Catholic Encyclopedia
Church Fathers
Classics Library
Church Documents
Prayer Requests
Ray of Hope
Social Doctrine

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

Gregorian and Monastic. As preceding Psalm. [Monastic. Common of Apostles: They walked in the innocency of their heart, in the midst of Thine house.]

Ambrosian. As Psalm 98.

Parisian. I have set no * wicked thing before mine eyes, whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I destroy.

Mozarabic. In the morning, O LORD, destroy all our sins.

1 My song shall be of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O LORD, will I sing.

The general view of the Rabbinical commentators,* acquiesced in by the great majority of modern critics, is that this Psalm belongs to the commencement of David’s reign, when GOD had shown mercy to him, and wreaked judgment on the house of Saul; when Davids supremacy was fully acknowledged, but whilst much of the work of organization and construction of the new polity remained to be completed;* and that it lays down therefore in regular order the principles of government which the king purposed to apply to himself, (Z.) to his immediate household, to the capital city, and the whole country under his sway. The Greek Fathers appear inclined to assign it to Josiah, with whose character and actions it is in complete accord, but there seems no adequate reason for disputing the authenticity of the title. Its mystical purport, as signifying the holy resolutions of any saint, is confirmed by S. Athanasius and S. Chrysostom, with many others, dwelling frequently on its place, the hundredth Psalm in the LXX. and Vulgate computation, as implying so much. The most usual treatment of it, however, is as a discourse on the qualities and duties of a good king, and there is one commentary upon it, with this end, from the pen of one Antonio Velasquez, a Spanish Jesuit, constituting a folio volume of between four and five hundred pages, published at Antwerp in 1640.

Mercy is set first, (A.) and then judgment, because this life is the time of grace, and the next world the place of sentence; since had the LORD come first as Judge, instead of coming as SAVIOUR, there would have been none able to abide His inquiry, (C.) none capable of receiving a reward. The two attributes are so blended in GOD that we cannot separate them, and therefore despairing sinners may hence learn to hope, proud and obstinate ones to fear.* We are taught too that mercy, the deeds of love and gentleness, almsgiving and other good works, is that which will enable those who have practised it to obtain it themselves in the judgment, so that they shall sing thankfully to GOD; whereas of the hard and pitiless the Apostle tells us, “He shall have judgment without mercy that hath showed no mercy, and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.”* In the mouth of the King, the words denote two great maxims which are to guide his reign. So a heathen poet too:

Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento,*

(Hæ tibi erunt artes) pacique imponere morem,

Parcere subjectis, et debellare superbos.

Thou, Roman, bear in mind to rule with sway

The nations, and to fix the bounds of peace,

(These be thine arts) to spare those once subdued,

And rout in war the proud.

Such ought to be the policy of every Christian ruler,* be he prince or prelate, and of every preacher too, who by mingling in his discourse the threats and promises of the Gospel,* pours oil and wine into the wounds of sinners.* There are some who sing only of His mercy, forgetting His judgment, and say, “Tush, the LORD shall not see, neither shall the GOD of Jacob regard it.”* Others sing only of His judgment, despairing of mercy, and these “have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock,”* while there are some who, careless and at ease, keep silence, singing of neither, “dumb dogs, they cannot bark.”*

2a (2) O let me have understanding: in the way of godliness.

These words are not read as a prayer, but as a promise and resolve, in the other versions. They are connected, by most of the Latin expositors, with the last word of the previous verse, thus: I will play, and I will understand, &c. That is, (D. C.) I will give full heed to the devotion in which I am engaged, my mind shall co-operate with my outward act, “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also,”* and that in the way of sincerity, of contemplation, of obedience to GOD’S commandments,* ways of pleasantness, and paths of peace.

2b (3) When wilt thou come unto me: I will walk in my house with a perfect heart.

The first literal meaning would seem to be David’s longing to bring up the Ark of the Covenant out of the house of Obed-Edom into the newly acquired city of Jerusalem, but this is far from excluding the deeper reference to the personal advent of GOD to the soul, for we read His own promise, “In all places where I record My Name, I will come unto thee, and bless thee.”* Hence the Greek Fathers take the words as a prayer for the triple Advent of CHRIST;* in the flesh,* to each soul as its own SAVIOUR, and to judgment. Some, including S. Jerome, couple the words with the previous verse, reading it without the interrogation, and explaining it, I will understand.… when Thou shalt come to me; (C.) but this is far less striking than the usual rendering, in which David pledges himself to keep the shrine of his house pure and guarded for the Guest he invites. I will walk.* The word denotes the activity, promptness,* and watchful care of a teacher who overlooks his scholars, as the Chaldee paraphrase seems to imply, and of the master of a great household, as one of the most learned of the Rabbins prefers, reminding us how Elisha, after stretching himself on the dead child, “walked in the house to and fro.”* In my house. The LXX. and Vulgate read, in the midst of my house, A. V. within my house.* There are many who appear in public with studied gravity of attire and decorum of mien, yet cast aside restraint in the privacy of home, and show themselves in their true evil colours, but David here promises that no escape from the observation of men shall lead him to forget the presence of GOD.* Some, therefore, take the house here to mean his heart, while others explain it of the Church, which is the dwelling of GOD’S true servants. Yet another view is that this present life is intended, (C.) and Cassiodorus bids us mark the word perambulabam, which the Vulgate reads, I walked through, as teaching us the merely transitory nature of this life, through which we need to walk with a perfect heart, or, as he reads, in the innocency of my heart; the innocency of a dove or of a lamb, types of the HOLY GHOST and of the LORD JESUS.* He walked in a perfect heart, in the absolute stainlessness of His whole life, in the midst of His house, the people of Israel, the land of Judah, the very Temple itself reared in His honour; and that, in His Passion, from scourging to mocking, from mocking to spitting, thence to blows, to the Cross,* to the grave. And it befits all who, as His ministers, preside over any charge, be it kingdom, diocese, community, household, congregation, not to remain shut up in some one corner of that house, not to lie snoring lazily on a soft couch, nor to sit gorging at a luxurious table; but to walk in the midst of the house, seeing to all things affecting those under them, like true Episcopi, or overseers; set over CHRIST’S flock, as keepers of their souls rather than of their bodies. And it is needful that they should walk, not stand still in the midst of the house,* for the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth round about, seeking what he may devour, and therefore a true shepherd must meet him at every point, that he may not force an entrance into the fold. It is not less important to bear the literal sense in mind, that of the duty of every ruler to exhibit his care and forethought first and principally in his own immediate family, “for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of GOD?”*

3 (4) I will take no wicked thing in hand; I hate the sins of unfaithfulness: there shall no such cleave unto me.

The first clause here should run, as in A. V., I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes; words which remind us of the duty of the custody of sight,* by neglect of which one thing David fell from the holiness he had theretofore achieved.* This reference is not done away by the Vulgate reading unjust thing, because one scope of the pledge is the avoidance of all those acts of tyranny and lawlessness into which the possession of absolute power hurries monarchs, and of which the murder of Uriah was a palmary instance. I hate the sins of unfaithfulness. The LXX. and Vulgate, nearly agreeing with A. V., read, I hate them that commit transgressions, that is, who turn aside out of the straight road, and walk crookedly. The king therefore promises not only that he will not set any evil thing before his eyes as an object of desire or a pattern for imitation, but declares his aversion to all who do otherwise.* Cardinal Hugo points out that the plural word here denotes various kinds of violation of law, and he distinguishes them as breakers of the natural, the Mosaic, the Gospel, and the civil code. From the special meaning of the Vulgate prœvaricationes here,* which strictly implies collusion in the law-courts, either by reason of false accusation, or by an advocate betraying his client to the opposite side; one commentator is inclined to see here indicated that part of David’s reform which dealt with unjust judges, removing them from their posts, and subjecting them to heavy punishment. There shall no such cleave unto me. That is, the sins of crookedness and transgression, the substitution of craft and policy for upright dealing, shall make no part of my life.

4 (5) A froward heart shall depart from me: I will not know a wicked person.

The King, after stating the rules which are to govern his own conduct, now proceeds to lay down those for his household. The LXX. and Vulgate, punctuating the verse differently, read thus: There shall not cleave unto me a froward heart, the wicked that departeth from me, I know not.

Theodoret’s explanation of the passage is that the speaker declares that,* by sheer holiness of life,* he will make himself so distasteful to wicked men that they will not merely fail to attach themselves to him with any close intimacy, but will actually shun his society, and treat him as an utter stranger. But the words seem to require rather more, and to imply a direct banishment of such characters by the King.* It is not unfittingly, therefore, that we find the first clause applied to the traitor Judas, (C.) and the latter to those false Christians who have departed from the ways of CHRIST, and of whom He declares, “Many will say in that day,* LORD, LORD, have we not prophesied in Thy Name? and in Thy Name have cast out devils? and in Thy Name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from Me, all ye that work iniquity.”

5a (6) Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour: him will I destroy.

5b (7) Whoso hath also a proud look and high stomach: I will not suffer him.

He proceeds now to specify the classes of persons who shall at once be removed from his court, (L.) the secret intriguer,* and the overbearing noble. He had experienced the effects of slander in the massacre of the priests on the false charge of Doeg; he had known, at the Court of Achish, what it was to be scorned by haughty princes. He knew of slander too, that it is, of all sins, the most repugnant to Divine charity, for, as a Saint has forcibly said, “He who slanders, smites charity with his reviling tongue, and so far as in him lies, slays and quenches it entirely, and not only so, but also in all persons absent, to whom the flying word may chance to come through those who were present.”* And there are four ways of slandering:* denying an unpublished good thing;* disparaging it when made known; publishing a hidden wrong thing; and magnifying it when it comes abroad. We may add to the list, those who readily listen to such conversation, and those who always lean to the harsher interpretation of a doubtful matter. And of all these, one who was most like to CHRIST in his perfect charity, observes, in one of his rare moods of sternness, “The sin of slander is a foe to the fruit of loving-kindness and grace, and hateful to our most loving GOD, for the slanderer feeds on the blood of souls, which he murders with the sword of his tongue.”*

A high stomach, that is, with A. V., a proud heart. The literal Hebrew is a wide heart, and this is turned by the phrase insatiable by the Vulgate, following the LXX. ἀπλήστφ, implying one who is greedy of wealth, rank,* and power. And, taking the words as spoken by CHRIST, we may understand the slanderers of the Jews,* who ascribed His miracles to Satan, the inspiration of His Apostles to drunkenness; while the conceited Greeks and haughty Romans, and all Pagans despising the obscure Eastern sect, are fitly denoted by the proud. I will not suffer him. The LXX. and Vulgate,* I did not eat with him.1 And this refers primarily to the exclusion of such persons from the royal table, (A.) as not suffered to hold any rank in the court entitling them to that distinction. It also holds of being guest as well as host,* according to the warning given to the prophet to refuse the invitation of Jeroboam;* to the counsel of the Apostle as to the mode of dealing with a Christian of evil life, “with such an one no not to eat.”* Mystically, (L.) CHRIST does not eat with the wicked who draw near to His table, because they do not receive the grace and benefit of the Holy Sacrament, albeit physically communicating at that rich banquet of the King.

6a (8) Mine eyes look upon such as are faithful in the land: that they may dwell with me.

6b (9) Whoso leadeth a godly life: he shall be my servant.

The word faithful here,* unqualified by any further expression, denotes, as usual in Holy Writ, fidelity to the Law of GOD, as the true basis of loyalty to an earthly code or sovereign. And as persons of this stamp are to be selected throughout the land, to the exclusion of all inferior qualifications for offices of the court; so the chief amongst them, the immediate minister of the King, shall be he who is not only faithful, but godly. The first verse is well illustrated by the conduct of Constantius Chlorus, when he was Cæsar in Britain, and the edict of Diocletian and Maximian against Christianity was published there. He assembled the Christian officers of his household, and reading the mandate, told them to choose between apostasy and resignation of their employment.* Such as chose the former alternative were immediately dismissed with ignominy, as their sovereign declared he could never trust the fidelity of men who had proved themselves traitors to their GOD. Mystically, the faithful in the land are diversely taken as the Apostles,* over whom GOD’S providential care watched, as they proclaimed the Gospel throughout the world;* or those who are loyal and unshaken while dwelling amongst persons of earthly and carnal minds; or again,* those who are sedulous to guard the purity of their own bodies. That they may dwell with Me. And that here in hope and sanctity of conversation, but in our Country by perfect fruition in the mansions of the FATHER. The LXX., Syriac, Arabic, and Vulgate, however, read, That they sit with Me, (D. C.) at table, in council, in judgment, in participation of good things and of employments.* We may find here the charity of CHRIST, in that He will not sit alone at His board, but saith, like holy Job, “If I have eaten my morsel myself alone.… then let mine arm fall.”* We see also in the word with, His humility, in that He does not set Himself above His guests, but mingles among them, as it is written, “If thou be made the master of a feast, lift not thyself up, but be among them as one of the rest.”* But the interpretation most followed is that which takes the words of CHRIST’S promise to the Apostles,* that they should sit, (A.) with Him, on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.* The two verses may also be taken as the words of a conscientious Bishop, declaring that no considerations of favour or kindred should affect his ordinations, but solely orthodoxy of belief and purity of life on the part of the candidates. And this meaning is almost forced upon us by the LXX. here, using as it does the priestly word ἐλειτούργει at the end of the ninth verse.

7 (10) There shall no deceitful person dwell in my house: he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight.

The parallelism of this verse is obscured by the LXX. and Vulgate, which put he that doeth pride in the first clause. They take the house,* as before, diversely, either as denoting office in the Church of GOD, personal favour and acceptance with CHRIST, or a place in the heavenly Jerusalem, for it is written, “without is whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.”* Shall not tarry in My sight. The Chaldee is yet stronger,* shall not have the power of appearing before Me. The literal Hebrew is given by the margin of A. V., shall not be established, that is, shall have no firm footing, a meaning practically coinciding with the Prayer Book Version. There is an increase of stress in the second paragraph. The crafty and deceitful person, who quibbles, misleads, and equivocates, while avoiding all directly false statements, shall not be suffered to be a permanent inmate in the King’s house; while he that telleth lies shall be altogether banished from the royal presence. The force of this whole clause is much weakened by the LXX. and Vulgate, reading, He that speaketh unjust things hath not gone straight before Mine eyes. This is explained by most to mean,* hath not pleased Me,* but Agellius will have it that it denotes the terror and consequent stumbling of the deceiver when meeting the indignant lighting of the King’s glance of rebuke. Even Pagans could rise to this zeal for truth:

ἐχθρὸς γάρ μοι κεῖνος ὁμῶς ʼΑΐδαο πύλῃσιν

ὃς χʼ ἕτερον μὲν κεύθῃ ἐνὶ φρέσιν, ἄλλο δὲ βάζῃ.*

Hateful to me as gates of hell is he

Who hides one thing within his mind, and speaks


8 (11) I shall soon destroy all the ungodly that are in the land: that I may root out all wicked doers from the city of the LORD.

In the literal sense, S. Basil and Theodoret,* who ascribe the Psalm to Josiah,* remind us of his punishment of the idolatrous priests and purging of the Holy City; while those who allow David’s authorship,* remark that he failed, (Ay.) by his condoning the crimes of Joab, to keep the promise of speedy judgment on the guilty.

For soon,* we should read with all the ancient versions, in the morning, the time of the sitting of courts of law in Eastern countries. (A.) The Chaldee explains this to be the world to come,* bright as the morning, wherein Messiah will destroy His enemies, a meaning adopted by many Christian expositors, who take this passage of the morning of Resurrection and Judgment, marked by the condemnation of the wicked and their final exclusion from the heavenly Jerusalem.

A second view, (C.) taking the words not as spoken by CHRIST, but by any one of His servants, explains them of amendment of sins in the light of GOD’S Word,* and the diligently rooting out of our hearts, (D. C.) His city, every evil passion and thought, every suggestion of our spiritual foes.


Glory be to the FATHER, the GOD of mercy and judgment; glory be to the SON, Who taketh the faithful to dwell with Him; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Who giveth understanding in the way of godliness.

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

Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com