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A Commentary On The Psalms From Primitive and Mediæval Writers Volumes 1 To 4 by Rev. J.M. Neale D.D.

Gregorian. As preceding Psalm. [Circumcision: When the LORD was born * the choir of angels sang; saying, Salvation to our GOD, which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. Ascension: The LORD in Sion, * Alleluia, is great and exalted, Alleluia. Common of Apostles: They kept * His testimonies and His laws, Alleluia. Dedication: Blessed * be the glory of the LORD from His holy place, Alleluia.

Monastic. As preceding Psalm. [Christmas Day: When the LORD was born, the choir of angels sang, saying, Salvation to our GOD, Alleluia. Circumcision: as Gregorian. Epiphany: Three are the gifts which the Wise Men offered to the LORD, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, to the SON of GOD, the Great King, Alleluia. Ascension: as Gregorian. Corpus CHRISTI: The LORD is great in Sion,* Moses and Aaron among His priests. Common of B.V.M.: I went down into the garden of nuts to see the fruits of the valley, to see whether the vine flourished, and the pomegranates budded. Common of Apostles: as Gregorian. Common of Virgins: She girded her loins with strength, and strengthened her arms, therefore her candle shall not go out for evermore. Dedication: as Gregorian.

Ambrosian. As preceding Psalm.

Mozarabic. The LORD is great in Sion, and high above all people.

1 The LORD is King, be the people never so impatient: he sitteth between the cherubims, be the earth never so unquiet.

This is the last of the series of six Royal Psalms, (L.) from 93 to 99 inclusive, (with the omission of 94,) terminating in Psalm 100 as a doxology, which make proclamation of the Kingdom of GOD. Three of them, 93, 97, and 99, make this proclamation in their opening words; but with a certain difference of application.* The first points to the splendour of GOD’S reign, the second to its spread and happiness, the third and last to its resistless power.

Impatient. The LXX. and Vulgate read be angry, the A. V. more correctly, with Syriac and Symmachus, tremble. The word implies quivering with agitation from any cause, and this is translated by S. Jerome simply as moved. But these various shades of meaning all converge in the one thought of GOD’S supremacy, and the uselessness of any human striving against it.* Taking the Psalm, with the Greek Fathers, as a Post-Captivity hymn, the literal reference will be to the setting up of the Theocracy anew in the midst of idolatrous nations, and despite their active resistance. But the Christian expositors, with one voice, read it as a proclamation of the Kingdom of CHRIST.* S. Justin Martyr twice writes it at full length as an indisputable prophecy of the Gospel,* of the reign of that King Whom the Jews rejected in their anger, against Whose new law the Gentiles raged; for, as S. Irenæus observes,* “those who said The Lord hath reigned, let the people be angry, He sitteth upon the cherubim, let the earth be moved, were thus predicting partly that wrath from all nations which after His Ascension came upon those who believed in Him, with the movement of the whole earth against the Church; and partly that fact that when He comes from heaven with His mighty angels, the whole earth shall be shaken, as He Himself declares, ‘There shall be a great earthquake, such as has not been from the beginning.’ ”* How soon this anger and trembling began after the announcement of the new reign, (Z.) the Evangelist may tell us, as he narrates that when “there came Wise Men from the East to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews, for we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him? When Herod the king had heard, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.* And still, whenever GOD gives proof that He is King, either by His undisputed rule in the hearts of His faithful servants, or by His conversion of sinners, or yet again, by granting revival to His Church after a time of sleep and torpor,* after a lowered standard of teaching or of worship: then evil men immediately begin to be angry, and attempt to overthrow His dominion, as we read that after Judas Maccabæus purified the desecrated Temple, and restored the lights, incense, and daily sacrifice, “when the nations round about heard that the altar was built, and the sanctuary renewed as before, it displeased them very much, (C.) wherefore they thought to destroy the generation of Jacob that was among them, and therefore they began to slay and destroy the people.”* (D. C.) There is, however, a good sense in which we may take the words, of that salutary anger against their own sins with which penitents rise up to chastise them, when they have once thoroughly realized that the LORD is King.

He sitteth between the cherubims. (L.) The immediate reference is, of course, to the Mercy-seat in the Holy of holies,* overshadowed by the statues of the cherubim on each side, and brooded over by the mysterious Shechinah. Hence, those commentators who suppose this to be a Davidic Psalm,* explain the verse of David’s capture of the citadel of Sion from the Jebusites, (Ay.) and his transfer of the Ark thither from the house of Obed-Edom, a type of the victory of CHRIST’S kingdom. But we are not limited to this sense, for the word between does not stand in the original, which rather requires upon or above.* And then we come to the visions of Ezekiel and Daniel,* whence we pass to the thought of the Ascension and enthronement of the LORD JESUS, “for,”* as S. John Chrysostom teaches us, “it was not enough for His perfect glory to pass into the heavens, nor to take His stand with the Angels; but He passed through the heavens, ascended above the Cherubim, was exalted beyond the Seraphim, and stayed not till He had attained the throne of the LORD.” (A.) Above the cherubim, wisest of all creatures, because their knowledge, vast and measureless by us though it be, is yet finite,* acquired by the process of thought, and derived, whereas perfect knowledge of all things is inherent, without effort, in the nature of GOD.

Will He stay Him where the Cherubs, of created things most wise,

Ponder in rapt meditation on the heavenly mysteries?

Nay, for He, Eternal Wisdom, Sole-begotten, Uncreate,

Is the source of all those marvels upon which they meditate.

Ever onward, ever higher, passes He those ranks above,

Where the Seraphs are on fire with the flame of endless love,

Passes them, for not e’en Seraphs ever loved so well as He,

Who hath borne, for His beloved ones, stripes, and scorn, and shameful Tree.

S. Augustine tells us that we too, (A.) by having within us the fulness of knowledge, become spiritually cherubim, and make our souls a throne for GOD. And to the first question how man, with his finite capacities, can obtain this fulness of knowledge, seeing that he is ignorant of even such matters as the visible facts of creation; the Saint replies that the meaning for us is simply a perfect knowledge of GOD’S law. But, again, this raises a difficulty for the unlearned and the scrupulous. How can they tell that they do know that law fully? The answer is of the briefest. “Love is the fulfilling of the law.”* Let the earth be moved. (LXX. Vulg. A. V.) Not merely does this mean that no shaking of the earth, (L.) no tumult of the nations, can make that throne totter which is borne up by cherubim, but it is a command to earth to stand in awe of the LORD,* and a warning to those who have heretofore been firmly rooted in earthly sin, who were unshaken in obstinacy, stablished in ungodliness, fixed in error, that they should now cast themselves loose from all such hold, and anchor themselves on the love of GOD;* and that Israel, in particular, should pass from the carnal law to the spiritual Gospel. And it is well said be moved, for the sinner cannot move of himself. No feeble hand can stir that earth, for it is heavy and firm; as it is written, “A stone is heavy, and the sand weighty; but a fool’s wrath is heavier than them both.”* Wherefore the Prophet cries thrice, “O earth, earth, earth, hear the Word of the LORD,”* yield thyself to be moved by the ploughshare of His teaching, that thou mayest bring forth fruit for Him.

2 The LORD is great in Sion: and high above all people.

First,* because in Sion, as the central and holy city of Judaism, the Name of GOD was magnified, and His will revealed in the prophets, and then because it was from Sion that the Gospel law went forth, when the WORD of GOD Himself appeared in human form in the midst of Jerusalem, (Z.) and wrought there miracles which were to be noised abroad among all people; (C.) especially that crowning one of the mysterious Sacrament of His Body and Blood,* which destroys idolatry wherever it is made known. Thence it comes that He is great too in the spiritual Sion of His waiting and watching Church on earth,* diffused amongst all nations, ever exalting His Majesty.

3 They shall give thanks unto thy Name: which is great, wonderful, and holy.

The FATHER’S Name is great, for He is the Source, the Creator,* the LORD of all; the SON’S Name is wonderful, for He is Eternal Wisdom, and it is terrible (LXX. Vulg. A. V.) for He is to be our Judge; the Name of the HOLY GHOST, is holy, for He it is Who bestows hallowing and sanctification. The Hebrew commentators see here the mystic Tetragrammaton יהוה,* whose true pronunciation was kept a profound secret by the Rabbins, owing to a feeling of awful reverence; while the Greeks are precise in bidding us take it of that Name which is terrible to GOD’S enemies, (Cd.) holy to His friends, and great to both, the Name of JESUS.

Tis the Name by right exalted

Over every other name:*

That when we are sore assaulted

Puts our enemies to shame;

Strength to them that else had halted,

Eyes to blind, and feet to lame.

To this Name we give thanks, (Z.) not too curiously inquiring into the mystery of the Incarnation, but gratefully rejoicing in the blessings it has brought us.* And S. Bonaventura, in his Life of S. Francis, tells us that whenever the Saint,* in the course of his reading aloud, had occasion to pronounce the Name of JESUS, he lingered on the sound with a tender, loving emphasis, and with a musical ring in his tone unheard at other times; and that he was scrupulous to let no fragment of writing which had those syllables in it, lie neglected on the ground or be put to any servile use.

4 The King’s power loveth judgment; thou hast prepared equity: thou hast executed judgment and righteousness in Jacob.

The sudden change in the construction in the first clause here from the second person to the third, and then back again, has induced some critics to connect the verse closely with the preceding, especially as it begins in the Hebrew with And, omitted or misplaced by both English versions, but rightly put by LXX. and Vulgate: And the King’s power loveth judgment. The order then will be, They shall give thanks unto Thy Name, because it is holy, and to Thy royal might, for it loves justice. There is, however, a slight difficulty in the way.* The word Holy at the end of the third verse does not belong, as an epithet, to Name, but directly to GOD Himself. It is a refrain, He is Holy, and it recurs at the end of the fifth and ninth verses, thus making the Tersanctus, in honour of Him Who was, and is, and is to come, the Trinity in Unity. But if we take this refrain here as a pure intercalation, not interrupting the structure of the sentence and the flow of thought, we may still connect the first part of the verse with the give thanks of the preceding one.* The commentators have various explanations of this love of judgment here attributed to GOD, (C.) besides that first and obvious sense of His own inherent essential righteousness. Thus one will have it that GOD loves judgment, because He does not choose to be worshipped out of mere caprice and without due thought, but with a reasonable,* meditative, intelligent service. Again, He loves impartiality and fair dealing amongst men;* He loves, yet more, that sinners should sit in judgment on their own sins, and condemn them, and making confession and satisfaction, (C.) achieve full repentance. He loves the clear preaching of His Gospel, the declaration of His doings for mankind. Thou hast prepared equity, Thou hast executed judgment and righteousness. These words recur in the Proverbs, where the instruction of wisdom is explained as being “justice, and judgment, and equity;”* whence it is clear that some noteworthy distinction exists between the terms. The Carmelite points out that the precepts of the Mosaic code may all be reduced under three heads of moral, (Ay.) judicial, and ritual statutes, and declares that these are what GOD established in Jacob.* A writer of a later day suggests that the first term applies to regulations for promoting peace and amity; the second, to all matters of jurisprudence, especially in criminal law; the third, to contracts and bargains between man and man. He executed judgment in Jacob, when He punished His people by captivity, (R.) and righteousness when He brought them again out of Babylon,* pardoned and restored. He did the like, judging Jacob by the hands of Vespasian and Hadrian; He will do the like, righteously granting restoration to the remnant of Israel when the fulness of the Gentiles has come in.

5 O magnify the LORD our GOD: and fall down before his footstool, for he is holy.

The first reference is to the Ark,* just below the Mercy-seat of the Temple of Jerusalem, the special place of GOD’S abode under the Law,* and it is now a call to worship in any of the countless churches dedicated in His honour under the Gospel.* The Vulgate reading, however, is Worship His footstool, for it is holy; although there is a variant, agreeing with LXX. He is holy. And for the most part,* they agree in explaining this footstool to be the Sacred Humanity of CHRIST, “For GOD, being exalted, and bowing all creation under His feet, became unchangeably, Man, united to our nature, which is His footstool.”* We adore Him indivisibly, because, although His human Body is a created thing, yet it is inseparably joined to the eternal Godhead and the WORD. And observe, that whereas the Word of GOD lay within the Ark,* inscribed on the stone tables of the Law, so the living WORD was enshrined in the true Ark of the Covenant, the Manhood of the LORD JESUS. Others,* looking to that saying, “The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool,”* bid us see here either Golgotha,* the spot which lay below the feet of our crucified LORD, or the Cross itself, that hard footstool, to which His sacred feet were nailed. (Z.) There is a further sense, which S. Augustine discusses at length. (A.) How can we, asks the Saint, adore the earth, GOD’S footstool,* when Scripture plainly says, “Thou shalt worship the LORD thy GOD?”* I am in doubt; I fear to worship the earth, lest He Who made heaven and earth should condemn me. Again, I am afraid not to worship my LORD’S footstool because the Psalm tells me, Worship His footstool. In my hesitation I turn to CHRIST, for I seek Himself here, and I find how the earth can be worshipped without impiety. For He took earth from earth, for flesh is of earth, and He took Flesh from the flesh of Mary. And because He walked here in that flesh, and gave us that very Flesh to eat for our salvation; and no one eats that Flesh unless he first worship, a way is found whereby this footstool of the LORD can be worshipped; and we not only do not sin in worshipping, but we sin if we do not worship. Does the flesh then quicken? The LORD Himself said when He was speaking to teach concerning the same earth, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing.”* Therefore, when thou bowest and prostratest thyself before that earth, look not upon It as earth, but that Holy One whose footstool thou worshippest, for it is for His sake thou dost worship.

Of this most holy Sacrament the Ark of the Covenant was a type; (L.) for it was framed of incorruptible wood; it had above it the golden Mercy-seat, sustained by cherubim, it had within it the priestly rod of Aaron, the pot of manna, the tables of the Law; it was by its presence and might that the people passed over Jordan, and the walls of Jericho fell down; it was death for the profane to touch it, stand near it, or even look upon it, and it was treated with holy reverence by the Hebrews.* Cardinal Hugo and Ayguan enumerate many other footstools of the LORD, (Ay.) as the Blessed Virgin, the Church, the Angels, the land of Israel, the souls of the penitent; and all those enemies of CHRIST whom the FATHER makes His footstool, by casting them bound at His feet,* as the discrowned Valerian lay before his conqueror Sapor.

6 Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among such as call upon his Name: these called upon the LORD, and he heard them.

Richard of S. Victor, reminding us that Moses appears chiefly as Legislator,* Aaron as Priest, and Samuel as Prophet, bids us see in them the types of the discretion, devotion, and foresight, which befit all true servants of GOD. But two other views show lessons of warning, rather than of encouragement, from the mention of these names. To the Jews,* rejecting the kingdom of CHRIST, they recall the memory of the rebellion against the two great brothers in the wilderness, the demand for a King like those of the nations around, in the place of the Theocracy. To us,* should we indulge in spiritual pride, the same names tell of the deaths on Hor and Nebo, outside the Land of Promise, in punishment of the hasty words and acts of Moses and Aaron at the waters of strife; and of the fall and apostasy of Samuel’s sons. It is to be noticed that Moses is certainly, and Samuel perhaps by implication,* included here amongst the priests. (L.) It is clear that the former discharged all the chief sacerdotal functions until, and inclusive of,* the consecration of Aaron and his sons,* and Samuel (whose genealogy is variously ascribed to Ephraim and the Kohathite family of Levi,*) if he did not actually offer sacrifice himself,* as the literal wording of one passage seems to imply, at any rate attended to utter prayers and blessings at the oblation;* and it is as a man of prevalent might in prayer that he,* the “Heard of GOD,” most frequently comes before us in Holy Writ,* albeit many of the Fathers held that he was a Priest too,* by special dispensation of the LORD. The names too, in their special meaning, show us how these three great Saints serve as types of different faculties of the faithful soul.* Moses, “drawn out” of the waters, tells of withdrawal from worldly pleasure and cares; Aaron, “shining light,” of intense illumination by the grace of GOD; Samuel, “asked, or heard of GOD,” perseverance and victory in prayer, whence we see,* moreover, (Ay.) that the qualities, as well as the offices, of these three rulers of Israel converge in that LORD JESUS on Whom they called in prayer long centuries before He came in the flesh.* He not only heard them,* as the Prayer Book version reads,* but answered them (Targ. Syr. A. V.) as we find again and again declared in Scripture, whence S. Jerome draws the lesson,* that it is no light or easy thing to call effectively on GOD, but an effort which tasks the powers of His most perfect servants.

7 He spake unto them also out of the cloudy pillar: for they kept his testimonies, and the law that he gave them.

So we read, (L.) “And the LORD said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak unto thee, and believe thee for ever.”* And again: “As Moses entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar descended, and the LORD talked with Moses.” Once more, “The LORD came down in the pillar of the cloud,* and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Moses.” There is no express testimony of the same kind touching Samuel;* but there is a Rabbinical tradition that a pillar of cloud stood at his door,* when Saul and the servant went to inquire of him for the lost asses. Others suggest that the darkness of the night when GOD first revealed Himself to the child Samuel in the tabernacle may be here referred to;* or again,* that the oracular vision commonly manifested itself amidst the smoke of the incense in the Holy place.* But in the deepest mystical sense, (Ay.) that cloudy pillar out of which GOD spake was Eternal Wisdom, Who saith, “My throne is in a cloudy pillar,* Who veiled Himself in type and figure under the Law, and was seen shrouded in the form of a Man under the Gospel,* that form wherein He is “a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall;”* and is the pillar which supports the whole building of the Church. For they kept His testimonies,* in observing the ceremonial code which He delivered,* and the law which He gave them in the Decalogue for their moral guidance. Or, as another will have it, the testimonies are the common regulations binding on all, (C.) while the law given to them refers to the special instructions conveyed to Moses and Aaron for the right government of the people. To us it has a different meaning: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another, as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”* And upon this follow the two promises: “He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me; and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My FATHER, and I will love him, and manifest Myself to him;”* and again, “If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”*

8 Thou heardest them, O LORD our GOD: thou forgavest them, O GOD, and punishedst their own inventions.

There are two varying explanations of this verse. That which is more profoundly spiritual, (A.) and also simpler as a matter of construction, is that which refers the whole verse to Moses, Aaron, and Samuel; and points out that in nothing did He show His love and regard for them more than in chastising them for their sins—Moses for his anger at the rock, Aaron for his making the golden calf, Samuel for repeating the error of Eli in permitting the misconduct of his sons. By all the trials and contradictions they all bore at the hands of the rebellious people, by the exclusion of Moses and Aaron from the Holy Land, by the deposition of Samuel from his rank as Judge, GOD purified them from their sins, and scourged them as a loving FATHER.* The other view, adopted by the Greeks, and by many others, refers all the latter clause not to the three great Saints, (Z.) but to the whole people of Israel who murmured and rebelled against them, and who were punished on the one hand by the fire and plague in the wilderness, and on the other by the tyranny of Saul, contrasted with the gentle sway of the Theocracy. But in either case there is a profound lesson to be drawn from the close connection of the two words, (D. C.) forgavest and punishedst, teaching us that GOD’S pardon of sin is proved by His chastisements, as we read in Nathan’s address to David, “The LORD also hath put away thy sin, thou shalt not die. Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.”* And this GOD does not only for the immediate correction of sin, (C.) but for the perfecting of holiness;* as it is written by the Apostle: “Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given unto me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to afflict me, lest I should be exalted above measure.”

9 O magnify the LORD our GOD, and worship him upon his holy hill: for the LORD our GOD is holy.

This the Rabbins explain as a summons to the solemn rites celebrated on Mount Moriah,* whence it is transferred by Christians to the Church Universal,* high upon the holy hills, and to “Mount Sion, the city of the living GOD, the heavenly Jerusalem.”* This is the mountain which began as a stone cut out without hands, (A.) and which grew into a great mountain that filleth the whole earth,* a mountain upon which they only worship who are in the Catholic Church. And as this Church is the mystical Body of CHRIST,* so His sacred Humanity, His natural Body, is also the holy hill of GOD, wherein and whereby alone we worship, (Ay.) and that in the lofty spirit of a true and exalted faith,* for the Lord, our God is Holy, thrice Holy, as we find Him named in this Psalm, and in His pure worship are found none of the foul rites and dark superstitions of the heathen.


Glory be to the FATHER, the LORD our GOD; glory be to the SON, Who loveth judgment; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Whose Name is Holy.

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

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