Secrets of The Son

By Charles H. Welch

These words, so full of suggestion and meaning for the believer, we hope to show belong to the eighth Psalm, and that they associate the Mystery of Christ (Eph. 3:4) with Adam, the figure of Him that was to come (Rom. 5:14). Our inquiry relates particularly to the words that, in the A.V. stand at the head of Psalm 9 and read ‘Upon Muth-labben’, words which have received a variety of interpretations. We will subdivide our material under a series of headings, thus:

(1) The place that the words Muth-labben occupy

The ordinary reader may express some surprise at this heading, for his Bible, whether he reads the A.V. or the R.V., places it at the head of Psalm 9. We believe, however, that many of our readers (who evidently are not ‘ordinary readers’!) are already in possession of the findings of Dr. J. W. Thirtle, of which the following is a summary. He observed that in the third chapter of Habakkuk and in Isaiah 38:9-20, we have complete Psalms. A Psalm falls under three heads:

  1. The superscription,
  2. The Psalm itself,
  3. The subscription thus:

A Prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth (Hab. 3:1).

The Psalm proper. (3:2-19). To the chief singer on my stringed instruments (Neginoth) (3:19).

Applying this principle to the book of the Psalms, we find that Psalm 3 has a superscription, but that the words of Habakkuk 3:19, instead of being used as a subscription to the Psalm is transferred as a title for Psalm 4. These titles and subtitles are all restored to their true places in The Companion Bible, Psalm 8, reading:

A Psalm of David

The Psalm itself. Verses 1-9

To the Chief Musician upon Muth-labben

The words ‘Upon Muth-labben’ being the subscription of Psalm 8, not the superscription of Psalm 9.

(2) The meaning of the words of the subscription upon Muth-labben

The reader may not be conscious as he reads the words ‘Upon Muth-labben’ that it is already assumed without proof that the word ‘upon’ is of necessity a true translation of the Hebrew word employed. Al standing alone is often translated ‘upon’, but until we are sure that these two letters do stand alone, we are prejudicing the reader from the start. It seems that the Septuagint translators knew that Al muth labben came at the end of Psalm 8, for the words eis to telos ‘unto the end’ are inserted. If the reader consults Young’s Analytical Concordance, he will find that the words Muth labben are not translated ‘Death of the champion’ but ‘Death of ben, or of the son’. Again, if he looks for the word labben in the Englishman’s Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, he will not find it, but he will find the term under the heading ben ‘son’. We cannot therefore endorse the statement that there is nothing about a ‘son’ in either Psalm 8 or 9, for most readers will know that the word ben ‘son’ occurs in Psalm 8. Neither is it true that all are agreed that muth can only mean ‘death’ for the LXX does not so translate the word, and these translators were nearer to the times of David than we are by over two thousand years.

What the LXX saw in the words Al Muth Labben is made evident by their rendering huper ton kruphion tou huion ‘concerning the secrets of the Son’. There is another Psalm where the LXX uses these words huper ton kruphion ‘concerning the secrets’, and that is at the foot of Psalm 45, where the A.V. reads ‘Upon Alamoth’. Do these words strike any chord in the reader’s mind? Remembering that originally there was no division made between words, as now, let us put in English letters, the two subscriptions to these two Psalms.

  • The subscription to Psalm 8 reads Almuthlabben.
  • The subscription to Psalm 45 reads Alalamoth.

In both, the Septuagint sees the word ‘secret’. How is this? Alalamoth is considered to mean ‘relating to the maidens’, the word almahbeing the Hebrew for a maiden.

At the close of Psalm 48, we have the words ‘unto death’ which reads in the Hebrew Almuth, but which this translation divides into two, al ‘unto’ muth ‘death’. The LXX however considered it to be one word Almuth and translates it eis tous aionas ‘for ever’, or ‘unto the ages’. The structure of Psalm 48 (see The Companion Bible) places this passage in correspondence with verse 8. Here is another instance where the word almuth ‘secrets’ has been wrongly divided to read Al muth, ‘unto death’.

How does it come about that the word almuth can mean either ‘maiden’ or ‘secret’ or ‘for ever’? The Hebrew root Alm means to hide or conceal, and gives us ‘secret’ (Psa. 90:8); ‘hide’ (Psa. 10:1); and in the East in old time, a maiden, damsel or virgin or youth was called almahbecause of the concealed or retired state of the unmarried of both sexes.?‘The virgins shut up in chambers’ is an expression found in the Apocrypha. From this same root comes the word translated ‘age’ and ‘ever’, being a period of time, whose end or duration is hidden from view. It will be seen therefore that the rendering ‘concerning the secrets of the son’ given by the LXX two centuries before Christ, has much in its favour.

(3) The internal evidence of the two Psalms, 8 and 45

At first there does not appear to be any distinctive feature common to both Psalms, until we realize the way in which they are quoted in the epistle to the Hebrews.

Hebrews 1 and 2

A 1:1,2. God spoke once by the prophets. Now by His Son.

B 1:2-14. The Son. His Glories. Better than angels.

                                     Quotation from Psalm 45

                      ‘Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever’.

A 2:1-4. God spoke once by angels. Now by the Lord.

B 2:5-18. The Son. His Sufferings. Lower than angels.

                                    Quotation from Psalm 8

                      ‘What is man ... or the Son of Man?’

With these evidences before us, we feel that the translations given ‘Death to the Champion’ and ‘Concerning maidens’ must give place to the ancient interpretation ‘The secrets of the Son’ and ‘Concerning secrets’, and we can read with richer and fuller understanding both the Psalms themselves and the quotations of them in Hebrews 1 and 2.

We should remember this too when reading Ephesians 3:4. While Paul allowed a knowledge of ‘the mystery of Christ’ to earlier times, his reference to Psalm 8, in Ephesians 1:21,22, where ‘all sheep and oxen’ give place to ‘all principality and power’, proves beyond question how much more he had ‘understanding in the mystery of Christ’. Paul most evidently perceived the meaning of the subscription of Psalm 8.

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