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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.



              Thou only * art the most Highest over all the earth.


Parisian. For the thought of man * will give thanks to Thee, and the remains of thought will keep holiday unto Thee.

Ambrosian. As preceding Psalm.

Mozarabic. Let the nations know that Thy Name is the LORD* and that Thou art only the most Highest over all the earth.


1 Hold not thy tongue, O GOD, keep not still silence: refrain not thyself, O GOD.

The first clause of this verse runs in most of the older translations, (LXX., Vulg., Æthiop., Syr., Arab.,) O God,* who shall be like unto Thee?1 Likeness, comments a Greek Father, is of two kinds, according to substance, which is identity; and according to quality, which is merely resemblance. In the first sense, no one can be like GOD save He Who is consubstantial with GOD, but in the other manner all saints made perfect can be like Him; for the LORD Himself has counselled us, “Be ye perfect, even as your FATHER which is in heaven is perfect.”* And we are assured that this can come to pass, for the Beloved Disciple tells us that “when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”* (A.) Like Him then, of Whom is said, “Thy throne, O GOD, is for ever and ever, a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Thy kingdom, Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity, wherefore, O GOD, Thy GOD hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness.”* Like Him then, precisely because He willed to be like us, and like the meanest of us here, taking on Him the form of a slave, crucified along with thieves.* Yet, although we may attain thus to the likeness of His glorified Manhood,* none can be like Him in the glory of the FATHER.* None can be like Him when He returns in His divine majesty, as it is written, “Who is like unto Thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like Thee, glorious in holiness,* fearful in praises, doing wonders?”* Least of all can that Wicked One, the Antichrist, attain to such resemblance, albeit he hath said, “I will be like the Most High,”* for he shall be smitten when the LORD comes again to judgment, when He will keep not still silence, but will utter His terrible voice so that all creation shall hear. And observe that He kept silence and refrained Himself here on earth in threefold fashion.* There was His silence of speech before Pilate, when “as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth.”* There was His silence of act in the garden, when He said unto Peter, Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to MY FATHER, and He shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?”* There was His silence of will in His voluntary acceptance and endurance of death for us. But now His Church is sore troubled by her enemies, and would fain hear His voice bidding waves and winds be still, and commanding the evil spirits to depart into the abyss.

2 For lo, thine enemies make a murmuring: and they that hate thee have lift up their head.

A murmuring,* or rather, with S. Jerome and the A. V., a tumult, a loud, vague noise, as the roaring of the sea, such as an advancing army makes with the clashing of its weapons, the braying of its instruments, and the shouts of its soldiers. And accordingly the LXX.* and Vulgate agree in translating the passage have sounded (ἠ̔χησαν, sonuerunt.) Sounded, not spoken, observes S. Augustine, because it is the voice of irrational passion, not of intelligent, articulate reason, which the enemies of GOD utter. (Z.) At first they are secret in their whisperings and incitements to error and iniquity, but when they think themselves strong enough for open war against the Faith,* then they sound and preach their falsehood loudly. And this His enemies, the chief priests, did, when after secretly inciting the multitude against Him, they caused it to break forth with the cry, (B.) “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” Have lift up their head. That is, they have assumed a posture of bold attack, rising up from their former depression or obscurity, and this either by setting their head, (R.) that is, their mere human reason and faculties, (D. C.) against Almighty power and wisdom, or by choosing themselves a captain, (A.) which is Antichrist.

3 They have imagined craftily against thy people: and taken counsel against thy secret ones.

They note here two degrees of enmity, (C.) that directed by unbelievers against the Faith in general, and that more particular hostility with which the chief saints of GOD are pursued,* those secret ones whom He hides under the shadow of His wings, whom He guards in peril as He did Noah in the ark,* David in the cave, Elisha in Dothan, Athanasius in the very ship which bore his pursuers; whom He compasses about with His own majesty to save them, as Alexander Severus folded Ulpian in the imperial purple when the Prætorians sought his life. Yet again, the words apply with especial force to those rulers of the Jews who imagined craftily against their own people, by leading them away from their Teacher, poisoning their minds towards Him, and took counsel ofttimes against the Hidden Wisdom of GOD,* till they put Him to death.

4 They have said, Come and let us root them out, that they be no more a people: and that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.

Here is the sound of which the second verse told us;* the inner hatred breaking out into outward speech. And observe the bitterness of that hatred.* The Egyptian tyrant did not go so far as this,* at any rate in his first plottings against the children of Israel. He was content to prevent their rapid multiplication, lest they should be too strong for their taskmasters, and was willing that they should live, albeit as bondslaves. But the enmity of ungodliness against the Faith can be satisfied with nothing less than the total extirpation of believers, (C.) either through martyrdom or apostasy. They ask how the Church, which is gathered out of all nations, can fitly be here spoken of as but one people, and they answer their own inquiry by reminding us that Christians are the true spiritual descendants of Abraham, are born again alike in the one font of baptism, have one will and one King, and are citizens of one heavenly country. Their enemies would even, were it possible, abolish the very memory of the past, and cause men to forget that Israel, the “Prince with God,” (Ay.) the LORD JESUS CHRIST Himself, once walked on earth, or that the people which takes its name from Him ever had a place amongst mankind. So it was in the great Tenth Persecution, so in the overthrow of the Church of Japan, so in France under the Terror. And to each and all the true children of Israel re-echo Tertullian’s noble saying, “The more we are mowed down,* the more numerous we become, blood is the seed of Christians.”

5 For they have cast their heads together with one consent: and are confederate against thee;

6 The tabernacles of the Edomites, and the Ismaelites: the Moabites, and Hagarens;

7 Gebal, and Amnion, and Amalek: the Philistines, with them that dwell at Tyre.

8 Assur also is joined with them: and have holpen the children of Lot.

The enumeration of the peoples engaged in this confederacy against Israel has given rise to much discussion as to the date and occasion of the Psalm.* A very few, with no good reason, include it amongst the Davidic portion of the Psalter. R. Kimchi, followed by several of the earlier critics, assigns it to the reign of Jehoshaphat,* when Ammon, Moab, and the Edomites of Mount Seir did unite against Judah, others to Sennacherib’s raid in Hezekiah’s time, while several of the Fathers,* followed by some eminent moderns, take it of the league made by Sanballat,* with the Arabians, (Z.) Ammonites,* and Ashdodites,* against the rebuilding of Jerusalem by Nehemiah.* And others bring it lower down, taking it to be a Maccabee Psalm. The mention of Assyria, and indeed of Amalek, makes this last conjecture quite untenable, for the Assyrian empire (here apparently only growing into strength) had been succeeded by the Babylonian, Persian, and Macedonian dynasties long before the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, while the Amalekites, a very feeble remnant after Saul’s great victory, were totally extirpated by the children of Simeon in the days of Hezekiah,* which excludes the post-Captivity view also. But whatever be the historical and literal sense of the passage, there is little diversity in the mystical explanation of it, as denoting the various classes of GOD’S enemies, who would fain lay waste and destroy His Church. Following in the track of S. Augustine, they seek for special lessons in the meaning of the proper names, though often erring as to their true signification. (A.) They remind us that the tabernacles of the Edomites point to the unstable and transitory aims of men of earthly and cruel minds, (C.) typified by the “red clay” which Adam or Edom denotes. The Ishmaelites are expounded as signifying those who obey themselves only, and not GOD. But the name Ishmael means “heard of GOD,” and we may therefore better take the sense to be those false Christians brought near to GOD in His ordinances, as was Ishmael by the rite of circumcision,* but who nevertheless mock at the deeper mysteries of His promise,* and therefore lose their share of His inheritance. Moab, too, meaning seed of the father, is a type of such as have illicitly entered into the fold of the Church, claiming to be lawful members of the Christian family, but who have climbed over the wall of the sheepfold, and not come in by the door. If the Hagarenes be named after Hagar, they will rank in the same class as the Ishmaelites, with, however, the special mark of flight attached to them, shunning, like Jonah, the call of GOD, going out, like their ancestress, from the trials of GOD’S house to the sorer cross of self-chosen suffering in the desert of unbelief. The interpretation S. Augustine gives to this name, for an uncertain reason,1 is that it denotes strangers and proselytes, who do not heartily submit to the laws of their new country, but retain an alien mind. Gebal, which is very diversely explained by the ancient commentators, seems to signify a boundary, and may then well denote those who busy themselves altogether with finite and temporal things, to the exclusion of such as are eternal and infinite. Ammon and Amalek, two of the earliest and most inveterate foes of Israel, are fitly grouped together, and once more signify for us revolted kin, not original aliens, for the one, springing like Moab from Lot, was of the race of Terah, Abraham’s father; and the other, derived from a grandson of Esau,* had the blood of both Abraham and Isaac in its veins. Ammon, a name derived from a root עָמַם, “to gather together,” is a type of the multitude in all ages, averse to any check on its pleasures and caprices, fickle, and often cruel, and most opposed to such as set before it a lofty standard of principle and action. Amalek, “the strangler of the people,” an apt name for that nation of which the LORD said: “Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, when thou wast faint and weary, and feared not GOD;”* is the type of all crafty and treacherous foes of the Church or of the soul, and in particular of those evil thoughts which attack us in seasons of languor and depression, when there is little vigour of mind or body to resist them. All these alienated kindred of the spiritual Israel league themselves with the Philistines, (A.) “strangers” or “wanderers,” open and original foes of the chosen people, types of the heathen and of undisguised and open sin. They combine with them that dwell at Tyre; those hard and “rocky” souls which have no soil wherein the seed of the Word can take root.

8 Assur also is joined with them: and have holpen the children of Lot.

Assyria, like Egypt at an earlier period of Jewish history, is put for the idolatrous world-power in rebellion against GOD, for the organisation of human strength and self-will ungoverned by religious principles, for the unbelieving State, and it consistently lends its help and is an arm (Heb. S. Hieron.) not to the children of light, but to the children of Lot, that is, of “darkness,” because Lot signifies a “veil” or “covering.” The Latin commentators, (A.) for the most part following S. Augustine,* by interpreting Assur as “elated” or “oppressing,” and Lot as “backsliding,” see in this place the devil and his angels, the allies of heathen and of false brethren. As to the literal meaning, it is enough to observe that if Assur here means, as is most probable, the empire or Nineveh, it is the earliest appearance of that state in Western Asia.* But Theodoret takes it to mean the Samaritan colonists under Sanballat, who joined with Tobiah the Ammonite, and the Philistines of Ashdod, and the Edomite and Ishmaelite Arabians under Geshem,* to prevent the rebuilding of Jerusalem.* The total number of the confederates named is eleven, the mystical type of sin, because it is just one more than ten, the number of the precepts in the Decalogue, and thus denotes transgression of the moral law. Each battalion has its own especial banner and device as it marches to war against the Saints. The heretics bear a wolf; schismatics a screech-owl, hated of all the birds; the proud display a unicorn; the slothful a dormouse; hypocrites a scorpion, stinging with its tail; the wrathful have a lion; the covetous a mole, which ceases not to grub beneath the earth; the gluttonous bear a swine; the envious a tiger; the impure an ass; the desperate a man hanging by a cord.

9 But do thou to them as unto the Madianites: unto Sisera, and unto Jabin at the brook of Kison;

10 Who perished at Endor: and became as the dung of the earth.

Here the tone of the Psalm changes, and the prophet calls on GOD to renew His old loving-kindness, (L.) and to fight the battles of Israel. How memorable the overthrow of the Midianites was, may be gathered from the reference to it in Isaiah’s great prophecy of the Incarnation: “For Thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian.”* It is to be remembered that the special kind of suffering inflicted upon Israel by Midian was not a permanent military tyranny, like that of the Philistines,* but famine, caused by sudden raids made upon the crops by overwhelming forces. And hereupon the greatest mystical divine of the ancient Church reminds us that Israel suffered such things because,* being carnally minded, it was as “he that soweth to his flesh, [who] shall of his flesh reap corruption,” whereas they who aim higher receive the blessing, “He that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”* These are the fields which the Midianites cannot destroy, nor so much as reach. And in Gideon’s great battle against Midian in the valley of Moreh, he had to fight with Amalek also, and with the children of the East, the Ishmaelite allies of his foe; that the odds might be so overwhelming as to prove the divine origin of the deliverance wrought by the three hundred with their pitchers and lamps; fit precursors of the little band of disciples who under Him of Whom Gideon, “the hewer down” of idols, was but a type, stormed the intrenchments and routed the forces of Paganism, after the shattered clay of the Sacred Humanity displayed the Light of Light to the darkened world. And observe that Midian, which means “strife,” aptly denotes a world lying in anarchy, and capable of being brought into order by none save the Prince of Peace.* Origen, who explains the word to mean “outside judgment,” (A.) takes it as denoting all who live without the Law.

From the rout of Midian the Psalmist passes to the earlier defeat of the Canaanites in their last great stand against Israel.* Here too the proper names employed give a mystical signification. Sisera denotes “battle-array,” Jabin is the “wise” or “understanding,” Kishon the “winding “or “crooked” stream”. Power and organization, craft and skill, artifice and stratagem are in vain against the LORD. He conquered Sisera,* and that by the “hand of a woman,” first, when the Maiden at Nazareth reversed the curse of Eve’s disobedience, in saying, “Behold the handmaid of the LORD,* be it unto me according to thy word;” and next, when the mystical Bride of the Lamb overcame the world through suffering. Jabin is the type of the carnal understanding,* into whose power we are delivered,* when we refuse to learn a higher wisdom.* And so speaks the Apostle: “Even as they did not like to retain GOD in their knowledge, GOD gave them up to a mind void of judgment, to do those things which are not convenient.” But this wisdom, which “descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish,” CHRIST,* Who is the Power of GOD and the Wisdom of GOD, destroys; “For it is written,* I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. And this He did at Kishon,* meeting the tortuous craft, the “thousand meanderings,” of the old serpent, with Divine and superior intelligence. So, in the great Passiontide hymn, we read:

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.

Wherefore it aptly follows, Who perished at En-dor.1 For En-dor means the “well of the dwelling,” the very source and habitation of the powers of evil, the grave and hell, which were spoiled and made a show of openly, after they had admitted their Conqueror in the guise of a captive; since which time they have become as the dung of the earth, not merely in that Christians can afford to contemn powers invested with unspeakable dread to others, but that as dung is profitable to fertilise the ground, so the very temptations of the evil one and the pains of death are used by GOD as means for the growth and perfection of the Saints.* Evil men, too, perish at Endor, (A.) when they abide by their own springs alone, when they say, like Naaman, “Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?” refuse the waters of regeneration, which alone can cleanse the leprosy of their souls;* and become as the dung of the earth by persevering in coarse and degrading sin.

11 Make them and their princes like Oreb and Zeb: yea, make all their princes like as Zeba and Salmana;

12 Who say, Let us take to ourselves: the houses of GOD in possession.

The details of Gideon’s great victory, resulting not only in the rout of the armies of Midian, but in the slaughter of four princes of that nation, are recalled, in prayer that GOD may work equal deliverance for His people again.* Oreb, the “raven,” and Zeeb, the “wolf,” are types of the unclean and rapacious powers of evil. Zebah is a “victim” or “sacrifice,” but not in honour of GOD, rather such as is condemned by the Wise Man, “Whoso bringeth an offering of the goods of the poor, doeth as one who killeth a son before his father’s eyes.”* Salmana or Zalmunna,* the “shadowless” or “shelter forbidden,” is that evil one who is the enemy and the opposite of the Man Who is “as the shadow of a great Rock in a weary land,” a “shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall.”* All these, gathering themselves together against the people of GOD, desire to drive them from their heritage. What,* then, are these especial houses of God which they would fain seize? The first answer given is that the words apply to the whole land of Israel, comparing the language of Jehoshaphat, “And now, behold, the children of Ammon and Moab, and Mount Seir … come to cast us out of Thy possession, which Thou hast given us to inherit.”* Others take it of the city of Jerusalem, and more particularly of the Temple, with which agree the LXX. reading, the altar, and the Vulgate, the sanctuary.* The Chaldee paraphrast and S. Jerome extend the meaning somewhat further, by rendering severally every pure thing of God, and the beauty of God. But the words have a yet deeper import for us, when we remember that saying of the Apostle, “What agreement hath the temple of GOD with idols? for ye are the temples of the living GOD,”* as we shall then recognise the attempt of the evil spirits and their wicked allies on earth to bring the bodies and souls of CHRIST’S people into subjection to sin. (Ay.) But the sanctuary which we possess having the sacramental mysteries stored within it, the sacred Flesh and precious Blood, the graces of the SPIRIT’S might, the perennial fountain,* and the light Divine, is too strong for them to take, unless it is betrayed from within.1

13 O my GOD, make them like unto a wheel: and as the stubble before the wind.

Like unto a wheel. So all the older versions,* while modern critics, translating, some whirlwind, and others chaff or thistledown, (Ay.) with reference to Isaiah 17:13, do not practically affect the inner meaning.* The wheel is explained as an emblem of short-lived and unstable earthly prosperity, (A.) followed by spiritual destruction,* because the hinder part of the wheel rises, and yet leaves behind what it has just touched, while the fore-part, typical of the future, is always sinking, and as being circular and having no end,* denotes the worm that dieth not. And whereas there is something of solidity in the wheel: the stubble, on the other hand, is light, feeble, and incapable of offering any resistance to the storm.* Others, again, instead of wheel, translate the LXX. τροχὸς as a child’s top, which is made to revolve quickly by lashing it,* an emblem of sinners under the scourge of GOD. But there is no reason to depart from the usual rendering. The idea is a common-place amongst heathen writers, and occurs also in Ecclesiasticus, “The heart of the foolish is like a cart-wheel, and his thoughts are like a rolling axle-tree.”*

14 Like as the fire that burneth up the wood: and as the flame that consumeth the mountains.

15 Persecute them even so with thy tempest: and make them afraid with thy storm.

This is the true connection of these verses, not taking the fourteenth with the preceding one, according to the Prayer Book punctuation. (C.) The fire and flame are ascribed to the Judgment-day in particular, as denoting the terrible wrath of GOD against sin, but are not thereby excluded from all reference to temporal punishment. The wood is taken by some to mean all savage,* uncultured, and obstinate heathens, and the mountains as denoting the haughty and exalted. And observe that the latter clause of the verse intensifies the meaning, because the freer play of the winds upon lofty heights makes a fire among the timber fiercer and more destructive than it can be on the level.* Cardinal Hugo, agreeing in the latter explanation, prefers to take the wood as the opposite idea to an orchard, and as denoting wealthy persons who bear no fruit, (L.) and are barren in good works.1 Some have seen a reference to volcanoes in the flame that burneth up the mountains,* but there is no reason to suppose a Hebrew poet of so distant a day familiar with such an idea. The storm and tempest are taken universally by the old commentators to denote the irresistible wrath of GOD against impenitent sinners, and as denoting the terrors of the Doom. But the wording of the very next verse might well have induced some of them to add a milder explanation. The whole series of petitions may be taken in a good sense as praying for the conversion of sinners,* whom GOD can make like unto those wheels which were guided by the spirit of the Living Creatures in Ezekiel’s vision, bearing upon them the likeness of a sapphire throne, whereon sitteth the Man. They may be caught away by the wind,* to speed on GOD’S errand, as Philip was when borne away from his Ethiopian convert to the city of Azotus,* and the fire which lighted on the Apostles in fiery tongues may so baptize them with its purifying flame as to kindle them with burning love, destroying the wood, hay, stubble, but causing the fine gold to come out bright and clean from all dross. Wherefore is added:

16 Make their faces ashamed, O LORD: that they may seek thy Name.

More exactly, with A. V., LXX., and Vulgate, Fill their faces with shame. That is, in the literal sense,* that they may lose all confidence in their idols, and acknowledge the GOD of the Jews to be mightier than their gods, “because there is no other GOD that can deliver, after this sort.”* And one reminds us wisely that it is sometimes better for a Christian to fall, that he may be ashamed, (Ay.) and so seek the Name of JESUS as his one hope and stay, (Lu.) rather than stand, and be filled with spiritual pride in his own strength. It is therefore spoken by the Prophet, “O daughter of Zion, thou shalt go even to Babylon, there shalt thou be delivered.”* And this,* (L.) too, is the aim and purpose of spiritual penalties and excommunications, such as that which shut Miriam out of the camp for seven days, as also of that shame which attends confession of sin, a “shame which is glory and grace,”* not like the false shame of concealment, which is more sin. And on this a Saint observes, “In this way one can arm his soul with the weapons of shame, for whoso indicts himself by open mention of his secret faults, hath the memory of his shame as a guide for the future conduct of his life.”* But as only some of these evil-doers will he softened and turned to GOD by His chastisements in this world, while others will be the more hardened, it follows:

17 Let them be confounded and vexed ever more and more: let them be put to shame, and perish.

18 And they shall know that thou, whose Name is JEHOVAH: art only the most Highest over all the earth.

We have in these words set before us the doom of the finally impenitent, (A.) who will see the overthrow of their king Antichrist, (C.) and the dominion of the Son of Man established over all creation,* and who will then pass from His judgment-seat to their place of punishment. But, as before, a milder interpretation is not wanting nor unfit, and we shall perhaps better construe the whole passage in connection with the sixteenth verse. Here we see shadowed out one great difference between the Old and the New Covenant, the severance made between earthly and spiritual well-being. To the Jew, so long as he was obedient to the Law, came victory and ease, while foreign tyranny, heavy exactions, and incessant suffering were the penalties for backsliding. But the Gospel offers itself to the mourner, the hungry, and the outcast, rather than to those who rejoice and are full of bread. And thus it has been usually a time of sorrow and distress in a nation when it has received the Faith. So it was with Judæa itself, so with the Roman empire, so with England, when the heathen Penda warred against the Cross.* Let them then be confounded, when they reflect upon their guilt, and that more and more, by increasing sensitiveness of conscience, and a gradually higher standard of holiness; or for ever and ever (A. V., LXX., and Vulg.,) by never again returning to their wickedness, (D. C.) and so let them perish, by dying to sin and to themselves, that they may live to CHRIST, and know that He Whose Name is JEHOVAH,* is only the Most Highest over all the earth; and especially that none save He, no earthly potentate whatever, (L.) may dare to claim the Headship of His Church. His Name is Jehovah, for He is Very GOD of Very GOD;* He is the Most Highest, (A.) for GOD hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a Name which is above every name. But it may be asked, Why Highest over all the earth, rather than over all the heavens? And the answer is, to quell the pride of man,* who is earth, and will return to earth. “Why is earth and ashes proud?” Not justly for itself, but because GOD stooped to that earth and ashes, and taking it to Himself,* crowned man, heretofore lower than the angels, with glory and worship, and set Him over all the works of creation.

And therefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, Whose Name is JEHOVAH; glory be to the SON, the King of Israel, Who only is Highest over all the earth; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, the Flame which burnt up with love those mountains of GOD, the Apostles and Martyrs.

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

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