33 Therefore their days did he consume in vanity: and their years in trouble.
They refer the words in the first place to the evil report brought back by the spies, (Ay.) and to the consequent reluctance of the Israelites to attempt the conquest of Canaan; (P.) followed as it was by the punishment of the forced wandering in the desert, till all the adults save Caleb and Joshua were consumed in vanity, that is, cut off in the vain and endless toil of the wilderness; thus losing, as Parez adds, the hope revealed to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of being buried in the land where Messiah should make His grave,* that they might share in His Resurrection; a hope which induced Joseph to command the removal of his bones from Egypt.* In trouble. The LXX., Syriac, and Vulgate read with speed. And they explain it of the sudden judgments which fell on them, as in the matter of Korah, and of the fiery serpents, (Ay.) Exactly like this was the unbelief of the Jews in the time of Christ, refusing to believe, though they saw so many signs and wonders wrought by Him. Wherefore it is said,* “But though He had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on Him: that the saying of Esaias the Prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?”* They preferred to go back into the Egypt of the carnal and ceremonial law, (P.) and their doom is to perish in the spiritual wilderness, finding no entrance into the rest of the people of God. (z.) Vanity and speed are rightly conjoined here, remarks Euthymius, because all who live easy and frivolous lives find the years pass swiftly by them; while those who labour intently in the paths of virtue find their time long by reason of their toil.
34 When he slew them, they sought him: and turned them early, and inquired after God.
“God,” observes Lactantius, rebuking the heathen,* “passes away most readily from men’s recollection, just when they ought to give honour to Divine mercy, as enjoying His bounties. But if any heavy trouble come upon them—if the terrors of war resound—if deadly pestilence brood over them—if long drought deny sustenance to the corn—if wild storms or hail come upon them—they have recourse to God; they ask His aid; God is besought to help.… They never remember God save when they are in distress; but when fear is over and perils are gone, then they hurry eagerly to the temples of the gods. To these they make libations and sacrifices, and offer crowns. But God, Whom they besought in their need, they do not thank by so much as a word.”
Here, too, a false repentance is set before us. They sought Him, (Ay.) not for the sake of eternal life, (A.) but fearing to end the vapour too soon. It was not they whom He slew that sought Him, but those who feared to be slain in like manner. But the Scripture speaks thus because they were one people, (G.) and it is spoken as of one body. Early, like hirelings obliged to come at a fixed hour, but not like men ready to endure the burden and heat of the day, far less to persevere until the evening, like that true labourer of God of whom it is written, “Man goeth forth to his work, and to his labour, until the evening.”* And inquired after God. The Vulgate reads, came unto Him. How may this be? asks Gerhohus. Is He, Who is everywhere, to be approached on foot, in chariots or on horses, in ships, or any like means? Nay, only by the movements of the heart can we come to God or depart from Him.
35 And they remembered that God was their strength: and that the high God was their Redeemer.
It would not be said here,* tersely remarks a Saint,* that they remembered, (P.) if they had not first forgotten. Their strength, or, as LXX. and Vulgate, their helper, against Amalek, their redeemer from Pharaoh. Where note that the title Redeemer is here given to the Father, (C.) as it is also in another place to the Son,* “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed;” and in a third passage to the Holy Ghost, “for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death;”* wherefore the attributes of power and redemption are common to the Holy Trinity. Moreover, the Son is our Helper, (B.) by co-operating with our good works, as He was our Redeemer on the Cross.
36 Nevertheless, they did but flatter him with their mouth: and dissembled with him in their tongue.
37 For their heart was not whole with him: neither continued they steadfast in his covenant.
The old Versions, (Ay.) yet more forcibly, read, They loved Him in their mouth. This false love, offered to Him before Whom all the secrets of the heart are bare, endured till the time of Christ. Wherefore He Himself saith, “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,* This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honoureth Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me.”* Isaiah foresaw, comments S. Hrabanus, the deceits wherewith the Jews should craftily war against the Gospel, and he speaks in the person of the Lord. For they honoured Christ with their lips when they said, “Master, we know that Thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth;”* but their heart was far from Him, when they “sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of His words.”* And if we take the passage to refer to false Christians, especially to the traitor Apostle, we may dwell on the reading of the Illyrian Psalter, They kissed Him with their lips. Their heart was not right, remarks Gerhohus, (G.) precisely because it was not with Him. And they were not steadfast in His covenant, (P.) because they failed to keep the precepts of the Law, even under the terrible sanctions of the blessings and curses.* Nor were they faithful in the inheritance of the New Testament, (A.) faith in which, though veiled, was found amongst the elect even then; and now that it is revealed, it is not found in many of the called. A German commentator sums up this verse with a quaint old Teutonic saw:
Lieben ohne Treu,*
Beichten ohne Reu,
Und beten ohne Innigkeit,
Die drei Ding sind verlohrne Arbeit.1
38a (38) But he was so merciful, that he forgave their misdeeds: and destroyed them not.
38b (39) Yea, many a time turned he his wrath away: and would not suffer his whole displeasure to arise.
God is merciful to both good and bad, “for He maketh His sun to rise upon the evil and the good, (Ay.) and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust;” and this as regards temporal blessings. But this is the mercy of His left hand, not of His right; temporal, not spiritual; since it is common to good and bad. In this wise God was merciful to that nation, in that He did not root it out from the earth, as it deserved. The spiritual mercy, that of His right hand, whereby sins are remitted and eternal blessings are conferred, is quite other. That He did not bestow on that evil generation, for the greater part of them perished in the wilderness, for murmuring and rebelling against God. Therefore, when it is said that He forgave their misdeeds, it is not to be understood of their evil fathers, but of the children who succeeded them, such as David, Hezekiah, Josiah, and Daniel, and other righteous men, to whose misdeeds God was merciful when they sinned, as clearly appears in the case of David. And destroyed them not. It is well said, many a time.* Once He spared them at the intreaty of Moses, (L.) after the sin of the Golden Calf;* a second time at Taberah; thirdly,* when Aaron stood with his censer between the living and the dead; fourthly, by means of the brazen serpent; fifthly, by suffering the younger generation to enter Canaan. (G.) And even when the sins continued, He reserved the root of the tree whose branches He lopped, (B.) from which shot forth the Apostles and the first company of believers, (R.) not suffering His whole displeasure to arise. Even still He holds to His pledge, keeping a remnant of the Jews undestroyed, that they may turn at the last to Christ.
The Doctor of Grace warns us that this text has been abused by those who, (A.) desirous of continuing in sin, exalt God’s mercy at the expense of His justice. But, rejoins he, if, to speak in their own words, God will perhaps not destroy even bad men, He will certainly not destroy good men. Why then do we not rather choose that wherein there is no doubt? For they that lie to Him in their tongue, while their heart holds somewhat else, think and wish even God to be a liar, when He threatens them with everlasting punishment. But as they do not deceive Him with their lie, so He does not deceive them with His truth.
39 (40) For he considered that they were but flesh: and that they were even a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.
Two things are set before us here:* God’s clemency, for He considered; and man’s wretchedness. The latter is twofold. He is but flesh, and therefore liable to sin. He is a spirit that passeth away from God and holiness,* and has no power to come again; as it is written, “None that go unto her return again, neither take they hold of the paths of life.”* No power of himself, (A.) doubtless, adds S. Augustine, but he can be called back by grace. And that fitly; for man, who fell at another’s tempting, (G.) may well be restored by another’s help. But he who fell by his own pride may rise again, if he can,* with no helper; but because he cannot, he may be styled as truly as man is (nay, more truly) a spirit that passeth away, and cometh not again, even as the Truth said unto him, “Get thee hence, Satan.”* It was not said to him, as in the Song of Songs to the faithful soul, the Bride of God, “Return, return, O Shulamite; return, return, that we may look upon thee.”* And the words are also a terse definition of death, telling us how the spirit passeth away from this world, and cometh not again, (Ay.) but leaves the flesh here behind.
And what’s a life? a weary pilgrimage,
Whose glory in one day doth fill thy stage
With childhood, manhood, and decrepit age.*
And what’s a life? the flourishing array
Of the proud summer meadow, which to-day
Wears her green blush, and is to-morrow hay.
And what’s a life? a blast sustained with clothing,
Maintained with food, retained with vile self-loathing,
Then, weary of itself, again to nothing.
40 (41) Many a time did they provoke him in the wilderness: and grieved him in the desert.
Already, (Ay.) when they were but in the second year of their wanderings, God complained that they had tempted Him “ten times;”* and it may thence be gathered how often they did so during the eight and thirty years which followed. The ten occasions were—(1) Murmuring at the three days’ thirst,* after the passage of the Red Sea; (2) Complaining for lack of food; (3) The second demand for water, at Rephidim; (4) The Golden Calf; (5) The demand for flesh-meat; (6) The attempt to return into Egypt after the report of the spies; (7) The mutiny after the death of Korah; (8) The complaint because of the judgment of the mutineers; (9) The third demand for water, at Kadesh; (10) The revolt at Mount Hor, punished with fiery serpents. The place where they committed their sin was an aggravation of it, because it was precisely in the wilderness, with no human help near, (G.) that they ought to have felt most dependence on and trust in God.* The words hold true still of all who are far from the spiritual Church,* wandering in the wilderness of their sins, in the dry place unwatered by the streams of grace.
41 (42) They turned back, and tempted God: and moved the Holy One in Israel.
Turned. Whence and whither? From good to evil. Moved. The LXX. and Vulgate read exasperated. But the A. V. reads limited, that is, set bounds to His omnipotence. The Hebrew is הִתְווּ, the Hiphil of תָּוָה, which is properly “to mark with a Thau,” the sign of the Cross. Hence the Targum explains the passage signed Him with a sign, which Delitzsch adopts in the sense of casting a stigma on Him.* Most of the old Versions and of modern critics agree with the Vulgate,* taking תָּוָה in the sense of the Syriac ܬܘ݀ܐ; but Gerhohus,* keeping to the hint given by the Chaldee, boldly paraphrases, (G.) They crucified the Holy One in Israel; (L.) and thus limited Him, the Omnipresent, to the narrow bounds of the Rood.
42 (43) They thought not of his hand: and of the day when he delivered them from the hand of the enemy.
43 (44) How he had wrought his miracles in Egypt: and his wonders in the field of Zoan.
So, (Lu.) too, bad Christians have thought not of His hand, nailed for them on the Cross, that day when He delivered them, after having wrought His miracles in the darkness of this world, of which Egypt is the type, (R.) and shown His wonders in Zoan, the “low estate” of His humble Manhood, the “lowliness” of His Maiden Mother, the mean origin of His princes, the Apostles.* Hereupon there follows a list of plagues sent on the Egyptians, agreeing in number with those recorded in Exodus, (A.) but differing in details and order. The three omissions are the lice, the boils, and the darkness; the additions are the caterpillar or “blight,” (Vulg. ærugo,) the frost, and the hot thunderbolts—a special agent of destruction, and not a mere accompaniment of the storms. (L.) Lorinus applies here the canon of S. Jerome, that when in Holy Writ the topic is the praise of God, the historical order is frequently departed from, and a rhetorical one adopted instead, inverting the sequence of events. The actual order of the ten plagues may be recalled by Cardinal Hugo’s mnemonic verses:*
Sanguis, rana, cyniph, muscæ, pecus, ulcera, grando,
Bruchus, caligo, mors, invaluere necando.
44 (45) He turned their waters into blood: so that they might not drink of the rivers.
The especial appropriateness of the plagues which fell on the Egyptians to the circumstances and the religion of the country, (A.) has often been dwelt on. Their mystical import has not been less discussed. The first plague, of blood, is thus interpreted as the punishment for breach of the first Commandment, denoting, as it does,* the change of men’s thoughts from pure and lofty ideas of God to carnal and animal ones, leading to debased idolatry. (Ay.) Again, it is taken as the token of Divine anger for the decree enjoining the drowning of the Hebrew infants. Rupert combines these two ideas,* explaining the passage of idolatrous persecutors, who shed the blood of the Saints, and whose punishment is to be blood-drinking, not for one or two days, but a whole week, that is, through eternity. Cardinal Hugo takes it in two ways: first, of those who give themselves up to flesh and blood, so that all things turn into condemnation for them; and secondly, of the tasteless water of the old Law, changed into the Blood of the New Covenant, ruddy from the veins of Christ.* Once more, another mediæval writer speaks thus: “There is a conversion of water into blood, but that is confined to the Egyptians. There is another conversion of water into wine, but that is at a marriage. And there is a. third conversion, of wine into blood, but that is in the Lord’s Supper.* The first conversion, of water into blood, is said to mean that the water of deadly wisdom, the wisdom of this world, the prudence of the flesh, turns into blood; that is, into death for them who walk according to the flesh. For the prudence of the flesh is death, and the wisdom of the flesh is at enmity with God. The Prophet, censuring men of this stamp, saith, ‘What hast thou to do in the way of Egypt, to drink muddy water?1 or what hast thou to do in the way of Assyria, to drink the waters of the river?’* For all earthly wisdom, whereof the Egyptians (the friends of this world, God’s enemies) drink, is hateful to God. Therefore the water of Egypt is that which is turned into blood, because its blood is on them who drink it. The second change is of water into wine, and this seems to denote conversion, to wit, of fear into the love of righteousness. This change takes place at a marriage, because the Church is betrothed to God in faith and righteousness, that righteousness which is of faith in Jesus Christ. The third change, of wine into blood, is when righteousness so delights the soul, that one is ready to contend for it unto blood and death; and this is the perfection of righteousness.”
What is this silent might,
Making our darkness light,*
New wine our waters, heavenly Blood our wine?
Christ, with His Mother dear,
And all His Saints, is here,
And where they dwell is Heaven, and what they touch, divine.
45 (46) He sent lice among them, and devoured them up: and frogs to destroy them.
The A. V. here, instead of lice,* reads divers sorts of flies, which represents a reading suggested by S. Jerome in the LXX., κοινόμυιαν,* instead of the usual one, κυνόμυιαν or dog-fly. The Hebrew word is עָרֹב, a mixture; and the very ancient tradition mentioned in the Book of Wisdom, and accepted by Josephus, R. Jonathan, R. Aben Ezra, and R. Ishaki,* alleges the plague to have been not of flies, but of wild beasts. Gesenius, however, giving the sense of to suck to the radical עָרַב, follows Bochart in accepting the LXX.* interpretation, which is also that of the Roman, Gallican, Arabic, and Illyrian Psalters. S. Isidore, holding this view, urges that the fly, as a restless insect,* was the fit punishment for restless and unquiet minds; and the Carmelite adds, that the dog-fly aptly denotes the animal passions and pursuits of the Egyptians. So far back as Origen’s time the text was applied in this sense against the Cynics. (Ay.) S. Augustine notes the fact that dogs are born blind,* so that they cannot see their parents; (A.) and Rupert, therefore, takes this, the fourth plague,* as punishment for breach of the fourth Commandment, (according to the Latin reckoning,) which extends,* the Gloss tells us, to those who despise the prelates of the Church. Frogs denote talkative vanity,* especially, as some will have it, (B.) the idle fables of heathen poetry and philosophy; and thus the peril of sins of the tongue is pointed out,* in particular those committed by heretics in their resistance to the Gospel, (D. C.) by the word destroy. S. Gregory Nyssen, however, takes frogs,* as denizens of the mud, to denote persons of voluptuous and self-indulgent life, whom the very waters do not cleanse. Ayguan expands this idea, taking the frogs to mean the three chief sins of the modern world, pride, luxury,* and avarice.* The frog dwells in foul and muddy waters, (Ay.) which denote luxury. Next, the belly of the frog is far larger than any other part of its body, and keeps close to the ground; thus signifying those who are greedy of earthly riches. Thirdly, the frog advances by leaps; and this is a type of those who attempt to lift themselves to high position by a sudden bound, unwilling to pass by the true mean of the middle space, whereby honour is won. Wherefore of these three sins it is said, “I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon.”*
46 (47) He gave their fruit unto the caterpillar: and their labour unto the grasshopper.
The LXX. reads ἐρυσίβη, or blight, with which the Vulgate arugo agrees. (A.) Aquila and S. Jerome have bruchus,* and the probable meaning of חָסִיל is the wingless locust, or the larva of the locust. The blight, says a Saint, is hidden sin, and particularly the sin of self-sufficiency, which kills the soul when it seems to be healthiest, The grasshopper, or rather the locust, observes S. Augustine, is malice hurting with the mouth, that is, with false witness. And Rupert, taking the same view, teaches that it especially denotes the false witness of heretics, saying, that as the locusts were carried into Egypt, not by their own flight, but by a wind, so those who quote Scripture against the truth are not borne, as they suppose, on the wings of knowledge, but by the wind of spiritual pride, to the subversion of their hearers, (C.) and their own destruction.* And others refer the term chiefly to envious detractors. (D. C.)
47 (48) He destroyed their vines with hailstones: and their mulberry-trees with the frost.
“By this plague is shown,” says the Carmelite,* “how God alarms the life of the evil by the words of His preachers, (Ay.) and calls them back to grace. Wherefore Gregory saith, By hail or snow, cold and hard,* we understand the hearts of the evil. But since Almighty God chooses His Saints from such, and knows well how many elect He possesses who are as yet exposed amidst the life of the evil, He fittingly describes Himself as having His treasures in snow and hail. These elect He brings out at His command, and by heavenly grace makes them white with the purity of righteousness. Saul was hail and snow at first by his cold insensibility; but he was made to be snow and hail against the breasts of his adversaries, by the whiteness of his righteousness and by the smiting of his vigorous speech. O what a treasure God had then in snow and hail, when the Lord saw him, His secretly elect, living in the life of evil! O what hail was that He took in His hand to smite full many a breast of the adversaries, hail wherewith He laid low so many hearts that resisted Him! Let no man, then, be uplifted because of his own works, nor despair of them whom he sees to be still cold, because he does not see the treasures in the snow and hail.” The Lord destroys vines with hailstones when He strikes at carnal pleasures with the wise sayings of preachers. Others, following S. Augustine, take the verse in a bad sense, (A.) of the sins of violence and coldness. (D. C.) So the tyrannical and rapacious, while oppressing others, slay their own souls, and destroy their own former good works with the frost of hatred and ill-will, which is iciness of the soul.* The Vulgate for vines reads vineyards, and then we may take the vineyard to be the Church, and the mulberry-trees its Priests; for they should bear fruit, at first white in purity of life; then red, in fervour of charity; and lastly black, in mortification of the flesh. Of these it is written, “To the end they might provoke the elephants to fight, they showed them the blood of grapes and mulberries.”* Frost, arising from the waters, is the love of riches, which is fatal to the priesthood; and hail denotes their quarrels and dissensions.
48 (49) He smote their cattle also with hailstones: and their flocks with hot thunderbolts.
“By the death of beasts,” remarks S. Augustine, (A.) “was typified, so far as I can judge, the loss of chastity. For concupiscence, whereby offspring ariseth, we have in common with beasts. To have this, therefore, tamed and ordered, is the virtue of chastity.” By the death of irrational cattle, (Ay.) consequently, the fate of those is denoted who live like beasts, not restraining their unlawful passions with the bridle of continence. Their flocks. The LXX. and Vulgate read,* their possession. And this possession, say they, is the orderly condition of the mind or soul, which is wasted with fire, (Vulg.) when delivered over to the flames of passion or luxury. (A.) S. Augustine, noting that this plague is not specified in Exodus, suggests that it denotes fierce anger, which may lead even to homicide.
49 (50) He cast upon them, the furiousness of his wrath, anger; displeasure, and trouble: and sent evil angels among them.
S. Augustine comments at much length on this passage, (A.) touching the punitive ministry of good and evil angels, pointing out that both have great sway over the powers of nature, and that evil spirits are sometimes permitted by God to exhibit this influence of theirs. They may tempt also, as in the cases of Job and Ahab; and may, as well as good angels, be employed as the executioners of God’s wrath. And he decides that evil angels were the instruments of the slaughter of the beasts and the first-born in Egypt, and also of the hardening of the Egyptian hearts, inasmuch as they were suffered to suggest sin to those whom God had forsaken because of their unbelief. But when God punishes the righteous with temporal penalties,* He does it by the hands of His good angels. The Greek Fathers, however, say that the angels are here called evil, (Z.) not by reason of their nature, but merely as bringing evils on the heads of sinners.
50 (51) He made a way to his indignation, and spared not their soul from death: but gave their life over to the pestilence;
51 (52) And smote all the first-born in Egypt: the most principal and mightiest in the dwellings of Ham.
The words He made a way denote that there could have been no approach made even to punish sinners, (C.) unless they were first deprived of the protection of God,* so that the enemy had power to hurt them. (G.) And that way was God’s hidden justice, whereby He might have chastised the Egyptians for the sin of their will; but He made that way broad and conspicuous, by permitting them to commit sins of act, drawing down fearful vengeance. Wherefore it is said that He spared not their souls from death, because He allowed those souls to sink into the death of sin even before He smote their bodies, giving their life over to the pestilence. The LXX. and Vulgate read this clause, And shut up their cattle in death. (B.) Literally, by the hail and murrain; spiritually, by slaying their virtues of meekness and obedience, (D. C.) and by eternal condemnation of their carnal desires and works.* And smote all the first-born in Egypt. (A.) They refer it to a mightier overthrow than that in the Book of Exodus—to the victory of the Incarnate Saviour over the devil and his angels,* and over the false teachers who are their allies.* And He has made us partakers of this victory by causing us also to renounce the devil, his pomps, and his angels. That, too, adds Rupert,* by slaying original sin, the parent of so many offences, after the immolation of the true Paschal Lamb. They point out also that the words denote the spiritual chastisement of unfaithful Christians, when God deprives them of His grace. For the first-born mean those things which claim the highest love and reverence, (C.) such as the two great commandments of love of God and love of one’s neighbour, or as faith and righteousness. (R.) Faith when formed is, as it were, the first-born of the soul, and God slays it when men persist in abiding in Egypt, the darkness of this world. (D. C.) The Carmelite is even more mystical in his view. Taking this plague as vengeance for breach of the tenth commandment, (Ay.) he says that they who covet, wish to be the heirs of those whose goods they desire, and therefore wish them to have no other heirs, no first-born. This is, in its degree, a sin like the slaughter of the Hebrew children: and God punishes it by slaying faith, the firstborn of spiritual works, in the souls of the covetous. The most principal and the mightiest in the dwellings of Ham. (L.) The LXX. and Vulgate read, The first-fruits of all their labour in the tabernacles of Ham. There is a contest between the commentators as to whether these words refer to children, to the fruits of the earth, (Lu.) or to the first-born of cattle. There is more agreement as to the mystical signification,* which is, (D. C.) that God slays the fervour of charity and the principal virtues in souls which persist in dwelling amongst the ungodly.
52 (53) But as for his own people, he led them forth like sheep: and carried them in the wilderness like a flock.
53 (54) He brought them out safely, that they should not fear: and overwhelmed their enemies with the sea.
He led them forth. The LXX. and Vulgate, (G.) more emphatically, He took them away. That is, (P.) away from the jaws of the lion and the wolf, from the power of the devil, from worldly conversation, from evil companionship, (D. C.) as He saith by Hosea, “I will ransom them from the power of the grave, I will redeem them from death.”* And He hath elsewhere spoken of the elect, “Ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.”* This the Saviour doth whenever He pours the grace of conversion into man. (L.) There is a wild Jewish legend that a sheep appeared of a sudden to the people of the Exodus, spoke with human voice, and pointed out the way; and that these words of the Psalmist refer to that event, true enough in a higher sense. Ayguan’s gloss, (Ay.) that they recall the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb, which opened the road from Egypt, may be mentioned, but will hardly be adopted. (D. C.) And carried them. The A. V., better, guided them, as the Good Shepherd, in the wilderness, of this world’s exile, whereof the forty years’ wandering was a type, like a flock, because of the unity of that Church which He founded,* and that flock one of sheep, because the sheep, (Ay.) by their inoffensiveness, their patience, their silence, (D. C.) and their usefulness to man, aptly signify devout and faithful souls, which their Shepherd feeds with the priceless food of His own precious Body and Blood. Safely. The LXX. and Vulgate read, In hope. Rightly,* for hope is the chariot whereon God brings His elect to Himself across the wilderness of penitence, as Joseph sent for Jacob. The hope of the Israelites was the Land of Promise, ours is the better Country. (A.) We are being led home in hope, “for by hope we are saved.”* That they should not fear. It is written in the Book of Exodus, that when Pharaoh pursued the children of Israel,* “they were sore afraid.” R. Kimchi answers that their fear lasted but a moment,* and was calmed by the words of Moses, “Fear ye not; stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.” Ayguan’s reply is, that there are two kinds of fear:* one which causes abandonment of a plan, (Ay.) and the other which is less effective; and that only this slighter fear affected the Israelites. (D. C.) And then it is taken of the constancy of Martyrs and Confessors in resisting suffering, losses, and temptations, because of the hope within them.
Fides spe corroborate,
Fulget in martyribus,
Corda Deo præparata,
Præstant sacris legibus.
And overwhelmed their enemies with the sea, (C.) by destroying our ghostly foes, (R.) and blotting out our sins in the cleansing waters of Baptism.
54 (55) And brought them within the borders of his sanctuary: even to his mountain which he purchased with his right hand.
The borders. So the Hebrew and S. Jerome. (L.) But the LXX. and Vulgate read, The mountain of His sanctification, not improbably from the copyists of the former confounding ὄρος and ὄρος. The words imply first the entrance into Canaan generally, and then the special conquest of Jerusalem itself. And the mountainous character of Palestine, especially on its Lebanon border, enables some of the commentators, though following the Vulgate text, to give this true explanation. Others apply the first clause to Jerusalem, whose “foundation is upon the holy hills,” (C.) and the latter to Mount Sion, or Moriah,* whereon the Temple stood. The mystical interpretation presents no difficulty.* The Church into which God leads His elect is mountainous,* because He hallows them by confession, praise, contemplation, and employment about heavenly things. The arrival at the borders denotes the life of less perfect Christians, the ascent of the mountain the victory of the Saints, of whom is written, “Lord, who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle, and who shall rest upon Thy holy hill?”* And this mountain He purchased with His right hand,* when He stretched that hand out to be nailed upon the Cross. Wherefore He says of this especial glory vouchsafed to His dearest ones, “Moreover, I have given to thee one portion above thy brethren, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with My sword and with My bow.”*
55 (56) He cast out the heathen also before them caused their land to be divided among them for an heritage, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents.
Here, as so often,* they dwell on the seven Canaanitish nations as typical of the seven deadly sins, assigning them, however, somewhat variously; and show how every penitent soul is like Mary Magdalene, out of whom Christ cast seven devils. Less mystical, though not less true, is the gloss of Cassiodorus, (R.) that the words tell us of the disappearance of barbarous Pagan customs before the civilizing advance of the Gospel, (C.) whereby, as another points out, Christians now dwell in lands formerly occupied by idolaters. (D. C.) Caused their land to be divided. This clause is more fully expressed by the LXX. and Vulgate, (C.) He divided by lot to them in the line of distribution. Cassiodorus, agreeing herein with a suggestion of the Pseudo-Dionysius,* that lot sometimes means a splendour or appointment of the Spirit, takes these words to denote the various degrees of gift, reward, and beatitude in the kingdom of heaven.
In domo Patris
Ecce sunt pulchræ
Quæ sunt certantum
Pro virtute tantum
By lot, because it is not of man’s judgment,* but by the election of God; (B.) by lot, because it is a free gift of the Spirit,* and not of man’s purchasing, and in the line of distribution, that the exact limits of each virtue may be marked out, (Ay.) so that frugality may not narrow itself into covetousness, nor liberality expand into waste. Or, again, (B.) the line may denote the varying amount of grace and power given to each believer,* “according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” (D. C.) Once more, the passage has been explained of the partition of the mission-field of the world amongst the Apostles, (A.) an event formerly celebrated in the Western Church by a special festival. And made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents. S. Augustine, who explains the heathen to be evil spirits, takes these words to mean the exaltation of ransomed men to the thrones left vacant by the fall of the rebel angels; (D. C.) while others are content with seeing here, as in the earlier clause, the victory of Christianity over Paganism.* And it is also taken of heavenly virtues dwelling in souls once the habitation of evil thoughts, because “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”*
56 (57) So they tempted, and displeased the most high God: and kept not his testimonies;
57 (58) But turned their backs, and fell away like their forefathers: starting aside like a broken bow.
58 (59) For they grieved him with their hill-altars: and provoked him to displeasure with their images.
There are six distinct sins here enumerated.* Deceit, in tempting God; infidelity, in displeasing Him; omission of duty, in keeping not His testimonies; apostasy, in falling away; breach of promised vows, in likeness to a broken bow; idolatry, in the hill-altars and images. They all agree that the broken bow refers to faultiness of will, as the bow is the intention, of which the practical issue is the arrow. (B.) The A. V. reading, a deceitful bow, is the true rendering; and the meaning is therefore that of feebleness and laxity in spiritual things, when there is no real elasticity in the soul, sufficient to project a prayer or a good work as far as the mark, and therefore failing in the time of need. (Z.) Euthymius, dwelling on the LXX. word στρεβλόν, crooked or twisted, explains it of a will which is not straight and honest, and which therefore cannot send the arrow in the right line, though it may do so with sufficient force. (A.) The Latin Fathers, for the most part reading a perverse bow, explain it of a weapon turned against its owner,* rather than against his enemies. And it is thus taken especially of evil-living preachers, whose denunciations of sin recoil on their own heads. So it is written,* “They return, but not to the Most High: they are like a deceitful bow.” (D. C.) And the hill-altars imply spiritual pride, which gives not God the glory, but exalts human merit;* while the images are any objects of love and admiration which are not given us by God, but framed by ourselves in our hearts, even if not endued with bodily form.
59 (60) When God heard this, he was wroth: and took sore displeasure at Israel.
60 (61) So that he forsook the tabernacle in Silo: even the tent that he had pitched among men.
He heard it, (Z.) as He heard the voice of Abel’s blood crying out, as He heard the voices of Sodom and Gomorrah. For sins cry out before God, and disclose their authors. And took sore displeasure at Israel. The LXX. and Vulgate, even more forcibly, And brought Israel exceedingly to nothing. Literally, in the first instance, by the successive overthrows and bondage He permitted them to endure; and later, spiritually, by the transfer of their privileges to the Gentiles. He forsook the tabernacle in Silo, when the Ark was captured in the days of Eli, (A.) and the tabernacle left empty. The Ark never returned to Shiloh again, and thus the vengeance which fell on that guilty city is cited as a warning to Jerusalem: “Go ye now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I set My Name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of My people Israel.”* Mystically,* they take it first of the rejection of the whole Jewish nation; (D. C.) then of the Christian Church, when punished for its sins; and finally of our bodies, which are the temples of the Holy Ghost,* forsaken by God when He leaves the soul, in displeasure at a carnal life. “Wherefore is added, Even the tent that He had pitched amongst men. It is not said, observes Gerhohus, that He dwelt in walls, but in men. (G.) For God, Who is a Spirit, dwells not in habitations made with hands, but in rational spirits; for which reason, they who worship Him must worship in spirit. But He chooses to have temples or tabernacles made with hands, wherein He may be served by men, whose minds He inhabits by faith working through love. And if this faith and love be quenched in men, He cares little for the mere walls of temples, however beautiful and costly. Thus He abandons heretics, who break away from the unity of the Church, in whose bodies and souls He had once dwelt through faith. Wherefore, (R.) adds another commentator, it is needful to bear in mind that saying, “Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, are these.”* There remains one mystical sense, yet more profound, which is strangely omitted by all the commentators. It is the reference to Him of Whom the dying patriarch spake by the name of Shiloh,* Who was sent forth from the Father when “the Word was made flesh,* and tabernacled among us.” Because of our sins, which He bore in His own Body on the tree, He was forsaken in His last trial by His Father, so that He cried, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” Then, far more truly than when the Ark was taken, or the Temple spoiled, was that fulfilled which follows:
61 (62) He delivered their power into captivity: and their beauty into the enemy’s hand.
Into captivity, in the garden, and in the grave; into the enemy’s hand, when Judas betrayed, and Pilate condemned, and death seized Him; their Power,* because “the Arm of the Lord;” their Beauty, because He is “fairer than the children of men.” They take the passage otherwise,* and variously. Some explain it of the Ark, (A.) the power in which the Jews trusted for victory, (G.) the beauty which they had adorned with cost and skill.* Others understand here the bravest and goodliest of the youth, (Ay.) slain in the battle with the Philistines at Aphek; and again in the slaughter and captivity of a far later age, under Titus and Hadrian. Mystically, it is interpreted of those who, by boasting of their own good works,* suffer the enemy to rule over their souls, and thus deliver up that holiness which was their power and beauty into his hands.* Or it may denote the soldiers of the Church, especially bishops and priests, (D. C.) giving their bodies, which are their power,* up to sin, while their souls, their true beauty, also become the slaves of their ghostly foes. Our power and beauty,* observes another, (R.) are our baptism and other divine graces, which we lose when we think we can be saved by faith alone, without good works as its fruit.
62 (63) He gave his people over also unto the sword: and was wroth with his inheritance.
The LXX. and Vulgate read, yet more strongly, He shut up His people in the sword. (Ay.) And they point out how complete was this chastisement; for not only was there a terrible slaughter at the time, but “there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel; for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears:* but all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock.” An earlier book tells us how vigilantly this mode of repression was carried out. “Was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?”* Nor was it less strict later; for “there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people that were with Saul and Jonathan; but with Saul and with Jonathan his son was there found.”* Mystically, adds the Carmelite, (Ay.) God shuts up His people with the sword whenever He suffers any to be overcome by the temptation of the devil. For the sword denotes evil counsel. But note, that this cannot be without our own consent. Wherefore Gregory shows in that saying in Job,* “The sword drawn, and coming out of the sheath,”* the devil lays his snares for the righteous, but while he is plotting evil in his thoughts, the sword is in its sheath; and while he is carrying out his wicked scheme, then the sword is being drawn from the sheath, because the evil deed discloses the hidden thought. And observe that it says, “drawn and coming out of the sheath;” drawn by the seducer, but coming forth by our own will. The Carthusian, writing when the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre was still a lingering hope of Western chivalry and religion, takes the passage to denote the slaughter of Christians in the Holy Land by the Saracens, permitted for their sins, (D. C.) because God was wroth with His inheritance.
64 The fire consumed their young men: and their maidens were not given to marriage.
65 Their priests were slain with the sword: and there were no widows to make lamentation.
They take the fire mystically of carnal passions, (Ay.) working more fatal results than the sword and brands of the Philistines. (D. C.) Given to marriage. This, though a paraphrase, is the most probable meaning of the Hebrew הוּלָּלוּ, were praised, to wit, in the bridal songs. The LXX. and Vulgate, however, refer it to the funeral ode, and translate, were not lamented. (Ay.) And they explain it that sin had grown to such a height, (D. C.) that there was no compassion felt for those who had forfeited their purity, but rather admiration for such as showed most openly their want of it. (A.) Others, more literally, (C.) refer the words to the number and frequency of the slaughters, which left neither time for solemn rites, nor persons to perform them.* Philip de la Grève explains the young men to mean constancy of mind, and the maidens purity, which are most abundant when the soul is guarded with devout prayer, and is kept apart from bodily pleasures, which two conditions are typified by the priests and the widows of the latter verse. But when prayer and continence disappear, then constancy and purity fail also. Their priests were slain with the sword. The words refer first to the death of Hophni and Phinehas,* and then, mystically, (G.) to all clerks and religious persons who fail either in soundness of doctrine or holiness of life. (D. C.) They are slain with the sword of God’s “Word, proceeding out of their own mouths as they preach. And there were no widows to make lamentation. Literally, the text refers to the death of Phinehas’* wife in childbirth. Widows and maidens are taken of Religious women. The Vulgate reads, were not lamented. (G.) Gerhohus, very boldly, explains it that devout persons, in times of great spiritual coldness, are slow to lament over the loss of mere physical purity on the part even of Religious, because there is a possibility of such a terrible fall rousing them to true repentance and zeal; while, if they possess that one merit, and no other, they may trust in it to their destruction, and be counted amongst the foolish virgins, (D. C.) who took no oil in their lamps. The Carthusian, conversely, takes these latter words to mean that coldness had spread so widely, that no one was found to weep for those living in carnal sin, of whom the Apostle says, “She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.”*
65 (66) So the Lord awaked as one out of sleep: and like a giant refreshed with wine.
First, and most truly, it is spoken of that Lord Who awaked—what time His priests of the elder Law had spiritually died by their sin against Him—out of His sleep of three days in the grave,* refreshed with the strong wine of the Cup of His Passion, which He had drunk to the very dregs. Giant He, as the noble old hymn calls Him:
Geminæ Gigas substantiæ,*