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.