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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. Thou shalt keep * us, O LORD, Thou shalt preserve us.

Monastic. As preceding Psalm.

Ambrosian. From heaven, O GOD,* look down upon the children of men.

Mozarabic. The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God: Art Thou our GOD?

1a (1) The fool hath said in his heart: There is no GOD.

The title of the Psalm ascribes it to David: but many of (L.) the commentators see in its commencement a marvellous application to the blasphemies of Rabshakeh. The question: “Who are they among all the gods of the countries that have delivered their country out of my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?”* The answer: The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God, compared to Hezekiah’s “Hear the words of Sennacherib which hath sent him to reproach the Living GOD;”* and Isaiah’s “Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed?” But take it rather of the Jews, who, though they were instructed by the prophecies; though they might have understood the types; though they saw done among them such works as none other did, yet refused to acknowledge in the Son of Mary the GOD of all things. The devils confessed: “I know Thee Who Thou art, the Holy One of GOD:”* the Jews, when He said, “I and My FATHER are One,”* took up stones again to stone Him. “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib, but Israel doth not know, My people doth not consider.”* Notice, that from the very beginning, the Jewish people were resolved to reject their Messiah. For when Herod had diligently inquired (G.) of the wise men where CHRIST should be born, they quoted, indeed, the first part of the prophecy, that which named Bethlehem as the place of His birth, but omitted the latter, “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”* Or we may take the verse, as S. Chrysostom does, of Satan. He, says that Father, was the first fool: he was the first that preached a multitude of Gods,—“In the day ye eat thereof, ye shall be as gods,”*—and by consequence, denied the One GOD. But mindful of the curse which then fell on him, it is no longer, The fool hath said, but The fool hath said in his heart: he no longer saith this by himself, immediately, but by those whom he inspires. He said in Pharaoh; “I know not the LORD:”* he said by Sennacherib, “The LORD shall not deliver Jerusalem out of my hand;”* he said by Nebuchadnezzar, “Who is that GOD Which shall deliver you out of my hands?”*

1b (2) They are corrupt, and become abominable in their doings: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

Men,” says S. Bernard, “because they are corrupt in their minds, become abominable in their doings: corrupt before GOD, abominable before men. There are three sorts of men of which none doeth good. There are those who neither understand nor seek GOD, and they are the dead: there are others who understand Him but seek Him not, and they are the wicked. There are others that seek Him but understand Him not, and they are the fools.” “O GOD!” cries a writer of the Middle Ages, “how many are there at this day who, under the name of Christianity, worship idols, and are abominable both to Thee and to men! For every man worships that which he most loves. The proud man bows down before the idol of worldly power; the covetous man before the idol of money; the adulterer before the idol of beauty, and so of the rest.”* And of such saith the Apostle, “They profess that they know GOD, but in works deny Him, being abominable and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.” There is none that doeth good, no, not one. The last clause is not in the Hebrew. Notice how S. Paul avails himself of this testimony of the Psalmist, amongst those which he heaps together in the third chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, where he is proving concerning “both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin.”*

2 (3) The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men: to see if there were any that would understand, and seek after GOD.

[The Lord JESUS CHRIST looked down from the heaven of His assumed Humanity, (D. C.) wherein the Godhead dwelt, upon the children of men,* by coming Himself on earth to seek for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.]

3 (4) But they are all gone out of the way, they are altogether become abominable: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

He looked down “upon the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth;”* and then His saying was, “the end of all flesh is come before Me, and behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” Again He looked down “to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded,” and these were His words: “Let us go down and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”* Once more, when the fulness of the time was come, He looked down, and then “GOD so loved the world, that He gave His Only-begotten SON, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”*

(5) Their throat is an open sepulchre, with their tongues have they deceived: the poison of asps is under their lips.

(6) Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood.

(7) Destruction and unhappiness is in their way; and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of GOD before their eyes.

On these three verses I shall say nothing, as they are neither to be found in the Hebrew nor in the LXX.,1 and therefore are also absent from the Bible Version. They are clearly requoted from the third chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, where the Apostle is giving a kind of abstract of the characteristics of the wicked from various Psalms. Their throat is an open sepulchre, (L.) is from Ps. 5:9b; the poison of asps, &c., is from Ps. 140:3; Their mouth is full of cursing, &c., from Ps. 10:7. Again, Their feet are swift to shed blood, &c., is from Isa. 59:7; or perhaps from Prov. 1:16; and the last clause, There is no fear of God before their eyes, is from Ps. 36:1. S. Jerome and Venerable Bede give this account of the insertion. Cassiodorus seems doubtful whether they are not original. John Azor, and some other late writers, agree with him.

4 (8) Have they no knowledge, that they are all such workers of mischief: eating up my people as it were bread, and call not upon the LORD.

Have they no knowledge? It is the same thing that is written in Isaiah; “therefore is My people gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge.”* “If,” says S. Basil, “they would not gain knowledge by being taught, they shall gain it by being afflicted.” And notice how S. Paul, (Ay.) in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, shows that they might have had knowledge if they would: that “the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, so that they are without excuse.”* Eating up my people as if they would eat bread. And in like manner, Eliphaz speaks of man, “which drinketh iniquity like water.”* And so the Apostle warns, “If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.”* Where S. Chrysostom very well observes the gradual augmentation of the sin and punishment, Bite, devour, be consumed. And yet that very saying of the Jews which so fully expressed their malignity against the Prophet, “Who shall give us of his flesh, that we may be satisfied?” is so beautifully turned by the Church to her own purposes when she speaks of the Flesh that is Meat indeed, and the Blood that is drink indeed.* And call not upon God. That is, as S. Chrysostom well teaches, They may indeed call upon Him with their mouths; they may give Him honour with their lips, but thus persecuting His people, that shall be fulfilled in them which is written by Isaiah, “Your brethren that hated you and cast you out for My Name’s sake, said, Let the LORD be glorified; but He shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed.”*

[Eating up my people. The Greek Fathers take it literally of the miseries inflicted by Sennacherib’s army, (Z.) and it is then transferred to the sufferings of the Church during her persecutions at the hands of the Jews first and then of the Romans,* (D. C.) neither of whom knew the Way of Peace, the Redeemer of the world, wherefore is added, and call not upon the Lord. For, as the Apostle asks, “how shall they call on Him in Whom they have not believed?”* And therefore judgment came upon them, according to that saying, “Pour out Thy fury upon the heathen that know Thee not, and upon the families that call not upon Thy Name: for they have eaten up Jacob, and devoured him, and consumed him, and have made his habitation desolate.”* And another warns us that evil priests,* who make a gain of their flock, and are not zealous for the glory of GOD and the salvation of souls, are here threatened.]

5 (9) There were they brought in great fear, even where no fear was: for GOD is in the generation of the righteous.

The wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous is bold as a lion,”* that is, as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, That hath conquered. So it was with the Jews, when in the Council of the Pharisees Caiaphas said, “The Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation;”* and by the means of the very wickedness they committed to prevent it, their destruction by the Romans was brought to pass. I need not quote, as Corderius does, a vast number of sentences from Aristotle and other heathen philosophers to the same effect. We may sum up the whole in the saying of the wise man, “Fear is nothing else than a betraying of the succours which reason offereth;”* or better still is that of S. Basil of Seleucia,* “Fear is only an argument of unbelief.”

[Where no fear was. That is, fearing the persons of men, (D. C.) and fearing the loss of mere temporal blessings,* but not fearing GOD, nor the loss of eternal joys.]

6 (10) As for you, ye have made a mock at the counsel of the poor: because he putteth his trust in the LORD.

Ye have made a mock at the counsel of the poor. So they did when they said, “Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt Thou rear it up in three days?”* So they did when they exhorted Him, “If Thou do these things, show Thyself to the world:* when they cried out,* “Let CHRIST, the King of Israel, come down now from the Cross, that we may see and believe.” And because he putteth his trust in the Lord. It is precisely the same thing as in that other verse, “All they that see Me, laugh Me to scorn; they shoot out their lips and shake their heads, saying, He trusted in GOD.”* So, long before, Rabshakeh had made a mock at the counsel of the poor, (L.) the Jews shut up within Jerusalem, and besieged by the enormous hosts of Assyria: “Let not Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, The LORD will surely deliver us: this city shall not be delivered into the hand of the King of Assyria.”* And in contrast with this, we have that sad warning, “Lo, this is the man that took not GOD for his strength.”* And here, then, is our comfort: the counsel of the Poor may be made a mock of, but cannot be overthrown: “The counsel of the LORD, that shall stand.”* That counsel which is to guide and guard us in the days of our pilgrimage here: that counsel which proceeds from the Wonderful Counsellor; as it is written, “My FATHER Which gave them Me is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck: them out of My FATHER’s hand.”*

7 (11) Who shall give salvation unto Israel out of Sion? When the LORD turneth the captivity of his people: then shall Jacob rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.

Notice that by Israel we are to understand those other sheep which the LORD has that are not of this fold, (G.) but which He must also bring, that they may hear His voice. For it is Israel, not Judah; Sion, not Jerusalem. Who shall give? Firstly, and as the cause of all the rest, those tongues of fire which, to quote S. James’ Liturgy, “descended in that upper room of the holy and glorious Sion,” and from thence scattered the illumination of the Gospel over the dark places of the earth: that rushing, mighty wind, which first “filled all the house, where they were sitting,” but afterwards breathed like a summer gale over the face of the whole earth, making the wilderness and solitary place glad for it, and the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose. But in a subordinate sense, who shall give may be answered by the names of the Apostles and other valiant heroes of CHRIST, by whose labours the earth was filled with the knowledge of the LORD, (Ay.) as the waters cover the sea. When the Lord turneth the captivity of His people. Then, as it is in the parallel passage, were we like unto them that dream. A glorious dream indeed, in which, fancy what we may, the half of the beauty, the half of the splendour, will not be reached by our imagination. The captivity—of our souls to the law of concupiscence, of our bodies to the law of death; the captivity of our senses to fear; the captivity, the conclusion of which is so beautifully expressed by one of our greatest poets:

No sorrow now hangs clouding on their brow;*

No bloodless malady impales their face;

No age drops on their hairs his silver snow;

No nakedness their bodies doth embase;

No poverty themselves and theirs disgrace;

No fear of death the joy of life devours;

No unchaste sleep their precious time deflowers;

No loss, no grief, no change, wait on their winged hours.”

And therefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, Who looked down from heaven upon the children of men; and to the SON, Who is in the generation of the righteous: and to the HOLY GHOST, from Whom and by Whom that generation receives its righteousness;

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

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