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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. Do well * O LORD, unto them that are good and true of heart.

Monastic. As Psalm 123.

Ambrosian. As Gregorian.

Parisian. First verse.




              As Gregorian.


1 They that put their trust in the LORD shall be even as the mount Sion: which may not be removed, but standeth fast for ever.

2 The hills stand about Jerusalem: even so standeth the LORD round about his people, from this time forth for evermore.

In the literal topography of Jerusalem, the City is not girt about with mountains as with an encircling wall. On the contrary,* it is only on the eastern side that its own heights are dominated by Mount Olivet, (itself but slightly loftier than Zion,) which pushes out its spurs to the north-east and south-east in a curve about the city. From all other points of view Jerusalem appears higher than all the neighbouring hills. Yet those very hills are near and high enough to be a defence, especially on the borders of Moab, and put obstacles in the way of invaders, not easily to be surmounted. Hence we get a mystical sense of great beauty. Zion, the royal fortress, the citadel of Jerusalem, the City of David, is continually taken (as we have had many occasions to note), as the type of the Church Militant on earth. She has many a valiant champion, many a strong defender, but she herself is higher, mightier, nobler than all save One, Who rises above her and stands to the East, for Olivet, with its rivers of oil, denotes that “unction from the Holy One,”* which, descending upon the Church and her children, anoints them as athletes for the combat, and makes them strong for the battle against all besiegers. Sion does more than stand fast, for the Hebrew implies more absolute fixity than this. They who do but stand fast must needs become weary soon, but she sitteth, (יֵשֵׁב), she is throned as a Queen by the King whose Bride she is. Further, the second verse in the original suggests contrast rather than parallel. It runs thus, literally, Jerusalem, mountains are about her, and the Lord is about His people. “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed, saith the LORD that hath mercy upon thee;”* and it is written in another place, “Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls, for the multitude of men and cattle therein: for I, saith the LORD, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her.”* So, it is not the special glory of the Church Triumphant that the great mountains of the Apostles, Martyrs and Doctors are clustered there, but that the glory of GOD lightens it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.*

But the LXX. and Vulgate divide and translate these two verses in a different fashion: They that trust in the Lord are as Mount Sion, he shall not be moved for ever who dwelleth in Jerusalem. The mountains are round about her, &c. S. Hilary utters an eloquent protest against the dead literalism which insists on understanding the Psalm in its surface meaning, (H.) pointing out how much nobler it is to be a rational human being than a rock or a mountain, and how little either of holiness or stability was found in the earthly capital of Judea; the scene of so many crimes against religion, the theatre of so many terrible vengeances of capture, slaughter and destruction; and that we must choose between the mystical sense, or condemn the Psalm as idle, and its singer, (A.) the Prophet, as a lying seer. Search Jerusalem now, remarks S. Augustine, writing at the beginning of the fifth century, and you will not find n Jew there. Its old inhabitants were moved away from it first in their heart and then by exile; meet punishment for the rejection, expulsion, and crucifixion of their King.* For they cast Him out of their city and crucified Him without its walls. And He hath cast them outside His city, the everlasting Jerusalem, the mother of us all, which is in heaven. They who trust in the Lord shall be even as the Mount Sion, (B.) shall have in themselves individually all the grace and strength stored up in the Church of GOD. Most of the commentators here, however, depart from this usual interpretation, and explain Sion here to mean CHRIST, as the great “Mountain of the LORD’S House, established on the top of the mountains, and exalted above all hills,”* on Whom the Church is built, as a “City set on a hill,”* while he “whose conversation is in heaven,”* that is, he who dwelleth in Jerusalem, the heavenly city, shall never be moved. (C.) No siege, no capture, no exile, no fall need be dreaded. Enemies dare not approach it from without, and within there is “the blessed necessity of sinlessness.”* The hills are round about her. And this they interpret as the Angels,* watching and defending, in their capacity as guardians, the Sion of expectant souls on earth, compassing about the heavenly City with their shining ranks above. (A.) But while these Angels have the charge of those imperfect souls who put their trust in the LORD because they fear Him (as it is written,* “The Angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear Him”*) a stronger defender, a more blessed gift, is for them who truly dwell in Jerusalem, submitting themselves to all its laws, for the Lord is round about His people. Wherefore Moses, when the LORD, wroth with the children of Israel because they had made the calf, said, “I will send an Angel before thee.… for I will not go up in the midst of thee;”* answered, “If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.”

3 For the rod of the ungodly cometh not into the lot of the righteous: lest the righteous put their hand unto wickedness.

By the rod we are to understand the sceptre of authority and power, (R.) of which it is the symbol. Moses had a rod, whereby he was enabled to do all his works, (H.) and Aaron had one also. But so had Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar. Therefore the LORD stands round about us in order that the rod of the ungodly shall not rest upon (A. V.) our lot. Troubles come, no doubt, but they do not abide; persecutions come, but they do not continue; there are many who strive to reduce into captivity the liberty of our faith, but no one has the mastery over our confession which we have in CHRIST. For the rod of the ungodly shall not be left upon our lot, lest conquered and overcome by the tyranny of that rod, we stretch forth our hands unto unrighteousness. If the rod does fall upon us, it will be taken away again, and when the sinner oppresses us, he shall not be suffered to abide. Our suffering at the hands of GOD’S adversaries is brief, and it wins the reward of victory, (A.) albeit it involves no long toil of battle. The LORD is at hand. The time will come when one GOD shall be acknowledged; the time will come, when CHRIST appearing in His glory shall gather together all nations before Him, and divide them as a shepherd divideth the goats from the sheep. He shall set the sheep on His right hand, the goats on His left. And thou shalt see there many slaves amongst the sheep, and many masters amongst the goats.* And again many masters amongst the sheep, and many slaves amongst the goats. For it does not follow, though we speak such words of comfort as the former to slaves, that all slaves are good, nor because we speak in this wise of the pride of masters, that all masters are bad. There are good and faithful masters, and bad ones, just as there are good and faithful slaves, and bad ones. But so long as good servants obey bad masters, let them fear not, since it is only for a time. (G.) The lot of the righteous, here used in the primary sense of the inheritance of Israel in the Holy Land (over which, nevertheless, the rod of Syrian, Roman, and Mohammedan oppressors was suffered to rest for the sins of the people), means for us the Christian Church, made up of GOD’S elect and righteous themselves, (A.) whom He does not permit to be continually afflicted, however He may chastise them for a season. Their hands may bear wickedness, but not do it, as Christian soldiers cheerfully obeyed Julian the Apostate, till he commanded them to sacrifice to idols, whereupon they recognised no master but CHRIST in matters of faith, and refused to obey the edict, choosing rather to bear the punishment of martyrdom.

4 Do well, O LORD: unto them that are good and true of heart.

Good refers to continual purity in action,* true of heart to soundness of faith in doctrine; and further to the inward consent of the will to the external uprightness; since it is possible to be good so far as outward blamelessness goes, by reason of fear of punishment, (H.) or in order to gain the applause of men, neither of which is acceptable unto GOD. But to those who serve Him from true love He is asked to do well, (D. C.) that is, to bestow on them increase of grace on the way, and the largess of blessedness in their country.

5 As for such as turn back unto their own wickedness: the LORD shall lead them forth with the evildoers, but peace shall be upon Israel.

Back unto their own wickedness. The sense is better given by A. V., As for such as turn aside unto their crooked ways (literally, bend their crooked ways, that is, make the straight crooked), and the meaning is here that of compromising the truth, and adopting worldly or tortuous policy, while not openly going over to the side of GOD’S enemies. And this is the sense for the most part drawn from the Vulgate, such as turn aside unto bonds, or as the LXX. very forcibly has it, chokings. (C.) For turn aside denotes going out of the King’s highway, and ceasing to obey His precepts, while bonds imply the sins in which we thereby become entangled,* and the very suffocation of our spiritual life. It is here spoken of those who, under the pressure of the rod of the ungodly, stretch out their hands unto wickedness, and obey, with whatever secret repugnance, the dictates of unbelieving power, and who are offended, that is, stumble in their walk, (Ay.) at seeing the prosperity of the evil, and the sufferings of the righteous, and thus, little by little, yield themselves unto bonds, (G.) and walk in crooked ways, bringing themselves under the Apostle’s sentence as they “who knowing the judgment of GOD, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but consort with them that do them.”* “Therefore thus saith the LORD GOD of Hosts, O My people that dwellest in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrian: he shall smite thee with a rod, and shall lift up his staff against thee, after the manner of Egypt; for yet a little while, and the indignation shall cease, and Mine anger in their destruction.”* And then will follow the fulfilment of the promise Peace shall be upon Israel. “For Thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian;”* and instead thereof “there shall come forth a Rod out of the stem of Jesse,” “a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel,”* the Rod of GOD’S SON, “which contemneth every tree,” and this Man shall be the Peace,* “when the Assyrian shall come into our land;”* and will feed His people Israel with His rod, the flock of His heritage, “for He is our Peace, who hath made both one,”* Jews and Gentiles alike, into one Israel, (H.) even JESUS CHRIST our LORD.


Glory be to the FATHER, Who standeth round about His people; glory be to the SON, the Peace upon Israel; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Who doeth well unto those that are good and true of heart.

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

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