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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. I called, * and He heard me. [Maundy Thursday, &c.: With those that hate peace, I was peaceful, when I spake unto them, they assailed me without cause. Office of the Dead: Woe is me, that I am constrained to dwell with Mesech.]

Monastic. As Ferial Gregorian.

Ambrosian. O LORD, deliver * my soul.

Parisian. My soul was made a sojourner, O LORD, * with them that hate peace I was peaceful. [Maundy Thursday: All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way, and the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.]

Lyons. As Gregorian.

Mozarabic. First verse.

1 When I was in trouble I called upon the LORD: and he heard me.

Seest thou the gain of affliction,* seest thou the readiness of mercy? the gain of affliction, in that it brings men to pour forth holy prayers; the readiness of mercy, granted at once when they call. For if the prophet Elisha would not allow his servant to send away the woman who came to him, saying, “Let her alone, for her soul is vexed within her:”* that is, he would say, she has her affliction itself as her chief defence and excuse; much more will GOD be sure not to repel any who comes to Him with sorrowful soul. Therefore CHRIST declares that they are blessed who mourn.* If then thou wouldst ascend these steps, cut away whatever is luxurious and relaxed in thy life, gird thyself with diligent conduct, and withdraw from earthly things. This is the first going-up. For it is not, it is not possible at once to ascend a ladder and to keep hold of earth. Seest thou how high the heaven is? Knowest thou the shortness of time? Knowest thou the uncertainty of thy departure? Delay not, therefore, nor put off, but with great alacrity begin this migration, that in one day thou mayest ascend two, and three, and ten, and twenty steps. Even one step upwards is leaving earth; (C.) and lowly as the place is, it is not the less the first elevation. Note, too, the admirable order of the words. First comes trouble, then a cry, lastly a hearing, to make us know that the prayers of the faithful reach the LORD in an appointed order. (H.) The trouble against which the Saints call on GOD is not such as the world fears, peril of death, loss of goods, pain or loneliness, all which are trifles or even blessings to them, as bringing them nearer to GOD; but the snares of sin in all its forms, whether tempting to ambition, to bodily indulgence, to erroneous belief, or any other thing displeasing to the LORD; lest they should subdue our weak natures, and drag us down to the depths of evil. And all true prayer for deliverance must unite in itself the three marks of this one;* necessity, when I was in trouble; devotion, I called; direction in the right way, upon the Lord.

2 Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips: and from a deceitful tongue.

The moment a man begins to go up,* that is, thinks of advancing in spiritual things, and of despising the world that he may cling to GOD alone, he begins to suffer from the tongues of adversaries, and what is more grievous, of those who are for turning him away from salvation, and he who does not suffer these, is not even trying to advance. The whole scope of the Psalm seems to imply that the false teaching of the idolatrous nations amongst whom the exiled Israelites were dwelling is the primary notion of this verse, and therefore the earliest Christian gloss explains the words similarly of erroneous doctrine;* though they may be taken in a wider sense,* as including such enemies as Haman and Sanballat, and their later representatives amongst the foes of the Church. (H.) The Latin rendering, unrighteous lips, has led to a distinction being drawn between this phrase and the last clause of the verse. Unrighteousness is shameless, open in its daring, open in its efforts, open in its execution. Unrighteous lips are those who, denying GOD, declare that there is no room in human life for progress in GOD’S religion, but that the only good is to live for luxury and bodily enjoyment; taking away, as they do, belief in GOD’S oversight, providence, and will, and power. But the work of the deceitful tongue is treacherous, and mischievous by reason of dissembling, because it aims at overthrowing religion under the name of religion, and bends down to death with the hope of life. (A.) The people who say, “Surely you are not going to do this? nobody does it, and you are not the only Christian in the world;” are the deceitful tongue. And if proof be given that others have done the thing in question, and the passage of the Gospel where the LORD commanded it be read, what do they say with their deceitful tongue? “You cannot possibly fulfil it, it is a great thing even to make the attempt;” some of them deter by telling you not to do the thing, others do even more harm by praising up those who have done it as so superior to every one else that there is no use in trying to imitate them. It is the old fraud before which our first parents fell. (C.) The unrighteous lips said, “Eat,”. the deceitful tongue added, “Ye shall be as gods, ye shall not surely die.”* Yet it is not only from the wicked lips and tongue of others that the disciple of CHRIST needs to be delivered, (Ay.) but from his own; from all boastfulness, spiritual pride, and glorying in his own merits.

A deceitful tongue,* observes a great mediæval theologian, is a fraudulent temptation, a false opinion, a vainglorying, whenever thou gloriest in thine own merits, either in open speech or in silent thought. Thou hearest, unknowingly, the deceitful tongue. Sometimes the vainglorying arises from man’s opinions, sometimes from the prompting of the devil, but in each case it is from unrighteous lips and a deceitful tongue. And if thou listen with pleasure to a tongue of this sort, thou art acting not only foolishly, but unrighteously. “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?”* Think thou how unrighteous a thing it is to be ungrateful to One Who giveth freely, nay, even to commit robbery against Him. For He saith, “My glory will I not give to another.”* And the warning against one’s own tongue extends to all faults of gossip,* detraction, murmuring, and the like.

3–4 (3) What reward shall be given or done unto thee, thou false tongue: even mighty and sharp arrows, with hot burning coals.

Simple as this verse looks at first sight, so rendered, it is in truth one of no little obscurity and difficulty. It is quite possible to take it as here given; but it is by no means certain what is the force of given, whether it be taken in a good or a bad sense, nor what is the subject of the thee in the first clause; which may refer to GOD, to the Psalmist, to the lying tongue, or to some indefinite person. Nor is it clear, in the second clause, whether the words are intended to describe the sharp and burning language of the evil tongue itself or the punishments awaiting it. The Vulgate reads, What shall be given thee, or what shall be added to thee, unto the deceitful tongue? That is, (H.) what weapons of defence shall be given thee to defend thyself against evil speakers? in which case the latter clause of the verse supplies the answer, that only the sharp, powerful, and burning Word of GOD avails to overcome them. S. Augustine, (A.) agreeing that the arrows are GOD’S words, takes the coals as denoting the fervid examples of those sinners, once cold and black, but now converted to GOD and glowing with His love; though others, dwelling on the adjective desolating1 here found in the Vulgate coupled with coals, (C.) think that if sinners are here intended, it is as awful warnings from the destruction that attends their deeds and awaits themselves;* and therefore prefer to interpret the coals as fervent prayer, and to compare the touching of Isaiah’s lips by a coal from the altar. Another rendering is, addressed to the sinner,* What gain or advantage will thy false tongue be to thee? and the reply comes as before,* Thou canst only wound and burn with it; or else the last clause may be taken,* as suggested above, What is the fit punishment of a tongue which is like sharp arrows and hot coals? On the whole the English rendering seems preferable, and the only thing necessary to add is that hot burning coals ought rather to be coals of the broom-plants (רְתָמִים)1, well known to the Arabs as making a very hot and durable fire,* of which the Rabbins fable that it has been known to burn unrenewed for a whole year.2 Vieyra, who follows the interpretation of the Prayer Book Version,* notes that the arrows at most take away life, and may be the cause of glory, as to the martyrs, but the coals brand where they touch, and add dishonour to death.

5 (4) Woe is me that I am constrained to dwell with Mesech: and to have my habitation among the tents of Kedar.

Mesech, mentioned twice before in Holy Scripture, appears to denote the Moschi,* a barbarous tribe of the Caucasus,* far to the north of Canaan, probably one of those whence the mixed Samaritan race was sprung,* while Kedar undoubtedly stands for one of the Bedouin tribes of the south, descended from one of the sons of Ishmael,* a warrior clan, famous and dreaded as archers. The word Meshech means possession, from the root מָשַׁךְ, while Kedar is black; and the mystical import will then be the weariness the Saints feel of all worldly goods and of contact with the works of darkness. But the LXX. and Vulgate do not take Mesech as a proper name at all, interpreting it as a verb, and translate, My sojourning is prolonged,3 I have dwelt with the dwellers of Kedar, from which rendering, (H.) however, an almost identical meaning is deduced, that the Saint longs to depart and be with CHRIST,* and that the body is the dark tent in which the soul is prisoned. S. Hilary lays stress further on the Latin rendering with the tents of Kedar, as being something different from in the tents of Kedar, and denoting that albeit the Saints are living in the flesh, yet if the arms of their warfare be not carnal, but the power of GOD, they do not inhabit the tents of Kedar, but only dwell beside them (which is in fact the true rendering of the Hebrew,) and “are not in the flesh, but in the spirit.”* S. Augustine, rendering longinquans, (A.) that is, distant, instead of prolongatus, comments thus: Sojourning is a pilgrimage. He who dwells in a foreign land, not in his own State, is called a sojourner. My sojourning, he saith, is distant. How so? Sometimes, brethren, when a man is abroad, he is living amongst better people than in his own country; but that is not the case when we are away from the Heavenly Jerusalem. For a man changes his country, and is sometimes well off in his sojourning, and finds on his travels faithful friends whom he could not find in his own country. He had enemies who drove him out of it, and he found abroad what he had not at home. Not such is that country Jerusalem, where all are good; whoso is away from it is amongst the evil, nor can be withdrawn from the evil till he returns to the fellowship of the angels, and is in the place whence he set out. That is a mighty fatherland, and hapless are they who are absent from it, for the stateliest palaces of earthly monarchs, in comparison with the Golden City,* are but as the rough tents of the wandering Arab.

For all earth’s glories fade

Against that City’s light,*

The streets with gold inlaid,

The walls with jasper dight,

And all earth’s pomps die out

Before the throne of GOD,

Her songs before the shout

Heaven’s armies send abroad.

Not with the tents of Kedar,* not with the children of the bondwoman, ought the Church, even here on earth, to be in her camp of warfare. Rather she must “cast out the bondwoman and her son,”* and march with the “tents of Shem”* (promised as the tabernacles for the Gentile descendants of Japhet) on to the goal of pilgrimage, Jerusalem which is above, the free mother of us all.*

6 (5) My soul hath long dwelt among them: that are enemies unto peace.

7 (6) I labour for peace, but when I speak unto them thereof: they make them ready to battle.

The patristic and mediæval commentators, though not compelled by any grammatical reason, divide these words differently. They take the first clause thus: My soul hath been long a sojourner; and then construe the remaining clause of verse 6 with the succeeding words: With them that hate peace I was peaceful; when I spake unto them, they assailed me without cause. It is said, Long a sojourner.* And yet threescore and ten years is no very long sojourn, still it is not the duration of time, but the weariness and trouble of sorrow that is meant. On the latter portion of the passage, S. Augustine teaches that we have here the voice of the Catholic Church protesting against any unwise attempt to narrow her limits, (A.) to break her unity, to rend her fellowship, on the ground that within her pale are found many whose lives and doctrines are in contradiction to her code. Patience, be peaceable and loving now, GOD will judge and separate hereafter. In this world the precept for Christians is, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”* For it is a part of Christian perfection to be peaceful,* even with them that hate peace, in the hope of amending them, not through assent to their evil ways.

The Yorkshire hermit explains the words of those who labour for the Reunion of Christendom,* and are ridiculed and opposed by those who prefer to rend the Church still further. (Ay.) But the deepest sense of all is to take them of our Head. And in doing so, a more exact rendering of the Hebrew will help us: (D. C.) Full long has My soul dwelt beside him that hateth peace. I am Peace, but when I speak, they are for war. It was full long, that sorrowful three and thirty years in the midst of a disobedient and gainsaying people. It was full long, that forty days in the wilderness beside him that hateth peace, that spiritual Goliath who challenges the hosts of Israel to battle. CHRIST is Peace, the Prince of Peace, the true Solomon of His elect Israel, and when He spake to carnal Israel as never man spake, they tried to cast Him headlong,* then to stone Him, and at last cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him.”* Not less does the earlier part tell us of Him Who cried unto His FATHER all night in prayer,* and in the Garden, and on the Cross, Who was heard, and raised again, and exalted; after He had been made the mark for lying lips and a deceitful tongue; Who bids us follow His example, Who is the SON of the Most High GOD, (D. C.) the King of the Heavenly Jerusalem; and Who has taught us, saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of GOD.”*


Glory be to the FATHER, Who heard me in trouble; glory be to the SON, Who is Peace; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Who vouchsafes to dwell amongst us.

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

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