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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.

The nineteenth letter,* Koph, seems most probably, by comparison with Chaldee and Arabic, and with the form of the obsolete Greek letter Ϙ koppa, to mean the socket of an axe, into which the handle fits.* In that case, we obtain at once, according to the mediævalists, two mystical senses. The “axe laid to the root of the tree,”* is a symbol of CHRIST, the sharp metallic cutting blade being His Godhead, the weaker wooden helve His Manhood, and the orifice which serves to join the two into one weapon will denote the Hypostatic union of the two Natures. Not very dissimilarly, the axe is also taken to signify the intellectual powers of man, chiefly as used in rebuke of sin, and in cutting away abuses, while the wooden handle is the physical nature wherewith these powers are wielded. And the socket will then mean the union of active and reflective, or physical and spiritual faculties in the compound nature of man. If the conjecture of Gesenius, that koph means the back of the head, be followed, we then find that as the face or front of the head is used in allegory to denote active and fixed attention to a teacher and drinking in his instructions, so the back of the head will denote passive reflection afterwards on the subject-matter of the lesson. These two latter senses agree well with the reference to quiet thought in the night, found in vv. 147, 148, while the first one applies also to the expression of trust in the Incarnate Word which is found in the same verses.

145 I call with, my whole heart: hear me, O LORD, (ק) I will keep thy statutes;

146 Yea, even unto thee do I call: help me, and I shall keep thy testimonies.

Silence and quietness in prayer, (H.) observes S. Hilary, is one of the many precepts of the Gospel teaching given us by the LORD, that our souls should be more audible than our voice, since GOD can hear in secret, and has no need of loud petitions.* Wherefore the Psalmist here declares that his cry is not that of uplifted voice, nor for bodily ears, but the cry of faith, and of the soul, to be borne up to the throne of GOD, not by the exertion of the voice, but by the spirit of faith. For he cries to GOD with his whole heart, who asks great gifts from Him, who prays for heavenly blessings, who hopes for eternal bliss, who lives in the exercise of innocent reverence. So the blood of Abel silently cried to GOD from the earth,* so,* when Pharaoh’s horses and chariots were pressing on terrified Israel, (H.) caught as it were in a net up to the passage of the Red Sea; Moses stood, outwardly sad and silent, for Scripture records no uttered prayer of his, but yet crying secretly with the prayer of faith in his heart, until the LORD replied, “Wherefore criest thou unto Me?”* The people cried aloud,* but was not heard; Moses was silent, and was listened to, as the only one who truly cried to GOD. And the Apostle knew well of this cry of the Spirit with faithful men, when he said, “GOD hath sent forth the Spirit of His SON into your hearts, crying, Abba, FATHER;”* a silent cry which reaches the ears of GOD. And note the order in which the Psalmist modestly puts his prayer. He does not expect salvation to come at once as the answer to his very earnest cry. Rather, he first prays for grace to keep GOD’S statutes, and then in the second place cries, Save me, (LXX., Vulg., A. V.,) showing that obedience to GOD’S will, and not our own advantage, ought to be the first desire of our hearts, though if we give Him the first, He will surely give us the second. Only our cry must be with our whole heart, (C.) not with divided attention, and attempting to carry on another train of thought while we are in prayer to GOD. I call, then, like a beleaguered warrior to my liege Lord, for aid; like a sick man to my Physician, for advice; like a babe to my nurse, (Ay.) for food. When thou prayest, therefore, pray for great things, that is, things everlasting. Pray not for money, for it is rust; pray not for gold, for it is lifeless metal; pray not for landed possessions, since they are but earth. Prayer of that kind does not reach GOD, for He hears no petitions save those which He counts deserving of His bounty, and thus He always hears the living voice of devotion and grace. Our prayers are seed,* sown not in the earth, but in the heaven; we cast them into the bosom of GOD. He that sows sparingly shall reap sparingly; if we look for a plentiful harvest, let us sow more abundantly in the seed-time; for every prayer fervently and in faith sent up to GOD, either presently returns with some good, or there lays food up in store for us, which we shall enjoy hereafter.

147 Early in the morning do I cry unto thee: for in thy word is my trust.

148 Mine eyes prevent the night watches: that I might be occupied in thy words.

Early, &c. The A. V. gives the sense much more forcibly, I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried.* The oldest commentators pass at once over the literal sense of early rising for prayer,* and apply the words to the seeking of GOD in the time of youth, (H.) before the approach of old age, which often is free from the commission of sin, not because of any real conversion to GOD, but because the chill and weakness of advancing years take away the bodily power of continuing in the vices of youth. The Greek word here is ἀωρίᾳ, (G.) that is, at an untimely hour, meaning earlier than the time at which men engaged in secular callings go to their work.* And S. Ambrose, asking how such a phrase can be reconciled with that other saying: There is “a time for every purpose under heaven,”* answers that the LORD JESUS is above the heavens, and not bounded by time in any wise, so that every time is good for calling on Him, wherefore the Apostle saith, “Pray without ceasing.”* And both verses together express the waiting and crying of the Church by the mouth of the prophets, (G.) while still in the darkness of the Old Covenant, before the arising of the Sun of Righteousness, the Incarnate WORD, which we have since beheld rising with glory in the early morning (diluculo, Vulg.) of the Resurrection.* Coming to the literal sense, S. Ambrose says, “It is a grievous thing if the ray of the rising sun find thee lazy and unashamed in thy bed, and the bright light strike on eyes still weighed down with slumbering sloth. Knowest thou not, O man, that thou owest the daily firstfruits of thy heart and voice to GOD? Thou hast a daily harvest, a daily revenue. The LORD JESUS remained all night in prayer, not that He needed its help, but putting an example before thee to imitate. He spent the night in prayer for thee, that thou mightest learn how to ask for thyself. Give Him again, therefore, what He paid for thee.” And thus the English rendering, Mine eyes prevented the night watches, brings out forcibly the zeal of the Psalmist, carrying out by anticipation the precept of CHRIST, “Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the Master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning; lest coming suddenly, He find you sleeping. And what I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch:”* and anticipating by his vigilance the arousing call of the guards as they change the watch at the time of relief. At the very least, counsels S. Ambrose at the end of his comment on this verse, divide thy time between GOD and the world, and when thou canst not publicly engage in this world’s affairs, and the shades of night hinder thee, give thy leisure to GOD, devote thyself to prayers, and that thou mayest not be overcome by sleep, say psalms.* Hasten early in the morning and bring the first-fruits of thy pious resolutions to church, and afterwards if worldly business call thee away, thou art not hindered from saying, Early in the morning do I cry unto Thee, and thou canst go at ease to thy employments. How pleasant it is to begin the day with hymns and prayers and the Beatitudes which thou readest in the Gospels! And what a good thing for thyself that CHRIST’S word should bless thee, and that thou shouldst be inspired with zeal for some virtue while chanting the LORD’S blessings, so as to recognise in thyself the power of the divine benediction!

149 Hear my voice, O LORD, according unto thy lovingkindness: quicken me, according as thou art wont.

A man,* let him be ever so righteous and holy, ought always to pray that GOD would hear him according to His mercy, not according to deservings for any good thing, because virtue is rare, and sins are many: and then according to His judgment (as A. V. has here correctly instead of wont) that promise which binds Him to help the weak. GOD’S mercy is shown in His remitting the punishment due to sin, (A.) and then His judgment in giving life eternal to the righteous. (G.) We have then here the prayer of the half-dead wayfarer lying between Jerusalem and Jericho,* imploring the aid of the good Samaritan. Were he quite dead, he could not ask, for it is written, “Thanksgiving perisheth from the dead,”* and thus he uses his small remnant of spiritual life in a cry for the oil to heal him, and the wine to gladden his heart, that restored and comforted he may cry yet again: “My song shall be of mercy and judgment; unto Thee, O LORD, will I sing.”*

150 They draw nigh that of malice persecute me: and are far from thy law.

The A. V. rendering is more exact: They draw nigh that follow after mischief:* while the verse is thus expressed by the Vulgate: My persecutors have drawn nigh to iniquity,* whence the lesson is pointed that to follow after mischief, or to draw nigh to iniquity, involves being far from GOD’S law; that the nearer we are to one, the further we must needs be from the other, and therefore we have merely to keep close by CHRIST to be certain of being unharmed by our enemies, who, by the very act of sinning, go to a distance from Him. Thus, if those enemies be such as kill the body with the tortures of martyrdom, they cannot hurt the soul, and if they be those evil spirits who aim at the soul, they dare not come near him who is sheltered under the wings of CHRIST. Wherefore it follows:

151 Be thou nigh at hand, O LORD: for all thy commandments are true.

The Prayer Book version, by turning the first words into a petition, has lost the noble contrast exhibited by the A. V. as by LXX. and Vulgate. (C.) They are drawing near, they are coming to attack me.* Be it so, let them come and do their worst, for Thou, Lord, art nigh. Thou art here beside me, true commandant of the beleaguered city, ready to appear in glory on the walls to drive the enemy back in terror,* as on the battlements of Nisibis when the prayer of the Bishop S. James routed the armies of the heathen Sapor.

And when the solemn and deep church bell

Entreats the soul to pray,*

The midnight phantoms feel the spell,

The shadows sweep away.

Down the broad vale of tears afar

The spectral camp is fled,

Faith shineth as a morning star,

Our ghastly fears are dead.

I am a GOD at hand, saith the LORD, (H.) and not a GOD afar off;”* present everywhere by virtue of Divine essence, present everywhere by virtue, too, of universal government and providence; whereof the sun,* enlightening all the world with his rays, is a faint and imperfect type.* We then should throw open all our windows to admit the rays of the Sun of Righteousness, should open our eyes to behold His rising in His beauty, for though He be nigh to all, yet He specially warms and cherishes those who draw near to Him. The Christian may say to GOD, Thou art nigh, O Lord, in a sense impossible to the Jew, because of the difference between the types and figures of the old Law and the realities they were intended to foreshadow; the interval between circumcision and the grace of the HOLY SPIRIT given in Baptism, the unlikeness of the sacrifices of oxen and sheep to that Eucharistic oblation in which the very Body and Blood of CHRIST are given to His faithful people.* And Thou art not only nigh to me, the Christian can add, as a shield and defender, but nigh to mine enemies too, for their destruction, since all Thy commandments are true, so that their sins cannot escape Thine avenging hand, nor can I fail of Thy promised help.

152 As concerning thy testimonies, I have known long since: that thou hast grounded them for ever.

Long since, (H.) from the very beginning, man has known in the Church of GOD’S testimonies, known how Adam was created free, how Eve was formed, how the curse fell upon the serpent, how Paradise was closed by the flaming sword of the Cherubim, how Abel’s blood cried for vengeance, how Enoch was translated, and Noah delivered, how Melchizedek was hallowed as a priest, how Abraham was chosen, Isaac promised, Jacob preferred, Joseph sold, Moses nourished up, taught, and made a Lawgiver, Joshua set to divide the inheritance of the Promised Land. All these testimonies which I have known long since, (C.) Thou hast grounded for ever upon Him of Whom all the types and prophecies teach, the sole ground of all the Church’s teaching, (A.) for other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, CHRIST JESUS;* whence it is easier that heaven and earth should pass away, than that any of GOD’S revelations in His Incarnate Word should fail, (G.) or that the Church,* built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, with JESUS CHRIST as the chief corner-stone, should fail and vanish like earthly kingdoms, or like the synagogue.

What the Saints established

That I hold for true,*

What the Saints believéd

That believe I too.

Long as earth endureth

Men that Faith will hold,

Kingdoms, nations, empires,

In destruction rolled.

Crowns and thrones may perish,

Kingdoms rise and wane,

But the Church of JESUS

Constant will remain;

Gates of hell can never

Gainst that Church prevail,

We have CHRIST’S own promise,

And that cannot fail.








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