Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 147
Posted by Dim Bulb on May 22, 2016
Title. LXX.: Alleluia, of Haggai and Zechariah. Vulgate Alleluia.
Arg. Thomas. First portion:1 That Christ knows the number and names of the stars, which He Himself first set up. The Voice of the Apostles and the Church to the new people; or the Voice of the Holy Ghost by the Prophet to the Gentiles, that they should strive to praise God, not vain idols. The Voice of Christ to the Church.
Second portion: That Christ may fill His Church with peace, and abundance of spiritual wheat. The Voice of Christ to the Church, that it may praise the Lord the Father; or the Voice of the Holy Ghost by the Prophets to the same, that she may not cease to praise Christ. The Voice of the Holy Ghost to the Church concerning Christ.
Ven. Bede. First portion: The subsequent text explains the words of its title, for Alleluia means Praise ye the Lord. Further, the fifth edition of this Psalm set it down thus, Praise ye Jah, that is, the Lord, because Jah is understood to be one of the ten Names of God. And these Jerome writing to Marcellus thus enumerates. The first name is El, that is, Mighty; then Elohim and Elohé, both of which mean God: whence they are often found doubled, as is the case with “My God, My God,* why hast Thou forsaken Me,”* and “O God, Thou art my God, early will I seek Thee,” and other like passages. The fourth is Sabaoth, which is Of Hosts. The fifth Heljon, which we call Most High. The sixth Esér eheie, which is read in Exodus, “I AM hath sent me.”* Seventh, Adonai, which we usually call Lord. Eighth Jah, which is applied to God only, and is heard in the last syllable of Allelu-ia. Ninth is the Tetragrammaton [יהוה] which is called Ineffable. Tenth, Saddai, that is Strong and able to do all things.
In the first place the Prophet exhorts the devout people to praise the Lord, Who setteth up the meek, and breaketh the necks of the proud. O praise the Lord. Secondly, he saith that the Lord ought to be heartily praised, Who granteth benefits which will profit His petitioners, because they who trust in their own strength cannot please Him. O sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving.
Second portion: As usual, we come back to Alleluia; but we feel no weariness in repeating it, and there is such honour given to this word, that though it is concealed in the Hebrew tongue, it is a known fact that it has not been translated into any other language, but whatever is dedicated to the Godhead, reverences the dignity of this word with loving devotion.
In the first paragraph, the Prophet accosts Jerusalem, that is the City on high, that now made secure in her citizens, she ought to praise the Lord with continual rejoicing. Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem. Secondly, he counts up at more length, in mystical expression, what great kindnesses the loving and merciful One hath bestowed on His people. He sendeth out His Word. These Psalms of the praise of David are so ordered, that they speak first of the laws of divine praise, and then of avoiding the sinfulness of the world. Thirdly, there is mention of the gathering together of the Church. Fourthly, when the Psalm is ended, he bids united Jerusalem celebrate the praises of the Lord, as she is known to be delivered from the divers perils of this world, and stablished in everlasting rest. Wherefore he adds that this most holy choir, gathered out of all parts of the world, should rejoice in threefold gladness, that in this most holy task, the grace of the Trinity might everywhere shine.
Syriac Psalter. First portion: Of Haggai and Zechariah. Concerning Zerubbabel and Joshua the Priest, and Ezra, who were careful for the building of Jerusalem. For us praise with the doctrine of God. Second portion: Of Haggai and Zechariah, when they pressed on the completion of the Temple of Jerusalem. And praise with doctrine of God.
Eusebius of Cæsarea. A hymn with a doctrine of God.
S. Athanasius. A Psalm declaring praise.
1 O praise the Lord, for it is a good thing to sing praises unto our God: yea, a joyful and pleasant thing it is to be thankful.
Every work of man asks for payment, (C.) that we may be comforted in the midst of toilsome action with the hope of a fixed reward. In praising God the act has its reward, when that shall be the wages which is now the employment. For since it is a good thing to sing praises unto our God, we are sure that each of us will receive the promised gifts. He does so receive them, when in the fellowship of the angels it is the one reward of the Saints to be occupied in unceasing praise of God. And what can be a happier thing than to practise here what you hope to perform in future blessedness?* And accordingly, in the Preface of the Canon in the Liturgy, when the Priest says to the people, “Let us give thanks to our Lord God;” they answer, “It is meet and right so to do;” and he then takes up the strain again, “It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto Thee, Holy Father, Almighty, Everlasting God.” A joyful and pleasant thing it is to he thankful. The A. V. reads For it [to sing praises] is pleasant, and praise is comely. The Vulgate, midway between these versions, has Let praise to our God be pleasant and comely. (D. C.) And then the question arises, to whom is the praise to be pleasant? Some few take it of the spiritual delight of the singer himself, according to that saying of the Prophet, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God;”* but the majority, following S. Augustine, (A.) say that praise is pleasant to God, and comely in itself, when it proceeds from a sincere heart in unison with the practical virtues of a holy life; since “praise is not seemly in the mouth of a sinner, for it was not sent him of the Lord.”*
2 The Lord doth build up Jerusalem: and gather together the outcasts of Israel.
There has never been any doubt, from the time of Origen to the present day, that the primary reference of this verse is to the rebuilding of Jerusalem by Nehemiah,* and the accepted theory now is that the Psalm was composed as an anthem to be sung at the dedication of the walls; as a thanksgiving for the return of the exiles. (H.) But the Christian expositors have naturally looked to the higher spiritual meaning, (A.) of the gradual building of Jerusalem above with living stones, of the assembling together in their country and home of all the pilgrims of Israel who are eagerly waiting to be released from the Babylon of the world; waiting for that signal when “He shall send forth His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds,* from the one end of heaven to the other,”* into the unity of faith,* and the bond of love. And the process of building began with His laying the chief corner-stone, even Himself, in His own Blood, “that He should die, not for that nation only, but also that He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.”* On this foundation He laid the “great stones, the costly stones, and hewed stones”* of the Apostles and Prophets, and yet He still doth build, for “then came the same Sheshbazzar the Prince of Judah, and laid the foundation of the house of God which is in Jerusalem, and since that time even until now hath it been in building, and yet it is not finished.”* “Ye,” says the great martyr S. Ignatius to the Church of Ephesus,* “are stones of the Temple of the Father, prepared for the building of God the Father, and drawn up on high by the engine of Jesus Christ, which is the Cross, making use of the Holy Ghost as the rope, while your faith was the means by which ye ascended, and your love the way which led up to God.”
3 He healeth those that are broken in heart: and giveth medicine to heal their sickness.
The story of the building and of the healing are one and the same.* For the breaches of the walls were not due only to the fall of the rebel angels, (G.) but sinful man too went down from Jerusalem to Jericho,* and fell among thieves. Thither the Good Samaritan followed him, to recover the stone which belonged to His city, and replace it in its course; to heal the broken heart by pouring in the oil of grace, to give the medicines of His holy Sacraments, kept in their place by the wholesome bandages of moral precepts, as He bindeth up the wounds (A. V., Vulg.) whereof man was half dead. (A.) Yet as it is not they that are whole that need a physician,* but they that are sick;* it is only on the broken in heart that He can exert His skill. For the hard and stony heart which will not break, there are no medicines available, as for its “wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores, they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.”* But the Lord Jesus,* at the very outset of His ministry,* declared in the synagogue of Nazareth that He it was of whom Isaiah spake when he foretold One Who should “heal the broken-hearted,”* and therefore that we may receive that blessing, we must needs break our hearts with penitence for our sins.
4 He telleth the number of the stars: and calleth them all by their names.
The stars are certain lights in the Church, (A.) which comfort our night, all they of whom the Apostle speaks, “blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life.”* These stars, all those who are to reign with Him, God numbers; all those who are to be gathered together with Him in the Body of the only Begotten Son He hath numbered, and does number; whoso is unworthy, is not numbered amongst them.* These are the stars of which is written, “The stars shined in their watches, and rejoiced:* when He calleth them, they say, Here we be; and so with cheerfulness they showed light unto Him that made them,” (C.) the true spiritual offspring of Abraham,* multiplied as the stars of heaven. And as in this world’s astronomy there are various names for different kinds of stars, so in the heavenly astronomy there are great groups and classes too,* Apostles, Martyrs, Doctors, Confessors, Virgins; each one of whom is separately known to Him. (R.) And not only known, but guarded, (A.) and preserved, since the reason why we number things is lest any should be lost, and therefore it is added He calleth them all by their names, (D. C.) because they are written in the Book of Life. Wherefore the Lord saith Himself, “He calleth His own sheep by name,”* and again, “I know whom I have chosen.”* And of those that He has so chosen, albeit “one star differeth from another star in glory,”* yet each and all “that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament;* and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”
5 Great is our Lord, and great is his power: yea, and his wisdom is infinite.
Great in His essence, and not only so, but in operation, for which reason His power, which is the visible manifestation of His Almightiness, is named in the second place, as an effect flowing from its cause. (A.) His wisdom is infinite. Literally, Of His wisdom there is no number. As wisdom is not measured by number, many take the word here as signifying the wonderful works done by God, of all which He is fully cognizant, seeing that He hath “ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight;”* but which man is unable to reckon. (C.) Others, however, explain the word as infinite, because that which can be numbered has an end, however remote. There is a third and mystical sense in which the clause is taken. (A.) There is no number of His Wisdom,* because the Only-Begotten Son, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity,* is one with the Father in essence of Godhead; since the terms three and one, which we use in endeavouring to express the nature of Deity,* do not imply arithmetical relations, because God cannot be numbered.
6 The Lord setteth up the meek: and bringeth the ungodly down to the ground.
It is not merely helpeth,* but something much better, lifteth up. And what is this? Refreshing, cherishing, carrying. The Psalmist paints God as a tender Father, Who in His unspeakable providence and love, manages His little children and caresses them. There is no fear of harm coming to those in His divine bosom, seeing that the sword of evil fortune must pierce through God’s side and sweet affection before it can reach them.* So too, He bringeth the ungodly down to the ground, with equal tenderness, because while they are lifted up in their pride, they are in danger of a fatal fall, but He puts them where they are safe, down on the ground of humiliation, till He is ready to take them too up in His arms for rest and shelter.* And after all, He does but put them down to the very place whence the others are lifted up. (C.) It is God’s medicine, and the way He deals with those who make a difficulty over the mysteries, types, and hard places of Holy Writ. (A.) The door is shut in order that people may learn to knock; there is no intention of keeping them out. Be not angry therefore at finding it shut, be gentle and meek, and do not say, It would be better if what is hero were said in this other fashion. How can you tell or judge what is the way it ought to have been said? It has been said exactly as it ought to have been. A sick man does not take upon himself to revise his doctor’s prescriptions; it is the doctor who knows how to modify them. Trust Him who cures thee. Be meek,* and He will lift thee up. If you resist, hear what follows: He bringeth the ungodly down to the ground, and intellectual pride ends only too often in carnal sin and degradation, of the earth, earthy, mean and grovelling.
7 O sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving: sing praises upon the harp unto our God.
For sing, the LXX. has Begin; the Vulgate, uniting both ideas,* Precent, that is, begin the song. A more literal rendering than any of these would be Answer, which implies the antiphonal response of a double choir, but here may be taken as the reply of the grateful heart of man to God, Who has spoken first by His acts of loving-kindness.* The first answer then, is thanksgiving, or, with the LXX. and Vulgate, confession,* the twofold acknowledgment of God’s glory and man’s sin. (C.) And that beginning made, comes next praises on the harp,* the harmonious music of a life which lacks no string of the ten precepts of God’s decachord, no skilled and tuneful fingering by hands active in His service.
8 Who covereth the heavens with clouds, and prepareth rain for the earth: and maketh the grass to grow upon the mountains, and herb for the use of men.
Passing over the literal and obvious meaning of these words, as needing no comment, the ancient expositors turn to the spiritual lessons to be drawn from them. (H.) And first, the clouds are the teachers of heavenly wisdom, drawn themselves from evilness and ignorance up into the higher air of divine contemplation by the attracting heat of the Sun of Righteousness, that their “doctrine may drop as the rain, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass,”* to satisfy a parched and thirsty world. So the Eastern Church says,* “The Apostles, appearing like clouds full of divine light, rain down life-giving water upon all.” Again, the clouds which darken the face of heaven, and yet are so profitable to earth and man, may be understood of the types, figures, and mysteries of Holy Writ, which are designed to accommodate to man’s understanding matters which if expressed as they are in the full clearness of God, (A.) would give no refreshment to our souls, just as a clear blue sky yields no rain.* And finally, God causes our sky to be overcast with trouble, that we may rain tears, and He comfort and grace upon our hearts. (Cd.) Grass to grow upon the mountains. Let us begin by noting some of the properties of grass, before entering upon the lesson it teaches here.* In the first place, it is the great laboratory of food for the world, taking up, assimilating, and vitalizing the inorganic matter it draws from the earth, the water, and the air, and making them fit for the support of those animals on which man himself lives. In its highest forms, the cereals, it is directly as well as mediately, human food. Its root is more fibrous and tenacious than any plant of similar size possesses; its growth is thick and clustering; its stem is coated with flint, so as to be of amazing strength, the leaves are formed so as to push their way easily through the soil, and to present the least surface to the winds, and it grows spontaneously and freely upon great mountain heights, far above the level which man’s husbandry can reach. And many of these mountain grasses, instead of producing flowers and seed, bring forth perfectly formed plants, which strike root the moment the parent stem withers and falls to the ground, and become independent grasses. Were it otherwise, the stormy winds on these high levels would blow the seeds away, and the species would perish. (C.) The mountains, then, are the great Saints of God, whose lofty heights of wisdom, of holiness, of contemplation, form the fittests oil for that spiritual teaching which is to be the food for Christ’s flock, the lovely carpet to cover what else would be the bare, hard earth. No creed save that of the Gospel can put life into dead things, can go to everything for Christ, and to every one with Christ. None other is self-sown. All other creeds have had a human author, but this grows on heights which man’s plough will not reach. None other grows on the far heights. A certain level of civilization and learning is fatal to mere human beliefs; the Buddhist, the Brahmin, the Moslem lose their faith with their ignorance, but the Cross surmounts the highest hills. No other creed is so tenacious of life, so strong, so deep-rooted, and vet so flexible, and none is found so widely diffused, ministering under such different aspects to such diverse races and temperaments. And herb for the use of man. These words are not in the Hebrew, and have been added by the LXX.* from Ps. 104:14. Two interpretations are given of the herb, that it signifies simpler and easier teaching than the grass, though produced by the same teachers; while others understand that the mountains mean rich and powerful people, (A.) whose hearts God touches so that they minister support from their wealth to the preachers of His Word.
9 Who giveth fodder unto the cattle: and feedeth the young ravens that call upon him.
He gives fodder unto the cattle when He instructs His ministers to adapt their teaching to the needs of beginners, (D. C.) as S. Paul witnesses, saying,* “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat.” (H.) He feedeth the young ravens which call upon Him, (C.) when He gives spiritual instruction to the children of sinners, especially such as have lived in the black darkness of idolatry; (whereby the whole Gentile Church is understood,) but who call upon Him, as did Cornelius the centurion, asking in faith for light. And in the fierceness and gross feeding of the black,* unclean raven, which would not return to the Ark, we have a type of sinners in general. Yet God feeds them. Their evil does not make Him less good, He is not less their Father because they deny that they are His children. And if so, if He “provideth for the raven his food,”* will He, in the day of dearth and calamity,* forsake the meek and harmless dove, that mourneth continually in prayer before Him?
10 He hath no pleasure in the strength of an horse: neither delighteth he in any man’s legs.
That is, (Ay.) it is not in the cavalry and infantry of an army, in the display of worldly craft and worldly power, that God takes delight, seeing that it has often been His pleasure to rout a great host with but a handful of men;* so that “he that is swift of foot shall not deliver himself, neither shall he that rideth the horse deliver himself, and he that is courageous among the mighty shall flee away in that day, saith the Lord.” (P.) And as the horse is the type of wealth and power, so it is to be noticed that the Lord did not choose kings and rulers for His Apostles, but poor and lowly men; and further, that He did not choose, even amongst these, such as stood on their own merits, relying on their strength and ability to stand,* but lifted up the simple out of the dust, to set him with the princes of the people. Wherefore it follows:
11 But the Lord’s delight is in them that fear him: and put their trust in his mercy.
He joins fear with hope (Vulg.) because fear without hope of pardon is of no use,* nor does hope avail without fear beforehand, for otherwise it would be presumption. Judas the traitor feared, (A.) but did not trust in Christ’s mercy, and therefore he despaired, and departed, and went and hanged himself. If you would as a sinner flee from God’s wrath, fearing Him, flee to His mercy, and sin no more. God puts us to His school, and impresses on us a wholesome awe, not for His glory, but for our profit. To those who will not learn, who are froward and self-willed, who have neither fear nor hope,* He shows Himself stern, but to all those who wish to profit by His lessons, who have faith in the wisdom of their Teacher, to all such He shows that He takes delight in His pupils, and will bring them through their very awe to that perfect knowledge of Himself which casteth out fear,* because it is love.
12 Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem: praise thy God, O Sion.
The two names denote one Church under two aspects. (H.) S. Paul knew the first as the heavenly one,* when he spoke of “Jerusalem above, which is free, and the mother of us all.”* And he knew what Sion meant who saith, “Ye are come unto Mount Sion and to the Church of the first-born which are written in heaven.”* Both of them, (A.) the Triumphant and Militant Church, (Ay.) have the praise of God as their one occupation. But they perform it in different ways. The Church Militant praises Him by persevering in works of mercy; the Church Triumphant by pure enjoyment and delight in Him, an occupation full of sweetness, interrupted by no trouble, weakened by no fatigue, disturbed by no cloud. Our work then will be to praise God and to love Him,* “Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house, O Lord, they shall be always praising Thee.” Why? unless that they shall be alway loving Thee. Why? unless that they shall be always beholding Thee.
13 For he hath made fast the bars of thy gates: and hath blessed thy children within thee.
The truest bar of these gates,* that by which they are fastened on the right hand and the left, is that Cross to which He Who is the Door was nailed. It is the bar of the heavenly as well as of the earthly Church,* and it was in the might of its strong resistance that the gates of hell did not prevail against the Gospel, when all kings, and nations, and cities, and hosts of evil spirits, endeavoured to sweep it away. The lesser, (B.) but still important bars of the Church on earth are her great Apostles, doctors, and teachers, by whose vigour and watchfulness the assaults of heresy and unbelief are driven back, and of them, as of bolts and bars, it is written, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,* and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven;”* and also the clear, definite statements of divine truth which mark the limits of belief, and guard men from wandering into error.* Faith, hope, and charity, are three good bars against the devil and his angels, but faith faileth, hope grows feeble, and charity waxes cold, unless each and all be strengthened by the gifts of the Holy Ghost.* And hath blessed thy children. That is, not only made them happy, but also (according to a common Scriptural use of the word blessed) made them numerous, granting to the Church that she should increase and multiply,* subdue and replenish the earth. (B.) And in that it is added within thee, we are taught that there is no promise of blessing to those children of Jerusalem who go out of her. But how, if the Lord has indeed strengthened (A. V. and Vulg.) the bars of the gates, does it come to pass that so many scandals and sorrows trouble the Church Militant? (A.) Why do so many foes steal in, why do so many children rush out? Because here the wheat and tares are mingled, this is the threshing floor, not the garner. It is not said that God has shot the bars of the gates, but that He has strengthened them, and that for future use; for the time when the Bridegroom comes,* and they that be ready shall go in with Him to the marriage, and the door shall be shut. Then the foolish virgins will knock in vain, (D. C.) for those strong bars will be put to their predestined purpose. No foe may thenceforward enter in, for the bar of absolute holiness keeps sin aloof, “and there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither worketh abomination, or a lie.”* No friends shall thenceforward pass out, for the bar of the sure confirmation of the blessed in Christ keeps them safe; as Christ Himself hath declared: “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go no more out.”* And hath blessed thy children within thee, since “blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates to the city.”*
14 He maketh peace in thy borders: and filleth thee with the flour of wheat.
When a city is beleaguered by enemies, (C.) its borders are war, as is the case with unhappy Babylon, but Jerusalem is too strong to be assailed, and no foe may cross the frontier of her territory. In that City on high, there is peace even in the borders,* for the last and lowest Saint in heaven is filled with tranquil rejoicing. Here, in the Church below, albeit without are fightings and within fears,* which will not cease until the pilgrim’s march is ended,* yet “being justified by faith, we have peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”* (A.) Perfect peace we cannot have on earth, for the moment full and entire peace is in the soul of one single man, that instant it will be the possession of all the citizens of Jerusalem. There is another sense in which they explain He maketh peace in thy borders,* that it is a prophecy of the Reunion of Christendom, (R.) when those Christian sects which border on the Church in doctrine and ordinances, shall no longer make war against her, but he reconciled in purest amity. And filleth thee with the fat of wheat (Vulg., A. V., marg.*) There is no doubt of what is intended here, the Sacrament of the Bread of Life, found only within the borders of Jerusalem. And observe, how by the grouping of these two words, (Cd.) peace and wheat, we are taught now truly the Sacrament of the Altar is the bond of union and mutual charity amongst the children of Sion.* Hence the ancient rite of the Kiss of Peace,* which made a part of every Liturgy in the Early Church, from at least the time of S. Justin Martyr;* and therefore it is well asked by Tertullian, “What kind of sacrifice is that from which men depart without peace?”* Hear another ancient Christian writer,* “We know nothing of Communion without peace. It is said in the Gospels, ‘First be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.’* If we cannot offer our gifts without peace, how much more is this true of receiving the Body of Christ?”
That word filleth,* or as the Vulgate reads, satisfieth, belongs to Jerusalem above, not Sion below. Here we are indeed fed with the fat of wheat, but we feed on the Word of God under the veil of the Sacrament, we drink the water of wisdom, but only from the droppings of Holy Writ, and therefore we are not satisfied yet,* nay, our very blessedness here consists in hungering and thirsting after righteousness. But there the Saints shall taste the sweetness of the Eternal Word with no type nor veil between, there they shall put their lips to the very Source of wisdom, and no longer drink of the mere rills or droppings which come down to water the earth.
15 He sendeth forth his commandment upon earth: and his word runneth very swiftly.
He did indeed send His commandment,* the New Law of His kingdom, (C.) upon earth, when He caused it to be preached to every nation under heaven,* and His Word ran very swiftly, (G.) “rejoicing as a giant to run his race,”* when the Only-Begotten Son, the “Almighty Word leaped down from heaven out of Thy royal throne,”* to become Incarnate at Nazareth, to show Himself for a most brief time upon earth, and in the short space of three years’ ministry to renew the world; (C.) and then He spread abroad by the mouth of His Apostles the tidings of salvation with wonderful rapidity, (R.) so that “their sound went out into all lands, (B.) and their words into the end of the world,”* in the power of that Wisdom which “reacheth from one end to another mightily;”* reaching from India in the East to Britain in the West within a few years, whereas the Law had remained fifteen centuries shut up within the limits of one land and people.*
16 He giveth snow like wool: and scattereth the hoar-frost like ashes.
The snow which God sends is not merely like wool in its fleecy texture and delicate whiteness, but because it serves, in despite of its own coldness, as a great coverlet to keep the earth sheltered and warm from the keen frost and bitter blasts of winter, lulling it as it were in healthful and restful sleep, so that the seeds and herbage are saved from blight, and suffered to grow, hidden beneath the pall. So the Latin poet expresses the idea:
Aspice quam densum tacitarum vellus aquarum Defluat.*
See, what a thick fleece of silent waters falls.
The hoar-frost, powdered lightly over the ground everywhere, like ashes, also penetrates below the surface of the earth, and expanding as it does so, breaks up the soil, making it friable, and easier for plants to shoot upwards through; (A.) and kills much of the insect life which would destroy the vegetation if unchecked. So God takes sinners, cold and lifeless, with neither spiritual fervour nor practical activity, and transfigures them, so that as Christ’s raiment when He flashed forth His radiance for a moment on earth, “became shining, exceeding white as snow;”* conversely, this chill snow becomes the raiment of Christ, without spot or wrinkle—do but look at a pure expanse of snow, and see the full beauty of S. Augustine’s figure here—and keeps,* in new-found charity, His members warm. And the frost, which breaks up the hard soil, and does more good the deeper it goes, what is it save those salutary afflictions which God sends, that sinners may be softened, and fitted to receive the seed of His Word, till they themselves, once colder than the snow itself, may, kindled through and through with the fervour of divine love,* become like ashes, tokens alike of fire and of penitence, the relics of a whole burnt-offering upon the altar of God, and are spread abroad as a fertilizing compost over the fields which will one day be ripe for harvest?
17 He casteth forth his ice like morsels: who is able to abide his frost?
The word פִּתִּים, here translated morsels, means in most of the places where it occurs in the Bible,* pieces of bread,1 exactly the LXX. ψωμούς, for this very ice, this wintry cold, is profitable to the earth, to fit it for bearing, for the future harvests, (A.) and thus matures the morsels of bread which man will yet win from the soil in due season. S. Augustine, who explains that ice, more solid cold than snow or frost,2 denotes the most hardened sinners, not so much coarse and depraved ones, as hard, keen, clear enemies of the truth, not as ignorant of it, but deliberately resisting it, of whom Saul of Tarsus was a perfect type, (C.) when in his stern relentlessness he voted for and assisted at the death of the martyr Stephen, and yet in God’s providence was cast forth to feed the Gentiles hungering for the Bread of Life; himself, as a member of Christ, being a morsel of that Bread. And when God did so send forth the mighty preacher, who was able to abide His frost? None, for the resistless glacier came down from the mountain height of divine contemplation, (Cd.) and levelled in its onward march the idol temples in the plain below. Two other interpretations of the text merit to be set down. Ice is pure and translucent, and that pure and crystalline substance which is sent forth as morsels of bread is the most Holy Sacrament of Christ’s Body, (B.) shining, heavenly, glorious, the pure and wondrous transformation of our earthly body, which He deigned to take as His own. Lastly, the ice, in its stern rigidity and coldness, is an emblem of the Mosaic Law, broken up by God’s grace, since who could abide that frost? It was “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear,”* is the testimony of the Prince of the Apostles. But now, that all its figures have been made clear, all its shadows lost in the light,* that which was as a stone given us by our Father has become bread, its hardness gone, its digestion easy. (A.) Who can abide His frost? Who is really in love with sin, who can bear to be cold and hard, unwarmed by the genial rays of the Sun of Righteousness? Does any despair because he is snow and ice when he would fain be fire and heat? Let him be of good cheer, for
18 He sendeth out his word, and melteth them: he bloweth with his wind, and the waters flow.
The remedy for sin is at hand,* the prison of winter is unlocked by bright sun and warm breezes, by the Incarnation of Jesus, and the Mission of the Holy Ghost; the south wind blows through the garden of God,* and its spices flow out. The waters flow, when the hard heart melts into penitent tears, the waters flow when all the mighty powers of heart and hand, (A.) but lately frozen up in unbelief, (B.) melt and come down in eloquent torrents of doctrine, and freed from the icy restraints of the Old Testament, irrigate the fields below, and the thankful nations bow them down and drink, as they did when the Word, with His one cry of “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?”* melted the stern persecutor;* when the Holy Spirit of God set him apart for the work of evangelizing the Gentiles; wherefore it follows:
19 He showeth his word unto Jacob: his statutes and ordinances unto Israel.
20 He hath not dealt so with any nation: neither have the heathen knowledge of his laws.
The younger people, (A.) the Gentile Church, has had the Word, the Incarnate Son, manifested to it, before its eyes “Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth.”* The Word came first to the literal Jacob, (H.) the carnal Israel, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not; but as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.”* The new Jacob has supplanted his elder brother, for “blindness in part is happened unto Israel,* until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.”* The first part of God’s grace is showing His Word, that we may embrace Him by faith, while we are still struggling as Jacob; the next is the process of sanctification through obedience when, after promising allegiance to our King, He explains to us the laws of His kingdom, and makes us Israel, princes with Him. He hath not dealt so with any nation. As He chose the Hebrews for His own peculiar people, intrusted them with the care of His oracles, (D. C.) was Himself their King and Lawgiver, and later vouchsafed to be born of the tribe of Judah, they were above all nations of the earth bound to hear and obey Him. (Ay.) But now these words, which once described their exalted privileges, are taken away from them, and applied to the Christian Church, gathered out of those very heathens who had no knowledge of His laws; but are now favoured by His grace, while vast tracts of the earth are even still overrun with false creeds, so that those who have been nurtured in the Gospel can only marvel at and bless the great goodness of God, (A.) Who has strengthened the bars of their gates, (P.) blessed them within Jerusalem, made all their borders peace, filled them with the fatness of wheat, sent forth His great preachers for their learning, made the waters of the Old Testament flow down from their icy prison under the influence of the Spirit, and has kept all these mercies for them alone, so that this very election is the seventh of the graces He here bestows.
Glory be to the Father, Who sendeth forth His Word; glory be to the Son, Himself the Word, Who melteth sinners; glory be to the Holy Ghost, the Wind that maketh the waters flow.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.
Saturday: Vespers. [Second portion: vv. 12–20. Corpus Christi, Comm. B.V.M., Comm. Virg., Dedication: Vespers. Sarum also Christmas Day and Trinity Sunday: I. Vespers.]
Ambrosian. Saturday: Vespers.
Parisian. First portion: vv. 1–11. Wednesday: Lauds. Second portion. Thursday: Lauds.
Lyons. First portion: Saturday: Compline. Second portion: Saturday: Vespers.
Quignon. Saturday: Vespers.
First portion: To our God * let praise be pleasant. Second portion: Praise Christ the Lord * O Jerusalem. [Corpus Christi: The Lord Who setteth peace in the borders of the Church, filleth us with the flour of wheat. Com. B.V.M.: Thou art fair, and pleasant for delights, O holy Mother of God. Com. Virg.: She is fair * among the daughters of Jerusalem. Dedication: All thy walls are precious stones, and the towers of Jerusalem shall be built up with jewels.]
Ambrosian. First portion: As Gregorian. Second portion: For He hath stablished * the bars of thy gates. K. K. K.
Parisian. First portion: The Lord’s delight is in them that fear Him * and put their trust in His mercy. Second portion: The Lord showeth His Word unto Jacob: His statutes unto Israel, He hath not dealt so with any nation.
Lyons. Second portion: He bloweth with His wind, and the waters flow.
Mozarabic. First portion: Who healeth those that are broken in heart, and bindeth up their bruises * Great is our Lord; and great is His power. Second portion: Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem: Praise thy God, O Sion.
O God, (Lu.) Builder of the heavenly Jerusalem, Who both numberest the multitude of the stars, and callest them all by their names; heal, we pray Thee, them that are broken of heart, gather together the outcasts, and enrich us with Thine infinite wisdom. (1.)
Strengthen, (Lu.) O Lord, the gates of Thy Church, and set peace in her borders, and vouchsafe to give her the fatness of spiritual wheat. (1.)
O God,* Who healest them that are broken of heart, grant medicine for our wound, and Thou Who numberest the multitude of the stars, unite us with them that are predestined unto life, that Thy delight may be in us, and Thou mayest bid us be exalted in everlasting salvation. (11.)
O Lord,* Who hast made Jerusalem the border of peace, bestow abundance of Thy peace on Thy believing people, to rule us in immortality, and possess us in everlasting life. And Thou, O Lord, Who wilt satisfy us with the fulness of wheat, grant that what we now behold as a figure, we may enjoy, even Thee, in all things with the clearness of truth. (11.)
Quell, (D. C.) O Lord, the terrors and wars of spiritual wickedness, graciously make peace in our borders, strengthen the bars of the gates of Thine House, and bless us, the children of new grace, nor suffer the children of darkness to prevail against us any more. (1.)