Early Church Fathers
1. This Psalm commendeth unto us the mercies of God, proved in ourselves, and is therefore the sweeter to the experienced. And it is a wonder if it can be pleasing to any one, except to him who has learned in his own case, what he hears in this Psalm. Yet was it written not for any one or two, but for the people of God, and set forth that it might know itself therein as in a mirror. Its title needeth not now to be treated, for it is Halleluia, and again Halleluia. Which we have a custom of singing at a certain time in our solemnities, after an old tradition of the Church: nor is it without a sacred meaning that we sing it on particular days. Halleluia we sing indeed on certain days, but every day we think it. For if in this word is signified the praise of God, though not in the mouth of the flesh, yet surely in the mouth of the heart. "His praise shall ever be in my mouth." But that the title hath Halleluia not once only but twice, is not peculiar to this Psalm, but the former also hath it so. And as far as appears from its text, that was sung of the people of Israel, but this is sung of the universal Church of God, spread through the whole world. Perchance, it not unfitly hath Halleluia twice, because we cry, Abba, Father. Since Abba is nothing else but Father, yet not without meaning the Apostle said, "in whom we cry, Abba, Father;" but because one wall indeed coming to the Corner Stone crieth Abba, but the other, from the other side crieth Father; viz., in that Corner Stone, "who is our Peace, who hath made bothone." ...
2. "Confess unto the Lord that He is sweet, because for aye in His mercy" (ver. 1). This confess ye that He is sweet: if ye have tasted, confess. But he cannot confess, who hath not chosen to taste, for whence shall he say that that is sweet, which he knoweth not. But ye if ye have tasted how sweet the Lord is, "Confess ye to the Lord that He is sweet." If ye have tasted with eagerness, break forth with confession. "For aye is His mercy," that is, for ever. For here "for aye," is so put, since also in some other places of Scripture, for aye, that is, what in Greek is called eij aiwna, is understood for ever. For His mercy is not for a time, so as not to be for ever, since for this purpose His present mercy is over men, that they may live with the Angels for ever.
3. "Let them say who are redeemed of the Lord, whom He hath redeemed from the hand of their enemies" (ver. 2). Redeemed indeed it seems was also the people of Israel from the land of Egypt, from the hand of slavery, from fruitless labours, from miry works; yet let us see whether those who say these things, are they who were freed by the Lord from Egypt. It is not so. But who are they? "Those whom He redeemed." Still one might take it also of them, as redeemed from the hand of their enemies, that is, of the Egyptians. Let them be expressed exactly who they are, for whom this Psalm would be sung. "He gathered them from the lands;" these might still be the lands of Egypt, for there are many lands even in one province. Let him speak openly. "From the east and the west, from the north and the sea" (ver. 3). Now then we understand these redeemed, in the whole circle of the earth. This people of God, freed from a great and broad Egypt, is led, as through the Red Sea, that in Baptism it may make an end of its enemies. For by the sacrament as it were of the Red Sea, that is by Baptism consecrated with the Blood of Christ, the pursuing Egyptians, thesins, are washed away. ..."But all these things happened to them in a figure, and were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come." ...
4. "They wandered in the wilderness, in a dry place, they found not the way of a city to dwell in" (ver. 4). We have heard a wretched wandering; what of want? "Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them" (ver. 5). But wherefore did it faint? for what good? For God is not cruel, but He maketh Himself known, in that it is expedient for us, that He be entreated by us fainting, and that aiding us He be loved. And therefore after this wandering, and hunger, and thirst, "And they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them out of their distress" (ver. 6). And what did He for them, as they were wandering? "And He led them in the right way" (ver. 7). They found not the way of a city to dwell in, with hunger and thirst they were vexed and faint, "and He led them into the right way, that they might go into a city to dwell in." How He helped their hunger and thirst, He saith not, but even this expect ye: "Let them confess unto the Lord His mercies, and His wonders towards the children of men" (ver. 8). Tell them, ye that are experienced, to the inexperienced; ye that are already in the way, already directed towards finding the city, already at last free from hunger and thirst. "Because He hath satisfied the empty soul, and filled the hungry soul with good things" (ver. 9).
5. "Them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, fast bound in beggary and iron" (ver. 10). Whence this, but that thou wast attributing things to thyself? that thou wast not owning the grace of God? that thou wast rejecting the counsel of God concerning thee? For see what He addeth: "Because they rebelled against the words of the Lord through pride" (ver. 11), not knowing the righteousness of God, and wishing to establish their own, "and they were bitter against the counsel of the Most High." "And their heart was brought low in labour" (ver. 12). And now fight against lust; if God cease to aid thou mayest strive, thou canst not conquer. And when thou shalt be pressed by thine evil, thy heart will be brought low in labour, so that now with humbled heart thou mayest learn to cry out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" ...Freed, thou wilt confess the mercies of the Lord. "And they cried unto the Lord when they were troubled, and He delivered them out of their distresses" (ver. 13). They were freed from the second temptation. There remains that of weariness and loathing. But first see what He did for them when freed. "And He led them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bonds asunder" (ver. 14). "Let them confess to the Lord His mercies, and His wonders to the children of men" (ver. 15). Wherefore? what difficulties hath He overcome? "Because He brake the gates of brass, and snapped the bars of iron" (ver. 16). "He took them up from the way of their iniquity, for because of their unrighteousnesses they were brought low" (ver. 17). Because they gave honour to themselves, not to God, because they were establishing their own righteousness, not knowing the righteousness of God, they were brought low. They found that they were helpless without His aid, who were presuming on their own strength alone.
6. "Their soul abhorred all manner of meat" (ver. 18). Now they suffer satiety. They are sick of satiety. They are in danger from satiety. Unless perchance thou thinkest they could be killed with famine, but cannot with satiety. See what followeth. When he had said, "Their soul abhorred all manner of meat," lest thou shouldest think them, as it were, safe of their fulness, and not rather see that they would die of satiety: "And they came near," he saith, "even unto the gates of death." What then remaineth? That even when the word of God delighteth thee, thou account it not to thyself; nor for this be puffed up with any sort of arrogance, and having an appetite for food, proudly spurn at those who are in danger from satiety. "And they cried out unto the Lord when they were in trouble, and He delivered them out of their distresses" (ver. 19). And because it was a sickness not to be pleased, "He sent His Word, and healed them" (ver. 20). See what evil there is in satiety; see whence He delivers, to whom he crieth that loathes his food. "He sent His Word, and healed them, and snatched them," from whence? not from wandering, not from hunger, not from the difficulty of overcoming sins, but "from their corruption." It is a sort of corruption of the mind to loathe what is sweet. Therefore also of this benefit, as of the others before, "Let them confess to the Lord His mercies, and His wonders unto the sons of men" (ver. 21). "And sacrifice the sacrifice of praise" (ver. 22). For now that He may be praised, the Lord is sweet, "and let them tell out His works with gladness." Not with weariness, not with sadness, not with anxiety, not with loathing, but "with gladness."
7. ..."They who go down on the sea in ships, doing their business on the mighty waters" (ver. 23); that is, amongst many peoples. For that waters are often put for peoples, the Apocalypse of John is witness, when on John's asking what those waters were, it was answered him, they are peoples. They then who do their business on mighty waters, "they have seen the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep" (ver. 24). For what is deeper than human hearts? hence often break forth winds; storms of sedition, and dissensions, disturb the ship. And what is done in them? God, willing that both they who steer, and they who are conveyed, should cry unto Him, "He spake, and the breath of the storm stood" (ver. 25). What is, stood? Abode, continued, still disturbeth, long tosseth; rageth, and passeth not away. "For He spake, and the breath of the storm stood." And what did that breath of the storm? "They go up even to the heavens," in daring; "They go down even into the deeps" (ver. 26), in fearing. "Their soul wasted in miseries." "They were disturbed, and moved like a drunken man" (ver. 27). They who sit at the helm, and they who faithfully love the ship, feel what I say. Certainly, when they speak, when they read, when they interpret, they appear wise. Woe for the storm! "and all their wisdom," he saith, "was swallowed up." Sometimes all human counsels fail; whichever way one turns himself, the waves roar, the storm rageth, the arms are powerless: where the prow may strike, to what wave the side may be exposed, whither the stricken ship may be allowed to drift, from what rocks she must be kept back lest she be lost, is impossible for her pilots to see. And what is left but that which follows? "And they cried out unto the Lord when they were troubled, and He delivered them from their distresses" (ver. 28). "And He commanded the storm, and it stood unto clear air" (ver. 29), "and the waves of it were still." Hear on this point the voice of a steersman, one that was in peril, was brought low, was freed. "I would not," he saith, "have you ignorant, brethren, of our distress, which befell us in Asia, that "we were pressed above strength, and above measure" (I see all his "wisdom swallowed up"), "so that we were weary," he saith, "even of life." ...
"And they were glad, because they were still, and He brought them into the haven of their desire" (ver. 30). "Let His mercies confess unto the Lord, and His wonders towards the sons of men" (ver. 31). Everywhere, without exception, let not our merits, not our strength, not our wisdom, "confess unto the Lord," but, "His mercies." Let Him be loved in every deliverance of ours, who has been invoked in every distress.
8. "And let them exalt Him in the assembly of the people, and praise Him in the seat of the elders" (ver. 32). Let them exalt, let them praise, peoples and elders, merchants and pilots. For what hath He done in this assembly? What hath He established? Whence hath He rescued it? What hath He granted it? Even as He resisted the proud, and gave grace to the humble: the proud, that is, the first people of the Jews, arrogant, and extolling itself on its descent from Abraham, and because to that nation "were entrusted the oracles of God." These things did not avail them unto soundness, but unto pride of heart, rather to swelling than to greatness. What then did God, resisting the proud, but giving grace to the humble; cutting off the natural branches for their pride; grafting in the wild olive for its humility?
"He made the rivers a wilderness" (ver. 33). Waters did run there, prophecies were in course. Seek now a prophet among the Jews; thou findest none. For "He made the outgoings of waters to be thirst." Let them say, "Now there is no prophet more, and He will not know us any more." "A fruitful land to be saltpools" (ver. 34). Thou seekest there the faith of Christ, thou findest not: thou seekest a prophet, thou findest not: thou seekest a sacrifice, thou findest not: thou seekest a temple, thou findest none. Wherefore this? "From the wickedness of them that dwell therein." Behold how He resisteth the proud: hear how He giveth grace to the humble. "He made the wilderness to be a standing water, and the dry ground to be outgoings of waters" (ver. 35). "And He caused the hungry to dwell there" (ver. 36). Because to Him it was said, "Thou art a Priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedec." For thou seekest a sacrifice among the Jews; thou hast none after the order of Aaron. Thou seekest it after the order of Melchizedec; thou findest it not among them, but through the whole world it is celebrated in the Church. "From the rising of the sun to the setting thereof the name of the Lord is praised." ..."And they sowed fields, and planted vineyards, and gat fruit of corn" (ver. 37): at which that workman rejoiceth, who saith, "Not because I desire a gift, but I seek fruit." "And He blessed them, and they were multiplied exceedingly, and their cattle were not diminished" (ver. 38). This standeth. For "the foundation of God standeth sure; because the Lord knoweth them that are His." They are called "beasts of burden," and "cattle," that walk simply in the Church, yet are useful; not much learned, but full of faith. Therefore, whether spiritual or carnal, "He blessed them."
9. "And they became few, and were vexed" (ver. 39). Whence this? From athwart? Nay, from within. For that they should "become few," "They went out from us, but they were not of us." But therefore he speaketh as of these, of whom he spake before, that they may be discerned with understanding; because he speaketh as if of the same, because of the sacraments they have in common. For they belong to the people of God, though not by the virtue, yet surely by the appearance of piety: for concerning them we have heard the Apostle, "In the last times there shall come grievous times, for there shall be men lovers of themselves." The first evil is, "lovers of themselves;" that is, as being pleased with themselves. Would that they were not pleasing to themselves, and were pleasing to God: would that they would cry out in their difficulties, and be freed from their distresses. But while they presumed greatly on themselves, "they were made few." It is manifest, brethren: all who separate themselves from unity become few. For they are many; but in unity, while they are not parted from unity. For when the multitude of unity hath begun no more to belong to them, in heresy and schism, they are few. "And they were vexed, from distress of miseries and grief." "Contempt was poured on princes" (ver. 40). For they were rejected by the Church of God, and the more because they wished to be princes, therefore they were despised, and became salt that had lost its savour, cast out abroad, so that it is trodden under foot of men. "And He led them astray in the pathless place, and not in a way." Those above in the way, those directed to a city, and finally led thither, not led astray; but these, where there was no way, led astray. What is, "Led them astray"? God "gave them up to their own hearts' lusts." For "led astray" means this, gave them up to themselves. For if thou enquire closely, it is they that lead themselves astray. ..."And He helped the poor out of beggary" (ver. 41). What meaneth this, brethren? Princes are despised, and the poor helped. The proud are cast aside, and the humble provided for. ..."And made him households like sheep." Thou understandest one poor man and one beggar of him concerning whom he said, "He hath helped the poor out of misery:" thispoor man is now many households, this poor man is many nations; many Churches are one Church, one nation, one household, one sheep. These are great mysteries, great types, how profound, how full of hidden meanings; how sweetly discovered, since long hidden. Therefore, "the righteous will consider this, and rejoice: and the mouth of all wickedness shall be stopped" (ver. 42). That wickedness that doth prate against unity, and compelleth truth to be made manifest, shall be convicted, and have its mouth stopped.
10. "Who is wise? and he will consider these things; and will understand the mercies of the Lord" (ver. 43). ...Not his own deservings, not his own strength, not his own power; but "the mercies of the Lord;" who, when he was wandering and in want, led him back to the path, and fed him; who, when he was struggling against the difficulties of his sins, and bound down with the fetters of habit, released and freed him; who, when he loathed the Word of God, and was almost dying with a kind of weariness, restored him by sending him the medicine of His Word; who, when he was endangered among the risks of shipwreck and storm, stilled the sea, and brought him into port; who, finally, placed him in that people, where He giveth grace to the humble; not in that where he resisteth the proud; and hath made him His own, that remaining within he may be multiplied, not that going out he may be minished. The righteous see this, and rejoice. "The mouth," therefore, "of all wickedness shall be stopped."