemptive history of ,Israel (lxxxi. so). At great crises, Yahweh has intervened to save His chosen people (cxiv.). The God of the past (cv., cvi.) will be the God of the future, when His rule shall be proved supreme over all (xlvii., and the other "enthrone ment" psalms). A prince of the house of David shall be his vicegerent (lxxxix. 35 seq.; cf. ii., lxxii.) and the final judgment of men shall vindicate His righteousness (i. 5). This is the essential faith of the righteous, the company of those who fear Yahweh and are remembered by Him (cf. Mal. iii. 16), the group to whom we seem to owe the most "spiritual" of the psalms. They live in a society of mingled elements, and have many enemies, without and within, for there are imprecations against unworthy Israelites (lxix., cix.) as well as against the ungodly heathen (cxxxvii., lxxxiii., lix., lviii.), and they may be under unjust rulers (lii.). Their great problem is that which troubled the best minds and hearts of Israel, and found no solution within the Old Testament, i.e., the strange and perplexing prosperity of the wicked and the adversity of the righteous in a world governed by an omnipotent and righteous God (xlix., xxxix., xxxvii., lxxiii.).