The Divine Lamp

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

St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 47

Posted by Dim Bulb on April 8, 2017

Ps 47:1 O clap your hands, all ye nations: shout unto God with the voice of joy,

The holy prophet invites all nations to express the gladness of their heart by their language and their gesture. He includes all, for the glory of the head is in common with that of the body, and the body comprises not only the Jews, but all nations; for the Church, which is Christ’s body, is spread over all the world. From his invitation to clap hands, we are not to infer we are called upon to do so in the literal sense of the expression; but we are called upon to be as internally glad and joyful as those who give expression to their joy by clapping their hands, by dancing, and such gestures. Such is evidently his meaning; because, in Psalm 96, the same prophet calls not only on men to exult and applaud, but also on the heavens and earth, rivers, mountains, and trees, which are all metaphorical expressions, and signify nothing more than the abundance of joy in the mind of man, that would, if possible, bring all nature to share it with them.

Ps 47:2 For the Lord is high, terrible: a great king over all the earth.

He assigns a reason for having invited all nations to rejoice and exult, the first being derived from the greatness of Christ, who he declares to be “high,” by reason of his divinity, “terrible,” by reason of his power, and “a great king,” by reason of his providence and government. “For the Lord is high.” Sing to him with applause and exultation, all ye nations, because Christ our Lord and God is high, cannot be higher, as regards his divine nature, in which he excels all created beings. Do so, because he is “terrible,” as regards his power, which nothing can resist. Do so, finally, because “he is a great king over all the earth,” being supreme, absolute, and universal rector of the whole world.

Ps 47:3 He hath subdued the people under us; and the nations under our feet.

A second argument, drawn from the favors God originally conferred on his Church, when he brought it out of the land of Egypt; for then God brought his people into the land of promise, and subjected the nations and people in possession of it to his own people, and made them trample on the necks of the kings of those nations, as we read in Josue, chap. 1.

Ps 47:4 He hath chosen for us his inheritance, the beauty of Jacob which he hath loved.

A third argument, drawn from another favor, by which the same Christ God, having ejected the Chananeans, and having introduced his people into their land, chose from the believing Jews, from his Apostles and the other Disciples, the primitive Church as his own and his peculiar inheritance. “He hath chosen for us;” that means, in us, or from us; “his inheritance,” his own peculiar people; “the beauty of Jacob which he loved;” that is, he selected the flower of the Jewish people, called after Jacob, for which he had a special love, and formed his Church from it, as his peculiar inheritance. We have here to remark that, though most of the Jews were stiff necked, and prone to idolatry, and, consequently, reprobate, there were, however, very many holy patriarchs among them, whose spirituality and innocence was most pleasing to God. Hence the Apostle, Rom. 11, says, “The Jews were most dear to God, for the sake of the fathers;” and that their church was the good olive tree, “some of whose branches were broken, because of unbelief;” and that the converted gentiles, whom he calls the wild olives, were grafted in their place; and to the same converted gentiles he thus addresses himself: “And if some of the branches be broken, and thou, being a wild olive tree, art ingrafted in them, and art made partaker of the root and of the fatness of the olive tree. Boast not against the branches, but if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.” This, then, is “the beauty of Jacob,” that caused him “to choose an inheritance” from the Jewish people, which he afterwards caused to increase and multiply.

Ps 47:5 God is ascended with jubilee, and the Lord with the sound of trumpet.

The fourth reason for joy and gladness; because, after the Lord “chose his inheritance” from the Jewish people, that is to say, selected his Apostles and Disciples from among them, he ascended into heaven, and raised our nature, indissolubly united to his own, above all the heavens, above all the Angels, and above all created beings. For though this passage does not say to what place he ascended, it is clearly expressed in Psalm 68, “He ascended on high, and led captivity captive;” and, in the same Psalm, “Who mounteth above the heaven of heavens to the east.” The meaning, then, is, “God hath ascended,” Christ has ascended, but by virtue of his own power, inasmuch as he is God. “With jubilee and the sound of trumpet,” which is to be understood of the spiritual rejoicing, and the chanting of the Angels; for, as far as the ascension of Christ before his Apostles was concerned, it occurred in silence, and they probably neither heard nor saw the chanting, nor the persons of the Angels, lest their attention may be diverted from the great mystery that was then in process; namely, the extraordinary elevation of that nature, to which was said, “Thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return,” in its ascent in great glory and immortality above the highest heavens.

Ps 47:6 Sing praises to our God, sing ye: sing praises to our king, sing ye.
Ps 47:7 For God is the king of all the earth: sing ye wisely.

Before offering a fifth reason for praising God, he excites all to break out in repeated expressions of admiration at his having ascended so gloriously. “Sing praises to him,” by reason of his being our God; “sing praises to him,” by reason of his being King; and, thirdly, “sing praises to him,” because he is “King of all the earth;” and do so, not only repeatedly, but “wisely,” with care and attention, making no mistakes therein, for any duty rendered to a great king must be gone through in such manner.

Ps 47:8 God shall reign over the nations: God sitteth on his holy throne.

A fifth reason for singing and chanting to God, “with the voice of joy,” derived from Christ, after his ascension to heaven, having sent his Apostles to preach the Gospel, and to gather the gentiles to his fold. “God shall reign over the nations.” Christ, not content with the inheritance he got in the Jewish people, shall also reign over the gentiles; because, by the preaching of the Apostles, he will bring them all to the true faith. But, in the meantime, “God sitteth on his holy throne,” he sits at the right hand of his Father, the most holy, most just position he can occupy, and which “no iniquity can touch.”

Ps 47:9 The princes of the people are gathered together, with the God of Abraham: for the strong gods of the earth are exceedingly exalted.

He explains the sentence, “God shall reign over the nations,” because the preaching of the Apostles would bring the “princes of the people” to the true faith, oblige them to abandon their idols, and turn to the God of Abraham, who is the only true God, that thus he may be their God, and they his people. “For the strong gods of the earth are exceedingly exalted;” the great men amongst the gentiles, who had been slaves of sin, and servants of their idols, are now, by their conversion, children of God, and heirs of the kingdom of heaven.

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