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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. As preceding Psalm. [Maundy Thursday. The earth trembled and was still, * when GOD arose to judgment. Transfiguration: Thou shining wondrously from the everlasting hills, * all the foolish of heart were troubled.

Parisian. As preceding Psalm.

Monastic. In Israel * His Name is great. [Maundy Thursday. As Gregorian.]

Ambrosian. As Psalm 62.

Mozarabic. Thou shining wondrously * from the everlasting hills.

1 In Jewry is GOD known: his Name is great in Israel.

2 At Salem is his tabernacle: and his dwelling in Sion.

The first words of this Psalm, (A.) observes S. Augustine, form a favourite boast of the Jews, as denoting not only that God is known in Judea, but that He is unknown elsewhere. And the boast is true, only not in their sense. For it holds good only of the spiritual Judah, not of that which is merely in circumcision and in the letter. For the very name of Jew is derived from the royal house of Judah, and when the Jewish people rebelled against the Son of David, and declared, “We have no king but Cæsar,” the sceptre and the knowledge of GOD passed from them to another people. It is, (G.) then, of the Christian Church we must understand the words, where GOD the SON is known with that knowledge which comes not of flesh and blood, but is revealed by our Heavenly FATHER. GOD is known, then, in His Apostles and Martyrs, known in His Confessors, known in all true Christians. For them who deny GOD by word or deed, though GOD may be known to them, yet He is not known in them. His Name is great in Israel. Israel, continues S. Augustine, is “he that sees GOD;” wherefore we cannot take it of those who took Him to be only a Man, (A.) when He walked in the flesh amongst them, and so slew Him, but must apply to those who see Him with the eye of faith. He is a true Israelite, adds Gerhohus, (G.) who wrestles with GOD, ever saying to Him, “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me.”* And this wrestling must be that of prayers and tears, struggling against the law of sin in our members, till we win the victory through assisting grace.

The Christian Church is called Judah first, (Z.) say they, because Judah means “confession,” and thus denotes the acknowledgment of sin, and the commencement of the active life; and then Israel, as seeing GOD, because purified from sin, and therefore rising to the contemplative life of meditation and praise. At Salem is His tabernacle, and His dwelling in Sion. All the old versions, as well as the two English ones, have missed one especial force of this passage. There is no direct reference in words to any human habitation,* but to the lair of the Lion of Judah. The word סֻכּוֹ does not only mean his tabernacle, but his covert, and is so translated in another place, “He hath forsaken his covert, as the lion;” and the vaguer word מְעוֹנָהוֹ which succeeds may well be translated by “den,”* or some equivalent phrase. The LXX.* and Vulgate, reading, truly enough, His place was in peace, have yet lost sight of two noteworthy points: first, the parallel between Salem and Sion, answering to that of the previous verse, Judah and Israel; and next, that the word Salem instead of Jerusalem occurs but twice elsewhere in all Holy Writ—once where Melchizedek is named as its king,* and again when the Apostle is referring to that history. We are brought thus at once to the contemplation of that Lion of His people, Who is also the High Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedek, King of Salem, Prince of Peace. His leafy covert is indeed only in Salem,* the Land of Peace, where in His garden He eats His pleasant fruits, and feedeth among the lilies; but yet He dwells in Sion, (B.) the place of expectation, by His Sacramental Presence with His Church on earth. Gerhohus (as well as S. Bruno) has dwelt on this contrasted meaning, (G.) and, translating His shade (umbraculum) is in Salem, tells us of that shadow of the Most Highest which hovers over the peaceful soul, that it may rest there. Then he quotes as a parallel passage the words, “The LORD, Whose fire is in Zion, and His furnace in Jerusalem;”* that is, as he explains it, the full vision of peace will be a furnace of perfect love, admitting no check, no waning; but as to the fire of our love in the earthly Sion, it is well with us if it be not actually quenched, but can be kept alive day by day, according to that precept of the Law, “The fire upon the altar shall be burning in it; it shall not be put out; and the priest shall burn wood on it every morning.”* His place is in peace. And that it may be with us, (A.) we must be at war with the world, with the devil, and with ourselves. So, warring externally and internally, we shall yet be at peace with GOD, in that peace which passeth all understanding; which begins with confession, and with abandonment of that quarrel of ours against Him which lasts so long as we seek to please ourselves. And His dwelling in Sion. Because He abides with those who look for Him, and dwells in their hearts. They add a touching explanation of this verse, taking it of CHRIST’S burial at Jerusalem. He was persecuted from the cradle to the grave, (Ay.) and there only was the malice of His enemies baffled; so that He was left in peace in Sion, in that new tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, where His rest was glorious.

3 There brake he the arrows of the bow: the shield, the sword, and the battle.

There. He had four resting-places,* in each of which He destroyed some weapon of the enemy. In the Virgin’s womb He east down pride; in the manger, riches; in the Cross, the power of the prince of this world; in the grave, death. There, in that perfect peace where He now dwells, (A.) where there is no more sound of strife.

Summe pacatis,*

Semper feriatis

In thronis vera

Requics est mea.

The arrows of the bow. The Vulgate has the powers of the bow; Cassiodorus, the horns. All fall short of the Hebrew, which is, the lightnings of the bow, a metaphor derived either from the swiftness of the arrow, or from the flashing of its point in flight. The literal sense of the whole passage appears to refer to the overthrow of Sennacherib’s army, and it is most significant to read in the old Greek historian how that monarch’s forces were routed by mice devouring by night their quivers,* their bow-strings, and their shield-straps, leaving them defenceless and weaponless.

Mystically, there are many explanations given. The horns of the bow, comments Cassiodorus, denote the malice of the proud, (C.) whereby they inflict wounds and hurt on others: the shield implies evil plottings and combinations, the sword open and violent wrong-doing, the battle all that makes against GOD’S peace. Again,* the arrows of the bow, striking from a distance, signify craft; as it is written, “They bend their tongues like their bow,* for lies.” The shield is excuse or defence of sin; the sword, evil suggestions, piercing even to the heart; and war, the struggle against holiness, which will end when men submit to be taught by the Saints, and to be subject to GOD. Wherefore is written, “Neither shall they learn war any more.”* Once more: the arrows denote sudden pleasure in an unexpected sin, (D. C.) often slaying the soul; the shield a perverse will, arming itself to defend its vices; the sword is sinful act; the battle, the habit of evil-doing.

4 Thou art of more honour and might: than the hills of the robbers.

This rendering, as well as that of the A. V., is incorrect. The true meaning of the passage is, Thou art shining mightily from the mountains of prey. It is still the Lion of Judah, leaping with a terrible bound from the mountains upon His enemies, and returning to His lair with His booty. The LXX. and Vulgate are nearer: they read, Thou art enlightening wondrously from the everlasting mountains. And they take it first of Him Who is the Light of the world, (A.) shining in it wondrously by the preaching of His mountains, (G.) the Apostles, whence the rays descend to the lowlier valleys of mankind. S. Gregory the Great carries us back further,* and sets before us in long array the holy lives of the Fathers of the elder dispensation, receding from our view like a great mountain chain. Or it may be taken of the Angels whom GOD has appointed as ministering spirits,* and especially those whom He sends as guardians to each human soul. And, (D. C.) finally, some take the everlasting hills to denote the heavens, (Z.) whence GOD shines by His sending gladness and succour to darkened souls on earth.

5 The proud are robbed, they have slept their sleep: and all the men whose hands were mighty have found nothing.

The mystical reference at once suggested by these words is to the Resurrection of CHRIST, (P.) when the proud Roman legionaries who watched at the sepulchre were spoiled, and the chief priests and scribes, those men whose hands were mighty to do evil, found nothing but the empty tomb: for He Whom they guarded was even then shining wondrously in the glory of His risen Body. But though this sense may fairly be got out of the Hebrew, which is, more exactly, as in the A. V., The stouthearted are spoiled; they have slept their sleep, and none of the men of might have found their hands, (still referring to the nocturnal overthrow and disarming of Sennacherib’s host,) it is not to be drawn from the LXX. and Vulgate, which read, All the foolish in heart were troubled: they have slept their sleep, and all the men of wealth have found nothing in their hands. They were troubled at the preaching of the Gospel, (A.) with its warnings of temperance, righteousness, and judgment to come; troubled as the Athenians were when Paul preached on Mars’ Hill; but they continued to sleep in the pleasures of this life,* wherein only they took delight; and when the waking came for them, the vain show of their wealth vanished, they found nothing in their hands, because they had put nothing into the hands of CHRIST, had not given alms to the poor, nor laid up treasure in heaven like Zaccheus the Publican. They have slept their sleep, (G.) even when waking; for, sleeping or waking, in all their life they sought their own gain, and glory, and pleasure, not the things of JESUS CHRIST. The Saints sleep their sleep too, slumbering to sin and to the world, as it is written, “I sleep, but my heart waketh.”* Men of wealth. Wealth which is gathered here, and left here; which we, therefore,* call a dream, not an inheritance. Wealth which we sum up in the old distich:

Somnus, bulla, vitrum, glacies, flos, fabula, fœnum, (Cd.)

Umbra, cinis, punctum, vox, sonus, aura, nihil.

6 At thy rebuke, O GOD of Jacob: both the chariot and horse are fallen.

The A. V., agreeing with the version of S. Jerome, completes the sentence with the words, into a dead sleep. The other old versions read, They who mounted on horses have slept. The primary reference is to the death-sleep of Sennacherib’s warriors:

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,

And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;

And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,

And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still.

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,

But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;

And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,

And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,

With the dew on his brow and the rust on his mail;

And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,

The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

Who are they that mount on horses? They who will not he humble. It is no sin to ride, (A.) but it is a sin to be stiff-necked against GOD, and to count oneself as honourable. Because thou art rich, thou hast mounted; GOD rebukes, and thou sleepest. Terrible is the wrath of that rebuker, yea, terrible is His wrath. Mark the awful truth. Rebuke involves sound, and sound is wont to rouse men. But such is the weight of GOD’S rebuke, that the Psalmist says, At Thy rebuke, O God of Jacob, they who mounted on horses have slept. Behold what Pharaoh’s sleep was, when he mounted. For his heart watched not, but was hardened at rebuke. Hardness of heart is sleep. I pray you, brethren, consider how they sleep who still refuse to condemn their old life, and wake to the new, when the Gospel, and Amen, and Alleluia are sounding through the whole world. GOD’S Scripture was once in Jewry; now it is chanted through the whole world. In that one nation it was said that there is One GOD, Who made all things to be adored and worshipped. Now where is He unnamed? CHRIST hath risen. He Who was mocked on the Cross hath now set that very Cross whereon He was mocked on the brows of kings, and yet men sleep. GOD’S wrath, my brethren, is great. Better for us who have heard Him Who saith, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and CHRIST shall give thee light.”* The spiritual Assyrians, (G.) under their king Antichrist, riding on the black horses of lying and the pale ones of envy, shall be cast into the deep sleep of the second death at the last day. But there are other riders who go out under that Captain, Whose Name is “Faithful and True,”* on the white steeds of chastity and the red ones of Martyrdom; who, when vexed by scorn and torture in this world, yet have their rest in Him; “for so He giveth His beloved sleep.”*

In CHRISTO sic obdormivit,*

Qui CHRISTO sic obedivit,

Et cum CHRISTO semper vivit,

Martyrum primitiæ.

7 Thou, even thou art to be feared: and who may stand in thy sight when thou art angry?

The answer at first is, (Ay.) No one. For those sinners who, as S. Stephen said, “do always resist the HOLY GHOST,”* can make no effectual struggle against Him. But His Saints do stand in His sight when He is angry. So Moses stood, pleading for sinful Israel; so Aaron stood,* with his censer between the living and the dead; so Phinehas, when in his zeal he executed judgment with his spear; so David, when he offered himself to the destroying angel; so Elijah, when he called down the rain. But they do it not in their own strength. He supplies the weapons against Himself, by His merciful grace infused into their souls. When Thou art angry. The words have a special meaning, explained by the following verses:

8 Thou didst cause thy judgment to be heard from heaven: the earth trembled, and was still,

9 When GOD arose to judgment: and to help all the meek upon earth.

They take it, (R.) for the most part, of the Last Day. To be heard from heaven, by the trumpet of the Archangel, sounding to the doom. The earth, all earthly and unholy souls, must then indeed tremble, and, utterly put to silence, unable to plead, must be still, when GOD the SON in His Majesty shall arise to judgment. There is no comment on these words so deep as the awful stanzas of Thomas of Celano:

Quantus tremor est futurus,*

Quando Judex est venturus,

Cuncta stricte discussurus.

Tuba mirum spargens sonum,

Per sepulcra regionum,

Coget omnes ante thronum.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus,

Quem patronum rogaturus,

Cum vix justus sit securus?

There are otherways also of looking at the passage, (L.) besides that literal one which sees here some fresh detail of the Assyrian overthrow. They remind us how, when the Judge ascended the tribunal of the Cross,* and spoke His decision in the words, “It is finished,” there was the stillness of the three hours’ darkness, the trembling of the great earthquake, when the rocks were rent, and many bodies of the Saints arose. They tell us,* too, of the time when He arose, yet more gloriously, from the tomb; “and behold, there was a great earthquake, for the Angel of the LORD descended from heaven, (D. C.) and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.”* And observe the reason given for the LORD’S so arising to judgment, whether we take it of the Passion, the Resurrection, or the Last Day. It is not to show His power, not for the sake of vengeance, but to help all the meek upon earth, because the especial office of CHRIST is to be the Redeemer of mankind,* whence also He is called JESUS. When He appears again, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”* Lorinus aptly cites lines meant for a very different monarch: (L.)

Est piger ad pœnas Princeps, ad præmia velox,*

Quique dolet quoties cogitur esse ferox.

And he stops there. Better had he carried on the quotation:

Qui vincit semper, victis ut parcere possit,

Clausit et æternâ civica bella serâ.

Multa metu pœnæ, pœnâ qui pauca, coërcet;

Et jacit invitâ fulmina rara manu.

10 The fierceness of man shall turn to thy praise: and the fierceness of them shalt thou refrain.

The latter clause of the verse is rather, with the remainder of wrath Thou shalt gird Thyself. And the whole meaning of the verse is then that the display of GOD’S might humbles His enemies, till they are compelled to praise Him, and that He binds all their power so that they can only more at His will. It is the history of S. Paul’s conversion, (A.) and of many a sinner since; turned from fierceness and wrath, to be CHRIST’S true servant, bound closely to Him for ever. But the LXX. and Vulgate read, For the thought of man shall confess to Thee, and the remainder of [his] thought shall keep festival unto Thee. The interpretation,* however, is not dissimilar, as many will have it that the words refer to GOD’S enemies, first led to confession of His Name and their sins, and then devoting themselves to His service and glory. Many, (Z.) however, especially of the Greek Fathers, explain it of the Last Judgment,* when every secret thought of man’s heart must be disclosed to the Judge. The show and pomp of that Great Day make it a festival, and the remainder of our thoughts are here specified, because all will then come out, even those suggestions and temptations of the evil one which had no effect,* but were cast aside. S. Bernard, following up a hint of S. Augustine, takes it of David, and then of any preacher of righteousness, giving out from his stores of learning all that the people can take in to make them confess GOD, and turning all his other acquirements, which are too abstruse for them, to his own use, that he may rejoice and praise the LORD. And, to omit many other explanations of this most difficult passage,* we may end with Vieyra’s quaint comment: that the thought refers to the conscious mental acts of waking life, the remainder of thought to the visions of gladness which GOD sometimes grants to His chosen servants in their sleep.

11 Promise unto the LORD your GOD, and keep it, all ye that are round about him: bring presents unto him that ought to be feared.

The Vulgate begins this verse with the word Vow. (A.) And the Latin Fathers take it accordingly of all the solemn religious engagements into which Christians enter,* as the Baptismal vow, (C.) and the marriage bond, of chastity, poverty, obedience, almsgiving, and the like, distinguishing them into two classes,* those necessary for all,* and those profitable for some. And they dwell at length on the obligation of such promises. The matter is tersely stated by one who acted up to the vows he had made: “To vow,* is matter of choice, to keep the vow, matter of necessity.” All ye that are round about Him. Not Pagans nor heretics, (C.) observes Cassiodorus, but only those who have the right to be round about His Altar when they bring presents unto Him. All holy men are round about Him, (Z.) says the Greek monk, “for where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them.”* The Carmelite adds that we must here include the Angels also, (Ay.) who stand “round about the throne,”* and that the truest present we can bring is that of which the Apostle tells us, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of GOD, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto GOD, which is your reasonable service.”*

12 He shall refrain the spirit of princes: and is wonderful among the kings of the earth.

For shall refrain, the Vulgate reads takes away. They explain it first of GOD’S dealings with rulers like Pharaoh, (D. C.) Sennacherib, and Nebuchadnezzar, and indeed any who are proud in heart, (A.) and presume to set their wills against Him. Or, in a good sense, He refrains and checks the spirit of His princes, those saintly men whom He makes captains in His army, (B.) He is wonderful or terrible amongst those kings of the earth who have conquered their own earthly bodies and keep them in subjection for His dear sake. To them indeed those words of another Psalm apply, “Be wise now therefore, O ye kings; be learned, ye that are judges of the earth,”* because in His Saints, kings to be crowned with gold in their Master’s kingdom, judges to be His co-assessors on the throne of heaven, He is wonderful and terrible too: for “if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?”*

ὦ βασιλεῖς, ὑμεῖς δὲ καταφράζεσθε καί αὐτοὶ

τήνδε δίκην• ἐγγὺς γὰρ ἐν ἀνθρώποισιν ἐόντες

ἀθάνατοι φράζονται ὕσοι σκογιῇσι δίκη̣αι δίκη̣αι

ἀλλήλους τρίβουαι θεῶν ὄπιν οὐκ ἀλέγοντες.*


Glory be to the FATHER, known in the carnal Jewry; glory be to the SON, known in the spiritual Jewry, Whose Name is great in Israel; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Who is that Light wherewith Thou, O GOD, shinest wondrously from the everlasting hills.

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

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