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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.

Monastic and Ambrosian. Let the heart of them rejoice * that seek the LORD.

Parisian. Remember * the marvellous works that He hath done; His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth.

Mozarabic. First portion: Seek the LORD, and be strong; seek His face evermore. Second portion: He opened the rock of stone, and the waters flowed out: so that rivers ran in the dry places.

This Psalm is counted by the LXX. and Vulgate (which transfer the closing Alleluia of the previous one to the title of this) as the first of the Alleluiatic Psalms, the others of which are in the Hebrew text, 106, 111, 112, 113, 115, 116, 117, 135, 146, 147, 148, 149, and 150; to which the LXX. and Vulgate add, 107, 116, v. 10–11, 118, 119, 136, and 147, v. 12.* There is a tradition, preserved by the Pseudo-Epiphanius, that the custom of chanting the Alleluia at the beginning or end of a Psalm was introduced into the ritual of the Second Temple by the Prophet Haggai;* and its adoption into the services of the Christian Church in its untranslated form is due to the Hebraistic tone of the Apocalypse. The present Psalm is an augmented edition of one composed by David on the occasion of bringing up the Ark into Jerusalem, as set down in 1 Chron. 16:8–22, which coincides almost word for word with the first fifteen Verses of this one; the latter part of which is partly new, and partly a cento made up from other Psalms, notably 78, which seems to have been produced somewhat earlier. It is by no means improbable that the reference to Joseph in the Psalm may glance at the analogous position of Nehemiah under Artaxerxes, and urge present obedience to the Persian rule in the hope of a new deliverance like that under Moses. And it is noteworthy that from the first emigration under Zerubbabel, encouraged by Cyrus, until the full establishment of the priestly kingdom of the Maccabees (the nearest reproduction of the original Mosaic polity in the history of Israel) is nearly four hundred years, a period sufficiently close to that of the sojourn in Egypt to bring out the analogy with much exactness.

In the account of the festival of the translation of the Ark, already referred to, the part of this Psalm which occurs is followed, without any break,* by the first edition of Psalm 96, and there is a Jewish tradition that the two were sung daily before the Ark, this one in the morning, and Psalm 96. in the evening, until the dedication of Solomon’s Temple.* At a later time Ps. 105. was in use on the first day of the feast of Tabernacles. Besides its classification amongst the Alleluiatics,* it is also marked as the first of the Hodu, or “O give thanks”* Psalms,* of which the remainder are 107, 118, and 136.

1 O give thanks unto the LORD, and call upon his Name: tell the people what things he hath done.

2 O let your songs be of him and praise him: and let your talking be of all his wondrous works.

There are three ways in which man should open his month in the honour of GOD;* first, in the utterance of His praise, O give thanks; secondly, in the accusation of self, call upon His Name; thirdly, in the edification of one’s neighbour, tell the people. And the various grades of such homage are here set down; for we may give thanks secretly in spirit, without voice, but call upon His Name adds utterance, songs implies cheerfulness, praise (or rather play instruments, LXX., Vulg.,) active works, talking of all His wonders teaches us that our laud is to begin with the very outset of creation, and to continue for all time. (C.) Yet it is clear that we cannot talk of all His wondrous works, for they surpass human knowledge and utterance. But the words teach us that we should not hold back or be silent about any of them which we do know.* Thus, fear was unable to impose silence on Peter and John, when they said, “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard;”* shame could not stop Paul, who exclaimed, “GOD forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our LORD JESUS CHRIST;”* and warned his convert Timothy, “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our LORD, nor of me His prisoner.”* And whereas there are many wondrous works of the LORD JESUS, yet three stand out pre-eminently, in that He made GOD to be man, a Virgin to be a Mother, the heart to be faithful. And accordingly, on the morning of the Nativity the Church cries aloud, “O sing unto the LORD a new song, for He hath done marvellous things.”* And the music in GOD’S honour,* they tell us, (Ay.) is made in three ways, with harp, flute, and voice, signifying action of the hand, breathing out the soul in devout prayer, uttering articulate praise, and that with a range of seven notes, beginning in the low tone of perfect submission, and then, in ascending concord, humility of heart, mortification of the flesh, compassion, consolation, prayer, and devotion.

3 Rejoice in his holy Name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the LORD.

4 Seek the LORD and his strength: seek his face evermore.

It is, observes an ancient writer, that first true joyous Alleluia which burst forth on the Day of Pentecost,* when the inspired Apostles told the people what things their LORD had done, and counselled them, especially those who come from heathen countries, saying, “Seek not to be praised for the power of your kings, or for the might of your wars, but laying aside ‘the arrows of the bow, the shield, the sword, and the battle,’ take unto you peace, and unite unto your name CHRIST, Whom we preach unto you, that ye, who are now called Gentiles, may be called Christians, and be praised in His holy Name (Vulg.,) and your heart may rejoice because ye have sought and found the LORD.”* (L.) So the Apostles themselves, after their imprisonment and scourging, “departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His Name.”* The term seek the Lord implies something more than acknowledging Him as the true GOD,* to wit, such a confession of Him as to induce the worshipper to obey the Mosaic rule, and make a pilgrimage to the sacred place where stood the Ark, where alone the sacrificial rites of the Aaronic priesthood could be performed,* and where only in consequence, the strength and the face of the LORD could be known upon earth. (A.) To us, therefore, the words are an exhortation to seek CHRIST Himself,* the Presence of GOD, in Whom alone we can be made strong, (Z.) and even when we have found Him, to go on seeking Him for evermore, as in His infinity there is always fresh matter for love, wonder and devotion, and we can never exhaust His perfections. He is to be sought without end, because He is to be loved without end, and even when He is known to be present, He is to be longed after with perpetual affection, lest He should absent Himself. We may seek Him in many ways, but especially in meditation,* prayer, Scripture reading, and those good works whereby we imitate His life on earth.* “In simplicity of heart seek Him,” the Wise Man counsels, for there is a seeking which is not good, as of Herod when he sought to slay Him, of Judas and the soldiers when they sought to lay hold of Him, but “He will be found of them that tempt Him not, and showeth Himself unto such as do not distrust Him.”* Wherefore “seek ye the LORD while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near;”* for His own promise to us is, “Seek, and ye shall find,”* as the shepherds found Him in the manger, His Mother in the Temple, the dying thief upon the Cross, Mary Magdalene in the garden, the disciples on the way to Emmaus.* And observe, too, that it is said, Seek His Face; whereas He showed Moses only His back parts; in token that we are to look not to His mere temporal gifts, but to the glories which are beyond. So, if we do not wish to meet His rebuke, “Ye seek Me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled,”* we must say with the Apostle, “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark of the high calling of GOD in CHRIST JESUS.”* And then, whosoever once possesses GOD,* cannot be tortured by fear, nor deceived by treachery, nor suffer want, nor can fail in fulness of love, for GOD will never forsake one that loves Him, nor suffer a stronger to overcome him.* And observe that the word seek is thrice used here, for under the Law the Jews were obliged to present themselves thrice a year before the LORD, at the Passover, the feast of weeks, and the feast of tabernacles. And we too should seek the face of the Ever-blessed Trinity, the SON in His own new Paschal oblation, the HOLY GHOST in the fires of Pentecost, the FATHER when we enter into our Country, and bear the palm-branches there in token of victory and rest, of a conquered world, and an eternal inheritance. (L.) To the first seeking rejoicing is linked, to the second strength, to the third perseverance for evermore, and thus the state of beginners,* advancers, and those made perfect in grace is shadowed forth, and we may well pray for continuance to the end in the way of salvation, taking as our own the words of one of the greatest of penitent Saints: “O LORD my GOD, my one Hope, hearken unto me, lest I should be too weary to seek Thee,* but let me seek Thy face with fervour evermore. Thou, Who hast made Thyself capable of being found, and hast more and more bestowed the hope of finding Thee, (A.) give me strength to seek Thee.” Faith has already found Him, but Hope seeks Him still, and Love, which found Him by faith, desires to behold Him in open vision. “And I think,” comments S. Bernard, “that there will be no end of that seeking Him when He is found. For GOD is not sought with footsteps, but with longings, And that happy finding does not crush holy longing, but increases it. For surely the consummation of joy is not the consummation of longing.”* And therefore Divine Wisdom saith, “They that eat Me shall yet be hungry, and they that drink Me shall yet be thirsty.”*

5 Remember the marvellous works that he hath done: his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth,

6 O ye seed of Abraham his servant: ye children of Jacob his chosen.

The Psalmist trains the babes in faith by recalling to their mind the mighty things done for the patriarchs their forefathers; (A.) and as their unaccustomed eyes could no more look on the Face of GOD than on the sun in full orb, he bids them look at those great acts which shadow forth the LORD’S power and goodness.* By wonders, they understand the miracles wrought on behalf of the children of Israel, and by judgments of His mouth the plagues sent upon the Egyptians;* or else the precepts of the Law, so that the power of GOD is set forth by the former term, and His wisdom by the latter. Under the covenant of grace the words are addressed to the Apostles,* the true spiritual seed of Abraham,* the friend of GOD, for the GOD-Man said unto them, “Ye are My friends,”* the true children of Jacob, a more glorious chosen twelve,1 who were to bear in mind the wonders of His Incarnation, Resurrection, and Ascension, and to preach the judgments of His mouth, as delivered in the Gospels, to all nations of the world.* The words are spoken to us also, children of Abraham in faith, and as the Apostle teaches us, by the examples of Ishmael and Esau, that this is not enough, children of Jacob also, the wrestler against sin, who prevailed with GOD, and won the name of Israel; for it is not enough to be children of Abraham by faith, unless we be also children of Jacob by works.* And those of us who are such, may well bear in mind CHRIST’S marvels of justifying grace, His wonders in raising dead souls to life, the judgments of His mouth in teaching us how mercifully He will judge repentant sinners, saying, “Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more.”* And in a special sense we may understand the seed of Abraham, who left his country and kindred at the call of GOD, and the children of Jacob, who served obediently in a strange land for a long delayed reward, to represent the votaries of the Religious Life, whose peculiar task is constant meditation on the wonderful works of GOD.

7 He is the LORD our GOD: his judgments are in all the world.

He, (C.) Whom the Jews rejected and crucified, Whom they counted a mere man, is the LORD our GOD, and His judgments,* no longer taught to the Hebrew race alone, no longer confined within the narrow limits of Judæa, are in all the world, (A.) because that Catholic Church which He has founded has spread amongst all nations. And yet this very fact has its terrors for us.* His judgments, in the matter of punishment, were more frequent and heavy amongst the Jews than upon the Gentiles, because the latter were never chastised for breaches of the positive and ceremonial law, of which they were ignorant; but we, who have been taught the Gospel, are liable to be beaten with many stripes if we disregard it.

8 He hath been alway mindful of his covenant and promise: that he made to a thousand generations;

9 Even the covenant that he made with Abraham: and the oath that he sware unto Isaac;

10 And appointed the same unto Jacob for a law: and to Israel for an everlasting testament;

The actual history of the Israelites,* who did not enter on the possession of the land of Canaan till the fourth generation from the time of Jacob, and were deprived of it, after a comparatively brief enjoyment, for a season; and then, after a second trial, permanently exiled,* teaches us that we must look for a more enduring covenant, a more precious and divine blessing, as signified here,* made to a thousand generations, the number denoting multitude of offspring and fulness of time. That promise is the WORD (Heb. LXX. Vulg.), Whose throne is for ever and ever;* made known unto Jacob, the struggling Hebrew people, only under the types and shadows of the Law, (L.) but to Israel, the name not of birth but of blessing, belonging to the Christian faithful, in the everlasting testament of the Gospel dispensation. (Ay.) And observe how fittingly CHRIST is revealed to these especial Patriarchs, of whom the first is a type of lowly obedience, the second of patience, the third of endurance of toil, all which qualities we find in the highest degree united in their mighty descendant. These Patriarchs are twice divinely singled out as representatives of all believers and Saints,* once m the Old Testament, and again in the New. GOD spake to Moses, saying, “I am the GOD of thy father, the GOD of Abraham, the GOD of Isaac, and the GOD of Jacob.”* CHRIST said to His disciples, “Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”* And that because the first is a type of faith; the second, so unexpectedly bestowed on his aged parents, of hope; the third, who toiled so long and faithfully for Rachel, of charity. Moreover, GOD, in declaring Himself the GOD of these three, has revealed Himself as Trinity in Unity, which the several names indicate: Abraham, “father of nations,” telling us of the First Person; Isaac, “laughter,” of the Second, the Joy of the whole earth; Israel, “prince with GOD,” of the Third, that Princely Spirit, Who is with GOD and is GOD.

11 Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan: the lot of your inheritance;

Unto thee, (L.) for the promise was separately renewed to each of the three Patriarchs,* and as the land of Canaan is a type of the heavenly country, so this word thee teaches us that the free gift is not merely a corporate one, but is proffered by GOD to each individual separately, inasmuch as each of us enters separately into covenant with Him in Baptism, and is promised such full and perfect possession that it can be truly spoken of by each Christian as though bestowed on him only as its sole possessor, while the notion of fellowship therein is recalled by the latter phrase your inheritance. And so S. Peter Damiani, singing of the joys of Paradise:

And though each for divers merits there hath won a various throne;* Yet their love for one another maketh what each loves his own, Every prize to all is common, yet belongs to each alone.

For lot, the Hebrew, followed by LXX. and Vulgate, has cord, i.e. the measuring line with which boundaries are marked out. (C.) But one commentator tells us that it is a type of the tightly entwined sorrows of this world, which the LORD untwisted on the Cross.* And note that Canaan means “lowland,” a significant name, meaning that heaven is intended only for the lowly and humble of heart.

12 When there were yet hut a few of them: and they strangers in the land;

They were but three, when the promise was first given, (L.) with no settled habitation; they were, even under the leadership of Joshua, but a handful against the seven nations whom they overcame and drove out; well acquainted as these must have been with all the mountain passes and strongholds, (Ay.) whence advantage could be taken of the invader. And m like manner the scanty band of the Apostles, unlearned and ignorant men, driven out from Judæa, the country of their birth, and strangers in the land of the Gentiles, preached the Word in defiance of prisons, scourges, torture, and death, so that their martyrdoms did but increase the number of the faithful and bring the world into subjection to the Cross.* And more wonderful than either is the manner in which GOD has chosen His little flock of the elect out of the world, and bestowed on them an eternal inheritance, and that when each one of us is, as it were, attended by very few companions,* slenderly equipped with virtues and good works, and clinging to but a few great truths.

That we should look, poor wanderers,*

To have our home on high,

That worms should seek for dwellings

Beyond the starry sky!

To all one happy guerdon,

Of one celestial grace;

For all, for all, who mourn their fall,

Is one eternal place.

13 What time as they went from one nation to another: from one kingdom to another people;

14 He suffered no man to do them wrong: but reproved even kings for their sakes;

The literal sense refers to the journeyings of Abraham and Isaac in Gerar and in Egypt, (A.) to Jacob’s wanderings in Padan-Aram, Edom, and Egypt also, and the manner in which Abimelech of Gerar and Pharaoh of Egypt were restrained from doing any wrong to them,* while Abraham’s defeat of the confederate kings,* and Jacob’s ultimate triumph over the artifices of Laban are also suggested to the memory. Mystically,* the words teach us of the pilgrimage of the Saints towards the Land of promise,* when, in the process of conversion and sanctification, they pass from the “sinful nation, a nation laden with iniquity,”* from the kingdom of the evil one, to another people, that “blessed people whose GOD is the LORD,”* “an holy nation, a peculiar people.”* And these GOD preserves, so that no efforts of the ungodly to root them out by persecution can avail, nor can even torture and death really harm such as have the doors of heaven thereby opened to them, since their enemies, who slew the body, have no power at all against the soul. He reproved even kings for their sakes, as when He smote Herod with worms; when, as Lactantius tells us, Nero was slain and left unburied;* Decius ‘defeated and killed in battle; Valerian made captive, mocked, and flayed alive; Aurelian murdered by his own domestics; Diocletian mad; Maximian strangled; Maximin Daia poisoned; Maxentius drowned in flying from the rout of his army; Licinius stripped of the purple by Constantine and put to death; without counting up the similar histories of succeeding ages.

15 Touch not mine Anointed: and do my prophets no harm.

There is greater emphasis given to the first clause here by the Vulgate, which merely transliterates the LXX. and reads My Christs.* As no literal anointing, either in the capacity of kings or of priests,* was conferred on the three Patriarchs named,* it is conceded on all hands that the word is used of them here in a spiritual sense only;* either in their character of Prophets, or as being, by anticipation and vision, Christians, and thus having “an unction from the Holy One,”* and being made kings and priests unto Him,* Whose day they saw, and were glad. The prohibition did not cease with the lives of these three, but extends through all time to the Christs of the LORD, all Christians,* and especially priests and religious, vowed to Him by especial consecration. And do My prophets no harm. The title of Prophet is given to Abraham in the only passage which seems to embody the substance of this verse (which, (A.) as S. Augustine observes, is nowhere else written down in express terms, and must thus have been spoken secretly): “Now, therefore, restore the man his wife, for he is a prophet.”* Isaac’s gift of prophecy appears in his blessings of Jacob and Esau; Jacob’s m his benediction of Ephraim and Manasseh, and his dying charge to his twelve sons.* They warn us that it is possible to break this commandment of the LORD even now, by wresting and misinterpreting, like Jews and heretics, the prophecies of Holy Writ.

16 Moreover, he called for a dearth upon the land: and destroyed all the provision of bread;

He called for dearth, (A.) as though it were a person, a servant waiting His bidding, for He “calleth those things which be not as though they were,”* albeit it may possibly imply an Angel of famine, like the Angel of pestilence of whom we read in Scripture; but in any case the word teaches us that all things which happen do so by the will and commandment of God, and not by hazard.* And it is well for us to remember that He does not always summon an agent of punishment,* for He says Himself in another place, “I will call for the corn and increase it, and will lay no famine upon you.”* All the provision of bread. More literally, as S. Jerome and A. V., the whole staff of bread, implying all the support and strength given to man by food, (A.) a notion sufficiently marked by the LXX. στήριγμα and the Vulgate firmamentum. It is here implied that the immediate object of this dearth was to bring about the migration of the Hebrews into Egypt, as a similar cause had previously influenced Abraham and Isaac. And note that in Holy Writ there are three kinds of famine mentioned; (Ay.) dearth of bodily food, dearth of the divine Word, dearth in the pains of hell. GOD sometimes sends the first that men may, in their want, return to Him, as the prodigal son, when pressed by hunger, returned to his father, whom he had left when he had enough. So too, in the particular famine here mentioned, GOD brought Joseph’s brethren to see the crime they had committed in selling him. The second kind of dearth, is an eager desire of hearing GOD’S Word, or a lack of the preaching thereof. Whence Amos saith: “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,* but of hearing the words of the LORD.”* Such a hunger was spread amongst all nations just before the Advent of the SAVIOUR, and the staff of bread, such support as Gentile philosophy had been able to give its wisest teachers and disciples, had broken down utterly before that great craving, and was confessed as a failure; until the Apostles came to give them the Living Bread, that they might not be left to the continued famine of the Word from which the Jews now suffer, nor yet undergo the last and worst of the three dearths, that everlasting hunger for a denied heaven and a withdrawn GOD, (Ay.) yea, even for annihilation itself, which they may not have who have once gone where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

17 But he had sent a man before them: even Joseph, who was sold to be a bond-servant;

The Psalmist does but repeat Joseph’s own statement, (L.) made thrice and again with emphasis to his brethren,* that his going down into Egypt was divinely fore-ordained for their preservation. (C.) There is a special force in calling him a man, on account of the vigour,* uprightness, and probity of his character;* wherein he was, however faintly,* a true type of CHRIST, the Man, Who was sent before His Apostles, Who took upon Him the form of a slave,* and was sold, by one of His own brethren, into the hands of the heathen.

18 Whose feet they hurt in the stocks: the iron entered into his soul;

We have here a severer picture of Joseph’s sufferings in prison than that given in the Book of Genesis, probably embodying an early tradition, and certainly probable enough in itself. The now familiar and proverbial phrase, the iron entered into his soul,* comes directly from the Chaldee and Vulgate, but is not the literal rendering, as it involves the collocation of a masculine noun with a feminine verb. The true sense is given by LXX. and A. V. margin, His soul came into iron. Again, (L.) it is spoken in type of CHRIST, bound with cords on the night of the betrayal, pierced in hands and feet with the nails of the Cross, transfixed at length with the spear of the soldier; and seeing too the sword of grief pierce the heart of that Mother who was to Him as His own soul.

19 Until the time came that his cause was known: the word of the LORD tried him.

His cause was known.* It ought to run, as in A. V. and all the old renderings, his word came,* that is, until his predictions to the chief butler and chief baker were fulfilled,* which appears to have been about twelve years. Till then, the Word of the Lord tried him, that is, most probably, those old dreams of promised exaltation, which had excited his brethren’s wrath, and which were perhaps renewed in his prison, sustained his faith and tested his endurance till his release. The LXX. and Vulgate, (L.) however, instead of tried read inflamed. And this may be explained either of his being inspired with the power of prophecy, or again, kindled into such fervent prayer as to obtain his deliverance from GOD. But the Greek Fathers take it of the righteous indignation with which he was fired at the criminal proposal of his master’s wife.* Yet a better sense brings us back to the true meaning,* by understanding inflamed to mean purged with fire, as gold cleansed of its dross in a furnace. And of the LORD JESUS the verse holds good, in that He patiently bore His servile condition and humiliation, until all the words of prophecy touching Him had fully come to pass, (L.) and His obedience to His FATHER’S will had been tested by the final and uttermost proof of death.

20 The king sent, and delivered him: the prince of the people let him go free.

21 He made him lord also of his house: and ruler of all his substance;

22 That he might inform his princes after his will: and teach his senators wisdom.

Instead of the stocks in which they had made fast his feet,* he received a golden chain; instead of the garment which he left in the hand of the adulteress when he fled out stripped, he was clad by the judgment of GOD in vestures of fine linen; instead of his name of slave, he wears the royal ring, and in place of his lowly dungeon, sits upon the proud chariot of the kingdom. As victor and conqueror, he perseveres amidst this exalted honour and glory in his moderation and lowliness of mind. Thus is he a fitting type of CHRIST, whom the FATHER,* King of kings, and Ruler of the peoples of the Heavenly Country, delivered in the Resurrection, what time He sent the Angel to roll away the stone from the door of the sepulchre, and when raising Him Who was made for a time lower than the Angels, to His right hand in power at the Ascension,* He crowned Him with glory and honour, and set Him over the works of His hands, highly exalting Him and giving Him a Name which is above every name;* and bestowed on Him gifts for men, (P.) by sending down the HOLY GHOST at Pentecost, to teach and bind (A. V.) His princes, the Apostles, after His will (nay, as Vulgate and LXX. will have it, as Himself), to impart to the Senators of His kingdom that Divine and spiritual wisdom which is the peculiar inheritance of the Saints of GOD.

23 Israel also came into Egypt: and Jacob was a stranger in the land of Ham.

It is noteworthy that only during the time of Joseph’s sojourn in Egypt does that country appear as a type of good and spiritual things, but ever after it stands forth in Holy Writ as implying pride, (P.) darkness, and tyranny. If we are to see the two senses here, then Egypt, as the storehouse of plenty in the midst of a famishing world, will denote the full understanding of Holy Scripture, into which the Apostles, the true Israel, princes with GOD, Jacobs who wrestled with Him in prayer, and against the powers of evil, entered through their Master’s teaching.* And in the worse acceptation, the name will denote all Gentile heathendom, into which they went down as teachers, to reap the great harvest of souls, when they found that tares and weeds had well-nigh extirpated the wheat in the plains of Judæa, going as strangers and pilgrims, sent as they were “to many people of a strange speech and of an hard language.”*

24 And he increased his people exceedingly: and made them stronger than their enemies;

The seventy-five thatwent down into Egypt so increased that in their coming forth,* the able-bodied men, capable of bearing arms (usually counted at a fifth of a population) amounted to six hundred thousand; and in like manner the little band of disciples, which cannot have greatly exceeded five hundred at the Ascension,* was augmented by three thousand souls on the day of Pentecost alone, and gradually spread to the vast numbers which now fill all the fairest regions amongst the most civilized nations of the earth, so that now the extent of territory throughout the world where Christians bear rule is enormously larger than that still under Pagan or Mohammedan dominion. Europe, America, both North and South, Australia, and the vast tracts of Asia under the sway of Russia and England, together with the great state pushing its frontiers ever inland from the south of Africa, acknowledge the supremacy of the Cross, leaving little save Persia, Tartary, China, Japan, and the Negro regions of Africa unsubdued; while even there the Crucified is adored by unknown and increasing numbers of worshippers.* So the Martyrs proved stronger than their enemies, who sought to slay them and to extirpate their faith by so doing, whereas they did but publish it more widely abroad.

25 Whose heart turned so, that they hated his people: and dealt untruly with his servants.

Whose heart turned so. This is the reading of the Chaldee and Arabic, but LXX., Vulgate and A. V., rightly follow the Hebrew text, and translate He turned their heart, (A.) not, as has been well said, by making them evil, but by lavishing blessings on the Hebrews which excited envious feelings, which were not then first produced, but merely showed themselves after having been latent for want of a cause.* Rupert not inaptly compares the operation of GOD on such minds to the effect of the rays of the sun, which while bestowing life and health throughout the world, merely harden mud. And dealt untruly with His servants. This points to the latter part of the plot against the Israelites,* when open violence had become impracticable, and the policy of wearing them out by excessive toil and imposts was adopted.* Its parallel in the history of the Church, hated by the world, the flesh, and the devil, is the effort of Julian the Apostate, after the failure of the ten great persecutions, to overthrow the Church by the aid of heathen philosophers and of heretical teachers,* put on terms of rivalry with the Catholic priesthood; thus carrying out the policy of the Chief Priests, who on finding that the LORD Whom they had murdered was alive again, set on foot the tale that His disciples had stolen Him away while the soldiers at the sepulchre slept.

26 Then sent he Moses his servant: and Aaron whom he had chosen.

27 And these showed his tokens among them: and his wonders in the land of Ham.

Moses, as the servant of GOD,* here typifies the law of secular government and the active life, Aaron, the elected one,* who took not the honour upon himself,* but was called of GOD,* denotes the priesthood, and the contemplative life, here united in the one task of showing forth the works of GOD. His tokens. More exactly, as LXX., Vulg., and A. V. margin, the words of His signs. That is, (L.) as some will have it, they first foretold the miracles they intended to work, and then wrought them; or again, they spoke with authority because of the signs which accompanied them, or yet again, the works which they wrought spoke for themselves.* We are not inaptly reminded that there is probably a stress on the word His, as denoting that the miracles were not the result of that Egyptian magic in which Moses was learned. Mystically,* the whole phrase denotes the preaching of the lawgivers and priests whom CHRIST has sent with His commission into the world, whose very words are signs and wonders, because of the holiness which they display, the mysteries they disclose, and the loftiness of their precepts as to humility, patience, self-denial, love of enemies, and the like; while actual miracles attended, as we know, the first preaching of the Faith, and S. Gregory the Great has taught us that the moral wonders worked daily, as a matter of course, in the conversion and sanctification of sinners,* belong to a higher order of things than the physical portents which cause more astonishment.

28 He sent darkness, and it was dark: and they were not obedient unto his word.

The Prayer Book here follows the LXX., while the A. V., keeping to the Hebrew, translates, with the Chaldee, S. Jerome, Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, they rebelled not against His word, to which the Vulgate comes near, as it retains the negative, while putting the verb exacerbavit in the singular. A question at once arises, Who are the persons spoken of? The most satisfactory reply seems to be that the Egyptians are meant, (A.) taking the judgments patiently.* And note that the order of the plagues in Exodus is not followed exactly (indeed the fifth and sixth are omitted) and the darkness, here put first, is precisely the calamity which extorted from Pharaoh,* till then immoveable, nearly the whole demand of Moses, albeit on finding him resolved to take the cattle,* the concession was rescinded. A second opinion is that Moses and Aaron are spoken of, as having faithfully discharged their appointed task, while a third holds that the darkness is declared to have been obedient to the command of Moses to spread itself over Egypt and to leave Goshen clear;* and a fourth suggests that the children of Israel accepted Moses and Aaron as their delegates with full powers to treat with Pharaoh on their behalf. (P.) A further explanation is that Moses always spoke gently to Pharaoh, urging him to repentance, (D. C.) and that GOD dealt gently, not bitterly, by withdrawing each plague when intreated, without suffering it to do its worst. (C.) The difficult Latin reading is usually explained to mean that GOD did not allow His words to become void, (R.) but fulfilled them thoroughly, as otherwise they would seem deserving of being cast away, like unripe fruit,* or else would have brought new bitterness upon Israel from Pharaoh; (Ay.) while the current Greek reading obviously points to the obstinate opposition of Pharaoh to the demands of GOD,* though the older text seems to have substantially agreed with the Hebrew.

Haymo says very well that darkness is put first here,* because it denotes blindness, since had it not been for blindness, none of the other plagues would have followed. Mystically,* they explain the verse of the “blindness in part which has happened unto Israel,”* albeit the LORD did not make His words bitter, but sweet and gentle in preaching to them and warning them. If we follow the Hebrew instead of the Vulgate, it will tell us of the “great company of the priests who were obedient unto the faith,”* when “the Word of GOD increased, and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem,” in no long time after the mysterious darkness of three hours on Calvary, which told Israel that it was humbled like Egypt for rejecting that Prophet of the LORD, like unto Moses, for Whom their boasted lawgiver had bid them look.

29 He turned their waters into blood: and slew their fish.

Here the order of the plagues in Exodus is reverted to, and it is not unseasonable to cite some mnemonic verses which recall it:

Sanguis, rana, cynips, insectum, pestis,* et ulcus,

Grando, locusta vorax, tenebræ, mors primisatorum.

Blood, frogs, lice, flies, the murrain, and the blain,

Hail, locusts, darkness, and the first-born slain.

On the meaning of the plague of blood, the reader is referred back to what is said under Psalm 78:44. It is expedient to add here the tradition mentioned by Josephus,* that the waters of Goshen were turned into blood as well as those of the rest of Egypt, seeing that no exception is named in Exodus, but when the Hebrews desired to use them, they then, and then only, returned to their natural condition, thus preventing the Egyptians from availing themselves of the supplies of their serfs. Two further mystical interpretations, besides those previously cited, are found,* one that the darkness is the effect of neglect and unfaithfulness of prelates and clergy, whose spiritual and temporal wealth is thereby turned into blood, that is, nepotism for the sake of their kindred, so that the laity and poor of the Church, typified by the fish, die of bodily and spiritual hunger, because the funds intended for teaching and alms are converted to private gain.* The other view is that the plague of blood denotes the pollution by heretics of the pure waters of Christian doctrine, to their own destruction and that of their unsettled and wandering disciples.

30 Their land brought forth frogs: yea, even in their kings’ chambers.

To the expositions given under Psalm 78:45, two others may be added, that there is here a reference to the prating of false philosophers, such as the dilettante Pagans whom Julian the Apostate gathered in the Imperial Court;* or that advocates and lawyers,* employed by prelates to conduct suits regarding mere temporal possessions,* instead of preachers of the Word, are here intended. No one who is familiar with the diocesan and monastic history of the thirteenth century will marvel at the two great French and German contemporary Bishops regarding the multiplication of lawsuits about ecclesiastical estates as an Egyptian plague of the Church.

31 He spake the word, and there came all manner of flies: and lice in all their quarters.

It is to be noted that here, as in Exodus 8:17, and Psalm 78:45, the translation flies, albeit a very ancient one, with much authority on its side, is purely conjectural, as the word עָרֹב probably means simply a mixture; (Aquila, πάμμικτος) whence,* as before observed,* the oldest Jewish tradition is that the fourth plague was a mixed multitude of wild beasts.* The Vulgate translates here the dog-fly and mosquito,* and a favourite mystical interpretation is that they are types of pagan philosophers and subtle heretics, (A.) pricking and goading Christians with minute and trivial verbal suggestions of dialectic,* and hovering round their victims with such craft that it is impossible to foresee their manner of attack,* till they leave their poisonous sting behind. And another sees,* not dissimilarly, biting sarcasm in the dog-fly, and petty scandal and detraction in the mosquitos. (B.) Again, the verse is explained of a multitude of petty anxieties and cares which beset the wicked, while a further view will have it that sins of the flesh are denoted.

32 He gave them hail-stones for rain: and flames of fire in their land.

Whereas rain is intended to fertilize, (C.) and fire to warm, GOD in His vengeance sent them destruction under both forms, and He does the like when, for the sins of His people, He bids His prophets and preachers smite the wicked with words of alarm and threatening,* and scorch them up with the terrors of judgment. And the teaching of heretics, leading to relaxation of morals,* is hail, crushing, yet not refreshing, but arousing the fire of fleshly passion in their disciples. And it is also taken of the strife of the law-courts, attended by burning greed for the acquisition of riches,* which is one of the forms of GOD’S judgments on the ungodly, or, yet again, of violent oppression and tyranny, to which He delivers them up for a season.

33 He smote their vines also and fig-trees: and destroyed the trees that were in their coasts.

So the Prophet speaks of the judgment of GOD on the guilty nations, saying, “The vine is dried up, and the fig-tree languisheth; the pomegranate-tree, the palm-tree also, and the apple-tree, even all the trees of the field are withered; because joy is withered away from the sons of men.”* And this comes to pass when the fruits of good works are blighted by the craft of evil spirits and the desire of human praise,* and the covering or bark of humility is stripped off, so that the branches become white and bare, having the name of holiness in works,* but in reality being dried up. The vine, which yields the wine of compunction; the fig-tree, whence we gather the sweet fruit of devotion; the trees of their borders, denoting that almsgiving which should attend a man till his death, according to that saying of a Saint,* “Mercy alone is the companion of the dead,” all these graces and virtues are destroyed in the hearts of GOD’S foes. Again,* the vine may fitly denote the Doctors of the Church, who should give the people the wine of wise doctrine to drink, and the fig-tree the prelates and rulers, who should be gentle and protecting, feeding and overshadowing their flocks. But the former are apt to fall through pride, whence it is written, “Behold, the vine-tree is cast into the fire for fuel; the fire devoureth both the ends of it, and the midst of it is burned. Is it meet for any work?”* And the latter are apt to make great profession with little result, to be barren fig-trees, abounding in leaves, but with no fruit, and it is said of such, “Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?”* And when these chosen trees perish, the flock in general, those lesser trees that are in all the coasts, suffer too.

34–35 (34) He spake the word, and the grasshoppers came, and caterpillars innumerable: and did eat up all the grass in their land, and devoured the fruit of their ground.

For grasshoppers we should read with LXX., (A.) Vulg., and A. V., locusts,* the well-known and terrible plague of the East, while the caterpillar is either the larva of the locust itself, or another variety of locust. There is a twofold explanation of the mystical intent, that the locusts and their larvæ denote false teachers or flatterers,* corrupting and destroying the truth, either by propagating countless heresies, so as to ruin the spiritual harvest, or acquiring for their own personal gain the wealth intended for teaching and feeding the poor. Or again, the locust, with its quick bounds and rapid flight,* may denote the proud and presumptuous, and the wingless locust, seeming to remain quiet and harmless, while working much evil, may signify hypocrites. Cardinal Hugo, who explains the verse of the flatterers and hangers-on of prelates,* sums up the qualities which make locusts fit emblems of parasites:

Multa, volans, saltans, inimica satis, retro major.

Many, winged, leaping, foe to crops, of larger size behind.

That is, they are a very large class, they fly away in time of adversity, they aim at rank and power, they are hostile to all untried merit, the crop whence a future harvest may be hoped, and they care only for temporal wealth, the “things which are behind.”*

36 (35) He smote all the first-born in their land: even the chief of all their strength.

There is a Hebrew tradition that at the time of the slaughter of the first-born, (L.) judgment went forth also against the idols of Egypt,* that the stone images fell into powder, the wooden ones rotted, the metal melted away, and the bull Apis died in his temple; and that this is one sense at least of the phrase the chief of all their strength. So too,* the Christian writers declare that when CHRIST went down into that Lower Egypt of Hades, He wrought destruction amongst the most powerful of the evil spirits, so that their dominion has ever since been sorely impaired and diminished. And by His precepts,* whereby He warns His disciples against the first beginnings of sin, against a hasty word and an unchaste glance, as well as against murder and adultery, He slays the first-born of Egypt even still,* as in His first victory He overcame sin, death, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye,* and the pride of life. But in the case of sinners, He either destroys the principle of faith in such as give themselves over to heresy,* and thus slays the chief of their spiritual strength; or charity, so that all the best of our remaining good things are of no avail, according to that saying, “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”* Or again,* not dissimilarly, the words denote that our first good works and efforts after holiness, are not counted any more if we relapse into sin; for the LORD hath said, “I have against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”*

37 (36) He brought them forth also with silver and gold: there was not one feeble person among their tribes.

The commentators are careful to point out that this silver and gold was not the fruit of extortion and robbery,* but the wages for the labour of the Israelites, (C.) long due and unjustly kept back by their oppressive taskmasters.* And further,* the demand was made by the express direction of GOD, Whose property all the wealth of Egypt was, so that He did but reclaim His own from His stewards for another use.* The mystical interpretation which is most favoured sees here the use made by Christians of secular learning and wisdom;* the advantage they may derive from Pagan examples of truth, valour, lowliness and purity, and also the way in which the Church draws to herself from the world sinners whom she fashions into vessels of gold and silver for the house of GOD;* in whom gold denotes heavenly wisdom,* and silver eloquence in confession, praise, or preaching.* And one very aptly points out that as the Hebrews were poor so long as they dwelt in Egypt, and obtained the wealth of that land only when they quitted it, so it is only in abandoning the world, of which Egypt is a type, that we can gain true riches, since we shall be bondslaves in want during our whole voluntary sojourn.

There was not one feeble person among their tribes.* The Chaldee paraphrases thus, “And they were not condemned with the Egyptians to stumbling,” that is, they did not suffer from any of the diseases which came upon their oppressors. So we read in another place: “The LORD will take away from thee all sickness, and will put none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which thou knowest, upon thee; but will lay them upon all them that hate thee.”* Euthymius points out the reason: (Z.) that no one need be left behind because of incapacity to travel.* Some writers have supposed that immunity from disease lasted all through the time of the wandering, (Ay.) but the Carmelite conclusively replies that as all but two of the whole adult multitude died in the wilderness, it is reasonable to suppose that illness and feebleness preceded death, as is usually the case.* And hence the mystical exposition, (Z.) that GOD gives those who come up out of sin not merely the gold and silver of spiritual riches, but strength enough to escape entirely out of the bondage of evil, because they can do all things in CHRIST, (B.) does not entitle us to assume the final perseverance of all so rescued,* unless they keep in the King’s highway. But when we reach our true Country, where is no sickness or sorrow, then truly there will be no feeble person in all our tribes.

To their first estate return they,* freed from every mortal sore,

And the Truth, for ever present, ever lovely, they adore,

Drawing from that living Fountain living sweetness evermore.

And they drink in changeless being as they taste those waters clear;

Bright are they, and swift, and gladsome, no more perils need they fear;

There the youth can know no ageing, never cometh sickness near.

Hence they draw their life unending, passingness hath passed away,

Hence they grow, and bloom, and flourish, freed for ever from decay,

And deathlessness hath swallowed up the might of death for aye.

38 (37) Egypt was glad at their departing: for they were afraid of them.

There is a division of opinion here as to the point of time indicated.* The most obvious sense,* adopted by the Rabbinical interpreters, and followed by many Christians, (D. C.) is that the beginning of the Exodus is meant, (P. &c. A.) when the Egyptians rejoiced in being freed from the terrors of yet further plagues. The other view, more current amongst the Fathers and Schoolmen,* is that the time pointed to is that immediately after the disaster of the Red Sea; (C.) when the Egyptians feared lest the Israelites should return and devastate the country which had just lost its army.*

Mystically, (L.) they remind us how, after the destruction of the herd of swine belonging to the Gergesenes, “the whole city came out to meet JESUS: and when they saw Him, they besought Him that He would depart out of their coasts,”* and thus impress on us how eager the ungodly are to rid themselves of the presence of the Saints,* whose life is a perpetual reproach to them;* for “a scorner loveth not one that reproveth him:* (D. C.) neither will he go unto the wise.”* (B.) And thus the Jewish priests never relaxed their efforts till they drove out the Apostles.

39 (38) He spread out a cloud to be a covering: and fire to give light in the night-season.

In the army of Alexander the Great, the march was begun by a great beacon being set up on a pole as a signal from headquarters,* so that “the fire was seen at night, the smoke in the day-time;” and the plan is even still found in use amongst the caravans of Arabia. It is probable enough, in that unchanging land, that such may have been the custom at the time of the Exodus, and that GOD taught the people by parable in this wise, as well as by fact, that He was their true Leader, and Heaven the general’s pavilion, whence the order of march was enjoined. The chief mystical interpretations have already been given under Psalm 78:13,* and here may be added that CHRIST hides Himself in cloud from the wise of this world, who count themselves to be in the full light of day, but reveals Himself in brightness to such as acknowledge their darkness and ignorance.* Not dissimilarly, the cloud is explained as the light affliction which GOD sends in the day of prosperity, lest man should be too proud, the fire, of the warm consolation bestowed in the night of sorrow. There is yet a further and beautiful sense: that the cloud of the Manhood of CHRIST, which hid from us the bright rays of His Godhead,* was spread out upon the Cross,* in the day of His visible sojourn amongst mankind, while in the night of His absence, He sent the HOLY GHOST, in the fires of Pentecost, to be our guide into all truth.

40 (39) At their desire he brought quails: and he filled them with the bread of heaven.

Beda, commenting on that place where it is written,* “The LORD shall give you in the evening flesh to eat, and in the morning bread to the full,”* reminds us that it was in the evening of the world when the WORD was made Flesh to be our food, and in the morning of His Advent, and still more of His Resurrection, we obtained that spiritual wisdom and knowledge of Holy Writ which was needed for the nutriment of our souls. He also points out another aspect of the two miracles, that the quails, given for a little time only, and then flying away, are the temporary laws and imperfect types of the Old Testament, intended for carnal minds, but that with the dawn of true faith comes CHRIST, the Bread of Heaven. (B.) Two other views about the quails are, that being winged,* they denote heavenly thoughts, (D. C.) or winged words of preachers (yet flying low in humility,) sent to lift up our hearts to celestial things, and feed our hunger; or that as they were brought up by the south wind,* they typify those graces of the HOLY GHOST,* whereof the Bride exclaims, “Come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out.”* And the reference to the Holy Eucharist as the Bread of Heaven is too obvious and frequent to need discussion here.

41 (40) He opened the rock of stone, and the waters flowed out: so that rivers ran in the dry places.

When the side of the Rock of Ages was opened by the soldier with a spear,* and there flowed out blood and water,* typifying the Sacraments and graces of the Church;* then the Hebrews refused to hear, and the Apostles turned then to the Gentiles, till then dry, as having neither the dew of grace, nor the rain of doctrine, and made the rivers of living water flow abundantly in Heathendom, so as to fulfil that prophecy of old: “In the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert; and the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water.”*

42 (41) For why? he remembered his holy promise: and Abraham his servant.

It was not then for their merit,* but of His own grace and faithfulness, whence we are taught that to us also the heaven which He offers is a free gift, not the prize of our merit; and that because the LORD remembers His Holy WORD,* and bearing in mind the Atonement made by His beloved SON, the true Abraham, Father of many nations, brings, for His sake, His spiritual offspring into the Land of Promise.

43 (42) And he brought forth his people with joy: and his chosen with gladness;

The word gladness is,* more exactly, singing, so that we have here a reference to the triumphal song of Moses and Miriam after the passage of the Red Sea;* and some draw a distinction between the excited joy of the whole body of the people,* and the deeper and more spiritual gladness of the elect, Joshua,* Caleb, and the children of the murmurers,* who alone were to enter into possession of Canaan.

44 (43) And gave them the lands of the heathen: and they took the labours of the people in possession;

The word labours implies more than the cultivation of the lands, (C.) and denotes the cities and all the accumulated wealth of the original possessors.* Mystically,* the reference is to the Apostles receiving all heathendom as their inheritance, and going to take possession of it, stored with the accumulated wisdom of the Old Testament, (L.) with all those types and prophecies, those precepts and statutes which had been the preparation for the Coming of that Messiah Whom the seers of the older covenant were not suffered to behold in the flesh;* and also with all the learning and previous training whereby the greater philosophical sects had, in their degree, tilled the ground for the reception of the Gospel seed, wherefore the LORD said unto His disciples: “I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.”*

45 (44) That they might keep his statutes: and observe his laws. [Alleluia.]

This is the tribute or head-rent which GOD exacts in return for the bounties He confers,* and it, in its turn, brings us on to the enjoyment of yet greater blessings. The statutes here refer to the positive and ceremonial, the laws to the moral enactments of the Pentateuch. (A.) For the very object of giving Canaan to the Jews was that they might there observe to the full GOD’S laws with leisure and freedom impossible amidst the bondage and idolatry of Egypt. And thus similarly GOD bestows temporal subsistence on the priests of His Church,* that they may not be obliged to toil in worldly concerns, but give themselves to the ministry of the Word and to prayer. Let Religious hear these words, and remember that the cloister is not intended as a place for idleness, (Lu.) luxury, or secular occupation, but for keeping the statutes, and observing the laws of GOD.* Ye then, (A.) O children of GOD, who have the promise of life, here and in the world to come, if trouble oppress you, think of Joseph in prison, of CHRIST on the Cross. And in prosperity, deal not with GOD for its sake, but use it for Him, seeking “first the kingdom of GOD and His righteousness, and all these things snail be added unto you,”* so that at the close of all you will join in the endless Alleluia.*


Glory be to the FATHER, the LORD our GOD; glory be to the SON, His Anointed, the Bread of Heaven; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, the Fire that giveth light in the night-season.

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

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