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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.




              For His mercy endureth for ever. Ambrosian. [Easter Eve: The veil of the Temple was rent * and all the earth quaked, the bodies of the Saints which slept arose.]


Parisian. First portion: The LORD is gracious,* and His mercy endureth for ever. Second portion: The LORD remembered us in our low estate, * and redeemed us from our enemies.

Lyons. First portion. O give thanks * unto the LORD, for He is gracious. Second portion: The LORD hath redeemed us from our enemies.

Mozarabic. In our trouble the LORD remembered us, and delivered us out of the hand of our enemies.

This Psalm, closely connected with its predecessor (and always recited together with it by the Eastern Church) dwells like it with its chief stress on the conquest of Canaan by Israel, and therefore, as the fifteen Gradual Psalms have more or less direct reference to the rebuilding of the City and Temple, so these two appear to point to the hope of the returning exiles to re-occupy the whole of the Land of Promise, and to drive out the mixed race of Assyrian colonists as their forefathers had done to the Seven Nations. The parity of expression which it exhibits towards Ps. 135 leads to the conjecture that it is itself the very song of praise which the Priests and Levites are called on, in the closing verses of that Psalm, to utter. It seems almost certainly to have been composed for and sung at the laying the first stone of the Second Temple, for we read: “And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the LORD, after the ordinance of David king of Israel.* And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.” It is clearly antiphonal in structure, and is known to the Jews as the “Great Hallel,” distinguishing it thereby from the “Hallel” of Pss. 113–118. But this name of “Great Hallel” is sometimes extended to include Ps. 135 from the fourth verse onward, and sometimes even to take in all the Graduals also.* The Rabbins say that the Psalm consists of twenty-six verses (the twenty-seventh is not in Hebrew nor LXX.) because that is exactly the number of generations recorded in the Pentateuch between the creation of the world and the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. The Psalm has a Christian memory connected with it, as having been sung by the orders of S. Athanasius when Syrianus and his troops burst into the church of S. Theonas at Alexandria, at the head of the Arian faction, to disperse the Catholics and seize the Patriarch himself. The Psalm (always said in the East, as noted above, with Psalm 135.) is called by the Greek Church the Polyeleos, from its continual mention of the mercy of GOD.

1 O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is gracious: and his mercy endureth for ever.

2 O give thanks unto the GOD of all gods: for his mercy endureth for ever.

3 O thank the LORD of all lords: for his mercy endureth for ever.

In these three opening verses the Most Holy Trinity is praised because of the essential attributes of GOD,* and in the remainder of the Psalm because of the manifestation of those attributes to man in the visible works of GOD. In the first verse the FATHER is praised under His incommunicable Name יְהֹוָה (A.), JEHOVAH,* as the Fount and Source of Godhead and being; in the second verse the SON is named as אֱלֹהֵי, ELOHI, GOD of GOD, as Sole-begotten of the FATHER, as GOD of gods, as supreme over both angels and men; and in the third verse the HOLY GHOST, as the Spirit of liberty, whereby alone any one can bear rule, (since he who is not free is no lord, but a slave,) is praised as אֲדֹנֵי, ADONI, LORD of lords,* the Uncreate and Almighty Love, Whom all things obey. And note how this language of the Psalm rises above that of the preceding one, wherein no more was claimed for the GOD of Israel than that He is “above all gods,”* but here they are declared to be no more than His creatures and servants. “For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) but to us there is but one GOD, the FATHER, of Whom are all things, and we in Him; and one LORD JESUS CHRIST, by Whom are all things, and we by Him.”* GOD’S goodness, which created us, is the first cause of our thankfulness; but His mercy, in that He redeemed us, after by our own freewill we had fallen from the state in which He placed us, is that which earns our gratitude for ever, and forms the theme of the song of the redeemed; (G.) and belongs far more truly to Christians than to Jews, for it cost GOD nothing to ransom Israel out of Egypt, but it cost His own precious Blood to save us on the Cross.

4 Who only doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth for ever.

The words, “O give thanks unto the LORD,” are to be prefixed here and in the succeeding verses to complete the sense. There are three things here declared of GOD; (A.) that He doeth wonders, that the wonders He doeth are great; that He only doeth them. And though in the first verse of the Psalm His goodness is the theme of praise,* there is no change of subject in passing to celebrate His power, because the works which are described are those of His goodness and mercy. He only doeth great wonders, (A.) because whatever Angels or men accomplish is done merely by power which He delegates to them, but His own works are done without any co-operation whatsoever. (Ay.) They draw, too, another distinction here, as to the different meaning of wonders. Anything of which the cause is unknown is wonderful, albeit it may be simple enough when explained, as the eclipse of the sun, wonderful to uncivilised people, (D. C.) is no marvel to astronomers. And in this sense men may be said to do wonderful things, (H.) as the magicians of Pharaoh did, and as it is prophesied that Antichrist will do in the last days. But these are partly mere illusions and jugglery, having no real existence, and partly would be explicable by complete knowledge on our part; whereas the works of creation, the laws of nature, the miracles of Holy Writ, are abiding facts, and not capable of being explained by man’s understanding. We can tell the How, not the Why, and therefore GOD’S works are wonderful.

5 Who by his excellent wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever.

That excellent wisdom is His Only-Begotten SON, as it is written in another Psalm, (A.) “By the Word of the LORD were the heavens made.”* He made them in His wisdom,* unlike men, whose greatest achievements are at best but the ultimate product of previous labour and discovery, (C.) and therefore accomplish what they do by instruction, by emulation, by addition,—consequently by the wisdom of others as well as their own, but GOD had no guide or teacher, and yet the marvellous order of creation, due to His will alone, forces from us the confession not only that His works are done in wisdom, but that His wisdom is excellent. And besides the visible heaven of the firmament, (R.) He has made other heavens too, (B.) spiritual ones, the Angelic Powers, Prophets, Apostles, and all holy souls wherein He dwells.* They count up, besides, the seven heavens of mediæval cosmogony as here designated by the plural word, the heavens of Air, Fire, Ether, Stars, Crystal, Empyrean, and the abode of GOD.

6 Who laid out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endureth for ever.

Passing from the physical meaning of these words, (A.) which tell how the waters are not suffered to break their bounds and submerge the land; they remind us how man’s bodily nature, and the whole Church Militant on earth, (C.) made up of many nations, (B.) is established (LXX. and Vulg.) above the waters, because Holy Baptism is the foundation of our spiritual life,* whence it is written in another Psalm,* “He hath founded it upon the seas;”* and because, further, the waves of persecution are never suffered to overwhelm it, which is laid out over and higher than this.

7 Who hath made great lights: for his mercy endureth for ever.

8 The sun to rule the day: for his mercy endureth for ever.

9 The moon and the stars to govern the night: for his mercy endureth for ever.

They give various interpretations to these: according to some, the sun is the LORD JESUS CHRIST according to His created Manhood, the “Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world;”* the moon, paler and colder, and deriving all her light from Him, (G.) is either His Virgin Mother, (C.) or the Church, and the stars are the Angels, Apostles, Prophets, Martyrs, and other Saints and members of the hierarchy of the Church, differing from one another in glory.* (B.) Another view is that the New Testament is the sun, given to Christians as the children of light, who walk in the day, and the Old Testament the moon, assigned to the Jews who walk still in the shadow and coldness of imperfect belief. Again, (R.) the sun is understood of the gift of wisdom, and the moon of knowledge, acquired by means of that wisdom, and useless without it, while the great lights and the stars then severally denote those endowed in various degrees with those gifts.

GOD’S Saints are shining lights:* who stays

Here long, must pass

O’er dark hills, swift streams, and steep ways

As smooth as glass;

But these, all night

Like candles, shed

Their beams, and light

Us into bed.

They are indeed our pillar fires

Seen as we go,

They are that City’s shining spires

We travel to.

These govern the night,* because it is through the instrumentality and teaching of His Saints and wise men that GOD instructs the ignorant world, (D. C.) as it is written, “They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever,”* and He gives them, moreover, spiritual power over sinners, who walk in darkness. And finally, this passage of the Psalter was made a great battle-field during the strife on the subject of Investitures which raged in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, as it was argued that the Church and the State—especially the Empire—were the two great lights of the heavens, but that the Church, as the Sun, had rule over all that belonged to spiritual questions, the day, while the State, deriving its authority from GOD through the Church, was but as the moon, restricted in its rule to temporal questions, matters of the night, only, and was therefore incompetent to encroach on the privileges of the hierarchy in matters of patronage.

On this work of GOD in creation a great preacher of early times bases an argument addressed to the Jews.* “They said, ‘Is not this the carpenter’s son?’* that under the name of a common handicraft the skill of the maker might be hid, and the name of carpenter1 conceals that of Godhead. CHRIST was the carpenter’s Son, but of that carpenter Who made the world not with a hammer, but with a command; Who fitted together the parts of the elements not with a machine, but with a behest; Who forged the mass of the world not with charcoal, but with will; Who kindled the sun not with earthly fire, but heavenly; Who framed the moon, the darkness, the night, and the seasons; Who arranged the stars into their diverse radiance; Who made all things out of nothing; and did it, O man, for thy sake, that thou mightest esteem the artist by appraising His work. But thou, O Jew, settest a brand upon the Son of this carpenter, whereas thou oughtest to repay the Son for these great benefits thou hast received. This is the reason thou hast no share in things to come—the cause that thou art thankless for what now exists.”

10 Who smote Egypt with their first-born: for his mercy endureth for ever;

From this point onwards it is shown that what GOD does by delegated agency, (C.) He does Himself. And the spiritual teaching is that in condemning and chastising the world, (B.) with its eldest and favourite sins, of luxury, pride, and avarice, and with all original sins besides, and in excluding them and their doers from the rules of His divine law, (Ay.) He smote them, since whatever is withdrawn from the Author of Life is thereby dead. He did all this, slaying pride by humbling Himself to be a servant, and becoming obedient unto the death of the Cross;* avarice, by becoming poor for our sakes, though He was rich, that He might enrich us with His poverty;* luxury, when He intrusted His Virgin Mother to His virgin disciple;* anger, when He prayed on the Cross for His murderers; envy, when He brought the thief with Him into Paradise;* gluttony, when He willed to taste the vinegar and gall;* and sloth, in that He fulfilled all His FATHER’S commandments; wherefore He said, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.”*

11 And brought out Israel from among them: for his mercy endureth for ever;

12 With a mighty hand, and stretched out arm: for his mercy endureth for ever.

He delivered, (C.) and still does deliver, His Saints from the companionship of sinners, from the bondage of Satan, and that as GOD, with His invincible action, which is His mighty hand, and His omnipotent power, which is the source of that hand’s strength, the stretched out arm which nerves it. And as Man, He wrought that salvation when His mighty hand was nailed fast,* what time His arm was stretched out upon the Cross.

13 Who divided the Red Sea in two parts: for his mercy endureth for ever;

14 And made Israel to go through the midst of it: for his mercy endureth for ever.

15 But as for Pharaoh and his host, he overthrew them in the Red Sea: for his mercy endureth for ever.

The word two,* inserted by the Prayer Book in ver. 13, is not in the Hebrew, (C.) nor in the other versions. There is a Rabbinical tradition that the number of channels into which the Red Sea was parted was twelve, so as to give a separate line of march to each tribe. Christian expositors who take the Red Sea as the type of the world, red with the blood of Saints, explain the parts into which it is divided as the various ways of escape which GOD makes for His people, according as the practice of one or other virtue brings them out of bondage to sin, while on the other hand, those who understand it of Holy Baptism (red with the Blood of CHRIST,* and with the penitential blush of catechumens for their former sins) allege that GOD divides it into two parts, for those who persevere in their Baptismal vows, and attain life, and those who fall away from those vows, and are overthrown along with the spiritual Pharaoh and his host. Again, the Red Sea is interpreted of the restless heresies which assail the Church, which GOD makes to go through the midst of them, (G.) by causing her to keep the mean betwixt opposing errors, between Sabellianism and Arianism, between Nestorianism and Eutychianism, and so forth, vindicating the truth which each heresy maintains, but rejecting its negation of other truths.

16 Who led his people through the wilderness: for his mercy endureth for ever.

Where note that in what precedes this, (Ay.) in this verse itself, and in what follows, GOD’S three ways of leading are set forth. He leads out, He leads through, and He leads into, out of sin, through the world, into heaven, out by faith, through by hope, into by love.

17 Who smote great kings: for his mercy endureth for ever;

18 Yea, and slew mighty kings: for his mercy endureth for ever;

19 Sehon king of the Amorites: for his mercy endureth for ever;

20 And Og the king of Basan: for his mercy endureth for ever;

21 And gave away their land for an heritage: for his mercy endureth for ever;

22 Even for an heritage unto Israel his servant: for his mercy endureth for ever.

The mystical meaning of the Seven Nations, as betokening the seven deadly sins, and the types of the devil and the flesh as found in Sihon and Og have been already dwelt on;* and for the rest they tell us that these benefits, conferred in the letter historically on the Hebrew people, (C.) are but shadows of the greater spiritual inheritance which has been taken from them in turn, and given to that Church which is the servant of GOD the SON. And they find, too, a reason for the repetition of the word heritage,* that the celestial inheritance is promised not to the glorified soul only, but to the body also, through the Resurrection.

23 Who remembered us when we were in trouble: for his mercy endureth for ever;

24 And hath delivered us from our enemies: for his mercy endureth for ever.

In trouble. Better, with A. V. low estate, which agrees with LXX. and Vulgate. Historically, the reference is to the Egyptian bondage of Israel’s youth, (A.) and to the Babylonian captivity of a later day, (C.) from both of which GOD delivered His people. For us, the meaning is the low estate into which the Fall had brought all men; and especially the low estate in which we Gentiles were in darkness, sorrow, ignorance, (Ay.) and idolatry, and sin, till CHRIST redeemed us with His own most precious Blood, and delivered us from our spiritual foes; as He did His Church also in the letter from her Jewish and Pagan adversaries.

25 Who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy endureth for ever.

He not only feeds all living things with the physical food which they require, (C.) and sustains man, and beast, and bird, and fish, and reptile, and insect, with all that they need; but also gives spiritual food to all mankind without distinction, to Jew and Gentile, noble and serf, bond and free alike, for “there is no respect of persons with GOD.”* And the chief of all such food is the Most Holy Sacrament of His own Body and Blood.* This He gives to all flesh; (G.) that is, to those who have soft and believing hearts, not to those of stony and incredulous hearts, who when He saith, “Whoso eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood, hath eternal life,” reply, “This is a hard saying, who can hear it?”* Such as these are not flesh, but stone, and are in no wise partakers of Him.

26 O give thanks unto the GOD of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever.

27 O give thanks unto the LORD of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever.1

As the Psalm began with the praise of GOD,* it closes in like manner, because He is Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last; and it is our bounden duty to praise and thank Him for the outset and the close of every good thing, since both are from Him only, whence it is that the first-fruits and the tithes are both dedicated to His service. And because He is the God of heaven, Holy in the holy place to which we look forward as our home, we say with the Prophet: (D. C.) “I will mention the loving-kindnesses of the LORD, and the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which He hath bestowed on them according to His mercies, and according to the multitude of His loving kindnesses. For He said, Surely they are My people, children that will not lie: so He was their SAVIOUR. In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old.”* We give thanks, (G.) then, to the God of heaven, lifting up our hearts thither, where He will feed us with the bread of angels in such wise as the angels themselves feed on it, not in a sacrament, nor under a veil, but seeing face to face,* and tasting with savour unspeakable, for He is the Lord of lords, and makes His good and faithful servants, whom He brings into His heritage, to be lords there under and with Himself, alway and evermore, for His mercy endureth for ever.


Glory be to the FATHER of mercies; glory be to the SON, Who obtaineth everlasting mercy for us; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Who is that very eternal mercy, whereby we are delivered from our misery. Amen. Amen.

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

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