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

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

This Psalm is reckoned in Syriac, Æthiopic, LXX., and Vulgate, as part of the preceding one, is numbered therefore as 113, and has no separate Antiphons nor Uses in the office-books. This peculiarity is found even in some Hebrew MSS., though there can be no reasonable doubt of the completeness of Ps. 114 in itself.

1 Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy Name give the praise: for thy loving mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.

The Psalmist begins with a prayer that GOD will put forth His might, for the vindication of His Name, and of the Law which He gave, against the scoffing idolaters who despised the feeble remnant which returned out of exile to Jerusalem. It is, in fact, asking Him to fulfil the promise that He made by the mouth of Ezekiel, when, declaring the terrible overthrow of the armies of Gog,* He added: “And I will set My glory among the heathen, and all the heathen shall see My judgment that I have executed, and My hand that I have laid upon them. So the house of Israel shall know that I am the LORD their GOD from that day and forward. And the heathen shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity: because they trespassed against Me, therefore hid I My face from them, and gave them into the hand of their enemies; so fell they all by the sword. According to their uncleanness, and according to their transgressions, have I done unto them, and hid My face from them. Therefore thus saith the LORD GOD, Now will I bring again the captivity of Jacob, and have mercy upon the whole house of Israel, and will be jealous for My holy Name.” The words Not unto us are doubled,* in order to express the deep sense of personal unworthiness entertained by the suppliants;* and we may take them also as denoting the blended prayers of the two great constituent elements of the Church,* Jew and Gentile. The words befit us now as much as they did the struggling Hebrew Church. Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give the praise, is the cry of this time, when the Angels are crying “Glory to GOD in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will.”* And the LORD saith, “Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended to My FATHER.”* He is the FATHER’S glory, and He saith, Touch Me not. Seek not glory here, shun it rather, and see that ye touch Me not till we come unto the FATHER, where all glorying shall be secure. For there “my soul shall make her boast in the LORD, the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad.”*

For Thy loving mercy and for Thy truth’s sake. (C.) GOD’S honour is concerned in delivering His people, in order to show that loving mercy, and not the caprice of a despot, has been the motive of His dealings with them; (Ay.) and His truth is no less concerned in fulfilling His promises made to them, and in executing His threatened judgments upon the heathen who have not called upon His Name. By vindicating Himself in these two fashions, He gives glory to that Name, because He moves His people through gratitude, and His enemies through fear, to worship Him; and that for the dear sake of His mercy and truth,* which are JESUS CHRIST.

2 Wherefore shall the heathen say: Where is now their GOD?

This is ever the scoff, (C.) open or secret, of the persecutors of the righteous, of the slayers of the Martyrs; and is again and again urged on GOD by His prophets in the Old Testament as a reason for His deliverance of Israel out of each fresh calamity which sin had brought with it. (L.) So Moses pleaded with Him after the false report of the spies;* so Joel bid the priests cry weeping between the porch and the altar;* so Daniel besought in his petition to the LORD.* And there is a peculiar force in the verse, remembering, as we may, that the charge of Atheism was brought against both Jews and Christians by the Pagans,* on the ground of the absence of all images from their places of worship. So the Proconsul, Statius Quadratus, addressing Polycarp, when endeavouring to persuade him to apostasy, said, “Repent, and say, Away with the Atheists;” words which the aged martyr did thereupon utter, but in a very different sense, and without the denial of CHRIST which was urged on him at the same time.

3 As for our GOD, he is in heaven: he hath done whatsoever pleased him.

In heaven, (L.) not as limited there, for in truth most copies of the LXX. and the Roman Psalter add and in earth,* but as denoting His invisibility,* His majesty, His holiness, and His power; while as for us, who recite daily in the Creed that CHRIST ascended into heaven, we can use the words literally and in a local sense impossible to the Jew. (A.) He hath done whatsoever pleased Him, for all power is given to Him in heaven and in earth, and whatsoever the FATHER doeth, that the SON doeth likewise; in contrast to the heathen idols, mere powerless creatures of man’s imagination and skill, of which the Psalmist now begins to speak.

4 Their idols are silver and gold: even the work of men’s hands.

5 They have mouths, and speak not: eyes have they, and see not.

6 They have ears, and hear not: noses have they, and smell not.

7 They have hands, and handle not; feet have they, and walk not: neither speak they through their throat.

Silver and gold. By singling out these metals,* the most precious materials of which the idols were framed,* and pouring contempt upon even these costly images, the Psalmist heightens the scorn which he implies for such as were of inferior price, and which had not the one element of costliness in their favour.* And when we bear in mind the Apostle’s saying that covetousness is idolatry,* we shall be warned that we too may need this lesson against worshipping silver and gold; or the worldly wisdom and specious eloquence which may be compared to these metals. They have mouths, and speak not. (Z.) It is noteworthy that we do not find here taste not,* which we should expect from the parallelism of the other organs of sense, and which is alleged against idols in Scripture, and it is not inaptly observed that the omission is due to the impossibility of predicating the act of eating of the True GOD, with Whom the idols are here contrasted, though we may speak of Him as speaking, seeing, hearing, and smelling. Cardinal Hugo, who explains the silver and gold to mean simoniacal, luxurious, and ostentatious prelates, carries on his gloss with unsparing vigour,* in which he is supported in well-nigh every particular by S. Albert the Great,* saying that they have mouths, and speak not, because they always get some one to preach in their stead; they have eyes and see not, because they employ Archdeacons and other officials, oculi Episcoporum, to do their visitations for them, or rather to collect money, and neglect the real work of souls; they have ears, no doubt, for money accounts; and for gossip, and flattery, but not for hearing the reading of Scripture, nor for advice, nor for listening to rebuke, nor for hearing the cry of the poor and oppressed; and they have noses, to smell good dinners and wines, but not the sweet savour of CHRIST, nor the fragrance of Paradise; they have hands too, chaplains and other instruments, which they do not employ to heal the wounds of the sick, nor to lift off the burdens of the oppressed, but merely to handle money, and get rich benefices; feet have they, but not for walking after GOD, in the footsteps of CHRIST. Neither speak they through their throat, which is not wonderful, seeing that it is too full with the dainties they are tasting, to allow of speech. (L.) Of this remarkably plain-spoken piece of testimony Lorinus briefly observes, “It is worth while to read it, but unnecessary to copy it out.”* (L.) A third great preacher, however, takes nearly the same line as the Bishop of Ratisbon and the Cardinal of S. Sabina, comparing to an idol that ecclesiastic who has knowledge, but will not preach, who is careless and lacking in circumspection, who is not obedient, though he can hear a command, who has no delicate sense of discernment of the odours of good and evil, who has the power of doing active good, and neglects it, who makes no advance in holiness, and who employs a deputy in choir and pulpit.

Returning to the literal sense, it is desirable to cite some few words from the powerful attack here made on idolatry by S. Augustine. (A.) “The workman is better than they are, for he was able to make them by the movement or action of his members, and yet thou wouldst be ashamed to adore that workman. Thou art better too, though thou didst not make them, for thou canst do what they cannot. A beast is better also * * *. Those people think themselves to be of a purer religion who say, ‘I do not worship the image, nor a demon, but I look on the bodily effigy as a sign of that thing which I ought to worship.’ And therefore they explain the images, saying that by one of them the earth is signified, whence they call it a shrine of Tellus; by another the sea, as an image of Neptune; another the air, which is Juno; another fire, as Vulcan; the morning-star, as Venus; the sun and moon, to whose statues they give the same kind of names as to that of the earth, and so with this and that star, this or that creature, for we cannot go through with the whole catalogue. And when they begin to be cross-examined as to why they worship bodily things, especially the earth, and sea, and air, and fire, all of which are at our disposal to use, (for they are not so much ashamed of heavenly things, because we cannot bodily handle nor reach them save with the glances of our eyes,) they are bold enough to reply, that they do not worship these bodies themselves, but the divinities which preside over their governance. Therefore the Apostle in one sentence witnesseth to their punishment and condemnation, in that he saith, ‘Who changed the truth of GOD into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, Who is blessed for ever.’* For in the first part of this sentence, he condemned the images, and in the latter, the explanation of the images. And that because by calling the statues made by a workman by the names of things which GOD has made, they change the glory of GOD into a lie, and by accounting and worshipping as gods the things themselves, they serve the creature more than the Creator, Who is blessed for ever.” And S. Ambrose, arguing against the gods of Rome, very aptly remarks:* “Geese saved the Roman Capitol from the foe: it is to them, O Rome, that thou truly owest thy dominion. Thy gods were asleep, and the geese kept watch, therefore in those days thou sacrificest to geese, not to Jupiter. For your gods yield precedence to geese, by whom they knew that they were defended, lest they too should be captured by the foe,” for they spake not through their throat, or, as the Hebrew strictly implies, could not even make a low articulate murmuring, whereas the geese had voice enough to raise an alarm.

8 They that make them are like unto them: and so are all such as put their trust in them.

These words are read by most of the ancient versions as an imprecation: Let those that make them be like unto them, which,* as Cardinal Bellarmine justly says, is a prayer that Pagans cannot complain of, without yielding the whole point in dispute. Following the English version, we see a deep truth set before us, that there is a close relation between the object of worship and the worshippers, so that one must react on the other.* They who adore Mars, will be warlike and predatory; those who serve Venus, effeminate and profligate; those who reverence Molech, will be cruel and bloodthirsty. And without looking exclusively to this aspect of the matter, which is forcibly urged against Paganism by some of the early Christian apologists, we may remember how Scripture charges the apostates to idolatry with having “become vain,”* with having eyes and seeing not GOD’S truth, with having ears, and being deaf to His Word,* as we find in that saying by the mouth of Isaiah,* cited by CHRIST and by S. Paul, “Go and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.”* “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes: lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.”* They that put their trust in them. This is a far lower depth than making the idols, as even a Pagan can tell us:

Qui fingit sacros auro vel marmore vultus

Non facit ille deos;* qui rogat, ille facit:

Who moulds in gold or stone a sacred face,

Makes not the god; but he who asks his grace.

They who persevere in such fashion, when they have had access to the truth, whether we take the words of literal idolaters, (Ay.) or of those who appoint, elect, or pay court to evil prelates,* according to the allegorical sense, shall be made at last like unto the idols, (L.) bound hand and foot, so that they cannot move, cast into outer darkness where they cannot see,* and where no pleasant thing shall present itself to their other senses.* And yet CHRIST is able of these stones,* these perverse idolaters, to raise up children unto Abraham, to turn these stony hearts to flesh by the operation of His SPIRIT, to turn them “from these vanities unto the living GOD, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein.”*

9 But thou, house of Israel, trust thou in the LORD: he is their succour and defence.

10 Ye house of Aaron, put your trust in the LORD: he is their helper and defender.

11 Ye that fear the LORD, put your trust in the LORD: he is their helper and defender.

It appears almost certain,* from the structure of these three verses, with their recurring refrain (which is identical in all, and not varied as above,) He is their help and their shield; that a change here was made in the musical and liturgical use of the Psalm, as the first eight verses seem to be intended to be sung with a full choir, and then the first strophe of each of the three succeeding ones as a solo, with full response from the choir again.* The references to the whole Hebrew nation in the ninth verse, and to the Priesthood in the tenth,* perhaps also the entire Levitical body (as in Ps. 135:20,) by reason of its peculiar dignity, are obvious enough; but there is some variety of interpretation as to the persons meant by the phrase,* Ye that fear the Lord. (C.) One view is, that it is merely complementary of what has gone before, and expresses that Israel and Aaron, the laity and priesthood of the Jewish Church, make up the sum of all the true worshippers of GOD. A second opinion extends the meaning to all devout persons of Gentile origin, such as Melchizedek, Job,* Naaman, and others, who served the LORD faithfully, (Ay.) albeit not under the Law;* and that it thus looks forward to the wider Church of later days, embracing Jew and Gentile alike within the fold.* And thirdly, (Z.) some believe that the proselytes of righteousness, Gentiles who conformed in all particulars to the Jewish creed and polity,* and were enrolled in Israel, are alone intended. (L.) The second of these interpretations agrees best with the words of S. Peter, “Of a truth I perceive that GOD is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him.”* The Christian expositors allegorize the verses as denoting all the Catholic Church, as that which “sees GOD,” and then especially its prelates, priests, and religious, with those especial servants of the LORD whose zealous ministry classes them as those that fear Him.* The fear and hope ascribed to these last are, as one remarks, the two mill-stones between which man’s heart should be ground into fine flour for a thank-offering of pleasant bread for the LORD, twin stones which should never be parted one from the other. And we are bid to take notice how GOD is thrice named as our help and shield,* because He is our defender against those three hands of the Chaldeans which slay and spoil the soul; namely, lust, the special temptation of the young; covetousness, the besetting sin of the old; and pride, which often survives when both the others are dead, and is more perilous than either, according to that proverb:

Cum bene pugnaris, cum cuncta subacta putaris,

Quæ magis infestat, vincenda superbia restat.

When thou hast fought a good fight, and thinkest all bowed to thy might,

A sorer foe yet for thy pains, pride still unconquered remains.

And it is written in another place, that “the spoilers came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies,”* which are the world, the flesh, and the devil; against all of which the LORD is a help and a shield to such as fear Him and put their trust in Him.

12 The LORD hath been mindful of us, and he shall bless us: even he shall bless the house of Israel; he shall bless the house of Aaron.

13 He shall bless them that fear the LORD: both small and great.

These two verses,* as well as the two next following, seem to be the answer of the officiating Priest to the chorus of the Levites, declaring GOD’S gracious acceptance of the sacrifice and praises they have just been offering, and His favourable regard to each of the other three classes which were called to prayer by the voice of the choir. (C.) The LORD hath indeed been mindful of us, and hath blessed us by coming in the flesh, whereby, as being born of Hebrew race, He blessed the house of Israel; He blessed the house of Aaron, by conferring new dignity upon the sacerdotal office, in condescending to be made Himself a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek;* He blessed all that feared Him, (L.) both small and great, choosing lowly fishermen for His Apostles, taking little children in His arms and blessing them; yet not despising nor rejecting the princes and great men who then or later humbled themselves to Him. He was mindful of us after He quitted earth in His Ascension, and blessed us by the mission of the HOLY GHOST, a blessing on Israel and Aaron, because He thereby made the members of His Church kings and priests with GOD.* He blessed both small and great in the wide embrace of His love, “where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond or free, but CHRIST is all, and in all.”* He blessed them not with one blessing, but with two, “blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep which lieth under,”* blessing for contemplative and for active spirits, for time and for eternity.

14 The LORD shall increase you more and more: you and your children.

15 Ye are the blessed of the LORD: who made heaven and earth.

There is an obvious reference in these two verses,* forming the close of the priestly benediction in the Psalm, to the two great tests of divine favour in Jewish eyes, fruitfulness in progeny, (L.) so as to ensure national strength, and fertility of the soil, to provide abundantly for the wants of the people. So for the first part Moses addresses the children of Israel: “The LORD your GOD hath multiplied you, and, behold, ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude. The LORD GOD of your fathers make you a thousand times so many more as ye are, and bless you, as He hath promised you.”* And the meaning of the reference to heaven and earth may be found in the blessing of Isaac to Jacob: “GOD give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine.”* But having regard to the denunciation of idols in the former part of the Psalm, it is probable that the title of Maker of heaven and earth is here given to the LORD to distinguish Him from the false deities of the heathen.* And this is in close keeping with the tone of that passage of Jeremiah which is written in Chaldee, as though to prevent any risk of Hebrew being too difficult for the sons of the exiles in Babylon, “Thus shall ye say unto them, The Gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens,”* a lesson which Israel learnt thoroughly in the hard school of the Captivity.

The blessing has come in a fuller sense upon the true Israel, (A.) in that GOD has increased it more and more,* raising up fresh children to Abraham from the dead stones of Gentile heathenism, (R.) children in true spiritual descent from those Prophets and kings who desired to see the day of CHRIST; and He increases more and more, as the ages roll on, the faithful preachers of His Word, and the number of the converts they draw into the body of His Church, the chosen sanctuary of Him Who hath made heaven and earth,* Who hath made those holy teachers who pour down the refreshing rain of the Gospel, and the faithful flocks who receive it, and bring forth fruits abundantly to the LORD,* and also minister unto them that teach them, in all good things.

16 All the whole heavens are the LORD’S: the earth hath he given to the children of men.

Here, as it would seem, the congregation chimes in with its choral response at the close of the priestly blessing. The first clause of the verse is somewhat paraphrased by the Prayer Book. The Hebrew may stand, as LXX., Syriac, and Vulgate take it, The heaven of heaven is the Lord’s; or, as A. V., The heavens, even the heavens are the Lord’s; or lastly, as modern critics prefer, The heavens are the Lord’s heavens. There is, however, no great difference of meaning, as the intention is to magnify the LORD by representing the highest heavens as His palace and dwelling-place, whence He looks down upon the earth, and the men whom He has made to serve Him therein. Mystically,* the heaven of heavens, the full attributes of Godhead, are the possession of the LORD JESUS, Who hath given the Church on earth to us for our guidance, and the holy earth of His most sacred Body as the food of the children of men in that Church.* The heaven of heavens, too, the highest Saints,* those Apostles and Evangelists who derived their teaching directly from Himself, whom He adorned with the sun of wisdom, the moon of eloquence,* the stars of miracles and holiness, are His; as are likewise those lower heavens of great Saints of later days, Athanasius, Basil, Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory, whose knowledge was less directly obtained; while the whole expanse of His Church is not kept merely for those eminent in wisdom and virtue, like these, but is thrown open to the children of men, to all that are willing to enter in. (L.) It is told of Nivard, youngest brother of S. Bernard, that when all the elder sons of the family had resolved to enter the monastic order, Guy de Fontanes, the senior amongst them, said to the boy,* “Farewell, my little brother Nivard, you will have all the estates and lands to yourself;” and the lad answered, “What, you take heaven for your portion, and leave me only the earth! The division is too unequal.”* Hence we are taught, that though the earth is given by GOD to the children of men, yet He has a better country, even heaven, to give to such as will seek it, who are sons of GOD, not mere children of men, and who can win heaven by exchanging earth for it, in contempt of riches and luxury, of lands and houses, and all things which are not of the Gospel.

17 The dead praise not thee, O LORD: neither all they that go down into silence.

In the mind of the Jew, (L.) with his very imperfect realization of the life of the world to come, one main reason for being zealous in the praise of the LORD was the thought that this life might be, and probably was, the only one in which He could be fully worshipped by men, and that it therefore behoved them to be frequent in their attendance on His public service, and ready with their voices and instruments to join in the Psalmody of the Temple.* The word dead,* however, may very possibly here have reference to the eighth verse, in which the worshippers of idols are said to be like unto them; and as the idols themselves are most probably intended in the mention of “offerings of the dead”* in a previous Psalm, we may fairly take the contrast here in the two last verses to be not between living and dead Jews, (R.) but between worshippers of the LORD and worshippers of idols.* But the deeper Christian sense explains it of sinners, dead even while living,* through lack of grace and spiritual vitality,* in this world;* and cut off in the next, if finally impenitent, from all share in that praise of GOD which rises eternally in heaven.* There are, however, dead who can praise the LORD, those blessed ones who have died in Him, whose death is precious in His sight, who are dead indeed to sin here: “buried with Him by baptism into death,”* or who, killed for His sake in the body, are yet alive to Him in soul and spirit. To these, and such as these, the last verse belongs:

18 But we will praise the LORD: from this time forth for evermore. Praise the LORD.

The LXX., Arabic, and Vulgate, (C.) fill in the suggested idea, reading, as they do, But we who live, will praise the Lord; for “GOD is not the GOD of the dead, but of the living;”* that is, not of those who possess mere physical vitality, but of such as live the life of grace, (D. C.) who shall praise Him, from this time forth,* beginning at once in faith, good works, and holiness, and persevering to the very end, to that other life of glory, where for evermore the unceasing Alleluias of the conquerors ascend to their King.


Glory be to the FATHER, Whose are the heavens of heavens; glory be to the SON, Who is our help and shield; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Who increaseth us more and more.

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

Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com