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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.

Summæ majestatis

Ecce sunt pulchræ

Mansiones multæ,

Quæ sunt certantum

Pro virtute tantum

Ac triumphantum.

By lot, because it is not of man’s judgment,* but by the election of GOD; (B.) by lot, because it is a free gift of the SPIRIT,* and not of man’s purchasing, and in the line of distribution, that the exact limits of each virtue may be marked out, (Ay.) so that frugality may not narrow itself into covetousness, nor liberality expand into waste. Or, again, (B.) the line may denote the varying amount of grace and power given to each believer,* “according to the measure of the gift of CHRIST.” (D. C.) Once more, the passage has been explained of the partition of the mission-field of the world amongst the Apostles, (A.) an event formerly celebrated in the Western Church by a special festival. And made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents. S. Augustine, who explains the heathen to be evil spirits, takes these words to mean the exaltation of ransomed men to the thrones left vacant by the fall of the rebel angels; (D. C.) while others are content with seeing here, as in the earlier clause, the victory of Christianity over Paganism.* And it is also taken of heavenly virtues dwelling in souls once the habitation of evil thoughts, because “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”*

56 (57) So they tempted, and displeased the most high GOD: and kept not his testimonies;

57 (58) But turned their backs, and fell away like their forefathers: starting aside like a broken bow.

58 (59) For they grieved him with their hill-altars: and provoked him to displeasure with their images.

There are six distinct sins here enumerated.* Deceit, in tempting GOD; infidelity, in displeasing Him; omission of duty, in keeping not His testimonies; apostasy, in falling away; breach of promised vows, in likeness to a broken bow; idolatry, in the hill-altars and images. They all agree that the broken bow refers to faultiness of will, as the bow is the intention, of which the practical issue is the arrow. (B.) The A. V. reading, a deceitful bow, is the true rendering; and the meaning is therefore that of feebleness and laxity in spiritual things, when there is no real elasticity in the soul, sufficient to project a prayer or a good work as far as the mark, and therefore failing in the time of need. (Z.) Euthymius, dwelling on the LXX. word στρεβλόν, crooked or twisted, explains it of a will which is not straight and honest, and which therefore cannot send the arrow in the right line, though it may do so with sufficient force. (A.) The Latin Fathers, for the most part reading a perverse bow, explain it of a weapon turned against its owner,* rather than against his enemies. And it is thus taken especially of evil-living preachers, whose denunciations of sin recoil on their own heads. So it is written,* “They return, but not to the Most High: they are like a deceitful bow.” (D. C.) And the hill-altars imply spiritual pride, which gives not GOD the glory, but exalts human merit;* while the images are any objects of love and admiration which are not given us by GOD, but framed by ourselves in our hearts, even if not endued with bodily form.

59 (60) When GOD heard this, he was wroth: and took sore displeasure at Israel.

60 (61) So that he forsook the tabernacle in Silo: even the tent that he had pitched among men.

He heard it, (Z.) as He heard the voice of Abel’s blood crying out, as He heard the voices of Sodom and Gomorrah. For sins cry out before GOD, and disclose their authors. And took sore displeasure at Israel. The LXX. and Vulgate, even more forcibly, And brought Israel exceedingly to nothing. Literally, in the first instance, by the successive overthrows and bondage He permitted them to endure; and later, spiritually, by the transfer of their privileges to the Gentiles. He forsook the tabernacle in Silo, when the Ark was captured in the days of Eli, (A.) and the tabernacle left empty. The Ark never returned to Shiloh again, and thus the vengeance which fell on that guilty city is cited as a warning to Jerusalem: “Go ye now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I set My Name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of My people Israel.”* Mystically,* they take it first of the rejection of the whole Jewish nation; (D. C.) then of the Christian Church, when punished for its sins; and finally of our bodies, which are the temples of the HOLY GHOST,* forsaken by GOD when He leaves the soul, in displeasure at a carnal life. “Wherefore is added, Even the tent that He had pitched amongst men. It is not said, observes Gerhohus, that He dwelt in walls, but in men. (G.) For GOD, Who is a Spirit, dwells not in habitations made with hands, but in rational spirits; for which reason, they who worship Him must worship in spirit. But He chooses to have temples or tabernacles made with hands, wherein He may be served by men, whose minds He inhabits by faith working through love. And if this faith and love be quenched in men, He cares little for the mere walls of temples, however beautiful and costly. Thus He abandons heretics, who break away from the unity of the Church, in whose bodies and souls He had once dwelt through faith. Wherefore, (R.) adds another commentator, it is needful to bear in mind that saying, “Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, are these.”* There remains one mystical sense, yet more profound, which is strangely omitted by all the commentators. It is the reference to Him of Whom the dying patriarch spake by the name of Shiloh,* Who was sent forth from the FATHER when “the WORD was made flesh,* and tabernacled among us.” Because of our sins, which He bore in His own Body on the tree, He was forsaken in His last trial by His FATHER, so that He cried, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” Then, far more truly than when the Ark was taken, or the Temple spoiled, was that fulfilled which follows:

61 (62) He delivered their power into captivity: and their beauty into the enemy’s hand.

Into captivity, in the garden, and in the grave; into the enemy’s hand, when Judas betrayed, and Pilate condemned, and death seized Him; their Power,* because “the Arm of the LORD;” their Beauty, because He is “fairer than the children of men.” They take the passage otherwise,* and variously. Some explain it of the Ark, (A.) the power in which the Jews trusted for victory, (G.) the beauty which they had adorned with cost and skill.* Others understand here the bravest and goodliest of the youth, (Ay.) slain in the battle with the Philistines at Aphek; and again in the slaughter and captivity of a far later age, under Titus and Hadrian. Mystically, it is interpreted of those who, by boasting of their own good works,* suffer the enemy to rule over their souls, and thus deliver up that holiness which was their power and beauty into his hands.* Or it may denote the soldiers of the Church, especially bishops and priests, (D. C.) giving their bodies, which are their power,* up to sin, while their souls, their true beauty, also become the slaves of their ghostly foes. Our power and beauty,* observes another, (R.) are our baptism and other divine graces, which we lose when we think we can be saved by faith alone, without good works as its fruit.

62 (63) He gave his people over also unto the sword: and was wroth with his inheritance.

The LXX. and Vulgate read, yet more strongly, He shut up His people in the sword. (Ay.) And they point out how complete was this chastisement; for not only was there a terrible slaughter at the time, but “there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel; for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears:* but all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock.” An earlier book tells us how vigilantly this mode of repression was carried out. “Was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?”* Nor was it less strict later; for “there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people that were with Saul and Jonathan; but with Saul and with Jonathan his son was there found.”* Mystically, adds the Carmelite, (Ay.) GOD shuts up His people with the sword whenever He suffers any to be overcome by the temptation of the devil. For the sword denotes evil counsel. But note, that this cannot be without our own consent. Wherefore Gregory shows in that saying in Job,* “The sword drawn, and coming out of the sheath,”* the devil lays his snares for the righteous, but while he is plotting evil in his thoughts, the sword is in its sheath; and while he is carrying out his wicked scheme, then the sword is being drawn from the sheath, because the evil deed discloses the hidden thought. And observe that it says, “drawn and coming out of the sheath;” drawn by the seducer, but coming forth by our own will. The Carthusian, writing when the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre was still a lingering hope of Western chivalry and religion, takes the passage to denote the slaughter of Christians in the Holy Land by the Saracens, permitted for their sins, (D. C.) because GOD was wroth with His inheritance.

64 The fire consumed their young men: and their maidens were not given to marriage.

65 Their priests were slain with the sword: and there were no widows to make lamentation.

They take the fire mystically of carnal passions, (Ay.) working more fatal results than the sword and brands of the Philistines. (D. C.) Given to marriage. This, though a paraphrase, is the most probable meaning of the Hebrew הוּלָּלוּ, were praised, to wit, in the bridal songs. The LXX. and Vulgate, however, refer it to the funeral ode, and translate, were not lamented. (Ay.) And they explain it that sin had grown to such a height, (D. C.) that there was no compassion felt for those who had forfeited their purity, but rather admiration for such as showed most openly their want of it. (A.) Others, more literally, (C.) refer the words to the number and frequency of the slaughters, which left neither time for solemn rites, nor persons to perform them.* Philip de la Grève explains the young men to mean constancy of mind, and the maidens purity, which are most abundant when the soul is guarded with devout prayer, and is kept apart from bodily pleasures, which two conditions are typified by the priests and the widows of the latter verse. But when prayer and continence disappear, then constancy and purity fail also. Their priests were slain with the sword. The words refer first to the death of Hophni and Phinehas,* and then, mystically, (G.) to all clerks and religious persons who fail either in soundness of doctrine or holiness of life. (D. C.) They are slain with the sword of GOD’S “Word, proceeding out of their own mouths as they preach. And there were no widows to make lamentation. Literally, the text refers to the death of Phinehas’* wife in childbirth. Widows and maidens are taken of Religious women. The Vulgate reads, were not lamented. (G.) Gerhohus, very boldly, explains it that devout persons, in times of great spiritual coldness, are slow to lament over the loss of mere physical purity on the part even of Religious, because there is a possibility of such a terrible fall rousing them to true repentance and zeal; while, if they possess that one merit, and no other, they may trust in it to their destruction, and be counted amongst the foolish virgins, (D. C.) who took no oil in their lamps. The Carthusian, conversely, takes these latter words to mean that coldness had spread so widely, that no one was found to weep for those living in carnal sin, of whom the Apostle says, “She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.”*

65 (66) So the LORD awaked as one out of sleep: and like a giant refreshed with wine.

First, and most truly, it is spoken of that LORD Who awaked—what time His priests of the elder Law had spiritually died by their sin against Him—out of His sleep of three days in the grave,* refreshed with the strong wine of the Cup of His Passion, which He had drunk to the very dregs. Giant He, as the noble old hymn calls Him:

Geminæ Gigas substantiæ,*

Alacris ut currat viam.

He awaked, then, (G.) at the cry of Samuel and His other faithful servants lamenting that the Ark was carried captive into idol temples. He awakes in anger still when His priests, through neglect of godly discipline, give His Sacred Body, the Ark of the New Covenant, to unworthy communicants, the shrine of whose hearts is full of earthly idols.

66 (67) He smote his enemies in the hinder parts: and put them to a perpetual shame.

Literally,* the text refers us to the diseases which He sent on the Philistines so long as they retained the Ark. Mystically, the Fathers of Nicæa explain it of the evil powers,* behind whom the LORD came in the might of His Resurrection, and gave them over to everlasting reproach. He still smites His enemies in the hinder parts when they look back on things behind, (A.) and that after putting their hands to the plough,* either by giving them up to their sins in the latter part of their life here, and suffering all those little suggestions of the evil spirits, which are like mice, to devour them, or by final condemnation in the end of the world, (C.) which is, in fearful truth, perpetual shame. (G.) Ayguan discusses at much length,* and with illustrations borrowed from his classical lore, (Ay.) the three motives which cause men to smite—corrective love, hostile anger, and judicial punishment, of which the first and third alone can be predicated of GOD.

67 (68) He refused the tabernacle of Joseph: and chose not the tribe of Ephraim;

68 (69) But chose the tribe of Judah: even the hill of Sion which he loved.

He does not say that He refused the tabernacle of Reuben, (A.) nor the others of Judah’s elders; for it might be replied that they deserved such rejection, as they were rebuked by their dying father for their sins. Nor does He speak of rejecting Benjamin, whence a king had already sprung; but those are named who seemed to excel in merit. For Joseph fed his father and brethren in Egypt, and after being wickedly sold, was justly exalted, because of his piety, chastity, and wisdom; and Ephraim was preferred before his elder brother by his grandfather Jacob’s blessing: and yet GOD refused the tabernacle of Joseph, (Z.) (for Shiloh lay in the territory of Ephraim,) and chose not the tribe of Ephraim. We learn herein the rejection of the whole Jewish people, which looked for mere earthly rewards, and the election of the Gentiles in their stead; not because of merit, but of grace.* And as Joseph denotes increase, and Ephraim means fruitfulness, (G.) so these words teach us that GOD does not choose the powerful and wealthy of this world, as it is written, “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble.”* He chooses Judah, which means praise, or as the old commentators take it, confession, denoting those sinners who acknowledge their own weakness, and give Him the glory. So Peter attained to the blessing of Judah, when he confessed CHRIST. As to the one was said, “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise,”* so to the other was spoken,* “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not, and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” Of Judah was said, “Judah is a lion’s whelp; he stooped down, he couched as a lion.”* And to Peter was signified by what death he should glorify GOD, that is, girt by another, and with hands extended on the Cross, dying as CHRIST the Lion, and Lion’s whelp died, to whom Peter was made like in death. But one thing which is said of Judah far surpasses the person of Peter, “Thy father’s children shall bow down before thee,”* which saying pertains especially to CHRIST, the only Man to be worshipped amongst men. The name Judah befits not Peter only, who confessed the Rock, but all GOD’S elect, who believe with the heart unto righteousness, and make confession with the mouth unto salvation. So the LORD chooses the tribe of Judah out of the mass of the ungodly.* The more obvious references, to the Davidic descent of CHRIST, and to the chief manifestations of His miracles in Jerusalem, are not forgotten by the expositors. The Carmelite mentions a Hebrew legend to account for the preference of Judah, that when Moses began the passage of the Red Sea, the Israelites all hung back in fear, till Amminadab, (Ay.) Prince of the house of Judah, set them the example of boldly entering the waters. Mount Sion, “expectation,” is the Church Militant which He loved, as it is written by the Apostle, “CHRIST also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it.”*

69 (70) And there he built his temple on high: and laid the foundation of it like the ground which he hath made continually.

The LXX. and Vulgate read, He built His holy thing as of a unicorn1 upon the earth, (C. which He founded for evermore.* The words as of a unicorn denote that Christians uplift the strong horn of their faith to the One GOD, the Undivided Trinity. Holy thing (ἁγίασμα, sanctificium,) they take diversely. First of that “holy thing”* born from the earth of Virgin flesh, (G.) but set up above the heavens for evermore. Then it is taken of the Body of the Head, of that Church, the Sanctuary of GOD stablished on the earth in the hearts of the faithful and bound together in the unity of the SPIRIT, (C.) so as to have “One LORD, (G.) one faith, one baptism.”* They dwell also on some of the supposed characteristics of the unicorn, (Ay.) such as his solitary habits,* and repulse of all other beasts from his den, which they explain of the law forbidding a stranger to minister in the Temple,* and of Solomon’s peaceful rule over the neighbouring peoples. The love of the unicorn for chastity, so that he can be captured only as he sleeps in the lap of a virgin, is a myth of which another commentator here avails himself;* and a third sees in the strength of the single horn the firm union of faith and charity, based on belief and worship of One GOD, (B.) and growing up towards heaven. The Æthiopic Psalter, nearly agreeing with modern critics in reading, He built His tabernacle in heaven on high and founded it on the earth for evermore, gives a far truer and deeper meaning than these quaint fancies. For that Sanctuary which is alike in heaven above and on earth beneath, is the Only-begotten SON, GOD and Man at once, and that for evermore, because of the indissoluble hypostatic union of the Two Natures in His Person.

70 (71) He chose David also his servant: and took him away from the sheep-folds.

Though the words are spoken of CHRIST, (A.) yet He is called here servant, and not Son. And that because the nature which was taken of David was not that Substance which is co-eternal with the FATHER, but the “form of a servant.”* And took Him away from the sheep-folds, exalting Him to the throne of glory, (C.) after He had fulfilled His office, as the Good Shepherd upon earth. Or, as others will have it, taking Him from the Jewish nation, the “few sheep in the wilderness,”* lost ones of the house of Israel, to whom He was first sent, (G.) and giving Him the wider and more glorious rule over the Gentile Church.

71 (72) As he was following the ewes great with young ones he took him: that he might feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance.

Great with young, (R.) because CHRIST did not ascend until His Church began to be fruitful in faith and good works; great with young, even under the Jewish Law, for many zealous and just ones were found in it ready to bear fruit, of whom three thousand on one day and five thousand on another, shorn of their fleeces by abandoning their old habits and possessions, (G.) came up from the waters of Baptism at the call of Peter. (C.) That He might feed Jacob His people, militant here on earth, and Israel His inheritance, the Church Triumphant in heaven, looking ever on His Face. (R.) Others see in Jacob a type of the Jewish Church, in Israel of the Christian; and yet another interpretation is that Jacob is the faithful, but yet imperfect Christian, engaged in wrestling with his sins and overthrowing them,* while Israel is he who has attained to the peaceful contemplation of GOD. (Ay.) The Carmelite, eagerly searching out every point that may suggest his LORD, tells us that there are eight marks of a good shepherd. He must have bread in a wallet, a dog in a string, a staff with a rod, a horn and a pipe. The bread is the Word of GOD. The wallet is remembrance of that Word. The dog signifies zeal, which the shepherd should have for the LORD’S house, that he may drive wolves thence with the holy barkings of sound preaching and unwearied prayer. The string which leads the dog, is moderation and discretion in zeal. The staff is comfortable exhortation, to support the weak, and console them lest they fall in time of trouble. The rod is lawful power, to correct the restless. The horn, by whose alarming sound warriors are roused to battle, is the awful threat of hell, at which CHRIST’S soldiers gird themselves with the spirit of might to war against soft sins. The pipe, with its sweet notes, denotes the pleasantness of everlasting bliss, which the faithful Shepherd sweetly and oft-times chants in the ears of His flock. It is thus that GOD chose David to feed Jacob His servant.

72 (73) So he fed them with a faithful and true heart: and ruled them prudently with all his power.

The A. V., nearer at once to the Hebrew and to the Vulgate, reads, So He fed them according to the integrity of His heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of His hands. Truly in the innocency of His heart, (A.) for in Him was no spot of sin, He fed them with the WORD, (C.) even with Himself, and in the skilfulness of His hands,* because He wrought in wisdom all the works whereby He taught His people what to choose and what to shun. (L.) Or, more touchingly, when He, in His dying hour, like His ancestor, guiding His hands wittingly,”* suffered them to be nailed upon the Cross, it was that He might guide us, according to that lovely reading, in the glory of His hands. Thus He leads His people from passive innocency of heart,* which He gives them by purifying their souls, on by skilfulness of hands in every good work, (B.) till He brings them into the eternal pastures:*

Bone Pastor, Panis vere,*

JESU nostri miserere,

Tu nos pasce, nos tuêre,

Tu nos bona fac videre

In terrâ viventium:

Tu qui cuncta scis et vales,

Qui nos pascis hic mortales,

Tuos ibi commensales

Coheredes et sodales,

Fac sanctorum civium!


Glory be to the FATHER of David; glory be to the SON, Who is David; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Who is the abundance of the pastures of David the Shepherd.

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

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