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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. GOD is a righteous Judge, * strong and patient: shall GOD be provoked every day? [Office for the Dead: Lest * he devour my soul like a lion, and tear it in pieces while there is none to help.]

Mozarabic. My help cometh of GOD, Who preserveth them that are true of heart.

1 O LORD my GOD, in thee have I put my trust: save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me;

The first three verses refer to the life of our LORD on earth, (Ay.) when there were indeed many that desired to persecute Him, and like lions to tear Him in pieces. Lord my God. LORD of all by right, GOD by creation, my GOD by Thy Incarnation. In Thee. “For I will not trust in my bow: it is not my sword that shall help me.”* And from the literal sense: though the craft of Hushai has given me time to raise an army, yet in Thee, not in it, have I put my trust. For Thou hast said, “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man.”* Wherefore I confide not in my counsel, nor in its prudence, but in Thee.

2 Lest he devour my soul, like a lion, and tear it in pieces: while there is none to help.

Lest he. He first mentions all them that persecute him, and then proceeds, lest he. But how none to help, when David had an army, and chiefs, and knowledge of war? (G.) Because the whole world can be no help to him whom GOD assists not. Mystically, it is the cry of the Church before the Incarnation: while there is none to help me: while the fulness of time is not yet come. For only by that great mystery are we delivered from the spiritual lion who sought to destroy our souls: and that by the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Who hath prevailed.

[This verse is the Antiphon in the Office for the Dead, wherein the Church prays for help against the assaults of him who “walketh about, as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour,”* thinking vainly that there is none to help, for

The lamb is in the fold,*

In perfect safety penned;

The lion once had hold,

And thought to make an end:

But One came by with wounded side,

And for the sheep the Shepherd died.]

3 O LORD my GOD, if I have done any such thing: or if there be any wickedness in my hands;

Our blessed LORD Himself speaks; setting forth in this verse His innocency, in the next His patience. Any such thing: as all the false accusations the Jews laid to His charge. If there be any wickedness, for He “did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.”*

[Any such thing. They differ as to the especial thing here implied.* The Targum seems to take it, (L.) If I have made this Psalm with evil intent. The Greek Fathers,* If I have dealt with my parents as Absalom has done with me. Many of the Latins hold that pride is meant,* and S. Thomas, (A.) in particular, points out that the words denote a denial of any act which has brought on the misfortune as its punishment. In my hands.* What then is in His hands? The print of the nails which we put there, the writing of our sins, our names graven there by Himself, the writing of His pardoning love.]

4 If I have rewarded evil unto him that dealt friendly with me: yea, I have delivered him that without any cause is mine enemy;

Four manners of rewardings are mentioned in Scripture; evil for good: (Ay.) evil for evil: good for good: good for evil. Here we have the last. Delivered: by all the good that He did, by all the evil that He suffered: from bodily disease, by healing the sick; from bodily hunger, by feeding the multitude; from spiritual famine, by His own Body and Blood; from spiritual sickness, for Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses; from the prince of the power of this world, and from everlasting death.* That without any cause is mine enemy. “Because the carnal mind is enmity against GOD: for it is not subject to the law of GOD, neither indeed can be.”*

[Have delivered him, &c. The LXX. and Vulgate read this clause very differently.* May I (deservedly Vulg.) fall away empty from mine enemies, (D. C.) i.e. may I be ingloriously worsted in my encounter with my earthly or spiritual foes,* losing life on the one hand, grace on the other. The Syriac, Targum, and S. Jerome, again, agree in explaining the words, If I have despoiled, or oppressed, even mine enemies. And it is literally taken of David allowing Saul to go free out of the cave; mystically of CHRIST’s prayer on the Cross, “FATHER, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”*]

5 Then let mine enemy persecute my soul, and take me: yea, let him tread my life down upon the earth, and lay mine honour in the dust.

He shows here all the bitterness of His Passion: in that though He had delivered us, who without any cause were His enemies,—us, who were rebels against Him,—us, (G.) that He might reconcile us to GOD, the enemy, nevertheless, did persecute His soul and take it. Mine honour: for being a King, He had a Crown of thorns; being a Conqueror, no seemlier a triumphal chariot than the Cross; scornful revilings, instead of applauses; a reed for a sceptre. And all this to the intent that our enemy, the devil, might not persecute our souls in this world, and take them in the next; nor lay our honour, our hopes, and strength, and confidence in the dust.

6 Stand up, O LORD, in thy wrath, and lift up thyself, because of the indignation of mine enemies: arise up for me in the judgment that thou hast commanded.

From the Passion he forthwith turns to the Resurrection. In Thy wrath. And so it is written in Isaiah: “My fury it upheld Me.” Because of the indignation of mine enemies. And so again it is written: “According to their deeds, accordingly He shall repay; fury to His adversaries, (G.) recompense to His enemies.”* Arise up for me. Where notice how he lays hold of and applies to himself the merits of the LORD’s Resurrection: saying with Thomas, “My LORD and my GOD;”* with S. Paul, “I know whom I have believed;”* with the Bride, “My Beloved is mine, and I am His.”* In the judgment that Thou hast commanded. Because He thus arose for our sakes from the heart of the earth in His Resurrection, He will arise to deliver us in our own: because He was unjustly condemned in the judgment which the Jews demanded, He will rise up to acquit us in the judgment which He has commanded.

[Stand up. The suffering Church calls on her LORD at four times to arise.* Under the Law she implores Him to show Himself Incarnate; when she feels the need of a sacrifice for sin, she asks Him to be exalted in His Passion, and to reign from the Tree; then to return, arising from the grave, to comfort His Bride; and last, that He may stand up in the preaching of His Saints, (P.) so that His Name may be adored in the bounds of mine enemies, in Judæa which rejected Him, and in all those Gentile lands which once knew not GOD. The Syriac reads, Be Thou lifted up upon the necks of mine enemies, that they may bow under Thine easy yoke.* The judgment. LXX. and Vulgate read, the precept. Many Greek Fathers, expounding literally, take it of GOD’s vengeance on Absaloms breach of filial duty. Others refer it to David’s claiming the fulfilment of GOD’s promise of a sure kingdom to him. Mystically, (Z.) there are several views. First comes the Eastern,* that it is a prayer to CHRIST to bestow the promised gifts of the SPIRIT, (L.) for the forgiveness of sins and fulfilment of the New Law. The Latin Fathers are divided. Some take it of the precept of humility, (A.)* others of the new commandment of brotherly love; (D. C.) others again of the overthrow of the Jewish nation and polity, (P.) and the conversion of the Gentiles.]

7 And so shall the congregation of the people come about thee: for their sakes therefore lift up thyself again.

And so: not as once when the congregation came about the LORD in the judgment hall of Pilate to accuse Him, or in the pavement to crown Him with thorns, or on the hill of Calvary to mock Him. But shall so come about Him as to be His congregation, (A.) His Church, purchased by the Blood, cleansed by the water that flowed from His side: shall so come about Him as to look to Him and live: “it is good for me to draw near to GOD:” shall so hereafter come about Him as to hear that most joyful voice, “Come, ye blessed children of My FATHER.” And this Church could not extend itself and prosper until the coming of the HOLY GHOST; neither could the HOLY GHOST descend till CHRIST had gone up, as it is written, “The HOLY GHOST was not yet given, because that JESUS was not yet glorified:”* and again, “If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you.”* For their sakes therefore, on account of that Church, lift up Thyself again: as Thou didst once lift up Thyself from the darkness of the tomb to the light of this world, so now lift up Thyself again from earth to Thy heavenly kingdom. Or it may be taken in another sense: the congregation of the people shall rise against Thee to oppose Thee;* for their sakes, therefore, and to plead the cause of Thy Church, ascend into heaven.

[Come about Thee.* S. Albert briefly sums up the various motives which made the Jewish multitudes throng around CHRIST, thus:

Morbus, signa, cibus, blasphemia, dogma, fuere

Causæ, our Dominum turba secuta fuit.

Lift up Thyself again. The ancient versions, closer to the Hebrew, and more distinctly foretelling the Ascension, read Return upon high, and that not merely for Thy congregation, but over it, (Heb.) supreme in power, as well as prevalent by intercession.]

8 The LORD shall judge the people; give sentence with me, O LORD: according to thy righteousness, and according to the innocency that is in me.

As in the Creed, after the clause, “He ascended into heaven,” follows, “from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead,” so here, after “Lift up Thyself again,” comes, (Ay.) The Lord shall judge the people. The Lord. What LORD save JESUS CHRIST? “For the FATHER judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment into the hand of the SON.” The innocency*.* David speaks not as boasting of it, but as returning thanks for it; the Son of David speaks of it as pleading its merits, and so assuring our pardon.

[Give sentence with me. The A. V., more exactly, Judge me. It is not spoken only of the Head, Who in His perfect holiness can alone abide the sentence of GOD, but it is the cry of the righteous man not yet made perfect,* asking for the chastisement which is to purify him as fine gold,* according to his righteousness and innocence, that is, active and passive holiness, precisely because there is precious metal needing to be cleansed from dross, and that it may be so completely purged that the wickedness of the ungodly may come to an end in the soul.]

9a (9) O let the wickedness of the ungodly come to an end: but guide thou the just.

And yet this very wickedness is allowed by GOD to the end that He may thereby prove the virtue and increase the merit of His martyr servants, (Ay.) even as the fury of the heathen was the glory of the martyrs. Come to an end: virtually indeed, in the Crucifixion; (C.) but not actually till all the righteous shall have been gathered into that place, whereinto nothing can in any wise enter that defileth.

9b (10) For the righteous GOD: trieth the very hearts and reins.

That is, the business and pleasures of this life: whether it be the business of one who would gain the whole world, and lose his own soul; whether it be the pleasure of one that would rather enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season than suffer affliction with the people of GOD.

[Hearts and reins. The good and evil desires of men, the higher thoughts and lower appetites, (R.) or else the first movements of the will, and the final accomplishment of action, whence pleasure comes.]

10 (11) My help cometh from GOD: who preserveth them that are true of heart.

Where note: every one needs some help. (Ay.) They who seek it from GOD, need it not from the world, nor from the devil; they who seek it from the world or the devil, need it not the less, it is true, but assuredly will not have it, from GOD. My help cometh from God. My help in temptation from Him Who was thrice tempted in the wilderness: my help in weariness from Him who being taken even as He was, fell asleep in the storm: (G.) my help in poverty from Him Who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor: my help in distress, from Him Who being in agony, prayed more earnestly: my help in death, from Him Who Himself bowed His head and gave up the ghost. Who preserveth them that are true of heart. And this is the first time that a blessing is pronounced on the true of heart in the Psalms: on them who receive such innumerable benedictions throughout the whole Psalter, and because they turn neither to the right hand nor to the left in following their LORD here, receive from Him the gift of final perseverance, to the end they may never be separated from Him hereafter.

11 (12) GOD is a righteous judge, strong, and patient: and GOD is provoked every day.

And hereby are we stirred up both to hope and to fear. Patient, (Ay.) or who could hope to escape? and yet righteous, to execute justice on the impenitent: and strong, for “mighty men shall be mightily tormented.”*

[God is provoked. The Vulgate puts it as a question, Is God provoked? with a word (numquid) which looks for a negative answer. The Syriac, (D. C.) LXX., and Æthiopic insert the negative itself. And they point out that GOD did not show His anger upon the Jews each day that they insulted His SON, nay, that He spared them for a full generation after the Passion, and that as for us, He desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live.*]

12 (13) If a man will not turn, he will whet his sword: he hath bent his bow, and made it ready.

[He will whet His sword.* That is the Sword which He sent to us first sheathed in the scabbard of human flesh, that “Sword of the SPIRIT, the WORD of GOD,”* which the FATHER will whet, and polish (LXX.), and brandish (Vulg.) in terror and glory on the day of doom. And so the Prophet: “A sword, a sword is sharpened, and also furbished; it is sharpened to make a sore slaughter; it is furbished that it may glitter: shall we then make mirth? it is the rod of My SON, it despiseth every tree.”* He hath bent His bow, the bow of Holy Writ, (R.) wherein the stern and rigid precepts of the Old Testament are bent by the cord of love of the New.]

13 (14) He hath prepared for him the instruments of death: he ordaineth his arrows against the persecutors.

Here we find two different kinds of arrows. The first, instruments of death, when at last His vengeance sleeps no longer, but His threatenings are put into force, and “sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”* But He also ordaineth another kind of arrows against the persecutors, arrows, namely, of love. Such an one was ordained against Saul, the persecutor, when he became Paul the Apostle.

[The instruments of death may also be taken of holy preachers, who threaten death to the unrepentant, as it is written, “We are unto GOD a sweet savour in CHRIST, in them that are saved, and in them that perish; to the one we are the savour of death unto death, and to the other the savour of life unto life.”* The arrows are the piercing words and counsels drawn from thence, which He makes burning, (Heb.) with the fire of charity,* faith, and devotion. The LXX. and Vulgate, reading arrows for them which burn, point to the same meaning. In a bad sense, the instruments of death or vessels (vulg.) of death,* are heretics, who draw poison from the waters of salvation, and “wrest the Scriptures unto their own destruction.”* Others interpret this whole passage of GOD’s secret vengeance on sinners who burn in their lusts, for whom He prepares, not only swift and sudden arrows, (D. C.) but vessels of everlasting death. And a tamer exposition sees in the sword and bow, (P.) the vessels and arrows, Vespasian and Titus with their fearful visitation of the Jews.]

14 (15) Behold, he travaileth with mischief: he hath conceived sorrow, and brought forth ungodliness.

That which is conceived and that which is born, are always of the same kind. If a man was born, a man was conceived: if a lion was born, a lion was conceived; if a monster was born,—and all sin is a monster,—a monster was conceived. Then, when David asserts, he brought forth ungodliness, why does he not speak consistently, he hath conceived ungodliness? Because this is the method of reasoning by which a man who has any faith persuades himself to sin. He first conceives sorrow, he then brings forth ungodliness; he first determines on future repentance, and then, as upon a letter of licence and immunity from punishment, he sins boldly and without fear. The Christian, who is a sinner, knows well that sin destroys the soul, and condemns it to hell: but flattered and conquered by his own lusts, as if he were excusing himself to his soul, and so making all safe, he speaks thus within himself: My soul, I know well that I am destroying and condemning thee, but if I destroy and condemn thee with sin now, I will raise thee up and deliver thee with repentance hereafter.”1

[He conceiveth sorrow, by longing after temporal goods,* which can bring no true godliness, but only care and trouble, and thus gives birth to ungodliness, to the deceit, injustice, and fraud, exhibited in the struggle for riches and power. And the Jews conceived sorrow when they, stung with CHRIST’s reproaches, (C.) plotted against His life. They brought forth ungodliness, crying, “Crucify Him.”]

15 (16) He hath graven and digged up a pit: and is fallen himself into the destruction that he made for other.

[Graven and digged up. The words mark two things, the toil of the tempter in his evil work,* and the depth to which bad counsel, if not promptly rejected, sinks into the heart. But note, that as a pit can only be dug where there is earth, (R.) so it is only base and earthly desires which give the enemy ground to work upon for our destruction. It holds of heretics, who dig deeply into Holy Writ, not for edification, (C.) but for evil ends, and it may be taken also of Judas and of the Chief Priests, all of whom perished by their plots against the innocent.]

16 (17) For his travail shall come upon his own head: and his wickedness shall fall on his own pate.

For the work of our salvation*

Needs would have his order so,

And the multiform deceiver’s

Art by art would overthrow;

And from thence would bring the medicine,

Whence the insult of the foe.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, by which man fell, changed into the tree of life by which Satan perished; the fruit of disobedience, becoming the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of paradise: the garden whence the first Adam was driven forth replaced by the garden where the second Adam arose from the dead.* “O sin of Adam, certainly necessary, which was destroyed by the death of CHRIST! O happy fall, which merited such and so great a Redeemer!”

17 (18) I will give thanks unto the LORD, according to his righteousness: and I will praise the Name of the LORD most High.

He has spoken of the Passion and Resurrection of the LORD, (G.) now he speaks of the final beatification of His servants. For it is only in our Country that we can praise the LORD according to His righteousness, seeing that, while we are in the world, the half of His goodness is not declared to us. It is they, as Deborah speaks, “that have been delivered from the noise of archers,”* which we in this world cannot be,—“who shall declare the righteous acts of the LORD, even His righteous acts to the inhabitants of His villages in Israel:” to those who dwell dispersed and scattered in the earth, far from each other, and far from the city of their King, but who shall then be gathered together in one great congregation before the throne of GOD, and of the Lamb.


Glory be to the FATHER, the LORD my GOD, in Whom I have put my trust; glory be to the SON, the LORD Who shall judge the people; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, the righteous GOD, Who preserveth them that are true of heart.

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

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