This psalm is peculiar for its title, which stands quite alone among the inscriptions. It is neither historical nor musical in its reference; but describes the character of the psalm, and the circumstances amid which it would be found useful. That it was, therefore, affixed at a late time, when the collection had come to be employed, not merely for liturgical purposes and in public worship, but in private devotion, there can be little doubt. But the composition of the psalm must be referred to national rather than individual feeling. It is true the suppliant speaks from personal experience of distress actually pressing upon him; but this distress has not an individual character, but is of that general kind which is felt under national calamity and misfortunes. It is natural, from Psalm 102:14-15, to refer the composition to the exile period. With this also agree the many points of coincidence with the prophecies of the second part of Isaiah. But it must be remarked that the causes which the prophets of the exile assign to the national captivity or catastrophe do not appear here. There is no expression of repentance or contrition; nor yet of the deeper insight which, towards the end of the exile, brought into prominence the doctrine of vicarious suffering. Those in whose name the psalmist writes are the servants of Jehovah, and have never been anything else. He does not distinguish them as an exception to the mass of the people, who are guilty and deserve the destruction in which the whole universe is to be involved. For this reason many critics bring the psalm down to the Antiochean period, when Jerusalem suffered so much, and at one time presented a desolation like that mourned in the psalm (1 Maccabees 1:38-39). The verse-structure is irregular.
Hearth.—Better, a brand or fuel; so LXX. and Vulgate, Aquila, and this meaning suits Isaiah 33:14. (For the image see Psalm 22:15; Psalm 31:10; Psalm 32:3.)
So that I forget.—Better, for I have forgotten, &c. For this mark of deep sorrow comp. 1 Samuel 1:7; 1 Samuel 20:34, &c. (Comp. Homer, Iliad, xxiv. 129.)
Owl.—Heb., khôs. (See Leviticus 11:17.) The bird is identified with the “owl” by the Hebrew in this passage, which should be rendered, “owl of the ruins.” Some, however, would identify this bird with the pelican, since khôs means “cup,” rendering “the pelican, even the pouch-bird.” (See Bible Educator, ii. 346.) LXX., Aquila, Theodotion, all have “screech-owl;” Symmachus, the “hoopoe.”
Sparrow.—See Note, Psalm 84:3. Here render, like a lonely bird. Some MSS. read, “a wandering bird.”
“But even while I drank the brook, and ate
The goodly apples, all these things at once
Fell into dust, and I was left alone.”
TENNYSON: Holy Grail.
“And now the sun had stretched out all the hills.”
See also Note, Song of Solomon 2:17.
Shall be created.—See Psalm 22:31, “a people that shall be born”—the coming generation (as the parallelism shows) for whom the world will be regenerated.
Appointed to death.—See margin. LXX. and Vulg., “the sons of the slain.”
“’Tis thus at the roaring loom of time I ply,
And weave for God the garment thou seest Him by!”
which in turn suggested to Carlyle the “Philosophy of Clothes.” “Why multiply instances? It is written, the heavens and the earth shall fade away like a vesture, which, indeed they are—the time vesture of the Eternal.”—Sartor Resartus, I. 11
It is interesting to think how the science of geology confirms the image of the psalmist, showing how time has been literally changing the so solid-seeming earth, stripping off the robe that covers the hills, to fold it down at some river mouth, or at the bottom of the ocean bed.