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

Archive for November, 2016

Daily and Sunday Commentaries for the Advent and Christmas Seasons, Year A

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 26, 2016

NOTE: Each Week Includes The Current and Upcoming Sunday.

Begins Nov. 27. Commentaries for the 1st Week of Advent.

Begins Dec 4. Commentaries for the 2nd Week of Advent.

Begins Dec. 11. Commentaries for the 3rd Week of Advent.

Begins Dec. 18. Commentaries for the 4th Week of Advent Through Christmas.

Begins Dec. 25. Ends Jan. 8. Commentaries  for Christmas Through Epiphany.

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Commentaries on the Daily Readings from Christmas Through Epiphany

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 26, 2016

PLEASE NOTE: Posts after January 2 need updating.


Vigil Mass for the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord (Dec 24).

Mass During the Night: The Nativity of the Lord (Midnight Mass).

Mass at Dawn: The Nativity of the Lord.

Mass During the Day: The Nativity of the Lord.


Commentaries for the Feast of St Stephen.


Commentaries for the Feast of St John the Apostle.


Today’s Mass Readings.

St Augustine’s Homily on 1 John 1:5-2:2.

Navarre Bible Commentary on 1 John 1:5-2:2.

Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 John 1:5-2:2.

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 124.

Pope Benedict XVI on Psalm 124.

Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Matthew 2:13-18.

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 2:13-18. On 13-23.

My Notes on Matthew 2:13-18.

Navarre Bible Commentary on Matthew 2:13-18.


Today’s Mass Readings.

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on 1 John 2:3-11.

Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 John 2:3-11.

St Augustine on 1 John 2:3-11.

Navarre Bible Commentary on 1 John 2:3-11.

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 96.

St Augustine’ Notes on Psalm 96.

Pope John Paul II’s Commentary on Psalm 96.

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Luke 2:22-35.

Navarre Bible Commentary on Luke 2:22-35.

NOTE: When a Sunday does not occur between December 25 and January 1–as is the case in 2017–this feast is celebrated on December 30 with only one reading before the Gospel. The first link below is to commentaries for that feast. the remaining links are for the normal octave readings.

2017: Commentaries for the Feast of the Holy Family.

Today’s Mass Readings.

St Augustine on 1 John 2:12-17.

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on 1 John 2:12-17.

Navarre Bible Commentary on 1 John 2:12-17.

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 96.

St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 96.

Pope John Paul II’s Commentary on Psalm 96.

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Luke 2:36-40.

Navarre Bible Commentary on Luke 2:36-40.


Today’s Mass Readings.

Cornelius a Lapdie’s Commentary on 1 John 2:18-21.

St Augustine on 1 John 2:18-21.

Navarre Bible Commentary on 1 John 2:18-21.

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 96.

Pope John Paul II’s Commentary on Psalm 96.

St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 96.

Father Callan’s Commentary on John 1:1-18.

Fathers Nolan and Brown’s Commentary on John 1:1-18.

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on John 1:1-18.

Navarre Bible Commentary on John 1:1-18.



Commentaries for the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God.


Today’s Mass Readings.

Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 John 2:22-28.

Navarre Bible Commentary on 1 John 2:22-28.

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 98.

St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 98.

A Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 98.

Pope John Paul II’s Commentary on Psalm 98.

Father MacIntryre’s Commentary on John 1:19-28.

Fathers Nolan’s and Brown’s Commentary on John 1:19-28.

Father Callan’s Commentary on John 1:19-28.

St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on John 1:19-28.

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on John 1:19-28.

St Thomas Aquinas’ Lectures on John 1:19-28. Scroll down and read lectures 12 & 13.

Navarre Bible Commentary on John 1:19-28.

A Lectio Divina Meditation on John 1:19-28. Prayer and reflection on the Gospel in the Carmelite tradition.


Today’s Mass Readings.

Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 John 2:29-3:6.

Father MacEvily’s Commentary on 1 John 2:29-3:6.

St Augustine’s Homily on 1 John 2:29-3:6.

Navarre Bible Commentary on 1 John 2:29-3:6.

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 98.

Pope John Paul II’s Commentary on Psalm 98.

St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 98.

Father MacIntyre’s Commentary on John 1:29-34.

Fathers Nolan’s and Brown’s Commentary on John 1:29-34.

Father Callan’s Commentary on John 1:29-34.

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on John 1:29-34.

St Thomas Aquinas’ Lecture on John 1:29-34. Scroll down and read lecture 14.

Navarre Bible Commentary on John 1:29-34.

A Lectio Divina Meditation on Today’s Gospel (John 1:29-34).


Today’s Mass Readings.

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on 1 John 3:7-10.

Father Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 John 3:7-10.

St Augustine on 1 John 3:7-10.

Navarre Bible Commentary on 1 John 3:7-10.

Pope John Paul II’s Commentary on Psalm 98.

St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 98.

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 98.

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on John 1:35-42.

St Thomas Aquinas’ Lecture on John 1:35-42. Scroll down and read lecture 15.

St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on John 1:35-42.

A Lectio Divina Meditation on John 1:35-42.

Navarre Bible Commentary on John 1:35-42.

JANUARY 5, 2013

Today’s Mass Readings.

Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 John 3:11-21.

St Augustine on 1 John 3:11-21.

Navarre Bible Commentary on 1 John 3:11-21.

St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 100.

A Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 100.

St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on John 1:43-51.

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on John 1:43-51.

St Thomas Aquinas’ Lecture on John 1:43-51. Scroll down to lecture 16.

Navarre Bible Commentary on John 1:43-51.


Today’s Mass Readings. Note: There are 2 gospel readings to chose from today. I’ve only posted on the first alternate (Mk 1:7-11).

Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 Jn 5:5-13.

St Augustine on 1 Jn 5:5-13. Only on verses 7 & 8.

Navarre Bible Commentary on 1 Jn 5:5-13.

Pope John Paul II’s Commentary on Psalm 147 in Two Parts:

St Albert the Great’s Commentary on Psalm 147.

1 Alt. Catholic Scripture Manual on Mark 1:7-11.

1 Alt. Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Mark 1:7-11.

1 Alt . Navarre Bible Commentary on Mark 1:7-11.


Today’s Mass Readings.

Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 John 5:14-21.

Navarre Bible Commentary on 1 John 5:14-21.

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 149.

St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 149.

Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 149.

St Albert the Great’s Commentary on Psalm 149.

St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 149.

Pope John Paul II’s Commentary on Psalm 149.

St Cyril of Alexandria’s Homiletic Commentary on John 2:1-11.

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on John 2:1-11.

Aquinas’ Lecture on John 2:1-11.

Aquinas’ Homily Notes on John 2:1.

Father MacRory’s Commentary on John 2:1-11.

My Notes on John 2:1-11. On 1-12.

Navarre Bible Commentary on John 2:1-11.


Commentaries on the Epiphany of the Lord.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 89

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 26, 2016

The verse numbering in this commentary may differ from that of modern versions.

The perpetuity of the Church of Christ, in consequence of the promises of God: which, notwithstanding, God permits her to suffer sometimes most grievous afflictions

1 God’s mercy is the entire subject of this Psalm. The prophet at once tells us that he is about to sing of the sure and certain mercies of God; that is, the favors that were promised in his mercy, and which will never fail, which are called in Isaias 55, “the faithful mercies of David.” The word forever is not to be connected with the verb sing, but with the noun mercies; for David, who was then near his end, could not say he would sing forever; but he could say that he would sing of the mercies of the Lord that were to endure forever. “I will show forth with my mouth thy truth to generation and generation.” A repetition and an explanation of the first part of the verse; for “to generation and generation” signifies the same as “forever.” “I will sing” and “show forth” are clearly the same, and “the mercies of the Lord” seem to be the same as “his truth.” In the first part of the verse he says he will sing of the mercies of the Lord that will exist forever; in the second part of the verse he says he will sing of the truth of the Lord; that is, his observance of what he promises, which will remain from generation to generation. The words, “to generation and generation,” like the word “mercies,” in the first part of the verse, are to be connected with the noun, “thy truth,” and not with the verb “show forth,” as is clear from his adding “with my mouth,” unless we will have it, that David meant to convey that his Psalms would be chanted by the faithful to the end of time; and therefore, that through the faithful he may be said “to sing forever,” and “to show forth his truth.”

2 He proves that God’s mercy and truth will be everlasting, God, who cannot speak a falsehood, having said so; I will sing of your truth and mercy which will be everlasting, “for thou hast said so,” and revealed it to me your prophet. “Mercy shall be built up forever in the heavens,” the favors mercifully promised to David will rise up like an everlasting edifice in heaven; that is, will be as firm and stable as an immoveable edifice, that no time can damage. And this edifice of mercy will be “in heaven,” where everything is eternal. For the event will not depend on the caprice of mortals, nor on mutable counsels and decrees, but will have its foundations in heaven. “Thy truth shall be prepared in them.” In the same heavens your faithful accomplishment of your promises will be prepared. The Hebrew for prepared implies direction and adjustment, and thus the meaning of the sentence is, the pledges you have given are certain, can be tampered with by no inferior authority, because they will be confirmed and strengthened in heaven and will be like unto heaven, which endureth forever and ever.

3 He now begins to unveil the faithful mercy he proposed to sing of in the beginning of the Psalm. That mercy was a certain promise, confirmed by an agreement and an oath, regarding David’s posterity, and the supreme power to be continued in his family; an account of which we have in 2 Kings 7, where David desired to build a house for the Lord, that is, a temple for the reception of the Ark, and for divine sacrifice; and God, through Nathan the prophet, rewarded David for his good intentions, by a promise of raising his house; that is, by the propagation of his posterity, and establishing the sovereignty in his family. This he conveys when he says, “I have made a covenant with my elect;” I have entered into a treaty with my chosen people; “I have sworn to David my servant;” I have made a promise, an oath, to David the prince of my people elect. “Thy seed will I settle.” I have sworn to establish his descendants, so that a son of David shall never be wanted. “And I will build up thy throne unto generation and generation.” I will keep up your kingdom, which is the meaning of from generation to generation. There can be no doubt but all these things apply to Christ alone, who was to come from the family of David, and whose reign was to be everlasting. Isaias alludes to it when he says, chap. 9, “His empire shall be multiplied, and there shall be no end of peace; he shall sit upon the throne of David and on his kingdom, to establish it and strengthen it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth and forever.” The Angel Gabriel announced the same when he said, “And the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father, and he shall reign in the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” These prophecies cannot possibly apply to a temporal kingdom that has long ceased to exist, and of which there is now no trace, but to a spiritual, and an eternal kingdom; and hence, the Jews, who still look out for the Messias, who, they expect, will rule yet in Jerusalem, are grievously mistaken.

4–5 Before he enters into detail of the promises of God, a summary of which he had already given, he digresses for the purpose of praising him, and offering him a sacrifice of thanksgiving. And first of all, the holy man, seeing himself incompetent to return adequate thanks for all the favors conferred on him, calls upon the Angels to do it for him, to praise and thank God for him. “The heavens shall confess thy wonders, O Lord.” I am not equal to the task, I am unable to praise them as they merit, but the “heavens,” the Angels dwelling therein will do it for me, will recount “thy wonders,” the extent of your wonderful mercy, “and thy truth in the Church of the saints.” The same Angels, who surround your throne in such numbers, will praise and glorify your mercy and your truth. They know the extent of that “mercy” that is built up forever in the heavens, better than we do who lie groveling on the earth.

6 He proves that the Angels will not object to such an office, because they are inferior to God. “For who in the clouds can be compared to the Lord?” Not one of those in heaven, which is over the clouds, can be compared to him who created them and heaven. They are all subjects, all servants, which he repeats by asking, “Or who among the sons of God shall be like to God?” which of the sons of God who are his Angels is like to God in point of equality, he alone being essentially God, and not by participation.

7 He now proves that none of the Angels can be compared to God, because God is “glorified in the assembly of the saints;” he is acknowledged by the saints themselves in their assembly as worthy of all glory, and he is “great” in power and wisdom; and therefore, more dreaded and revered, than all the Angels who surround his throne like so many soldiers or servants.

8 He had hitherto narrated God’s praises, he now continues the subject, by addressing God, and descanting more at length on his praise. “Lord God of Ghosts, who is like to thee?” You, O Lord, are the Lord of armies, of many thousands of Angels, and so outshine them all that no one is like you. “Thou art mighty, O Lord, and thy truth is round about thee;” the reason why nobody is perfectly like you arises from your being alone all powerful, able to do not this one thing, or that one thing, but to do every, all things, and nothing can resist your power; and you are not only able to do all things, but you actually do what you promise, for you are faithful in all your promises. Truth, or veracity, the faithful carrying out what was promised, is said to be “round about” God, because it is like a cincture to him, according to Isaias, “And justice shall be the girdle of his loins, and faith the girdle of his reins;” for, as a cincture ties up one’s robes, and binds them firmly to his person; so truth binds one to his promise, so that he will not swerve from it, but carry it out; and as a cincture adjusts one’s clothes, and fits him for a journey, whence the Angel Raphael is said to have appeared to Tobias in the shape of a young man, with his robes tied up and prepared for a journey, so truth or veracity, causes a man to remove every obstacle, and proceed without delay to carry out what he may have promised.

9 Having said that God was both powerful and faithful, he now proves the former by the fact of his ruling the sea, and calming its billows. The sea is sometimes dreadfully agitated and uproarious, being of immense length and breadth, and sometimes raising its billows, apparently to the very skies; and, therefore, nowhere is God’s omnipotence more clearly manifested than when he quiets and composes it. The Lord himself, speaking hereon, says, Job 38, “I set my bounds round about it, and made it bars and doors. And I said: Hitherto shalt thou come, and shalt go no further; and here thou shalt break thy swelling waves;” and, in Jeremias 5, “Will you not, then, fear me saith the Lord, and will you not repent at my presence? I have set the sand a bound for the sea, an everlasting ordinance, which it shall not pass over; and the waves thereof shall toss themselves, and shall not prevail: they shall swell, and shall not pass over it.” But God especially showed his command of the sea, when he dried up the Red Sea, and stayed its billows, so that the water stood up like a wall on each side, while the children of Israel were passing through.

10 This verse is to be literally understood of Pharao and his army, and is justly connected with the preceding verse; for, at one and the same moment, God thoroughly dried up the sea, and destroyed Pharao the proud and his army, leaving him as one that is slain, and the enemies of God’s people scattered; which is more fully expressed in Isaias 51, “hast thou not struck the proud one, and wounded the dragon? Hast thou not dried up the sea, the water of the mighty deep, who madest the depth of the sea a way, that the delivered might pass over.” He, therefore, says, “Thou hast humbled the proud one,” by stretching him in the depth of the sea, and that without any trouble, as easily as “one that is slain; with the arm of thy strength;” with your most powerful arm you have “scattered your enemies,” Pharao’s army, in the Red Sea.

11 He now informs us that it is no wonder that God so easily calmed the sea, and humbled the proud one; for he is the Lord of all, and that by reason of his having created everything. “Thine are the heavens,” and every one in them; “thine is the earth,” and everything in it; “the world and the fullness thereof thou hast founded;” you are the absolute owner of the world and everything in it, because it is your creation, without the help or assistance of any other person.

12 You have made the foundations of the globe, north, south, east, and west. The north requires no comment; the sea means the south, for the greater part of the sea lay in that direction. Thabor and Hermon signify the east and west, those mountains lying east and west of Jerusalem; and they, that is, their inhabitants, will rejoice in the great goodness and mercy of the Lord.

13 That your hand is a strong one, in nowise feeble or weak, but full of strength and power, can be inferred from your dominion over the sea, from your humiliation of the proud, and the scattering of your enemies. “Let thy hand be strengthened, and thy right hand exalted.” The holy prophet had spoken of two of God’s attributes, power and truth, in verse 7; he discussed his power in the five following verses, and he now has to speak of and to extol his truth, which is also called justice and judgment, and is usually united to mercy. “Let thy hand be strengthened;” I sincerely pray and rejoice that your hand may be strengthened, and become most powerful; “and thy right hand exalted;” praised and magnified by all, as is right it should; but, at the same time,

14 Let your throne be prepared, decorated, and founded on mercy and justice. I consider that justice means here goodness and mercy, in the sense it is taken in Mat. 5, “Unless your justice abound more than that of the Scribes and Pharisees;” and again, chap. 6, “Take heed that you do not your justice before men;” in both of which justice means the giving of alms; and, in the same chapter, we read, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and his justice;” for he repeats it when he says, “Mercy and truth shall go before thy face;” that is to say, justice shall go before thy face to prepare your throne when you are about to come to administer justice; which means, we are quite certain that you will not judge but with the greatest justice, tempered with mercy, administering as little punishment as possible, and faithfully rendering to every one according to their works. We have here a metaphor taken from the king’s throne. Before the king seats himself thereon for judgment, the servants usually precede him, in order to dust, arrange, and dispose in order everything connected with it. Mercy and justice are supposed here to do the same, for they cause God’s decisions to be most just, and, by no possibility, unjust. For God, in the first instance, exhibits great mercy to all men, by teaching them through his laws, by helping them through his grace, by encouraging them to virtue through the promise of reward, by deterring them from sin through the threats of punishment, and afterwards proves his justice by rewarding the good, and punishing the wicked; for, had not his mercy preceded his justice, we would have been all lost. Hence, the rulers and authorities of this world may learn that their thrones are more highly ornamented, and more firmly established by mercy and justice than by gold and precious stones; and that they are bound to prevent rather than to punish crime. If not the princes themselves, at least many deriving authority under them, will glory in having crime committed, that they may have an opportunity of showing their zeal in bringing the offenders to justice; and they will feel indignant at the efforts of the pious in devising means for the diminution of crime, as if the lawyers or the judges were to suffer thereby; but where mercy and justice prepare the throne, avarice and iniquity have no room whatever.

15 Having explained the union of God’s power and truth with his mercy, he applies them to the people of Israel, and particularly to himself, showing that he and they fully experienced God’s power, mercy, and justice. “Blessed is the people that knoweth jubilation.” Truly happy, beyond all others, are the people of Israel, who know by experience and practice, how to praise God, and “jubilation,” to praise him with great affection. Hence, we can infer that he is not blessed who with his lips alone praises God unless he also truly understands and thinks that God is most worthy, nay, even more worthy than can be expressed, of all praise and glory; and therefore, that the whole feelings of our heart must accompany the motion of our lips and of our voice, when we turn to praise or to pray to him. “They shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance.” He tells us why they who “know jubilation” are happy; it is because they do not walk in darkness, like the gentiles who know not God; but, having been converted to God, “in the light of his countenance,” walk the way of this life. The light of God’s countenance comprehends the enlightenment of the understanding by the knowledge of the law and of the will of God, as well as the gift of grace, that inflames the affections. The joy of a good conscience and thanksgiving, is the consequence of such walking in the light of God’s countenance; and therefore,

16 That means they will daily exult praising and thanking God for his mercies. And, as they who tread in such a path will daily advance more and more, and come to a closer friendship with, and more intimate knowledge of God and will be, consequently, favored with fresh gifts, he therefore adds, “and in thy justice they shall be exalted;” will arrive at greater perfection, and afterwards come to eternal glory, through the justice that causes God to keep his promises, or through the justice he gives us when he daily justifies us more and more, or makes us more just. And here we are reminded that we are not to confide either in our own strength, or in our learning; either when we begin to walk, or when we have made a proficiency in walking.

17 He now proceeds to humble man’s pride that is so ready to assume to itself what belongs to God, thereby deserving to lose what it already had received. I had reason for saying “that it is in thy justice they shall be exalted,” because “thou art the glory of their strength.” Whatever power and strength they have is from you, and not from themselves; and, therefore, it is in you, and not in themselves, they should glory; and that you do, not because they deserve it, but because you will it; for it is through “thy good pleasure” your pure will and pleasure, that “our horn shall be exalted,” we shall be rendered valiant and brave, to meet and confound our enemies.

18 Herein appeared the good pleasure of God, that out of all the people on the face of the earth it pleased him to select the people of Israel for his own. “Our protection is of the Lord.” The Lord, through his good pleasure, and not from our own merits, selected us as his own people, and deigned to become our king, in order to protect us. God is called “the Holy One of Israel” by David, as well as by the other prophets, because his name was regarded by the Israelites with peculiar veneration, and was strictly forbidden to be taken in vain, blasphemed, or dishonored.

19 He now begins to descend to himself, as the head of a people specially beloved by God. A serious question, however, arises here, viz., whether this and the following verses apply to Christ or to David, or partly to Christ, and partly to David. St. Augustine applies them to Christ; but the words of the Apostle, Acts 13, “I have found David the son of Jesse, man according to my own heart,” apply those words to David, which are partly taken from this passages and partly from 1 kings 13; with that, the expression, “I will make his seed to endure forevermore,” ver. 29, can hardly be applied to Christ; while it is most applicable to David, to whom God promised, that he would place his seed on his throne, and that his kingdom would endure. Others apply the whole to David himself; but verse 27, “I will make him my first born,” forbids that. Others will have it apply partly to Christ, and partly to David; but the continuity of the subject, and the connection of the language and of the ideas, clearly indicate that one or either only was intended. My opinion is, that the whole was intended for David himself, but that a great part was to be fulfilled only in Christ, so that David may be called the first born, high above the kings of the earth, but only inasmuch as he was the type of Christ, his son. If this explanation be not approved of, we must adopt St. Augustine’s, who applies it exclusively to Christ, thus: When you adopted the Jewish people as your own you gave them a king highly agreeable to yourself, for you spoke in a vision or revelation to your saints to Samuel, and afterwards to Nathan, and you said “I have laid help upon one that is mighty.” I have given my people, as a helper, one that is stout and resolute in mind and body, “and have exalted one chosen out of my people.” I have set up a powerful help for my people, because I have exalted him whom I have chosen from among them to be a king and a protector and a defender of my people.

20 He now tells us who the powerful man is, and says it was David himself, whom he had found worthy to be elected and anointed king, and thus, this verse can be literary applied to David, who was anointed by Samuel. However, St. Augustine maintains that Christ was intended here, though named as David, as is the case in chaps. 34 and 37 of Ezechiel; and of whose anointing we read in Psalm 44, where he says, “Therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee.” The expression, “I have found David,” is purely metaphorical; for God, who sees everything, however secret, at one glance, has no need of seeking after any one; hut he is said to seek, because he does not choose at random, nor take the next to hand; but he finds without the labor and trouble that mortals must have recourse to, and chooses him who is most fit for, and worthy of, the position in question.

21–23 However true all this may be of David, who, through God’s assistance had many victories over his enemies, they apply much more forcibly to Christ, “for the enemy had an advantage over” David, when he induced him to commit the sin of murder and adultery; and his enemy Absalom, had an advantage over him, when he banished and drove him out of his kingdom. Such was not the case with Christ, for “the hand and the arm” of the Lord, which means the very Word of God, the power and wisdom of the Father, so strengthened the human nature of Christ, hypostatically united to it, that no enemy could possibly “have an advantage over him,” nor deceive nor circumvent him in any shape; but, on the contrary, all who hated him “were cut down before his face,” and were conquered and routed. For, though Christ was scourged and crucified by his enemies, yet, it was with his own consent, and it was through that passion of his that he conquered the devil, rescued those who were captives to him, and had a most glorious triumph over him; and we see the Jews, his enemies, dispersed through the whole world, like a routed and scattered army.

24 This was rather obscurely foreshadowed in David but accomplished most fully in Christ; for the truth and mercy of God always remained with Christ. The hypostatic union, that could never be dissolved, was the effect of his mercy; and his truth appeared from having faithfully carried out what the Angel promised, Luke 1, “He shall reign in the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” And, from the fact of truth and mercy always remaining with him, “in my name shall his horn be exalted;” his power will be extended until, “at his name, every knee shall bend of those that are in heaven, on earth, and in hell.” Christ’s power is said to be exalted in the name of God, because his glory is “as that of the only begotten of the Father;” and he is adored by all as the Son of the eternal Father, and he came in the name of the Father, and “God the Father also hath exalted him, and hath given him name which is above every name.”

25 From this verse to the end cannot possibly be applied to any but Christ, or to David, through his descendant Christ, so that David may be named, while Christ, his son, was understood; for David never had any power at sea, his power was limited to the land, and that confined enough, for the land of promise lay between the sea and the river Euphrates; while the king spoken of here is to have “his hand set in the sea;” to have the command of the sea, and “his right hand in the rivers,” and, consequently, all over the world; for the sea surrounds the land, and the rivers intersect it, so that the sea and the rivers comprehend the globe, which is expressed in other words in Psalm 71, where he says “He shall rule from sea to sea;” from one extremity of the world to the other.

26 He now speaks more plainly of Christ, and not of himself, unless these words may be applied to David as representing his Son, Christ; for David, throughout the Psalms, never addresses God as his Father; and, therefore, he cannot mean himself when he says, “He shall cry out to me: Thou art my Father.” And, perhaps, it was by God’s special providence that David should never have invoked God by the name of Father, in order to show that this passage could not possibly apply to David, save and except through Christ. Now, Christ commenced his labors by referring to his Father, for, in Luke 2, he says, “Did you not know that I must be about the things that are my Father’s;” and his last words upon earth were, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit;” and, through his whole life, he most constantly addressed God as his Father. “He shall cry out to me: Thou art my Father,” as far as my divinity is concerned. “My God,” as far my humanity is concerned; “the support of my salvation,” as regards my mortality.

27 He now speaks of Christ in the plainest manner; for Christ, who, as regards the divinity, is only begotten, as regards the humanity, is first born among many brothers; and there are three reasons for calling him first born. First, because he is first in the order of predestination, for it is through him, as through the head, that we are predestinated, as we read in Ephes 1. Secondly, because he is first in the second generation to life everlasting, whence he is called, Colos. 1, “the first born from the dead;” and in Apoc. 1, “the first begotten of the dead;” and, thirdly, because he had the rights of the first born; for “he was appointed heir of all things;” and he was made not only first born, but also “high above the kings of the earth;” that is, Prince of the kings of the earth, and King of kings.

28 As well as he had before predicted the excellence of the kingdom of Christ, he now predicts its eternity, which does not apply to David, nor to Solomon, nor to his posterity for the kingdom had an end under Jechonias. “I will keep my mercy for him; the mercy through which I promised David a son, through him his kingdom should be everlasting, shall always keep and remain to him; for “my covenant,” my agreement and promise made to Nathan, shall be observed most faithfully. But, if we are to apply this verse to Christ, the meaning would be, “I will keep my mercy for him forever;” that is, the mercy, through which I predestinated and chose him from eternity to be the Son of God in power, and high above the kings of the earth, will always be kept with him; for the hypostatic union of the humanity with the Word will never be dissolved, and, through it, the man Christ will always be the Son of God, “first born,” and “high above the kings of the earth;” “and my covenant faithful to him;” my agreement to establish his kingdom forever will be always faithfully observed, which promise the Angel Gabriel expressed when he said, “And of his kingdom there shall be no end.”

29 He now explains how God intends to keep his mercy forever for David; for he will give him seed, that is, a son, meaning Christ, who “will endure forevermore;” and thus, “his throne,” his kingdom, will never have an end, but will be “as the days of heaven,” as long as there shall be a heaven, which God “has established forever and for ages of ages.”

30–34 He answers an objection that may be made, and says, that if the sons of David should provoke the anger of the Lord by their evil doings, that he will punish the delinquents, but that it will not cause him to break his promise, a promise that he made upon oath. “And if his children forsake my law.” If David’s posterity should break my laws, whether judicial, ceremonial, or moral, “and walk not in my judgements;” if they break even the judicial law alone. “If they profane my justices,” if they even infringe on the ceremonial law, “and keep not my commandment;” if they fail in observing my moral code, “I will visit their iniquities with a rod, and their sins with stripes;” I will not let their crimes go unpunished, but I will chastise them as a father would his children. “But my mercy I wall not take away from him.” The sins of the children, however, will not cause me to withdraw the favors I promised, in my mercy, to the father. “Nor will I suffer my truth to fail.” I will not go against the truth, a thing I should do were I to injure him after the promises I made him. There are two observations to be made here; one is, that David’s children may be read literally; and the opinion of St. Augustine, who understands the passage as applying to Christ, is also admissible; and, in such case, the children of David must be taken to represent all Christians regenerated in Christ. The second is, that we are not to infer from this passage that the children of David, whether Jews or Christians, however wicked they may be, can never be lost; for God does not say, through the Psalmist, “My mercy I will not take” from them, but from him. If the wicked, then, upon being paternally corrected, choose to reform, they will not lose the inheritance; nay, even like the prodigal child, they will be taken back to favor most affectionately; but, if they obstinately persevere in sin, they will certainly lose the inheritance; but the truth of the Lord will hold; nor will the kingdom of Christ fail; for “he is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham,” although those, who are previously known and predestined in Christ before the constitution of the world, will, most unquestionably, persevere to the end in faith, hope and charity.

35–37 He assigns a reason for his wishing to fulfill the promise he made of establishing David’s kingdom, even though his children should not observe his commandments; and the reason is, because he swore thereto; promised firmly, without the power of retracting. “Once have I sworn by my holiness.” I have irrevocably and solely sworn by my holiness. The word “once,” implies immutability, for one oath of God’s is equivalent to innumerable oaths of others. “I will not lie unto David;” as he says in Psalm 131, “the Lord hath sworn truth to David, and he will not make it void.” A similar expression occurs in Isaias 22, “Surely this iniquity shall not be forgiven you till you die, saith the Lord of Hosts.” Here are the words of the oath. “His seed shall endure, and his throne as the sun before me.” I have sworn, and I will not deceive David, that his son, Christ, shall live forever; and that his kingdom will be everlasting; and he illustrates this sworn promise of his by three comparisons; with the sun, the full moon, and the rainbow. “His throne as the sun before me; and as the moon, perfect forever; and a faithful witness in heaven;” which signify that the kingdom of Christ, and through it, his Church, would be always visible and conspicuous; for nothing is brighter or more beautiful than the sun by day, or the rainbow betimes in the clouds, that has been given by God as a faithful witness to man, of the earth being nevermore to be destroyed by a deluge,

38 This is the second part of the Psalm, in which the prophet, speaking in the person of the people in their captivity, asks that God’s promises may be fulfilled; for, though God may have solemnly, and even with an oath, made a promise; still, he wishes to be asked to do what he so promised; thus, “Isaac besought the Lord for his wife, because she was barren,” though God had promised a numerous progeny to Abraham through his son Isaac. “I will multiply your seed; as the stars of heaven” and again, “In thy seed shall all nations be blessed.” In his prayer the prophet seems to give a gentle hint to the Almighty, that if he defer the fulfillment of his Promise so long, he will appear to have no idea of observing this bargain and his oath. The meaning, then, of this and the following verses is: You have promised, O Lord, with an oath, that the son of David would reign, but now we see the kingdom taken from the children of David, and seized upon by the king of the Assyrians; to carry out your promise, then, send that son of David you promised, and give him that everlasting kingdom you swore to give him, for otherwise, our enemies will laugh at us, and our disgrace will be attributed to you. “But thou hast rejected and despised;” you promised all manner of favors, but now you only heap misery on us, for you have “rejected us” from your protection, “and despised” those you previously made so much of; “thou hast been angry with thy anointed;” you have in your anger allowed your anointed kings Jechonias and Sedecias, to be led away captives to Babylon.

39 He now explains how God did reject and despise his people; and first he lays down, that God “overthrew the covenant of his servant,” backed out of the bargain he entered into with his servant David, which must be understood as if he did so in appearance, and not in reality; for God, in suffering the city of Jerusalem, as well as all Palestine, to fall into the hands of the king of the Assyrians, would seem to be unwilling that David’s kingdom should be everlasting; whereas the promise applied to the spiritual and celestial kingdom of David, and not to his kingdom of this world. “Thou hast profaned his sanctuary on the earth,” you have brought to the ground and thus profaned his holy diadem, which happened when David’s kingdom terminated, Jechonias and Sedecias having beep deposed, and the royal diadem carried away.

40–41 He compares the Jewish People, represented by David, to a vineyard, whose fences are broken down and plundered indiscriminately by every passer by; a thing of frequent occurrence to the Jews, who were more than once conquered and despoiled by the Assyrians, when God withdrew his protection from them. Read the 4th book of Kings hereon. “Thou hast broken down all his hedges,” you have deprived us, O Lord, of your help and protection so that, like a vineyard whose fences are destroyed, we have been indiscriminately plundered by the enemy. “Thou hast made his strength fear.” In David’s kingdom his soldiers, who were full of life and courage, and were the strength of his kingdom, now became so timid, so full of fear, that they could not for a moment withstand the enemy, and the people attribute all this to God, because they knew such could not befall them without God’s will, and that he might, had he so willed, easily have prevented the entire. “All that passed by the way have robbed him,” all the enemies of God’s people have plundered and pillaged them, just as the passersby plunder a vineyard they see without a wall or a hedge, or any one in care of it. “He is become a reproach to his neighbors.” Hence, all the neighboring people mock and jest at the people of God, now become so feeble, as to be incapable of resisting any one.

42–43 He continues to describe the calamities into which the people fell, when they were deserted by God. “Thou hast set up the right hand of them that oppress him,” you have assisted the enemies of your people to obtain a more easy victory over them. The enemies’ joy, then, was unbounded on so cheap a victory, and he, therefore, adds, “Thou hast made all his enemies rejoice,” while, on the other hand “thou hast turned away the help of the sword,” or rather you have withdrawn your own help from his, the king’s sword, and from his people, which he expresses more plainly when he adds, “and hast not assisted him in battle,” and hence the kings of Juda were unable to resist their enemies the Assyrians.

44 An obscure passage, but the end of the verse seems to indicate that he alludes to the king being deprived of that regal splendor and mode of living princes are usually accustomed to; and the meaning would seem to be, you have deprived the king of his royal apparel, you have made his cleanness and his purification to disappear, by compelling him to submit to filthy and uncared for garments; and “you have so cast his throne to the ground” that there is no trace either of it, or of the respect and submission due to the king himself.

45 The last and principal calamity was, that though God had promised David that his kingdom would be everlasting, it would now appear that the everlasting term so promised had been reduced to a very limited period, for that temporal kingdom of David, that he hoped would have had no end, was terminated in the time of Jechonias and Sedecias; and, from such “shortening of the days of his time,” David, through his posterity, “was covered with confusion.”

46 He now begins a prayer for the acceleration of the Messias, in order that the sworn promises of God nay be fulfilled. “How long, O Lord, turnest thou away unto the end?” How long will you turn away your face from us? Will it be to the end, until we shall have been totally ruined and swept away? “Shall thy anger burn like fire?” that never ceases until it consumes everything within its reach.

47–48 Those verses have been variously interpreted, but, in my mind, the true interpretation is as follows: The prophet being an extremely spiritual person, from reflecting on the extreme shortness of human life, and the uncertainty of human affairs, was carried away by a burning desire for life everlasting in the world to come, and prayed to God to send the Messias, the Father of the world to come, who was to open the kingdom of heaven to believers, at once; for if some part, at least, of the human race were not to come to a happy and eternal life, through Christ, in fact, God would seem to have made all the children of men in vain. He, therefore, says, “Remember what my salvation is,” how brief, how frail, how full of troubles is my existence on earth. “For hast thou made all the children of men in vain?” Have you made and created mankind to enjoy this life alone, and that a life of such short duration, and so full of misery? that would amount to the creation of man in vain, when no part of mankind would have arrived at its ultimate end. “Who is the man that shall live and shall not see death?” The shortness and the misery of this life is clear from the fact, that no one can escape death, “or deliver his soul from the hand of hell.” For the other world hurries all men, without exception, to itself.

49 He now openly prays to God to send that king, from the seed of David, who was to rule over his people, saying, where are those promises you formerly made in your mercy to David, promises you confirmed by an oath, when you swore, “And I will make his seed to endure more, and his throne as the days Heaven.”

50 He assigns another reason for asking so urgently for the coming of the Messias, because the infidels were constantly reproaching God’s people with the folly of their expecting a king from the seed of David, who was to reign. “Be mindful, O Lord, of the reproach of thy servants,” of the constant reproaches heaped upon them by the infidels, “which I have held in my bosom,” which your people have been obliged to bear in silence, having no reply to make, when “many nations” reproached them, and not being able to show that God’s promises were either fulfilled, or would be fulfilled in any given time, or with any certainty.

51 Here is the reproach he carried in his bosom, that the enemies of the Lord upbraided God’s people with having exchanged the anointed, that is, with David having received no compensation whatever for the loss of his kingdom, notwithstanding all the ample promises.

52 This conclusion of the Psalm clearly shows that the prophet understood the promise made to David was sure and certain, and would be accomplished in the proper time, however unlikely it may have appeared to have been in the time of Nabuchodonosor. Nay, even this very conclusion shows that David knew that it was a part of the divine policy to allow that temporal kingdom to be abolished, for fear the carnal Jews may suppose that the divine promises were accomplished in Solomon or any of the kings of Juda. He, therefore, says, “Blessed be the Lord forevermore. So be it, so bet it.” May praise and thanks be always given to God, for he does everything well, is just in all his words, and holy in all his acts. “So be it; so be it.” I earnestly pray it may be so, viz., that the Lord may be blessed evermore. This is the end of the third book, according to the Hebrews.

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Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 89

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 26, 2016


Title. Maschil of Ethan the Ezrahite. Chaldee Targum: A good understanding, spoken at the hand of Abraham, who came from the East. LXX. and Vulg.: Understanding of Ethan the Israelite (LXX.) or Ezrahite (Vulg.)


Arg. Thomas. That Christ rules in equal power with the Father and the Comforter. The Voice of Christ to the Father touching the Jews. The Voice of the Prophet, touching Christ, to the Father, or the Voice of the Son or of the Church to the Father touching the Jews. The Voice of Christ to the Father. The story is sung of the time when the people were numbered.

Ven. Bede. Ethan is interpreted the Strong, and as this Psalm is about to tell of the praises and promises of the Lord, the unchangeable firmness of its faithful words is indicated by the name Strong. And here Understanding is necessarily prefixed, no doubt because an everlasting throne is promised to David, which meanwhile we can see was destroyed long ago historically. This Ethan, like Heman, was either one of the singers of David the king, whom the Words of Days mention, to wit, the son of Kishi, the son of Abdi, of the family of Merari, son of Levi: or one of those wise men to whom the wisdom of Solomon is preferred in the Book of Kings, “Wiser,” it saith, “than Ethan the Ezrahite and Heman.” This song is of such wisdom that it deserves to be ascribed to the name of that very wise man. This Ethan the Strong, who was filled with such mental enlightenment that he is most truly styled an Israelite, at the first outset of the Psalm declares that he will sing of the mercies of the Lord, because He hath promised many things that will profit the faithful people. My song shall be alway of the lovingkindness of the Lord. In the second part he describes in various ways the praises and power of the Lord. O Lord, the very heavens shall praise Thy wondrous works. Thirdly, he counts up the promises of the Father to Christ, Thou spakest sometime in vision unto Thy saints. In the fourth place, the Lord Himself declares, by reason of the Passion which He endured, that He was delivered up to His enemies. But Thou hast abhorred. Fifthly, he prays for help for human weakness, because God hath not made the children of men for nought: Lord, how long wilt Thou hide Thyself, for ever? Sixthly, he asks the Lord to fulfil His promises, which He declares that He made to David His servant, and to remember what reproaches His servants bore from the ungodly. Lord, where are Thy old lovingkindnesses?

Syriac Psalter. Concerning the people which was in Babylon.

Eusebius of Cæsarea. He teacheth the Kingdom of Christ from the seed of David.

S. Athanasius. A Psalm of narration.


1 My song shall be alway of the loving-kindness of the Lord: with my mouth will I ever be showing thy truth from one generation to another.

This noble Psalm, contrasting forcibly in much of its hopefulness with its sad predecessor, nevertheless implies distinctly the visitation of the House of David with severe chastisement, and the author is clearly the King of Judah himself, or some one speaking in his name, and putting words into his mouth. It has thus been conjectured, not without much plausibility, that it refers to the captivity of Manasseh, or, more probably still, from the mixture of thanksgiving and hope, to the release of King Jehoiachin from his prison, after a captivity of seven and thirty years, and his restoration to royal precedence and honours at the court of Evil-Merodach,* King of Babylon.

The opening of the Psalm, observes the Carthusian, (D. C.) is truly most sweet, and far, far pleasanter than any worldly, carnal, or idle pleasure. He does not say the mercy of the Lord, but His mercies (Heb., LXX., Vulg., A. V.,) for according to the multitude of our miseries the mercies of the Lord are multiplied upon us. And that sevenfold; first, in that He guards us from sinning, as it is written,* “I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall;”* secondly, that He awaits the penitence of the sinner, “Thou winkest at the sins of men, because they should amend;”* thirdly, He calls after waiting, because “God is patient with them,” and then “poureth forth His mercy upon them;”* fourthly, because He is so swift and tender in welcoming the penitent, for “He hath mercy upon them that receive discipline;” fifthly, that He corrects us for our sins, and amends our lives, “Thou, because Thou art gracious,* have mercy upon us, or punish our iniquities with Thy scourge;” sixthly, comes the bestowal of grace for the attainment of everlasting life, for, “He that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall He guide them;”* and seventhly, He inspires us with hope of obtaining eternal blessedness whereof the Psalm itself speaks.

The Psalmist saith,* I will sing (Vulg., A. V.,) whence we may gather the joy that is in his heart. They who seek the Lord here in the Church Militant, and they who have found and hold Him fast in the Church Triumphant, alike raise in His honour the song of Holy, Holy, Holy. Alway, or as it is in LXX. and Vulg., for ever. Bellarmine,* following several of the earlier commentators, attaches these words to mercies, not to sing, for the somewhat jejune reason that the Psalmist, as a mortal, must cease his singing, but that the Lord’s mercies are for ever. But there is no question as to the collocation of the words in the Hebrew, nor will the succeeding clause allow us to explain alway as only to the end of the singer’s earthly life. We may rather take it, on the one hand, as a prophecy of the continual use of this Psalm in the public worship of God, from one generation to another, (C.) from the generation of the Jews to that of the Gentiles, throughout the long ages that have elapsed since its notes were first heard, so that the Psalmist, “being dead, yet speaketh;” while, on the other hand, it may denote the hope of joining, after death has silenced the voice here for a time, in the unceasing melodies of heaven; where the generation of man joins in fellowship with the generation of angels.

When this poor lisping, stammering tongue

Lies silent in the grave,*

Then, in a nobler, sweeter song

I’ll sing Thy power to save.

S. Gregory the Great raises the question here as to how a perpetual singing of the mercies of God is compatible with unalloyed bliss in heaven,* inasmuch as the thought of mercy connotes the memory of sin and sorrow, which needed mercy, whereas Isaiah saith that “the former troubles are forgotten,”* and “the former things shall not be remembered, nor come upon the heart.” And he replies that it will be like the memory of past sickness in time of health, without stain, without grief, and serving only to heighten the felicity of the redeemed, by the contrast with the past, and to increase their love and gratitude towards God. And so sings the Cluniac:

Their breasts are filled with gladness,*

Their mouths are tuned to praise,*

What time, now safe for ever,*

On former sins they gaze:

The fouler was the error,

The sadder was the fall,

The ampler are the praises

Of Him who pardoned all.

Note, too,* that he says, with my mouth, not with that of any deputy; I will be showing, not secretly or timidly, not in a whisper, but boldly preach, Thy truth, not my own opinion, far less my own falsehood,* but Thy Truth, which is Thine Only-begotten Son.

2 For I have said, Mercy shall be set up for ever: thy truth wilt thou stablish in the heavens.

The LXX. and Vulgate read, For Thou hast said. There is no practical difference, (L.) for the I is here God Himself, Whose words are given directly by the Psalmist just as in 81:6, and Job 42:1–5. It is God’s answer to the first verse,* as though He were saying, The reason, O man, why thou promisest to show forth My praise for ever, is because I, for My part, have said that the mercy, which I will stablish, shall be for ever. And if we read the clause in the second person, then the Prophet declares himself to be merely God’s instrument, and that he will show forth what God has spoken and dictated to him. I will be showing forth, I speak for this reason, (A.) observes the Doctor of Grace, because Thou hast spoken first; I, a man, may safely say what Thou, O God, hast said, for even should I waver in mine own word, I shall be stablished by Thine. Mercy shall be set up for ever. More exactly,* with A. V., and the early renderings, built up. For not only will this mercy of God be strong and unshaken by any earthly vicissitudes or any counsel of man, (D. C.) but the Incarnation and Passion of Christ, in the act of redeeming mankind, will repair the wastes and build up anew the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem with living stones, so as to make good the breaches caused by the fall of the rebel Angels; a view of this verse common to some Rabbinical authorities. For ever,* not merely because God’s mercy proceeds from an everlasting decree, and because its effects have no end, but because throughout all time it is poured out upon fresh objects,* and daily swells the ranks of penitents and saints. There are not wanting some to remind us that this mercy so eternally built up is none other than the Lord Jesus Himself, (Z.) Whose Sacred Body was compacted of the holy flesh of Mary, whereof is written, “Wisdom hath builded her house.”* Thy truth, shalt Thou stablish in the heavens. Whether these words be those of the Psalmist to God,* or of God the Father to His Son, we may draw the same lesson from them, (L.) that He Who is very Truth had His throne set up above the heavens at the Ascension, (A.) and that He hath established His Word and Gospel in the mouths of His holy Apostles, of whom is written, “The heavens declare the glory of God.”* For stablished the Vulgate reads prepared, whence they draw the lesson that God makes ready the foundations of His mercy by first destroying those of sin, and builds up His temple on the very site of an idol shrine.* So He enjoined His Prophet “to throw down, and build.”

3 I have made a covenant with my chosen: I have sworn unto David my servant;

4 Thy seed will I stablish for ever: and set up thy throne from one generation to another.

S. Augustine, (A.) leaving the literal sense here as too obvious to need discussion, turns at once to the mystical meaning. What covenant is this that God has made, save the New Covenant or Testament, which brings us into our new heritage, which we welcome with the new song? And they point out further that the double promise here cannot possibly be interpreted literally. There is, on the one hand, a promise of an unbroken line of descendants, and on the other, the maintenance of the royal dignity in that line. It is, to say the very least, supremely improbable that any lineal descendants of the House of David now survive, (L.) after the measures taken by Domitian and Trajan to root them out for political reasons,* and the long break in the genealogical records; it is certain that the last Davidic prince who exercised even a titular sovereignty over the chosen people was Zerubbabel, as the power after his death lay between the Persian satraps of Syria and the High Priests. And we are therefore compelled here, as in Psalm 72, to seek for a deeper meaning, a more glorious promise than the temporal prosperity of a single race. (A.) Most truly then shall we see here not merely the everlasting Kingdom of Christ, but the aspect of that Kingdom upon earth, the great company of the faithful who are the spiritual seed of Abraham, who, united to their kingly Head, as members of the body, are kings in and through Him, palaces wherein His throne as Lord and Master is set up even in the generation of our mortal life, and much more in that other generation of resurrection and immortality. It is to be noted that the word chosen,* though singular in the Hebrew text, is translated as plural by LXX. and Vulgate, and may thus be referred literally to the whole Jewish nation, or to David and his sons, while mystically these elect will denote the whole company of the redeemed,* and especially the Apostles and Doctors of the Church. A Greek Father points out very well how the final settlement of the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy City under David, after its prolonged wanderings from one place to another, forms an apt type of the firmness and universality of the Catholic Church set up by Christ in the terms of this promise of the Father.* And we may take the whole promise as referring to each righteous soul, which is like David, the friend and beloved of God, which is strong in the battle of good works against sin, and comely in aspect by reason of inward holiness, and for which an everlasting crown is laid up in heaven.

5 O Lord, the very heavens shall praise thy wondrous works: and thy truth in the congregation of the saints.

We here on earth,* tied and bound with the chains of our sin, feeble through our mortal frailty, cannot praise Thee aright; but the glorious skies with their bright constellations, lifted far above us, the shining hosts of the Angels, will do what we cannot. (Ay.) And we may bear in mind how often the heavens bore their witness to Christ, how a new Star announced His birth, how the Angels sang carols over His cradle, how the heavens were opened above Him at His Baptism, when the Voice of the Father was heard; how the sun was darkened as He hung upon the Cross, how an Angel sate upon the empty sepulchre to declare the glad tidings of His Resurrection. (A.) There are no works of God more wondrous than the Incarnation of His Son,* and His marvellous conversion of sinners by His grace, making the heavens to praise Him; and so those especial heavens, the holy Apostles and other great preachers of the Gospel, pour down the refreshing rains of doctrine on the thirsty and eager soil of the Church of the Saints, which alone lies so beneath those clouds as to drink in their showers freely. Such preachers are likened to the heavens,* because they are raised high above the earth, are starry with virtues, shining with the lights of grace, honoured by the indwelling of God, and compassed with the circle of perfection.

6a (6) For who is he among the clouds: that shall be compared unto the Lord?

6b (7) And what is he among the gods: that shall be like unto the Lord?

Here the Psalmist gives the reason why the heavens will take up the song of praise which is too great a theme for human lips.* They will not refuse the office, for they are themselves, however high above men, unspeakably below the throne of God, are His servants and ministers, not His equals, nor even like to Him. And though He Who is the Lord became man, and took upon Him the form of a servant, yet even in His utter humiliation,* in His lowest estate, no Angel might be compared to Him in majesty, in wisdom, or in love. Observe that whereas the heavens were named in the fifth verse, we have the clouds in the sixth. (A.) And what the mystical force of this term is, we may learn from the Prophet, when speaking of the judgments on the vineyard of God he says, “I will command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.”* And as the “vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel,” we understand by this threat the turning of the Apostles to the Gentiles, after their message had been rejected by the Jews. The Apostles were clouds in their human weakness, in their passiveness, as they were heaven in the mightiness of truth; (Cd.) but they were also clouds in that they were charged with that Gospel whereof God spake by Moses: “My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as showers upon the grass.”* (R.) They are clouds, too, because their holiness is veiled by their flesh, as a cloud, so that we cannot see that which lies within. We see what comes from the cloud, but not what happens in the cloud, so we receive the rain of Divine teaching from the Apostles, but cannot observe the process of Divine revelation within them. So runs the hymn for Apostles in the Paris Breviary:

Like clouds are they borne

To do Thy great will,*

And swift as the winds

About the world go;

All full of Thy Godhead

While earth lieth still,

They thunder, they lighten,

The waters o’erflow.

Yet, with all their gifts and graces, there is none of them, none of any of those eminent for holiness, those gods,* or sons of God (LXX., Vulg.) that can be compared to the Lord Jesus; for He is Son of God by eternal generation, (Ay.) and naturally; they are sons of God only by adoption and grace.

7 (8) God is very greatly to be feared in the council of the saints: and to be had in reverence of all them that are round about him.

In the literal sense,* the council of the Saints may most probably denote the Jewish nation, which from its small numbers, and from being alone possessed of the secret oracles of God, is fitly styled His council, while those that are round about are the Gentile nations encompassing the Hebrews on every side. (C.) Or, if the reference be to the heavenly service, the words depict for us that scene of the Apocalypse: “And all the Angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders, and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God.”* They raise the question as to how the Angels can be said to be round about God, seeing that He is infinite and omnipresent, filling all the universe. Cardinal Bellarmine answers that it is because God gives Himself to the view of His Angels,* in such wise that they all behold Him simultaneously, as though they did in fact encircle Him; (A.) but the great Bishop of Hippo reminds us that He, when made man, was in truth circumscribed by a body and local boundaries, to be born, to dwell, to be crucified, buried, and to rise again within the limits of one narrow territory, and yet to be so preached by His Apostles as to be had in reverence of all those nations which lay round about it.* The word council is, they say, emphatic, as denoting in the case of the Angels, not that they give advice to God, for as Isaiah and S. Paul alike ask,* “Who hath been His counsellor?”* but that He reveals His measures to them, and sends them as messengers to execute them; while the phrase, as applied to the Saints on earth, denotes the reason, thoughtfulness,* and deliberate nature of their service and devotion. And whereas he that has a retinue round about him,* must have some before, (Z.) some behind, some on his right hand, some on his left; so the Lord Jesus is followed behind by those who attempt to imitate His actions by the pursuit of holiness, they are on His left hand who turn secular learning and natural philosophy to spiritual purposes and the vindication of religion; they are on the right who busy themselves in pure meditation on divine things only; while those who have been made perfect in love of God’s beauty, are suffered to have full enjoyment of the Beatific Vision, and see Him face to face.

8 (9) O Lord God of hosts, who is like unto thee: thy truth, most mighty Lord, is on every side.

The Psalmist has been hitherto directing his words to human listeners,* but fired with love and wonder at the thought of God’s marvels, (D. C.) he suddenly breaks into an apostrophe to Him. Who is like unto Thee? he exclaims, for there is no ratio between the finite and the infinite, and though His truth and power are already exerted and manifested in His works of nature and of grace, yet His mightiness is not exhausted thereby, for “hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of His understanding?”* And thus His truth is on every side, because He is the centre of all creation, and His divine power and truth pour their rays on all His works, that we may behold them and worship Him, for, as the Wise Man saith, “by the greatness and beauty of the creatures proportionably the Maker of them is seen.”* (R.) His truth is round about Him also, (Z.) because He has it perfectly and of Himself as His attribute, and does not derive it from any other source. It clothes Him as a garment, for “righteousness is the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins,”* for as the girdle binds the garments closely round the body, so the truth of Christ binds the words of His promises, so that they cannot be changed, but must be fulfilled, and that too with speed and readiness, as a man who is girt up is able to run swiftly.* These promises of Christ are round about Him, in that Church of which He is the centre,* as it is the creation of grace whose midmost part He is.* On every side, too, because this Church is spread all over the earth, and even in it He is specially confessed by His Saints, the chosen guard closest about their Monarch, (Ay.) as the tents of the great encampment of Israel once compassed the Tabernacle round about. (L.) And note that when the truth of the Lord, the Gospel of the Kingdom, at first hidden in the central shrine of Judæa, began to be made known amidst the Gentiles round about, (A.) then the rage of the powers of evil and of this world broke out in fierce storms of persecution; wherefore is added:

9 (10) Thou rulest the raging of the sea: thou stillest the waves thereof when they arise.

10 (11) Thou hast subdued Egypt, and destroyed it: thou hast scattered thine enemies abroad with thy mighty arm.

Here the literal sense recalls the passage of the Red Sea,* and its reflux upon the horsemen and chariots of Pharaoh.* The word here rendered Egypt is Rahab, the “proud one,” of whom we read in Psalm 87:4a, and it is so translated by LXX. and Vulgate,* which agree in reading Thou hast humbled the haughty as wounded, which closely agrees with a similar apostrophe in Isaiah, “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art not Thou it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon? Art Thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?”* (A.) And S. Augustine, preaching on the festival of certain Martyrs, observes that when the Gentiles came to the knowledge of the Truth, the enemy rushed upon them like a raging lion, but was overcome by the Lord, who rent him as Samson did his type. “What,” he asks, “did the sea effect by its raging, save to bring about the holy day which we are keeping? It slew the Martyrs, it sowed the seed of blood, and the crops of the Church shot up abundantly.”* That mighty Arm of God, the Only-Begotten Son, Who wounded the proud one,* as Jael did Sisera, with the nail which fastened Himself to the Cross, scattered His enemies, the Jewish nation which rejected Him, (C.) abroad in the terrible captivity and dispersion that followed on the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. (A.) He, by humbling Himself, hath wounded and humbled the pride of man, and made him lowly, so that we, wounded in turn by love of Him, are scattered abroad,* and parted from our native errors and sins, as well as from the fellowship of the ungodly, so as to be made no longer the enemies, (R.) but the servants of God, and citizens of the heavenly country, when He has stilled the wild passions of our stormy and unstable hearts,* and made in them a great calm, on whose surface the rays of His glory may be eternally mirrored.

11 (12) The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: thou hast laid the foundation of the round world, and all that therein is.

Christ is Lord of the teaching Church of the Apostles, (A.) those heavens which send down the dews of holy doctrine, and also of the Church which is taught, the earth which drinks in the rain and dew, (Ay.) and in its humility brings forth abundant fruit. The contemplative Saints are His, busied as they are with divine things, of which He is the source and goal;* the active Saints are His no less, for He inspires and guides their good works. The heavens and the earth are His, (R.) for by the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and without Him was not anything made that was made. He laid not only the foundation of the round world of visible nature,* but also of that Church Universal which embraces all nations,* founded on the Rock, stablished in Him alone, and He claims as His own not the mere space,* but all living things therein, the entire body of His elect, rooted and founded in love, destined to enter into the fulness of the Saints.* And note that the phrase round world is suitably typical of the Church, because the circle alone of linear figures is equidistant at all points from the centre of the space it encloses, and is thus a type of the perfect life, because, according to the old philosophic definition, “Virtue is the equality of a life which converges towards reason on every side.” And thus Christ, as the Supreme Wisdom, is the centre of the Church, and the rays of His divine love and grace touch on all sides the circumference of the Church with equal radii, infinite in number.1

12 (13) Thou hast made the north and the south: Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy Name.

As Tabor and Hermon lie east and west of each other in the Lebanon chain,* this verse is the assertion of God’s creative and governing power over the four quarters of the earth. But the LXX. and Vulgate read the north and the sea.1 Mystically, the North in Holy Writ is usually taken as the symbol of evil, because on the one hand we read of Lucifer, “I will sit also in the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north;”* and in Jeremiah we find the threat, “I will bring evil from the north, and great destruction,”* and as a literal fact, the great empire of Assyria and much of that of Babylon, by which the Jewish nation were so grievously chastised, lay to the north of the Holy Land. (C.) And as the north wind is cold and biting,* so they will have it that it is an apt type of Satan or of Antichrist himself, lacking the fire of divine love,* and nipping with his sharp frosts the blossoms and fruits of holiness in the hearts of men; while the sea, (Ay.) bitter, barren, and stormy, is taken of Satan’s instruments in the world, the restless and cruel persecutors of the Church, of whom is written, “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.”* Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice. The former of these mountains, noted in early Jewish history as the scene of Barak’s victory over Sisera,* and believed to be the special mountain from whose summit it was the wont of the tribes of Zebulun and Issachar to give notice of the Paschal moon,* had a greater claim to rejoice in the latter days, for from its heights,* nestling in the plain but a few miles off, Nazareth is still to be seen.* And Christian legend, albeit with no sufficient warrant, has named it as the scene of the Transfiguration; while Hermon, less famous,* nevertheless so rises up above the plain of Esdraelon as to have within sight the part of Jordan made renowned first by the passage of Joshua, (P.) and then by the baptisms of John, including the greatest of all, (L.) and Nain, the scene of one of Christ’s greatest miracles, (A.) so that both mountains had full right to rejoice in His Name. S. Augustine, supposing Tabor to mean coming light,* explains it as mystically denoting Christ, the true Light that cometh into the world; while Hermon, which he interprets his cursing, implies the overthrow and punishment of Satan as the result of that coming. Others, accepting this etymology, will yet have it that Tabor denotes the Jews, illuminated with the light of the law and of grace, and Hermon the Gentiles, aliens from God and buried in the sin of idolatry,* which it learns to curse and abandon when the light from Tabor reaches it. But in truth no such meaning can be extracted at all from the first or certainly from the second of these names. Tabor is “lofty,” and Hermon “desolate,” so named from its barren and snow-clad summit.1 We may therefore see here types of two classes of the righteous, both pleasing to God, and rejoicing in His Name, but differing in vocation and dignity. Tabor, a mere hill, with its gentle slope and rounded summit,* whence the name is sometimes conjectured to mean “heaped like a navel”) studded with trees, and green with shade and sward to its very summit, on which once stood a little town, fitly typifies the Saints of secular life, fruitful in good works, gracious and gentle, pleasant to God and man. But Hermon, the desolate, soars above Tabor with yet greater beauty and far more striking grandeur. The lonely summit, pure and cool with snow, when all the plain beneath is parched with the blazing sun of a Syrian autumn, denotes the contemplative Saints of the Religious Life, towering upward to God in chastity and lovely contemplation, rejoicing not less, but more than Tabor, in spite of their seeming ruggedness and austerity of life.

13 (14) Thou hast a mighty arm: strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand.

That mighty arm of God is Christ the Saviour; mighty, (C.) because with Him being and power are identical, and His strength never wanes, inasmuch as He doth whatsoever He pleases in heaven and earth. (P.) Limited to Himself, the mighty arm of Christ is that Humanity which He took of Blessed Mary, (L.) and wherein He wrought such marvellous works, so that, as she herself exclaims, “He hath showed strength with His arm,”* and was manifested to be the Son of God with power.* Strong is Thy hand, comments the Chaldee paraphrase,* to redeem Thy people; high is Thy right hand, to build up the house of Thy sanctuary. This thought is worked out further by the Christian expositors, who point out that the hand, by itself, denotes mere power and efficacy, but the right hand implies favour, grace, and protection.* Hence the explanation that the hand of Christ is His power exerted against His enemies, (A.) to repress their persecution of His members, (C.) while His right hand is the justifying grace wherewith He strengthens and lifts up His elect,* that He may set them at His right hand in the Judgment, when He will indeed be exalted and high in majesty. And this comes back to the deepest spiritual meaning of the Targum, inasmuch as these elect are the living stones wherewith Messiah builds the temple of God in the heavens. (L.) Lorinus, accepting the less beautiful interpretation of several commentators, who see here two degrees of divine strength exerted to punish, (D. C.) ingeniously suggests that the strength of the left hand is exerted in holding a vanquished enemy in a firm grasp,* while the right hand is lifted on high to deliver the fatal blow with sword or axe. But nearly all agree that the Judgment is referred to as the special manifestation of God’s right hand, whether in punishment or reward, and therefore follows:

14 (15) Righteousness and equity are the habitation of thy seat: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.

For habitation, LXX.* and Vulgate read preparation, but the true rendering is basis. (Cd.) (Aquila.) Righteousness, as more than one commentator points out,* often appears in Scripture as a term including kindliness, while equity, or rather judgment, bears a sterner sense, and thus the two bases of Christ’s throne are reward and punishment. These connote in us fear and hope, to begin our justification, to inspire our devotion. And therefore S. Bernard says very well,* “Which of you is there, brethren, who desires to make ready a throne for Christ in his soul? Lo, what silks or carpets, what cushions, ought to be prepared? Righteousness and equity are the preparation of His seat. Righteousness is that virtue which giveth every man his own. Give, then, to each what is his, pay your superior, pay your inferior, pay your equal, pay every one that which you owe, and thus you fittingly celebrate the Advent of Christ, preparing for Him a seat in righteousness.” But lest the thought of the strict judgment of God should overwhelm and crush us with its terror, we are comforted by the next clause, (A.) Mercy and truth shall go before Thy face.* These are the heralds through whom the Lord announces His coming: mercy, whereby He blots out our sins, truth, whereby He performs His promise of saving to the uttermost those who trust in Him.* These are the two disciples whom Christ sends before His face into every city and place whither He Himself will come; yea,* into every heart in which He offers to take up His abode, (D. C.) to each of which, before it can rise to pure contemplation of Him, He sends pardon and grace. And because our King is preceded by such messengers, His true subjects have no cause to dread His coming, for

15 (16) Blessed is the people, O Lord, that can rejoice in thee: they shall walk in the light of thy countenance.

That can rejoice in Thee. The A. V., far more forcibly, and closer to the ancient renderings, that know the joyful sound.* Literally, that is, the blowing of the trumpets of the Jubilee1 on the evening of the Great Day of Atonement, when ushering in the year of release,* when all debts were cancelled, all Hebrew bondsmen set free, and every man returned to his own family, and to the enjoyment of his inheritance and possession. So the Christian, knowing the saving grace of Christ, (A.) rejoices in that, and cannot rejoice unless he knows it, and understands the source of that joy which is too deep for him to express in words. Thus we sing of that first coming of His, when He ransomed man from the bondage of sin,

Hark the glad sound, the Saviour comes,*

The Saviour promised long,

Let every heart prepare a throne,

And every voice a song.

He comes the prisoners to release

In Satan’s bondage held,

The gates of brass before Him burst,

The iron fetters yield.

And they who do so rejoice in the Incarnation of their Lord, in having Him for brother and friend, walk in His ways, Who is the True Light of the world, the countenance and express image of the Father,* and that they will do, guided by the illumination of the Holy Spirit.* Progressively, moreover, not resting in the one grade of holiness, but going on towards perfection, as the word walk denotes.* And so it is written, “Thy Word is a lantern unto my feet, and a light unto my paths.”* But there is another year of release more perfect in its bounty and restoration than even the first Advent of Christ, and unspeakably blessed are the people who will know the sound of the Archangel’s trumpet to be indeed a joyful sound, to whom it will be the note of victory, before which the walls of the spiritual Jericho fall down for ever, the summons to the marriage banquet of the Lamb, (L.) for they shall then learn the Unknown Song of gladness ineffable, and walk for evermore in rapt contemplation of the adorable Trinity,* in the full light of the Beatific Vision.

16 (17) Their delight shall be daily in thy Name: and in thy righteousness shall they make their boast.

And that because the Name of Christ has been their salvation,* because the glory is not theirs, but is given to Him. (L.) This delight shall be daily, or all the day of this mortal life, and much more in the unending noontide of heaven.* In Thy righteousness, because of Thy merits, they who here have been humbled for their sins, and who have cast themselves down in penitence, shall be exalted,* (A. V., Vulg., &c.) In Thy righteousness, when Thou comest to judgment, they shall be exalted to Thy right hand in glory.* They shall be exalted, even before that time, by gradual ascent in holiness, by conquering the world, the flesh, and the devil, and treading them under foot; they shall be exalted ever afterwards by the continual growth of the spiritual capacity and blessedness of the soul in heaven itself, a growth that hath no end, since it is a continual striving unto Him Who is infinite. And note the progress indicated by the terms used, walk being spoken of the body, naturally sluggish, delight, of the soul grasping at bliss,* exalted of soul and body rejoined to reign with Christ and in Christ, “Who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness,* and sanctification, and redemption;” wherefore, “according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”*

17 (18) For thou art the glory of their strength: and in thy loving-kindness thou shalt lift up our horns.

Christ is the glory of their strength not merely because He bestows the grace and power by which they shun evil and effect good,* but because that strength itself,* or virtue (Vulg.) which they exercise, is put forth for His honour by His saints, and not for the sake of any worldly praise or favour. They have it from Him, (C.) and they give it to Him, since not of their own free-will or personal holiness, but of His loving-kindness and mercy, He, by humbling Himself to us, and bearing a “horn of salvation in the house of His servant David,”* hath by that Incarnation of His, lifted up the horn of our human nature, and exalted it, (Z.) in bodily substance and in spiritual might, to the heavens above. Wherefore the Holy Eastern Church breaks out in song:

Slaves are set free, and captives ransomed:*

The Nature that He made at first

He now presenteth to the Father,*

The chains of her damnation burst:

This the cause that He was born,

Adam’s race restored,

Thou that liftest up our horn,

Holy art Thou, Lord!

And note how glory and virtue are here united in one phrase.* On this S. Bernard teaches us, “The glory which is without virtue comes, surely, without being due, is too hastily desired, is perilously grasped. Virtue is the step to glory, virtue is the mother of glory. Glory is deceitful and beauty is vain, when she has not given them birth, it is she alone to whom glory is justly due and may be safely paid.”* And with this we may compare the wise saying of a heathen writer: “Glory is the shadow of virtue, and will accompany even those that desire it not. But as our shadow sometimes precedes and sometimes follows us, so glory is sometimes in front of it, and suffers itself to be seen, and sometimes is behind us, and greater, because later, when envy has passed away.”

18 (19) For the Lord is our defence: the Holy One of Israel is our King.

Our defence.* More exactly, our shield. And that because the Only-begotten Son protected us with His Body as with a shield, and drew the darts of the enemy away from us upon Himself, procuring our salvation by His death. And the Father is our defence too, in that He gives us this Holy One of Israel to be our King, after the carnal Israel had rejected Him, gives Him to us, Whom we did not choose and appoint of our will. The Vulgate wording,* Our taking-up (assumptio) is of the Lord,* has given rise to various comments. Some will have it that the word specially points to the assumption of human nature by Christ; (R.) others of our being taken up out of mortality and passibility unto salvation; a third view is that it denotes the choosing out the elect from the mass of sinners. And in remembering that the Holy One is our King, we may be taught even by Pagan writers what are His qualifications for His office, what our hopes from His exercise of it.* “To be strong, just, severe, grave, high-souled, bounteous, beneficent, liberal, these virtues befit a king.”* “He is no real king,” observes the greatest of ancient philosophers, “for whom his own possessions are not enough, and who does not surpass others in the abundance of all good things. For he who is of this kind, desires nothing further, and will look to, and set before himself, not his own interest, but that of those over whom he rules.… The friendship of a king consists in the excellence of his well-doing towards his subjects, for he bestows benefits upon them, at any rate if he be a good king, and has a care for them, that they may prosper, as a shepherd has for his sheep.”

19 (20) Thou spakest sometime in visions unto thy saints, and saidst: I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people.

In the part of the Psalm which opens with this verse,* type and antitype are presented with such close fitness of expression for each, that a dispute has arisen amongst the commentators, whether to take the whole in the bare literal sense, as spoken of David son of Jesse, or the wholly mystical sense, as referring to Christ alone, (A.) as S. Augustine will have it, or yet again, as referring in one part to David, (Z.) and in another to Christ. But the truest explanation seems to be that which admits the full validity of both methods, for here, unlike the partially similar cases of Psalms 45. and 72, it is possible to accommodate each phrase to David or to Christ, according as we are looking at the type or the fulfilment. And in this very outset of the narrative an example is given, for the prophecies which foretold the mighty kingdom of David and his house were not the utterance of one seer, but of three, Samuel, Gad, and Nathan, (L.) Saints to whom God spake in visions, while it is no less true of Christ,* that “to Him give all the Prophets witness,” a truth which He enforced when, on the way to Emmaus,* “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” I have laid help, that is, not only I have given help and strength to one that is mighty,* but I have laid on Him the office and duty of helping them that are weak,* and of saving them out of the hand of the enemy. And as David was so helped that he might deliver Israel from Goliath first, and then, as King, from all the enemies round about, and was therefore chosen out of the people, from his humble rank as a shepherd, and exalted to a throne; so Christ, the Mighty One of God, mighty even in His weakness and humility, was chosen by the Father out of His people Israel, born of a poor woman, (P.) to fulfil the promise made to Abraham and his seed, and was exalted first upon the Cross, then in the Resurrection, and finally in His Ascension.

20 (21) I have found David my servant: with my holy oil have I anointed him.

Found implies seeking,* and it may be asked how the All-seeing can need to look for anything as though ignorant of its whereabouts. They answer diversely, that the word denotes the care and providence of God in the matter, (D. C.) in that He knew fully what He desired to have, as a man does when he seeks eagerly after aught; or again,* that it signifies the approval with which God regarded His choice, as we say, “I have found something,” when we light on an object of value in the midst of trifles of no worth. (L.) But the truest interpretation sees here that same tender, seeking love which drew down the Good Shepherd to seek and find the sheep which had gone astray, a word which paints to us His diligent care, without hinting that He did not know the precise spot where the wanderer lay. With My holy oil have I anointed Him. And as the literal David was thrice anointed king, once by Samuel in Jesse’s house at Bethlehem, once at Hebron after the death of Saul, as king over Judah; and again at seven years’ end as ruler over all Israel: so also “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power”* in His Nativity at Bethlehem; a second time over His Church at His Resurrection, when the tyrant who sought His life was overcome, and then only over the small “confederation” (which Hebron means) of His Jewish disciples, but a third time in His Ascension to the heavenly Jerusalem, the Vision of Peace, where He, now crowned as King of Glory, was anointed over all heaven and earth, supreme over the Princes of God.* He was thrice anointed in another sense also, once as Prophet, once as Priest, and once as King. Observe, the unction is called by God My holy oil, by reason of the set directions given to Moses in the Law for its composition and hallowing.* But as this oil was strictly limited, under pain of utter destruction, to the consecration of Aaron and his descendants for the Priesthood, and there is no other oil which can be understood by these words, the Rabbins allege that by special revelation and permission Samuel and the other prophets were suffered to anoint David and his posterity therewith, but no other kings. That the fact was so is plain enough,* for “Zadok the priest took an horn of oil out of the tabernacle, and anointed Solomon.” Next, whereas kings had the unction applied in the form of a crown,* priests received it in that of an X, or decussate cross. And in these two traditions we may see, first, the Priestly character foreshadowed which a King sprung out of Juda,* and not of the tribe of Levi (as the Asmonæan princes were), should exercise; while we may note in the second place, that His earthly inauguration as Monarch was with a crown of thorns, His earthly consecration as a Priest with the bloodshedding on the Cross.

21 (22) My hand shall hold him fast: and my arm shall strengthen him.

They take these words, when applied to our Lord, of the hypostatic union of the Eternal Word with the humanity of Christ Jesus, (L.) whereby it was impossible for Him, as man, to fall into any sin. And after pointing out how God’s favour caused David’s one tribe to draw over to itself the eleven tribes which had ranged themselves under the banner of the house of Saul, (Ay.) albeit the chances seemed overwhelmingly against the weaker party; they remark that the prophecy was not the less fulfilled in Christ because He was persecuted to the death, because His whole intention of gathering and establishing His Church was amply fulfilled. And if we take the David of the Psalm, as we may well do, tropologically of any faithful soul, or of God’s friends and people in general, we shall then see here the promise of help to all such through and from Christ,* “for in that He Himself hath suffered, being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted.”

And then the Carmelite goes on with a quaint minuteness of detail to tell us how He is fitly called the Hand of God, for as the hand has five fingers, so He has five especial attributes answering to the special qualities of each finger. He has power, denoted by the thumb, the strongest and most muscular of the digits. He is our guide, directing our judgment, and pointing us the way, as the index, or forefinger is used by men. By the middle finger, the longest of all, is typified His patience and long-suffering. The third finger is that on which rests the wedding-ring, unending, unbroken, the token of abiding love, that love which caused Him to lay down His life to save His enemies. And the little finger, shorter and weaker than the rest, betokens His humility and His suffering for us, when He stretched out His hands upon the Cross.

22 (23) The enemy shall not be able to do him violence: the son of wickedness shall not hurt him.

Historically, we may note that, on the one hand,* David never lost a battle, even to such a mere skirmish as that in which Asahel was slain; and on the other that the attempts made against his life and throne by single agents of evil, Goliath, Saul, Doeg, Ahithophel, Absalom, Sheba, all ended in failure, though in two cases he was driven into temporary exile.* This sense agrees with the address of Nathan to David when foretelling the reign of Solomon and the building of the temple. But the force of the Hebrew seems more fully brought out in the A. V.* The enemy shall not exact upon him, that is, shall not deal with him as a creditor deals with a defaulting debtor, reduce him to poverty, and bring him into bondage. So runs that conditional promise to Israel, “Thou shalt lend unto many nations, but shalt not borrow; and thou shalt reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over thee.”* But in the highest spiritual sense we cannot take the verse as true of David, (C.) in view of his terrible fall in the matter of Bathsheba, and must needs turn to Christ in order to find its fulfilment. Accordingly,* Origen, explaining the first clause (with LXX. and Vulg.) The enemy shall get no help out of Him, comments, “We help our enemies when we sin, and thus it is that Christ helped them in no respect.… For although they said, Come, let us kill Him, and have His inheritance to ourselves, yet this counsel was useless to Satan and the Jews, and their effort fell vainly to the ground, for the Saviour rose again the third day, and trampling upon death, spoiled hell.” And whereas, by reason of our sins, the devil can prove some claims against each of us, Christ alone, on the other hand, saith truly, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me.”* Wherefore, (C.) neither Judas, nor the false witnesses before the Sanhedrim, nor the chief priests before Pilate, were able to bring any charge of guilt home to Him, but were forced to acknowledge His innocence; for “He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.” They lay stress, moreover, on the LXX. (D. C.) and Vulgate phrase here, “The son of wickedness shall not add to hurt Him,” pointing out that David’s enemies were often given one chance, so to speak, against him, and a temporary measure of success, as in the case of Absalom, but they could never repeat it. Applying this to Christ, they remind us that similarly an apparent victory was granted to His enemies against Him, in that they did succeed in compassing His death, but that His Resurrection put Him finally out of the reach of harming.* So, too, one reminds us seasonably, in the interpretation of this Psalm of any righteous soul, that when any one has overcome the devil in a spiritual conflict, by resisting temptation to some particular sin, he thereby weakens the devil’s power for all time as regards that special weapon, not only as regards himself, but as regards others also.* They will not be totally freed from all trial and temptation thereby, but they will be encouraged, and the devil disheartened by the victories of the Saints, so that they cannot be fatally hurt without their own consent, as it is written,* “I will appoint a place for My people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more,* as beforetime.” Not that the malice of the enemy is lessened by such triumphs of the Saints,* for it is rather increased, and his desire to overcome his conqueror is whetted; so that, as S. Thomas warns us, he will return again and again to the attack as long as he sees any remains of sin within us, yet that he grows feebler, and we stronger, after each repulse he suffers.

23 (24) I will smite down his foes before his face: and plague them that hate him.

This holds literally of David, (Ay.) especially where we read that “he smote Moab,* and measured them with a line, casting them down to the ground; even with two lines measured he to put to death, and with one full line to keep alive.”* But it holds much more perfectly of David’s Son, before Whose face His tempters so often retreated in confusion, baffled by His wisdom, as though driven away with swords, before Whom the soldiers in the garden on the night of betrayal, “went backward, and fell to the ground,”* Who triumphed over His spiritual enemies upon the Cross, and Whose terrible judgments fell upon the sinful nation that rejected Him, albeit He saved alive with one full line the Apostles and other disciples who believed on Him. These too He smote down at first, (C.) as He did Saul of Tarsus, as He does still with sinners whom He desires to bring to repentance, and to separate from their transgression, and to put to flight from their former sinful life, that they may take refuge with Him.

24 (25) My truth and my mercy shall be with him: and in my Name shall his horn be exalted.

This prophecy cannot be in its fulness taken of David,* albeit in a lower sense it is true of him also, but it is perfectly accomplished in Christ, for the mercy which was with Him is that hypostatic union of the Godhead with the Manhood, which cannot be disjoined, while the truth is the fulfilment of the promise to His Mother by the angel, “He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.”* Wherefore His horn was exalted in the Name of God, because His power is such that in His Name every knee must bow, of things in heaven, and things in the earth, and things under the earth.* And this Name is the Name of God, for the glory of Jesus is as of the Only-begotten of the Father, so that He is worshipped by all as the Son of that eternal Father, in Whose Name He comes, so that God the Father “hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a Name which is above every name,” (A.) which would not be true if the Name of God were still above Himself.* And observe, that as “all the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth,” so Christ is mercy and truth to us, by His pardoning grace, and His faithfulness to His word; and we therefore, if we are desirous of showing our gratitude, and of being conformed to His likeness, are bound to give Him the same, by showing mercy to those in distress, by being true and just in all our dealings.

25 (26) I will set his dominion also in the sea: and his right hand in the floods.

His dominion. It should be simply, his hand, (A. V., Vulg., &c.,) that is, the left hand, as distinguished from the right hand of the next clause. The prophecy was fulfilled so far as David is concerned, by his victories over the Philistines,* four of whose five principal cities, namely, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, and Gaza, were actually on the coast of the Mediterranean sea, while his victory over Hadadezer, king of Zobah,* extended the Hebrew monarchy to the river Euphrates on the other side. It is fitly said his right hand, because the eastern conquests were more conspicuous and extensive than the western, to which, accordingly, only the left hand is attributed. (A.) Mystically, they explain the salt stormy sea as the Gentile nations, or the world in general, bitter and turbulent, and the rivers as those persons who, greedy of the world’s pleasures and gain, rush eagerly on in search of them, as the rivers pour into the sea.* Another interpretation sees in the rivers, because of their powerful currents, a type of the kings and princes of the world, who require more forcible constraint than the multitude.* On the other hand, a contrary explanation is suggested by the facts that the rivers are of sweet water, that they are not stormy like the sea, that they run in fixed and narrow channels, and that they admit of bridges being built over them for the passage of men; whence they may be taken as types of the righteous and meek,* to be set at God’s right hand. But the Greek Fathers prefer to explain the river as the mystical Jordan, the type of Holy Baptism, where the right hand of Christ is placed, either because,* as one will have it, only those regenerated in Baptism have the promise of being set on His right in the Judgment; or, as a Latin expositor takes it, because His propitiatory and pardoning might, which is a higher and nobler attribute than His coercive and punitive authority,* is exercised in the remission of sins. Not unlike this is that other view which finds in the sea and rivers types of secular and spiritual things, and reminds us that God gives us greater power of operation in the latter,* in that we can achieve higher things therein. And thus a famous preacher tells us that Religious,* who have put themselves within the river banks of claustral obedience, in the sweet, calmly flowing life of the convent, keep their right hand there, not in the sea of worldly habits, and receive a special blessing from God.

26 (27) He shall call me, Thou art my Father: my God, and my strong salvation.

Here they bid us note the singular fact that David nowhere, (Ay.) in all the variety of epithets he applies to God throughout his portion of the Psalter,* ever does call Him Father,* albeit the title occurs once or twice elsewhere in Holy Writ.* But when we turn to the sayings of Christ, a remarkable difference at once strikes us. The name of Father is given by Christ to the Almighty about one hundred and forty times, of which fifty-four have the emphatic word My prefixed. (B.) “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill Him, because He said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.”* This first part of the verse, then, He speaks according to His Deity;* but the latter part, according to His manhood, whereby He is inferior to the Father. My strong salvation. More literally the Rock of my salvation, (A. V.) But LXX. and Vulgate read the taker-up (ἀντιλήπτωρ, susceptor) of My salvation. And that,* they say, refers to those two takings-up of Christ by His Father, the Resurrection and Ascension; (R.) or else to the taking-up of human nature in His act of mercy unto salvation.

27 (28) And I will make him my first-born: higher than the kings of the earth.

This type was, it is true, partly fulfilled in David, in that he, the youngest of seven sons, was set over not only his brethren, but the whole of Israel, and in that he was victorious over all the adjacent countries,* “of Syria, and of Moab, and of the children of Ammon, and of the Philistines, and of Amalek,* and of the spoil of Hadadezer, son of Rehob, king of Zobah.”* But the very fact that the promises here seemingly made to David only, (Ay.) are transferred to Solomon in the prophecy of Nathan,* teaches us to look further,* to Him of whom David the conqueror and Solomon the Wise were but types. He is the first-born of the Father in four ways. First,* as the Eternal Wisdom of God;* begotten and predestined before the worlds were made;* secondly, as the one only child of His Mother, and therefore called, her “first-born Son;” thirdly, because of the Resurrection,* whereby He is “the first-born from the dead;” fourthly,* because He is “appointed Heir of all things,”* “that He might be the first-born among many brethren,”* nay, “the first-born of every creature.”*

Higher than the kings of the earth.* Bellarmine remarks truly enough that even in the widest estimate of the power of David and Solomon, they could not rank in puissance with the Assyrian monarchs, albeit the petty kinglets around were tributary to them, “from the river even unto the land of the Philistines, and the border of Egypt,”* and that we must therefore apply these words to Him only Who is “Prince of the kings of the earth,”* and Who “hath on His vesture and on His thigh a Name written, King of kings and Lord of lords,” before Whom the mightiest sovereigns now bow their heads, (A.) Whose Cross surmounts their royal crowns. Wherefore in the First Vespers of the Nativity, the Antiphon runs,* “The Peaceful King is magnified, over all the kings of the whole earth.” The word higher is noteworthy, for the Hebrew is עֶלְיו̇ן,* which, in all other places where it stands alone, or is used of a person in Scripture,* is applied to God only,* and is usually translated Most High in the A. V. And thus as He, being God, is Most Holy, as well as Most High, He is Chief of all those kings and priests, those saints who have conquered and ruled their own passions and have overcome the world, who exercise in the Church of God the double position of priesthood and authority committed to the first-born under the patriarchal dispensation.

28 (29) My mercy will I keep for him for evermore: and my covenant shall stand fast with him.

The mercy of God was kept for Christ,* that is, it was held over until His coming, and was not given under the elder dispensation, “for the Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”* And because this mercy in the remission of sins is permanent, and cannot be set aside, it is added, My covenant, My new covenant, shall stand fast, in contradistinction to the old covenant, which decayed, waxed old, and vanished away, because “the Law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did.”* And it is for His sake that this new covenant does stand fast, for it was concluded through and in Him. He mediated it, (A.) He signed it, He is its surety, its witness, Himself the inheritance bestowed by it, and therewith its co-heir. Others,* less forcibly, take the faithful covenant to be the fulfilment of the prophetic promises in the person of Christ.

29 (30) His seed also will I make to endure for ever: and His throne as the days of heaven.

It was urged as an objection to the Messiahship of the Lord Jesus by some of the Jews, (L.) that He had no earthly progeny, and did not leave descendants, but the answer was easy,* that according to high Rabbinical authority, the title of sons or seed is given to the disciples of a great teacher, as, for example, those of R. Hillel. And accordingly, the favourite explanation of this passage with Christian commentators is that it denotes the perpetual duration of the Church.* The seed of Christ are those who are like unto Him, (A.) and follow in His footsteps, who are His throne, inasmuch as they yield themselves to His sovereignty, who are as the days of heaven by reason of the brightness, clearness, warmth, and purity of their lives.* The throne of Christ, a Saint tells us, is fourfold: the Church Militant, the Church Triumphant, the faithful soul, and the Blessed Virgin Mother.* If we take the verse literally as referring to David, we shall come to the same result, as Christ was of his seed according to the flesh, and as the earthly Jewish throne disappeared with Jehoiachin or with Zedekiah, there is no other save the Messiah, to whom the words may be fully said to refer.

31 But if his children forsake my law: and walk not in my judgments;

32 If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments: I will visit their offences with the rod, and their sin with scourges.

Here they raise the question as to how the promises, the gifts and calling,* of God can be without repentance, how they can be justly said to be firm and irrevocable, if they can be affected in this wise by the error, folly, or sin, of so unstable a creature as man. And first, (A.) the Doctor of Grace most truly answers that God proves His Fatherhood, not abdicates it, by the act of punishment. “For whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?”* Our fear should be not lest we should be scourged, but lest we should be disinherited. And God scourges, precisely that He may give us back the heritage we have forfeited. Next, (L.) they point out that God does not go back from His promises. What He undertakes to give, that He does give, as the Incarnation of Christ, promised to the sinners Adam and Ahaz, establishes. In this manner His fulfilment is absolute. But the enjoyment and benefit to be derived from the thing promised and given is conditional. Thus the literal kingdom over Israel passed from the tribe of Judah to that of Levi, and the spiritual kingdom of the Church, after being first offered to the Jews, was handed over to the Gentiles. The refusal of the chosen people to accept the proffered mercies did not cause withdrawal of them, but only a change in the recipients, as in the case of the marriage-supper of the king’s son. (C.) Hence we gather that here we have set before us that lesson which is inculcated by so many parables, the mixture of good and bad Christians within the Church, and the double truth that the fall of a part does not involve the ruin of the whole; but that even the fall itself is capable of recovery.* There are four modes of transgression named here, against the law, the judgments, the statutes, and the commandments of God. Of these, the law is the generic term, including the others under it, or if taken specifically, it denotes the Decalogue;* the judgments have to do with the decision of causes, the assignment of rights, and the meting out rewards and punishments; the statutes are the negative or prohibitory rules, laying down certain actions as forbidden; the commandments are the affirmative part of the code, enjoining certain modes of conduct; and of the third of these it is to be noticed that for break My statutes, the margin of A. V., rightly agreeing with the Vulgate, reads profane My statutes, whereby we learn the greater heinousness of sins of commission, especially such as involve irreverence in things sacred, than of any others. (Ay.) And the Carmelite hereupon justly points out that the sin of profanity, especially in the form of idolatry and foreign rites, was that especial one into which several of the descendants of David fell, notably Solomon himself,* Ahaz, and Manasseh. There are two degrees of punishment threatened, the rod, for the smaller and lighter offences, the scourges, for graver and more persistent sin. In the corresponding passage of the Book of Samuel, the warning runs thus, “If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men,”* that is, with punishments such as earthly fathers inflict upon their children,* and not too severe for human nature to bear. And by the rod, in Holy Writ, fatherly correction is usually signified;* whereas the punishment of a judge is with the sword. So, we read of the former, “He that spareth the rod hateth his son;”* of the latter, “If a man will not turn, He will whet His sword.”* Wherefore also He saith Himself, “Repent, or else I will come to thee quickly, and will fight against thee with the sword of My mouth.”* But the rod and staff of the Lord comfort the wayfarer in the valley of the shadow of death,* knowing that the chastisement is given in love.* He will take even the scourges patiently, because with them too God visits, as a firm but gentle surgeon who needs to use steel and cautery upon a patient for his healing, and instead of lamenting or resisting, the sick man will say, “Thou hast granted me life and favour, and Thy visitation hath preserved my spirit.”*

33 Nevertheless, my loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him: nor suffer my truth to fail.

34 My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips: 35 I have sworn once by my holiness, that I will not fail David.

S. Augustine explains these verses in the manner already stated above, (A.) that the sin of man cannot make void the promise of God, since His purpose by predestination will stand, and be fulfilled in one,* if not in another. It is also an encouragement to hope and to repentance, if we once take in the thought that God’s will to pardon never fails, and that our sins are to His mercy what a cobweb is to the storm,* a spark to the ocean, sure to be swept away by the might of the one, to be quenched in the abyss of the other.* They raise in this place the question as to the repentance and salvation of Solomon, (Ay.) answering it, as do SS. Ambrose, Jerome, and Gregory, in the affirmative; alleging that he was punished by the revolt of the ten tribes from his son, but pardoned himself, granted repentance, and delivered from hell. And S. Jerome mentions a curious Hebrew legend to the effect that the penitent king,* entering the Temple, put rods into the hands of certain men learned in the law, beseeching them to chastise him, but that they alleged that they dared not put out their hands against the Lord’s anointed; whereupon he passed sentence upon himself, and abdicated the throne. (A.) Nor suffer My truth to fail. The Vulgate rendering, I will not hurt in My truth, has drawn from S. Augustine the comment that he who abides not by his promises does hurt, and that sorely, any one who depends on that promise; and furthermore, that he who punishes according to the full rigour of justice, (C.) hurts too. And another reminds us that although the enemies of the Son were suffered to work their will upon Him, yet in the truth of the Father He was unhurt, inasmuch as His glorious Passion wrought salvation for the world; while a third exposition, practically coinciding with the latter part of S. Augustine’s gloss,* sees here a promise of final salvation in the day of Judgment, because God’s scourges will heal, not injure us. My lips. This refers especially, they say, (L.) to the utterances of the Prophets, who are the lips wherewith God spake to His people. He will not alter the thing which they have spoken, for the Lord Himself saith, “Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the Prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Law,* till all be fulfilled.”* I have sworn once. Some Hebrew expositors have interpreted this as meaning that God used the formula here given on this occasion only, a theory refuted by its appearance in Amos 4:2, (L.) for the true force of the word is to mark the firmness and irrevocability of the Divine pledge.* In My holiness, that is, as they variously explain it, by My holy Name; or by My holy place, whether heaven (as it is written, “For I lift up My hand to heaven, and say, I live for ever,”*) or the Holy of holies in the temple; or in My secret counsel; (R.) or, finally, by My Holy One, that is, Christ Himself, (C.) which agrees with that other saying, “The Lord hath sworn by His right hand,* and by the arm of His strength.” I will not fail David. The A. V. more exactly, with the ancient versions, I will not lie unto David. Therefore it is said, I have sworn once. How often, asks S. Augustine, would God have to swear, if He had once lied in swearing? He uttered one oath on behalf of our life, (A.) when He sent His Only Son to death for us.

36 (35) His seed shall endure for ever: and his seat is like as the sun before me.

37 (36) He shall stand fast for evermore as the moon: and as the faithful witness in heaven.

Here, as in the thirtieth verse, we have the assertion of Christ’s eternity, and the promise of the indefectibility of the Church. So we read in Jeremiah, who thus gives us the literal sense: “Thus saith the Lord, If ye can break My covenant of the day, and My covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season; then may also My covenant be broken with David My servant, that he should not have a son to reign upon his throne.”* And similarly a heathen poet, writing of the dynasty founded by Vespasian:

Manebit altum Flaviæ decus gentis*

Cum sole et astris, cumque luce Romana,*

Invicta quicquid condidit manus, cœlum est.

The Flavian race shall last in high renown,

With sun and stars, and light that shines on Rome,

That which a conqueror’s hand has raised, is heaven.

His seat is like as the sun.* That is, as the Chaldee will have it, radiant and glorious as the sun, or else, as other expositors take it, enduring as the sun, a phrase equivalent to the “days of heaven” in the earlier passage.* And taking the seat or throne (LXX., Vulg.) to mean the Church in which He dwells, we shall note its continuous visibility, and its office of enlightening the world, as both signified hereby. Or if we take the seat to be the righteous soul, (A.) wherein Christ reigns, we then have His own saying to confirm this one, for He tells us that when He hath ended the judgment, “then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”* As the moon. The Rabbinical interpretation of this clause is,* that it declares how the house of David should be treated if it fell away from God. Even then it would not be cast off, but would remain as the moon in comparison with the sun, feebler in light and warmth, and suffering decrease almost to extinction, but, nevertheless, returning in due time to the full. (A.) S. Augustine, dwelling on the same qualities of the moon, interprets them of our mortal flesh, which here passes through many phases, but will be a perfect moon (Vulg.) in the Resurrection, no longer subject to any change. So too the moon may fitly be the Church Militant here on earth, (C.) waxing and waning, and deriving all her light from the Sun of Righteousness. (Ay.) A curious Rabbinical gloss is, that as the sun and moon were created on the fourth day, so they foretold the perpetual kingdom of Messiah, sprung from Judah, the fourth of Jacob’s sons. Another commentator, accepting the sun and moon as types of the souls and bodies of the elect, points out four attributes of the sun which correspond to faculties of the soul in bliss: to wit, brightness; (Ay.) swiftness, in that its rays pass instantaneously from east to west; subtilty, in that it penetrates glass without leaving any trace of its passage; and impassibility, because it is not defiled by being brought in contact with any substance that stains. If true of any holy soul, the words must hold good especially of that undefiled one of whom we read, “Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, terrible as an army with banners?”* whom the Holy Eastern Church styles the “throne of Cherubim.”* This is the great throne of ivory overlaid with gold, which our Solomon made for Himself;* ivory, by reason of her pureness; great, because of humility; a throne, because of her fruitfulness,

Ligna, sedile, manus, ebur, aurum, brachia, scamnum,

Argentum, leo, Rex, purpura, prævia, gradus.

Wood, seat, hands, ivory, gold, with arms, a stool,

Silver, king, lion, purple, platform, steps.

That is, firm and incorruptible as the cedars, her charity is the seat which admits repose; the hands, on which the arms rest, her works of lowliness and devotion; the ivory, her purity; the gold, her wisdom; the arms, reminding us of those infant arms so often clasped about her, the embracing tenderness of her nature; the footstool, earthly riches and wisdom which she trod under foot; silver, her tuneful and pure speech; the fourteen lions of the throne, her virtues and gifts (or, as we might rather take them, her seven joyful and seven sorrowful mysteries); the King, that only One Who lay in her bosom,* (“the Prince, He shall sit in it”); the purple, her martyrdom of soul at the Cross; the platform, her uplifted perfection, raising her above the level of the earth; the steps, the six grades of holy veneration: namely, reverence, devotion, salutation, good words, obedience, and active compliance.

As a faithful witness in heaven.* The word as does not occur in the Hebrew, and some doubt has thus arisen as to the precise meaning of the clause. A very common interpretation is, that the parallelism requires us to understand the moon to be the witness meant, as it is the arbiter of seasons and festivals; but another, which has met with many supporters, interprets the passage of the rainbow,* that witness of God’s covenant with Noah; the like of which is round about the throne,* and upon the head of the mighty Angel of the Covenant. But the best explanation of all and that most followed by the early commentators, taking the clause, There is a faithful witness in heaven, sees in the faithful witness Christ our God Himself. So holy Job speaks,* “Behold, my witness is in heaven;” and the Lord saith by Jeremiah, “I know, and am a witness, saith the Lord;”* and further, the epithet is twice directly applied to Christ in the Apocalypse, wherein He is styled, the “faithful and true witness.”* He then, of Whom Isaiah said in old time, (L.) “Behold, I have given Him as a Witness to the people;” Who saith of Himself, “For this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth,”* is rightly compared to sun and moon,* (Cd.) which rule the day and night, for whereas each of these luminaries is hid for a time, and does as it were shut its eyes to the world,* “He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep,”* but beholds all things at all times alike clearly, and therefore will know all things, needing not other witnesses, when He sits in judgment.

38 (37) But thou hast abhorred and forsaken thine Anointed: and art displeased at him.

Here the whole tone of the Psalm changes, and instead of looking on the glorious picture of stable prosperity, we hear the lament for the overthrow of all the splendours of the Hebrew polity, (R.) the total eclipse of its brilliant day. And whether we take this lament as referring especially to Absalom’s successful rebellion,* to Solomon’s own fall, to the revolt under his son, to the Babylonish captivity,* or to the yet more disastrous ruin of the second Temple, bringing with it the disappearance of the Aaronic worship as well as that of the Davidic throne, (A.) we see in each and all the working out of a divine and providential purpose.* For had there been no such reversal experienced, the spiritual growth of the Messianic idea would have been checked in its very bud,* and men would have looked to the peaceful splendour of Solomon’s reign as fulfilling all the promises of a King and Deliverer, and would thus have never risen out of this material notion into the higher spiritual truth.* Thou hast forsaken Thine Anointed. It is the cry, they tell us, first of the exiled Jews, seeing the captivity of their two last kings, discrowned and imprisoned. And thus, having regard to the Vulgate reading distulisti, (A.) which is Thou hast put off, S. Augustine explains it of God’s continued delay in sending the Messiah to deliver His people;* but S. Ambrose more truly expounds the passage as the words of Christ Himself, declaring what He has endured, the shame and reproach and suffering of the Cross, and the mysterious abandonment thereon,* for the ransom of mankind. A curious view which has been suggested is that the speaker in this verse is God Himself, accusing the Synagogue of its rejection of its King. But the more usual interpretation is sounder, and must be understood,* as a Greek Father points out, not of complaint against God’s will, far less as any charge of unfaithfulness, but as a prayer for mercy and restoration.

39 (38) Thou hast broken the covenant of thy servant: and cast his crown to the ground.

This verse may be taken in any of three meanings. The covenant may here imply the entire Old Testament polity, (A.) in which case the servant is the Jewish nation, and the crown its spiritual pre-eminence, a view which gains consistency amongst the Fathers from the general explanation of the word נֶזֶר (ἁγίασμα, sanctuarium) as the sanctuary or temple, instead of the royal diadem, as S. Jerome rightly translates it. (C.) The fuller rendering of the A. V., nearly identical, save for this one word, with the Vulgate, strengthens the notion, by saying, Thou hast profaned his crown, as the verb fits in so well with the notion of defiling a shrine. (R.) The second view makes the reference more personal,* and confines it to the non-fulfilment of the pledge given to David and his house, as proved by the dethronement of his family. And the third, which is also the fullest, sees here the rejection of Christ, and the apparent annulling of the promise spoken by Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin at Nazareth, whereby her Son was promised perpetual sovereignty over the house of Jacob. What then was this crown of his which was so cast to the ground?* One tells us that it is the Sacred Humanity which He took of His dear Mother, wearing which He conquered and destroyed the empire of death, though it was cast to the ground indeed in the Agony, in the nailing to the Rood, in the laying in the tomb.* And another takes the verse as referring less to Christ Himself than to His Body the Church, and will have us see in this place the sufferings of the Martyrs,* the crown of glory, the royal diadem,* which He, their King, wears upon His brow.

40 (39) Thou hast overthrown all his hedges: and broken down his strong holds.

41 (40) All they that go by spoil him: and he is become a reproach to his neighbours.

Here comes in the metaphor of the vineyard of Israel, whereof Isaiah says, “I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down.”* (Z.) And this hedge may well be explained of the Mosaic Law, with all its minute and thorny provisions for separating the Jewish people from the heathen nations around; although several take it to mean literally the battlements and walls of the lesser cities of Palestine; attributing the latter clause of the verse to the fortifications of Jerusalem alone,* or even to the citadel of Sion.* The LXX. and Vulgate read the last half of the verse, Thou hast made his strong place a terror. (B.) That is, as they variously explain it, brought terror and dismay amongst the defenders of the last fortresses, (R.) so as to lead to their surrender, or else put the stronghold itself into the possession of the enemy, so as to turn it into a means of overawing the native population. Spoken of Christ, we may take the words either of the breaking down in the popular mind of that “divinity which doth hedge a king,” so that the reverence in which He was held for a time gave way before the slander of the Chief Priests; or again, (L.) that the multitude of His disciples who once compassed Him about, forsook Him and fled,* and that even His strong one, the bold and zealous Peter, was filled with terror, and failed Him in His need. The whole passage, as well as the next verse, applies more strictly to the people than to the king, and deals with him as their representative; whence the transition is easy to the sufferings of the Church in times of persecution,* when the prelates, who are the hedge of her solemn usages, and her great teachers, her surest strongholds, fall away or are cut off.* For the faithful soul, the hedge, rough with thorns, is penitence, a fence through which Satan cannot force his way, nor yet the allurements of the senses; but where there is no such hedge,* entrance is easy; and all the passers by spoil and strip the vines bare of their grapes. They that go by. That is, as they tell us,* all transgressors, all who pass over the fixed boundaries of the moral law, or those who pass by and neglect Him Who is the Way, Who was seized and bound in the garden, stripped of His raiment,* crucified, and reviled by “all them that passed by.” Literally the words tell us of the weakness and contempt into which the Jews had sunk, when every petty tribe around was able to insult, plunder, (Ay.) and wrong them with impunity after their power had been broken by the resistless force of Babylon. The lion had made them his prey first, and then they became a “portion for foxes,”* scattered abroad in many a land, and a reproach to their neighbours. Of Christ it was true that He was stripped in His Passion, (P.) and that He was made a reproach, not only by His citizens, who would not have Him to reign over them, but by His neighbours, (L.) the foreign tyrant Herod, and the Roman soldiers, who mocked and insulted Him. Nay, more, even after His Ascension, the prophecy held good, for the preaching of the Cross,* which was to the Jews a stumbling-block, was to the Greeks foolishness, and therefore received with jeers and derision. And, moreover, the soul which has given way to the enemy, and suffered spoiling when its hedge is broken down, is made the subject of more bitter reproach for its fall, when once it has yielded, than it was before, for refusing to yield in guilty compliance with sinners.

42 (41) Thou hast set up the right hand of his enemies: and made all his adversaries to rejoice.

43 (42) Thou hast taken away the edge of his sword: and givest him not victory in the battle.

The Psalmist proceeds to dwell on the increasing severity of God’s judgments,* in that He not merely withdraws His aid from His Anointed, leaving him thus weak and undefended, but joins the side of his enemies. (R.) And the commentators bid us note the contrast here exhibited to the successes of the scanty forces of Gideon, or of the Maccabees, (Ay.) against enormous odds, whereas under Zedekiah “all the men of war fled by night.”* In dwelling on the power given to Christ’s enemies against Him in the Passion, and their rejoicing over His death,* they remind us not only how Peter was forced to return his sword into its sheath, but that the help of the Eternal Word of God,* that sharp and “two-edged sword,” was taken from the Manhood of the Redeemer, so that He had no comfort or support there from, nor any aid from those legions of Angels whom the Father would have sent Him. We are reminded, too, when the interpretation is transferred to the sufferings of His mystical Body, how, in literal fact, the heathen persecutors used to rejoice, and make festival of the torture and passions of the Martyrs; while Cardinal Hugo,* who explains these and the previous verses of scandals in the Church of a later day, whereby it is stripped and plundered, and its discipline broken down by its own evil ministers, so as to make it a reproach to heretics, schismatics, and even to possible converts, declares that an evil prelate, sent as a chastisement to the Church, is the very right hand of her enemies, and his promotion a subject of hearty rejoicing to them, because he bears in vain the sword of temporal and spiritual authority. And another,* not dissimilarly, warns preachers that their gift of sacred eloquence, albeit the sword of the Word, is of no avail to themselves in the battle of personal temptations, if they venture to dispense themselves from self-denial and prayer, not bearing in mind that saying of the Apostle: “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”*

44 (43) Thou hast put out his glory: and cast his throne down to the ground.

His glory. That is, as Cardinal Bellarmine rightly explains the passage,* albeit following the unlike Vulgate reading, all the pomp and splendour of royal attire and surroundings, the external tokens of dignity, (L.) as well as the substantial enjoyment of power, denoted by the throne of the latter clause. Applied to the nation, rather than to the king, the words will denote the stately ritual of the Temple,* which was made to cease (A. V.) first for seventy years, and then for ever. The LXX. and Vulgate read, Thou hast loosed (LXX., destroyed Vulg.) from purification, partly misapprehending the meaning of the last word, and this has given rise to various comments.* One practically agrees with that just cited, (Ay.) and takes the phrase of the fall of the Temple, (D. C.) because seeing in purification (καθαρισμοῦ, emundatione) a reference to the ceremonial washings and lustrations of the Law; (A.) while S. Augustine will have it that it means the spiritual rejection of the Jews, who could not, because they would not, (C.) be cleansed from their sins by faith; and therefore they were punished by their throne, their Holy City, and the whole land which they inhabited, being overwhelmed in total ruin.

Spoken of the Church in times of laxity,* we note that God’s punishments at times harden instead of purifying sinners, and overthrow that throne in their hearts on which Christ should reign. So exclaims the Prophet: “O Lord,* are not Thine eyes upon the truth? Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; Thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock;* they have refused to return.” While in days of fervour and zeal, the Martyrs are slain either because of their very purity, or because slanderous tales of their crimes have been spread abroad in order to make public morality an excuse for persecution, so that the bodies of those Saints who are Christ’s throne are tortured,* slain, and cast to the ground. And in that awful time of the Passion, when the divine glory of the Lord was most of all hidden in His supreme humiliation, when not only the throne offered Him on Palm Sunday was dashed down by the choice of Cæsar as king and Barabbas as leader, but that surer one in the hearts of His chosen disciples seemed shaken to its very foundations;* then He was destroyed from purification so far as His enemies could effect it, by being numbered with transgressors and felons, and by Himself too, because, all-pure as He was, He took upon Him our sins, and was in a sense defiled thereby, according to His own saying by His Prophet, “Their blood shall be sprinkled upon My garments, and I will stain all My raiment.”*

45 (44) The days of his youth hast thou shortened: and covered him with dishonour.

It is obvious that these words cannot be taken literally either of David or of Solomon,* each of whom died in full age, after a reign of forty years. But they may apply exactly enough either to the very brief reigns of the later kings of the house of David, especially Jehoahaz,* who occupied the throne for only three months in the twenty-third year of his age,* and Jehoiakim, who was deposed when but eighteen, after the same brief possession of the crown, while even the two remaining sovereigns, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah, were deprived in the prime of their life.* Or else the words may point to the entire duration of the dynasty, (Ay.) so much briefer than was to be looked for from the terms of the divine promise, inasmuch as the national life of the Jews was violently interrupted before it reached maturity. And the phrase covered him with dishonour will apply not only to the whole nation,* but especially to the disgrace and imprisonment of three of the last monarchs at the hands of Pharaoh-Necho and Nebuchadnezzar, (C.) as also to the still more fatal overthrow of the Jewish polity by Vespasian and Titus. But the obvious application to the Lord Jesus,* cut off in the flower of His days,* and that amidst every mark of shame and insult, has not been neglected by the Fathers.* Further, it is explained of the sufferings of the Church, and of the martyrdom and sudden deaths of her noblest and most devout children,* while those were spared who were neither eminent nor useful, whose evil living covered their Mother with confusion.

46 (45) Lord, how long wilt thou hide thyself, for ever: and shall thy wrath burn like fire?

Here the Psalmist,* after pouring out his lamentations, betakes himself to prayer, and implores God to send the Deliverer. And the words not only befit the Jews in their first prostration of the Babylonian captivity, but even after their return and the rebuilding of the Temple, for that event did nothing for the restoration of the Davidic throne;* rather, in truth, the sacerdotal kingdom of the Maccabees was an additional obstacle to the replacement of the old dynasty. God is said here to hide Himself; not that He does change towards us, for with Him there is “no shadow of turning,” but that He suffers us to avert ourselves from Him, so that the light of His countenance no longer shines on us. (Ay.) And He is then compared to a monarch who,* after condemning a criminal, shuts himself up, lest any one should approach him with a petition for pardon. For ever? The LXX. and Vulgate, as usual, translate this unto the end, (C.) whereon the commentators observe that the question is whether God will continue to hide His face from the Jewish people till the consummation of all things.* And they answer, No: because the Apostle saith, “Blindness in part is happened to Israel,* until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in, and so all Israel shall be saved.” How long then shall His wrath burn like fire? So long, exactly, (Ay.) as there is any fuel of sin for the fire to feed upon. And observe that God’s wrath is compared to fire, by reason of four properties, according to the various substances on which fire acts. Fire reduces some to ashes, like wood, which is the manner in which obstinate sinners are dealt with by God. It softens others, like lead, which represents the moving to repentance and tears. Others, again, as gold, it purges from dross, denoting change and perfection through suffering. And finally it hardens earthenware, that is, the flame of divine love gives strength and fortitude to what was before weak and yielding, as in the case of the Martyrs. (P.) The verse may be taken also as the opening part of a prayer, either of Christ Himself, or of His Body the Church, preceding His Resurrection after the terrible woes of the Passion;* and finally, as the petition of a penitent soul seeking reconciliation and peace with God.

47 (46) O remember how short my time is: wherefore hast thou made all men for nought?

Seeing,* he would say, how soon my life shall end, and that I cannot look forward to a prolonged existence, let me, whilst I still live, see that which Thou hast promised, and behold Thy salvation, the Redeeming King of the seed of David. It cannot be that Thou hast made man,* with all his passionate yearnings after beauty, life, and holiness, for the mere nought of this world,* full of sorrows and trouble, grief and sin. Send us therefore One who may be our guide to a happier dwelling, our teacher for higher things; send us Christ the Lord. The Vulgate, (C.) instead of how short my time is, reads what my substance is, and some of the commentators explain it in a manner practically the same. Because my nature is weak and sinful, because Thou wilt not wantonly destroy Thine own creature, send the Deliverer. But another interpretation, making the words the address of Christ to the Father,* takes them as His appeal on behalf of mankind because He is their Brother,* their own flesh and blood, and at the same time He Who has full right to ask what He will, because He is also Consubstantial with the Father Himself. (L.) And then they may be used of our own prayer to God,* reminding Him that we are made in His image, and therefore have a special claim on His mercy, while we call on the Son in the words of the old hymn for Christmas:

Salvation’s Author, call to mind,*

Thou took’st the form of humankind

When of the Virgin undefiled

Thou, in man’s flesh, becam’st a Child.

48 (47) What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death: and shall he deliver his soul from the hand of hell?

This is the cry of the previous verse put in another form.* Not only I, the Psalmist would say, have no hope of seeing the Deliverer unless Thou hasten His coming, but there is no man whose expectation in the matter can be any surer than mine. All are frail and short-lived, wherefore, unless Thy mercy be speedy, all will pass away without beholding the desire of their eyes.

They answer the question by saying that no man ever lived who did not or else will not see death, (A.) including even Christ Himself; and the constant tradition of the Church is that Enoch and Elijah, (L.) still believed to live, will reappear and die in the days of Antichrist. But while all ransomed souls will live again in the Resurrection, and see death no more, of none can it be said, save of Christ, that they delivered their own souls from the hand of hell.* He raised up Himself by His own divine and inherent power, all His Saints are raised by Him too, (D. C.) by His sustaining grace, and not by any strength or holiness of their own. And therefore He only can say,* “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction.”

49 (48) Lord, where are thy old loving-kindnesses: which thou swarest unto David in thy truth?

He calls them old, (C.) not merely because they dated from the beginning of David’s reign,* but because they were but the repetition of promises made to the Patriarchs; and they were old even in their time,* because established by God’s predestination before the beginning of the world, in His truth, that is,* in His Only-Begotten Son.

50 (49) Remember, Lord, the rebuke that thy servants have: and how I do bear in my bosom the rebukes of many people;

51 (50) Wherewith thine enemies have blasphemed thee; and slandered the footsteps of thine Anointed:

The most usual interpretation of the former of these verses is in agreement with the Prayer Book rendering;* that the people of God were a mock for all the heathen round about; whether we take the said people as the Jews, in opposition to Gentiles, Christians as contrasted with Pagans, or holy persons in distinction from the worldly and frivolous. These rebukes the whole chosen nation, (A.) or the Anointed as its representative, bears in the bosom, feeling its wound deeply, but giving no outward token of pain by complaint. But the LXX. and Vulgate are nearer to the original in their reading, for they do not attempt to fill in the ellipse (if it be such) of the second clause: and they read, which I have borne in my bosom, of many peoples. The literal Hebrew is, I have borne in my bosom all many peoples. And this phrase, to “bear in the bosom,”* implies elsewhere fostering tenderness, as of a mother, not secret repression, (C.) as it must do here if we repeat the word rebuke. A different rendering, somewhat more satisfactory, makes the many people the same as the servants, but although this is truer to the spiritual meaning of the passage, it yet overlooks the contrast obviously intended between the one nation which serves God and the many nations which do not. Hence, a modern critic has suggested that the words may fairly be taken as a complaint of the Jewish nation at the intrusion of a number of foreign invaders,* settling on the sacred soil of the Holy Land, whom she was thus forced to bear in her bosom. But this again loses sight of the loving sense of that phrase. The truest meaning, that which at once seems to agree most fully with the Hebrew text and with the mystical purport, is half guessed at by one mediæval expositor, (R.) who points out that the rebuke, the special charge of the Jews against the Anointed One and His servants the Apostles, was precisely that He did not confine His teaching and the divine promises to the children of Israel alone,* but that in His embracing love He bore in His bosom all the peoples, the whole multitude of the Gentiles, converting them to the Faith, and co-opting them into the commonwealth of the true Israel. With this rebuke they slandered the footsteps of the Anointed, because He bent His way to “bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.”* And so we read that the Pharisees and chief priests, when they sent officers to take Him, said, as the worst calumny they could frame against Him, “Will He go to the dispersed among the Gentiles, and teach the Gentiles?”* But the Rabbinical comment on the verse is different, and very ingenious. It is that the Gentiles rebuke the footsteps of Messiah,* because of His delay; that is, they mock and jeer at the Hebrews for looking to the coming of a Deliverer who is so tardy that there is little reason to suppose that He will ever appear. And the same interpretation applies to those unbelievers now who reject the doctrine of Christ’s second Advent,* as the Apostle teaches us: “There shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” But the LXX. and Vulgate, instead of the footsteps, read the changing of Thine Anointed. And for the most part they explain this to mean the passage of Christ from life to death, the fatal change which thereby, as the Jews thought, came upon the fortunes of the new teaching, so that they reproached the disciples for worshipping a dead man, just as the Assyrian conquerors mocked at the changed prospects of the Davidic kings,* after the overthrow of their realm. Yet that change which Christ’s enemies mocked at was widely different from what they supposed; (A.) for He was changed from temporal to everlasting life, from Jews to Gentiles, from earth to heaven; and thereby He changed the old man by calling him unto the new grace of regeneration, (C.) and out of the darkness of sin into the light of faith, from mortality to immortality. And this change of life,* wrought by repentance through grace, inducing men to abandon pleasure and accept hardship, to care little for life, and to welcome death, (Ay.) is precisely the thing most jeered at and reviled by unbelievers. S. Albert counts up for us the principal changes of Christ; namely,* the Incarnation, whereby the Creator became a creature; the Transfiguration, which glorified His humility; the Holy Eucharist, wherein He changes bread and wine into His Flesh and Blood (the chief of all reproaches levelled at the Catholic Faith;) the Passion, wherein He was changed into the pallor of death; the Resurrection, which brought Him back to life. Yet, (L.) again, change may be taken in the sense of price, or equivalent, a meaning often borne by the LXX. ἀντάλλαγμα, and the force will then be the ridicule levelled against the Jews by idolaters,* for the poor thanks their God gave them for serving Him; a reproach still cast by unbelievers on the doctrine of our ransom through the Blood of Christ.* Some commentators, however, give an explanation which brings us back to the truest sense,* telling us that the wrath of the Jews was mainly excited by those words of the Lord,* “Behold your house is left unto you desolate,” whereby He. implied what was said later in express terms by His Apostles, “It was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.”*

Praised be the Lord for evermore. Amen, and Amen.

With this doxology ends the Third Book of the Psalter,* just as a similar one closed the first book at the end of Psalm 41, (Ay.) and the second at the end of Psalm 72,* and it is supposed by many writers to belong to the book collectively, and not to be an integral part of this particular Psalm. It reminds us, observes S. Augustine, (A.) that the power of injury exercised by the adversary against the Anointed of the Lord is fleeting, but the power and goodness of the Lord is everlasting. It teaches us also that our own sorrows and troubles are no reason for omitting the praises of God,* but rather a reason for doubling them, as is here done by the forcible repetition of Amen,* wherewith we welcome our returning Lord,* as He comes victorious from the battle, with recovered crown and firmly established throne.* Praised be the Lord Jesus by His twofold Church of Jew and Gentile,* Amen, Amen; with the double service of soul and body,* Amen, Amen; by all His saints in the hour of grace and in the time of glory in this world and the world to come,* Amen, (Lu.) Amen.

And therefore:

Glory be to the Father, the Lord God of Hosts; glory be to the Son, His First-born and Anointed, higher than the kings of the earth; glory be to the Holy Ghost, the Light of the Countenance of God and the holy oil of His elect.

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


Gregorian. Friday: Matins. [Christmas Day: III. Nocturn. Transfiguration: III. Nocturn.]

Monastic. Friday: Matins. [Christmas Day: II. Nocturn. Transfiguration: II. Nocturn.]

Ambrosian. Wednesday of Second Week: III. Nocturn. [Christmas Day: II. Nocturn. Epiphany (ver. 26 to end:) I. Nocturn.]

Parisian. Thursday: Matins.

Lyons. Friday: Matins. [Christmas Day: III. Nocturn.]

Quignon. Thursday: Matins.


Gregorian and Monastic. Praised * be the Lord for evermore. [Christmas Day: He shall call Me. Alleluia. Thou art My Father. Alleluia. Transfiguration: Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in Thy Name,* Thou hast a mighty arm.]

Ambrosian. Thy truth shalt Thou stablish in the heavens. [Christmas Day: I will make Him My firstborn * higher than the kings of the earth. Epiphany: I will set His hand in the sea,* and his right hand in the floods.]

Parisian. O Lord,* they shall walk in the light of Thy countenance, their delight shall be daily in Thy Name: and in Thy righteousness shall they make their boast.

Lyons. As Gregorian. [Christmas Day: First section: Righteousness and equity, Alleluia,* are the habitation of Thy seat, Alleluia. Second section: He shall call Me, Alleluia,* Thou art My Father, Alleluia. Third section: His seat is like as the sun before Me, Alleluia,* and as the moon perfect for ever, Alleluia.]

Mozarabic. Thy truth shalt Thou stablish in the heavens, O Lord.


Deliver our souls, O Lord,* from the hand of hell; Who for us didst mightily break hell in pieces, that we, singing Thy mercies, may be delivered from the shame of our sins and from everlasting death. (1.)

Christ Jesu,* Wondrous Son of God, unto Whom there is none equal nor like amongst the sons of God; unto Thee, O Lord, we direct our prayer, that Thou mayest vouchsafe to bestow on penitents that mercy which Thou hast promised to keep for the saints; and we therefore beseech Thee to correct us with forbearing discipline, not taking away Thy mercy in Thy wrath, that Thy covenant may not be profaned by reason of the offence we have committed, but Thy chastisement may be assuaged with heavenly pity, and Thou mayest wash away all that displeaseth Thee. And Thou, Who justifiest and glorifiest sinners who return to Thee, and Who didst will that we should be, out of nothing, what we are, grant us to be fitted for the kingdom of heaven and to dwell with Thee for evermore. (11.)

O God, (D. C.) the glory of the strength of the saints, grant us ever to walk in the light of Thy countenance, and to rejoice in Thy Name, that Thy mercy may ever go before our face, and we, when we have run the race of righteousness to the end, may be enabled to attain unto Thee. (1.)

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Father Maas’ Commentary on Isaiah 7:1-17

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 24, 2016

Note: Fr. Maas employs the old English spelling of names as based on the Greek Septuagint (e.g., Achaz = Ahaz).



1. History and Occasion of the Prophecy.—We learn from  2 Kings 16:1–4 that Achaz despised the traditions of his fathers, and openly professed idolatry. Hence he was given over by God into the hands of the Syrian king, who carried off immense booty to his royal capital, Damascus. But the king of Israel too afflicted the kingdom of Juda with exceeding bitter afflictions (2 Chron. 28:5)—so much so that he slew of Juda a hundred and twenty thousand on a single day. But this war, which was a real chastisement of Achaz on the part of God, had also its special natural causes.

It appears that an alliance had been concluded between Phacee, king of Israel, and Rasin, king of Damascus, for the purpose of opposing a barrier to the Assyrian aggressions. Cherishing Assyrian proclivities as Achaz did, he did not join the coalition; the allies therefore invaded his territories, intending to dethrone Achaz and substitute for him a more subservient ruler, a certain son of Tabeel. The invasion caused great alarm in Jerusalem, though Phacee alone appears at first to have gone against the capital, while Rasin was occupied in reconquering the maritime city, Elath. After this victory he must have joined his ally in his assault on Jerusalem. Achaz meditated casting himself on Assyria for help—a policy of which the prophet Isaias strongly disapproved. He was divinely instructed to assure Achaz that his fears were groundless, and that the two kingdoms were doomed to destruction. To overcome the king’s distrust, the prophet offers to give him a sign; but through the king’s diffidence the sign becomes an omen of ruin for Juda: the land will indeed be saved from the two kings according to God’s promise, but the land of Juda will become the battle-ground in the conflict between the Egyptian and the Assyrian armies.

Achaz, however, sent his messengers to the Assyrian king Theglathphalasar, asking for his help in present distress (2 Chron. 28:16 2 Kings 16:7). The Assyrian monarch complied with Achaz’ request and invaded Damascus; the allied kings had therefore to abandon their warlike designs on Juda and provide for their own safety ( 2 Kings 16:5, 6). Theglathphalasar transported the inhabitants of Damascus to Cyrene, and killed its king, Rasin (2 Kings 16:9). Then he invaded also the kingdom of Israel, and transported a number of its inhabitants into Assyria (2 Kings 15:29). Phacee, the Israelite king, was slain by conspirators in the seventeenth year of his reign, and in the third year of Achaz’ rule, i.e., in the same year in which the two allied kings had invaded the kingdom of Juda (2 Kings 15:30). But after subduing the Syrian and the Samaritan kings, the Assyrian conqueror invaded also the kingdom of Juda and devastated it without resistance, so that only few inhabitants with their herds and cattle remained (2 Chron. 28:20; cf. Is. 8:7, 8).

2. Erroneous Explanations of the Prophecy.—a. Several of the ancient Jewish writers maintain that the Emmanuel promised to be born of the virgin is Achaz’ son and successor, Ezechias. But it must be remembered that Ezechias was about eight or nine years old at the time of the prophecy, for he was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, i.e., about 15 or 16 years after the prophecy was given (4 Kings 18:2).

b. Several rationalistic authors and the Catholic writer Isenbiehl regard Emmanuel as the son of a virgin who will lose her virginity in the conception and birth of the boy. The name Emmanuel is nothing but a symbol, just as the names Schear-Iashub and Maher—Shalal—Chash—Baz are symbolic. The sign consists in Isaias’ predicting that the virgin will conceive in her first intercourse, and that she will bring forth a boy. The foreknowledge of both of these circumstances requires a special divine assistance, and is therefore rightly represented as a sign. This opinion will be refuted in the course of our treatment of the prophecy.

c. Delitzsch has a rather curious explanation of the prophecy. According to him God had revealed two future facts to Isaias—the virginal conception of the Messias and the immediate liberation of Juda from its oppressors. The time of the Messias’ coming had, however, not been made known to the prophet. Isaias, therefore, trying to combine the two prophecies, was of the opinion that the birth of the Messias would precede the liberation of the theocratic kingdom. The result is that the prophecy represents the Messias as being about to be born, and describes the land of Juda as about to be freed before the Messias will have attained the use of reason, i.e., before he will have reached the years of discretion. It may be of interest to know that Rosenmüller too gives a similar explanation.

If it be observed that according to this view there would be an error in the prophecy, both authors deny such an inference on the plea that the time of the Messias’ birth was not revealed to the prophet, but that the erroneous inference must be ascribed to his own private judgment. But if this be admitted as a true solution of the difficulty, it follows that in any prophecy we can hardly know what has been revealed by God to the prophet and what must be ascribed to his own private view on the subject.

3. Messianic Nature of the Prophecy.—a. The Messianic character of the present prophecy appears first of all from the testimony of St. Matthew, 1:18–25: “… Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: Behold a virgin shall be with child …” There are two exceptions to this argument: 1. It is said that the first two chapters of St. Matthew’s gospel are spurious. But this can hardly be asserted without the greatest temerity, not to say without heresy. For the Tridentine and the Vatican councils (Trid. sess. iv., decret. de can. Script.; Vatic. sess. iii. c. 2) openly declare that the whole Bible, with all its parts, as it is contained in the old Vulgate edition, is sacred, canonical, and divinely inspired (Vat.); on the other hand, there is in our days no critic worthy of the name who rejects the first two chapters of St. Matthew’s gospel without rejecting all the rest.

2. The second exception against our inference that Isaias’ prophecy is Messianic because St. Matthew viewed it as such may be found in Isenbiehl (Neuer Versuch über die Weissagung vom Emmanuel, 1778). The author assures us that the evangelist’s words, “that it might be fulfilled,” may indicate a mere accommodation of the prophecy to Christ’s conception. In support of this he appeals to St. Jerome’s saying (Ep. 103 ad Paulin., c. 7), that Socrates’ words were “fulfilled” in him: “I only know that I do not know.” Again, Isenbiehl endeavors to prove that St. Matthew repeatedly uses the formula “that it might be fulfilled” where he applies an Old Testament prophecy to our Lord by mere accommodation. Thus Matt. 2:15 applies to Christ what Hos. 11:1 applies to the people of Israel; Matt. 2:18 applies to the infants slain at Bethlehem what Jer. 31:15 applies to the lamentations over the national misfortune in the Babylonian reverses; Matt. 2:23 applies the words “he shall be called a Nazarite” as if they were prophetic of Jesus Christ, though they are nowhere to be found in the prophets; Matt. 13:13–15 applies to the following of Christ what Is. 6:9, 10 had said of his own contemporaries.

Plausible as this exception may appear at first sight, it does not rest on solid ground. a. First of all, the author who urges it does not distinguish between the typical and the literal meaning of the prophecies, and consequently he does not keep in mind that as the literal meaning of a prophecy is properly and not by mere accommodation applied to the people of Israel or to Old Testament occurrences, so may its typical sense be applied to Christ and to events of the Christian dispensation without on that account becoming a mere accommodation. In this manner St. Matthew (2:15, 18) applies the prophecies of Hos. 11:1 and Jer. 31:15 to Christ’s flight into Egypt and to the slaughter of the holy Innocents. β. Again, Isenbiehl is not aware that St. Matthew 2:23 most probably reads “flower,” and thus alludes to Isaias’ prediction, 11:1, where the future Messias is called a flower from the root of Jesse. γ. In the third place, the author disregards the fact that a number of prophecies apply properly, not by mere accommodation, to a series of events rather than to any single fact of history. An instance of such a prediction we find, e.g., in 2 Sam  7:14, where the divine promises regard the whole line of David’s descendants. They are not all fulfilled in every member of the series, but they are fully accomplished in the whole series taken collectively. Hence they may be properly and literally applied to any Davidic king. In the same manner St. Matthew applies Is. 6:9, 10 to the unbelieving Jews in 13:13–15.

b. The second proof for the Messianic character of the prophecy is taken from the unanimous testimony of the Fathers on this point. A list of the patristic testimonies may be seen in Kilber’s Analysis Biblica (editio altera, t. i. pp. 354 f.). There are again two main exceptions to this argument from the Fathers: 1. The Fathers speak on the false supposition that Isaias’ prophecy rests on divine authority; 2. The Fathers express in their opinions on the present passage, not the doctrine of the Church, but their own private conviction. α. As to the first exception, it suffices for our purpose to recall the decree of the Vatican Council (iii. 2), according to which the agreement of the Fathers on a doctrinal point is in itself sufficient to command our assent, or at least to force us not to contradict the patristic testimony. β. As to the second exception, we must insist that the Fathers do not express their interpretation of the prophecy as a private opinion, but they represent it as the doctrine of the Church on a matter of Scripture interpretation, so that according to the council we are bound not to differ from it in substance. For though the Fathers may differ among themselves in details, they surely agree as to the main drift of the prophecy, giving it a Messianic signification.

c. The third argument for the Messianic character of Isaias’ prophecy may be taken from the general agreement of this prediction with other evidently Messianic prophecies.

α. First of all, the very context of the prophecy bears witness to its Messianic nature. The child who is to be born, according to the seventh chapter, as a sign unto Achaz must naturally be expected to surpass in its nature any other sign that Achaz himself could have asked of God. Then in the next chapter it is announced in verse 8 that “the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Emmanuel.” If we compare the ninth chapter with this statement, it appears that Emmanuel shall be the Lord of the land of Juda. Since then at the time of the prophet none other than Achaz and Ezechiel were the lords of the land of Juda, to neither of whom the prediction could apply, we must suppose it applies to some one much above either of them—to the Messias himself. Again, in the ninth chapter, the prophet predicts salvation to the land of Juda through the child that is to be born. Now if this be not Emmanuel, of whom there is question in the seventh chapter, it must be Maher-Shalal, of the eighth chapter. But the latter was never king in Juda, nor did he ever perform any act that would be worthy of attention. Hence it is clear that the child who will save Juda is the Emmanuel of chapter seven. But the liberator of Juda is evidently identical with the Messias. Consequently, the Emmanuel of our prophecy is the Messias. In the eleventh chapter the prophet again returns to the rod that is to spring from the root of Jesse, to the most renowned offspring of David, whose reign will cause universal peace, under whose reign the Lord will possess the remnant of his chosen people. Now this one can be no other than the hero described in the ninth chapter, and the Emmanuel promised in the seventh chapter, i.e., the very Messias (cf. 9:2–4, and 10:20–22; Rom. 9:27).

β. The Messianic reference of the present prophecy appears also when we compare it with the well-known prophecy of Micheas (5:2 ff.) The similitude between the two predictions is so striking that we must admit either that Isaias reproduced the prophecy of Micheas, or that the latter repeated the prophetic promise of the former. Micheas says that God will give “them up even till the time wherein she that travaileth shall bring forth and the remnant of his brethren shall be converted to the children of Israel … and this man shall be our peace.” How beautifully all this illustrates the prophecy of Isaias, if we suppose the latter prophet had about the same time uttered the prediction of the virgin’s conception and her virginal child-birth! And, on the other hand, how clear the prophecy concerning the virgin and her son Emmanuel becomes if we suppose that Isaias alludes to the prophecy of Micheas which had recently been uttered (cf. Is. 10:20–22; 11:11; 4:3). But if Isaias speaks about a virgin concerning whom nothing else was known to the people of Israel, all becomes a riddle and an enigma. These five prophecies therefore form, as it were, one single whole; so much so that they have been regarded as constituting a single book—the book of Emmanuel. And if they be considered from this point of view, their Messianic character can hardly be called in question even by the most exacting of critics.

d. Three other arguments for the Messianic nature of Isaias’ prophecy are better omitted, since they are not altogether convincing.

α. For if it be urged that the child which is to be born will be the offspring of a virgin, and that this is a distinctly Messianic note, it must be remembered, on the other hand, that, prescinding from the New Testament, it is not clear from the text of the prophecy whether the promised child will be the offspring of a virgin in any other sense than any first-born child is the offspring of a virgin. The virgin may be said by the prophet to conceive and to bring forth, as the blind are said to see, the deaf to hear, and the lame to walk. Nor can it be maintained that the virgin must remain a virgin in her conception and delivery, because otherwise there would be no sign which the prophet had promised to give. For the sign may consist in the wonderful nature of the child, or in several other particulars connected with the prediction, as will be seen in the course of the commentary.

β. Another argument for the Messianic character of the prediction is based on the fact that in the prophecy there is question of “the virgin;” the definite article, it is claimed, indicates that the virgin spoken of is virgin by excellence, and not merely as the mother of any first-born child is a virgin. But this consideration has not much weight, since the definite article in Hebrew has not necessarily that meaning, even when it is used with a noun that does not occur beforehand. For even in that case the noun is at times considered sufficiently known to require or, at least, to admit the definite article. This is seen in Gen. 3:24: “and (he) placed before the paradise of pleasure Cherubim (Heb., the Cherubim)”; Ex. 15:20: “So Mary the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel (Heb., the timbrel) in her hand;” Gen. 14:13: “and behold one that had escaped (Heb., the one that had escaped) told Abram the Hebrew.”

γ. Other authors, again, have urged the following argument in favor of the Messianic character of Isaias’ prophecy: according to the Hebrew text it is the mother who will name the child Emmanuel; for we must either render “thou shalt call his name” (the phrase being a direct address to the mother), or “she shall call his name.” Therefore, they say, Emmanuel has no human father who can perform this duty. But, on the other hand, we see in the Old Testament that the mother in several instances named her child, although its father was actually present (cf. Gen. 4:1, 25; 19:37; 21:32; 30:18 f.; 30:24; 1 Sam 1:20, etc., exemplifying this statement).

e. But there is another proof for the Messianic reference of Isaias’ prediction which cannot be omitted here; Jewish tradition considered the passage as referring to the promised Messias. In the first place, we may draw attention to the fact that St. Matthew applied the prophecy to Jesus Christ without any one contradicting him. And this is the more remarkable, since the Evangelist wrote his gospel for the Jews, proving to them the Messiasship of Jesus from the fulfilment of all the prophecies in his sacred person. Besides, we have the implicit avowal of the LXX. translators, who rendered the Hebrew word “virgin” in this prophecy, though in four other passages they had translated it by “woman.” Then again the Hebrew as well as the other national traditions, according to which virginity is worthy of special honor, and which make their divine heroes sons of virgins, without the intercourse of man, show that Isaias’ prophecy must have been understood by the ancients as referring to the birth of the future Redeemer.

The text of Is. 7:1–17

Red numbers indicate footnotes. These follow the quotation.

And it came to pass in the days of Achaz the son of Joathan, the son of Ozias king of Juda, that Rasin king of Syria, and Phacee the son of Romelia king of Israel, came up to Jerusalem, to fight against it; but they could not prevail over it. And they told the house of David, saying: “Syria hath rested upon Ephraim;” and his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind. And the Lord said to Isaias: (1) “Go forth to meet Achaz, thou and Jasub thy son that is left, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, in the way of the fuller’s field.” (2) And thou shalt say to him: “See thou be quiet; fear not, and let not thy heart be afraid of the two tails of these firebrands, smoking with the wrath of the fury of Rasin king of Syria and of the son of Romelia. Because Syria with the son of Romelia hath taken counsel against thee, unto the evil of Ephraim, saying: Let us go up to Juda, and rouse it up, and draw it away to us and make the son of Tabeel king in the midst thereof:” thus saith the Lord God: “It shall not stand, and this shall not be! But the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rasin, and within threescore and five years Ephraim shall cease to be a people. And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria the son of Romelia. If you will not believe, you shall not continue.”

And the Lord spoke again to Achaz, saying: “Ask thee  a sign (3) of the Lord thy God, either unto the depth of hell or unto the height above.” And Achaz said: “I will not ask, and I will not tempt the Lord.” And he said: “Hear ye therefore, O house of David: Is it a small thing for you to be grievous to men, that you are grievous to my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. (4) Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel. He shall eat butter and honey, that he may know to refuse the evil, and to choose the good. For before the child know to refuse the evil, and to choose the good, the land which thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of the face of her two kings. The Lord shall bring upon thee and upon thy people, and upon the house of thy father, days that have not come since the time of the separation of Ephraim from Juda, with the king of the Assyrians.”


1). Go forth to meet Achaz. The first sentences of Isaias’ account are clear from the historical paragraphs that have been premised to this prophecy. While Rasin besieged Elath, Phacee had endeavored to deal with the capital; “but they could not prevail.” After Elath had fallen into Rasin’s hands, the latter joined his troops with those of Phacee, “Syria hath rested upon Ephraim,” whereupon Achaz’ heart was moved and the heart of his people, as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind. Preparations for a serious and protracted siege must now be made at Jerusalem; hence Achaz is occupied near the upper pool from which the city had to receive the greatest part of its water supply. The fuller’s field, i.e., their washing or bleaching-place, lay either on the western side of the city (Robinson, Schultz, van Raumer, Thenius, Unruh, Schick, etc.), or, according to a less probable opinion, to the northeast (Williams, Kraft, Meier, Hitzig, etc.). To this place, then, the prophet was told to repair, together with Jasub, or Shear-Jasub, his son. The very names of the two visitors were real symbols of their divine mission. Isaias, meaning “salvation of the Lord,” announces the hopeful character of the visitation, while “Shear-Jasub,” meaning “the remnant shall return,” or “the remnant is converted,” is in itself a commentary on Is. 6:11–13, and combines in a brief summary God’s threats and promises. There will be final safety for Israel, but only for its remnant, so that the divine curse in a manner precedes the divine blessing.

2). And thou shalt say to him. The divine message to Achaz may be divided into three parts: 1. God warns the king to “be quiet,” i.e., not to act precipitately, and not to be afraid of the two tails of these fire-brands, i.e., the two fag-ends of wood-pokers, half burned off and wholly burned out, so that they do not burn, but keep on smoking. 2. In the second place God gives Achaz a prophecy in order to show him that his advice indicates the proper course to follow. In the introduction to this prediction the prophet summarizes the whole situation of the three kings; then he assures Achaz in general terms that the intentions of the king of Syria and of Samaria will not be put into practice: “It shall not stand, and this shall not be!” After this general prediction, Isaias adds three more prophecies regarding the special fate of the three kingdoms concerned. a. Syria is to gain nothing by the undertaking. It will be in future, as it has been in the past: “the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rasin.” b. Regarding Samaria the prophet utters a double prediction: the first has reference to the far-off future, “within threescore and five years Ephraim shall cease to be a people;” the second is concerned with the immediate future of the northern kingdom, “the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria the son of Romelia.”

It may be noted in passing that the sixty-five years assigned to the time of Samaria’s final destruction do not end with the beginning of the Assyrian captivity, which began in 722 B.C., but terminate at the time when Assyrian settlers were colonizing Samaria under the reign of Asarhaddon. For since the present prophecy was uttered in the beginning of Achaz’ reign, the 14 years of that king, together with the 29 years of his successor Ezechias and the 22 years which his successor Manasses ruled before he was carried off to the land of his exile, will give about the required number of 65 years. We know that this explanation of the 65 years rests on several suppositions that are not absolutely certain; they are, however, sufficiently probable to justify our conjecture. For though the year in which Samaria was thus colonized is not certain, it seems very natural that this should have taken place after the defeat of Manasses, which the Talmud in the tract “Seder Olam” places in the 22d year of Manasses’ reign.

This explanation, in itself very probable, becomes still more so when compared with other attempts of interpretation that have been given concerning the passage. α. For some contend that the term from which the 65 years must be reckoned is the time when Amos (7:11, 17) gave utterance to his prophecy, i.e., the 25th year of Ozias. The term at which the 65 years end is the 6th year of Ezechias, when Samaria was subdued in war and ceased to be a kingdom. The 65 years are, then: 27 under Ozias, 16 under Joathan, 16 under Achaz, and 6 under Ezechias (Euseb., Procop., Barh., Haimo, St. Thom., Malv., Pint., Mald., Lap., Mar., Gordon, Schegg, and certain Jewish commentators). It is plain that this exposition of the text hardly agrees with the words of Isaias. β. Another way of interpreting the 65 years is found in Sanchez, Rohling, Oppert, etc.; according to this view the years refer to the past, so that the term to which they bring us is the 27th year of Jeroboam II., when Samaria was for 10 years deprived of its independence by Syria. The sense of the passage is then that, as in the past Samaria has suffered reverses in war, so it will in the future be entirely destroyed. But the Hebrew particle that precedes the number 65 points to the future rather than to the past (be‘od). γ. There is still another class of interpreters who explain the difficulty by endeavoring to remove it entirely; the second part of verse 8 is, according to these authors, to be expunged from the text as an interpolation. The principal reasons for this opinion are reduced to the following: the prophecy becomes too definite by the number 65, and the second member of verse 8 destroys the metrical harmony and poetic parallelism of the passage (Eichhorn, Gesenius, Maurer, Hitzig, Ewald, Umbreit, Dietrich). On the other hand, the exact number of years stated by the prophet cannot seem objectionable to any one who admits the supernatural character of the prediction. The phraseology of 8b. is in strict accord with that of Isaias in other passages (cf. 21:16; 17:1; 25:2). The parallelism rather demands than excludes the second part of verse 8, since it will be seen that concerning Juda too the prophet predicts both the immediate and the far-off state of affairs (cf. Delitzsch, i. pp. 199 ff.; Knabenb., i. p. 156).

c. The third prophecy which the seer utters concerns Juda, indicating the general method which the Lord will follow in his future dealings with that state; it is both threatening and conditional in its nature. “If you do not believe, you shall not continue.” The only condition, then, on which Juda can retain its political independence is full trust in God; Assyrian help will be no safeguard against political destruction.

3. The third part of Isaias’ prophetic mission to Achaz consists in trying whether Juda does trust the Lord. Juda is represented by the actual head of David’s royal house,—by Achaz,—so that on Achaz’ faith or unfaith depends the safety of the theocracy. God’s decree is: If Juda does not believe, it shall not continue. But does Juda believe? The trial will show it. “Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God.” If the sign is asked, this will prove a sufficient token of Juda’s trust in the Lord God. But Juda answers in its representative: “I will not ask, and I will not tempt the Lord.” The king’s hypocritical answer decides the fate of Juda for more than two thousand years, as far as our experience goes. Alluding to Deut. 6:16, where presumption is forbidden, Achaz seeks in that passage a cloak for his continuance in his Assyrian policy. Deliverance he desires, but does not expect or wish it through God’s help.

Juda’s trial over, the prophet announces more in particular the future fate of the kingdom. More in particular, we say, because it has been announced already in general terms. “If you do not believe, you shall not continue.” But you do not believe. Therefore you shall not continue. The detailed description of Juda’s future regards first its far-off future; secondly, its nearer future. a. As to the far-off future of Juda, the child Emmanuel, who shall be born of the well-known virgin, the stay, the hope, the crowning glory of David’s royal house, “shall eat butter and honey,” i.e., he shall live in the country of butter and honey, outside of Juda, and consequently in exile; and he shall eat butter and honey, the food of the poor and the lowly, so that at his time the royal house of David will be reduced to poverty and exile. b. In the immediate future the fate of Juda will be varied: before the child that is appealed too would attain the use of reason, if it were born here and now, the two hostile kings will have disappeared from the confines of Juda; but since Achaz has been found wanting in faith, the Assyrian, in whom he trusts, will invade Juda and make it the battle-ground between his and the Egyptian armies.

3). A sign. The prophecy speaks of a double sign: 1. Achaz is invited to ask for a sign; 2. the prophet himself gives a sign. Both signs call for a word of explanation. 1. Isaias invites Achaz to ask for a sign. a. Hitzig maintains that the prophet here “played a dangerous game,” in which the Lord would surely have “left him in the lurch,” if the king had chosen to ask for a sign. Meier observes that it cannot have entered the prophet’s mind to wish for a miracle. De Lagarde says that the failure of his sign would have subjected the prophet to punishment for lying. But all these are mere a priori arguments, resting on the supposition that miracles do not happen. b. Omitting the question whether we ought to render the prophet’s words “ask it either in the depth or in the height above” or “make it deep unto Sheol or heighten it to on high,” it must suffice to enumerate a few opinions regarding the nature of the offered sign. α. Choose between seeing the earth split down to the abyss of hell, and beholding the heavens opened to the throne of the Most High (Haimo, Pint., Sasb., Lap., Men.). β. The sign in the heavens might be similar to that granted to Josue (Jos. 10:12), or to the thunder, the storm, and the fire which occurred in the days of Samuel and Elias (1 Sam 12:17; 2 Kings 1:10), while the sign in the deep might resemble the destruction of Core, Dathan and Abiron, or the death of the Egyptians in the Red Sea, or again the miraculous deliverance of Jonas from the belly of the great fish (Basil, Procop., Thom., Sanch., Calmet).

2. The prophet promises a sign in spite of, or rather because of, Achaz’ refusal to ask for one. Explanations: a. Delitzsch (p. 210) is of opinion that the sign consists in the mystery which surrounds the prediction about the pregnant virgin bringing forth a son—a mystery which threatens the house of David, and which affords comfort to the prophet and to all believers. It hardly needs proof that such a mystery is, at best, a very unsatisfactory explanation of the promised sign. b. The sign consists in the prophet’s prediction that a certain virgin would conceive in her first intercourse with man, that she would give birth to a son rather than a daughter, and that this son would be called Emmanuel—a name which resembled in its symbolic meaning the names of Isaias’ two sons. α. But, according to this explanation, Emmanuel is entirely distinct from the Messias, which contradicts the above proofs for the Messianic character of the prophecy. β. Again, history knows nothing of a son called Emmanuel whose age of discretion was accompanied by the liberation of Juda from the kings of Syria and Samaria. c. The sign consists in the prediction of Juda’s liberation from the oppression of its enemies. α. But the whole context would in this manner become extremely insipid and meaningless. β. Besides, the sign is intended to strengthen the king’s faith in the divine promise of Juda’s future liberation, and can therefore be hardly identified with this prophetic promise. d. The sign consists wholly in the fact that a virgin, remaining virgin, will conceive and give birth to a son—the very Emmanuel, or the promised Messias. α. This explanation supposes that the sign that God gives to Achaz is a wholly favorable sign. Now it appears from the context that this cannot be the case. Juda has not believed; therefore it will not continue; therefore “the Lord himself shall give a sign” to Juda. β. The sign must represent the double character of God’s dealing with David’s royal house: he will chastise it with the rod of men, but will not take away his mercy from it. Now the fact that the Messias will be born of a virgin, remaining a virgin in his conception and birth illustrates only God’s mercy to the house of David, but does not exhibit his justice. e. The sign consists partially in the virginal birth of the Messias, but partially also in his having to eat butter and honey, i.e., in his having to live far away from the capital of his ancestors in poverty and exile. The composite character of this sign satisfies the two essential conditions which it requires: α. God’s mercy will not depart from David’s royal house, since the Messias will be born indeed. β. God will, however, chastise the royal house of Juda, since its worldly glory will be humbled to the dust of the earth. γ. The phrase “he shall eat butter and honey” implies such a state of humiliation as is required by the context. For “butter and honey” means either the thickened milk and honey, which are the usual food of the tenderest age of childhood (Gesenius, Hengstenberg, etc.), or the food that is usually taken in the desert (Delitzsch). Now the former of these two meanings is excluded by the sentences that follow the phrase “he shall eat butter and honey.” For in them the child is, on the one hand, represented as eating the assigned food up to the years of discretion, and, on the other, the land before whose two kings Achaz is in terror will before the same period of time be laid waste, so that only the food of the desert will remain (cf. Delitzsch, pp. 210 f.).

There are, however, two main difficulties against this explanation of the prophecy: 1. The Messias will be born more than 700 years after the date of the prediction. His virginal conception and birth, and his poverty and humility cannot then be given as a sign to the contemporaries of Isaias. 2. According to the text Rasin and Phacee will leave Judea before the child shall attain his years of discretion; now this happened within two years after the prediction. Again, according to verse 22, Judea itself shall be devastated, so that “butter and honey shall every one eat that shall be left in the midst of the land.” Emmanuel too shall share this fate, as appears from the connection of the prophecy. Now Judea’s devastation by the Assyrians happened after they had laid waste the kingdoms of Syria and Samaria. Hence it seems that the promised Emmanuel must have been born immediately after the time of the prophecy.

Different answers have been given to both difficulties. Answers to the first exception: a. The sign must precede the event in confirmation of which it is given when there is question of a common miraculous sign; but in the case of a prophecy, when the one who utters the prediction is generally acknowledged as a prophet, it is not necessary that the fulfilment precede the event in confirmation of which it is given. Similar instances we find in 1 Sam 10:2–8; Ex. 3:12; 2 Kings 19:29; Is. 37:30. In the case of Isaias we may add the following consideration: It might well be that the king and the people generally acknowledged the prophetic character of Isaias in religious matters, and in matters connected with the future Redeemer, but did not acknowledge the divine character of his political mission to Achaz. Since he, therefore, did not find faith in the latter among his contemporaries, he confirmed his divine mission by a Messianic prophecy. It is clear that such a sign needed not to be seen or verified by experience in order to have its full effect with those whom the prophet addressed, still, there are authors who refer us to the experience which the prophet’s hearers were to have in limbo of the prophecy’s fulfilment (Jo. 8:56).

b. Drach follows St. Chrysostom (Lettres d’un Rabbin converti, 3e. lettre, pp. 30, 31) and Theodoret in explaining the sign as one that necessarily implies the thing signified. The two hostile kings, they say, were about to exterminate the house of David (Is. 7:6), in order to make Tabeel king instead of Achaz. The prophet comes with the assurance that the enemies will so poorly succeed in their attempt that the house of David will even after seven hundred years give birth to the promised Messias. But it may be observed: α. that the two hostile kings did not necessarily wish to exterminate the whole house of David in order to accomplish their design; β. that the salvation of the house of David does not necessarily imply Achaz’ deliverance from his two enemies at the juncture for which the prophet predicted it; γ. according to this explanation the prophet would have had to foretell in clear language the Messias’ descent from David’s royal house. Though this may be gathered from Is. 9 and 11, it is not clearly stated in Is. 7.

c. A third answer to the difficulty has been offered by Hengstenberg. According to this author, with whom Corluy appears to agree (Spicil. i. p. 409), the prophet’s argument is a fortiori, so that we may propose it in this manner: God will give to the house of David the very Emmanuel, the son of the virgin; therefore, he will not refuse it what is much less—liberation from its present enemies. A similar manner of reasoning we find in Rom. 8:32; in point of fact, the prophet’s inference was truly logical: the future Messias was the source of all blessings for the whole human race, and therefore we find that both Isaias and Ezechiel console the people with similar reasonings under the most trying circumstances. But on the other hand, this explanation by far exceeds the obvious meaning of the passage, and should not be accepted without necessity. The first answer seems to be, after all, the most satisfactory.

The second difficulty finds a contradiction between the context of the prediction and its Messianic interpretation, because according to the latter the virgin’s son must be born after seven centuries, while according to the former the virgin’s son must be born in the immediate future. There is no need of repeating here the divers explanations of this difficulty which deny the Messianic character of the prediction, since they have been duly considered in the preceding paragraphs. We shall limit ourselves to a few explanations that may be admitted by Catholic theologians:

a. Rich. Simon, B. Lamy, Huetius, Moldenhauer, Tirinus, etc., distinguish here, as in other prophecies, between the literal and the typical sense of the prediction. In the literal sense, Emmanuel is Isaias’ son who was called Mahershalal-chashbaz (Is. 8:3); the virgin is the prophetess whom Isaias had married when she was a virgin (Is. 8:3). This explanation is based on the following reasons: α. Almost immediately after the prediction of the boy’s conception and birth, the prophet describes the conception and birth of Maher-Shalal, before whose attaining the years of discretion the land was freed from its two oppressors, as Isaias has foretold about Emmanuel (Is. 8:1–3). β. In Is. 8:18 the prophet explicitly appeals to his two sons, whom God had given him as a sign for Israel. γ. The fact that Isaias’ son of whom he speaks 8:1–3 is not called Emmanuel does not contradict the explanation, since Emmanuel signified rather the present help of God than the actual name of the child to be born; this must occasion so much the less difficulty, since not even Jesus received actually all the names that had been given him in Is. 9:6. According to this view the words “he shall eat butter and honey” mean only that Emmanuel will be nourished with the food usually given to children, until he will know how to refuse the evil and to choose the good. δ. In accordance with the same view Emmanuel typically signifies the Messias, as the virgin mother is a type of the Blessed Virgin, conceiving and giving birth to her son without detriment to her virginity. The liberation of Judea is the type of the Messianic salvation from the yoke of sin and satan.

Still, there are various considerations apt to make us dissatisfied with this explanation. α. In the first place, the type must properly represent its antitype, in that wherein it is a type. Now, a married woman, conceiving in the ordinary, natural manner, does not properly represent a virginal conception and a virginal motherhood. Nevertheless, St. Matthew testifies that Isaias’ prophecy was fulfilled precisely in the virginal conception of Jesus Christ. Consequently, the prophetic passage cannot literally apply to a married woman, such as the wife of Isaias was. Nor can it be said that St. Matthew had no intention of insisting in his gospel on the virginal conception of Jesus, but that he merely insists on his being conceived of the Holy Ghost, and that he thus argued from the conception of Emmanuel, who too was conceived through the special mediatorship of God. For this exception is against the whole context of the Evangelist. St. Matthew tells us how the angel solved St. Joseph’s doubt concerning the mysterious pregnancy of the Blessed Virgin. The revelation of her virginal conception alone could fully allay St. Joseph’s anxiety regarding this matter. Besides all this, the Fathers insist repeatedly that Isaias’ prophecy has been fulfilled by the virginal conception of the Son of God.

β. Then, again, the son of Isaias by the prophetess cannot be the Emmanuel mentioned in Isaias 7. For it is highly improbable that one and the same child should have received, at the express wish of God, two entirely different symbolical names. Nor can the prophetess be the virgin mentioned in the prophecy; for the view that Isaias married after the present prophecy a virgin with whom he had intercourse rests on nothing but a mere conjecture, which in itself is most improbable. And if Emmanuel’s mother was identical with Maher-Shalal’s mother, why should not Isaias have said: “Behold, the prophetess shall conceive …”? or what could have prevented his saying: “and I went to the virgin …”? Besides, there seems to be no point of resemblance between Maher-Shalal, the son of Isaias, and Emmanuel, born of the root of Jesse, inheriting the throne of David forever. Nor can Calmet maintain that Jesus’ not being called Emmanuel favors his manner of interpretation. For Jesus does not on that account become equal to the son of Isaias. Emmanuel, applied to the Messias, shows what the Messias is, while the same name applied to the son of the prophet only indicates the symbolical meaning of the child.

b. Drach (l. c.) and Marani (De divinitate Christi, p. 36) have therefore endeavored to solve the difficulty in a manner different from Calmet’s answer. According to them the 15th verse alone is Messianic, while the boy of whom there is question in the following verse is Shear-Jasub, the son of the prophet. These authors admit that the prophet, after announcing the virginal conception and birth of Emmanuel, after predicting his eating butter and honey in order to show that he is a man like ourselves, suddenly changed his attitude, and pointing with his hand to Shear-Jasub uttered the prediction: Before that boy shall attain to the years of discretion, the land whose two kings thou fearest shall be vacated by its inhabitants.

They urge a number of reasons for their interpretation, which are answered without much difficulty: α. Unless this explanation is admitted, there is no reason why Isaias should have been commanded to take Shear-Jasub with him to Achaz. But the very name of the boy was a sufficient reason for this command, since the name of both father and son served as a symbolic prophecy to the unhappy king.

β. As to the assertion that the prophet should have used the word “child” and not “boy,” had he referred in the 16th verse to the Emmanuel, it can claim only an apparent probability. Its fallacy becomes clear as soon as one reflects that Emmanuel at the age at which the prophet refers to him is no more a child. γ. The circumstance that Shear-Jasub too had been given to the prophet for a sign serves only to confirm what we said above; the child’s mere presence was a sign to the king. δ. The last reason urged by these authors in favor of their explanation only shows the weakness of their position. For though prophets may and do make sudden transitions from subject to subject, still this peculiarity of theirs is limited to type and antitype. And even when they treat of matters so intimately related to each other as type and antitype are, the context commonly shows, at least, signs of the transition. In the present passage of Isaias there is not only no sign of such a transition, but there is not even question of connected subjects; for it would be difficult to prove that Shear-Jasub is a type of Emmanuel.

ε. Besides all this, the connection of the 16th verse with what precedes and follows is so close that it hardly admits such a sudden transition from Emmanuel to Shear-Jasub. In fact the 16th verse begins with the causal particle “ki” (כִּי); so that it must contain the reason of the preceding statement. The language used by the prophet forbids the belief that he pointed out the boy of whom he spoke; for had he done so, he should have said: “hanna’ar hazzeh,” and not merely “hanna’ar.” Finally, in the 22d verse it appears that Emmanuel himself is in some way supposed to be present in the desolated territory, and to be among those who will have to eat butter and honey after the destruction of Achaz’ kingdom. The suggested explanation would therefore leave the difficulty unanswered.

c. Vitringa (Comment. in Is. in h. l.; Observat. sacræ, l. v.) and Patrizi have suggested another solution of the difficulty. According to them there is no connection between vv. 15 and 22; the former tells us that Emmanuel will indeed eat butter and honey as a sign of his true humanity, but that his years of discretion constitute only an ideal term before which the predicted liberation will take place, since the terminus from which the years must be reckoned is not the real but the ideal birth of Emmanuel, i.e., the moment at which the prophecy is uttered. It is true that the prophet clearly distinguishes the stated two periods both in the life of Achaz and in that of Emmanuel. The difficulty of the prophecy consists precisely in the prophet’s referring the distance between the two terms in both cases to the same period of time, so that the term from which the time up to Achaz’ delivery must be reckoned coincides with the conception and birth of Emmanuel, while the time of the actual delivery of Achaz precedes Emmanuel’s age of discretion. Now this point is not sufficiently kept in view in the solution offered by the authors mentioned before. Besides, their assumption that vv. 15 and 22 are not connected contradicts the testimony of the text itself.

d. Bossuet (Explication de la prophétie d’Isaie, 7:14) proposes another solution of the question. According to him the prophet mingles type with antitype in the passage, or rather he mixes the part which refers literally to the Messias with that which refers to him only typically. Literally, the Messias is referred to only in the words: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.” Everything else refers literally to Isaias’ son Maher-Shalal, who is the type of the Messias. The transition from antitype to type is evident from the divine attributes which are predicated of the former, and the human characteristics attributed to the latter. But there are certain considerations which render Bossuet’s explanation very improbable. α. First, it is hard to find out any similitude between Maher-Shalal and Emmanuel in those precise points with regard to which the former must be the type of the latter. We need not repeat what we have said about the impossibility of the virginal conception and birth of Emmanuel being typically represented by the conception and birth of Maher-Shalal. β. Besides, it seems highly improbable that Isaias’ son should be called by two different names in the same passage; the one applying to him in his historical bearing, the other representing him in his typical capacity.

e. Hengstenberg in his Christology, Knabenbauer in his Commentary on the present passage, and Corluy (Spicil. i. p. 418) prefer another solution of the difficulty. α. According to these authors, the prophet uses in the present passage the figure of vision; he sees in his prophetic vision Emmanuel’s conception and birth as happening there and then. The years of Achaz’ delivery from his enemies are, therefore, rightly reckoned from the moment at which the prediction is uttered or from the birth of Emmanuel; Emmanuel is rightly represented as eating butter and honey with his afflicted fellow-citizens; the delivery, finally, takes place before Emmanuel attains to the use of his reason. β. Such a vivid description we meet in Is. 9:6, where the prophet represents the Emmanuel as already born; the manner of thus identifying the Messias with the actual condition of his people is perfectly legitimate, since all the salvation of Israel was derived from the merits of the Messias. γ. As to the exception which may be urged against this explanation, that such a figure could not have been understood by Achaz and his contemporaries, it must be remembered that the Israelites were by other prophecies, uttered about the same time and by the same prophet, clearly forewarned that the Messianic salvation would come only after a very long space of time. In chapter 11, e.g., there is question of the root giving birth to the promised Redeemer, and in the same chapter (5:12) the prophet distinctly announces that Israel and Juda will have to suffer dispersion and national ruin before the period of the Messias.

4). Behold a virgin. Explanations: 1. The virgin is no definite person at all: according to Duhm, mother and son are merely representative ideas; according to Reuss the virgin is “la femme comme telle;” according to Henry Hammond (1653), pregnancy, birth, and maturity are in their primary sense only parabolical facts, subservient to the chronological measurement of time, while Lowth, Koppe, Gratz, I. D. Michaelis, Eichhorn, Paulus, Staehelin, Hensler, Ammon, etc., maintain that the prophet’s words are merely conditional, meaning that if a virgin were to conceive now, and bring forth a child, he would attain the use of reason only after the land would be freed from its two powerful enemies. But all this contradicts the positive statement of the prophet, which admits no condition. It is also opposed to Is. 8:8, which demands that the virgin applies to a definite person.

2. The house of David is the virgin, and her son is a future new Israel as it is represented in Is. 54:4–7 (Hofmann, Ebrard, Köhler, Weir); or the congregation of the pious and of the God-fearing in Israel at the time of Achaz is the virgin who will bring about a future reformation of the nation (Schultz), or the Church is the virgin who will bring forth a countless number of children to God and his Redeemer (Herveus; the author proposes this only as a secondary and mystical meaning of the prophecy, after he has explained it literally of the Messias). But not to mention other inconveniences, this explanation is opposed to Is. 8:8, 10; 9:6, and also to the common figurative manner of the prophet’s address to the people, which he never calls simply “virgin.”

3. The prophet must, therefore, speak of a definite physical person in the present passage. Some of the ancient Jewish commentators who are mentioned by the Fathers (Justin. cont. Tryph. nn. 66, 68, 71, 77; Cyr., Proc., Jerome) understood the word “virgin” as applying to Achaz’ wife, the mother of Ezechias, whom they identified with Emmanuel. This view is clearly refuted by Driver (Isaias, p. 40). According to 2 Kings 16:2, Achaz on ascending the throne was twenty years old, and according to 2 Kings 18:2, Ezechias was twenty-five years old on his ascending the throne. Now, according to 1 Kings 16:2, Achaz reigned sixteen years, and the present prophecy was uttered in the beginning of his reign. Ezechias was, therefore, nine years old at the time when Isaias uttered the prophecy. If it be said that according to this calculation Achaz died at the age of thirty-six, and that he therefore was only eleven years older than Ezechias, who ascended the throne at the age of twenty-five, we answer that according to the LXX. and the Pesh., Achaz was twenty-five on ascending the throne, so that he died at the age of forty-one, and became father of Ezechias at the age of sixteen. But this does not affect the fact that Ezechias was several years old when Isaias announced the divine sign to the godless Achaz.

4. Some of the later Jewish commentators, as Abarbanel and Kimchi, are of opinion that the virgin refers to another wife of Achaz, not to the mother of Ezechias, and that Emmanuel is a son of Achaz who is unknown in history. But since this view is gratuitously asserted, it may be denied without an express statement of the reasons for the denial. Besides, it is extremely improbable that a common child, who was to have no special natural or supernatural prerogatives, should be the subject of Is. 8:8, 10; 9:6, etc.

5. Another class of authors holds that the virgin of the prophecy is the wife of Isaias, either the mother of Shear-Jasub, or a younger wife, newly married to the prophet, who became the mother of Maher-Shalal. The latter is, according to this view, the Emmanuel of the prophecy (Aben-Ezra, Jarchi, Faustus Socinus, Crell, Grotius, von Wolzogen, Faber, Pflüschke, Gesenius, Hitzig, Hendewerk, Knobel, Maurer, Olshausen, Diestel, etc.). It may be noted that certain Catholic authors have given assent to this opinion, applying, however, only the literal sense of virgin and Emmanuel to the prophet’s wife and son, while they understand both in their typical meaning of the Messias and his virgin mother (cf. St. Jerome’s opinion about those who adhere to this view). α. But how can we conceive Isaias addressing his own son as the Lord of the land of Juda, and how can he represent his son as the cause of Israel’s liberation from its enemies (Is. 8:8, 10).? β. Again, the hypothesis that the prophecy refers to a wife of Isaias recently married to him is nothing but a makeshift, resting on no single positive argument, while the assumption that Isaias indicated by “virgin” the mother of Shear-Jasub contradicts the very name given to her. For whatever meaning may be assigned to the Hebrew word “ ‘almah,” it can surely not be applied to a married woman who has had children.

6. Castalio, Isenbiehl (formerly), Bauer, Cube, Steudel, Umbreit (formerly), and H. Schultz maintain that the prophet addressed his words to a virgin who happened to be present at the time of the prophecy. Pointing to her, Isaias predicted that she should conceive and bear a son, and that the country should be freed from its enemies before her son would reach the age of discretion. α. It has already been shown that the sign thus offered can in no way satisfy the context of the prophecy. β. Not to mention that the authors who hold this view do not give any proof, they contradict what the prophet says concerning the Emmanuel in 8:8, 10; for it is incredible that the lord of Judea and the liberator of his native country should have remained as unknown to history as is the virgin’s son of whom Isaias is supposed to prophesy in the present passage.

7. If this be true of the explanation according to which any immaculate virgin and her son are the subjects of the prophet’s prediction, what are we to think of Nägelsbach’s opinion, which contends that a sinful woman and a child born of sinful intercourse are the virgin and the Emmanuel of whom Isaias speaks? The virgin is a daughter of Achaz, who has conceived secretly, and whose sin is as yet unknown to her father. Isaias reveals her shame to her father, and thus offers him a divine sign of his supernatural mission and of God’s faithfulness to his promises. The incongruity of this explanation is so clear that it needs no further refutation.

8. Finally, the commonly received opinion of Catholics maintains that the “virgin” in Isaias’ prophecy refers to the Blessed Virgin in its literal sense, and that Emmanuel refers in its literal meaning to Jesus Christ. The text of the prophecy, its context, and its traditional interpretation render this explanation certain beyond dispute.
a. The text of the passage: In the text we shall first consider the word “virgin,” Heb. “ ‘almah”; secondly, we shall say a word about the clause in which the word “virgin” occurs. 1. As to “ ‘almah,” whatever etymological derivation we give for the word (עָלַם, עָלַם עוּל in any case it may signify a chaste virgin, so far as its derivation is concerned. Now the Scriptural usage of the word determines that, in point of fact, “ ‘almah” does mean “virgin.” For it occurs only six times in the Old Testament outside of the present passage; in Gen. 24:43 it is applied to Rebecca, who is expressly called a virgin who had not known man (Gen. 24:16); Ex. 2:8 applies ‘almah to the sister of Moses, who was only a little girl; Ps. 67 (68):26 reads “princes went before joined with singers, in the midst of young damsels playing on timbrels.” Now we infer from Jer. 31:4; Judges 11:34; Ex. 15:20 that the damsels employed in this office were commonly virgins. Cant. 1:3 uses the word of virgins who love their royal spouse where no meaning but that of pure virgins can be thought of. Cant. 6:8 (Vugl. 7) has the passage: “There are three score queens, and four score concubines, and young maidens without number.” Here again, it is clear that the young maidens indicated in the Hebrew text by the plural of ‘almah must be pure virgins, since they are distinguished from queens on the one hand, and from concubines on the other. The sixth passage in which “ ‘almah” occurs offers greater difficulties. It reads: “Three things are hard to me, and the fourth I am utterly ignorant of: the way of an eagle in the air, the way of a serpent upon a rock, the way of a ship in the midst of the sea, and the way of a man in youth” (Prov. 30:18, 19). The word rendered “youth” reads in the Hebrew text “ ‘almah,” so that we should read “the way of a man in a virgin.” Only one Hebrew codex has the reading “ ‘almuth” that is required by the present English, Latin, Septuagint, and Syriac rendering “youth;” all the other codices and old versions require the rendering “virgin.”

A number of explanations of this difficult passage have been offered, which we can only enumerate without fully investigating any one of them.

α. The “virgin” spoken of is a prostitute, so that the whole passage means: as there is no sign left of the eagle’s way in the air, of the serpent’s path on the rock, and of the ship’s course in the waters of the sea, so there is no certain sign of a man’s intercourse with a prostitute. 1. But in the first place, the subsequent pregnancy would serve as such a sign. 2. Again, this meaning does not agree with the verse which immediately follows the passage: “Such is also the way of an adulterous woman, who eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith: I have done no evil.” For what imaginable “way” of the adulterous woman can thus be compared with the way of the eagle, the serpent, the ship, and the man?

β. A second explanation admits that “ ‘almah” in the passage may mean a “virgin” who is immaculate before her intercourse with man. This view supposes that man’s way in the virgin is hidden because it cannot be discovered on the man himself. 1. But in the first place, this explanation is against the analogy of the preceding three unknown ways: they are called unknown, not because they cannot be detected on the eagle, or the ship, or the serpent, but because they cannot be discovered in the air, in the sea, and on the rock. In the same manner, then, must the fourth way be undiscoverable on the virgin. 2. Besides, the same argument may be urged against this explanation which we urged against the first solution, and which was taken from the impossibility of finding an analogous “way” of the adulterous woman.

γ. Others again have thought of explaining the passage in a metaphorical sense; the Wise Man says, according to this view: I do not know how the mighty eagle can sail through the thin air; I do not know how the serpent without feet can glide over the solid rock; I do not know how the bulky ship can be upheld in the liquid waters of the ocean; I do not know how the libertine can be impelled by his impure passion to corrupt the immaculate virgin: and in the same manner the deceitful way of the adulterous woman is a mystery to me. It is clear that according to this explanation all the necessary conditions of both text and context are fully satisfied.

δ. There is another explanation which seems more satisfactory to some scholars, because it does not appeal to a metaphorical meaning of the word “way.” The ‘almah is supposed to be a chaste virgin,—at least in the estimation of men,—and the writer insists on the fact that even in a virgin there is no certain sign of her intercourse with man. As, therefore, an adulterous woman may eat and wipe her month and say, “I have done no evil,” so may a reputed virgin, even after her sin, be without any outward signs of her violated virginity (cf. Knab. p. 170).

ε. We hardly need to state all the other explanations that have been attempted by divers authors: Rohling, e.g., proffers the view that the writer merely warns virgins against illicit intercourse, since they alone have to bear the punishment and the shame, while their accomplices retain no trace of the sin; Hengstenberg explains the “way” of man in the virgin as meaning the curious manner in which a virgin often conceives a passion for a man without any assignable reasonable cause; Lapide mentions the opinion of some that the writer addresses a warning to parents to keep their daughters well guarded from all attempts against their virginity, since there is no external sign to show them whether a fault has been committed.

It follows from these explanations that in order to satisfy both text and context of the difficult passage, “ ‘almah” must signify a pure virgin—a virgin who is pure, at least, in the opinion of men. And combining this result with the result of our investigation of the other passages in which “ ‘almah” occurs, we must conclude that the word commonly means a pure and undefiled virgin.

This conclusion is confirmed by the LXX. version, in which ‘almah is four times rendered νεᾶνις, or maid (Ex. 2:8; Ps. 67 (68):26; Cant. 1:3; 6:7), once νεότης (Prov. 30:19), but in the present passage παρθένος, or virgin. There must, then, have been a special reason, be it tradition or the current explanation of the text, which induced those writers to adopt this version. It is not surprising that Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion relinquished the rendering παρθένος, because at their time the Christians already began to use the text in their controversial writings (cf. Iren. iii. 24; Justin, Tryph. 71).

2. It must further be noted that ‘almah in the Hebrew text has the definite article, and that it is followed by two participles, so that we must render literally: “Behold, the virgin is pregnant, and is bringing forth a son, and his name she shall call Emmanuel.” If we then insist on the literal meaning of the prophecy, the virgin, though she is virgin, is pregnant and bringing forth her son, so that she is both virgin and mother. It appears from the following verb that the prophet intended his words to be explained in this literal sense; for he does not say “and she is calling his name Emmanuel,” but he continues, “and she shall call his name.” The prophecy in its literal meaning has, therefore, not been verified in any one except in the Blessed Virgin, so that she alone is literally spoken of by Isaias. Drach (De l’harmonie entre l’Église et la Synagogue, Paris, 1844, t. ii. pp. 237 ff.) has shown that it is probably owing to Isaias’ prophecy concerning the virgin-mother that virginity has been held in such high esteem among most nations of even pagan antiquity.

b. The context of this passage too requires that it be applied to the Blessed Virgin in its literal sense. For, according to the context, the virgin of whom the prophet speaks is the mother of Emmanuel. Now, Emmanuel must from the whole setting of the prediction be literally applied to Jesus Christ. Hence the virgin-mother too must be the Messias’ mother in the literal meaning of the word.

c. Nearly all the patristic testimonies to which we referred above, as applying Isaias’ prophecy to the Messias, bear also witness to its literal Messianic application.


1. The prophet’s prediction that the Messias will be conceived and born of a virgin who has not known man, that his name will be Emmanuel, and that he will be the Redeemer of his people, is for Christians certain from the text of St. Matthew.

2. Against Rationalists the Messianic character of the prophecy may be proved from the connection of chapters 7, 8, 9, 11, and Mich. 5. The unanimous Jewish tradition regarding Is. 8:8 and Mich. 5:5, and the fact that St. Matthew used the prophecy against the Jews in a Messianic sense without finding any contradiction on the part of his opponents, are as many confirmations of the first argument for the Messianic reference of Is. 7.

The virginal conception and birth of the Emmanuel can be rendered probable to a Rationalist even from Isaias’ prophecy: a. Because the LXX. rendered the word “ ‘almah” by “παρθένοζ;b. because St. Matthew found no difficulty when he saw a fulfilment of this prophecy in Christ’s virginal conception; c. because it has been the universal tradition among the nations that many of their divine heroes and many of their extraordinary men were born of virgin-mothers.

3. As to the Jews, they could infer the Messianic character of Isaias’ prophecy by comparing it with other clearly Messianic predictions. From the latter they knew that the Messias would free the house of David from its enemies, though they might not believe him so far distant as he really proved to be. It is hardly probable that they should have understood from the words of the prophecy the virginal conception and birth of the Messias, though they must have perceived that the Messias’ mother would be a most extraordinary virgin, and perhaps even that she must be especially privileged in her conceiving and giving birth to the Messias. The Alexandrian translators seem to have had a further developed doctrine on the virginity of Emmanuel’s mother. And we may reasonably suppose that about the time of Christ’s birth the Messianic expectation had attained such a state of perfection that the Evangelist’s doctrine was for the new converts nothing else than a clear exposition of what they had known implicitly and obscurely.

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St Rober Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalms 9

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 6, 2016

Note: In his commentary St Robert followed the Septuagint and Vulgate which treated Psalms 9 and 10 as a single, unified piece. Although most modern scholars contend that this is correct, most modern translations continue to separate this psalm into two pieces (following the Massoretic text). To avoid confusion I too will follow the modern division. One should also be aware that verse numbering of the psalms can differ. This is due to the fact that some scholars/translations give a verse number to psalm titles, others do not.

Psalm 9

Ps 9:1 Unto the end, for the hidden things of the Son. A psalm for David.

Ps 9:2 I will give praise to thee, O Lord, with my whole heart: I will relate all thy wonders.

The matter of the Psalm is here proposed, viz., the praise of God for his wonderful works. The words, “With my whole heart,” signify the subject to be praised is one of the highest importance, and, therefore, to be done with all his might and affections. The words, “All thy wonders” imply that the subject of his praise is so expansive as to comprehend in one view all the wonderful works of God. Such, in reality, was the redemption of man; a work of infinite mercy, in which are comprehended all the beneficent acts of God, as the apostle has it, Ephesians 1, “To establish all things in Christ;” that is, to comprehend, to reduce everything into one sum through him.

Ps 9:3 I will be glad, and rejoice in thee: I will sing to thy name, O thou most high.

The same sentiment, in different language, or, perhaps, rather an explanation; as if he said, with exultation and joy will I confess to thee, with joy in my heart and exultation in my exterior, thus confessing with all my affections. Playing on the harp before thee, O Most High, will I relate all thy wonders, chanting them to thy glory.

Ps 9:4 When my enemy shall be turned back: they shall be weakened, and perish before thy face.

He begins to narrate the victory of Christ over the devil and his satellites, and speaks in the person of the entire Church. “When my enemy shall be turned back,” that means, when my enemy, the devil, flying from your face, shall begin to turn back, then all his soldiers “Shall be weakened, and perish;” that is to say, the moment they see their leader to fly, they will become unnerved, will fly, scatter as if they had been actually destroyed. Of such flight the Lord himself speaks in the gospel, Jn. 12, “Now is the judgment of the world, now shall the prince of this world be cast out.”

Ps 9:5 For thou hast maintained my judgment and my cause: thou hast sat on the throne, who judgest justice.

A reason assigned for the devil’s flight and the scattering of his forces; for you, my Lord, the Son of God, “hast maintained my judgment and my cause;” that is, you have put an end to the litigation, the struggle, and the contest between mankind, or the Church and the devil. For the devil maintained that mankind was justly held in bondage by him, and therefore harassed it in a most tyrannical manner, until Christ, by his sufferings on the cross, thereby atoning for man, put an end to the struggle; hence the expression, “Thou hast sat on the throne, who judgest justice,” meaning the cross, as St. Leo has it, in his eighth Sermon on the Passion of our Lord: “O unspeakable glory of the passion, in which are united the judgment seat of God, the judgment of the world, and the power of the crucified;” and these are in reality the occult things of the Son, which by some are prefixed as a title to this Psalm. For he who, to all appearance, seemed to be guilty and was suffering punishment in the greatest ignominy, at that very moment was sitting on his throne, “judged justice,” that is, judged most justly, inasmuch as now that the price had been paid, man was delivered, and the devil despoiled of his dominion over him, and actually, as the apostle has it, Col. 2, “Blotting out the handwriting of the decree which was against us, which was contrary to us, and the same he took out of the way, fastening it to the cross.”

Ps 9:6 Thou hast rebuked the Gentiles, and the wicked one hath perished; thou hast blotted out their name for ever and ever.

The devil having been subdued through the cross, Christ our Lord, through his apostles, “rebuked the gentiles,” “convicting the world of sin, of justice, and of judgment,” as the Lord himself foretold: and in such manner “The wicked one hath perished;” that is the wickedness of idolatry perished, and man from impiety was brought to love God. Which was effected not only among the impious of that time, but Christ so entirely destroyed idolatry and the religion of the gentiles forever, that it can never appear again, having been plucked out from the roots. A thing we see already fulfilled, the Jews themselves, who were most prone to idolatry, having never attempted to return to it. “Forever and ever,” to signify true, real eternity, having no end, for fear any one should suppose that a very long time, but still a definite one, was intended.

Ps 9:7 The swords of the enemy have failed unto the end: and their cities thou hast destroyed. Their memory hath perished with a noise:

A reason assigned for idolatry not being likely to return, inasmuch as the power of the devil and his strongholds had disappeared, and he has no means of carrying on an offensive or a defensive warfare, “His swords having failed”—“unto the end;” that is, thoroughly, without a single exception—not one remaining. By “the swords of the enemy” we may also understand the temptations, or suggestions, which may be looked upon as the words of the devil, in the same sense that the apostle calls the word of God, “The sword of the Spirit.” The same apostle calls the temptations of the devil, “weapons of fire;” and such weapons are said “to have failed,” because they cannot injure those armed in the faith of Jesus Christ. In which sense, St. Anthony, in his life of St. Athanasius, quoted this very passage, proving therefrom that the temptations of the devil are most easily repulsed by the sign of the cross. By “their cities” may be understood all infidels, in whom the devil dwells without disturbance; these were destroyed by Christ when he put down idolatry. Our Lord himself seems to have this in view when he says, in Lk. 11, “When a strong man armed keepeth his court, those things which he possessed are in peace. But if a stronger than he come upon him, and overcome him, he will take away all his armor, wherein he trusted, and will distribute his spoils.” When the devil held possession, everything he possessed was in peace; because, while man is in a state of infidelity, he is always in the power of the devil, however morally good his life may have been, as has been the case with many pagan philosophers. But Christ, having got possession, by the extirpation of infidelity and the introduction of the knowledge of the true God, the devil lost his all. “Their memory has perished with a noise;” that is to say, the memory of idolatry, idolaters, and of the whole kingdom of Satan has perished amidst much noise and confusion. For the whole world resisted Christ; the most powerful kings and emperors sought to stand up for and defend their idols; but the more the world raged, the more idolatry tottered, and the remembrance of it was being blotted out; and, finally, the cessation of persecution was succeeded by a total destruction of idolatry.

Ps 9:8 But the Lord remaineth for ever. He hath prepared his throne in judgment:

Christ’s memory, on the contrary, will never fade after his death and resurrection. “All power in heaven and on earth was given to him,” which David alludes to here; as if he said, after such contest with the devil, the Lord “Hath prepared,” or, as the Hebrew has it, established “His throne in judgment;” that is, for the purpose of judging; and he, the Prince of the kings of the earth, “Shall judge the world;” meaning the people of the whole world, “In equity and justice,” two words used synonymously. Christ is said to sit in judgment on the world, though there may be many wicked and infidel princes in the world in rebellion against him, but who can, however, devise nothing—do nothing against his will and permission.

Ps 9:9 And he shall judge the world in equity, he shall judge the people in justice.
Ps 9:10 And the Lord is become a refuge for the poor: a helper in due time in tribulation.

From the fact of Christ’s being the future ruler, to govern with supreme justice, he infers the poor, who are usually oppressed by the great, will have great consolation. Let the poor fear no longer, for the Lord, sitting in heaven, “Is become a refuge” to them; and, furthermore, “A helper in due time in tribulation;” that is, when necessity may require it. For the divine help never comes so opportunely, as when we are overwhelmed in trouble, with no human being to console us; and this promise will be most surely fulfilled to all who truly seek and fear God; and therefore, he adds:

Ps 9:11 And let them trust in thee who know thy name: for thou hast not forsaken them that seek thee, O Lord.

The prophet speaks now in the third, instead of the first person, a thing he often does, from some new inspiration. With great justice can all “Who know your name;” that is to say, not only by the sound of it, but in reality; and fully understand the significance of it, and thence know the power and the mercy of God, put their confidence in you in all their difficulties. Much more so can your friends, “Since thou hast not forsaken;” that is, you never have forsaken “Those that seek thee.” By those “That seek him” he means those that covet his grace, and with all their heart seek to please him.

Ps 9:12 Sing ye to the Lord, who dwelleth in Sion: declare his ways among the Gentiles:

After a fervent appeal to God, he makes one to man in the same spirit; exhorting them too, to praise God, and to bring others to do so. The Lord is said “To dwell in Sion,” for there was the “Ark of the testament,” and “The place of prayer;” and this is put in here by way of apposition, that the true God may be distinguished from the false, who dwell in caves and the shrines of the gentiles. The word “ways” comprehends the thoughts, counsels, plans, inventions, the wonderful works of God, that are so resplendent in the redemption of man. Thus the meaning of the whole verse is: Sing to God a hymn of praise; announce to the gentiles his wonderful designs, his wonderful wisdom; and, in consequence, his wonderful works, that all nations, when they hear them, may unite in his praise.

Ps 9:13 For requiring their blood, he hath remembered them: he hath not forgotten the cry of the poor.

The prophet returns to what he previously asserted: namely, that the Lord was a “Just Judge,” the “Refuge of the poor in tribulation;” and takes up an objection that may be possibly raised, to wit, the fact of our seeing the poor, however pious, persecuted by the wealthy, sometimes even unto death. The answer is, “Praise God,” says he, “for though he sometimes seems to forget his poor,” such is not the case. “For requiring;” that is to say, inquiring into their daily actions, and examining them severally. “Their blood he hath remembered, he hath not forgotten the cry of the poor,” who, in their persecutions, had appealed to him; which recollection of their sufferings will appear in its own time, when the punishment of the oppressors and the glory of the oppressed shall be declared.

Ps 9:14 Have mercy on me, O Lord: see my humiliation which I suffer from my enemies.

Having thanked God for past favors, he now asks his assistance, in present and future difficulties. The prayer of the Church against her visible and invisible enemies. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, see my humiliation,” that is, my total prostration, caused by my enemies.

Ps 9:15 Thou that liftest me up from the gates of death, that I may declare all thy praises in the gates of the daughter of Sion.

The first part of this verse has a connection with the verse preceding. The meaning is, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, see my humiliation;” you, O Lord, “That liftest me up from the gates of death,” meaning you that keep me far removed from the gates of death. Those gates are supposed to be very deep; for the prophet does not allude to the death of the body, but to the death of the soul by sin, or everlasting death; and, therefore, he makes use of the word “Exalt,” to be far removed from the said gates. By the “Gates of death,” or of hell, the multitude of our infernal enemies would seem to be implied. The great body of the Jewish people were wont to assemble at the gates, whether for matters of justice or any other public business, and thus the word “Gates” got to signify a large assemblage of the people. Hence, we have in Matthew, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against her;” and in the last chapter of Ecclesiasticus, “From the gates of tribulation that have encompassed me.” And here we may note the beauty of the contrast between the gates of death, and the gates of the daughter of Sion or Jerusalem; the former are in the lowest bottom; the latter, on a high mountain: in the former are assembled the evil spirits; in the latter the people of God: from the gates of the former come forth nothing but temptations and war, that lead to death; the gates of the latter “Are built on peace;” for Jerusalem “Has put peace as its boundary;” and it is named as “The vision of peace.” The Church, then, “Is lifted up from the gates of death,” to announce God’s praise, “In the gates of the daughter of Sion;” which means being delivered from all temptations that may lead her to eternal death; to acknowledge the great grace conferred on her by her liberator, and to praise him with the Angels of God, who are in the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem.

Ps 9:16 I will rejoice in thy salvation: the Gentiles have stuck fast in the destruction which they prepared. Their foot hath been taken in the very snare which they hid.

Having been liberated from the “gates of death,” “I will rejoice in thy salvation;” that is, in the salvation you bestowed on me; since “the gentiles who laid a snare for me” have been caught in the very snare they laid, as they would in the deepest mud, from whence they cannot extricate themselves; in other words, their persecution did much harm to them, none to me; and the same may be said not only of their open and avowed persecution, but also of their private persecution, which, “like a snare, they laid for me.” May be too, that the avowed persecutions of Diocletian and others of the Roman emperors, and the disguised persecutions of Julian the Apostate, and other heretical emperors, are here intended.

Ps 9:17 The Lord shall be known when he executeth judgments: the sinner hath been caught in the works of his own hands.

From this wonderful dispensation of Providence, who turns the arms and the wiles of the wicked on themselves, David gathers that God will come to be known. “The Lord shall be known when he executeth judgment;” that is, his judgments will be so admired that he will be known to be the true and supreme God; and mainly, through his providence in causing the sinner “to be caught in the works of his own hands:” namely, when he falls into “the destruction he had prepared for others,” and “the snare which he had hid for them.”

Ps 9:18 The wicked shall be turned into hell, all the nations that forget God.

To be taken as a prophecy, not as an imprecation. “Shall be turned,” means in the Hebrew, “shall return;” which is applied to sinners, inasmuch as the devil, when he seduced them, made them his slaves; and, therefore, they will return to him. For God created man in innocence: the devil made him a sinner. As our Savior, in Jn. 8, says, “You are from your father, the devil.” The latter part of the verse, “all the nations that forget God,” declares who the sinners are that “will return to hell:” namely, all those “who forget God.” For the forgetting of God is the root of all sin; for he who sins turns away from God unto the creature.

Ps 9:19 For the poor man shall not be forgotten to the end: the patience of the poor shall not perish for ever.

Sinners, therefore, who are in the habit of oppressing the poor will be cast into hell; for God, sooner or later, will avenge their wrongs; for, though he may seem to forget them for a time, “he does not forget them to the end,” but will one time remember them; and, therefore, “the patience of the poor shall not perish forever.” When the patience of the poor is said not to perish, it does not mean that their patience in itself will be everlasting; but that it will in its effects, inasmuch as its reward will be everlasting.

Ps 9:20 Arise, O Lord, let not man be strengthened: let the Gentiles be judged in thy sight.

Having predicted the final ruin of the wicked, he now asks for their coercion. “Arise, O Lord, let not man be strengthened;” that is, let not man, a handful of dust, prevail against God, his Creator. “Let the gentiles be judged in thy sight;” meaning, let judgment issue against them, as we have in another Psalm, “Judge them, O God.”

Posted in Bible, Catholic, Christ, Notes on the Lectionary, NOTES ON THE PSALMS, Scripture, St Robert Bellarmine | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 8

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 6, 2016

Psalm 8

Ps 8:1 Unto the end, for the presses: a psalm for David.

Ps 8:2 O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is thy name in the whole earth! For thy magnificence is elevated above the heavens.

Reflecting on God’s greatness, the prophet is wrapped in admiration at the idea of a God, so great in himself, condescending to look upon or to heap such and so many favors on man, a thing of dust and ashes. “O Lord,” says he, who art the source of all being, whence all created things are derived; and, therefore, “Our Lord,” that is to say, thou art Lord of all, “how admirable is thy name in the whole earth!” how wonderful is thy glory, or the good fame of thy name diffused through the whole world, to the great admiration of all who care to reflect on it. Isaias, chap. 6, says the same in other language: “The whole earth is full of his glory.” He calls the name of God admirable, because though the admirers may be few, when few reflect on God’s works; however, the name is most worthy of admiration when all creatures constantly praise the Creator in the sense that all beautiful productions are said to praise the producer, and in such wise the whole earth is full of the glory of God; for whatever is on earth, even to the minutest particle, declares the infinite power and wisdom of the Creator. “For thy magnificence is elevated above the heavens.” A reason why God’s name should be so admirable on earth, inasmuch as his magnificence is elevated above the heavens, that is, cannot be contained by them; it is such that the whole world cannot contain it. “His glory covered the heavens, and the earth is full of his praise,” Habacuc chap. 3. The magnificence of great princes is estimated from their expensive manner of living, their building great cities or palaces, their keeping up great retinues or armies, or their distribution of great presents. God created the universe for a palace, having the earth for its pavement, the heavens for its roof. He feeds all living things, who are beyond counting. He has already bestowed on the angels and saints, who are the most numerous, and will hereafter on the just, a most ample kingdom, not temporal but eternal. Truly great, then, is his magnificence.

Ps 8:3 Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings thou hast perfected praise, because of thy enemies, that thou mayst destroy the enemy and the avenger.

An answer to an objection likely to be raised. If the glory of God so fill the earth and his magnificence be elevated above the heavens, how comes it that all do not know and praise him? The answer is, that God does not condescend to be known or praised by the proud, who presume on their own strength, but by the humble and the little ones, according to Mt. 11, “I confess to thee, Father, because thou hast hidden these things from the wise and the prudent, and hast revealed them to the little ones.” Hence, God’s glory and greatness are greatly increased, when he is known only by those he wishes should know him. This verse may have a double meaning. First, to understand infants and sucklings as meaning mankind, who really are such, when compared to the Angels, when there is question of understanding divine matters; and the sense would be from the mouth of mortals you have perfected praise, revealing your glory to them, “because of thy enemies;” that is, to confound the rebellious angels. “That thou mayest destroy the enemy and the avenger;” that is, that you may outwit the wisdom of your primary enemy, the devil, and his defenders, or avengers, the host of his followers, the reprobate angels. Secondly, by “infants and sucklings,” may be understood humble people, little ones in their own eyes, and not versed in the science of the world; like many of the prophets and apostles, and a great number of monks and holy virgins, and mere children too, who, in early years, have so perfectly understood the glory of God, that they had no hesitation in spilling their blood for it. In such sense did our Savior quote this very Psalm, Mt. 21, “Have you never read that from the mouth of infants and sucklings he hath perfected praise?” By enemies are meant the wise ones of this world, and their apologists, who, with all their knowledge of God, have not glorified him as such, and, therefore, “became vain in their thoughts,” as St. Paul expresses it.

Ps 8:4 For I will behold thy heavens, the works of thy fingers: the moon and the stars which thou hast founded.

Holy David ranks himself here among the infants and sucklings praising God; as if he were to say, here is one, a humble shepherd, to chant your praise. “For I will behold the heavens;” that is, I will attentively consider that wonderful work of yours, and praise you the Creator of such a work. He makes use of the phrase, “the works of thy fingers;” as much as to say, formed by your fingers, not by your arms, to show with what facility they were created by God; and furthermore, that valuable and precious works, not requiring labor but skill, are generally the work of the fingers and not of the arms. Mention is not made of the sun here, for it was mostly at night that David would so turn to contemplation; that being the time most meet for it. “At midnight I rose to confess to thee,” Ps. 118; and in Ps. 62, “I will meditate on thee in the morning;” and Isaias, chap. 62. “My soul hath longed for thee in the night.” It is at night that the heavens are seen embellished with the moon and stars, “Which thou hast founded;” all created from nothing, raised by you from the foundation without having had any previous existence.

Ps 8:5 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him?

The greatness of God, in himself, having been established, he now proceeds to extol his greatness towards man. “What is man,” that you, the Creator of heaven and earth, deign to remember him? as if he said the greatest favor possible to be conferred on man, who is mere dust and ashes, is the bare remembrance of him by God; and as such remembrance is not a naked one, but with a view to confer favors on man, he adds, by way of explanation, “or the son of man that thou visitest him?” Man, and the son of man, mean the same, unless one would raise an uncalled for distinction, by saying that the words, “son of man,” are used to show the divine favors were not conferred on the first man to the exclusion of his posterity. The word “visitest him,” implies the special providence God has for all men, especially that which he displayed, by coming into the world, assuming human flesh, “being seen on earth, and conversing among men,” Baruch 3. Such is, properly speaking, the visitation alluded to in Lk. 1. “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, who has visited and redeemed his people;” and subsequently, same chapter, “The orient from on high hath visited us.” Such visitation could not but elicit, “What is man that thou art mindful of him? Or the son of man that thou visitest him?”

Ps 8:6 Thou hast made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour:

This verse has a double meaning, a literal and an allegorical. In the literal sense, three favors of God to the human race are enumerated. First, being created by God of so noble a nature as to be very little less than that of the Angels. Secondly, to be so distinguished in honor and glory beyond all other creatures, inasmuch as he has been made to the image and likeness of God, and endowed with reason and free will. Thirdly, from the power and dominion over all things, especially animals, that have been conferred by God upon him; and, therefore, he adds:

Ps 8:7 And hast set him over the works of thy hands.
Ps 8:8 Thou hast subjected all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen: moreover, the beasts also of the fields.
Ps 8:9 The birds of the air, and the fishes of the sea, that pass through the paths of the sea.

By sheep and oxen are meant all domestic animals: by the beasts of the field are meant wild animals. The birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, are easily understood, including the monsters as well as the fish of the sea. To come now to the allegorical sense of the preceding verses, which is quite certain, and intended by God, if we believe St. Paul, in Heb. 2, and 1 Cor. 15, the meaning is, that Christ, man, by that most remarkable visitation of God; that is to say, by the incarnation of the Word, was made less than the Angels in some degree, by his passion, as would appear from the Angels coming to comfort him in his passion, whereas Angels are immortal, and exempt from all suffering; and, however, Christ suffered and died then and there. Absolutely speaking, however, Christ was always superior to the Angels, and superior in every respect. That was shown clearly, when he “was crowned with honor and glory;” that is to say, when in his resurrection in a glorious and immortal body, and by his wonderful ascension, he was exalted above all God’s works, to the right hand of his Father. All things are subject to him, without exception, “except him” as the apostle, 1 Cor. 13, says, “Who has subjected everything to him.” His principal subjects are, first, human beings, believers, included in “sheep and oxen,” subjects and prelates; and unbelievers, under the head of “The beasts of the field.” “Then Angels, superior to mankind, come under the head of the birds of the air, that rise aloft, and constantly chant the praises of God. Finally, the fishes of the sea represent the evil spirits, who, from the lowest abyss are insensible to God’s praise, and revel in the meanest and lowest dissipation.

Ps 8:10 O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is thy name in the whole earth!

A repetition of the first verse, as if he said, how justly I set out with the exclamation, “O Lord our Lord, how admirable is thy name in all the earth.”

Posted in Bible, Catholic, Notes on the Lectionary, NOTES ON THE PSALMS, Scripture, St Robert Bellarmine | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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