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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, Monastic, and Lyons. As preceding Psalm. Seven Dolours: He hath filled me with bitterness * He hath made me drunken with wormwood.

Ambrosian. As Psalm 107. [Monday before Easter: Help Me * O LORD, my GOD. Kyr. Kyr. Kyr. Maundy Thursday: They have rewarded * Me evil for good, and hatred for My good will. Kyr. Kyr. Kyr. Good Friday: The mouth of the ungodly * yea, the mouth of the deceitful, is opened upon Me. Kyr. Kyr. Kyr. Easter Eve: Judas, when he saw that He was condemned, said, I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.]

The occasion of this Psalm is unknown. If it be Davidic, it may apply to Doeg, to Shimei, or as the Syriac Psalter seems to hint, to Ahithophel. If it be a Post-Captivity Psalm, which its position in the fifth Book of the Psalter makes at least probable, it is perhaps directed against some leader in the conspiracy against Nehemiah, or against one of those apostate High Priests who brought about the Maccabee revolution. But the use made of it by S. Peter, who expressly declares it to have been prophetic of the treason and punishment of Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:16, 20,) leaves no doubt as to its true intention, which can be evaded only by rejecting the authority of the New Testament in the exposition of the Old.

1–2 (1) Hold not thy tongue, O GOD of my praise: for the mouth of the ungodly, yea, the mouth of the deceitful is opened upon me.

O God of my praise. So Aquila, Symmachus, and S. Jerome treat the words, regarding them as an epithet of GOD, but the LXX. and Vulgate both take praise as the accusative after the verb, and read, O God, be not silent as to my praise.1 That is, as they explain it, CHRIST,* beset by slanderers on all sides,* beseeches the FATHER to bear witness to Him by hastening the glory of the Resurrection, and causing His Gospel to be preached throughout the world, although His voice be drowned for the time by that of Judas, (A.) sinner and traitor, handing Him over to His enemies,* and saying, “What will ye give me, and I will deliver Him unto you?”* And not Judas only, but the unbelieving chief priests and Pharisees, bribing the soldiers who watched at the sepulchre, and telling them, “Say ye, His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we slept.”*

3 (2) And they have spoken against me with false tongues: they compassed me about also with words of hatred, and fought against me without a cause.

They spoke with false tongues, when they said, “Master, we know that Thou art true, and teachest the way of GOD in truth; tell us, (C.) therefore, Is it lawful to give tribute to Cæsar?”* They compassed Him about with words of hatred when they said, “Behold a Man gluttonous, and a winebibber;”* “Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil;”* and above all, when they raised the shout, “Crucify Him, crucify Him,” and joined in the revilings of those who mocked Him on the Cross. Without a cause.* And therefore the LORD Himself saith, “Many good works have I showed you from My FATHER, for which of those works do ye stone Me?”* and again, “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin; but now have they both seen and hated both Me and My FATHER;” but this cometh to pass that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, “They hated Me without a cause.”*

4 (3) For the love that I had unto them, lo, they take now my contrary part: but I give myself unto prayer.

5 (4) Thus have they rewarded me evil for good: and hatred for my good will.

He shows that their sin was greater than that of persecuting an inoffensive and guiltless person,* in that they were guilty of black ingratitude to a benefactor. (C.) The first grade in wickedness is failing to repay good for good; the second is to repay evil with evil; the third is to repay good with evil. And, contrariwise, the lowest form of righteousness is to repay good for good; the second, not to repay evil for evil; the third and highest kind of virtue is to repay good for evil. And whereas the Jews were determined to adopt the most evil of all these ways, so the LORD opposed them with perfect loving-kindness, and prayed upon the Cross for those who had deliberately doomed Him to death.* It was truly evil they gave Him for good, mockings and insults for His preaching, vinegar and gall for His miracles of feeding and His turning water into wine, stripes and wounds for His marvellous cures, crucifixion and death for His raising the dead to life. Hatred for His good will, when, after hearing Him cry, “FATHER, forgive them, for they know not what they do;”* they replied, “He saved others, let Him save Himself, if He be CHRIST, the chosen of GOD.”* And this is the thought which, expanded from those words of Micah, “O My people, what have I done unto thee? or wherein have I wearied thee? testify against Me,”* has been wrought out into the wonderful Good Friday Reproaches, in use throughout the Western Church. But I give myself unto prayer. We may take this as denoting merely that prayer was the LORD’S sole weapon of defence against His enemies; or we may add,* with the Syriac Psalter,* for them, and apply it to His intercession on behalf of His foes, and that, we may well believe from the tenor of the prayer He taught His disciples, not once only, but at all times when they took His contrary part, (A.) or, as LXX. and Vulgate have it, slandered Him; doing worse thereby, as S. Augustine remarks, than in slaying His Body.

6 (5) Set thou an ungodly man to be ruler over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand.

Here commences that terrible series of maledictions, unparalleled in Holy Writ, as directed against an individual sinner, albeit it is little more than a special republication of the national woes denounced in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28* S. Chrysostom suggests, with much probability, that the original application is to Jason or Menelaus,* the supplanters of Onias in the High Priesthood, (A.) whose treason and apostasy brought about the great persecution of Judaism by Antiochus Epiphanes. There are two current Christian expositions of this verse;* the more common referring it to Judas Iscariot, a less frequent one to Caiaphas. (D. C.) And whereas a Saint may say, “I have set GOD always before me; for He is on my right hand, therefore I shall not fall;”* (A.) here Satan takes that place beside the sinner, to insure his fall. The ungodly was over Judas, because he yielded himself up to his rule, Satan was at his right hand, when he preferred covetousness to wisdom, and money to his salvation. When Satan stood at the right hand of Joshua the High Priest to resist him, “the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan;”* but no such check took place on behalf of Judas, (C.) for he could not have his right hand set free, because he was wise only in the guiltiness of the left hand, and never attained to be saved by confession, but died a despairing suicide. (Z.) Satan was at his right hand, or at that of Caiaphas, as a comrade,* as his helper and chief strength in the work of betraying and crucifying the LORD,* and will stand again at his right hand as accuser in the Judgment to draw down a penalty on the very crimes he suggested. And observe,* that as Judas stands for a type of the unbelieving Synagogue, as Peter of the believing Church; so the Jewish nation, having rejected CHRIST as King, had in His stead an ungodly man, (A.) the heathen Cæsar, and Pilate as his vicegerent, to be ruler over them, and Satan, instead of GOD, as master of their hearts. Another, adopting in the main the same allegory,* takes Barabbas to be the ungodly man of the Psalm.* Cardinal Hugo explains the epithet as denoting evil prelates, of whom he distinguishes three classes—covetous, stupid, and mischievous. And he further points out that Satan occupies various positions with regard to different men. He is sometimes on the left hand, when he persecutes in temporal things; sometimes on the right, when he opposes in spiritual matters; he is before the face of those who beware of his wiles, behind the back of such as do not foresee his plots; he is over those whom he rules, and under such as have trampled him beneath their feet.

7 (6) When sentence is given upon him, let him be condemned: and let his prayer be turned into sin.

Let him be condemned. The LXX. and Vulgate, closer to the Hebrew, read, Let him go out condemned, that is, leave the court with the sentence of “Guilty” recorded. (L.) They remind us that this doom fell in twofold wise upon Judas. First, when the LORD said, “Woe unto that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born. Then Judas, which had betrayed Him, answered, and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said.”* “And when He had dipped the sop, (Ay.) He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the sop, Satan entered into him. He then having received the sop, went immediately out;”* out of the fellowship of the Apostles, out of the Catholic Church, out of the state of grace. Again, Judas gave sentence upon himself when he brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests, “saying, I have sinned, (D. C.) in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself;”* going out of the temple, in token of abandonment of religion, and then out of the world, unto his own place. They discuss a question as to the special prayer of Judas which was turned into sin. One suggests that it was that clause of the Our FATHER which says, “Forgive us our trespasses, (C.) as we forgive them that trespass against us;” inasmuch as he who betrayed the Author of all good,* fell very far short of excusing his own debtors. Others refer it to the turn his remorse took, inducing despair instead of repentance, since there is no doubt taht his suicido was more fatal to his soul than his treason, which CHRIST would have surely pardoned had He been intreated by the offender. The words also apply to the Jewish nation, which went out in exile, (P.) condemned by the just sentence of GOD, because it refused to hear His SON, and whose prayer is turned into sin, inasmuch as it clings to a dead and abolished Law, and does not ask in CHRIST’S Name; nay, (B.) by using in its services this Psalm and many other like passages of Scripture denouncing woes against the unbelievers, it curses itself, especially when invoking those very woes upon the heads of Christians; and further, by praying for another Messiah than Him Who hath come,* it is in fact asking for the manifestation of Anti-Christ. And therefore the Wise Man’s sentence falls on them, “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.”* The words have yet a wider range, for they apply to all those who,* at the Last Judgment, instead of being greeted with the welcome, “Enter thou into the joy of thy LORD,” shall hear the doom, “Depart, ye cursed into everlasting fire,”* and shall be cast out into outer darkness. The prayer of such as these is turned unto sin for other causes besides that first and principal one of not asking in CHRIST’S Name: namely, unreasonable requests, “Ye ask, and have not, because ye ask amiss;”* human impatience, “Jonah wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live;”* unbelief, “They pray unto a GOD that cannot save;”* carelessness, “Cursed be he that doeth the work of the LORD negligently;”* unworthiness on the part of the officiant, “for he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself.”* But the penitent sinner is always heard, like the publican in the temple;* and prayer such as that is of much avail for the remission of sins.

8 (7) Let his days be few: and let another take his office.

This is the verse which S. Peter applies to Judas,* and it was fulfilled to the letter,* whether we take the first clause as referring to the briefness of his life, (A.) or to that of his apostle ship, and to the small interval which elapsed between his treason and his suicide. (Z.) And S. Matthias, being, so far as we know, unconnected with him by any tie of kindred, or even of close acqaintanceship, and altogether unlike him in life and conduct, was in the fullest sense,* another, not a second self. The word פְּקֻדָּה, here translated office, is more exactly oversight, exactly rendered by the LXX. ἐπισκοπήν, while the Vulgate and the A. V. in the parallel passage of the Acts, translate bishopric. And, as Judas here too represents the Synagogue, (A.) we are fitly reminded that its days were very few,* for it fell for ever in forty years from the Crucifixion, and the Aaronic priesthood gave way to that of Melchisedek, renewed, as it had begun,* amongst the Gentiles. The application of the text to evil rulers in the Christian Church,* is sufficiently obvious,* and is enforced by several commentators.

9 (8) Let his children be fatherless: and his wife a widow.

A widely current view, (A.) based on this passage, is that the money which Judas stole from the bag, (C.) and the sum he received in payment of his treason, were intended for the support of his wife and children,* who were consenting parties to the means he employed, (Ay.) and were therefore involved in his guilt and punishment. Some, however,* dwelling on the absence of any hint to this effect in the Gospels, (Z.) refer the prophecy to one of the intrusive High Priests of whom mention has been already made, and assume that it was fulfilled in him. Others,* following the constant reference to the Israelites as GOD’S children,* and to the Jewish Church as His wife, in Holy Writ, say that by refusing CHRIST and taking the side of Judas, the Synagogue became divorced from God, and attached herself to Judas, bringing him a dowry of thirty pieces of silver; and the Israelites, by complicity in his treason, and by imitating his example, became his children, and by reason of their unbelief, can claim him only, and not the Patriarch, son of Jacob, as their ancestor, whence they take the name of Jews. Cardinal Hugo,* applying the psalm to wicked Bishops, observes that it is far better for a See to be widowed and the flock pastorless, than to be under the rule of an evil Prelate. But one ancient commentator takes the words in a good sense.* Let the children of Satan be orphaned by their father’s overthow, and consequent desertion of them, and let his wife, to wit, any Church which has fallen into unbelief or heresy, be widowed, that, like Ruth, she may be wedded anew to the Prince of Bethlehem. Further,* the soul and the works of each man may be styled his wife and children, and yield a similar meaning. It may be added that this verse, taken in connection with the parable of Dives and Lazarus, (A.) has served as an argument for the consciousness of the departed as to the state of their kindred,* as it seems to imply an aggravation of the curse on the dead sinner. Yet, in truth, it need not denote so much, but only the increased pain at the time of death on the one hand, and also the more solemn warning thus afforded to other sinners by seeing the iniquity of the father thus visited upon the children.

10 (9) Let his children be vagabonds, and beg their bread: let them seek it also out of desolate places.

Whether Judas had children, (A.) we know not, but it is certain that if he had, his descendants must have been involved in the common ruin and exile of the whole guilty nation, of which Cain, “a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth,”* because of the slaughter of righteous Abel, was a type. So Medea, in the tragedy, imprecates curses on her faithless husband:

Mihi pejus aliquid, quod precer sponso malum:

Vivat:* per urbes erret ignotas egens,

Exul, pavens, invisus, incerti laris.

Worse evil yet I pray for on my spouse,

Let him still live, through strange towns roam in want,

Exiled, suspected, cowering, with no home.

Out of desolate places. The A. V., (Z.) adding the word their, clears up the meaning of this clause;* which is, that they are not only to be exiled beggars, but to leave their home behind in ruins; a terrible judgment, slurred over by the LXX. and Vulgate, which merely read, Let them be cast out of their dwellings. How bitterly the judgment of mendicancy was fulfilled, we may learn from one scornful line of the great Roman satirist (not the sole testimony of the kind extant,) where he depicts them as occupying the place of the modern gipsy:

Arcanam Judæa tremens mendicat in aurem.*

Judea,* crouching, begs in the private ear.

And S. Jerome draws a vivid picture of the scene on the last day of the siege,* when the city was actually taken, and the multitude assembled, of both sexes and all ages and ranks, to lament over the ruined Temple, and were obliged to purchase even that sad gratification with bribes to the Roman soldiery. Even in his own day, the Saint adds, the same rule prevailed. No Jews entered Jerusalem save to mourn, and they had to pay heavily for licence to do even that, so that they who had in that place bought CHRIST’S Blood, were now compelled to buy their own tears; thus giving a new and yet more terrible reading to the lament of their fathers on the fall of the first Temple, “We have drunk our water for money.”*

11 (10) Let the extortioner consume all that he hath: and let the stranger spoil his labour.

They raise here again the question concerning Judas, (A.) how this curse can apply to him, if he shared in the common poverty of the Apostles, having left all to follow CHRIST. And the suggested answer is that he merely transferred his possessions to his family, and followed CHRIST in the hope of stealing from the contributions made to the common stock. The word translated consume ought rather to be lay snares for,* entangling the debtor in the meshes of bonds and obligations.* The LXX.* and Vulgate however read search out,1 and we are reminded of the avidity with which the soldiers of Titus ransacked the most unlikely places of the captured city in search of gold.* The mystical interpretation sees the devil in the usurer of this verse,* because he gives but scanty and deceitful loans, intending to exact in return the true riches of the soul with heavy interest.* “Beware,” observes a Saint, “of that usurer, who searches out the substance of thy soul, if thou have incurred the debt of any graver sin, who shuts thy heart up in the ground, and buries thy soul under that turf wherewith thou didst hide thy gold.”* There are four ways of escaping this extortioner. First, to acquire holiness, not earthly riches. Secondly, to store one’s treasure in heaven, not on earth. Thirdly, to be merciful to our own debtors. Fourthly, to take refuge with CHRIST, Who will pay our debt, or punish our remorseless creditor. And let the stranger spoil his labour.* Literally, the money which Judas earned by his treason was not saved even for his family, but expended upon a field “to bury strangers in.”* Spoken of the Jews, we may remember not only the vast spoils carried off by the army of Titus, (so great that the value of gold was for a time depreciated one-half throughout Syria by the sudden influx), and the legal alienation of the soil of Jerusalem by Hadrian’s erection of it into a colony, but the cruel exactions, banishments, and massacres to which they were subjected again and again: as during the march of the First Crusade; in France under Philip Augustus, S. Louis, and Philip the Fair; in England under Richard I., Henry III., and Edward I.; in Spain from the establishment to the fall of the Inquisition, and their subtler, but not less real loss of nobility of character, by the constant exercise of sordid methods of gain. The allegorical exposition takes the spoiling strangers to be evil spirits,* who plunder the spiritual riches of the soul.*

12 (11) Let there be no man to pity him: nor to have compassion upon his fatherless children.

It was so,* when the chief priests turned with a sneer from the miserable Judas in his hour of remorse; (L.) and from looking at his fate, again our eyes are directed to the unparalleled disasters of the Jews. No ally dared to join himself to them against Titus; even Agrippa forsook his kindred to secure himself with the Romans. Titus, powerful in all else with his soldiery, could not check their savage cruelty in the siege and sack of Jerusalem; no deliverer ever presented himself, save that false Messiah, Bar-cochab, who renewed for his people, under Hadrian, the ruin which had fallen on the previous generation under Titus;* no Prophet from then till now has arisen to bring a word of comfort to the hapless race;* while history records for us the fact that such children as were not involved in the well-nigh indiscriminate slaughter of their parents by Titus, were sold into slavery by the conquerors.

13 (12) Let his posterity be destroyed: and in the next generation let his name be clean put out.

In the war which closed with the capture of the Holy City and the massacre in Cyrene,* the number of Jews who perished in time of battle, exclusive of the victims of famine and pestilence, was one million three hundred and fifty-six thousand, of whom eleven hundred thousand fell in Jerusalem alone. In the next generation, the revolt of Bar-cochab cost,* in like manner, five hundred and eighty thousand lives, and terminated for ever the national polity of the Jews. Mystically,* they tell us of the cessation of the Aaronic priesthood, and the transfer of religious supremacy from the lineal to the spiritual descendants of Abraham, “which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of GOD.”* But amongst that new spiritual offspring,* no children of Judas in the faith are reckoned, so that he alone of the Apostles begat no sons in the Gospel. (P.) There is probably a reference here to the genealogical records and pedigrees, now so far lost by the Jews that they are unable to trace their descent with accuracy, or else to the census of the population of Canaan, whence the names of the Jewish exiles were at once expunged,* in a single generation, by the Roman authorities.* They tell us that a spiritual warning may be drawn from the verse,* (Ay.) urging us to cut off the earliest suggestions of temptation and evil thoughts, that perishing in the first generation, they may be unable to give birth to a progeny of sins.

14 (13) Let the wickedness of his fathers be had in remembrance in the sight of the LORD: and let not the sin of his mother be done away.

15 (14) Let them alway be before the LORD: that he may root out the memorial of them from off the earth;

The wickedness of previous generations was an ever accumulating mass,* ready to fall at the given time upon their guilty descendants, and therefore the LORD said, “That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the porch and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.”* The sinful mother of that evil race was the Synagogue, or else Jerusalem itself as the metropolis of the Aaronic polity, whereof Jeremiah saith, (C.) “Jerusalem hath grievously sinned.”* And the curse here imprecated does not contradict that other saying, “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son,”* since the Jews perished for their own sins, for their imitation of the guilt of their forefathers, whereas such as turned to the LORD were saved, as in that marvellous escape of the little band of Christians from the siege of Jerusalem.

Their guilt shall be ever before the Lord, (A.) either in the sense of His not forgetting them,* or in that of standing in His presence as an object of punishment. Again,* it may be taken of the obstinate resistance of these sinners to GOD, that they,* as it were, oppose Him face to face. And there is a sense in which the imprecation has been thoroughly fulfilled,* for the Church in her recitation of the Creeds, and her lection of the Gospels, as well as in her commemoration of the Martyrs,* makes daily mention before God of the sin perpetuated in the rejection of CHRIST; and in her prayer for the conversion of Israel,* implores that the name of Jew and the memory of the Law may be blotted out for ever by the absorption of the whole race into the Christian fold.

16 (15) And that, because his mind was not to do good: but persecuted the poor helpless man, that he might slay him that was vexed at the heart.

The suggestion that we may have here a primary reference to the murder of the High Priest Onias III.* at the instigation of Menelaus, (L.) one of his supplanters in office, (as S. Chrysostom appears to think), is encouraged by the play upon his name discoverable in the Hebrew word for needy (A. V.) in this place,* עָנִי, oni. But in the deeper sense, they take the words as descriptive of the conspiracy against CHRIST; Who, “though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich;”* Who was vexed at the heart, when He wept over Jerusalem, and when during the Agony in the Garden, He said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.”* The word man too,* may be emphatic, reminding us how Pilate said, “Behold the Man,” and the people replied, “Crucify Him, crucify Him.”*

17 (16) His delight was in cursing, and it shall happen unto him: he loved not blessing, therefore shall it be far from him.

18 (17) He clothed himself with cursing, like as with a raiment: and it shall come into his bowels like water, and like oil into his bones.

Judas,* who chose to gratify his avarice, and the Jews, who invoked the vengeance of CHRIST’S Blood on themselves and their children, alike loved and invited a curse, and put themselves far from Him Whom they did not love, the Blessing of the whole universe. The story of the apostasy, in the very moment of consummating his martyrdom, of the priest Sapritius,* who had valiantly endured torture for the Name of CHRIST in the persecution of Valerian, but obstinately refused to pardon his former friend Nicephorus, who vainly besought him by letter, by the intercession of common friends, and finally by kneeling to him as he went from the rack to the block,* furnishes another example of one who loved not blessing, and therefore found it far from him when it seemed within his grasp. He who loves sin, the parent of a curse, loves the curse too. And therefore Moses said to the children of Israel, “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; a blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the LORD your GOD, which I command you this day: and a curse, if ye will not obey the commandments of the LORD your GOD, but turn aside out of the way.”* And it shall come, &c. This rendering, which is also that of the A. V., is incorrect, as the tense is past, as rightly translated by LXX. and Vulgate, It came, &c. The latter part of the seventeenth verse therefore carries on the idea in the first clause, and depicts sin as the garment, water, and oil of the offender. The majority of the commentators take these three words as denoting various degrees of persistency in guilt.* Thus a Greek Father tells us that raiment denotes the continual clinging of sin; water, its vehement contact, as of a drenching torrent; oil,* the difficulty of washing away its effects. Another, not very dissimilarly, bids us observe the complete and close external pressure of the first, the internal diffusion of the second when swallowed, the penetration of the third.* Not a few have supposed that the words It came into his bowels like water, bear a reference to the “water of jealousy,”* of which the priest had to say to a suspected adulteress, “This water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels to make thy belly to swell and thy thigh to rot.” But there then arises the difficulty of finding any similar allusion in the raiment and the oil, and it seems therefore better to understand all three as denoting the acquiescence and pleasure of the sinner in his iniquity, so that it not only covers him, but is as drink to his thirsty soul, or as anointing to his body, or marrow to his bones. So Apollinarius translates it:

ἀρὴν οὐλομένην ἰκέλην ἐνεδύσατο πέπλῳ,

οἶα δὲ διψώοντι ἐπήλοθεν ἔγκασιν ὕδωρ,

ὀστέα πιαίνουσα κατὰ χρέος ἠϋτʼ ἔλαιον.

Fell cursing he put on, like to a robe,

It came as water to a thirsty man

Into his bowels, fattening his bones

As suited him, like oil.

And then the words will severally denote the corruption of the body,* which is outward, the depravation of the soul, flooded internally with sin, (Ay.) the delight of the senses and will in that sin, signified by the oil, penetrating to the very bones, or strongest faculties of the soul,* enervating and corrupting them; while Christians, on the other hand, have put on CHRIST, drink from Him the living water of the Rock,* and have an unction from the Holy One.

19 (18) Let it be unto him as the cloke that he hath upon him: and as the girdle that he is alway girded withal.

This is the clinging vesture of sin,* more fatal than that fabled shirt of Nessus which ate into the mighty form of Hercules;* “the cloke, rolled in bloodshed, which shall be for burning, fuel of fire,”* of which the Prophet speaks. It is not merely to envelop the sinner, but to be closely bound about him with a girdle,* the girdle of an evil will, which makes him prompt and succinct for running the race of iniquity. Some have taken the word, with a quaint literalism, as denoting that the girdle of Judas was the instrument of his suicide by hanging. We have a plentiful choice of other girdles than this one of sin: for there is that of which we read, “Righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.”* There is the girdle of penitence,* that leathern belt which the Baptist wore,* in token of mortification of the flesh; that of continence, whereof the LORD saith, “Let your loins be girded about;”* the girdle of might, “Gird Thee with Thy sword upon Thy thigh, O Thou most mighty;”* and the girdle of humility, the towel wherewith the LORD girded Himself when He washed the feet of His disciples.* Any of these will serve to fasten closely to us that righteousness of CHRIST which we must needs put on.

20 (19) Let it thus happen from the LORD unto mine enemies: and to those that speak evil against my soul.

The Vulgate, (L.) apparently from a trifling error in reading the LXX., turns the former clause here, This is the work of them that slander me unto the Lord, and the commentators have been at some pains to explain the passage. But as they agree, for the most part in taking work to mean reward, or hire of work, and interpret the remainder as equivalent to the latter part of the verse in meaning, there is little difference between the Latins and Greeks in their exposition. Stress is, however, variously laid on the word soul, (D. C.) some taking it, and rightly, (A.) as meaning life, and the words therefore as referring to the false charges against CHRIST, (C.) while others prefer to point to various heresies as to the Person of CHRIST, such as those of the Docetæ,* the Arians, Eutychians, &c., and one expositor supposes that the word is used in contradistinction to body,* because the charges against our LORD’S poverty and the like, having reference to His human form, were true in fact, (D. C.) however hostile in application. But one moral lesson applies to all the interpretations alike, the deadly peril of joining Satan in his office of accuser, and slandering the righteous.

21a (20) But deal thou with me, O LORD GOD, according unto thy Name: for sweet is thy mercy.

Here the tone of the Psalm changes,* and the LORD turns from the thought of His enemies to make prayer to His FATHER for Himself and His Body the Church. Deal Thou with Me. The LXX. and Vulgate, better, act with Me, (ποίησον μετʼ ἐμοῦ, fac mecum,) that is, (A.) help Me, take My part, by granting Me a speedy and glorious Resurrection. And while CHRIST can say,* in His manhood, Act with Me, so all His disciples can do, because GOD and they are fellow-workers; He only can say it as GOD too, (C.) for “what things soever He [the FATHER] doeth, these also doeth the SON likewise.”* For sweet is Thy mercy.* If CHRIST, Who suffered all the bitterness of the Passion for us, can use these words, (Ay.) much more we, (C.) whom He has redeemed by His free grace alone, for whose sake He took upon Him our flesh, and gave Himself a ransom for us. (D. C.) His justice is terrible, but His mercy is sweet.

O the depth,* the breadth, the height,

Of Thy love’s extension,*

JESU, O the wondrous might

Of Thy condescension;*

Innocency’s purest bloom,

All Thy foes refuting,

Bearing all our sorrows’ doom,

All our sins’ imputing.

Mine the while the joys of life,

Thine its tribulation;

Mine the glory of the strife,

Thine the consternation;

Mine the banquet’s sweetness all,

Thine the self-devotion,

Thine the vinegar and gall

For Thy bitter potion.

21b–22 (21) O deliver me, for I am helpless and poor: and my heart is wounded within me.

There would seem here,* when we take the verse as spoken in the Person of CHRIST, a special reference to His words on the eve of the Passion: “Now is My soul troubled; and what shall I say? FATHER, save Me from this hour.”* The Psalmist, by applying to himself the same three epithets as those in the fifteenth verse,* identifies himself as the object of the persecution there described.

And My heart is wounded within Me. (C.) Therefore, as His heart could be wounded, or troubled, as LXX.* and Vulgate take it, we are assured that He was very Man, and can trust in His entire sympathy. His heart was wounded, not only by the sorrows of the Passion, but with the wound of love, as well as with the spear-thrust on the Cross.* And we have a further reference, it may be, to the cause assigned by modern science as the immediate one of His death, “rupture of the heart from agony of mind.” When the Church, His Body, adopts these words as her own,* or any suffering member thereof does the like, the answer is clear and consoling,* “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My word;”* fitly said, (D. C.) because nought so troubles and wounds the heart of man as the thought of his own sin and GOD’S judgment.

23 (22) I go hence like the shadow that departeth: and am driven away as the grasshopper.

The LORD, when seized by the soldiers in the garden, (C.) was carried away from the very midst of His disciples, as swiftly and silently as the clouds depart when the sun breaks out; or rather, as the shadows at sunset lengthen out and melt away into the darkness. And as the grasshopper, or rather locust, (Z.) is easily driven from place to place, either by the wind, or by beaters with a stick, to force it off plants, so CHRIST was hunted from Bethlehem and Nazareth into Egypt, pursued by enemies in Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Jerusalem, dragged on the very night of His arrest to Annas,* and Caiaphas, and Pilate, and Herod, driven out again, bearing His Cross, to Calvary, thence removed again to the grave,* whence, as a locust saves itself from its foes by a sudden spring,* the LORD escaped by the power of His Resurrection.* And we may also take the words as spoken by Him on behalf of His Body,* and specially with regard to the manner in which all His Apostles, “afraid as a grasshopper,”* forsook Him and fled, according to that saying, “Thy crowned are as the locusts, and thy captains as the great grasshoppers, which camp in the hedges in the cold day, but when the sun ariseth they flee away, and their place is not known where they are.”* And,* having regard to the speed with which sudden swarms of locusts vanish,* they apply the verse also to the Martyrs of a somewhat later day, at times fleeing from city to city, (D. C.) but also swept by multitudes into destruction by the fierce storms of persecution; and we may take it of a single soul also, startled out of its fancied security by the sudden thought of GOD’S righteousness.

24 (23) My knees are weak through fasting: my flesh is dried up for want of fatness.

We have here a brief account of the suffering and sorrowful life of CHRIST,* Whose ministry began and ended with a long fast,* that of the temptation in the wilderness, and that which lay between the Last Supper and the meal of broiled fish and honeycomb of which He partook after His Resurrection. The second clause may refer either to the wasting of His Body from long toil and austerity, as the reading above given and the A. V. both imply, or with LXX., Symmachus, and Vulgate,* for lack of oil, disused in time of mourning; as we read, “Put on now mourning apparel, and anoint thyself not with oil;”* so that the phrase will denote the continual grief of Him Whom we know as the Man of Sorrows. (A.) S. Augustine finds a mystical reference to the Apostles, wavering in their faith at the time of the Passion, because of their sudden loss of spiritual refreshment, and the withdrawal of the Bread of Life from them, and from the lack of that which later refreshed and strengthened them, the unction of the HOLY GHOST. There is, however, another interpretation, taking the words as those of the Church, asking to be heard,* because she makes her prayer in precise accordance with GOD’S command,* “Turn ye even to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning.”*

25 (24) I became also a reproach unto them: they that looked upon me shaked their heads.

One citation from the Gospels exhausts all the needful comment on this verse:* “And they that passed by reviled Him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save Thyself. If Thou be the SON of GOD, come down from the Cross.”*

26 (25) Help me, O LORD my GOD: O save me according to thy mercy;

27 (26) And they shall know, how that this is thy hand: and that thou, LORD, hast done it.

Herein CHRIST prays for His own speedy Resurrection, (D. C.) and for His Church in all time of her need; and in this latter sense He rightly says, According to Thy mercy, not Thy justice, as teaching us never to trust in our own righteousness, or ability to stand before the searching judgment of GOD, but in His grace and loving-kindness only.* In the former sense, (C.) one special object of the Resurrection was to teach the Jews that they had been but the instruments of GOD’S will in bringing the Passion about, for it was His hand; even as CHRIST spake to Pilate, “Thou couldest have no power against Me, except it were given thee from above,”* and that He died, not because they were able to slay Him, but because He had power to lay down His life, and to take it again.* Others refer the hand more especially to the deliverance in the Resurrection,* for it was no theft of the disciples, but a divine miracle, which caused the disappearance of the sacred Body from the tomb. (A.) Yet again, these considerations were to lead them to a further one,* that the Man they had rejected was indeed the Right Hand of GOD,* made in time according to His humanity, but the eternal Creator by Whom the FATHER made and did all things, especially the salvation of mankind. And one at least did know that, even in the darkest hour of the Passion, exclaiming, “Truly this was the SON of GOD.”*

28 (27) Though they curse, yet bless thou: and let them be confounded that rise up against me; but let thy servant rejoice.

A very ancient explanation of this verse is that its first clause has special reference to the denunciations in the Synagogue worship directed against CHRIST and His disciples,* contrasted with the songs of praise and benediction of His Name in the services of the Church.* But we may keep closer to the former verse by continuing to interpret this one of the Passion,* of the blasphemy then spoken against CHRIST, and above all, of His Crucifixion (“for he that is hanged is accursed of GOD,”*) wherein He was “made a curse for us,”* and of GOD’S reversal of that curse by the Resurrection and Ascension of His SON; so that all those Jews who rose up against Him were confounded, some with that evil confusion which comes of refuted falsehood and vain resistance to overwhelming chastisement,* others with that godly “shame which is glory and grace,”* working repentance unto salvation, so that CHRIST,* the Servant of GOD, Who fulfilled His will as none others can do,* rejoices in the increase of His Church, blessed by the FATHER with all spiritual might and benediction.

29 (28) Let mine adversaries be clothed with shame: and let them cover themselves with their own confusion, as with a cloke.

A cloke. This word sufficiently represents the Hebrew, which denotes a large mantle worn over other raiment. But the LXX. and Vulgate translate it a double garment, διπλοΐδα, diploide, that is, either lined, or so large as to be capable of being folded about the person.1 And the commentators, besides the obvious sense of the completeness of the shame invoked, dwell particularly on this notion: (C.) Let it be double, observes one, because the Jews are now made naked to their shame, but if they be clothed with a knowledge of their own Law and also of the Gospel which has succeeded it, they will repent.* If not, their confusion will still be double,* before GOD and man, in this world and the next, in soul and body, by the loss of temple and country,* for Jerusalem “hath received of the LORD’S hand double for all her sins.”* Double also shall she receive in reward for. repentance, when it shall be said to her, “Put off, O Jerusalem, the garment of thy mourning and affliction, and put on the comeliness of the glory that cometh from GOD for ever. Cast about thee a double garment of the righteousness which cometh from GOD, and set a diadem on thine head of the glory of the Everlasting.” And that because GOD saith unto all such as have been put to this shame and confusion, “For your shame ye shall have double,* and for confusion they shall rejoice in their portion; therefore in their land they shall possess the double: everlasting joy shall be unto them.”

30 (29) As for me, I will give great thanks unto the LORD with my mouth: and praise him among the multitude;

31 (30) For lie shall stand at the right hand of the poor: to save his soul from unrighteous judges.

This is spoken in contrast to the confusion of the ungodly.* While they are awed and dumbfounded, CHRIST and His elect will give great thanks to the FATHER, and praise Him among the multitude that cannot be numbered, (A.) in the Heavenly Jerusalem, as well as in the midst of countless faithful hearts even here; and that for the great unlikeness between Him and the false judge at whose right hand Satan stands, for while the one seeks to slay the poor helpless man, the other saves him from his judges.* And from this verse Cardinal Hugo takes occasion to blame such as recite their office in private only, and inaudibly, instead of joining with clear utterance in the public service of the Church. There is a difference, moreover, in the Hebrew of the two verses where the phrase at his right hand, occurs, which is lost in all the versions. In the former,* verse 5, it is עַל־יְמִינו̇, “against his right hand,” implying opposition, while here it is לִימִין, “at the right hand,” denoting co-operation, (C.) which the FATHER gave His SON, the Poor, (L.) as He stood before Caiaphas and Pilate, witnessing His good confession, and as the SON Himself does now, as from His throne on the right hand of GOD He aids every one that is poor in spirit, to save them from the judges of their soul, (as the A. V. margin rightly translates the closing words of the Psalm,) those emperors and rulers who endeavoured to stamp out Christianity of old by fierce persecutions, those unbelievers and false brethren of a later time who equally strive against the inner life and soul of the Church,* those evil spirits who are the suggesters and assistants of both one and the other conspiracy against the Faith.


Glory be to the FATHER, the GOD of our praise; glory be to the SON, the Poor Man, Who is the right Hand of GOD; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, the sweet mercy of the LORD.

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

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