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 11

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 3, 2017

The just man’s confidence in God, in the midst of persecutions

1 Unto the end. A psalm to David. In the Lord I put my trust: how then do you say to my soul: Get thee away from hence to the mountain, like a sparrow.

The cry of the just man, who, under the weight of calumny is nigh tempted to despair and to desert his calling. “In the Lord I put any trust.” He is everywhere, and all powerful. “How then do you say to my soul,” that is to me—the phrase being much in use among the Hebrews—that is, why seek to persuade me? He addresses either the demons tempting him, or his own internal concupiscence stirred up by the devil. “Get thee away hence to the mountain like a sparrow;” that means, give up your calling, and man’s society, and go where there are no temptations, no dangers; for sparrows, when they dread the birds of prey, fly to the tops of mountains, where such birds cannot follow them. In regard of temptations, such mountains offer no protection, save in man’s imagination; who, when subject to grievous temptations, imagine change of place will save them from such trouble; and who, in a fit of desperation, will put an end to their existence, as if it were the mountain to save them; while the just man is patient, and stands his ground—knowing these temptations to exist in all places—with God’s help there to meet them.

2 For, lo, the wicked have bent their bow: they have prepared their arrows in the quiver, to shoot in the dark the upright of heart.

A reason for flying to the mountains for deserting one’s vocation from an excess of fear, suggested by temptations: namely, the just being daily persecuted by the wicked, whether by calumny or in any other shape. Calumny is compared “to the arrows that shoot in the dark;” to give us to understand that they not only inflict a grievous wound, but that it is nigh impossible to guard against them. The two verses taken together may be thus interpreted. One cannot now be upright of heart, seeing the number of snares daily laid for them on all sides; they must therefore fly away to an inaccessible mountain, shun the company of man altogether; a thing impossible: or succumb to custom, by deserting the paths of justice. The just man thus replies to the temptation, “I will confide in the Lord,” and will, therefore, neither fly to an inhabitable mountain, nor will desert the path of justice.

3 For they have destroyed the things which thou hast made: but what has the just man done?

By an appeal to Heaven, he confirms the truth of the just being persecuted by the wicked; for the wicked “have destroyed the things which thou hast made;” that is, your most perfect laws, counsels, and the commands you gave your people: and, instead of doing good for evil, as you wish, they do evil for good, calumniating and persecuting the just without any pretence or reason. “But what has the just man done?” Nothing whatever; he has given them no provocation, “But they hated without cause.”

4 The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven. His eyes look on the poor man: his eyelids examine the sons of men.

He begins to assign a reason for confiding in God, and disregarding the threats of men, inasmuch as he is a judge sitting in heaven, whence he can see all things and has all men under control. “The Lord is in his holy temple;” by his holy temple he means the highest heavens, the temple not made by human hands; which he expresses more clearly when he adds, “The Lord’s throne is in heaven; His eyes look upon the poor.” From that highest throne, from which nothing can be hid, God beholds the poor; and, therefore, they cannot be harmed without God’s knowledge or permission, a matter of the greatest consolation to them. What follows is more declaratory of the providence of God. For God not only sees men, but by a glance discerns and distinguishes the good from the bad, and all their works. The expression, “His eyelids examine,” means nothing more than he sees distinctly; such figurative expressions occur very often in the Psalms. The eyelids then here mean the eyes; the eyes, the mind: to interrogate means to know with as much exactness as if he previously interrogated and examined with the greatest minuteness.

5 The Lord trieth the just and the wicked: but he that loveth iniquity, hateth his own soul.

God not only knows exactly the just and the sinner, but he also rewards or punishes them according to their merit. Therefore, “He that loveth iniquity hateth his own soul;” that is to say, himself; for he will be most grievously punished for his iniquity, a beautiful and most elegant sentence. For he who loves iniquity, in seeming to love his soul, that is, himself, by gratifying himself, commits sin; and thereby, in reality hates his soul, and destroys it, as our Savior, John 12, has it, “Who loves his soul shall lose it;” in other words, who wrongfully loves himself truly hates himself.

6 He shall rain snares upon sinners: fire and brimstone, and storms of winds, shall be the portion of their cup.

A proof of the wicked “having hated their own souls,” because God will rain upon them in this life snares in the greatest abundance, as numerous as drops of rain; that is to say, will permit them daily to fall into fresh and greater sins, striking them with blindness, and “giving them up to a reprobate sense,” one of the most dreadful and severe punishments. And as to the next life, “Fire and brimstone, and storms of winds;” that is, the most burning and scorching blasts in hell, “will be the part of their chalice;” meaning their portion and inheritance. We have to observe that the word “chalice” signifies inheritance, a usual meaning for it in the Scripture, as, “The Lord is the part of my inheritance, and of my chalice;” when the two expressions mean the one thing, viz., his inheritance as he immediately explains by adding, “You will restore my inheritance unto me.” Inheritance is called a cup, because as the cup at a feast, at least at the paschal feast, was divided among the guests, whence the expression of Lk. 22, “Take and divide it between you;” so an inheritance is divided between the sons of the same father. The same word inheritance is sometimes called, part or portion, as, “The Lord is my part;” in another place, “The Lord is my portion;” sometimes, “The part of my inheritance;” which does not mean that the Lord is a part of his inheritance, but that the Lord is the part that came to him by inheritance; so that inheritance and part of the inheritance mean the same: so, with regard to chalice and part of the chalice, which means the portion of the chalice that came to one upon a division. In very nice language he gives the children of the devil, to whom the Lord, in Jn. 8, said, “You are from your father the devil,” the inheritance belonging to him, namely, the horrible punishment designated by “Fire, brimstone, and the spirit of winds.”

7 For the Lord is just, and hath loved justice: his countenance hath beheld righteousness.

God, being strictly just in himself, must, of necessity, punish the wicked with great severity. “For God is light, and there is no darkness in him; And hath loved justice,” that is, good works in all those he created to his likeness, he repeats the same when he says, “His countenance hath beheld righteousness;” by righteousness is meant a declaration of justice. For the justice alluded to here is not the virtue that regulates the mutual dealings or intercourse of man and man; but a universal justice, that embraces all virtues, the summary of which is the love of God and of the neighbor. “For the end of the commandment is love.” 1 Tim. 1; and, “Who loveth hath fulfilled the law.” Rom. 13. The expression, “his countenance hath beheld righteousness,” implies more than simply seeing; it means to see with a look of approbation, as the words in Ps. 1. “The Lord knoweth the way of the just.” Thou hast loved justice and seen righteousness, mean the same thing.

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