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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.

The fifteenth letter,* Samech, denotes a prop or pillar, and this agrees well with the subject-matter of the strophe, in which GOD is twice implored to uphold His servant;* while the utter destruction of those who make light of His law, or encourage scepticism regarding it, may he compared to the fate of the Philistine lords on whom Samson brought down the roof of the house where they were making merry,* by overthrowing the pillars which supported it. S. Ambrose,* though preferring another interpretation,* gives also the sense of firmament,* implying a solid basis, to Samech, which is sufficiently close to the true purport, and nearer than S. Jerome’s help, which Beda follows.

113 I hate them that imagine evil things: (ס) but thy law do I love.

Neither this version, which agrees with the Targum, nor the LXX. and Vulgate, I hate the unrighteous, (παρανόμους, iniquos,) nor yet the A. V., I hate vain thoughts, accurately represents the full sense of the original.* The word סֵעֲפִים may apply to either thoughts or persons, but it contains the notion of double-mindedness, halting between two opinions, wavering, or being sceptical. The verse is thus another form of the appeal of Elijah to the people just before the miracle on Carmel, “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be GOD, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.”*1 And another comment on it may be found in the words of the Apostle: “He that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he will receive anything from the LORD. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.”* One commentator, albeit unaware of the literal sense, (P.) yet penetrates its meaning so far as to observe that the whole strophe has to do, not with open enemies and persecutors of GOD’S word, but with crafty heretics, undermining it by secret arts and misrepresentations. And he applies it specially to the outbreak of Arianism, supported as it was by emperors and kings, and by external violence, while the one help and hope of the Church was her trust in Thy Word, Consubstantial with the FATHER.

Some of the early commentators argue that the whole tone of the saintly mind is so alien to hate of men that we ought to take the reference here to he to abhorrence of unrighteous thoughts or words,* and discard the other interpretation;* while others, recalling the LORD’S own saying, (H.) “If any man come to Me, (C.) and hate not his father and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot he My disciple,”* quote also the words of the Preacher, “A time to love, and a time to hate;”* and tell us that the former holds good of any evil done to ourselves, which we are not to repay save with good, but in time of martyrdom we are to treat all those who would draw us away, even in the gentlest fashion, from the confession of CHRIST, as His enemies and ours.

The Carthusian discusses at length the proofs from the Old Testament which prove the falsehood of the Jewish opinion that it is lawful to hate one’s enemies, (D. C.) but his argument may be summed up in the pithy saying of S. Prosper,* “In wicked men we rightly hate the evil, but love the creature.”

114 Thou art my defence and shield: and my trust is in thy word.

For defence (rather hiding-place, A. V.) and shield, the Vulgate has helper and taker-up, (A.) on which they say that GOD is our helper in doing good, our taker-up to lift us out of danger from evil; that He was our helper under the Law, our taker-up under the Gospel,* when He took our nature upon Him; He is our helper in the strife of this world, our taker-up into perfect rest at the end of the struggle. (G.) But the literal sense yields as deep a meaning. GOD is our hiding-place in the passive state of our souls, in the beginning of our conflict with sin, when the most we are able for is merely to avoid its attacks, like the children of Israel in fear of the Philistines, when “the people did hide themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high places, and in pits.”* He is our shield, when with more strength and courage we go forth boldly to do battle with our foes,* like Jonathan smiting the garrison at Michmash. And my trust is in Thy Word. I have not trusted in the Law,* nor in the Prophets, but in Thy Word, in Thy coming, LORD JESU, that Thou shouldest come and receive sinners, pardon offences, and, Good Shepherd, carry Thy weary sheep upon Thy shoulders on the Cross.

115 Away from me, ye wicked: I will keep the commandments of my GOD.

It may be spoken,* as one will have it, to the evil spirits which tempt the soul. Hearken to the angels calling to thee, as they did to Lot. See to thy soul, look not backwards, do what thou art about, for if thou even standest still,* then recollect the advance thou hast made. Or again, it may be addressed to our own inward tempters, “for out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies;”* and finally, in the most obvious and literal sense, (C.) to wicked men, whether workers of moral or of physical evil, and in particular, as they agree, (P.) teachers of false doctrine. One commentator reminds us of the great need of quiet retirement for those who desire to repent of their sins, and yet may be induced to remain in them through the influence of worldly, even if not pronouncedly evil,* companionship. And with this accords the gloss of S. Augustine on the Vulgate reading in the last clause, (A.) I will search out the commandments of my God, for he observes that though evil persons train the Saints in doing GOD’S commandments, yet their society and conversation is incompatible with quiet and patient study thereof, and ought consequently to be avoided. And it is told of S. Gregory the Great, (Ay.) that when he entered his cell to read his Bible, he always prefaced his studies with the recitation of this verse.

116 O stablish me according to thy word, that I may live: and let me not be disappointed of my hope.

The sense is more exactly,* Prop me up with Thy word,* as with a staff on which I may securely and firmly lean, that I fall not, since it will not bend or break like a reed. The Vulgate has, (Ay.) less correctly, Take me up, that is, as they severally interpret it, Send Thy Word to take my nature upon Him, by His Incarnation, and so raise it to new dignity, higher than that from which it fell; take me up out of the mire and the snares of this world, that even here I may be safe from mine enemies, (R.) and have my conversation in heaven; take me up in the Resurrection to everlasting bliss, that I may live, (A.) long after the death of my mortal body, in everlasting life.* For if he liveth who is in the bosom of the Patriarch Abraham, like Lazarus the beggar, how much more doth he live who is taken up by CHRIST? How can he but live for ever whom Life Everlasting hath taken up, whom CHRIST hath claimed as entirely His own, who belongeth altogether to the WORD, whose life is hidden in CHRIST JESUS, (D. C.) who is taken up in the arms of His boundless loving-kindness?

Coming back to the literal sense of the Hebrew, Stablish or prop me,* note that even the godly are subject to a twofold instability; the first being a wavering from constant belief of GOD’S promises, which is instability of faith; for it may truly be said that he never knew what it is to believe who knows not what it is to wrestle with unbelief; the other being an instability of love and obedience; so that we need not only the grace of conversion, but also of confirmation and perseverance. According to Thy word. That is, as already noted, according to CHRIST JESUS, the WORD of the FATHER, and also according to Thy promise; the only manner in which the Saints pray. There are others who do otherwise, not looking to GOD’S promise, nor yet leaning on the top of His Word,* as their staff, in prayer. And others there are who pray contrary to GOD’S promise, by asking His help to prosper them in evil, which is offering strange fire, an abomination, to Him.* That I may live. Not with the mere vegetable life, in which trees far excel men, nor yet with the sensitive life, wherein many beasts surpass him, nor even in the natural life, which many reprobates have, all which are a mere shadow of life, which those who have are dead while living; but the life of grace in the soul, which continues to all eternity. Let me not he disappointed of my hope. Or, as it may also be translated, as in A. V., ashamed of my hope.* Our hope is everlasting life, our hope is the Kingdom of GOD, the fellowship of the Angels, the blessings of the Spirit. Hope daily, hope even in trouble, for “hope maketh not ashamed.”*

117 Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe: yea, my delight shall be ever in thy statutes.

Since GOD’S help is twofold, inward and outward, so too there is a twofold stablishing of the body, outwardly with a staff or prop,* and inwardly with food and drink, and both these may be spoken of in the same terms, and accordingly this verse is the complement of the preceding one, and asks for the inward feeding of the faint and hungry soul, as the previous entreaty was for outward assistance with grace. The prayer is repeated,* because the help already given is not enough, for we need GOD’S incessant aid while we are here, where at most we look forward to that future, saying, I shall be safe.* We cannot say here, I am safe; that will be only when we have reached the fellowship of the elect angels. (C.) My delight, &c. This is at once a promise of grateful service, and a declaration of the necessary result of being held up by GOD. Ever, in all the course of this life; ever in the perpetual glory and delight of heaven.

118 Thou hast trodden down all them that depart from thy statutes: for they imagine but deceit.

Trodden down. The Vulgate has sprevisti, that is, spurned with the foot, while S. Jerome has abjecisti, Thou hast cast away. The literal meaning of the word סָלִיתָ is, Thou hast lifted up,* as a very light and trifling thing, ascending in the scale of a balance, and hence, Thou hast made light of. All these meanings are combined in the notion here implied, that GOD forcibly removes the ungodly from being stumbling-blocks in the way of His saints,* just as a wayfarer kicks stones and other obstacles out of his path, that they may not trip him up, nor those who come after him.1 S. Bruno lays stress on the word all,* as teaching Christians who lead ungodly lives that they cannot comfort themselves by thinking that GOD’S anger will fall only on Jews, heathens, and heretics, since no exception is here made, nor in the succeeding verse, under which they can be sheltered. And the next portion of the verse shows that alienation from GOD is the sinner’s act, and his only.* It is the prodigal son who takes his journey into a far country,* not his father who forces him to go, or withdraws himself from him.

For they imagine but deceit. The A. V. is more literal, For their deceit is falsehood, that is, they are not merely wily and cunning, but add positive lying to gain their ends; or with a yet fuller sense, Their deceit is vain, it deceives themselves, but no one else (so Symmachus, ματαία); they tell a lie and get no profit by it. The LXX. and Vulgate agree in reading, less forcibly, For their thought is unjust.

119 Thou puttest away all the ungodly of the earth like dross: therefore I love thy testimonies.

The fire of CHRIST’S judgments,* when He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver, tests and purges His Saints, of whom He saith,* “I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried.*

My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns;*

Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns;

The fuel Justice layeth on, and Mercy blows the coals,

The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defiléd souls;

For which, as now on fire I am, to work them to their good,

So will I melt into a bath, to wash them in My Blood.

But on the other hand, the very process which brings the Saints forth in richness and beauty is the punishment and destruction of the ungodly, as it is written in another place: “Son of man, the house of Israel is to Me become dross:* all they are brass, and tin, and iron, and lead, in the midst of the furnace; they are even the dross of silver. Therefore thus saith the LORD GOD; Because ye are all become dross, behold, therefore I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem. As they gather silver, and brass, and iron, and lead, and tin, into the midst of the furnace, to blow the fire upon it, to melt it; so will I gather you in Mine anger and in My fury, and I will leave you there, and melt you. Yea, I will gather you, and blow upon you in the fire of My wrath, and ye shall be melted in the midst thereof. As silver is melted in the midst of the furnace, so shall ye be melted in the midst thereof; and ye shall know that I the LORD have poured out My fury upon you.” And therefore the Saint will love GOD’S testimonies, recognising the mercy and the justice blended in them, in that He destroys sinners with and by their own works,* as we read that the Swedes once dealt with some Russian merchants who passed off a quantity of base coin upon them. The dross was melted, and the deceivers flung into the midst of the molten metal.

But the LXX. and Vulgate follow a different reading,1 and translate the first clause: I have counted all sinners of the earth as transgressors, (A.) (παραβαίνοντας, prævaricatores,) that is, although there can in strictness be no transgressors where there is no law,* yet as the sinners amongst Gentiles have a natural law by the light of which they are bound to walk,* such of them as transgress it are as guilty as Jews who violate the Mosaic code. Or it may be taken conversely, I have counted all transgressors as sinners of the earth,* that is, as guilty of coarse and grovelling sins, or as doomed to destruction, (D. C.) according to that saying of the Prophet, “O LORD, the hope of Israel, all they that forsake Thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.”*

120 My flesh trembleth for fear of thee: and I am afraid of thy judgments.

Trembleth. The notion is exactly given by Symmachus and S. Jerome, (ὀρθοτριχεῖ, horripilavit,) My flesh bristles, the hair stands up with fright. But the LXX. has a singular version, Nail my flesh with Thy fear,2 followed, less forcibly,* by the Vulgate, Pierce (confige) my flesh. And it is no wonder that they see here a reference to the Passion,* and to its influence on those Saints whom it crucifies to the world, (H.) who bear in their bodies the marks of the LORD JESUS.* But why is it said my flesh,* and not my spirit? Because, (Z.) answers a Greek Father, while I read of Thy judgments I am chastened by fear in my mind, but my body does not suffer in like manner. Therefore pierce it also with this fear, that it may no longer be hurried away into immoderate desires or unseemly works. Force me back into the right path,* as an ox is goaded when he swerves from the furrow. Fasten me in a sure place that my body may have no more power to sin. I am afraid of Thy judgments, (D. C.) both of that special one of my death, and the general doom of all. Fasten me then with the nails of chaste and holy fear, not that of dreading chastisement, (C.) but of anxiety lest I should lose grace, and fasten me also with the other nail of love, that I may cling to Thee always.* S. Bernard puts the same notion in another form: The Saint, when in his prayer he saith “Pierce my flesh with Thy fear,” wisely entreats to be wholesomely shot at and wounded. Fear is that best of arrows which pierces and slays the desires of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved.

The order of GOD’S dealings with the Church, “the pillar and ground of the truth,”* is clearly set forth in this strophe. The first verse tells of GOD’S teachings,* and the separation between faithful Christians and the wavering Judaizers or imperfect converts; the second, the encouragement and confidence of the Church in beginning her missionary career; the third, the attempts made by Pagans and Gnostics to seduce the Church from her allegiance; the fourth is a prayer for the steadfastness of new converts tempted to fall away; the fifth a prayer for the support of the Church itself in time of persecution by unbelievers or apostates; the sixth, the overthrow of these apostates and persecutors; seventhly, the purging of the Church from all dross; and eighthly, the Last Judgment.

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