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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.

We who live * bless the LORD.

Mozarabic. Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give the praise.

1 When Israel came out of Egypt: and the house of Jacob from among the strange people;

2 Judah was his sanctuary: and Israel his dominion.

The LXX.* begins the Psalm with a more familiar phrase: In the Exodus of Israel. And the Psalmist tells us how this very act was the true beginning of the national life of the Hebrews, their consecration as a special people to the service of GOD. They went down merely as the house of Jacob, members of a single family, if not actually a single household; and while in Egypt itself, they were on the one hand mixed up with the native population, and on the other, were serfs and bondslaves, with no independent polity.* That they continued, however, to be radically distinct from the Egyptians appears from the word strange, translated by the A. V. of strange language, (Aquila, ἑτερογλώσσου), but by Chaldee, LXX. and Vulgate barbarous. It is more precisely לֹעֵז, “stammering,” that is, unintelligible; a sense in which S. Paul employs the corresponding Greek expression, saying, “If I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.”1*

Judah was His sanctuary. Judah here does not stand for the royal tribe, still less for the Patriarch,* but for the whole land of Judea, a meaning fixed in Hebrew by the feminine form of the verb. But the earlier commentators do take it of the tribe, pointing out that even before the reign of David it had acquired a certain priority; inasmuch as it led the van of march in the wilderness,* and was divinely selected to begin the attack on the Canaanites after the death of Joshua.* There is a Rabbinical legend that this leadership was conferred as a reward upon Judah,* because when all the Israelites hung back in alarm at the brink of the Red Sea, (Ay.) Amminadab, prince of that tribe, caught up the standard of his house and passed first between the waters. But there are two sufficient reasons, independently of the grammatical one, for taking Judah to mean the whole country. First; the parallelism between the two strophes of the verse is thus exact, and Israel precisely balances Judah. Next; no place specially sacred in Jewish history lay within the limits of the tribe of Judah.* Shiloh, in Ephraim, was the earliest shrine of the Ark after the conquest, and Jerusalem lay within the actual boundaries of Benjamin. And, finally, the epithet sanctuary is twice applied to the whole of Palestine in other parts of Scripture; once in the Song of Moses: “Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance, in the place, O LORD, which Thou hast made for Thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O LORD, which Thy hands have established;”* and once in the Psalter: “And brought them within the borders of His Sanctuary.” And Israel His dominion.* This points to the establishment of the Theocracy,* in that Israel was the only nation whose King was the LORD Himself,* and wherein He habitually displayed His providence by miraculous acts of power.

The Paschal character of this Psalm, and its triumphant accents, have led to its use primarily as an Easter Psalm in the Christian Church, and then its employment on every Sunday, the festival whereon a weekly commemoration is made of the Resurrection of CHRIST our Passover. This use is emphasized by the custom of the modern Roman Breviary, which deviates so far from its normal custom of employing the same Psalms for Sundays and festivals,* as to substitute Ps. 117 for this one on feast-days which have not a specific Sunday rite of their own. The connection between Israel’s passage of the Red Sea, led by Moses with his rod, and the march of the Christian people out of the bondage of sin through the ruddy depths of the Passion, following the Cross of CHRIST, is forcibly brought out by one Word, whose force is lost in the A. V. In S. Luke’s narrative of the Transfiguration, it is said, “And behold, there talked with Him two men, which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory, and spake of His decease which He should accomplish in Jerusalem.”* The word here translated decease is Exodus, and the notion it involves has been embodied in well-nigh every Paschal homily and hymn of the ancient Church.* It was then, in the LORD’S own Exodus, in the coming of His people out of the midst of His enemies, that Judah became His sanctuary, because He consecrated His Jewish Apostles to the office of discipling, baptizing, confirming, and teaching the Gentiles, so that, in His own words “salvation is of the Jews.”* And then His people, no longer a mere house of Jacob, wrestling against sin,* became Israel His dominion, because, prevalent with GOD,* they are also able in the power of His might to resist all sins and temptations, (D. C.) while they hallow His Name in their capacity as Judah, giving Him continual “praise.” The idea of the march of Israel out of Egypt, as typical of the Christian pilgrimage, has been for many centuries musically suggested by the employment throughout the Western Church of the Tonus Peregrinus, or “Pilgrim’s Chant,” (an irregular form of the eighth Gregorian tone,) for this particular Psalm,* a custom said to be immediately derived from the traditional use of the Synagogue, and thus blending, even more than in any other use of the Psalter by Christians, the most august and victorious memories of the Old and New Testaments.

Come, ye faithful, raise the strain,

Of triumphant gladness!*

GOD hath brought His Israel

Into joy from sadness:

Loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke

Jacob’s sons and daughters;

Led them with unmoistened foot

Through the Red Sea waters.

Tis the Spring of souls to-day,

CHRIST hath burst His prison;

And from three days’ sleep in death

As a sun, hath risen.

All the winter of our sins,

Long and dark, is flying

From His light, to Whom we give

Laud and praise undying.

One other peculiarity of the second verse requires attention. It twice uses the word His, without naming any one. There are two theories to account for this circumstance. One is that Psalm 114 was always sung in immediate connection with 113,* in which the Name of GOD occurs no less than six times, so that the continuance of the train of thought made a fresh repetition of it here unnecessary. But this view, to be fully consistent with itself, must assume that the two Psalms are really one, with a merely arbitrary division, which does not, on the face of the matter, seem by any means probable, as the scope of thought in the two is perfectly distinct. The other,* which is more satisfactory, regards the omission of the Holy Name in this part of the Psalm as a poetical artifice to heighten the effect of the answer to the sudden apostrophe in verses five and six. There would be nothing marvellous in the agitation of sea, and river, and mountains in the presence of GOD, but it may well appear wonderful till that potent cause is revealed, as it is most forcibly in the dignified words of the seventh verse.

3 The sea saw that, and fled: Jordan was driven back.

Two miracles of the same class,* though parted from one another by an interval of forty years in time and a wide distance in space, are here coupled, to teach us that GOD’S power extends everywhere, and is not tied down by any limits of space or time, and also because they mark the beginning and end of the Hebrew pilgrimage. The word fled, refers to the passage, “The LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided;”* while driven back, applied to Jordan, tells that “the waters that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, failed, and were cut off.”* In the one particular of the pathway between two walls of water to allow the passage of Israel, the two miracles precisely agree, and find a partial parallel in classical poetry, as when Cyrene makes a road through a river to her palace for her son Aristæus:

Simul alta jubet discedere late

Flumina,* qua juvenis gressus inferret, at illum

Curvata in montis speciem circumstetit unda,

Accepitque sinu vasto.

Meanwhile, she bids the deep streams widely part,

Where the youth’s steps should enter, and the wave,

Curved like a mountain, compassed him about,

And took him to its bosom vast.

Mystically, (C.) the fleeing of the sea is explained as the alarm of sinners,* and especially of Gentile heathens, at the Gospel tidings, and their consequent abandonment of their former habits.* There is more variety in the treatment of the latter clause of the verse. Some, pointing out, truly enough, that Jordan means “the descender,”* and that its course terminates in the Dead Sea, take it as a type of those who sin, not from ignorance, but from passion, and from being hurried along, like a swift river, by the cares and temptations of the world. These are suddenly stayed in their course, and are driven back, that is, converted by penitence to GOD, from the headlong descent into the abyss of death to which they had been hurrying, according to His own call, “Turn ye unto Him from Whom the children of Israel have deeply revolted.”* And in this special sense many of those who interpret the sea as the Gentiles will have it that Jordan has special reference to the Jews. Others bring in the idea of Baptism,* as connected with the Jordan, and treat it variously. Thus it is sometimes combined with the exposition just given above, and interpreted of the conversion and baptism of those who were hurrying into the bitter sea of Gentile idolatry from terror at the sufferings of the Martyrs, but who retraced their steps to Bethabara, to receive the baptism, not of John,* but of JESUS. (Ay.) Or again, it is taken without this special limitation, of all penitents who are converted and received into the Church.* A further interpretation is that the river stands for the whole tide of human passions and affections, and that this tide is driven backward, and made to rise “upon an heap”* when men abandon earthly thoughts, and set their affections on things on high; not fleeing from GOD, like the sea,* but to Him, because of love which casteth out fear.

4 The mountains skipped like rams: and the little hills like young sheep.

Here the Psalmist turns to the earthquake when the Law was given on Sinai.* But there is a curious Hebrew tradition to the effect that when the children of Israel were in the valley of Arnon,* between Moab and the Amorites,* the mountains on the further side bent down to allow them an easy passage; (Ay.) and in this sense they interpret that verse from the lost Book of the Wars of the LORD,* “what He did in the Red Sea, and in the brooks of Arnon, and at the stream of the brooks that goeth down to the dwelling of Ar, and lieth upon the border of Moab.”* If we take the words as denoting the terror and dismay of the mountains (“I beheld the mountains, and lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly,”*) we may very well explain the verse figuratively of the dread which fell upon the Canaanite chieftains at the news of the advance of Israel, according to the Song of Moses: “Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold of them, all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away;”* and may carry on this reference further to the alarm of the kings and great ones of the earth at the coming of CHRIST, when Herod, and at a later day, Pilate, feared greatly, and when the Roman Empire put out all its strength ten times from its seven-hilled capital against the Faith. But the majority of the commentators, looking to the idea of rejoicing which the Hebrew רָקְדוּ may imply here, as it certainly does in Eccl. 3:4, and which is undoubtedly included in the LXX. ἐσκίρτησαν, the Vulgate exsultaverunt, the English skipped, prefer to take the words first as a personification of the gladness of Canaan at the coming of GOD to overthrow the idol shrines on many a hill, which they may be regarded as eager to shake off, and then as denoting the exultation of the Apostles, (C.) those great mountains of GOD, rams, as leaders of His flock;* and that of the inferior disciples, (little, indeed, in comparison with giants like Peter and Paul,* James and John, but yet hills, (Ay.) raised above the ordinary level of earth,* and young sheep of His pasture Who carries the lambs in His bosom,) in the grace, mercy, and truth of JESUS CHRIST.

Ipsi Iætitia voces ad sidera jactant

Intonsi montes: ipsæ jam carmina rupes,*

Ipsa sonant arbusta, Deus, deus ille.

With joy the shaggy mountains send their voice

Up to the stars, the rocks break out in song,

The very copses echo, He is GOD!

5 What aileth thee, 0 thou sea, that thou fleddest: and thou, Jordan, that thou wast driven back?

6 Ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams: and ye little hills, like young sheep?

The bold personification and address here, which constitute the chief beauty of the Psalm, have not been lost sight of by the commentators, who explain the first verse of the astonishment of the world at the sudden cessation of the fierce pagan assaults on Christianity, (Ay.) when the Empire bowed to the Cross just ten years after Diocletian had proclaimed his successful extirpation of the hated creed, and the still greater bewilderment which seized on Gentile philosophy in seeing Saints, even according to the view of enlightened heathens, made out of the unpromising material of harlots, felons, and outcasts of society. Still more happily they take the second verse of the astonishment of the persecutors at the joy with which the Christian Martyrs received sentence of death, and went to the rack, the stake, the arena, and the scaffold, as though to a bridal or a throne, as indeed they were going to both, had their judges but known it, “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His Name.”*

7 Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the LORD; at the presence of the GOD of Jacob;

8 Who turned the hard rock into a standing water: and the flint-stone into a springing well.

Here is the answer to the question in the previous verses: Nothing but the presence of GOD Himself could so have wrought on the mightiest of inanimate things, sea, and flood, and mountain, as to cause them to flee and shake, as the Greek tragic poet sings:

τρέμει δʼ ὄρη καὶ γαῖα καὶ πελώριος*

βυθὸς θαλάσσης, τʼ ὀρέων ὕψος μέγα•

ἐπʼ ἂν ἐπιβλέψῃ γοργὸν ὄμμα Δεσπότου,

πάντα δυνατὴ γὰρ δόξα ὑψίστου.

The mountains quake, and earth, and the abyss

Of mighty ocean, and the lofty hills,

When the LORD’S awful eye but looks on them,

For the Most High in glory hath all might.

Do not these words,* asks S. Clement of Alexandria, seem a paraphrase of The earth was shaken at the presence of the Lord? (LXX.) It is well said the earth here,* for if the mountains, themselves but a small part of the earth, skipped at the giving of the Law, far greater wonders accompanied the revelation of CHRIST in the Gospel.* And He showed His face in four ways, living, dying, judging, reigning. The first is the face of His poverty, in lowly birth and sorrowful life: the second of His sorrow in His Passion; the third of His wrath against sin; the fourth of the delight which the open vision of Him shall give His elect. And each of these aspects of His countenance appeals to men that they may be moved from mere earthly things and turn to Him. The last verse is variously explained, and first, accepting S. Paul’s gloss,* that the smitten Rock was CHRIST.* He was a Rock whence no streams appeared to flow to His doubting disciples, when He revealed to them the mystery of the Real Presence of His Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, and they answered, “This is a hard saying, who can hear it?”* But after He was smitten with the rod of the Cross, and rose again, He opened to them the Scriptures, and by showing them the types concerning Him in the Law and the Prophets, writings confined to the narrow circle of the Jewish nation, He turned Himself, the Rock, into that standing water; but by sending the Paraclete on the Apostles, and giving them knowledge of all tongues, that they might preach Him in all lands, He made Himself into a springing well,* and lo, His brook became a river, and His river became a sea.

Again, they take the rock to be the hard hearts of the Jews, (C.) converted into the calm stillness of Christian belief, and the flintstone the equally indurated Gentiles, nevertheless brought to be preachers of that very Word to which they were at first insensible.* And finally GOD turns the stony heart of the sinner into a heart of flesh, and causes it to shed copious floods of penitential tears, and turns all the hardness and suffering of earth into the abundant joys of heaven; truly a standing water, because it is an exhaustless reservoir, an unruffled ocean of bliss, and a springing well, because it has no monotony, but is ever fresh and new.


Glory be to the FATHER, the LORD GOD of Jacob; glory be to the SON, the Prince of Judah, His Sanctuary; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Who is those rivers of living water which spring up within the Saints unto everlasting life.

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

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