Early Church Fathers
1. David the king was one man, but not one man he figured; sometimes to wit he figured the Church of many men consisting, extended even unto the ends of the earth: but sometimes One Man he figured, Him he figured that is Mediator of God and men, the Man Christ Jesus. In this Psalm therefore, or rather in this Psalm's title, certain victorious actions of David are spoken of: ..."To the end, in behalf of those men that shall be changed unto the title's inscription, unto teaching for David himself, when he burned up Mesopotamia in Syria, and Syria Sobal, and turned Joab, and smote Edom, in the valley of salt-pits twelve thousand." We read of these things in the books of the Reigns, that all those persons whom he hath named, were defeated by David, that is, Mesopotamia in Syria, and Syria Sobal, Joab, Edom. These things were done, and just as they were done, so there they have been written, so they are read: let him read that will. Nevertheless, as the Prophetic Spirit in the Psalms' titles is wont to depart somewhat from the expression of things done, and to say something which in history is not found, and hence rather to admonish us that titles of this kind have been written not that we may know things done, but that things future may be prefigured. ...But here this thing is inserted for this especial reason, that there it is not written that he burned up Mesopotamia in Syria, and Syria Sobal. But now let us begin to examine these things after the significations of things future, and to bring out the dimness of shadows into the light of the word.
2. What is "to the end" ye know. For "the end of the law is Christ." Those that are changed ye know. For who but they that do pass from old life into new? ..."For ye were sometime darkness, but now light in the Lord." But they are changed "into the title's inscription," ...who into the kingdom of Christ do pass over from the kingdom of the devil. It is well that they are changed unto this title's inscription. But they are changed, as followeth, "unto teaching." He added, "for David himself unto teaching:" that is, are changed not for themselves, but for David himself, and are changed unto teaching. ...When therefore would Christ have changed us, unless He had done that which He spake of, "Fire I have come to send into the world"? If therefore Christ came to send into the world fire, to wit to its health and profit, we must inquire not how He is to send the world into fire, but how into the world fire. Inasmuch as therefore He came to send fire into the world, let us inquire what is Mesopotamia which was burned up, what is Syria Sobal? The interpretations therefore of the names let us examine according to the Hebrew language, wherein first this Scripture was written. Mesopotamia they say is interpreted, "exalted calling." Now the whole world by calling hath been exalted, Syria is interpreted "lofty." But she which was lofty, burned up hath been and humbled. Sobal is interpreted "empty antiquity." Thanks to Christ that hath burned her. Whenever old bushes are burned up, green places succeed; and more speedily and more plentifully, and more fully green, fresh ones spring out, when fire hath gone before them to the burning up of the old. Let not therefore the fire of Christ be feared, hay it consumeth. "For all flesh is hay, and all the glory of man as flower of hay." He burneth up therefore those things with that fire. "And turned Josh." Joab is interpreted enemy. There was turned an enemy, as thou wilt understand it. If turned unto flight,the devil it is: if converted to the faith, a Christian it is. How unto flight? From the heart of a Christian: "The Prince of this world," He saith, "now hath been cast out." But how can a Christian turned to the Lord be an enemy turned? Because he hath become a believer that had been an enemy. "Smote Edom." Edom is interpreted "earthly." That earthly one ought to be smitten. For why should one live earthly, that ought to live heavenly? There hath been slain therefore life earthly, let there live life heavenly. "For as we have borne the image of the earthly, let us bear also the image of Him that is from Heaven." See it slain: "Mortify your members which are upon earth." But when he had smitten Edom, he smote "twelve thousand in the valley of salt-pits." Twelve thousand is a perfect number, to which perfect number also the number of the twelve Apostles is ascribed: for not to no purpose is it, but because through the whole world was to be sent the Word. But the Word of God, which is Christ, is in clouds, that is, in the preachers of truth. But the world of four parts doth consist. The four parts thereof are exceeding well known to all, and often in the Scriptures they are mentioned: they are the same as the name of the four winds, East, West, North, and South. To all these four parts was sent the Word, so that in the Trinity all might be called. The number twelve four times three do make. With reason therefore twelve thousand earthly things were smitten, the whole world was smitten: for from the whole world was chosen out the Church, mortified from earthly life. Why "in the valley of salt-pits"? A valley is humility: salt-pits signify savour. For many men are humbled, but emptily and foolishly, in empty oldness they are humbled. One suffereth tribulation for money, suffereth tribulation for temporal honour, suffereth tribulation for the comforts of this life; he is to suffer tribulation and to be humbled: why not for the sake of God why not for the sake of Christ why not for the savour of salt? Knowest thou not that to thee hath been said, "Ye are the salt of earth," and, "If the salt shall have been spoiled, for no other thing will it be of use, but to be cast out"? A good thing it is therefore wisely to be humbled. Behold now are not heretics being humbled? Have not laws been made even by men to condemn them, against whom divine laws do reign, which even before had condemned them? Behold they are humbled, behold they are put to flight, behold persecution they suffer, but without savour; for folly, for emptiness. For now the salt hath been spoiled: therefore it hath been cast out, to be trodden down of men. We have heard the title of the Psalm, let us hear also the words of the Psalm.
3. "God, Thou hast driven us back, and hast destroyed us" (ver. 1). Is that David speaking that smote, that burned up, that defeated, and not they to whom He did these things, that is to say, their being smitten and driven back, that were evil men, and again their being made alive and returning in order that they might be good men? That destruction indeed that David made, strong of hand, our Christ, whose figure that man was bearing; He did those things, He made this destruction with His sword and with His fire: for both He brought into this world. Both "Fire I am come to send into the world," thou hast in the Gospel: and "A sword I have come to send into the earth," thou hast in the Gospel. He brought in fire, whereby might be burned up Mesopotamia in Syria, and Syria Sobal: He brought in a sword whereby might be smitten Edom. Now again this destruction was made for the sake of "those that are changed unto the title's inscription." Hear we therefore the voice of them: to their health smitten they were, being raised up let them speak. Let them say, therefore, that are changed into something better, changed unto the title's inscription, changed unto teaching for David himself; let them say, "Thou hast had mercy upon us." Thou hast destroyed us, in order that Thou mightest build us; Thou hast destroyed us that were ill builded, hast destroyed empty oldness; in order that there may be a building unto a new man, building to abide for everlasting. ...
4. "Thou hast moved the earth, and hast troubled it" (ver. 2). How hath the earth been troubled? In the conscience of sinners. Whither go we? Whither flee we, when this sword hath been brandished, "Repent, for near hath drawn the kingdom of Heaven"? "Heal the crushings thereof, for moved it hath been." Unworthy it is to be healed, if moved it hath not been: but thou speakest, preachest, threatenest us with God, of coming judgment holdest not thy peace, of the commandment of God thou warnest, from these things thou abstainest not; and he that heareth, if he feareth not, if he is not moved, is not worthy to be healed. Another heareth, is moved, is stung, smiteth the breast, sheddeth tears. ...
5. The first labour is, that thou shouldest be displeasing to thyself, that sins thou shouldest battle out, that thou shouldest be changed into something better: the second labour, in return for thy having been changed, is to bear the tribulations and temptations of this world, and amid them to hold on even unto the end. Of these things therefore when he was speaking, while pointing out such things, he addeth what? "Thou hast shown to Thy people hard things" (ver. 3): to Thy people now, made tributary after the victory of David. "Thou hast shown to Thy people hard things." Wherein? In persecutions which the Church of Christ hath endured, when so much blood of martyrs was spilled. "Thou hast given us to drink of the wine of goading." "Of goading" is what? Not of killing. For it was not a killing that destroyeth, but a medicine that smarteth. "Thou hast given us to drink of the wine of goading."
6. Wherefore this? "Thou hast given to men fearing Thee, a sign that they should flee from the face of the bow" (ver. 4). Through tribulations temporal, he saith, Thou hast signified to Thine own to flee from the wrath of fire everlasting. For, saith the Apostle Peter, "Time it is that Judgment begin with the House of God." And exhorting the Martyrs to endurance, when the world should rage, when slaughters should be made at the hands of persecutors, when far and wide blood of believers should be spilled, when in chains, in prisons, in tortures, many hard things Christians should suffer, in these hard things, I say, lest they should faint, Peter saith to them, "Time it is that Judgment begin with the House of God," etc. What therefore is to be in the Judgment? The bow is bended, still in menacing posture it is, not yet in aiming. And see what there is in the bow: is there not an arrow to be shot forward? The string however is stretched back in a contrary direction to that in which it is going to be shot; and the more the stretching thereof hath gone backward, with the greater swiftness it starteth forward. What is it that I have said? The more the Judgment is deferred, with so much the greater swiftness it is to come. Therefore even for temporal tribulations to God let us render thanks, because He hath given to His people a sign, "that they should flee from the face of the bow:" in order that His faithful ones having been exercised in tribulations temporal, may be worthy to avoid the condemnation of fire everlasting, which is to find out all them that do not believe these things.
7. "That Thy beloved may be delivered: save me with Thy right hand, and hearken unto me" (ver. 5). With Thy right hand save me, Lord: so save me as that at the right hand I may stand. Not any safety temporal I require, in this matter Thy Will be done. For a time what is good for us we are utterly ignorant: for "what we should pray for as we ought we know not:" but "save me with Thy right hand," so that even if in this time I suffer sundry tribulations, when the night of all tribulations hath been spent, on the right hand I may be found among the sheep, not on the left hand among the goats. "And hearken, unto me." Because now I am deserving that which Thou art willing to give; not "with the words of my transgressions" I am crying through the day, so that Thou hearken not, and "in the night so that Thou hearken not," and that not for folly to me," but truly for my warning, by adding savour from the valley of salt-pits, so that in tribulation I may know what to ask: but I ask life everlasting; therefore hearken unto me, because Thy right hand I ask. ...
8. "God hath spoken in His Holy One" (ver. 6). ...In what Holy One of His? "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself." In that Holy One, of whom elsewhere ye have heard, "O God, in the Holy One is Thy way." "I will rejoice and will divide Sichima. ...and the valley of tabernacles I will measure out." Sichima is interpreted shoulders. But according to history, Jacob returning from Laban his father-in-law with all his kindred, hid the idols in Sichima which he had from Syria, where for a long time he had dwelled, and at length was coming from thence. But tabernacles he made there because of his sheep and herds, and called the place Tabernacles. And these I will divide, saith the Church. What is this, "I will divide Sichima"? If to the story where the idols were hidden is the reference, the Gentiles it signifieth; I divide the Gentiles. I divide, is what? "For not in all men is there faith." I divide, is what? Some will believe, others will not believe. ...The shoulders are divided, in order that their sins may burthen some men, while others may take up the burden of Christ. For godly shoulders He was requiring when He said, "For My yoke is gentle, and My burden is light." Another burden oppresseth and loadeth thee, but Christ's burden relieveth thee: another burden hath weight, Christ's burden hath wings. For even if thou pull off the wings from a bird, thou dost remove a kind of weight; and the more weight thou hast taken away, the more on earth it will abide. She that thou hast chosen to disburden lieth there: she flieth not, because thou hast taken off a weight: let there be given back the weight, and she flieth. Such is Christ's burden; let men carry it, and not be idle: let them not be heeded that will not bear it; let them bear it that will, and they shall find how light it is, how sweet, how pleasant, how ravishing unto Heaven, and from earth how transporting. ...Perchance because of the sheep of Jacob, "the valley of Tabernacles" is to be understood of the nation of the Jews, and the same is divided: for they have passed from thence that have believed, the rest have remained without.
9. "Mine is Galaad" (ver. 7). These names are read in the Scriptures of God. Galaad hath the voice of an interpretation of its own and of a great Mystery: for it is interpreted "the heap of testimony." How great a heap of testimony in the Martyrs? "Mine is Galaad," mine is a heap of testimony, mine are the true Martyrs. ... Then meanly esteemed was the Church among men, then reproach on Her a Widow was being thrown, because Christ's She was, because the sign of the Cross on her brow She was wearing: not yet was there honour, censure there was then: when therefore not honour, but censure there was, then was made a heap of witness; and through the heap of witness was the Love of Christ enlarged; and through the enlargement of the Love of Christ, were the Gentiles possessed. There followeth, "And mine is Manasses;" which is interpreted forgotten. For to Her had been said, "Confusion for everlasting Thou shall forget, and of the reproach of Thy widowhood Thou shall not be mindful." There was therefore a confusion of the Church once, which now hath been forgotten: for of Her confusion and of the "reproach" of Her widow-hood now She is not mindful. For when there was a sort of confusion among men, a heap of witness was made. Now no longer doth any even remember that confusion, when it was a reproach to be a Christian, now no one remembereth, now all have forgotten, now "Mine is Manasses, and Ephraim the strength of My head." Ephraim is interpreted fruitfulness. Mine, he saith, is fruitfulness, and this fruitfulness is the strength of My Head. For My Head is Christ. And whence is fruitfulness the strength of Him? Because unless a grain were to fall into the earth, it would not be multiplied, alone it would remain. Fall then to earth did Christ in His Passion, and there followed fruit-bearing in the Resurrection. He was hanging and was being despised: the grain was within, it had powers to draw after it all things. How in a grain do numbers of seeds lie hid, something abject it appeareth to the eyes, but a power turning into itself matter and bringing forth fruit is hidden; so in Christ's Cross virtue was hidden, there appeared weakness. O mighty grain! Doubtless weak is He that hangeth, Doubtless before Him that people did wag the head, Doubtless they said, "If Son of God He is, let Him come down from the Cross." Hear the strength of Him: that which is a weak thing of God, is stronger than men. With reason so great fruitfulness hath followed: it is mine, saith the Church.
10. "Juda is my king: Moab the pot of my hope" (ver. 7). What Juda? He that is of the tribe of Juda. What Juda, but He to whom Jacob himself said, "Juda, thy brethren shall praise thee"? What therefore should I fear,when Juda my king saith, "Fear not them thatkill the body"? Moab the pot of my hope." Wherefore "pot"? Because tribulation. Wherefore "of my hope"? Because there hath gone before Juda my king. ...Moab is perceived in the Gentiles. For that nation was born of sin, that nation was born of the daughters of Lot, who lay with their father drunken, abusing a father. Better were it to have remained barren, than thus to have become mothers. But this was a kind of figure of them that abuse the law. For do not heed that law in the Latin language is of the feminine gender: in Greek of the masculine gender it is: but whether it be of the feminine gender in speaking, or of the masculine, the expression maketh no difference to the truth. For law hath rather a masculine force, because it ruleth, is not ruled. But moreover, the Apostle Paul saith what? "Good is the law, if any one use it lawfully." But those daughters of Lot unlawfully used their father. But in the same manner as good works begin to grow when a man useth well the law: so arise evil works, when a man ill useth the law. Furthermore, they ill using their father, that is, ill using the law, engendered the Moabites, by whom are signified evil works. Thence the tribulation of the Church, thence the pot boiling up. Of this pot in a certain place of prophecy is said, "A pot heated by the North wind." Whence but by the quarters of the devil, who hath said, "I will set my seat at the North"? The chiefest tribulations therefore arise against the Church from none except from those that ill use the law. ...
11. "Into Idumaea I will stretch out my shoe" (ver. 8). The Church speaketh, "I will come through even unto Idumaea." Let tribulations rage, let the world boil with offences, even unto those very persons that lead an earthly life (for Idumaea is interpreted earthly), even unto those same, "even unto Idumaea, I will stretch out my shoe." Of what thing the shoe except of the Gospel? "How beautiful the feet of them that tell of peace, that tell of good things," and "the feet shod unto the preparation of the Gospel of peace." ...In these times we see, brethren, how many earthly men do perpetrate frauds for the sake of gain, for frauds perjuries; on account of their fears they consult fortune-tellers, astrologers: all these men are Edomites, earthly; and nevertheless all these men adore Christ, under His own shoe they are; now even unto Idumaea is stretched out His shoe. "To Me Allophyli have been made subject." Who are "Allophyli"? Men of other race, not belonging to My race. They "have been made subject," because many men adore Christ, and are not to reign with Christ.
12. "Who will lead Me down into the city of standing round?" (ver. 9). What is the city of standing round? If ye remember already, I have made mention thereof in another Psalm, wherein hath been said, "And they shall go around the city." For the city of standing round is the compassing around of the Gentiles, which compassing around of the Gentiles in the middle thereof had the one nation of the Jews, worshipping one God: the rest of the compassing around of the Gentiles to idols made supplication, demons they did serve. And mystically it was called the city of standing round; because on all sides the Gentiles had poured themselves around, and had stood around that nation which did worship one God. ..."Who will lead me down even unto Idumaea?"
13. "Wilt not Thou, O God, that hast driven us back? And wilt not Thou, O God, march forth in our powers?" (ver. 10). Wilt not Thou lead us down, that hast driven us back? But wherefore "hast driven us back"? Because Thou hast destroyed us. Wherefore hast destroyed us? Because angry Thou hast been, and hast had pity on us. Thou therefore wilt lead down, that hast driven back; Thou, O God, that wilt not march forth in our powers, wilt lead down. What is, "wilt not march forth in our powers"? The world is to rage, the world is to tread us down, there is to be a heap of witnesses, builded of the spilled blood of martyrs, and the raging heathen are to say, "Where is the God of them?" Then "Thou wilt not march forth in our powers:" against them Thou wilt not show Thyself, Thou wilt not show Thy power, such as Thou hast shown in David, in Moses, in Joshua the son of Nun, when to their might the Gentiles yielded, and when the slaughter had been ended, and the great laying waste repaired, into the land which Thou promisedst Thou leddest in Thy people. This thing then Thou wilt not do, "Thou wilt not march forth in our powers," but within Thou wilt work. What is, "wilt not march forth"? Wilt not show Thyself. For indeed when in chains the Martyrs were being led along, when they were being shut up in prison, when they were being led forth to be mocked, when to the beasts they were exposed, when they were being smitten with the sword, when with fire they were being burned, were they not despised as though forsaken, as though without helper? In what manner was God working within? in what manner within was He comforting? in what manner to these men was He making sweet the hope of life everlasting? in what manner was He not forsaking the hearts of them, where the man was dwelling in silence, well if good, ill if evil? Was He then by any means forsaking, because He was not marching forth in the powers of them? By not marching forth in the powers of them, did He not the more lead down the Church even unto Idumaea, lead down the Church even unto the city of standing around? For if the Church chose to war and to use the sword, She would seem to be fighting for life present: but because she was despising life present, therefore there was made a heap of witness for the life that shall be.
14. Thou therefore, O God, that wilt not march forth in our powers, "Give to us aid from tribulation, and vain is the safety of man" (ver. 11). Go now they that salt have not, and desire safety temporal for their friends, which is empty oldness. "Give to us aid:" from thence whence Thou wast supposed to forsake, thence succour. "In God we will do valour, and Himself to nothing shall bring down our enemies" (ver. 12). We will not do valour with the sword, not with horses, not with breastplates, not with shields, not in the mightiness of an army, not abroad. But where? Within, where we are not seen. Where within? "In God we will do virtue:" and as if abjects, and as if trodden down, men as if of no consideration we shall be, but "Himself to nothing shall bring down our enemies." In a word, this thing hath been done to our enemies. Trodden down have been the Martyrs: by suffering, by enduring, by persevering even unto the end, in God they have done valour. Himself also hath done that which followeth: to nothing He hath brought down the enemies of them. Where are now the enemies of the Martyrs, except perchance that now drunken men with their cups do persecute those whom at that time frenzied men did use with stones to persecute?