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 115

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 29, 2019

1 Not to us, O Lord, not to us; but to thy name give glory.

Having recorded the wonderful things that God did for his people on their departure from Egypt In the previous psalm), he now, in the name of the whole people, prays to him not to regard their shortcomings, but his own glory, and to continue to protect his servants. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us.” We ask not for praise or glory on our own merits, which are none; “but to thy name give glory;” protect us for the glory of your name, and not for our own merits.

2 For thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake: lest the Gentiles should say: Where is their God?

He, in a very short space, assigns three reasons why God ought to seek the glory of his name in preserving his people. First, because he is merciful; secondly, because he is true and faithful in observing his promise; thirdly, that the gentiles, seeing God’s people in a state of destitution, may have no cause for blaspheming him and them. He, therefore, says, “For thy mercy and for thy truth’s sake,” show your glory, or give glory to thy name, for it is then your glory will be exhibited when you show mercy to your people; and then you will have carried out the truth of the promises you made our fathers, “Lest the gentiles should say: Where is their God?” lest the incredulous gentiles should get an occasion of detracting from your power, and, perhaps, of ignoring your very existence.

3 But our God is in heaven: he hath done all things whatsoever he would.
4 The idols of the Gentiles are silver and gold, the works of the hands of men.
5 They have mouths and speak not: they have eyes and see not.
6 They have ears and hear not: they have noses and smell not.
7 They have hands and feel not: they have feet and walk not: neither shall they cry out through their throat.

He now, on account of his having said, “Lest the gentiles should say: Where is their God?” gives expression to a most beautiful antithesis between the true and false gods; as much as to say, The gentiles should get no opportunity of reproaching us; but if they should do so, saying, “Where is their God?” we will answer, “Our God is in heaven;” and the wonderful things he has done bear testimony to it; for “he hath done all things whatsoever he wished;” while, on the contrary, their gods are on the earth; and thus hitherto are so unable to do anything that they cannot even make use of the members they appear to be endowed with; for, though they have the shape and figure of man, and appear to have all his members and senses, they neither see, nor hear, nor smell, nor touch, nor walk, nor speak; they do not emit anything in the shape of the voice of man, nor even of beasts.

8 Let them that make them become like unto them: and all such as trust in them.

This is a prophecy in the shape of an imprecation, as is usual with the prophets; for the makers of, and the worshippers of idols, will actually become similar to the idols after the resurrection; for, though they will be possessed of feeling and members, the case will be with them as if they had none; they will even desire to have none; for they will see, hear, smell, touch nothing but what will be hateful and disagreeable; and, with their hands and feet tied, they will be cast into exterior darkness, without being able in any way to help themselves. Even in this life they are like idols, because, though they hear and see, it is more in appearance than reality; for they neither see nor hear the things that pertain to salvation, the things that only are worth seeing, so that they may be said more to dream than to see or hear; as St. Mark has it, “Having eyes ye see not, having ears ye hear not.”

9 The house of Israel hath hoped in the Lord: he is their helper and their protector.
10 The house of Aaron hath hoped in the Lord: he is their helper and their protector.
11 They that fear the Lord have hoped in the Lord: he is their helper and their protector.

Having said, Let them that make them become like “unto them, and all such as trust in them,” he adds, by way of antithesis, that the children of Israel trusted in the Lord, and that they had him, therefore, as a protector, naming the house of Israel first, which includes the whole Jewish nation; then the house of Aaron, which means the priests and Levites, the elite of God’s people, and who should, therefore, have special trust in God; and, finally, all those that fear the Lord; for at all times there were pious souls, however few they may have been, not belonging to the children of Israel who feared and worshipped God in all sincerity; such were Job and his friends, and afterwards Naaman, the Syrian, and others.

12 The Lord hath been mindful of us, and hath blessed us. He hath blessed the house of Israel: he hath blessed the house of Aaron.
13 He hath blessed all that fear the Lord, both little and great.

He now confirms what he had asserted, viz., that God would be the helper and the protector of those that trust in him. He ranks himself among the number as having got special help and protection from God. He then, in the same order, confirms his assertions of God having blessed the house of Israel, the house of Aaron, and all who fear him, great or small, without any reference to greatness or littleness, whether of age, power, wisdom, or riches. When God is said to be “mindful,” it means that he regards with a singular providence; “and blessed us,” by assisting and protecting us—“us” meaning the house of Israel, the house of Aaron, and all that fear him.

14 May the Lord add blessings upon you: upon you, and upon your children.
15 Blessed be you of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

“Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,” as we read in Lk. 6; and as the heart of the holy prophet was burning with desire for the glory of God and the salvation of his neighbor, he turns over the same subject, prophesying at one time, then exhorting, and then by praying all manner of happiness on mankind, in the hope of bringing them to have a holy fear of God, and to repose all their hope in him. Turning, then, to those who fear God, whose blessing he had assured them of, he says to them, “May the Lord add blessings upon you,” and not only on you, but “upon your children.” And thus may you be blessed with a full and entire benediction from the Lord, “who made heaven and earth;” that is, by him in whose hand is the dew of heaven and the fatness of the earth. The saints of the Old Testament were very much in the habit of praying to the Lord for the dews of heaven and the fatness of the earth for their people; for all the fruits of the earth depend on them. In a more spiritual meaning, God blesses with the dews of heaven and the fatness of the earth those to whom he gives spiritual and temporal blessings in abundance; as he did to Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, and David, and such others.

16 The heaven of heaven is the Lord’s: but the earth he has given to the children of men.
17 The dead shall not praise thee, O Lord: nor any of them that go down to hell.
18 But we that live bless the Lord: from this time now and for ever.

These three verses may be differently interpreted, applying them to the Jews under the Old Testament, or to the Christians in the New. If we apply them to the Jews, the meaning is, Having said, “Blessed be you of the Lord, who made heaven and earth,” he now asserts that it is only fair that they who have been blessed by the Lord should, in return, bless him while they live upon this earth, which he gave them for a habitation, leaving to the Angels the duty of blessing him in heaven, that being his habitation and that of his servants who minister unto him. “The heaven of heavens is the Lord’s;” that is, the supreme heaven belongs peculiarly to God and to the Angels who minister unto him; “but the earth,” with the elements that surround it, “he has given to the children of men” for their habitation, and for such a splendid portion of the universe man should constantly return thanks to God as long as they live and enjoy the fruits of that earth. Because “the dead shall not praise thee, O Lord;” for the dead, being devoid of sense, and no longer in possession of the goods of this world, and being even bereft of life, cannot praise God or return him thanks for his benefits. “For any of them that go down into hell.” Not only will the dead lying in their sepulchres not praise the Lord, but also “they that go down to hell;” the spirits who have gone down to the infernal regions; they, too, will not praise God for temporal blessings they cannot now possibly enjoy. “But we that live,” and are in the enjoyment of such blessings, “bless the Lord from this time now and forever,” through all succeeding ages. Applying the passage to the Christians under the New Testament, we are to bear in mind that “the heaven of heaven” means that supreme part of heaven where the children of God reside; of which the Apostle says, “For we know that if our earthly house of this habitation be dissolved, that we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in heaven;” that house God chose for himself, “but the earth,” this visible world, “he has given to the children of men,” as distinguished from the children of God; and, therefore, he adds, “The dead shall not praise thee, O Lord;” that is, they who, though living bodily, are spiritually dead, they will not praise you; “nor any of them that go down to hell;” who have died in their sins, and have gone to eternal punishment; “but we that live” the life of grace, adhering to thee through faith and charity, citizens of our heavenly country, though we are detained here for awhile below upon earth, we, I repeat, “bless the Lord,” and we “bless him forever.”

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