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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 and Monastic. All things * whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did He.

Ambrosian. First verse.

Parisian. O praise the LORD * sing praises unto His Name, for He hath chosen Israel for His own possession.

Lyons. O praise * the LORD.

Ambrosian. I know that the LORD is great * and that our LORD is above all gods.

1 O praise the LORD, laud ye the Name of the LORD: praise it, O ye servants of the LORD;

2 Ye that stand in the house of the LORD: in the courts of the house of our GOD.

We have here a repetition of the opening of the previous psalm, whereby this one, though not itself one of the Graduals or Pilgrim-songs, but belonging to the Alleluiatic group, is linked on to them, and teaches, as the early commentators delight to observe, that praise of GOD is what awaits the persevering climber who has ascended one by one the lofty flight of stairs leading up from the valley of weeping to the House of GOD. The whole Psalm is one tesselation from other parts of Holy Scripture, with the recurrent melody of thankful praise resounding throughout it.* There is an apparent distinction here between those who stand in the house of the Lord, and those who stand only in the courts of it: probably denoting severally the Priests, who were empowered to enter the Temple proper, and the Levites, whose duties were confined to the other parts of the building, typifying the two chief grades of faithful believers, the beginners, and the perfect; the saints who are here in the; outer courts of earth,* still militant, and those who are triumphant in the house eternal in the Heavens, both being members of one and the same Church. Either way,* they are standing, as we ought to do, as under one Sovereign’s eye, and waiting on His service. A soldier under arms does not lounge, but is alert and upright, therefore it is said to CHRIST’S soldiers, “Behold now, praise the LORD, all ye servants of the LORD, ye that stand in the house of the LORD.”* But on the other hand, wickedness sitteth in an ephah under a talent of lead,* because it is fixed in sin, and cannot separate from it; and as they who are hardened in wrong-doing, and cling steadfastly to their sins, are said to sit down, because they do not choose to rise up. (G.) And note that we have here the ascription of praise to the Most Holy Trinity, in the threefold repetition of the Name JEHOVAH, while the stress in the second clause of the triple hymn on the Name of the LORD tells us of that Name which is above every name, the human Name of GOD the SON. Wherefore the Church’s answer to this exhortation is made in that glad cry of the Gloria in Excelsis; “For Thou only art Holy, Thou only art the LORD, Thou only, O JESU CHRIST, with the HOLY GHOST, art most High in the glory of GOD the FATHER.”*

3 O praise the LORD, for the LORD is gracious: O sing praises unto his Name, for it is lovely.

Gracious. (A.) So the Roman Psalter and S. Hilary, benignus. It ought rather to be, with A. V., LXX., Vulg., good. GOD is not made better by man’s praise, nor worse by man’s blasphemy, but man himself is amended by fearing GOD, who is good, not accidentally, derivatively, or partially, but essentially, naturally, and perfectly. All creation, which he made is “very good,”* what then must be His goodness Who made the universe, Himself unmade? O sing praises unto His Name.* Here they dwell on the word psallite in the Vulgate rendering, which denotes playing on an instrument, and repeat the lesson so often given before, that the works of our hands must accompany the words of our lips in every true and hearty praise of GOD. For it is lovely. (R.) Rather sweet or pleasant. And there is a division as to what the it means, whether the act of praise is the pleasant thing,* or, as most of them prefer, the Name of the LORD. In the latter case, they remind us of the Incarnation, and the title of SAVIOUR thence derived, sweet to us, so that “the Name of JESUS is music in the ear,* honey in the mouth, gladness in the heart;” and sweet especially in that Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist wherein He gives Himself to be the food of our souls. (A.) And note that as the Divine Name occurs thrice in the first verse, so it is repeated thrice in the second and third, as taken up by other voices.

Come,* lovely Name! appear from forth the bright

Regions of peaceful light;

Look from Thine own illustrious home,

Fair King of names, and come:

Leave all Thy native glories in their gorgeous nest,

And give Thyself awhile the gracious guest

Of humble souls, that seek to find

The hidden sweets

Which man’s heart meets

When Thou art master of the mind.

Come, lovely Name! life of our hope,

Lo, we hold our hearts wide ope,

Unlock Thy cabinet of day,

Dearest sweet, and come away.

4 For why? the LORD hath chosen Jacob unto himself: and Israel for his own possession.

Here is the first reason for acknowledging the goodness and sweetness of GOD,* His covenant relation to His chosen people. (A.) It is what is peculiar to themselves, not what they have in common with other nations, that comes home soonest to their joy and affection. He put other nations under Angel rulers and princes, but reserved Jacob for His own royal domain, His special possession. Jacob is chosen of Him, (C.) because all who wrestle against sin are His very own,—as it is written, “There was sore war against the Philistines all the days of Saul: and when Saul [the ‘asked for,’ the Desire of the nation] saw any strong man, or any valiant man, he took him unto him.”* Israel is more than chosen, has become His very own, because they who have wrestled here and prevailed, shall in the Resurrection be “princes with GOD” for ever. And even here, the saints of active and contemplative life,* severally denoted by the same two names, are equally His, only that He dwells more perfectly in those who, like Mary, sit at His feet and listen to His words.

5 For I know that the LORD is great: and that our LORD is above all gods.

Again in these two verses we have the threefold repetition of the Divine Name, thus occurring nine times so far in the Psalm. Here is the second reason for praising GOD. He is not only the special GOD of Israel, their own national object of worship, but supreme above all other supernatural beings, without fellow, (H.) without rival. It would be no great thing to say that He is above the dead idols of metal and wood and stone of which the Psalm speaks later, but He is LORD of all the mighty angel hosts; Angels, Archangels, Thrones, Dominions, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers, are but His servants. I know, not how great He is, for that passes human knowledge, but yet some glimpses of His righteousness may be caught by the faithful believer, as it is written, “No man knoweth the SON, but the FATHER, neither knoweth any man the FATHER, save the SON, and he to whomsoever the SON will reveal Him.”* Perfect knowledge of the FATHER is impossible save to the SON, but nevertheless, in the light of the Gospel revelation of the FATHER’S love, mercy, righteousness and power, man may arise and say, I know, (D. C.) while confessing the truth of Zophar’s objection, “Canst thou by searching find out GOD? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? As high as heaven, what canst thou do? deeper than hell, what canst thou know?”*

6 Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth: and in the sea, and in all deep places.

The strain of praise, the claim of power, rises higher still. GOD might be the mightiest of all beings, and yet have limits to His power. He might (a disbeliever would allege) be stronger than any one rival, and yet not equal to a coalition of all other Powers against Him; or He might, like the Zeus of Greek belief, be overshadowed by the dark, mysterious force of Destiny in the background of His throne. But here all such bounds are swept away, (A.) and He is proclaimed as Almighty, having no limits except His own will, the laws He is pleased to make for Himself;* whereas the mightiest of all other beings, on however great a scale they may work, are merely dealing with what He has been pleased to intrust to them, and obeying His commands. And passing lightly over the argument from natural theology which follows, the commentators come at once to the underlying meaning. Heaven and earth stand for spiritual and temporal things,* the sea and the deeps for evil in its most violent and its darkest form.* The LORD hath done what He pleased in heaven, by sending down the HOLY GHOST, by employing His angels as ministering spirits, by making men into saints, each of them a heaven, because He dwells in them. He hath done what He pleased in earth, by setting up His Church there, by overthrowing idolatry, by judging and punishing His foes, by His dealings with men of carnal mind, who are of the earth, earthy. He hath done what He pleased with the wicked, who “are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.”* He hath done what He pleased in the deep, when He overcame death in the grave, and Satan in hell; and when He brought to nothing the craftiest plots of cruelty and unbelief against His Church. He will yet do what He pleases in the deeps when He calls the dead out of their tombs, when He binds Satan in the pit, when He casts Death and Hell into the lake of brimstone.* Hence this verse begins the song of the redeemed, and therefore for the tenth time the Name of JEHOVAH is heard, because the band of ransomed Saints, who have ascended the fifteen degrees to the House of GOD, and have just heard the nine choirs of Angels celebrating the goodness, sweetness, and elective grace of GOD, now chime in with their harmony in praise of His wonders in redemption, which they proceed to describe as follows:

7 He bringeth forth the clouds from the ends of the world: and sendeth forth lightnings with the rain, bringing the winds out of his treasures.

The clouds (which seem to ascend from the horizon), (H.) as pouring down the rains of heaven on the thirsty earth, are the constant types of the instruments of Divine teaching. Here then, we have the Apostles, lifted by the rays of the Sun of Righteousness from the lowliest place on earth, from the salt waters of restless sinners, and exalted on high, to pour the Gospel message on the parched and thirsty lands. With this rain He brought forth lightnings, (C.) in the marvellous works which He empowered them to do in proof of their mission, in the awful threatenings He bade them utter against obstinate sinners, in the clear brightness of the wisdom with which He endowed them.* And as lightnings are followed by rain, so the eloquent preaching of GOD’S word ought to be followed by the tears of the hearers, disturbed and repentant, truly a rain from heaven. (R.) Bringing the winds out of His treasures. The commentators, agreeing that the word treasures denotes the hidden counsels of GOD, give different interpretations of the winds. (H.) S. Hilary takes them to be the Angels, and quotes in illustration the saying,* “He maketh His angels spirits.”* (A.) The most usual view is S. Augustine’s, that it is another epithet of the preachers of the Gospel, who in the body are as clouds, because lifted up from lowliness to a great height, but are winds in the Spirit, because filled with the mighty rushing wind of the HOLY GHOST,* and passing with incredible swiftness from one part of the earth to the other according to the Divine will. Another exposition, which seems happier, (B.) is that as the winds are the powers which drive the clouds along the sky till they reach the spot whence they descend in showers, so the fierce persecutors of the Apostles, those mobs and tyrants who scattered them hither and thither, did but work out unconsciously and unwillingly the designs of GOD in bringing the Gospel tidings continually into fresh places. So it was from the very first: for “they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word.”* Lastly,* they take the winds to be those sudden operations of GOD on the soul, which are either warm or cold,* the North and South winds of the Bride’s garden,* sometimes cooling and refreshing in time of heat, sometimes freezing with terror, sometimes warm and genial to ripen the fruit, sometimes hot and parching with inflicting sorrow and trouble, but in each and every case, gifts to man out of the treasures of GOD.

8 He smote the first-born of Egypt: both of man and beast.

9 He hath sent tokens and wonders into the midst of thee, O thou land of Egypt: upon Pharaoh and all his servants.

Here is the proof of all that praise of GOD which we had in the preceding verses. GOD chose Jacob, and brought Israel out of Egypt to be His possession, instead of the bondslaves of Pharaoh. He showed Himself greater than all the gods of Egypt, who were powerless against Him. He did what He pleased in heaven, sending the hail, and the locusts, and the darkness. He did what He pleased on earth,* with the murrain, and the blight; He did what He pleased in the sea, bringing frogs out of the ponds, turning the Nile into blood, making a passage for His people through the Red Sea; and in the deeps, by casting all the firstborn down into the grave.* GOD’S triumphs over the enemies of men’s salvation are set forth for us in these two following verses; and here we have first His victory over the world and its prince, of which Egypt and Pharaoh are the recognized Scripture types.* The first-born of Egypt are the original sins which are born within us into the world, (A.) whose guilt GOD destroys in Holy Baptism, (C.) and that both of man and beast, sins of thought and sense, sins of the wise and instructed, as well as of the ignorant and dull. (R.) The wonders of grace which GOD has wrought in the midst of the world have awed and enfeebled the prince of the world and his ministers of evil. He has turned water into blood,* by making fleshly pleasures intolerable; brought up frogs, when He has taught men to be weary of idle and frivolous chatter; sent a plague of lice, by causing weariness of the petty cares and anxieties of the world; of flies, when He allows the hatefulness of evil thoughts to become fully understood; a murrain of cattle, when He strikes at worldly prosperity, and brings the thought of death into the soul; a plague of boils, when the very pomps and dignities of the world become burdensome to those who possess them; a plague of hail, when remorse and terror seize on the mind; a visitation of locusts, when He strips away the grace and dignity of life, the honours and rank on which men pride themselves; a plague of darkness, when the consciousness of ignorance, of incapacity to solve the awful problem of life and death, and of that which lies beyond the grave, forces itself on men; the slaughter of the first-born, when He visits us in our affliction, and takes from us by death, or any other sorrow, whatever is dearest to our heart. (H.) In another sense, they take the signs and wonders in the midst of Egypt to be the portents which attended the Crucifixion of the LORD, when He conquered on the Tree, and the sun was darkened, the earth quaked, the rocks were rent,* and the bodies of the saints arose.

10 He smote divers nations: and slew mighty kings;

11 Sehon king of the Amorites, and Og the king of Basan: and all the kingdoms of Canaan;

12 And gave their land to be an heritage: even an heritage unto Israel his people.

The divers nations are the varieties of sin, (C.) the mighty kings the deadly sins, the powerful temptations under which those sins are marshalled, or the evil spirits who direct them against us.* Sihon the “striker-down”1 King of the Amorites, “lofty ones,”2 that is, giants or mountaineers, typifies Satan and his angels, since he is the enemy that rejoices against us when we fall, and is, like his emblem Leviathan, “a King over all the children of pride.”* Og, the “great” King of Bashan, the “fertile,” or more strictly, “the rich, soft3 place,” is the flesh, delighting in wealth and luxury, and in self-indulgence. These two, as well as Pharaoh, go down before the terrible judgments of the Most High, so that Canaan,—here not the Land of Promise, but the unreclaimed abode of the seven wicked nations, the seven deadly sins, the land lying “low”4—is lifted up to become God’s sanctuary, because man is raised from the daybreak, and the “Kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdoms of our LORD and of His CHRIST,* and the Gentile Israel has entered into possession of that Canaan which the Synagogue has forfeited, the dignity of the Church of GOD.

13 Thy Name, O LORD, endureth for ever: so doth thy memorial, O LORD, from one generation to another.

Here are the two great tokens of victory, the silver trumpets of the conquering army.* Thy Name,* O LORD JESU, with which we are baptized, endureth for ever,* as that title Christians, given so many centuries ago in Antioch, shall abide to the end of time;* Thy memorial, O LORD, (R.) of the triumph Thou didst win on the Cross in the destruction of sin,* abides in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, which began with the Jewish generation of the Apostles, and passed from them to the younger generation of the Gentile Church, which too, continuing throughout the generation of the baptized, shall abide, though in a different fashion, when the generation of the just who have risen again shall worship Him Who was dead and is alive again, in Whose radiant form the wound-prints, memorials of His love and victory, remain for His Saints to reverence with thankful and adoring awe.

Where living streams arise,*

His flock the Shepherd leads,

With richest fruits of Paradise,

The hungry souls He feeds.

Before the SAVIOUR’S Face

His ransomed people fall,

They ever laud Him for His grace,

Who freely giveth all.

He shows the nail-pierced Feet,

The wounded Hands and Side,

They sing, with praises just and meet,

The Lamb Who lives, yet died.

To Him Who reigns on high,

The great Archangels sing,

Thrice Holy LORD, they ceaseless cry,

Almighty GOD and King.

14 For the LORD will avenge his people: and be gracious unto his servants.

Avenge. It should rather be judge (LXX., Vulg., A. V.), in the sense either of pleading the cause of His people, or as here, giving a decision in their favour. Although in the primary meaning of the verse, the two clauses are parallel, some of the early commentators take them with much beauty as contrasted. (H.) The LORD will judge, with fire and sword, with exile and destruction of their polity and worship, His people the Jews, who refused to hear His prophets, who rejected and slew His SON; (C.) but He will be gracious unto His servants of the Gentile Church, who have accepted the message He sent, and unlike their elder brethren, answer, “We will have this Man to reign over us.”* Others take both clauses as referring to the same Christian Church, (Ay.) which GOD judges here by afflictions and chastisements, all sent, nevertheless, in love and graciousness; which He will judge at the Last Day by separating it from the people of the world,* and be gracious to His servants, setting them at His right hand for ever.

15 As for the images of the heathen, they are but silver and gold: the work of men’s hands.

16 They have mouths and speak not: eyes have they, but they see not.

17 They have ears, and yet they hear not: neither is there any breath in their mouths.

18 They that make them are like unto them: and so are all they that put their trust in them.

These verses are repeated from the fuller language of Psalm 115:4–8,* and there is little to add to the exposition given there.* They who will not confess to the LORD, by acknowledgment of their own sin, and His holiness, they who will not open their eyes and behold the wondrous things of His law, they who are like the deaf adder, and hear not the voice of the charmer, they in whom the Spirit of Life is not found; these are the men who worship the silver and gold of the world, who are given to covetousness, which is idolatry. So too,* they who worship literal idols, are like them in lacking sense and reason; they are like them because they imitate the sins which they attribute to their gods, as the foul rites of several Pagan deities proved, putting a powerful weapon into the hands of Christian apologists;* and, as Arnobius adds, the ultimate fate of gold and silver statues is to be melted in the fire, and that is what awaits those who wilfully persist in turning from the one True GOD to idols of any kind;* whether their god be their belly, or who professing to know GOD, deny Him by their deeds.

19 Praise the LORD, ye house of Israel: praise the LORD ye house of Aaron.

20 Praise the LORD, ye house of Levi: ye that fear the LORD, praise the LORD.

21 Praised be the LORD out of Sion: who dwelleth at Jerusalem. [Alleluia.]

These verses also are a recasting of previous Psalms, (A.) of 115:9–11, 118:2–4, and, as before, are explained the whole body of the Christian Church, consisting of the true Israel, those children which GOD has raised up to Abraham out of the stones; and subdivided into its chief rulers, Bishops and Priests, typified by the house of Aaron; its Religious and lower ministers of the sanctuary,* as singers, doorkeepers and the like, represented by the house of Levi, and the whole body of the faithful laity, who fear the Lord. These are all called in to show the heathen what true worship is,* and by the force of a higher example, to recall them from their vain idols to serve the living GOD.* And He whom they praise is that Man who by His Incarnation appeared out of Sion, born in Bethlehem of Judæa, of the house and lineage of David, who is worshipped here in the Church Militant, (G.) and who dwelleth at Jerusalem above, the Vision of Peace, as GOD in everlasting Glory, and blessedness, where Alleluia is sung to Him unceasingly.


Glory be to the FATHER, Who hath given this Name of LORD to Him that took on Him the nature of man; glory be to the SON, ruling supremely in both His natures, Divine and Human; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, the consubstantial sweetness and goodness of FATHER and SON, whereby the good LORD and His sweet Name is proclaimed in this Psalm.

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

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