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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. Ponder * my words, O LORD. Office for the Dead. Make Thy way plain, * O LORD, my GOD, before Thy face. [Common of One Martyr: Thou hast crowned him with the shield of Thy good will, O LORD. Common of Confessors: Let all them that put their trust in Thee, O LORD, rejoice, for Thou hast blessed the righteous, and crowned him with the shield of Thy good will.]

Parisian. All they that hope in Thee * shall ever be giving of thanks, and Thou shalt dwell in them.

Lyons. Consider * my crying, O LORD.

Mozarabic. My voice shalt Thou hear betimes, O LORD. Early in the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee, and will look up.

1 Ponder my words, O LORD: consider my meditation.

Here we distinguish two kinds of prayer: (Ay.) words and meditations. Words may refer both to that form of prayer which our blessed LORD has left us, and to those prayers which, by His teaching, His Church has provided for her children. Meditations, to the thoughts and desires of our heart, whether put into, or ascending without, words. We call upon GOD to ponder the first, to weigh their full meaning, oftentimes more than we are aware of, and to give us according to that: to consider the second, bestowing on us what He sees to be good among the things which we ask, and regarding our meaning rather than our expressions.

2 O hearken thou unto the voice of my calling, my king and my GOD: for unto thee will I make my prayer.

Note; there are three things which make prayer acceptable to GOD; faithfulness, humility, and assiduity; and we have them all here. Faithfulness: my King, showing that we are subjects to none other. Humility:* I will look up. Assiduity: Early in the morning. My King and my God. By King, we understand the SON, by God, the FATHER. And the reason of this order of the words may be, that by CHRIST we draw near to the FATHER, as He saith, “No man cometh unto the FATHER but by Me.”*

[All Three Persons of the Holy Trinity are marked in the opening of this Psalm, (A.) in the three titles, LORD, King, and GOD, but the verb is singular, denoting the indivisible Unity.]

3 My voice shalt thou hear betimes, O LORD: early in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.

In the morning. This may be expounded in several senses:* first, of diligence in seeking GOD, not only in the morning, but early in the morning. Again, of purity; the morning being the clearest and purest time of the day. Again, the night may be taken of the darkness of original sin: (B.) then the illumination of Baptism is signified by the morning. And literally,* David appointed the Levites to stand every morning, to thank and praise the LORD. Look up, because looking down to the earth we can obtain no real help.

[Early in the morning, that is, as soon as CHRIST, Who is the bright and morning Star, (D. C.) arises on my darkened heart, I will begin to pray. Early in the Resurrection morning, (Lu.) which has no night, I will stand by Thee (Vulg.) at Thy right hand, and will behold (Vulg.) Thy righteous judgments.* Early, because Divine grace is like the manna, which had to be gathered before the sun arose to melt it.* Early in the morning, says Rabbi Rasi, because we are guilty sinners, and that is the time of judgment and execution, according to that saying of the Prophet, “Execute judgment in the morning.”* Observe further, that the seven stages of true prayer are all set before us in these verses, and in the seventh. First, right intention,* My voice shalt Thou hear: secondly, eagerness, betimes; thirdly, constancy, Early in the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee; fourthly, a pure conscience, and will look up. The three other stages are,—union with GOD, I will come into Thy house; confidence, in the multitude of Thy mercies; and reverence, I will worship. Look up, in this life, for help, and yet more to ponder on the Divine mysteries of the New Law. Look up, (P.) in the life to come, on the ineffable glory and the Beatific Vision. Some Greek texts, and the Arabic version, read here, Thou shalt see me: (A.) and the Syriac and Æthiopic are nearly the same, (C.) I shall appear unto Thee. It is David, observes a Saint, calling on GOD in trouble, and saying, Thou hast seen me a shepherd, Thou wilt see me a king. Thou hast seen me harping,* Thou wilt see me prophesying.]

4 For thou art the GOD that hast no pleasure in wickedness: neither shall any evil dwell with thee.

The God. Not like the gods many and lords many of the heathen, which were so often served by, and took pleasure in, wickedness. He saith not, Come unto Thee, but dwell with Thee; for it was in order that, being made clean, (Ay.) they might dwell with Him for ever that the publicans and sinners came into the presence of the LORD.

5 Such as be foolish shall not stand in thy sight: for thou hatest all them that work vanity.

In this and the next verse are set forth three kinds of sinners who are not to stand in the presence of GOD; the foolish, that is, sinners in thought (for “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no GOD:”*) them that work wickedness, that is, sinners in deed: and them that speak leasing,* that is, sinners in words. Shall not stand in Thy sight. They shall not in this world, even in His holy temple, because they will not; and they will not stand in His sight before His Judgment seat, because they shall not. That work vanity. Not that have worked it, or where could any hope to appear?

6 Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor both the blood-thirsty and deceitful man.

Will abhor. That is, though He now abhors them, He will in the last day manifest His abhorrence by condemning them to everlasting destruction. Note: (Ay.) the sins of the heart are visited as if they were sins of action. Blood-thirsty, not bloody: deceitful, not an open liar.

7 But as for me, I will come into thine house, even upon the multitude of thy mercy: and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple.

And yet, nevertheless, we who have so often and so grievously offended both in thought, word, and deed, will come into the House of GOD; (H.) and can only do so upon the multitude of His mercy. Or if prevented from actually going up thither, like Daniel, who when he made his prayer looked towards Jerusalem, we will worship toward His holy temple. Again, the words may be taken of that heavenly house into which we one day hope to enter, and of the Lamb Who is the Temple thereof.

[Into Thine house. As a stone let into the very substance of the building, (A.) never more to go out, towards, not in, Thy holy temple, doing reverence to the human Body of CHRIST JESUS, (C.) the true sanctuary of GOD, in which dwelt all His fulness, the temple destroyed by the Jews, and raised up again in three days.]

8 Lead me, O LORD, in thy righteousness, because of mine enemies: make thy way plain before my face.

And because in attaining to this celestial dwelling, we are surrounded by many enemies, we therefore call upon GOD to lead us in His righteousness, (H.) even CHRIST Who is the Way. Because of mine enemies. In a twofold sense; that they may be preserved from hurting us, or that we may be enabled to do them good. Before my face. That there may be no turning back from it; no “ye did run well.”* Or again, that the true Way, our blessed LORD, may be more and more plainly manifested to us; and that we may more and more trustfully look to Him.

[Make Thy way plain. There is an especial pathos in selecting this verse as the Antiphon for that Office of the Dead which takes its name Dirge from the Vulgate Dirige, here found. It is the cry of the parting soul, about to begin its mystic journey to another world, by a road beset with ghostly enemies, and calling on GOD for help against them and for light and guidance by the way.

Through death’s valley, dim and dark,

JESUS guide thee in the gloom,

Show thee where His footprints mark

Tracks of glory through the tomb.

Grant him, LORD, eternal rest,

With the spirits of the blest.

It is Thy way before my face in the Hebrew and in the English versions. The LXX. and Vulgate, and Æthiopic read it conversely,* my way before Thy face. GOD’s Way is before our face when we are following CHRIST, Who is that Way; our way is before GOD’s Face, when, having gone in that Way from strength to strength, we appear at the last unto the GOD of gods in Sion.]

9a (9) For there is no faithfulness in his mouth: their inward parts are very wickedness.

For there is no faithfulness. And therefore, since there are so many that would lead us into error, we the more require that GOD’s way may be made plain to us.* In his mouth, and “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”*

9b (10) Their throat is an open sepulchre: they flatter with their tongue.

An open sepulchre. Dangerous and noisome, and as silent in the praises of GOD, (Ay.) as the tomb. The two clauses set forth the open and secret endeavours of her enemies to destroy or injure the Church, and they thus also doubly attacked our LORD. Openly, as when they said, “He hath a devil;” as when “they took up stones to stone Him;”* as when they “led Him to the brow of the hill.”* Secretly, as when tempting Him, they said, “We know that Thou art true;”* and as when Judas betrayed Him with a kiss.

[An open sepulchre. And so more dangerous even than hypocrites,* who are like sepulchres closed and whited outwardly. Open, because they are gaping to swallow up the labours of others, as the grave gapes for bodies.* Open, (A.) because their soul is not only dead in sins,* but emits its noisome savour in evil words of heresy,* which bring others down into the same tomb of unrighteousness. They would do less harm were they silent.]

10 (11) Destroy thou them, O GOD; let them perish through their own imaginations: cast them out in the multitude of their ungodliness; for they have rebelled against thee.

Let them perish. This is the first instance of that praying for evil on others which has so much perplexed some with the Psalms, and which, as clearly as anything else, shows that they are to be taken in a sense above that of the letter. (A.) (This subject is referred to in the Third Dissertation.) But if we always apply such expressions to our spiritual enemies, the difficulty will disappear. Through their own imaginations. Like Gehazi, who thought to obtain the gold, and was visited with the leprosy, of Naaman.

[Destroy them. The LXX. and Vulgate read, Judge them: modern critics, far better,* Make them repent. Let them perish through their own imaginations. The LXX. and Vulgate are somewhat nearer to the Hebrew, reading, as they do, Let them fall away from their thoughts, that is, let them abandon, or be baffled in, their evil plans, or, (G.) let their own consciences accuse and condemn them. Cast them out. So long as the sinner hides his guilt, he is* within the grave. But when the voice of the LORD calls on any Lazarus to come forth, then, by moving him to confession, He casts him out of darkness into light in this life, that he may not be cast out of light into outer darkness in the world to come. Rebelled. The LXX. and Vulgate read, (A.) embittered Thee. By their own sin, making that Bread of Life which is sweet to the taste of the righteous,* a bitter poison to them.

Hic est panis,* sumptus digne,

A gehennæ servans igne,

Qui, si sumptus sit indigne,

Mortem dat perpetuam.]

11 (12) And let all them that put their trust in thee rejoice: they shall ever be giving of thanks, because thou defendest them; they that love thy name shall be joyful in thee.

[Thou defendest them. LXX., Syriac, and Vulgate, Thou shalt dwell in them. The Æthiopic, yet better,* Thou shalt dwell over them. As a sheltering tent, notes Cardinal Bellarmine, but we may better take the LORD’s own simile, as a bird gathering her young under her wings.*]

12 (13) For thou, LORD, wilt give thy blessing unto the righteous: and with thy favourable kindness wilt thou defend him as with a shield.

In these verses we have the help of GOD promised to His Church. Where note three things. 1. It is eternal: (Ay.) they shall EVER be giving of thanks. 2. Divine: THOU defendest them. 3. Free: Thou wilt GIVE Thy blessing. And what then matters it who scorns or injures us? If GOD be for us, who can be against us? The Vulgate translation somewhat differs from ours. For Thou shalt give Thy blessing to the righteous: O Lord, Thou hast crowned us as with the shield of Thy good-will. “In the life of this world,” says S. Jerome, “a shield is one thing, and a crown another: GOD Himself is both Crown and Shield. As a shield, He defends; as a crown, He rewards.” Well, then, may the Church pray in one of her sweetest hymns:

Septrum tu tuum inclytum*

Tuo defende clypeo.


Glory be to the FATHER, unto Whom is said, Ponder my words, O LORD; glory be to the SON, unto Whom is said, Consider my meditation; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, unto Whom is said, Hearken Thou unto the voice of my calling.

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

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