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A Commentary On The Psalms From Primitive and Mediæval Writers Volumes 1 To 4 by Rev. J.M. Neale D.D.

Gregorian. Ferial. O sing unto GOD * with the voice of melody.

Ascension. GOD is gone up * with a merry noise: the LORD with the sound of the trump. All.

Monastic. He shall choose out * an heritage.

Parisian. For GOD * is the King of all the earth.

1 O clap your hands together, all ye people: O sing unto GOD with the voice of melody.

We have said before that the sons of Korah, by whom this Psalm was written, are, by interpretation, the sons of the Cross. In spite of that, the world would say,—because of that, (Ay.) the Church would say, the first verse begins as it does: O clap your hands together. And notice further. This, by the consent of the whole Church, is an Ascension Psalm. And by whom should such a hymn of praise be written, and to whom should it pertain, save to those who, like their dear LORD, by the Cross on earth, hope to attain to the throne of heaven. O clap your hands. As we have had occasion to notice before now, (L.) the voice of melody is not so much to be uttered with the tongue, as with the hands: that is, it is our deeds, not our words, by which GOD is here to be praised. Even as it was in Him, Whose pattern we are to follow: JESUS began both to do and to teach.

2 For the LORD is high, and to be feared: he is the great King upon all the earth.

And why is He most high? Because, first of all, He was most low. There is nothing more wonderful than the manner in which mediæval writers work out the doctrine of S. Paul: that it was because our LORD according to the flesh was so humbled, (Ay.) that, according to the flesh, He is now so exalted. It has been well said, He is thy LORD, if thou seekest Him; He is high,* if thou believest in Him; He is to be feared, if thou fearest Him; He is the King, if thou fightest for Him; great, if thou humblest thyself before Him; over all the earth, that is, over the earth of thy flesh, since thy body should be subject to thy spirit. Or you may take it in another sense. Happy earth, (D. C.) one says, that shall be so subjected to CHRIST the King. How happy that new earth and those new heavens wherein dwelleth righteousness! And again: they notice that the first time in which the Apostles are said to have been afraid, (B.) was the season of our LORD’S greatest exaltation, namely, when He was transfigured: “They feared as they entered into the cloud.”* To which they add, that the next time in which it is recorded that the same Apostles were afraid, was that in which He was about to enter on His great humiliation: “As they followed Him they were afraid.”* Whence we may gather that there is equal occasion for fear, whether it pleases our LORD that we should tread in the steps of His humiliation, or be counted worthy of the vision of His glory: lest we should despair, or lest we should be puffed up. And as the remedy to that danger, they further bid us notice that He is the great King upon ALL the earth; that, (A.) not only from one danger is He able to deliver us, but from all: that there cannot be so many temptations which the first Adam has brought upon his seed, as there are deliverances which the Second Adam has wrought out for His children.

3 He shall subdue the people under us: and the nations under our feet.

He shall subdue: or, as it ought to be, both according to the Vulgate and the Hebrew, He hath subdued. The people, (Ay.) in the first place; the nations, in the second. Now observe: these people are the same of whom it is written in another place: “Who subdueth my people that is under me:”* that is, the evil passions and weaknesses of my own heart: “my people,” inasmuch as they belong to me: but, He shall subdue, because none save Him, Who is infused into us by regeneration, can tread down in us that old and evil nature. He shall subdue the people; that, in the first place, and the nations, that, (Ay.) in the second. And who are the people, but those indigenous to our own hearts,—our own evil affections, and lusts, and concupiscences? And the nations,—the word nations being used as of those external to us,—who should they be, save the legions of evil spirits armed for our destruction? And observe, also, the difference of the triumph to be obtained over the two. The people under us: then we are brought back to that other text, “Who subdueth my people that is under me;” under us: because, in a certain sense, they belong to us, they are our own; we and they are bound together. But, those who are extraneous to us, those evil spirits who attack us from without, those we may more thoroughly trample on; yes,* even though they may have overthrown us; though they may, in times past, have overcome us; according to that saying, “Thou shalt lead them captives, whose captives ye were.”*

4 He shall choose out an heritage for us: even the worship of Jacob, whom he loved.

An heritage; or rather the heritage; that is to say, (B.) the possession for which the Church had been longing during those long four thousand years; an heritage, because from its very beginning that which was promised to Adam became the birthright of all his descendants, to the full as much as that other miserable heritage of original sin, the promised Seed of the woman who was to bruise the serpent’s head. Not that heritage,* of which,* as she imagined it to be at first, she said at the birth of Cain, “I have gotten a man, even the LORD;” but Him Whom every maiden of Israel from the time that the holy race possessed the promised land, till the visit of the Archangel to Nazareth, hoped to be her own descendant: for Whose sake Hannah lamented her barrenness,* for Whose sake Jephthah’s daughter asked leave for those two months to bewail her virginity upon the mountains. Some of the fathers take the worship of Jacob to mean those prophecies which Jacob on his death-bed uttered with regard to his sons; and thus, in a certain sense, with regard to the whole Church for ever. (B.) And so we see why whom He loved should thus follow. In that meaning, as the twelve tribes of Israel were chosen out from the whole world to be the witnesses and carriers on of the knowledge of GOD in the world; and so among those twelve tribes, first of all the tribe of Ephraim, and then, after four hundred years, the tribe of Judah (“He refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim,”) was GOD’S elect inheritance; so, out of the whole world, that Church was to be chosen by and for Him, whose very name in almost all languages,* thus expresses Ecclesia the manner of her selection. And why rather the worship of Jacob than of Israel? For this reason: because, (D. C.) as He speaks in the future at the beginning of the clause, so also He uses the name which pertains not to that which shall be, but to that which is. The worship of Jacob, the supplanter, or wrestler against powers of evil now; but it will be the worship of Israel, of “him that sees GOD,” by-and-by. It would be as much out of place to speak of the worship of Israel in this world, (G.) as it would be to allude to the worship of Jacob in the next, where, through GOD’S goodness,* there will be no enemies to supplant, no victories to win, no temptations to struggle against, no mountains to ascend, no “miry places and marishes” to struggle through, no valleys to go down into; but “the utmost bound of the everlasting hills” to behold, “the water of the river of life” to drink of, “the tree of life” from which we may pluck the fruit, the glorious “new heaven and new earth,” wherein righteousness may and shall dwell.

5 GOD is gone up with a merry noise: and the LORD with the sound of the trump.

One can scarcely understand this verse of anything but His Ascension, Who went up from Mount Olivet. But we shall enter into the mystical meaning the better, if we first realize to ourselves the literal signification; how David, after first failing in his design of bringing up the Ark to Jerusalem from Shiloh, after that went up literally, as well as spiritually, to the city of David, where the Temple was thereafter to stand; to that same Mount Moriah, to which GOD had commanded Abraham to take Isaac before his sacrifice. And though, (D. C.) in a certain sense, Elijah’s ascension to heaven is the type of our Blessed LORD’S going up from Mount Olivet, yet, even a truer symbol of that same glorious going up is to be found in the Ark, when, from the house of Obed-Edom, on the shoulders of the Levites, it was brought up to its own dwelling in the city of David. Therefore,* in primitive times, as now,—therefore, from the furthest east to the furthest west, this has been the key-note, the key-stone, the very Antiphon of the day; and we cannot do better than interpret the verse according to the richest of all the many explanations given to us by the spotless Bride of Him that then went up, the Mozarabic Office. Listen to it: for it is scarcely possible to find at once a piece of devotion so rapturous and yet so sober. “It is meet and right, Omnipotent FATHER, that we should render thanks to Thee, through JESUS CHRIST Thy SON, Who, after the most true Sacrament of His Second Nativity,1 after the glorious triumph of His Passion, in so far as He was Man, after His going down into hell, because He had taken man’s death upon Himself, after His ascent from hell by the quickening power of that resurrection which He worked out for Himself, after His might, worked out by miracles, after the unmeasured healing which He poured forth on the sick, after the teaching which was to become so famous, because it was so common to all the Apostles,—when He carried back the prey, snatched from the jaws of the foe, to that seat of Thy majesty, equal to Himself and Thee, He made the captive of the devil and his companion, Thy guest. He made him worthy of the habitation of heaven, who had not power to remain in the enjoyment of Paradise. Thy work, His labour.1 He, Who amidst the depths of darkness paid the things which the corruption of another had owed,—He, far above the clouds, has freely bestowed on His servants the reward of incorruptible purity. It did not suffice to His superabundant goodness that, to the end He might show His power over the conquered enemy, and His dominion over subject elements, unless He also gave His trembling disciple power to change, so far as regarded Himself, the nature of the same elements, and the law pertaining to the water on which He walked.”

6 O sing praises, sing praises unto our GOD: O sing praises, sing praises unto our King.

7 For GOD is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding.

And first we notice the triple repetition of the Name of GOD, and under each repetition the double ascription of praise. Why? Because each Person of the Blessed Trinity is to be adored and exalted by the twofold choir of men and Angels. O sing praises,* ye whom GOD so loved that He sent His Only-Begotten SON into the world to redeem you: sing praises, to whom GOD gave such grace that ye should never need redemption, unto our God, the FATHER Almighty. O sing praises, ye, whose Elder Brother has undertaken the work of your salvation. O sing praises, ye than whom your LORD was made a little lower, unto our King: the King over Whose Head that superscription was set up; the King Who had that reed for His sceptre, that purple vestment for His royal apparel, that crown of thorns for His diadem. For God is the King of all the earth: even as it is written, “The Spirit of the LORD hath filled the world.” Sing ye praises with understanding; because in the full light of the new dispensation, the darkness of the patriarchal ages, the seeing as through a glass of the Levitical law, are turned into the vision of full and very reality.

8 GOD reigneth over the heathen: GOD sitteth upon his holy seat.

They dispute whether this is to be taken in the past or the future tense. GOD hath reigned, or GOD shall reign. Here, as so often, the fulness of the Hebrew admits of either; and the meaning is equally true either way. He does reign now, according to that saying,* “The earth IS the LORD’S:” He shall reign more gloriously when that same “earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea:”* He shall reign most gloriously when “He hath put all enemies under His feet.”* God sitteth upon His holy seat. In the first place, that throne which He has set up in the hearts of all His servants; a throne often assaulted by that rebellious faction, (D. C.) the “I yet the not I,” of S. Paul; the throne only to remain firm to the end in those to whom GOD gives His last best grace of perseverance. And to this they also refer that saying in Daniel: “I beheld till the thrones were set,* and the Ancient of days did sit.”1 But next,* GOD sitteth upon His holy seat. That holy seat whence arises the continual intercession that to him that overcometh may be granted to sit with the Prince of Life in His throne, even as He also overcame, and is set down with His FATHER in His throne. Again: God sitteth upon His holy seat,* so often as the immaculate Lamb, Who once reigned from the Tree now reigns from the Altar. And lastly,* as one mediæval commentator says nobly, it may well be put in the present, He sitteth, because when we look forward to the everlasting throne, there is neither past nor future, in the sense of time, in eternity.

9 The princes of the people are joined unto the people of the GOD of Abraham: for GOD, which is very high exalted, doth defend the earth, as it were with a shield.

First, (Ay.) let us give the different versions. In the Vulgate: The princes of the people are gathered together with the God of Abraham; for the gods, the mighty ones of the earth, are vehemently exalted: the Italic is the same, except that, instead of Congregati sunt, it reads Convenerunt. Our own Bible version: The princes of the people are gathered together, even the people of the God of Abraham: for the shields of the earth belong unto God: He is greatly exalted. But the meaning should rather be, taking מָגִנֵּי in the sense of beshielders, rather than shields. The chiefs of the people are assembled before the God of Abraham, for with God are the mighty of the earth: transcendently is He exalted. Having broken the nutshell we may now come to the kernel.

And who are the mighty of the earth that are assembled before the GOD of Abraham? In the first place, (Ay.) the long and glorious procession of Old Testament Saints, “who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,* quenched the violence of fire, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.” Next, those valiant ones, who at this present moment are fighting the good fight of faith, both with the ill within them and without; with only GOD and the Angels as their spectators now, (A.) but with the whole world to be the witnesses of their reward by-and-by. Then, quite in an opposite sense, the mighty ones of the earth, of the earth as distinguished from the valiant spirits in heaven, are gathered together, and also against the God of Abraham; the GOD of Abraham, because the Father of the faithful stands out as the first example of one, who for the faith that was in him, resisted the idolatrous nations around him, and a very Antipas was found the one true among so many false.1 Wherefore it is that the Western Church prays by the death-bed of her children, “Deliver, O LORD, the soul of this Thy servant, as Thou didst deliver Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees;” whereas, Haran was not so delivered, but “died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity,”* it is generally thought by martyrdom. One cannot but notice the wonderful lesson which arises from the contrast of the Vulgate with the genuine Hebrew: the former, For the Gods, the mighty ones of the earth, are vehemently exalted: the latter, of the true GOD, transcendently is He exalted. And our thoughts go back to the prophet’s “Fear not, for they that be with us are more than they that be with them;”* and to the monarch’s, “There be more with us than with him: with him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our GOD to help us and to fight our battles.”* And what resulted to the “people” then may well be the consequence of this whole Psalm to GOD’S true people now: we also may “rest” ourselves upon the words of our true Hezekiah.








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