The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

A Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 123

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 29, 2016

PSALM TITLE
A Song of Degrees.

ARGUMENT

Arg. Thomas. That Christ, having pity on us, may deliver us from the contempt of the proud. The Voice of Christ to the Father, or of the Church to Christ, which, like a good servant, seeks the mercy of her Lord. The first step then is Faith, the second Hope, the third Charity; and here now the fourth declares the perseverance of him that prayeth.

Ven. Bede. He who previously lifted his eyes up unto the hills, now hath raised his heart’s eyes to the Lord Himself. The Prophet, fearing to lose what he held, and cautious in the very place where he had advanced, in the first part devoutly engages in persevering prayers, that he may retain the gifts he has acquired by Divine bounty. Unto Thee lift I up mine eyes. In the second place, he beseeches the Lord to give him mercy, because he has been suffering many troubles from those who insult him at the instigation of the devil, in order that as they have been unable to defile him by their fellowship, they may at any rate defile him with their haughty despisings.

Syriac Psalter. Of David, one of the Psalms of going-up. And it is spoken in the person of Zerubbabel, Prince of the Captivity, and is a prayer of supplication.

Eusebius of Cæsarea. Of prayer.

S. Athanasius. A Psalm in solitary address.

COMMENTARY

1 Unto thee lift I up mine eyes: O thou that dwellest in the heavens.

There is a great spiritual advance made in this Psalm, (H.) since from merely lifting up the eyes unto the hills, the singer raises them to God Himself. Captivity and the ruin of the Temple had taught this lesson,* that it was not needful to turn to Zion or Moriah in order to find God, but that He could and would hear the cry of a suppliant directed to Him from any quarter.* A Greek commentator understands this whole Psalm of the weariness of the returning exiles, worn out with the toil of their long journey, and exposed to the ridicule of the heathen tribes amongst which they had to pass to their home. It is probable, also, as noted before, that peril of attack from banditti is here expressed and prayed against. (Ay.) They tell us that the two eyes which the faithful soul lifts up to God are the contemplative and the active functions of it, the first to learn His will, the second to do it; and are further careful to note that the words dwellest in the heavens do not imply any localisation of God, (H.) as though limited by place, but mean that He is immanent in all holy persons,* especially the heavenly powers. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also:”* and therefore the Saint, whose treasure is Jesus, will look up to heaven, where He is at the right hand of God,* and thus “wisdom is before him which hath understanding, but the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth.”*

I would I were some bird, or star,
Fluttering in woods or lifted far
Above this inn,
And road of sin!
Then either star or bird should be
Shining or singing still to Thee!

2 Behold, even as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress: even so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until he have mercy upon us.

The image is taken from the usual attitude of Eastern slaves when in attendance, ranged as they are at the end of the room in which their master is, standing with hands crossed upon the breast, and with their eyes fixed on him, to await the slightest gesture.* Slaves, too, depending on their owners for food, look to their hand, that is, their bounty, when in need of bread, as we depend on God for nourishment. They look, moreover, wistfully and imploringly when they are being chastised for their faults,* that further punishment may be remitted; and besides, if wrong have been done to them by others, they are not empowered to avenge themselves, but must needs appeal to their masters to obtain redress for them. They assign various reasons for the double simile of men-servants and a maiden. (C.) First, literally, that the share of both sexes in the duties and rewards of faithful service may be asserted; then to teach that the strong and the weak are alike called on, and that diligent fidelity and faithfulness in bringing forth the offspring of good works, severally typified by the two sexes, are expected from every Christian soul.* And finally, whereas servants are spoken of in the plural, and the maiden in the singular, we are taught that all the various mighty nations of the world, with all their masculine vigour, are to be united in that one single Church which is the handmaid, before being the Bride, (A.) of the Lamb, and is chastened by Him that she may be made pure. (C.) It is added, Until He have mercy upon us, but that does not mean that we are to cease looking unto Him when He has shown us His pity. The phrase until is used here,* as in other places of Scripture,* not to denote that there is any change subsequent to the time named, but that there is no change before it. Rather the Church, our mistress, will command her servants to look always, in earth or heaven, to the eyes of her and their Master, as the Latin dramatist has it:

Edico tibi
Ut hujus oculos in oculis habeas tuis,*
Quoquo hic spectabit, et tu spectato simul.

I give thee charge
That thou keep His eyes in those eyes of thine,
Whereso He looks, look thou too at that time.

And if we do, He will see His image in our eyes, and we shall be like Him,* for we shall see Him as He is, and behold our own likeness in His glorious face; never removing from it our adoring gaze. (Lu.) Even here on earth we may look to His hand,* by seeking to know His will by careful and assiduous study of those Holy Scriptures which He has given for our learning, that guiding our conduct thereby we may please Him and obtain His mercy.

3 Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us: for we are utterly despised.
4 Our soul is filled with the scornful reproof of the wealthy: and with the despitefulness of the proud.

When Israel returned from exile, with all the hope and gladness inspired by the deliverance, and with the great promises of future glory in the Messianic prophecies to buoy them up; what really lay before them was the scorn and ridicule of Samaritans and Arabians, to be followed, before very long, by the savage persecution under the Seleucid kings. When the Lord came back to His Apostles from the grave,* they looked for a speedy restoration of the kingdom to Israel, yet almost their first experience after the Ascension was the imprisonment and scourging of two of their chiefs;* while several years later the great Apostle of the Gentiles, writing when two centuries and a half more of persecution awaited the followers of the Nazarene, said, “I think that God hath set forth us the Apostles last, (H.) as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men: we are made as the filth of the earth, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day,”* the mark for scorn and oppression from Jews and Gentiles, kings and mobs, pursued with insults, stripes, fire, steel, and every other engine of malice. Well might the Church in that long three hundred years of suffering, cry again and again, “Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we are exceedingly filled with contempt.” (A. V.) And what was true of the collective Church holds good also of individual Saints, (P.) for men of a devout and contemplative temper have no care either to win or to retain earthly riches, and are thus for the most part poor; and are looked down on as dreamy and unpractical by pushing, busy, money-making men; thus incurring the scornful reproof of the wealthy; and as in like manner they have no ambition to attain rank and dignity, they move for the most part in obscure spheres, and are humble and peaceable, whence they are subject to the despitefulness of the proud, who contemn them as sluggish and feeble, and as poor in spirit, not considering that this last reproach is in truth their title-deed to the kingdom of heaven.*

Wherefore:

Glory be to the Father, Who dwelleth in the heavens; glory be to the Son, the Hand of the Lord; glory be to the Holy Ghost, Who hath mercy on the despised.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

ANTIPHONS

Gregorian.

Monastic.

Ambrosian.

}

Thou that dwellest* in the heavens, have mercy upon us.

Lyons.

Parisian.

Mozarabic

}

Our eyes are unto the Lord our God, till He have mercy upon us.

COLLECTS

O God, (Lu.) dweller in the heavens, unto Thee do we lift up our eyes in prayer, that Thou mayest put to silence the reproaches of the proud, and graciously bestow on us Thy wonted mercy. (1.)

Unto Thee,* O Lord, we lift up our eyes, Whom we confess to dwell in the heavenly places, and to uphold by Thy might the fabric of the earth. Have mercy on us, therefore, O Lord, have mercy, and pardon our sins, by reason of which we fear Thee, that Thou mayest look with merciful loving-kindness on the contempt wherein we are held, and by Thy right hand of power deliver us from the reproach of wickedness. (11.)

As the eyes of servants look unto the hands of their masters,* so do ours unto Thee, O Lord, until Thou pardon the guilt of us sinners, and minister the stripes of the chastised, grant food to the needy, and bestow healing on the wounded. (11.)

Have mercy on us,* O Lord, bestow the help we have sought upon us who wait for it, that we who are filled with the contempt of the proud, may be defended by the aid of Thy defence. (11.)

O Lord our God, (D. C.) Who dwellest in the heavens, we Thy servants lift up our eyes unto Thee; have mercy upon us, and deliver us from the reproach and from the everlasting destruction of the proud. (1.)

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