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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.




              Visit us * with Thy salvation, O LORD.


Ambrosian. As preceding Psalm.


Parisian. Visit us * with Thy salvation, O LORD, that we may see the felicity of Thy chosen.

Mozarabic. First portion: Who can express the noble acts of the LORD, or show forth all His praise? Second portion: Deliver us, O LORD our GOD.


This Psalm stands in close relation with the preceding one, and like it, is mainly historical in its scope. But whereas Psalm 105. deals with the manifestation of GOD’S goodness to the children of Israel, we have here the tale of their ingratitude for His mercy and loving-kindness, accompanied with a prayer for pardon and deliverance out of captivity, the form of which, at the close of the Psalm, seems to fix the date near the end of the seventy years’ exile, perhaps in the interval between the first and second emigrations from Babylon.

1 [Alleluia.] O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is gracious: and his mercy endureth for ever.

This verse is borrowed directly from 1 Chron. 16:34, where it forms part of David’s Psalm on the translation of the Ark. It re-appears in substance as part of the service on the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, as a familiar liturgical formula in the time of Jehoshaphat and in that of Zedekiah,* as revived by Ezra at the foundation of the Second Temple,* and finally as in continued use under the Maccabees. It recurs,* however, but once again in the Psalter, namely,* in Psalm 136, which is made, to use a term of hymnology, super this phrase. One instance of its employment in the rites of the Christian Church is a memorable one, for on the occasion when Syrianus and his soldiers broke into the church of S. Theonas, where the Pope of Alexandria,* S. Athanasius, was officiating, the Saint, remaining seated on his pontifical throne, bade the deacon commence the chant, “O give thanks unto the LORD, for He is gracious, because His mercy endureth for ever,” and soon after, borne out by his monks in the midst of the tumult which ensued, escaped the hands of his enemies. (A.) The usual ambiguity of the LXX. and Vulgate word confess, (C.) in the first verse, has led the earlier commentators to point out that the words for He is gracious are applicable to either view. If we approach Him to give Him thanks, there are countless examples of His goodness to supply us with matter; if to acknowledge our sins, we know that “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”* And His mercy endureth for ever, the ever of this whole mortal life, inasmuch as He is always ready to welcome the returning prodigal, the ever of eternity,* because even in heaven it is simply His love and good pleasure that will sustain the Saints in immortality, sinlessness, and impassibility.

2 Who can express the noble acts of the LORD: or show forth all his praise?

Our sight fails us when we look upon the sun,* overpowered by the splendour of his rays; and the mind’s eye suffers the like in every meditation on GOD, and the more attention is bestowed in thinking of GOD, the more is the mental vision blinded by the very light of its own thoughts. For what canst thou say of Him, what, I repeat, canst thou adequately say of Him, Who is sublimer than all loftiness, and more exalted than all height, and deeper than all depth, and clearer than all light, and brighter than all brightness, and more splendid than all splendour, stronger than all strength, more vigorous than all vigour, fairer than all beauty, truer than all truth, and more puissant than all puissance, and greater than all majesty, and mightier than all might, richer than all riches, wiser than all wisdom, gentler than all gentleness, juster than all justice, more merciful than all mercy? And he saith powers (Vulg.) in the plural, (D. C.) because of the divers effects of that one undivided power which alone exists in GOD, and because of the mighty works powerfully carried out by GOD. For seeing that GOD is of infinite power, and is Almighty, no created thing can perfectly comprehend or express His power. Wherefore they are most insane of mind who are bold to measure the divine power with their intellect, declaring that GOD cannot act supernaturally, and that nothing is to be believed which exceeds the limits of human reason.

3 Blessed are they that alway keep judgment: and do righteousness.

The immediate and natural answer to the question put in the previous verse is “No one;” (A.) but yet there are some who,* though unable to show forth all the praise of the LORD, may yet not inaptly lift their feeble voices in His honour, namely, such as praise Him by their lives as well as their tongue, who keep judgment by forming a right opinion as to their duty in every matter (because they do not swerve from GOD’S laws as their rule,) and do righteousness by acting thereon unfailingly. (L.) We may keep judgment too, in another sense, by bearing in mind the second Advent of the LORD, and the necessity we shall be under of standing before His tribunal; remembering the counsel of the Wise Man, “Before judgment examine thyself, and in the day of visitation thou shalt have mercy.”* Something more than mercy; reward for those who have left all for CHRIST,* and have not repented them of so doing. Yet again,* we may keep judgment by holding in our hearts an assize of that contest between the spirit and the flesh, and giving sentence against the latter,* which has nothing but passionate utterances to advance in reply to the wise pleadings of the judge, “for if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.”* And we are bound to keep judgment not only as regards ourselves, but for others too,* by avoiding all harsh decisions as to their merits, all false dealing, all untrue flattery, and similar offences against righteousness. Observe, moreover, that the blessedness is only for such as act thus alway, (A.) who are just, not by fits and starts, but persevering to the end.

4 Remember me, O LORD, according to the favour that thou bearest unto thy people: O visit me with thy salvation;

The LXX. and Vulgate read us in both clauses of this verse, but the Hebrew is more forcible, as it presents the Psalmist asking for himself that he may have his part in the mercies vouchsafed his nation. (L.) It was, most probably, at the first, the cry of a captive in Babylon, asking, it may be, freedom to join his happier brethren who had begun the new Exodus, and thus to be visited with GOD’S salvation; albeit some hold that the latter clause of the prayer asks for a personal deliverer.* And this latter is the sense put on the passage by the Christian expositors, (A.) who take the whole as a petition for the manifestation of CHRIST,* according to the favour He should be pleased to show to His own people, when the Dayspring from on high should visit them.* Some commentators,* dwelling on the phrase the well-pleasing of Thy people* (εὐδοκίᾳ, beneplacito) suggests that instead of meaning GOD’S favour, as most understand it, (A.) or that portion of His people which is obedient and faithful, as some explain, the word may be identical in meaning with the salvation of the latter clause, and point to that Beloved SON, in Whom the FATHER is “well pleased,”* in Whom alone others may become well-pleasing too. (L.) They are here agreed in alleging that the song of the Angels on the morning of the Nativity, when they chanted of “peace on earth to men of good will,”* (εὐδοκίας,) bore special reference to this prayer of the Psalmist.* There is an ancient Jewish gloss which is noteworthy,* that the petition is for a share in the Resurrection in the days of Messiah, in order to see His wonderful restoration of His suffering people; a meaning apt enough for our use also, for the verse forms a  . and  .* in the Responsory at Sext on the First Sunday in Advent.

5 That I may see the felicity of thy chosen: and rejoice in the gladness of thy people, and give thanks with thine inheritance.

The prayer is twofold,* as regards this world, and that to come. We may see even here, in a glass,* darkly, the spiritual happiness of the Saints who believe in CHRIST, and partake their continual joy in the love of GOD, and so learn to join in their acts of constant devotion and worship.* We may, more blessedly still, be admitted to the glory of the Beatific Vision, wherein consists the gladness of GOD’S ransomed ones, and unite in the perpetual thanksgiving of heaven. And we may note that the threefold nature of man prompts the union of the three petitions of this verse in one.* That I may see, is the prayer of the body, desiring the open vision of GOD; and rejoice is the wish of the soul or mind, that the affections may likewise be gratified; and give thanks, as the spirit needs to pour itself out in worship.* Further, there are three names here given to the Saints, each for a reason of its own. They are GOD’S chosen, because of His predestining grace, “according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love;”* they are His people, having one law and one worship under Him as sole King, “and what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law?”* they are His inheritance, for it is written,* “I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance.” We are not left to conjecture the first meaning of this prayer as mentioned above, (Z.) for the LORD, Himself spake to His disciples, saying, “Many prophets and righteous men have desired to see the things which ye see, and have not seen them.”*

6 We have sinned with our fathers: we have done amiss, and dealt wickedly.

The Rabbins tell us that there are three kinds and degrees of sin here set down in an ascending scale;* against one’s self,* against one’s neighbour, against GOD: sins of ignorance, sins of conscious deliberation, sins of pride and wickedness. S. Bonaventura alleges that these sins are distinguished here as severally committed against the several Persons of the Holy Trinity.* And in these respects we sin with our fathers in three ways, by imitating their guilt, by inheriting their evil qualities,* by our corporate identity with them in national existence.* Cardinal Hugo bids us observe that when Prelates do wrong and sin, thereby leading the priesthood and the laity into evil, the latter have no right to lay all the blame on their erring superiors, but must take their own share of it.

7 Our fathers regarded not thy wonders in Egypt, neither kept they thy great goodness in remembrance: but were disobedient at the sea, even at the Red Sea.

The belief that many of the Israelites lapsed into idolatry while in Egypt,* encouraged as it is by other passages of Scripture,* is supposed by some to gain consistency from this place also.* But there seems no reason for holding it to imply more than their callousness to the teaching of the plagues,* and their terror and murmur on the very brink of the Red Sea at the sight of Pharaoh’s army, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness?”* And that this is the true sense of the passage is clear from another place: “And Moses called unto Israel, and said unto them, Ye have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt unto Pharaoh, and unto all his servants, and unto all his land; the great temptations which thine eyes have seen, the signs and those great miracles; yet the LORD hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.”* (L.) In like manner, we read that immediately after the feeding of the five thousand, when CHRIST came, walking on the sea, to the ship of the disciples, “they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered; for they considered not the miracle of the loaves; for their heart was hardened.”* Hence the Doctor of Grace enforces the lesson that Scripture treats the non-understanding of things which ought to be understood, (A.) the forgetting of things which ought to be remembered, as itself a sin, so that it cannot be justly pleaded in excuse or mitigation of transgressions, albeit such is the usual custom of sinners.

8 Nevertheless, he helped them for his Name’s sake: that he might make his power to be known.

It was not for their merits, seeing that they were a perverse and stiffnecked generation, (A.) that He delivered them, but that they might serve as teachers to the heathen, by forcing on them the lesson of His irresistible might, and thus “to make Himself an everlasting Name.”* And therefore GOD’S deliverance of sinners has always this end of instruction of the spiritual understanding of others. (C.) And this He effected most perfectly when He won the Gentiles by dying on the Cross for the Jews.*

9 He rebuked the Red Sea also, and it was dried up: so he led them through the deep, as through a wilderness.

He performs the like of this miracle still, when He rebukes,* by the mouth of the preachers of righteousness, the bitter, angry and turbulent heart of man,* a very sea of passions,* making it red with the blush of shame,* and drying up the billows of desire,* the depths of sin, so that man can go through the midst of them, avoiding the extremes on either hand, as on solid ground, like a wilderness, in being sure under the foot, calm and quiet, the abode of fasting and temperance, shunned by evil spirits and bad companions, and therefore lonely amidst the rush and tumult of the world.

10 And he saved them from the adversary’s hand: and delivered them from the hand of the enemy.

11 As for those that troubled them, the waters overwhelmed them: there was not one of them left.

It is the most usual of all interpretations to see in this passage of the Red Sea,* and the consequent destruction of the Egyptian host,* the Baptism of Christians in those waters which have been tinged with the precious Blood of CHRIST,* whereby they are delivered out of the hand of Satan, and all their former sins, (Ay.) original and actual, are washed away in that cleansing tide, so that not one of them remains to be imputed. This interpretation is warranted by those words of the Apostle: “All our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”* They raise some discussion on the phrase hand of the enemy,* teaching us that of the two hands of our adversary, that with which he drove us by force, and that wherewith he draws by lure, the former has been utterly destroyed by CHRIST, and the other sorely weakened, so that it has far less power than of old to entice us; but that it is never so dangerous as when it is full of gifts. (Ay.) Reminding us also that the waters of penitential tears will wash away post-baptismal sin, they point out that the word overwhelmed shows that such tears, (L.) to be effectual, must be copious, and not a mere drop or two. Our eyes must “gush out with water,”* and “wash our bed” with the floods. A further interpretation sees here a reference to the history of the early Church,* brought safely through the Red Sea of ten fierce persecutions,* and that so triumphantly, that within a little while, the classical Paganism which had endeavoured to extirpate Christianity was itself utterly abolished, so that not one of the old rites continued; but that thereupon the Church fell away from her first love, and lapsed into carelessness and sin.

12 Then believed they his words: and sang praise unto him.

So it is written,* “And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians; and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and His servant Moses. Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for He hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath He cast into the sea.”* But we may note the hardness of heart which would not believe till then, (C.) till they had seen. And of such the LORD spake, “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe;”* and they need His rebuke to His doubting Apostle, “Thomas, because thou hast seen Me,* thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”* And in the very brevity of this verse, the only one of its kind in the narrative portion of the Psalm, we may well see how short-lived were their gratitude, belief, and worship of GOD; as it follows at once,

13 But within a while they forgat his works: and would not abide his counsel.

The first clause is given by A. V. marg., LXX., and Vulgate,* They made haste, they forgat. The phrase does not imply only the shortness of the interval, although that notion is included, but the precipitance and recklessness with which the people altered their mind, acting like children on mere impulse,* without due reflection. Their want of faith also is shown, in that they cried out for food before they experienced any scarcity or hunger, and they would not wait for GOD’S counsel, His foreordained plan for bringing them unto the Land of Promise. (A.) Hence, this haste is typical of all those who are eager to obtain their pleasure at once, and therefore snatch greedily at temporal things,* forgetting that “he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent,”* and thereby refuse to wait patiently for the good things of Heaven, which GOD hath prepared for them that love Him. In this they are like Reuben, and Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, who said while in Gilead, “Let this land be given unto thy servants for our possession, and bring us not over Jordan.”* Once more, abiding His counsel may very well have reference to the act of consulting the divine will through the agency of Moses,* for which the Israelites usually proved far too impatient, preferring to act on their own impulse.

14 But lust came upon them in the wilderness: and they tempted GOD in the desert.

Here there are two separate grounds of blame; first, (L.) that their desire was lust; that is, a craving for something not absolutely necessary, inasmuch as they were fed without stint already; and next, that this tempting of GOD was in the wilderness,* precisely where the sense of utter dependence on Him, the absence of all human succour, ought to have exercised restraining influence upon them. To give thought to luxury in a monastery, to seek it in exile, to dwell on it during a pilgrimage, is an unbecoming thing, and the like of this was what the children of Israel did. The two words employed for the desert denote severally the loneliness,* and the unwatered place,* where they take occasion to remind us that a heart given up to be a habitation for wild beasts, and unbedewed by the grace of the HOLY SPIRIT, is the usual scene of lust and temptation.

15 And he gave them their desire: and sent leanness withal into their soul.

The Syriac, LXX., and Vulgate, all read satiety (πλησμονήν, saturitatem) instead of leanness, looking as they do to the historical narrative, “Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days; but even a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you.”* But the Prayer Book version certainly follows the existing Hebrew text, and gives a profounder meaning.* The early versions are, however, so far right,* that the Psalmist here seems to lead up to the phrase which they give,* and by a sudden turn, with a play upon words, to substitute the vocable actually found. Here we have רָזו̇ן, leanness, but in Ps. 145:16, where the exactly opposite idea is expressed, we have רָעו̇ן, desire, or plenteousness, a word scarcely distinguishable in sound. The turn might be imitated in English somehow thus: “And He gave a banquet to please them, and spread a fast for their soul,” where the ear expects the word feast, and meets with sudden disappointment.1 The two readings,* nevertheless, are not irreconcilable in their ultimate meaning. The Vulgate denotes the weariness and disgust which carnal gratification always brings with it, as gluttony often produces the same result as famine, by destroying the digestive powers, and thus causing utter distaste for food;* while the other notion is that the Israelites were punished with phthisis,* or some analogous wasting disease,* that the food did not nourish them, and that leanness hints at the skeleton form of death, which ensued thereupon: whence the allegorical reference to spiritual things is equally clear.

16 They angered Moses also in the tents: and Aaron the saint of the LORD.

17 So the earth opened, and swallowed up Dathan: and covered the congregation of Abiram.

18 And the fire was kindled in their company: the flame burnt up the ungodly.

Observe how GOD,* Who passed over the murmuring of the people against Himself at the Red Sea, punished severely this rebellion against His servants.* We may learn hence His wrath against such as, despising His priests, and withdrawing themselves from the fellowship of His people, form congregations of their own, set up altar against altar, and offer unlawful sacrifice instead of the true oblation of the LORD’S Body. They too anger Moses in the tents,* who make little here in the Church Militant of those baptismal waters out of which they have been drawn, and Aaron the consecrated one of the Lord, when they despise the “shining light” of Divine illumination vouchsafed through the sacramental acts of the Priesthood which GOD has hallowed for Himself; and would fain have as their prelates worldly and carnal men instead of saints, so that both they and their nominees perish, swallowed up by the earth of secular cares and anxieties, devoured by the fire of covetousness, wrath, and luxury. The emphasis on Aaron, (L.) as the Saint of the LORD, points to his High Priesthood, not to any exceptional personal holiness, and has reference to the objection raised against his monopoly of office by Korah, on the ground that “all the congregation are holy.”* There is, however, no mention of Korah in this place, a circumstance due most probably, to the position of his descendants, the Korhites,* as Temple-singers; for while we read of the destruction of the families of Dathan and Abiram, it is expressly stated that, “notwithstanding, the children of Korah died not.”* They would naturally be reluctant to commemorate their ancestor’s sin in a psalm designed for public worship, and hence the omission; or, if they were not themselves its composers, their high position and character would have swayed its real author in like manner. The name Dathan probably means a “fountain,” while Abiram is “father of exaltation,” and we may then remark that we read of the LORD’S threat against Babylon, “I will make her springs dry,”* thus betokening the complete destruction of the prosperity of the wicked of this world, and the yet more total destruction of him who “is a king over all the children of pride,”* delivered over to everlasting burnings with all his congregation.

19 They made a calf in Horeb: and worshipped the molten image.

20 Thus they turned their glory: into the similitude of a calf that eateth hay.

There is a peculiar stress on the words in Horeb,* as denoting the very place where the great manifestation of GOD’S Power and presence had been made, and where the Law had been given, whose very first words were a prohibition of the sin of idolatry.* And the Prayer Book wording of the twentieth verse implies that while without doubt the Egyptian worship of the bull Apis suggested the form of the idol which Aaron made, the intention of the Israelites was to worship the true GOD under a visible symbol, not to substitute another deity for Him. But others interpret it, They bartered their glory for an ox, &c., which implies a change in the object of worship. Mystically, their guilt is repeated by all such as in the “dry place”* (Horeb) of a heart un-watered by the HOLY SPIRIT, turn from heavenly things to carnal ones, and barter their glory, the promise of a divine inheritance, for the gratification of the flesh, which is the devouring of grass,* or who flatter and abase themselves before unworthy prelates and princes,* instead of keeping their tokens of reverence for GOD only. And the Jews themselves repeated this sin, (C.) when at Calvary they rejected their Glory, and chose Barabbas, fit type of that coarse and sensual multitude of which the poet says,

Nos numerus sumus, et fruges consumere nati.*

We are a crowd, born but to eat of food.*

21 And they forgat GOD their Saviour: who had done so great things in Egypt;

22 Wondrous works in the land of Ham: and fearful things by the Red Sea.

The three epithets of GOD’S manifestations in these verses, (C.) rising to a climax, are intended to emphasize the incredible folly and fickleness of the Jews, in that they not merely failed in gratitude, but were unable to retain such striking and important events in their memory.* Disloyal Christians do the like,* when they forget the great things of CHRIST’S Incarnation and Nativity,* the wondrous works of His miracles wrought in this dark world, the terrible things of the sanguine tide of His bitter Passion, which so many men fear to imitate, which caused such dismay to the evil spirits. Wherefore we ought not to forget Him, Who hath borne such things for us, “Forget not the friendship of thy Surety, for He hath given His life for thee.”* “So long as I live,” exclaims a Saint,* “I will remember the toils which the LORD endured in preaching, His weariness in going about, His temptations in the fasting, His watchings in prayer, His tears of compassion. I will remember also the sorrows, reproaches, spittings, buffetings, mockings, insults, scourgings, and the like; for if I do not, the Blood of that Righteous One, which was poured forth upon the earth, will be required of me.”

23 So he said, he would have destroyed them, had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the gap: to turn away his wrathful indignation, lest he should destroy them.

Whilst they murmured only for bread and water,* He bore with them as a nurse with her fosterchild, but when their madness reached such a pitch of wickedness as this, they were scourged. And GOD,* very wroth because of their impious course, was minded to destroy them utterly, and spake to Moses, saying, “Let Me alone, that My wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them; and I will make of thee a great nation.”* But Moses, the one whom He had chosen to deliver the people out of Egypt, like a valiant champion, standing in the very breach and gap of the shattered wall which they had broken down by their guilt, opposed himself bravely to the wrath of GOD, as it was rushing on the people, and repelled His advancing vengeance with prayers and supplication, saying, “LORD, why doth Thy wrath wax hot against Thy people?”* Therefore Moses fought with prayer, as the strongest of weapons against GOD, and blunted His shafts and swords, and that according to His own will, nay, His indirect suggestion. For He told Moses that He would destroy them, for that their deserving was such that they might be justly rooted out altogether. And so He complains by the mouth of Ezekiel: “I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge and stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none; therefore have I poured out Mine indignation upon them.”* A greater than Moses, One “drawn out” of the many waters of His sore tribulations,* has taken His stand for us in the gap of that broken fence of mankind, His own most Sacred Body, broken by and for our sins, broken in the Blessed Sacrament, broken with nails and spear upon the Cross,* to plead on our behalf. When, therefore, the Priest at the Altar makes the fraction of the Host, we may bear in mind the perpetual intercession which goes up for us before the throne of GOD, and take courage;* and all earthly deputies of our great High Priest may remember,* that intercessory prayer will often effect the conversion of sinners, who have remained unmoved by the preaching of the Word.

24 Yea, they thought scorn of that pleasant land: and gave no credence unto his word;

25 But murmured in their tents: and hearkened not unto the voice of the LORD.

These verses refer to the evil report brought back by ten of the twelve spies sent to search out Canaan, (L.) who said, “The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof, and all the people we saw in it were men of a great stature.”* In the first of these charges, they showed disbelief of GOD’S description of the land as one “flowing with milk and honey;”* in the second,* equal disbelief of His power to overcome the giant inhabitants before the face of Israel. And the second of the two verses gives us some clue to their conduct. They were in their tents, (C.) therefore idle and inactive, not exercising themselves in diligent toil; they murmured, and so, busied in listening to their own voices, could not hear the still small voice of GOD. (A.) And all those who have become careless and cold in faith, and think but little of the promised glories of Heaven,* believing not those things which are spoken by the LORD JESUS, the WORD of GOD, but murmur here in the tents of the body, in the hidden recesses of their inner thoughts,* at every trial necessary to be endured before conquering that country, sin as did the Jews of old. We who do not believe GOD,* murmur in the tabernacles of our minds; and how is it that we have the boldness to say to GOD, “Hear my voice,” when we do not hearken to the voice of the LORD? Wherefore S. Benedict laid down as one of the chief precepts of his Rule,* “Above all, that there be no murmurings.” An elder master of the Religious Life than he, S. Pachomius, was wont to relegate to the infirmary any monk guilty of murmuring, as suffering from disease, and needing especial tendance and regimen, under which he was kept until he gave proof of amendment. And that because, as S. Augustine observes,* when himself preaching to Religious, murmuring is as contagious and fatal as leprosy, and affects not only the speaker, but all the hearers.

26 Then lift he up his hand against them: to overthrow them in the wilderness;

27 To cast out their seed among the nations: and to scatter them in the lands.

Then lift He up His hand,* in the act of solemn asseveration with an oath,* as the Chaldee paraphrase takes it;* or else we may understand it of raising the arm in order to strike more forcibly,* which is the usual exposition. But the correctness of the former is shown by two passages, Exod. 6:8, marg., and Ezek. 20:15, the latter of which runs: “Yet also I lifted up My hand to them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land, which I had given them.” The close juxta-position here of the death in the wilderness and the dispersion of (seemingly) the next generation amongst the heathen, has led some Rabbins to see in the latter clause not the Babylonian captivity, far less the Roman extirpation,* separated from the former event by many centuries, but the two raids of the Amalekites and Canaanites at Hormah, when Israel lost both spoil and captives. But it seems better to follow the other interpretation,* looking at the nation in its corporate capacity as identical,* even after a great lapse of centuries, with the rebels of Zin; albeit the distant posterity of these fell through transgressions of their own,* and not by reason of merely inherited guilt. And He does the like to obstinate unbelievers or sinners still, whom He overthrows in the desert of this world, causing them to die in their sins, so as not to enter the rest of Paradise, casting out their seed, their followers and disciples, among the heathens, by classing them with pagans, (“if he will not hear the Church,* let him be to thee as a heathen man and a publican”*) and scattering them in the imagination of their vain hearts into the lands of darkness and the shadow of death.

28 They joined themselves also unto Baal-peor: and ate the offerings of the dead.

They joined themselves. More forcibly, they yoked themselves. The LXX. and Vulgate, with S. Jerome,* read they were initiated or consecrated, that is, were taught the mystic rites of Baal-Peor, the Moabite god of fertility and generation, whose worship, like that of his analogue, the Western Priapus, was attended with much immorality,* hinted at by the verb here employed, and plainly expressed in the Mosaic narrative. Offerings of the dead. That is,* either sacrifices made to dead and lifeless idols, contrasted with the Living GOD; or, more probably, some necromantic rites, such as are twice alluded to as “seeking to the dead,”* and exemplified in the history of the Witch of Endor;* possibly attended with oblations made to the departed.* On this verse is based the Rabbinical prohibition of all meats offered in sacrifice to idols, as being equally polluting as contact with a dead body; and hence arose the case of conscience amongst the new Christian converts as to the lawfulness of such food, which the Apostle S. Paul resolved in a prohibitory sense;* not unnecessarily, as is shown by a passage in the Apocalypse, where both these offences of the Israelites are named as current in the Church of Pergamum.* The allegorical interpretation favoured by Christian expositors is that all persons who give themselves over to the gratification of the physical appetites are thereby joined unto Baal-Peor;* and that whenever we either make evil men priests for money or favour,* and suffer them to celebrate the Christian Sacrifice,* or else accept gifts made to the Church by unrepentant sinners, dead in their sins, whom we have not endeavoured to bring to life again through repentance, we eat the offerings of the dead, and are partakers of their evil deeds.

29 Thus they provoked him to anger with their own inventions: and the plague was great among them.

The word plague is here used in the sense of any violent and sudden destruction;* (here,* of course, the slaughter of the twenty-four thousand offenders, and perhaps a pestilence also;) and there is a Hebrew tradition that the chief weight of the blow fell upon the tribe of Simeon,* whose prince Zimri was slain by Phinehas; a notion which is supported by the twofold census of that tribe before and after the sin in Shittim. At first the Simeonites numbered fifty-nine thousand three hundred warriors;* but afterwards only twenty-two thousand two hundred are reckoned. The Latins dwell on the word inventions, as signifying rites and deities adopted by the people at their own caprice, in contrast to the divine revelation of the Law, but there is no force of the kind in the Hebrew word,* which is simply doings. And Arnobius, writing at the terrible crisis of the break-up of the Roman Empire, dwells on the words multiplied ruin here used by the Vulgate, as aptly depicting the destruction of cities and devastation of whole provinces, which followed on the relaxation of political, military, and above all, religious discipline.

30 Then stood up Phinees and prayed: and so the plague ceased.

31 And that was counted unto him for righteousness: among all posterities for evermore.

Stood up, (C.) as valiantly to do his work of zeal, as Moses had done to discharge the office of intercession, and because he alone rose to set the example of resistance to the foul rites of Baal-Peor.* And prayed. This is the sense given to יְפַלֵּל by the Chaldee, Syriac, and by one of S. Jerome’s renderings, exoravit. The LXX. and Vulgate both have appeased, (ἐξιλάσατο, placavit,) which comes to much the same thing;1 but the A. V. reading,* executed judgment,* is to be preferred, or else mediated, arranged the dispute between GOD and the people, which seems the force intended by S. Jerome’s dijudicavit.

And so the plague ceased.* As the slaughter performed by the Levites appears by the Mosaic narrative to have begun by Phinehas smiting Zimri and Cozbi, this intimation of the cessation of the plague cannot refer to that, and we may therefore reasonably conclude that there was a divine pestilence at the same time as the execution by human justice,* so that Phinehas on this occasion, like Aaron on a previous one,* stood between dead and living to make propitiation, and stayed the plague.* Hearken diligently to this, O Priest, remarks an ancient commentator, thou to whom souls are intrusted, unsheath thy sword, slay fornicators; that is, “preach the Word, be instant in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort,* with all longsuffering and doctrine,” that it may be counted unto thee for righteousness, for the LORD hath said,* “If thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as My mouth: let them return unto thee; but return not thou unto them: and I will make thee to this people a fenced brazen wall.” And with this sense agrees very well the meaning of Phinehas, which is “mouth of brass,” as though a trumpet making proclamation before the LORD, for the conversion of sinners, as it is written in another place,* “When the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount.”

And that was counted unto him for righteousness. (L.) Because the High Priesthood was not merely conferred upon himself, but though it passed for a little into the family of Ithamar as a punishment for the sins of Eli’s sons,* yet the office was restored to the ancient line in the person of Zadok,* a descendant of Eleazar, when Abiathar was deprived by Solomon.* And we find on the one hand, the succession carried on in the house of Zadok till the Captivity,* and on the other, Mattathias, father of the Maccabees, under whom the offices of King and High Priest were united, describing Phinehas as his ancestor.* The Sacerdotal Kingdom lasted till the days of Herod the Great, when the Great High Priest Himself, from Whom Aaron derived the original commission of the Levitical order, appeared to resume the charge He had temporarily committed to His creatures.* Faithful priests still obtain the reward of Phinehas, from the generation of this world to the generation of the Resurrection,* and with the angels for evermore. But alas! exclaims S. Bernard, in words not less suited to our day, where are Prelates to be found, who will be as Phinehas to fornicators, as John to kings, as Elias to priests?

32 They angered him also at the waters of strife: so that he punished Moses for their sakes;

33 Because they provoked his spirit: so that he spake unadvisedly with his lips.

These verses clear up the ambiguity of the narrative in the Pentateuch,* from which it is not quite evident why Moses was forbidden to enter the Land of Promise, and we learn that his hasty words, rather than the twofold striking of the rock, constituted his main offence.* The Greek Fathers bid us remark that his fall occurred immediately after the death of his sister Miriam,* and that it is quite possible that grief for her had so far disturbed him, that when the people broke in upon his mourning with their complaints, he lost patience altogether. This interpretation agrees with the clause they provoked his spirit, which appears to be the sense of the LXX. and Vulgate.* But the verb never has this meaning, and the Chaldee is therefore to be followed here in its rendering, they resisted His Holy Spirit, referring the clause to GOD, and not to Moses;* according to that passage of the Prophet, “They rebelled, and vexed His HOLY SPIRIT,” the result of which was that Moses, in his haste,* spake unadvisedly with his lips, saying,* “Hear now, ye rebels;” though there is a doubt as to whether they is spoken of Moses and Aaron, or of the murmuring Israelites. (L.) It is to be noted further as a fresh difficulty in this obscure verse,* that many commentators explain the last clause as spoken of GOD, translating it,* He commanded with His lips, which is the Greek διέστειλεν, or He spake clearly, the Latin distinxit, His sentence against Moses and Aaron. The more usual explanation of this phrase amongst the Latin Fathers, however, refers it to Moses, interpreting he made a difference with his lips, (A.) namely, that whereas he had spoken in confident faith when about to work all his former miracles,* a tone of doubt and hesitation creeps in here for the first time. The mystical interpretation is twofold.* One sees in the doubting lawgiver, twice smiting the Rock,* a type of the Jewish nation smiting the Rock of Ages in later days with the redoubled cry of “Crucify Him, crucify Him,” amidst the strife which raged around Pilate’s judgment-seat. The other view is that Moses is the type of any prelate in times of controversy, when disputes on matters of secular learning, veritable waters of strife,* prevail in Kadesh, the “holy place” of the Church, so as to rouse him into indignant remonstrance, often beyond the limits of Christian charity.

34 Neither destroyed they the heathen: as the LORD commanded them;

35 But were mingled among the heathen: and learned their works.

Some commentators prefix the last words of the thirty-third verse to these,* and read the whole, (L.) “GOD spake plainly with His lips, saying, Neither destroyed they the heathen.”* It is evident from the narrative in Joshua and Judges that no motives of clemency induced the Jews to spare the Canaanites,* but that either desire of gain by putting them to tribute, or else lack of valour and endurance in warfare,* caused their disobedience. Mingled implies not merely familiar intercourse, but intermarriage with the heathen, such as we read of in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, as forbidden to the Jews,* just as many councils prohibit Christians from marrying with pagans or heathens,* while the result is added in saying that the Jews learned their works,* namely, their superstitions and idolatries. They were types of Christians who do not extirpate the seven deadly sins altogether from their souls; for we often enter the Land of Promise in great force, strengthened with the inward hope of everlasting life, but after overcoming our greater sins, we keep the lesser ones, allowing them to dwell like the Canaanites in the land, under tribute indeed, because they are usually subjugated,* but yet proving to be snares and traps and scourges in our sides, and thorns in our eyes, till, only too often, we perish off the good land which the LORD our GOD hath given us, weakened to our destruction by that very tampering and league with sin which we thought would have given us peace and strength. So it follows:

36 Insomuch that they worshipped their idols, which turned to their own decay: 37 yea, they offered their sons and their daughters unto devils;

38 (37) And shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters: whom they offered unto the idols of Canaan; and the land was defiled with blood.

39 (38) Thus were they stained with their own works: and went a whoring with their own inventions.

To their own decay. It should be, as A. V., which were a snare unto them. The LXX. and Vulgate, reading a scandal, or cause of stumbling, give the sense, though not a literal version. There is no direct mention in the Pentateuch, nor yet in Joshua and Judges,* of the special offence of human sacrifices here laid to the charge of the Jews,* but as that sanguinary rite attended the worship of Baal and of Molech,* the Ammonite god,* and was certainly practised by Ahaz and other Hebrews during the decline of the kingdom, it is not unlikely that the sin may have cropped up at intervals at an earlier period. The word devils, שֵׁדִים, occurring only here and in Deut. 32:17, simply translates the demons of the LXX. and Vulgate. False gods would be a better rendering, but the literal sense of the term is “lords” or “tyrants,” from a root שָׁדַר, to “oppress” or “destroy.” As regards the rite of their human sacrifices,* it is stated that the victim to be burnt was laid upon the outstretched hands of a gigantic brazen statue, beneath which the fire was kindled,* or that it was compelled to pass between two blazing pyres, near enough to cause death before the passage was accomplished. A third view is that the normal rites of burnt-offering were observed, by the previous slaughter of the victim, and then the cremation of the body upon an altar. But the second of these theories is most probably the true one,* because on the one hand, the phrase “pass through the fire” to Molech occurs several times in Holy Writ,* and on the other, the curious custom of dancing round a huge bonfire on the night of May Day or of Midsummer Eve,* with occasional leaps of the dancers through the flames, was common not so very long ago in many parts of Europe (notably in Scotland,) and still lingers in a few remote places, just as Theodoret describes it in his day. The latter phrase, shed innocent blood, seems to point to a different form of mactation, common enough in Pagan rites,* but put down with a high hand by the Romans wherever they became masters,* at any rate, after the decree of the Senate in A.U.C. 657, prohibiting all such sacrifices. It is noteworthy that one place which seems to have clung most obstinately to the custom was Carthage, (itself a colony of the very Canaanites whom Joshua was instructed to destroy,) whereof we read that on one day three hundred human victims were offered to Saturn,* and that Tiberius, Proconsul of Africa about two centuries after CHRIST, succeeded in suppressing the custom only by crucifying the priests who abetted it. Whence a Latin poet observes of Carthage:

Mos fuit in populis quos condidit advena Dido,*

Poscere cæde Deos veniam, et flagrantibus aris,

Infandum dictu, parvos imponere natos.

The nation roving Dido founded, erst was wont

To plead with slaughter to the Gods for grace,

And upon blazing altars to devote

Their little children; horrible to tell.

Minucius Felix,* in his simple prose narrative, adds a fresh touch of horror to this account, by mentioning that it was the task of the parents to make the oblation, and that they caressed and kissed the babes at the moment of death, not out of tenderness,* but to avoid the evil omen of a wail. Well might another early Christian writer observe that it were better to have no gods than such cruel ones.

And the land was defiled with blood.* The guilt and pollution of the inhabitants extended to the country itself,* so (as many will have it) that it was cursed with sterility, after having been a marvel of fruitfulness. (A.) The reading interfecta, “slain,” for infecta, “tainted,” in the older Latin copies, following the LXX. ἐφονοκτονήθη, may be rendered, “was a scene of murder,” or, as many take it, was a place where men by their crimes slew their own souls. (L.) And in the closing verse of this paragraph we may note the notion of idolatry being an adultery of the virgin of Israel against GOD her Spouse, a type which impresses forcibly on us the close connection between error of doctrine and laxity of morals.

The allegorical expositions are numerous.* There is first the tolerably literal notion that parents who bring their children up badly, who give them over to evil company, or who neglect them altogether, are in fact sacrificing them to devils,* and shedding innocent blood. They do the like when they set them bad examples, a rule which holds good for prelates towards the clergy,* and pastors towards their flocks. Again, our spiritual thoughts, studies, and pursuits, as the stronger, are denoted by sons; in secular ones, the weaker, by daughters, and a bad use of these is giving them over as sacrifice to demons, and then the land or earth of our bodies, wherein should stand the temple of the HOLY GHOST, becomes polluted by sin, and we are guilty of adultery against the Bridegroom of our souls, following our own inventions, rather than His precepts.

40 (39) Therefore was the wrath of the LORD kindled against his people: insomuch that he abhorred his own inheritance.

41 (40) And he gave them over into the hand of the heathen: and they that hated them were lords over them.

42 (41) Their enemies oppressed them: and had them in subjection.

In these and the following verses the Psalmist gives an abstract of the history of Israel under the Judges,* with the view of reminding his countrymen that the disasters of the Captivity were but the repetition of earlier calamities, also penalties for national sin; and yet that repentance had invariably been followed by pardon and rescue, whence patient hope and steadfast prayer might again look for their reward.* The judgments inflicted by GOD upon the Christian Church at various times of laxity and coldness,* the giving up clergy and laity alike to the dominion of those sins with which they had tampered, so that they became their bond slaves; the bridling, as a Saint puts it, with the curb of servile fear those boastful,* proud, and vain-glorious idolaters, so as to check their madness, and inspire them with horror and disgust of the evil ways of their oppressors, form the sum of the allegorical interpretations in this place.

43 (42) Many a time did he deliver them: but they rebelled against him with their own inventions, and were brought down in their wickedness.

44 (43) Nevertheless, when he saw their adversity: he heard their complaint.

45 (44) He thought upon his covenant, and pitied them, according unto the multitude of his mercies: 46 yea, he made all those that led them away captive to pity them.

And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon,* and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”* “And yet they would not hearken unto their judges, but they went a whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves unto them: they turned quickly out of the way which their fathers walked in, obeying the commandments of the LORD; but they did not so. And when the LORD raised them up judges, then the LORD was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the LORD because of their groanings, by reason of them that oppressed them, and vexed them. And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they returned, and corrupted themselves more than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them, and to bow down unto them; they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way. And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel.” He pitied them.* More exactly, with LXX., Vulg., and A. V., He repented, (C.) not that GOD is subject to passions and to change of purpose, but that He looks mercifully on penitents and does not exact the punishment He threatens; and thus, when He finds us repentant, He shows Himself to us according as we have conducted ourselves towards Him.* To pity them.* All this was fulfilled in the later history of the Jews.* There is no trace of any such compassion on the part of their earlier conquerors, (Z.) but it appears again and again under Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Darius, Artaxerxes, Alexander, and even the earlier part of the Roman dominion. And that this is the true sense of the passage appears from its exact parallelism to the language of Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple: “Forgive Thy people that have sinned against Thee, and all their transgressions wherein they have transgressed against Thee, and give them compassion before them who carried them away captive, that they may have compassion on them.”* But the Vulgate rendering,* He gave them unto mercies in the sight of them that captured them,* is sometimes explained as referring only to God’s dealings with Israel, and His miraculous deliverances of them out of the hand of their enemies, so as to impress these latter with His irresistible power and His unchanging care of His people. The former exposition is, (L.) however, much to be preferred, and it also yields the fuller typical meaning, as showing how the Jews, the most despised of all people, long regarded as the superstitious followers of an obscure and ridiculous belief, were accepted in the persons of the Apostles and Evangelists as teachers of all nations, and furnished the first examples of those Martyrs and Confessors who begat such countless generations of spiritual children. So too, interpreting the Psalm of the early struggles of the Christian Church, we may bear in mind that the greatest missionary success, at any rate, the most striking and durable, was the conversion of the barbarous nations who overthrew the Roman Empire, and shared its provinces into kingdoms for their petty chieftains. Nay, there are examples, such as that of S. Nina in Georgia, where a solitary Christian slave, acting like Naaman’s little handmaid, proved the means of bringing the tidings of salvation to a whole people. There is a tropological exposition also, referring all this latter part of the Psalm to GOD’S dealings with individual souls, which need hardly be dwelt on, save in the one place where S. Albert the Great and Cardinal Hugo,* apparently quoting in common some earlier writer, dwell with their usual wealth of Scriptural illustration on the phrase brought down in their wickedness.* For the sinner is humbled, or brought down, as they tell us, in many ways. From a son of GOD he becomes a son of the devil. “If GOD were your Father, ye would love Me; ye are of your father the devil.”* From rich he becomes poor. “Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.”* From a king he becomes a retainer. “He looseth the bond of kings, and girdeth their loins with a girdle.”* From a freeman he becomes a slave. “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.”* From an heir he is disinherited. “No whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of CHRIST and of GOD.”* From a soldier he becomes a clown.* “He took away his purple, and rent off his clothes, leading him through the whole city.”* From a priest he becomes degraded: “I will also reject thee,* that thou shalt be no priest to Me.”* From a temple of GOD he becomes a fane of Bacchus: “I will lay this temple of GOD even with the ground, and I will break down the altar, and erect a notable temple of Bacchus.”* From the member of GOD he becomes the member of an harlot: “Shall I then take the members of CHRIST, and make them the members of an harlot?” From healthy he becomes sick: “He fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.”* From comely he becomes hideous: “Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk,.… their visage is blacker than a coal.” From strong he becomes weak: “They are gone without strength before the pursuer.”* From stable he becomes unsettled: “Jerusalem hath grievously sinned, therefore she is removed.”* In all such ways as these is a sinner brought down and made to sit in the dust till he repent.

47 (45) Deliver us, O LORD our GOD, and gather us from among the heathen: that we may give thanks unto thy holy Name, and make our boast of thy praise.

48 (46) Blessed be the LORD GOD of Israel from everlasting, and world without end: and let all the people say, Amen. [Alleluia.]

These verses,* with slight verbal changes, are found as the closing part of David’s Psalm at the bringing-up of the Ark, but appear to be there added liturgically by the compiler of Chronicles, as there is no historical appropriateness in them to the events of that king’s reign, nor is the Dedication Psalm itself prophetic in tone, so as to justify us in accepting the view that the Prophet-King foretold the Captivity in these words,* as the Rabbinical commentators will have it, and as he might readily have done, with the warnings of Moses before his eyes. These words point evidently to an existing condition of things, and may very well have been composed for the restored Temple-worship by the earliest band of emigrants as a prayer on behalf of their still exiled brethren, or by the yet captive exiles themselves, intreating for a share in the partial deliverance already vouchsafed. (L.) There is thus a special fitness in the words, O Lord our God, because they had abandoned for ever the idolatry which had proved the besetting and deadly sin of the nation, and had clung faithfully to the worship of JEHOVAH in the midst of Babylonian heathenism. But inasmuch as they could celebrate no sacrifices, save the Passover, and had but the imperfect ceremonies of the Synagogue for their spiritual aid, it is added, that we may give thanks unto Thy holy Name, by making thank-offerings and peace-offerings, as of old, in the central shrine of Jerusalem.* A favourite exposition of these verses, with the Latins, is to couple them with the last clause of verse 45–46, and to explain them as denoting the three stages of Christian perfection.* GOD first gives us mercies in the sight of the heathen, by granting repentance to us, which looses the bonds by which the evil spirits hold us captive: this is the purgative way. Next; He gathers us out of the nations, by separating us from the world and all evil companionship, making us a chosen generation to Himself. This is the illuminative way. And finally, He brings us into the glories of His everlasting kingdom, where we make our boast of His holy Name JESUS, whereby He has saved us, and boast in that alone, joining in the great doxology of the ransomed multitude, “as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying,* Amen, Alleluia: for the LORD GOD Omnipotent reigneth,”* that Song of praise which, as it is that to which the four Gospels lead, fitly closes the fourth book of the Psalter.


Glory be to the FATHER, the LORD GOD of Israel; glory be to the SON, our SAVIOUR, Who hath visited us; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, the gladness of the people of GOD.

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

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