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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.

The ferial Antiphons vary with the season, and are not special to the Psalm.

Gregorian. Dedication. First verse of Psalm.

Mozarabic. He shall abide under the protection of the GOD of heaven:* he saith to the LORD, Thou art My taker-up.

If you desire, writes S. Athanasius to Marcellinus, to stablish yourself and others in devotion, to know what confidence is to be reposed in GOD, and what makes the mind fearless, you will praise GOD by reciting the ninetieth (ninety-first) Psalm.* Accordingly, (D. C.) we most fitly employ it at Compline as a defence against the snares of the night and the manifold temptations of the evil spirits. And when we do sing it devoutly at that time, we shall often taste its power and sweetness, wherewith it so wondrously and pleasantly abounds. The immediate occasion of the Psalm is not so easily ascertained as its spiritual meaning. (P.) Some Rabbinical authorities treat it as a part of the preceding one, while others, more numerous, agreeing with several modern critics, take it as a post-Captivity Psalm, referring to the return under Ezra, and the perils which beset the exiles from the human and animal foes which had taken possession of their old dwelling-places, while a few are found to accept the view of the Syriac Psalter, (L.) and to explain the poem as a thanksgiving for the deliverance of Hezekiah from the army of Sennacherib. It is the ninetieth Psalm in the LXX. and Vulgate,* and the mystical import of the number which they give is that ninety, being the product of ten and nine, signifies the number of the faithful who suffer tribulation here, and who shall be made equal to the angels in blessedness, on receiving the crown of life, because ten signifies the denarius, or penny given by the LORD of the vineyard to the labourers, and nine is the sum of the grades in the angelic hierarchy.

1 Whoso dwelleth under the defence of the Most High: shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

Whoso. This first word denotes that the promise is a universal one;* as though the Prophet were saying, Whosoever he be, rich or poor, learned or ignorant, noble or churl, young or old, it matters not, for GOD accepteth no man’s person, but is rich unto all them that call upon Him. And whereas we may dwell in a place, and yet be restless and unquiet there, the Hebrew here is sitteth, implying tranquillity and perseverance. Further, the word here translated defence, and in LXX. and Vulgate help, is more exactly, as in A. V., the secret place, a phrase not only denoting its perfect security, but also that it is no visible earthly tower, but an invisible fortress, which faith alone can find and enter. Yet the word help is not without its lesson, for it teaches us that devout and firm trust in GOD does not make man’s thought and labour superfluous, but rather stimulates them, in the hope of success through such mighty co-operation. Fitly, too, is the title Most High here applied to GOD our defence, because from His lofty throne He beholdeth all the dwellers upon earth, so that no peril of ours escapes His sight, and also because being supreme in majestic power, He is able to deliver us from them all. Shall abide, or, with A. V.* margin, shall lodge, that is, shall pass the night, the whole season of darkness and peril, of trouble and doubt, safely under the shadow of the clouds of the glory of God, as the Chaldee paraphrase expands the latter clause.* The Almighty, שַׁדַּי, is translated by LXX. and Vulgate the God of heaven. It is He who thus receives, as it were under the shelter of His roof,* to lodge there, the suppliant who ventures to sit down at the door of His secret place as a temporary shelter, but who is soon taught that a FATHER’S home is open to him. We may learn, remarks S. Bernard, in the beginning of his commentary on this Psalm,* who he is who dwelleth under the help of the Most High, by noting who they are that do not dwell there. You will find three sorts of them: those who do not hope, those who despair, and those who hope in vain. The first are such as either trust in their own strength and possessions, or as have cooled in their early zeal, and think that GOD has no more good things to bestow; the second those who think only of their own weakness, not of GOD’S might, and therefore make no resistance against temptation; and the third are those who forget GOD’S justice, and relying on His mercy, continue in sin. The first of these dwells in his own merits, the second in his chastisements, the third in his vices.* The dwelling of the first is sordid, that of the second disquieted, that of the third foolish and perilous. With these we may contrast all holy souls, but especially her whom GOD chose as the helpmeet for Himself, the Most High, in working out the salvation of mankind by His Incarnation, to whom it was said by the Angel, “The HOLY GHOST shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.”* Note, too,* that the Holy Trinity is declared to us in this verse: the FATHER, Who is the Most High; the SON, His help in the work of redemption, as it is said in another Psalm,* “I have laid help upon one that is mighty;” the HOLY GHOST, Who is that shadow of the Almighty which brooded over Blessed Mary.

2 I will say unto the LORD, Thou art my hope, and my stronghold: my GOD, in him will I trust.

The sudden change of persons here (not the only one in the Psalm) may be accounted for in two ways,* neither of which excludes the other. The Psalmist begins with a general reflection on the blessedness of trust in GOD; and kindled by the thought, applies it personally to his own spiritual needs, and bursts out with a direct address;* and, further, the whole composition may very probably have been designed as an anthem for two or three voices in public worship, the solo parts being all in the first person.* In fact the Chaldee does make the Psalm a dialogue between David and Solomon with a chorus. But the LXX., Syriac, Arabic, and Vulgate tide over the difficulty by reading the first word of the verse in the third person. He will say, which is not very unlike S. Jerome’s saying. This he will say as a thanksgiving, making acknowledgment to the LORD and His mercy for His twofold help.* For every one who is still dwelling in GOD’S help, is not yet in the kingdom, often needs to flee, and sometimes falls, but he is not dashed down, because the LORD is his taker-up (Vulg.) so that he rises stronger when he falls. Let the faithful soul, then, say unto the LORD, Thou art my taker-up. All things can say, Thou art my Creator; the very beasts can say, “Thou art my Shepherd;” all men may say, “Thou art my Redeemer,” but only he who dwells under the help of the Most High can say, Thou art my taker-up, or my hope, or again, my refuge (A. V.) Observe, too, that the Psalmist continues, my refuge (Vulg.) and my GOD. We have herein three blessings bestowed by GOD, past, present, and future, for which thanksgiving is made unto Him.* First, is His unspeakable mercy, whereby He lifts up man fallen into sin, and sinking further to hell; next, that when GOD justifies a sinner, He does not at once transfer him to heaven, where are no perils, but places him in the array of His warrior soldiers, yet, if he trust in the LORD, the LORD in turn will be a sure bulwark for him in all temptations. Thirdly, comes the greatest of all the blessings, And My God. For GOD is the Supreme Good,* and He will be our GOD when we see Him as He is. And why, seeing that it is so, do we not find our GOD, but my GOD written here? Because in creation, in redemption, and other general bounties, He is GOD of all; but His elect, each one of them, have Him for their very own in all their temptations, for so ready is He to lift up the falling, and deliver the fugitive, that it seems as though He quitted all the others to help that one alone. Note, too, that it is said, I will trust, not, I have trusted, or, I do trust; because here the speaker makes a vow, a resolve, and fixes his intention to persevere.

3 For he shall deliver thee from the snare of the hunter: and from the noisome pestilence.

The hunter. Are we then beasts? Truly so, for “man will not abide in honour,* seeing he may be compared unto the beasts that perish.”* Men are beasts, straying sheep, having no shepherd. And who are the hunters? Evil and wicked ones, most crafty and cruel, hunters who do not sound a horn, lest they should be heard, but “privily shoot at him that is perfect.”* They are the rulers of the darkness of this world. Now that we know the hunters and the beasts, we must inquire what is the snare. The Apostle will show it to us, for he knoweth the thoughts of these hunters, “They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare.”* Are the riches of this world, then, the devil’s snare? Alas! how few we find, who rejoice in being delivered from such a snare, how many that grieve because they think themselves too little enmeshed, (A.) and strive with all their might to involve and entangle themselves therein! The devil and his angels set their snares, but men who walk in CHRIST walk far from such snares. For Satan does not lay a snare in CHRIST, he sets it all around the way, but not on the way. Let CHRIST be thy way, and thou shalt not fall into the snare of the devil. Go not to left or right, but keep in the straight road, and thou shalt avoid the traps on either side. There are many snares which the hunters lay for us besides riches. The reward of honours, says a Saint, the height of power,* the delicacy of diet, and the beauty of an harlot, are the devil’s snares:

The close pursuers’ busy hands do plant

Snares in thy substance; snares attend thy want;*

Snares in thy credit, snares in thy disgrace;

Snares in thy high estate, snares in thy base;

Snares tuck thy bed, and snares surround thy board;

Snares watch thy thoughts, and snares attack thy word;

Snares in thy quiet, snares in thy commotion;

Snares in thy diet, snares in thy devotion;

Snares lurk in thy resolves, snares in thy doubt;

Snares lurk within thy heart, and snares without;

Snares are above thy head, and snares beneath;

Snares in thy sickness, snares are in thy death.

Oh! if these purlieus be so full of danger,

Great GOD of hearts, the world’s sole sovereign ranger,

Preserve Thy deer; and let my soul be blest

In Thy safe forest, where I seek for rest:

Then let the hell-hounds roar. I fear no ill,

Rouse me they may, but have no power to kill.

And so they tell of a favourite stag which belonged to an emperor,* that it ranged safely about, because it bore on its neck a collar with the inscription, “I am Cæsar’s, touch me not.”* They bid us observe how the word hunter is nearly always used in a bad sense in Scripture, citing as special examples Nimrod,* Ishmael, and Esau, while fisher is mostly in a good sense. (Ay.) And we are seasonably reminded of those hunters who sought after the life of CHRIST,* endeavouring to entangle Him in His speech, but vainly, because Eternal Wisdom delivered Him out of their snares. Cardinal Hugo sums up the points in which evil spirits and wicked men resemble hunters, as follows:

Ars, cornu, virus, equus, arcus, pallida vestis,

Decipulæ, laqueus, retia, tela, canes.

Skill, bugle, poison, steed, bow, raiment pale,

Decoys, snare, nets, shafts, dogs, make up the tale.

That is, they are crafty, they summon their companions to help them: whisperers, and panderers, and evil advisers of men are the bugle round the devil’s neck, wherewith he sends out his voice: they poison their arrows with evil suggestions: the horse denotes the pride of the flesh; the bow denotes legal subtilty; the pale dress, worn to avoid scaring the prey, signifies the way in which the devil adapts himself so as not to startle his intended booty too soon; the decoys, snares, and nets, are his various artifices; the shafts and darts are temptations; and the dogs, slanderers.* And if we bear in mind that hunters lay snares for wild beasts, not for tame and domesticated ones, we shall know that it is only when we follow our own way, and are not GOD’S servants, that we are in any peril from them. And from the noisome pestilence. That pestilence is the epidemic of sin,* not personal and individual only, but the general frailty of mankind, and the vices which at any given time are current and lightly regarded.* It has been taken literally of the plague sent when David numbered the people, and by those who date the Psalm in the time of Hezekiah, as referring to the destruction of Sennacherib’s army. But the Vulgate rendering, nearly identical with that of LXX., is from the harsh word.1 This they explain diversely (A.) Many take it of the threats and jeers,* or flatteries, used to force or tempt innocent persons into sin; others of the blasphemies of heretics and infidels. S. Bernard, explaining it of the cry of hell for more prey, reminds us of that harsh word, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him,”* which the LORD bore for us, that He might save us from a yet harsher word, “Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire,”* an explanation which brings us back to the deepest meaning of noisome pestilence.

4 He shall defend thee under his wings, and thou shalt be safe under his feathers: his faithfulness and truth shall be thy shield and buckler.

The verse tells us of the continuance of the divine protection,* for it does as it were say, Whilst thou art young, and no match for thine enemies, He will cherish thee under His wings, as the eagle or the hen cherishes her young; but when thou art grown, and able for combat, He will give thee a strong shield that will keep thee unwounded. In Holy Writ GOD is compared to two birds, the eagle and the hen. We read in Deuteronomy, “As an eagle fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings, so the LORD alone did lead him:”* and this denotes CHRIST the LORD in His strength and terrors before the Incarnation. But under the milder Gospel dispensation, where He appears as Man, we find Him saying, “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings.”* Under these wings we are safe from sun and storm, and from the wheeling hawk. (A.) When we see swallows, sparrows, and storks flying in the air, away from their nests, we cannot tell whether they have young, but we know the parent hen by the weak anxious cry, by the lowering of her plumage; she is wholly changed through her love for her chickens, because they are weak, she makes herself weak also. And because we are weak, the Wisdom of GOD became weak, for “the WORD was made flesh, and dwelt among us,”* that we might trust under His wings.* They explain these wings in several ways, as the two Testaments, the two precepts of the Gospel, the mercy and justice of GOD; but better than all is that lovely thought which sees in them the arms of CHRIST extended on the Cross,* to shelter the nations from the heat and glare of sin, from the foul birds of prey that are ever hovering in the air. These are the wings in which there is healing, whereof the Prophet speaks.* With this accords that wonderful vision of S. Francis,* when he beheld a great figure as of a Seraph, with extended arms and conjoined feet, as though fixed to a Cross, and with six wings, two elevated above the head, two extended for flight, and two veiling the body; or, as the form of the vision given by S. Bonaventura runs, the form of the Crucified Himself appeared borne within the wings of the Seraph, and the stigmata of the Passion there beheld made themselves visible in the body of the Saint. The feathers will in this case denote the separate details,* the single sorrows, which in their aggregate made up the Passion of CHRIST; while if we look only at His Divine aspect, they may signify the Angel guard ever hovering around Him, and employed by Him as ministers for the protection of mankind.

His truth shall be thy shield and buckler. The LXX. and Vulgate differ a little from this, reading, His truth shall encircle thee.1 The word translated encircle is, however, a noun from a root סָחַר having that meaning, and probably here stands for a coat of mail,2 a rendering which avoids the mere repetition of the clause in English.* The truth of Him Who never lies, observes a great Saint, is a mighty shield. That Truth is CHRIST, and His shield is the Cross,* circled with which we are bold in every combat, and put every enemy to flight.* This is the shield of Faith, which the Apostle bids us take,* that we may therewith quench all the fiery darts of the enemy. This is that shield of gold which, when the sun shines upon it, makes the mountains glisten, and shine like lamps of fire.* “And the grace of divine protection is not inaptly compared to a shield, because it is large and wide in the upper part, so as to guard the head and shoulders, but below it is narrower, so as to lessen its weight, and because the legs are more slender than the body, and less easily wounded, so that there is not so much danger of a wound there. In this wise CHRIST gives His soldiers for the protection of their lower part, that is, their flesh, narrowness and scantiness of temporal things, nor would have them weighed down by the abundance of such matters, but that having food and raiment, as saith the Apostle,* we should be content therewith; but in higher things He gives greater breadth, and abundance of spiritual grace.” (L.) This is the shield which is better than that one of the warrior Myrtilus, which saved him from such dissimilar perils:

εἰν ἑνί κινδύνους ἔφυγον δύω Μύρτιλος ὅπλῳ,*

τὸν μὲν ἀριστεύσας, τὸν δʼ ἐπινηξάμενος•

ἀργεστὴς ὅτʼ ἔδυσε νεὼς τρόπιν, ἀσπίδα δʼ εἶχον

σωθεὶς κεκριμένην ὕδατι καὶ πολέμῳ.

One weapon in two perils rescued me,

Once as I fought, once as I swam the sea,

When the white squall the ship’s keel sank, my shield

Delivered me; thus proved by flood and field.

5 Thou shalt not be afraid for any terror by night: nor for the arrow that flieth by day;

6 For the pestilence that walketh in darkness: nor for the sickness that destroyeth in the noon-day.

Under these four heads all the perils of mortal life,* at every time, are included. For the Hebrew division of the day and night was into four parts; the evening, midnight, morning, and mid-day.* And perils themselves are classed under two main heads, secret ones, denoted by the dangers of the night; and open ones, which assail us as it were by day. And they are yet again classed in a different fashion by the commentators, according as they treat them as external to the soul, or arising within it. (A.) Thus the sins in the night are those of ignorance, those in the day are conscious and wilful, and are therefore spoken of in more forcible terms. The lesser sins of ignorance, the terrors by night, match with the lesser sins of knowledge, the arrow that flieth by day, while the grosser ones pair off likewise, the pestilence that only walketh in the darkness being thus contrasted with the sickness that actually slayeth in the noon-day. So the four phrases may also be taken of the varying methods of persecution employed against the Church by Pagan tyrants, from the threats and blandishments employed against imperfect Christians, easily diverted from the Faith by hope or fear, and not thoroughly knowing the gravity of such a fall, to the actual violence used against fully-matured converts. The original law of persecution, which simply ordained the penalty of death against such as confessed themselves Christians, was the arrow by day. But when the craft and cruelty of the heathen waxed greater, then was fulfilled the LORD’S parable touching those who received the seed of the Word in stony places, “and when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root they withered away,”* lacking the firm root of Charity. And this heat of persecution blazed out when the new rule was ordained that any one confessing Christianity should no longer be put to death at once, but tortured till he recanted and denied CHRIST. This was the demon of the noonday (LXX., Vulg.)1 which was so especially successful in the Decian persecution, wherein, unlike those which preceded and followed it, care was taken to have altars, images and incense ready at hand in the court, that the accused might be seduced or tempted into sudden apostasy, without having time to fortify their resolution. There is much more force in the LXX. and Vulgate rendering of the first clause of the sixth verse than in the English, by reason of the very vagueness of the word they use, the THING (πράγματος, negotio) that walketh in darkness,2 a term suggestive of formless dread, more terrible than anything which takes definite shape. (C.) But the majority of both Greek and Latin expositors read it as meaning business, as something done with forethought and diligence, whence several take it to be the dogmas of heresy,* or the deliberate fraud of hypocrites, while the demon of the noonday is either any audacious aggressor who does not condescend to cloak his violence, or Satan when he transforms himself into an Angel of light,* as he did when tempting the Redeemer under the pretext of enabling Him to prove His mission. And in this sense, one who reminds us of the light and heat of noonday observes:* Light pertains to discretion, and warmth to devotion. The demons, then, come to us with light and splendour, when they assure us, and strive to persuade us, that what we do at their crafty suggestion will be not merely wise,* but pious. Again, whereas in hot countries the noontide is a period of repose and cessation from labour, the demon of the noonday is sloth, which goes on to ruin (LXX., Vulg.) by its temptations to lust, the true child of languid self-indulgence after the mid-day meal.* A further exposition is that of S. John Chrysostom, who follows the usual typology of night and day as denoting adversity and prosperity. The terrors of the night of trouble are those things which have no real power to hurt, such as slander and reviling, more dangerous to him that utters than to him who is assailed, unless he by fearing and magnifying them gives them power against himself. The arrow by day is the far more perilous flattery, which begets pride and self-conceit. The thing which walketh in darkness signifies the real calamities and persecutions deliberately planned by evil men against the righteous, while the demon of the noonday means any great crime into which wealth and power tempt men to fall.* S. Bernard’s gloss is not very remarkable. He takes the terror of the night to be cowardice; the arrow, vain glory; the thing in darkness, ambition or avarice; the demon of the noon-day, as above, temptation to evil under the pretext of good. (P.) Better than this is the view which sees here the four stages of sin; first, the secret thought, in the night of the heart; secondly, the resolve to sin, a walking in the twilight, drawing men on to the day of action; then the arrow, hastily and secretly shot,* the first rapid commission of the sin, not yet deadly, but capable of being drawn out in time; and then the demon of the noonday, when the hardened offender makes no attempt to disguise his guilt, but openly glories in it. Again,* the terrors of the night may well denote evil demons, and the fear of death; while the perils of the day refer to more tangible objects of dread. Finally, (B.) applying the whole passage to the sufferings of our Blessed LORD, they remind us how He was taken by night, and shot at by day.* For the Jews shot at Him with their arrows, and sorely grieved Him, when they cried “Crucify Him, crucify Him;” the thing in darkness was the secret council of the Pharisees held by night against Him; and the demon of the noon-day was when the mad populace, instigated by Satan, dragged Him to Calvary, for it was the sixth hour when they crucified Him.

7 A thousand shall fall beside thee, and ten thousand at thy right hand: but it shall not come nigh thee.

There are three different views put forward as to the noun to be supplied after a thousand.* It may be the arrows, (Z.) shot in vain against the shield of GOD, or the enemies,* routed with heavy loss, (A.) or the fellow soldiers of the heaven-guarded warrior. All three will hold, and yield a satisfactory meaning, although the last seems to have the most weight on its side. They raise the question why we find in the first clause only beside thee, and not at thy left hand, which is the obvious sense, and is supplied by the Chaldee. Some will have it that the left,* as denoting the mere human power of resistance, the free-will of man, is unworthy to be specially named, when we are speaking of the grace of GOD, which guards us on the right, so that the just man has, mystically,* two right sides, and none given over to evil, which the left or sinister term denotes. And this notion is enforced by Eusebius,* who explains the Psalm of CHRIST, and says that the word left is purposely omitted, lest we should suppose any defect to exist in Him. The most ancient gloss on the verse now extant is found in the Apostolical Constitutions,* where it is cited as referring to the conversion of the Gentiles, but this does not seem to have commended itself to later expositors. (A.) That which S. Augustine and Cassiodorus adopt is to see here two classes of persons who will be disappointed in the Day of Judgment in their hopes of salvation, the thousand being those who hoped to be assessors at CHRIST’S side in His tribunal, the ten thousand those who looked for a place at His right hand in reward for alms-deeds, but who shall not come nigh to Him at all. But there is no clear contrast in this exposition, nor any adequate account of the difference of numbers.* Far better than this is the explanation that ten thousand temptations come in time of prosperity, denoted by the right hand, while but a tenth of the number assail us in adversity; but neither can come near him who trusts in GOD, near enough to win his consent and prevail against him. This explanation agrees with the first of the three views named above, for temptations are the arrows, but S. Bernard applies the same notion of the greater peril of prosperity to the third interpretation,* saying that many more persons fall into sin and ruin by means of wealth and power than do so in time of adversity; though in his commentary on this Psalm he gives a completely different exposition, taking the thousand on the left to be men jealous of the temporal wealth of the righteous, and the ten thousand on the right,* evil spirits warring against all spiritual well-being. Hence he takes occasion to remind us that CHRIST’S spear-wound was on the right side, to teach us that thence alone should we drink, there only seek a refuge; while men have their heart on the left side, denoting their preference for earthly things, and bear their shields on the left arm, in token of their anxiety to protect their temporal belongings, whereas the true soldier of CHRIST will be more anxious to guard the right hand side. (P.) Parez brings us back to the notion cited from the Apostolical Constitutions, and takes the passage of the victory of the Apostles in effecting conversions, a thousand on the left denoting the temporal ruin of the unbelieving Jews, close at CHRIST’S side in kindred and country, but who shall not come nigh Him in His true Country; ten thousand, the far greater company of the Gentiles, smitten down from their idolatry, and placed first as captives and then as conquerors at the right hand of the SAVIOUR. And of such differences as these, between the temporal things denoted by the left hand, and the spiritual by the right, there was a type of old in the songs of the Hebrew maidens after the great battle in which Goliath fell, when they cried “Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”*

8 Yea, with thine eyes shalt thou behold: and see the reward of the ungodly.

That is,* not only will no single one of all those hosts of enemies be able to reach thee, but thou shalt see their total overthrow, as a mere spectator from a place of safety,* while GOD Himself fights for thee, suffering them to come only just so near as to afford a distinct sight of their ruinous defeat. So Moses spake of old to the children of Israel: “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will show you to-day; for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to-day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.”* And again, when the confederate hosts of Ammon and Moab came up against Jehoshaphat, almost the same words were used by the prophet Jahaziel:* “Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the LORD with you, O Judah and Jerusalem, and fear not, nor be dismayed; to-morrow go ye out against them; for the LORD will be with you.” In like manner the Christian Church beheld the ruin of her Jewish and Pagan enemies without any effort of her own, (P.) and those who abide patiently shall see at the Last Day the overthrow of all forms of evil which seemed too strong for them in this world; (A.) while, if we apply the words to the Head rather than to the members, we shall explain them as meaning that He will behold with His eyes the secrets of all hearts,* and cause the universe to see the reward which He brings upon the ungodly.

9 For thou, LORD, art my hope: thou hast set thine house of defence very high.

There is a difficulty raised by most of the expositors as to the connection between the clauses of this verse,* because of the word thine in the last hemistich, which seems to them inappropriate to GOD or to CHRIST even as Man, Who cannot need a defence in the highest, seeing He is Highest already, albeit the Arians cited this text against the Catholics. But there seems no absolute necessity for any such distribution of the verse as makes the second thou refer to the righteous man who dwelleth under the defence of the Most High. For a refuge which GOD provides is His,* not ours, except in so far as it is a gift to us, and the meaning may thus be that He has planted His city of refuge (which some take to be the Cross of CHRIST) so high on the Rock that all may see it, (D. C.) and strive upwards towards it, but none come near to attack its citizens. And as the word art is not in the Hebrew, we may translate with Aquila and Symmachus, Thou, Lord, my Hope, hast set Thine house most high, which is also the sense of the Chaldee and Syriac. But the A. V., LXX., and most modern critics, who take the word עֶלְיו̇ן as the title of GOD Himself, the Most High, (τὸν ὕψιστον) and not as a mere epithet of His dwelling place, do require the verse to be read in two independent clauses, as addressed to different persons; and this is the sense followed by most expounders of the Vulgate, although its rendering, Altissimum, is ambiguous. The first strophe of the verse is thus sung by a solo voice, and the second is the response of the choir to the singer, congratulating him on his choice of GOD as his hope, and narrating some of the benefits of it. Some few, however, though accepting Most High as the title of GOD, make no break in the verse, but address it all to Him, saying: Thou hast made Thy Refuge, that SAVIOUR Who is the one hope of sinners, that Man in Whom the Godhead dwelt, (R.) Most High,* being a Name above every name, being Co-equal with the FATHER.* This comes to nearly the same as the most exact rendering, and fits in with that saying of S. Bernard on the passage;* that the soul whose hope is GOD, and not merely in GOD, can be satisfied with nothing save Himself, and does not want, like Peter, to make Him a tabernacle on earth, nor like Mary Magdalene, merely to touch His feet here, but to clasp Himself for ever.* The Acts of S. Afra tell us how she hoped for Him, how she set her house of defence in the Most High. “Gaius the Judge said, ‘Go up to the Capitol, and sacrifice.’ Afra answered: ‘CHRIST is my Capitol, Whom I have before mine eyes: to Him I daily confess my sins and wickedness. And because I am unworthy to offer sacrifice to Him, I desire to sacrifice myself for His Name, that the body wherein I have sinned may be cleansed as it suffers punishment.’ Gaius the Judge said, ‘As I hear thou art a harlot, sacrifice, because thou hast nought to do with the GOD of Christians.’ Afra answered: ‘My LORD JESUS CHRIST hath said that He came down from heaven for sinners. For His Gospels bear witness that a harlot washed His feet with her tears, and received pardon; and He never despised harlots and publicans, for He even suffered them to eat with Him.’ ”

10 There shall no evil happen unto thee: neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.

Herein we have a twofold promise, first that sin,* the one evil thing, shall not touch the Saint of GOD; and next that the plague (LXX. and Vulg. scourge,) or chastisement for sin, shall not come nigh his tabernacle, (LXX. and Vulg.) But as in the case of David we know that the evil of sin did happen to him in most grievous fashion, and that heavy scourges were inflicted on him and his house because of it, they ask how this promise can have been fulfilled in his case, or in that of the countless other servants of GOD who have fallen into the mire of pollution. The answer is twofold: that the promise belongs to the next world, not to this; but has regard only to the “blessed necessity of sinlessness” in heaven; or, as this is hardly comfort enough for those who are sorely beset here, they tell us, that although Saints are not promised absolute immunity from sin, yet by Divine Providence their very sins are turned into agencies for their good, to make them humbler, more watchful, more penetrated with the love of GOD, as confessing that they owe so very much to His grace and mercy, and that the scourge of temporal punishment which He may be pleased to send upon them is scarcely felt by them, because they dwell in the tabernacle of devout and penitent contemplation, and accept His fatherly chastisement as the earnest of future glory, saying with the Apostle: “I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation.”* So, too, in the sufferings of the martyrs, (P.) the scourges and tortures of the persecutors could neither avail to overthrow that tabernacle of the Church Militant whereof they were the valiant and faithful guards, nor yet, while destroying their bodies, could they reach or harm those pure souls in which the HOLY GHOST was pleased to tabernacle.

Applying this verse to the LORD JESUS, (W.) the King of Martyrs, they remind us that though no evil, no taint of sin could by any possibility touch Him, (Ay.) yet He was scourged, and crucified, and done to death for us, and nevertheless, by rising again from the dead, He reassumed His Divine properties of impassibility and immortality, so that no temporal evil could touch Him any more.

11 For he shall give his angels charge over thee: to keep thee in all thy ways.

12 They shall bear thee in their hands: that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone.

This is the passage, famous for evermore in the spiritual history of man, as that wherewith the Tempter vainly essayed to delude the Redeemer of mankind. And yet, as S. Thomas points out, he showed his ignorance even more than his craft,* since the LORD JESUS hath no need of the guardianship of Angels, seeing that He is Himself their strength and stay, “upholding all things by the Word of His power;”* and that even in His mortal condition, He was not tended by any guardian Angel, but supported by the union of the Eternal Wisdom with His human nature in one Person. Wherefore, by the almost general consent of the greatest Christian saints and doctors, we may not interpret this passage directly of the LORD JESUS Himself, but only of those members whose Head He is. But to us, as to the Jewish Church, the passage speaks of that special Providence of GOD whereby He entrusts each one of us to the care of a particular guardian angel,* while He sets yet mightier spirits over whole nations of the earth. Each one of us, observes Origen, even the least in the Church of GOD,* has beside him a good angel, an angel of the LORD, to rule, to move, to direct him, and who, to amend our doings,* and to ask for mercies on our behalf, daily seeth the face of our FATHER which is in heaven. Great is the dignity of souls,* comments another Father, in that each has from the beginning of its nativity an angel appointed for its guard. O wonderful condescension, exclaims S. Bernard, and truly great tenderness of love! who is it that hath given charge, to whom is the charge given, concerning what person, and what is the charge itself? It is the Supreme Majesty Who hath given charge to His own angels, those exalted and happy beings ever abiding closest to Himself, as His peculiar servants, and that charge concerning thee. Who art thou? “What is man that Thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that Thou visitest him?”* Just as though man were not corruption, and the son of man a worm. What thinkest thou is His charge concerning thee? to keep thee. What reverence ought this phrase to inspire in thee, what devotion ought it to bring thee, what confidence bestow on thee! Reverence for the angel’s presence, devoutness for his good-will, confidence for his safeguard. Walk heedfully, as one with whom the angels are present, as is commanded thee, in all thy ways. In every lodging, in every corner, show reverence for thine angel.* Dare not aught when he is present, which thou wouldest not dare in my sight. What then means in all thy ways? There are many ways, many kinds of ways, great peril to the wayfarer. How readily may he who lacks knowledge of the ways err in his road where many ways meet! For GOD hath not given His angels charge to keep us in all ways, but in all our ways. Let us imagine then what are our ways, what are the ways of evil spirits, what those of blessed spirits, and what are the ways of the LORD. The ways of the sons of Adam are occupied in need and longing, the one driving, the other dragging us on. The ways of the evil ones are presumption and obstinacy, and the four steps of descent by which we may fall into these ways are self-flattery, self-ignorance, self-excuse, and contempt of rebuke. The ways of the holy angels are simply told, and that by the Only-Begotten, saying, “Ye shall see the angels of GOD ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”* They ascend for their own sakes, in contemplation; they descend for our sakes, in compassion. And of His own ways we read, “All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth.”* To these ways the angels conform themselves, to mercy when they help us, to truth when they seek to know more of Him. And we can imitate them too, making them our own, showing mercy on our own souls by penitence, and our regard for truth by confession of sin. Here our need and longing will find their satisfaction, and the angels will not remove us out of our ways, but keep us in them, making those ways to become first their own, and then GOD’S. And that is the meaning for us of that Eucharistic bidding, “Lift up your hearts.” And note that the word ways is emphatic, for the road of sin, or any place where no duty brings us, is not a way, but a precipice, where the angels are not charged to keep us at all. It is no way, but a ruin; and even if a way, it is thine, not His. They compass us about, unseen, though mighty,* with horses and chariots of fire, as they did Elisha in Dothan,* they act as our deputies in prayer, as the suggestors of holy thoughts to our waking, and even our sleeping minds. So a devout servant of GOD says in a hymn endeared to countless thousands:

O may my Guardian, while I sleep,

Close to my bed his vigils keep;*

His love angelical instil;

Stop all the avenues of ill.

May he celestial joys rehearse,

And thought to thought with me converse,

Or in my stead, all the night long

Sing to my GOD a grateful song.

They discharge other duties besides these towards us. First,* they remove obstacles out of our path: “I will send an angel before thee, and will drive out the Canaanite.”* Secondly, they allay our trials: “The angel of the LORD came down into the oven together with Azarias and his fellows, and smote the flame of the fire out of the oven.”* Thirdly, they help us against visible foes: “The Angel of the LORD smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred and fourscore and five thousand.”* Fourthly, they present our prayers and alms before GOD, and pray in their turn for us: “I did bring the remembrance of your prayers before the Holy One.”* Fifthly, they guide us in the way: “The good angel will keep him company, and his journey shall be prosperous, and he shall return safe.”* Sixthly, they teach us our duty, and that at times by chastisement, as Gabriel dealt with Zacharias.* Seventhly, they reveal themselves and GOD’S secrets, as the same Gabriel did for S. Mary, and Raphael for Tobit. Eighthly,* they ward us from sin: “Then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city.”* Ninthly, they urge us to zeal in GOD’S service: “And the angel of the LORD came again the second time, and touched him, saying, Arise, and eat.”* Tenthly, they rebuke us for sin: “And an angel of the LORD said, Ye have not obeyed my voice; why have ye done this?”*

That there is a special angel entrusted with the guardianship of each person,* over and above that camping of the heavenly hosts around the righteous of which we read in another Psalm,* is a conclusion which Origen draws from the words of those who said, when S. Peter, loosed from prison, knocked at their door, “It is his angel:”* whence he argues that S. Paul must have had another angel, and so the remaining apostles and brethren. And a similar conclusion is drawn from the words of Jacob, “The angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads.”* S. Basil the Great alleges that guardian angels attend only the righteous, and can be driven away from their post by the sins of their charge. “The angel of the LORD,”* says he, “will encamp round about each believer in the LORD, unless we put him to flight by our evil deeds. For as smoke drives bees away, and a fetid smell banishes doves, so lamentable and fetid sin repels the angel of our life.”* And he enforces this statement in another place by citing the words of the prophet, “I will take away her hedge,” which he interprets as a threat to remove the angel-guard.* And S. Peter Damiani inclines to the view that the commencement of this watch over us dates not from our birth, but from our baptism. But the more general opinion is that already given, that every human soul has its particular angel, if not two angels, a good and an evil one, in continual attendance on it. Both these views are found in heathen writers, and a few examples may not be out of place. In the Orphic verses we read:

δαίμονά τʼ ἠγάθεον, καὶ δαίμονα πήμονα θνητῶν.*

The dæmon good, the dæmon ill of men.

Censorinus quotes Euclid, the Socratic philosopher,* and Lucilius, as both holding this view, and it will also be found in the notes of Servius on the Æneid.

The more common pagan view, however, is the same as the usual Christian one, that there is but one genius to each person, and that one favourable.

ἅπαντι δαίμων ἀνδρὶ συμπαρίσταται

εὐθὺς γενομένῳ,* μυσταγωγὸς τοῦ βιοῦ


By every man, as he is born, there stands

A spirit good, a holy guide of life.

And Epictetus, rivalling,* as is usual with him, the tone of Christian thought, observes in language which might almost be that of a Chrysostom or an Ambrose, “GOD has assigned to each individual man a dæmon, as his guardian, and entrusted him to this charge, who never sleeps, and cannot be deceived. For to what stronger or more careful protector could He commit each one of us? Therefore, when you shut the doors, and produce darkness within, remember that you can never say that you are alone, for GOD is within, and is your dæmon.” As regards the two rival angels, it is worthy of mention that this view is as old as the Shepherd of Hermas,* in which it is distinctly laid down.

And an old writer,* meeting the possible objection that there is thus an absolute equilibrium of force, leaving the human will practically unaffected,* teaches us that the bad angel cannot draw near so long as the good one is present to his sight, but that by GOD’S providence the good one is permitted to become sometimes invisible, in order to allow the other to challenge us to battle, and give us an opportunity of combat and victory, but ready to strike in if we begin to faint.

There is a very curious speculation of Origen as to this matter,* which deserves mention. It is that an evil spirit, when once fairly beaten by any man in a struggle, is not allowed to act as a tempter to him or others any longer, but is compelled to go into the abyss, and therefore that every spiritual victory lessens the number of our ghostly foes, and so far hastens the total overthrow of evil, by thinning the ranks of Satan’s army.

It is unnecessary to do more than refer to the beautiful legend of S. Frances of Rome, who is alleged to have been favoured with actual vision of her guardian angel, seeing him withdraw when she fell into voluntary sin, and return on her repentance; and on one occasion, when she had been called away several times from her prayers, and had resumed them only to meet with fresh interruptions, to have found the petition she had again and again commenced, written in her office-book with letters of gold, by no human hand.

They shall bear thee in their hands.* It ought rather to be on their hands, as the LXX. rightly translates it,* as nurses carry infants.* And these hands are the twofold thought they suggest to our minds, the shortness of our trouble here, the eternity of recompense hereafter; or are their understanding and will.* This they do lest men should dash their foot, that is, their affective qualities, and especially love or fear, those two feet of the soul, against any stumbling-block whatsoever, by sinning through either of these. (C.) And there are two especial meanings of the stone, on which they lay stress; first, that it denotes the Law, written on tables of stone, a constant stumbling-block to sinners; and next, that it is CHRIST Himself, the chief Corner-stone, for there were and are many who “stumbled at that stumbling-stone; as it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumbling-stone and rock of offence; and whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.”* We stumble against this stone whenever we sin against His precepts,* or whenever we murmur at Him or are ashamed of Him and of His Cross. But if we be not so, happy are we in our journey, carried by such hands, whether here in our ways, or lifted up at the end of our mortal journey by the same holy guardians into our place of rest. Both these ideas are prominent in the old hymn to the guardian angel:

In each place and time of need

From the foe protect me,

And in thought, and word, and deed,

Evermore direct me.*

Teach, assist me, and incite

To endure temptation,

Guide me in life’s path aright

Till I reach salvation.

When I die, to soothe me speed,

Sweetest comfort giving,

And from every peril freed,

Bring me with the living

Heavenward to the courts of day,

Where, without cessation,

GOD is praised, and where for aye

Is true consolation.

Of the LORD Himself, (A.) S. Augustine tells us He was borne at His Ascension into Heaven by the ministering of angels, yet that His feet, to wit, His Apostles, by whom He travelled into many lands, were still on earth, liable to stumble against the stony tables of the Law, until such time as they were filled with the HOLY GHOST, to give His grace and love, and to cast out the fear which was the one sanction of the elder code.

13 Thou shalt go upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou tread under thy feet.

There is a tradition of great antiquity in the Christian Church that a particular evil spirit is appointed by Satan to make war against the soul of each human being,* and to thwart, as far as may be, the influence of the guardian angel. It is of victory over demons such as these that the verse especially tells us,* for, as a Saint observes,* the good angel is more ready to keep us in the right way than the evil one to cast us headlong into evil. Strength and violence are denoted by the lion, craft and venom by the adder and dragon.* And then comes in CHRIST’S promise to His disciples, “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions,* and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”* Closely allied to this meaning is that which sees in the creatures here named various forms of sin, which men overcome with the help of the angels; (Z.) and a third interpretation, more literally, sees a promise of such protection as was given to Daniel in the den of lions; for CHRIST, the Child who played on the hole of the asp, and put His hand on the cockatrice’* den, can give power like His own to the Saints, as He saith Himself: “In that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground,”* so that will come to pass which Eliphaz the Temanite spake,* “the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee.”* The LXX. and Vulgate read as the four names, the asp and basilisk, the lion and dragon.* There is much variety of explanation, beginning with that of S. Irenæus, which is that the asp, erecting and swelling itself, and making men cold with its bite, is sin; the basilisk, or king-serpent, is death, once sovereign over the world; the lion is Antichrist, and the dragon Satan himself.* S. Bernard takes the asp or adder to be obstinacy, stopping its ears against wholesome counsel; the basilisk to be envy, or the evil eye, (referring to the basilisk’s fabled power of fascination;) the lion to be idle fear, excited by mere roaring; the dragon, with its pestilential breath, to be anger. The beasts also signify the four chief persecutions of the Church; first, that of those deaf adders or asps, the unbelieving Jews; secondly, that of heretics, signified by the basilisk; thirdly, the lion-rage of Pagan hostility; fourth, and worst of all, that of Antichrist. But the most usual interpretation is to see here one and the same enemy of souls,* described in fourfold manner,* according to the arts he employs for the injury of mankind, (Cd.) but in each and all, confronted and dismayed by that promise made to the Saints by the voice of the Apostle:* “The GOD of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.”

14 Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him up, because he hath known my Name.

Here GOD Himself begins to speak,* and counts up the blessings He hath in store for His faithful servants who love Him. The love of GOD, says a holy servant of His, gives liberty, drives fear away, feels no toil, looks to no merit, asks for no reward, refreshes the weary, strengthens the weak, rejoices the sad, nourishes the hungry, makes the fainting cheerful. And such love has its recompense from Him, for He is not loved without reward,* albeit He ought to be loved without looking for it,* for true affection, though no hireling, can never go away empty-handed. And the reward here promised is deliverance, and that, as the lowest grade in an ascending scale, (C.) from temptations and sorrows here in earth, and from the tyrannous bondage of sin, because just as selfish desire chains us,* so true love sets us free, and when our love is purest, and directed to the highest good, then we attain “the glorious liberty of the children of GOD.”* He does not stop short there, but sets on high (A. V.) out of the reach of enemies, so that no fresh captivity is possible to him that hath known His Name; that is, not its mere syllables, but its saving power, its wisdom, its loving-kindness, with close personal intimacy, knowing GOD as shepherd, friend, and Father; a knowledge whereof the Gospel speaks, “I am the Good Shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine.”* That Name of JESUS was hallowed from all eternity, prefigured by them of old time, desired by the Prophets, foretold by the holy Fathers,* named by GOD, announced by the Angel, declared by the Blessed Virgin, witnessed to by the Martyrs, praised by the Confessors, foretasted by the Virgins, exalted by all Saints.

If thou but think upon this Name,*

Warlike array is put to shame,*

And thou shalt conqueror be:

Unto this Name be honour paid,

Which evil spirits, sore afraid,

Dread, and before it quail;

This is the Name which brings salvation,

The only certain consolation

To aid when sad hearts fail.

And that we may be assured hereof,* the LORD JESUS Himself, Who alone perfectly loveth and knoweth the FATHER, was delivered by Him from the power of the grave, and set up in the glory of the Resurrection.

15 He shall call upon me, and I will hear him: yea, I am with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and bring him to honour.

The fruit of the knowledge of GOD is a call in prayer,* and the fruit of that call is that the SAVIOUR will hear. How could any be heard that did not call, or how could he call, if he knew not the Name of GOD? Thanks be to Him Who revealed the FATHER’S Name to men, bestowing the fruit of salvation in the act of calling on Him, as it is written, “Whosoever shall call upon the Name of the LORD shall be delivered.”* He shall call upon Me, and I will hear him. This is the covenant of peace, this is the league of loving-kindness, this is the pact of mercy and compassion. GOD doth not say: He was worthy, righteous, and good, innocent of hand and pure of heart, and I will therefore deliver, protect, and hear him. Had He said this, or aught like it, who would not be afraid? O blessed law, which hath ordained that the mere cry of praying shall have the merit of being heard.* And now let us see what are the results of this hearing on GOD’S part, either as He heard His well-beloved SON, when “in the days of His flesh He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death,* and was heard,” or as He hears us now when the first loud cry of the prayer that SON taught us,* Our FATHER, pierces through the heavens and reaches His mercy-seat: I am with him in trouble; next, I will deliver him; thirdly, I will bring him to honour. These promises correspond to the history of those three most solemn days, Good Friday, when the LORD hung upon the Cross in grievous trouble; Holy Saturday, when He rested peacefully, delivered out of all His pain; and Easter Day, when He arose in glorious honour and strength from the dead. These three days are types of the experience of His elect, in the brief sorrowful life of this world, in the middle state of expectation, in the resurrection of glory with CHRIST. Observe too, that while all the other verbs in these promises are future, one alone is the present tense, I am with him in trouble, teaching us at once that He makes no delay when we are in need, and also that our sorrow is so brief as to be merely passing and instantaneous, having no future.* And how, asks S. Bernard, are we to know that He is with us in trouble? By the very fact that we are in trouble, for we could not bear it if He were not with us to be our stay and consolation. And therefore it is a very true sense of these words to see here, as some do,* a promise of CHRIST’S Incarnation, for “He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”* And then, as Thomas à Kempis beautifully says:* “When any trouble comes upon thee, then CHRIST meets thee with His Cross, and shows thee the road to the kingdom of heaven, whither thou shouldest go.” And it may be noted that GOD does not speak to Job till after all his sufferings, and then comes to him to speak familiarly as friend with friend.* I will deliver him is not spoken now, as it was in the earlier verse, of mere temporal rescue, but of deliverance out of all the troubles of the world, and of salvation from the second death, even though the path of deliverance may be that of martyrdom, (A.) whereof one who attained the palm himself saith,* “As ye do battle, and fight in the combat of faith, GOD Himself looks on, the Angels too, and CHRIST is a spectator also. What lofty glory,* what happiness, to struggle in GOD’S presence, and to be crowned by CHRIST as Judge!” Not martyrs alone, but all His servants, even the humblest and most obscure, brought by Him to honour as kings and priests, shining as the sun in the kingdom of the FATHER, and that for no brief time nor with any imperfect splendour, for the closing promises are—

16 With long life will I satisfy him: and show him my salvation.

That is, as even the Rabbins saw,* with the unending days of eternity, with the full revelation of the face of CHRIST in glory, that Beatific Vision which is the everlasting gladness of ransomed souls.* Show us then Thy salvation, O LORD, and it sufficeth us. For he who sees it, sees Thee, since it is in Thee and Thou in it, and this is life eternal, that we may know Thee the only true GOD, and JESUS CHRIST Whom Thou hast sent.* Thou wilt therefore, O LORD, let Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, when mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, Thy JESUS, our LORD.


Glory be to the FATHER, the Most High; glory be to the SON, His salvation; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, the shadow of the Almighty.

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

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