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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.

Teach us,* O LORD, to do judgment and justice, that we be not given over unto our enemies, nor be put under unrighteous slanderers, but loving Thy words with steadfast minds, may be delivered from all evil snares. (1.)

O GOD, Who freely givest right judgment and justice,* grant unto Thy servants that by Thy help and pity, they may ever meditate on such things as are pleasing unto Thee. (1.)

Teach us,* O LORD, to do judgment and justice, that we may be able to tread under foot the slanders of the proud, receive Thy servants for good, who hope in Thy salvation, and grant that they whose inward eyes watch for the kingdom of Thy CHRIST, may have a share in the fellowship of the elect. (11.)


The seventeenth letter, (L.) Pe, denotes the mouth, and, as Beda observes,* here denotes the twofold employment of that organ by GOD’S servants, the utterance of prayer and praise to Him, and the drinking in His precepts. They also remind us that CHRIST, as the Eternal Word, is also the Mouth of His FATHER,* the means by which He utters His words to mankind, according to that saying of the Bride in the Canticles: “Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth.”*

129 Thy testimonies are wonderful: (פ) therefore doth my soul keep them.

Gerhohus bids us look forth on creation, (G.) and contemplate the marvellous order which reigns throughout it, from the loftiest archangel to the meanest worm, the courses of the stars, the motions of the waters, and so forth; and thence draw some faint image of the power, wisdom, and goodness of GOD, whence we may turn to the yet more wonderful proofs of His spiritual excellency, manifested in all His dealings with the children of Israel, and with us, their Gentile offspring, since. They raise a question here, as to whether there be not a contradiction in this verse of that passage in another place where it is said that GOD’S “commandment is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off,”* where hidden is in the Hebrew wonderful.* And they answer that the literal sense of the Law in its ceremonial,* judicial, moral, and other legal provisions is easy and simple enough, but that the mystical import is often very obscure; and that there is thus a wide distinction between the plain and brief statements of the Decalogue, and the intricate symbolism of the Book of Leviticus with its well-nigh countless ritual details. (D. C.) And so, too, the moral precepts of the Gospel are plain to all understandings, but the mysteries of the Creed surpass the intellect of man.* Cardinal Hugo observes that the epithet wonderful is given to the testimonies of Holy Writ for several reasons: for their novelty: “What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth He even the unclean spirits, and they do obey Him;”* for their depth: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of GOD:”* for their number: “I have written to him My many laws:”* for their suitability to every one, young and old alike: “I have drunk my wine with my milk:”* their teaching power: “the testimony of the LORD is sure, and giveth wisdom unto the simple:”* and their power of working miracles: “The same works which I do, bear witness of Me.”* Therefore doth my soul keep them. It is, in another form, that great saying of Tertullian: “The SON of GOD was crucified,* it shames me not, because it was shameful; and the SON of GOD died, it is credible, because it is foolish; He was buried and rose again, it is certain, because it is impossible.”

130 When thy word goeth forth: it giveth light and understanding unto the simple.

Goeth forth. The literal Hebrew is The opening (that is, the disclosing or revelation, LXX. δήλωσις, Vulg. declaratio) of Thy words; whence the erroneous A. V. rendering, entrance, following the ἡ πύλη of Symmachus, and the ostium of S. Jerome.* The interpretation given of this version by the Rabbins is that the entrance or beginning of GOD’S words is the prefatory sentence of the Decalogue, “I am the LORD thy GOD, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt: thou shalt have none other gods but Me,”* which gave light to the uninstructed Jews, but newly rescued from contact with idolatry, and gave them understanding of the unity of GOD. Hence those who follow this gloss, remark, If the very entrance and first rudiments of GOD’S word are so mighty for enlightenment, what will be the full revelation of His glory? But the other rendering is to be preferred. And the first and highest sense for us is the manner in which the preaching of the Gospel by the LORD JESUS gave understanding of all the hidden mysteries of the Law and the Prophets to the unlearned and ignorant men; the poor fishers of Galilee whom He chose for His Apostles. So the Holy Eastern Church sings at Pentecost:

Incomprehensible is Deity,*

For He hath given words to unlearned men,

And made them equal to the wise in speech,

And with the SPIRIT’S lightning, He hath brought

The ignorant from out of deepest night.

And therefore the LORD Himself saith in the Gospel,* “I thank Thee, O FATHER, LORD of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”* What was true then holds good still, for He reveals Himself to the lowly, but as for the proud, He beholdeth them afar off. Hence the custom of the Church in publicly reading the Holy Scriptures to all comers, however unlearned and dull; for as a Saint of the Primitive Church remarks,* All the Scriptures, both of the Prophets and the Gospels, are open, and plain, and may be heard of all men; and Lactantius replies to possible objectors, “Is it to be fancied that GOD, Who is the Maker of the mind,* and the tongue, and the voice, cannot speak plainly Himself? Nay, rather, with the greatest providence He hath willed that those things which be divine should be free from all adulteration, that all might understand what He speaks to all.”

131 I opened my mouth, and drew in my breath: for my delight was in thy commandments.

And drew in my breath. The A. V. has panted, taking it as though the Psalmist described himself as running eagerly after GOD’S commandments,* or else as overcome with heat and thirst, and so seeking the refreshment of a cooling air. We find in the Gospel that the LORD JESUS “opened His mouth,”* when He uttered the Beatitudes. But He opened His mouth to give the Spirit, the Psalmist did so to receive it.* It is JESUS Who saith, “Receive the HOLT SPIRIT;”* it is JESUS Who saith, “Open thy mouth wide, and I shall fill it;”* this He saith to man, for CHRIST is fulness itself. And thus it is not my spirit which I am to draw in to refresh and strengthen me, but His, for the second my is not in the Hebrew.* Accordingly, S. Chrysostom explains the verse of the Apostles waiting with earnest prayer in the upper chamber for the descent of the HOLY GHOST. And S. Gregory the Great applies it to those whose duty it is to preach the Word of GOD,* who unless they open their mouth to teach others,* will never increase in spiritual growth themselves; (L.) and further,* it may be noted that the preacher is like the organ, which without first taking in a full volume of air, cannot give forth a clear and powerful note. Every Christian must open his mouth in three ways, to confess his own sins, to receive the food of Divine consolation, and to praise the LORD.* He must not open his mouth for any other breath than that of the LORD, for the knowledge which puffeth up, for it is written: “Should a wise man utter vain knowledge, and fill his belly with the east wind? Should he reason with unprofitable talk? or with speeches wherewith he can do no good.”* No man can keep GOD’S commandments, which is holiness of life,* without prayer. Prayer is the breath of holy life, and it is as impossible to keep GOD’S commandments without prayer, as to live without breathing. And this is the reason of the Psalmist’s words here, agreeing with that teaching of the LORD Himself,* that men ought always to pray and not faint.

132 O look thou upon me, and be merciful unto me: as thou usest to do unto those that love thy Name.

It is well added after look, (H.) be merciful, for GOD looks upon man at times in His wrath,* as when He “looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud,* and troubled the host of the Egyptians.”* Look on me, as Thou didst on the sacrifice of Abel, shine on me, O Sun of Righteousness, with Thy bright and genial rays, enlightening and warming my dark, (G.) cold heart. Be merciful unto me, bestowing on me the riches of holiness, not as Thou gavest the kingdom to Saul, soon to be rent from him again, but according to the oath Thou swarest unto Abraham, to make all his faithful children as the stars of heaven,* steadfast in faith, shining in righteousness. Deal with me as with those that love Thy Name, because they are Thy sons, not Thy mere servants; for “as a father pitieth his own children, even so is the LORD merciful unto them that fear Him.”* Let it be with me as it is with them, who receive mercies in this world to fit them for that which is to come, for whom all things work together unto good, whether their course is to be run through plenty or through dearth, through glory or through dishonour, through good report or evil report, through ease or trouble, since in all cases they forget what is behind, and reach forward to that which is before. Look on me, stripped and naked like Adam, in whom, as we all have sinned, we all come naked into this world, as righteous Job complains, saying, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb.” Let me not have to say, “Naked shall I return thither,”* as they did who died before they could put on the marriage-garment of the Incarnation, dyed purple in the Blood of the LORD’S Passion; but be merciful unto me, clothing me not, as Thou didst the first Adam, in a coat of skin, which groweth old, but like the Second Adam in a seamless and untearable robe; that clad in the garment of CHRIST, I may be found to be clothed with CHRIST Himself, in their fellowship to whom Thine Apostle saith, “As many of you as hare been baptized into CHRIST have put on CHRIST.”*

Look on me stripped by thieves of my virtues, and then wounded with sins, and be merciful unto me, showing compassion on me, taking care of me in the inn of the Church Universal, that I fall not again among thieves, nor be harmed by the wolves which howl about this fold, but dare not enter in. Look on me, no longer worthy to be called Thy son, and be merciful unto me,* not as the jealous elder brother would treat me, but let me join the glad song and banquet of them that love Thy Name. Look on me, the publican, standing afar off in Thy temple the Church,* and be merciful unto me, not after the Pharisee’s judgment, but as Thou usest to do unto them that love Thy Name, which is the Gracious GOD. Look on me as on weeping Peter, and be merciful unto me as Thou wast to him, who so loved Thy Name as by his triple confession of love to wash out his threefold denial, saying, “LORD, Thou knowest that I love Thee.”* Look on me as on the sinful woman, penitent and weeping, and be merciful unto me, not according to the judgment of the Pharisee who murmured at her, as Judas who was indignant at her, but forgiving me as Thou didst her, “because she loved much,”* telling me also, “Thy faith hath saved thee, go in peace.”

133 Order my steps in thy word: and so shall no wickedness have dominion over me.

It is for us to choose the good way of our own free-will, and to begin our course thereon;* it is GOD’S part so to order our steps that we stumble not, neither wander out of the right path.* Order both those inward motions and affections of my mind which are the steps to action, (G.) and also those actions themselves which should be steps in the way of holiness: wherefore it is said of the holy soul, “How beautiful are thy steps in shoes,* O prince’s daughter;” because, as it is written in another place,* “Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be;”* for to those who have their feet thus “shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace,”* the LORD saith, “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”* And so shall no wickedness have dominion over me. The Psalmist, knowing the need of temptation and trial for the perfecting of the Saints, (H.) does not ask that he may encounter no evil on his road,* but that it may not overcome him; or rather, obtain a tyrannous empire over him, bowing him under its heavy yoke, and forcing him to do its will.* He that prays for mercy only to forgive the guilt of sin, does not seek to avoid offending GOD by sin, but only that he may sin without hurting himself; whereas he who asks to be delivered from the power of sin, seeks not only a benefit to himself, but also grace to serve and please the LORD his GOD. And truly he never knew what it was to seek for mercy for sin past, who therewith sought not also grace to keep him from sin to come. These benefits cannot be divided, he who hath not the second (however he flatter himself) may be assured that he hath not gotten the first. We may well then pray for guidance and help in our spiritual journey home, in those words which the Western Church puts into the mouth of her priests when they travel: “O GOD,* Who leddest Abraham Thy servant out of Ur of the Chaldees, and preservedst him unhurt throughout the days of his pilgrimage; we beseech Thee to take us Thy servants under Thy protection: be unto us, O LORD, our helper as we gird ourselves for the journey, our comfort in the way, our shade in heat, our covering in rain and cold, our carriage in weariness, our safeguard in adversity, our staff in slippery places, our haven in shipwreck, that Thou being our ruler and guide, we may prosperously reach the place to which we are bound, and at length return in safety to our Home, through JESUS CHRIST our LORD. Amen.”

134 O deliver me from the wrongful dealings of men: and so shall I keep thy commandments.

Wrongful dealings.* The term properly denotes unrighteous judgment in a court of law, but is taken here in the wider sense of any oppression.* Some Jewish commentators explain it thus, from that which oppresses man, that is, the guilt and contagion of original sin. But the LXX. and Vulgate read,* from the calumnies of men, and on this phrase most of the patristic and mediæval commentators lay their chief stress. The especial grievousness of calumny, observes S. Ambrose, is that it is not content, like detraction, with bringing false charges, but it gives a false colour to acts which have been done aright, as we see in the case of Joseph, where the very movement whereby he fled from temptation was converted into a proof of his crime. Why should the prayer be made at all? (A.) asks S. Augustine, for if the charges be true, they are no calumnies, and if they be false, they do no hurt, seeing that GOD, and not man, is the Judge. And he answers his own question by saying that the fear of being slandered may often lead a believer into timid compliance with evil, and that the petition is therefore for courage and patience. The LXX. and Vulgate word for deliver is redeem,* λύτρωσαί με, redime,* whence they take occasion to remind us that we have here a prayer for the coming of Him Who redeemed us with His most precious Blood, saving us from the wrongful dealings of men, our old conversation amongst the Gentiles, and giving us both teaching and help to keep His commandments.

135 Show the light of thy countenance upon thy servant: and teach me thy statutes.

That Light of GOD’S Countenance is the same that the Psalmist again and again celebrates,* desiring the presence of Him Who is the express image of the FATHER in glory.* The prayer was first made for the Incarnation;* now it is for the second coming of CHRIST,* that we may look on Him, and because seeing Him, (H.) see the FATHER also. Of old He shone upon the face of Moses with the brightness of the Old Law, whose radiance was too dazzling for the Jews to look upon; but now He has done much more,* shining on the hearts of the nations in the face of JESUS CHRIST, and by His Advent, according to that saying of the Apostle: “For GOD, Who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of GOD in the face of JESUS CHRIST,”* Who does not teach us with a veil over His face,* as Moses taught the Jews, but in the full manifestation of His countenance. For thus the true servant of GOD will not cease to pray, that the light which has come with the loving and merciful face of a gracious GOD to himself,* may shine into all the dark places of the earth, till no nation and no one heart has been left any longer in the gloom. “For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake will I not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth.”* Richard of S. Victor,* in a long and fervid exposition of this verse, amidst much else that is devout and beautiful, bids us note that the countenance having close to it the organs of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and the power of touch besides, teaches us that in GOD all these senses of ours are primal and essential light and knowledge, one and indivisible, not fivefold and separate, as with us. Show me then Thy sight, Thy wisdom, that I err not; reveal to me Thine hearing, Thy mercy, that I despair not; teach me Thy smelling, Thy justice, which discerns between the sweet savour of holiness and the evil savour of sin, that I presume not; let Thy taste, the goodness whereby Thou delightest in the glory of Thy Saints, become known to me; let Thy touch, that compassionate help wherewith Thou stretchedest out Thine hand to the needy, be familiar to me, that I yield not in time of trouble. Show the light of Thy countenance, before which neither night nor winter can hold their ground, upon Thy servant, that the darkness of ignorance, the frozen torpor of neglect, may pass away from his soul in that warm radiance.* It would not be enough, as Absalom said falsely,* but as GOD’S Saints feel truly, to dwell in Jerusalem itself, if there we might not see the face of the King. Better to be back in our exile, than be so near, and yet behold Him not.

O quando, facies toto spectabilis orbe,*

Quando tuo dabitur lumine posse frui?

Scilicet ut gravis est terris absentia Phœbi,

Squallet et obscurus sole latente dies:

Nec color est hortis, nec amœnis gratia sylvis,

Jamque silent homines, jamque siletis aves:

Mox ubi purpureo roseum caput extulit ore,

Læta micat radiis, luce nitente, dies;

Et suus est hortis color, et sua gratia sylvis,

Jamque strepunt homines, jamque loquuntur aves.

Sic ego te viso moriens, mea vita, resurgo,

Vivaque non viso protinus emorior.

O when, thou Face in all the world most fair,

When shall I win enjoyment of Thy light?

As the sun’s absence is the earth’s despair,

And while he hides, the wan day sinks in night:

Flowers have no dyes, the pleasant woods no grace,

Men hold their peace, the birds their singing hush;

Soon, when his rose-wreathed head uplifts its face,

Day laughs in brightness at the purple blush;

Woods regain grace, the flowers resume their dyes,

Men stir again, and birds their singing give;

So, seeing Thee, my Life, I, dying, rise,

Seeing Thee not, I die, e’en though I live.

136 Mine eyes gush out with water: because men keep not thy law.

The latter clause should run, as in A. V., because they keep not Thy law. And because of the ambiguity of this phrase, there are two distinct currents of interpretation of the verse; the former of which agrees with the Prayer Book rendering, and explains the words of zeal for GOD’S honour,* and consequent sorrow for the guilt of other men in disobeying His law,* in contrast to the conduct of the ungodly, (R.) who rejoice in seeing their own wickedness rivalled or surpassed.* But the other view is much more widely followed, and understands they as referring to the eyes;* so that the verse will be at once a confession of failure in obedience on the Psalmist’s part, (G.) and also a declaration of bitter penitence. Mine eyes,* which are as it were the outer gates of that city of GOD, my soul; and which ought therefore to have been duly shut, that the law of GOD might remain safe and unstained within my heart, have been carelessly opened to the enemy, and therefore, like Peter, and like the sinful woman, I have springs of water (Vulg.) running down mine eyes; as I cry with Jeremiah, “O that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night.”* Richard of S. Victor,* dwelling on the literal construction of the Vulgate, Mine eyes have led down springs of water, compares wholesome sorrow for sin, in its influence on a dry and sterile heart, to the irrigating channels bringing water from the heights, and cut by husbandmen to water the fields, that they may bring forth an abundant crop.* But he knows not how to weep who goes on committing deeds to be wept for, and himself a most tearful object, hath no tears for his own sin.

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