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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. Be merciful * unto me, O GOD.

Parisian. My heart is ready, * O GOD, my heart is ready: I will sing and give praise.

Mozarabic. As preceding Psalm.

1 Be merciful unto me, O GOD, be merciful unto me, for my soul trusteth in thee: and under the shadow of thy wings shall be my refuge, until this tyranny be over-past.

Hugh of S. Victor says well that this is the third Psalm which begins with Miserere—the 51st and 56th having already done so;* and this because of our threefold danger from the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. “This,” says S. Bernard, “is to me the one source of all my expectations, the one fountain of all promises: Miserere mei, Deus, miserere met.”* This hemistich was adopted as his motto by Pope Nicholas III.: For my soul trusteth in Thee.

2 I will call unto the Most High GOD: even unto the GOD that shall perform the cause which I have in hand.

It is a most remarkable explanation of this verse, (L.) as well as a singular example of the way in which mediæval writers felt their LORD to be one with them, and themselves one with Him, that they so dwell on the literal sense of the Vulgate: I will cry unto the Most High God: even unto the God Who hath done well unto me. So that, precisely as every Christian soul has a right to say, “Because Thou hast been my helper, therefore under the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice;” so, according to His humanity, it was with our LORD; so, to say it with the most infinite reverence, because the place where we are standing is holy ground,—just as David said, “The LORD That delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, He shall deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine:” so the Son of David, according to His manhood, might say, “My FATHER, Who delivered Me out of the hand of Herod, and out of the hand of the Pharisees and Scribes, when they sought to tempt Me, and out of the hand of the enemy in the wilderness, He shall deliver Me out of the hand of this Philistine,” that is, when our Master was approaching His last and hardest battle; and when He almost seemed to take these words on His own blessed lips, when He said, “FATHER, into Thine hands I commend My Spirit.”

Unless saints had said it first,* I should not, with all its beauty, have dared to take such an interpretation.

S. Augustine, (A.) referring this text to ourselves, compares it with that in Isaiah: “I was found of them that sought Me not.”* In this sense: that if GOD was found of us, who (for the most part) neither did seek, nor could have sought, His grace in Baptism; how much more,* now that we have that grace, will He be found of them who, using it, seek Him in a yet nearer way.

Neither must we omit those Commentators who, still understanding the passage of man, interpret it thus: unto the God, Who is performing the cause which I have in hand. The cause; that is, the cause of my soul, For it is GOD that worketh in you, both to will and to do, of His good pleasure.

3 He shall send from heaven: and save me from the reproof of him that would eat me up.

4 GOD shall send forth his mercy and truth:

Thus, (Ay.) they say, our LORD, in the midst of the cause which He had in hand, namely, our salvation on the Cross, encouraged Himself. He shall send from heaven; not now the Angel who appeared unto Him, comforting Him in His agony, but the Angel that rolled away the exceeding great stone, and sat upon it. And S. Augustine shows how the reproof of the Jews was turned to their own shame; (A.) so that even the heathen were amazed to see the manner in which the sometime people of GOD stood confounded by their own Scriptures. (D. C.) God shall send forth His mercy and truth. His mercy, in that the GOD of all mercy came into the world to redeem it; His truth, in that His promises, “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head;” and “Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son,” were, in the fulness of time, accomplished.

My soul is among lions.

4 (5) And I lie even among the children of men, that are set on fire: whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.

And still it is our LORD speaking from the Cross, (Ay.) even as He spoke in the 22nd Psalm, “Save Me from the lion’s mouth.” And notice also that the children of men are brought in as worse than lions.* In the Vulgate occurs a clause which, though it cannot be fairly got out from the Hebrew, yet is so true in itself, and affords such a lovely contrast with another verse in the Psalms, that one cannot wonder at its being so dwelt on by mediæval writers. I slept in trouble. Compare this with the words that the same dear LORD puts into the mouth of all His followers: “I will lay me down in peace, and take my rest.” He, therefore, slept in trouble, that we might take our rest in peace; He, therefore, as S. Paul teaches, tasted of death, that we might never taste of it.1

5 (6) Set up thyself, O GOD, above the heavens: and thy glory above all the earth.

And here our LORD ceases to speak, and the Prophet tak up His words. As one, long years after, when he beheld the Man of Sorrows hanging on the Cross, addressed Him as the LORD that was to come in His kingdom; so here that same Man of Sorrows, having but now cried out, “I lie even among the children of men,” receives for answer, Set up Thyself, O God, above the heavens. Thou art now, he would say, set up high on the Cross; set up, a spectacle to men and to angels; set up, to be the scorn and mockery of those that are round about Thee, and that wag their heads in derision. But henceforth set up Thyself above the heavens. Thou, to Whom, according to Thy Godhead, the seat at the Right Hand of the FATHER appertained from all eternity, go and assume it according to Thy Manhood, in virtue of the merits of Thy precious Death and Passion. And Thy glory above all the earth.* Because, exalted above the heavens, there to intercede for us, therefore shalt Thou have the glory above all the earth: because Thou didst suffer, therefore, according to Thy humanity, shalt Thou reign till Thou hast put all things under Thy Feet—those blessed Feet, once nailed for us to the Cross, that they might, even by that very suffering, bruise the head of the serpent.

6 (7) They have laid a net for my feet, and pressed down my soul: they have digged a pit before me, and are fallen into the midst of it themselves.

They have laid a net for my feet. And they well notice the marvellous type of one snare set for David and for the Son of David. (Ay.) Saul, when his daughter loved David, said, “I will give him her, that she may be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him:”* so, because the true David Himself loved humanity, (certainly not loved by it, for it is written, “We love Him, because He first loved us,”) therefore, out of this very love, Satan laid a net, as it were, for His feet; and exactly as by Michal came David’s after kingdom, so, by the love of His Church, the time shall come when He shall, even in this world, reign King of kings and LORD of lords. And furthermore notice: They have laid a net for my feet—pressed down my soul—digged a pit before me. (L.) Where, as Hugh of S. Victor teaches, we have manifestly the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, to which our LORD, as the Good Captain of our salvation, vouchsafed to be exposed in the wilderness. Some mediæval writers find an especial voice in the preposition before: (D. C.) that whereas apostates, and backsliders, and cowards would be more likely to be taken in a pit made behind them, He, Who ever went straight forward, had His pit set in the right onward path. And are fallen into the midst of it themselves. (Ay.) As those who went forth to tempt our LORD by entangling Him in His talk, the elders who brought to Him the woman taken in adultery,—the Pharisees and Herodians, who, diametrically opposed to each other on the very question, asked whether it be lawful to give tribute to Cæsar,—the Sadducees, with their interrogation about the woman that had seven husbands,—were all taken in their own snare, so that they marvelled and left Him, and went their way, and at last no man durst ask Him any more questions: (D. C.) so also, and in a far higher sense, Satan himself fell into his own pit; Leviathan, endeavouring to swallow the bait of our LORD’S Humanity, was dragged out of the scene of his former dominion by the hook of the Divinity.

7 (8) My heart is fixed, O GOD, my heart is fixed: I will sing, and give praise.

Take it rather, My heart is ready; and then interpret David’s resolution with the last Western Father.* Dost Thou desire me to be a king? Is it Thy will that I should be a shepherd? Wilt Thou have me to remain a fugitive? Thou, Who hast given all, wilt Thou take away all, so as to cause me to become a beggar? My heart is ready. S. Paul truly says, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” But David, or rather, our truer David, goes far beyond.* My heart is ready: I will sing and give praise. Hugh of S. Victor here sees the perfect pattern of a true and earnest confession. My heart is ready—there you have the true contrition for sin; I will sing—there is his open acknowledgment; and give praise—there the thankfulness for its pardon. (P.) Taking the words give praise, in another sense, as said of a musical instrument, in contradistinction to the I will sing, which refers to the voice,—and connecting this verse with the instrument of ten strings, they make these strings to be: our confession of the mystery of the Trinity; of the Incarnation; of the Nativity; of our LORD’S life and miracles; of His Passion; His descent into hell, His Resurrection, His Ascension; the mission of the HOLY GHOST; and the foundation and existence of the Catholic Church.

[We are to observe that this and the four following verses form the beginning of the 108th Psalm, where My heart is fixed is given, as we have just now taken it, My heart is ready.]

8 (9) Awake up, my glory; awake, lute and harp: I myself will awake right early.

Here, (Ay.) as they delight to point out, we have the gradual steps which conducted our LORD from His first to that which shall be His last victory, so far as redeemed humanity is concerned; as it is written, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” Awake up, my glory. So might the Apostles have said, had they stood around the new sepulchre in the garden of Joseph, towards the midnight of that first Easter Eve. My glory, individually to each; my glory, inasmuch as we are members one of another, universally to all. Origen compares well—and would that he had said all things as well!*—our LORD’S descent into that sepulchre with David’s entrance into the cave of Engedi. It was while He was there that Saul also entered in; “and the men of David said unto him, Behold the day of which the LORD said unto thee, Behold, I will deliver thine enemy into thine hand, that thou mayest do to him as it shall seem good unto thee. Then David arose.”* Awake, lute and harp. But yet a second, before His final, triumph, awaited the Victor; that day in which it was asked, and reply was made, “Who is the King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty; the LORD, mighty in battle.”* And it is well said, lute and harp; that thereby the concord of the Church Triumphant, the lute, and the Church Militant, the harp,1 should be set forth. I myself will awake right early. “Then cometh the end.” The final seal, the essential consequence of our LORD’S Resurrection, is our own. Because He burst the bands of death, therefore we also; and then, and not till then, shall He put down all rule, and all authority and power.

And yet they also love to put these same words into our LORD’S mouth. How it is now He Who is exhorting those, whom of His great love He condescends to call His glory, whether by the great things they shall do, or the greater which, like S. Paul, they shall suffer for His sake, to awake up. “If ye, then, be risen with CHRIST, seek those things which are above.”* And then, as both setting the pattern and giving the courage, He adds, “I, even I Myself, am He That comforteth you.”* I Myself will awake right early. So early, that the saying aforehand concerning the three days and the three nights was just, and only just, fulfilled.* So eager was the Victor to return with the spoils of His triumph to His own; so gloriously was that promise fulfilled, “While they are yet speaking, I will hear.”*

9 (10) I will give thanks unto thee, O LORD, among the people: and I will sing unto thee among the nations.

10 (11) For the greatness of thy mercy reacheth unto the heavens: and thy truth unto the clouds.

11 (12) Set up thyself, O GOD, above the heavens: and thy glory above all the earth.

Taught by S. Paul, we see a prophecy of the vocation, not “of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles. Where observe: he puts the people—the Jews—first; (Z.) according to that commandment of our LORD, “beginning at Jerusalem.”* And of this double apposition they see the parallel in the next verse: For the greatness of Thy mercy reacheth unto the heavens: and Thy truth unto the clouds. (L.) The heavens, namely, the Jews, on whom, however mistily, the light of the Sun of Righteousness had dawned. The clouds, namely, the Gentiles, of whom it was written, “Darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people:”* (it being manifest that they who were comparatively clear as an unclouded sky before their rejection of their King, sank down afterwards into grosser darkness than the nations around them: “For even unto this day the veil yet remainth untaken away.”)

The last verse is only a repetition of the sixth.


Glory be to the FATHER, Who shall send from heaven and save me; and to the SON, under the shadow of Whose wings shall be my refuge; and to the HOLY GHOST, the Mercy and Truth sent forth to those whose soul is among lions.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

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