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.
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.)