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

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 20

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 9, 2018


1 Unto the end. A psalm for David.

2 MAY the Lord hear thee in the day of tribulation: may the name of the God of Jacob protect thee.

Whereas David does not mention any one’s name, there is no doubt, but he addresses himself to him on whom all the longings of the just and the predictions of the prophets were centered. And, as if he were beholding Christ on the approach of his passion, arming himself with prayer, on coming forward to fight with the devil, he exclaims, “May the Lord hear thee in the day of tribulation:” that is, in your passion, when, as the apostle has it, Heb. 5, “Who offering up prayers and supplications, with a strong cry and tears, to him that was able to save him from death, was heard for his reverence.” He was heard, however, not by escaping death, but by dying that he may destroy death; and by rising, restore life; and so that shame may be turned into glory, and mortality into immortality, as he says himself, Jn. 17, “Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son;” and this is the hearing of which the prophet speaks, on which the following bears, “May the name of the God of Jacob protect thee.” By the word “name,” we are to understand the invocation, as we have in the last chapter of Mk. “In my name they will cast out devils.” It may also signify power or authority, as Jn. 5, “I have come in the name of my Father.” Or it may simply mean, God himself; for in the Scriptures the word “name” is used for the person to whom it belongs, as when St. Peter, Acts 4, says, “For there is no other name under heaven, given to men, whereby we must be saved.” He adds, “the name of the God of Jacob,” to signify the people of God, of whom Christ is the head; as if he said, May the God of his people protect thee; for if the head be protected, the whole body of the people will be consequently saved. We seek protection from the enemies’ weapons, for fear we may be hurt by them; and then, indeed, they would have been truly hurtful, could they have obstructed Christ’s resurrection, his name, or his religion, or the extension or propagation of his Church.

3 May he send thee help from the sanctuary: and defend thee out of Sion.

The sanctuary means Sion, as will presently appear, and was called holy by reason of the Ark of the Testament being placed on it. But another Sion, the heavenly one, would seem to be intended here, that of which the apostle speaks, Heb. 12, “But you are come to mount Sion, and to the city of the living God, that heavenly Jerusalem.” Sion is introduced here to show that God beholds everything, as if from some elevated look out, (for such is the meaning of the word Sion,) whence he can easily behold Christ in his struggles, and supply him with reinforcements; and a place so high, from whence everything can be so easily seen, is not the mountain bearing that name, but the celestial Sion and thus, “May he send thee help from the sanctuary,” means from the highest heavens whence he beholds all things; “And defend thee out of Sion,” that is, from his lofty watch tower, from which he observes you.

4 May he be mindful of all thy sacrifices: and may thy whole burnt offering be made fat.

Since our Lord, when about to combat the enemy of the human race, had recourse not only to prayer, but also to sacrifice; that is, not only prayed in words, but sacrificed in reality, and, as he had alluded to his prayer by the expression, “May the Lord hear thee;” he now touches on the sacrifice by saying, “May he be mindful of all thy sacrifices.” May he not despise them, but may he remember and regard them; “and may thy whole burnt offering be made fat.” May it be acceptable, as acceptable as the holocaust of fatted animals, for the fatter the better; and the more perfect an animal is, the more valuable is the holocaust. Hence, Daniel, chap. 3, “And as in thousands of fat lambs, so let our sacrifice be made in thy sight this day that it may please thee.” Now, Christ offered many sacrifices, and at last a holocaust, and therefore the prophet says, “May he be mindful of all thy sacrifices.” The many sacrifices are his numerous sufferings for the glory of God, whilst among us; the holocaust is that in which he ultimately offered himself up entirely, by dying on the cross; and thus, the meaning is, may the Lord always remember the passion and death of Christ. This would appear to be rather a prophecy than a prayer; in God’s sight, the passion of Christ, even from the beginning of the world, was always before him; is now, and ever will be before him; and is the source of infinite blessings to us.

5 May he give thee according to thy own heart; and confirm all thy counsels.

The object of both prayer and sacrifice declared, that is, may God hear thee, and accept of thy sacrifice; that you may come at the end you seek, and accomplish what you desire, and that there may be no one to mar you therein. “May he give thee according to thy own heart.” Give you your wish, your heart’s desire, “And confirm all thy counsels:” carry out all your plans, further all your wishes, confirm all your desires; thus the meaning will be, may God hear thee, and receive thy sacrifice; that you may upset the machinations of the devil, redeem man from bondage, and give eternal life to those that believe in thee; for that such was the desire of Christ’s heart, on such did his whole wisdom and deliberations turn, is evident from the gospel, Jn. 1:3, “For this purpose the Son of God appeared, that he might destroy the works of the devil:” and St. Paul, 1 Tim. 1, “Christ came into this world to save sinners:” and the Lord himself says, Lk. 12, “The Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost.”

6 We will rejoice in thy salvation; and in the name of our God we shall be exalted.

When our prayer shall have been granted, when you shall have conquered the enemy, “We will rejoice” interiorly as well as exteriorly, “In thy salvation;” that is, for your safe return from the war, in which safety we also share. “And in the name of our Lord,” who granted such a victory, “We shall be exalted,” we shall consider and look upon ourselves as great and wonderful, not by reason of our own merit, but by reason of the great God to whom we belong.

7 The Lord fulfil all thy petitions: now have I known that the Lord hath saved his anointed. He will hear him from his holy heaven: the salvation of his right hand is in powers.

Another repetition of his good wishes. “May the Lord,” therefore, “fulfill all thy petitions,” from which so many blessings are to follow. “Now have I known that the Lord hath saved his anointed. He will hear him from his holy heaven; the salvation of his right hand is in powers.” I am, therefore, emboldened in asking again, that the Lord may hear thee, may grant all your petitions; because, by a divine revelation, I now know that they will all be granted. “For I have known that the Lord hath saved,” that he certainly will save his Christ, and by predestination has already saved him, raised him from the dead, placed him in heaven, and stretched his enemies under his feet “He will hear him from his holy heaven.” Having stated that he saved him, he now explains, that he meant by salvation, a previous degree, not yet put into execution, but one that will certainly be carried out; “for he will hear him from his holy heaven,” and thus “The Lord will save his Christ.” “The salvation of his right hand is in powers.” This may be explained in two senses. The word “powers” may mean power and strength, (and the Hebrew favors such meaning,) and then it will read, Christ, “The salvation of his right hand,” will appear in great power; or the word powers may mean, princes and kings (and the Greek and Latin favor such meaning,) and then the meaning would be, “He will hear him from his holy heaven, and in his powers;” because, in appointing princes and rulers, or protecting them afterwards, “The salvation of his right hand” is peculiarly necessary. For though princes may seem to have many safeguards, such as horses, chariots, arms and soldiers, fortresses and munitions, all these are nothing, if “The salvation of the right hand” of God be not there too with them: and he, therefore, with great propriety, adds in the next verse,

8 Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will call upon the name of the Lord, our God.

He goes on with the account of Christ’s victory, as he had foreseen, saying: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses.” Some of the enemy trusted in armed chariots, some in ferocious horses, by which he comprehends all the instruments or weapons that were formerly used in war or for fight. “But we,” with Christ for our head and king, do not confide so much in horses or in chariots, as we do “In the name of the Lord our God.”

9 They are bound, and have fallen: but we are risen, and are set upright. O Lord, save the king: and hear us in the day that we shall call upon thee.

He shows how much more profitable it is to put one’s trust in God, than in horses and chariots. They who did, “Are bound, and have fallen; we who trusted in God are risen, and set upright.” See the wonderful change! Before the victory of Christ, the enemy of the human race bore himself aloft, as if in chariots and horses, and trampled on man, prostrate through original sin; in like manner, the princes of the Jews, Herod and Pilate, and other visible enemies of Christ, in their insolence, insulted the suffering Christ and his humble disciples, but soon after, “The former were bound, and have fallen;” while the latter “have risen, and set upright,” and will remain forever.

“O Lord, save the king, and hear us in the day, that we shall call upon thee.” He concludes, by uniting the first and last verses. Having commenced with “May the Lord hear thee in the day of tribulation,” he confirms it, by directing his prayer to God. “O Lord, save the king” from his tribulation; and us too, “In the day we shall call upon thee;” that is, in our tribulation, when we shall invoke none but thee.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 18

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 9, 2018


1 Unto the end, for David, the servant of the Lord, who spoke to the Lord the words of this canticle, in the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul: and he said:

2 I will love thee, O Lord, my strength:
3 The Lord is my firmament, my refuge, and my deliverer. My God is my helper, and in him will I put my trust. My protector, and the horn of my salvation, and my support.

What he expressed in one word, “my strength,” he now explains by several words, “my firmament, my refuge, my deliverer:” as if he said, I may justly call him my strength, when he is all the above names to me. When I lie down, he is my firmament; when I am in danger, he is my refuge; should I fall into the hands of the enemy, he will deliver me; and thus, in every respect, he is my strength and my courage. “My God is my helper, and in him will I put my trust: my protector and the horn of my salvation;” In the height of his affection to God, he repeats the epithets he used in the preceding verse, “my helper, my protector, and the horn of my salvation;” which correspond to “my firmament, my refuge, and my deliverer.” His “helper,” because he keeps him upright, prevents him from falling, (rock being the derivation of the word in Hebrew,) according to Psalm 40, “He has put my feet on a rock;” and he therefore most properly adds, “in him will I put my trust” as being the surest of all foundations. “My protector,” in the Hebrew, “my shield,” to protect him from his enemies: “the horn of my salvation:” a most familiar expression in the Scriptures, to signify the power or means of salvation; being a metaphor, taken from horned animals, who use their horns for protection; thus, in Psalm 132, “I will bring forth a horn to David.” I will make David all powerful to conquer his enemies; like a rampant bull, with his horns full grown, and not like a sluggish calf, that has not yet got them. Ezech. 39. “In that day a horn shall bud forth to the house of Israel.” Micheas 1:4, “I will make thy horn iron.” Lk. 1, “He hath raised up a horn of salvation to us.” God, then, is called a “horn of safety” to David, and to all the just, because through him they are powerfully armed against their enemies, by putting their strength not in themselves, but in the Divine help and assistance; in the spirit of the apostle, “I can do all things in him who strengtheneth me.” The expression, “horn of safety,” corresponds with, “and any deliverer,” for God delivers us through the “horn of safety:” that is, through his own saving power. Finally, the word, “my support,” comprises all the rest, and corresponds to “my strength:” for whosoever God supports, he frees, protects, and confirms.

4 Praising, I will call upon the Lord: and I shall be saved from my enemies.

A conclusion from the preceding. I will, therefore, constantly praise God for so many benefits received; and in my difficulties, with unbounded confidence, will I apply to him, certain of being delivered from all manner of enemies.

5 The sorrows of death surrounded me: and the torrents of iniquity troubled me.
6 The sorrows of hell encompassed me: and the snares of death prevented me.

He now enters, in detail, on God’s favors to him. He was in manifest danger of death, when Saul was lying in wait for him, to kill him, which danger he describes in various metaphors. “The sorrows of death surrounded me.” I was surrounded by so many dangers, that I despaired of my corporal safety; and, therefore, depressed with the grief and trouble of mind, incident to those whose death is at hand; “and the torrents of iniquity troubled me:” The grief and trouble above named, from the number, that like a torrent invaded and “troubled me,” after the manner of those who are hurried down, and whirled about by a roaring torrent. “The sorrows of hell encompassed me,” a repetition of the first part of the preceding verse, with the substitution of “hell” for “death.” They are, however, synonymous, for before the death of Christ, all went to hell, though not the same part of it; and, therefore, death and hell meant the same; the sorrows of hell, then, mean such sorrow as those usually suffer who are about to depart from this world to the next; “and the snares of death prevented me:” a repetition of “the torrents of iniquity troubled me.” For, as David was troubled with the “sorrows of death,” by reason of the multitude of wicked ones rising up against him, so “the snares of death” that “prevented” [encompassed] him, was the cause of the pains of hell to him. By the “snares of death,” he means the conspiracies of the wicked against him; and thus the meaning of the two verses is, that David, reflecting on his imminent danger of death, from the open invasion of his enemies rushing on him, like a roaring torrent, carrying everything before it—as well as from the conspiracies of the same enemies, in lurk for him, with snares, as for the unwary—was in great trouble.

7 In my affliction I called upon the Lord, and I cried to my God: And he heard my voice from his holy temple: and my cry before him came into his ears.

Having told the extent of his danger, he now says that he had recourse to God through prayer, and that he was heard. “In my affliction.” In the height of my troubles from Saul’s persecution, and in many similar troubles, “I called upon the Lord,” in whom I am wont to put my entire confidence; “and I cried to my God.” A repetition in much use with David. “And he heard my voice from his holy temple.” My prayer reached the very summit of heaven, which is the temple of God; not made by human hands; truly holy, and can neither be violated nor polluted; “and my cry before him came into his ears.” A repetition, and to some extent an explanation, of the preceding verse; as much as to say, my importunity bursting forth with great affection, poured forth in his sight; that is, poured forth by me, with God before my eyes, has been heard.

8 The earth shook and trembled: the foundations of the mountains were troubled and were moved, because he was angry with them.

The effect of having been heard by God, for he received such help from him against his enemies as enabled him to master and destroy them, and get possession again of his kingdom. The anger of God towards his enemies is most poetically described, for as the entire kingdom is in confusion when the king is angry, and makes preparation for war; so, when the King of the whole world is angry, the whole world is confused; and especially the three visible elements, earth, air, and water. He does not mean to imply that these three elements were actually confused, though the words seem to mean so much; but he means to tell us that such is God’s anger, that it can rock the earth to its very foundations; that it can cause in the air constant storms, dark clouds, thunder and lightning; and lastly, that it can so dry up the fountains, and the rivers, and the sea itself, so as to expose the caverns and the sources of the fountains. Beginning with the earth. “The earth shook and trembled; the foundations were troubled, and were moved, because he was angry with them.” When God is angry with the earth, every bit of it shakes and trembles, not only on its surface, but to its very center. And such concussion ensues not only when God is angry, but also when he makes known his presence on earth, for the earth is then in fearful reverence, acknowledging the majesty of the Creator. Thus, on the resurrection of Christ, there was a great motion of the earth; the same happened at his death; and in another Psalm we read, “At the presence of the Lord the earth was moved.” “Because he was angry with them;” not with the earth and the mountains, but with the people living thereon, and that by reason of their sins.

9 There went up a smoke in his wrath: and a fire flamed from his face: coals were kindled by it.

A further explanation of God’s action on the earth, when he chooses to show his presence thereon, making the earth not only to tremble, but even to smoke and to burn, which, Exod. 20 and Hebrews 12, tell us happened when he gave the law on Mount Sinai, “There went up a smoke in his wrath;” that is, in his anger he kindled such a fire on earth that created an immense smoke, “and a fire flamed from his face;” heat and smoke were accompanied by a destructive fire; “coals were kindled by it;” the anger of God made it burn so as to turn the whole earth into live coals, as he says in another place, Psalm 104, “Who looketh on the earth, and makes it tremble: who touches the mountains, and they smoke.”

10 He bowed the heavens, and came down, and darkness was under his feet.

Passing from the earth to the air, he shows what happens there when God wishes to manifest his presence or his anger. God is said to bow the heavens when he lets down a cloud in which he appears. The clouds ordinarily appear as a part of the heavens, and it is in a cloud God was wont to show himself, as appears from Num. 9, 1 Sam 3:8, Mt. 17, and in other places. “He bowed the heavens, and came down;” this means he let down a cloud, and showed himself in or through it; “And darkness was under his feet.” God dwelt in the cloud, as if he had darkness under his feet; all metaphorical expressions, to give us to understand that God may be present without one seeing him.

11 And he ascended upon the cherubim, and he flew; he flew upon the wings of the winds.

He goes on describing God’s action on the air, when he means to display his anger to man. He brings before us God in the shape of a man in arms, on a chariot, moving with the greatest velocity, and discharging his weapons against his enemies. The clouds are his chariot, according to Psalm 104: “Thou makest the clouds thy chariot, who walkest upon the wings of the winds.” The swiftest winds are his horses, who carry the clouds hither and thither. His weapons are the lightning that he shoots from the clouds. A truly wonderful description! No chariot lighter than the clouds, no horse fleeter than the wind, no weapons compared to the thunder of heaven. The chariots, too, fight from a vantage ground, whence they can harm without being harmed. “He ascended upon the Cherubim;” that is, God uses not only the clouds as a house or tent, but he uses them as a chariot, with the Cherubim as charioteers, and the winds as his horses. He is said “to ascend upon the Cherubim,” and “to fly on the wings of the winds:” that we may understand that he is not governed by, but that he governs the charioteers; and that he is the principal mover and guide both of the chariot and its driver. These expressions hold too, because God uses the services of the Angels in moving the clouds, which are a sort of aerial and most rapid chariots, as being drawn by the winds, a sort of winged quadrupeds, and, therefore, instead of walking, fly, and that fleeter than any bird.

12 And he made darkness his covert, his pavilion round about him: dark waters in the clouds of the air.

Lest it may be supposed that God appeared visibly in the clouds, as he would in a chariot, he says he was invisibly present, and for that purpose made use of dark clouds, as a symbol of his being invisible. There is in these words a most elegant and poetic metaphor. “He made darkness his covert.” God so wrapped himself up in the dark clouds, that he lay as if in a hiding place, the dark clouds acting the part of a screen to him. “His pavilion round about him,” the same clouds being like a tent round about him, covering him on all sides. “Dark waters in the clouds of the air,” the tent above named being a dark cloud, as dark as those fully charged with rain, and when so dense and aqueous, may not improperly be called “dark waters in the clouds of the air.”

13 At the brightness that was before him the clouds passed, hail and coals of fire.

A description of the celestial warfare from the clouds, as if they were the armed chariots of the Deity. At the word of God the cloud opens, hail and lightning, like red hot coals, are at once projected. “At the brightness that was before him, the clouds passed.” Beautiful! The clouds burst by reason of the brightness of the latent Deity, as if they could not stand such brightness, and therefore burst and dissolve in his presence, vanish and pass away. “Hail and coals of fire” issue forth in abundance from the rupture. It happened in Pharaoh’s time, Exod, chap. 9, “And the hail and fire mixed with it drove on together.” The same happened in Josue’s wars against the five kings, Jos. 10, and on various other occasions.

14 And the Lord thundered from heaven, and the Highest gave his voice: hail and coals of fire.

A repetition of the above in different language. The cloud bursts, the dreadful crash called thunder is heard, generally followed by the thunderbolt. It is elegantly styled “His voice,” not only because God alone can produce or emit it, but because the sound is so great and so terrific, that to God alone it should be attributed as his own voice. Hence, God himself says to Job, 40, “If you have an arm like God, and if you thunder with like voice.” “And the highest gave his voice,” from which proceeded hail and lightning like red hot coals.

15 And he sent forth his arrows, and he scattered them: he multiplied lightnings, and troubled them.

An explanation of the preceding verses, particularly of the words, “coals of fire.” These coals of fire were sent out on the bursting of the clouds, because God “Sent forth his arrows,” meaning his lightning. “And multiplied” them, and in such manner “Scattered and confused his enemies.”

16 Then the fountains of waters appeared, and the foundations of the world were discovered: At thy rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the spirit of thy wrath.

God’s wonderful action on the waters next. They were suddenly and miraculously dried up. It happened in the Red Sea, and in the Jordan, as we read in Exod. 14, and Josue 4, on which occasions the bottom of the sea and of the river was exposed; which bottom is called here “The foundations of the world,” because they are so much lower than the surface of the land. “The fountains of waters appeared.” At God’s bidding, the waters were dried up, and then appeared the bottom of the fountains, and of the rivers, and of the sea; and thus “The foundations,” or the lowest parts of the earth, “Were discovered.” “At thy rebuke, O Lord.” What dried them? God’s rebuke—his order. How did he rebuke them? “At the blast of the spirit of thy wrath.” A metaphorical and poetical appellation of the wind, through whose agency, God in his anger, and for the purpose of rebuke, dried up the waters; for the Scripture tells us, Exod. 14, that it was by a scorching wind that the waters of the Red Sea were dried up. Thus, what he might have simply expressed as follows, You, Lord, by a most powerful wind, dried up the waters of the sea; he expresses in a more elegant and figurative manner, when he says, You rebuked the waters for hindering the passage of your people; you blew on them in the spirit of your wrath, and at once they fled; as he expresses it in Psalm 114, “What ailed thee, O sea, that thou didst flee?”

17 He sent from on high, and took me: and received me out of many waters.

He now returns to relate God’s kindness to him in delivering him from his enemies. From the seventh verse to the present, he dwelt entirely on the power of God; and as he commenced by saying, “The torrents of iniquity troubled me,” and spoke in the foregoing verse of God’s spirit drying up the waters, so as to expose the bottom of the sea, and of the rivers, following up the same metaphor, he says now, “He sent from on high and took me.” He reached out his hand from on high to the very depth of the torrent, and “Took me,” and thus brought me out from “Many waters;” that is to say, rescued me, drowned and overwhelmed in a multiplicity of troubles.

18 He delivered me from my strongest enemies, and from them that hated me: for they were too strong for me.

What he said in a metaphorical sense in the last verse, he now explains in ordinary language; the words, “they were too strong for me,” must be taken in an imperfect sense, according to St. Jerome; for he assigns a reason why he had more need of the assistance of God, as his enemies were stronger than himself.

19 They prevented me in the day of my affliction: and the Lord became my protector.

God’s goodness acknowledged again. My enemies, without any provocation, were the first to injure me; attacked me off my guard, “prevented,” (that is, surrounded,) me without my knowing it; but the Lord was watching for me, and rendered all their machinations harmless.

20 And he brought me forth into a large place: he saved me, because he was well pleased with me.

Again and again he brings up his delivery. To show how deeply God’s goodness was fixed in his mind. “He brought me into a large place.” When I was angustiated in a place where I may be easily overcome he brought me into “a large place,” where I may roam about at pleasure, having my enemies at a distance. “He saved me because he was well pleased with me.” My salvation from so many imminent dangers was all owing to his immense mercy in so loving me. For though David presently will put his own merits forward, he well knew that these very merits are God’s gratuitous gifts.

21 And the Lord will reward me according to my justice; and will repay me according to the cleanness of my hands:
22 Because I have kept the ways of the Lord; and have not done wickedly against my God.
23 For all his judgments are in my sight: and his justices I have not put away from me.
24 And I shall be spotless with him: and shall keep myself from my iniquity.
25 And the Lord will reward me according to my justice: and according to the cleanness of my hands before his eyes.

Having praised God for having delivered him from his enemies, he now adds that his delivery will be always sure to him, not only through mercy, but even through justice, because he not only hitherto did, but for the future will, lead the life of the just. For God, just in himself, loves, helps, and protects the just, “will reward me according to my justice.” Having done so heretofore, he will continue to reward me according to my merit, “Any according to the cleanness of my hands.” As I feel my justice not only in my heart but in my hands; that is, to just within and without, just in my heart, just in my actions, so God will reward me before himself and before men, and will guard me within and without. Is not this presumption? Why trumpet so his own merits? There is no presumption when the thing is done with sincerity, and God acknowledged to be the author of all our merit. Nehemias did so, so did Esdras, Ezechias, Isaias, and Esther. But how could David make such assertions? He who had been guilty of murder and adultery! He who exclaimed, Psalm 19, “Who can understand sins? From my secret ones cleanse me, O Lord;” and, in Psalm 114, “For in thy sight no man living shall be justified.” This objection leads some to think that David does not speak absolutely of his own justice, but of the justice of his cause, as compared with that of his enemies; others will have it that he limits his justice to his having remained in the true faith which his enemies did not, but the expressions, “Because I have kept the ways of the Lord;” “All his judgments are in nay sight;” “I shall be spotless with him,” are adverse to these opinions. We must only say, then, that David upholds his justice, inasmuch as he always had a sincere desire of serving God, and a firm purpose of never violating his law, and should he chance to slip, that he at once repented, and sincerely returned to God. The expression, “Who can understand sins?” may be understood of venial sins that are not inconsistent with justice; and the words, “For in thy sight no man living shall be justified,” may be understood of that justice which man may have independent of grace. For in such manner can no man be justified, for the just are only so through God’s sanctifying grace.

26 With the holy thou wilt be holy; and with the innocent man thou wilt be innocent:
27 And withe the elect thou wilt be elect: and with the perverse thou wilt be perverted.

A reason for his having said he would get according to his justice from God, because God gives to every one according to his works. He speaks to God here, “With the holy thou wilt be holy;” with the pious and the merciful thou wilt deal kindly and mercifully. To the man who is innocent, that is, who doeth no injury, thou wilt do no injury, nor permit others to do it. “With the elect thou wilt be elect;” with the sincere and pure minded, (for such is the meaning of the Hebrew,) you will deal sincerely and candidly; “And with the perverse thou wilt be perverted:” he who showeth not mercy shall not meet with mercy from you; who harms shall be harmed by you; who acts not honestly, but roguishly, him will you similarly deal with.

28 For thou wilt save the humble people; but wilt bring down the eyes of the proud.

He explains the two last verses, as if he said: “With the holy, thou wilt be holy; and with the innocent thou wilt be innocent:” because “Thou wilt save the humble people;” that is, because humility, the guardian of all virtues, is most pleasing to you, and to all humble souls you give your grace; but, “with the perverse thou wilt be perverted;” because you “will bring down the eyes of the proud;” that is, because pride, the queen of vices, is highly displeasing to thee, and, therefore, you always raise up the humble, and level all the proud. He makes special mention of the eyes here, because it is in them and the eyebrows that pride mostly shows itself.

29 For thou lightest my lamp, O Lord: O my God, enlighten my darkness.

Having spoken highly of his own justice and purity, he now points out their sources; and, therefore, praises God, especially as it was from him he had light, strength, and every other virtue. “For thou lightest my lamp, O Lord:” from thee I have the beginning of all good, which is light to distinguish true happiness from false, and true evils from false ones; for the first wound inflicted on human nature by original sin, was ignorance of the real good; and, therefore, the first cure begins by Divine light; “Thou lightest my lamp:” you alone light up the interior eye of my heart. “O my God, enlighten my darkness.” Father of lights, the true light, in whom there is no darkness, as you have hitherto lighted up the inward eyes of my heart, proceed now to enlighten my darkness by banishing it completely. For without the grace of God to enlighten us, all is pure darkness in our hearts, so far as supernatural mysteries are concerned.

30 For by thee I shall be delivered from temptation; and through my God I shall go over a wall.

The particle “for” is frequently redundant in the Psalms, so is the particle “and,” which requires to be noted, that a connection with something foregoing may not be looked for. The prophet having said that he had got from God that light, that is, the beginning of good works and true justice, now adds, that he got also courage and strength to do or to avoid those things such light prompted him to. “By thee I shall be delivered from temptation.” Relying on thy assistance to strengthen me, I will overcome all temptation, and conquer all evil; “Through my God I shall go over a wall.” Depending on the same divine assistance, and strengthened from the same source, I will accomplish everything, however difficult, were it even the surmounting of a lofty wall.

31 As for my God, his way is undefiled: the words of the Lord are fire-tried: he is the protector of all that trust in him.

The reason why he has received so much light and strength from God, and why he so confides in him, is because God is true, good, and the protector of all that confide in him; and because he is the only true God, true Lord, from whom such things can be expected. “His way is undefiled;” that God of mine, whose way is undefiled, who is most holy, and acts most justly. “The words of the Lord are fire tried.” As gold is tried and proved in the fire, so the promises of the Lord are most certain and proved.

32 For who is God but the Lord? or who is God but our God?

Another reason for confiding in him, for expecting light and strength from him, he alone being our true God. Whence we learn that our God alone is the true God, and as such that he is the true, firm, and solid rock in which we may safely confide and rest; and all who confide in any other thing must of necessity be deceived and confounded.

33 God, who hath girt me with strength; and made my way blameless.

He now comes to mention in particular the gifts he got from God, by means of which he got freed from his enemies, and got possession again of his kingdom. He places strength and innocence first, two virtues rarely united, for the strong are always too ready to injure the weak. David, however, was truly strong, yet truly innocent, so much so, that even though it was in his power, he would not slay his enemy Saul.

34 Who hath made my feet like the feet of harts: and who setteth me upon high places.
35 Who teacheth my hands to war: and thou hast made my arms like a brazen bow.

He gives the particulars of the expression, “Girt me with strength,” by telling us how God bestowed on him wonderful agility in his feet, dexterity in his hands, and strength in his arms. The feet of the stag were not more nimble in topping the highest mountains, as he expresses it, “In setting himself upon high places;” as he proved, when in his flight from Saul, he was obliged to shelter in the highest and most inaccessible tops of the mountains. He adds, that his hands were trained to battle; and that he had arms of brass, to signify his strength and skill in military matters, of which there can be no doubt, if we only read the First and Second Books of Kings. The stone from his sling, fixed in the very head of Goliath, bears testimony to his dexterity, as do the bears and the lions killed by the mere strength of his arms.

36 And thou hast given me the protection of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath held me up: And thy discipline hath corrected me unto the end: and thy discipline, the same shall teach me.

He declares now his innocence, of which he had already spoken, when he said, ver. 32, “Thou hast made my way blameless;” for, as God was pleased to give him the grace of living blameless, he, therefore, constantly protected him; “Thou hast given me the protection of thy salvation;” for the celerity of foot, the dexterity of hand, and strength of arm against the king and his whole army would have been of little value, had he not had “The protection of salvation” too, that is, the divine protection to save him, and “the right hand (of God) to hold him up,” and support him. “And thy discipline hath corrected me to the end, and thy discipline the same shall teach me.” This, too, goes to show the innocence or “the blameless way” of David. I not only had the benefit of your protection, but your discipline; that is, your knowledge, which is had from the study of your law, so directed me, that I could not go astray; and when there was fear I might stray, by studying and inspecting it diligently “I got corrected,” set right, and so persevered to the end. “And thy discipline the same shall teach me.” By such discipline we may also understand the correction of a father, in which spirit God sometimes chastised David by temporary calamities, when, through human frailty, he would fall into some defects.

37 Thou hast enlarged my steps under me; and my feet are not weakened.

He proceeds to relate his victories, attributing them all to God; you have made me advance at a rapid pace in enlarging my kingdom, and I am not yet tired.

38 I will pursue after my enemies, and overtake them: and I will not turn again till they are consumed.
39 I will break them, and they shall not be able to stand: they shall fall under my feet.

These expressions, spoken in the future time, do not belong to it, but to the past tense, as will appear from the following verse.

40 And thou hast girded me with strength unto battle; and hast subdued under me them that rose up against me.

Hence it appears the prophet in the two preceding verses spoke of the past. As I said, “I will pursue after my enemies and overtake them:” God helped me to do it, for “He girded me with strength” to fight, and “subdued under me;” that is, made those fall, “that rose up against me.” “Girding with strength” is a common expression in the Scripture; thus, in Psalm 65, “Being girded with power who troublest the depths of the sea;” and, in Psalm 93, “The Lord is clothed with strength, and hath girded himself;” and, Isaias 51, “Put on strength, O thou arm of the Lord;” and, finally, in Lk. 24, “But stay you in the city till you be endowed with power from on high.” He gives him to understand that, as strength and courage are of more value in a battle than the sword and helmet, the praise of the victory should be given more to the giver of the former than of the latter.

41 And thou hast made my enemies turn their back upon me, and hast destroyed them that hated me.

He returns to the same thing over and over, attributing the flight of his enemies to God’s interference entirely.

42 They cried, but there was none to save them, to the Lord: but he heard them not.

Another cause of the victory assigned, for God not only heard his prayers, but he refused to listen to those of his adversaries, though they put them up to him.

43 And I shall beat them as small as the dust before the wind; I shall bring them to nought, like the dirt in the streets.

He speaks now of the remnant of his enemies. I have conquered them; but if any handful remain, I will crush them into the smallest pieces, and scatter them as dust is carried before the wind; and sweep them from the earth, as the mud of the streets is hurried along by a vehement wind.

44 Thou wilt deliver me from the contradictions of the people; thou wilt make me head of the Gentiles.

That had been done already; for, before he wrote this Psalm, he had been delivered from the “contradictions” and rebellion “of the people;” and “was made head of the gentiles;” that is, became master of the kingdom. We are, therefore, to suppose him using the future tense for the past, a thing usual in the Hebrew, or he insinuates a continuation of past favors of that sort.

45 A people which I knew not, hath served me: at the hearing of the ear they have obeyed me.
46 The children that are strangers have lied to me, strange children have faded away, and have halted from their paths.

He had just reason for asking “to be delivered from the contradictions of his people,” having met with more fidelity and allegiance from some of the gentiles, than from the children of the people of Israel. A prophecy manifestly applying to Christ, rejected by the Jews, acknowledged by the gentiles. “The people which I knew not:” the Gabaonites, the Gethei, and others whom I knew not as brothers, “served me:” “at the hearing of the ear they have obeyed me,” at once, most promptly, the moment they heard the command. “The children that are strangers;” that is, the degenerate in their morals, “lied to me;” that is, deceived me, gave me sham obedience. “They have faded away;” fallen from me like dried leaves; that is, they have not behaved properly and fairly by me; alluding to the rebellion of Absalom, under the son of Bochrus, and others, “and have halted from their paths.” The children of adultery, who give sham service, “halt from their paths;” that is, turn from the straight path, in which they should have walked.

47 The Lord liveth, and blessed by my God, and let the God of my salvation be exalted.

A conclusion of praise. Now, it appears that the Lord does live, and as he lives, so may he always live; and “let the God of my salvation be exalted.”

48 O God, who avengest me, and subduest the people under me, my deliverer from my enraged enemies.

May that God who avenged the injuries offered me, and subdued the people who rebelled against me, and delivered me from the plots and attacks of my raging enemies, Saul and Absalom, be exalted.

49 And thou wilt lift me up above them that rise up against me: from the unjust man thou wilt deliver me.

A prayer for the continuation of the divine favors; namely, that he may be so “lifted up above them that rise up against him,” that they may struggle in vain when they cannot possibly reach so high, and thus, that he may be delivered “from the unjust man.”

50 Therefore will I give glory to thee, O Lord, among the nations, and I will sing a psalm to thy name.

Therefore, for this reason, “I will give glory;” that is, with praise will I acknowledge thy favors, not privately, but openly, before the whole body of the people, that all may learn to put their trust in the Lord.

51 Giving great deliverance to his king, and shewing mercy to David, his anointed: and to his seed for ever.

May God increase and multiply safety of body, soul, and all other things beside, to the king he hath chosen; and may he deal everlasting mercy to David who has been ordered by him to be anointed as king, and to all his successors forever. Which prayer was fulfilled in Christ Jesus our Lord, who reigneth, and will reign for all eternity. Amen.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 17

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 9, 2018


1 The prayer of David.  HEAR, O Lord, my justice: attend to my supplication. Give ear unto my prayer, which proceedeth not from deceitful lips.

He first prays that his just cause may be heard, for with a just judge, the cause is more regarded than the person; he asks then that his prayer may be attended to; for God not only loves justice, but also the just; and, as St. James has it, “The prayer of the just availeth much.” He finally unites both justice and prayer, when he says, “Give ear unto my prayer which proceedeth not from deceitful lips;” that is, my prayer that does not proceed from deceitful lips, but is based on justice. The meaning then is, Lord, may justice move thee; may prayer, the prayer of the just, move thee.

2 Let my judgment come forth from thy countenance: let thy eyes behold the things that are equitable.

Another argument from the justice of God, as if he said: To you, O God, I appeal; by you, as being the most just of judges, I wished to be judged. “From thy countenance;” that is, from thy mouth let judgment proceed—my sentence be pronounced. “Let thy eyes behold the things that are equitable.” Close not thy eyes, and cloak not the calumnies of the wicked, but open them and see what justice demands.

3 Thou hast proved my heart, and visited it by night, thou hast tried me by fire: and iniquity hath not been found in me.

A reason assigned for wishing to be judged by God, for he alone searches the hearts, and thoroughly knows the innocence of his servants. “Thou hast proved my heart;” you have tried me where no one else can, interiorly; you have proved my sincerity, and he tells how “Thou hast visited it by night.” On two occasions one’s interior may be seen; when an opportunity offers for sinning in private, and in the time of tribulation: for there are many wicked persons, to all appearance with a fair exterior, when they have an opportunity of committing sin in private, without any fear of detection, then only show what they are made of. So in the time of prosperity, the bad cannot be distinguished from the good, but apply the fire of persecution, and the gold shines out, the stubble burns. The first is expressed by the words, “Visited it by night;” that is, in secret, when an opportunity for committing sin presented itself; the second comes under the words, “Thou hast tried me by fire;” that is, with grievous tribulations; and yet thou hast found no iniquity in me.

4 That my mouth may not speak the works of men: for the sake of the words of thy lips, I have kept hard ways.

He shows how it happened that “There was no iniquity found in him,” from the fact of his having kept to “The hard ways” of justice; not for any earthly hope or reason, but because such was agreeable to God’s commands. For those who observe God’s commandments from human motives do so exteriorly, when they are likely to be observed, and thus the latent iniquity is detected in them; but they who observe the commandments, in order to please God, keep them externally and internally, and thus no iniquity is detected in such persons. He therefore says: “I have kept hard ways;” that is, I have kept to the road of justice, however rough and rugged, nor has tribulation of any sort caused me to go out of it. “For the sake of the words of thy lips,” influenced thereto by your commandments, your threats, and your promises, “That my mouth may not speak the works of men:” that I may not be obliged to ask the help of man; that I may not put my hope in man; “Nor speak (meaning praise) the works of men.”

5 Perfect thou my goings in thy paths: that my footsteps be not moved.

Acknowledging that it was not by his own strength, but by the grace of God, that he remained in the narrow path of justice, he asks God to confirm the favor. “Perfect thou my goings in thy paths: that my footsteps be not moved:” strengthen and make sure my footsteps in this your path, for fear, if deprived of thy help, I may stray from it.

6 I have cried to thee, for thou, O God, hast heard me: O incline thy ear unto me, and hear my words.

Having explained the arguments derived from his own innocence, and from the justice of God, he again repeats the prayer in the beginning of the Psalm. Lord, to thee “I have cried, for thou hast heard me.” I have cried with confidence to thee, for on all occasions you have heard me, and now too, with your usual benignity, “Incline your ear to me, and hear my words.”

7 Shew forth thy wonderful mercies; thou who savest them that trust in thee.

A third argument derived from God’s mercy. I have proved my innocence; have appealed to your justice. I now invoke your mercy, for, however innocent I may consider myself of the crimes for which I am suffering, I may have many other sins for which I may be justly punished. “Show forth thy wonderful mercies” then. Astonish every one at the extent of them in delivering me, for to you it belongs to deliver all who put their trust in thee.

8 From them that resist thy right hand keep me, as the apple of thy eye. Protect me under the shadow of thy wings.

Protect me, as you would “The apple of your eye,” with the greatest care, from those “that resist thy right hand:” in injuring those whom you protect, or who refuse to walk where you lead. This does not contradict the passage in the book of Esther, “There is no one who can resist thy will.” For the will spoken of there, is the will of his good pleasure which is always carried out; but here is meant the will of his expression, which is not always carried out, for God permits the wicked to do many things opposed to his expressed will; that is, against his law, and afterwards punishes them according to their merits. “The apple of your eye,” a most delicate, though valuable article, requiring the greatest care, and, therefore, provided by nature with various coverings, as well as with brows and eye lashes; such are we, frail and delicate, and such is the care we stand in need of. “Protect me under the shadow of thy wings.” The same petition, under another figure. As the chickens are covered by the wings of the hen, are hidden, and lie securely under them, so that the birds of prey cannot hurt them; the just man prays to be so protected from his persecutors.

9 From the face of the wicked who have afflicted me. My enemies have surrounded my soul:

“The face of the wicked,” signifies the sight of the wicked; as the wings of the hen cover the chickens, and prevent their being seen by the birds of prey; or it may mean the bite or the anger of the wicked, for their teeth, as well as their anger, are displayed in the faces. “Who have afflicted me,” means that the just man, having been so often and so severely bitten by the wicked, appeals to God’s protection, for fear of being entirely destroyed under the repeated biting. Such similes are of frequent occurrence in the Holy Scripture. “I will rejoice under the cover of thy wings,” Psalm 62; “He will overshadow thee with his shoulders: and under his wings thou shalt trust,” Psalm 89; and the Lord himself, in Mt. 23, “How often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and thou would not.” “My enemies have surrounded my soul.” The last argument drawn from the malice of his enemies. They have surrounded, pressed in upon me on every side.

10 They have shut up their fat: their mouth hath spoken proudly.

That is, they have no mercy, though they see me reduced to the last extremities. “Shut up their fat” is synonymous with, “Closing his bowels;” that is, having no mercy, according to 1 Jn. 3, “He that hath the substance of this world, and shall see his brother in need, and shall shut up his bowels from him: how doth the charity of God abide in him?” As fat increases, the bowels generally close; and the prophet chose the former expression, that he may not only declare the fact, but the cause of the bowels being closed, namely, the increase of the fat, which means, the wealth of this world, which causes man to be proud, to despise his neighbor, and thus spiritually “Shut up his bowels.”

11 They have cast me forth, and now they have surrounded me: they have set their eyes bowing down to the earth.

In order to show the malice of his enemies, he goes on to show how they assail him, now in one way, presently in quite a different manner, yet always in a destructive manner. One time “They cast me forth;” Now “they surround me:” those who just banished me from sharing or enjoying anything with them now seek me, surround me that they may overwhelm me with injuries; and the reason is, because “they have set their eyes bowing down to the earth;” meaning they have firmly resolved not to look up to God, who is in heaven, nor to fear him; but to look down on the earth alone and seek for the things that belong to it.

12 They have taken me, as a lion prepared for the prey; and as a young lion dwelling in secret places.

They have not only surrounded me, but treated me with the greatest cruelty; with the same cruelty and avidity that a lion pounces on its prey, “and as a young lion dwelling in secret places;” the same idea repeated.

13 Arise, O Lord, disappoint him and supplant him; deliver my soul from the wicked one; thy sword

Having explained the malice of his enemies, he asks of God, who alone can do it, to come and free him. “Arise, O Lord;” do not defer your help any longer, “disappoint him;” that wicked man, who like a lion laid hold on me to devour me, disappoint his teeth, that he may not fasten them in me and kill me. And, in fact, it is God alone that can “disappoint” the action of any one or thing, however violent; as he disappointed the teeth of the lions from hurting; Daniel, and the fury of the fire from consuming the three thrown into the furnace; a source of consolation to the just, who know God’s power to be equal to protect them from either the teeth of the lion or the flames of the furnace. “Supplant him.” Deceive him; make him, by thy wonderful providence, suppose that when he is fastening his teeth in his own flesh, he is fastening them in the flesh of the just. “Deliver my soul from the wicked.” Do not allow me to be killed by the wicked, raging like a roaring lion; but save me, protect me. “Thy sword;” some connect it with the preceding; others make it the beginning of the next sentence. If we adopt the reading of the Vulgate, the meaning is, deliver my soul from the wicked; to do which you must take “thy sword” from your enemies; meaning their power of harm.

14 From the enemies of thy hand. O Lord, divide them from the few of the earth in their life: their belly is filled from thy hidden stores. They are full of children: and they have left to their little ones the rest of their substance.

A prophetic imprecation, in which is predicted separation of the wicked from the just, the former obtaining the goods of this world, the latter those of the world to come. “divide them from the few;” separate the crowd of the wicked from “your little flock,” “in their life,” not only in the world to come, which is sure to them, but even in the present, which may be properly called “their life,” which alone they love and seek, separating themselves from the just, who are dead to the world. The separation consists herein, that “their belly is filled from thy hidden stores;” that is, they fill their belly with the fruits and good things of the earth, supplied by God’s bounty, from his hidden treasures every succeeding year, and say it is their own portion. “They are full of children: and they have left to their little ones the rest of their substance.” They abound in children, to whom they leave the residue of what themselves cannot consume, for the children of this world look upon it as supreme happiness to abound in riches, and to be blessed with heirs to enjoy them.

15 But as for me, I will appear before thy sight in justice: I shall be satisfied when thy glory shall appear.

The difference herein consists, they covet an abundance of the good things of this world. “But I,” as well as the rest of the just, will “hunger after justice” here, to have satiety of glory and happiness hereafter; and, as I study to live in justice, in thy sight here, your glory will appear to me hereafter; and then will I be truly satisfied, having no more to seek or to desire.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Seecond Preface to His Commentary on the Psalms

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 9, 2018

Preface II

(This second preface, according to the 1931 critical edition, has been found only in manuscript, not having appeared in the original printed edition. The translation is that of Michael J. Miller)

1. The Book of Psalms, even if it is, properly speaking, the third part of the Old Testament, as Our Lord says in Luke 24:44, “all things must needs be fulfilled which are written in the law of Moses and in the prophets and in the psalms, concerning me,” nevertheless is also a sort of summation or as it were a compendium of all of Sacred Scripture. For the Book of Psalms contains accounts from sacred history, as is evident from Psalms 78, 1034, 105 and others; it contains many very plain prophetic oracles, as is evident from Psalms 2, 22, 45, 61 and others; it contains laws and precepts, as is evident in Psalm 119; it contains “hagiographa” in almost all the Psalms, that is, exhortations to virtue, discouragement from vice, threats, promises, examples, remedies for vices, divine praises, prayers to God, in short a complete, natural, moral and supernatural theology.

2. This compendium of Sacred Scripture, indeed, is not only framed in verse, so that it may be learned with pleasure and more easily committed to memory, but is also composed of poetic phrases and admirable metaphors, as though in some new kind of speech, such that if it is fittingly understood, nothing sweeter, nothing more salutary could ever be sung or heard. Furthermore it so snatches up souls into the praises of God and so inflames them, as Saint Basil testifies in his commentary on the first Psalm, that it elicits tears even from a heart of stone; Saint John Chrysostom has said in his commentary on Psalm one hundred thirty-seven that those who sing the Psalms properly lead choirs together with the angels and, as it were, vie with them in the praises and love of God; or if this seems an exaggeration, it cannot be denied that the Davidic songs are like an echo of the heavenly canticles with which “the morning stars praised [God] and all the sons of God made a joyful melody” (Job 38:7).

3. The word Psalm is Greek, as is Psaltery; the Hebrew term for a Psalm is mizmor, whereas Psaltery is termed nebel, which has ten strings, as is evident from Psalm 144:9. The Book of Psalms is called in Hebrew sepher thehillim, that is, the book of hymns or of praises; we can see why these names are often confused, although Saint Jerome in commenting on Chapter 5 of the Epistle to the Ephesians says that it is a Psalm when moral doctrine is imparted, while it is a hymn when God is praised. Between a Psalm and a canticle, which in Hebrew is shir, there seems to be this difference, according to Hilary, that a psalm is sung accompanied by an instrument, while the canticle is sung without instruments; canticum Psalmi or Psalmus cantici was when it was sung partly by the human voice alone and partly by the human voice with the sound of instruments: Psalm 144:9, “To Thee, O God, I will sing a new canticle: on the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings I will sing praises to Thee.”

4. There is much controversy about the author of the Psalms. To me two things seem to be certain: first that the greater part of the Psalms are by David: for at the end of Psalm 72, which is thought to be the latest of them all, it says, “The praises of David, son of Jesse, are ended.” Similarly in 2 Kings 23:1 ff. David is called “the excellent psalmist of Israel” and it is said that “the Holy Spirit hath spoken” by him; and at 2 Chron 5The 1931 critical edition indicates here: “Thus in the manuscript, but it seems that it should read 2 Paralipomenon 7:6.”

“>1 it is said that the singers in the temple were accustomed to sing the psalms which David had made. Second, that not only the Psalms which in the titles are ascribed to David, but also all those which lack a title in Hebrew are by David. For the second Psalm lacks a title, and nevertheless at Acts 4:25 the apostles say that it is David’s. Besides, all the Psalms which lack titles in Hebrew are said to be by David in the Greek text of the Septuagint translators; therefore it is very likely that not a few titles were excised from the Hebrew version which were present when the Septuagint interpreters translated the Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek language. Finally the rule of the Hebrews, who say that Psalms without titles are by the author of the preceding Psalm, is false; for according to this rule, the first and second psalms are by nobody, since both of them lack a title. Moreover Psalm 91 would have to be by Moses, since Psalm 90 is ascribed to Moses and the next ten lack a title. But this cannot be, since in Psalm 99:6 mention is made of Samuel, who was born long after Moses’ time: “Moses,” it says, “and Aaron among his priests; and Samuel among those who call on the name of the Lord.” Nor could it be said that Moses had foreseen in a vision the future Samuel; for in this Psalm things are narrated in the past, and mention is made of Samuel as someone who had preceded the writer of the Psalm. As for the remaining Psalms, which bear in their titles the name of Asaph or Ethan or Moses or others, it is not unlikely that those named in the titles were the authors, as Saint Athanasius maintains in the Synopsis, Saint Hilary in the Preface to the Psalms, and Saint Jerome in the Preface to the Psalms to Sophronius and in his letter to Cyprian on Psalm 90.

5. But neither is it improbable, it is perhaps even more likely, that all of the Psalms are by David, as Saint Augustine maintains in Book 17 of The City of God, Chapter 14; and also Origen, Chrysostom, Theodoret, Euthymius, Cassiodorus and others: why, moreover, those names are placed in the titles, we shall explain for each individual Psalm.

6. We must not omit, moreover, noting that the Psalms are not arranged in the Psaltery in the order in which they were written: for the third Psalm was written when David “fled from the face of his son, Absalom”; whereas Psalm fifty was written when he was rebuked by Nathan for his sin of adultery and murder, which had taken place long before the persecution by Absalom. Psalm one hundred forty-one was written long before that, when evidently David was in a cave because of Saul’s persecution. Psalm one hundred forty-three was written against Goliath; accordingly of them all it must be the first or among the first. Finally, Psalm seventy-one seems to have been written last, since the reign of Solomon is already beginning, and at the end of it is added: “The praises of David, son of Jesse, are ended”; nevertheless it is not situated in the last place.

Why the Psalms are arranged in this way is not at all certain; though some suspect them to be disposed as follows: the first fifty as being suitable for beginners, the next fifty for the proficient, and the final fifty for the perfect.

7. The Psaltery is divided according to the Hebrews into five books, as Saint Jerome testifies in the Prologue Galeato; wherever Amen is found at the end of a Psalm, the Hebrews consider that a book is ended; Amen is in fact found at the end of Psalms forty, seventy-one, eighty-eight and one hundred five: to which they add a fifth book comprising from Psalm one hundred six to the end of the psaltery. But the same Saint Jerome in his Preface to the Psalms to Sophronius contends that this is a new tradition of the Hebrews; both because the title of the Psaltery is The Book of hymns and because in the New Testaments Scriptures, when the Psalms are quoted, it is said “as it is written in the book of Psalms” (Luke 20:41 and Acts 1:20).

We will speak about the titles of the Psalms and about other things pertaining to their explication, each in its proper place.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s First Preface to His Commentary on the Psalms

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 9, 2018

Preface I

1. Before we come to the explication of the individual Psalms, it seems that a few things should be explained. First, concerning the excellence of the Psalms; second, concerning the terms “Psalm” and “Psaltery”; third, concerning the division and ordering of the Psalms; fourth, concerning the author.

2. Their excellence, to be sure, can be understood to derive both from the subject matter and also from the form and kind of the writing. The Book of Psalms, in fact, is a sort of compendium and summation of the entire Old Testament; whatever Moses either handed down in history or taught in the Law, and whatever the other Prophets wrote, either exhorting men to virtue or foretelling the future, all of this is contained in the briefest compass in the Psalms of David. For in Psalms 8, 78, 104, 105, 135 and others, the creation of the world, the deeds performed by the patriarchs, the Egyptian captivity, the plagues in Egypt, the wandering of the people in the desert, the entrance into the Promised Land and other things are splendidly set forth by this kind of writing. In Psalm 118 the Law given by God is extolled with wonderful praises, and all men are incited to keep it. In Psalms 2, 15, 21, 44, 68, 71 and others, Christ’s kingship, His origin, His preaching and miracles, His Passion, Resurrection and Ascension, and the growth of the Church are so manifestly foretold, that the sacred author seems to have been an evangelist rather than a prophet. Finally, in Psalm 1 and in almost all of those following, he exhorts the listeners to virtue, restrains them from vice, invites, attracts, threatens and frightens them; and all of these things are not simply set down in a narrative, but in various sorts of songs, with poetic phrases and many admirable metaphors, until at last this new form of expression snatches up souls in such love and praise of God, that nothing sweeter, nothing more salutary could ever be sung or heard. Therefore Saint Basil is correct when he writes in his commentary on the first Psalm, that the Psalms of David draw tears even from a heart of stone; and Saint John Chrysostom rightly affirms in his commentary on Psalm 137 that those who sing the Psalms properly lead choirs together with the angels and, as it were, vie with them in the praise and love of God.

3. We come now to the terms Psalm and Psaltery. To us Psaltery means the book of the Psalms; Saint Augustine, for instance, uses the term thus in Letter 140 to Audax when he says, “I do not have the Psaltery translated from the Hebrew by Saint Jerome.” So too Saint Jerome, in the Letter to Sophronius on the Order and Titles of the Psalms, remarks: “I know that some people think the Psalter is divided into five books.” But in the Sacred Scriptures, Psaltery is a musical instrument drawn up with ten strings, which in Hebrew is called nebel. Saint Basil in his commentary on the first Psalm and Saint Augustine in his commentary on Psalm thirty-two inform us that the psaltery differs from the harp and the lyre in that the harp and the lyre emit sound from their lower part, whereas the psaltery produces tones in its higher part. Saint Hilary, in his Prologue to the Psalms, adds that the psaltery was a straight instrument, without any curve or bend. Very frequent mention is made of this instrument in the Holy Bible, and Psalm 33 speaks of it in verse 2: Sing to [the Lord] with the psaltery, the instrument of ten strings.

Psalm, in Hebrew mizmor, means song or tone; it is derived from the verb zamar, which signifies both to sing and also to play the harp or the psaltery, in precisely the same way as the verb psallô in Greek. As for the meaning of psallendi manibus, that is, “striking an instrument”, we find an instance of the phrase in 1 Kings 16:16: “Thy servants … will seek out a man skilful in playing on the harp, that when the evil spirit from the Lord is upon thee, he may play with his hand, and thou mayest bear it more easily.” The same is found in chapters 17, 18 and elsewhere. As for the meaning of psallendi voce, that is, “singing”, we find it in Psalm 33:3, “Sing well unto Him with a loud noise”; it is also used by the Apostle in 1 Cor. 14:15, “I will sing with the spirit; I will sing also with the understanding,” that is, I shall sing with the spirit or breath of my mouth, singing in a bodily voice the praises of God; and I shall sing with the spirit of my heart, desiring and loving the glory of the selfsame God. Moreover, according to Saint Hilary and Saint John Chrysostom, each of whom authored a Prologue to the Psalms, there is this difference between Psalm and Canticle, and between Psalmum Cantici and Canticum Psalmi: that a Psalm is the sound of a musical instrument alone without any human voice singing, whereas a Canticle is the voice of a singer without instrumental accompaniment; Psalmus Cantici [“psalm of a canticle”] is said when the canticle is sung first and the psalm tone follows: Canticum Psalmi [“canticle of a psalm”] when a singing voice is heard imitating the instrumental tone which went before. Furthermore, not any song or musical tone whatsoever can be termed “Psalms of David”, but rather those by which are sung either the praises of God or prayers to God or an exhortation to virtue, and not empty fables or wanton loves or the flattery of princes. Hence the Book of Psalms is entitled in Hebrew sepher thehillim, that is, book of hymns or divine praises; and after the conclusion of Psalm 72, the last of all those which David sang, we read: The praises of David are ended, that is, David’s prayers. The Psalms, as a whole, contain either the praises of God or prayers to God, or both at once; although there are some which are entirely devoted to exhorting men to virtue, such as the first and second Psalms, etc.

4. Now as for what pertains to the division and order of the Psaltery: the Hebrews divide the Psaltery into five books, as Saint Jerome testifies both in the Prologue Galeato and also in the Letter to Sophronius cited above [in no. 3]; wherever Amen, Amen is written at the end of a Psalm, they reckon that a book is ended at that place; Amen, Amen is written at the end of Psalms 41, 72, 89 and 106, and to these four books they add a fifth extending from Psalm 107 to Psalm 150. Yet this Hebrew tradition is not in conformity with Sacred Scripture, and therefore it is refuted by the same Saint Jerome in the Letter to Sophronius which we have mentioned above, and also by Saint Hilary in his Prologue to the Psalms. The title at the head of the Psaltery, both in the Hebrew Bible and in the Septuagint edition, is the book of hymns; and in Luke 20:42 the Lord Himself speaks, saying, “David himself saith in the book of Psalms: The LORD said to my Lord …”; and in Acts 1:20 Saint Peter speaks, saying, “It is written in the book of Psalms: Let their habitation become desolate, etc.” Furthermore the order of the Psalms is not arranged according to the time at which they were written. It suffices to note that Psalm 3 was written when David was fleeing persecution by his son Absalom; indeed, Psalm 51 had been written much earlier, evidently when the same David was rebuked by Nathan for his crime of adultery and murder; Psalm 142, moreover, had been written still earlier, undoubtedly when the same David was lying hidden in a cave for fear of King Saul; and Psalm 144 had been written long before, to wit, when David fought Goliath the giant: finally it is probable, or almost certain, that Psalm 72 is the latest of all chronologically, since it was written when Solomon had already begun to reign, and after this Psalm is added: The praises of David, son of Jesse, are ended; and nevertheless we see this Psalm, not in the last place, but situated almost in the middle. Therefore it is not easy to discern why the Psalms are arranged as we now find them. Nevertheless we should not reject the opinion or suspicion of those who say that the first fifty Psalms, of which the last is Have mercy on me, O God, pertain to penitents or beginners in the spiritual life; the next fifty, which end with the Psalm, Mercy and judgment I will sing to Thee, O Lord, pertain to the just or the proficient; and the final fifty which conclude with the Psalm, Praise ye the Lord in His holy places, pertain to men who are accomplished or the perfect: the Psalms were so arranged either by Esdras, as Saint Athanasius seems to think in his Synopsis, or else the Septuagint translators, as Saint Hilary teaches in his Prologue to the Psalms.

5. The question remains as to the author of the Psalms. There are two opinions among the Church Fathers: on the one hand Saint Athanasius in his Synopsis, Saint Hilary in the Prologue to the Psalms, and Saint Jerome in his Letter to Sophronius on the Order of the Psalms and in his Letter to Cyprian in which he interprets Psalm 90, maintain that there are various authors of the Psalms, for instance all those who are named in the titles, David, Moses, Solomon, Asaph, Idithun and others. To the contrary, Saint John Chrysostom, Theodoret, Euthymius and Cassiodorus in the Preface to the Commentaries on the Psalms, and Saint Augustine in Book 17 of The City of God, Chapter 14, acknowledge David to be the sole author of all the Psalms. We can be sure of three things. First, the primary author of all the Psalms is the Holy Spirit; the Apostle Peter testifies to this in Acts 1:16, and likewise the Apostle Paul in Hebrews 3:7; and David himself in 2 Kings 23:1 says, “The Spirit of the Lord hath spoken by me, and His word by my tongue”; and in Psalm 45:1, “My tongue is the pen of a scrivener that writeth swiftly.” Therefore, whether David or Moses or someone else composed the Psalms, they themselves were like writing instruments, whereas the Holy Spirit was the One Who wrote by means of them. Truly, what need is there to dispute about the pen, when one is sure about the writer? Second, to me it seems certain that the greater part of the Psalms are by David; for at the end of Psalm 71 we read: “The praises of David, son of Jesse, are ended.” In the same way in the Second Book of Kings, Chapter 23, verse 1 it says: David was “the excellent psalmist of Israel”; finally in 2 Paralipomenon, Chapter 5 it says: “Singers had been appointed to sing the Psalms which David made.” Third, it appears to me to be proven that the Psalms lacking titles are by David, as well as all those which bear the name David in their titles, whether it is written Of David or For David; for Psalm 2 lacks a title, and nevertheless in Acts 4:25 the Apostles affirm that it is a Psalm composed by David: and Psalm 94 lacks a title in the Hebrew version, and the Apostle attributes it to David in Hebrews 4:7. Furthermore, the Psalms which lack titles in the Hebrew codex are ascribed in the Greek text to David; accordingly it may be believed that the titles which were in the Hebrew codex were excised when the Septuagint translators rendered the Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek language. Finally the rule of the Hebrews, who say that a Psalm which lacks a title is by the author who wrote the previous one, is proven to be false; for according to this rule, the first and second Psalms would have no author, since both lack a title. Besides, Psalm 90 is ascribed to Moses, and the ten following Psalms, which lack titles, would have to be ascribed to Moses as well. But this cannot be done, since Psalm 99 makes mention of Samuel, who was born quite a long time after the death of Moses. Several difficulties of this sort appear when one tries to explain the title of Psalm 90. That not only those Psalms are by David which have Of David in the title, but also those which have For David, is proved by Saint Augustine from Psalm one hundred nine, which has: tô Davíd, ipsi David; and yet Our Lord says in Matthew 22:43: “How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying: The Lord said to my Lord?”

And so these things concerning the author of the Psalms seem to me to be certain. As for the remaining Psalms which bear the title Moses or Solomon or Asaph or Idithun or Ethan or the sons of Core: I consider as acceptable the opinion of Athanasius, Hilary and Jerome, but more probable that of Chrysostom, Augustine, Theodoret and of others who followed them. Why do I think that the later opinion is preferable? The reason is that it is more common and was even more common a thousand years ago. Saint Augustine testifies to this in Book 17 of The City of God, Chapter 14, and Theodoret in the Preface to the Psalms. Similarly, since it is sufficiently well established that Asaph, Idithun, Ethan and the sons of Core were singers rather than prophets, it follows that the Psalms were attributed to them in the titles because they were given to them to sing, not because they themselves had composed them; which can be understood from the fact that in the same title sometimes the name David is placed with that of Idithun, or of another, as can be seen in the titles of Psalms 39, 62, 65, 136, 138 and 139. In conclusion let it be added that in Luke 20:41, where the Lord says, “David himself saith in the book of Psalms,” that He seems to attribute the entire book of the Psalms to David.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 10

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 9, 2018


1 Why, O Lord, hast thou retired afar off? why dost thou slight us in our wants, in the time of trouble?

This verse, according to the Hebrew version, is the first of Psalm 10, but not recognized as such by the Septuagint; and it is most likely that such division of the Psalm was made in later times, by those who considered that the matter of the latter part of the Psalm was quite different from the first part; because, in the first part, hitherto the Church was exulting in the victory of God over his and her own enemies; and in the succeeding part she mourns over the success of the same enemies over the Church. The whole difference, though, consists, not in the matter, but in the times of which David prophesies. In the beginning of the Psalm, David exulted in spirit on account of the secret mysteries of the Son of God, who by his death subdued the evil spirits and paganism, and destroyed their idols; and then in the end of the said part, and the beginning of this part, foretells the persecutions that will be raised by the gentiles, and by the evil minded persons, assuming betimes such a magnitude that it would appear God had entirely forgotten the people he had delivered with such glory to himself; and as he said previously, “The Lord is become a refuge for the poor; a helper in due time in tribulation:” having before him another time, namely, that in which God permitted the poor to be oppressed by the more powerful, he says, “Why, O Lord, hast thou retired afar off?” that is to say, permitted such a raid of the unjust on the just, as if you were not present, and had “retired afar off. Why dost thou slight us in our wants, in the time of trouble?” Why not help us when we need help; and that is most in the time of trouble?

2 Whilst the wicked man is proud, the poor is set on fire: they are caught in the counsels which they devise.

Rather a difficult verse, but the sense would seem to be, “Whilst the wicked man is proud,” that is, while in his prosperity he appears full of vain boasting, “the poor is set on fire;” that means, is scandalized, and lights internally with anger: “They are caught in the counsels which they devise;” that is, both one and the other are caught; the impious man, by attributing all his happiness to himself, and thus deceiving himself; and the just man, seeing such prosperity, and not understanding it, equally deceives and involves himself. The expression, “The counsels which they devise,” is a Graecism, and has been translated literally, and merely signifies their thoughts. This verse would seem to supply a reason for the preceding one, showing that the prophet had implored of God “not to slight their wants in the time of trouble,” because the prosperity of the wicked is equally hurtful to the sinner and to the just, contributing, as it does, to the pride of the former, and the scandal of the latter.

3 For the sinner is praised in the desires of his soul: and the unjust man is blessed.

The reason assigned why prosperity makes “the wicked man proud,” and “the poor is set on fire;” because, when the sinner doeth evil, and by reason of his being in power, and having riches, he is praised by many, as if he were doing right; and his desires, however sinful and unjust, are applauded; and hence it comes that “The unjust man is blessed,” when he rather deserved to be cursed and reviled.

4 The sinner hath provoked the Lord, according to the multitude of his wrath, he will not seek him:

He goes on to explain the malice of the proud sinner: “He hath provoked the Lord,” at a time that he should have, with all his might, sought for a reconciliation with him; but, “According to the multitude of his wrath he will not seek him;” that is, his extravagant anger towards the afflicted poor will not let him seek God to be reconciled to him. For his mind has been so blinded by arrogance, that he never reflects how great an evil it is to provoke Almighty God.

5 God is not before his eyes: his ways are filthy at all times. Thy judgments are removed from his sight: he shall rule over all his enemies.

The blind sinner thinks not of God. The Hebrew puts it more expressively, “God is not in all his thoughts,” meaning in none of his thoughts, however numerous they may be, he never turns on God. “His ways are filthy at all times,” a consequence of the preceding; for, when he never thinks of God, never directs his steps to God, or to ought but gratifying his carnal desires, all his ways, therefore, that is, all his actions are filthy with the mire of concupiscence. “Thy judgments are removed from his sight.” The only thing that could turn him from his evil ways, the dreadful reflection on thy judgments, is far from his heart; and he, therefore, fearless of God, “Rules over all his enemies;” that is, tyrannically oppresses all he considers as such.

6 For he hath said in his heart: I shall not be moved from generation to generation, and shall be without evil.

The vain confidence of the wicked man! who thinks that nothing can harm him. “He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved;” nobody can disturb me, or bring me down from my station, forever and ever; I shall meet no evil.

7 His mouth is full of cursing, and of bitterness, and of deceit: under his tongue are labour and sorrow.

Having described the heart of the wicked man that never thinks on God, or his judgments, nor fears anything from them, he now describes his mouth, and afterwards his actions. Under the head of malediction, “or cursing,” may be classed blasphemies against God, and railing against men; under “bitterness” come detraction, contention, murmuring, and such like, indicative of hatred and rancor; finally, “to deceit” belong calumnious lies, and perjuries. The expression, “under his tongue are labor and sorrow,” explains the effect of the evils so enumerated; for the effect of all the evil words of the impious “is labor and sorrow, under his tongue;” that is, the labor and sorrow of wretched mortals, and the matter on which his tongue is constantly exercised.

8 He sitteth in ambush with the rich, in private places, that he may kill the innocent.

He comes now to describe the evil works, the oppression of the poor, making use of a metaphorical expression, taken from those who, when they meditate assassination, conceal themselves in a house for the purpose of observing the ingress and egress of those whose lives they are bent upon; and the meaning is, that those wicked and powerful people enter into a conspiracy with other rich and powerful people, to circumvent the poor by various arts and stratagems, and so destroy them entirely.

9 His eyes are upon the poor man: he lieth in wait, in secret, like a lion in his den. He lieth in ambush, that he may catch the poor man: so catch the poor, whilst he draweth him to him.
10 In his net he will bring him down, he will crouch and fall, when he shall have power over the poor.

The metaphor used in the twenty eighth verse is here explained by different metaphors. In that verse he compared the oppressor of the poor, to one man lying in ambush for another. In verse twenty nine he compares him to a lion, lying in wait for the weaker beasts; and finally, to a man laying snares for wild beasts, and catching them. “He lieth in wait to catch the poor,” which he does by enticing him, when off his guard, and draws him to himself. “In his net he will bring him down;” that is, will oppress and trample on him; will fall down, and rush upon him. “When he shall have power over the poor;” when he shall have made himself entirely their master. These verses contain a beautiful allusion to the wicked man’s intention, who then dreadfully comes into the slavery of the devil, when he seems to have made poor people slaves to himself.

11 For he hath said in his heart: God hath forgotten, he hath turned away his face, not to see to the end.

The cause of all the impiety being the wicked man’s thinking within himself, that God was, and ever would be, indifferent to human affairs.

12 Arise, O Lord God, let thy hand be exalted: forget not the poor.

A prayer to God to curb the wicked. “Arise,” as if from sleep, “and let thy hand be exalted,” to strike; for the hands of a passive man, or of one asleep, are either hanging down, or folded.

13 Therefore hath the wicked provoked God? for he hath said in his heart: He will not require it.

He again repeats the cause of the wicked man’s offending God: namely, thinking that God will not punish him.

14 Thou seest it, for thou considerest labour and sorrow: that thou mayst deliver them into thy hands. To thee is the poor man left: thou wilt be a helper to the orphan.

He contradicts the above by saying: you “do see it,” and you “will require it,” O God, because, “Thou considered the labor and sorrow” of the poor, and in due time you will “deliver into thy hands” the wicked to be punished; and justly, because to you, the Father of all, belongs the special care “of the poor man and the orphan.”

15 Break thou the arm of the sinner and of the malignant: his sin shall be sought, and shall not be found.

“Break thou the arm;” that is, the power and strength of the sinner, that so humbled, he may repent and sin no more; so that afterwards “his sin shall be sought, and shall not be found:” as Isaias has it, 28, “Vexation alone shall make you understand what you hear;” and in Ps. 83, “Fill their faces with shame, and they will seek thy name.”

16 The Lord shall reign to eternity, yea, for ever and ever: ye Gentiles shall perish from his land.

He predicts the fulfillment of his prayer. “The Lord shall reign;” that is, always will reign in spite of his enemies; nay, his enemies even shall “Perish from his land;” that is, shall be exterminated from this world, for the world is God’s land, as we read in Ps. 24, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.”

17 The Lord hath heard the desire of the poor: thy ear hath heard the preparation of their heart.

He uses the past for the future tense, on account of the certainty of the thing being done; and the word “Desire,” instead of prayer, to show how sure and quickly they would be heard; as if he said, God, the searcher of hearts, will not wait for their prayers, but will even hear their desires, that usually precede prayer. “Desire” and “Preparation of their heart” are the same, desire being a preliminary to prayer.

18 To judge for the fatherless and for the humble, that man may no more presume to magnify himself upon earth.

“The Lord hath heard the desire of the poor,”—“to judge for the fatherless and for the humble;” that is, to protect the fatherless and the humble against their oppressors, in order that man, who is upon earth, a creature, should not “Presume to magnify himself” against God, who is in heaven, and man’s Creator. All these denunciations of the oppressors of the poor are considered, by a figure, to apply to Antichrist. So St. Jerome and St. Augustine say: but if they are applied, as I consider they ought, in the literal sense, to the oppressors of the poor in general, they prove how great is the sin of such oppression, when the Holy Spirit denounces it at such length, and in such expressive language.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 9

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 9, 2018


1 Unto the end, for the hidden things of the Son. A psalm for David.

2 I will give praise to thee, O Lord, with my whole heart: I will relate all thy wonders.

The matter of the Psalm is here proposed, viz., the praise of God for his wonderful works. The words, “With my whole heart,” signify the subject to be praised is one of the highest importance, and, therefore, to be done with all his might and affections. The words, “All thy wonders” imply that the subject of his praise is so expansive as to comprehend in one view all the wonderful works of God. Such, in reality, was the redemption of man; a work of infinite mercy, in which are comprehended all the beneficent acts of God, as the apostle has it, Ephesians 1, “To establish all things in Christ;” that is, to comprehend, to reduce everything into one sum through him.

3 I will be glad, and rejoice in thee: I will sing to thy name, O thou most high.

The same sentiment, in different language, or, perhaps, rather an explanation; as if he said, with exultation and joy will I confess to thee, with joy in my heart and exultation in my exterior, thus confessing with all my affections. Playing on the harp before thee, O Most High, will I relate all thy wonders, chanting them to thy glory.

4 When my enemy shall be turned back: they shall be weakened, and perish before thy face.

He begins to narrate the victory of Christ over the devil and his satellites, and speaks in the person of the entire Church. “When my enemy shall be turned back,” that means, when my enemy, the devil, flying from your face, shall begin to turn back, then all his soldiers “Shall be weakened, and perish;” that is to say, the moment they see their leader to fly, they will become unnerved, will fly, scatter as if they had been actually destroyed. Of such flight the Lord himself speaks in the gospel, Jn. 12, “Now is the judgment of the world, now shall the prince of this world be cast out.”

5 For thou hast maintained my judgment and my cause: thou hast sat on the throne, who judgest justice.

A reason assigned for the devil’s flight and the scattering of his forces; for you, my Lord, the Son of God, “hast maintained my judgment and my cause;” that is, you have put an end to the litigation, the struggle, and the contest between mankind, or the Church and the devil. For the devil maintained that mankind was justly held in bondage by him, and therefore harassed it in a most tyrannical manner, until Christ, by his sufferings on the cross, thereby atoning for man, put an end to the struggle; hence the expression, “Thou hast sat on the throne, who judgest justice,” meaning the cross, as St. Leo has it, in his eighth Sermon on the Passion of our Lord: “O unspeakable glory of the passion, in which are united the judgment seat of God, the judgment of the world, and the power of the crucified;” and these are in reality the occult things of the Son, which by some are prefixed as a title to this Psalm. For he who, to all appearance, seemed to be guilty and was suffering punishment in the greatest ignominy, at that very moment was sitting on his throne, “judged justice,” that is, judged most justly, inasmuch as now that the price had been paid, man was delivered, and the devil despoiled of his dominion over him, and actually, as the apostle has it, Col. 2, “Blotting out the handwriting of the decree which was against us, which was contrary to us, and the same he took out of the way, fastening it to the cross.”

6 Thou hast rebuked the Gentiles, and the wicked one hath perished; thou hast blotted out their name for ever and ever.

The devil having been subdued through the cross, Christ our Lord, through his apostles, “rebuked the gentiles,” “convicting the world of sin, of justice, and of judgment,” as the Lord himself foretold: and in such manner “The wicked one hath perished;” that is the wickedness of idolatry perished, and man from impiety was brought to love God. Which was effected not only among the impious of that time, but Christ so entirely destroyed idolatry and the religion of the gentiles forever, that it can never appear again, having been plucked out from the roots. A thing we see already fulfilled, the Jews themselves, who were most prone to idolatry, having never attempted to return to it. “Forever and ever,” to signify true, real eternity, having no end, for fear any one should suppose that a very long time, but still a definite one, was intended.

7 The swords of the enemy have failed unto the end: and their cities thou hast destroyed. Their memory hath perished with a noise:

A reason assigned for idolatry not being likely to return, inasmuch as the power of the devil and his strongholds had disappeared, and he has no means of carrying on an offensive or a defensive warfare, “His swords having failed”—“unto the end;” that is, thoroughly, without a single exception—not one remaining. By “the swords of the enemy” we may also understand the temptations, or suggestions, which may be looked upon as the words of the devil, in the same sense that the apostle calls the word of God, “The sword of the Spirit.” The same apostle calls the temptations of the devil, “weapons of fire;” and such weapons are said “to have failed,” because they cannot injure those armed in the faith of Jesus Christ. In which sense, St. Anthony, in his life of St. Athanasius, quoted this very passage, proving therefrom that the temptations of the devil are most easily repulsed by the sign of the cross. By “their cities” may be understood all infidels, in whom the devil dwells without disturbance; these were destroyed by Christ when he put down idolatry. Our Lord himself seems to have this in view when he says, in Lk. 11, “When a strong man armed keepeth his court, those things which he possessed are in peace. But if a stronger than he come upon him, and overcome him, he will take away all his armor, wherein he trusted, and will distribute his spoils.” When the devil held possession, everything he possessed was in peace; because, while man is in a state of infidelity, he is always in the power of the devil, however morally good his life may have been, as has been the case with many pagan philosophers. But Christ, having got possession, by the extirpation of infidelity and the introduction of the knowledge of the true God, the devil lost his all. “Their memory has perished with a noise;” that is to say, the memory of idolatry, idolaters, and of the whole kingdom of Satan has perished amidst much noise and confusion. For the whole world resisted Christ; the most powerful kings and emperors sought to stand up for and defend their idols; but the more the world raged, the more idolatry tottered, and the remembrance of it was being blotted out; and, finally, the cessation of persecution was succeeded by a total destruction of idolatry.

8 But the Lord remaineth for ever. He hath prepared his throne in judgment:

Christ’s memory, on the contrary, will never fade after his death and resurrection. “All power in heaven and on earth was given to him,” which David alludes to here; as if he said, after such contest with the devil, the Lord “Hath prepared,” or, as the Hebrew has it, established “His throne in judgment;” that is, for the purpose of judging; and he, the Prince of the kings of the earth, “Shall judge the world;” meaning the people of the whole world, “In equity and justice,” two words used synonymously. Christ is said to sit in judgment on the world, though there may be many wicked and infidel princes in the world in rebellion against him, but who can, however, devise nothing—do nothing against his will and permission.

9 And he shall judge the world in equity, he shall judge the people in justice.
10 And the Lord is become a refuge for the poor: a helper in due time in tribulation.

From the fact of Christ’s being the future ruler, to govern with supreme justice, he infers the poor, who are usually oppressed by the great, will have great consolation. Let the poor fear no longer, for the Lord, sitting in heaven, “Is become a refuge” to them; and, furthermore, “A helper in due time in tribulation;” that is, when necessity may require it. For the divine help never comes so opportunely, as when we are overwhelmed in trouble, with no human being to console us; and this promise will be most surely fulfilled to all who truly seek and fear God; and therefore, he adds:

11 And let them trust in thee who know thy name: for thou hast not forsaken them that seek thee, O Lord.

The prophet speaks now in the third, instead of the first person, a thing he often does, from some new inspiration. With great justice can all “Who know your name;” that is to say, not only by the sound of it, but in reality; and fully understand the significance of it, and thence know the power and the mercy of God, put their confidence in you in all their difficulties. Much more so can your friends, “Since thou hast not forsaken;” that is, you never have forsaken “Those that seek thee.” By those “That seek him” he means those that covet his grace, and with all their heart seek to please him.

12 Sing ye to the Lord, who dwelleth in Sion: declare his ways among the Gentiles:

After a fervent appeal to God, he makes one to man in the same spirit; exhorting them too, to praise God, and to bring others to do so. The Lord is said “To dwell in Sion,” for there was the “Ark of the testament,” and “The place of prayer;” and this is put in here by way of apposition, that the true God may be distinguished from the false, who dwell in caves and the shrines of the gentiles. The word “ways” comprehends the thoughts, counsels, plans, inventions, the wonderful works of God, that are so resplendent in the redemption of man. Thus the meaning of the whole verse is: Sing to God a hymn of praise; announce to the gentiles his wonderful designs, his wonderful wisdom; and, in consequence, his wonderful works, that all nations, when they hear them, may unite in his praise.

13 For requiring their blood, he hath remembered them: he hath not forgotten the cry of the poor.

The prophet returns to what he previously asserted: namely, that the Lord was a “Just Judge,” the “Refuge of the poor in tribulation;” and takes up an objection that may be possibly raised, to wit, the fact of our seeing the poor, however pious, persecuted by the wealthy, sometimes even unto death. The answer is, “Praise God,” says he, “for though he sometimes seems to forget his poor,” such is not the case. “For requiring;” that is to say, inquiring into their daily actions, and examining them severally. “Their blood he hath remembered, he hath not forgotten the cry of the poor,” who, in their persecutions, had appealed to him; which recollection of their sufferings will appear in its own time, when the punishment of the oppressors and the glory of the oppressed shall be declared.

14 Have mercy on me, O Lord: see my humiliation which I suffer from my enemies.

Having thanked God for past favors, he now asks his assistance, in present and future difficulties. The prayer of the Church against her visible and invisible enemies. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, see my humiliation,” that is, my total prostration, caused by my enemies.

15 Thou that liftest me up from the gates of death, that I may declare all thy praises in the gates of the daughter of Sion.

The first part of this verse has a connection with the verse preceding. The meaning is, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, see my humiliation;” you, O Lord, “That liftest me up from the gates of death,” meaning you that keep me far removed from the gates of death. Those gates are supposed to be very deep; for the prophet does not allude to the death of the body, but to the death of the soul by sin, or everlasting death; and, therefore, he makes use of the word “Exalt,” to be far removed from the said gates. By the “Gates of death,” or of hell, the multitude of our infernal enemies would seem to be implied. The great body of the Jewish people were wont to assemble at the gates, whether for matters of justice or any other public business, and thus the word “Gates” got to signify a large assemblage of the people. Hence, we have in Matthew, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against her;” and in the last chapter of Ecclesiasticus, “From the gates of tribulation that have encompassed me.” And here we may note the beauty of the contrast between the gates of death, and the gates of the daughter of Sion or Jerusalem; the former are in the lowest bottom; the latter, on a high mountain: in the former are assembled the evil spirits; in the latter the people of God: from the gates of the former come forth nothing but temptations and war, that lead to death; the gates of the latter “Are built on peace;” for Jerusalem “Has put peace as its boundary;” and it is named as “The vision of peace.” The Church, then, “Is lifted up from the gates of death,” to announce God’s praise, “In the gates of the daughter of Sion;” which means being delivered from all temptations that may lead her to eternal death; to acknowledge the great grace conferred on her by her liberator, and to praise him with the Angels of God, who are in the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem.

16 I will rejoice in thy salvation: the Gentiles have stuck fast in the destruction which they prepared. Their foot hath been taken in the very snare which they hid.

Having been liberated from the “gates of death,” “I will rejoice in thy salvation;” that is, in the salvation you bestowed on me; since “the gentiles who laid a snare for me” have been caught in the very snare they laid, as they would in the deepest mud, from whence they cannot extricate themselves; in other words, their persecution did much harm to them, none to me; and the same may be said not only of their open and avowed persecution, but also of their private persecution, which, “like a snare, they laid for me.” May be too, that the avowed persecutions of Diocletian and others of the Roman emperors, and the disguised persecutions of Julian the Apostate, and other heretical emperors, are here intended.

17 The Lord shall be known when he executeth judgments: the sinner hath been caught in the works of his own hands.

From this wonderful dispensation of Providence, who turns the arms and the wiles of the wicked on themselves, David gathers that God will come to be known. “The Lord shall be known when he executeth judgment;” that is, his judgments will be so admired that he will be known to be the true and supreme God; and mainly, through his providence in causing the sinner “to be caught in the works of his own hands:” namely, when he falls into “the destruction he had prepared for others,” and “the snare which he had hid for them.”

18 The wicked shall be turned into hell, all the nations that forget God.

To be taken as a prophecy, not as an imprecation. “Shall be turned,” means in the Hebrew, “shall return;” which is applied to sinners, inasmuch as the devil, when he seduced them, made them his slaves; and, therefore, they will return to him. For God created man in innocence: the devil made him a sinner. As our Savior, in Jn. 8, says, “You are from your father, the devil.” The latter part of the verse, “all the nations that forget God,” declares who the sinners are that “will return to hell:” namely, all those “who forget God.” For the forgetting of God is the root of all sin; for he who sins turns away from God unto the creature.

19 For the poor man shall not be forgotten to the end: the patience of the poor shall not perish for ever.

Sinners, therefore, who are in the habit of oppressing the poor will be cast into hell; for God, sooner or later, will avenge their wrongs; for, though he may seem to forget them for a time, “he does not forget them to the end,” but will one time remember them; and, therefore, “the patience of the poor shall not perish forever.” When the patience of the poor is said not to perish, it does not mean that their patience in itself will be everlasting; but that it will in its effects, inasmuch as its reward will be everlasting.

20 Arise, O Lord, let not man be strengthened: let the Gentiles be judged in thy sight.

Having predicted the final ruin of the wicked, he now asks for their coercion. “Arise, O Lord, let not man be strengthened;” that is, let not man, a handful of dust, prevail against God, his Creator. “Let the gentiles be judged in thy sight;” meaning, let judgment issue against them, as we have in another Psalm, “Judge them, O God.”

21 Appoint, O Lord, a lawgiver over them: that the Gentiles may know themselves to be but men.

The judgment that issued against the gentiles, who persecuted the Church, was quite manifest when they became subject to a Christian prince. They then plainly saw they were weak mortals, and could not prevail against Christ. That the prophet predicts, but in the shape of a prayer. The word “lawgiver,” in the Hebrew, means a teacher, or a terrible character. And as the prophet spoke of a terrible teacher, who was to teach and to command with authority, the Septuagint, most properly, used the word legislator. By the legislator, many have said Christ is meant; many more say, Antichrist is alluded to. Let every one have their own opinion. Mine is, that he alludes to Jovinianus, Valentinian, Theodosius, and such characters.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Psalm 33

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 8, 2018


1 REJOICE in the Lord, O ye just: praise becometh the upright.

The rejoicing asked for here, includes the praising of God in joy; that is, praise him in rejoicing, not against your will, or in a sad or negligent manner, but with great affection, rejoicing and exulting in your hearts; and praise him not only internally but externally; because, “praise becometh the upright;” in other words, I specially invite you, ye just, to praise God, because it is the special duty of the just, who are called here the upright, as naturally they are; and with whom God, as being all righteousness, is always pleased. God is never pleased with the crooked or distorted; because his judgments and his actions are always straight and direct, and by no means square with the crookedness of the wicked; and hence, instead of freely praising God, they rather offend and blaspheme him.

2 Give praise to the Lord on the harp; sing to him with the psaltery, the instrument of ten strings.

He again exhorts the just to give God his tribute of praise, not only with their voice, but also with the musical instruments then used by the Jews; in which there is a mystical meaning, that we should praise God, not only by our words, but by our conduct; and, especially by the strict observance of the decalogue, signified by the instrument of ten strings; “That men, seeing our good works, may glorify our father who is in heaven.” Mt. 6.

3 Sing to him a new canticle, sing well unto him with a loud noise.

By way of epilogue he joins the substance of the two preceding verses in this one. He had said that we should praise him with our voice, and sing to him with our instruments, and reminded us that we should do everything accurately and carefully. “Sing to him a new canticle;” that is a repetition of “rejoice in the Lord, O ye just;” and we are ordered to sing to him, not in one of the old chants, but in “a new canticle;” composed expressly for the occasion. “Sing well unto him with a loud noise,” is a repetition of “Give praise to the Lord on the harp;” and he orders it to be done, not in the ordinary way, not carelessly, or coldly, but with great music and effect, to show the importance of the occasion; thus, the word, loud voice, does not refer to the human voice, but to the noise of the instrument. The holy fathers justly direct our attention to the difference between the old and the new chant of praise. The old canticle was the one sung by the old man, “who born of the flesh, is flesh,” has a taste for things of the world, and is delighted with them; he praises God when fortune smiles on him; but the new man, who, renewed in the spirit of his mind, longs after the things of the other world, and takes pleasure in those things alone that appertain to heaven; he, too, praises God, praises him always, even in his persecutions, knowing as he does that they tend to his good. We are also warned by the words, “Sing well to him with a loud voice,” that when we do sing to him, we must do it with great care, attentively, devoutly, and with great affection, and interior joy. St. Benedict, in his Rule, lays down that Psalmody is a divine work, and should be preferred to any other work. St. Bernard has:—“My dearly beloved, I advise you to assist at the Divine Office, with a pure intention and an active mind; I say active, because I wish you to be active, as well as reverent; neither lazy, nor drowsy, nor nodding; nor sparing your voice, or clipping the words, not skipping sentences, nor in a weak and tremulous voice, full of sloth and effeminacy, but in an open and manly tone, vigorous, as well as affectionate, give out the language of the Holy Spirit.

4 For the word of the Lord is right, and all his works are done with faithfulness.

He now assigns the reasons why God should be praised with so much affection, taken from his goodness, his power, and his wisdom. Of his goodness he says, “For the word of the Lord is right;” that is, both words and acts of the Lord are most just, most faithful, and most holy, as he expresses in different language, in Psalm 144, “The Lord is faithful in all his words; and holy in all his works.” By the “word of the Lord,” is meant what he commands, prohibits, promises, or threatens; and all these are most “right and done with faithfulness.” For, he commands nothing but what is good, prohibits nothing but what is bad; and, whatever he promises or threatens, he will most faithfully carry out. Therefore, “The word of the Lord is right,” and he is “faithful in all his words.” And his acts agree with his words; and, therefore, are said to be done in faithfulness; that is, they are faithful, just, and holy; and God is said to be holy in all his works.

5 He loveth mercy and judgment; the earth is full of the mercy of the Lord.

The sanctity of the Lord in respect of words and actions, arises from his sanctity of will or of purpose, for “He loveth mercy and judgment; that means, he wishes first to give us the gifts of his grace, and then, according to the use we have made of them, to reward, or to punish us; and thus, all the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth. In the first part of this verse we are informed of the goodness of God, arising from his mercy and justice; in the second, we are told that his mercy exceeds his justice, and is, as we have it in Psalm 117, “above all his works;” for to his mercy belongs the removal of every defeat and misery; and, as there are no created things that do not suffer some defect, there is nothing that does not need the mercy of God. Corruptible things of this world, however, suffer more and greater defects than the incorruptible things, that do not belong to this world; so that, when compared to them, they seem to have no defects; therefore, the prophet says, “The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord;” for by the earth he means, all corruptible things, for the earth is the dwelling place, not only of all mankind, all animals and plants, but also of birds and fishes; for though the former fly through the air, and the latter “perambulate the paths of the sea,” yet, both one and the other, rest on the earth. Now all corruptible things need the manifold mercy of God, to create, uphold, move, nourish, and repair them; but man, in addition, needs his mercy to go before him, to accompany him, to follow him, to forgive his sins, to arm, direct, and protect him, against the devil; and, therefore, he most justly says, “The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord.” We are to consider here also, that the perfect mercy that can remove all defects, belongs to God alone, for no one, having any defect whatever, can remove those of others, and thus, God is a pure, everlasting, all powerful, impersonation of infinite perfection; with justice, then, doth the Church sing, “O God whose province it is to have mercy.”

6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were established; and all the power of them by the spirit of his mouth:

From praising his goodness, he comes now to praise his power, the principal and most conspicuous effect of which is the creation of heaven; the magnitude of which is increased by the reflection of its having been made by God without labor; in no time, without men or machinery, by his single word, and forever. He evidently alludes to the creation of the world, in Genesis 1, where “God said: let the firmament, be, and the firmament was made, and He called the firmament heaven.” The second part of the verse, “and all the power of them by the spirit of his mouth,” would seem to be a mere repetition of the first part. For “the word,” and “the spirit of his mouth,” would seem to be much the same. By “The power of them,” is meant the stars, which, like a heavenly host, or celestial army, ornament the heavens to a wonderful degree, and shed their influence on things below. And though, by the “Word of the Lord,” and “the spirit of his mouth,” God’s orders are clearly understood, such is the meaning of both; there is no doubt but the Holy Ghost meant to glance at the mystery of the Holy Trinity to be revealed in the New Testament. We are not to notice the objection, that the prophet attributes the creation of heaven to the Word, and the creation of the stars to the Holy Ghost, as if God the Father made the heavens through the Son, and the stars through the Holy Ghost; because the acts of the Trinity cannot be separated, by reason of the unity of essence, which is the working power: and, therefore, when God the Father is said to have made the heavens through the Son, the Holy Ghost is not excluded; and when the power, or the celestial host, is said to have proceeded from the spirit of the mouth of the Lord, they are understood also to have proceeded from the Word, who proceeded from the mouth of the same Father, and from which Word the Spirit himself proceeded.

7 Gathering together the waters of the sea, as in a vessel; laying up the depths in storehouses.

He goes on explaining God’s power, who not only created the heavens and the stars by one word, but collected all the waters that, at the creation, covered the whole globe, and shut them up in the deepest caverns and recesses of the earth; just as easy as one would fill a vessel with water, or shut up his money in a chest. “Laying up the depths in storehouses.” Shutting up the immense depths of waters that were on the earth and reached to the very heavens, with as much ease as one would shut up a sum of money in a safe. That the “depths” mean the mass of water that covered the earth is clear from Genesis 1, where it is said, “Darkness was over the depths.” By “treasures” is sometimes meant an abundance of gold, silver, or precious stones, as, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.” Sometimes it means the place in which such things are kept, as, “Every learned scribe produces from his treasure the new and the old;” and we read of the Magi, that “They opened their treasures, and offered unto him gold, frankincense, and myrrh,” in which latter sense the word “treasure” is to be understood here.

8 Let all the earth fear the Lord, and let all the inhabitants of the world be in awe of him.

From what he has said of God’s power, he takes the occasion of exhorting all men to fear him, and have a horror of breaking his commandments.

9 For he spoke and they were made: he commanded and they were created.

The very best reason that could be offered for fearing God alone; because anything but God cannot harm us without God’s permission; and, on the other hand, there is nothing outside God that can defend us from his anger; because all things depend upon him for existence, God made everything by one word; for this reason, that his word is all powerful, full of authority, and cannot be resisted; and he, therefore, adds, “He commanded, and they were created.”

10 The Lord bringeth to nought the counsels of nations; and he rejecteth the devices of people, and casteth away the counsels of princes.

The prophet now comes to wisdom, to show that God deserves our praise in every respect. “He brings to naught the counsels of nations.” The wisdom of God is so far beyond and above, the wisdom of mankind that God, in one moment, blasts, blights, renders null and void all the plans and plots of men, however wisely and deliberately they may seem to have been laid. He repeats that in the words, “He rejecteth the devices of people;” he rejects all their devices as if they were so many fools, and deals in like manner with their princes, whose counsels, however wise they may seem to be, and framed by counselors abounding in wisdom and learning, are still “cast away” as of no value or importance. Truly wonderful is the wisdom of God, that catches the wise in their own cunning, and by some inexplicable dealing, so infatuates them, that what they judge will be of the highest importance and value to them, turns out to be the readiest road to their injury and destruction.

11 But the counsel of the Lord standeth for ever: the thoughts of his heart to all generations.

By an inscrutable wisdom, God mars the counsels of man, and does not allow them to accomplish what they purpose. Whereas, on the contrary, the wisdom of man is quite powerless against that of God; for, once he has decreed anything it is fixed to eternity. “Every counsel of mine will stand, and every will of mine shall be done, saith the Lord,” Isaias 43. Now, by “counsel,” as regards God, we are not to understand a consultation previous to election, for God has not to think a matter over, but, by one most simple act of his will, he decreed from eternity all he should ever do or carry out. The Scripture merely accommodates itself to our weakness and our usual manner of speaking, when it says, “The counsel of the Lord standeth forever;” that means, that what God in his wisdom has once decreed, cannot be disturbed nor be prevented being put into execution. He repeats that, when he says, “The thoughts of his heart to all generations;” that means, that whatever God once thought of doing can never be prevented, but will certainly be carried out, and in the way he intended. The Scripture, however, does not go so far in accommodating itself to our weakness as to exclude truth altogether, for, though there is no counsel with God previous to election, there is in his counsel what is most perfect, that is, the knowledge of all the means necessary to accomplish the most useful end; and though there may be in God one only, and that a most simple thought, that one, however, is equivalent to numberless ones.

12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord: the people whom he hath chosen for his inheritance.

From what he had said of the power, wisdom, and goodness of God, the prophet concludes that blessed must the people be, whose God is not an empty idol, but a Lord, most powerful, most wise, and most benevolent, on whose praises he had just been descanting; and then are we truly and perfectly happy, and blessed, when we have that great Lord for our God, and he has us for His peculiar people; the prophet then unites both when he says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord;” that is, blessed are they who acknowledge no God but the one Lord, “by whose word the heavens were established;” and in like manner, “blessed are the people whom he hath chosen for his inheritance;” that means, blessed are they whom the same great Lord hath chosen to be his own peculiar people, and as it were his own property and inheritance. These two things are so united that they cannot be separated, for they alone have the true God for their God, who worship him through faith, hope, and charity; and they only, whom he has chosen for his inheritance, whom he has preordained by his grace, called, and justified, and who worship him through faith, hope, and charity, and his people: a thing we should never lose sight of, for, whatever man may have, even though he may gain the entire world, he is still poor and wretched if he want God, who alone can fill up the bosom of his soul; and, on the other hand, he who possesses God, however poor he may be, is still happy and rich because, with God he has everything. Besides, man is God’s image; now, the beauty and great perfection of an image is to be like the original as possible; and then he will be really like to God, and therefore most happy, “when we shall see him as he is,” Jn. 3; for God’s happiness consists in seeing himself as he is; and thus, those who will never see him will be always most unlike him, and, therefore, truly miserable. Finally, anything beneath God is either meaner than man, as all corporal things, or equal to man, as the Angels are, for in the resurrection we will be equal to them. Now, nothing can make us more perfect, blessed, or happy, but something better and more perfect than ourselves; they, then, alone who cling to God, who become one spirit with him, are the only really happy; that is, they who love God, and are loved by him; who are happy here in hope, and are, in point of fact, happy when they cling to God by so happy a tie that can never be broken.

13 The Lord hath looked from heaven: he hath beheld all the sons of men.
14 From his habitation which he hath prepared, he hath looked upon all that dwell on the earth.

He proves what he said, namely, that, blessed is that people that have for their God the Lord, who made the heavens; because when God, looking down from heaven, as he would from an observatory, and seeing man, and knowing that no man, however brave or powerful he may appear to be, could be saved by his own merits; he looks upon his own people with the eye of a father, helps him and saves him, so that the just were deservedly called upon in the beginning of the Psalm to “Rejoice in the Lord, O ye just.” He, therefore, says, “The Lord hath looked down from heaven; he hath beheld all the sons of men;” that means, the Lord in heaven, from whom nothing can be concealed, sees not only his own people, but all mankind, and their various capabilities. The following verse has the same meaning.

15 He who hath made the hearts of every one of them: who understandeth all their works.

He tells us now, that when God saw the “sons of men” from heaven, it was not in the dim, confused, and uncertain way that we see objects placed at a great distance, but that he saw most distinctly and minutely all their actions; that is, what they were doing, or might do, in mind or body; and thus, he saw all the thoughts, desires, words, acts, past, present, and future, of all men in general, and of each in particular; and he proves God’s power to see them thus, because “he made the heart of every one of them;” that is, he created their souls, and, therefore, their hearts; that is, their minds and will, from which all human actions spring; for he that could make the heart, could certainly search it. “Of every one of them;” that is, of every one of them separately, and, therefore he ought to understand all their works.

16 The king is not saved by a great army: nor shall the giant be saved by his own great strength.

He explains what the all seeing eye really saw, and that was, that no one, by his own merits or exertions, could be delivered from the evils that surround us on all sides; and that we all need the mercy of God. He gives as an instance, that of the one most likely to boast of and confide in his own strength, the king. God saw that “the king is not saved by a great army;” great power, a great army, a great deal of money will not save or protect the king. “Nor shall the giant be saved by his own great strength;” his own strength will be as unserviceable to the strong, brave man, as is the great army to the king.

17 Vain is the horse for safety: neither shall he be saved by the abundance of his strength.

There are three things to rescue one from imminent danger; the strength of others, such as guards of soldiers; one’s own strength; a swift horse; the two former to meet the danger, the latter to fly from it. The psalmist had already said that the two former were insufficient, he says now that the third is equally so; and we have examples of all in the Book of Kings. An immense military force was unable to protect Saul; Goliath, the great giant, was slain by the youth David; Joram, the son of Achab, flying away in a swift chariot, was killed by a swifter arrow. “Vain is the horse for safety.” The man who depends on the velocity of his horses is greatly deceived; because such velocity may he impeded or overcome in a variety of ways, and is, therefore, very deceitful. “Neither shall he be saved by the abundance of His strength.” The horse, whose power is principally in his swiftness, will not save himself and his rider by means of it.

18 Behold the eyes of the Lord are on them that fear him: and on them that hope in his mercy.
19 To deliver their souls from death; and feed them in famine.

The conclusion of the argument, whereby the prophet undertook to prove the happiness of the nation who had God for their Lord. For God sees all men, and sees what little they can do of themselves, without his assistance. He has, however, peculiar regard to the just, to help them, to deliver them from the danger of death, and to find fair support for them in this world. “Behold, the eyes of the Lord are on them that fear him.” The truly just and the friends of God are beautifully described, as those who fear him and trust in him. For fear, without hope, is servile fear; hope, without fear, is presumption. Fear, combined with hope, is the mark of real love; that is, the generous love whereby God is loved, as a friend, a father, a spouse; such love, while it greatly fears doing anything that may possibly offend the beloved, still securely hopes and trusts that the mercy of the beloved will never be wanting. “To deliver their souls from death, and feed them in famine.” God’s reason for regarding with the eye of a father those who so fear him, while they trust in him, is to confer those two blessings on them, viz., to free them from the fear of death, and to support them while they live. As the just are afraid to offend God, he delivers them from the fear of being offended, that is, of their lives being endangered, which is a great blessing. To those who trust in his mercy, he shows perpetual mercy, “while he feeds them in famine;” and those two blessings can be understood of our corporal and temporal salvation, as well as of our spiritual and everlasting happiness. “He delivers their souls from death.” Our corporal salvation is looked after, since God, by a singular providence, delivers us from the various dangers of death, we could never escape of ourselves, or through any human agency. And after thus delivering us, he provides us with all the necessaries of life, especially in time of famine, when so many others are in extremes. In a spiritual sense, he “delivers their souls from death,” when he either prevents their falling into sin, which is a spiritual death, or, if they have sinned, brings them back by wholesome penance to grace, which is the spiritual life of the soul; and thus, in both ways, he delivers their souls from everlasting death. And those who are living to God, by means of the Holy Spirit dwelling in them, “he feeds in famine;” while, in this desert, “a desert barren and without water,” on our journey to the land of promise, he feeds us with manna raining from heaven, and with water bursting from the rock; that is, while he supports and refreshes us by his heavenly consolations, he feeds, without satiating; he cools, without quenching our thirst; because the one and the other are reserved for the day when the glory of the Lord shall appear, when “we shall be inebriated with the plenty of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of thy pleasure.”

20 Our soul waiteth for the Lord: for he is our helper and protector.

Hitherto he had addressed the just, the servants of God, exhorting them to “exult in the Lord,” and to praise God as a most indulgent and most merciful father. He now gives the reply of the just, who say, “Our soul waiteth for the Lord.” The just understand what the Holy Spirit wants when he invites them to exult and praise; that he wants them to do so, that they may thereby be encouraged to persevere in justice; to cling to God Almighty, not to turn from him through any amount of persecution; and, finally, to praise God more through their actions, than with their lips; and they reply that, marked as they have been by so many of God’s signal favors, they will most steadily remain in his fear and his love. “Our soul (say they) waiteth for the Lord.” Whatever may happen, it will not separate us from the love of God, nor will we look for any other to console us; but will patiently expect consolation from heaven, knowing it has been written, Habac. 2, “If it make any delay, wait for it: for it shall surely come, and it shall not be slack.” The soul is said to wait, by a Hebraism, by which the soul is used for the entire man, especially in spiritual matters. Thus, in Isaias 26, “Thy name and thy remembrance are the desire of the soul. My soul hath desired thee in the night;” and, Lamentation 3, “The Lord is good to them that hope in him, to the soul that seeketh him;” and the most Blessed Virgin says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” The just herein assign a reason for their having determined to wait for the Lord so long; because they know, from experience, that he always helped them in their prosperity, and protected them most faithfully and effectually in their adversity.

21 For in him our heart shall rejoice: and in his holy name we have trusted.

The just having responded to the first desire of the Holy Spirit, they now respond to the second, viz., that they should “rejoice in the Lord,” as has been explained in the first verse of the Psalm. They say they will do so most willingly. “In him our heart shall rejoice;” having hoped in the Lord, they have been assisted and protected by him, and, therefore, having learned from experience, how good and how powerful he is, they “rejoice in him,” and “trusting his name.”

22 Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, as we have hoped in thee.

The Psalm, as is frequently the case, concludes with a prayer, one quite apposite to the last verses, and to the entire Psalm, because it having been repeated that God has mercy on those that confide in him, and the just assert they did confide in him, and by reason of continuous danger, always need continuous mercy, they therefore conclude by, “Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us;” let it not cease, but continue; nay, even let new mercies be poured upon us, “as we have hoped in thee,” as your goodness led us to expect, and we promised to ourselves.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 71

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 8, 2018


1 IN thee, O Lord, I have hoped, let me never be put to confusion:
2 Deliver me in thy justice, and rescue me. Incline thy ear unto me, and save me.

The holy prophet, mindful of God’s promises to those who put their trust in him, and not presuming on his own strength, exclaims, “In thee, O Lord,” and not in myself nor in any other creature, “I have hoped,” certain, therefore, that I will “never be put to confusion.” I fly to you in my present trouble, and ask of you “to deliver and rescue me” from the hands of my persecutors; “in thy justice,” with that justice that prompts you to punish the wicked, and free the innocent. And, for effect, he repeats the prayer, saying, “Incline thy ear unto me, and save me;” hear my humble voice, save me in the present danger.

3 Be thou unto me a God, a protector, and a place of strength: that thou mayst make me safe. For thou art my firmament and my refuge.

He now explains more clearly what he wants from God, and that is, that God should protect him like a city strongly fortified, and incapable of being penetrated by the enemy. The Hebrew implies that this fortified place was on a lofty rock and, in truth, there is no easier way of overcoming all troubles than the knowing how to ascend in spirit to God, and there to contemplate the everlasting happiness; and there one will at once despise everything human; thus, the tribulations, which otherwise would be counted severe and heavy, St. Paul calls “momentary and light.” “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Cor. 4. “For thou art my firmament and my refuge.” Be my protector, for you alone “are my firmament;” my firm and well built house, built of stone, as the Hebrew implies, to which I can fly; and “my refuge.”

Everything else, the favors of man, my own industry and exertions, are houses of mud or of straw, built on the sand; for what are all the goods of this world but frail, perishable things, in which fools alone confide? Happy they who understand so much; happier they who put them into practice.

4 Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the sinner, and out of the hand of the transgressor of the law and of the unjust.

He now descends to particulars, and asks to be delivered out of “the hand,” that is, from the power of the sinner, “the transgressor of the law, and of the unjust;” all of which literally apply to Absalom, Achitophel, and their servants, for this Psalm altogether corresponds with Psalm 31, which, by general consent, treats of Absalom’s persecution. “The hand of the sinner,” then, seems to be intended for Absalom, a perverse, wicked man; “the transgressors of the law” are the people who rise up in arms against their lawful king, and the “unjust” alludes to Achitophel, who in private, had fraudulently sought to injure David. Looking at the passage in a spiritual sense, the sinner may mean the devil, the unjust may mean heretics, and the transgressors of the law, tyrants and persecutors. The just man, however, desires to be freed not only from corporal trouble, but much more so from any danger to his soul, for fear he may, through fear of persecution, consent to sin, and run the risk of eternal death.

5 For thou art my patience, O Lord: my hope, O Lord, from my youth.
6 By thee have I been confirmed from the womb: from my mother’s womb thou art my protector. Of thee I shall continually sing:

The Hebrew for patience here implies patience in hope, rather than in endurance, as we have it in Rom. 8, “We wait for it with patience;” and in James 5, “Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, patiently bearing till he receive the early and the later rain. Be you, therefore, also patient, and strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord draweth near.” “For thou art my patience,” then, means, for it is from thee I am patiently expecting help. “My hope, O Lord, from my youth;” because I began to hope in you from the time that I first knew you, nay more, long before I was capable of knowing you, in your mercy you were my protector; because, “By thee have I been confirmed from the womb;” scarce had I come into the world, when I was in a most infirm state, incapable of invoking you, you extended your protection to me. Such favors God is wont to confer on all men, especially when they are of an age when they cannot help themselves; while very few are they who acknowledge such favors, or thank God sufficiently for them; and the prophet, therefore, who, by the light of the Holy Ghost, knew such to be the case, with great devotion exclaims, “By thee I have been confirmed from the womb; from my mother’s womb thou art my protector;” as much as to say, I know and confess, O Lord, that you cared me from my very infancy, which makes me now confidently hope that you will be my protector when I shall call upon you. “Of thee shall I continuously sing.” For such reasons, for such favors, I will always chant thy praises, in prosperity and adversity, in this world, and in the next.

7 I am become unto many as a wonder, but thou art a strong helper.

Banished from my kingdom by my own son, a wretched fugitive instead of a glorious conqueror, I am the wonder of every one, especially when I seem to be so deserted by you whom I always worshipped, in whom I always trusted; but, however, you are a “strong helper,” and a steady one; and though, for a time, in your wisdom, you may appear to have deserted me, and allowed my enemies to get the better of me, still, when the proper time comes, you will be a “strong helper.” St. Augustine, taking a spiritual view of this passage, says, that he who despises the things of this world, patiently submits to injury, and thus goes in a contrary direction to that of mankind, may be called a wonder and a prodigy. Such was John the Baptist, Christ himself, Peter, Paul, and the other Apostles; such were all the martyrs and confessors, and others, who were looked upon by the wise ones of the world as fools, yet could truly say, I am become as a wonder to many, yet you are a strong helper, to carry me through the narrow gate, and to offer violence to the kingdom of heaven, when it will appear whether I was a fool or a wise man.

8 Let my mouth be filled with praise, that I may sing thy glory; thy greatness all the day long.

Whatever men may think or say of me, I therefore, wish that “my mouth may be filled with praise,” that nothing else may please me, may delight me, but to love thee and praise thy glory; and “the whole day,” that is, at all times, “to sing thy greatness and thy glory.” All they, and they alone, are like this holy king and prophet, who think, and feel, and deeply consider that there is nothing great, nothing worthy our admiration but God alone.

9 Cast me not off in the time of old age: when my strength shall fail, do not thou forsake me.

David was an old man when he was persecuted by Absalom; and, therefore, calling to mind the victories of his youth, nay, even of his boyhood, he says, “Cast me not off in the time of old age;” do not desert him you always stood by, now at the last moment. “When my strength shall fail;” when I am become weak and feeble, “do not thou forsake me;” when I want your help more than ever I did before.

10 For my enemies have spoken against me; and they that watched my soul have consulted together,
11 Saying: God hath forsaken him: pursue and take him, for there is none to deliver him.

Such was literally true of David, against whom his people, with Absalom at their head, and Achitophel as his counselor, rebelled; a thing they did under the impression that he was now grown old and weak, and abandoned by God. “And they that watched my soul,” my former counselors and guards, “have consulted together;” took counsel how they may destroy me, saying, as “God hath forsaken him, pursue and take him;” the very advice that Achitophel gave, which, however, had no effect, as God did not suffer it to be carried out. See 2 Sam 17.

12 O God, be not thou far from me: O my God, make haste to my help.
13 Let them be confounded and come to nothing that detract my soul; let them be covered with confusion and blame that seek my hurt.

While they were taking measures against David, he had recourse to God, who, without any trouble, could mar them all, as he really did. “O God, be not thou far from me,” as they boast you are, but rather “make haste to my help,” to save me from them. “Let them be confounded and come to nothing that detract my soul,” by your hastening to help me, let Absalom’s counselors be confounded, their plots fail, disappear, and vanish; and let those “that detract my soul,” that calumniate me, be rendered senseless. “Let them be covered with confusion and shame that seek my hurt;” a repetition of the foregoing.

14 But I will always hope; and will add to all thy praise.
15 My mouth shall shew forth thy justice; thy salvation all the day long. Because I have not known learning,

Let them be confounded and come to nothing; “But I will always hope;” will confide more and more in you, having learned by experience the efficacy of your assistance, and will always “add to all thy praise;” singing new hymns to you for your new and repeated favors. “My mouth shall show forth thy justice,” with which you punish the wicked; and “thy salvation,” through which you free and save the innocent, “all day long;” that is, constantly. “Because I have not known learning.” How could David say this of himself, when he says, in Psalm 117, “I have understood more than all my teachers;” and the Psalms prove him to have been well up in both human and divine knowledge; for, though he was a shepherd and a soldier, he may not have been so entirely devoted to caring his flocks, or waging war, as not to be able to devote some time to literature and study? By the word “learning,” then, I take it that David means that human craft and cunning in which Achitophel, who had given counsel against him, abounded; and, by the words, “I have not known,” that he does not simply mean knowledge, but approbation and use; as we commonly say, “I don’t know you;” and, as St. Paul says, “that he knows nothing but Christ, and him crucified.” The meaning, then, is, “I have not known learning.” I know not the wisdom of this world; I confide not in the counsels of man; I approve not of human craft and cunning; but,

16 I will enter into the powers of the Lord: O Lord, I will be mindful of thy justice alone.

I will cling entirely to God’s omnipotence; in it will I confide, and will hide myself in it as I would in an impregnable fortress; and thus, “I will be mindful of thy justice alone;” I will lose sight completely of human counsel, of my own strength, or of my friends; but I will remember and bear in mind “thy justice alone,” by virtue of which you keep your promises and through which you punish the wicked, and crown the pious.

17 Thou hast taught me, O God, from my youth: and till now I will declare thy wonderful works.

You taught me to despise human literature, and to trust in your power; and it was in consequence, that I, an unarmed youth, fought with a bear and a lion, and conquered both them and the giant Goliath. “And till now I will declare thy wonderful works;” while I live, to the last day of my life, I will record “the wonderful works” you enabled me to do in my youth.

18 And unto old age and grey hairs: O God, forsake me not, Until I shew forth thy arm to all the generation that is to come: Thy power,

And I ask, at the same time, that “unto old age you forsake me not,” but that you always may come to my aid, “until I show forth,” until I shall have finished the book of Psalms, through which I will show forth “thy arm,” thy strength, to all posterity. How David could say that he would announce God’s power to all posterity we have already explained, for he foresaw that the Psalms composed by him would be chanted all over the world to the end of time. “Thy power.” He explains what arm he is to announce, when he says, “thy power.”

19 And thy justice, O God, even to the highest great things thou hast done: O God, who is like to thee?

He explains the meaning of the showing forth thy arm to the generation that is to come, and says, “thy power and thy justice;” that is to say, I will announce thy arm, which signifies your power united with your justice. God is all powerful, but he is still most just; he can do what he wills, but he wills nothing unjust. Now, such power and justice reaches even “to the highest great things” among God’s creatures, for God created by his power, not only the earth, and the sea, and all their inhabitants, but he also created the heavens, and the heavens of heavens, and the countless millions of Angels that dwell therein. Thus the arm of God’s power reaches even those highest great things. God’s justice also has not only punished sinful man, who is but dust and ashes, but he has also punished the most exalted among the Angels, who, for their pride, he hurled from heaven into the abyss. The arm of divine justice, then, has reached “the highest things,” so that one may well exclaim, “O God, who is like to thee?” Nor does this contradict the Scripture that says, “God made man to his likeness;” and 1 John 3, “We know that when he shall appear we shall be like to him; because we shall see him as he is.” For when David says here, “Who is like to thee?” he means, is equal to thee, equally wise, powerful, depending on no one, while all depend on him.

20 How great troubles hast thou shewn me, many and grievous: and turning thou hast brought me to life, and hast brought me back again from the depths of the earth:
21 Thou hast multiplied thy magnificence; and turning to me thou hast comforted me.

David consoles himself in his present calamity, by the fact of having escaped, through God’s assistance, from other calamities. “How many troubles hast thou shown me, many and grievous;” great in their variety and bitterness, borne by me in Saul’s persecution, “and turning, thou hast brought me to life,” when I was all but in the jaws of death, “and hast brought me back again from the depths of the earth;” deliver me from the height of misery, that nearly drove me to the other world. For “thou hast multiplied thy magnificence,” in accordance with the extent of my troubles, “and turning to me,” in mercy, while you chastised me, as a father you have wonderfully “comforted me,” when from a wretched exile you made me a prosperous king.

22 For I will also confess to thee thy truth with the instruments of psaltery: O God, I will sing to thee with the harp, thou holy one of Israel.
23 My lips shall greatly rejoice, when I shall sing to thee; and my soul which thou hast redeemed.
24 Yea and my tongue shall meditate on thy justice all the day; when they shall be confounded and put to shame that seek evils to me.

The prophet now predicts his delivery from the power of Absalom, and promises all manner of thanks in his heart, with his lips, and with all sorts of musical instruments. “For I will also,” when I shall have obtained the victory, “confess thy truth to thee;” will praise your justice and your fidelity, “with the instruments of psaltery,” with the musical instrument called the psaltery. And I will use the harp too, “thou Holy One of Israel;” a name applied to God, whom the people of Israel were bound to sanctify by public worship and due honor, for which he in return sanctified them by the sanctity of his grace. And I will not only thank and praise you with the harp and psaltery, but “my lips shall greatly rejoice,” my mouth shall send forth its notes, “when I shall sing to thee;” “and my soul,” my life, “which thou hast redeemed,” shall also praise thee. And it is not once or twice that “my tongue shall meditate on thy justice,” but “all the day,” at all times “it shall meditate,” exercise itself in chanting the praises of thy justice, “when they shall be confounded and put to shame that seek evils to me.”

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 67

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 8, 2018


2 MAY God have mercy on us, and bless us: may he cause the light of his countenance to shine upon us, and may he have mercy on us.

With desire and earnestness David exclaims, “May God have mercy on us,” according to the great mercy that prompts him to send a Savior to us; and may he in such mercy “bless us,” which blessing we pray may not be confined to the things of this world, but “may he cause the light of his countenance to shine upon us,” which may be variously interpreted. First, God is said to make “the light of his countenance shine upon us,” when, having removed the clouds of his anger and indignation, he regards us with a look of benignity, as children, as friends, as restored to grace. Again, he is said to “cause the light of his countenance to shine upon us,” when, by the infusion of wisdom and love, he enlightens and warms us, as the sun is wont to do when no cloud intervenes. Finally, he is said to cause the light of his countenance to shine upon us when it pleases him to let us see him to a certain extent; which he did through the mystery of the Incarnation, when “He was seen upon earth, and conversed with men,” Baruch 3. And such seems to be the prayer of the prophet here, that God should show his countenance, if not in the form of God, at least in the form of man. He puts up the same petition in Psalm 79, where he says, “Thou that sittest upon the Cherubim shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasses.” And this being the mercy he originally asked, he, therefore, repeats, “and may he have mercy on us;” that means, may he, by such light, have mercy on us.

3 That we may know thy way upon earth: thy salvation in all nations.

The reason why he so ardently longs for the light of God’s countenance is, that through that divine light we may, in this land of darkness know the way to God, to our country from which we have been so long exiled in darkness and the shade of death; which way most undoubtedly is Christ himself, who says, “I am the way;” and not only the way, but the light through which it is to be known, of which Isaias, chap. 9, says, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death light is risen.”—“Thy salvation in all nations” explains the first part of the verse, that the Savior may be known among all nations.

4 Let people confess to thee, O God: let all people give praise to thee.

The prophet’s desires being in accordance with true charity, he wished that Christ should come upon earth; first, for the glory of God, then, for the benefit of mankind; and in this verse, therefore, he prays that all manner of people should praise, thank, and glorify him for so great and so universal a favor; that all worship and veneration of false gods should cease, and the one true God alone be acknowledged by all.

5 Let the nations be glad and rejoice: for thou judgest the people with justice, and directest the nations upon earth.

Next to the glory of God, let the benefit of mankind be acknowledged; and, therefore, “let the nations be glad and rejoice;” let all manner of people rejoice; “for thou,” through Christ, “judgest the people with justice;” you have destroyed the power of the tyrannical prince of darkness, and established the just authority of the Church in its stead. “And directest the nations upon earth;” governing and guiding them, by your most wholesome laws, to the harbor of life everlasting.

6 Let the people, O God, confess to thee: let all the people give praise to thee:
7 The earth hath yielded her fruit. May God, our God bless us,

He again exhorts the people to praise God, assigning as an additional reason, that “the earth hath yielded her fruit;” that means, that the earth had at length yielded that fruit, to yield which she was created, namely, Christ in the flesh. For this is the fruit of which Isaias speaks when he says, “In that day the bud of the Lord shall be in magnificence and glory, and the fruit of the earth shall be high;” and in Psalm 84, “Our earth hath yielded its fruit;” fruit of such value, that, when compared to it, the earth seems never before to have yielded anything but thorns and briars.

8 May God bless us: and all the ends of the earth fear him.

Henceforth will come the agreeable change, that God will open his hands, and replenish us with all manner of blessings, spiritual ones especially; and, on the other hand, all men, in the utmost quarters of the globe, will fear the true God with a holy fear, and will pay him the tribute of obedience and praise. The name of God, three times repeated here, while it shows the strong affections of the prophet, would also seem to foreshadow the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, which was so clearly preached by Christ and his Apostles.

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